Letters: The Barmy Army

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The Barmy Army: singing for England and making cricket fun

Sir: Contrary to Dominic Lawson's assertion, the Barmy Army is not a ring-fenceable group who are uniform in dress and chants (Opinion, 5 December). It is made up of some of the most diverse Englishmen I have ever witnessed. Close inspection of the troops reveals members of all ages (a Barmy Army colts team exists), sizes (big, fat, small and very round), dress (Jimmy Savile white jeans and Pompey Steve wigs) - all a far cry from the black soccer shorts and St George flag T-shirt clad image.

The very essence of the Barmy Army is that it constitutes an informal group of people who represent a style of support with the aim of making watching cricket more fun and more popular. At each game a different Barmy Army is created by the people that are able to attend. The aim is to roar on support for the team in times of success and (more importantly) get behind the bowlers when times are tough.

Mr Lawson claims that the Barmy Army have a single chant. In fact, it has published a song book, containing over 20 witty and classic songs including "Jerusalem" and "God Save Our Gracious Queen". I don't think there are many sports fans who can boast their own song sheet. My own favourite is the multi-verse tribute to that unsung Yorkshire hero Matty Hoggard, with reference to his swing bowling and flappy cap. There is a song for every single England team member, from Ashley Giles, the King of Spain, to Super Freddie Flintoff. This support would seem to me to represent fanatical idol worship and vocal encouragement on a grand scale - a million miles away from the selfish chanting Lawson refers to.

Cricket is becoming a more popular game to watch with an increasingly young audience. The Barmy Army has over 25,000 names on its mailing list. I would suggest that the game that Mr Lawson demands back is actually safe in the hands of the people and not with the snobby armchair gin-and-tonic brigade.



Sir: Dominic Lawson hardly goes far enough in his condemnation of the Barmy Army. I no longer attend any cricket match, be it in the West Indies, Australia or Lord's, if I know that the Barmy Army will be in attendance to ruin my enjoyment of the beautiful game, and make me feel ashamed of being an Englishman.



A lesson in straight talking about Iraq

Sir: On 6 December you published part of the evidence of Robert Gates, the proposed new US Defence Secretary, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr Gates replied to a question which asked if it was correct the US was not winning the war in Iraq with the words "That is my view, yes sir." The next question asked if it was therefore correct that the status quo was not acceptable. His reply was, "That is correct, sir."

Compare these replies with the minutes of circumlocution, obfuscation and evasions which would result from asking those questions, or indeed almost any other, of most of the current crop of UK government politicians. Is there any chance, I wonder, that on Mr Blair's next visit to Washington he and his entourage might have a chat with Mr Gates and get some tips on the technique of giving direct answers to direct questions?

On more sober reflection I suppose there isn't. Pity.



Sir: It is fascinating to see ("Last men standing", 6 December) that Tony Blair is again going to the United States and that his "main hope is that he will be able to gain the support of the White House for a fresh attempt to revive the Middle East peace road-map".

Four years ago Mr Blair suggested that he could secure White House support for the Middle East peace road-map if the UK "stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the USA". In the intervening four years the UK has "stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the USA" to the extent of taking part in the disastrous and illegal invasion of Iraq, but there seems to be just as little support as ever by the White House for the road-map (and Tony Blair once more has to fly to America to get this issue on the agenda). Perhaps Tony Blair could enlighten us about how much support for the road-map he managed to secure by involving the UK in the invasion of Iraq.



Sir: If the United States finds it the right time to conduct a study into the future of its armed forces in Iraq, then why isn't our government conducting a similar study into the future for our own forces ?



Why Britain needs a nuclear weapon

Sir: Edward Barrow (Letters, 5 December) draws an invalid analogy between nuclear disarmament and abolitionism. The decision to end the slave trade was morally justified but it did not threaten Britain's survival as an independent nation. But in an increasingly interdependent world, an act of unilateral nuclear disarmament would immeasurably damage our standing in the world, sending the wrong signals to rogue regimes with their own nuclear ambitions.

Barrow presumes that if we abolish nuclear weapons, other states will follow our example, but this is an act of faith, not political certainty. It is reminiscent of the arguments of high-minded idealists in the 1930s, who placed their trust in the League of Nations, rather than expensive rearmament programmes. As it is surely impossible to predict the threats to this country's interests in coming decades, we should maintain a credible deterrent against aggression for the foreseeable future.



Sir: So the proposal to renew Trident will cost £65bn over 30 years, the justification by Mr Blair being that Britain needs it as "additional insurance". If we need it only as a deterrent, why don't we just pretend to upgrade it and give everyone the impression that we have new submarines, new missiles and new warheads? A coat of paint here, and some forged documents there, nobody would be the wiser.

Although, thinking about it, if the ruse is going to work, it would require collusion at the highest level of government and the security services to convince people of the existence of actually non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And I guess that could never happen.



Sir: I am pleased to hear that Tony Blair is so concerned about our security from unknown foreign powers that he has decided to renew Trident immediately. What concerns me more is that he is still vacillating on a nuclear power programme that would reduce our dependency on energy supplies from known foreign powers. It looks like a case of "Nuclear energy: aggressive use good, peaceful use bad!"



