Peter Rhodes on burning down the Capitol, apathy over clapping and queuing for pasties

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Greggs – A loss – how?
Greggs – A loss – how?

Greggs are heading for their first annual loss in 36 years and I'm amazed. From casual observation, even in lockdown, there were always queues outside our local Greggs, but never a queue at the shop a few doors away, Holland & Barrett. As a nation, we have always treated pasties more seriously than vitamins.

Fewer surprises in the news that UK car sales are at their lowest for decades. I have a pal in the car trade who says they are besieged by customers trying to wriggle out of their car-lease agreements, “because they're fed up of paying £400 a month to look at a shiny new car on their drive.”

The anonymous threat has become the digital-age equivalent of the old poison-pen letter, but with all the pauses-for-thought taken out. You can send a hundred death threats in the time it used to take filling a fountain pen, scrawling your bile on a sheet of Basildon Bond, finding a stamp and posting it. Annemarie Plas, the Dutch woman who came up with the Clap for Carers ritual last spring, has distanced herself from the latest incarnation, Clap for Heroes, after receiving personal threats online.

But again, who's surprised? This is the bleak, black, weary winter of 2021, not the bright, all-pull-together spring of 2020. The mood is not merely depressed and downbeat; there is real anger and even hatred in the air. We are snappy with each other. There's a national epidemic of road rage. We are sick of the virus, sick of politicians, sick of Covidiots, sick of footballers and their managers hugging, hand-shaking and elbow-bumping (why can't they just stop touching altogether, like the rest of us?) and maybe even a bit sick of the NHS, although even to mention the scale of hospital-borne infections or to suggest the NHS might be reformed is regarded as treason.

The new tribute, Clap for Heroes, was a flop, possibly because it spread the net too wide. We were expected to celebrate not only the NHS but care workers, delivery drivers, postal workers, the emergency services, teachers, scientists, homeschooling parents, those who shield and, well, the list goes on and on. It is desperately easy to overwork the H-word and if everybody's a hero, then nobody's a hero.

I recall interviewing a Para who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. “Don't you dare call us heroes,” he scowled, looking at my notes. “We were participants, that's all.” Whatever happened to that spirit?

The storming of the US Capitol by Trump's rag-tag commandos was not the first time Washington's most iconic buildings have been trashed. The British burned Washington in 1814 during a particularly silly war between Britain and America in which the only real winner, strangely enough, was Canada. The most decisive battle of the war was fought because nobody was aware that the peace treaty had already been signed. If there's one thing worse than fake news it's no news.

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