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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

STDs, tamagotchis and rejection letters,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Alice, how do you know you do not have herpes? If you have not been definitively tested, you have that one in four chance of having herpes. After all, you can have herpes and not have any symptoms. One in four people has herpes. It is possible that one in four of your friends has herpes. One in four of your readers likely has herpes. So, your response may have offended 25% of your readers as well as reinforced the stigma surrounding herpes.

Does having herpes kill? no, but it does emotionally devastate some people. Having herpes and being intimate with a person who has HIV makes it three times more likely that you might get HIV. HIV in and of itself does not kill, but herpes and HIV feed off each other, decimating the immune system if not treated properly with medication. Take a moment to think about the rates of HIV and AIDS ... then perhaps the importance of educating others about herpes and other STDs will become more apparent to you.

If even one person is tested and is more responsible, if even one person is educated about the risks of STDs ... it is a good thing.

You had the opportunity to address this matter in a kind, considerate way, and chose not to do so. This is your column and that is your choice. How you chose to address this should indicate to your readers the quality of the advice you give as well as of who you are as a person.


Dear Michelle,

I'm very sorry to have offended you. I really didn't mean to. I accept that you're very upset about herpes, and that herpes is not a good thing. I am not myself pro-herpes.

I just feel (and I AM a compassionate person, having just organised my church's Christian Aid this week AND personally collected several hundred pounds from seven roads) that this is a very minor problem in comparison to feeding the poor and hungry in the third world -- or the relieving of Third World debt -- or Aids in Africa. I still doubt that herpes is high on the list of the World Health Organization. I still feel fighting a disease that is symptomless and unlethal is rather less important than fighting, say, cancer.

If I were you and wished to choose a battleground on which to pitch my efforts towards the good of the world, frankly, I would have pitched it elsewhere, towards something that kills people, rather than simply upsets people (mainly rich Western people, too). I was infertile for 12 years, and I know some people get very wound up about infertility -- however, even when the doctors told me (wrongly, as it turned out) that I was doomed to remain childless, I still couldn't think that people's right to bear children was worth fighting for (deeply though it upset me, and upsets a lot of people) compared to genicide in Ruanda and other world disasters.

Perhaps you also caught me at a bad time of year. It is after all very irritating, to someone who has slogged around the streets, to be told we need to campaign against herpes. It reminds me too much of the people who moan, 'I only give to guide dogs for the blind' (who actually have MORE MONEY THAN THEY NEED) or 'I support the lifeboats', when people aren't obliged to put out to sea, or 'I only give to charities that help British people', when (so far as I am aware) there are no British kids dying of starvation, being orphaned by AIDS, or caught up in the crossfire of unending civil strife.

Also, I did feel that you set yourself up by sending a zillion-word effort on herpes to what is, when all is said and done, a classical music humour column.

However, all that said, please accept my apologies for having upset you, as I clearly did.

Ask Alice

dear alice my mom says that she is going to buy me a tamagotchi but she always ends up busy.

Dear Anon,

I hate to break it to you, but the real reason she 'winds up busy' is that she talks to other moms and (in between feeding, breeding and playing with their kid's tamagotchis in the playground before school gets out) they are hissing things like, 'This dratted thing is going to be the DEATH of me!!!' and 'If I could have JUST FIVE MINUTES with the blasted *&^&^%%$"%^ inventor of these things, he'd get a piece of MY mind!!!!'

In other words, I'm sure your Mom is very busy, but there is a subtext here, which is, that too many kids own tamas and DON'T LOOK AFTER THEM and then BEG THEIR MOMS TO, and then the Moms (who are admittedly busy) go COMPLETELY MAD!!!!!!!!

I suggest you save up to buy your own tamagotchi, or, if you're like me and money just can't wait to get out of your grip so saving is a physical impossibility, then bully an aunt or grannie to buy you one, and present it to the maternal parent as a fait accompli. And then, to save agony in the home, LOOK AFTER IT YOURSELF!!!! DO NOT MAKE YOUR MOM DO IT!!!! IT'S YOUR TAMAGOTCHI!!!!

Who knows, she might be pleasantly surprised.

Ask Alice

Dear readers,

I know that this has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but I spotted it in my husband's Times Higher Education Supplement (in an article about rude rejection letters from academic publications) and felt it deserved a (much!!!!) wider audience.

A rejection sent to an academic by a Chinese economics journal has entered academic folklore. It read:

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.

Well, it certainly beats the usual, 'May good luck accompany your manuscript -- somewhere else!!!!!' type of rejection letter ...

Copyright © 2 June 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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