Peter Rhodes on Scotland's tunnel, preventing despair and the menace of overcrowded homes

I'm sure we're all reassured that Covid vaccines are to be tested on children as young as six. On condition, that is, that the boffins use the right sort of children. Other people's children.

Much Wenlock pic. Comedian John Cleese outside "he Raven Hotel & Restaurant", 30 Barrow Street, Much Wenlock, in the movie Clockwise
Much Wenlock pic. Comedian John Cleese outside "he Raven Hotel & Restaurant", 30 Barrow Street, Much Wenlock, in the movie Clockwise

The best quote from the 1986 film Clockwise should be inscribed over every prime minister and health minister's desk. John Cleese is the frazzled headmaster whose big day is rapidly going down the pan. He turns to a student and admits: “It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.”

That's how it is with lockdown. We can stand the despair of missing friends and cancelling holidays. What we can't cope with is the speculation, the promises, the leaking of dates over when lockdown may end. This causes high hopes and grand plans, followed by a sudden panic in high places when the R-number unexpectedly shoots up, and the reimposition of lockdown. The terrible death toll in January was the direct result of politicians wanting to treat the nation to a Merry Christmas with homes full of guests.

Next time, no treats, please. Let Boris and Co be sure the vaccines are working, hospital admissions are falling and the death rate is declining. And let them make those judgments based on what the graphs actually say, not where some optimists hope the graphs will be two weeks from now.

I interviewed John Cleese when Clockwise was released 35 years ago. While it is a great film, no-one of my generation can meet Cleese without mentioning another movie. To the publicity people's despair, I turned the conversation to Monty Python's Life of Brian. “Ah, the cleverest thing we ever did,” said Cleese, smiling wistfully.

Meanwhile, back at the pandemic, every report so far shows a connection between Covid-19 and people living in overcrowded accommodation. While there are strict laws to prevent landlords overcrowding rented accommodation, private house-owning families can stuff in as many friends and relatives as they choose. This is no new problem. A report in 2004 suggested the number of three-generation homes would soar from 75,000 to 200,000 by 2024, largely as a result of student loans, rising property prices and the soaring cost of care homes for the elderly. Every overcrowded house is a potential breeding ground for the pandemic. Politicians seems strangely quiet on the subject.

After that unfortunate incident on Gardeners' Question Time (Radio 4) when the phrase "pollinating your bush,” occurred, a reader tells me: “I checked my e-mails to find something from a money-saving firm offering the advice: 'Please play with our tool and tell us what you think.'

Apparently a "tool" is something for choosing a new mobile phone.”

The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, says a 25-mile undersea tunnel linking Northern Ireland to Scotland is “the way forward.” But that assumes we're all staying in the UK. If Scotland votes for independence and rejoins the EU, a better way forward might be the Glasgow-to-Calais tunnel.

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