Peter Rhodes on sea shanties, censorship and the perils of too much privacy

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Good gracious – Lonnie Donegan
Good gracious – Lonnie Donegan

Sea shanties performed by Nathan Evans, a 26-year-old Scottish postman, have gone viral on TikTok, creating the phenomenon known as Shanty Tok. Reflecting on this unlikely trend, a Daily Telegraph reader recalls how her late husband, a master mariner, used to sing shanties to her, editing out the ruder bits with “a lot of da-di-dahs.”

Censoring the naughtier bits of life, especially in the presence of ladies and children, was second nature to that generation. I remember a Wolf Cub bus trip long ago when Akela allowed us to sing My Old Man's a Dustman on condition that the term “Corblimey trousers” was replaced with something milder.

Here, then, is the Lonnie Donegan hit, as performed by Dale Street Wolf Cubs: “Oh, my old man's a dustman / He wears a dustman's hat / He wears good gracious trousers / And he lives in a council flat.” No wonder we never went viral.

The Germans take their privacy seriously. Their laws are so strict that police cannot name suspects, and courts may even withhold the full names of convicted criminals. In Lower Saxony, the same high regard for individual privacy extends to medical records where the age of citizens is closely guarded. As a result, the Covid-19 vaccination programme has hit the buffers. Health officials, anxious to contact and jab the over-80s, are having to guess the age of individuals from their forenames. For example, Michael is a more modern name than Wolfgang (and I bet there aren't many under-90s called Adolf). “Privacy” is a word that always sounds good although the results are often bad. As a cynical old hack, I tend to assume that anybody campaigning for “privacy” has something to hide.

The easiest thing in politics is giving money to poor people. The hardest thing in politics is taking it back again. Which is why the sooner the Government chucks in the towel on stopping the “temporary” £20 increase in Universal Credit, the better. At best, the Government will be in for months of holier-than-thou haranguing by the Opposition. At worst, a photogenic young footballer may decide to get involved, and we all know how that will end. Let it go. It's only money.

You were right all along. Honey does not taste like it used to. The reason, according to researchers at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, is that bees take pollen from different flowers. In the old days they favoured clover but today it's more likely to be brambles and oil seed rape. Now, maybe someone can find out why roast chicken doesn't taste like it used to, Farley's Rusks are disappointingly bland and Mars Bars, once so big you couldn't get your fist round them, have shrunk almost to bite-size.

In my 11th month as a grandparent, I speak with some authority on Farley's Rusks, having recently caught dozens in mid-air. Strange how a skill perfected 30 years ago never leaves you. Howzat?

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