7 Febuary 2015 Susan Hamer-Bloom
Mary not too well misses tea and Mrs Hamer-Bloom does her toe nails.
Eddie Price, who has died aged 91, was a farmer-turned-archaeologist who devoted nearly half a century of his life to excavating a Roman villa and other ancient settlements which had lain hidden under fields at Frocester Court farm, near Stroud in Gloucestershire.
His curiosity had been aroused during the Second World War after the local Agricultural Executive Committee ordered the ploughing of an ancient grass ridge and field called Big Stanborough on the 250-acre farm of which his father was the tenant.
Price noticed that his plough was turning up pieces of pottery and building debris. “There was obviously a building there,” he recalled, “I was turning up stones that shouldn’t have been there. I recognised a site there.”
In 1960 he invited Captain H S Gracie – one of the country’s most eminent Romano-British archaeologists, who happened to be working on another site nearby – to dig an exploratory trench. “He dropped straight down on to a mosaic pavement,” Price recalled. “By the end of the next day I had excavated the remains of a burnt basket of wheat.”
Eddie Price with Professor Mick Aston of Time Team (SIMON PIZZEY/THE CITIZEN)
Price and Gracie then collaborated on further investigations of the site, and it soon became evident that the Roman building at Frocester was huge – 200ft long and several floors high. At the time it was generally assumed that Roman villas in Britain were little more than bungalows built around a couple of courtyards.
The Roman villa was not the only thing that they found. Human settlement at Frocester dates back to around 1500 BC, the middle of the Bronze Age, when a boundary ditch was first dug. A sunken trackway followed, until Iron Age man built the first farm on the site. This was well established by 200 BC, with roundhouses, granaries, fenced animal pens and a vegetable patch.
Occupation continued until the late third century AD, when work on the villa began. Price believed that the stone building had probably been a gentleman’s country residence rather than a working farm, as it moved away from the strict farm layout; also, artefacts discovered on the site suggested that the occupants had been well-off.
Over the decades, more than 1,100 Roman coins were unearthed, as well as 60 sets of human remains. Notable finds included a beautiful bronze figurine of a horse (now in Gloucester Museum) and a Romano-British brooch, discovered in near-mint condition at the bottom of a well.
Later, excavations of an Anglo‑Saxon feasting hall revealed an extraordinary collection of animal bones which appeared to have been simply tossed out of the window by the diners.
Price, however, was not particularly interested in unearthing “buried treasure”, explaining that his fascination with archaeology arose from a desire to find out about “the history of my place, what the people were like and how they lived and farmed there before me”.
The bronze horse figurine found at Frocester Court (PAUL NICHOLLS/GLOUCESTERSHIRE MEDIA)
Gracie led the excavations at Frocester Court until his death in 1979, after which Price and a team of amateur enthusiasts continued the dig, which took place every summer until 2009. By this time the Frocester Court excavations were said to be the longest-running archaeological project in the country.
Though he was self-taught as an archaeologist, Price’s meticulous approach won him the respect of professionals, some of whom were inspired in their careers as youngsters working at his dig. He carefully drew and documented every trench and every fragment of pottery and bone, writing up the results in reports which set a new standard for archaeological publications.
In 2000 he published a two-volume work in which he traced, in extraordinary detail, the story of the human occupation of the area from the Bronze Age to the modern day.
He was appointed MBE for his services to archaeology in 2008, and in the following year received an honorary degree from the Open University.
Edward Godwin Price was born near Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, on October 6 1923. In 1935 his family moved to Frocester Court farm as tenant farmers of 250 acres. Eddie took over the running of the farm in 1950, establishing a herd of dairy cows. In 1969 he bought the farm, and later purchased an additional 50 acres.
The tithe barn at Frocester Court
His archaeological interests were not confined to digging up the past, but also to restoring and preserving it. In 1287 a great tithe barn had been built at Frocester Court, and when Price bought the farm it was the largest medieval tithe barn still standing in Gloucestershire; but it needed re-roofing, and he was quoted a price for the work which was double what he had just paid for the farm.
