Author Archive

January 6, 2014

6 January 2014

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Leslie can’t take yes for an answer from the new Wren so they other try and improve his dating technique. Priceless.

Website up and running perhaps I’ll get going someday

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets just over300, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.



Drever Watson, , who has died aged 89, was a naval nurse in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and cared for former prisoners of the Japanese who were too traumatised to return to normal life in Britain.

At the outbreak of war, Drever’s mother, Stewartina McDonald, was in charge of the Red Cross in Dartmouth, and at 16 Drever was recruited as a Red Cross volunteer. On her first day she was put on what were called “special duties” — sitting for hours with a mortally wounded young sailor until he died.

Only in 1944, when she was 20, was Drever allowed to join a Voluntary Aid Detachment (or VAD) and be sent overseas. She became a theatre nurse at the Royal Naval Hospital Bighi in Malta, but it was after the war that she saw the severest casualties. These included some wounded from Burma and PoWs of the Japanese who were landed in Malta to be treated for trauma.

One of these was a female RAF wireless operator who had been captured by the Japanese, and despite being rescued only two days later was catatonic and had to be kept on round-the-clock suicide watch. Drever also helped to treat the survivors of the Corfu Channel Incident of 1946, in which two British destroyers were damaged by Albanian mines.

Drever Belle McDonald was born on February 25 1924 in St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, where her father was an oil bunker engineer. When the family settled at Dartmouth, she was educated at the progressive co-educational boarding school Dartington Hall, and, as an antidote, at Cheltenham Ladies College.

After her demobilisation in 1947, Drever McDonald read for a BSc and worked as a research assistant with Professors Bob Case and Richard (later Sir Richard) Doll at the Chester Beatty Cancer Research Institute in South Kensington .

In 1954 she married John Rogers, whom she had first met when he was an engineer in Malta in 1946 and needed hospital treatment after a motorcycle crash. After the war he worked in the oil industry, and the couple lived in Syria , near the border with Iraq.

She became fluent in Arabic and, when the 1956 Suez crisis erupted , led a convoy of “oil wives” and children (including her own eight-month-old twin daughters) across the desert to the Lebanese border — creeping past the Syrian army base at Palmyra. At the border she found that many of the other women had not brought the correct paperwork; but she refused to leave anyone behind, and kept the convoy together until all were given clearance to enter Lebanon. Evacuated to London via Cyprus a week later, her sole surviving possession — her husband’s prized reflex camera — was confiscated by Customs because she was unable to produce a receipt.

Returning to the Middle East, she lived for six years in Qatar, seeking occasional respite from the heat of the Persian Gulf in Lebanon, where she loved to ski off-piste. Her passion for skiing continued until she snapped a knee ligament on a Swiss ski slope at the age of 79.

In the 1960s she moved back to Britain. Her first marriage was dissolved, and in 1966 she married Cdr Denis Watson, who had been a midshipman on Electra when the destroyer picked up the only three survivors of the sinking of the battle cruiser Hood in the Denmark Strait .

Drever Watson trained as a teacher, taking posts at secondary schools in Great Yarmouth, London and, finally, at the Inverurie Academy in Aberdeenshire. She was a formidable but much-loved figure in the classroom, and her toughest teenage “bad boys”, as she affectionately called them, would greet her in the street with friendliness and respect. Even in her eighties, when she had retired to South Kensington, she could silence a group of unruly teenagers on a bus with a firm “Do you mind!”

With John Rogers she had twin daughters and a son. Her second husband died in 1978.

Drever Watson, born February 25 1924, died October 9 2013






If only Margaret Drabble’s wish (When it’s time to go, let me go, with a whisky and a pill, 2 January) could be realised, but not only for the old, although that is now my personal, selfish concern. My son was forced to starve himself to death two and a half years ago, a long, drawn-out process which took determination and courage and which was particularly harrowing for his family. He had suffered from a particularly aggressive form of MS for several years, a disease which is progressive and incurable. When he could no longer move himself from his bed to his wheelchair he decided that we had all had enough.

His doctor was sympathetic but could do nothing to help and it was too late to get Seamus to Switzerland had he not wanted, anyway, to die in his own bed. Margaret Drabble is right that we treat people with less humanity than we do our animals. I had been able to put a much-loved dog out of her suffering a few months before I had to watch my son end his own life. It would surely be a sign of an adult and civilised society to be able to do for our loved ones what we can do for our pets.
Primrose Kirkman
Warminster, Wiltshire

•  Margaret Drabble says that, when it comes to euthanasia, “the politicians won’t let us, the bishops won’t let us and the health professionals aren’t allowed to let us”. We cannot speak for politicians or bishops, but we can say that the majority of practising doctors have no wish to be licensed by law to kill their patients or to supply them with the means to kill themselves. That is not why we became doctors, and the suggestion that it is only the law that is preventing us from practising euthanasia is totally groundless.

Ms Drabble trundles out the well-worn argument that “you wouldn’t let a dog suffer”. She seems unaware that people sometimes take their pets to be put down for other reasons than suffering. Her idealised picture of dying with “a nice glass of whisky and a pleasing pill” may appeal to the well-heeled and self-possessed, but as doctors we have to care for a much wider range of people, many of them vulnerable. We have laws to protect us, especially those among us who are less able to speak up for themselves, not to oblige the strong-willed and self-confident.
Dr Idris Baker Consultant in palliative medicine, Prof Rob George Vice-president, Association for Palliative Medicine

• Margaret Drabble suggests that the medical profession will not be allowed to be involved in assisted dying even though the majority of the public would now like to see this available to those who are terminally ill. In fact the BMA (which represents all UK doctors) made binding policy against assisted dying at its recent AGM. Given the importance of the issue, the RCGP and RCN have already surveyed their wider membership, but the BMA has not. Why is this so on a topic of such vital importance? If the majority of doctors are indeed against the concept then the BMA’s position will be strengthened. If the majority are neutral or in favour of assisted dying then it is only fair that this fact is made known to the wider public.

Interestingly, a recent poll of GPs (Pulse, 20 November 2013) found that only 31% of respondents felt that their own Royal College should be opposed to legalisation of assisted dying.
Dr David Wrigley Carnforth, Lancashire, Dr Jacky Davis London

• Margaret Drabble obviously did not read Chris Huhne’s article (Someone needs to fight the selfish, short-sighted old, 23 December) that was heavily criticised (Letters, 27 December). How can a free decision concerning euthanasia be arrived at in the context of deep-seated age discrimination against older people, as exemplified by Huhne? While commentators such as him falsely accuse the older population of being a burden on the young, it is impossible to have a balanced discussion about the right to die. Contrary to Margaret Drabble’s no doubt sincere wish, legal euthanasia would not grant each person the power to choose, because that freedom would be subject to societal and possibly family pressures. Before we debate euthanasia, let’s abolish age discrimination.
Alan Walker
Professor of social policy and social gerontology, University of Sheffield

•  Dignity in dying, of course. But what about dignity in living? This issue affects not just the frail elderly, but anyone whose destiny is to become very old or chronically infirm, and of course their beleaguered families and amateur carers. Margaret Drabble is right that sections of the NHS fail hopelessly to understand the best interests of older people. It’s also true that the way in which support is delivered to elderly people in their own homes is a scandal, and that much of the tragedy of dementia is hidden, barely comprehended outside the walls of care homes. The whisky-and-pill option is of no service to most of those old and ailing, whatever the ethical rights and wrongs. The time is never right – until it is, and then it’s too late for informed consent.

But the peace of mind of knowing that when we require dignified care and support, it’s there, and proportionate, and affordable, and takes account of the specific needs of ageing people – now that would be an end worth campaigning for.
Dr Gill Cookson
Castleton, North Yorkshire

•  I agreed with everything Margaret Drabble said in her article. I am now 75, so old age is close up and personal. From the mid-1990s to 2005 I was nurse, carer and mourner for my father, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and my beloved husband. I saw (and felt) what dementia, cancer and heart problems do to otherwise strong and balanced people. Their final months were painful and undignified, and I had not the strength of mind or character to help them out of a life which had become a burden. I feel that there is a time to die, and if we are kept alive beyond that point we should be able to say when enough is enough. Vegetative breathing is not living.
Diana Lord
Cranfield, Bedfordshire

•  I was delighted to read Margaret Drabble’s polemic on physician assisted suicide in today’s Guardian. It is a welcome start to the year 2014.

I would not agree with every suggestion she makes, but she raises the problem that the present cruel and anachronistic law poses. A change in this law is supported by a great majority of the population but is consistently blocked by a religious minority, by fearful politicians and, most sadly, by many members of the so-called caring profession of medicine.

Most of the fears raised by the opponents of change have been shown to be unwarranted. In those jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, the numbers seeking the facility remain small. The major effect is the increased comfort and relief given to those with progressive disorders who would know that if palliative care did not remove unacceptable suffering (as is not uncommon), the final way out of the situation was available. The fact that the option was possible would probably delay proceeding with extreme decisions such as opting to go to Switzerland while it is still possible.

Given my own disability, a change in the law in 2014 would be the best present that I could be given, even though it is not needed yet.
Dr Clive Tonks

• At last, someone who speaks my language! Nearing 80 and with failing faculties, I wish rational suicide (see the website of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide) could be acknowledged as a sensible step to avoid one’s own decline into helplessness and heartbreaking worry for one’s children. But the means of release are hard to come by.

One friend wrote: “Personally, I think that everyone at the age of 75 should be issued with a small velvet box with the necessary pill for them to be able to use when they wish.” What a wonderful idea!

Of course, giving everyone such a pill would offend some mightily, but I do think we should be issued with a prescription to be “cashed” without questions when we think the time is right. This would avoid the terrible heart-searching which doctors have to go through for each and every would-be suicide who asks for their help. My own GP objects strongly to being thought of as “doctor death” with the power to dispense such pills.
Marion Bolton

•  I agree wholeheartedly with Margaret Drabble that the individual’s wishes should be paramount when it comes to the process and timing of one’s death. But many people find that, when the moment of approaching death actually comes, something in them – be it their mind, their body, or their spirit – seems to urge them to hang on. The moment passes and they wander into some kind of limbo. Then a half-life drags on for months or years, with all its expense for the health and care services, not to mention family and friends.

What can we do to take our chance to die when it presents itself? I think there are several things we can do. Firstly, we can complete an advance directive (also known as advance decision), discuss it with our family and friends, have it countersigned by our GP, and lodge it with a solicitor. Secondly, we can bring this intention into general conversation, so that those around us get used to the fact that at some point we may refuse medical intervention, and may ask their support in doing so. Lastly, we can keep our intention in the forefront of our own minds, practise the words to be said at the crucial point, and prepare ourselves to be firm and clear when the time comes.
Alison Leonard

•  Margaret Drabble rightly raises the fraught issue of the impact of medicine on old age, and how it can lead to artificial prolongation of life when this may not be to the best (or even any) advantage for those concerned. In that light, it is difficult to understand why she wishes to replace one artificial procedure with another, the taking of one’s own life using an appropriate drug.

Both aspects of this debate would benefit from taking artificiality out of the equation entirely, and understanding better the natural end-of-life processes that our bodies go through. In doing so, we can learn to better define what is appropriate and valid medical intervention to assist with dealing with these, and also prepare people for their own death without the terrors that Ms Drabble highlights that result from artificial intervention. Medicine and politicians seem remarkably reluctant to give this the serious attention it deserves.

The reasoning given by Ms Drabble for wishing a change in the law seem also to highlight one of the main reasons why it should not be changed. The way in which she experiences and observes negative reactions to elderly people suggests to her that she and others be given a legal way of dealing with this by being able to choose to die. This is a terrible damning of how society views its elderly members. Changing the law to allow people to take their own lives will only make this worse, and Ms Drabble’s view seems to reinforce the case that any such law could drive people to make a decision that is itself artificial.
Christopher Awre

•  On my 81st birthday, I read with heartfelt recognition Margaret Drabble’s article. For some, a long life, irrespective of the quality of that life, may be acceptable, even welcomed. For others it may well be a nightmare of helpless indignity. With Drabble, I feel the choice should be mine and mine alone. If I knew with certainty that I could step out of life when I wished, I might view the years ahead with pleasure rather than apprehension.
BJ Cairns

•  The New Year’s gift from which an ageing population would most benefit is not “the right to die” as Margaret Drabble suggests, but an end to the damaging ageism that unfortunately her article promotes.
Tricia Cusack

•  Margaret Drabble quite rightly reminds us of the importance of choice when it comes to dying, but perhaps misses the opportunity to highlight the importance of choice when it comes to the act of living for older people. Increasing amounts of loneliness, poverty, alcohol and prescription abuse, and a sense of purposelessness, are increasingly the experience of many older people, and would indicate a stark absence of choice. It could be suggested that a decent quality of life, and a sense of wellbeing, during an older person’s “last decade”, as Margaret Drabble puts it, should be a fundamental right, and our concern should focus on why this is not appropriately present right up to the point of dying. Perhaps our attention will be jolted by the large increase in the numbers of us soon to be arriving at old age.
Jon Bowra
Assistant director, Living Well Dying Well

•  I enjoyed Margaret Drabble’s article, and I agree about the widespread fear of not being allowed to die in peace. I would like to make a small correction about “their archaic Hippocratic oath”. This was read out to us when we qualified in medicine in 1957, clearly stating that “thou shalt not kill, but need’st not strive officiously to keep alive”. In those days death was often eased by the gradual, gentle readjustment of the dosage of drugs with the agreement of the family. This is now almost impossible with the very real threat of misunderstanding and litigation. What we aimed for was to cure sometimes, to relieve often and to comfort always.
Patricia Tomlinson
Retired GP, Alton, Hampshire

Of course censorship is worrying, as is its possible outsourcing to private companies. However, Laurie Penny’s hermetic view of “freedom of speech” (Comment, 3 January) ignores the “creep” of pornography which, through its casual, ubiquitous proliferation on the internet, acts to normalise it to such an extent that images of bondage, battery and rape are hardly seen for the horror they are. For the hypothetical young person hoping to find information on the web about sexual issues, Ms Penny just got it wrong. Informative, responsible and reliable information on the web? Worse than no information is biased, corrupt or exploitative information published on a web unmonitored and unfiltered and posted by any pervert with a computer. Libraries, however, are run by informed and responsible decision-making people trained to provide information that is not only reliable but unbiased, critically constructed and intelligently presented. Her comment about libraries having “no social or moral framework” is irresponsible as well as disheartening.
Lucie Payne
Sutton, Surrey

• Laurie Penny does not help us to know how to deal with the immediate problem of bringing up children in a world full of images. Surely the debate is now over concerning TV advertising and it is accepted that behaviour can be altered. Similarly, porn does alter our behaviour. As adults we should be capable of resisting TV advertising and using porn responsibly, but can we say the same of our children? I would be happy to have a “porn” filter, providing I control when it is on and when it is off. Just when I hand the key to the filter on to my children would be when I judge they are ready, much as I would judge they are ready to go out alone or stay out all night.
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Unlike Michael Miller (Letters, 4 January), I find the insertion of “hardworking” into MPs’ statements very helpful, as it is a clear indication that the statement has been preceded by little if any rational thought and can therefore safely be ignored. The same applies to references to “the mess the last government left” – as in the old days it did to references to “17 years of Tory misrule”.
John Emms
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• Don Quinn laments the absence of carol singers and penny for the guy-ers this year (Letters, 4 January) and their replacement with pagan hordes of trick-or-treaters, suggesting a shift to US culture being to blame. While this may well be true – and deserving of lament – the answer is more prosaic: in the case of the former activities, one has to learn carols or build a guy; in the latter, one simply dresses up in a bunch of plastic tat available from corner shops to supermarkets.
Martin J Schwarz

• I appear to have been transformed from a “babyboomer” to a “geriboomer” (Soaring costs of long term healthcare threatens to overwhelm NHS, 4 January). But am I still being blamed for the financial crisis?
Moira Sykes

• Re Kevin McGrath’s request for suggestions for his proposed dishonours list (Letters, 2 January): “Ordure of the British Empire” seems obvious. Choose as many names as you wish, plenty of scope.
Andy Budge
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire




In the early 1960s, I produced a BBC radio feature, Never to Be Born, in which eight women were sensitively interviewed by Leslie Smith, without editorial comment, telling the story of their then still illegal abortions. It was harrowing and deeply moving, neither pro- nor anti-abortion. Top management had to give the go-ahead. Of necessity the speakers were anonymous, though one knew that her voice would be immediately recognisable to many listeners: it was that of Elizabeth Jane Howard. That took great courage, and indeed may well have contributed to the shift in public opinion that in turn led to the subsequent change in the law.









Unless flexibility is introduced, a small number of householders will continue to be hammered by lawyers and costs

Sir, The few landowners who claim to be inconvenienced by rights of way across their land should not be allowed to privatise public rights of way that belong to all.

The 12 residents who have formed the Alternative Stakeholders Group are talking about the rights of passage for walkers, horse riders and motorcyclists. Their claimed plight (report, Jan 2) merely underlines the importance of competent land searches before purchasing a property. Most people tolerate roads passing by their front doors or front gates. Why not them?

We are not talking about those affected by projects like the High Speed Rail line, which is relatively new and might not have been foreseen when they purchased their homes, but about individuals who have knowingly bought property or built on or near ancient rights of way. The same attitude is shown by those who buy houses nextdoor to pubs or churches and campaign for noise abatement orders. They certainly should not have been allowed to dictate policy.

Mike Irving

Trail Riders Fellowship

Sir, Your article will, I hope, draw attention to the injustices inflicted on property owners by over-zealous rights campaigners, in particular the aggressive and frequently baseless attempts to upgrade walking routes to bridleways or ways open to trail bikes etc. Often tribunals proceed against owners in contravention of law and procedure, with little remedy for victims unless they are very rich. The politically toxic nature of the word “landowner” — used deliberately to create a “Saxon against Norman” scenario — seems to prevent even liberal politicians from taking a position on this.

The reality is that in most cases it is a small-holder or struggling farmer who finds himself up against the might of well-funded ramblers’ and trailbikers’ associations, often aided by well-meaning but mistaken council officers using public money. Real injustices are being inflicted here.

Charles Pugh, FCA

London SW10

Sir, Your report took me back to the original Hobhouse Report, chaired by my grandfather and published in 1947. The report was the beginning of both the National Parks and the rights-of-way system. Sadly, the 1949 Labour Government did not implement the full Hobhouse report. This has led to a legalistic system without the flexibility stressed in the report. The inability to temporarily move rights of way to allow farmers to maximise production and ensure the safety of the public has led to the deaths of 18 people, and 481 injured, between 2001 and 2009 — the most common factors in these incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs. Unless flexibility is introduced, and accepted by the rights-of-way industry, a small number of householders will continue to be hammered by lawyers and costs, and the carnage will also continue.

Councillor Henry Hobhouse

North Cadbury, Somerset

Sir, It is time to develop a network for the 21st century, relocating paths to routes better suited to modern use, in other words, a footpath network that fits today’s use not the usage of a bygone age. A modern network of footpaths should be affordable, socially acceptable and environmentally sensitive (not disturbing wildlife and farming).

Colin Ray

Stratford upon Avon, Warks



The engineering community must develop a single, articulate and compelling case for its thrilling, diverse and satisfying careers

Sir, Now is the time to market the dream of modern engineering to young people.

Everyone agrees that we need urgently to improve recruitment into engineering, but there is a bewildering plethora of well-intentioned, often costly schemes that leave too many 8 to 14-year-olds uninterested in the exciting world of modern engineering.

There is a pressing need for more engineering apprentices and graduates each year to meet the growing needs of UK industry and the public sector. Our economic success and security depend upon us inspiring more young people to consider careers which use the STEM disciplines — science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

More must also be done to help teachers and parents understand the exciting career opportunities — from communications to computer games, medicine to motorsport, software and cyber-security, tunnels to skyscrapers, aerospace to railways and much more besides. This requires a co-ordinated and professional approach to marketing the opportunities in the UK’s world-class engineering companies.

When young people come to make their GCSE and A level choices, more must be determined to fulfil their dreams by choosing STEM subjects, especially maths and physics.

