Peter Rhodes on explaining a statue, the language of non-offence and the joy of roofs

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Birmingham's statue of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch
Birmingham's statue of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch

Beer, Devon

“Ah, the roofs of Beer,” sighed the lady in the car park as she took in the vista of this little fishing village. I’d never really noticed Beer’s roofs before. They are hardly the magnificent pantiles of Avignon or Florence, but they tell a story of a few centuries of development without any master plan. A new crescent here, some cottages there and a few £1 million mansions on the skyline. The result, as in so many English villages, is a jolly jumble of roofs and a quiet celebration of individualism.

More mysteries of weather-forecaster terms. What exactly is “an unsettled pattern?”

The Birmingham Labour MP Jess Phillips is a great, noisy campaigner and she is right to draw attention to the stigma suffered by people carrying HPV, the human papillomavirus. But, oh, the convoluted language she uses in order to avoid any offence.

“I feel saddened,” Phillips declares, “that there are still so many women and people with a cervix, finding out they have HPV.” Curious words. “People with a cervix” sounds as though several people are sharing the same cervix. But the obvious alternative, “people with cervixes” might suggest these are individuals, each with several cervixes. And yet for the sake of former females now identifying as males, you can’t call them all women. It’s a dilemma, innit?

I have to report there is no such semantic angst at the beach cafes at Beer where, in the two-minute gap between ordering a mug of tea and collecting it, I was addressed as sweetheart, m’darling, m’dear, m’lovely and m’beautiful. We third-age persons without cervixes (aka old blokes) really appreciate such attention.

Sheltering under a newspaper from a fiery sun, I spotted an item about Birmingham’s famous statue of those great engineers Boulton, Watt and Murdoch. The statue is to be reinstalled with a plaque explaining Watt’s connections to slavery. While they’re at it, maybe they could add a second plaque explaining that, whatever Brummie folklore says, the statue does not depict the three great men examining the plans for the Rotunda and realising they’ve built it upside-down.

Last job before leaving Devon was to sort the holiday-cottage waste for recycling. Back home, mixing glass and paper is a hanging offence. In Beer it’s compulsory. It’s little things like this that make me suspect that somewhere, out of sight, it all goes in the same skip.

And so farewell to the village of Beer and the eternal joy of walking, fishing and fetes. This is what a seaside holiday should be.

It is, as Mrs Rhodes put it, about the simple, unsophisticated things in life, in places you adore, in the undemanding company of someone you love.

Although her actual words were: “If you were here with somebody more exciting, you’d feel you had to do something.”

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