Peter Rhodes on missing footpaths, a Kabul encounter and how cancer reveals true friends

Robert Fisk, the veteran correspondent of many wars and emergencies, has died suddenly aged 74. He played a small part in the story of the Express & Star, as recorded in the company history, The Loaded Hour.

Tony Bishop – our man in Afghanistan
Tony Bishop – our man in Afghanistan

In 1980, following in the long tradition of E&S war correspondents, reporter Tony Bishop was dispatched to Afghanistan to report on the Soviet invasion. At the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, he met a group of reporters including Fisk, who was surprised to find a regional newspaper among the national and international media. In a remark which has echoed down E&S history, Robert Fisk exclaimed: “The Wolverhampton Express & Star? They'll be sending the Exchange & Mart next!”

To lose one mile of footpath may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose 49,000 miles of footpaths looks like carelessness. But that, according to the walking charity Ramblers, is the total length of footpaths missing from modern maps in England and Wales. The hunt is on to find more missing bits, in order to “reclaim and safeguard” them.

At times like this I can almost most hear my late colleague and countryman, the irascible Phil Drabble. He took the unfashionable view that footpaths were originally intended for locals to trudge from one parish to another, not for hordes of what he called “the woolly-hatted, go anywhere, pay nothing brigade.” I take the more fashionable view that rambling is the best form of free entertainment you can mention in a family newspaper. The more restored footpaths, the better. Unless, of course, they happen to go through your front garden.

We always got on well, Drabble and I. I remember having lunch with him and his wife Jess at their home in Abbots Bromley a few years before he died in 2007. At the Drabble residence, the eggs were runny, the ham fatty. Drabble would declare: “They say all this sort of food is killing us. Well, it's taking a bloody long time killing me.” He lived to be 93.

Before undergoing major surgery for bladder cancer, the artist Tracey Emin emailed 70 friends ordering them not to contact her by any means, on pain of being struck off her mailing list. We must all choose our own path with cancer but I suspect the issue for most newly diagnosed people is not a sudden rush of attention from friends but a sudden silence among those who either don't know what to say or would rather not get involved. That's when you discover who your real friends are.

After my piece on TV ad rage in the lockdown, a reader says he records all his viewing digitally and “zips through” the ad breaks as he watches it later. Ah, but what is he missing? Some TV ads are little gems. Don't miss comedian Andy Storey's Nationwide ad on the benefits of yoga at home. Perfect.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News