With great regret, we announce the death of The British Pub, after a long illness (letters, 24 July). The Pub was born in an age long before radios, cars, TVs, computers and mobile phones etc, when conversation was considered entertainment, and a game of darts the highlight of the week.
The Pub became unwell in the 1970s when the big breweries started feeding it with poor-quality, gassy beer; but rallied through an injection of real ale, administered by Camra. Then the greed of the large breweries made it difficult for many pubs to compete, and the introduction of "Beer Orders" in the 1980s forced many breweries to sell their stakes in pubs to independent chains called PubCos. These chains were even greedier than the brewers, demanding huge returns and leaving little to sustain the pub. Many pubs were infected by a particularly bad rash called "The Theme Pub", or the "Gastro-pub virus", both of which caused massive disfigurement, requiring regular makeovers.
By the 1990s, the pub had become almost unrecognisable, most owned by PubCos. The "keepers", that is the landlords and landladies, had become managers, moved regularly between pubs to ensure they didn't "infect" the "brand" with their own personality. Those few pubs still in private hands suffered as the large companies undercut them on price and out-marketed them, and many sold out to the PubCos.
Then the patrons who sustained the pub realised they could get their entertainment and drinks more cheaply and deserted for their own front rooms. So the PubCos tried to turn the pub into "your front room", installing sofas and huge TVs. The smoking ban further added to the woes of the Pub and many were deserted. The Gastro-pub virus and Theme Pub rash had become endemic throughout the country and, despite Camra, little could be done to maintain the British Pub's fragile hold on life.
Of course, this obituary is a bit premature, The British Pub is not yet dead but it is in severe decline. What the British Pub needs is re-marketing as a social institution.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
How Labour Party must rebuild itself
How should the Labour Party rebuild itself after the 2010 election debacle? The local constituency associations must begin by reclaiming control over the parliamentary members. They must purge themselves of the remnants of the Brown/Blair New Labour project and return to traditional Labour Party values.
The New Labour project supported aggression abroad and suppression at home. To halt aggression abroad Labour must deselect every remaining MP who voted for the Iraq war. They must demand an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and a law prohibiting the launching of any aggressive war in the future without a national referendum.
Labour needs new recruits. It could do worse than invite our soldiers to join the party on leaving the armed services. We need MPs with first-hand knowledge of war, to stop our governments getting too gung-ho again.
To halt oppression at home, Labour must recognise that New Labour's attempts to micro-manage every aspect of the people's lives was not only unworkable and counterproductive, but plain wrong. It must recognise New Labour's obsession with ID cards, databases and surveillance for the dangerous and wasteful control-freak nonsense it always was.
It is a great shame that the people of Norwich North are now represented by a Tory MP. An MP who sees nothing wrong in lending support to extreme animal cruelty.
Chloe Smith represents the party of barbaric bloodsports and, come the general election, no amount of image management will be able to disguise the deeply nasty bunch they are.
Chloe Smith won Norwich North with 13,591 votes, yet a majority, 20,786, voted for other parties. Once again we witness the gross unfairness of our electoral system.
Oldies have already paid for their care
Peter Crane (letters, 22 July) asks why the taxpayer should fund care in old age. The answer is very simple: because we have paid for it. Those of us born in the 1930s did our National Service in the many "small wars" this country waged, from Palestine to Aden, as the Empire came to an end. We voted for the setting up of the welfare state and the NHS, with its promise of care "from the cradle to the grave", and we paid for it.
Thirty years of Thatcherism under three prime ministers has seen the assets of this country flogged off; 30 years of greed, arrogance, destruction and, worst of all, waste. North Sea oil could have been used to build up our health and welfare services or even a modern railway system in tandem with the rest of Europe.
Instead, it has been used on tax breaks for the already wealthy, to wage wars built on lies, on ordering nuclear weapons which will always be under the control of the Americans, on privatising what had once been one of the most honest public services in the world, on building pointless runways for an insatiable airline industry.
Big businessmen – whose failing businesses have been bailed out by the state – have still been allowed to award themselves bonuses worth more than most people will earn in a lifetime.
And how do these charlatans say thank you? When asked to pay a minimal amount of extra tax, they threaten to take their assets overseas.
After leaving school at 15, after a very disrupted education, I was never out of work for a day until I retired. I have paid all my taxes and national insurance, and often appalling rates of mortgage interest (under Thatcher up to 17 per cent).
I have kept my part of the bargain, done my bit, paid my dues, and now expect the state to do the same if I am ever unfortunate enough to have to go into care. And, given the enormous waste briefly mentioned above, do not tell me that to pay for that care the state has to steal my assets and property, in what would be no more than common theft.
