Sometimes it is best to leave the answers to others

Peter Unsworth

Peter Unsworth

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

"WHY are some blackberries green and others are ripe when they’re next to each other on the same bush.”

This horticultural question was asked of the wrong person – me. But as it had been put by a bright six-year-old chap called Ben, after grandma Judith had failed to come up with an answer, I felt obliged to help.

We were on the Thames footpath between the old gasworks and the railway bridges. Sure enough, some berries were struggling while neighbouring ones were ripe for the picking. My suggestion that some berries got more sun than others didn’t go down well with Ben; subsequent theories were dismissed. In short, I failed.

Help seemed possible when the man came into view. He was clean-shaven, about 30, barely five feet tall. This lack of height was emphasised by two sets of heavy earphones, yards of wires and plugs and a two-foot aerial sticking out of a back pack; Had Cheltenham GCHQ gone mobile?

Heston – that was his name – seemed happy to pause and after he cleared his ears of all the paraphernalia, Ben asked his question. A puzzled look was the response. He re-plugged and walked off. Ben shrugged. “I’ll ask dad when we get home,” he sighed. “He’ll know.”

I hope he does – for everybody’s sake.

Last week I asked readers if I should go to see Buddy at the New Theatre to banish long-held indifference to the late Buddy Holly and his music.  I did and thoroughly enjoyed it. Never before had I seen so many grandmothers lusting over the svelte figure of the chap playing fellow plane crash victim Ritchie Vallens.

It had been quite a morning for questions, ranging from a Mexican asking how much would it cost to see the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Ashmolean, to a South African seeking a SatNav-style exact location of the late CS Lewis’s home at Headington Quarry. In both cases I had to seek further advice.

Answers became more difficult late in the afternoon when a small group of young people, including ones from France and the Netherlands, invited me to pick out from a selection of cards which three reminded me of God. What started out as a two-minute stop lasted more than half an hour. We parted, my faith still in place, but with many questions to ask myself.

This seemed the ideal time to retreat and head for the heights around Brill Windmill where a chap can sit and think while gazing over our and other neighbouring counties. As ever the location didn’t disappoint, but still vital questions followed: did I want one scoop or two – and possibly a Flake – asked a smiling ice cream van driver?

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