The Spectator

Letters | 18 August 2016

Also in Spectator Letters: memory, the Labour party, corporate pay, Ivan the terrible, masterpieces and Ulysses

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Losing game

Sir: Matt Ridley is completely right (‘Don’t grouse about grouse’, 13 August). I am lucky enough to live at Blakeney in north Norfolk with a clear view to Blakeney Point. But since the RSPB, Chris Packham and the National Trust got their hands on Blakeney, things have changed dramatically. I walk every day on and around the marshes and the Blakeney Freshes. This morning — a brilliant, calm day — I strolled for an hour and apart from a couple of warblers, crows and several black-backed gulls, that was it.

When my wife and I came to Blakeney 35 years ago it was markedly different. From our room we would see dozens of lapwings, curlews, warblers, curlews, avocets and waders of all types. Not now.

What has happened is the RSPB (and others) have decided that it must be ‘back to nature’ in spades. So Blakeney Freshes is now infested with otters, foxes and cunning predatory birds.

An old friend of mine, a retired professional gamekeeper from west Norfolk, has told me that nothing will improve until the RSPB and the National Trust come to their senses. Where gamekeepers are allowed to do their job properly, wild birds and wildlife prosper.

Bernard Cowley

Blakeney, Norfolk

Remember Einstein

Sir: Lara Prendergast should take heart (‘Head in the clouds’, 13 August). To be sure, the ability to memorise by rote is a fine thing. I still get pleasure from reciting verse or playing music from memory. But in terms of human intellection, rote learning is a party trick. The skill is in learning how to combine various disparate pieces of information, making connections that perhaps nobody had made before. If all the facts we need are there at the touch of a button, so much the better. After all, ‘Never memorise anything you can look up.’ So said Albert Einstein, who was no slouch at intellection.

I should add that I found that quote on the internet, so one should be aware of Abraham Lincoln’s dictum that 99 per cent of anything found on the internet is wrong.

Henry Gee

Cromer, Norfolk

Forget the ageism

Sir: Lara Prendergast makes an interesting case in regard to internet memories, however I must chastise her for the uncalled-for slight aimed at the likes of myself who, at the age of 70, am blessed with a good memory and the good fortune to speak four languages. There is no fixed correlation between age and the ability to remember.

Anthony J. Burnet

East Saltoun, East Lothian

Just quit, Rod

Sir: Rod Liddle (13 August) asks for advice on how to approach his forthcoming Labour party disciplinary hearing. The answer, surely, is obvious: he should resign his membership and cancel his direct debit mandate. If he feels like indulging himself, he might actually attend the hearing and tell his inquisitors what he thinks about the modern Labour party the way he tells his Speccie readers — eloquently and amusingly. The party of MacDonald, Attlee and Blair has become an infantile farce led by a student activist who’s never grown up. To be a Labour party supporter, never mind an actual member, you need to be mad, bad or at least distinctly odd, and probably all three. Time to leave, Rod.

Jeremy Stocker

Willoughby, Warwickshire

Huge packages

Sir: Hurrah for Martin Vander Weyer, continuing to highlight the iniquitous top-to-bottom pay gaps in the corporate world (Any Other Business, 13 August). I suspect, however, that these enormous gaps will only shrink when more women get to fill top positions on boards, since these current, er, huge packages are simply willy-waving in another form.

Lucy Beresford

London SW1

Cruelty and splendour

Sir: Alexander Chancellor weighs up the arguments for a statue to Ivan the Terrible in Oryol, pondering whether his good deeds redeem his brutality (Long life, 13 August). I would suggest that the perfect monument already exists in St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, which commemorates both the tsar (who commissioned the building) and his savage cruelty. On the one hand, it is a global image of Russian splendour and the successes of Tsar Ivan’s regime; on the other, a perennial reminder of his inhumanity: Russian legend has it that Ivan had his architect’s eyes gouged out afterwards, so that a building as beautiful as St Basil’s could never again be designed.

Rory Buchanan

Wantage, Oxon

Lightning response

Sir: In his review of a new opera, your arts editor Igor Toronyi-Lalic (Arts, 6 August) made the startling claim that ‘lightning rarely strikes twice (name me another adaptation of a masterpiece that is also a masterpiece)’. Well, shall we start with Othello, Falstaff, Macbeth, Eugene Onegin, Figaro, Les Troyens or The Damnation of Faust? Then there’s Wozzeck, From the House of the Dead, War and Peace, Turn of the Screw, Pelleas, Oedipus Rex. I could go on.

Susan Waring


Ulysses’ enemies

Sir: Philip Hensher (Books, 13 August) omits from his list of begrudgers towards James Joyce’s Ulysses surely the most vehement of all: the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which led the campaign against the masterpiece. Ulysses may have met with some begrudgery in Dublin, by the way, but it was never formally banned in Ireland.

Mary Kenny

Deal, Kent