Letters: Art restorers

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Art restorers can only do their best against time and vandalism

Sir: It is interesting that Simon Carr's suggestion (25 October) of making a digital reproduction of our great paintings and leaving the originals to decompose was illustrated by a picture of the Rokeby Venus. This Velasquez masterpiece was slashed seven times with an axe by a suffragette in 1914. The National Gallery's options were to bin it, display it mutilated (on the grounds that the slashes were part of the rich texture of the painting's history) or to attempt to restore it using materials and techniques sympathetic to the original. The consensus in this, as in most cases, was for the latter.

The problem with conservation and restoration of paintings is not so much that we end up with a mixture of original and restored surfaces; it is that there can be a surprising reluctance to acknowledge this. At least Simon Carr is up front about the alternatives; the choice is generally between a restored "original" and one which is disintegrating. If people would prefer that museums and galleries use public funds to acquire artefacts and then let them decompose that is a perfectly valid and defensible position, depending on one's view of art and heritage.

And digital reproductions deteriorate just as original paintings do, so that unless one has a well-conserved original to make fresh reproductions from, one would end up with nothing.



Sir: I am enjoying, enormously, your posters of the life and work of Velazquez. On Tuesday you printed An Old Woman Cooking Eggs; in the description you mentioned two ladles on the right hand side of the painting, that were quite difficult to see. I thought you might be interested to know that they are not ladles but a type of olive oil lamp, still obtainable in Spain today.

In the painting they appear to be brass, now, sadly they are only made from steel. They are charming and effective, a bit like a pair of gravy boats one inside the other with pointed spouts and attached to a chain that cleverly keeps them balanced. They are filled with oil into which a wick is placed; the light they give is bright and long-lasting.

The ceramic cooker over which she is cooking the eggs is a bit like a small top-loading chimenea (fuelled by charcoal) and still buyable in Andalucia. It is a wonderful thing to note that all the artefacts in the painting are not only beautiful but still made, just like that, in modern Spain nearly 400 years later.



Just four years to act on climate change

Sir: We are delighted to hear that the Government plans to include a climate change Bill in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. This is a real breakthrough and could provide a framework for the many measures now needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Throughout 2006 The Co-operative Bank and its customers have been campaigning with Friends of the Earth for a climate change bill. As a result of our joint campaign, thousands of our customers have taken direct action and personally lobbied their MP. However, if as rumoured the Government is resistant to a law requiring year-on-year reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, we are extremely disappointed.

The time for setting long-term targets has passed. The Government needs to take decisive action. As part of our partnership with Friends of the Earth, our recently commissioned research by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, Manchester University ("The Future Starts Here: routes to a low carbon economy") detailed the UK's carbon budget and revealed that the Government has just four years to act: four years to introduce policies, which will begin to reduce our emissions year on year if we are to have a real chance of achieving the required reductions by 2050.

We urge the Government to consider a commitment to year-on-year reductions if it is serious about meeting its targets and truly tackling climate change.



Sir: Mr Blair's remark that any climate change Bill has to be compatible with "the interests of business and consumers as well" reveals his entire tawdry philosophy.

The whole purpose of government should be to pursue the interests of business and consumers. Many of those interests are long-term, which is what the climate change Bill is about, of course. What Mr Blair is inadvertently saying is that the Bill must be compatible with the short-term interests of business and consumers, also known as "poll ratings".

In plain English - he is afraid of frightening the voters. So much for our Great Leader.



Sir: Electric cars are not carbon-dioxide neutral, as so often stated. They use electricity generated in power stations which, in this country, are predominantly using fossil fuels.

The generators are not totally efficient; some of the available energy is wasted during the generation process. The electricity is then transmitted over distance which incurs further loss as heat and electromagnetic radiation. The power is then stored in a battery that never gives out as much as is put in. Then it is fed to an electric motor which itself is not 100 per cent efficient.

Mile for mile, an electric car probably uses more fossil fuel than one with an efficient internal combustion engine burning the fuel at the point where the energy is needed. By driving one you are moving the carbon dioxide pollution out of your backyard, but don't think that you are doing the global environment a favour.



Sir: In reference to your article on the threat to Kiribati from rising sea levels (25 October), I am surprised that a UN-instigated operation is not currently under way to identify all those at imminent risk of losing their homes as a result of flooding. If all the dire warnings we are currently being bombarded with are even half true then it is obvious that tens of millions of people will lose everything in the next decade. People from every continent will be affected on a permanent basis and will have to be relocated inland. In some cases they will have to go to another country altogether.

Detailed planning should already be under way to match the needy with their new homes. Why isn't this being done? Either the dangers are being overstated or the world leaders who should be reacting to this are as incompetent as our own government and should be replaced by people willing and able to do the job.Perhaps the incoming Secretary General of the UN will make it his main priority?



Kindly Muslims, not terrorists

Sir: Dominic Lawson (17 October) seems to have totally misunderstood Jama't Tabligh, referring to it as "controversial".

Although it is centred on Dewsbury, it also involves people from Batley, the neighbouring town just to the north. I know several of the people associated with the Tabligh movement personally: they are kindly men, not terrorists.

