Peter Rhodes on starving swans, lost passwords and menus designed for eyes, not palates

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes

Good enough to snap
Good enough to snap

THIS was a new one on me. I phoned a recently opened hotel and restaurant and heard the recorded message: "To book a table, go to www. . . etc" Online booking was offered not as an option but as the only way of reserving a table. I am sure the beancounters have given it their blessing but how many potential customers will simply hang up? I have never met a website as welcoming as a well-trained receptionist.

SURE enough, by pretending to be the village idiot and letting the hotel phone ring for ages, I was eventually able to book a table with a human being.

WE had a fine lunch, apart from the game pie. What is this universal obsession with slapping flaky-pastry crusts on restaurant pies? They taste of absolutely nothing and implode on contact with a fork. A simple shortcrust is miles better in all respects but one; you can't deny that the huge, shiny golden dome of a tasteless flaky-pastry crust photographs beautifully. We live in an age when photographing your meals and Snapchatting them to your mates is considered acceptable social behaviour. Are the catering industry's dishes of the day being designed for how they look, not how they taste?

MEANWHILE, a cautionary internet tale of our age comes from Canada where Gerald Cotten founded a cryptocurrency exchange company handling more than £100 million of clients' wealth. For total security, he was the only one in the firm who knew the passwords. Tragically, Mr Cotten has died suddenly, aged just 30, taking the secret words to the grave. His customers are understandably furious or panicking, or both.

BUT I bet this £100 million tragedy is being played out on a smaller scale all over the world. Someone dies and his family and colleagues haven't a clue which online accounts he had, let alone how to access them. Some people keep passwords in their head, others write them down (running the risk of burglars finding them) and some bundle all their passwords together and store them in that amazing cyber-construction, the Cloud where total security is guaranteed. But then I dare say Mr Cotten guaranteed total security, too.

THE debate over what to feed water fowl in winter goes on. You may recall the Better Than Bread campaign to persuade us to feed ducks and swans with vegetable tit-bits rather than old loaves. A reader summed it up brilliantly when he stressed how important it was for birds to die healthily. Sure enough, a number of severely underweight swans have been found in the Thames Valley and 15 have starved to death. David Barber who holds the ancient title of the Queen's Swan Marker, says bread is "a vital source of energy," especially in winter. Mixing bread with oats, sweetcorn and frozen peas is recommended.

AND no, before you ask , I haven't the faintest idea what you mark a swan with. Care, presumably.

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