Sir: John Lee highlights the issue of dying of seasonal flu vs dying of coronavirus when assessing attributable deaths (‘The corona puzzle’, 28 March). The obvious solution would be a high autopsy rate. However, autopsies on known or suspected coronavirus deaths are not being done in case they lead to mortuary technologists and pathologists becoming infected. (Tuberculosis, HIV and even rabies infections are easier to prevent in mortuary work than coronavirus.)
This contributes to a lack of information about how coronavirus affects people. In the long term, it also seems unlikely that anatomical examination of the dead will revert to its pre-coronavirus autopsy rate of 17 per cent of all deaths (in England and Wales). So modern medicine will be even less well-informed on precisely why people die in hospitals and the community.
Professor Sebastian Lucas
Department of Cellular Pathology
St Thomas’ Hospital, London
Sir: I am sorry that Charles Moore’s experience of church during the coronavirus epidemic is one of uselessness (Notes, 28 March). I have found quite the reverse. On Sunday I watched on my computer and joined in with the streaming of an excellent sermon and worship from my younger daughter’s Baptist church in Edenbridge; then an offering from my older daughter’s church in America, again with worship and an absolutely dynamic preacher; and thirdly, an audio reading of scripture and a gentle and reassuring sermon from my own Anglican church here in Sussex. Quite a feast! It may be that church, which is after all when two or more people come together in Christ’s name, may never be the same again thanks to the extraordinary technology we now have.
Bolney, West Sussex
Sir: James Forsyth (Politics, 21 March) is correct when he says that the coronavirus will be a test for the Conservative government — and of the level of trust that the public has in it. But it is also a test of society’s ability to look after the community in difficult times. Will people volunteer to assist the elderly, or will we be beating each other to death over the last Andrex multipack? In fact, when volunteers were called for to assist the NHS the response was astounding. Many people have followed the government’s directives across the country, at a sacrifice to their personal earnings and lifestyles. It shows that most people aren’t purely interested in themselves. Therefore this crisis isn’t just crucial in demonstrating that the government is up to the challenge — but also that Britain can show the same spirit that has sustained the country through other difficult times.
Death, aliens and gurus
Sir: I loved Nick Newman’s article about the universal cartoon (‘Beyond a joke’, 28 March). When we were compiling The Best of the Oldie Cartoons recently, my friend David Abberton spent many hours squirrelled away in the archives, mining for comic gold. As part of his studies, he conducted a scholarly investigation into the established themes of cartoons. ‘The most obvious trope is the desert island but there are others,’ David says. ‘In no particular order, these are wife-hating; the grim reaper; aliens; cats; the guru on the mountain top; Mexicans; Heaven; mobiles and “How’s my [insert theme]”. There are honourable mentions for Munch’s “Scream”, giraffes, igloos and Excalibur (usually emerging from a lavatory).’ Why are these themes so universal? Part of the reason is their familiarity: we’re so familiar with Munch’s ‘Scream’ that a clever play on it gets added chuckles. Or perhaps those familiar images are themselves innately funny. Who knows? The great Barry Cryer, who’s just turned 85, says: ‘As somebody once said, analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog. Nobody laughs and the frog dies.’
Oldie magazine, London W1
Sir: Dot Wordsworth suggests that bere is ‘still said to be used by some in Scotland’ (Mind Your Language, 28 March). It is in fact a distinct variety of barley grown on Orkney and elsewhere, much valued for its rapid growth in northern latitudes and tolerance of poor quality soil. Today it is used in the baking of bannocks (a type of flatbread), and the distillation of single malt whisky from Bruichladdich among others. Pronounced ‘bear’, it also appears in Robert Burns’s 1785 poem in praise of Scotch Drink.
Sir: Nick Newman quotes Jean-Paul Sartre’s view that ‘Hell is other people’. It strikes me in this time of National Emergency — as someone who is currently living on my own — that, quite to the contrary, Hell is myself.
Trouble with the neighbours
Sir: Melissa Kite wonders why the residents of her village are so uptight and angry (Real Life, 28 March). I believe the answer may lie in the fact that many of them moved out of London for the same reasons as she did: to escape urban tensions and to create their own semi-rural idyll. What they quickly discover is that in the country they have neighbours who can cause just as much offence as those in town; and it is this that gives rise to the tensions Melissa Kite sees all around her. In addition, her part of Surrey has too many first-time residents from London’s suburbs, who often bring with them a rather petit-bourgeois outlook.
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