Peter Rhodes on dim students, attractive right-wingers and Grayson's fascinating foray to the States

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry

I wrote recently about harvestmen, those spindly, spiderlike creatures. It is surprising that their name has survived 40 years of feminism. They should, by rights, be known as harvestpeople harvestfolk or harvestpersons. But then what do we do about black widows?

Traces of a gas usually associated with microbes have been found on Venus, prompting speculation that the planet may support primitive life. But what if the research proves there is no life after all? Charles Cockell, a professor of astrobiology, suggests that an absence of life might lead to “a deeper appreciation . . . of our own specialness in a violent and thoughtless cosmos.” On the other hand, being a greedy sort of species, we might take the view that if we are the only intelligent life form in the entire universe, we obviously own it. It's ours. The lot.

The term “sold down the river” has been banned by BBC Sport because of its ancient connection to the slave trade. I asked what words shop stewards might choose to replace this useful phrase having spent many years complaining that their members, in thousands of disputes, had been sold down the river? A reader has helpfully sent a list of non-offensive and non slave-related alternatives. From now on, the brothers and sisters sacked by the management have been traded down the towpath, peddled without a paddle, panhandled down the Panama and bartered down the basin.

A mystery. If we are not allowed to use terms such as “sold down the river,” “nitty gritty” and “cakewalk” because they are related to slavery, why is it still okay to use the word “slavery”?

Some reports of students arriving at university, ignoring all Covid precautions and partying in vast crowds until dawn, are enough to chill the blood. And yet it was inevitable. When a nation decides to send 50 per cent of its school leavers to university, it is obvious that standards will fall. It's just that it takes the worst pandemic in 102 years to reveal that some of today's would-be graduates are thick.

After making his Big American Road Trip (C4), that great national treasure Grayson Perry confesses that he found some right-wingers more open and friendlier than some of those on the Left. In particular, the cross-dressing artist was surprised to discover “hostile” wealthy liberals. I wonder whether Perry also discovered that right-wingers are more attractive.

That was the curious finding in a US study two years ago. It reported: “Good-looking people tend to get on better in life because people interact with them differently.” As a result, it concluded, attractive people are more likely to think the world is a fair place, less likely to welcome reforms and therefore tend to be right wing.

This prompted one unhappy Guardian reader to comment: “There are only two rules for a successful life: 1) be attractive, 2) don't be unattractive.”

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