Peter Rhodes on a Victorian tragedy, an unplanned referendum and the royal known by a single name

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

Just plain Archie

PENNY Mordaunt is the new Secretary of State for Defence. She is also a Royal Navy reservist. In the event of war, what is the correct procedure for calling yourself up?

THERE'S a linguistic spat going on in Canada over how to bring gender equality into French, a language which tends to stress the masculine. It's very technical but The Guardian helpfully offers some historical background: "Written French was not always particularly strict on the subject of gender, with writers often conjugating willy-nilly regardless of the subject’s sex." I fear this is all you need to know about the French.

WITHOUT ever voting for a second EU referendum, or even wanting one, next week will bring one. The election for the European Parliament will pit Leave parties against Remain parties. When it's all over, just tot up the total votes for each side. I wouldn't recommend it and I certainly wouldn't want to be bound by the result. But it might just give an indication what real people really think, as opposed to what politicians tell us "the people" want.

ARCHIE is a great name. And by declining the title "Prince," Harry and Meghan have ensured that their baby will be one of those rare historical characters (Lenin, Madonna, Sting, Napoleon, etc) who are known universally by a single word.

IT was a wise move, too, to decline the title Earl of Dumbarton for the wee laddie, thus saving him from a lifetime of flatulence-related limericks. There was a young Earl of Dumbarton, etc. You see the possibilities?

WE had an Archie in our family, briefly. He was born in the summer of 1900 and, like so many babies back then, died a few days later. In those days about 165 out of every 1,000 babies perished at or near childbirth. Today the figure is less than four per 1,000. A few weeks after Archie died his mother Sarah, aged 25, also died, probably from birth-related fever, leaving her husband to cope with the two-year-old daughter who would become my grandmother. There is something uniquely unkind and unfair about the loss of an infant. It strikes at the heart of our sense of natural justice. So when a Victorian preacher tells you Archie is in Heaven, how can you not believe him? It never surprised me that my grandmother's whole family were deeply religious Methodists. And I wouldn't mind betting in those societies today where infant mortality is highest, belief in Heaven is strongest.

ARCHIE'S father, my great-grandfather, was Bright Laycock, named after the famous Victorian reformer John Bright. As far as I can discover he was the only person in a UK census ever to have that name, although one unfortunate chap in a US census went through life as Bloomer Laycock.

THIS column is taking a break. I am marking my birthday by messing around on boats, oh joy. Back on Friday.

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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