It is a very loose association, mostly of local businessmen, but anyone from the Muslim community here can join them on their trips abroad, where they preach reform, not terrorism. For instance, they try to persuade their fellow Muslims to observe the five daily prayers.

The people I know are all elders of good character. They pay for their trips aboard out of their own pockets, sometimes at considerable self-sacrifice.

When I was speaking to one of them on Thursday, he raised the issue of the veiled teacher, Aishah Azmi. He agreed that it was right to dismiss her, as it was inappropriate for her to cover her face in a junior school classroom.

I should point out that all the Tabligh supporters I know in Batley and Dewsbury are of Indian origin, from Gujarat state. Muhammad Sidique Khan was of Pakistani origin, but he was living in Dewsbury because he had married into an Indian family. He was not "produced" by Dewsbury.



Humanists strive for happiness

Sir: Contrary to the impression given by Simon Sweeney (Letters, 26 October), the "Happy Human" is in fact a very apt symbol for humanism.

Most humanists are not miserable and have plenty to look forward to - admittedly only while we are alive - and the many humanists I met during eight years working at the British Humanist Association seemed quite happy to take responsibility for their own actions and wellbeing.

Most humanists work for the wellbeing of others too, adopting the philosophy of 19th-century American humanist Robert G Ingersoll, "that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so."



An injustice to brave British troops

Sir: Your report that UK forces were "forced to abandon" their post at Musa Qal'eh in Southern Afghanistan does a grave injustice to the British forces who defended the position with such courage and distinction ("Armed and defiant: a tour of duty with the Taliban Army" 25 October).

Indeed, it was only because of the grit and determination of these people that the Taliban were so resoundingly beaten on each and every engagement.

To be absolutely clear, the redeployment of UK forces from Musa Qal'eh was at the express request of the Helmand governor and followed a lengthy series of meetings between him and the local tribal elders. This was all with the full support of President Karzai. This breakthrough followed a period of 35 days of peace and stability in the Musa Qal'eh district. In this time, the agreement made between the governor and tribal elders had held and it became clear that there was no longer a need for UK forces to remain.

During the redeployment from Musa Qal'eh, all vehicles and equipment were withdrawn and at no stage did UK forces have to broker a separate deal to get them back, as your reporter wrongly claimed.

UK forces remain in northern Helmand and will continue to operate in the Musa Qal'eh district when needed in support of the Afghan security forces. We have a vital job to do, and will continue to support the Afghan authorities as they seek to roll out security and stability across the south.



Farms are not there to look pretty

Sir: I feel compelled to write in response to Melanie Mellor's tirade against farmers "ripping out orchards" (letter, 25 October) in order to cover their fields with plastic sheeting, thereby enabling them to grow raspberries all year round.

I fully understand that many people living near these areas are dismayed at the loss of view from their houses and the potential reduction in the value of their property. However, what must be understood by anyone in this situation is that a farm is a business and farmland is a working environment, not something simply to be admired.

I am not a farmer but am fully in support of anyone in a struggling business trying to find new ways of making a profit and if the only grievances from the public are a loss of aesthetic value then so be it. When the raspberries start churning out plumes of smoke or creating more noise pollution, then maybe Ms Mellor would have a point.



Self-powering roads

Sir: I was delighted to read about the possibilities of generating electricity by walking along pavements ("Man Power", 26 October). I have long dreamed of harnessing the pressure of vehicle tyres on roads in a similar fashion. I can see the day when impatient drivers on the M25 can at least be consoled in the knowledge that the electronic sign over their heads warning of severe congestion ahead has been powered by that very congestion.



Chichester came in third

Sir: Francis Chichester was not the first to sail around the world single-handed (Letters, 26 October). Captain Joshua Slocum is generally believed to have been the first in 1895, followed by Harry Pidgeon in 1921 and also in 1932. Also, Robin Lee Graham, aged 16, set out on his circumnavigation in 1965, a year before Chichester, but took five years to complete the voyage. However, Chichester was the first to circumnavigate on his own West to East, via Capes Good Hope and Horn, and the first in which the passage could be measured in days, rather than years.



What's the point?

Sir: Chris Reed of BBC TV Licensing says he wants to make buying a television licence easy (letters, 23 October). In that case why switch from the Post Office to PayPoint? I reckon 99.99 per cent of the population know what the Post Office is and where their nearest branch is. But I cannot be the only person who had never head of PayPoint and has no idea what it is or how it operates. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I do not have a television.



Pedant takes up arms

Sir: Time to put on my military terminology pedant cap. It may be churlish to find fault in the reporting of an incident where people are getting injured, but I have to point out that the vehicle shown in the article (24 October) about the riots in Budapest on the anniversary of the 1956 uprising is not a tank (as captioned) and not of Second World War vintage (as described in the feature). It is in fact a BTR-152 armoured infantry transport, of a type that entered front-line Warsaw Pact service in 1952.



The kilt and the veil

Sir: 260 years ago the British government banned the wearing of two items then considered to be "ethnically divisive", namely the kilt and the tartan. The ban was short-lived and its only real legacy was more than two centuries of lingering resentment. Can't we learn from such experience?