A mad return to urban decay
It isn't necessarily council planning committees who are "thoughtlessly favouring applications from giant supermarkets" and threatening local enterprise (Terence Blacker, 24 July). In Brighton, the city planners refused change-of-use permission to Starbucks and refused a liquor licence to a proposed Tesco Express. Part of the argument for refusal was that St James's Street, where both businesses would be, was already adequately provided for in terms of both coffee shops and convenience stores, all locally owned.
A further consideration in the Tesco case was that there is already a street-drinking problem in the area which could be exacerbated by Tesco's alcohol-pricing policies. Both companies appealed, of course, and both decisions were overturned by government planning inspectors.
Twelve years ago, when I arrived in the area, St James's Street was seedy and rundown, with some one in three shops empty. Since then, the city council has put a great deal of effort and money into regenerating the street into a thriving leisure and local shopping area.
I fear that all this may now be put at risk; when Starbucks and Tesco have drained business and profits away from the small enterprises, when premises become empty again and the street returns to decay, locals will abandon the area and the nationals will also pack up and go.
This is all because some government-appointed inspector, probably from Bristol, is presumed to know better than the city council planners. It is madness.
Brighton, East Sussex
Quoth the raven, 'Never happened'
In the piece by Ray Stone, the new Ravenmaster at the Tower of London (Magazine, 18 July), he repeats the old chestnut about Charles II's decree that the Tower should always have six ravens, and the legend that if the birds leave the Tower the kingdom and monarchy will fall.
But Geoff Parnell, the official Tower of London historian, recently scoured the records dating back a millennium and found no reference to the ravens before an 1895 article in an RSPCA journal, The Animal World. One Edith Hawthorn referred to the Tower's pet cat being tormented by the ravens, Jenny and a nameless mate.
A menagerie was kept at the Tower by generations of monarchs for at least 600 years until it became the foundation of London Zoo. There were hawks, lions, leopards, monkeys and even a polar bear, but no mention of ravens. Besides, the Duke of Wellington, who dismantled the menagerie in 1835, wanted to get dangerous animals out of the way of his garrison and would hardly have tolerated six sharp-beaked ravens hanging around.
Dr Parnell's research suggests that some ravens may have been a punning gift to the Tower by the third Earl of Dunraven (1812-71), an archæologist and antiquarian fascinated by Celtic raven myths, who added ravens to his family coat of arms. Some now believe the raven legend is a Victorian invention, but we can't be certain. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.
Capa a con artist, but still an artist
In the recent exhibition of Robert Capa's photos at the Barbican his "iconic" photo of the Falling Soldier, reproduced by you on 21 July (letters, July) was shown next to another photo of another soldier falling down, also apparently shot.
If you look carefully, you can see that Capa used exactly the same patch of grasssy hillside for both shots, with the same stray, taller piece of grass standing up at an angle to the right of the subject.
Either the first soldier was removed after being "shot", and a second soldier then was also killed at this same spot or, as is indicated in the article, the photos were staged.
Apart from fabricating his own "nom de snapper", Capa also admits that he would shake his camera to give the appearance of danger and immediacy to some of his photographs.
Perhaps a con artist, but clearly an artist nevertheless.
Gerrard scores again
Great news for English football: Gerrard did not do it. Like other footballers, including Segers, Fashanu, Grobbelaar, Terry, Byrne, Dyer, Bernard, Bowyer and Woodgate who have been involved in high-profile criminal cases, Gerrard has been proved to be a well-behaved young man who would do no wrong. Unfortunately for him, thousands, maybe millions, of fans have seen the CCTV film.
Cliches in memoriam
The "tributes" from the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister to Harry Patch were alike in their spouting of the usual cliches about those who die in war; "sacrifice" for our "freedom", for "democracy", etc etc. They ignored what Harry said so emphatically, that the Great War, any war, was "not worth one" of the millions of lives lost, as well as his insistence on remembering equally the German dead. It wouldn't do to remind the next generation of cannon-fodder that, "Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori" is a lie.
Look under Jordan
Is it illegal to boycott Israeli goods that purport to be from Jordan? Last week, in a London store, I bought a carton of dates labelled in large red letters, from the Jordan Valley, with the image of a waving palm tree. Then I caught sight, in tiny letters unreadable without glasses, "Produce of Israel". Is such a blatant attempt at disguising the true origin of goods legal?
David McKittrick's assertion that the Real IRA terrorists who planted the bomb in Omagh which killed 29 people (and unborn twins ) in August 1998, "may not have wanted to kill all those people" (Books, 24 July), is unconvincing. What he does not mention is that the terrorist warning stated the bomb had been planted at the opposite end of the street from where it actually detonated. Thus, those in the town centre were herded towards, not away from, the waiting blast.
C D C Armstrong
By George, he did it
In these hectic times, we can all learn a lesson in patience from Lonesome George, the Galapagos tortoise who has finally sired an heir at the age of 90 (leading article, 24 July). Still, when you've been around since the Jurassic, you can afford to be the coolest poikilotherm on the rock.