Binge drinking, classical music and others

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You British should learn to sit back and relax over a drink

You British should learn to sit back and relax over a drink

Sir: I am French and have been living in England for 15 years, and I am greatly enjoying the debate on binge drinking and the licensing law (Letters, 21 January). It is always very exciting to watch the British people comparing themselves to other countries. And also very endearing because it brings up so many insecurities and vulnerabilities in you.

First, I wonder if there is not something genetic about the way you drink. We have alcoholics in France. In fact I remember very well the couple in my family about whom I learned the lovely expression "l'éthylisme bourgeois". Discreet, courteous, addicted yet never excessive. But even when it's not bourgeois, I don't remember seeing in France the kind of violent behaviour I have seen here.

In this country, it's almost an allergic reaction to alcohol. I know a very well-behaved man who will suddenly utter crazed, aggressive nonsense at the dinner table. Quite freaky.

My second point is about heavy drinking English girls who work hard and therefore want to play hard. Well, there it is, I think, in a nutshell. The Brits should work less hard. The work ethic in this country is the problem. Protestant work ethic has always been a problem. The longest working week in Europe, the most overtime, the most sick absenteeism and not the best performing workforce either. There is a lot of guilt around work here, and not enough enjoyment.

If you want to learn to drink as we do, you must work less, you must learn to cook, learn to love to cook and to want to spend six hours in your kitchen, and to receive friends. You must enjoy being lazy and taking a long time for lunch breaks away from your office. You must learn to love discussing flavours, tastes, smells.

Then, next time you open a bottle of wine in company, you may sit back on your chair instead of rushing for the next bottle. And without embarrassment, without guilt, you may exhale a great sigh, and sip, and take your time. Just take your time.

London SW2

Classical music is not lost on young people

Sir: David Whelton, MD of the Philharmonia Orchestra, says classical music is becoming a "forgotten language" in Britain ("Orchestra's chief laments British audiences as dumbed down and unwilling to listen", 20 January). On the contrary, I recently went to a concert at the Lighthouse Hall in Poole, one of the largest concert halls in the UK, which was a sell-out, not a seat to be had as far as I could see.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was on top form with fine performances of Britten's Sea Interludes, Mozart's Piano Concerto no 22 and a thrilling account of Sibelius' 5th Symphony by the conductor Paul Daniel.

The trouble with some leading musicians is that they create an atmosphere of doom and gloom which is quite unwarranted. As the critic Norman Lebrecht has pointed out, in Finland every child is given an orchestral instrument to learn on arriving at school. We could do well to copy our Finnish friends instead of indulging in all this pathetic hand-wringing.

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Sir: Rather than "Forcing children to listen to music they don't like" (editorial, 20 January), try encouraging them to participate. Here in Shropshire, despite the problems of serving a small population scattered over a large area, the county music service provides subsidised instrumental tuition from primary level, assisted instrument purchase, and free transport to rehearsals for a range of ensembles.

Performances by these ensembles show skill, energy and enthusiasm which is hardly going to dissipate the moment the participants finish their formal education. By playing music for themselves, young people learn to understand and appreciate it far more effectively than by being lectured about it and often become hooked for life.

St Martins, Oswestry

Sir: When she was about 14 years old, my daughter pleaded: "Please Dad, don't park close to the school entrance when you pick me up because I don't want my friends to hear you playing classical music on the car radio." Within about 18 months of making that plea, she commented: "It's really sad that almost nobody in my school listens to classical music."

She is now in the second year of a degree course in (classical) music and enjoying every minute of it. If we don't play classical music to our children and talk about it occasionally, of course they will have no appreciation of it.

Unfortunately, because everything is class-marked in Britain, classical music tends to be associated with snobbery. Even more unfortunately, there are musicians who treat those who do not like classical music (or have not had an opportunity to learn about it) as beyond the pale.

If the schools are to bear the burden of educating potential listeners, parents must share some of that burden and some teachers of music need to leave their ivory towers.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sir: Your leader "Musical youth" (20 January) misses the point. "Forcing children to listen to music they dislike" is not music education. This was universally recognised in the early 1960s, and as Julian Lloyd Webber rightly says (20 January), we have lost a generation during which a great music education programme was systematically unravelled. Let us hope that the present Government continues to fund its restoration.

The Royal Philharmonic Society
London W1

Sir: David Whelton is quite wrong to suggest that rap music has "no harmonic references at all". In fact the opposite is true. Whereas Stravinsky's polytonality restricted itself to the simultaneous use of varying key signatures, rap occupies a complex and highly advanced sound-world in which two entirely distinct harmonic systems co-exist.

Rappers quite literally - and quite deliberately - talk in and out of tune in a compass that relates to the tonality of the surrounding music but within a scope of pitch values too subtle to be recognised by the Western classical tradition (which is still struggling to notate jazz, an art form now over a century old).

Mr Whelton's charge that most audiences shun "anything that requires some investment of time and thought" could be levelled at those who dismiss popular music. The attentive listener to Chuck D, Ice Cube or Eminem, acclimatised to the subtleties of their vocal registers, will hear a skilled musician using harmonic colouration to achieve the effects of tension, release, harmony and dissonance that have been the mainstay of composers of all eras.