Sir: Noticeably absent from the Prime Minister's speech on replacing Trident was the "seat at the top table" argument. Is this because he finally realises that the British people, like the peoples of Iraq and Palestine, wish that over the past five years he had not had such a seat?



No 'slush fund' at the town hall

Sir: There is absolutely no truth in the allegation that "Labour has ordered its councillors to pay a proportion of their allowances to help the party wipe out its massive debts" (report, 25 November). Council political groups of all parties have established group funds to which their members contribute for group purposes. This might include training, attendance at conferences, commissioning surveys or reports, or communicating with the community and constituents. Islington's Lib Dems famously donated £10,000 from their funds to the Lib Dems' successful campaign in the Brent East by-election, as they were perfectly entitled to do.

Many Labour groups have operated funds for some years, and fairness requires that all members who benefit from group activities should contribute to them. Administrative costs in operating a system of deductions should be met by the councillors or the group, as they would be in the case of deductions for trades union membership, charitable gifts or pension contributions. Again, all parties operate this system.

The only money paid to Labour nationally is a modest average £50 a year as a membership fee for the Association of Labour Councillors, which helps defray the cost of support to Labour councillors, including a legal advice service. Allegations of a slush fund are ludicrous.



'Avoidable' killings by the mentally ill

Sir: Both the title of the recent report "Avoidable Deaths" and your editorial (4 December) reinforce the mistaken cliché that homicides by the mentally ill are prima facie evidence of failure of care. The truth is more complex. The rate of such sad incidents has remained level over the last fifty years, despite rising homicide rates in the "normal" population.

If anything, failure is more due to governmental than clinical inaction. The Department of Health has still to introduce a useful new Mental Health Act "first outlined in 1999". It has reorganised itself into unaccountability, has allowed cuts to community services and overcrowded wards, and has utterly failed to provide much-needed "low security" beds.

Its belief in expensive new services such as "crisis intervention" and "assertive outreach" is driven more by fashion than evidence, as is its managerial conviction that "risk management" can successfully eliminate events that will always remain as rare as they are newsworthy.



Palestinians caught in the 'crossfire'?

Sir: Your newspaper's concern for the suffering of those in the Occupied Territories (Christmas appeal, Tuesday 5 December) is commendable and necessary. However, the fate of that "abandoned people", as your headline rightly termed the Palestinians will not be aided by your correspondent's use of loaded terms, such as "security barrier" and "crossfire" (report by Paul Vallely).

As for the fence, a simple check on any map will show that its route around the town of Qalqilya for example - a route fully within the West Bank - constitutes an illegal theft of Palestinian land, rather than a security measure. Unless, of course, we mean the security of the illegal settlers.

Similarly, it's high time that the term "crossfire" was banned in reference to the Middle East conflict. Whatever the pressure for "balance", it is surely misleading to suggest that "crossfire" accurately represents the devastation wrought on the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank by one of the most powerful armies in the world.



Room for religion in Darwin's universe

Sir: It is hardly Professor Dawkins' fault: but the fact that he is widely seen as the leading champion of both Darwinism and atheism has unfortunately led to a certain amount of confusion between the two. And if religion and Darwinism are seen as incompatible then there will always be millions of people who will embrace even the arrant nonsense of creationism sooner than abandon their deeply held beliefs.

There is no reason why believers - other than the most literal-minded fundamentalists - should feel threatened by the fact of evolution. Surely, a creator who could come up with something as breathtakingly simple as Darwinian evolution would be more impressive - more worthy of awe - than one who needed 30 million miracles to create 30 million species.



Sir: I did enjoy Richard Dawkins's pointed and intelligent replies (You Ask the Questions, 4 December), but he really shouldn't be allowed to get away with asserting that "accounts of Jesus's resurrection are about as well documented as Jack and the Beanstalk". Irrespective of one's religious persuasion, the textual evidence is substantial.



Sir: It would appear that your postbag swells considerably at the very mention of Richard Dawkins's name. Let us hope for your sake that he never reveals his views on cycling or Marmite.



Armoured vehicles

Sir: The British first used armoured cars in 1914. The Army had two armoured car regiments by 1929. So why do we have no proper armoured cars in Afghanistan now?



Seasons confused

Sir: Should humming bird hawk moths be feeding off Christmas hyacinth nectar in Crediton High Street in December? Aren't they supposed to be in southern Europe or Africa or somewhere?



Sir: Looking out of my kitchen window this morning, I notice two healthy looking olives on my little olive tree (a gift from a Cypriot student in 1991) which has never ever produced a single one before. Is this a record?



Capital offence

Sir: I sighed in weary agreement with Benjamin Letzler (letter, 5 December). Mobile phones also have a lot to answer for. At the sixth form college where I work we are currently processing around 600 on-line applications and many of our students use the texting "i" instead of "I" throughout their personal statements. We always send the forms back for correction but the sad thing is that so many students, even those intending to study English language or journalism, do not seem to realise that it is incorrect.



Dance fever

Sir: Now that the Government is considering offering ballroom dancing on the NHS as part of the fight against obesity, will there be prescription cha-cha-charges?