Joan Smith's article, "They're not called soft subjects for nothing", panders to a lame stereotype of degree courses in "Madonna studies or equine tourism" (6 February). Tourism's contribution to the UK economy, currently £115bn a year, could grow by more than 60 per cent to £188bn by 2020. It would seem intelligent to train people to deal with this. The article asserts that "students from poorer backgrounds would make do with less challenging 'soft' vocational subjects like media studies". But the UK film industry alone employed 33,500 people and supported 95,000 jobs, contributing £4.3bn to the economy, according to Oxford Economics in 2007. Again, that takes trained staff.
We require more vocational courses at a time of economic instability – training people to imagine and then implement ideas. Of course, education is about preparing people for life, but it's a whole lot easier if individuals have work and income.
Smith concludes: "Learning to think critically is a better foundation for life than a course in running tourist attractions." Such a course requires all sorts of study and research: sociology, motivation, economics, management, marketing and languages. All require critical thinking.
University of Gloucestershire
Forty years ago, I was commissioned to design a hospital in Nigeria ("Hospital food needs urgent treatment", 6 February). Working in a Nigerian context, I was advised to design the wards on a Florence Nightingale model: beds on each side of the ward with cross-ventilation, a nurses' station at one end and, at the other, a covered space for relatives to cook meals for their loved ones. There's an idea for the NHS.
A complaint published about food at St Helier hospital was over four years old. Today, I am pleased to say, the breakfasts, lunches and dinners served at our hospitals have been independently rated "excellent" (Epsom) and "good" (St Helier). Patients choose from an extensive menu and those who need help have one-to-one assistance. If a patient misses a meal, snack boxes are available 24 hours a day. We also have times set aside solely for patients to eat meals, which allows staff to monitor their food intake.
Director of Nursing, Epsom and St HelierUniversity Hospitals, Surrey
It is a myth that the oyster used to be "a staple food of the working class" ("Wild oysters in danger of extinction", 6 February). When the industrial revolution and railways created a new market for fish and shellfish in cities, herring was the important seafood for urban workers; oysters, a minor luxury, were sold on the streets like hot chestnuts in winter. When Sam Weller remarks to Mr Pickwick as they drive through the East End that "it is a wery remarkable circumstance that poverty and oysters always seems to go together", he means remarkable that a luxury food should go with poverty, not that oysters are commonplace.
Professor Robert Neild
Trinity College, Cambridge
Don't huge bonuses imply that the banks are charging too much for their services or not paying enough to their investors? Our pension pots would be somewhat grander if the banks treated us with the same largesse as their staff.
Your excellent chart linking friend- ships between politicians and the big four banks omits customers (6 February), who could protest by changing banks. The Co-operative Bank, for example, did not go to the Government for a bailout, and lends only £105 for each £100 acquired, putting others to shame.
Paul Vallely asks, "How are you?", and adds, "I hope you're not one of those dysfunctional people who takes such a question literally" ("Too much information...", 6 February). I am 23 and have lived in Cornwall, Jersey and Portugal. The majority in each place like to ask and be asked this, and listen to the answer. It is a simple way to get a feel for another's well-being.
To your list of significant occurrences of the number 42 (6 February) you could add that, in the ASCii computer character code, 42 represents an asterisk. This, when used in a search algorithm, denotes "everything". Douglas Adams denied it, but I suspect this was the source of Deep Thought's answer.
Why do we think Sally Bercow was "naked except for a sheet"? The photo exposes no more than does an average evening dress. It is our febrile minds that conjure up images of the bedroom. If she is "semi-naked", so is every celebrity swanning down a red carpet.
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