So Price set about doing the work himself, using Cotswold stone tiles and lashing ladders together to reach the top of the 11-metre ridge. The job took him eight years to complete.
He went on to re-roof and conserve all the other buildings at Frocester Court, which has 13 listed buildings on site, including the main house, part of which dates back to the mid-1450s. In 1998 he was elected president of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.
Price’s other great passion was coarse fishing. In 1959 he caught what was then the largest mirror carp ever landed, at 40½lb. In 2007 a fishing diary which he had kept in the 1950s was published in a limited edition, and sold out before printing had finished.
In 1951 Price married Ruth Chandler, who survives him with their six sons, three of whom now run the farm.
Eddie Price’s ashes are to be interred beneath the fields at Frocester Court in an earthenware urn fired in a “Roman” kiln which he built himself.
Eddie Price, born October 6 1923, died January 23 2015
Simon Jenkins is simply wrong to claim that Charles is harmless and powerless (Our monarchy is powerless and would remain that way under King Charles, 5 February). The royals have power and influence and seek to exercise it at every opportunity. It may not be in the form of formal constitutional power – most of that these days is exercised by the prime minister (another problem with the monarchy). The power the royals have is that of access and secrecy, the opportunity to influence behind closed doors and beyond any meaningful public scrutiny.
This influence is greatly enhanced by the existence of royal consent, a veto on new laws that Charles and the Queen can exercise if such laws affect their personal and private interest. So it is no surprise that a host of laws give privileged exemptions to the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. It is no surprise that royal secrecy and royal funding laws have been changed in recent years to the detriment of the public interest. It is because the royals have the power and opportunity to influence government policy.
Chief executive officer, Republic
• Simon Jenkins comforts himself with the thought that “parliament is sovereign”, not understanding that this is where the trouble lies. In the settlement of 1688, the monarchy was divested of its power, which was transferred to parliament. Parliament then had, and in essence still has, the unregulated power of an absolute monarch. Ways to remedy this? Let the people claim sovereignty; sever the ties of the monarch to parliament; set up a new parliament whose members are chosen by a proportional voting system and whose layout no longer expresses a simple binary choice. It is this process, under way in Scotland, which will spell the end of the pre-democratic structure of Britain.
• If as Simon Jenkins suggests the monarchy is powerless, why are we spending some £300m per annum on it. What exactly do we get in return for this handout? Prince Charles sounding off? He is welcome to moan about matters that worry him but he could do so just as well as a private citizen. He could even write a letter or two to the Guardian.
• Simon Jenkins would have us believe that we are safe from the influence of the future King Charles because the power of the monarchy is merely symbolic and is, in any case, exercised by the government. However, the power of prominent establishment figures like Charles is exercised through informal channels via a complex of personal relationships, the details of which rarely become public. The plan for the Chelsea barracks may have been withdrawn by the Qataris, but who lobbied them to do so?
• Simon Jenkins forgets the effects of soft power on public opinion. Mass opinion has political power. It saddens me to make the point that, by this means, the monarchy is far from politically impotent. Jenkins is right in his estimate of public support for the monarchy and this support, if challenged, runs deep. Try engaging your local rugby club, the local boy scouts or members of the Women’s Institute in a discussion of the monarchy.
Ask ex-servicemen, former civil servants; try raising the subject in the pub, if you dare. And then consider the establishment. What chance is there of finding out-and-out rejection of Charles’s opinions? None of this translates directly into politics, but it’s out there. Far from Charles “having no clout, and no one has to listen to him”, the way is open It just depends on how passionately issues are raised, how hard the 75% are drawn, for a matter to become a public opinion/political issue.
• The argument of Simon Jenkins might be taken even further. Preserving an impotent monarchy serves as a permanent and symbolic reminder of the triumph of democracy. If it ceased to be impotent, it would cease.
