Peter Rhodes on counting bugs, in-your-face cops and an epitaph for garden centres

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Nothing but trouble

We’re expecting a warm, sunny weekend. Social-distancing? Not a hope. Watch out, watch out, the loonies will be out.

Have we all spotted the weak link in the social-distance rules, as enforced by cops stopping drivers? It is the first instinct of every traffic officer to lean into the driver’s compartment and take a deep, booze-detecting sniff. Great for nabbing drunk-drivers, not so hot for halting a virus.

Meanwhile, as the statistics grow more depressing, you may get the impression that we have never faced so many sudden deaths in so short a time. In December 1952 a four-day smog in London killed up to 12,000 people (nobody knows the exact figure) and made 100,000 seriously ill. Somehow, they coped and carried on.

Coronavirus is the kiss of death for thousands of garden centres. With customers in lock-down, many centres are facing bankruptcy. Back in 1751, In his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Gray wrote what could be the epitaph for this gentlest of industries: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Hindsight department. Let us suppose that five years ago the Government had acted on every warning about possible disasters, from pandemics to tsunamis and prepared for the worst by filling massive warehouses with £100 million worth of sterile dressings, face masks, protective clothing and suchlike. And let us assume all this kit was stamped with an expiry date of, say, April 2020. Imagine the outraged headlines we would see, with the media snarling:“Whitehall wasted £100 million on a disaster that never happened.” If this pandemic is proving anything it is that the most vital piece of equipment is neither hospital beds nor ventilators but an endless supply of really reliable crystal balls.

In the meantime, how much notice should anyone take of expiry dates on medical equipment? When I joined the Territorial Army in 1976 I was issued with a shell dressing. It was dated 1944.

After my item on conducting an official census of the woodlice in my garden shed, a reader writes excitedly to say he has found a butterfly sleeping in his bathroom. I can only urge you not to start a butterfly census. Woodlice are simple, solid little chaps. Show them a census form and they will co-operate, even if they don’t know exactly how to spell their name (it is Armadillidium vulgare). The same cannot be said for butterflies who are self-obsessed and frivolous, eat your cabbages and show no respect for anybody with a clipboard.

I suspect even the Almighty realised butterflies were going to be nothing but trouble which may explain that, while He created 160,000 species of moths, He gave up on butterflies after only 17,500 species. I know, I should get out more.

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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