The Spectator

Feedback | 2 July 2005

Readers respond to recent articles published in <i>The Spectator</i>

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Second-hand smoke

Rod Liddle makes a living out of being controversial, but to do so with effect he should also be accurate with his facts (‘My right to cough up blood’, 25 June). His article suggests that people who complain about passive smoking are being melodramatic. But there is an absolute proven link between second-hand smoking and lung cancer. He could ask the Department of Health’s own officials or he could ask the families we deal with whose children have died as a result of someone else’s selfishness. Fifty-odd non-smoking bar workers die from second-hand smoking-related illness each year. And if Rod Liddle knew that this figure is higher than the annual occupational death rate for the police force, he too might reconsider his opposition to a ban.

Mike Unger

The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Liverpool

Mr Rod Liddle quotes Ash’s claim that smoking stops you from suffering from cancer of the endometrium. I lost my womb 18 years ago from that condition in spite of having been a heavy smoker for years.

Joan Ostrom

Woking, Surrey

George was no threat

Leo McKinstry was dishonourable (‘Harmless old buggers’, 18 June) to name the late George Andrews as a schoolmaster who was the ‘reverse’ of anti-homosexual and ‘clung to the Wildean spirit’. If George were alive, he would have every cause to sue for defamation. McKinstry has accurately, though not fully, described George’s character, which some disliked, but makes mistakes (George was a cox, not an oarsman) and fails to note his qualities as an organiser, effective French teacher and lay preacher. George’s tendency to appear totally (or usually partly) nude was not confined to his encounters with callow teenagers but could manifest itself at any time. I remember him startling my mother (a chaste widow) in this way when he stayed with us at Derriaghy for a few days — my uncle (a headmaster) suspected him of matrimonial ambitions! In any case, why is nudity a mark of homosexuality?

George’s like of favourites was probably misplaced and he made them feel uncomfortable, but can Leo produce a single account of indecent behaviour by George? I cannot. George was my housemaster for seven years, made friends with my family and remained a loyal, if rather irritating, friend to the end of his life. Leo’s comments and dates sound like hearsay. What was not hearsay were the goings-on in the house dormitory, to which George was not privy and to which he would have reacted with his typically ruthless justice. It was not George, but his sexually immature and foolish older students, who were the true danger to innocent young minds in Ulster House.

James F. Douglas

(Portora 1947–56)

By email

The facts about Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs (Letters, 11 June) says, in reply to my claim that his book The End of Poverty misdated the British Raj, ‘The sentence is correct and the book is correct.’ In my letter I asked your readers to check the relevant page (page 176) but perhaps not all of them will have had time. This is what Sachs actually said: ‘The overall record of economic performance under the British Raj was pretty dreadful. Using Maddison’s data, India experienced no per capital growth from 1600 to 1870.’ I am afraid Sachs is not just wrong, but over 150 years wrong. It remained uncertain until 1760 that Britain, not France, was the dominant European power in India. The job of a reviewer is to point out blunders like this. His description of my letter as ‘preposterous and rude’ is unnecessary, to say the least. He is also wrong in his judgments on the record of British colonial administrations in dealing with malaria, and the quality of the African endowment of navigable waterways, but let these matters pass. As I said in my last letter, he should accept well-founded corrections with good grace.

Tim Congdon

Huntley, Gloucestershire

Biting back

Mr Denis Mollison, attacking my article of 28 May, is quite wrong when he says that DDT no longer works against malaria-bearing mosquitoes (Letters, 4 June). In 1996, South Africa was persuaded to stop using DDT. In the following three years the number of malaria cases in South Africa rose by over 450 per cent and deaths from malaria by almost 1,000 per cent. In 2000 South Africa went back to DDT, and within a year deaths from malaria dropped by 80 per cent. They continue to drop.

DDT is saving the lives of thousands of people in South Africa and could save the lives of millions in the rest of Africa.

Andrew Kenny

Noordhoek, South Africa

Cortege controversy

Roger Scruton suggests that the British would never emulate the 30,000 who followed Sartre’s coffin or Beethoven’s (‘The power of negative thinking’, 25 June). In fact 30,000 followed Newton’s, headed by the king and queen. Voltaire remarked how typical this was of us: we killed our kings and gave our mathematicians a state funeral.

Robert Davies

London SE3

First with the rain

In his indulgent review of Richard Bradford’s new biography of Philip Larkin (Books, 25 June), P.J. Kavanagh attributes ‘Into each life some rain must fall’ to the Ink Spots. Actually, Longfellow used the line first, many years earlier — see his ‘The Rainy Day’.

Anthony Thwaite

Low Tharston, Norfolk