It comes down to a matter of opinion

It comes down to a matter of opinion

There was a thought-provoking letter to the Bangkok Post last week from "Ye Olde Bloviator" suggesting there should be a contest for the best letters of the year to PostBag, with assorted categories including "most boring" and so on. Not a bad idea really. If Edith Clampton (Mrs) was still contributing I'm convinced she would sweep every category.

For those wondering what exactly a "bloviator" is, according to the dictionary it is a "pompous windbag". Surely there can't be such people residing in Thailand?

One suspects Ye Olde Bloviator is closely related to Ye Olde Pedant who bravely monitors the Post on a regular basis in his heroic battle to protect the English language from "the long slow slide into anarchy, chaos and despair". A lost cause, one fears.

It is said that the number of letters to the editor is inversely proportional to the importance of the topic. That's exactly why these letters are so important -- people get excited by the most curious things, which is what makes them interesting. The Post has published letters ranging from complaints about drunken karaoke singers to overpriced doughnuts.

The problem is that people tend to write only when they are angry, not when they are full of the joys of life. That's why we have letters about such topics as surly waitresses, poor punctuation, cockroaches surfacing in a salad, the annoying sound made by the 7-Eleven doorbell and loud snoring.

Am I alone in thinking…?

As in newspapers around the world many letters to the Post are not published. Some are unprintable of course, but in most cases it is owing to space limitations. This is unfortunate as it means some decent letters don't make the cut. Some years ago the Daily Telegraph in London realised that a lot of well-written letters were going to waste. So, they produced a series of books of real but unpublished letters to the editor. The book titles include common opening lines of correspondence to newspapers including Am I Alone In Thinking…?, Imagine My Surprise…, You Couldn't Make it Up…, and Has The World Gone Completely Mad…? The answer to the last title is "yes".

Here are a couple of examples from those books:

Sir, I resent being told, as a dog owner, I look like my pets. We have a Labrador and a Jack Russell. I do not resemble either of them. I look like an Alsatian.

Sir, My first thought on seeing your headline "Pupils to be taught about sex at seven" was "What, in the morning?" When I was a child, the school day began with a prayer. But you can't stop progress.

Yours anonymously

Some years ago there was considerable debate in the Post concerning the use of a pen name, pseudonym or nom de plume by PostBag contributors. Some even regarded those preferring to remain anonymous as "cowardly" while others felt anonymity was necessary for "self- preservation''. While genuine names are naturally preferred, there are admittedly certain topics in which it might be wise to err on the side of caution. No doubt Ye Olde Bloviator would have an opinion on this.

Eloquent Edith

Someone who was always forthright in her views was the aforementioned Edith Clampton (Mrs) who during the 1990s was a regular contributor to PostBag. Edith was accustomed to a certain lifestyle and had to put up with all sorts of irritating things in Bangkok. For a start she could not stand "scruffy people".

There was one particularly distressing letter in which she explained how difficult it was to use a portable potty in the back seat of her car. Her graphic account conjured up a most sobering image.

Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells

The most famous nom de plume in England for newspaper letter writers is "Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells". The expression has developed into a generic term for any person of a conservative persuasion who writes letters of moral outrage, however trivial, to newspapers. And they don't have to come from the town in Kent.

Its origin is disputed. Some say it came from a retired army colonel who used to write blustery missives to the Times newspaper in the early 20th century and would sign off with that pseudonym. Another version has its origins in a newspaper, the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser. In the early 1950s, alarmed by the lack of letters from readers, the editor asked staff to write their own to fill up the empty space. One staffer signed off, "Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells" and this nom de plume made regular appearances on the letters page until the paper closed down in 1954. The expression was guaranteed immortality when it was picked up in the 1960s by the satirical magazine Private Eye which had great fun concocting furious letters from, "Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells."

Yes, we have no bananas

I recall a reader's letter to the Post some years ago concerning a cooking column. The reader pointed out that the recipe for "spicy lacquered chicken wings" unfortunately failed to mention chicken in the ingredients. For the letter of complaint, a Post sub-editor came up with the neat headline "Chicken surprise''. It reminded me of a splendid apology in a London newspaper a few years ago which read: "In our recipe for banana trifle last week we inadvertently omitted the bananas".

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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