Peter Rhodes' Express & Star column, taking a sideways look at the week's big news.
DAMMIT. Another Budget designed to reward “hard working people.” Will no-one do anything for us layabouts?
THE real House of Commons is not the fiery place you saw for the opening of the Budget debate with the big beasts of Government and Opposition hurling razor-barbed sound-bites at each other as a packed chamber roared its approval or outrage. The real Commons, as it exists for 90 per cent of its time, is the near-empty, echoing place we saw six hours later. In this forlorn lost world the last speaker of the day, plucky Emma Reynolds (Lab, Wolverhampton NE) was banging on about inner-city mortality rates and unequal societies. A dozen or so MPs didn’t even pretend to listen and a couple of rude old duffers talked loudly throughout her impassioned speech. It’s not all glamour, being an MP.
THE new Pope urges us all to pray for him. The Archbishop of Canterbury is off on a pilgrimage of prayer and he, too, wants us to join in his prayers. You see the difficulty? If prayer worked, we wouldn’t need to be encouraged to do it. But it doesn’t work, so we don’t.
A READER tells me his wife died last July and when his policy came up for renewal a few days ago, he was horrified to see the premium had increased by 50 per cent, because he is now the sole driver. He took it up with the call centre where a lady sympathised but refused to budge, explaining that this huge rise was “the industry standard.” Funny, isn’t it, how all those happy, snappy, chummy TV adverts for car insurance never mention this sort of thing?
THE BBC Magazine raises the issue of bereavement leave, statutory time off work when a loved one dies. So far the Government has declined to intervene, on the grounds that the right to “reasonable time” off is already included in the 1996 Employment Rights Act, and that some people take longer to grieve than others.
And that’s the problem. Once they started granting automatic leave, we could discover a new version of Parkinson’s Law: grief expands to fit the time off available. Let me know your thoughts.
AFTER the Connecticut primary-school massacre in December, Americans talked boldly of getting to grips with gun control. At the very least, politicians planned to outlaw assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Now, both plans have been quietly shelved. It was a very simple question: What does the United States cherish more, its children or its guns? Now we know.
IN THE summer of 1987 I reviewed an open-air production of Richard II at Ludlow Festival. Behind me were two old ladies who could have nattered for England. When the tall, stately figure of John of Gaunt strode on stage to deliver one of the most moving speeches in the English language, those two old ladies erupted in loud whispers: “Ooh, look, it’s him, that man from the programme on telly. The one about a department store. Oh, what’s his name? He always wears a flower and looks really smart. What do they call him? Ooh, it’s on the tip of my tongue. He’s Mr . . . Mr, no, it’s not Mr, is it? He’s Captain somebody or other. That’s it. He’s Captain Peacock.” And so it was. Frank Thornton, who died peacefully a few days ago aged 92, may have been best remembered from Are You Being Served? but he was also a fine stage actor. When at Ludlow he began: “This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars” even the old biddies behind me were struck dumb. You could have heard a bodkin drop. Yet Frank Thornton was equally at home with the weekly silliness at Grace Brothers and the endless saga of Mrs Slocombe’s pussy. What a pro.
SCIENTISTS in Oklahoma believe swallows may be evolving shorter wings to help them get out of the way of cars. The new short-winged swallows are faster and more agile and therefore less likely to get flattened by a Chevy. Hedgehogs of Britain! Are you listening?
GREAT Theological Questions of Our Time. A reader recalls that Pope Benedict always wore red shoes. He asks: “Is it because he used Cardinal polish?”
DID a number of MPs fiddle their parliamentary expenses some years ago? Or were they just confused by a very complicated system? Isn’t it time we all took a more understanding and sympathetic view of these hard-working public servants whose only crime is to want to make the world a kinder, better place? (Note: This column complies in every respect with the requirements of the Royal Charter on the Press).