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Keeping up with The Times -- of London

People who pine about the falling numbers of the Large Blue butterfly, who want to know the correct way to pronounce Kabul, and those who are eager to learn the exact moment when spring's first cuckoo announces its presence, are content again.

After its yearlong closure, The Times of London has been steadily moving back into top form in publishing endearingly dotty letters to the editor and now has hit its stride.

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Most letters to The Times are serious -- secular sermons on the perils facing the economy, the sins and virtues of politicians. But through the years the paper also has managed to publish one or two letters each day on matters of lesser moment. Invariably short, they rely heavily on eccentricity in the writers.

Pronunciation of the Afghan capital, Kabul, has provoked defenders of correct English into a lively debate, with those who favor "Ka'bull" over "cobble" enjoying a comfortable edge.

Times readers have been given solemn warning that the Large Blue, a butterfly once common in the Costwolds, is in danger of extinction.

One correspondent reported that he had hitched a small electric motor to a lemon and that the motor was turning. In reply, a writer complained about cruelty to lemons; another calculated that it would take 5 billion lemons to power a small car. He suggested that the vehicle could be made by the French firm of "Citron."

One of the most splendid runs of Times letters in recent years concerned porridge and now to eat it. The true Scot, it emerged, uses no sugar, douses the dish with thick cream, employs only a silver spoon, and does not sit down to eat but paces around the room, consuming his oats.

Since The Times returned to the newsstands, there has been no letter to compete at quite the level, but the Scots are active on other topics.

A letter from a gentleman in Edinburgh rejoicing in the title of slains pursuivant of arms, offered advice on how to design a crest in which a German shepherd dog figures prominently.

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Some contributions are translucently and gloriously naive. Alluding to fun and games on the bullion market, one reader wrote: "When I got married in the early '30s, I was told that my wife was worth her weight in gold. She still is."

Just now a correspondence is developing on the origins of the term "whim-wham for a goose's bridle." It looks promising, but may not last long enough to see us through to the first gleeful claim of somebody deep in the Shires who thinks he has heard the first cuckoo of spring.

Letters on that most arresting of topics seldom reach The Times editorial desk before March or April, and even then it has been known for some of the writers to have unreliable ears.


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