Vol. 44 No. 14 · 21 July 2022

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Me, Me, Me

Sharon Footerman writes about William Walton’s turn on Desert Island Discs (Letters, 7 July). Actually, he made two appearances on the show, the first on 19 July 1965, when he chose his own Second Symphony, and then on 27 March 1982, when he chose three (not two) of his own works, ‘Old Sir Faulk’, the Violin Concerto and Belshazzar’s Feast. Perhaps he could be forgiven for selecting works that brought back good memories of composition, preparation and performance. The soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the guest on 28 July 1958, included seven of her own recordings (she chose suntan oil as her luxury). It’s unlikely she was a regular listener to the BBC Home Service, so maybe it was her briefing that was at fault. Then again, maybe not.

Jim Berrow

Limping to Success

‘Our electoral system has a lot to answer for in creating the mess we are in,’ says Peter Thomson (Letters, 23 June). Certainly, but so has Labour’s stubbornness. Going into the 2017 general election, there were twelve seats where Labour had been kept out by the Green Party in 2015, and three where the Greens had been kept out by Labour. Many Labour MPs pushed hard for a progressive alliance, including my own MP, Tulip Siddiq, but were ignored by Corbyn. Admittedly, there was a justifiable fear that the Tories would exploit any alliance with the SNP as a vote for Scottish independence, but the main problem seems to have been that too many old Labour heads believed (as they still do) that they can do it on their own. While there is, of course, no way to be sure that the votes would have transferred across, it is very likely, given Labour’s 40 per cent share of the popular vote, that most would have done. If the progressive parties had won fifteen extra seats between them a Labour-led coalition would have been in power. Corbyn, too, has a lot to answer for.

Charles Harris
London NW3

On Not Naming Names

I am grateful to Lea Ypi for her corrections concerning the funding for her scholarship in Italy in the 1990s, the details of her book launch and her receipt of the Lumo Skëndo prize (Letters, 7 July). But the main point stands. The post-communist memoir is, unavoidably, a political genre, and not simply an exercise in auto-fiction. While praising its wit, sharp prose and evocative descriptions, I suggested that Ypi’s book aimed to please both Western opinion-makers and the staggeringly corrupt Edi Rama regime. It is surely reasonable to ask how Ypi, whose memoir is about her political awakening in post-communist Albania, sees the situation under Rama – the latest and most successful manager of the country’s neoliberal turn, about whose earlier trajectory she is scathing.

It is common knowledge in Tirana that no one uses Enver Hoxha’s villa without permission from the Rama regime. The higher education board on which Ypi sits may be independent in theory, but Rama appoints and dismisses its members (this is plainly stated on the board’s website). In discussing the Albanian reception of Free, I was not interested in its official or commercial reception, but rather its reception in critical literary magazines. Ypi insists she welcomes critique, but accuses those who point out historical discrepancies in the book of ‘policing’ her memory – which, to be clear, is not the memory of an 11-year-old, but of an adult author – and suggests it is ‘sinister’ to hope she might register some distance from the Rama-Veliaj regime, as if this could only be the view of ‘communist spies’. On the contrary: it is to say that the conjoined freedom and equality to which she aspires apply to Albania too.

Thomas Meaney

I am always looking to read more about Albania, so was grateful for Thomas Meaney’s piece (LRB, 23 June). Why Albania? Henry Mayer, professor of political science at Sydney University when I was there in the 1960s, told my left-wing partner that if she wanted to live the radical life she should go to Albania ‘for the goats and the socialism’. Mayer was one of the ‘Dunera Boys’, 2500 young men, mostly German and Austrian, mostly Jewish, who had sought refuge in the UK before the war, but who the British authorities decided were ‘enemy aliens’. They were shipped on the Dunera out to Australia – London’s time-honoured method of disposing of those it wanted out of the way. It was a hellish voyage, and on arrival in Sydney the men were sent to camps, behind barbed wire, in hot western New South Wales. There, they set up a theatre, concerts, a ‘university’ and their own self-governing apparatus. When it was realised their deportation had been a massive stuff-up, they were able to return to the UK. But some nine hundred stayed: Australia’s gain, Britain’s loss.

My second Albanian moment came when studying in Iceland in the late 1960s. As a counter to the American propaganda broadcast from the Nato base at Keflavik (the war in Vietnam was apparently going really well) we would tune in to Radio Tirana, seduced by its haunting station identification tune and the good Australian accent of the announcer, who read the news in English. But my partner and I never made it to Albania. Several years in Scandinavia and then the UK made us realise that we were, in fact, Australian.