• You cannot wonder at the lack of confidence in government and powerful organisations when the Duchy of Cornwall and West Dorset district council may choose to ignore their own public plans like this. On 12 February, West Dorset district council is being recommended to approve plans by developers ZeroC Holdings Ltd to build five luxury detached homes on land designated in the Poundbury Masterplan as public open space for the benefit of all the people of Dorchester.
Needless to say, the recommendation to approve the planning application is contrary to the views of Dorchester town council and many local organisations concerned with the character of the town.
Ruling out free higher education, Alan Ware (Letters, 6 February) talks about “how to best match the provision of education and training with the needs of an economy”. How about changing our economic hierarchies and elitist privileges to best match the needs of our citizens? This how we ended up with the former free higher education and mandatory student grant.
• Perhaps Herr Schäuble (Report, 6 February) should offer the 500 tax collectors to the UK government to collect from the wealthy?
• If you work beyond state pension age, you stop paying national insurance (Letters, 6 February). Why?
Barton on Humber, North Lincolnshire
The education secretary is right to fear Ofqual plans to remove practical science work from the overall grade for GCSE and A-level science (Nicky Morgan calls for Ofqual U-turn on scrapping science practicals, 28 January). The plans are a downgrading of science experiments that will leave pupils ill-prepared for when they leave school.
Finding things out for yourself is at the very heart of science. Ofqual’s argument is that some schools are only doing a really narrow set of experiments and that some teachers are too generous in the marks they give. They say this means we should no longer include the very skills that young people need as part of their overall assessment. That is short-sighted and defeatist. We need to find a solution that actually serves young people and society rather than a quick fix for the bureaucrats.
While I understand Ofqual’s need to assert its independence, it cannot allow that independence to back it into a corner. Scientists, educators and universities have stated from the start that Ofqual’s decision is the wrong one. Surely Ofqual must now recognise this and reverse changes before real damage is done to science in the UK.
President of the Royal Society
• For all their emphasis on “rigour”, it is not education ministers obsessing about the 12 times table that will enhance the learning process (Zoe Williams, 2 February). This happens when trained teachers enthused by their job interact well with their pupils, who grow in confidence, learn to make balanced judgments and nurture other personal qualities that are intangible, rather than measurable. Subjecting children to endless tests will no more improve their education than constantly measuring a tree will make it grow.
Opinions differ over Alice Thomson’s belief that a good grounding in the basics is sufficient
Sir, Mathematics is not just about learning multiplication tables and algebra (“This obsession with maths doesn’t add up”, Opinion, Feb 4). Taught well, mathematics ignites curiosity and encourages confidence and creativity — the very qualities that Alice Thomson rightly points out we should nurture in Britain.
The scientific and mathematical thinking learnt in the classroom — logical and critical thinking, problem-solving — is vital in the real world and is much desired by employers. If we want an effective democratic society, people must be capable of balancing the benefits and risks of new science and be able to reason mathematically. The Royal Society has called for maths and science to be compulsory to the age of 18 as part of a baccalaureate-style system. It’s not about every student studying an advanced maths or science subject to 18, but creating well-thought-out, inspiring and tailored courses to meet the future needs of UK citizens and employers.
Sir Martin Taylor
FRS Chairman, Royal Society vision committee
Sir, We welcome the political “obsession” with improving mathematical and statistical skills but not only on the ground that basic numeracy needs to improve. More advanced skills are also essential. Like a language, mathematical and statistical skills can fade with lack of practice, and employers and universities have found that the gap between GCSE at 16 and entry to university or work at 18 is detrimental. The CBI repeatedly reports that many employers are not confident of meeting future needs for high-skilled employees, particularly in science, engineering and maths. In a world full of data, higher level analytical and statistical skills are increasingly in demand, as our own work has found.
The government has gone some way toward filling this gap with the introduction of new core maths qualifications to be taken alongside A levels. We urge all politicians, no matter what the state of their times tables, to ensure that these are developed after the election.
