Treading the boards
Sir: As a teacher, I was sorry Lloyd Evans did not include school productions in his excellent assessment of the cultural devastation inflicted by Covid-19 (‘Staged’, 3 July). While cancellation of West End shows is a tragedy, far more damage will be done to the thousands of children whose one chance to watch or perform in a play or musical has been taken away. These humble, often cheerfully disastrous, amateur productions bring pupils together in a way nothing else can.
W. Sydney Robinson
Big bad builders
Sir: I enjoyed Liam Halligan’s comprehensive assessment of the appalling state of the UK building industry and the dire quality of much of what they produce (‘The house mafia’, 26 June). He makes the damning observation that buyers of new-build properties have fewer consumer rights than if they were buying a toaster.
He could have added that new houses are predominantly sold by the largest housebuilders under the National House Building Council (NHBC) scheme. The existence of the scheme means that buyers are unable to make claims against builders under section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972. This is because section 2 of the Act specifically excludes ‘approved scheme constructions’ such as that offered by the NHBC. I suggest that the law be amended to give buyers the choice of whether they want to purchase their home with the protection afforded by the Defective Premises Act 1972 or under an ‘approved scheme construction’ such as the NHBC’s.
The introduction of competition into housebuilding would also be facilitated if self-builders were able to purchase plots from volume builders if they failed to develop plots within an agreed time frame.
Sir: Having bought my first house in 1980, a three-bedroom Victorian end of terrace for £20,000 — at the time equivalent to two years’ salary for a skilled aircraft fitter — I have watched the housing market’s stratospheric price rises with alarm.
It used to be that you could only borrow up to the point where a month’s repayment would match your weekly take-home pay — no more. That kept houses affordable for the people who needed them as homes to live in, not as investment opportunities. Since that time, the housing market has been propped up through government schemes such as Help to Buy and — more recently — stamp-duty holidays and guaranteed 5 per cent deposits. The whole thing now resembles a Jenga tower. I say let it collapse! Allow the market to find its natural level, where average earners can afford to buy an average house.
Sir: Justifying his move ‘up north’, Rod Liddle labelled Canterbury as a competitor to Brighton for the title of woke capital of the UK (‘The political baggage of moving house’, 3 July).
Canterbury suffers from being inundated by voting-age students. In term time, students outnumber local residents and take advantage of the absurd electoral rule that allows students to vote where they are taught, even though a vast number will be gone within three years. It was the student vote that provided the sitting Labour MP Rosie Duffield with a mere 1,800 majority. Without this, the Tories would have won. It is time for the electoral rules to be tightened up.
The wrong hotel
Sir: In my essay on the afternoon tea revolution (‘Cake expectations’, 3 July), I mistakenly attributed a lavish menu to the Connaught hotel; in fact, I had been to Claridge’s. The Connaught also does a luxury tea, but it’s very different from the hotel down the road. It too bears out my point that afternoon tea has changed: the top tier on its assembly of fine patisserie (including a take on Ferrero Rocher) is strawberries and chocolate fondue. Constance Spry would have been baffled.
Sir: If I recall correctly I used to pay £1 for tea at the Savoy in 1974, and a complete tea it was too. In today’s currency the cost of that same tea would be about £10. Tea in a smart hotel then was certainly value for money; today I am less certain.
David B Collins
Sir: I was interested to read in Dear Mary’s advice column (3 July) that disappearing quietly from a social event without saying anything to one’s host is called a ‘French exit’ by the English, while Europeans call it ‘taking English leave’. Some Americans call slipping off without saying anything an ‘Irish goodbye’, which seems an exception to the rule that nations like to associate louche terms with their traditional foes.
New Hampshire, USA
Sir: Dot Wordsworth discusses the aristocratic practice of dropping one’s g’s, as in huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ (Mind your language, 3 July). It is said that Edward VII, encountering Lord Harris at Ascot wearing a brown bowler hat, accosted him with: ‘Goin’ rattin’, Harris?’
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