Peter Rhodes on naming a toadstool, “harmless” technology and why the truth is sometimes not obvious

Why, darling, what a lovely Christmas thought. Among a host of things newly discovered by scientists is a toadstool found in Britain which the discoverer has named after his wife. I'm sure she is thrilled. Another scientist has discovered a bloom described as “the ugliest orchid in the world.” Dilemma – who do you name that after?

Olivia Colman as the Queen in The Crown
Olivia Colman as the Queen in The Crown

I wish I had Olivia Colman's confidence in the great viewing public. She says it's “obvious” to viewers that some scenes in the Netflix drama The Crown are made up, because who could know what happened between Charles and Princess Di behind closed doors? Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says the series ought to carry a disclaimer, pointing out it is part-based on fiction. Sounds reasonable. An historical drama should be either fact or fiction, otherwise we'd have the Spanish Armada conquering England or Ethelred being ready.

The only reason The Crown has any commercial value is that it is based on real people. If it were set in the court of Pomerania with Prince Hans and Princess Boompsy-Daisy, no-one would watch it. The power of The Crown is that it blurs reality and dissects real crises by creating unreal events. It's not fact, it's not fiction and it's certainly not fair.

Mind you, when it comes to bending facts, the Windsors have form. I remember in the build-up to the Charles and Di divorce how the Palace shamelessly and repeatedly lied to the media, and thus the people, by pretending all was well and that the Royal couple were still on good terms. Later we learned they couldn't bear to share the same room. In this little spat nobody has a monopoly on the truth.

Of course there will be a Brexit agreement. Why, only last week that darling of the Left, Polly Toynbee, declared: “There will be a deal in these last days: a lousy, rotten, flea-bitten thing, but infinitely better than nothing. “ So if there were no deal, Polly would be wrong. And that would never do.

As I reported some days ago, hydrogen fired boilers are being touted as one possible replacement for gas boilers which are to be phased out of new homes from 2025. One phrase keeps cropping up. It is that clean, green hydrogen boilers produce no emissions apart from “harmless water vapour.” I bet something similar was promised 100 years ago as petrol engines began to conquer the world. (“Emissions, squire? Maybe just a whiff of harmless smoke.”)

And while a few thousand hydrogen boilers may be harmless, how about 10, 20 or 30 million? At what stage does “harmless water vapour” begin to affect the atmosphere and our climate?

We should be wary because once a new technology takes off, there is sometimes no stopping it. A sobering statistic is that at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the British Army possessed 80 motor lorries. By the Armistice four years later, it had 59,490.

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