In 2005 we went on a bike tour of Exmoor. On the Saturday afternoon, approaching Dulverton ("Is this the unfriendliest place in Britain?", 10 October) my rear wheel started to buckle badly enough to need attention. We limped into the town, where my attempts to straighten the wheel failed miserably. It had now taken on the appearance of a figure of eight.
Somewhat downhearted, we walked into the town and went into the Rock House pub for a drink. Chatting to the friendly (yes!) bar staff and locals, we were told about an old guy who was good with bikes. A few minutes later a phone number was produced. I phoned the guy, Max, at around 8pm that night.
After we'd eaten, Max arrived, around 9.30pm and took the wheel away. Max, by the way, was in his late 70s at least. At 8am on Sunday he was back with a straightened wheel. He'd worked on it until about midnight, then finished it off in the morning. When we asked him how much we owed him for his time and petrol he said, "Oh, I don't know. Does £5 sound about right?"
Without the collective goodwill and help from the kind folk of Dulverton our holiday would have been over. I have only fond memories of that "unfriendly" place.
Low poll sends an urgent message
Further to "Defeating the BNP in debate" (letter, 9 October), I reckon that mainstream politics is going to have its work cut out in the approach to the general election.
Here in Penrith West many of us worked hard to encourage the voters to a council by-election last week, but in the event the turnout was little more than one quarter. It is to the Liberal Democrats' great credit that they gained a landslide 51.7 per cent, but the Conservatives took just 21 per cent (in Cumbria, for heaven's sake), the BNP came third with 13.6 per cent, then an independent candidate, with Labour languishing at 3.5 per cent. All of this is a salutary reminder of the doldrums in which politics finds itself, owing largely to the complacency of politicians in recent times.
Someone might remind me that ours was just a local election, and point out that folk take national politics more seriously. However, an outcome like this seems to be saying something to the political parties at the close of their conference season, if it takes such a Herculean effort to minimise the vote for the BNP and its obscene politics.
It seems the voters are demanding from the mainstream sackcloth and ashes on the scale of Nineveh of old, and fast too. Six months is all that remains to foster genuine trust for our would-be public servants.
The Rev Peter Sharp
So the conference season is over and what did we get? Nick Clegg, another wise head readying for a charge at the same brick wall; poor Gordon Brown, still sans charisma and destined to be remembered as the best Chancellor of the 20th century and the unluckiest PM of the 21st; and then David Cameron, trying to appear as just any ordinary likeable next-door Old Etonian millionaire determined to insert a social conscience into a party which never had one and never will.
And it all means nothing at all. The electorate, suffering from the consequences of the greed of the City of London, will exercise its usual amnesia and put into power the old school pals of those same greedy money merchants, and the cycle will start again.
The economy will gradually recover thanks to measures already in place and be heralded as a great Tory victory; the rich will get richer and the poor poorer until eventually New Improved Labour finds a leader with TV appeal and fresh corn to attract middle-income chickens etc etc.
St Breward, Cornwall
I was extremely pleased with David Cameron's conference speech. Anyone who was considering voting Conservative must have surely been dissuaded from doing so. This year's conference was so like New Labour in substance, style and rhetoric before the 1997 general election that one could hardly to tell the difference.
The undecided can now be left with one option: vote Lib Dem.
Having just endured three lacklustre party conferences, from which no one emerged with any great credit, I have just one question: with the Lib Dems still unfit to govern, how are we to keep out the Tories without voting Labour?
Fundamental, but without the '-ism'
Fr Morrow's definition of "non-fundamentalist" atheists (letters, 10 October) as folk who believe that "human life is fascinatingly manifold" doesn't tell us much. Such a belief is widespread and people of any persuasion can hold it.
Fundamentalist Christians refuse to accept the theory of evolution, despite the overwhelming evidence in its favour. Other Christians accept evolution as fact, cheerfully opting for a selective reading of the Bible.
There is no such range of, er, fundamental views among atheists. Just, admittedly, varying degrees of stridency of expression! If, as it does, all the evidence points to God having been invented by Man, we simply have to come to terms with this.
Whether religion is virus, wishful thinking, superstition or relic of the evolutionary process, God is still a figment of the human imagination. All atheists would presumably agree on that. And, unlike Christians, we have no ancient book to disagree about. So "fundamentalist atheism" makes little sense.
An atheist, as I understand it, denies the existence of the God in whom others believe. The problem with atheists such as Richard Dawkins is that they choose fundamentalist believers to attack, directing their critique at literal definitions of God. They don't engage fully enough with more complex theology, which tends to be aware of the limitations of all language about God.
