Peter Rhodes on the unknown Max, TV adverts we hate and why fighting a pandemic is like flying a balloon

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Max who?
Max who?

And the winner of the 2020 US Presidential Election is (dramatic roll on the drums), the US legal profession. Again.

Getting ahead of the coronavirus has been likened to trying to turn a supertanker at sea. But it reminds me of my one and only flight in a hot-air balloon.

As we descended and looked for a suitable landing place, the pilot realised there was a high, wooded hedge in front of a distant meadow. With a quarter-mile to go, he turned up the gas burner for a few seconds and then turned it low. Nothing happened. We drifted for hundreds of yards, seemingly picking up speed .Just as it seemed we would crash into the trees, the effect of that quick burn kicked in. The balloon gently lifted, cleared the hedge like a racehorse at a jump, and landed with a bump in the meadow beyond.

That's how it is fighting the virus. What's happening today is the result of the adjustment you made some time ago. Whatever action you take today will not take effect for days, or even weeks, from now. And by then you may have realised it was the wrong action but there's nothing you can do about it. It is, as the experts tell us in a suddenly-fashionable phrase, “baked in” to the future. Our hot-air balloon made a perfect landing because the pilot had flown hundreds of times before and knew exactly when to apply the quick burn. The politicians and scientists fighting Covid-19 are on their first training flight and, in some cases, flying blind.

That balloon landing on a beautiful, bright summer morning was memorable. We came down a few miles south of Warwick in a buttercup meadow that could have come straight from Cider With Rosie. We scrambled out and secured the balloon. The pilot produced an elegant champagne breakfast as a herd of inquisitive heifers stared. And just when we were thinking it was the perfect English country scene, it got better. A whistle sounded, drawing our eyes to the railway embankment at the end of the field. Amid clouds of smoke an old steam train thundered past in glory. Some mornings you never forget.

Thanks for your richly varied input of TV adverts you hate. So far the haul includes: “Adverts that show people having an unrealistically good time playing Bingo. The Leg Pillow (really, how have humans managed till now?), The Upright walky thing. The non-egg-crushing seat cushion. The sponsor-an-elephant campaign.”

That last item came from a reader who challenges the ad's claim that elephants are “one of our oldest friends.” He writes: “I very much doubt that the elephants would consider man a friend.”

Anyone else surprised that on Only Connect (BBC2) this week, not one of the six intelligent, learned, and dazzlingly perceptive contestants could recognise a photo of Max Bygraves?

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