Peter Rhodes on pandemic tourists, “hidden history” and a national hero's sweet tooth

If you think we Brits are a tad insular, consider how far we've come since the 1966 Sunday Night at the London Palladium, repeated at the weekend (BBC4). The host, a very young Jimmy Tarbuck, introduced one act which had come “all the way from the Continent.”

Cola-fuelled – Captain Sir Tom Moore
Cola-fuelled – Captain Sir Tom Moore

In the intervening years we have become such a cosmopolitan place that, even during the worst pandemic in 100 years, England still allows 8,000 tourists a day into the country. Note: in this case, “cosmopolitan” means much the same as “bonkers.”

Amid all the joyous excitement of planning UK holidays and eagerly hoping for something further afield under foreign skies, there's always a party pooper. On Tuesday this week I spotted the first newspaper feature of the year warning us darkly about the dangers of sunburn and skin cancer.

I began reading it just as a blizzard started.

Three years ago the film director Mike Leigh said he'd never heard of Peterloo, the 1819 massacre of unarmed citizens by sabre-wielding soldiers in Manchester, until he began researching his film of the same name.

I wrote then that I was surprised.

Leigh had a good grammar-school education, so how had he missed an epoch-defining event such as this?

I felt that same surprise this week when an MP, Claudia Webbe (Lab), was mocked for posting on Twitter an image of an 1884 map showing Africa carved up by European powers with the claim: "This map has been hidden from you all your life."

In fact, the 19th century "Scramble for Africa" is taught in today's National Curriculum and was taught to my knowledge more than 50 years ago, as one of the causes of the First World War.

A similar map of the carve-up of the continent is freely available on Wikipedia. A scandal is always made worse if there's a cover-up, a conspiracy or claims of "hidden history."

But failing to study history doesn't count. Especially if you're a politician.

Dieticians will no doubt be horrified at the revelation that in his 100th year Captain Sir Tom Moore completed his charity walks fuelled by Hobnobs, Coca-Cola, KP Nuts and chocolate.

Well, so what? His sweet tooth, revealed by his family this week, reminds me of another old soldier I interviewed many years ago.

As this ex-gunner described his First World War service, he made a pot of tea and offered me sugar. I declined.

"You ought to have plenty of sugar," he remonstrated, shovelling three teaspoons into his mug.

"Sugar’s good for you." For a moment I thought of warning him of the dangers of sugar, from obesity to diabetes.

But when you’re talking to someone who has galloped into action with field guns, opened fire on the Kaiser’s hordes and then survived to a great age, it’s best to know your place.

And the same applies to Captain Sir Tom. You reach a stage in life when, whatever the experts say, you can eat what you damn well please.

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