Head of education and statistical literacy, Royal Statistical Society
Sir, Alice Thomson is right to argue that it is short-sighted to concentrate on numeracy at the expense of other subjects. Modern languages are a case in point. The UK’s lack of language skills has been estimated to cost the economy £48 billion every year. This is likely to get worse: the British Council’s Languages for the Future report shows the UK’s highest priorities for business and diplomacy will require several languages that are rarely even taught here.
In Singapore (the second highest scoring country in the Programme for International Student Assessment 2012), the curriculum prioritises languages to give access to a global economy. There is no negative correlation between Pisa scores and language learning. Scientists and other non-specialist linguists need language skills if they are to work internationally.
Chairwoman, all-party parliamentary group on modern languages
Sir, Alice Thomson is right: too many children are being asked to do too much maths. I taught secondary maths from year 7 to A level for some years. The top band of GCSE was too easy, having been dumbed down from the GCE syllabus, and was no longer a good preparation for A-level maths, so that universities’ engineering departments, for example, had to spend time making up the shortfall. But the middle and lower bands maths syllabuses were too difficult, and were padded out with topics that bored those students and which they would never use.
Apart from the top band, children who find maths intrinsically interesting and need to have the possibility of mathematical careers (science, accountancy, etc) kept open to them, students should have syllabuses restricted to practical uses, and their maths class hours reduced accordingly.
Chapel Cleeve, Somerset
Sir, Alice Thomson’s article makes a lot of sense. In my 36 years of nuclear research I never did need to solve a quadratic equation or even simultaneous equations. In my judgment, teachers with the very best university degrees do not necessarily make the best teachers. Is it really necessary to have a first-class honours degree to be an effective teacher at say GCSE level?
Some of the best teachers are those who in their own schooldays struggled at GCSE level and A level — these are the people who best understand the difficulties that their own pupils might also experience.
Dr John Sandalls
It is the constitutional duty of the incumbent prime minister to remain in office until it is clear who the sovereign should ask to try to form the next government
Sir, Peter Riddell (Analysis, Feb 6) is right to say that it is misleading to allege Gordon Brown was “squatting” in No 10 after Labour had lost the 2010 general election. It is the constitutional duty of the incumbent prime minister to remain in office until it is clear who the sovereign should ask to try to form the next government. However, Brown subsequently acted unconstitutionally when he precipitately resigned before the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had completed their negotiations to form a coalition.
Former editor in chief, charter2010.co.uk, MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne East 1974-83
Despite claims to the contrary, there has hardly ever been an architecture that did not make some reference to the past
Sir, When Professor Fawcett (letter, Feb 6) refers to a modernist architectural language appropriate for the 21st century, free from historical predilections, he omits to mention that there has hardly ever been an architecture that did not make some reference to the past. The role of any language is to communicate. An architectural language without reference to the past would be unintelligible and would have little to say about matters such as community and continuity. It would also have to remain silent regarding many of our psychological and social needs.
Matthew Parris should heed the second part of the Second Commandment, not merely the first section
Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Feb 4) does not mention the second part of the Second Commandment, which says that the sin is in the worshipping of graven images, not in their creation. If God had not wanted his chosen people to make images, then there was little point in including the second instruction. The Old Testament has many references to God’s instructions for images to be made, not least the two gold-plated cherubim with outstretched wings that covered the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus xxv: 18-20). Similarly, pomegranates were carved on the bronze pillars at the entrance to the Temple (1 Kings vii: 18-20).
Dr David Fuller
Killiechronan, Isle of Mull
Given the effectiveness of the Times reports on Rotherham, a campaign for the overhaul of the psychological services for children who have been abused is overdue
Sir, Andrew Norfolk’s report (“Rotherham: finally the truth behind the lies”, Feb 5) is the latest example of the good that a persistent journalistic campaign can do. It has led to the imprisonment of persistent wrongdoers, the wholesale removal of a council cabinet, and an awakening in the public consciousness of the existence of a particularly hideous form of child maltreatment.
