A few more ideas that have had their day

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I was musing the other day in this space on how we sometimes take things for granted for years and years, and then, when we are told that the opposite was true all along, we switch through 180 degrees and start believing the opposite without complaint.

I was musing the other day in this space on how we sometimes take things for granted for years and years, and then, when we are told that the opposite was true all along, we switch through 180 degrees and start believing the opposite without complaint.

Examples I gave were to do with screw-tops for wine (once thought naff, now hyper-efficient), George III (once thought to be mad, now known to be ill), aspirin, etc, etc.

Then, as I was running out of examples, I tactfully stopped. But the very next day I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 and heard a man grumbling about car alarms. They are a total waste of time, he said. They go off in the middle of the night, are a damned nuisance and don't even stop car thieves. Ah ha, I thought. There's another example. People were once all for car alarms. Now the tide is turning.

Later that day I opened the paper and found a diatribe against wind farms. Once thought to be the clean, silent way to energy production, they are increasingly seen as both inefficient and a blight on the landscape.

Ah ha, I thought. Another example. At this rate I shall one day have enough material for another collection of things once thought bad (or good) and now thought to be the opposite.

That day has come sooner than I thought.

First, let me draw your attention to rhododendrons. Rhododendrons are the glory of parkland, wonderful, blowsy yet classy. I always assumed nobody disliked them until I met a man who worked on the Ffestiniog railway, who hated them with a passion.

"When the summer steam-train season is over," he said, "I am going to spend all autumn and winter digging up every rhododendron within 50 feet of the line. Their roots undermine everything. They are killer plants. I hate them. I loathe them."

If it were only railwaymen who disliked rhododendrons I would not pay much attention, but I have since then heard echoes of the same feeling among gardeners and gardening writers, so I think we can safely say that the consensus is swinging against rhododendrons.

I have also felt it swinging against washing machines. In the old days people used to boil clothes, especially underwear. This killed all germs. But washing machine manufacturers fix the temperature at the lowest they can get away with, which is a lot less than boiling, and although clothes still come out looking white, the germs which used to die no longer do so, and medical people tell us that infections are often spread via apparently clean underwear.

(We already know that the best way of spreading germs is by wiping kitchen surfaces with the cloth in the sink, which is full of bacteria just waiting for a germs' night out. I heard an expert the other day saying that the best and quickest way to sterilise a kitchen cloth was to put it in the microwave. I might have to get one, after all.)

(Oh, and if I may open another bracket, a couple of surveys in America recently showed that the places where germs gather are often the most unexpected. In offices, they found the greatest concentration on desks of people who had recently had sandwich lunches. In hotel rooms, the most germ-laden single object was - can you guess? No, nothing in the bathroom. Give up? The TV remote control. Everyone used it. Nobody ever cleaned it. Makes you think.)

(Opinion is also swinging against warm-air hand dryers. Remember when we greeted them as a brilliant replacement for the germ-laden towel? It now seems they spread germs even more efficiently by blowing air they have just sucked in from a latrine.)

And I still haven't looked at the up-and-down fortunes of Communism, the Irish joke, the Skoda car, or the disgrace and subsequent painful rehabilitation of the split infinitive...

(To hopefully be continued some other time.)

Comments