As the review of engineering skills from BIS Chief Scientist, Professor John Perkins, recommended in November, a disciplined, coherent, coordinated approach is needed. The engineering community must develop a single, articulate and compelling case for the brand ‘UK Engineering’ which communicates the fun, thrill, diversity and satisfaction offered by a career in engineering.

We are asking British engineering to rise urgently to this exceptional challenge. Although this will involve many organisations, particularly Engineering UK, the engineering companies and professional institutions, the Royal Academy of Engineering is best placed to ensure this happens.

Allan E. Cook

WS Atkins

Steve Holliday

National Grid

Bob Joyce

Jaguar Land Rover

Robin Southwell

Airbus Group UK

Mike Turner

GKN and Babcock International

Nigel Whitehead

BAE Systems

Sir Peter Luff, MP

House of Commons

Each year there are more than 23,000 blood donation sessions at more than 4,500 venues; unfortunately, sometimes there are problems

Sir, We would like to apologise to your readers (letters Jan 3) regarding their experiences of giving blood. Each year we run more than 23,000 blood donation sessions at more than 4,500 venues. We plan our sessions carefully and regularly review them to ensure we are able to meet the need for blood. We work hard to offer a good balance between walk-in slots and appointments so every donor who wants to donate can do so at a time that is convenient for them. We value every donor and we do our best not to turn anyone away and to keep waiting times as short as possible.

However, we acknowledge that we do not always get things right and we are sorry when we do not provide the level of service that donors rightly expect from us. We have recently improved our website so that donors can see appointment availability and book appointments online up to the day of a session. Despite this, there is still more to be done to improve the service to our donors. We will continue to work hard to ensure that donation is a very positive experience.

Lynda Hamlyn

NHS Blood and Transplant


Appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit are honours in the Queen’s personal gift, normally announced separately

Sir, The New Year Honours List differed from those of the last 50 odd years in a way unremarked by the media. It included appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit, honours in the Queen’s personal gift. For over half a century they have been announced separately, to emphasise that, unlike most other honours, they are not made on the advice of ministers.

The three new OMs deserve comments. Sir Simon Rattle is the first conductor appointed purely as such. Yehudi Menuhin (1987) was also distinguished as a violinist and Henry Wood, although considered shortly before his death in 1944, was made a CH and not an OM.

Dr Martin West is the first classicist appointed since Ronald Syme (1976) and the first Greek scholar since Gilbert Murray (1941).

Sir Magdi Yacoub is only the third surgeon appointed, after Joseph Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery (1902) and Wilder Penfield, the Canadian neurosurgeon (1953, the first OM of the Queen’s reign).

Stanley Martin

London SE22



Appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit are honours in the Queen’s personal gift, normally announced separately

Sir, The New Year Honours List differed from those of the last 50 odd years in a way unremarked by the media. It included appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit, honours in the Queen’s personal gift. For over half a century they have been announced separately, to emphasise that, unlike most other honours, they are not made on the advice of ministers.

The three new OMs deserve comments. Sir Simon Rattle is the first conductor appointed purely as such. Yehudi Menuhin (1987) was also distinguished as a violinist and Henry Wood, although considered shortly before his death in 1944, was made a CH and not an OM.

Dr Martin West is the first classicist appointed since Ronald Syme (1976) and the first Greek scholar since Gilbert Murray (1941).

Sir Magdi Yacoub is only the third surgeon appointed, after Joseph Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery (1902) and Wilder Penfield, the Canadian neurosurgeon (1953, the first OM of the Queen’s reign).

Stanley Martin

London SE22





SIR – There is an alternative to Matthew d’Ancona’s argument (“Cameron must stop the sleepwalk to a Labour win”) that David Cameron must pander to the Right-ish Labour-inclined vote.

Yes, the Conservatives must do their best to convert the positive economic statistics into a “feelgood factor” and to associate the Government with this. But this must not be done by merging Conservative policies with those of Labour; this is especially true if the Conservatives are to argue – as they must – that the continued growth of the British economy will be threatened if Labour came to power.

Conservative policies should favour low taxation, competition (particularly in the energy sector), support for large-scale private investment projects (such as a third runway for Heathrow) and the free flow of capital unrestricted and undistorted by the European Union – different priorities from those which I suspect Mr d’Ancona has in mind.

The “target” is not the 6 per cent of Labour voters who might vote Conservative, but the entire electorate.

Lord Spicer
London SW1

Supreme court

SIR – Where was the legal authority for our politicians to surrender our sovereignty or to replace our House of Lords with a “supreme” court from which appeals can be made to courts in a foreign land?

Why did our judges allow this to happen in the first place? As Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Judge should have ruled against it all years ago.

Joe Emery
Standlake, Oxfordshire

SIR – With MPs expected to vote overwhelmingly to retain the ban on prisoner voting, Dean Spielmann, the president of the European Court of Human Rights, states that, following such a vote, it “might be very difficult [for Britain] to stay in the European Union” .

There we are, then. I’m sure he knows best.

Roger Hopkins
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Keeping the Union

SIR – In what could be a momentous year for the UK, I hope we are going to hear the very positive case from our politicians and opinion-formers as to why we English value our Union with Scotland and want it to endure.

The marriage is not perfect but it works: divorce would be protracted, messy, expensive and acrimonious. The case for the Union must not go by default.

Malcolm Williams
Southsea, Hampshire

Liberal Islam

SIR – I worked for several years in Saudi Arabia and had the opportunity to discuss Islam with several Muslim elders, many with liberal views. They advised that the consumption of pork and alcohol was banned, but not necessarily its handling.

In Britain we have allowed many radical teachers to promote their interpretations to the young and it is time we saw some more learned explanation from more liberal Islamic scholars, particularly on these contentious issues.

Keith Taylor
Peterchurch, Herefordshire

Smacking ban

SIR – I can remember as a young teenager when I received a well-deserved smack for trying out a cigarette, and another for trying to deny it.

I loved my mother dearly and it’s frightening to think that, by today’s attitudes, she might have been prosecuted or had her children taken into care.

The Children’s Commissioner for England uses the word “violence”, but I’m sure that all adults know when physical chastisement is taken to extremes.

The existing laws surely suffice and parents should be able to bring up their children to know what discipline means without the fear of a knock on their door.

R H Wilshire
Ton Pentre, Glamorgan

Unqualified surgeons

SIR – While it is illegal for anyone other than a veterinary surgeon or a holder of a Home Office licence to operate on a dog, anybody, with or without qualifications, can call themselves a surgeon, and operate on a human (“Action to tackle the cowboy cosmetic surgeons after breast implant scandal”, report, December 29).

Gullible and insecure individuals submit themselves to cosmetic surgery, naively assuming that the operator is surgically trained and appropriately qualified.

The public would be best protected from cowboys if the use of the title “surgeon” was restricted to members of the Royal Colleges.

David Nunn FRCS
Port Isaac, Cornwall

Egyptian Christians

SIR – Alexandra Wakid (Letters, December 29) is being economical with the truth. Has she forgotten the terror with which Christians imposed themselves on Egypt?

The worst example was the murder of Hypatia, an innocent philosopher.

Dr Michael Ford
Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, France

Roads versus rail

SIR – Ruth Epstein (Letters, December 29) also seems to miss the point about HS2. Transport history shows that railways have been far less damaging to the countryside than roads.

Lest we forget, more than 3,000 miles of motorway and trunk road construction since the Sixties amounts to about 30 times the land-take of the

350-mile HS2 twin-track railway.

Simon Hope

Radio 3 changes

SIR – Roger Wright, the controller of BBC Radio 3, advocates a move towards the broadcasting of shorter works and an increase in film and television soundtracks on his network: both long-established hallmarks of Classic FM.

Without a penny of public money, Classic FM reaches an audience of around 5.5 million people every week, over two and a half times more than its subsidised competitor, Radio 3. Meanwhile, Radio 3 and the BBC orchestras are handed £83.5 million of public licence-fee funding each year.

Mr  Wright’s recent editorial changes move Radio 3 even further away from its previous distinctive position, making it harder than ever for Radio 3 to justify its privileged public funding. The BBC appears intent on moving its network into the space occupied by a commercial radio competitor in a market of only two stations.

At a time when thoughts turn to the BBC’s charter renewal, surely it is now right to ask whether this reduction in listener choice in the classical space represents appropriate behaviour and responsible use of £83.5m of public money. Radio 3 must remain distinctive as a publicly funded BBC service.

Darren Henley
Managing Director, Classic FM
London WC2

SIR – Roger Wright’s attempt to defend his destruction of Radio 3 will strike no chords with the many once-loyal listeners who are abandoning the channel.

A fine example of the “intelligent, educational and enjoyable” output we can look forward to under his new regime was the introduction to a Wagner Ring Cycle broadcast before Christmas.

First we were told that this was “the greatest operatic story ever told” (even Wagner lovers have difficulty following the appallingly complex plot) and then that it would begin with “the most epic musical prelude ever”.

Presumably Mr Wright sees such silly generalisations as being “key” to attracting a new generation of music lovers.

Tony Newbery
Llanbedr, Caernarfonshire

Early Easter egg hunt

SIR – Duncan Rayner (Letters, December 29) hasn’t looked very hard for early Easter eggs.

A display could be seen on December 27 at Membury Services on the M4 in Berkshire.

Charles Dobson
Burton-in-Kendal, Westmorland

SIR – I saw hot cross buns in Lidl on Christmas Eve.

Wendy Hodgson
Morecambe, Lancashire


SIR – British officialdom cannot see how to stem the flow of heavily pregnant foreign women to Britain to have their babies using NHS resources and at the British taxpayer’s expense. Even when detected at our borders, airlines can refuse to fly them home, leaving Britain to pick up the cost.

One solution would be to charge the airlines a performance bond at least equal to the cost of providing maternity care for each non-British pregnant passenger arriving in Britain. This could be done at immigration control and added to the airline’s bills for fuel and other services.

If the passenger was honest and returned home still pregnant, the bond would be returned. If the passenger had to use the NHS’s resources for a birth, then the bond would be forfeit and the airline would claim against the passenger.

An increase in forfeited bonds would quickly cause the airlines to take more responsibility and lobby for, or provide, better screening procedures in foreign departure lounges and reduce the flow of these unwelcome health tourists.

Mike Watts
Maenporth, Cornwall

SIR – Your leader (December 29) identified the “something for nothing” view of Britain’s public services and immigration.

The Government’s half-baked proposal for restricting benefits will, however, go against EU rules.

The solution is to use National Insurance (NI) contributions, not as another stealth tax, as they are currently, but as a requirement in order to be eligible for receipt of welfare and other benefits. A five-year contribution to National Insurance before receipt of benefits would do much to ensure that the welfare system was no longer an alternative lifestyle for many.

If access to the NHS also required a history of NI contributions, it would put a stop to the “Lagos shuttle” as medical treatment would require either a valid record on NI contributions or the use of a credit card for payment. The NHS might then start looking at us all as customers rather than an inconvenient nuisance. David Brinkman Poole, Dorset

SIR – Surely if a medic carried out a fundal height tape test to ascertain how close a passenger was to giving birth before allowing her on the flight, we would avoid most of the deceit.

When I had an orthopaedic accident in France some years ago, they laughed at my E111 and called for my credit card.

The NHS is not the International Health Service, and should not be treated as such.

Jacqueline Curzon
Edgware, Middlesex

SIR – From now on, anyone arriving at a hospital for antenatal treatment should either show their National Health number, with a countersigned authorisation from their own GP, or pay up front.

Jean Adams
Charlbury, Oxfordshire

SIR – When having my oldest son in 1984, I was the only British national in an NHS ward of five. The other four mothers made no secret of the fact that they had flown in to have their babies delivered on the NHS because it was safer for them, as well as being free. Has the Government only just discovered this problem? People are not opposed to immigrants per se, but to the stress put on services which are free at the point of delivery. Our taxes are supporting far more people and services than they should be.

Deborah Unsdorfer
London NW11

SIR – There is a simple solution.

The medical treatment for these “health tourists” should be classified as “overseas aid” and the NHS should be reimbursed by the Department for International Development.

These amounts could then be deducted from the aid given to the relevant countries sending these “tourists” to us.

David Neeson
Chagford, Devon

SIR – Mary MacLeod, the Tory MP, uses the expression “equality of opportunity” to defend proposed changes to the inheritance of hereditary titles.

But the logical consequence of applying “equality of opportunity” to hereditary titles is their abolition. I write as a conservative who agrees with the 2nd Viscount Falkland: “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

There may be a case for changing the rules of inheritance where the title would otherwise die out, and a case for changing the law for new creations so that the title can pass to the eldest child (though a younger child may wonder whether this would represent “equality of opportunity”). However, in general, where there is a male heir, changing the law is simply removing the rights of person A and giving them to person B.

J Alan Smith
Epping, Essex




Irish Times:


Sir, – The words of Pádraig Ó hUiginn (Letter, December 12th) should be noted by planners of services for people who are homeless.

We in Trust knew well the couple who froze to death, and others too who died in that area. We knew the site where people slept rough before the Defence Forces were called in by Albert Reynolds to set up a shelter. When it was set up we visited regularly to support the staff in their efforts to give care to those who stayed there. It was very well run by the members of the Defence Forces. It was clean, warm, safe and nourishing food was provided. It was subsequently taken over by the Salvation Army and we continued to provide support there.

To suggest setting up such a basic well-run shelter now is considered old-fashioned, as I only too well know. This is happening at a time when sleeping bags can be clearly seen throughout the city. Those in a position to do something cannot accept the fact that there is a real need for basic emergency accommodation and if they cannot accept this fact they need to be asked why.

It is my experience of working in the field of homelessness now for 40 years that if something doesn’t cost a lot of money it is considered to be ineffective. – Yours, etc,


Director & Co-Founder,


Bride Road, Dublin 8.


Sir, – GPs around the country will echo the sentiments expressed by Dr Brendan Crowley (December 27th) about the undue stress and hardship imposed on patients by the HSE in its efforts to cull medical cards. I and my GP colleagues see the problems every day in our surgeries when patients who are entitled to medical cards have had their cards revoked in the so-called “cull”.

Even the HSE itself expressed serious concern at the practice and the potential savings, following which we saw a much-welcomed U-turn by the Minister, upon the announcement of the HSE Service Plan (whereby the savings to be achieved in the cull were significantly reduced).

The mantra of Government is that everyone who is entitled to a medical card will receive one; if only that were true. The bureaucratic nonsense that is the current system is causing distress to already vulnerable patients.

As GPs we have engaged with the Primary Care Reimbursement Service to ensure the medical card database is accurate, however, at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the HSE, as the recorder of births and deaths to maintain an accurate database. It is neither practical nor desirable that this be the responsibility of GPs. However, more needs to be done by the HSE to ensure that the system is manageable and transparent.

This debacle over the medical cards is another example of the lack of IT development in the health services generally. This must be urgently addressed if we are to seriously tackle inefficiencies in the system. – Yours, etc,


Chairman, GP Committee,

Irish Medical Organisation,

Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.


Sir, – John Waters constructs a world media conspiracy which portrayed Pope Benedict as “unsympathetic and conservative” and which now depicts Pope Francis as “a caring and people’s Pope” (Opinion, January 3rd).

While these media constructed descriptions are not fully adequate they do describe in broad sweeps the personalities of both men. The only radical action Pope Benedict ever did was to resign, thus allowing a new pope to assume this office.

From the adoption of the name Francis to his blueprint for a new church as outlined in his recent letter “The Joy of the Gospel” this new Pope is a breath of fresh air. His calls for the “conversion of the papacy’ and a de-clericalised church are radical and needed reforms which have come from Pope Francis himself and are not media constructs.

The fact that Francis’s attempted limited reforms are already meeting with resistance, both within the Vatican and outside it, shows that he is seen as a radical shift within the Catholic Church and beyond. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,



Sir, – Perhaps the answer to David Walsh’s concerns (January 3rd) is that trade unions and other such organisations should never get involved with issues outside their area of competence and interest and should not take a stand on issues such as this on the simple basis that their members will be as divided as the general population and taking a position can only represent a portion of the membership.

Prostitution it seems has “always” been part of human activity and I guess always will be, but that does not diminish in any way the abhorrence with which the vast majority of people view it, people who recognise how demeaning it is for both parties but particularly for the women concerned and the brutality and cruelty involved in forced prostitution which only expands when the legal brakes are removed. Witness the recent experience of Germany where organised crime has found it a very lucrative trade.

It is easy and convenient to dress up a reluctance to legislate to reduce prostitution as a matter of freedom and choice, but freedom and choice are relevant to very few; what is involved here is an effort to protect the majority from coercion. The sex trade in all its forms is full of victims. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Sir, – I was surprised to read Alan Barrett of the ESRI (“Emigration to fall as the economy improves”, Home News, December 25th, 26th & 27th) perpetrate a causal (indeed, maybe casual) relationship between a dubious improvement in the economy and a fall in emigration. The fall in emigration is more to do with the fact that the people who have emigrated up to now are our best skilled, motivated and responsible citizens, with fewer of these left to emigrate. –Yours , etc,


The Rise,


Dublin 9.



Sir, – The Ha’penny Bridge is looking pretty shabby these days with the proliferation of padlocks affectionately reffered to as “Love Locks” by the culprits.

Let’s hope Dublin City Council’s New Year resolution will be to devise an effective plan to combat this intolerable vandalism. – Yours, etc,


Cypress Springs,

Mill Lane,




Sir, –The Abbey Theatre’s imminent first major revival of Sive in more than 20 years is greatly awaited. The handout for the production states that this – John B Keane’s first play (1959) – was “famously” rejected by the Abbey Theatre. Akin to the institution’s pedantic spurning of Peter O’Toole in 1952, should the promo not read “notoriously”? – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,

Sir, – James Heron Connolly (January 3rd) and the Save 16 Moore Street campaign may mean well, but one struggles to understand what they think they are saving. The buildings whose future has been the source of so much hand-wringing have been nothing but shells for many years, prevented from total collapse only by steel supports.

Even in their original state the Moore Street building were very ordinary shops and houses, devoid of any features of architectural interest. There is no purpose in preserving them in their present, unsafe and derelict condition, and very little benefit to be imagined in restoring them to their original state. Moore Street and its environs are already entirely different to the way they were in 1916, a state that cannot be restored by retaining a few redbrick ruins.

Arguments for preservation are based on the fact that the buildings sheltered some remnants of the rebel leadership for a few hours at the end of the 1916 Rising. However, the rebels are associated equally with many other locations. Conway’s pub on Parnell Street, now closed, is where the leaders met to plan the Rising and draft the famous proclamation. Their headquarters at the GPO was the scene of the longest occupation and heaviest fighting for the men who surrendered finally in Moore Street. The rebels also held Dublin Castle, St Stephen’s Green, Boland’s Mills and occupied any number of other sites at various times. Should the entire city be forever encased in aspic to placate 1916 nostalgics?

The best tribute to the rebels would be to see their vision of a just and prosperous Ireland come to pass. A real “freedom trail” would navigate a city of full employment, equal opportunity, good health and social harmony.

Instead, a few misplaced idealists are striving to prevent the renewal of what has long been one of the most deprived areas in the country. The retention of the Moore Street buildings argues for a return to the past, at a time when the whole country is crying out for a new future. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Street,

Phibsboro, Dublin 7


Sir, – Whether Danny Morrison (December 31st) is right or not that other northern parties were more guilty of personation than Sinn Féin, I cannot say.

We can, however, look back in history to the early 1870s when some by-election successes by Fenian candidates were dismissed by the landlord faction as merely the result of intimidation by a tiny band of ruffian Fenians. The British took them at their word and finally granted the secret ballot throughout the UK. The unintended consequence of the landlords’ successful propaganda was the end of their own electoral influence, not that of the Fenians. In the first election under the new rules in 1874, Joseph Biggar and four other Fenians were elected, proving that fear of the wealthy had a far greater impact on previous elections than had the supposed fear of gunmen. Within a few years, on the back of the secret ballot, Parnell built a party that ended landlordism forever.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Morrison is correct, if the tight rules brought in the North to stop supposed Sinn Féin personation, actually benefited Sinn Féin? History shows the great and the good can sometimes can get it very wrong, shooting themselves in the foot, as it were. – Yours, etc,


Ferndale Road,


Sir, – Your “Underperforming teachers to face censure” headline (Home News, January 3rd) belies the fact that various mechanisms for censuring teachers – including disciplinary procedures and Department of Education inspectors’ reports – have existed for decades.