Those of us caught between the two extremes find it hard to get a hearing, drowned out by the fundamentalists on both sides. There are many of us about, however, attempting to explore and develop the richness of religious traditions while recognising their historical contingency. That's a debate that takes more space than an advertisement on the side of a bus.
'Don't bother the doctor'
It is not politeness that stops British people bothering their doctors ("How our politeness could prove fatal", 7 October), but years of rigorous training.
When I lived abroad for six years I was re-trained. During the first year, when I did go to the doctor I was usually asked why I had not gone before, and the doctor then did something: sent me for immediate chest physiotherapy to clear my lungs during a chest infection, got an immediate MRI scan done on my knees, or whatever was needed. So I learned to go to the doctor.
Then I came back with chronic health problems, went to the doctor and found myself back with the old "Well, unless you've been hospitalised this year you haven't got a problem with your asthma" and "I wouldn't bother doing anything about this knee problem" and so forth. So I have been rapidly re-trained to the British way and don't bother the doctor much. But I don't feel the least bit polite about it.
New Quay, Ceredigion
A prize Obama has yet to earn
Most people seem to believe the award of this year's Peace Prize is a deposit against future performance.
So if after four years President Obama fails to deliver peace on earth and goodwill among men (not to mention solving climate change, pollution and hunger in the developing world) can the Nobel Committee ask for its money back?
Good to see you support the award to Obama (leading article, 10 October). Let us hope it gives a boost to his efforts. The curmudgeonly response elsewhere shows the frustrating problems ahead.
I have a vision of a world where everyone has more money. Do I win the Nobel Prize for Economics?
Carshalton Beeches, Surrey
Which is the real Tony Blair?
Chris Sexton declares that we all know who Tony Blair is and what he stands for (letter, 9 October). But which Tony Blair does he mean?
The pretty straight kind of guy or the guy whose party had to refund Bernie Ecclestone a million pounds?
The pretty straight kind of guy or the one who tried to wash his hands of any responsibility regarding the public exposure of Dr David Kelly?
The pretty straight kind of guy or the man whose government influenced the Serious Fraud Office to drop their inquiry into BAe?
The pretty straight kind of guy or the prime minister directly responsible for taking this country to war using a carefully edited and discredited document to back up his claims of the direct threat of non-existent WMD?
M S Lane
West Bromwich, West Midlands
In reply to Sir Geoffrey Chandler (letter, 9 October), I would point out that Tony Blair sent troops to oust the Taliban regime that supported al-Qa'ida terrorism, flogged uppity women and executed apostates and homosexuals; to stop Sierra Leone's RUF from hacking any more children's arms off; to cut short Slobodan Milosevic's programme of ethnic cleansing; and, yes, to rid Iraq (and the rest of the world) of an unpredictable, genocidal thug – with, at the very least, WMD on his wish list. Such a man would make an ideal President of Europe.
Zayda Kebede (letter, 10 October) fails to embrace the non-feminist side of the argument. The reasons for the general disapproval of teenage single mothers are that they have deprived their children of a father and they are single mothers by choice. In fact they are the only people who are allowed to go on benefit by design.
Roger H Woodard
Votes for Europe
When first asked to vote, the people of Ireland said, "No." As expected, the Brussels gangsters said, "Sorry but that's not the correct answer. You Irish will have to vote again and give us the answer we want." Sadly it seems they have now complied. I've been wondering, are the countries, including the UK, who by whatever means voted yes, to be given a second vote in case they may have changed their minds as well?
Steve Tiller complains (letter, 10 October) that the alleged perpetrators of an "honour" killing were described in an article as Muslims – as, apparently, they are – but the thief in another article is not called a Christian. Maybe this is because, whereas the crime of theft is not confined to any particular group, many of us think that "honour" killings are overwhelmingly carried out by Muslims. I hope that someone can write in and set us straight about this.
Support the troops
About 30 years ago, someone came up with the clever idea of moving non-combat and routine tasks away from front-line troops and giving them to civilians. Troops might not be paid much, but they are expensive to run, so this was a cost saving. The Conservatives now say that they will cut the defence budget by axing civilian jobs but not cutting front-line troops. Brilliant! Pass me up the bottom section of this ladder; I'm not using it any more.
In my second half-century, fighting fit but with a full head of grey hair, I've reached a stage in life when polite fellow-travellers occasionally offer me their seats on public transport. While this is appreciated, it presents me with a dilemma. If I accept the offer, I feel old but presumably the fellow-traveller feels good and is more likely to repeat the kind act. If I decline, it makes me feel younger, but it could discourage them from making a future offer to someone more deserving.
Surely the models on the fashion pages look so miserable (letter, 9 October) because of the continual pain resulting from those horrid ugly knobbly knees clonking into each other as they mince along the catwalk?