The Daily Telegraph is generally regarded as having the most entertaining letters page in Britain and it has become compulsory reading during the expenses scandal.
But last week matters of more considerable import were raised by concerned readers.
On Thursday (June 4), Steve Lomax asked why pubs serve their ales at a temperature close to freezing.
“I do not want my Blond Witch or Summer Lightning to be so cold that it is tasteless,” he said.
The next day, Bob Stebbings blamed the practice of adding gas to cask-conditioned ales.
Edward Huxley advised readers to shop around: some pub landlords know how to look after beer. “A pint of Fuller’s ESB, served at room temperature in a proper glass is pure nectar.”
On Saturday (June 6) John W. Milhofer passed on a tip from the Irish owner of a local offie, who said the secret was to buy two pints of Guinness at a time. While you drank one, the other had a chance to warm up.
* * *
These letters sprang to mind as I headed home on a packed and stinking train.
Paying a supplement to get into first class where you don’t have to climb over bodies and bags, I sat opposite a woman with short ginger hair whose name tag indicated she was a customer care boss at the company that owned the train.
It was quite a hot day and the windows were firmly closed. A mincing waiter asked me if I’d like to buy a drink.
“A glass of wine please? Is it cold?”
“Fraid not,” he replied in time-honoured fashion. “I can get you some ice though.”
“Ok,” I said reluctantly.
When it arrived, my companion, appropriately named Bev, cracked a painful smile and said, “That looks nice”.
I replied that my friends in Australia would be horrified to see me putting ice into a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Her smile fled. Looking at me with colonial disdain she said, “When in Rome”.
* * *
Have you noticed how people with ordinary names are now scoring the top jobs: Kevin, Wayne and a judge called Shane?
In England Lords Bingham (pic), Scott and Woolf were known irreverently as Tom, Dick and Harry.
Well, the theme continues with the publication of the impressive Tom Bingham and the Transformation of the Law: A Liber Amicorum (Oxford University Press).
For those without Google this apparently means A Book of Friends.
There are fascinating contributions from legendary legal figures with the sort of names you’d strike at the local RSL: Murray, Kirbs and Brenda.
Their proper titles are set out at the front of the book but the articles are headed with disarming informality. Well, in truth it’s Michael not Kirbs but how many Michaels do you see at the RSL?
The essays are scholarly and challenging and examine areas of law that interested Lord Bingham.
Others contributions are lightish-hearted and personal but the 892 page book is mainly a warm international tribute to the refulgent career of one of the world’s greatest judges.
The Senior Law Lord writing as Nicholas Phillips tells a story of how as a young barrister he was led by Bingham in a competition case. It was not familiar territory for the junior.
At the end of a consultation, his leader turned to him and said, “Right, we’ll need the usual affidavit and summons in support”.
Nick’s dismay must have been apparent because after the solicitors had gone, Bingham said, “Don’t worry, I’ll draft the documents”.
* * *
Mohammed Ilyas Khan, an immigration judge blackmailed by his cleaner Roselane Driza (seen here), whom he called his “chilli hot stuff”, has had a result.
The Office for Judicial Complaints has recommended that no further action be taken against him.
Apparently employing an illegal immigrant is not a strong enough ground to sack him.
* * *
George Nathaniel Curzon, an hereditary peer seven times over became Viceroy of India at the indecently young age of 39.
He sounds like the sort of chap who must have had a moat.
He was a brilliant student. Some contemporaries at Oxford wrote a verse about him and it stuck.
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon
I am a most superior person
My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek
I dine at Blenheim once a week.
* * *
When Andrew Bonar Law died, George V was required to choose a Prime Minister.
The choice was between the highly qualified Curzon (pic) and his less glamorous colleague, Stanley Baldwin.
So certain was George that he would catch the selector’s eye that he arranged to see the King’s private secretary and sketched out his cabinet appointments on an exhilarating train ride to London.
But amid some slippery intrigue, Stan got the nod. Curzon might have been saved an embarrassing trip had he not refused to install a telephone (he called it “that disastrous invention,”) in his palace at Somerset.
When told of Baldwin’s appointment Curzon is said to have burst into tears and stamped up and down. He said, “After all I’ve done for the King, to treat me in this way!”
(See, David Lloyd George by Peter Rowland, Macmillan 1975)
* * *
Technology moves apace but the pettiness of politicians doesn’t change.
The overworked Undertaker has been hit by a spate of burials in the past few days but like Lon Chaney, he’s still there trying out that awful grin.
Unlike Curzon, the Scottish Wag (snap) is said to let off steam by hurling his telephones.
As usual he can’t connect and although no-one has yet been nutted by a Nokia, it’s hardly dignified behaviour from the nation’s top dog.
Margaret Thatcher, referring to Deputy PM Whitelaw famously and unconsciously said, “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie”.
The Undertaker, Dr Brown, let it be known that he needed Balls in the Trouser Department.
As a Tassie politician once said, it didn’t come to fruitation.
Ed didn’t get the Exchequer and stayed appropriately at Schools.
On Thursday night straight after James “Might as Well Plonk That One on Expenses Too” Purnell jumped ship, Caroline Flint (snap), who recently posed saucily for the Observer Woman appeared on telly to profess her undying support for Gordon.
But next morning, when she didn’t get the post she wanted, Flinty changed her mind and screeched something about the PM being a sexist window dresser.
Though they take themselves so seriously, the unsavoury antics of the peoples’ representatives smack of the playground.
* * *
The thwarted Balls could be linked to Curzon.
George V didn’t care much for the former Viceroy. Few people did. Apparently, he was a sexual sybarite who led the Anti-Suffrage League. Otherwise he had no common touch.
Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles (pic), a legendary Royal retainer tells of a Foreign Office clerk who disagreed violently with one of Curzon’s memoranda. (See, King’s Counsellor, ed. Duff Hart-Davis, W&N 2006)
He thought it was “Balls” but was afraid to say it out loud and faintly pencilled in the margin the words, “Round objects.”
Curzon wrote back, “Who is Mr Round and why does he object?”