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28 July 2021

Letter of the week: When the fog descends

Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

Yvonne Reddick’s poem “Dear Tor” (16 July) was so evocative that a few days later I was up in the clouds on Kinder Scout moor, Derbyshire, in a refreshing breeze, peering at monumental gritstone with “moor grass feathering your chin, billberries springing at the corner of your eye”. The new heather looked emerald as I passed through long wet grasses, thanks to the ongoing restoration of industrially eroded peatland by the Moors For The Future partnership.

John Burnside’s column (Nature, 23 July) described the feeling of being alone in fog: “when nothing seems firm except the ground beneath my feet and the odd flurry of birdsong” – up here it’s a flock of stonechats. Burnside quotes Kuo Hsi: “The haunting spirits of the mountains are what human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find.”

In the 21st century I descend into a heatwave, as parched walkers climb towards me, pointing them up on to the cool, misty ridge and spiritual refreshment away from Hsi’s “din of the dusty world”, remembering Reddick’s plea: “Tor, give us time.”

Judith Taylor
Disley, Cheshire

[see also: The seeming nothingness of fog speaks to the mystery in all things]
 

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Character flaws

Full praise to Annette Dittert for exposing our shameless huckster of a Prime Minister (“The politics of lies”, 23 July). Over the years the NS has catalogued in myriad insightful ways Boris Johnson’s problematic relationship with truth and integrity, but it is particularly poignant to read the opinion of a commentator who would be only too aware of how a democratic country can slide into authoritarianism, which she implies is a process of collapse that can happen, like bankruptcy, gradually and then suddenly.

Her ability to “see ourselves as others see us” makes this essential reading for anyone concerned with the potential destruction of democracy if Johnson and his appalling acolytes remain at the helm.

Tony Hughes
Warwick

 

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Annette Dittert’s article follows what has become a dishonourable tradition among Europhiles. She devotes 5,000 words to delegitimising a referendum outcome she fails to fathom. All the old tropes are there: Johnson’s a crook, Britain’s institutions are failing, the media is rigged. Just for fun, she glosses over the country’s vaccination success. Why does Dittert’s compatriot, Gisela Stuart, see things so differently? Can Dittert give any political or economic reason that might have attracted the majority of British voters to her case? The leaders of Remain couldn’t, and that’s why their campaign resorted to the dead ends of “Project Fear” and complaints like hers.

Miles Saltiel
London W1

 

Your leader states that the requirements of a prime minister are “diligence, judiciousness, humility, strategic vision and moral integrity”, but “we have Boris Johnson” (“Two years of Boris Johnson”, 23 July).

This list of virtues could have been a description of Clement Attlee, whose biography by John Bew I am reading and enjoying. Bew is clearly enamoured of his subject and holds dear to the principles you list. So what is he doing as a special adviser to Johnson? Is he trying to bring some integrity to discussions? If so, best of luck.

Huw Kyffin
Canterbury

 

Philip Collins, in his column on the ghastly Boris Johnson, makes some good points (The Public Square, 23 July). But there are others he should add. First, Johnson is only popular in one country in the world: England. England is also the only country to vote for Brexit, and contains a particularly large number of wealthy pensioners, who float on a sea of inflated property prices. Johnson is definitely their friend and they are not being stupid or irrational in voting for him, simply selfish and wholly indifferent to anybody’s future but their own.

Drew Ratter
Ollaberry, Shetland

 

I think Philip Collins will find that when Aristotle spoke of character he was speaking in the way we speak of someone’s having character – not something we should ever attribute to someone Collins calls “a liar and chancer”. We might (just) say of Johnson that he is “quite a character”, though I should have to be in an extremely generous and forgiving mood to do so.

Mike Cohen
Mumbles, Swansea

[see also: Boris Johnson is a liar and a chancer, but popular. Why?]

Variants and race

The comment in your leader (“Two years of Boris Johnson”, 23 July) about “the unmanaged borders that allowed the Delta variant to arrive here from India, and thrive” implies that only arrivals from India are responsible for the spread of the Delta variant, and had the borders been closed, tragedy could have been averted.

That this mutation was discovered in India does not mean that it originated there. It has been found to be prevalent in nearly 80 countries and it seems unreasonable to suggest that it was transmitted to these countries from India.

