Letter of the week: Story of a death mask
In her article on sudden death in young adults (Personal Story, 5 July), Sophie McBain briefly mentions Resusci Anne (or Annie), the training manikin used worldwide to teach people CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation). Annes face is said to be “the most kissed face of all time”. Theres a poignant story behind the face.
The lifeless body of an unidentified young woman was pulled from the Seine in Paris in the 1880s. The pathologist was struck by her beauty and apparent serenity, and had a death mask made. Copies and photographs were widely circulated afterwards.
Her face was the one used when Resusci Anne was developed, in the late 1950s. In this way, LInconnue de la Seine achieved an anonymous immortality.
Dungannon, County Tyrone
I have been reading New Statesman for a very long time. I have been educated, entertained, excited and annoyed – not all at the same time, or by the same piece of writing – but cannot recall anything quite like Sophie McBains account of her friends heart problem (Personal Story, 5 July), and the scholarship she subsequently engaged in to produce such an unexpected and well researched article.
In my recent letter I did not say that the inequality between independent and state schools was good or right – I am saying the best approach is to look rationally at how we can improve the lives of all schoolchildren.
My assertion, disputed by two of your correspondents (5 July), that Englands young people are less literate and numerate than their grandparents, is taken from the 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. My point about the gradual loss of competitive games in state schools is partly based on the fact that more than 10,000 playing fields have been sold since 1979. Incredibly, after the 2012 London Olympics, the number of level one games coaches in state schools fell by 65 per cent over four years.
My references to obesity were based on National Health Englands 2018 research showing that a record number of UK children are leaving primary schools severely obese. In 2018, YMCA released a survey showing that more than half of children aged 11 to 16 have been bullied about the way they look, with 40 per cent targeted at least once a week.
In pointing out such issues I was not attacking state schools; the biggest problems facing young people today seem to me to be rooted in broader, social dysfunctions.
One of the best things my school does is sustain a partnership scheme with hundreds of children from nearly 30 state primary, secondary and special schools – every Friday and often at weekends and in holidays. I see from this the incredible achievements of colleagues and headteachers in our state schools: I dont for a moment compare what I do with them. But I would appreciate the right to point out how simplistically convenient it is to say we can improve the lives of the 93 per cent by outfoxing the 7 per cent.
Andrew Halls, Headmaster,
Kings College School
History in its place
In response to Helen Thompsons article on Brexit (Politics, 28 June), and the lack of proper discussion over our constitutional history, I fail to see how the lack of such discussion detracts from the importance of it as an event.
On the issue of proroguing parliament, I have heard much discussion over its being a constitutional crisis, in particular accompanying the actions of John Bercow, as well as attempts by some MPs to prevent the government being able to implement policy if a no deal Brexit occurred.
The lack of historical context to such discussion does not strike me as being due to a lack of education on the part of the electorate, but rather to an active rejection of this by growing populist elements within our country. I do not find this to be related to our unwritten constitution, but instead to larger social factors that have changed the relationship between voters and MPs.
Professor Thompson herself acknowledges that “the constitution has allowed any number of unsteady agreements” and it is precisely this which is being demonstrated by Brexit. Surely this is a time of great excitement for anyone interested in Britains constitutional history, rather than a time for despair over our lack of proper education?
Kirks fairy tales
Marina Warners article about Robert Kirks 1692 treatise The Secret Commonwealth was fascinating (The Critics, 5 July). Just a couple of comments in response.
We tend to read Kirk as a source of folklore, so it should be stressed that Kirks own interests were scientific, not folkloric or ethnological. He wasnt interested in “fairy belief” as such; he thought that popular reports of “fairies” provided evidence for spirits that were intermediate between humans and angels.
Here Kirk had an important 16th-century precursor: Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and alchemist. His treatise On Nymphs posited four types of “elemental” beings – salamanders, sylphs, nymphs and pygmies (living in fire, air, water and earth respectively). Paracelsuss works were translated into English in the 1650s and influenced several thinkers around Kirk.
Robert Kirk stands at the end of a tradition, since by 1692 science was already losing interest in the study of spirits. Today, the visions experienced by Kirks informants may offer insight into the human condition.
Professor Julian Goodare
Reading Ian Leslies piece (Left Field, 5 July) reminded me of the time one afternoon 49 summers ago, when I stood outside the Jeanette Cochrane theatre, as it then was, in Holborn, waiting for a “pop star” called Elton John.
I had been sent out from the theatre, as a reward for remembering all six of my lines, by the National Youth Theatre (NYT) director Michael Croft: my task was to greet Elton John, who had promised to perform a fundraiser for the NYT.
Michael Croft had taken a shine to me as we were both from Manchester; at the time I was in rehearsals as one of the dozens of wannabe actors making the annual summer trek to London.
Elton John was hardly a household name then. What drew me to the strange, forlorn character on the street corner were his gigantic stack-heel shoes, his loon pants and the extraordinary amount of hair that was framing an abnormally large pair of glasses.
Thats got to be him, I thought, and looking so weird must be part of his act. As I took him inside to meet the NYT ensemble, I thought to myself: “Michael, what are you thinking – this guys a nobody, and hes going nowhere.”
Ways of seeing
What a superb article by Will Dunn on the New York Times cartoon ban (Observations, 5 July). But as with all art, isnt the understanding in the reading of it, not in the composition? We each see what we are educated to see. The artist, cartoonist, or classical painter relies on the viewer to make the judgement.
Nicholas Lezards plea, “I always thought you shouldnt have to go to school on your birthday” (Down and Out, 5 July), suggests that he may have been a Just William fan in his boyhood.
Reflecting on his more recent lifestyle… perhaps he still is.