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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

Writing to The Editor
Thursday, September 9, 2021 @ 7:46 PM

A good newspaper, even an ex-pat one, needs a letters page. There, the readers can have the last word on a subject raised in the publication. Letters are good for the readership (and thus, the advertisers) - being an elementary proof that there are indeed readers.

Good editors know that there are several subjects that can always be guaranteed to generate letters. Bullfighting is probably the most obvious one. An article about the beauty or the passion of the corrida will inevitably attract correspondence from those who consider it a barbarity. And why not, perhaps they’re right. Even though Fernando the Bull is in fact rather less intelligent that Rupert the Rat (according to a veterinarian friend), it probably isn’t right to torture dumb animals. Personally, I don’t care much. The corrida has tradition, bravery and catharsis to counterbalance the touchy-feely arguments against it and is, at any rate, a better way to pass the time than watching football (cue… letters…).

Another ‘red rag to the bull’, or easy provocation to the readers, is to write about minority languages. Catalan, Welsh, Euskera and whatever it is that they speak on the Scilly Isles. Apparently, it’s not that the nationalists want their people to learn whatever obscure tongue was preferred by the natives in the ninth century; it’s that they want them to use it exclusively, with the rather obvious problems for the next generations carefully buried under a rock.

Not that one wants to offend one's readers. Stimulate them, teach them about the subject at hand (Spain), amuse them and fortify them, while sometimes having some fun I suppose. That would be the editor's job. Printing some interesting letters from the public: that would be the editor's pleasure.

My dad used to write letters back in the sixties to the Eastern Daily Press. This was long before he bought his first typewriter. There would be one of these impassioned and eccentric missives printed four or five times a week to brighten up the newspaper. They never made much sense, but were extremely popular. A journalist once told him that the newspaper actually had a staffer who, among his other duties, was employed to interpret them and pull them into shape.

When I ran a newspaper here in Spain (many years ago), one of the regular columnists was a right-wing journalist called Peter Gooch who wrote about Spanish politics. He was a sort of Leapy Lee figure but armed with better grammar. He and I agreed from the beginning to occasionally ‘go over the top’ so as to generate remarks in the foreign bars along the lines of ‘I do like those Peter Gooch articles, he’s very sound!’ and letters of condemnation or approbation from the public. In politics, you can be sure to always displease half the people all the time.

Actually, all of the writers and all of the content was about Spain - no room for articles about Prince Phillip or the star from Carry on Dancing. In those days, people would come up to me and comment about the newspaper, usually when I was reading somebody else's. Well, I would say, why don’t you write me a letter?

There is, of course, one section of society that doesn’t read letters in the English-language press, and this is the Spanish authorities. Feel free to thank the local hospital staff in print in the local expat gazette, but know that no one who took bits out of you a few weeks ago in the operating theatre will ever know of your gratitude. Similarly, you shouldn't feel that a quick letter from ‘Disgusted of Arboleas’ to the Britz News regarding the proposed municipal pig-farm is going to make any difference. You will have to take the next step. Start a petition… Demonstrate!

There’s a magazine I know that, while set in Spain, deals pretty exclusively with articles about nail extensions and highlights in one's hair. I wonder where they find those articles they write (or rewrite). It's a glossy that is filled with adverts. The editor claims to want letters. Sorry, can’t type with these fingers…

Another local mag provides a regular editorial along the lines of: ‘Cor ain’t it hot. Well, this is another great issue with a great article from Ben about cooking spinach on page nine and a super new competition for the kids on page fifteen. Till next time, have a smashing read. Yours, Bertha and Robin.’

They don’t get any letters either.

People don’t write much any more? How about the social media? Post an opinion there and watch the dust fly. Angry readers, happy readers, trolls, and all inbetween. The Facebook page for our village, which usually deals with missing gerbils and the best way to fry an egg, for example had 250 replies following the story of the man who brought his dogs and cats out of Afghanistan on an aeroplane. 

Social media has taken letter-writing to a brand-new age.

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