Peter Rhodes on aristocrats preparing for Armageddon, expensive air and the charms of Chester
You can take the Brits out of paganism but you can't quite get paganism out of the Brits.
YOU might think some items have been developed to the point where no further refinement is required. Not so. A reader describes a line of seemingly identical wheelbarrows at a garden centre. One was £20 cheaper than the others. "It's last year's model," explained the salesman.
THE compressed-air machine at my local garage which used to charge 50p to pump up your tyres has been replaced by a new machine charging £1. Inflation, presumably.
DON'T you get fed up with the fake friendship of computer-generated bumf addressing you by your first name, as though you've been best mates for years? The greetings form at our hotel in Chester a few days ago was a refreshing change. It began: "Dear Rhodes." Just like being back in school.
CHESTER was terrific. I can't think why we'd never visited the place before. Everyone raves about the city's Roman remains but I loved the random little bits of architecture sprinkled inside the old city. Here, a Roman bath house, there a Tudor shop. Turn a corner and you're in a Georgian square, a Regency terrace, a 1950s court or a Victorian alley straight out of Coronation Street. If you were a film maker based in Chester you could make movies set in any era from Diocletian to George Dixon without ever going outside the city walls.
INEVITABLY, buildings designed for another age in Chester are pressed into modern service. An inscription on a Tudor house tells us: "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life." Appropriately, it is now a dentist's.
CHESTER Cathedral is a sort of Tardis. From the outside it crouches low against the city walls, as squat as a toad. Inside, it soars and its nave goes on for ever. And in the old cloisters, the very heart of Christianity in the city, is a reminder of how little we change. It is a water feature and you can hardly see the bottom for all the coins, tossed in by trippers for good luck. Our ancestors were making little offerings to water gods long before the men with crosses and funny hats arrived from Rome, and we still do. You can take the Brits out of paganism but you can't quite get paganism out of the Brits.
ORDEAL by Innocence (BBC1) is a 1950s Agatha Christie yarn set in a stately home which has its own atom-bomb shelter. This rings a bell. Thirty years ago when the Cold War looked like getting hot, I interviewed a man marketing a new range of mini nuclear bunkers. They were expensive and he told me he began by approaching millionaires and the aristocracy. Time after time he had the same rebuff: thanks, but milord had already made adequate provision. If Armageddon ever happens, it seems the ruling classes are determined to carry on ruling, even if there is a global shortage of clean water, food and butlers.
OUR changing language. A powerful German sports car, bought by a middle-aged man worried about the advancing years, is a Menoporsche.