Sunday, 27 September 2020

Your letters...

Sacrifice has to be made

Sir, — Sadly, in their responses to my criticism of the handling of the pandemic (Standard, June 26), Messrs Thompson and Fort missed the key points, spotted by Margaret Moola, about the Government’s blatant twisting of facts and its deliberate falsehoods, such as the Prime Minister’s: “We will have a world-beating trace and testing system by June 1”, all designed to terrify the people into becoming “sheeple”.

Although the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was rather like a real plague, such as the Great Plague of 1665, it is more appropriate to look at the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968/69, which caused more than 30,000 “excess deaths” in the UK, almost double the 17,000 expected in any “normal” winter.

Prorated for the 23 per cent increase in UK population since 1968, that 30,000 would become 36,900 — near the current Covid-19 toll of 44.200.

In 1968 average UK life expectancy was 71 versus 81 today, thus we now have proportionally very many more elderly people who. sadly but unsurprisingly, make up more than 95 per cent of covid-19 deaths.

In 1968 some hospitals were almost swamped but they coped; there were reductions in some services such as doorstep milk deliveries (remember them?) and train and bus services as staff became sick but that was about all we saw.

The country was not locked down, the economy was not destroyed, children went to school and shops, pubs and restaurants remained open and social and family life continued unhindered.

The lower life expectancy meant that fewer people of pensionable age lived in care homes. Most grew old in their family homes in a society where death at home was still normal and family doctors carried diamorphine to ease the suffering of the dying.

Why is today so different? I suggest at least three factors.

First, Harold Wilson’s cabinet had all lived through the Second World War. Some had seen active service and all had extensive real-life work experience, as had the Tory shadow cabinet. They were collectively not prone to being frightened — experience plus guts is a good combination.

Had anyone in that cabinet even suggested closing down the economy and destroying the education and mental wellbeing of the next generation and condemning tens of thousands of people to an early death by closing down normal hospital treatments and terrifying the population into submission you can bet that the men in white coats would have been called in at once to take him or her away.

None of today’s cabinet of wet-behind-the-ears platitude spouters and fantasists other than, perhaps, the Chancellor, who looks like the only adult in the room, would even have made it on to the back benches back then.

Second, in those days the medical profession and the NHS were not obsessed, as they are now, with a mania to prolong life regardless of the life quality outcome for the patient or of the cost to the taxpayer.

Third, there was no internet/social media to spread the irrational fear and misinformation that is now paralysing so many — most people read the newspapers or got reliable information from one of the then three TV channels.

I do not suggest at all that for a very few people covid-19 is anything other than a painful and very occasionally fatal disease predominantly contracted in hospitals, care homes and crowded urban areas.

However, to protect a tiny minority by destroying the lives of the majority is sheer lunacy.

From Leonidas to the villagers of Eyam and through Titus Oates and others, history has shining examples of individuals or groups who have sacrificed themselves for the greater good.

All did it knowingly and voluntarily, not under a diktat that is destroying the lives and prospects of the young and healthy on whom our collective future depends.

This past weekend demonstrated that many of the people of England have had enough of Boris’s blunderbuss and have recovered their love for their independence.

Incredibly, rather than reduce fear, the Government continues to publish daily covid-19 deaths when the overall daily death toll has fallen below that which is normal for this time of year.

When will Boris and Matt start to pop up and tell us how many thousands have died due to their having been denied treatment to “protect” the NHS?

It is time people understood that this has been a fiasco of political panic and managerial incompetence which we will be paying for both financially and in serious damage to our young people for decades to come.

Finally, I much appreciated Tom Fort’s suggestion that I might sup a pint with the highly respected Lord Sumption — would that such an ambition could be fulfilled. — Yours still seething,

Philip Collings

Peppard Common

I’ve still got years to go

Sir, — Oh dear. What a depressing letter from your correspondent Adrian Vanheems (Standard, July 3).

By his reckoning, I should be long gone by now. I am still here and fully intend to live for at least another 20 years.

Should I succumb to the ghastly coronavirus, I am confident that I will be treated by our wonderful NHS as well and professionally as any younger person.

I believe that people are assessed on the basis of viability, not age.

I do not feel imprisoned and, while being sensible and careful, I am living a normal, enjoyable life.

I would hope that most people of my age are doing the same. — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Knights

Fair Mile, Henley

Setting bad example

Editor, — As I was walking through Henley market place on Monday last week, I was pleased to see three members of our town council obviously consulting with representatives from a bus company looking to pick up the contract for our local bus service.

These talks were being carried out on the narrow pavement by the bus stop in Market Place.

