Letters: The true face of cricket


Away from Test match glamour, the true face of cricket

Sir: With due respect to Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 30 August), her woman's view of English test match cricket as one of "aesthetic quality and gentility of pace" must be informed by imagination rather than fact.

Having recently accompanied my husband to the one-day match against Australia in Durham, I can assure you that there is nothing aesthetically appealing about the significant numbers of topless, overweight, tattooed, shaven-headed gents staggering out of their seats every other over to top up the beer or empty the bladder (but never the two in one trip). Good natured drunkenness and amiablity, yes. Gentility, not really.



Sir: Forget your Test matches and your professional players. If you want to see real cricket you can do no better than come here to Bovey Tracey in Devon.

In last Sunday's game the square leg umpire was drinking from a pint mug and chain smoking cigarettes, silly mid-off was wearing a toy policeman's helmet whilst also quaffing amber coloured liquid and when a six was scored the long-on fielder performed a perfect cartwheel.

When the square leg umpire eventually disappeared altogether from the field of play his place was taken by a small boy wearing a blue baseball cap.

During all this exciting stuff a young girl on a mountain bike did innumerable circuits of the ground, totally ignoring the drama at the wicket. This is what you call cricket.



Sir: In your leading article of 29 August you say that the excitement about cricket might constitute "a part of a wider revival of interest in all things English".

This is not the case for Welsh or Scottish cricket fans. Please note: the sport is governed by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and two members of the team are Welsh. For Welsh fans, it is quite simply an excitement about a beautiful, elegant sport that is once again worth watching. Please curb your pro-English bias.



Will New Orleans ever recover?

Sir: In Rupert Cornwell's otherwise excellent report on the devastation in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina (31 August), he suggests that this storm may have caused "the greatest national [natural] disaster in modern US history".

The operative word here is "modern," as the Storm of 1900 (an unnamed hurricane and tidal wave) hit Galveston, Texas, in September of that year claiming as many as 8,000 lives and destroying most of the city.

As a result of that storm, shippers and major businesses abandoned further investment in Galveston, as being at risk of future storms, and moved their operations 50 miles inland to the then smaller port and city of Houston. Galveston built a sea wall and made other infrastructure improvements to guard against future hurricane damage, but the city never regained its prominence as a major seaport and business centre.

Is New Orleans similarly doomed? Will shipping, heavy industry and major business operations abandon that city, as they did Galveston more than a century earlier?



House prices curb social mobility

Sir: Failure to properly address rising house prices is leading to one of the biggest social problems this nation has faced for decades. House prices in most parts of the country have now reached the level where the only way to make a purchase is through the re-investments of profits made from earlier purchases, when prices were much lower.

No problem for those from reasonably well-off families that can release equity built up over the years, or for people that inherit from elderly relatives. But what about those who are not so lucky? A young person from a family with no previous property stands little chance of attaining a position commensurate to their own abilities and efforts, while many from better-off families get ever larger amounts of wealth handed to them on a plate.

This is resulting in an increasing obstruction to social mobility and an equally significant demotivator to hard work - rewards dictated more by quirk of fate than by merit.

For some reason this situation is presented by the media as "good" news and those that speak out are labelled "doomsayers". I wonder at what point those that are only concerned about their own self-interest will take their heads out of the sand and acknowledge what a backward step this is?



Sir: I wholeheartedly agree with the Revd Sue Norton's letter (30 August) about the boom in second homes. Many people would like to own their own home, however modest, but are prevented from so doing by others who are buying second homes to let out "for their retirement".

This sends up the price and reduces the number of homes available for those who would like to buy. They are then forced to rent and provide for someone else's future instead of their own. This behaviour is the middle class at its worst - greedy and self-centred.



Learn a language for a rainy day

Sir: I have been following the correspondence on foreign language acquisition with interest and would draw attention to a commonplace point: you never know. To those who find it hard to accept that another language in the head is a bit like money in the bank, I would say there are many kinds of rainy day, so you need a range of umbrellas.

More than half a century ago, I was taught Latin and French, neither of which was of much practical use at the time. Later, a chance turn of life made it necessary to acquire a Semitic language, modern Hebrew. Years passed, during which time the value I placed on knowing these languages increased. All three swung into relevance at various times, either for practical purposes, or else for the sheer enjoyment of their riches.

Recently, following a crisis, I was offered a solution which meant having to move to Spain, a country I had never been to. I arrived not knowing a word of Spanish, yet having to acquire it fast, for survival if nothing else. It was Latin and knowledge of a Semitic language that came to my rescue, for the obvious reason that modern Spanish has grown from Latin and Semitic roots.

My advice to youngsters would be to grab any chance to learn another language, both for pleasure and as an insurance. If anyone had told me, even only four years ago, that I would soon be living my life in Spanish, I would have scoffed; but that's how things have turned out.



Reduced VAT rate for health clubs

Sir: David Prosser reports ("LA Fitness seeks acquisitions as health club market consolidates", 22 August) that fitness clubs are lobbying the Government for health club membership charges to be VAT exempt.