Insofar as these mechanisms may have been ineffective, that is not the fault of teachers.

Interestingly, I have seen no clamour for sanctioning school principals whose schools have underperformed by reference to the Irish Times “school league tables”.

All of this smacks yet again of one law for the little people and no law for their “superiors”. – Yours, etc,


Russell Court,


Sir, – In my 50 years as a practising pension consultant I have not read as clear and concise an article on this subject as that written by Niall O’Callaghan (Business, January 2nd). I sincerely hope that ministers Burton and Noonan take on board the three very clear recommendations set out in the article. – Yours, etc,



College Grove,



Sir, – The incomprehensible decision to grant permission for the scale of expansion of the Irish Jewish Museum raises many questions (Home News, December 30th).

The first ones must be why did the Taoiseach give it his backing before it had gone through the planning process, was it appropriate to do so and, in light of that endorsement, did the residents stand any chance at all? – Yours, etc,


Cluny Park,


Co Dublin.


A chara, – The new year dawns. The troika has left town. Yet my health insurance annual premium (for spouse and self) has gone up by €807, a jump of 24 per cent. The Government is directly responsible for the greater part of this – its budget decision to reduce tax relief on premiums accounts for 55.3 per cent of the total increase.

These staggering rises come at a time when we’ve been hearing about big top-ups for high-earners in the health sector, but perish the thought that there could be any correlation.

No doubt all will be solved when the Government’s universal health insurance policy is finally implemented. I, for one, can’t wait. – Is mise,







Irish Independent:

Once, a long time ago, I bought a shotgun. I had gotten into my head to go hunting and thought this might be fun.

Also in this section

Griffith’s key role is acknowledged

Unite to stop violence

We are now jailers of innocent man

As soon as this gun was in my possession, it felt good, powerful, and as I fingered the beautiful French engraving on the steel and Oakwood butt right down to the trigger finger, that feeling of power grew.

The next day I found myself in Connemara on the hunt for a rabbit or anything else that was legal to shoot. I did not have to wait long. In fact, I hardly had to get out of my car for there he was, my prey, my rabbit, right in front of me — less than 10 metres away.

Surely he will at least make a run for it, give himself a sporting chance, though he may not have shared my point of view.

As I reached for the gun clumsily and noisily, took precious agonising seconds to load it, this rabbit did not move; when I slowly took aim at him, he did not move even then.

I was now looking at him with his heart still beating, eyes bright and wide, standing on his hind legs erect and pausing with a living, breathing curiosity, when time seemed to stand still as I pressed down on the trigger.

The gun kicked back, seeming to recoil at its own violence as thunder crashed into my ear.

The rabbit was dead.

I walked up to him, or it, for I did not know if it was a male or a female and could not tell, and surely it did not matter now to the rabbit.

The following week, I sold the gun at a loss, sure in the knowledge that I could never go killing for fun any more or ever kill again unless I needed to.

Barry Clifford

Oughterard, Co Galway



An international electricity grid, as called for by Ed Davey, makes a lot of sense.

It is quite possible with high voltage direct current to transmit electricity for thousands of miles as efficiently as we now do so over dozens of miles.

The establishment of our national grid allowed a much more efficient production of power and, since there is a virtually 1:1 correlation between growth in electricity use and national income, it also helped us out of the Depression.

An international grid could not only do the same for the world but, because peak demand varies across timezones, the effect of making power produced in China at midnight instantly available to us and vice versa, would be of huge use.

Many industry experts have long called for such a programme but, as usual, the problems have been political. This is why almost all projects undertaken have been with large countries rather than between them.

However, Mr Davey has failed by limiting the idea to just the EU. It has, for ideological reasons, the world’s most expensive electricity. Competition to reduce costs is not going to work if the only competitors allowed are the most expensive ones.

By comparison, Iceland, Russia and Canada have most of the world’s cheapest power — and all reachable. We could have done this long ago but if we wish to give our economy a chance — or even wish simply to keep the lights on — we should build it now.

Neil Craig

Woodlands Road, Glasgow



The new year dawns. The troika has left town. Yet my health insurance annual premium (for spouse and self) has gone up by €807 — a jump of 24pc.

The Government is directly responsible for the greater part of this — the Budget decision to reduce tax relief on premiums accounts for 55.3pc of the total increase.

These staggering rises come at a time when we’ve been hearing about big top-ups for high earners in the health sector — but perish the thought that there could be any correlation.

No doubt all will be solved when the universal health insurance policy is implemented. I for one can’t wait.

John Glennon

Co Wicklow



From real experience I fully support the suggestion (Irish Independent, January 3) that schools be given greater control over budgets and testify that it makes infinite sense.

More than 20 years ago as an English school principal — along with my board of management — we took on complete financial accountability and management of our school.

Our almost 100 staff were all subject to annual performance reviews during which clear and measurable targets were set and our salary progression determined accordingly.

Amazingly, your anonymous INTO spokesperson labels local financial management as a UK Conservative Party policy and expresses surprise that an Irish Labour minister would propose such a policy.

Local management has enjoyed the wholehearted support of all British political parties and especially local communities, parents and learners.

My hope is that the National Parents’ Council will wholeheartedly support initiatives that would bring greater decision making and accountability at school level.

Alan Whelan

Beaufort, Co Kerry



I have come to the conclusion that Ireland should leave the EU or at least the eurozone while we still can.

Europe has brought us nothing but trouble from the word go and has us in the mess we now find ourselves in.

We have seen politicians coming back with promises on a weekly basis that all would be sorted, when instead we are being hauled in like a fish on a line into a deeper relationship with Europe, steadily being taken over by a resurgent Germany.

Our Government needs to listen to your columnist, David McWilliams, who has hit the nail on the head a number of times with his warnings about where this will lead us.

One of these mornings we will wake up and find our bank accounts raided by Angela & Co.

S O’Rourke

Co Galway



* It appears A Leavy (Irish Independent, January 4) has misunderstood the points I was making (Irish Independent, January 2). At no point did I make a case for defaulting on our bank debts and incurring the consequences to which Mr Leavy alludes.

Similarly, I did not blame the “big bad foreigner” for what happened to this country. It is simply a fact that large European banks and investment funds were among those to be paid in full by Irish citizens on their failed investments in private Irish banks.

Finally, I certainly did not say that our “financial decision makers were so innocent”, in fact, I said the very opposite.

Simon O’Connor

Crumlin, Dublin 12



* A number of contributors (Irish Independent, January 4) commented on how the festive season has grown from Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day to — the sky’s the limit. In my lifetime, it used to be only December 25.

A friend tells me that when the big day falls on a Wednesday, some employers have difficulties with staff resuming work two days later, while others opt to take an extra day. Most bosses would prefer a cleaner break.

So, on the first occasion in the 1970s when Christmas fell on a Wednesday, a certain employer gave the Friday as an extra day — a one-off.

The following Christmas, the company concerned had to concede that it had established an extra day’s holiday at Christmas and that stands to this day. For some reason the extra day is known as a ‘clear day’.

But all that is a long way behind our beloved TDs.

RJ Hanly

Screen, Co Wexford

Irish Independent



Peter Rice

January 5, 2014

5 January 2014 Peter Rice

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather has been poster and the new Wren fancies Leslie, who can’t take yes for an answer, Priceless.

Peter Rice comes windows, insulation soo I hope it so cold

Scrabbletoday I winjust pip her at the post, and gets just over300, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Martin Miller, who has died aged 67, was a charismatic entrepreneur and bon vivant, and after co-founding the bestselling antiques price guides that bear his name (and made his fortune) went on to become a successful hotelier.

Once described as “the Richard Branson of the antiques world”, Miller failed his 11-plus but developed a natural flair for business, spotting gaps in the market which took him into such diverse fields as publishing diaries, devising and marketing his own premium brand of gin, and running country hotels.

With his second wife, Judith, in 1979 he established Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, publishing it annually for nearly 20 years. It became an indispensable handbook for many a bargain hunter at car boot sales, and offered shrewd advice to the more sophisticated saleroom buyer, especially on the crucial question of the hammer price. Someone contemplating a bid of £50,000 for an Italian rococo chandelier, for example, might think again after consulting Miller’s and discovering that even £23,000

After his success in publishing, Miller began investing in property, and in 1985 opened the first of a string of successful hotels, Chilston Park, a 17th-century timbered house in Kent. In 1997, after his second marriage ended, he opened Miller’s Residence, a Victorian-style boutique hotel in Notting Hill, with his third wife, Ioana. Stuffed with antiques, baubles and curios, it was described by The Sunday Telegraph as leading guests into “a bygone age, and a different, richer, more exotic world than the one they’ve left outside”.

The centrepiece was a 40ft-long drawing room — an extravagantly theatrical space upholstered in red velvets and brocades, and crammed with books, pictures, candlesticks, clocks, small tables, sofas, stools and chairs. Miller decorated the eight en suite bedrooms on the two upper floors with equal flair, naming them after English romantic poets.

He went on to establish Glencot House Hotel at Wookey Hole in Somerset, selling it in 2011, and Great Brampton House in Herefordshire, where he refurbished the upper floors in a £1 million makeover and transformed the lower ground floor into a 6,000 square foot gallery space housing contemporary art works.

In 2006 the couple opened Miller’s Academy of Arts and Science in London, offering lectures and debates to feed what Miller identified as middle-class intellectual hunger caused by the dearth of intelligent programmes on television.

would be over the odds.

The son of an insurance salesman, Martin John Miller was born on November 24 1946 in Worthing, and educated at West Tarring Secondary Modern School, an experience he would later describe as “crap”. As a schoolboy his early business ventures included hamster breeding, publishing a magazine for local teenagers, and (when he was only 14 and never having had a girlfriend) a mail-order dating guide called Success with the Fairer Sex, instructing readers on points of etiquette such as remembering to wash their hands, and politely opening car doors. He advertised it in Exchange and Mart and for two years sold between 50 and 100 copies a week.

On leaving art school in Brighton, Miller spent three years as a freelance photographer, working mainly in the weddings and baby business, until a chance meeting with an antiques dealer in 1969 piqued his interest in old furniture.

Finding that no reliable guide to antiques prices existed, he put one together himself and, with his business partner, Tony Curtis, devised the first Lyle Antiques Review, naming it after Tate and Lyle sugar because “we wanted a familiar name with authority”.

This became a bestseller, and by the mid-1970s Miller was enjoying a period of semi-retirement before marrying his second wife, Judith Cairns, with whom he co-founded Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, and shared a Gothic mansion in Kensington, having sold the title for £2 million in 1994.

As a collector of antique furniture himself, Miller adopted a relaxed approach to the business of interior furnishing and design, rather than following a master plan. “I’ve just thrown everything together,” he insisted.

Twice in his career Miller opted out of the rat race in favour of the quiet life, each respite lasting four years before he returned to the business of making a living. “I got caught up in a lazy lifestyle, held lots of parties, had very long lunches, played masses of games of chess and led a very unstressful life,” he recalled. “But it can be very expensive.”

In 1999 he diversified once more into the project he considered the toughest of his career, launching Martin Miller’s Gin, partly to satisfy his wish to create a perfect martini — his favourite tipple — but mainly to buck the trend at a time when it was fashionable to drink vodka. “If the big boys are piling out of gin in favour of vodka,” Miller reasoned, “then maybe it’s time for me to do something with gin. That’s been our strategy ever since. When they zig, we zag.”

He also continued to develop new hotel businesses, mainly in the south-west. Miller’s at Tors, Lynmouth, on the north Devon coast, was followed by a bistro-style inn at Porlock; this month he had been due to open a second establishment at Lynmouth, Miller’s Arts Hotel. His other business interests included a pizza company and a travel website.

As well as Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, he published Miller’s Collectables Price Guide (with Judith Miller, annually, 1989–98); the Antiques Source Book (annually, 2000–06); The Complete Guide to Antiques (2003); and many other books on antique collecting, furniture and period style. He also published a volume of poems, Disjointed Noughts (2006).

He remained a maverick. “I’ve never had a job or wanted one,” he noted once, “and if I don’t like something I’m doing or it becomes boring I just dump it. I think it’s in the genes. I’m not a worrier and I never try too hard. I suppose I’m just lucky.”

Martin Miller’s first marriage, in 1966, to Elaine, was dissolved in 1975. His second, in 1978, ended in 1992. He married, thirdly, in 2001, Ioana Beju. She survives him with the three daughters of his first marriage and two of his second.

Martin Miller, born November 24 1946, died December 24 2013




I both give and buy from charity shops and consider everything I buy to be a bargain (“Charity shops under fire for prices beyond means of poor“, News).

On the day of the article, I went out wearing a complete outfit from charity shops and all good-quality high street or better names, totalling just £64. And, no, they weren’t tatty and, yes, I received admiring comments on how I looked, followed by amazement about where I’d bought them.

As for buying gold jewellery, why should you expect to get a lower price for something like that in one shop as against another? The right price is the right price. People want their donations to raise money for worthy causes, not to give others easy pickings, and charity shops have a duty to keep that in the forefront of their pricing policy.

It’s worth pointing out that many people still believe charity shops operate entirely for free, forgetting that although most shops receive a discount on local authority rates, their landlords and the electricity, water, gas and telephone companies all demand full payment. Shop fittings, bags, coat-hangers, tickets, etc have to be bought. Most charity shops pay for staff, too, a cost that covers itself in increased turnover.

Margaret E Hanlon



I have been a volunteer in a charity shop for over 10 years and in that time have seen a change from the possibility of a bin bag being full of dirty, smelly and damp donations that had to be sorted just in case there was something at the bottom of some value, to a state where we are given an apology if the clean, immaculate clothes have not been ironed.

We now receive goods that may have cost hundreds of pounds new and antiques also worth hundreds. We also have supermarket clothes and modern knick-knacks.

Should the prices for each be the same? As volunteers, donating our time, energy and occasionally washing machines, our satisfaction is counting the money at the end of the day and realising what good that can achieve.

Does that make us greedy or is that the customers who pick up an armful of designer clothes at knock-down prices and then sell them on eBay, or pay a pittance for a pot and then toddle off to Flog It! to sell it for a small fortune?

Veronica Squires


I am confused by last week’s article on charity shops. Its headline suggested that charity shops’ prices were too high for the poor, yet the quotes moaned that gold necklaces and Yves St Laurent jackets were no longer available for a pittance.

The poor are not interested in designer wear. They want cheap, clean, second-hand clothes and the charity shops still provide that.

For the rest of us, the hunt is not for a bargain (which would deprive the charity of much needed funds), but for oddities, cheap and delightful. Those who want the expensive items should pay the proper price for them. Stop being greedy.

Joanna Edkins


Bargain-hunters complain that charity shops have lost their fun. That is surely not what they are for.

Even selling things cheaply to the poor may not be compatible with the charity’s aims and objects, if these are the welfare of (say) the blind, or animals, or starving children in Asia and Africa; in that case, the shops ought to charge as much as they can get for their goods, so as to have more they can spend on the beneficiaries.

Leofranc Holford-Strevens



We welcome the article “Domestic violence to carry jail term under US-style law“, (News). However, Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service and Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation are spearheading this new domestic violence campaign. We jointly drafted the new DV bill that will go through the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and harassment at the beginning of January. We have joined together to campaign for a new law that criminalises domestic abuse. We know some of the most dangerous cases happen when domestic abuse, stalking and coercive control co-occur. This is where women and children are more likely to be murdered and early identification and intervention are vital to saving lives.

The laws used to prosecute domestic abuse, including breach of a restraining order, damaging property, assault, burglary, rape, kidnapping and murder, do not describe its essence. They miss the fact that domestic abuse is about fear and a pattern of continuing acts. The Crown Prosecution Service only prosecutes for a single event and tends to focus on the injury level. Put simply, the criminal law does not conceive many women in abusive relationships as victims of ongoing abuse.

More information about the new DV Campaign is available on Paladin’s website

Laura Richards

Director, Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service

And on behalf of Rhea Gargour

Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation

Be fair to Fathers4Justice

Last week’s piece by Barbara Ellen “What a crummy strategy from Fathers4Justice“, said more about her prejudices than it accurately reflected the content of our Kate Winslet advert: “Kate, every child deserves their father this Christmas.” For the record, Fathers4Justice never condemned Kate Winslet for her parenting arrangements. We produced a proportionate, balanced advert that addressed Winslet’s unprecedented attack on 50/50 shared parenting in Vogue magazine.

Winslet has refused to retract her comments, which were distressing to many fathers at a time of year when they would not see their children. Fathers4Justice didn’t run the advert because we are anti-mother, we ran it because we are anti-inequality.

Sadly, Ellen was more concerned with the sensitivities of a Hollywood star than addressing the serious social justice issue of mass fatherlessness. She also airbrushed out the on-the-record support for Fathers4Justice by Winslet’s ex-husband Jim Threapleton and omits to mention that the ad campaign was run by a mother of two children, not misogynists.

Just compare her vilification of Fathers4Justice with the deification of Femen and Pussy Riot in the media.

Nadine O’Connor

Mother of two and campaign director,


Be realistic about immigration

It may serve the Observer‘s rhetorical goals to put all concerns about immigration (“Beware this populism sweeping across Europe“, leader) under the catch-all of “populism” (because of its negative moral connotations), and it is certainly valid to point out the economic benefits of well-intentioned immigrants to the UK, but you fail to address the real concerns of many.

You make an assumption that we must maintain an economic growth model and so we must grow our population to support that. Many of us recognise the unsustainable consequences of that expansionist model and understand that we need to begin to wean ourselves off that fatalistic conception and produce and act on a plan for immigration (not to mention population) growth that is not ideological but pragmatic.

Mike Warwick


W Yorkshire

Osborne’s phony claims

Addressing the CBI as recently as May last year, George Osborne repeated one of his numerous obfuscations: “Monetary activism and using the government’s balance sheet to support private investment are only possible because of the credibility and low market interest rates that our deficit reduction plan has earned.” Yet, according to Daniel Boffey: “The markets believe the base rate will increase to 3% by 2018, with what the Resolution Foundation describes as ‘huge social and human cost’,” (“Mortgage rise will plunge a million into ‘perilous debt’“, News). As interest rates look set to rise, likely after Mark Carney‘s intervention, perhaps the chancellor will stop claiming that his policy has kept interest rates low.

David Murray



So very wrong about Brazil

Will Hutton (“Which will be the big economies in 15 years? It’s not a done deal“, Comment) refers to Brazil and Mexico as “Latin-American autocracies”, vulnerable – according to Acemoglu and Robinson’s questionable analysis – to national “failure”. Brazil and Mexico are pluralist democracies. They’re imperfect. But they are in no sense “autocracies”. Grand cross-national comparisons can’t be built on such gross misconceptions.

Alan Knight

Professor of the history of Latin America,

St Antony’s College, Oxford





How I agree with Michael Desborough’s and John Hannett’s comments (22 December), regarding showing respect to shopworkers, especially at Christmas, but also to realise just what it means for them and their families when they are required to work on Boxing Day. Exactly what can anyone possibly want or need that can’t wait another day?

I watched the news in which a family was being interviewed. The mother just kept shrugging when asked what she or her children might want, apart from spending their Christmas money, when the day before they’d been loaded with gifts. Others thought it was fun to stand in the cold for hours until the shops opened in the middle of the night. What a crazy world. I’m sure it was much more fun when sales started on 1 January, but 27 December would be better than Boxing Day, then all shopworkers could have a bit more of a break. Can’t someone make a new law?

What is never discussed are the statistics on retail income for this particular day. Many of those “shopping” are actually bringing back all the carefully-chosen gifts they’ve received to get a refund, and they will stand in a queue for hours to get it.

I was so pleased to find that Tesco was closed on Boxing Day, along with Waitrose and John Lewis. They have made a stand. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody else did as well and give all our hard-working shop staff the decent break they all deserve?

Jan Hynes

Via email

DJ Taylor may have a point that 1973 was the most significant year in recent British history but the reasons remain open to debate (29 December).

The economic crisis caused largely by the end of cheap oil after the Arab-Israeli war in the autumn of 1973, led the subsequent Labour government to call in the International Monetary Fund and begin an era of cuts in public spending which we remain stuck in.

