A tax on empty dwellings
Sir: Both the Conservative and Labour candidates (‘Battle for London’, 2 January) rightly see housing as the big issue in London’s mayoral election this year: Ukip and the Greens would probably say the same. But if one travels along the river at night and observes the large blocks of flats that appear to be almost empty, one wonders if there really is a problem. Anecdotal evidence says that the owners are mostly Chinese (but they could be Arabs, Russians, or others based abroad), who occupy these properties for little more than a week or a month in the year. We who live in London all the time would benefit enormously if these tax-dodgers who contribute little to our society were made to pay an annual levy of five, ten or 20 times what they presumably now pay in council tax. I have even heard voters on the right argue for these properties to be compulsorily purchased. I suggest that all mayoral candidates should make their position clear on this matter.
More on Kids Company
Sir: I am sure that health professionals and social workers will have read Harriet Sergeant’s piece on Kids Company with something close to despair (‘How to spot a charity snake’, 2 January). It seems to me, as a retired NHS GP, that no one in government bothered to ask the state sector about the difficulties involved in helping this challenging part of the community. Two things in particular stand out: the need to have boundaries, especially in regard to unacceptable behaviour, and the danger of creating dependency. Above all, as the state sector has found to its cost, you need to provide a consistent service, both in terms of competence and longevity.
I blame the government for not accessing the experience which is available in our NHS surgeries and social care institutions, which would have averted a drain of public money into a service which was attempting the impossible.
From gym to chapel
Sir: Jan Morris, and your readers, might be interested to know that the ‘enchanting modern chapel’ at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara (‘From Celtic tiger to pussycat’, 2 January) was formerly a drab school gymnasium. The magical transformation was carried out by my architect husband, Frank Foley, in 2012–13. It is a wonderful place in a picture-perfect setting.
Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
The highest festival
Sir: No, Easter is not the highest festival in the Christian year (Letters, 2 January). Christmas is — for the Resurrection could not have happened without first the Incarnation. But don’t, however, forget Pentecost. We could never have begun to apprehend these mysteries of faith had it not been for the coming of the Holy Ghost.
Revd Dr Peter Mullen
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Horses and hounds
Sir: I have never felt the need for a hanky when reading The Spectator, until I came to Charles Moore’s poignant account of the tragic death of Tommy, his hunter (‘All he did done perfectly’, 12 December). I too had a horse who took me safely over many hairy hedges, and can understand his sadness.
Hunting and shooting show the wonderful relationship between humans and their animals. It is important to understand that wild animals live in a cruel world where every species predates another. If you are really interested in animal welfare and relate it to what happens naturally, then field sports become part of nature’s scene. There is no predator of a fox, apart from in traditional hunting. Old, infirm foxes, who are dying lingering deaths, are instantaneously dispatched by hounds. The healthy ones are clever and get away. Long may Charles Moore, and all those who were out hunting this Christmas holidays, continue to ride to hounds and remember with affection their faithful horses.
Where cars crash
Sir: Lynn Barber’s understanding of speed limits (Notebook, 12 December) is mistaken. If the speed awareness course has left her with the impression that country roads have a 70 mph limit, she should ask for her money back. The limit, unless otherwise specified at a lower level, is 60 mph. She also suggests that the speed limit is the main factor in the number of fatalities on them. This is disingenuous. On motorways, we travel in wide, straight lanes on well-maintained roads, and all in the same direction, which is very different from a driving experience on country roads.
In with Ginge
Sir: It will be news to many of those who served with, or under the command of, the late Field Marshall Sir Nigel Bagnall that his nickname when out of earshot was Baggie (Drink, 2 January). Throughout the army he was referred to as Ginge, on account of his hair. This is also borne out by the existence of an unofficial thinktank he convened aside from the chain of command, but reaching down a rank level or two to encourage talent for the future. It was known as the Ginger group by those who may or may not have been invited to be members of it.
Col J.M.C. Watson (retired)
Sir: Robin Oakley’s piece about naming racehorses reminded me of the story of an unsuccessful attempt by a professional footballer to call one ‘Norfolk Enchants’. Just try repeating that in a Scouse accent.
Dr Christopher Goulding
Newcastle upon Tyne