Peter Rhodes on Worzel's politics, a duchess's downfall and a good result for the crystal ball

Read Peter Rhodes' first column of 2022.

Conkers for brains - Mackenzie Crook as Worzel Gummidge
Conkers for brains - Mackenzie Crook as Worzel Gummidge

Walking back from our local shop, I was accosted by two amiable dogs who, after the routine tail-wagging, thrust their muzzles deep into the shopping bag and sniffed appreciatively. I could understand it if I was carrying meat or chocolate but why would they be drawn to firelighters?

According to the poet Philip Larkin, sex was invented in 1963 “between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles' first LP.” Clearly, nobody told the Duchess of Argyll who in the 1950s almost single-handedly made England swing while John Lennon was still in short trousers.

A Very British Scandal (iPlayer) tells the story of the so-called “dirty duchess” who was denounced at the end of her spectacular divorce hearing by the judge, Lord Wheatley, as “a highly sexed woman who had ceased to be satisfied with normal relations and had started to indulge in disgusting sexual activities."

Indeed, so disgusted was Wheatley with the duchess that he spent more than three hours summing up the divorce case, and seemed to enjoy his work. Mind you, the hearing was in Scotland where being stern with each other once came as second nature. I recall visiting a Highland village where the kids' playground was decommissioned each Saturday evening by the local clergy who padlocked the swings and chained a plank to the slide, to prevent anyone enjoying themselves on the Sabbath. If the word “dour” did not exist, the Scots would have invented it.

My crystal ball was working well on December 17 when I suggested: “A fast-spreading, low-fatality version of Covid-19 like Omicron, which presumably confers its own immunity, could be some sort of Christmas present.”

Sure enough, the Omicron strain seems to be less serious than Delta. But, mild or grotty, it still spreads in the same five phases. First, it gets people you've never heard of. Then it gets people you have heard of. Then it gets people you know. Then it gets people you love. Then it gets you.

Mackenzie Crook, that great national treasure and re-imaginer of the world's favourite scarecrow, reckons that Worzel Gummidge would be a supporter of direct action and “would give Extinction Rebellion the thumbs up.” But then Crook's Worzel has a head of wood, his brain is made from conkers and I'm not sure he's got any thumbs.

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