The hate is real
Sir: It is clearly an exaggeration to call Britain a bigoted country (‘We are not a hateful nation’, 6 August), but downplaying the recent wave of xenophobic and racist incidents across the UK as ‘somebody shouting something nasty on a bus’ is equally wrong. Verbal abuse in itself is worthy of condemnation, yet the character of recorded harassment is actually much more serious. In the past few weeks, Poles in this country were shocked by vulgar graffiti (West London; Hertfordshire; Portsmouth) and hurtful leaflets (Cambridgeshire) urging them to ‘go home’ in most offensive ways possible, while a family in Plymouth fell victim to an arson attack. The Polish community is a mixture of the descendants of wartime and anti-communist exiles and those who decided to move to the UK after Poland joined the EU, who all equally contribute to modern Britain’s culture, society, and economy. Now many of them feel unwelcome.
Polish Embassy, London W1
In the same boat?
Sir: It seems the bounds of hate crime are indeed without limit. Our son’s outboard engine was stolen off his boat last weekend; the police asked him if he ‘believed he was the victim of a hate crime’.
Friends and critics
Sir: Matthew Parris thought that a book about the Bible by a friend of his was terribly good and told him so, and then told the whole world in a puff for it (‘The Bible is too important to be left to believers’, 6 August). This was news because he hasn’t seen eye to eye with God for some time.
When I reviewed the book, he couldn’t believe I disagreed with him. Surely it was a sign of malignity? He was so angry that he spent the sleepless nights staring into the darkness clenching his fists. Then he devoted his whole column to me. His argument now was that I am such a turd that the book must be good after all. There is a fallacy in this argument.
I did at least do the book the honour of attending to some of its judgments. One was that the Psalms shared the same quality as Gloria Gaynor’s best-known hit. I did not get this from nowhere. It’s in the book. Matthew Parris guesses that I think that Bible study is useless without antecedent faith, and is ‘dead without the Living God’. I don’t. I think that, like the science of politics, no attempt at explaining scripture will succeed without acquired knowledge and discernment. He can hardly object to the use of humour in reviewing such an attempt.
Sir: I was pleased to read Felicity Lloyd’s article (‘My wild success’, 6 August) on her success in encouraging wildlife in her south coast garden and, in particular, providing a haven for hedgehogs. I have worked hard to the same end in my garden in rural Northamptonshire over many years, but I don’t suppose I will ever see another hedgehog in it. The conservationists say that the hedgehog’s decline is due to the intensification of agriculture, but I wonder if it has also to do with the increasing numbers of badgers in the countryside — protected by law since 1992, of course. Badgers are the chief natural predator of hedgehogs, because they aren’t put off by the spines. Twenty years ago, I did not see and hear badgers in my garden, as I do now. Twenty years ago, I saw plenty of hedgehog roadkill, but no longer – a sure sign that the species is in big trouble round here. The only occasion recently that I’ve encountered a hedgehog was in a garden very close to the Sussex coast, where there were no badger setts nearby. It seems that promoting the welfare of hedgehogs must fall to suburban gardeners, who live at a distance from both woods and farmland. Those of us living in the country can’t help.
Refugees at sea
Sir: Your leading article (‘Saving refugee lives’, 6 August) robustly defended British policy towards Syrian refugees and the Calais jungle but not our policy toward the main area of lost lives: the Mediterranean crossing from Libya. Of course we must rescue human beings who would otherwise drown. But having our ships wait just outside Libyan waters in order to ferry migrants to Italy — what Libyans call a ‘taxi service’ — is madness. The EU rhetoric is about defeating the traffickers, whereas the reality is that we do their job for them. More economic migrants, often from west Africa, are encouraged and more profits go to the traffickers. The under-resourced Libyan coastguard return migrants to their point of departure. Why do we not do the same?
Cley next the Sea, Norfolk
Winning with a bang
Sir: The great George Plimpton (Books, 6 August) wrote as well as he did about professional sport precisely because of his failures at the highest level. There was one activity, however, at which he was an acknowledged champion: fireworks. He was appointed fireworks commissioner by the mayor of New York City, and won the Monte Carlo International Fireworks Festival in 1979. Once again, though, the most amusing and remarkable story about his pyrotechnic endeavours was another heroic failure: his first attempt to launch the world’s largest firework (the ‘Fat Man’) resulted in a crater 35 feet wide and ten feet deep when it exploded on the ground. His follow-up attempt at Cape Canaveral did manage to get airborne, but exploded at 50 feet and shattered 700 windows in the nearby town of Titusville.
Stedham, West Sussex