Sunday, 31 May 2020

Your letters...

Have a chat to feel better

Sir, — Many people will be familiar with the process known as somatisation, where the body translates feelings and emotions into physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headache or chest pain.

Occasionally they become severe enough for the sufferer to seek medical attention, so that a healthcare professional can help exclude serious possibilities requiring intervention.

Meanwhile, the anxiety which triggered the symptoms in the first place has been made worse by worry over the possibilities so a vicious circle ensues.

Well, in case you hadn’t guessed, there’s a lot of it about right now — I may no longer be in clinical practice but I know, from speaking with friends and colleagues, that anxiety levels are running very high.

The worries and uncertainty over lockdown, home-working, infection rates, the economy, childcare, transport, shopping, vulnerable people and what the future holds are all generating symptoms from atypical aches and pains to wild dreams and insomnia.

Many years ago an elderly woman came to see me with severe chest pain and she was worried she was having a heart attack.

It didn’t take long to exclude that possibility, so we sat and talked about what else might be causing it.

It transpired that she had had the pain before, when our troops were going off to fight in the Second World War, and the anxiety she felt then was being mirrored by the feelings she had now because it had just been announced that we were sending troops overseas to take part in the Gulf War.

We talked for a long time, certainly a lot longer than the usual 10 minutes but, as we talked, her pain diminished and then it went away completely before she left. No pills, no operation, no special treatments, just a chat.

I’m not telling you this story to proclaim my magical healing powers although, from a medical standpoint, it was a very satisfactory consultation.

I’m simply pointing out why I believe communication is so vital in the present situation, where social distancing means we cannot, by definition, use socialising as a means to offload our concerns.

The pub, the coffee shop, the sports club, the school gates and the church are all currently off-limits, which is why it’s vital that we use the other means at our disposal to communicate and share our worries — Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or even the good old-fashioned phone all have a part to play.

They may not provide a miracle cure but, in the words of one supermarket that seems to be holding its own: “Every little helps”. — Yours faithfully,

Dr Robert Treharne Jones

Middle Assendon

Government is failing

You headlined one of your letters last week “Not the time for politics”. We live in a democracy; the electorate should expect an efficient government and be able to hold that government to account — most particularly, as in the present crisis, when it is a matter of life and death.

What about the party political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party and our MP, included in the Henley Standard every week? Is anybody else allowed a voice that might challenge Mr Howell’s self-satisfied opinions?

Last week, for example, he wrote: “We have so far handled this situation very well... to a fairly successful place.”

There is no way in which the deaths of more than 32,000 people, the highest total in Europe, and including thousands in care homes devoid of PPE for weeks, can be described as good handling of the situation, or any kind of success.

It is an insult to those who died and their grieving relatives to describe it as such.

Mr Howell refers to a “second wave” in Germany and says “We don’t want to see that here.” Germany has had a total of 7,600 deaths, including those in any “second wave”.

The nearest and dearest of the 26,400 additional people who have died in the UK, as compared with Germany, would likely be delighted if we had seen a lot more of the German approach here — early and extensive testing and tracking and early lockdown. Their relatives would still be alive today.

I’m sure it’s delightful for Mr Howell and his colleagues in Parliament that “Life continues as normal”, with a mood of “increasing optimism”, as he writes.

There are millions of ordinary people who remain extremely anxious about the health of themselves and their families, whether their business or jobs will still exist in a few weeks’ time, not seeing parents, children and grandchildren, how they’re going to pay the mortgage, whether their children will be safe when schools re-open.

Now that people are being “encouraged” to go back to physical work — what if you can’t get childcare? Can their workplace be made safe and what if the only way to get there is by crowded bus? Nothing “normal” and very little “optimism” in the world outside Parliament, Mr Howell.

Finally, he boasts about the Government having given “a large sum of money” to Oxfordshire County Council “particularly to address the costs of social care”. Too little and far, far too late. Care in the community for the frail and elderly has been starved of sufficient funding for the many years of Conservative government.

It only seemed to dawn on the Department of Health and Social Care once people started dying that, for example, patients should be tested before being decanted out of hospital into care homes and that care homes and carers visiting frail people would need personal protective equipment.

This is, too literally, deadly serious politics. We should all be involved to try to make sure that we see and understand, for example, what scientific advice the Government is following and that the Government and our MPs are honest and open about the problems and the options that we all face. — Yours faithfully,

Moira Hankinson


Give us facts not excuses

Editor, — I would like to offer some corrections and clarifications regarding the Henley Standard’s interview with John Howell, our MP (Standard, April 24).

Firstly, he pointed at a problem with “NHS logistics” for the failure to deliver personal protective equipment.