The energy crisis was surely the key though. Tory Minister John Davies told his family it might be their last Christmas. While this has been supposed to refer to the influence of trade unions that Taylor refers to, it may be that Davies had appreciated, as indeed had the shadow Energy Minister Tony Benn, that more expensive energy would challenge the economic model that British society was built on. Forty years on this still seems to be very much the case.

Keith Flett

London N17

If smoking doubles the risk of dying from a stroke (“Cigarettes damage your brain” 29 December), isn’t it time we protected the majority of the population who don’t smoke? Since this unsavoury habit was banned from public places in 2007, non-smokers have had to run the daily gauntlet of exiled addicts belching smoke from every doorway. If ever there was an example of the law of unintended consequences, this is it.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

“The way we… drove” and “the way we… travelled” (29 December) don’t mention either buses or trains, the modes of transport used by millions like myself who don’t have a driving licence. Yet I thought you were committed to public transport?

Tim Mickleburgh,

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

So, according to Dom Joly, for “two weeks after the holiday… nobody is back to work” (29 December). Well, for those of us who are back to work on 27 December (and sometimes work through Christmas, too) that is insultingly dismissive. Without the “nobodies” manning the airlines, he wouldn’t be in Hong Kong at all.

Jo Russell

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

It would be a big mistake for Labour to do early deals on the possibility of a Lab/Lib Dem coalition in 2015 (“Balls no longer sticking point in Lib-Lab coalition”, 29 December). The Lib Dems are finished, and to flag up this possibility will encourage Lib Dem voters to stay loyal to their principle-free party, so harming Labour’s chances. Ed Miliband should rule out any form of coalition and go for the outright win that is entirely on the cards.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk




The Scottish no campaign must stand up and fight

I AGREE with the no campaign that there is a real danger of Scotland becoming independent, not by argument but by inertia (“Tories fear Scots will break away”, News, last week). Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, makes promises that will cost an arm and a leg to implement, yet his statements go largely unchallenged.

The no campaign is run by figureheads, not leaders, and there is little sign of someone who will inject some impetus into the fight to preserve the union. Perhaps David Cameron should forget about foreign affairs for a while and concentrate on this burning issue.
Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirlingshire

Votes for all
Lord Forsyth declares that the Scottish independence referendum “has implications for the whole of the United Kingdom”. He is right and everyone in the UK should be allowed to vote on whether Scotland remains a part of our country.
Stanley Hooper, Pissouri, Cyprus

Divided at heart
When will Cameron introduce a referendum asking the English if they would like to break away from Scotland? I suspect a majority would vote to say goodbye. They could also be asked if they want to break away from Northern Ireland and Wales.
Melvin Haskins, Barnet, London EN5

We’re alienated too
While the economic structure of the European Union is balancing on the head of a pin and Cameron is making feeble gestures to protect UK sovereignty, he seems to be ignoring his own back yard.

The centralising power grab of Tory, then Labour, politicians from the 1980s has rendered local people impotent to affect their lives. It isn’t just the Scots who feel alienated from the London-centric seat of power and finance.
Bill Newham, Worsley, Manchester

Forsyth saga
Is panic now setting in at the Better Together campaign? All Salmond needs to do is keep quiet between now and September and let Michael Forsyth carry on being the best recruiting sergeant for a yes vote for independence.
James Noel, Aberdeen

Small fish, big pond
Most rational Scots, like us Welsh, know that we are a small island in a large global bowl and that it would be madness to break the union.

It is time that the Better Together campaign led by Alistair Darling makes the case. The Scots are far too wise to break away, but they have to know that if they did they would be on their own. It is time some of the nationalists entered the real world.
Ray Jones, By email

He who shouts loudest
The majority of thinking Scots are opposed to independence, having thought through the economic and social arguments, but there are some things that should worry us.

While using the lavatory in Edinburgh Waverley railway station last week, I overheard some men bemoaning the fact that it cost 30p to access the lavatory, blaming David Cameron for this (despite the fact that these entry fees were introduced during the previous Labour administration, and the current Scottish government has done nothing about them) and saying this would surely be one of the first things to go after independence. We’ll sort these English bastards out was their war cry.

The whole concept of saying something often enough and loud enough may indeed work if it is not challenged. That is why the Better Together campaign has to take its gloves off.
Harry Barker, North Berwick, East Lothian

No way to win
I wondered how long it would take the no campaign to wake up to the fact that its negativity is off-putting to voters.

I know a few undecided who have been so scunnered by the doom and gloom and “it willnae work” that they’ve decided to vote yes on the basis that at least it’s showing some guts and positivity. I’ve seen nothing that would tempt me to change my mind and vote no. I’d like to hear no campaigners try to convince us of the positives.
Nicola Kerr, By email

Blood goes begging

THE problem is that there is no facility for people to donate blood on impulse (“Needle fear leaves shortage of young blood donors”, News, last week). I have seen people turned away because the quota for walk-in donors has been attained. Many are happy to have tattoos or body piercings, so they can’t be scared of a needle.
Colin Underhill, By email

Vein hope
As a teacher, I have never understood why donor sessions aren’t held more often in colleges and schools with sixth forms, so students (and staff) can be encouraged to donate.
David Wirth, London SE21

Young and willing
I am 26 and have given blood 17 times since my first year of university. My nearest session is still at a nearby university building and last time there was a 30-minute wait — even with an appointment. In my experience there is no lack of willing young donors.
John Kipling, Sheffield

Defence against flood of criticism

WE ISSUED advance warnings to more than 90,000 homes and businesses at risk of coastal and river flooding, including those along the Medway and at the Iford caravan park, Christchurch, Dorset (“Agency in deep water for unleashing flood”, News, last week). River flows in the Medway and its tributaries were some of the highest ever recorded. Sadly, some properties were flooded and I have great sympathy for those affected.

However, the Leigh barrier held back 5.5m cubic metres of water and significantly reduced the flows in the River Medway at Tonbridge and downstream. Had it not been in operation, communities along the river would have experienced more serious flooding. The Environment Agency flood defences protected more than 80,000 properties and hundreds of our staff continue to work around the clock to reduce the risk of further flooding during this spell of unsettled weather.
David Jordan, Executive Director of Operations, Environment Agency


Scream time
Having sat through the New Year’s Eve screening of Mamma Mia! with my wife and mother-in-law, I can understand why this is the marital break-up season (“The new year itch”, Focus, last week).
John Barton, Milan, Italy

Done over
How can television over Christmas be so bad — mostly repeats — considering the salaries paid to those responsible for programming?
George Muir, Poole, Dorset

Witness protection
The anonymous correspondent who suffered humiliation and ridicule in a trial may be comforted by the fact that things have changed (“Putting court witnesses on trial is indefensible”, Letters, last week). Witnesses may be protected by the use of screens or videolink. Lawyers have to act on behalf of their client by asking difficult questions, but if they are not relevant, or inappropriate, the judge should intervene. I think recent legislation prevents defendants cross-examining victims in such cases.
Anthony Prescott, Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Here’s the catch
Jeremy Clarkson, in his migration from petrolhead to weapons expert in his article about Mikhail Kalashnikov’s iconic AK-47 assault rifle (“The AK-47 says you don’t rule the world, Ronald McDonald”, News Review, last week) has muddled his left and right. The last time I handled an AK-47 (I used the weapon extensively while training Mozambican Liberation Front soldiers for the British government), the safety catch was on the right-hand side, not the left.
Milos Stankovic, Farnham, Surrey

Emergency rescue
John Martin (“Private concerns”, Letters, December 22) asks whether we should look at weekend arrangements at private hospitals as well as the NHS, and at who will provide cover in the event of emergencies. Why? So that when the lucrative procedures the private sector creams off go wrong, the (invariably) nearby NHS hospital can be left to pick up the pieces.
Alexander Fraser, City of York Council

Wasted youth
AA Gill’s article “Yet another one for the road” (Magazine, last week) moved me to tears. It was sad, depressing and so very true. The reality of the lives of these young people is indeed heartbreaking.
Mary Lynas, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Grand Grimsby
I am pleased that AA Gill finds our twin towns of Grimsby and Cleethorpes not to his liking. I would have been most upset if he had liked the place.
John Warner, Grimsby, Lincolnshire


Alfred Brendel, pianist, 83; Bradley Cooper, actor, 39; Robert Duvall, actor, 83; Umberto Eco, novelist, 82; January Jones, actress, 36; Vinnie Jones, footballer and actor, 49; King Juan Carlos of Spain, 76; Diane Keaton, actress, 68; Jan Leeming, newsreader, 72; Chris Stein, guitarist, 64


1895 Alfred Dreyfus, Jewish French army officer, is sentenced to life for treason but later exonerated; 1941 Amy Johnson, aviator, drowns after her plane crashes in the Thames estuary; 1993 the tanker Braer runs aground off Shetland, spilling 85,000 tons of crude oil

Corrections and clarifications

A report “Hedge fund top brass pocket £317m” (Business, last week) incorrectly stated that Marathon Asset Management is in a legal dispute with American investment manager Vanguard. In fact, there is no such dispute between Marathon and Vanguard, which remains one of Marathon’s most important clients. The two firms are co-defendants in litigation being brought by a third party. The article also described Marathon as a “hedge fund”; in fact, less than 2% of its assets are under management in hedge funds. We are happy to clarify the position.






SIR – Mary Creagh, the shadow transport secretary, is mistaken if she thinks that the Rev W Awdry had any bias against lady engine drivers when writing his Thomas the Tank Engine series.

The inspiration for the Thomas stories is the Talyllyn railway in mid-Wales. This steam railway has a number of regular women drivers, numerous lady firemen and features an all-female track-laying gang.

Richard Reidy
London N8

SIR – As my second job in the late Fifties, I worked as a technical assistant at British Railways’ research department in Derby.

My first position had been in the aero-engine division of Rolls-Royce. In the Sixties, I went on to English Electric in Whetstone, Leicestershire, where they were designing nuclear power stations.

I didn’t consider working in science and engineering at all strange at the time because I received my secondary education at a girls’ grammar school.

Val Galloway
Rolleston on Dove, Staffordshire

SIR – The Children’s Railway, in the scenic Budapest hills, is run almost entirely by young people aged 10-14. It operates six days a week on the seven-mile track, and we found it to be on time and spotlessly clean. At each halt, a smart station manager saluted the train on departure.

Maybe a combination of British female staff supplemented by Hungarian children would put a bit of spark back into our trains?

John S F Grindlay
Eydon, Northamptonshire

SIR – Annie and Clarabel (two of the Railway Children) are the names of carriages pulled by Thomas.

Patrick Wroe
Felixstowe, Suffolk


SIR – NHS England claims there is nothing wrong with NHS dentistry, and objects to dentists suggesting it is inferior to private dental treatment. Yet private patients generally have more time spent with them on preventive and restorative care, along with access to better-quality materials.

It is hard to understand how the NHS can provide a comprehensive dental service to all at standards that even start to compete with those of the private sector, given continual annual real-terms funding cuts for NHS dentistry.

Quentin Skinner
Tisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – For telling me a tooth had to come out a dentist charged me £35. For taking it out a further £90.

What deprivations must pensioners suffer if they have to find £125 to have a tooth removed? Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, recently gave me a new knee – for nothing.

Michael Blair
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

SIR – NHS England’s chief dental officer suggests we should be proud of the nation’s teeth. He should watch American cartoon series such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. He will see that any appearance by a Briton comes complete with awful, dirty, mangled teeth. British teeth are considered a joke in America.

Andrew Warren
Brent Knoll, Somerset

Unwelcome guest

SIR – I am glad to see that there were several comments about the Today programme, its guest editor, and her invited guests, all of whom were very Left-wing and anti-West. They are also fortunate that they are able to air their views freely in our country; they certainly would not be permitted to do so in many other countries.

Who is PJ Harvey anyway? I’ve never heard of her.

Monica MacAuley
Taunton, Somerset

Art of dining

SIR – Picasso was idly sketching on a napkin in a Paris restaurant when he was recognised by an American, who gushingly offered to purchase the doodle. Taken aback when he asked for 40,000 francs, she protested that it took only a few seconds to complete. “You are mistaken, Madam,” he replied. “It took 40 years.”

Graham Weeks
Vilassar de Mar, Barcelona, Spain
Not just Picasso: a napkin message from Andy Warhol

SIR – Our French lawyer says that, in that country, as long as a will is written by the testator in their own hand, all at one time, with the same pen for validation, then it can be written, signed and dated on anything, before filing with a notary. No witness is needed.

She has dealt with wills written on napkins, and startles her students by saying she has validated a will written on underpants.

Jeremy Houdret
Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire

Deaf to avalanches

SIR – I have lived in the Alps for the past 20 winters. The accident that happened to Michael Schumacher, an experienced skier, shows how quickly fun can turn to disaster.

I often explain to skiers the danger of headphones. They plug in, turn the volume up, and become oblivious to people and the dangers of the mountain. Yearly I hear of deaths in avalanches, some due to the victim hearing neither a warning shout nor the mountain on the move.

Lyndi d’Ambrumenil
Zeals, Somerset

SIR – Beverley Turner urges every parent to ensure that children wear helmets while cycling.

My grandson was cycling with me and was in collision with a 4×4 vehicle. His head hit the windscreen and he was thrown on to the road. He was wearing his cycle helmet. The result was a broken wrist, and no head injury whatsoever. My blood runs cold at the outcome had he not had the good sense to wear a helmet.

David McIlwaine
Bangor, Co Down

Brian in the box

SIR – Our bird box, with camera wired to the television, shows that our personal blue tit (Brian) has been sleeping there every night, from about 4pm, for the last month or so. Early spring, or just long, chilly nights? He seems content with the arrangement, and we are delighted.

Chris Carter
Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire


SIR – Nearly 40 years ago my chemistry teacher offered a prize for the best mnemonic for the first two rows of the periodic table. I won the prize – a little book about atoms – with: “Happy Little Blue Budgies Crack Nuts On Friday Nights, Naughty Magpies Always Steal Precious Stones, Clocks And Keys.” (Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine, Neon, Sodium [Na], Magnesium, Aluminium, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Chlorine, Argon, Potassium [K].)

Judith Jung
South Godstone, Surrey

SIR – My English teacher used mnemonics for difficult spellings. His best was: “Dash in a rush, run hard or expect accident.”

David Wall
Southport, Lancashire

What next for the flecks of flecked flex?

SIR – At least the rubber bands dropped by postmen can be picked up and re-used. I have yet to discover a use for the off-cuts of blue and yellow wire dropped by BT technicians.

Mick Fursedon
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – We are now bound by regulations issued by Royal Mail regarding what items we can send through the post. After Christmas I ordered online some batteries to install in a Christmas present. I was informed these would be delivered by carrier, as they are on the list of objects we are not now allowed to post. The batteries arrived on Hogmanay, delivered by the postman. I even had to sign for them.

What’s going on?

Sue Tate
Carbost, Isle of Skye

SIR – People shouldn’t be too quick to blame farmers for not clearing rivers that flood. It is the farmers who are always there to help in bad weather – clearing roads in snow and removing cars from flooded roads.

We walk along the lesser Teise, a tributary of the Medway near Yalding in Kent, and we are continually phoning the Environment Agency, informing them of trees or rubbish in the river, but we are mainly ignored. The rivers are no longer dredged because of wildlife.

Elizabeth Day
Collier Street, Kent

SIR – We live on the outskirts of Yalding, and were cut off during the floods. In 2000 we moved into our 400-year-old house, and have experienced two major floods.

This time, I witnessed wonderful community spirit and heard much praise for voluntary organisations. The response of the Environment Agency was little better than in 2000, and worse in some respects. It gave the rivers Beult and Teise “flood warning” status; the Medway was given the same status the next morning. At no time was it raised to the highest “severe flood warning”. It gave residents the impression that the flooding would be less than in 2000. In fact, it was far worse.

Related Articles

Fortunately, we were told what to expect by a neighbour in contact with operators of the Leigh flood barrier. Those that relied on the Floodline information service were not so fortunate.

The water far exceeded the capacity of the Leigh flood barrier. It may buy time for Tonbridge residents to be evacuated but seems to do little to limit flooding. Its capacity needs to be increased. Inaction comes at a heavy cost to householders and businesses in the Medway valley.

Rob Bird
Yalding, Kent

SIR – Yalding has flooded from time immemorial, but less frequently in the past 60 years, thanks to the work of the Medway Conservancy. In the Fifties, the Beult flooded Yalding most years. My father’s farm flooded, but not the house. He would canoe across the river and up the high street delivering milk and bread to those who had decided to live upstairs.

No one thought of phoning the council. The village used self-help, with the WRVS providing food and blankets in the village hall. It appears that this fine tradition has been forgotten or lapsed – a great pity.

Peter Davidson
Tenterden, Kent

SIR – I am appalled at the state of the ditches around us in Hampshire causing floods. We keep our own ditches very clean, with no lying water round us, and we are in a valley. We have also dug out a pond and elsewhere a winter pond.

It’s common sense: the water has to go somewhere and will behave quite well if guided.

Lady Plastow
Awbridge, Hampshire




Irish Times:




Irish Independent:

* Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has said “penalty points have been hugely successful” and “the new Road Traffic Bill will make a big difference to safety on the roads”.

Also in this section

Griffith’s key role is acknowledged

Ireland should leave EU

We are now jailers of innocent man

An examination of this success shows that since the Road Safety Authority (RSA) was established in 2006, 30pc of deaths were of people aged under 24, a million speeding penalty points were issued, and 1,971 road users died.

In 2009, An Garda Siochana set up a hi-tech unit to discover the cause of accidents and a special Government task force was also set up in response to rising road deaths in 2013.

Both these units have yet to report their findings, while the RSA has repeated the same message, “Safer Roads: only you can get us there.”

New speed detectors to stop drivers ‘slowing’ for cameras will be introduced by Mr Varadkar, but digital speedometers, cruise control and alcolysers in cars do not appear to be included.

In 2011, the RSA claimed the speed limits throughout the country were incorrect, but this is the responsibility of local councillors.

The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies questions the motivation and financial implications behind South Australia‘s speed camera policy, which issues 50pc of speeding tickets to drivers caught travelling less than 5mph over the speed limit.

In 2011, a Garda chief said that, “some speed vans are operating in areas that are not accident black spots”, so drivers receive penalty points on roads with incorrect speed limits.

In 2011, the local authorities were ordered by the Department of Transport to take down high speed-limit signs on dangerous stretches of road, but this cannot happen as councillors have full responsibility.

The order to review the speed limits and the location of the signs displaying them is contained in a circular sent to every city and county manager by the Department of Transport.




* It is time for the Government to regulate insurance premiums. At the consumer level, health insurance, home insurance, and motor insurance have all increased by double digits each year.

Insurance in the commercial sector has also risen, adding to the cost of goods and services that consumers purchase.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was this: “The Irish insurance industry said it had been anticipating premium hikes of around 10pc but they could soar to as much as 30pc because of the level of storm-related claims” (Irish Independent, December 31).

Insurance premiums are fundamentally calculated on the basis of the probability of claims from a broad pool of policy holders and these risks are further spread across the international insurance community through reinsurance and other instruments.

How, then, can it be that a spell of stormy weather over a two-week period, which has been (in global terms) geographically isolated, result in an increase in premiums? In fact, every time there is a spell of bad weather (think of the “deep freeze” a few years ago) we see an increase in the cost of premiums.

I have significant concerns when the insurance industry apparently fails to take into account the chance of “bad things happening” and use such bad things as an excuse to hike premiums.

Premiums will naturally increase with cost increases, and insurers are entitled to a profit incentive.

But it seems to me that the Financial Regulator shows a far greater concern towards protecting the investors in insurance companies than the customers.




* I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in Dublin over Christmas. No doubt Transport Minister Leo Varadkar‘s ‘Gathering’ had lured them here, although none of them seemed to have a clue about any ‘Gathering’ — they’d just come for the Guinness and the decorations.

It was a pity then that a lot of shops and public places were not open to welcome the extra few euro these tourists wanted to spend.

Instead, many believe it’s still Dev’s Ireland, where the priest would read your name from the pulpit if you opened over Christmas time.

Most of the ‘New Irish’ businesses were open for our visitors, while the ‘Real Irish’ drank and ate themselves so legless they won’t be able to face work until Monday, January 6, the Epiphany.