It was good to see that the bus company people had the decency to come prepared by wearing face masks.

However, it was disappointing to see that none of three councillors could be bothered to cover up likewise. While they did stand back to let me pass, it is impossible to keep the recommended 2m social distance on that particular piece of pavement and the group as a whole was not keeping the well-advertised distances between themselves either.

I realise that the narrow pavements in the town do make it difficult to keep the recommended distances apart from one another, but I do feel that people representing the town in one form or another should set a good example to the rest of us in these times and wear face masks while carrying out duties on our behalf.

All employees of businesses that have re-opened are expected to wear some facial protection so why not councillors? — Yours faithfully,

John Wakeford

Ancastle Green, Henley

Some young with sense

Sir, — On a pleasant evening by the river at Shiplake, many people were enjoying the lovely surroundings and doing their best to social distance where necessary... until a party of about 30 youngsters decided it was time to go home.

My granddaughter’s group were so appalled at the mess that was left behind that three of them and two passing girls filled eight bags of litter — bottles, cans, gas canisters, drug packets, food and even clothes. I now have four bags in my dustbin.

I am proud of my granddaughter and her friends.

How sad that among that big group no one felt that they should take their litter home. — Yours faithfully,

Pippa Hughes

Phillimore Road, Emmer Green

Take care, be sensible

Sir, — It’s a bit like dipping your toe in the water to test the temperature. Like your first day on holiday; you do it to find your way about. You’ve just managed to negotiate the way to the beach and tentatively laid out your gear. You’re cautious and anxious, worried about the kids.

Ah, the kids. They’re off, aren’t they, zooming off down to the water, along the beach, laughing, shouting, splashing. You try to be casual and stroll to the water’s edge and craning about, observing their antics, gently try the water with your foot. First one, then the other.

Familiar? No? Is that not what we are doing right at this minute, easing out of lockdown?

Tentatively going out, seeing how things are. Fretting about the lax way our children are behaving with all this invisible danger about.

You may object, but both are directly comparable.

We oversee the situation with knowledgeable caution, while they manage it with their resilience. This is nothing new. It’s not the “new norm”, just a repurposed old norm.

Be sensible, take care, stay safe. — Yours faithfully,

Edward Sierpowski


So are you qualified?

Editor, — M Reid’s letter (Standard, July 3) contained a number of relevant valid truths about the global climate crisis i.e. Continued building of coal-fired power stations, destruction of forests, that computer models of complex systems are not perfect and fusion could be a way of achieving sustainable energy.

However, in other areas it was slightly erroneous.

He decries Kate Oldridge’s lack of understanding of “scientific method” but since her letter just cited a number of credible people and organisations pointing out the dangers of man-made global warming, the scientific method is irrelevant.

Saying the Archbishop of Canterbury or David Attenborough or Lord Deben or the former governor of the Bank of England have to be experts about “the physics of CO2” to have a valid opinion is silly as he fails to state his own qualifications so by that logic his opinions are equally worthless.

If he is doctorate level in climate science I will obviously hold the opinion in higher regard than those others who are intelligent and well educated but in a different field.

In opposition to the prevailing view of those mentioned, the only citation M Reid has is Michael Moore, a documentary film-maker and not an acknowledged expert in anything.

My meagre scientific qualification is an A-level in physics from 40 years ago but I appreciate the concept of scientific methodology, which is gathering knowledge by empirical evidence and then questioning it and refining understanding by further observation.

This is where M Reid’s condemnation of computer modelling shows a clear misunderstanding of the concept as computer models are refined as fresh data emerges and as such is a brilliant example of scientific methodology.

Thanks to peer-reviewed literature, scientists are also challenged so where they are wrong it is discovered and human knowledge is advanced.

With complex issues such as this, there are degrees of probability that theories are correct and man-made global warming is heading towards Sigma-5, the same level as that used at CERN for the existence of the Higgs bosan particle.

That is too complex for me to understand but what I do know is that if I am wrong it has cost us all money.

If M Reid is wrong, in the worst case, it will cost us the planet. — Yours faithfully,

Jim Neale

Paradise Road, Henley

Change can’t be denied

Sir, — I read with interest the letter from M Reid about climate change and the Extinction Rebellion campaign.

It consisted of a range of comments stating that XR’s scientific propositions on climate change were false, while also making claims about the absurdity of climate change, no doubt based on similarly inaccurate scientific propositions.

I am not a member of XR (and found the campaign’s aggressive actions last year unacceptable).

However, having been a consultant to major corporates, I have found few, if any, that believe the impact of climate change, and its human-based origins, to be a fallacy.