Rob Wills
Brisbane, Queensland

Nothing Like an Alibi

Stephen Sedley relies on 19th-century sources to claim that Julian, the enslaved Indian teenager, would have been ‘forbidden by law to testify in his own defence’ during his Old Bailey trial in 1724 (Letters, 7 July). But at this earlier date different principles applied, and procedure was much more informal. Criminal trials were very brief, often lasting only a few minutes. The same jury would listen to successive unrelated cases, then retire to consider them all, returning the verdicts as a batch. There were no lawyers. The judge acted as examiner of the victim, the defendant, and any witnesses called on either side. Defendants were thus normally active participants in the proceedings against them, and were supposed to respond to the facts presented against them and provide their own testimony. They did not speak on oath, but they certainly spoke. Julian, whose enslavers had never bothered to teach him English, did not.

Fara Dabhoiwala
Princeton, New Jersey

On the Slip Road

Mike Jay ponders the causes of the decline in hitchhiking but omits the most obvious one (LRB, 23 June). The growth of the motorway network meant faster travel but it also meant junctions that force hitchers either to stand on a slip road, illegally, or station themselves somewhere that drivers will not or cannot stop. After one incident when I was charged by Northamptonshire police and subsequently fined, I packed it in (at roughly the same time Jay did). I wonder how many other people felt, as I did, that it literally wasn’t worth it anymore.

Justin Horton
Huesca, Spain

Talking Cure

Gavin Francis’s piece on functional disorders took me back sixty years to when I was a green house surgeon at Cook Hospital in Gisborne, New Zealand (LRB, 23 June). We had an elderly Māori patient who appeared to be dying from a mysterious abdominal illness. He had already undergone multiple investigations, including exploratory abdominal surgery, for a condition he told us had been caused by some malignant agent who had put a curse on him. It was clear that not only were our medical and surgical skills ineffective, they were making his condition worse, since he now had a large wound from the surgery.

We consulted our visiting psychiatrist, Henry Bennett. He was New Zealand’s first Māori psychiatrist, and the son of an Anglican bishop in the Māori community. After taking a careful history, Bennett informed the patient that not only was he an important tohunga (healer) among the Māoris by virtue of his lineage, but was honoured also in the Pākehā (European) community as a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. On both counts, he said, he would be able to rid the patient of his affliction, which he proceeded to do by reciting in an impressive voice the first stanza of ‘Gaudeamus igitur’. The treatment was effective, I believe, because the patient felt understood and reassured. I went on to become a psychiatrist. I didn’t have the gravitas of Henry Bennett, but I certainly learned the importance of taking functional illness seriously and treating it as such.

David Lonie
Wagstaffe, New South Wales

He couldn’t do Mancunian

In his piece on resistance movements in the Second World War, Malcolm Gaskill mistakenly refers to my father, Harry Rée, as a ‘Lancashire schoolmaster’ (LRB, 7 July). In fact he trained at the Institute in London and was just embarking on his second year as a teacher in Beckenham when he joined up. And he can hardly have spoken French with a Mancunian accent: he was born in Manchester, but educated far away in prep schools and public schools which equipped him with a cut-glass accent – he couldn’t do Mancunian in English, let alone French. He studied French at Shrewsbury School and Cambridge University, and picked it up too as a teenager working on his brother’s farm in the Dordogne. He later said he spoke ‘schoolmaster French’, which is more likely (though self-deprecation was his style), and no doubt he improved on the job: Richard Cobb said he spoke like a native. One additional note: the Peugeot works Gaskill mentions were not in Besançon but Montbéliard.

Jonathan Rée

No Marriage

Diarmaid MacCulloch may create a misimpression in alluding to ‘the 450-year-old prohibition on clergy getting married, unique to the Western Latin Church’, for the phrasing suggests that this was yet another novelty imposed by the Church of Rome (LRB, 9 June). In fact, such a ban was very much older and was part of the Orthodox tradition as well as the Latin. Early Christianity had regarded voluntary celibacy or consecrated virginity as one of the three ‘evangelical counsels’ in the imitation of Christ (the other two being poverty and obedience). But as Christianity was incrementally adopted as the sole official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth and early fifth centuries, the focus shifted towards mandatory celibacy for monks and some clergy as matters of church law. In the East, bishops and monks were to be celibate, but parish priests could marry and have families. The Western Church took a harder line (as it also did on divorce) and forbade marriage to monks, bishops, priests and those in major orders (deacon and subdeacon). This proved very hard to enforce over the centuries, so the ‘Gregorian’ reformers of the 11th and 12th centuries sharpened the law and its enforcement for monks and all those in major orders; but those in minor orders could still marry (even though the celibate clergy probably discriminated against them more than ever). The poet William Langland, for instance, appears to have been in minor orders and married.

Lawrence Duggan
University of Delaware, Newark

It’s in Everything

Bee Wilson’s illuminating piece on palm oil omits one major side effect of plantation development in Indonesia: the dense smog blown across the Strait of Malacca caused by the use of slash-and-burn methods to clear the land (LRB, 23 June). When I was in Singapore and Malaysia in September 2015, the air quality was so bad that people were instructed to wear masks and the schools were closed. Legislation is hampered, allegedly, because palm oil producers are quoted on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Celina Fox
Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire

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