However, for abused children up and down the country, such revelations, prosecutions and political cleansing, while signal steps in dealing with the need to safeguard and promote their wellbeing, are not the end of the story. They also need, and are indeed entitled to, therapies and support to help them to recover from their damaging experiences. Sadly though, and all too often, appropriate services are not adequate, and are commonly time-limited and cash-strapped. From the point of view of child safeguarding, this is just as great a failure by the adult world as the original abuse.
Given the effectiveness of your reports on Rotherham, a journalistic campaign for the overhaul of the psychological services for children who have been abused is overdue.
Dr Peter Green
Forensic physician and designated doctor for child safeguarding, Wandsworth Clinical Commissioning Group, London SW12
The Homes for Britain campaign is calling on all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation
Sir, Everyone deserves a decent home to live in, yet for many families it is expensive and difficult to achieve. The Homes for Britain campaign brings together the entire housing sector, and we are calling on all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation.
Across Britain we need more than 245,000 new homes a year yet we are building around half that amount, creating a huge shortage of homes which is getting worse year after year.
All of the political parties have acknowledged that we need to build more homes and that this must be a priority. We are ready to play our part but need the next government to meet us halfway by providing real leadership and a commitment to solve the issue.
David Orr, National Housing Federation; Grainia Long, Chartered Institute of Housing; Jon Sparkes, Crisis; Stewart Baseley, Home Builders Federation; Alan Ward, Residential Landlords Association; Trudi Elliott, Royal Town Planning Institute; Harry Rich, Royal Institute of British Architects
Brian Moore’s bickering with Eddie Butler is one of the highlights of televised international rugby
Sir, Unlike Paul Ackford (RBS Six Nations, Feb 6) I find the arguing between Eddie Butler and Brian Moore to be a highlight of televised rugby. Perplexingly, due to the subtlety and complexity of the game, they are often both simultaneously correct.
Faced with a potentially hostile audience of his constituents, Enoch Powell showed a different side to his character
Sir, The letter on Enoch Powell (Feb 6) reminded me of a time in the 1960s when the Communist party in Wolverhampton was championing a group of Asian residents who were having trouble finding housing. At a meeting, via a microphone and with the aid of a translator, they confronted Powell, their MP. He listened patiently, then strolled over and in perfect Urdu began to talk to them. I still remember the transformation. All smiles, they crowded around him, and the meeting’s sponsors faded quietly away.
SIR – Devolution has opened a can of worms and led to ever-increasing complications. Despite the majority of voters opting for the Union in the Scottish referendum, the concessions made by a desperate David Cameron have only increased the determination of the separatists.
The only logical solution is the undesirable one of the formation of separate United Kingdom and English parliaments. Fudging the issue by means of a veto to be exercised by English MPs will only lead to bickering and horse-trading. In these days of fragmented politics, the result is going to be a fudge open to endless argument and confusion.
J B Box
SIR – Will Alex Salmond become the modern Parnell, promising SNP votes at Westminster to any government “prepared to meet his demands”? (“Parnell’s ghost is hovering as the Tories consider their options”). When Gladstone brought forward his Irish Home Rule Bill in the hung parliament of 1886 to appease Parnell, he sought also to abolish Irish representation at Westminster completely. He said that Parnell and his Nationalist MPs were “like vermin about a man’s person, troublesome and disagreeable”.
Later he compromised, proposing to retain Irish MPs but cutting their number drastically to reduce their power of blackmail.
If Mr Salmond does hold the balance of power after the election, such expedients will surely begin to look attractive to Gladstone’s unhappy successors, and the Union will be in the gravest peril. But they will have only themselves to blame for failing to solve the question of English votes for English laws in this Parliament.