These corporates are taking positive, if challenging, actions to reduce their climate change impacts.

Henley Town Council declared a climate emergency in January.

I chair the council’s climate emergency working group, which takes the position that all of us must take a responsible position towards mitigating climate change. This means taking action, individually and collectively.

We have initiated projects on electric vehicle charging, energy efficiency, residents’ solar panels and now, through Chiltern Hills Community Energy, renewable energy installations on large buildings around our region.

As well as reducing emissions, these projects help residents and local organisations to reduce energy costs and to improve air quality.

There will always be deniers against, and protagonists for, climate change.

But right now, it is much more important for all of us to take the necessary actions to address the impacts of climate change — both for ourselves and for future generations. — Yours faithfully,

Tony Hoskins


Better world is possible

Sir, — We write in response to M Reid’s letter, which raises a number of interesting points and reproduces some unfortunate fallacies.

Climate change isn’t “settled science” — well, science is never settled.  Everything can be the subject of debate and the lack of “settled science” was an argument used by the tobacco lobby for many years to avoid damaging their profits. 

However, much of what science says about the world is settled for practical purposes, and according to the NASA website, 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that observed climate warming trends are extremely likely to be due to human activities. 

Room for an excitable argument, yes, but not an excuse to let climate change worsen for us all while we worry over the views of a tiny fraction who are well outside the scientific consensus.

Economic recovery — renewable energy is now the cheapest form of electricity generation in the UK and elsewhere. 

Onshore wind has been the cheapest for a while and recent offshore wind projects have been agreed at a price of £39 megawatt-hours compared to £66 MWH for modern gas power stations.  New nuclear comes in at around £92.50 MWH. 

These new wind projects will actually be subsidising other forms of generation rather than the other way round.

There’s a reason that we’re building lots of wind farms in the UK — it’s the cheapest form of generation and also grants us energy independence.

Environmental costs of extraction — yes, it is absolutely true that there is an environmental cost to the batteries that power our phones and, increasingly, our cars. 

But there is also an environmental cost to the extraction of oil and gas and a battery lasts far longer than a tank of diesel. 

In addition, battery efficiency (both output and longevity) continue to improve  and companies can get better at mineral extraction. 

Plus, do bear in mind that many methods now being proposed for large-scale, longer-term electricity storage (use of kinetic storage in disused well shafts, air being kept under pressure) don’t require nearly as many rare elements in their construction.

Extinction Rebellion sometimes gets a bad name from those on the more radical fringe.

We should point out that we are not trying to tell private citizens what to do — we are here to demand that the Government is transparent about the scale of the climate change emergency that threatens us all. 

We want the Government to slow and stop emissions fast and to come to solutions based on expert evidence, ideally via a highly democratic citizen’s assembly (these have been shown to solve seemingly intractable problems elsewhere in the world). 

Our desire is for government to tell the truth, to listen to experts and to respect democracy.

It doesn’t sound that radical, does it?

It’s worth adding that many of the changes being advocated by climate change activists have massive additional benefits, such as improved air quality (millions die annually from air quality issues), improved health through exercise, better shared green spaces — the list is quite long.

There isn’t space for a proper debate in the letters pages of this paper but we are easy to find and happily invite M Reid to meet with us to discuss his views in more depth. 

As a group, we include scientists, teachers, lawyers and accountants with views from across the political spectrum. 

What unites us is a desire for governments to take appropriate action on climate change. 

A better world is possible — we can reach out and take it or we can stay choking in the exhaust fumes of the old ways. — Yours faithfully,

Extinction Rebellion Henley

Think of our children

Sir, — There has been an increasing awareness of the increased number of heavy goods vehicles going through Henley during the lockdown.

It now seems this is continuing even though traffic volumes are still to reach their pre-covid-19 peaks.

The effect on the town in terms of air pollution, old building degradation and noise is unacceptable.

The latest scientific studies show that toxic particles from transport are weakening people’s hearts and the damage begins in early childhood.

So we have never had a better time to redesign the traffic flows in Henley and rid ourselves of these poisonous particles.

Banning through-HGVs is a brilliant start but we should all be encouraging a healthier way of life for the benefit of our children. — Yours faithfully,

David Dickie

Clean Air for Henley, St Katherine’s Road, Henley

Valuable woodland

Sir, — I read with some alarm the article concerning the proposed development of flats at Parkside (Standard, July 3).

The impression from your article was that the woodland has little if any value but I believe that this is not the case.

The article made no mention of the designation of the woodland as a priority habitat by Nature England.

The Parkside wood is approximately one hectare in size and is one of only eight significant priority habitats in the parish of Henley.

