Peter Rhodes on a flood of poetry, the two Henleys and the myth of the American Dream

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Dream on, Mr Obama
Dream on, Mr Obama

“I find that I now view Judas Iscariot in a slightly less condemnatory light.” Daily Telegraph reader, reflecting on Dominic Cummings' testimony.

My piece on red kites harassing folk in Henley-on-Thames reminded me of the other Henley. Some years ago, I thought I had traced a person I wanted and rang them. “You've got the wrong number,” said the very posh lady who answered. “This is Henley-on-Thames,” she announced grandly. Have you tried Henley-in-Arden?” The distaste with which she mentioned the Warwickshire Henley stays with me.

I am rather hoping we have reached peak Llangollen. I suggested last week that it was impossible to work the name of the Welsh town into a poem. It's a sobering fact that I've had more reaction to this one whimsical segment than any other subject in recent weeks – including the pandemic.

Thick and fast have your couplets arrived. Virtually all involved the words “pollen” and “stollen,” including this one, my personal favourite: “There was a small shop in Llangollen / Run by the baker Van Pollen./ But poor Van got a shock / When a thief stole his stock. /Yes, Llangollen’s Van Pollen’s Bread’s Stollen”.

I couldn't close the Llangollen saga without recalling an excellent mini- break in the town a few years ago in a hotel by the Dee, a river boiling with salmon, grayling and trout. It was only as we were packing up on the last day and flipping idly through the brochure that I discovered that the deal had included fishing rights. Moral: always read the small print. And always pack your rods.

Here are two great commentaries on the American Dream, the cherished belief that even the lowliest citizens can reach great heights if they only have enough faith in themselves. First, this: “The people who are making the decisions, they’re not any smarter than you. They’re not somehow endowed with some special gifts. They may have had opportunities and exposure to things that you didn’t have but you can get those.”

And then there's this: “When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are. / Anything your heart desires / Will come to you.”

The first was spoken by former president Barack Obama in his Zoom conversation with the footballing philanthropist Marcus Rashford. The second is sung by Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's 1940 movie, Pinocchio. And both, alas, are claptrap.

High office in the States is the preserve of the super-rich and well-connected. The last US President not to be a millionaire was Harry Truman, 70 years ago. As more of its wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer people, America, once a genuine land of opportunity, is becoming a less fair place where you may as well put your faith in Jiminy Cricket as Barack Obama.

The trouble with the American Dream? You have to be asleep to believe it.

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