Peter Rhodes on tonnes, tons, ignoring the public and the end of the line for theatres

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Andrew Lloyd Webber – hopeful
Andrew Lloyd Webber – hopeful

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that surge testing would help the UK come down on coronavirus outbreaks "like a tonne of bricks.” Or at least he did if you follow Sky News, the Times, and the Daily Telegraph. In contrast. the London Evening Standard, Republic World and some other news outlets reported that Raab promised “a ton of bricks.”

The difference is that “tonne” is a metric measure of 1,000 kilograms while “ton” is the old Imperial weight of 2,240lbs. You might think in these metric times that “tonne” would be universal. Not so. Google has 1.5 million references to “ton of bricks” but only 73,000 to “tonne of bricks.” It goes deeper. “Ton” is correctly used informally to describe any large amount. No student ever complained about having a tonne of homework to finish.

Get a move on. If you live in Staffordshire or Shropshire, you have only four days left in which to be totally ignored. This is serious. A lot of time and money has gone into setting up the HS2 Ignore-the-Public Process. If you don't make your views known on this ludicrous white elephant by the end of this week, the powers-that-be will have nothing to ignore.

Interestingly, I could find nothing in the consultation website about the only question that will bother future passengers – ticket prices. According to one estimate, HS2 will charge a premium of between 20 and 33 per cent for its high-speed service. In theory that could hike the cost of a London-Manchester ticket from £180 to £240 at today's prices. The more we hear about HS2, the more it resembles Concorde – an ego trip for the rich.

Anyway, the non-consultation consultation period runs until Friday. The public's views on existing services and HS2's environmental impact are allegedly welcomed but a Government leaflet explains: “The Government does not intend to make changes to the Phase 2a scheme or to its planned construction programme in light of this consultation". Democracy. Don't you love it?

Andrew Lloyd Webber has improved the ventilation in his theatres to ensure the safety of customers “when venues reopen.” That is one huge “when.”

Given time, we punters may be prepared to risk a quick pint in a breezy beer garden with socially distanced friends. We might even tighten our face mask for a restricted-numbers dash through an art gallery. But will we ever be prepared to sit for hours in a theatre with 1,000 others, half of whom were persistent coughers, sniffers and sneezers even before Covid came along? I fear that after 450 glorious years, the age of theatres may be over.

Last word on tonnes. In 2012 a Lib-Dem MP tabled a Commons motion complaining about “the unnecessary metrication of traditional British phrases.” I would like to dig out what happened to that motion but I've got a ton of other stuff to do.

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