The Spectator

Spectator letters: John Rutter and Coeliac UK answer Rod Liddle

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ME is real

Sir: Rod Liddle may or may not be right that certain illnesses become fashionable once given a name and are illusory (‘Children with a severe case of the excuses’, 15 March). But ME — myalgic encephalomyelitis, alias post-viral fatigue syndrome or yuppie flu, is not one of them. It’s an unpleasant physical illness: it ruined seven years of my life. It probably takes a number of forms, but in my case it started with chicken pox, caught off my infant son. I seemed to make a complete recovery until a year later, when I began to experience unpleasant symptoms. These included abnormal sensitivity to sound and light, violently inflamed eyes and blisters around the head and upper body. There was also nominal aphasia (problems recalling words). This is because the surfaces of the brain are inflamed. The mental fuzziness is compounded because the body can no longer process yeast properly.

Like malaria, it cycles on and off, and after an attack, which might last a few days, I felt terrible. I would have a week or two feeling OK, then the cycle would begin again. I’m a professional musician, and we tend not to advertise our ailments any more than journalists do, but this was real. In the end, with an anti-yeast drug and a strict diet, the attacks grew milder and less frequent and life returned to ‘normal within limits’, but the memory remains of an awful period that was caused by a virus (identifiable by a blood test). Sorry to spoil a good polemic with facts that don’t fit.

John Rutter

Whittlesford, Cambridge

Coeliac disease is real too

Sir: I want to correct some dangerous comments about coeliac disease made in Rod Liddle’s article which, if repeated enough, could put the health of others at risk. Feeding gluten to someone with the disease will make them ill. Coeliac isn’t a food allergy; it’s an autoimmune disease. The body may not react immediately, as in an allergy, but a reaction will be inevitable. Knowingly feeding gluten to someone with the disease is the equivalent of assault — something, even for the sake of stirring up a little controversy, I hope the Spectator would not advocate.

Sarah Sleet

Chief executive, Coeliac UK

The P word

Sir: Brendan O’Neill (‘Absent friends’, 15 March) wonders at length why Israel is so disliked, and he variously ascribes its unpopularity to fashion, bigotry or anti-Semitism. Perhaps there is another explanation. I read his article without once coming across any of the following words: settlement, Palestine or Palestinian.

John Hatt

Firbank, Sedbergh

Behind the mask

Sir: Brendan O’Neill’s perceptive article (15 March) puts into place those who say that it’s ‘the occupation’ that has made the hatred of Israel so fashionable. I have just finished reading The Boats of Cherbourg, which describes how difficult it was for Israel to buy ships from any western states in the early 1960s, even though they were needed for defensive purposes, and the same states had no compunction in selling all sorts of weapons to Israel’s enemies. And at the start of the Yom Kippur war, when it looked as if the Israelis would be overrun, the Europeans refused to rearm the Israelis to counter Soviet deliveries to Egypt and Syria, or even permit the Americans to overfly mainland Europe to do so. So when they were losing, the Israelis were despised for being weak, and now they are stronger, they are hated for winning. It’s unsurprising that even left-wing Israelis take our platitudes about supporting their right to live within secure borders with an unhealthy helping of salt.

David Reuben

London WC2

Who’s Great and why

Sir: Part of the answer to Chris Harries’s question (Letters, 15 March) is that the epithet ‘the Great’ is often used to distinguish the founder of a family or dynasty, many of whose descendants bore the same name. Pompey, to whom he refers, is an example; so is Herod the Great, not to be confused with Herod Antipas or Herod Agrippa, and insured against confusion by the epithet. No one is likely to attribute other forms of greatness to either.

Roger Farrington

London SW1

London pride

Sir: In the correspondence prompted by Charles Moore’s claim (Notes, 22 February) that Paris was keener than London to name bits of its transport system after victories in the Napoleonic wars, I waited for anyone to point out that Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Bridge are a match for the Gare d’Austerlitz and the Pont d’Iéna. The one often overlooked is Maida Vale, named, via a local pub, from the title given to John Stuart, made Count of Maida for routing the French outside the Calabrian town of Maida in 1806.

Christopher Booker

Litton, Somerset

The St Gellért Hotel

Sir: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Arts, 8 March) may have had as its model the St Gellért Hotel. It was one of the city’s great pre-war hotels, built over hot springs with a spa in the basement. The outdoor pool was equipped with a device that created artificial waves. The pièce de resistance was the gypsy band that played soothing music while the guests soaked. This placid scene turned ugly when, during the war, the fascist Arrow Cross thugs marched groups of Jews across the river and shot their captives in full view of the Gellért’s guests.

Ron Nowicki

Brecon, Llandrindod