Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Can anyone help me find this letter to the editor from 1987

This post is inspired by wishing I was at Hay Festival for Letters Live which I enjoyed very much last year, but Hay is a bit too far if you're coming by public transport by yourself. The letter that I'm after, sent to an editor for publication rather than to a person per se, might not make much sense unless you know the context - but find out for yourself by scrolling to section 4 if you don't want to read the background :)

Background to the tale...

1. Low-flying noisy military aircraft
Although I didn't pay a great deal of attention to it at the time (being mostly away at school or living in North London) during the late 1980s there were apparently a lot of military aircraft making a din in otherwise peaceful rural areas such as the Lake District. To be honest had I been aware of it I'd probably have enjoyed it as I'm very warmly-disposed towards large noisy military aircraft and relish the Chinooks that occasionally zip around Blackheath and Greenwich and I actively seek airshows (and YouTube videos on the topic).

The official line at the time, and presumably today, is that pilots need practice flying at low altitude but as I understand it relations between the public and the military have improved somewhat and low-altitude flight times are published in advance and the public can comment etc.

2. My mum's collection of amusing cuttings
My mum used to cut snippets from newspapers and magazines that amused her and she'd share them with me when I was home for the holidays. I just remember laughing myself silly (pretty much my default position truth be told) reading through her collection which she taped onto the pages of a blue school exercise book (buggered if I can find it now though, it was full of cartoons such as this brilliant one, on Irish Dancing, by Ed McLachlan and Norman Thelwell's gentle mocking of a snowed-in fat farm receiving a helicoptered 'care package' - "Thank God! It's the lemons.").

One of her cuttings was Evelyn Waugh's letter to his wife which we used to read to each other regularly, doing all the voices. Here Geoffrey Palmer reads it perfectly -

3. Mathias Rust landed a small aircraft in Russia in 1987
In 1987 (in fact I've just googled it and have been delighted to discover that it actually happened on 28 May 1987 so this post is ridiculously well-timed as its 30th anniversary is tomorrow, genuinely hadn't realised that!*) Mathias Rust landed a plane in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. Totally illegally. Biiig trouble. For everyone, not just him: "His flight through a supposedly impenetrable air defense system had great effect on the Soviet military and led to the dismissal of many senior officers".

*Incidentally Evelyn Waugh's letter was sent on 31 May (1942) so this whole post seems favoured by good timing! 

4. The Letter to the Editor
In 1987 I think my parents would have been taking either The Times or The Telegraph so I suspect the letter would have been published in that, though it's also possible that a friend or relative could have sent mum the letter from somewhere else as her collection was well-known within that sphere, and enjoyed by visitors.

Although I've not had sight of this letter for at least seven years (haven't been able to find mum's blue book since she died in 2010 annoyingly) I remember it very well - at least I think I do! - and have included what I think the text is below. Can anyone confirm? Obviously I wouldn't know if I had false memory syndrome ;)

SIR, may one enquire as to how many hours Mathias Rust spent screaming through the Lake District at low level in a multi-million pound plane before he was able to penetrate Soviet airspace so successfully? Les Stennet [can't remember his location though].

I thought it was a brilliantly pithy letter, though my feelings tend more towards being in favour of jets screaming through anywhere I might happen to be...

5. Post-script, from the Wikipedia page on Mathias Rust
"While doing his obligatory community service (Zivildienst) in a West German hospital in 1989, Rust stabbed a female co-worker who had rejected him. The victim barely survived. He was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but was released after 15 months." Hmm, not as much fun as I first thought.

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