It’s about time Ireland Inc realised that Christmas/St Stephen’s Day is just a two-day holiday, and New Year’s Day is just one day — not a 16-day ‘holiday’ of laziness.




* The Road Safety Authority is promising a consultation process to consider allowing driverless cars to be tested on our roads (Irish Independent, December 3).

First, we built housing estates that nobody lives in, now we have the possibility of cars driving around with nobody at the wheel. What next?




* Strolling around Dublin on Thursday, January 2, I was surprised on ‘putting my head around the door’ of four different pubs to be informed that they would not be doing food, even the humble sandwich, until Monday, January 6.

As I eventually settled for a sandwichless pint, I pondered from the pub viewpoint, was it a case of not using one’s loaf to make some fairly handy dough, given how hard it can be to make a crust in these times?




* For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding. Initially, we were told that this was due to abnormal weather, but the abnormal is now the norm and the State has not dealt with it.

When is it going to do so? It seems not too difficult with the engineering ingenuity we have, so that people in Cork and elsewhere can live at this time of year without fear.




* Simon O’Connor and John Bellew make a valid case for defaulting on our bank debts instead of having Irish taxpayers paying them, but they fail to say what the consequences of default might have been for our citizens (Letters, January 2).

Similarly, they make a good case for blaming the big bad foreigner for what happened to this country.

But if our financial decision-makers are so innocent, why is it that the decision-makers in most eurozone countries did not cause their countries to go broke?



Irish Independent





January 4, 2014

4 January 2014 Shopping

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Leslie has been automated by a computer Ill Bred Fred, which takes Troutbridge right into the center of a war zone. Between the opposing side, can Troutbridge survive? Priceless.

Bank, Peanuts, post-office Co Op, home

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets well over 400, well done Mary,Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.





Kinmont Hoitsma, who has died aged 79, was an American academic, Olympic fencer and the last boyfriend of Cecil Beaton.

Hoitsma met Beaton in 1963, when the photographer was in Hollywood creating costumes and sets for the film of My Fair Lady. It was an unhappy time for Beaton because he liked to move on swiftly from one project to the next, but on this occasion he was held in Hollywood by contract ; he fell out with the director, George Cukor, and there was a period when the two men refused to speak to one another.

One weekend in March, Beaton escaped to San Francisco, where he wound up at a bar called the Tool Box and met the handsome, 6ft 3in Kin Hoitsma . “His apartment had dried grasses on the windowsill and eight daffodils were very charming in a black pot,” Beaton noted.

An unlikely friendship formed, and soon Beaton was to be found hiking in Big Sur and camping out under the stars in the Yosemite Valley. Hoitsma was able to discuss art, but he had never heard of Chanel — or, for that matter, of Beaton. The relationship was greatly encouraged by Christopher Isherwood , and Truman Capote told Beaton he had never looked better.

On his return to Britain, Beaton invited Hoitsma to move in with him. Hoitsma arrived in London in June 1964 to study at the Slade and was given modest accommodation at 8 Pelham Place, Beaton’s London home, and the smaller spare room at Reddish House, Broadchalke.

Hoitsma met Princess Margaret and became fond of Pauline de Rothschild and Countess Brandolini. But after a year he told Beaton that he had to leave: he was yearning for the hills around San Francisco. For his part, Beaton, though devoted to Kin, was not cut out for domesticity; but he was still devastated . The two men remained friends to the end.

Kinmont Trefry Hoitsma was born in Cooperstown, New York, on April 10 1934, the son of Ralph Hoitsma, a salesman in the paper trade, in turn the son of a cattle rancher in Wyoming who had emigrated from Holland.

The family was peripatetic, moving between the East Coast and the Midwest. Kin graduated from Shaker Heights High School in Ohio, and went on to Princeton University where he studied Greek and majored in French.

In 1956 he competed in the Ivy League Fencing Championship, losing narrowly in the final match, against Columbia. He went on to the collegiate finals, and in November that year, aged 22, fenced for the United States at the Melbourne Olympics. The men’s epée team did not make it beyond the first round, though in the individual men’s epée Hoitsma reached the quarter-finals, defeating the eventual gold medallist, Carlo Pavesi.

On his way back from the Games Hoitsma stopped off in San Francisco, and liked it so much that he settled there, studying Architecture at Berkeley before taking a variety of jobs. He then took an Art History degree at San Francisco State University. It was during this period that he met Beaton.

After his return from London, Hoitsma settled back into academic life, contentedly teaching history, literature, philosophy and religion at Chabot Community College for the next 30 years. On one occasion Beaton even dropped in on one of his English Literature classes, and became absorbed watching Hoitsma dashing “from one end to the other of a blackboard – an Olympic athlete of the mind at work”. In 1967 Hoitsma published The Real Mask, a dissertation on Edward Albee’s play Tiny Alice.

Hoitsma lived on Potrero Hill, where he cultivated old-fashioned roses and was visited in 1967 by Christopher Isherwood. In later life he retired to a home in Oakland, California.

Kinmont Hoitsma, born April 10 1934, died September 30 2013



It is ironic you say crystallographers “see with greater precision than crystal-ball gazers” (In praise of …, 3 January). You mean accuracy, not precision. The difference between them is at the heart of crystallography. Accuracy describes the closeness of a measurement to the true value. Precision is the closeness of two or more measurements to each other. Crystal-ball gazers can in fact be very precise.
Dr Alex May

• Rosalind Franklin (inadvertently) and Maurice Wilkins supplied the crystallographic evidence to Crick and Watson. We should also remember Kathleen Lonsdale, professor of crystallography at UCL for many years, notable for, among many achievements, being possibly the only person to be a prison governor while being imprisoned for anti-war beliefs.
Mike Hancock
St Austell, Cornwall



Re Nosheen Iqbal’s radio review of PJ Harvey’s guest editorship of Today (G2, 3 January): is she seriously criticising the inclusion of Clive Stafford-Smith, John Pilger, Ian Cobain and the blessed Rowan Williams on account of them being men? What good men they are. And while we are at it, let’s have a radio reviewer, with hinterland, who at least acknowledges Radio 3. Female or male.
Giovanna Butterfield
Colchester, Essex

• Did the 37 people who complained to the BBC about PJ Harvey’s editorship of Today also criticise Antony Jenkins’ programme-long commercial for Barclays Bank a few days earlier? Fancy.
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

• If being greeted on arrival at Luton airport by Keith Vaz doesn’t deter migrants, what will (Report, 2 January)?
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• If we insist on not giving benefits to our new European visitors, then let’s not tax them for the first three months either. Then see if we are better or worse off.
Tunde Cockshott

• Please, for 2014 can MPs stop inserting “hardworking” whenever referring to anyone in employment (Applications for Help to Buy home loans double within one month, 2 January). It has become a meaningless adjective.
Michael Miller

• Michael Morpurgo (A year to honour, but not glorify, the Great War’s dead, 2 January) refers to Dorothy Ellis, at 93, as the “last surviving widow of any soldier who fought in the first world war”. My father fought in the RFA, was wounded and was retraining as a pilot when the war ended. My mother, Mary Cushing, still lives in Tiverton, Devon. She is 98.
Jeremy Cushing

• This Christmas, not one single carol singer. Last year, not one single “penny for the guy”. Last year, 32 kids, some with parents, knocked on our door “trick or treating”. Is it the pagans or the US who have influenced this cultural shift?
Don Quinn
Colchester, Essex

The dockers’ strike in July 1984 (Revealed: Thatcher’s plan to use army during miners’ strike, 3 January) was indeed one of the crucial episodes in the coal dispute of 1984-5, not least in revealing the duplicitous ways in which the Thatcher governments defeated their opponents in the labour movement. The dockers’ action was provoked when the British Steel Corporation unloaded materials on the Humber. This work was normally conducted by dockers under the national dock labour scheme, which provided employment and income security, and was an element of the wider social democratic legacy of the 1940s that Thatcher and her ministers were incrementally dismantling. Thatcher’s transport secretary, Nicholas Ridley, pledged in the House of Commons that there were in fact no plans to abolish the scheme. The dockers returned to work, although some with major misgivings, and the government’s immediate economic difficulties arising from the miners’ strike were resolved. With the miners isolated and then defeated, the dock labour scheme was abolished in 1989.
Jim Phillips
University of Glasgow

• I welcome confirmation that Arthur Scargill‘s 1984 analysis of the government’s plans for the mining industry has been vindicated. The initial 20 closures were the thin end of the wedge that would lead to the decimation of British coal mining. I await apologies from David Cameron (on behalf of his hero, Mrs Thatcher) and the Daily Mail, who continually called him a liar, traitor and “the enemy within”.
Tony Jones
Aberystwyth, Ceredigion


These days, the world is closely watching Ukraine. Some of the recent developments, above all the recurrent attempts of the government to use violence against peaceful demonstrators, raise a serious concern. We, representatives of the international academic community, are especially troubled by the fact that violence and harassment quite often is targeted at youth, very often journalists, university students and young faculty.

Such conduct by the Ukrainian government is destructive, both for the government itself and for the future of the country it represents.

In contrast to the government, Ukrainian society has displayed admirable civic maturity. Its determination to keep its protest within the realm of legality and its unwavering rejection of violence are a model for the defence of civil rights. Today, the Ukrainian Maidan represents Europe at its best – what many thinkers in the past and present assume to be fundamental European values.

We are calling on our governments and international organisations to support Ukrainians in their efforts to put an end to a corrupt and brutal regime and to the geopolitical vulnerability of their country. Ukraine needs a European Marshall-like plan that would ensure its transformation into a full democracy and society with guaranteed civil rights. In elaboration of a new policy towards Ukraine, we propose to draw a distinction between the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian society. While the former must be treated with a maximum of strictures, the latter deserves a maximum of support.

Let us help Ukrainians to build a new Ukraine – and then they surely will help us build a new Europe and a fairer world.

Nadia Al-Bagdadi Professor, head of department of history, Central European University, Budapest, Anne Applebaum Historian, journalist and writer, Warsaw, Andrew Arato Dorothy Hirshon professor in political and social theory, New School for Social Research, New York, Omer Bartov John P Birkelund distinguished professor of European history, Brown University, Zygmunt Bauman Professor emeritus, University of Leeds, Ulrich Beck Professor, Munich University and London School of Economics and Political Science, Seyla Benhabib Eugene Mayer professor of political science and philosophy, Yale University, Josetxo Beriain Professor, Universidad Pública de Navarra, Richard J Bernstein Vera List professor of philosophy, New School for Social Research, Rajeev Bhargava Professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, Giovanna Brogi Bercoff Professor, University of Milan, Boris Buden Writer and philosopher, Berlin, Craig Calhoun Director, London School of Economics and Political Science, José Casanova Professor of sociology and senior fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Julian Casanova Professor of history, University of Zaragoza, Dr Velvl Chernin Poet and literary scholar, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Roberto Cipriani Professor, University Roma Tre, Krzysztof Czyżewski President, Borderland Foundation, Poland, Alessandro Ferrara Professor, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Istvan Deak Seth Low professor emeritus of history, Columbia University, Rafael Díaz-Salazar Professor, Universidad Complutense Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Madrid, William Douglass Professor emeritus, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, François Dubet Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Carlo Ginzburg Franklin D Murphy professor emeritus of Italian renaissance studies, University of California, Los Angeles, Jeffrey C Goldfarb Micheal E Gellert professor of sociology, New School for Social Research, Dr Semion Goldin Senior research fellow, Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry, Hebrew University, Nilüfer Göle Directrice d’études, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques (CADIS), Paris, Felix M Goni Professor, University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, Andrea Graziosi Professor, University of Naples Federico II, Irena Grudzinska Gross Research scholar, Princeton University, Mark von Hagen Arizona State University, Tomáš Halík Professor, Charles University Prague, Danièle Hervieu-Léger Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Roald Hoffmann Frank HT Rhodes professor of humane letters emeritus, Cornell University; Noble laureate in chemistry, José Ignacio-Torreblanca columnist, El Pais, Maria Janion literary theorist, Polish Academy of Sciences, Andreas Kappeler Professor, University of Vienna, Hans G Kippenberg Wisdom professor for comparative religious studies, Jacobs University, Bremen, János Kis Professor of philosophy and political science, Central European University, Budapest, Zenon Kohut Professor, department of history and classics, University of Alberta, Ivan Krastev Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Mark Leonard Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Maria Lewicka Professor, University of Warsaw, Arien Mack Alfred J and Monette C Marrow professor of psychology, New School for Social Research, Katherine Marshall Visiting professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, David Martin Professor emeritus, London School of Economics, Elzbieta Matynia Professor of sociology and liberal studies, New School for Social Research, Andrzej Mencwel Professor emeritus, University of Warsaw, Tariq Modood Professor of sociology, politics and public policy, University of Bristol, Gabriel Motzkin Professor and executive director, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Alexander Motyl Professor, Rutgers University, Norman Naimark Robert and Florence McDonnell professor of eastern European studies, Stanford University, Claus Offe Professor, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Andrés Ortega Director, Research Department of the Spanish prime minister, Enzo Pace Professor of sociology of religion, University of Padua, Denis Pelletier, Directeur d’études, École pratique des hautes etudes, Paris, Alfonso Pérez-Agote, Professor emeritus of sociology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Serhii Plokhii Mykhailo Hrushevskyi professor of Ukrainian history, Harvard University, Antony Polonsky Albert Abramson professor of holocaust studies, Brandeis University, Jacek Purchla Professor, Jagiellonian University, Jacques Rupnik Professor, College of Europe in Bruges, Michael Sandel Anne T and Robert M Bass professor of government, Harvard University, Saskia Sassen Robert S Lynd professor of sociology, Columbia University, Richard Sennett Professor of sociology, New York University, Slawomir Sierakowski Director, Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw, Marci Shore Associate professor of history, Yale University, Aleksander Smolar President, Stefan Batory Foundation, Warsaw, Alfred C Stepan Wallace S Sayre professor of government, Columbia University, Frank Sysyn Director, Peter Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Research, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, Charles Taylor Professor emeritus of Philosophy, McGill University, Bryan S Turner Presidential professor of sociology, The Graduate Center City University of New York, Jordi Vaquer Director, Open Society Initiative for Europe, Barcelona, Peter van der Veer Director, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Michael Walzer Professor emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, George Weigel William E Simon chair in Catholic studies, ethics and public policy center, Washington, DC, Raquel Weiss Professor, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Michel Wieviorka Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Larry Wolff Director, Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, New York University, Eli Zaretsky Professor of history, New School for Social Research, Krzysztof Zamorski Professor, Jagiellonian University, Artur Żmijewski Art editor of Krytyka Polityczna, Slavoj Žižek Director, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London


Modern politics is full of well-educated and plausible people who turn up at top levels with little knowledge or understanding of their parties. And so it was with Nick Clegg‘s former director of strategy, Richard Reeves (Comment, 31 December), who says we might be OK in 2020 but who, in 2010, helped to persuade the Liberal Democrat leadership to ditch most of our existing support. First it was students and young people. Then teachers and the educational community. Then health service workers, and public sector professionals and white collar workers in general. Then a lot of the environmental, civil liberties and human rights lobbies which had seen us as their natural allies.

Instead he told us just to sit firmly in the political centre, hardly a secure position from which to promote principled politics when the whole spectrum itself is steadily shifting to the right. He told us to target a newly invented group of voters called “alarm clock Britain” and everything would be well. Well it is not. The “alarm clock” nonsense may be forgotten but the alarm bells are ringing loud. The Liberal Democrats have a choice. We can promote the progressive centre-left capital L Liberalism that we have stood for since the 1950s and still do, which many Liberal Democrat ministers have been working for. Or we can seek the shifting sands of the mythical centre ground, standing for nothing and just hoping for some electoral wizardry to hang on to the seats we hold.
Tony Greaves
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

• Richard Reeves writes of the Lib Dems at the 2015 election “pouring their energy and troops” into target seats. There are fundamental problems with this strategy. Party membership has plummeted to a fraction of that at the last election. There will not be enough troops to pour into anywhere. It is likely, furthermore, that many of the tens of thousands who have resigned from the party in recent years are from the social/liberal wing of the party. The same individuals who, from my experience as Liberal/Lib Dem West Country organiser and press officer from 1985-1992, made up much of the Lib Dems’ renowned team of highly motivated activists. And then there is the question of financial resources from a depleted membership base. I fear that outcomes will demonstrate that it was not a sensible move for Clegg to “yank” the Lib Dems to the centre ground to jostle for votes with the Tories and Ukip.
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset

• If Richard Reeves is right and the Liberal Democrat party leadership believe that their main asset for the 2015 election lies in “steadiness and consistency, rather than for rhetoric and radicalism” then we can only marvel at their disconnection from reality. Nick Clegg is deputy leader of a government that is embarked on a highly ideological set of policies which includes an attempt to return to the employment practices and health system of the early 20th century and the education and welfare systems of the early 19th century.

Meanwhile, they are actively engaged in reducing the standard of living of the British people, via austerity policies sold to us on the basis of reducing debt (in an age in which the government interest rate is several times lower than inflation), but are actually intended to make us more attractive to exploitation by international capital. What do Mr Reeves and Mr Clegg define as radicalism, if not this?
Toby Moore

• Baroness Williams (Letters, 3 January) states that “above all, the NHS needs a consensus based on the determination that it should remain a public service”. The Liberal Democrats in the coalition government had the power and the opportunity to kill the health and welfare bill. They, and the Liberal peers, notably Baroness Williams, chose to support the Conservative bill. Creeping privatisation of the NHS has been the inevitable outcome. It was sad to discover a hero with feet of clay, but disastrous that the hero should have been instrumental in the destruction of our health service.
Joyce Brand
Ludlow, Shropshire




Your article “Farage calls on Britain to admit Syrian war refugees” (30 December) raised the issue that we have flatly refused to take in a single family fleeing Syria.

In seeking to hold the Coalition to account on this crucial matter, I have secured a debate and will be asking the Government to take action in conjunction with other EU member states to establish a European-wide evacuation and resettlement programme for those fleeing the conflict.

I hope colleagues from all parties (and none) will take up this opportunity (on 9 January) and contribute constructively to the debate. The UK can and must lead the EU in living out the true meaning of its creed and offer a safe haven for refugees fleeing such a dreadful war.

While I am proud that the Government has given financial assistance to NGOs working in Syria, and to Syria’s neighbours who have taken on the burden of accepting so many seeking refuge, more must be done. We cannot fail the people of Syria.

Rev Lord Roberts  of Llandudno, President, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, House of Lords, London SW1

Andy Turney (letter, 2 January) seems to believe that the West’s lack of intervention in Syria in 2013 is something to be celebrated. I’m not sure it’s time to reach for the bubbly just yet.

Not only is Assad continuing to butcher his own people, he has dragged his feet on the issue of chemical weapons and is getting even further into bed with Vladimir Putin.

The death toll in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, has just passed 130,000. There is a worrying trend at present for overlooking the deaths of innocents in far-off lands if those deaths have nothing to do with the West. Only if we are in some way involved do those killings appear to count in the minds of some.

There are plenty who are shrill when Western governments contemplate ways of trying to prevent bloodshed, but if the West steers clear of the killing fields you’ll hear a deafening silence as bodies pile up.

The deaths of all innocent people count at all times. I’ll leave the champagne  on ice.

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

I wonder how many of your readers would take issue with your leader “Let them in – Britain has a moral duty to help Syria’s refugees” (26 December). Although alluded to in your news coverage, nowhere in your editorial is Britain’s contribution of £500m of aid to Syria acknowledged.

The opposition, ready as usual to criticise the Government’s reluctance to accept Syrian refugees,  seems ready to forget – when convenient – that charity should begin at home, and more than ready to turn a blind eye to our overburdened infrastructure and social services.

Common sense is often misconstrued as being mean-spirited or nothing more than a hurdle to be overcome.

Attempting to find a metaphor for what too often is labelled racism – but is nothing more than a sensible solution to overload – one could consider Samuel Plimsoll’s controversial line upon seagoing vessels which was adopted as a warning that they were dangerously overloaded.

Common sense did prevail in that case. When will we, as a nation, be ready to recognise it in limiting the number of entrants to our shores until our resources have recovered from unregulated immigration and are once more fit for purpose?