Despite the World Health Organisation’s efforts not to associate viruses with a country, the media and politicians continue to overlook the risks of associating specific countries with the virus.

S Samant
Mumbai, India

 

The tech wars

While I welcome more coverage of Big Tech, Bryan Appleyard couching his article in military metaphors and fixating on the two male leaders, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook, felt like an odd and lazy choice of framing (“Apple vs Facebook”, 16 July).

Some of the most interesting repercussions of Big Tech are its effects on democracy in countries such as the Philippines; its use as an amplifier for discrimination; or the way it is reshaping social behaviour in young people. Seeing it through the lens of two male leaders waging war on each other underplays this systemic element and overplays the roles of individuals.

Julia Pamilih
London SE11

 

Not so simple

Gabriel Scally suggests that opening windows is a “relatively simple” solution that governments can mandate to stop the spread of the virus (Observations, 23 July).

Many modern buildings do not have windows that can be opened. They were designed with sealed windows, and heating and ventilation systems to manage airflow and ensure a consistent internal temperature. Likewise, most of the new fleets of trains do not have opening windows.

While there may well be public health benefits to open windows, I’m not sure that carrying out modifications to large numbers of buildings, including high-rise offices, and train fleets, will be a rapid or a “simple” business. I also suspect that, in the depths of winter, if people find themselves sitting amid a freezing gale, windows will end up being firmly closed, Covid or no Covid.

John Bourn
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

 

The call by Gabriel Scally for a strategic plan to be implemented by people who know what they are doing should be shouted from the rooftops. He questions why the mandate to wear masks on public transport was abandoned, and talks of the role trade unions could play in helping alleviate the risk to workers. He makes me think of Tony Benn driving a loudspeaker van around Covent Garden, and Knocker O’Connell using it to share his poem: “F stands for freedom, what Britain brags about; if you can’t afford your dinner, you’re free to go without.”

Angela Croft
Via email

 

Cricketing cities

In his defence of cricket’s latest act of self-harm, the Hundred (First Thoughts, 23 July), Peter Wilby says that when the County Championship began “the game belonged to an elite culture that saw cities as… inferior to small towns”. If that is so, why, for most of their existence, have many leading counties not played in their county towns? Why have Middlesex and Surrey played mostly in London, Gloucestershire in Bristol more than Gloucester, Lancashire in Manchester rather than Lancaster, Warwickshire in Birmingham rather than Warwick, and Yorkshire in Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield rather than York? And why have the bucolic counties such as Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk never been granted first-class status?

Charles Turner
Coventry

 

Finding inspiration

Rachel Cooke’s review of Professor T mentions that the TV programme is based on a Belgian series (The Critics, 23 July). We had assumed it was a homage to the US show Instinct with a little bit of another, Monk, thrown into the lead character.

Adrian Lyons
Colchester, Essex

 

Healing heartbreak

Pippa Bailey will no doubt be sick of platitudes on coping with hard break-ups (Deleted Scenes, 23 July), but I wonder if practical tips gained from experience might be of some use. Get stuck into a novel that transports you to another world and age. Go on holiday with well-chosen friends and soak up their warmth and the change of scenery. Archive the pictures of your ex on your phone, remove too-close-to-home connections from your social media. And don’t drink too much wine, it will make you sad! None will eradicate your grief, but they may soften it. Every strength to you.

Joel Salmon
Finchley, Greater London

 

I too remember the pain of a heart broken by the love of my life, and as a result how unbearably lonely I felt. Forty years later, how grateful I am to her. Something truly amazing happened, and I have never felt lonely since. What a relief to have discovered: I am alone, and so are you.

Victor Gilbert
Pathhead, Midlothian

 

Time for tea

How gratifying to read that Nicholas Lezard makes his tea with leaves, scalded pot, four minutes of brewing and a strainer (Down and Out, 23 July). I love his columns but could never imagine him having such a ritual. I have a lovely china teapot with built-in strainer (not fixed) that he is welcome to.

I know he lives in Brighton and there are so many charity shops there where he could pick up a classic Brown Betty teapot for a few quid any day of the week. I wish him luck.

Terri Charman
Coulsdon, Surrey

[see also: Looking at the smashed teapot lid, I thought: there, in a nutshell, is my life]

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This article appears in the 28 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special