The Spectator

Letters | 7 July 2012

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China and Tibet

Sir: Clarissa Tan poses the question: ‘What happens to people who do not have the joy of being Chinese?’ (‘China’s civilising mission’, 30 June). China’s handling of Tibet provides the answer. After 60 years of occupation, torture, intimidation and repression continue unabated. Tibetans are now doing the only thing they can to draw attention to their plight — setting themselves on fire. 

If conditions are so desperate that, against all the precepts of Buddhist teachings on nonviolence and the sanctity of human life, citizens are driven to taking their own lives through self immolation, it hardly supports China’s claim to represent a ‘civilising mission’.

In contrast, the UK can be proud of its openness, tolerance and commitment to resolving difficulties through dialogue. Whatever one thinks about the underlying issues, a referendum on independence for Scotland will be held in 2014 and in the week that the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, we can lay claim to a truly civilised way of conducting ourselves. 

Hylton Philipson

London

The only way to travel

Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 23 June) is not the first passenger to appreciate the benefits of wheelchair transport through airports. In 1967 I was on passport control at Heathrow airport when Noël Coward came through in a wheelchair (pushed by an airline employee). I asked after his wellbeing, to which he replied, ‘I’m absolutely fine, dear boy. It’s just that you get so much better service this way.’

Richard Pratt

Hants

Universities challenged

Sir: Toby Young — and by extension, Michael Gove — has missed something in his desire to do away with the GCSE (Status Anxiety, 30 June). One of the many consequences of turning the polytechnics into universities-lite was to make a lot more places available. Add in the political aim to shoehorn as many as possible of the 18-to-30-year-old demographic into them, and one starts to see a problem: if that group doesn’t qualify academically, then there will be a lot of empty universities. But if all the exams are, er, ‘simplified’, then everyone can get the necessary pass rate, the unis will be full to the seams and the politicians can declare a success. Now Gove wants to upset the apple cart and return to the rigorous GCE. What folly! All that will happen is that universities will start to have students who can write English, do some maths, maybe manage a bit of critical analysis or reasoning, and who may then want to study for BAs and BScs in useless topics like engineering, physics, medicine, economics, law, etc. It will present a massive problem for those unis offering foundation degrees in vital things like advanced hair care, beach volleyball management and meeja studies. 

Paul Samways 

Norfolk

The beautiful name

Sir: While I did not totally disagree with the theme of Brendan O’Neill’s article ‘Chavs and toffs together’ (30 June), I think I must come to the defence of the beautiful name of Annunziata. To me it implies neither stupidity nor horseyness on the part of the parents but rather that they are Catholics with an admirable devotion to Our Lady. I should perhaps point out I do not have a daughter called Annunziata.

Michael J. Hodges

Wiltshire

Spartan privilege

Sir: Toby Young is guilty of ‘day-boy behaviour’. If he regards finding ice on the inside of the windows (Status Anxiety, 16 June) as a sign of Spartan conditions he would be most welcome to come and stay, and experience these conditions in my home in Somerset.

Simon Biston

Somerset

Sir: Cheltenham Ladies College in the l980s had nothing on Queen Anne’s School in the l950s. Sunday supper consisted of a single triangle of processed cheese, one apple, sliced white bread and margarine. There was never enough bread. 

The school, or at least our house, retained butter rationing long after the government had ended it. Butter was doled out twice a week in little jam jars, labelled with our names. If you ate it all at once, it was margarine for the next few days. If you didn’t eat it on day one, it went liquid and rancid in the sunlight. 

As we were not allowed to go into shops during our weekly afternoon walks, it was difficult to supplement our food. Cakes or biscuits smuggled in after half term were confiscated and eaten by the equally starving prefects. 

Extra baths were also penalised. We were allowed only three baths a week. There were no showers. Inner knickers were laundered only once a week while the outer knickers, stout navy blue with elastic bottoms roomy enough to smuggle in bags of sweets, were laundered once or twice a term. Tweed skirts and jackets remained uncleaned until the holidays. 

We would have found a stretch in Holloway relatively luxurious.

Celia Haddon

By email

That sinking feeling

Sir: Reading Rod Liddle’s comments on the BBC coverage of the Jubilee celebrations (30 June) reminded me of a small incident that happened during the river pageant. As the vessels passed I caught sight of, in the gloomy distance, the blond locks of London’s Mayor. ‘I can see Boris Johnson,’ I announced, rather inanely, to nobody in particular. ‘Then sink the bugger,’ said a voice behind me.

James Wethered

East Sussex

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