Peter Troy, Headington, Oxford

Congratulations on your editorial calling on Britain to join the US, France and Germany in taking its share of Syrian refugees. The Green Party joins you in that call.

Among the more than two million Syrians who have fled their country, about 800,000 are in Lebanon, 500,000 each in Jordan and Turkey, and about 8,000 across the entire EU.

Those who are particularly vulnerable need more than the basic protection these regional countries are able to offer, and the UK, as one of the world’s richest countries, with a long and honourable history of providing asylum, has a responsibility to be again a place of refuge.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, London NW1

NHS should be free when needed most

One in three doctors is in favour of charging for A&E services (“Charge £10 to keep timewasters away from A&E, say GPs”, 3 January). This is a response to increasing attendances at A&E and is one of the Government’s own design, having made it more and more difficult to get services from the local GP surgery or health centre.

If these A&E charges were ever enacted, it would end the principle that the NHS provides services free at the point of delivery. It will also increase still further the administrative burden on our overstretched health sector, which would have to judge whether a visit was necessary and issue the refunds to those “deserving” cases.

We currently all pay for the health of our citizens, proportionate to what we can afford, through general taxation. If we were to move to a society where people pay for the services that we use (or even deserve), should we be charging more tax for mountain climbers and skateboarders and less for childless couples? Should smokers and drinkers be penalised?

As a childless, non-smoking couple who do not participate in adventure sports, we could look forward to tax rebates, but we are daft enough to believe in the old-fashioned principle that we should pay our fair share towards the health of all of our citizens and that these services should be provided free when they are needed most.

Peter and Susan Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

There are those who want people to be charged for going to A&E. But what about those like me who neither keep spare cash nor have a credit card? We also live alone, so can’t necessarily borrow the money from someone.

Will we have to show a bank book or statement saying how much money we have before being seen to? If so, this is another step towards dismantling our NHS, as well as penalising the poorest.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby

Another way to measure our progress

Eighty years ago today, a report was presented to the US Senate which, by common consent, marks the birth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The brainchild of US economist Simon Kuznets, GDP was designed to provide information about economic activity during the Depression.

It has since assumed an almost unassailable authority as the de facto measure of a country’s progress. However, as the world faces new economic and social challenges, we must all ask ourselves what more should be done do to measure progress.

Last year, the Social Progress Index (SPI) was launched – an attempt to provide a more complete picture of nations’ social progress, designed to complement GDP and help governments frame global, national and local responses to address societies’ challenges. Unlike GDP, which measures the market value of goods and services, the SPI quantifies social output, assessing factors such as political freedoms, availability of quality healthcare, and measurements of citizens’ personal safety.

Today we celebrate Kuznets’ achievement, but we hope that, in another 80 years, generations will look back to the start of the 21st century as the time when nations recognised the value of measuring social progress on a par with economic progress.

Michael Green, Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative, London SW1

A halo for Julian Assange?

In his assessment of the P J Harvey edition of Today, Ian Burrell writes (3 January) that he “didn’t feel BBC editorial values were compromised”. Yet the programme contained a Thought for the Day from Julian Assange, who is the subject of a European arrest warrant. Assange used his slot to quote liberally from the Bible, creating something of a halo for himself. I can’t see how his inclusion in the programme and his shameless use of  his slot to sanctify himself does anything other than reflect badly on BBC editorial values.

David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire

I concur with Ian Burrell’s view that P J Harvey’s editorship of Today was “radical and refreshing”. There is a great need for uncensored, thoughtful news coverage which is not hedged about by dissimulation and toeing the party line.

More from left-leaning academicians and journalists such as John Pilger would present a more balanced, more believable and generally more thought-provoking programme, such as Harvey’s surely was.

Donna Thomson, Alsager, Cheshire

Britain’s face of welcome

If being greeted on arrival at Luton Airport by Keith Vaz doesn’t deter migrants, what will?

Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon






Sir, Professor Brinkworth (letter Jan 2) is quite right in his assertion that the principal cause of flooding in Britain is the inability of watercourses to carry away storm water. However, before mustering the originality of the British engineering industry to devise waterborne machines for this purpose, it is worth reflecting on some of the contributing factors which are hampering this drainage in the first place. In our Broadland village in the 1950s and well into the 1960s I recall the lengthsman frequenting our country lanes keeping drainage-ways, culverts and ditches clear. Local Drainage Boards, made up mainly of farmers and landowners with local knowledge, ensured that main ditches and dykes were similarly maintained. Storm water at least had a chance of finding its way efficiently to the nearest river before causing a disaster.

Oliver Chastney


Sir, I agree with Professor Brinkworth that some flooding is caused by poor river maintenance. I was a member of the Great Ouse Local Flood Defence Committee for over ten years, and we were constantly urging the Environment Agency to spend more on dredging rivers. This is costly, however, and, with the constraints imposed by wildlife habitat protection, often difficult. This important area of flood defence should be reappraised.

Richard Brown

Clenchwarton, Norfolk

Sir, I do not agree with Professor Brinkworth about dredging. The restrictions to flow in most British rivers are bridges, weirs and other man-made structures. Dredging makes no difference to flow, only to capacity. But no matter how much capacity you create by dredging, heavy rain will soon fill it. The only way to manage flooding is to do exactly that: manage flooding. For decades we have tried the opposite, to eliminate flooding according to the logic expressed by Professor Brinkworth. It doesn’t work. Worse, it turns our rivers into ugly ditches and makes the problem far worse into the bargain.

We should instead look for ways to slow water down, to harness the value of wetland. Taming nature through understanding is possible. Conquering her through ignorance is not.

Charles Rangeley-Wilson

(president, the Wild Trout Trust)

Thornham, Norfolk

Sir, Clearing waterways to improve the dispersion of rainwater more rapidly was a self-help remedy tried in the tributaries of River Ray after the floods here in January 2007. Although we suffered considerably less during the storms of the following July, the clearance had disastrous consequences downstream.

The flow of water down the cleared waterways was so fast that too much arrived in Oxford all at once, resulting in extensive flooding. Furthermore, with our District Council planning upwards of 10,000 houses in the Bicester catchment area of the River Ray, the problems for villages southeast of Bicester and for Oxford are likely to be exacerbated several fold over the next few years.

David A. Jones

Chesterton, Oxon


The Science Museum’s store at the former RAF Wroughton site has for some years now been closed to the public

Sir, Your report (Jan 2) on the Science Museum’s proposal to build a solar farm on the former RAF Wroughton site reminded me that I am still awaiting a place in their visitor queue. Wroughton has for some years now been closed to the public.

The site is used as the Science Museum’s “Big Object” store. It holds some 26,000 objects in three aircraft hangars. As an aviation enthusiast, I am interested to see the 18 aircraft stored there, including the only Lockheed Constellation in the UK.

As I recall, it was some eight years ago that I first inquired about visitor arrangements. I was advised that there was no public access. I would need to arrange a private group of 50 visitors and the fee would be £300. I mentally added my request to the “too difficult” list and got on with life.

I wish the Science Museum well with its plans for a solar farm at Wroughton. Once it is running, perhaps management could use some of the energy cost savings to fund more accessible public access to the site.

Andy Burrows

Chesham, Bucks



Let the issue of Romanians and Bulgarians coming here to work be discussed in a way that does not them because of their nationality

Sir, Political and media discussion about the feared mass influx of Romanians and Bulgarians has been frequently offensive and sometimes bordering on racist. There is no denying that Romanians are begging in many cities, and not only in the UK. Nor have I any doubt that some Romanians may commit offences here, from pickpocketing to human trafficking. They may even be using the NHS — well, good luck to them, if they can get an appointment.

In the meantime, let those who fear infection from the East think about how much this country benefits, in so many ways, from the immigrants, and not just the Polish plumbers. There would be hardly any dentists in large parts of Wales were it not for those we have poached — fully trained at no cost to the UK — from the East.

Let them remember, also, that Britain voted in favour of accession to the EU by Romania and Bulgaria. But most of all, let the issue be discussed in a way that does not demonise people because of their nationality.

Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz



A reader received a total of 60 items from 40 charitable organisations in the past three months – is this a record of success?

Sir, A wet New Year’s Day was a chance to inspect the charity appeals which hit my doormat in the last three months of 2013. A total of 40 organisations had sent a total of 60 items. Some came from charities I did not know; some from those to which I already donate. The “free gifts”, as well as the pens and Christmas cards, included a pair of gloves and an alarm clock. The recycling bin has received much paper. Presumably Royal Mail has benefited too. I redirected my winter heating allowance to a charity which approached me by email.

As a business model is this a record of success?

Ann Franklin







SIR – I was interested to read that the Duke of Cambridge is to go to Cambridge University to study sustainability leadership to prepare him for the management of some of the Royal family’s land holdings.

I was one of the last to study Agriculture at Cambridge before the faculty was absorbed by Biological Sciences in the early Seventies.

After graduating, I went abroad to teach sustainable agriculture to Mayan Indians in Mexico. However, it wasn’t until I got my hands dirty doing some practical growing of crops that I was of any value to these people.

If Prince William is to be successful, a year’s practical work on one of the royal holdings would be of more value than a few months at Cambridge.

Rev Robert Short


SIR – Gavin Grant’s riposte to Sir Barney White-Spunner’s justified attack on today’s RSPCA, of which Mr Grant is chief executive, is both spurious and littered with weasel words.

The focus of the RSPCA, and its forerunner, the SPCA, was entirely upon cruelty to domestic animals (especially horses) and on ensuring that livestock was humanely slaughtered. It is nonsense for Mr Grant to suggest that the RSPCA is doing what it “was formed to do more than 100 years ago”; the protection of vermin played no part whatsoever in the RSPCA’s purpose until recent political infiltration.

Sir Barney made the reasonable complaint that the RSPCA is a political wolf in a charitable sheep’s clothing, and that it now appears to be focused on animal rights and prosecutions rather than on animal welfare.

Mr Grant’s claims – unsupported by statistics – of a growing RSPCA membership sound like wishful thinking. The Charity Commission should look very closely at this now political organisation.

Gregory Shenkman
London W8

Back of a napkin

SIR – On a larger scale than Bosnia, Lady Lugard, wife of Sir Frederick, the British administrator, drew the map of present-day Nigeria on a tablecloth. This led to the enforced and totally unsuitable amalgamation of tribal and ethnic groups. Be careful what you draw.

Robbie Book
London N20

SIR – Given the evidence garnered from napkins, would it be sensible from now on to schedule important political meetings in cafes and restaurants?

Rosemary Morton Jack
Oddington, Oxfordshire

SIR – Have you ever tried writing on a napkin? On paper ones it’s impossible, while writing on a fabric napkin in a restaurant is vandalism and, if taken away, theft. Fag packets are much better.

Arnold Kingston
Edenbridge, Kent

Tolerating fraud

SIR – I recently reported to the police fraud phone line that a cheque I had sent through the post had been intercepted, that the payee had been changed, and that my account had been robbed.

I was told that unless my bank refused to reimburse me, the police would not accept a crime report from me because I would not have suffered any financial loss.

It is good to hear that Damian Green says he will bring greater transparency to the way crimes are dealt with. But the real need is for more honesty in recording all crime.

John Spencer-Silver
London SW11

Afternoon slump

SIR – I am a runner. When out training in the morning, I have always greeted the people I pass with a “Good morning”. In the evening, it’s “Good evening”, and 98 per cent of people reply with the same greeting. But I have found that if I am on an afternoon run and say “Good afternoon”, very few people even reply.

This all changed about four years ago when I adopted different tactics. Now when I pass someone on my afternoon runs, I say, “How do?”, and always get a response.

Ray Powell
Shefford, Bedfordshire

Syrian visas

SIR – The Government’s refusal to grant asylum to Syrian refugees is not the real scandal. Instead it is its apparent guidance to embassies not to give visas to Syrian people, regardless of the fairness of their application to enter Britain.

My Syrian parents were refused a visa to visit us in our home in Manchester. The case for them to be given a family visitor visa could not be any stronger. My wife and I are British citizens. I am a surgical registrar. My parents, who are Christians, live in Homs, Syria. They still live in their home and are independent. My father is a medical doctor who works for the Red Crescent organisation in Homs. My mother is a dentist. We provided the embassy with documents to confirm the financial and employment status of my parents, ourselves and my parents-in-law, who are dairy farmers in north Somerset.

My parents have visited us six times before and have never stayed beyond their declared period of visit (two weeks). We have not sponsored the visit of anyone else.

We saw my parents last in November 2011 when they visited us in Manchester.

My parents have never seen my daughter, who is now 20 months old. It is unsafe for us to visit them in Syria. The only way for us to see them is for them to come here.

However, the entry clearance officer unfairly and inhumanly refused to grant them a visa or the right of appeal against the decision. This is against the principles of civilised society and the rights of British citizens to see their families.

Zaher Toumi

Over and out

SIR – I would like to thank the BBC and guest editor P J Harvey for yesterday’s Today programme.

The first day back at work after Christmas is generally a struggle. This year, it was a positive joy to get out of the house.

Steven Broomfield
Fair Oak, Hampshire

Too many I love yous

SIR – I was one of seven children in a poor family and I never heard either parent say “I love you”. But we knew they loved us. They showed their love through caring and kind actions. Saying “I love you” is rarely meaningful; it trips off the tongue after a call or conversation.

Joan Eastham
Forton, Lancashire

Wearing a helmet encourages reckless skiing

SIR – None of the specialist ski insurance companies treats helmet-wearers and non-wearers differently.

Although helmets offer some head protection, people who wear them are far more likely to be involved in accidents. The most compelling explanation is that they feel they are protected and therefore take more risks: in some ski areas, up to 80 per cent of skiers now wear helmets, but the number of serious head injuries has remained static.

In the sad case of Michael Schumacher’s injury, the question that should be asked is not: did the helmet save his life? But: if he had not been wearing a helmet, would he have risked skiing in a rocky, off-piste area?

Peter Iden

Briançon, Hautes-Alpes, France

SIR – I agree with your writer Beverley Turner that Michael Schumacher has set a good example by wearing a helmet while skiing. But why does she single out cyclists who don’t wear helmets for criticism? Schumacher wears a helmet while motor racing; so, by extension, the use of the helmet should at least be considered by all motorists. About half of all serious brain injuries are caused in motor accidents.

Would it not be more responsible for all motorists – and their passengers – to follow the example of professional motor racers and wear helmets?

Mike Norris

SIR – Most traffic threats to cyclists arise from the rear. If properly used, a mirror might well avert an accident, whereas a helmet at best mitigates its consequences. I don’t think a helmet would do much to protect me if I ended up under a lorry.

Many cyclists’ lives would be saved if they used mirrors.

Ian Wilson
Hinton, Gloucestershire


SIR – Your report “Ghost towns left behind by Bulgarians seeking work” illustrates a failure of European Union social policy with regard to that country since 2007.

Equally, the influx of migrants to Britain over the past 15 years can be viewed as a symptom of social policy failure here, as immigrants have tended to take jobs British citizens are either unable or unwilling to undertake.

W T Green
Bozeat, Northamptonshire

SIR – May I congratulate the Government on its covert plan to restrict Romanian and Bulgarian immigration? If being met by Keith Vaz doesn’t get them on the first plane home, nothing will.

Mark Hudson
Smarden, Kent

SIR – I am available if Keith Vaz would like to take me to Costa for a coffee and pastry. I have much to discuss, not least MPs’ expenses and immigration. It might make a refreshing change for Mr Vaz to venture into the world of tax-paying British citizens rather than staging cheap publicity stunts.

Tim Rann
Mirfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – Britain was right to champion EU enlargement , because such an enlargement was necessitated by the geopolitical shift following the collapse of communism in 1989. But did the beneficiaries of enlargement – Poland, Bulgaria and Romania – accede for the right reasons? For example, would they have joined the EU if the free movement of labour was not on the agenda? Likewise, would Turkey, Serbia, Albania and Ukraine still be keen to join if the clause pertaining to free movement of labour was permanently removed from the treaty?

A majority of Britons supports EU enlargement with the free movement of goods, but not with the free movement of labour, for the true extent of the latter, as Britain’s experience with the Polish influx amply demonstrates, cannot accurately be predicted or planned for.

Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

SIR – I run an employment agency in Cambridgeshire, supplying predominantly unskilled, manual workers to the food industry. As with all agencies in this sector, a small number of our workers are British, but the majority are EU migrants. Because people buy more food at Christmas, it is a very busy time and our staff have been working hard, often over weekends and on bank holidays.

Now that the Christmas rush is over, there are fewer jobs available. Will those without work be seeking to claim benefits? After 14 years of working in this sector, I know the answer for the vast majority is no; they will look for new work.

Lionel Sheffield



Irish Times:



A chara, – Your report “Emotions high at Dublin Airport as emigrants fly out” (Alison Healy, Home News, January 3rd January) made for good preparatory reading before we headed to the airport with our daughter who was returning to Wellington in New Zealand after a Christmas break.

Having listened to our Government, with the assistance of a somewhat compliant media, spout much guff over the last while concerning the success of The Gathering and the country’s exit from the bank bailout, your report highlighted the current situation for many families.

There are now two Irelands. There is Establishment Ireland where The Gathering, the exit from the bank bailout, Nama, ongoing high salaries and pensions, property taxes, water charges and severe health and social welfare cuts are hailed and generally reported as positive successes for the long-term benefit of all. While there is also Hidden Ireland, where emigration, massive personal debt, unemployment, severe poverty and homelessness – all with resultant stress, health and even suicidal issues are played down and receive minimal government or media comment.

It is time for people to be made aware of and recognise the scale of Hidden Ireland. For that to happen we need a media that does not simply portray and highlight Government soundbites and press releases as fact. Your report from Dublin Airport was a much-needed and welcome antidote to last year’s constant positive Gathering hype.

If there is a single New Year resolution appropriate for 2014 it is that Hidden Ireland is now given as much attention as Establishment Ireland. Only then will we be able to begin to make any inroads into resolving our current situation for the equal benefit of all. – Is mise,


Whitehall Road,




A chara, – Fintan O’Toole suggests many of us lean on Plan B and emigrate to fulfil our goals. He says we’re “brilliant” at fecking off (“What makes us world champions at fecking off”, Opinion, December 31st). It was never my intention to “feck off” and I have every hope of returning when opportunity allows it.

Young people today are torn between choosing the dole or emigration. Wouldn’t we better service our country if we gained experience wherever we could and brought it home once we’ve built up sufficient expertise to be valued on Irish soil?

I agree, the Government needs to take action to prevent emigration from being the only answer to Irish ambition. However, emigration is not a wilful demonstration against the State. Plenty of countries wave farewell to their youth and Ireland is no different.

What would really serve the State is if we stopped slating ourselves and realised we’re not in an exclusive position. Every nation has its struggles and historical baggage. In fact, emigration is one of the best ways to discover this. It invokes a strong national identity because suddenly we realise other developed countries are failing too.

People are people wherever you go and they all have similar complaints. Emigration is not to be sneered at. It offers the young a chance to kick-start their careers and I believe many will come home to inject that skill into the economy in the future. – Yours, etc,


Woodford New Road,

London, England.


Sir, – For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding and the ruination of their homes and livelihoods.

Initially we were all told this was due to abnormal weather, yet the abnormal has now become the normal and the State has not effectively dealt with this issue. When is it going to do so? – Yours, etc,


Monastery Walk,


Dublin 22.


Sir, – In her reflections on homeless policy, Mary Tully (January 2nd) makes a number of poorly informed comments about Focus Ireland which require a response.

Given the public concern about the financial transparency of charities, the most serious criticism Ms Tully makes is that, along with other organisations in the sector, our website “will show opaque if any disclosures of . . . (taxpayers’) funding”. In fact, a simple search of our website gives access to detailed audited accounts for 2012 and the previous 10 years. The website clearly sets out (in numbers and graphs) the sources of our funding and the fact that 90 cent of every euro of the finances we receive are spent on services. The quality and clarity of our financial reporting has been recognised by several awards from the accountancy profession. Focus Ireland takes very seriously our obligation to publicly account for all our finances – whether received from the taxpayer, donors or from our tenants. We do not expect credit for this level of disclosure; it should be the accepted norm of all bodies receiving public funds, but it is unfair to ignore the information which is freely available.

