Peter Rhodes on the blessings of bamboo, a struggle with figures and a significant birthday

Two developments this week. Firstly, some of our high-speed trains are out of action after developing cracks. Secondly, our elite scientists at Cambridge report that bamboo, being stiffer, harder and stronger than willow, can make better cricket bats than willow. If bamboo is such a wonder-material, why not make trains out of it? For a start, they'd be the right shape to fit in tunnels.

Bamboo – raw material for trains?
Bamboo – raw material for trains?

Just four days from today the Covid rules relax and we can meet up with friends in our own homes. Or, if you prefer, in their homes. And that's because your place, if it's anything like ours, may have achieved PLS, Peak Lockdown Slobbery, otherwise known as a tip. There is at least a month's tidying-up and polishing to do before we can throw open our doors.

From the Daily Telegraph website: “Free lateral flow tests may not be approved for departing green list holidaymakers.” Imagine if that headline had appeared only 18 months ago, it would have meant nothing to any of us.

In my lecturing days, I would warn trainee journalists of the dangers of making the readers work too hard. The example I used was a piece by a columnist (let us call him Fred) on reaching a significant birthday. Instead of simply telling us his age, Fred wrote playfully: “Suffice to say I have added two score years to that zero-appended anniversary when life is alleged to begin.” What . . . ?

Suddenly you're into Bletchley Park code-breaking territory. Anyone care to decipher Fred's age?

My class of young graduates would figure out that it was a birthday ending in a zero. With luck, some of them might have had heard the expression “life begins at 40.”

So we start with 40 and add two score. At this stage there would be some debate over whether two score was 20 or 40.

Eventually the kids would settle on 40. And by adding 40 to 40 they would deduce that Fred had just turned 80. Result! Not exactly. Like so many journalists, Fred wasn't very good with figures. The birthday he was trying to describe was actually his 60th.

Me? Suffice to say I have just added three score years to the age when life begins, divided by two, then added the number of biblical Commandments, and added another score and subtracted the number of musical Green Bottles. Or to put it more simply, today is my birthday and I am 70.

I am not at all happy about this. Frankly, it is a disgrace and I will, of course, be demanding a recount on the grounds that, not so long ago, only really, really old people were allowed to be 70, not youthful, bright-eyed, snake-hipped lads like me. Is nobody maintaining any quality-control?

* Peter Rhodes' new book, Bloody Adjectives, a collection of memories and dispatches from 50 years in journalism, is published by Brewin Books at £8.95

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