SIR – William Hague’s proposals would go a long way to address the injustice felt in England over Scottish MPs voting on English-only legislation. However, the Labour Party, and others, are unlikely to support this reform.
Lord Salisbury, the former leader of the House of Lords, has proposed a solution that would be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom. This is to create a federal union.
The House of Commons would be the English parliament and the House of Lords would be replaced by an elected chamber for the entire United Kingdom. The prime minister and leading cabinet members would sit there, and it would deal with such federal matters as defence and foreign policy. Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments would have equal powers to the English Commons.
No new parliament-house would be created, and the total number of members would be reduced (as would expenses).
This would preserve the Union better than the present confused arrangements.
Jonathan C Simons
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
SIR – The Bank of England’s data on trends in lending for January showed – as they have for the past few years – further falls in lending to Small and Medium Enterprises. Recent data from the Association of Business Recovery Professionals, meanwhile, showed that late payment is a primary factor in 20 per cent of business insolvencies.
Various initiatives have been introduced to improve the flow of working capital, including the Prompt Payment Code, but little improvement has been seen. Given that SMEs in Britain represent 50 per cent of GDP, employ 60 per cent of the work force and create most new jobs, this should be a cause for huge concern.
CEO, Tungsten Corporation
Value of trainee doctors
SIR – Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, is disingenuous when she says that “it costs the taxpayer £400,000 to train an emergency consultant”. She forgot to mention that, during training, a junior doctor contributes around 20,000 hours of service to the NHS, taking on increasing levels of responsibility in line with his or her growing experience.
Doctors in training are a linchpin of the NHS, without which it could not function.
Dr Hilary Aitken
SIR – Mike Barton, the chief constable of Durham, is to be commended for voicing the thoughts of many people who, like me, have lost their children to heroin (“Police chief: don’t jail drug addicts”).
Today I will attend the inquest into the death of a talented musician, my son, Rob Skipper. Had he been given the opportunity to use heroin from a reliable source under supervision in a “consumption room” such as those found in Switzerland, I would have had less cause to warn his wife, sister and mother that he might be dead from an overdose before the end of the year. He would probably be struggling, still, with addiction, but he would be alive and with some hope of rehabilitation. The recent arrest of the dealer who supplied Rob with the heroin is of no comfort to us; my fear is that he may create more addicts while incarcerated.
I earnestly hope the views of the many medical, legal and police authorities who support Mr Barton’s enlightened and considered opinion will gain momentum in the fight against this epidemic, which is taking such a heavy toll on young people.
John Skipper FRCS
Corfe Mullen, Dorset
SIR – Neil Parish, the Conservative MP, rightly has said that “access to broadband should be considered a fundamental right”. The Government has promised that “by the end of this year, every home and business in the UK will be able to access a minimum broadband speed of two megabits per second – the basic speed for surfing and carrying out online services”.
How is this going to be achieved when the decision to extend the current system is based on commercial viability? I have been running a local campaign for a few years in a small village within the M25 in Hertfordshire. This county has joined with Buckinghamshire to improve the local network under the banner of the Connected Counties organisation. But my village has not been given approval for the roll-out because it is too small. Typical speeds here are below 0.75 mbps. I expect there are many examples such as this.
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Outsiders’ part in ethnic cleansing in Croatia
A resident of Vukovar in late November 1991, after the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs (AFP/Getty Images )
SIR – Croatia has been found not guilty of “genocide” in Krajina, but it should remain guilty of “ethnic cleansing”.
There is no other word for the forcible removal of the Serbs of Krajina during Operation Storm in 1995.
Perhaps the reluctance to indict Croatia stems from the fact that both Germany and America re-armed Croatia with tanks and aircraft throughout 1994, without which the Serbs could not have been “removed”.
When we learnt that the German government was, against the terms of the UN embargo, importing Leopard tanks and aircraft in containers into Croatia, I was ordered by a French diplomat to cease monitoring the port of Ploce, in my area.
