Peter Rhodes' Express & Star column, taking a sideways look at the week's big news.
AFTER the recent report of mysterious lights in the night sky, a reader tells me he once came second in an astronomy quiz and won the constellation prize.
QUOTE of the week. “You haven't heard the last of this.” Tory whip Andrew Mitchell’s (alleged) parting shot to the police officer who made him get off his bike.
IN THE wake of the Mitchell business, a reader asks when the term ‘pleb’ became an insult. He says he often greeted his fellow office workers with a cheery “Morning, plebs!” I suspect no-one minds being called a pleb by a fellow pleb. It’s when the ruling classes start calling us plebs that we mentally begin to sharpen the guillotine blades.
ISN’T it irritating to get a print-out from the bank cash machine so faint you can barely read it? My bank, HSBC, made nearly £12,000 million profit in 2010. How much will they have to make before they can afford to put some ink in the printer?
THE PARADISE (BBC1) was beautifully set, subtly lit, gorgeously costumed and, in the main, quietly spoken in soothing Geordie tones. Yes, we fell asleep, too.
THE latest bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie is just over three million dollars and a Pakistani politician has offered 100,000 dollars to anyone who kills the maker of a controversial anti-Islamic video. As night follows day, a spokesman for the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir pops up on Today (Radio 4) to pour oil on troubled waters and assure us that legitimate debate is perfectly acceptable to Islam. As Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website put it :“It is a centuries-old Islamic tradition to engage in debate, tolerate criticism and hear the critiques of others. But (didn’t you just know there was a “but” coming?) insults against Islam, such as those in the recent film and cartoons, are unacceptable provocations that cross a red line that no Muslim or decent human being would ever accept.” And now the 3.1 million dollar questions. Who decides where the red line is drawn? At what stage does a debate become an insult? I bet if you put 100 mullahs in a room you would get 100 different answers.
THE Hubble Space Telescope has peered deep into the furthest recesses of outer space to produce its awesome photograph of a mass of galaxies and stars known as the Extreme Deep Field. Hubble has cost America about five billion dollars and only a deeply cynical conspiracy theorist would point out that this latest image is almost indistinguishable from the Moondust pattern laminate kitchen worktop from Wickes, currently on offer at £117.
CLARISSA Dickson Wright, the Fat Lady cook, says if badgers are going to be culled, why not eat them? She suggests turning badger meat it into ham or casseroling it. I can’t see it happening. Countryfolk will eat just about anything but they avoid badger. When a badger is killed, even a hungry fox will give it a wide berth. The stinking carcasses lie around for ages because the only creatures willing to eat dead badgers are maggots. Tell you what, Clarissa. You can have my share.
A BORED-looking cop was hunched over his speed trap, just down the road from Chateau Rhodes. That spot is targeted every few weeks not because it’s particularly dangerous but because it’s one of those downhill stretches where unwary, usually out-of-town, drivers tend to drift a few mph over 30, which makes them prime candidates for the speed-awareness industry. If the authorities really wanted to stop people speeding they could put up more signs, or even a flashing digital warning. But they don’t. They want customers for courses at £100 a time. Call me old-fashioned but I would rather see a uniformed copper enforcing cycling rules in Downing Street than taking part in this creeping commercialisation of our legal system.
NOTHING rips families apart quite like money issues and the bonkers plan to get young people on the housing ladder raised at the Lib-Dem conference could turn into the mother of all family wreckers. The scheme is for middle-aged parents approaching retirement to get their lump sum early from their pension pot and use it as the kids’ deposit on a house. But what if the parents need that money? What if they simply don’t trust their kids to manage a mortgage? The scope for blazing arguments is enormous. And what if the kids take the money, default on the mortgage and lose the lot? Who will bail out the pensionless parents? You and me, brother.
SOME of the angriest letters I have ever received came in May last year after I suggested that John Smith, the Labour leader who died suddenly in 1994 was, in my experience, shifty and bad-tempered. I was howled down by readers for whom Smith was clearly some sort of saint and the best leader Labour never had. Now Jack Straw who knew John Smith very well, reveals in his memoirs that Smith not only had a foul temper but lacked courage and was “a gargantuan drinker”. Vindicated, thanks.
A THINK-tank reports this week that tagging criminals has cost the UK about £1 billion and failed to keep them on the straight and narrow. None of this will come as any surprise to cops, court reporters or neighbours of criminals who will all testify that a tag keeps a villain indoors, but only until he slips it off and pops out for a spot of burglary.
“IT’S not a very likely scenario,” says Anna the maid in Downton Abbey (ITV), describing the outlook for her jailed husband. But could anything be more unlikely than a maid in 1920 using the word scenario?