Peter Rhodes on an airborne author, a president's experiment and the dawning of a glorious new age

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Neil Gaiman – high flyer (Photo: Jutta)
Neil Gaiman – high flyer (Photo: Jutta)

Was anyone reassured by this week's images of the Old Bailey and other courts being re-designed to create safe spacing for lawyers and juries? We are told that no-one need come within the magical two metres of anybody else. Really? And how do the jurors get to the Old Bailey? Train? Bus? Tube?

Meanwhile, we are all watching the most powerful human being on our planet boldly experimenting on himself by taking an anti-malaria drug to fend off coronavirus. Watching and praying.

Two big developments this week. The coronavirus death rate in Britain dropped to its lowest level since lockdown began and in Italy, some shops and hair salons opened. Guess which story got most TV coverage.

Six weeks ago I asked what, if anything, could stop a company getting a £20 million loan from the Government and handing £10 million of it over to the boss as a dividend. The rules unveiled this week mean full disclosure of which firms are getting how much money and a ban on executive pay rises and dividend payments. So that's transparency, prudence, fairness and a recognition that this money is not the Government's nor the companies' but ours. Behold, a glorious new age dawns. I give it six weeks.

After last week's report suggesting a link between nuclear-bomb tests and wet weather in the 1960s, a reader tells me he has a postcard sent by a wife to her husband who was serving in the trenches of the Western Front when it was riven by high explosives. She wrote: “raining every day ne’er a dry day for a long time. I think it’s you lot out there causing it”.

When a writer says he or she needs more space, the usual solution is to build a garden shed or buy a fancy shepherd's hut (I mean the hut is fancy, not the shepherd). Not Neil Gaiman. The creator of Good Omens and Stardust apparently needed so much space from his wife Amanda in New Zealand that he flew and drove 11,000 miles to a house he owns in Skye. The locals, fearful of Covid-19 infection, are furious. After a floundering attempt at justification (“I was going home”) Gaiman finally accepts: “I did something stupid. I'm really sorry.” And what did his flight to Scotland achieve? His fans are horrified, the locals distrust him and the world digests the news that Mr and Mrs Gaiman are happiest when they are in two separate hemispheres. And I bet he hasn't written a single word.

I expected the authorities, so eager to slap £30 fines on lockdown breakers, to come down like a ton of haggis on Gaiman. Instead, police officers have let him off and “given suitable advice” about his trip. It's a result you often see in the United States but don't expect in either Scotland or New Zealand: guilty until proven wealthy.

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