Letters: Sage’s Christmas advice betrays a poor grasp of how most people live

·9-min read
a man walks past Christmas lights in London - dominic lipinski/pa
a man walks past Christmas lights in London - dominic lipinski/pa

SIR – I smiled at some of the suggestions from our eminent scientists in Sage on how to have a safe Christmas.

Three pieces of advice caught my eye: have drinks or Christmas dinner outside by a fire pit; have two tables so you can socially distance; and, if you are a visitor, take your own plates and put them in the dishwasher yourself.

These guidelines certainly tell us something about the lifestyles of Sage members – and their understanding of how most people live.

Dr John Mitchell
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire


SIR – The Bank of England recently said that paper money does not carry a high risk of Covid contamination.

Yet we have now been told to avoid boardgames at Christmas in order to prevent infection. Monopoly money can be deadly. It’s difficult to keep up.

Cameron Morice
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – As a granny of 93, I can hardly wait to sit next to an open window, especially if it is snowing, to eat my Christmas lunch, as advised.

Then I can catch pneumonia and I will not have to worry about Covid.

Sheila Wickenden
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire


SIR – Does the Government not realise that most workers aren’t on holiday on December 23 and 24? They don’t, however, have to work on the Bank Holiday Monday 28.

Or is this a surreptitious attempt to reduce family time?

Judith Pelham
Surbiton, Surrey


SIR – I love my children and grandchildren dearly, but sadly I have seen very little of them this year.

However, I think the Government’s plan for easing restrictions over Christmas is just plain crazy. We will be postponing our Christmas gatherings until the summer.

It is inevitable that this easing will be followed by a third wave, delaying yet again the defeat of this pandemic. Without it, perhaps the tier system would not have to be so harsh.

Jill Bocquet
Glastonbury, Somerset


SIR – The Prime Minister says the tier system could end in just nine weeks.

He promised the end of lockdown on December 2, and look what we have got instead. I hope the Tory MPs who are threatening to rebel are not fooled by this dubious statement.

John Castley


SIR – How disappointing that Tory MPs, who in some cases owe their jobs to Boris Johnson, have decided to oppose him over the tier system.

They are playing politics. They should look at the country as a whole and realise that the Prime Minister, facing an unprecedented situation, is acting in everyone’s interests, even if this makes him unpopular.

David Kidd
Petersfield, Hampshire


Brexit and fishing

SIR – I voted Remain. No apologies. However, it is imperative that the UK insists on controlling its fishing waters.

The job prospects in fishing and related trades – not to mention the likelihood of cheaper and more plentiful fish for the UK’s internal market – are too good to miss. Higher morale in coastal communities is another obvious benefit.

Finally, as Scottish and Northern Irish fishing communities will be clear beneficiaries, the Union’s appeal will be broadened.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex


SIR – You report on a “candid assessment” of the Brexit talks from No 10, implying that fishing (0.1 per cent of UK GDP) remains the key issue to be resolved. But how could any such assessment omit reference to the Withdrawal Agreement (WA)?

What of the level playing field, control of state aid, Northern Ireland separation and other toxic WA clauses which threaten UK sovereignty? Do they no longer matter?

Is Boris Johnson preparing to accept those clauses in exchange for a deal on fishing, or has he already abandoned the WA? Let’s have a truly candid assessment, not smoke and mirrors.

Roger J Arthur
Storrington, West Sussex


Eton mess

SIR – The problem with Will Knowland’s lecture on masculinity – which has led to his dismissal as an English teacher from Eton College – is not just that it is offensive to women, but also that many of the arguments in it are false.

Biological differences between the sexes cannot be used to justify a patriarchal or any other society, or to claim a particular role for men, in this case as “protectors” (ergo dominators) of women. This is the is-ought fallacy, famously articulated by David Hume and well known to scientists and philosophers. A lecture on that would have served the Eton boys far better.

Michael Bond
Winchester, Hampshire


SIR – The Eton authorities would be in a better position to complain about an allegedly anti-feminist tract proclaiming the virtues of masculinity if the school admitted girls.

As an Old Etonian with three daughters, I have always felt it unfair, old-fashioned and unprogressive that, in the 21st century, the school would not have considered my girls solely because of their gender.

Peter Holt
Telford, Shropshire


Want knot

SIR – After reading the letter from Mary Ross, whose daughter requested Sellotape as a present, I asked my dad (aged 92) what he would like for Christmas.

He said he could do with another ball of string. Since we are a large family, and his birthday is also in December, I am thrilled that I can now tick him off my list.