When I argued that that was precisely why we were employed as European Community Mission Monitors, I was ordered by a Greek (Greece held the presidency at the time) to continue monitoring but to falsify (his word) my daily reports to Brussels, to indicate that I had not been in the area and thus had seen nothing: but I was to continue to watch Ploce and report, privately, to the Greeks.
Lt-Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Need for speed: the benefits of running fast
SIR – As someone who used to run considerably faster than 7mph (I once held the 5,000 metres world record), I read with some trepidation Sarah Knapton’s report on new research which suggests that fast running is as deadly as sitting on the sofa.
I’m happy to be able to reassure your readers that I, like many faster runners, am alive and enjoying the numerous and well-documented benefits of running. These include improved emotional and mental health, reduced risk of cancer, strengthened joints and the prevention of a host of unpleasant conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. While I admit to having a dodgy knee, the health and wellbeing benefits far outweigh my few aches and pains.
One of the joys of the 50-plus years that I have been involved in athletics is to see the hundreds of thousands of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities and ages who have discovered a love of running.
Organisations for runners of all sorts are working hard to help more people enjoy the benefits of this free, simple and accessible sport. Whether people run on their own, with friends, participate in group events like Parkrun and Race For Life, or compete for a club, running is a positive, life-affirming activity.
While I agree that “jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace” is great, running has benefits regardless of the speed you go. But I’ll be sure to warn my faster contemporaries – Seb Coe, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett – that they may soon wish they hadn’t broken all those world records.
There’s fish in my fish
SIR – Some pub menu misspellings are deliberate – they’re aimed at catching the eye – but perfect spelling could not prevent the amusing critiques we licensees receive in return.
I have fielded complaints that a fillet of fish “tasted fishy”, and – my favourite – another protesting that the “risotto was rubbish” as it “wasn’t even fried”.
The White Lion
SIR – I find the “Hitlers Walk” sign very offensive, too. Where is the apostrophe?
East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
Cold comfort bottle
SIR – The instructions for use on my new hot water bottle tell me: “Using the bottle every day for prolonged periods of time can shorten the lifespan.” I now have to choose which nights my feet remain cold.
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – As a retired CID officer, I am always amused when a police officer on a television programme knocks on a door and there is invariably someone inside to answer the knock.
In my experience, this is a rare event. Either the householder is out or, if the occupant is of a criminal disposition, he or she declines to come to the door.
SIR – When television detectives visit somebody connected with a case to ask them a few questions, the person concerned invariably continues to prune the roses, cook the dinner, mend the car, or whatever they were doing before the detective arrived. If a chief inspector called on me to gather information regarding a murder inquiry, the least I could do would be to sit down and give my full attention.
Globe and Mail:
At the time the British government announced the Longitude Prize, shipwrecks were a grave problem – many people died, ships and cargo were lost. It was decided that a reward in the form of what would be millions in today’s dollars should be given to the person who devised a method by which a ship’s longitude could reliably be determined – making accurate navigation possible.
Ultimately, the prize was successful. Many lives were saved. Faced as we are now with alarming outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, we need a similar competition.
Who, 50 years ago, would ever have imagined we’d need to promise a reward to the person able to persuade wealthy, educated parents to do this small thing for their own children – of whom they seem quite fond – and for those who come into contact with those children, about whom one hopes they’d give a damn.
Yet here we are. There are schools in the wealthiest parts of Los Angeles where the vaccination rate is on a par with that of South Sudan – fashionable tinder boxes of measles waiting to go up. Pertussis (the far-less-fun-than-it-sounds “whooping cough”) is making a dramatic comeback.
“Why don’t we just explain all that?” a contestant in the competition will likely propose. “That, even if vaccines did involve a slight risk of, say, autism – and then we present the multiple studies that prove they don’t – they’d still be better than returning to a time when mothers named a child Henry, and that would be their third Henry.”
