Sir: Alexandra Coghlan identifies the coincidence between the rise of recording and broadcast technology and the flourishing of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (‘Going for a song’, 5 December). Just as the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843 coincided with cheaper books and a growing readership to forge the modern Christmas, so recent improvements in musical technology have just as firmly established its soundtrack. If Dickens created our modern Christmas, then its musical accompaniment should be accredited to Sir Stephen Cleobury, who served as Director of Music at King’s for 37 years until his retirement in September 2019. He died two months later, but I hope that it may be some comfort to those who loved him that his legacy, like that of Dickens, will be to bring joy at Christmas to countless people for many years to come.
Sir: The very same day that the online version of my article (‘eBay of pigs’, 5 December) came out, and following a little bit of chat on my personal Facebook page, I received an email from eBay informing me that my account was reinstated. Coincidence or not? I think the latter and am delighted that The Spectator’s reach is global and fills the ether.
Walton, New York
Sir: Matthew Parris is right that the Liberal Democrats have become ‘soggy’, but wrong about the cause (‘The soggification of the Liberal Democrats’, 28 November). Their root problem is mistakenly trying to provide a home in one modest abode for three incompatible political philosophies. Social democracy, classical liberalism and progressive wokery are distinct and, at times, antagonistic systems. Attempts to blend them merely produce the very sogginess Parris refers to, and results in public bafflement. Hyper-progressives such as Layla Moran are well aligned with today’s Labour party; Gladstonian free-traders would find thousands of like-minded souls in the Tory party; social democrats should consider returning home.
If that wasn’t enough, the Liberal Democrats’ foolish decision to back the EU against the largest popular vote in British history has compounded their problem. As a strategy to condemn a party to political oblivion, this could hardly be improved on. It may well succeed. Parris says the Lib Dems have become the herbivores of British politics. Become? They’ve always been rather like that. Beneath the smart suits of the brief coalition era, the joss sticks continued to smoulder, albeit behind the scenes.
Finally, there is a huge gap in British politics for a party which is patriotic, left-leaning on economics and culturally traditional. This might explain the recent growth of the Owenite strand of social democracy — otherwise known as the SDP.
Leader, Social Democratic party
Sir: I’m sure John Sturgis knows what he is talking about when he says many species of garden birds are ‘horribly in decline’ (‘Notes on Robins’, 28 November). However, I’m delighted to report that in my corner of Wiltshire, the sparrow seems to be bucking the trend.
The other day while walking the dog, I was confronted with the equivalent of a tenement full of them. A hedge at least a yard wide and 30 yards long, jam-packed from one end to the other with chirruping sparrows. There must have been hundreds of them. It lifted my lockdown heart.
Sir: I still have The Spectator’s guide to the Children’s Book Show, held in Leeds in 1971. As a postgraduate student then, I was invited to man a stall. Now, having recently ordered what I thought was the reasonably priced gift subscription to The Spectator for a friend, I am amused to see your 1971 advert in the Book Show guide.
I could send the magazine for a whole year to a friend anywhere in the world for £5 — a saving of £1 on the normal subscription rate. Better still, if I had many incipient Spectator-reading chums abroad, the rate dropped to £8 for two or £10 for three, and it was a further £3 for each additional order. As a gift I could have chosen one of the following caricatures: His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Rt Hon James Callaghan, Sir Noël Coward or Mr Victor Feather (all on ‘the finest hammered paper’). In truth I’d rather have this year’s Pol Roger than Vic Feather or even an Archbishop. But the 2020 equivalent of the normal 1971 subscription rate of £6 — about £80, I gather — would also have been very welcome.
Sir: Douglas Murray declares, justifiably, that China needs to make reparations for the Covid pandemic and asks for suggestions on how this can be accomplished (‘China needs to make reparations’, 5 December). It may already be too late. China is now the workshop of the world because the West has persisted, over the past 30-odd years, in designing and specifying goods which are then subcontracted to China for manufacture on the assumption that it is cheaper, oblivious to the long-term damage to the West’s own manufacturing ability. Ludicrously, the range of products imported from China includes low-tech items like shampoo and plastic baubles as well as high-tech electronics for which the West has exported the expertise.
The lesson ought to have been learned from the rise of Japanese industry in the 1960s and 1970s, which effectively destroyed much of British and US manufacturing. The only way to counter Chinese predominance in this globalised situation is, as always, to follow the money and hit them where it hurts the most: in the wallet. It will be difficult, but the West needs to stop exporting expertise and technology, and to re-establish home-grown manufacturing. It is ironic that Britain especially — which has never really been a highly paid society — should need to import so much from China in the belief that it is cheaper. In the long run, it isn’t. Let’s make things ourselves again!
