If you want a laugh (in-between regular, bewildered shakes of your head) then there is surely no finer place to visit than the letters page of the Daily Mail. Here, each morning, you can read the views of the most self-satisfied, one-eyed, smug, spiteful and downright bonkers people that Middle England has to offer. There can be no doubt that some of the letters they publish are actually sent in by people who are “on the wind-up” and have had a bet with some friends that they can get a letter, heavily laden with utterly barking nonsense, past the paper’s censors. But I fear that most are actually sent in by people who genuinely believe the utter tripe they are spouting.
I’m not sure into which of these categories Harry Simpson of Northwich in Cheshire falls, but his letter of March 2, 2012 did make it onto the pages of that fine publication. In it he bewailed the continued existence of Melvyn Bragg, Anne Robinson, Vince Cable, squatters, travellers, pop music, British food, his pension etc. Continuing at pace he revealed that “I just want to die”. All pretty bleak you might think, and maybe you might have had a degree of sympathy for a man apparently so utterly tired of life and its frustrations. But he ended the letter with “It is all self, self, self, moan, moan, moan” which, you might argue, slightly undermined his argument.
My all-time favourite Daily Mail letter is, again, possibly not genuine and could be the work of a genius masquerading as a brain-dead husk. I am sad enough to have cut this letter out of the Daily Mail when it appeared, some twelve years ago, and forever brightened up my world. It remains stuck to our fridge to this day, and here it is in its entirety:
E. Evans of Hereford suggests: “When councils resurface roads, the manhole and inspection covers always seem to be set below the road surface. Why don’t they fill them in with tarmac? This would save cyclists having to swerve to avoid them, and help to prevent unnecessary accidents”.
The thing about letters to the Daily Mail in general is the sheer volume of bile and spite that seems to have built up in so many people over the years. Favourite targets tend to be:
“Political correctness”: Any part of modern life which is distinct from daily life in the early 18th Century. Letters usually bemoan “not being able to fly the Union Jack outside my house” (which you can if you want to, of course), “not being able to say anything in my own country any more” (which translates as “no longer being able to be foul and abusive to people in the street who are a different colour or religion to me”) and the end of National Service, a victim of the “PC Brigade”. That it ended in the early 1960s under a Conservative government packed full of lords and other members of the upper-classes is conveniently forgotten.
“Elf n safety”: Where correspondents yearn for the days when Dad went off to work as a stonemason or farm-worker and you weren’t that hopeful of ever seeing him alive again. The modern culture of not wanting to see people killed and maimed at work or at play is proof that we have “all gone soft”. Good old “common sense” is what we want, though of course one man’s common sense is another man’s stupidity. Your letter on “elf n safety” won’t be published if you point-out all the advancements that have been made over the years as a result of people fighting for better protection, for example in the workplace. No, what is required is a letter advocating a return to conditions that were in place just after the Napoleonic Wars when people weren’t “soft”. And when, curiously, the average lifespan was under 50.
“Europe”: Which is, of course, a bad thing to people who splutter “I’m English not European” but never answer the question “So which continent are you from then, if not Europe”? Europe is responsible for all our ills. If only we could be free from Belgian or Portuguese bureaucrats then our own British bureaucrats would do a fine job in their place. Europeans tell us how bendy our bananas can be, after all. What more proof do you need?
Recently, in the wake of the Olympics, a trend has developed where Daily Mail readers write in and bemoan anyone and everyone who isn’t an Olympian. A favourite target is the Premiership footballer, who is (if you accept the cliché) a lazy, overpaid, unpatriotic, unprincipled cheat who is worthy of none of the praise that is rightly heaped on the wonderful, upstanding, wholesome and hard-working Olympians. That certain Olympians took drugs and cheated, or were guilty of some terrible performances, is an inconvenient truth deftly avoided in these letters. Olympics good, football bad. That’s the narrative and you shall jolly well stick to it, or it’s National Service for you.
Of course, Andy Murray distinguished himself during the Olympics but has now had the temerity to win the US Open, and this will no doubt confuse the lesser-spotted Daily Mail reader who, just weeks ago, would have been full of praise for a man who represented his country (Great Britain, as he won!) and didn’t get paid for it but has now demeaned himself by winning not only a “major” but pots of money to boot. They’ll be out to get him now. The letters, it seems, have already started, and many of them start with “So” for some reason:
“So, Andy Murray has won the US Open. He’ll now be able to afford a decent shave and haircut, I assume”. (A. Bellend, Norwich)
“So, Andy Murray has won the US Open. How long before he ditches his girlfriend of six years for some alleged celebrity or former Big Brother contestant? Not long I reckon.” (M. Git, Brixham)
“Congratulations to Britain’s Andy Murray for winning the US Open. I would like to retract my letter to you of 9 May 2010 in which I described his chances of winning a “major” tennis tournament as “non-existent” and expressed the opinion that Scotland had no chance of ever producing a champion in anything, barring darts, snooker and haggis scoffing. I also would like to withdraw my suggestion that Scotland be towed out into the North Sea and blown-up once all the oil runs out. And the one about rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall was utter rubbish too. Sorry”. (S. Bastard, Walton-on-the-Naze)
“How great to see Andy Murray win the US Open. What an example to all our moody, self-obsessed, unfit, ungracious, overpaid football stars. PS – Yes, it was me who wrote to you in February and called Andy Murray “moody, self-obsessed, unfit, ungracious and overpaid”. Thank you for not printing that particular letter. I was angry when I wrote it, as someone had just told me that new Health & Safety legislation would soon mean that I would have to go on a course before being allowed to unpeel a banana at work. As a Daily Mail reader for many years, I unquestioningly believed this totally unsubstantiated nonsense and will almost certainly believe the next piece of unsubstantiated nonsense someone tells me in order to annoy me”. (W.O Space, Bracknell)