This read like an attempt to imply that the fault lay with a large, blundering, monopolistic healthcare organisation. Shifting the blame?

The fact is that the delivery of supplies to NHS trusts — at the centralised level — is the responsibility of NHS Supply Chain.

Since April 2018 this has been operated by Supply Chain Co-ordination Ltd. This is structured as a limited company, wholly owned by the Health Secretary with a chief executive seconded by the cabinet office and one of the non-executive directors appointed by the Department of Health.

The company is responsible for driving the commercial objectives in this centralised supply chain model. This includes cost savings, some of which it is achieving by holding £500 million back from the trusts, the healthcare providers.

If the NHS Supply Chain can’t cope with this pandemic then ultimately it is a management responsibility. The management in this case is the Government.

Interestingly, Clipper Logistics was contracted in April to provide logistics services to the NHS Supply Chain.

It executive chairman Steven Parkin is a leading Conservative donor who gave nearly £1 million to the party in recent years. His most recent donation of £25,000 was reportedly made on December 12.

Secondly, Mr Howell states that the Government and the British Standards Institution have worked together to reduce red tape.

Yes, there is evidence of this on the BSI website, so much so that his other statements implying that the BSI is taking four to six weeks to approve PPE equipment and creating a bottleneck in the supply chain are doubtful.

The website explains that for a company to sell PPE to be used by an NHS healthcare worker it must manufacture it according to relevant standards but it’s a cross-government decision- making committee (including the Department of Health) that makes the product assessments, not the BSI.

For a company selling to non-NHS users the PPE must be to standards and in the process of formal conformity assessment procedures with a notified body (one of which could be BSI) but the assessment does not have to have been completed.

If the Government was being more open it would admit its contingency planning was for an influenza pandemic rather than something more deadly. (For reference look at the Government’s national risk register for civil emergencies and pandemic influenza strategic framework documents.)

Consequently, the UK’s national pandemic stockpile was insufficient in critical items such as fluid-repellent gowns and visors.

Once the pandemic struck, the global demand for PPE has caused ongoing shortages.

While it has also been suggested that some problems have been caused by NHS trusts competing with each other for direct PPE procurement, the Government has moved to force all PPE procurement to be done centrally (through the NHS Supply Chain/SCCL) and employed Deloitte Consulting.

In summary, central PPE procurement to address this pandemic was, and remains, the responsibility of the Government. Please don’t try to misdirect the blame on to the NHS trusts or indeed on to the BSI.

We all hope that the ongoing efforts to address the shortfall will be successful and our medical and care workers will be properly equipped going forwards. — Yours faithfully,

Ralph Hickman

Elizabeth Road, Henley

Beginning to see the light?

Sir, — I wonder if your readers think that last week was a good one for UK democracy? At last the Prime Minister outlined a master plan for getting out of the lockdown.

Admittedly, there was not much in the way of detail and there are potential contradictions when it comes to the borders between the four nations but at least we have something to go on and discuss.

Two very important experts were interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show. One of them, a medical researcher, explained the enormous task of trailing established drugs in order to see if any of them are beneficial against the coronavirus. This is extremely tough to do and no result is guaranteed.

The other expert, who is one of our country’s leading statisticians, pointed out how we might be able to estimate how many people in the UK are infected by the coronavirus.

Admittedly, it was a very crude way arriving at a number but the argument goes like this: It is thought that one in 100 of those people who contract the virus may die.

If this is the case and we have somewhere more than 30,000 deaths in the UK then the number of people infected will be somewhat more than three million. If that is true, we are something like 10 per cent of the way to what has been described as herd immunity.

Of course, if the number of people who die from the virus is one in a 1,000 then we are almost half way to herd immunity. But we just don’t know.

What is really needed is a nationwide survey. For this a sample of a few tens of thousands might well be sufficient to give us a reasonable estimate.

Finally, last week we began to have some clarity about what the Health Secretary meant by declaring that he had achieved the target of 100,000 tests per day by the last day of April.

There is a lovely song by Ella Fitzgerald called I Am Beginning To See The Light and I wonder if that won’t become a top hit this year. — Yours faithfully,

Dan Remnyi

Kidmore End

Betrayal of our heroes

Sir, — On Friday, many people in Henley will have observed two minutes’ silence to remember those who lost their lives defending their country and opposing a most dreadful regime that was intent on murdering millions and removing basic freedoms from all those people who fell under its domination.

Yet today, thanks to a decade of NHS neglect and the stunning incompetence of the Government, many of the survivors of that brave generation, to whom we owe so much, are dying, along with their carers, in the care homes where they should have enjoyed their last years in peace.

And now, when we need to know the facts, the Government is redacting the reports of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies committee that set out the mistakes the Government has made.

