Peter Rhodes on byline photos, fraying tempers and the ancient art of spinning plates

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

Just like Brexit

IF it hasn't happened by the time this appears, it will certainly happen soon: someone is going to die in an Extinction Rebellion demo. Tempers frayed on a London train last week. The mobile-phone footage of an XR activist being pulled from the roof of a train by furious commuters marks the moment when the goodwill, if it ever existed, evaporated. People - real people, not the middle-class poseurs of XR - have jobs to go to, children to meet, families to feed. Obstruct them at your peril.

AND there's another, deadlier, factor. While most XR activists may genuinely cherish their fellow humans, some of the hard-liners are convinced that global warming is going to kill billions of us. If you believe that, and also subscribe to the wicked old revolutionary mantra that "the end justifies the means," then individual human lives suddenly become petty and meaningless - especially the lives of those who dare to puncture your self-righteousness by throwing their sandwiches at you or chucking you off the roof of the train. There will be blood.

IN an open letter, 40 victims and the bereaved of IRA atrocities urge Jeremy Corbyn "to apologise for a career giving succour to violent republicanism." Good luck with that. Corbyn has repeatedly refused to condemn IRA attacks explicitly. His stock response is that he condemns all violence, as though this is a deeper, wiser, more holistic view of it all. It is no such thing. It is mealy-mouthed nonsense, designed to put IRA killers on the same moral level as police and soldiers. Such views infuriated people during the 30-year Troubles and even now add to the anger, and the anguish, of the IRA's victims.

I SUGGESTED a few days ago that Boris Johnson was in the last lap of getting a Brexit agreement. But in politics as in athletics it's not unknown for things to go horribly wrong in those last few yards. In any case, the Brexit process isn't really like a race, is it? What it resembles most is a skill which once entertained millions of circus-goers and is now sadly in decline.

I REFER, of course, to the plate-spinning act. The performer spins one dinner plate on a single flexible pole and then does it again and again until he has dozens of plates spinning away in various stages of wobbliness. That's what Boris Johnson has been doing, trying to keep the DUP, the ERG, the 1922 Committee, the Lords, the EU and every other faction in motion without anybody falling off. As with real plate-spinning acts, you can only bear to watch it for a few minutes before feeling the need of a drink.

AND off to Warwick to hear the historian and writer Simon Heffer promoting his new book about the home front in the First World War, Staring at God. It was a good performance. Heffer spoke for nearly an hour, virtually without notes, plucking dates, statistics and anecdotes from a ferociously well-ordered memory. Heffer is a rarity among hacks in that he really does resemble his by-line photographs. Imagine jolly Mr Toad in tweed and you've got it.

MOST of us columnists tend to use the same byline photo for as long as we can get away with it, if only to save money. The Daguerrotype of me at the bottom of this column replaced an earlier woodcut and cost a fortune in magnesium powder.

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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