Sir: Your editorial (‘Sanction Schroder’, 21 May) laments that western sanctions may be harming ordinary Russians, given that they too ‘are victims of Vladimir Putin’s corruption and misrule’. Yet who if not the Russian people themselves are more culpable for the rise of Putin? The unpalatable fact that both he and his assault on Ukraine still enjoy such considerable popular domestic support cannot be put down merely to his iron grip on the levers of coercion and propaganda. For most of the last century the Russian people have allowed themselves to be misruled and oppressed by a succession of malevolent tyrants and despots. There comes a point when the people of a country have to take responsibility for their leaders. There are clearly many thousands of brave Russian dissenters and opponents of Putin’s regime, but not nearly enough. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests that the majority of ordinary Russians aren’t being frightened out of rising up against the regime, it’s just that they can see no good reason to do so, or else are turning a blind eye to its atrocities. This arguably makes them complicit.
Tanks for the offer
Sir: I can attest to the value that was available in the second-hand Soviet tank market in the early years after the fall of communism (‘Roll model’, 28 May). In 1990 I found myself drinking in a bar in the capital of an ex-Warsaw pact country with its new democratically elected defence minister. He bemoaned the fact that so much of his scant budget was being spent on maintaining tanks that were no longer needed. I told him that I was sure that collectors in western Europe and the US would love to buy them. He warmed to the idea and offered me the first sale for £200. As the evening wore on, the price fell to £37.50 each for a squadron of ten T-55 tanks. Sadly, the historic deal foundered on the issue of delivery to Northamptonshire and the inability of his ministry to accept payment by Barclaycard.
See it, don’t say it
Sir: Simon Hoggart’s Law of the Inane Converse should be applied to all announcements (‘Voice of concern’, 21 May). It states that if the converse of an announcement is inane, the announcement is superfluous. For instance ‘See if you can break your leg between the train and the platform and spend a month on crutches’ and ‘If you see a suspicious-looking bag, try opening it and see if it explodes’. The only announcement necessary is ‘Next stop station-name’, and ‘This is station-name’.
Bringer of blues
Sir: Geoff Dyer is being very naughty when he asserts, like a prophet who brooks no doubt, that nobody has done more to put British people off the blues than Eric Clapton (Jazz, 28 May). The most obvious riposte would be to point out that during his years as the principal guitarist in the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream, he helped introduce the music of the Mississippi delta to tens of thousands of listeners on this side of the Atlantic. In doing so he won the gratitude of countless black American musicians, led by his collaborator B.B. King, no less, whose ears are certainly sharper than Dyer’s.
Mr Dyer has made no secret of his admiration for John Coltrane. Now may be a good time to return to that saxophonist, whose frightful honking did more than anybody to put the British off modern jazz.
Sir: Michael Simmons’s ‘Notes on bowls’ (21 May) stated that crown green bowling is ‘less refined’ than the flat green game. Clearly he does not play the former, which has many players and supporters. Every crown green is unique in its shape and size, which greatly affects the performance of the bowls and offers the home side a considerable advantage. Flat greens vary less. The other main difference is crown green players can bowl anywhere on the green, and crossing other players’ lines is normal. This requires more concentration, and the varying shape of the crown allows for crafty tactics. On flat greens, the bowling is more predictable. It is telling that those who try both types find the crown green game harder to master than the flat. I would just add that those with a mobility or sight impairment are welcomed with an approved wheelchair or vision aid.
Sir: In her review of Benediction (21 May), Deborah Ross states that Sassoon was the only war poet to survive. She overlooks Edmund Blunden, who miraculously survived both the Somme and Passchendaele and was awarded the MC for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’. His pastoral prose was as poetic as his verse (see notably Undertones of War and Cricket Country). In 1966 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford. He died in 1974 at Long Melford, where his friend Sassoon had provided him with a house.
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Sir: James Forsyth laments the government’s lack of a domestic agenda (‘Now for the hard bit’, 28 May). But most people would probably be happy if it had no specific agenda, except in strange times like Brexit, other than to increase our combined health, wealth and happiness. Simples?