Sir: As a Dutch man who lives in Britain, I found it heartening to read two such different but well-considered articles on the state of my home country (‘Orange alert’ and ‘Dutch courage’, 28 January). Douglas Murray is right to attack the Dutch government for its attempts to criminalise opinions it doesn’t like. I take issue, however, with his defence of Geert Wilders, who does indeed resemble Donald Trump in his eagerness to stoke outrage for political gain. His film Fitna, while pretending to be an honest statement about the nature of Islam, was really just an attempt to be so shocking as to provoke the liberal establishment into fierce condemnation, so that he could squawk about free speech. He is a hate-merchant. He should be allowed to make whatever movies he wants, but not be allowed anywhere near the levers of power.
Jan Van der Berg
Support the Albert Hall
Sir: We are grateful to Charles Moore (Notes, 28 January) for his argument in favour of the Royal Albert Hall’s system of governance. We were disappointed by the recent intervention from the chairman of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, who said: ‘The scale of commercialisation in the private sale of seats raises questions about whether the charity is in fact operating for the public benefit as required by charity law. The trustees should consider whether such arrangements risk damaging public confidence in their charity.’ He appears to hang that on nothing more than an alleged ‘perception’ of public concern; in other communications to us, the Charity Commission has confirmed that they have found no wrongdoing, that we are indeed a charity, and that we are acting lawfully.
One wonders why the Charity Commission is manoeuvring to impose upon the Hall a form of governance similar to the other major arts venues of London, which these days collectively need more than £60 million a year of Arts Council funding to keep going. The Hall, alone among them, has an annual operating surplus, all of which goes to the charity — above all to keep our beautiful but ruinously expensive Grade I building in tiptop shape. We urge the Charity Commission to consider the virtues of the Hall’s system of governance which, set up by those great Victorians, could be a beacon for future funding of the arts.
President, Royal Albert Hall, London SW1
Don’t take our money
Sir: I read David Butterfield’s article about a cashless society (‘Keep the change’, 28 January) with interest. Do people not stop to think about the elderly and disadvantaged who are unable to cope without cash? Or those living in an area without internet access? In my experience of using contactless cards, they are unsafe. I was standing waiting to pay for a few items in a store with my credit card, to be told by the cashier that I had already paid — with the contactless card in my wallet. I went into my bank and demanded a new debit card without the contactless facility. Telling this story in my village shop, another customer said that she had paid someone else’s bill with her debit card. I hate to think how much those who use these cards constantly pay out unnecessarily, and I bet they don’t check their bank statements.
Sally A. Williams
The dairymaid’s defence
Sir: There’s an angle to the ‘reputed sluttish behaviour of the dairymaid’ which Mark Bostridge overlooks in his review of Kathryn Hughes’s Victorians Undone (Books, 21 January). Milkmaids were renowned for their looks. In an age when most people bore the scars of smallpox, they attracted attention for their clear skins, as they had acquired natural immunity through their contact with cowpox from their cows. Dr Jenner and the Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty observed this fact. It proved magnetic for men. And because of their solitary work, milkmaids were easily accosted. Sluts or victims of assault — who exactly knows?
Sir: Marcus Berkmann (Notes on corduroy, 28 January) refers to corduroy as the ‘only known multimedia fabric, in that you can usually hear it coming’. I cannot let this pass. Has he never heard the soft whoosh of silk against a leg? The rustling of denim in an adjacent lavatory? The distinctive sound of skin chaffing against PVC? There is a whole orchestra of sartorial sounds to be heard, if one listens carefully enough.
A curse and a blessing
Sir: On behalf of call-centre workers everywhere, I’d like to thank Miriam Gross (Diary, 28 January) for her intemperate use of language. Most of us are obliged to continue pretending to listen to our customers however little we are able to help them, and however rude or repetitive they become. Only when they swear may we reclaim some small measure of autonomy by ending the call. Every F-word is a benediction. I’m sure the BT man who hung up on her feels the same.
Sir: Miriam Gross (Diary, 28 January) is right to say that women do not always dislike being wolf-whistled. My wife, who is 63, usually took a whistle as a compliment, and only started to be anxious when men stopped wolf-whistling at her. (If they did so now, she says she wouldn’t believe her ears.)