Even after working on the Telegraph’s letters desk for a while, one can rarely predict which topics will get our admirable readers going next. One moment it’s the defence of the realm, the state of the NHS and the challenge of alternative energy sources. The next, they’re sharing their thoughts on the best headgear for middle-aged drivers of sports cars, or the kindest ways to prevent garden birds flying into French windows.
One of the most enjoyable – and longest-running – correspondences this year concerned our readers’ recollections of their school reports. It went on for several weeks, including such gems as: “When the workers of the world unite it would be presumptuous of Dewhurst to include himself among their number”; “Unlike the poor, Graham is seldom with us”; and “The improvement in his handwriting has revealed his inability to spell”.
The only thing of which one can be certain is that the correspondence will keep pouring in. Of the 700 letters we receive on average each day, at least 500 arrive by email. “Letters to the Editor” offer a coherent, carefully edited space – a kind of daily competition, if you will – that exhibits the best of what our readers are thinking. They are seldom shy of sharing these thoughts, writing from their offices, from holiday – even, in one instance, from the bath. One correspondent suggested that we run a separate letters page for emails sent after pub closing time.
Well, we haven’t decided to do that – yet. But last year I had the idea of collating some of the best unpublished letters into a book for the first time. Am I Alone in Thinking...? proved to be a surprise Christmas hit, selling over 70,000 copies and topping the Independent Bookshops’ chart.
Some of these previously unpublished letters hadn’t made the paper as they addressed an interesting topic which didn’t fit with the rest of the day’s selection. Others were too whimsical, or too risqué. Sometimes, frankly, they were completely and utterly (and wonderfully) mad. Above all, they were very, very funny.
Happily, then, the answer to the book’s semi-rhetorical title was a resounding “No”. Jennifer Latham, writing from Wedmore in Somerset, spoke for many in her pleasure at discovering “what a cheeky, irreverent lot fellow readers are... Greed, envy, lust, revolution, nuttiness, political incorrectness – brilliant reading, all.”
Initially, I was wary about attempting a follow-up edition. Our readers might not be alone in thinking the way they do, but could they – in another phrase beloved of regular correspondents – “go on and on”?
Fortunately, the answer is an equally decisive “Yes”. To an extent, we have been lucky with events: the departures of Gordon Brown, Tony Hayward and Jonathan Ross have provided much fodder for our letter-writers’ cannons; as has the arrival of Chris Evans on Radio Two’s breakfast show.
It has certainly been an eventful year. But our wonderful correspondents, as quick and as able to turn their hand to letters about geopolitics as their gardens, have never been constrained by the vagaries of the news cycle. I could go on... but I will leave that to our readers – opposite – who really can.
In praise of progress
SIR – My first thought on seeing your headline, “Pupils to be taught about sex at seven” was, “What, in the morning?”
When I was a child, the school day began with prayer. But you can’t stop progress.
SIR – I’ve often wondered whether Britain’s education system is in a state of decline. Then I visited Google and started to type, “Can I get…”. Before I finished my query the first suggested search in the drop-down list appeared: “Can I get pregnant from a dog?”. Now I know.
Castle Rising, Norfolk
Bathing with blondes
SIR – Perusing the papers today, I was struck by the number of advertisements for walk-in baths, each of which featured an attractive blonde of around 42, pictured either entering or leaving the bath in a swimsuit via the side door. Is there any particular reason for this age group of blonde ladies requiring walk-in baths? I suspect it may be related to wine but perhaps I have missed something.
SIR – If I tried balancing my drink on the side of the bath, as suggested by one of your correspondents, I would probably end up with coq au vin.
SIR – What more could you want in a bath, one of your correspondent asks. Answer: Rachel Stevens.
SIR – A current West Sussex NHS advertisement on the back of a bus states: “You are twice as likely to have unprotected sex after heavy drinking”.
Another pint, please, landlord.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
SIR – I have a soft spot for Sarah Ferguson; my dream girl looked like her and she reminds me of a boisterous Labrador, my favourite breed of dog.
Dear Picture Editor
SIR – As I pencilled in a moustache on your photograph of Lord Mandelson I wondered how many other readers were doing the same thing.
SIR – Could you sometimes leave a picture of Martin Johnson out of your sport supplement? We all know by now what he looks like – poor fellow – and you are frightening the horses.
Walton on the Naze, Essex
Waking up terror experts
SIR – “It’s a wake-up call”. That’s what politicians say after every terrorist outrage. So who are these security experts who need to be woken up on a regular basis? Are they all teenagers who can’t bear to get out of bed before three in the afternoon?
