THIS year’s theme for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is “Voices’, with the broad definition to include "spoken word, song, music and dance".

It is therefore strange that the spoken word in the form of a military commentator introducing each act has been discontinued.

Not everyone purchases a programme at £10 (or "two for £20" as one enthusiastic seller offered).

Another change involves the replacement of the usual pre-performance roll call for the country of origin of spectators – always a good warm-up and welcome for visitors from far and wide.

It has been substituted with a brief pre-show segment of some lost drummers on the esplanade, coupled with attempts to create a Mexican wave.

Whilst a good performance overall, it was slightly prejudiced by the omission of these worthwhile components which have entertained over many years.

Is there good reason for changing the long-established and successful format on these two elements?

Is the Tattoo less about the armed forces and more of a theatrical production now?

Robin M Brown, Milngavie.


IF further evidence were needed (and I don't think it is) that humans are only valued as consumers, the recent Japanese government move to encourage the young to drink more for the sole purpose of increasing revenue ("Issue of the day: The bid to boost drinking in Japan", The Herald, August 19) would do it.

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World humans are bred for the purpose of efficient, extreme consumerism. Drugs and persistent messaging are used excessively to keep the biologically modified population passive, unquestioning and consuming.

Sound familiar?

Many pundits on multiple jingly radio programmes and podcasts chit-chat the issues of consumerism and technology (that go hand-in-hand literally via the smartphone) and ask if we are headed to the BNW Huxley envisaged.

However, as the planet groans under the weight of out-of-control consumer-driven capitalism and even the human body is entirely commoditised with cosmetic surgery for the very young normalised and an under-class denied the basics of sufficiency, security and dignity – I say we are here.

Amanda Baker, Edinburgh.


MARK Smith writes that Jeremy Paxman "had a pop" at Robert Burns ("Paxman’s lessons on Scottish politics", The Herald, August 18). There were many at the time who viewed it as a bit more than "a pop". Indeed, for some it was close to lèse-majesté.

Paxman said at the time that he regarded Burns as a "king of sentimental doggerel". He obviously considered his words to be an appropriate description for a man honoured throughout the world with clubs and societies bearing his name, statues, stamps and currencies bearing his image, and not least annual January celebrations of his life and work in Scotland and elsewhere.

His songs and poems have moved so many and inspired such as Abraham Lincoln, Sir Walter Scott, Keir Hardie and Bob Dylan. A "king of sentimental doggerel"? Aye, right.

Ian W Thomson, Lenzie.

• I MUCH preferred Bamber Gascoigne as presenter of University Challenge. Mark Smith likes “smartypants” Jeremy Paxman, though he was infamous for the use of the derogatory term “Scottish Raj”. This term, and other insults like Scottish Mafia, Tartan Mafia, Labour Mafia were aimed, from the 1960s, at the Scottish Labour Party; the party Mr Smith professes to support (though it has stopped being used since Scottish Labour was wiped out in 2015).

Mr Smith is also a fan of General Gordon, whose abandonment at Khartoum led to the fall of Gladstone’s Liberal government in 1885, and the installation of Lord Salisbury’s Tory government: supported by, of all people, the “Irish Home Rule Party”. Tories supported by Irish nationalists? Are you reading this, Liz Truss?

GR Weir, Ochiltree.


I RECENTLY (Letters, August 18) agreed with Alistair Johnson on the use of the indefinite article. I forbore from disagreeing with him on the subject of collective nouns, but now that Irene Conway (Letters, August 19) has written to support his view that they always require a singular verb I feel I must explain why there is a long-standing opinion amongst experts that the plural is also acceptable.

The principle, as pointed out by RW Burchfield in his revision of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, is that if the collective noun is thought of as a unit, a singular verb follows naturally, but if the members of the group are thought of as individuals a plural verb is appropriate. Sir Ernest Gowers, a past president of the English Association, agreed in The Complete Plain Words.

These opinions are not recent and they are supported by the considerable authority of CT Onions, the fourth editor of the Oxford English Dictionary and author of An Advanced English Syntax (first published in 1904) in which he states: “A Singular Noun of Multitude (or Collective Singular) may take either a Singular or a Plural Verb according to whether collective or individual action is to be indicated”. Gowers gave the following useful example: “A committee was appointed to consider this subject” but “the committee were unable to agree”.

Peter Martin, Muir of Ord.


ROBIN Dow (Letters, August 19) cleverly combines his lesson on clock mechanisms with forgiveness for the misplacement of "only". If only, however, Mr Dow had not used the word "get", a word which I was taught was poor style and did not exist in formal English. It gets my goat every time I hear it.

I would have been more than happy had Mr Dow been given, instead of got, points for the correct use of a gerund.

No wonder that English is regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn.

David Miller, Milngavie.


SHE may not wish to crow about it, but Rhona Godfrey's offering ("Poetry on the wing", 20 August) deserves to be Herald Letter of the Year.

Gilbert Mackay, Newton Mearns.