Jo Marchington
Ashtead, Surrey


SIR – Ten days ago I ordered 50 second-class postage stamps online from the Royal Mail.

When they failed to arrive, I made inquiries. I received the following email: “As a result of a high demand for this product which has significantly exceeded our expectations we are currently out of stock.”

I am speechless and stampless.

Peter Dimery
Newport, Monmouthshire


Baubles in care homes

SIR – Christmas is always a special time in care homes – full of festive fun, joy, light and sparkle. Up and down the country, managers and care workers are digging out the decorations, untangling the tinsel and dusting off the baubles. While Covid-19 has limited so many things in care homes, surely we can still deck the halls.

This year, more than any other, the hope and joy of Christmas are needed. But it seems the spectre of infection-prevention overkill lurks. We are seeing examples of local Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) advice to care homes warning them about the “dangers” of Christmas decorations.

Recommendations include: using only wipeable (laminated), single-use decorations to allow for cleaning; not using wood, straw or live trees, only artificial ones; quarantining cards and decorations for three days before opening, and limiting those in residents’ rooms to avoid contamination; and receiving presents unwrapped, then wrapping them in the home. Finally, it has been stated: “There should be no Christmas decorations during an outbreak, or near isolation areas.”

We have yet to find any evidence to support this latest flurry of bah-humbug advice.

Quite frankly, the instruction for decorations is the icing on the (Christmas) cake. Christmas decorations can be used safely and sensibly, and are a key part of the festive cheer that we all need so badly. Baublegate must not happen!

Liz Jones
Policy Director, National Care Forum
Coventry, Warwickshire


Helpful homework

SIR – Don’t abolish homework (Letters, November 28). It shows whether pupils have understood what they have been taught and is vital both for them and their teachers.

When I ran my own school, all homework was done there, under supervision. This way the teacher could see if a pupil was struggling and help them where necessary.

Olivia Deighton
London SW6


SIR – I recall a former colleague arriving for work complaining that he was tired as he’d had very little sleep.

When asked why, he replied that he had been doing his teenage son’s geography assignment, as his son had refused to do it. Apparently, he got good marks for it.

Janet Armstrong
Chatham, Kent


Sinking the notion that Nelson was pro-slavery

Neptune and Britannia mourn over Nelson in a painting on glass from 1805 - bridgeman
Neptune and Britannia mourn over Nelson in a painting on glass from 1805 - bridgeman

SIR – You report that the Welsh government finds monuments to Horatio Nelson contentious “because of his opposition to the abolition of slavery”.

The “authority” for this statement, quoted by the authors of the Welsh report, is an article published in the BBC History Magazine entitled “Nelson’s Dark Side”. In the article, it is deduced that Nelson was pro-slavery on the basis of a single private letter to plantation owner Simon Taylor in which Nelson is critical of William Wilberforce. A copy of the original letter (in which the words “slavery” and “abolition” are not to be found) is held in the British Library.

What the article’s author failed to realise was that the letter being quoted was a doctored version, made by anti-abolitionists to support their case two years after Nelson’s death. It contains 25 alterations, a forged signature and a fake seal.

In over 8,000 of Nelson’s published letters, and the records of the 12-month period for which he sat in the House of Lords, there is not a single example of Nelson indicating that he was either pro-slavery or anti-abolition.

Unfortunately, wildly inaccurate statements such as that issued by the Welsh government can lead to ill-informed young people defacing statues or, worse still, to violent protest.

Lt-Col Ray Aldis
The Nelson Society
Salisbury, Wiltshire


Smart meters: a good idea, terribly executed

SIR – Procter Hutchinson (Letters, November 28), who asks what the point of a smart meter is, should try Googling the term “time of use tariff”.

He’ll see that, in future, smart meters will allow suppliers to charge different rates at different times of the day. If he can move his heavy electricity usage to times of low demand he’ll see a benefit. The problem is that if he can’t do this – and I suspect that most people won’t be able to – he’ll have higher bills.

In principle smart meters are a good idea, but the process used to roll them out has been a disaster.

Steve Webb
Southwell, Nottinghamshire


SIR – Smart meters do not help customers.

They are useful only for the electricity companies – for instant meter reading but also, more sinisterly, to enable those companies to shut off electricity at will to anyone and everyone with a smart meter.

This is being done because soon there will not be enough power to go around and, instead of investing and solving the problem, the companies have chosen to go down the route of organised power cuts to manage supply and demand. There should be public outcry about this.

Karen Gwynn
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire


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