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I was down at the South Mimms Services popping in for something recently, and as I walked towards the entrance, I passed by a couple of gentlemen in khaki fatigues, the fashion kind, not the military, and I couldn’t help overhearing what one said to the other. “This place reeks of Capitalism” he said in disgust. By his accent I would guess he was from another country, but presumably an English speaker (otherwise I would not have understood him, would I?).

This comment puzzled me a lot. For a start off, while nowadays we use the word “reek” to suggest an unpleasant smell, it actually refers to smoke or mist. The German for smoke is “rauch” and the Dutch is “rook” (pronounced “roke”). That word is used up the East coast of England to mean a sea-mist. Of course the smoke from a bonfire reeks and also often smells unpleasant, acrid and sharp, so it is easy to see how the word has shifted in meaning over the centuries.

Actually I would have thought that the Services reeks of fried food, burgers, chicken and so on. But Capitalism? OK, someone has invested their capital in building the place, and others have invested their capital in fast food outlets, coffee bars and so on. But the Services are used by all the world, and by people from all the world, though Europeans and local Potters Barbarians are naturally in the majority. It serves people from all walks of life, from the stinking rich (that “reek” again) to the stinking poor, and all flavours in between. In that way it seems like an emblem of democracy: no fear, no favours.

Perhaps I am being ignorant, and politically naive. I generally am. It’s just possible that these two gentlemen were expressing extreme views. Were they, perhaps extremists? Presumably not Far Right, and therefore Far Left. Perhaps the clothes they were wearing suggested a Militant Tendency?

I’ve had a couple of other encounters with people expressing extreme Far Left views, quite apart from the day-to-day conversations we had at the University I worked at.

My father-in-law was a member of the Communist Party in the late 1930s, and he had a collection of books, all bound in soft orange covers, published by Victor Gollancz – the New Left Library (or some such name). When we cleared his

house, we wondered what to do with these, and I looked for an appropriate second-hand bookshop which might be interested. I found one in a seedy street not far from Kings Cross Station, and presented them to the chap in charge.

I was a bit taken aback by his response. “Take that filth out of here!” he said. That’s horrible revisionist Trotskyite muck, and I won’t have it sullying my pure Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist shelves”. (I may have got the labels a bit wrong: as I said, I am a political babe in the wood).

But the point is that within any extreme end of society, there are umpteen splinter factions, all at each others’ throats. Each has its own pure belief, and the others are all heretics. It’s the same with religion – only worse!!! Take the Shia/Sunni rift which makes peace more or less impossible across the Middle East. What about Northern Ireland? And all the persecution of Protestants by Catholics and Catholics by Protestants down the centuries of European history? A little rant about the political correctness of a shelf or two of old books seems tame by comparison. At least I got out of that shop without any physical injury.

More recently I needed a new pair of walking boots. Going into St. Albans one afternoon, I noticed, near the entrance to the Cathedral on Holywell Hill, a shop selling walking and camping gear. So I went in. My preferred footwear at the time was made under the name of Brasher (as in Chris Brasher, track and field athlete in the middle of the last century, and co-founder of the London Marathon). I innocently asked if they had any Brasher boots, and received another tirade. Apparently, according to the fanatical podiatrist (for so he was) who fitted customers with shoes right for them (or perhaps I mean “left”) Brasher shoes were now made in China. He would have nothing to do with the filthy Maoist regime which presided over the manufacture of these shoes. No he was a pure Stalinist, and the peoples’ shoes were definitely not Maoist Red! I wasn’t quite told to clear off out, but I was given a long political lecture on the exploitation of Chinese workers (so in Russian it’s all fine and dandy?).

I left without buying a pair of walking shoes, and wondering whether I’d take up transcendental meditation instead. Sadly this interesting shop has now closed, and become an upmarket boutique, or perhaps a coffee bar. I wonder whether it, too, reeks of Capitalism now?
William Marsterson


A few weeks ago at a meeting in St Margaret’s Church someone suggested that we have a special service, a service that would include mention of people’s pets, because pets are very much members of many families and are treated as such.

Previously we have had these services in the Church, with the thought that if the weather was kind we could move outside. That was never going to be particularly successful. Many pet owners were worried that their pets might misbehave or get too boisterous or get bored having to stay still and quiet within the Church. So what if we had a total outdoor service? Of course the weather could still spoil the plan, but at least we would have tried.

So, fingers crossed, on a reasonably bright and dry Sunday morning we assembled on Ridge village green. The idea of an outside pet service obviously appealed to many dog owners and the other villagers that came along to join in the fun, and also to the rider of a very large and very beautiful horse, who, considering the number of dogs around, behaved impeccably, due in no small part, I’m sure, to her rider, thank you Susan. Thanks also to Joan who had two toy cats looking out from the basket of her mobility scooter. It all added to the happy nature of our gathering.

The hymn “All things bright and beautiful all creatures, great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all” summed up the tone for the morning. We started all the hymns together and more or less finished together, but what was more important was that the pet owners and all the rest of us were all happily joining in. It was fun. As one lady, who with her little poodle, Ruby, had come from Stanmore said afterwards, as we all enjoyed a coffee or tea and cake, “that was an absolutely joyful morning”. How true!

Hopefully, see you there next year. Doug Ryan