Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: What rugby star Zebo really meant was that man who hurled abuse at him was old enough to know better... as is the Duke of Edinburgh

Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo
Entrepreneur Sir James Dyson

By Lindy McDowell

Is 40 the new 80? Rugby star Simon Zebo seems to think so... Responding to news that Ulster Rugby had banned for life a spectator who'd racially abused him during a recent game at the Kingspan Stadium, the player described the culprit as "an elderly man, like 40-plus".

I imagine there will be a few 40-something fans of the game - and of the 28-year-old Mr Zebo himself - who will have been a trifle stung by a comment that appears to pigeon-hole them with Methuselah.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (61) was among those taken aback by what he termed this "ageism".

He tweeted: "First and foremost Simon Zebo should not have been abused by the Ulster fan who shouted something inappropriate - but Zebo shouldn't describe him as 'an elderly man, like 40-plus'. Ageism, racism, both wrong."

This in turn led to criticism of Mr Nesbitt (sometimes it's hard to keep up with Twitter backlash) who was accused of equating ageism with racism when he clearly wasn't.

He was just saying they were both wrong.

But was Simon Zebo guilty of being ageist? I don't think so. I think he was just guilty of being... well... young. At 28 you do tend to think 40-plus is well over the brow of the hill.

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And he was also making, I think, a very fair point: that the yob hurling the abuse wasn't some witless teenager, but an older man who knew precisely what he was doing.

I need to make it clear here that nobody is suggesting that racism can be excused on grounds of youth.

But with an older perpetrator you do feel there is that added nasty edge of a sense of bullying.

I certainly thought that when I watched footage a few weeks back of the football player Raheem Sterling being barracked and racially abused by a group of men clearly in the 40-plus (and maybe even 60-plus) bracket. Shamefully those bully oul' boys were old enough to be Sterling's father.

So much for "with age comes responsibility".

Which brings us to Prince Philip (97), who continues to make headlines this week after his recent road accident by getting back in the driving seat - sans seatbelt - less than a couple of days later.

True, there is something admirable about the indomitable spirit of the old boy (or old girl) who refuses to say die and right into their 90s and even beyond continues to live life to the full.

But there also comes a time when common sense has to enter the equation.

And when you've been involved in an accident in which all concerned were lucky to escape with their lives - and they included a baby of a few months old - it's time to throw in the keys, if not the towel.

Philip, however, in a display of royal arrogance, not only got back behind the wheel but did so having taken delivery of a brand new Range Rover costing the price of a terrace house.

He's going through them like a teenager goes through pizzas.

It's never a good look for a royal to be seen flaunting not only runaway extravagance but also disdain for the rules of the land.

Why doesn't somebody in the royal household put the brakes on the man they're now calling the Duke of Hazard? According to reports, it's because "everybody is terrified of him". He's 97, for heaven's sake. What do they think he's going to do to them? Rugby-tackle them for the key fob?

Yes, there is indeed something uplifting and reassuring about a indisputably elderly man railing against the old-age stereotype.

But refusing to grow old shouldn't prevent you from growing up.

There will come a time when even young Mr Zebo may have cause to revisit his assessment of the age when you hit "elderly".

But he does make a good point about the need for the mature to show some maturity.

A painful dilemma for searchers

Two haunting, tragic stories this week have made headlines across the world. The disappearance of footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, lost when their plane went down en route to Cardiff. And the desperate attempts to rescue a little boy, Julen Rosello, who fell down a narrow borehole in Spain. In both cases searches continued long after hope had gone. When do you halt such a search? For the authorities there is no easy answer. But if it were your son...

Leaders’ gender is not the issue

As leading hotelier Bill Wolsey rightly points out, in Northern Ireland we have replaced the men of violence with the women of intransigence.

But the easily offended are with us always. His remarks were aimed at political leaders Arlene and Michelle. A Sinn Fein MLA complains, however, that his comments are sexist. They aren't. They reflect what just about every voter in the land thinks. It's not the leaders' gender we have issue with. It's their obduracy.

If only Dyson would throw in towel over his hand-dryers

Much comment this week about the Brexit-supporting billionaire Sir James Dyson who is relocating his firm’s HQ to Singapore.

Dyson has been accused of hypocrisy, desertion and letting down Leavers — all of which, needless to say, he strenuously denies.

Sir James is the entrepreneur who famously revolutionised the manufacture of vacuum cleaners — which some of us still insist on referring to as Hoovers.

I honestly don’t care where he puts his headquarters.

But since he is on the move, I would like him to take another of his inventions with him: the Dyson Airblade hand-dryer.

In other words, those horrible air-blowing metal envelopes you find in toilets everywhere these days and into which it is impossible to put your hands without touching the very germy sides of the things.

Even if you do manage to get your hands inside without connecting with the bacteria thereon, you then get blasted not only on your hands but also up your face with droplets of tainted water ricocheting from the accumulated crud below.

Finally you give up and remove your hands only to discover they’re still damp. So much for progress.

Dyson doesn’t make all hand-dryers but he certainly led the charge in popularising the vile things.

So I think it would be a fair swap: Singapore gets him, we get back paper towels.

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