The Board of Seriously, People, You Went To College, Do You Just Hate Children?, established to administer the prize, would reject this solution.
“A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal showed that, even when educational efforts ‘successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism,’ it ‘nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate,’ ” the board’s chair would have to say. “Yeah, decreased. And have you seen the Internet? You disprove one theory, they come up with 10 new reasons not to vaccinate. Call in the next contestant.”
An infectious-disease specialist armed with meticulous research makes a sober presentation. She quotes Roberto Cattaneo, a molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic who has spent 30 years studying measles, which he calls “the most transmissible virus we know.” She leans authoritatively on the chair’s desk, and speaks to him directly. “Let me make my case to parents,” she pleads.
She leaves. Two hours later, she pops her head in the door and explains that, had she been infected with measles, the virus would still be alive on every surface in the room she’d touched and in the room’s airspace. “Nine out of 10 of those without immunity in this room would already be infected,” she says “And that ends my presentation.”
“They’ll just say they’re protecting their kids with kale and organic hand sanitizer,” a nutritionist on the board says with a sigh. “People put a lot of faith in raw food and lavender.”
An accountant, an immigration lawyer and a rabbi make an interesting joint presentation; many parents are requesting exemptions where vaccines are mandatory.
Getting these exceptions is a drag, as parent things can be, but it’s not unlike registering your child for a somewhat exclusive soccer league. And so they present their creation: Together they’ve crafted an exemption process so arduous it would make requesting an exemption the emotional and time-consuming equivalent of filing your taxes, earning your citizenship and converting to Judaism.
“You think this will discourage them?” a member of the board asks. “It’ll just give them more to blog about.” And the accountant, the immigration lawyer and the rabbi leave, disappointed, before walking into a bar.
The next applicant enters with a swagger. “Even before Wakefield’s autism-vaccination study was withdrawn and he was struck from the medical register, his methodology was suspect. Anyone making a choice about vaccinating their child based on the work of a disgraced gastroenterologist might just as well be counting on alchemy to bankroll that kid through university.
“However, my own research” – here he tables a stack of documents and a plastic bottle – “suggests people like things from Fiji. Couldn’t we just say that vaccines come from Fiji?”
“Doctors should keep giving vaccines in their offices, but we should have another vaccine for our target group. It’ll be just like the regular vaccine, but, instead of explaining to people you can’t give the vaccine to children under 12 months old, we tell them there’s a year-long wait list, an interview process and that they’ll need letters of recommendation from prior graduates in Not Dying From a Completely Preventable Illness. Tell them the vaccine’s admission board will want to see little Skyler play the theremin. Whatever you call this place, put the word ‘Einstein’ in the name. Maybe try ‘Einstab.’ ”
“Call them artisanal vaccines,” someone suggests.
Selling vaccines in Mason jars is considered.
“Make vaccines an off-menu item, like the doctor’s receptionist will think you’re really cool if you ask for it,” a sociologist recommends, adding, “Can we get that bee guy involved? ‘Burt’s Preventative Medicine.’”
“Tell them measles contain gluten,” the suggestion is made. “They’ll line up around the block.”
A number of time machines will be invented – capable of transporting people back to the days when childhood death was a way of life. The best of these machines is made from an old iron lung, but still the board – while impressed with the technology – rejects it as ineffective in the face of vaccine resisters who are employing the same part of the human brain that once caused people to say, “It’s okay. I know what I’m doing. I drive better when I’m drunk.”
The Chamber of Perpetual Misery, an invention capable of making its occupant instantly feel exactly what it’s like to be up at 4 a.m., and pacing a second mile, with a screaming, desperately sick baby, is similarly dismissed.
“The phrase ‘I have a right to make the choice that’s right for my family’ is being wielded like a magical incantation,” a board member explains. “Apparently, it includes the right to bring back nightmarish illnesses once thought eradicated.”
I imagine the only invention that could actually win the prize is Polio 2.0. Although that may be wishful thinking on my part.