Although reducing the costs of all sporting activity seems an obvious route to encouraging more of the UK's population to exercise regularly, there are complications. EU legislation currently allows for the exemption of sporting services only when the services are provided by a not-for-profit organisation. This limitation applies to all EU member states and thus prevents the introduction of a general exemption for sporting activities at a national level.

However, whilst a VAT exemption would need to be agreed at a European level (and VAT exemptions are, as a rule, strictly limited and narrowly interpreted), EU legislation would allow the UK, if it so chose, to extend its existing 5 per cent reduced rate to include sporting activities. This potentially simpler option could see a significant reduction in the costs of taking part in sporting activities, provided the VAT savings are passed on to the customer.



Late or early, dinner is still dinner

Sir: Is it really a question of the use of "posh words" as Miles Kington maintains ("The naked truth about that tricky midday meal", 29 August)?

Dinner is the chief meal of the day regardless of when taken, as both my two dictionaries confirm. For many children this takes place at midday and is followed by tea and/or supper. Although working adults these days usually eat a light lunch and have dinner in the evening, on Sundays they can surely dine at any time after midday.

I do admit however that invitations to Sunday dinner can cause confusion to some of my guests so perhaps I should fall in line with Miles's mother and say "lunch".



Blair's implausible line on terrorism

Sir: Mr Blair and Mr Straw claim terrorists use the Iraq invasion as an "excuse", implying that it is not a real or decisive reason for their actions ("Straw backed memo saying war would anger Muslims", 31 August). How can they possibly know that? Their confident denial of a connection recalls their equally confident pre-war assertions that Iraq was, then, a threat.

They are forced to this implausible line because they are unwilling to make the politically damaging admission that the invasion has increased security risks or to argue (honestly but daringly) that, although the risks have risen, they are worth running because of the benefits conferred on Iraqis by the invasion.

The debates about multi-culturalism and Britishness, reasonable in themselves, also serve to distance the Iraq factor. However, terrorism is to be condemned, not because terrorists have insufficiently assimilated British values, but because they violate the universal value that political motives do not justify injuring the innocent. Terrorism cannot be defeated by retreating into a cultural fortress, but by steadfast commitment to such universal values: and this includes asking whether to wage war for political ends is not to kill the innocent.



Honoured guests grilled at the airport

Sir: The humiliation which our African friends face when visiting this country does not stop when having successfully obtained a visa (letters: 29, 31 August).

Our daughter is getting married on Saturday. She met her future husband while they were spending a gap year in Swaziland. We have invited the wonderful head teacher of the school where they were based along with her husband and another teacher to come to the wedding. We had written letters of support explaining how they were to be our honoured guests and undertaking any expenses while in the UK.

When my daughter and her fiancé went to meet them at the airport they were waiting for over three hours with no information as to what was happening. Eventually a very kind airline representative went through and found our guests in immigration where they had faced relentless and embarrassing questioning regarding their visit. I felt so embarrassed that this was how my country welcomed our honoured guests.

To echo Professor Fordham, surely there must be a more humane way of separating the bona fide visitors from the bogus. What evidence would satisfy immigration officials?




Ten best menaces

Sir: Over the months I have much admired your incisive features highlighting global warming, our extravagant usage of fossil fuels and the blight of the rampant four-wheel-drive vehicle, particularly in urban areas where it poses a real threat to other road users and pedestrians. How surprising, therefore, to see practically a whole page devoted to 4x4s in the "Ten Best" (31 August). I await the "Ten Best" cluster bombs.



Tax the elite lawyers

Sir: It is ironic that the major law firms should be making such exorbitant profits ("Top lawyers in elite firms earn over £1m a year", 30 August) at a time when the Lord Chancellor is struggling to make ends meet. Might not the time be right to impose a windfall tax on those law firms which could be used to make up the deficit in the legal aid budget? After all those law firms would have us believe that they are committed to the notion of pro bono work, so they should gladly contribute.



Autumn bank holiday

Sir: Could not the Monday prior to the ending of British Summer Time be made a bank holiday, thus breaking up the bank holiday-less four months of September, October, November and most of December? This could replace the May Bank Holiday, which seems rather pointless, falling only a short while after Easter and only three or four weeks prior to the Spring Holiday. What to call it - Autumn, October, Last of the Summer?



Same old illiteracy

Sir: Alex Swanson (letter, 29 August) blames "left-wing" teaching methods for literacy problems. He is obviously very fortunate in his experience of written English. A significant proportion of native English speakers has always been functionally illiterate, particularly before the 1944 Education Act, but also from the majority of the population who were not allowed to benefit from a top-quality education after that date. The only difference today is that there are fewer jobs available where illiteracy is not an impairment.



Muswell Hill invasion

Sir: You can hardly go anywhere these days without falling over people from N10 ("This is the honest truth of what I done on my holidays in Muswellhill-de-Quercy", 31 August). Suffolk seemed to be simply teeming with us at the weekend.



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