The woodland has lain undisturbed for at least 30 years and probably since the Sixties when the house on the site burned down.

This has allowed a mixture of broadleaf trees and a few coniferous trees to develop. These provide valuable habitat, particularly in combination with a mixture of fallen trees, scrub and woodland flowers on the ground.

A neighbour has observed and recorded a wealth of wildlife in the wood, including three different species of bat and badgers.

Last week, I observed a pair of roe deer running in the woods.

I will be writing to the planning authority to object to this development and I entreat your readers to do the same. They can do this by following this link: — Yous faithfully,

Patrick Fleming

Greener Henley

Protector of green belt

Sir, — Councillor John Halsall is a powerful voice protecting the green belt from development.

Obviously, anyone objecting to such development will get poked in the ribs from time to time.

Conserving the green belt does require some courage, whereas developing the green belt for housing requires none.

And that’s a fact. — Yours faithfully,

Christopher Leeming

Matson Drive, Remenham

Don’t forget the members

Thankfully and with all good grace, my dear friend’s annnal invitation as his guest at your Henley Royal Regatta has stood the test of time and the horrid virus.

I’m in your lovely town but your regatta, sadly, is not.

But Henley looks and feels so sad without the ambling Americans, the blazers and flannels, those pretty girls and crowded pubs.

As old-timers, we can’t risk the inners of the lovely Row Barge or the Bird in Hand, but we can linger outside the Angel on the Bridge opposite those hallowed headquarters and lament the empty river.

Your southern weather has gone wonky as well.

Poor old Sir Steve Redgrave. His words in your famous paper give us little hope as he braves covid’s awesome potential to hammer Henley Royal Regatta with a whacking half million pound loss and halt his beloved sport.

Let’s hope that his maths is wrong when he forgets his 600-plus subs-paying members, like my generous old friend, while talking about 7,000 that should read 7,600 and the £2 million-plus they paid in January.

My old long time buddy and stewards’ member and I did ponder over our comforting Waitrose red at what Sir Steve did with all those unspent millions while still predicting a whopping loss. Old accountants’ habits die hard.

And what if covid persists and another lovely regatta hits the buffers? Might he donate the January 2021 subscriptions of £2 million-plus to our wonderful NHS?

Cheer up, Henley. Fingers and vaccine crossed for next year. — Yours faithfully,

H B Everett


We deserve a refund

Sir. — Am I the only member of the stewards’ enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta that thinks it is very strange that they can get away with not refunding the payment of £385 we have made for an event of five days that is not happening?

It is not like a club, where there are other benefits during the year; this is purely for the five days of entertainment.

Sir Steve Redgrave, the regatta chairman, states that “Not offering our members a refund was a difficult decision for the committee of management as the financial implications of cancellation are going to be significant.

“Although the regatta was due to take place in several months’ time, there has already been a huge amount of work undertaken and costs incurred.”

Some of the expense was buying new tents, which will be able to be used next year and would probably have been more expensive.

They are also receiving some income from the Henley Festival, which is using some of their facilities next week. — Yours faithfully,

Mary Worsdell

Britwell Salome

Claims that go one way

Sir, — Ian Reissmann accuses me of using “racist” arguments in my letter and certainly his misquotation and partial quotations from my letter might give the word some justification (Standard, July 3).

He quotes me as describing pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa as “animalistic”. He appears to be suggesting either that I view the then sub-Saharan peoples as being no more than animals or that they so regarded themselves.

In fact, I wrote “religious beliefs were broadly animistic” i.e. attributing living souls to inanimate objects or natural phenomena.

He criticises me for describing pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa as “primitive”, the situation found by the western colonists, omitting to say that I was contrasting it with the remarkable developments existing at that time on many fronts in Asia, the Middle-East and Western countries.

These very significant, relative differences are historically verifiable.

On a smaller matter, Mr Reissmann quotes me as saying that campaigners wish to give “total emphasis to the iniquities of colonialism”. He omits the word “almost” before “total”.

Overall, it would appear he is as happy to rewrite parts of my letter as he is to have colonial history rewritten.

Mr Reissmann concludes by approvingly quoting Mohandos Gandhi, the Indian nationalist, who when asked what he thought of Western civilization replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.”

He asserts that my argument is “racist” when I described pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa as being relatively primitive but is happy for Western countries to be openly referred to as uncivilized by Gandhi.

Allegations of racism seem to go only in one direction. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Where’s the evidence?

Sir, — I was rather disappointed with Ian Reissmann’s letter.

He starts off by claiming there were ancient African civilisations but then failed to point to one.

