Travelling in discomfort
Sir: I don’t agree with much of what Matthew Parris says these days, but he was spot on with his piece about train seats (‘Who’s to blame for my terrible journey?’, 17 August). I think his hunch about where the blame lies for such uncomfortable seats is correct. In these parts, our train service provider is GWR, which has introduced new trains with bum-numbingly unforgiving seats that are wholly unsuited to typical journeys of four to five hours. When questioned, the always helpful staff respond that: ‘This is what happens when you get civil servants to design the trains.’
To add insult to injury, the new GWR trains also have no buffet carriages. Instead there is an elusive, poorly stocked trolley. Again according to the harassed GWR staff, the ‘focus group’ that was relied upon to influence the design of the trains responded positively to the idea of at-seat service, without realising that this meant the end of the buffet. What with the typical obstructions found on our overcrowded trains today, you can count yourself lucky to see a refreshment trolley on the long journey to the south-west.
Add to this the fact that journey times with GWR are slower than 30 years ago and the ticket prices multiples of what they were, and I am sure many passengers from the West Country will support Mr Parris in his quest to identify the functionaries responsible.
Sir: I travelled by train from Totnes to Stamford and returned via Peterborough and London Paddington last weekend. Points out of ten for comfort:
Cross country to Birmingham, standard class: 6.
East Midlands to Stamford, standard class: 8.
LNER Peterborough to London King’s Cross, 1st class: 6.
GWR Paddington to Totnes, tourist class: 2.
Verdict: Three hours on GWR is painful. Take a large pullover to pad the arms of the seat and a cushion for the back.
What Danes pay
Sir: Charles Moore suggests (Notes, 10 August) that one’s psychological maximum for income tax is 40 per cent. ‘Once you know that almost half of what you earn will be taken from you, your animal spirits droop and so eventually does the entire economy.’ This view seems to be contradicted by the experience of Denmark. Here the lowest rate of tax on earned income is 42.6 per cent. The highest rate is 55.8 per cent and it is paid by 20 per cent of full-time workers. The economy is doing OK and, most interestingly, on some measures Denmark has the happiest citizens.
Sir: Regarding Charles Moore’s comments on the rewilding of grouse moors (Notes, 17 August), I know of a small grouse moor which was given up because of endless hassle from Scottish Nature, the RSPB, and a whole lot of ‘nature lover’ incomers. It is now silent, save for the occasional croak of a hooded crow. Gone are the cries of waders and the many songbirds which love a properly kept moor. Crows and the other predators in this ‘re-wilded’ place have emptied the hill of its glory.
As Charles Moore points out, the grouse is a unique bird which cannot be reared. It is wild, and in a poor breeding year the moors will be closed for shooting. The plant life on an unkept moor will alone destroy biodiversity. Balance of nature is too complex a problem for many to contemplate, and the antis of course are not naturalists. Their prejudice is against a perceived stereotype who shoots.
Sir: In his attack on India’s present Kashmir policy (‘India’s land grab’, 17 August) Peter Oborne dismisses my great uncle Sir Douglas Gracey as a ‘British officer who stayed on after Independence to run the Pakistan army’. Immediately post 1947 independence, both the Indian and Pakistan armies were officered by their existing British officers. He remained commander-in-chief until 1951.
Sir Douglas had won two MCs on the Western Front in the Great War, and was a career soldier in the Indian Army. Between the wars he rose to become a colonel of the Gurkhas. During the war he trained and commanded the crack 20th Indian Division which turned the tide in the all-important battle of Imphal. Slim stated that Gracey was his best divisional commander, and the loyalty of his troops led to his Pakistan command.
In 1945-46, Gracey controversially led his division into Vietnam to help the beleaguered French re-establish colonial control, which put him briefly up against Ho Chi Minh. For this he was awarded a Legion d’Honneur and a small but important part in the whole Vietnam story. In retirement he became director of what is now the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, in Putney.
Hugh Gracey Thompson
Europe on the lips
Sir: Professor Robert Tombs (‘Time warp’, 17 August) is certainly right that history is not required as a justification for Brexit, but it still provides a useful guide. Bismarck, who knew a thing or two about European political integration, summed up the whole thing nicely in the late 19th century: ‘I have always found the word Europe on the lips of those politicians who wanted something from other Powers which they dared not demand in their own names.’ That is a warning from history we should heed.
Dr Sean McGlynn, FRHistS
Monkton Farleigh, Bradford on Avon