Rhodes on fuel bills, spinsters and papal advice to the child-free

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

The Pope – warning of selfishness
The Pope – warning of selfishness

Words for our time. Those puzzling individuals who come into repeated contact with Covid-19 yet don't fall ill are “nevergetters.”

Faced with plummeting opinion-poll ratings some of Boris Johnson's colleagues are urging him to scrap the VAT on energy bills. Don't bother, Boris. There is absolutely no point in bunging money at the Great British Public in the hope of winning votes unless it's a really monster bribe (like Maggie's massive discounts on buying your own council house, for example). VAT on gas and electricity is a mere five per cent, or just £10 on a £200 bill. Would that make you love Boris? Would you even notice it?

The 1921 Census, just published, is a chilling insight into a terrible era. The “homes fit for heroes” promised during the Great War were squalid tenements and the statistics of suffering were appalling. Britain had lost 700,000 of its brightest and best young men on the battlefields. Tens of thousands of women mourned their sweethearts and prepared for a lonely, childless future.

Incredibly, this distraught army of single women came to be regarded as figures of fun. In books, plays, postcards and music-hall gags, the Old Maid was someone to laugh at. I have never understood the post-war mocking of the spinsters. It was a shameful unkindness, quite unworthy of this nation.

But times change. The great yearning for children 100 years ago has been replaced by thousands of young people, particularly in the educated West, choosing to be “child-free”. The Pope, alarmed at the falling birthrates across Europe, has described people who have dogs or cats instead of children as displaying “a form of selfishness . . . a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity.”

But does it? Or does it simply allow people who don't want the commitment, the ties and the expense of children to choose their own path rather than be bullied by priests, family or convention? For me, the greatest joy in life has come from being a father and a grandfather. But our labrador puppy and a couple of tabbies were great fun, too. And if someone chooses to shun the baby route and devote their life to a succession of Rovers and Tiddles, good luck to them.

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