Peter Rhodes on slow tractors, talking to the Taliban and whatever happened to celebrating repentance?

Have we spent the past 20 years in Afghanistan mispronouncing the enemy's name? Until a couple of weeks ago, we heard “Taliban” spoken exactly as it looks. But as the war came to its end correspondents and pundits seemed to prefer “Darlybarn.” We may as well get it right because we will be talking to them a lot in the months to come.

Guilty? Timothy Spall as Mr Turner
Guilty? Timothy Spall as Mr Turner

In fact, you might care to put a small bet on when the US and UK embassies in Kabul re-open for business. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened before Christmas.

Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, says a new exhibition of work by J M W Turner should not make us “idolise” the great English artist. He points out that, while Turner became a great liberal and abolitionist, as a young man he once owned a single £100 share in a Jamaican cattle ranch that used slave labour.

I'm reminded of a line from Kris Kristofferson's song, Jesus was a Capricorn: “Everybody's gotta have somebody to look down on.” We all love to think we're on the moral high ground. But Turner owning a single share seems to be nit-picking. Can any of us be sure, for instance, that our pension funds are not invested in companies which despoil the planet, produce tobacco or have historic links to slavery? In this big, interconnected world of ours, very little is squeaky-clean.

In any case, Turner's transition from a minor player in slavery to a towering figure in abolishing slavery surely qualifies him as a sinner who has repented which, according to the Bible, brings much rejoicing in heaven. But when the woke brigade are in full cry, who cares what the Good Book says? If you're holier-than-thou enough, you can look down on everything, including heaven.

Just when you think the whole world's gone mad along comes proof that sanity endures, in the shape of English eccentricity. Loved the slow-tractor race on Countryfile (BBC1) where the prize went to the tractor which took longest to complete the course. Earlier in the day the Belgian Grand Prix was scrapped owing to a spot of rain. That wouldn't deter the slow tractors.

This comes from the much-quoted scientific paper on an unexpected rise in smoking among young people: “The rate of alcohol reduction attempts increased only among the more advantaged social grades.” And again, in plain English?

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