Ms Tully also states that she is “troubled” by the fact that while Focus Ireland (in partnership with Dublin Simon) is part-funded to provide an outreach and placement service for rough sleepers in Dublin, the number of people who are sleeping rough has been rising. Given her former role as principal officer responsible for homelessness policy, it is troubling that Ms Tully does not appear to understand the nature of the services she commissioned on behalf of the taxpayer, or the nature of the challenge we face in tackling homelessness.

The joint Rough Sleeping team is highly effective in making contact with people who are rough sleeping and supporting them into accommodation. However, they can only offer people emergency accommodation when the wider homeless service has beds available. The economic crisis, and some of the Government policy responses to it, have resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of people becoming homeless, and there is a regular shortage of emergency beds available for the rough sleeping team. The only assistance we can then offer is a sleeping bag, access to day services and support in trying to stay safe.

These problems are the result of the historic and current failures in national housing and welfare policies – and many other failures beside – and it makes no sense to ask that the people struggling to deal with these heart-breaking problems on the frontline be “called to account”.

People who face homelessness – and the voluntary organisations which serve them – rely on the Government and its officials to pursue policies which reduce the risk of homelessness occurring and assist them to find new homes quickly if they do become homeless.

The recent report of Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan’s Homeless Oversight Group correctly identified these issues – prevention and the need for access to affordable, decent housing. This report and its reception give us renewed confidence that the team now responsible for homeless policy in the Department of the Environment has fully grasped the fact that homelessness is both a complex and a solvable problem, requiring informed co-operation between the State and charitable sectors. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

Focus Ireland,

High Street,



Sir, – John Waters writes, “Journalism has become a branch of the entertainment industry” (Opinion, January 3rd). He questions the veracity of much that is written in newspapers and suggests news is increasingly becoming a story-telling exercise to keep “bums on seats” .

One such “story”, where truth is turned into fiction, is where the media present Pope Francis as a “people’s pope” – a sympathetic, caring and democratic-minded Pope, compared to his excessively cerebral and conservative predecessor.

This is “pure fantasy”, Waters writes, as this Pope has announced no doctrinal initiatives, nor does he seem likely to do so.

I can only congratulate John Waters on how well he reads this Pope. He is head and shoulders above most journalists. But while he correctly points to the “pure fantasy” of the media in turning truth into an entertaining “story”, he must be praised for his own storytelling ability.

He writes that “the Pope exists to convey an understanding of God to mankind, not the other way around”, making it clear that there can be no such thing as a “people’s Pope”.

So one man has a better understanding of God than all humanity?

What a story! – Yours, etc,


Whitechurch Road,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Higher Education Authority (HEA) welcomes Prof Pat O’Connor’s letter (January 2nd) regarding gender profiles of senior academic posts in the context of our recent publication of an initial Performance Evaluation Framework for Higher Education.

We acknowledge our legislative obligation (and that of all higher education institutions) to promote equality, including gender equality, in all our activities. Our publication of initial performance profile templates is part of a broader programme of work to enhance the reliability and relevance of the evidence-base for policy and practice in Irish higher education. Through this report, the HEA has sought direct feedback from the higher education community and from others on how the institutional profiles can be further developed. Prof O’Connor’s feedback is valuable in that context.

While we have very comprehensive, reliable and regular information on students by gender, the HEA acknowledges the quality and comprehensiveness of our information on staff in the higher education system is currently inadequate. We are also keen to improve our data on the use of technology in higher education, on the early labour market experiences of graduates from Irish higher education and on students’ and graduates’ perspectives on the quality of teaching and learning.

These and other areas will be prioritised as part of a concerted effort to further improve the relevance and the quality of the evidence upon which policy and practice is refined and developed. We are confident that we will be in a position to include metrics on gender equality among staff in further iterations of the institutional profiles. – Yours, etc,


Head of Policy &



Sir, – Anthony Leavy (December 30th) wonders why people were reluctant to “blow the whistle on the reckless abandon” of the Celtic Tiger boom years.

Indeed anyone who did attempt to point out that the boom was unsustainable was promptly accused of being unpatriotic by failing to “put on the green jersey” and told in withering fashion to “stop talking down the economy”. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Road,

Killiney, Co Dublin.



Sir, – That the quenelle is anti-Semitic is beyond dispute (Liam Cooke, January 3rd). In France it has become part of a social media craze in which people find ever-more offensive places to insult Jews by doing a quenelle.

There is even a photograph of someone doing a quenelle outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, where Mohammed Merah murdered three Jewish children and a Jewish teacher in March 2012

If the people in these photographs did a Nazi salute at any of these sites they would risk instant arrest and prosecution.

The quenelle is a way of getting around the law, while still getting the same thrill of breaking the taboo against anti-Semitism. The quenelle as an insult was invented by the avowedly anti-Semitic French comic Dieudonné Mbala Mbala.

Anelka has excused his quenelle by saying that it was “just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné”; but this is no excuse, it just confirms the offence, as he knows what his friend stands for.

What is most amazing and disturbing is that three French international soccer star players have now associated themselves with the reverse Nazi salute in an era of multi-culturalism from which they have benefited. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – On what basis does Martin McCarthy (January 3rd) condemn the new library and cultural centre, as a white elephant? His harking back to the baths, and the wonderful Victorian ambience of Dún Laoghaire, exposes a mindset all too prevalent in Dun Laoghaire. Keep the old at any cost. One has only to look at the campaigns, waged over many years, to keep the old and prevent the new, to see the sad decline of Dún Laoghaire as a commercial centre.

Perhaps the spokesmen for the many organisations in Dún Laoghaire, should spend time praising the town, instead of the constantly negative barrage regarding parking, the council, the litter, etc.

As a long-time resident of the town, I welcome the new library and centre as an addition to the modern amenities of Dún Laoghaire. – Yours, etc,



Corrig Avenue,


Sir, – It is wrong to suggest the Taoiseach is acting in accordance with the wishes of those who voted no to Seanad abolition (Thomas J Clark, January 2nd). Those who opposed Seanad abolition, including Democracy Matters and Fianna Fáil, made reform a central part of their opposition platform.

How can a Taoiseach who identified many of the flaws of the Seanad during the campaign now preside over that same flawed institution? Just as in the 2011 general election, the people didn’t vote for the status quo, they voted for change. – Yours, etc,


The Grove,

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath.


Sir, – It is wrong to suggest the Taoiseach is acting in accordance with the wishes of those who voted no to Seanad abolition (Thomas J Clark, January 2nd). Those who opposed Seanad abolition, including Democracy Matters and Fianna Fáil, made reform a central part of their opposition platform.

How can a Taoiseach who identified many of the flaws of the Seanad during the campaign now preside over that same flawed institution? Just as in the 2011 general election, the people didn’t vote for the status quo, they voted for change. – Yours, etc,


The Grove,

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath.

Sir, – The frequent letters from John FitzGerald of Callan about the horrors of fox-hunting have become increasingly boring.

However, his most recent one (December 30th) caught my eye because it would seem that the attire of this age-old sport has changed somewhat.

He writes of “shining black jackets” and “well-polished gleaming jodhpurs”! Have the fashion houses of London, Paris, Rome and New York got together to invent new fabrics with which to dress our intrepid hunters? – Yours, etc,






Irish Independent:


* Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has said “penalty points have been hugely successful” and “the new Road Traffic Bill will make a big difference to safety on the roads”.

Also in this section

Letters: Stop discrimination against Travellers

Letters: Our EU ‘friends’ not worried about fairness

Letters: A game that will go down in history

An examination of this success shows that since the Road Safety Authority (RSA) was established in 2006, 30pc of deaths were of people aged under 24, a million speeding penalty points were issued, and 1,971 road users died.

In 2009, An Garda Siochana set up a hi-tech unit to discover the cause of accidents and a special Government task force was also set up in response to rising road deaths in 2013.

Both these units have yet to report their findings, while the RSA has repeated the same message, “Safer Roads: only you can get us there.”

New speed detectors to stop drivers ‘slowing’ for cameras will be introduced by Mr Varadkar, but digital speedometers, cruise control and alcolysers in cars do not appear to be included.

In 2011, the RSA claimed the speed limits throughout the country were incorrect, but this is the responsibility of local councillors.

The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies questions the motivation and financial implications behind South Australia‘s speed camera policy, which issues 50pc of speeding tickets to drivers caught travelling less than 5mph over the speed limit.

In 2011, a Garda chief said that, “some speed vans are operating in areas that are not accident black spots”, so drivers receive penalty points on roads with incorrect speed limits.

In 2011, the local authorities were ordered by the Department of Transport to take down high speed-limit signs on dangerous stretches of road, but this cannot happen as councillors have full responsibility.

The order to review the speed limits and the location of the signs displaying them is contained in a circular sent to every city and county manager by the Department of Transport.




* It is time for the Government to regulate insurance premiums. At the consumer level, health insurance, home insurance, and motor insurance have all increased by double digits each year.

Insurance in the commercial sector has also risen, adding to the cost of goods and services that consumers purchase.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was this: “The Irish insurance industry said it had been anticipating premium hikes of around 10pc but they could soar to as much as 30pc because of the level of storm-related claims” (Irish Independent, December 31).

Insurance premiums are fundamentally calculated on the basis of the probability of claims from a broad pool of policy holders and these risks are further spread across the international insurance community through reinsurance and other instruments.

How, then, can it be that a spell of stormy weather over a two-week period, which has been (in global terms) geographically isolated, result in an increase in premiums? In fact, every time there is a spell of bad weather (think of the “deep freeze” a few years ago) we see an increase in the cost of premiums.

I have significant concerns when the insurance industry apparently fails to take into account the chance of “bad things happening” and use such bad things as an excuse to hike premiums.

Premiums will naturally increase with cost increases, and insurers are entitled to a profit incentive.

But it seems to me that the Financial Regulator shows a far greater concern towards protecting the investors in insurance companies than the customers.




* I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in Dublin over Christmas. No doubt Transport Minister Leo Varadkar‘s ‘Gathering’ had lured them here, although none of them seemed to have a clue about any ‘Gathering’ — they’d just come for the Guinness and the decorations.

It was a pity then that a lot of shops and public places were not open to welcome the extra few euro these tourists wanted to spend.

Instead, many believe it’s still Dev’s Ireland, where the priest would read your name from the pulpit if you opened over Christmas time.

Most of the ‘New Irish’ businesses were open for our visitors, while the ‘Real Irish’ drank and ate themselves so legless they won’t be able to face work until Monday, January 6, the Epiphany.

It’s about time Ireland Inc realised that Christmas/St Stephen’s Day is just a two-day holiday, and New Year’s Day is just one day — not a 16-day ‘holiday’ of laziness.




* The Road Safety Authority is promising a consultation process to consider allowing driverless cars to be tested on our roads (Irish Independent, December 3).

First, we built housing estates that nobody lives in, now we have the possibility of cars driving around with nobody at the wheel. What next?




* Strolling around Dublin on Thursday, January 2, I was surprised on ‘putting my head around the door’ of four different pubs to be informed that they would not be doing food, even the humble sandwich, until Monday, January 6.

As I eventually settled for a sandwichless pint, I pondered from the pub viewpoint, was it a case of not using one’s loaf to make some fairly handy dough, given how hard it can be to make a crust in these times?




* For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding. Initially, we were told that this was due to abnormal weather, but the abnormal is now the norm and the State has not dealt with it.

When is it going to do so? It seems not too difficult with the engineering ingenuity we have, so that people in Cork and elsewhere can live at this time of year without fear.




* Simon O’Connor and John Bellew make a valid case for defaulting on our bank debts instead of having Irish taxpayers paying them, but they fail to say what the consequences of default might have been for our citizens (Letters, January 2).

Similarly, they make a good case for blaming the big bad foreigner for what happened to this country.

But if our financial decision-makers are so innocent, why is it that the decision-makers in most eurozone countries did not cause their countries to go broke?



Irish Independent


Back to Normal

January 3, 2014

3 January 2014 Back to Normal
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Leslie has been automated by a computer Ill Bred Fred, which calls him an idiot. Priceless.
Ring Able and Cole mix up over money test Peter Rice, post books and book car in for MOT
Scrabble today I win  and get just under   400,  Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Elizabeth Jane Howard, the writer, who has died aged 90, was acclaimed for her Cazalet series of novels, an epic saga of affluent middle-class English family life. Yet she was perhaps equally well-known for the turbulence of her personal life, notably as the second wife of the novelist Kingsley Amis.
She was in her sixties and already well-established as a novelist when she embarked on The Light Years (1990) the first of the Cazalet novels. She published the final and fifth volume, All Change, in November last year. It was probably her decision to walk out on her marriage to Amis (they divorced in 1983) that liberated her to produce her best work but, although the novels were autobiographical, they drew less on her unhappy marriages than on her wartime adolescence in a prosperous middle-class household.
The novels follow the shifting relationships between three generations of the Cazalet family spanning the decade 1937-1947 and draw a contrast between precocious teenagers who are painfully honest with each other and overbred adults who find it impossible to communicate emotion. The incomprehension and impatience with which women of the Cazalet family view their daughters reflected an enduring theme in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s own life.

As a child, she had had a difficult relationship with her own mother, and as a young woman had walked out on her own three-year-old daughter by her first husband, the naturalist Peter Scott. In the novels, her mother is portrayed as the perennially bored Villy Cazalet, who has given up her career to marry, and resents her daughters.
Elegantly constructed and intelligently and wittily written, the Cazalet series has already earned an honoured place among the great family sagas. A remarkable period piece, full of evocative detail of the trivia of daily life in wartime England, it is especially notable for the way in which every one of the three generations of characters are presented in a way that enables the reader to sympathise with them, however impossibly they behave.
Elizabeth Jane Howard’s sympathetic gift had been sorely tested in real life in a series of unsatisfactory relationships. Kingsley Amis never forgave her for walking out on him and took his revenge by refusing to talk to her ever again and claiming publicly that their marriage had been a terrible mistake. That she was able to forgive him reflected a painful awareness of her own defects, though about these she was less forgiving.
Elizabeth Jane Howard was born in London on March 26 1923. Her father, David, a timber merchant, had gone off to fight with his horse in the First World War when he was only 17. He returned four and a half years later, half gassed, refusing to talk about his experiences, but with a determination to enjoy himself.
Elizabeth Jane’s mother, Katharine, the daughter of the composer Arthur Somervell, had danced with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe before giving up her career to marry. The family lived comfortably in Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill, with six servants and a constantly shifting cast of visiting friends and relations.
Despite these comforts, Elizabeth Jane had a difficult childhood. She was aware from an early age that her parents’ marriage was not a happy one. Her mother was emotionally repressed and her father, though charming, was a serial philanderer. He eventually left for someone else, but not until Elizabeth Jane had grown up and left home. Her mother, she recalled, “was outraged and devastated. I think it was pride. It would have been better if she had never really loved my father.”
The frustrations of her marriage and her thwarted ambitions ensured that Elizabeth Jane’s mother was continually dissatisfied. She openly preferred her sons and took out her anger on her only daughter, seeming to take pleasure in putting her down in public: “She made me feel a complete failure. I never understood why.” Understandably the girl’s self-esteem took a battering. Though hardly unattractive, Elizabeth Jane remembered, aged 16, standing in front of a mirror and saying to herself: “You’re so plain, you’re going to have to have a career. No one’s going to want to marry you.”
While her brothers were sent to good schools, Elizabeth Jane’s studies were neglected. She did not learn to read or write until she was six, though once she had learned, she read all she could find, and with few books in the house, began writing to give herself something to read. She wrote her first play aged 14.
She attended a day school for two terms, where she was bullied and had to leave. Otherwise she was taught by governesses until the age of 16, when she persuaded her parents to send her to a boarding school, a domestic science establishment in Beaconsfield.
She never passed any exams but by her late teens had developed striking good looks, with long legs, thick waist-length blonde hair and dreams of becoming an actress. In 1940 she won a place at the London Mask Theatre School.
Within two terms the school closed because of the Blitz, but Eileen Thorndike (sister of Sybil) took a group of young actors down to Devon as a student repertory company. Elizabeth Jane played Katherine to Paul Scofield’s Petruchio then took a job in the winter season at Stratford. When she became ill from lack of food, she had to return home.
Back in London she volunteered to join the Wrens, but was turned down due to her lack of formal qualifications. Instead, she went to Pitmans to learn to type, but within three weeks, aged 19, had become engaged to Peter Scott.
Scott was then serving with the Royal Navy. At 35, he was 16 years older than his fiancée. They had met when she was at drama school and Scott was on sick leave from his destroyer.
He took her out to the theatre and to dinner and drew her portrait. Still convinced she was unattractive, Elizabeth Jane was flattered by his attention: “I really hadn’t the faintest idea what I was in for. He was the first person who noticed me and I was grateful for that.”
The night before her wedding her mother asked her whether she knew “anything about the nasty side of married life”. Horrified by this sudden threat of intimacy, Elizabeth Jane hastily replied that she did, and no more was said.
By the time she was 21 her daughter Nicola had been born (during an air raid — so grim an experience that she spent the time deliberately imprinting the pain on her memory in order to use it in a future book). Three years later she walked out on the marriage and her daughter, taking with her just £10 and a suitcase: “It was a difficult decision,” she explained later, “but Peter and I were just incompatible. I was too young. Our lives were never going to mesh, so there was no point in staying. I was left with no money or qualifications, just a half-written novel.”
This, The Beautiful Visit, was published in 1950 and won the John Llewllyn Rhys memorial prize, catapulting her into the raffish literary scene. The book captured the longing, excitement and comedy of adolescence in a story of a young girl growing up in the years around the First World War.
In her second novel, The Long View (1956), she explored the shifting relationship in a marriage in which a wife’s personality begins to emerge from the carefully designed world of her husband. This was followed in 1959 by The Sea Change.
But her broken marriage and growing reputation as a writer did not make Elizabeth Jane Howard any more skilful in her dealings with men. Still extremely beautiful — she modelled for Vogue during the late 1940s — but unaware of her own seductive power, she found herself constantly being importuned by members of the opposite sex: “I had a lot of affairs”, she later admitted.“I was a tart for affection most of my life.”
One lover was the novelist Arthur Koestler. She met Koestler at a party early in 1955. He proposed to her on St Valentine’s Day, but she parried his offer of marriage and suggested they might try living together.
The arrangement was not a success. Koestler was temperamental and they quarrelled violently. While making love on a canoeing holiday that summer, Koestler refused her request to use a contraceptive and forced himself upon her. When she became pregnant, Koestler was furious and insisted that she should have an abortion, but refused to help her arrange it. The relationship ended soon afterwards. Koestler asked her to dinner the night before he killed himself, but she had another engagement.
She claimed that she had never infiltrated a happy marriage. There were, however, two brief aberrations: the novelist Laurie Lee and the poet Cecil Day-Lewis. She was friends with both men’s wives but this did not prevent her from having affairs, albeit brief, with their husbands. Yet it seemed there were no hard feelings; both the Day-Lewises and the Lees asked her to be godmother to their daughters, an honour she accepted.
A few years later she became engaged to the Australian writer and broadcaster James Douglas-Henry. They married in 1959 because, by her own account, he thought she had money and she got fed up with people wanting to go to bed with her. The marriage was brief, disastrous, but, due to the fact it was never consummated, fortunately childless.
In 1962 she was invited to run the Cheltenham Literary Festival. She introduced new features including a book market and an exhibition of portraits of living writers. She also persuaded more authors than ever to appear, among them Kingsley Amis, who had been invited to speak on “Sex and Literature”.
Amis was then married to his first wife, Hilary Bardwell (“Hilly”), by whom he had three children. He and Elizabeth Jane began a passionate affair and, with cruel timing, eloped to Spain on Hilly’s 35th birthday. When Amis returned home, he found Hilly and the children had gone off on holiday without him. They returned to confront him at Elizabeth Jane’s flat in London. In 1963 Amis and Hilly were divorced and he married Elizabeth Jane.
Initially it was a great love. “Kingsley is terribly funny and that is the biggest turn on of all, isn’t it?” she said. It was a powerful literary and emotional relationship and in the early years of their marriage they influenced and even wrote parts of each other’s works. Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novels during this time included After Julius (1965), Something in Disguise (1969) and Odd Girl Out (1972).
In the 1960s and 1970s the Amises were a literary couple of dazzling talents and good looks. They bought Lemmons, an impressive 30-room Georgian house in High Barnet which Elizabeth Jane restored to something of its former splendour, courtesy of an advertising campaign: “Very Amis; very Sanderson”.
The household teemed with intellectual life: “It was a steady eight for supper, rising to 16 at weekends. One Christmas we had 25 people,” she recalled. Cecil Day-Lewis was staying at Lemmons on the day he died in 1972, and wrote his last poem, At Lemmons, on her table.
But the marriage was never an equal one. “Jane cooked and Kingsley drank,” reported one guest; Amis was demanding and selfish and expected his wife to understand that his work came first and that she had to bring up his three children (who had moved in with them shortly after the marriage), entertain, run the house and huge garden and keep the accounts. She also looked after her invalid mother for the last six years of her life. Elizabeth Jane Howard admitted to weeping as she peeled bucket-loads of potatoes.
Amis’s children were hostile, though she began to get on reasonably well with Martin Amis, whom she helped to educate and inspired to write. But she had little time or energy for her own writing.
By the 1970s the marriage was in serious trouble. Kingsley was drinking heavily and experiencing sexual problems, for which he reluctantly agreed to have therapy: “I realised over a very long period of time that Kingsley didn’t like me,” she said later. “It isn’t something that washes over you like a clap of thunder; it’s a slow realisation, but it’s unmistakable.”
She walked out of the marriage in 1980, telling him that she would only come back if he gave up drinking “because I knew that if he didn’t, we’d never get anywhere. But he didn’t want to.” After their divorce in 1983, Elizabeth Jane Howard hoped to get back on friendly terms, but instead she became the victim of his unforgiving malevolence. In an interview three weeks before his death in 1995 he said: “Do I see her? No. It was bad enough being married to her.” He mocked her suggestion that they could just be friends.
Though she was intensely hurt, she tried not to respond in kind, though after enduring “years of half-truths, withholdings and downright lies” she wrote to Amis’s biographer Eric Jacobs “correcting” matters.
“I always hoped he’d relent,” she said in 1995. “When I heard he was ill, I asked Martin to let me know if he wanted to see me, but he didn’t, so that was that.” As they remained unreconciled, she felt it would be inappropriate to attend his funeral – though, at Hilly’s invitation, she attended his memorial service.
After the break-up, Elizabeth Jane Howard lived in Camden Town, and went through a period of depression and despair, spending many hours in psychotherapy. She later moved to an isolated house near Bungay, Suffolk, where she channelled her passions into writing. But her travails with men were not over. As she admitted in an interview with the Telegraph last year, in the 1990s she had a brief affair with a con man, who wheedled his way into her life after hearing her on Desert Island Discs. She was recovering from cancer at the time: “My guard was down.” Asked if she thought he had wanted to “bump her off to get the house” she replied: “Something like that. It was an awful shock.”
As well as the Cazalet novels, which were dramatised on BBC1 over five episodes in 2001, she wrote Getting it Right (1982), Falling (1999), Love All (2008) and a book of memoirs, Slipstream (2002). She also published anthologies on gardening, marriage and love. In 1987, with Fay Maschler, she produced a cookery book .
She saw her loneliness in old age as the inevitable price of the mess she had made of her marriages. “I don’t like being alone,” she said in 1995, “but I’m getting much better at it. When you make a lot of mistakes, you always pay for them. Not at the time, not necessarily all at once, but you always do pay. And I pay by having to spend the rest of my life on my own.”
She was appointed CBE in 2000.
Elizabeth Jane Howard is survived by her daughter, Nicola.
Elizabeth Jane Howard, born March 26 1923, died January 2 2014

