Peter Rhodes on dodgy insulation, unforgettable movie music and a reality check on England's care homes

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Unforgettable - Ennio Morricone
Unforgettable - Ennio Morricone

So the Government is to give us householders vouchers worth up to £5,000 to insulate our homes. Call me a cynic but I suspect the first question the contractor will ask before pricing the job is: “Voucher or no voucher, mate?” Unless there are tight controls, the price will expand to fit the vouchers available.

And what will become of those unsolicited phone calls we already get from “energy consultants” promising “government grants?” There is obviously a dodgy underworld of home-insulation scams. How many householders will confuse the dishonest schemes with the new, honest one?

Reality check, please. Can we stop pretending that every single care home in England is a national treasure? When Boris Johnson says some homes did worse than others in the early stages of the pandemic, he is speaking the obvious truth.

Care homes have always been a mixed bag, some private, some local-authority, some well managed, others not so hot. In 2017 the Care Quality Commission said that of 4,000 nursing homes inspected, 32 per cent were inadequate or required improvement and 37 per cent were told they must improve safety. Age UK said elderly people and their families were “playing Russian roulette” when choosing a nursing home or other care service.

So why should anyone believe that, pushed to their limits by a new and unknown virus, all care homes responded magnificently? Some, thanks to sensible planning, had supplies of face masks and other PPE. Other homes had not. Some imposed immediate quarantine, banning all visitors to prevent any infection spreading. Others seemed happy to rely on carers flitting between two, three or more homes in a single day.

If we are going to learn anything from this pandemic it should be which politicians, civil servants, care homes, clinics, surgeries and hospitals did better than others, to ensure that today's best practice becomes tomorrow's norm. To pretend that all is well in the NHS and the care system and to blame everything on politicians is not only too silly for words, but the recipe for a worse disaster next time.

So farewell, Ennio Morricone, the legendary movie composer who wrote, among many other scores, the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He has died aged 91 but that haunting tune, based on the howl of a coyote with added whistling and yodelling, is forever stuck in my mind, with all the other memories of a blissful holiday.

It was Menorca in 1976. The four of us set off one baking hot morning to walk from S'Algar to the next inlet, Alcaufar. In those days the track was just a dusty strip with a couple of adobe shacks shimmering in the heat; the perfect backdrop for a spaghetti Western. One of us began whistling Morricone's tune. The others joined in. We entered Alcaufar in full whistle-and-whipcracking mode swaggering like Lee Van Cleef. Silly but quite unforgettable.

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