The Spectator

Letters | 26 May 2016

Also in Spectator Letters: Facebook; Verdi; toilets; TVs; bullfighting

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Leave’s grumpy grassroots

Sir: James Delingpole should join us at a Remain street stall. He would soon be disabused of his idea that Remainers are ‘shrill, prickly and bitter’ and Leavers are ‘sunny, relaxed and optimistic’ (‘What’s making Remain campaigners so tetchy?’, 21 May). We can often spot a likely Leaver by their angry expression. As we offer a leaflet with facts about the EU to counter the lies and distortions our acquaintance has imbibed from the Leave campaign, we are lucky to escape with anything less offensive than ‘Piss off’. If a leaflet is taken, we often see it torn up. At the grassroots, Leave is certainly grumpy.

David Woodhead

Leatherhead, Surrey

The giant forum

Sir: Brendan O’Neill argues that Facebook has a duty to uphold freedom of speech because it is ‘effectively the biggest public square in history’, in addition to being a private company beholden to its customers and shareholders (‘The internet’s war on free speech’, 14 May). Alas, a public square implies freedom ‘from’ as well as freedom ‘to’. Facebook grudgingly respects the latter but has never had any intention of honouring the former. It is more like a for-profit panopticon: enrolment is typically grudging, escape is seemingly impossible, fights break out at regular intervals, and the staff spend most of their time scrutinising and profiling the inmates. Mr O’Neill suggests that ‘being turfed off the site […] seriously degrades your ability to be an engaged public person’. Public? Certainly. Engaged? Perhaps. But it’s not the users who are doing the engaging…

Harry Holt


Silenced by Verdi

Sir: At the heart of Michael Tanner’s invective against the operas of Verdi (Notes on, 21 May) seems to be the notion that they, unlike those of the writer’s beloved Wagner, do not require a similar ‘level of concentration or post-performance thought’, as if that were the most important criterion for evaluating an opera’s success. Some opera, such as that of Wagner — not only a composer but an intellectual of sorts — lends itself to debate. Verdi’s work penetrates to the very core of human emotion purely through the language of music, whose effects are often difficult or unnecessary to verbalise. Take La forza del destino; though often dismissed for its absurd, clunking plot, its music goes to the very heart of the relationships it depicts, as movingly as Wagner’s does in Tristan und Isolde — some might argue more so. If I am silent after seeing Rigoletto, it is because the music has rendered me speechless.

Mark Glanville

London W11

Bathroom battle

Sir: Mary Wakefield’s column (‘Obama’s last great battle is in the bathroom’, 21 May) suggests an awkward and embarrassing future for shared toilet facilities. I suspect even ‘Dear Mary’ would struggle to solve the problems raised. Might I suggest a new categorisation: ‘Considerate user’ and ‘Inconsiderate user’. I won’t go into details, but the concierge in our office block regularly informs me that poor toilet etiquette is not gender-specific.

Andrew Whiteway

London W4

German licence

Sir: Jonathan Poulton’s understandable gripe against the BBC (Letters, 21 May) for its persecution for an unwarranted licence fee makes me consider my own experiences in Germany. For just under two years I was billed automatically for a TV and radio licence because my name was on a rental contract for a flat in Berlin. They had been notified by the landlord. I protested that I possessed neither a TV nor radio, nor indeed the technology to receive the signals, as I had had the cable removed. I fought this because it was ridiculous, but was told both officially and in writing that I had to pay the €130 p.a. plus accrued penalties, whether I had TVs and radios or not. Statute law. So muss es sein. Es muss indeed sein — I left the country.

Selima Gurtler

London W1

Black and White issue

Sir: In my review of an excellent new life of Dante (Books, 21 May), I spoke of the poet falling foul of ‘the bitter feuding between the “White” Guelphs and the “Blacks’’.’ This has been changed to read: ‘‘Whites’ (Guelphs) and ‘Blacks’ (Ghibellines). In fact the Whites and the Blacks were both Guelphs. Forgive pedantry.

A.N. Wilson

London NW1

Talking bullfighting

Sir: Mr Aart van Kruiselburg is mistaken (Letters, 21 May) when he says that Andres Roca is not fighting but ‘killing innocent animals’. The matador in question was indeed fighting the bulls in Madrid; if he were killing them he would have employed a rifle. If one of the bulls had killed him, he would no longer be fighting the bulls. Bullfighting is not a sport, it is a spectacle in three acts, very similar to a play in the West End. The difference is the possible outcome; to my knowledge, no thespians have died as a result of an error in their performance.

Mike Bailey

El Portil, Spain

More overpraised things

Sir: Mark Mason’s article about people disliking something apparently adored by everyone else should inspire a competition (‘Guilty displeasures’, 14 May). Part of the fun will be that no two contributors will agree. Here are two from me to start the ball rolling: Paris, full of tediously vulgar late-19th-century architecture and now serving the worst food of any major global city; and Jane Austen, who wrote the same book about herself six times.

Jeremy Tyrer

Lindfield, West Sussex