Peter Rhodes on speaking English proper, skipping the toothbrush and the beauty of an old-fashioned atlas

By Peter Rhodes | Opinions | Published:

Time, patience and love.

A thing of beauty

"TWO nations divided by a common language" was coined by George Bernard Shaw to describe Britain and America. But you don't have to cross the Atlantic to find some very odd English. Students have been occupying parts of the University of Aberdeen and, according to the local paper, "have to be escorted by security staff if they want to do the toilet." Down here, we use the toilet. Up there, they do the toilet. It's probably much the same thing.

ACCORDING to Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, about 750,000 people who have settled in this country cannot speak English fluently. They should feel thoroughly at home among the millions of home-grown Brits who also speak it all wrong, like, y'know, innit, jinarmin?

YOU may recall research showing that pregnancy rates were falling among young people. Experts suggested it was down to smartphones, with kids communicating in cyber space but not physically. Maybe it's not that simple. According to a survey of 20,000 people in the States, one-third of the millennial generation brush their teeth only once a day. And most of those surveyed said they would rather go without sex for a month than see a dentist. There is a connection. If you avoid the dentist long enough, celibacy tends to follow.

FOLK in Exeter are delighted that a blue plaque now marks the home of Mary, a carrier pigeon dropped behind enemy lines in the Second World War. Mary was awarded the Dickin Medal, sometimes called the animal Victoria Cross. The late, great A A Gill in his book about the English, "The Angry Island," gets very waspish about "the Disneyfication of war." He asks: "If you memorialise the horse that pulled the limbers and the pigeons that carried the messages, how in all conscience can you not remember the cattle that made the bully-beef and the chickens that made the soup?" So, any chance of a blue plaque on the Fray Bentos factory..?

SOME soldiers shared Gill's unsentimental view of animals. It was reported during one battle in the First World War that a carrier pigeon arrived at headquarters with the message: "I am absolutely fed up of carrying this bloody bird around France."

ONCE upon a time in ye olde pre-digital days, I spent some hours with the map makers of the Automobile Association at their head office in Basingstoke. The creation of the AA road atlas was a labour of love, made accurate to the tiniest detail by experts working with massive magnifying lenses. I have no idea how much longer the printed version will survive this age of satnav, even at today's ludicrously low price of £1.99. I bought one a few days ago. It is a thing of beauty, a magnificent portrayal of a glorious country, worth wrapping in tissue paper and hiding away for the great-grandchildren to gaze at and wonder what people had in the olden days that made such craftsmanship possible. It was time, kids. Time, patience and love.

OOPS. When I wrote "craftsmanship" just then, I of course meant "craftspersonship.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world


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