Ticket to freedom
Sir: While I sympathise immensely with the spirit of last week’s lead article (‘Friends in need’, 27 March), we cannot justify asking Britons to wait any longer than necessary while their ticket out of lockdown is exported to the EU bloc, whose level of freedom is on average significantly higher than the UK’s. How can we justify exporting vaccines to Finland and Sweden, for example, where there has always been the freedom to meet family and friends in groups, while we are still enforcing draconian measures here?
The best of the church
Sir: I was disappointed that Douglas Murray should base his view of the Church of England on the doings of the bishops, archbishops etc (‘The C of E’s new religion’, 20 March). They no more represent the best of the church than do the legions of computer tappers who blight the otherwise wonderful NHS.
It would have been fairer if he had focused on the countless priests and others across the nation who throughout the past year have visited their churches on a daily basis to offer the services of the church and to bring before the Almighty the cares and concerns of the people to whom they minister. With respect, this is much more what the church is about than any number of bishops.
Sir: In Rod Liddle’s stirring parody of our dystopian future, (‘Eight reasons to leave the UK’, 27 March), he makes one mistake: ‘Sooner or later the voting age will be lowered to 16…’ In Scotland, 16-year-olds were given the vote six years ago. That, along with higher taxes than the rest of the UK, means we have dystopia now.
Sir: Matthew Parris is surely wrong to say that trams are ‘eye-wateringly expensive’ and ‘slower and more dangerous’ than buses (‘A double-decker in the room’, 27 March). While tram infrastructure undoubtedly requires a greater initial investment, as the delayed opening of the over-budget Edinburgh system in 2014 attests to, trams in the long run are cheaper than buses per passenger mile. Indeed, Edinburgh Trams became profitable in only two years, and passenger revenue pre-Covid increased year on year. Buses crawl along the streets of our capital at an average speed of 9 mph, scarcely faster than a chicken at full pelt, and yet you are 12 times more likely to be injured on a bus than a tram. Car-obsessed town planning left little room for tram lines, despite trams being far less intrusive to the beauty of our towns and cities. There are very few aspects of my town which I can commend, but its tram system is certainly one of them.
Sir: There is another group of Raj children also coming to the end of their innings (‘A passage from India’, 27 March). I celebrated my 80th in December in Lahore. My sisters and I were educated in schools founded by British missionaries or imperial authorities. We children of the Raj in Pakistan and India acquired a familiarity with Victorian values and table manners as well as good English. When I came to Britain in 1960 to take up a place at Oxford, I missed India, but I had grown up with images of England and there was also a sense of familiarity. One of the very hospitable families I met in England was that of Brigadier and Mrs Keenan, Brigid’s parents. When I spoke with the brigadier about Rawalpindi, Quetta and cricket, I thought he felt perhaps more at ease than he did with his usual English acquaintances.
The Oxbridge list
Sir: Further to Clive Wolfendale’s letter (20 March) about the ranking of schools by Oxbridge offers in the Spectator Schools supplement, I can shed further light on why so few non-English schools feature. I went up to Oxford in 2006 from a Scottish state secondary school, one of only two people in my year who went to an English university. Tuition fees had just been raised to £3,000 for all except those attending Scottish universities, deterring many from applying to Oxbridge. Even though the Scottish system leaves poorer students worse off, the perception of more costly education south of the border has narrowed the Scottish talent pool: in 2018, the entire Scottish state school system sent just 16 students to Oxbridge.
I was told by a teacher I wouldn’t fit in at Christ Church, and in one sense he was right. Anyone who hadn’t gone to a top English public school tended to come from an ambitious grammar school, a handful of which exist in name only in Scotland. Much is made of the need to boost social mobility at Oxbridge, but when will that conversation start to include poorer Scottish students? Given how much Oxbridge graduates continue to dominate national public life, that exclusion cannot be ignored by those wishing to save the Union.
Mead of the mist
Sir: Jonathan Ray’s history of mead drinking (‘Notes on mead’, 27 March) mirrors mine. In 1962, as a reporter on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, I was assigned to cover the AGM of the Peterborough Bee-Keeping Society. I expected the usual dreary round of minutes, motions, etc. Instead I was greeted by rows of tables laden with glasses and bottles of homemade mead. I spent the evening being urged to ‘try some of mine!’, which I did. I don’t remember getting home.
Uckfield, East Sussex