A bit of religion
Sir: Melanie McDonagh (‘Playing nice’, 5 December) highlights the difference in French and German between formal second-person pronouns — addressed to strangers, superiors and business contacts, — and informal ones: appropriate for friends, family and God. It’s curious, though, that while the French version of the ‘Our Father’ uses the second person singular (‘Notre Père, qui es aux cieux’), the ‘Hail Mary’ has the formal form (‘Je vous salue, Marie’). A Catholic priest I asked about the anomaly was unable to suggest a reason. Surely it can’t be that French Catholics revere Our Lady more than God?
Chichester, West Sussex
Food and drink
Sir: Rod Liddle’s piece, fascinating in every particular, missed the absolute apotheosis of the quince (‘Notes on Quinces’, 7 November). Pour a bottle of three-star brandy, 500g of caster sugar and two finely chopped quince into a large jar and leave under the stairs for a year — unbelievably delicious.
More food and drink
Sir: No cricket teas (‘Notes on Cricket tea’, 5 December)? But they can be as much fun as the game. I recall one time, playing Bristol Post Office, when we saw a baker’s van offload big trays of sarnies, scones, buns and more. The Bristol innings complete, we went hungrily to the pavilion, only to discover that tea would just be cups of tea. Before the ladies had begun to set things out, someone had nicked the lot.
When we played at Downside school, tea was taken on the first floor of a grand pavilion. Another match was still in progress where a quick bowler was sending down short-pitched rockets to a batsman hooking at fresh air. Then he connected all too well and a huge picture window collapsed on to the food.
At North Cranmore the opposition quickie bowled relentlessly (and unusually) at the middle of my bat. Runs ticked up. Cows in nearby fields flicked their tails nervously. I middled one high over the mid-wicket boundary. If you really whack one, don’t look at the bowler and don’t watch the ball. It will go far enough. Rub it in to the fielding side. So I tapped down a spot in the wicket to the sound of breaking crockery and screaming tea ladies.
Look to the future now
Sir: I find quite baffling James Forsyth’s assertion that all Covid-19 restrictions will end ‘probably sometime in early April’ (‘The aftermath’, 28 November): an expectation he has also stated on several occasions on theSpectator’s Coffee House Shots podcast. Early April is a mere 100-odd days away; 100 days in which Britain must receive, distribute and administer vaccines to tens of millions of people — and if using the Pfizer vaccine, not just once but twice.
Far more convincing is Lionel Shriver’s outlook in the same issue (‘We need a dose of vaccine realism’). If this government’s record in recent months is anything to go by, such a monumental logistical effort has manifold prospects of ‘imploding into fiascos’. Unless Forsyth knows something we do not, which is quite conceivable, it will surely take many, many months to inoculate the requisite percentage of the population that allows restrictions to disappear. Maybe Boris’s infamous ‘optimism bias’ has transferred to James? For April 2021, perhaps read April 2022.
All the fun I’ve missed
Sir: I couldn’t agree less with James Ball (‘Ticket to ride’, 5 December) when he argues that an immunity certificate is a step on the road to a totalitarian state. Not really. Early vaxxers and anyone who’s had the disease are immune and should be able to wave a little card proving they’re allowed to visit the pub, watch a sports event, go shopping, buy a meal and go to work. Test and trace should be about finding out who’s had it, not who hasn’t. That’s the way to get the economy to tick over and get us all back to normal sooner.
Those innocent little cards could have a natural life of only six months and would then become invalid and irrelevant except as a memento of this crazy time. This is not a Big Brother issue — it’s a little common sense issue.
Lindfield, West Sussex
Come sailing in
Sir: Simon Stevens asks why the Vendée Globe yacht race goes virtually unheralded in the UK — a nation of seafarers (‘NHS Notebook’, 28 November). France gives ticker-tape parades to its triumphant sailors and in 1997 even awarded the Légion d’honneur to a British sailor, Pete Goss, for rescuing one of their countrymen in the Southern Ocean. One reason may be that yachting is seen as an elitist pursuit, something that rankles with the likes of the BBC. But the reality is that thousands of sailing clubs all over Britain put youngsters to sea in small boats that are no more expensive than a secondhand car.
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