Peter Rhodes on a swashbuckler called Sidney, the rise of child-free living and the passing of a Chuckle Brother

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Topsham, Devon

Swashbuckling Sidney

A READER accuses me of taking more holidays than the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice combined. To be fair, I have done considerably more work than the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice combined.

THIS flat, low-lying part of Devon attracts hordes of cyclists who are supposed to share the roads and footpaths in a considerate manner. Dream on. What is it about putting on Lycra that makes an otherwise rational person incapable of operating a bicycle bell?

EVERY seaside town needs a good book shop. We found one in Topsham with a window display of ripping yarns from ye olden days with some fine dustjacket pictures. My eye was caught by one showing a strapping lass dressed as a 17th century sea captain stirringly entitled "Sidney Seeks Her Fortune." I can only assume that the Royal Navy of the 1600s had progressive and enlightened views on transgender recruitment. Failing that, maybe Sidney can be a girl's name.

IT must be 20 years ago that the Guardian started using the term "child-free" in inverted commas, to describe women who chose not to have children. But even now, when being child-free may simply be a lifestyle choice, women are still on the defensive. In separate interviews in the same week, Anita Rani of Countryfile and Strictly Come Dancing feels the need, at 40, to explain her "choice not to prioritise babies" while Jennifer Aniston, 49, says: "Maybe my purpose on this planet isn't to procreate." And why should it be? How long will it be before we look back on such prying, baby-focused interviews with embarrassment? And how long before being child-free becomes so commonplace that celebrities who choose to have babies are expected to justify that?

STRANGELY, some child-free women are naturally attractive to kids. They are known as aunties and many of them, having good jobs and pots of money, are a source of endless toys and ice-cream. One of the things a child learns early in life is to recognise a rich auntie and cultivate her.

AS for the decline in the birth rate, my personal suspicion is that a generation of women have been put off childbirth by Call The Midwife (BBC1). In the same way, people often turn vegetarian after seeing an abattoir.

TALKING of breeding, I suggested yesterday that it would be good to see Australian black swans established all over Britain. I dare say people once said the same about those cute little grey squirrels.

AS any father will tell you, heroism is not part of the job description. But there was one moment in 1990 when I came home from work and presented my four-year-old daughter with something that made me the hero of the hour. I'd been interviewing a pair of North Country comedians and although I'd barely heard of them, my little girl was a huge fan. She still has that autographed photo of the Chuckle Brothers. Barry Chuckle died a few days ago and I bet a lot of thirtysomethings shed a tear.

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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