SIR – There is a brilliant and simple solution to the controversy over racial profiling at airports. All passengers will be required to step into a booth that scans for explosive devices and automatically detonates any device found. Harmless individuals will be released immediately after being scanned. Muffled explosions, contained within the booth, will be followed by an announcement that a seat has become available for standby passengers.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Cutting the corduroy deficit
SIR – As David Cameron struggles to save money, he could well look at Sport, Culture, Art and Music (SCAM), which have drained the British taxpayer of some £560 million every year for the last 20 years, to the benefit of no one except the thousands of luvvies that this money keeps in fine corduroy style.
Surely they could do just as well down a coal mine, if only to marvel at the wonder of it all.
SIR – I have to admit that I misjudged the strength of feeling by public-sector workers against the cuts – right up to the moment I tried to reduce by 25 per cent the amount of housekeeping money I give to my wife.
Teaching Americans English
SIR – I currently work for a wonderful company run by Americans. However, many of my British colleagues are beginning to find their business vernacular rather annoying: step up to the plate; came in from left field; ball-park figure; circle the wagons; drink the Kool-Aid.
We have taken a different approach to combat its pervasiveness: we have invented our own “Empire vernacular”, which our American “co-workers” will believe is a quaint old English idiom.
Here are some examples we use regularly: It’s like trying to find the corner on a bowler hat; We can all sip sherry over this one; To hit the driven grouse would mean swinging across the line; and I’ll stuff the partridge and get back to you.
Our ultimate hope is that on global conference calls, we will one day hear these phrases spoken with an American accent.
Travelling the roads to hell
SIR – Am I alone in hating Ryanair more than the Taliban and liquorice combined?
Carousel 1, Stansted Airport
SIR – The EU states that a small calf transported by rail must be afforded a space of between 0.3 metres and 0.4 metres squared in which to travel.
I was wondering to whom I should write to complain about the fact that my feet didn’t touch the floor for 45 minutes on the 15:44 to Sevenoaks from London Bridge last night.
Supermarket soap operas
SIR – Whenever I buy a pack of two chicken breasts at my local supermarket, the package contains one large and one small fillet. As an ignorant townie, I wonder if any country-dwelling readers have spotted one of these lop-sided crosses between Audrey Hepburn and Jayne Mansfield (or for the younger generation, Sienna Miller and Kelly Brook) scuttling around in a field?
SIR – A recent article reported that confectionery manufacturers were discreetly shrinking the size of their chocolate bars. Is the same thing happening to men’s underwear, or am I just getting older?
SIR – On being given a banana for the first time, during the Second World War, I ate it with the skin on. I also did this with an orange. Happily, I was later shown the correct way to eat a banana and an orange and grew to like them very much.
George E. Bryant
SIR – Bill Nighy says that he never trusts a man in linen, but I would never trust a man who wears brown shoes with a grey suit. Who does he think he is: Ken Clarke?
Charing Heath, Kent
SIR – What has happened to the good old waterproof codpiece?
SIR – I don’t believe you should judge a man by the colour of his skin, but in the case of Tony Blair I’ll make an exception.
SIR – In a calculated snub to Tony Blair, I intend to ignore Peter Mandelson’s memoirs before I ignore his.
Grassington, North Yorkshire
SIR – Anyone feeling slightly envious on learning the extent of Tony Blair’s wealth should console themselves by remembering that he’s married to Cherie.
SIR – Whose idea was it to stage the World Cup during the cricket season?
Mary E. Rudd
Pevensey Bay, East Sussex
SIR – It is clear to me that John Terry’s haircut alone should be enough to relieve him of the responsibility of captaincy.
SIR – Is it just me, or did anyone else notice that we never once saw Paul the Octopus and Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull together in the same shot?
SIR – The invasion of female commentators of rugby union is unacceptable. It is hard to listen to some silly girl concentrate on the attractiveness of a shirt’s colour rather than the thuggery that is taking place before her.
Lt Col Dale Hemming-Tayler (retd)
SIR – What on earth is going on at Radio Two? We’ve got Graham Norton sitting in for Chris Evans in the morning, and Dale Winton covering Steve Wright in the afternoon. It’s as camp as a row of tents.
Throw in Alan Carr for Ken Bruce next week and we’ll have a full-on jamboree.
SIR – Has anyone heard Chris Evans play a song from beginning to end without interrupting with his inane prattling? I am trying to like the man, but, well....
SIR – I swear that if I hear Ride of the Valkyries again on Classic FM, I may not be responsible for my actions.