This is a betrayal of those who fought and died for us and a real disgrace. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Luff

St Mark’s Road, Henley

Leave attack to Labour

Sir, — Feeling fed up with the TV offerings one evening, I thought a use of the flicker might be appropriate.

I ended up, briefly, on Channel 4 — what a terrible mistake.

How do they manage to find such an assortment of medical professionals, academics and other folk who, to a man and woman, think the Government is a bunch of total incompetents and every major decision made was the wrong one?

Surely this is the principal job of the Opposition and, based on an early show, they seem to be making a fair fist of it.— Yours faithfully,

William Fitzhugh


Virus crisis is political

Editor, — The current coronavirus death toll is now over 32,000, the highest total in any country except the USA.

Boris Johnson has run (when able to do so) one of the worst affected countries in the world. Surely this is political.

The sooner we do away with this farcical voting system and the pantomime puppetry of Westminster, the better. — Yours sincerely,

Ali Greeley

Binfield Heath steer clear of it

Sir, — I did have a giggle when I read Ann Law’s letter about keeping politics out of the coronavirus discussion (Standard, May 8).

She clearly reveals her own political views when moaning about Labour’s failings (Labour was not part of the Government when I last looked).

My advice to her would be to keep politics out of letters that request others to keep politics out of discussions.

On an unrelated matter, the world has changed significantly over the last few months and I have become accustomed to unusual and unexpected events.

But despite this, I almost collapsed in shock when I read a letter from Phillip Collings that expressed views I actually agree with. Whatever next? — Yours faithfully,

Tim Dickson

Greys Hill, Henley

Lockdown nonsense

Sir, — Here I am — hair looking like a Dartmoor pony with roots a colour I have never seen.

Dog resembling a Shih Tzu, I don’t know whether she is going forwards or backwards and I’ve tried to put her lead on her tail more than once.

Make-up drying out and cracking — mascara like glue; lipstick, what’s that for?

Wardrobe of dresses and nice clothes — when do I wear them? I wouldn’t know which way round they go.

If the sun shines I am blinded by polished silver and brass — shelves squeak with cleanliness.

The hoover is exhausted and put itself into lockdown in a cupboard. The lawn is mowed to the last blade — the edges so sharp I could slice an onion on them — keep finding myself counting tulip petals.

I am now declaring love to the binmen and making jolly waves to every postman I pass.

Teddy bears are having a picnic in one window and there is a huge rainbow in another with a pot of gold at the end of it full of life, hope and love.

Soon we will be able to talk to people and put out an arm, holding up a hand and saying “no closer” and it won’t appear in any way rude.

I will get through this — looking unlike my normal self, talking nonsense and not knowing what day of the week it is... bring it on. — Yours faithfully,

Minnie Wilson

Nicholas Road, Henley

Delays and poor leaders

Sir, — For the past year, the Liberal Democrat/Green administration at South Oxfordshire District Council has consistently ignored repeated clear warnings from planning officers and other experts that delaying or withdrawing the emerging local plan 2034 (the strategic planning policies for the district) would leave South Oxfordshire with no protection from aggressive, oversized development.

They wilfully disregarded the advice, apparently convinced they knew better.

But it did not take long for these warnings to be proved true: an independent planning inspector has now found that most of the important planning policies on which the council relies are now out of date.

As a result, everywhere in the district is now vulnerable to speculative planning applications. This is as serious for the residents of South Oxfordshire as it was predictable and avoidable.

It is only since the Secretary of State’s intervention earlier this year that the emerging plan is back on track and hopefully by the end of the year we will again have the protection of robust planning policies.

Until then we will be open to greater challenge from developers and to planning by appeal.

The coalition’s first year in control has been marked by arrogance and hand-over-the-ears deafness.

They owe an apology to the residents of South Oxfordshire whom they were elected to serve but who could be paying the price for their poor leadership for years to come. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative)

South Oxfordshire District Council

Not nicest of neighbours

Sir, — I do wonder if James Munn lives in a slight Beatrix Potter land (Standard, May 8).

Diana Jackson’s husband, Robert, obviously has a great deal more experience of the countryside than Mr Munn.

Like Mrs Jackson, I have experienced badger attacks on my poultry in two separate instances some years apart, the badger breaking into the houses, killing and leaving birds badly damaged but still alive. The second time I was woken at 2am to find a badger chasing my chicken around its run.

Walking my dogs early one morning I witnessed a badgers’ territorial dispute. I was amazed by the speed and aggression shown by the badgers. It was a frightening experience.

I also contacted the Badger Trust at the time of the attacks on my chicken. It was concerned as there was obviously a rogue badger, possibly due to old age or injury.

I am amazed at the patronising tone of Mr Munn’s letter as he seems to have little idea of the potential behaviour of the badger.

