Letters: The case for an NHS card

A new prescription Sir: It is maddening to see the British people being refused face-to-face GP appointments and subjected to a form of health rationing that should have ended decades ago (‘Dr No’, 12 June). In Australia a Labour government solved the problem in 1975 by separating payment for healthcare from provision of healthcare. The government gave everyone a Medicare card that could be presented to any accredited healthcare provider. The provider would be paid at a set rate per procedure and send the bill to the government. The result is a truly responsive healthcare system where the patient comes first, is treated with respect and courted by a competitive

Let hymn in: the silencing of indoor singing is senseless

‘And now we sing our final hymn, number 466.’ Remember that? The euphoria of congregational hymn-singing? The well-organised types always had the book open at the correct page, balanced precariously on the pew. The rest of us hurriedly flicked to 466 while singing the first verse, knowing it by heart from a thousand school assemblies. ‘Our shield and defender, the ancient of days…’ I can’t believe I’m writing this in the past tense, but it has been so long — almost 15 months — since anyone not in a choir sang a congregational hymn. How I miss that light-headedness, almost faintness, of standing up after a long service and singing

‘My voice is a curse’: Gary Numan interviewed

Reading the opening chapter of Gary Numan’s recent autobiography, (R)evolution, I start to get the odd feeling that I could just as well be reading about my own early life. Like Numan, I grew up near Heathrow and found the aircraft that flew over our house beautiful and magical. My parents were working class and worked hard and supported me all the way. Like Numan, I wanted to be a pilot, and a rock star. And like him, I never quite fitted in. Perhaps I could have formed a seminal band, become a pilot in my spare time and moved to LA. But then I don’t have that voice, or

A tree is for centuries, not just for COP26

We are being urged — and, in some cases, paid — by the government to plant more trees. Actually, this happens most years. I can even remember ‘Plant a tree in ’73. Plant one more in ’74’. It is a bit like saying ‘Have more babies’, without any provision for their care once born. It all depends which trees, where you plant them and how you tend them. If you walk through the country nowadays, or near new-build housing estates where trees have been planted in ‘mitigation’, you will see large numbers of saplings dead or dying, still in their tree guards, planted too close together and then forgotten. New

In praise of nuns

Although I was ten minutes early, Vernon was there ahead of me, framed in the ancient chapel doorway, chatting up what is by general agreement the prettiest of the nunnery’s seven sisters. Vernon is a great bear of a man, raised in poverty in the Appalachian mountains, now wealthy, whose speaking voice is Jack Nicholson’s. A new friend, Vernon excites me because having endured real poverty he fiercely repudiates the glorification of anything that might be categorised under the heading of low life and calls me to order if I err in that direction conversationally. Vernon had brought the nuns three bottles of his homemade olive oil in a carrier

Rejoice for the return of the church choir

Not all coronavirus research sounds like fun, but wouldn’t you just loved to have been at the session where 25 choristers were asked to sing Happy Birthday at varying volumes to determine whether or not it would be safe for choirs to get back to business. The exercise was carried out by academics collaborating with Public Health England (while it lasted) and the Department for Culture. And you know what? It turns out that the quieter the singing, the lower the risk of transmitting droplets. The researchers found that singing did not produce much more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume, but singing or speaking loudly increased the production

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion. Yet they’re also terrified of returning. One story explains why. Picture this innocent choral-society scene in Skagit County, Washington State, on the evening of 10 March. One-hundred-and-twenty singers, most of them elderly sopranos, gathered in the Presbyterian church to rehearse for two hours, their chairs 15cm apart. At half-time they took a break for shared snacks, and at the end the helpful ones stayed to stack the chairs. Fifty-two of those singers came down with Covid-19, supposedly through the release of aerosol droplets in the ether. Thus began the swirling of rumours across the world about the grave dangers of singing. It has still not