As a keen fan of Africa and its peoples, who has spent a great deal of time travelling through the bush/brush/jungle/deserts of African countries (including Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRCongo/Zaire, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique, experiencing the wonderfully diverse cultures of the different peoples and places), I hadn’t come across any evidence of these ancient civilisations of which he wrote.

I was rather looking forward to a pointer as to where I could organise a bit of an expedition to explore there!

Bizarrely, his letter instead quoted a politician from a completely different continent and tried to shut down any debate with Douglas Kedge by calling him a racist! (A common tactic among those that have no facts to back their claims but I’m sure Mr Reissmann wasn’t doing that, he just forgot to add these lost civilisations to his letter).

Can I ask that Mr Reissmann furnishes us with more details of these lost African civilisations for the further education of Mr Kedge and myself? Thank you in advance. — Your faithfully,

Simon Brickhill

Goring Heath

Problem with road closure

I read with some concern about the discussions on closing the town square roads occasionally (Standard, July 3).

I was on the town council’s planning committee in the early 2000s.

Please be aware that closing the market square from the crossroads to the entrance to the Greys Road car park is being considered.

However, please also be aware that there is a minor amendment to the Road Traffic Act in Henley allowing fire engines and support vehicles to travel from the fire station in West Street past Machins (against the one-way traffic) to the crossroads in the event of an emergency.

It was put in when the square was pedestrianised and I’ve actually seen it used once — much to the horror of onlooking members of the public — and understand this has been used a number of times in the past.

I would expect this to also cover West Street around the town hall to Facy’s.

This would generate considerable concern among the general public if this service was interrupted. This is not a “road realignment” within Oxfordshire County Council’s purview but established under the Road Traffic Act (amend 1991). — Yours faithfully,

Martin Akehurst

Two Tree Hill, Henley

Well done on cricket party

Sir, — After nearly four months of lockdown and self-isolation, it was heartwarming to see how the next generation of cricketers at Kidmore End Cricket Club have stepped up to continue to provide a focus for the community in new, imaginative ways at this difficult time.

As two “oldies” who have spent the best part of our lives in active roles at the club, we were so happy to see a younger generation ably take over the reins to develop our community hub fit for post-lockdown rules.

Local and cricket communities enjoyed — despite wind and drizzle — a wonderful unlocked evening at the Pavilion Bar, safely set up outside the newly decorated pavilion, where we ordered and paid for drinks via a new club app and, always socially distanced, ate delicious meals on an American theme at well-spaced picnic tables. There was a strong local emphasis — beside many of us enjoying the novelty of socialising together, we ate excellent food provided by club neighbour Jez Felwick, of the Bowler Meatballs Co, and drank beer from the West Berkshire Brewery.

Special thanks to local residents who organised impromptu informal games for the many youngsters at the ground.

Well done, Kidmore End Cricket Club and Kidmore End playing fields committee. We look forward to the weekly Pavilion Bar and local food through the remaining summer months. — Yours faithfully,

John Sheldon OBE, former chairman, and Fred Curzon, honorary president, Kidmore End Cricket Club,
Gallowstree Common

Heroine in village crisis

Editor, — Rachel Richardson deserves a massive thank-you from the residents of Gravel Road, Heath Drive and all the other places in Binfield Heath where she and her daughters provided water on one of the hottest days of the year (Standard, July 3). The accidental breakage of a mains water pipe in Dunsden Way was not her fault. Her builders told me the map of the water pipes was incorrect.

Whatever the facts of the matter, it was not Rachel’s fault but she instantly took on the responsibility to try to minimise the discomfort to all those in Binfield Heath who were affected.

She and her daughters spent the day buying and delivering water to as many people in Binfield Heath as they could reach, at their own expense, until the water supply was restored. They explained to everyone what had happened, door by door.

Not everyone has or uses the internet. We have one resident who is over 100 years old and dependent on carers and there are others who could not understand why their water had been cut off. Thames Water did not see fit to send anyone to explain. It was up to Rachel and others to see that the elderly did not suffer.

Although Thames Water finally provided water, they did not deliver to the pensioners and those without a car who live in Gravel Road and Heath Drive.

Instead, the water was only available from the store in the centre of the village. To have to walk over a mile in 27C heat for a bottle of water is exhausting. For a pensioner, it is dangerous.

Fortunately, Rachel immediately took action. First she bought water from the village store and then drove to a supermarket with her daughters to buy as much water as she could fit into her car and then distribute it, with an apology for an accident not of her making.

Thames Water owes her a major vote of thanks for doing what they could and should have done. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Woolsey

Binfield Heath

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