Mr Brock does not always make the nicest of neighbours. — Yours faithfully,

Jenny Campbell

Whitehall Lane, Checkendon

Supporting cricket club

Sir, — I refer to your article on the effect of the royal regatta’s cancellation on the finances of Henley Cricket Club (Standard, May 8).

The club does indeed rely heavily on parking at regatta time. Most of its other fundraising activities involve people.

Due to social distancing measures, this means that until we are back to normal these too have been cancelled.

Always constant are the overheads — more £2,000 per month to maintain the clubhouse and the beautiful ground that add so much to the entrance to our town from the east.

We are being wonderfully supported by numerous individuals, companies, councillors and local authorities.

The players have also stood up to the mark with the club captain, Michael Roberts, running a sponsored marathon around the ground on Saturday, resulting in more than £5,000 being raised for the club. Well done.

You can still donate at

On the subject of fundraising, the club received a bank deposit marked “Appeal” from Robert Lockie. The club would like to thank him but I am unable to find any contact details. If anyone can help, they can email me at henleycricket

If anyone else would like to contribute to the upkeep of the clubhouse and grounds they can make an electronic payment to our account at Barclays in Henley — Henley Cricket Club 20 39 53 70456543, marking the payment as “maintenance”. Please also email me so that your contribution can be recognised. — Yours faithfully,

Hugh Crook

Hon treasurer, Henley Cricket Club

What, how and why...

Sir, — Philip Collings quite correctly reminds us of the incomprehensible vastness of the physical universe presented to this generation through, among other means, the Hubble telescope.

Some 3,000 years ago, the Psalmists tried their best to express the wonders of the worlds beyond this tiny speck in space, our mother earth. Psalm 19 is a good example.

The difference between Mr Collings and the Psalmist is that while recognising the vastness of the universe as they saw it, they kept asking “what is it all about?”

Maybe Mr Collings would find it helpful to see science and faith as two sides of the same coin, entirely complementary.

Science deals with the issues of “what” and “how” while faith seeks to understand matters of “why”, a search just as an extraordinarily difficult task for the human mind as attempting to comprehend a billion light years. — Yours faithfully,

R Michael James

Lambridge Wood Road, Henley

Remember VJ Day too

I concur with Enid Light’s sentiments (Standard, May 8). During the war, my father served in North Africa and Europe and my mother worked in a munitions factory.

It is such a long time ago and hard to imagine that world 75 years ago in this strange modern era.

I was, however, bemused by her omission, when referencing those brilliant wartime sitcoms, Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo, of the third wartime comedy scripted by that famous comedy duo, Croft and Perry, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, which, of course, is highly ironic as the Burma campaign it features is known as “The forgotten war”.

I’m hoping that VJ Day this August won’t be completely forgotten as we still had brave soldiers, such as the marvellous Captain Tom Moore, fighting on after victory in Europe and many were imprisoned by the Japanese in extremely harsh conditions.

It is marvellous to celebrate VE Day but VJ Day represents the true end of the Second World War.

Lest we forget. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Pinches

Marlow Road, Henley

A blue joke (sorry, mum)

Sir, — I thought I would send you this in case it amuses. — Yours faithfully,

Dick Fletcher


VE Day (or the day Mother nearly didn’t make it to be president of the village WI)

Hurray! Hurray! A village party. We kids were lined up on benches in the orchard with the dappled summer sun shining through the pendulous branches of the old apple trees. We sat in rows at long trestle tables formed from old planks and upturned milk churns.

Through the gate came a line of village ladies in their wrap-over, coverall aprons, each carrying a plate groaning with food.

Me and Cabbage Green together — best friends (mates was something bulls did to cows in those days) — eagerly awaiting the jellies and sandwiches, cakes and — what a rare treat — blancmanges.

These confections of milk and cornflour with flavouring and colouring powder were the most popular things at our village party to celebrate the death of Hitler and the end of six long years of war — our own V E Day celebration — red strawberry blancmanges, white ones with a funny kind of almondy, tinny flavour and, biggest patriotic homage and treat of them all, blue wibbly wobbly ones.

Me so proud my mum had made the blue ones. And everybody wanted seconds.

“How did you manage to get them blue, Mrs Fletcher?”

“Ah, my secret dear. Look how the children love them.”

Word went buzzing around; the blues ones were special. Mrs Fletcher had a recipe from her mother who had got it from her mother whose mother had made them for Queen Victoria at the time of the Great Exhibition.

But I knew the truth and nothing can stop the six-year-old blurting out how she had got them so blue.

She was elected president of the village WI the following year so I suppose the truth didn’t do so much harm, though she was very, very cross at the time and suddenly nobody wanted seconds any more.

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