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The Great Puffin Conspiracy. Peter Rhodes on the size of seabirds, chocolate oranges and why the poor are still with us

Peter Rhodes | Published:

THE Independent Press Standards Organisation has designed a logo to reassure readers of news organisations that they are being protected from fake news online. This presumably includes the Daily Express which, as the weekend ‘supermoon’ approached, gave space on its website to an item headlined: “Did Nasa lie? Shock claim Moon is only 4.7 miles from Earth.” You’ll find it next to the item headlined: “Jesus Christ Tomb Shock.”

Smaller than you think

TALKING of religion, one of the most puzzling and argued-over texts in the Bible is Jesus telling his disciples that, while we must help poor people, ‘the poor will always be with you’. We can only assume, after this week’s reports on poverty, that the authorities in first-century Judea understood the concept of ‘relative poverty’, as used by our own dear government.

FOR Whitehall’s purposes, poverty does not necessarily mean being poor. It means living in a household earning less than 60 per cent of the median income. This explains why it is perfectly possible, as we see in endless TV reports, for folk to have a smartphone, a wide-screen telly and a fitted kitchen and still be classified as in poverty. It also explains how someone can fulfil that much-loved headline of ‘plunging into poverty’ without actually plunging anywhere or even noticing any change in their living standards. More seriously, as long as poverty is defined as a percentage of anything, it can never be eradicated or even seriously reduced. Yet the other official yardstick of ‘absolute poverty’, as used by the United Nations, is brutally harsh and more fitted for the developing world. What we need is a new means of defining UK poverty realistically, not only to reflect real life but also to offer some hope that poverty can be beaten.

THE Great Puffin Conspiracy continues, this time on Blue Planet II (BBC1). It is rife among naturalists and its mantra is: “I can make my puffins look bigger than yours.” Using zoom lenses, full-frame images and a lack of any means of comparison, puffins appear to be as big as turkeys. In real life, as one wildlife tourism website warns its customers: “They are always smaller than people expect.”

I WAS in a shop queue behind a woman who was buying 15 chocolate oranges. “It’s the grandchildren,” she gushed. “They all want an orange in their stockings.” I guess it would be unfestive to point out that, despite the name, a socking great fatty globe of milk chocolate laced with orange essence is not actually an orange. By way of comparison, an orange contains 87 calories, a chocolate orange about 800.

THE shop doorways seem fuller than ever with homeless sleepers. This is an existence which depends entirely on the generosity of people with spare cash. But the advent of contactless debit cards coupled with plans to strip out thousands of high-street cash machines, as announced last week, means we may soon become a cashless society. And what then? “Any spare change, mate?” “No change at all, pal.”

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