Peter Rhodes on the state of the Union, a sacrificial generation and the joy of a canal holiday

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Fine when it's fine
Fine when it's fine

The Canal & River Trust says it expects "a surge in popularity" for narrowboat holidays this year, thanks to the clampdown on foreign travel.

Good luck with that. In my experience, the canals are wonderful – but jam-packed - in sunny weather while in miserable weather the best thing you can say is that a canal break is a great test of a relationship.

If you're the sort of leisure-seeker for whom the word "holiday" means halcyon days with chilled San Mig delivered by smiling waiters beside a swimming pool the size of Wales, be prepared.

You may be surprised that some people apply the same word to joining a procession of cold, greasy, smoky old narrowboats (and their cold, greasy, smoky old crews) queuing up for the privilege of opening and closing 21 locks on the Hatton Flight. "Canal holiday" is a term best treated with caution.

It's not all about one man, is it?

The reason we are so moved and so thoughtful about the death of the Duke of Edinburgh is that we know we are marking the passing not of one individual but of a very special generation.

By chance, 48 hours after the Duke died, the archive channel Talking Pictures screened that plucky little 1942 film, Went the Day Well? which tells how a fictitious English village, occupied by Nazi paratroops, took up arms and fought back.

It may have been propaganda but it was shot through with truth.

People like these lumpy, unglamorous village characters were the last generation of Brits expected to scrimp and save, to make do and mend and, if the worst happened, to sacrifice their lives for their country. They didn't set out to be plucky but they had little choice.

Today, that sacrificial generation is vanishing fast and the death of the Duke, who was their war-hero contemporary, serves to remind us what they endured and what a fine generation it was.

Sir Philip Rycroft, a former senior civil servant, warns in a report that the 300-year union of the UK is in "deep peril" thanks to "deep-rooted complacency."

Well, if we're going to be complacent we may as well do the deep-rooted sort.

So be honest. In your deepest of deep roots, do you really want to remain in a United Kingdom where a bickering Wales and an unhappy Scotland want to abandon England, and Northern Ireland's idea of loyalism is to put policemen in hospital on a regular basis?

By population England alone is the fifth largest nation in Europe and the 25th biggest state in the world.

Quitting the Union would be a sentimental jolt but England could manage very nicely, thanks. Some may call it peril, others call it a fresh start.

And what might we call our new country? "England" is fine.

But given that England is a union of the ancient kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria, how about "The United Kingdom"?

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