London E14

Value of a wall

Sir: It was so refreshing to read how Aymiro Gedamu, merely by building rock walls to prevent life-giving soil being washed off his farm, has dramatically increased his crop yields ("Why this man holds the key to solving world poverty" 18 January).

Tree Aid has been funding such work since 1994, in the north of Burkina Faso in Africa, one of the world's poorest and most environmentally degraded countries. I can therefore attest to the effectiveness of rock walls around fields in stemming the loss of precious soil, and transforming livelihoods - as experienced by Mr Gedamu. In fact, so successful are the rock walls that we find that villagers living close to projects that Tree Aid has funded want to emulate the success of their neighbours.

On a recent visit to Burkina Faso, I met one such villager. Bamogo Salfo had painstakingly built walls with rocks, carried not by pack animals, as Mr Gedamu had done (he had none) but in a wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow disintegrated as a result of the heavy work, he had absolutely no alternative but to carry the rocks in his own hands to finish the wall. No income meant no possibility of replacing even a wheelbarrow.

When the world's sympathy and generosity are rightly focused on the tragic events of the Asian tsunami, it is easy to forget the millions in Africa who live in poverty, for whom the price of a wheelbarrow can make all the difference.

President, Tree Aid

Internet phone calls

Sir: BT is not acting as a "debt collector for criminals" as Ian Gardner believes (Letters, 15 January). Working with the regulator ICSTIS, BT has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle the industry problem of internet diallers. We have taken down 1,000 numbers associated with rogue diallers, e-mailed warnings to our 1.8 million narrowband internet customers and placed articles in Update magazine, which accompanies all blue bills to our 20 million customers. We also offer free premium rate barring and a removable bar for premium rate and international calls for £1.75 a month.

Our share of the revenue from these disputed calls is just 3 pence a minute of the £1.50 per minute charge, all of which we donate to ChildLine. The service providers who operate using rogue diallers do not have a direct relationship with BT, but with terminating network operators, who share the revenue with them. BT would support efforts to make terminating network operators take a closer look at who they are giving premium rate numbers to.

It is not true to suggest that the technology is in place to track any abnormal movements in customer accounts, and in the context of the 180 million calls a day that BT deals with the scale of the task is immense. However, we are urgently looking at the way we monitor call spend to see if we can give customers earlier warnings when there is unusual activity in relation to their account.

BT group managing director
Consumer and Ventures
London EC1

Palestinian refugees

Sir: Like Jack S Cohen (Letters, 21 January) I deeply wish for Middle East peace. I take no side in the conflict; I do however find repulsive Mr Cohen's assertion that only Palestinian refugees who were born in Palestinian territory should be repatriated. The great influx of Jewish people into the region did not consist of people who had been born there, and yet they still claimed it was their homeland. On what grounds should people's immediate links with the land be rebuffed, as Mr Cohen would have it, when an ancient claim was given the firm backing of the West?

Shifnal, Shropshire

Beautiful Monday

Sir: So, Monday 24 is Misery Monday ( 22 January). The shortest day is a month behind us and the evenings have gained 45 minutes of daylight. In the garden, the hellebores are in full flower, the first crocus flowers are in bloom, and daffodils are in bud.

The winter jasmine flowers are a picture when lit by the morning sunlight. The morning bird song, which died down last August, has started up again, and the collared doves, which nest every year in the garden, are back again looking at the nest site. At night, the sky is at its very best, with the winter constellations shining like jewels against the dark sky. How do you survive Misery Monday? You just open your eyes and look at the beauty about you.

Sittingbourne, Kent

Cruise views

Sir: Watching the news and seeing the passengers disembarking from the Aurora after their cruise had been aborted I was surprised at how philosophical and laid-back most of them were about the experience. Most of them likened it to being "stuck in a five-star hotel for over a week with free entertainment and free drinks" (report, 21 January).

Only one group seemed a little disgruntled however remarking, "it wasn't much fun looking at Southampton for 11 days." Maybe they were Portsmouth supporters?

London N11

Artistic name

Sir: Nicholas Serota, introducing us to Joseph Beuys ("Art for all our sakes", 21 January) says: "That his name is not already more a part of common currency is in part down to the difficulties of staging an exhibition of his work." That, and the difficulty most of us must have pronouncing his name.

London N4

Bullies and Bush

Sir: "America will not pretend that ... any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies" (Bush Inauguration, 21 January). Takes a bully to know one I suppose.


Weighing up 4x4s

Sir: Blake Ludwig (Letters, 18 January) berates drivers of 4x4s, a vehicle type described as unsafe, "obscenely heavy" and polluting.

To which 4x4 is he referring? Of the three bestselling models on the UK market, the Land Rover Freelander is no heavier than a Vauxhall Vectra, the Toyota Rav 4 emits no more CO2 than the average new car and the Honda CR-V is one of the few models in any segment rated three stars for pedestrian protection in NCAP crash tests.

The motor industry welcomes constructive debate. But let's start with facts rather than stereotypes.

Chief Executive
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd
London SW1

Showing loyalty

Sir: David Lammy asks (Politics, 22 January) why people "do not show the same loyalty with their political allegiances" as they do to their football club.

Sheffield Wednesday have played some shocking football recently. However, they have never invaded a foreign country.

London SE15