Howard Croft column: A brilliant cause and not just for the lemon cake

Action Medical Research is a very worthwhile cause and  local supporters can enjoy lemon drizzle cake.
Action Medical Research is a very worthwhile cause and local supporters can enjoy lemon drizzle cake.

Action Medical Research (AMR) is a small charity that specialises in funding research into uncommon childhood diseases. A local group of determined and effective ladies devote considerable effort to raising money on behalf of Action Medical Research and Mrs Croft is one of them. They have an annual calendar of events – a charity shop, tin waving at a Morrison’s store and such like – a recent one being the Spring Walk.

I have little involvement in any of this, but I do encourage Mrs Croft’s involvement; partly because she so obviously enjoys it, but chiefly because it keeps her out of the shops.

This year she suggested that I show my face at the Spring Walk, not as a walker, you understand, more as an observer – age-related decrepitude ruled out anything active. This is not a sponsored walk, involving the tiresome business of enlisting sponsors, but participants pay to take part and they enjoy a jolly good lunch laid on by the Action Medical Research activists, an endeavour that is more competitive than the walk. It is a social event and lunch goes on quite late into the afternoon.

I had some misgivings about getting involved, and involved is hardly the word, but I was attracted to the location (Wintringham) and Mrs Croft’s description of trees newly-dressed with spring leaf, the fields shaking off winter and the birdsong. But I also had some preconceptions: a mid-week event would be pretty much confined to people enjoying their retirement, a modest turn out at best, maybe a dozen or so. The birdsong, so vividly promised, would, I thought, be beyond my reach in part because of the limitations of my electric ears, supplied by the NHS, but it would be masked by the rattle of Zimmer frames and the creaking of knee joints.

The turnout was over 60-strong, all fit and enthusiastic, all limbering up for the off. Not a walking frame in sight. I did notice that a number of participants had kitted themselves out with ski poles, evidence I thought of pessimism about the weather prospects. I commented on this and was told, rather sniffily, I thought, that these were carried not in anticipation of snow, but as an aid to sustained thrust. Competitive catering there may have been, but it was nothing compared to the eagerness to be among the first to get back for lunch and fall on the quiches and also on the lemon drizzle cake before the best had gone.

Although I had paid my dues, I did not partake in lunch, not because I don’t like quiche and that lemon drizzle cake but because I didn’t think that I deserved any. While the stout-hearted walkers were powering along their five-mile route, I was relaxing in the sun, catching a few rays and reading a volume of cheap fiction. I felt ashamed. Next year I must do better, get some stout boots, brandish my ski poles at the starting line, and make sure I get back before all the cocktail sausages have been wolfed down.

Action Medical Research is a very worthwhile cause and at the local level (there are similar groups to the Ryedale branch around the country) there is very little in the way of costs. The catering commandos not only have to face up the possible humiliation of seeing a superior quiche on the table, but they also fork out for their ingredients. Support this cause if you get the opportunity to do so.

This experience got me reflecting on the various nuisances that may come along with advancing years – a spiteful hip here, a cataract there ... you know the problems – and I was reminded of a recent discovery of my own. Following an uncharacteristically enthusiastic bout of house painting, applying a coat of grey primer, I needed to clean my hands, the backs being particularly messy. I set to with the white spirit and found that it worked only partly and I grumpily complained that white spirit is no longer what it was – no doubt some EU regulation has weakened it.

I resorted to turps to address the stubborn paint spots. After a vigorous scrubbing and hands red raw, I realised that what I was doing was trying to dissolve away age-related liver spots. Now I have contact dermatitis as well as liver spots. Senile warts next.