• 3 hours ago
If Kingsley Amis’s idea of revenge were refusing to talk to her after she left him, she should have been one of the happiest women in London.


It is certainly the case that Ofgem is doing a huge amount to reform the energy market (Energy firms overpaid £4bn, says Labour, 2 January). It has spotted that Co-operative Energy, my very small supplier, has been giving me a few Co-op points for sending it my meter readings, and a few more for my payments. And in order to “create a fairer market place for energy customers”, the good old Co-op has been ordered to stop rigging the market in this way. I had no idea that, as a modest member of the Co-op for some 50 years, I would become so powerful in the world of finance.
Cecil Fudge
Hindhead, Surrey
• Paul Mason (The next Occupy? 28 December) points out that “there is no Geneva convention in the modern conflict between riot cops and protesters”. Now there’s a good idea.
Pete Winstanley
• A glimmer of light in the murkiness that is politics (Month of peace at Catholic retreat helped convince MP to turn her back on politics, 2 January). A principled politician who did not betray her beliefs for the trappings of government power. Dare I hope that others in Sarah Teather’s party might follow in her footsteps and show the same response to the economic abuses that are being inflicted on segments of our society?
Jake Fagg
• Not only online Christmas shopping (Letters, 2 January). My cousin and uncle went to a fur-and-feathers auction in Dorset in the 1960s to buy Christmas dinner for our large family get-together. My cousin successfully bid on two pairs of ducks only to find when he and my uncle went to collect them he had actually bought two pens of ducks – 24 ducks. All live!
Stuart Hollyer
Grantham, Lincolnshire
• Re Claude Scott’s letter about Alastair Cook’s duck-filled platitudes (Letters, 1 January); before we send the whole England team to a kangaroo court, shouldn’t we remember that Captain Cook is the wombat we can usually rely on?
Margaret Ramskill

I was delighted to read the letter (1 January) from many of the leading people in the NHS calling for a constructive response to the challenges it faces. Last year, comments varied from refusal to accept any criticism at all to undeserved and unfair generalisations about its standards based on a few untypical and awful cases. By international standards, the NHS produces exceptional value for money, remarkable achievements in terms of universal coverage, treatment of people with multiple health problems and staff at every level who are motivated by devotion to their vocation and to their patients. In many ways, the service is the victim of its own success, as more and more of us survive for longer and overcome serious illness or injury.
Above all the NHS needs a consensus based on the determination that it should remain a public service, that change is needed but must be in the interest of patients, and that there must be a shift from dependence on hospitals to the integration of community care and the involvement of GPs at every stage. That in turn implies that doctors must be available 24/7, but a proper rota system should enable them to enjoy regular weekend breaks as in other professions.
Shirley Williams
House of Lords
• I completely understand why the leaders of NHS organisations do not spell out the real reason for the constant carping by Tory ministers and their slavish followers in the rightwing press: to persuade voters that the only solution is privatisation. If the imperfect NHS works, which satisfaction levels still say it does, there would be no need for a radical solution when simple, sensible tweaking will do the job. The powers that be, literally, are not interested because there are such powerful vested interests who want to make money from the nation’s ill health. If they succeed, their next target will be the BBC, another far-from-perfect organisation that, nonetheless, works massively well in the national interest.
Peter Gacsall
Haywards Heath, Sussex
• Recently I had my appraisal, an annual performance assessment all doctors must undertake (how many other professions do this?). It included an independent survey in which my patient satisfaction score was 91%. I was proud of this until I discovered that it is bang on average for GPs, but I note that it is approximately the inverse of Jeremy Hunt’s score on YouGov. These surveys were introduced by the government to assess the true standard of service, and the results suggest that the people to whom the NHS matters most are not taken in by their propaganda. Nonetheless, their message is getting through: low morale from this regular battering has encouraged early retirement and discouraged recruitment to A&E and general practice. When the shortage of doctors becomes critical in these areas I expect the standard of service will become the government’s self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dr Richard O’Brien
Highbridge, Somerset
• At last, recognition that all is not ill with the NHS. Also, it is recognised that more must be done with the existing finances available, and that in places, where necessary, improvements in patient safety and quality of care are paramount following the Francis report. The National Health Action party’s aims exactly support this: “We will restore the NHS as a safe, comprehensive, publicly funded, publicly delivered and publicly accountable, integrated healthcare system by reversing the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and supporting Lord Owen’s parliamentary bill to restore the NHS – the NHS reinstatement bill.”
Ways of achieving these aims are made clear in reports of work done by the previous health select committee on patient safety and value for money.
Richard T Taylor
Co-leader, National Health Action party
• Like many families, when we have needed the NHS we have been overwhelmed by the quality of the treatment and compassion of the staff who have cared for us – and I suspect our experiences are far more common than recent reports would suggest. Four years ago, my 60-year-old wife had a life-saving operation in Frenchay hospital when a glioblastoma was resected; two years ago, our 34-year-old son-in-law had a life-saving operation in Bristol Royal Infirmary when a mitral valve was replaced; one month ago, my 92-year-old mother was nursed back to life after a hip operation in Musgrove Park hospital. Three different operations on three different family members, of different ages, in three different hospitals. The common factor? The brilliance of the medical and nursing staff, their insistence that we knew exactly what was happening throughout those tense and worrying days and their willingness to listen to our questions. Such human involvement can never be “captured” on any form and yet it is the most priceless of all data.
Add to this provision the insight of the GPs who spotted the initial problems and expedited admissions to the appropriate hospitals and you have a service which lies at the heart of the community but is still nimble enough to pull in national expertise when it is urgently needed. It’s called the NHS and we should cherish it as one of the best indicators of a caring and democratic society.
Paul Kent
Easton in Gordano, Somerset
• Like very many who consider themselves British, I don’t have to go back to 9000BC to establish that I am, partly, an immigrant. I am of 25% Swedish and 12.5% German ancestry. If Scotland votes for independence, a further 25% of me will be “foreign”. If the prime minister continues down the path of managing NHS demand by restricting free access further, I’d like to know from him which parts of me will be covered. Will I be able to choose from a drop-down menu when I seek treatment, or will the health practitioners have an algorithm to work through, along with all the other bureaucracy they have to satisfy?
Bob George
Tiverton, Devon

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s sample of the “lost” class of 2005 university graduates (28 December) confirms the findings of larger and more representative surveys that “almost half of those who’ve graduated in the last five years in the UK are in non-graduate jobs for which they are overqualified and underpaid. This means the average graduate ‘starting salary’ of £29,000 is a distant dream for many university leavers, as they take anything that’s going in a competitive labour market and render it even more difficult for the less-qualified to find work”. What this leaves out is the type of university and course attended, plus the importance of avoiding the dreaded Desmond (2.2), since a 2.1 or 1st has replaced 3 A-levels or previously 5 A-C GCSEs as the entry requirement for most full-time, secure employment open to young people. In the absence of any alternative, save often part-time, insecure, low-paid work without prospects, including most so-called “traineeships”, it also explains why so many 18-year-olds are still prepared to pay so much for so little in exorbitantly priced higher education.
Patrick Ainley
Michael Morpurgo is right to urge us to honour, rather than glorify, those on all sides who fought and died in that terrible conflict (A year to honour, but not glorify, the Great War’s dead, 2 January). Let us remember, too, the many women at home and abroad who were involved. Women such as my great-aunt, Sister Edith Appleton, who served from October 1914 until Christmas 1919, often very close to the fighting. She wrote an amazing daily journal and, we have been telling her story, with extracts from her diaries, to many groups around the country over the past two years. The moment that strikes our audiences most powerfully is when we read “another diary extract”; I then explain that this is actually from the journal of a German nurse. Only a few miles across the front line another woman was doing her best, also, to bring comfort and healing to those wounded and dying in her care.
My contact with the Deutsches Tagebucharchiv (German diary archive) has been invaluable and very rewarding. Reading the diaries of German nurses alongside those of my great-aunt Edie confirms how the war was a cascade of blunders for all concerned and allows us to look at the common experiences of those who struggled to do their best and survive in appalling circumstances. In June we shall be meeting in Strasbourg, together with German, French and Italian diary-holders, to honour their memories.
Dick Robinson
Blockley, Gloucestershire
• On my desk I have my grandfather’s discharge documents dated 9 July 1918. It cites his discharge in consequence of being “no longer physically fit for war service”. He had been buried alive in no man’s land and his documents record that “this man is entitled to wear two gold wound stripes”. Alfred Robert Ruston slept on the floor of his bedroom for several months when he returned home as he had been accustomed to sleeping on the floors of trenches for four years. He spoke rarely of his experiences – but he spoke often about his friends who didn’t return home. And he told of his guilt that he had been spared; and of the lie “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.
Dennis Ruston
Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
• Please reprint Michael Morpurgo’s inspiring essay in a format suitable for use in schools. If Michael Gove could find funds to send Bibles into all schools, then surely this thoughtful, contemplative and compassionate look back would be an appropriate way to commemorate 1914. It brought tears to my eyes as he revealed the roots of the story which has made such a great play and film. The three men he listened to in his village deserve to have their experiences known by the next generations too.
David Spilsbury
• Michael Morpurgo’s account of the processes and circumstances that led him to write War Horse was insightful and thought-provoking; not least because it highlighted the effectiveness of artistic representation of human wisdom and philosophy. The capacity, as demonstrated by Morpurgo, to translate true wisdom into inspirational literature and theatre should be celebrated.
Tricia Ayrton
Rochdale, Lancashire
hor, Lost Generation?
Ros Coward argues (Spot the royal baby, 1 January) that press intrusion into the privacy of ordinary people is “only bad and wrong when the humanity of the people involved is forgotten”, and appears to suggest that this view is at odds with the findings of Brian Leveson. In fact, what Coward wants and what the judge recommended are one and the same. The Leveson report set out to protect the freedom of journalists to do their job while at the same time ensuring that the humanity of the people who are reported upon was not forgotten. Sadly, on the basis of abundant evidence gathered in his year-long inquiry, the judge found that the press industry had failed, culpably and for decades, to take adequate steps to ensure that people’s humanity was respected.
To address this he came up with a good and balanced formula that should protect ordinary people from unjustifiable press mistreatment in the future: the press should continue to regulate itself, but the effectiveness and independence of its self-regulation should be upheld through periodic external monitoring, in the interest of the public, by a body which itself is entirely independent of both politicians and newspapers. This is what the royal charter that was approved last October will deliver.
Brian Cathcart
Executive director, Hacked Off
• While Ros Coward well understands the urge of the media to sell their wares at any price, she overlooks the effects on the brains and culture of any population with an ambient compulsion to live vicariously through the sexual affairs and the private lives of others. These diminish self-knowledge and self-awareness, lead to slavish conformity of taste (especially in what’s supposed to be shocking or challenging), and the acceptance, through habitual familiarity, of doubtful values. Most men and women are worth more than this trivialisation. True self-realisation is perhaps impossible in such a culture and only money and possessions can compensate for the loss of personal idealism and imagination.
Ian Flintoff


Our grandson has the misfortune to live in an area of high unemployment. Since he left school eight years ago, a few casual jobs only have come his way.
He is grateful to be accommodated in a dilapidated flat, and we have subsidised his meagre income. He is desperate to be independent, so imagine his and our joy when he was offered a job which lasted more than one month. The job was manual shift work at unsocial hours, 35 hours a week at the minimum wage.
Our joy was short-lived. Our grandson was marginally worse off on the minimum wage than he was on the dole. Deducting from his net wage his regular commitments, he was left with £9 per week for clothes, toiletries, sundries and unforeseen expenses. We continue to subsidise him from our pensions.
The minimum wage is a travesty; it is clearly inadequate and should equate to a statutory living wage. Employers paying the minimum wage are, in effect, only a step away from employing slave labour.
A company kept afloat by paying the minimum wage is either making an unjustifiable profit or is commercially unviable. It should not expect parents, guardians or grandparents to augment the company’s wage bill.
R J Rickard, Edinburgh

As the Government will not outlaw zero-hours contracts, another way of addressing the problem of employers who do not want to give employees full working rights would be to change the minimum wage law, so that zero-hours contracts must be paid at a higher rate. In every other part of capitalism, taking a risk is rewarded. It should be in the workplace, too. Fewer rights, higher pay.
Reverend Richard Haggis, Oxford

I appreciate that elephant conservation is a valuable cause, but I was disappointed to see two internships included in your Christmas Charity Auction. Although this is raising money for a good cause, I question the ethics of making desirable opportunities available only to those who can afford to pay for them.
Unpaid internships make certain career paths – such as TV and video production in this case – virtually inaccessible for all but the most privileged young people. Auctioning two such opportunities creates a further barrier. These two internships will inevitably go to young people lucky enough to have rich parents to pay for that essential first credit on their CV.
Moreover, the industries in question miss out on hiring from a large pool of talented young people who cannot afford to work for free – let alone pay for an internship.
Hayley Gullen, London SE5

Non-partisan and working for peace
Sadly, in the troubled history of the Middle East conflict, it is not unusual for those who speak about human rights violations to be branded as opponents (“Clare Short at risk of arrest in Israel”, 2 January).
As you list my own engagement with the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR), can I make clear that as Labour’s European Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, I meet and engage with many international representatives – and this has included accepting roles in the past with the pro-Israeli Labour Friends of Israel.
I am not aware that CEPR has in any way breached its own mission statement that it is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation committed to peace and respect for international law.
Others who have accepted roles as trustees include a German Liberal Democrat MEP from the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, a Green MP who is former chair of the Swiss Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and a British peer who is both a Privy Councillor and former British Labour health minister.
More than 100 parliamentarians have accepted invitations to serve on CEPR’s delegations, including Lord (David) Steel, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Baroness (Margaret) Jay, Conservative MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone, former chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party and currently Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Lorely Burt MP, Lord (Hugh) Dykes, and current Labour shadow treasury, business and justice ministers.
Of course, I will contact the Israeli government in response to the reported statement, but I stand with all those renowned parliamentarians in seeking to promote genuine dialogue and understanding towards finally achieving a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Richard Howitt MEP, Labour Foreign Affairs Spokesperson in the European Parliament, Cambridge

So much potential good goes up in smoke
If the world decided not to have any firework parties on New Year’s Eve 2014 and contributed what they would have spent to a global fund to alleviate poverty, hunger and disease, I wonder how much we would collect?
We could congratulate ourselves for not letting it all go up in bangs, lights, smoke and, in the case of London, flavoured smells! Alternatively, we could have the displays and parties, but donate the equivalent amount of spending to the fund. I was disgusted by the scenes on TV of various cities and their displays, while at the same time there was reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis, and adverts from charities asking for £2 a month to feed or provide medicines for deprived children.
John Ongom, London E11

Why would anyone want an honour?
Pat Rattigan (letter, 1 January) seems upset about not receiving an honour. But I can’t really understand why anyone would want one.
I have been a great admirer of Taoism, which teaches a philosophy of meekness, which shuns honours. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching: “He who shows himself is not conspicuous; he who considers himself right is not illustrious; he who brags will have no merit; he who boasts will not endure.”
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands

An unforgettable conductor
I was disappointed that you were unable to find a single line of space to mention the conductor Sir Colin Davis among the list of obituaries of notable people for 2013 (Review of the Year, 28 December). He was every bit as much of a musical icon as Beecham, Sargent and Sir Henry Wood, for example, in both the concert hall and opera house throughout his 60 years or so of conducting. He must surely have contributed far more to British music over the years than some other musicians (whom I’ve never heard of), such as JJ Cale, Ray Manzarek and Stan Tracey, who did get a mention, and was still actively conducting in the early part of the year before his unfortunate death in April.
Ian Berresford, Poynton, Cheshire
Great horror
The rest of the British media didn’t appear to mention it at all, but why did you consign the study from the University of South Wales which forecasts global temperatures rising by as much as 5C by 2100 and 8C by 2200 to two column inches on page 16 (“Temperatures set to rise 5C by end of the century”,  1 January)?
And these figures take no account of the biggest story of 2013, about vast quantities of methane erupting from the Arctic Ocean which may be the beginnings of a runaway process which will render this planet uninhabitable  to most species, including our own. In a year that will look back a century to the horrors of the First World War, shouldn’t equal priority be given to persuading humanity to look ahead at avoiding the immeasurably greater horror of runaway global warming which will very possibly bring human history to a tragic, rapid and suicidal close?
Aidan Harrison, Rothbury, Northumberland

They used to have a word for it
The news about the plight of the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which got stuck in the ice, makes me feel that as the passengers have been rescued and were apparently carousing and ice dancing before rescuers got to them, The Independent can rescue a word that lexicographers have, for some reason, been trying to kill off for decades,
Mallemaroking comes from a Dutch phrase for the drunken behaviour of icebound whaling crews with nothing to do until the ice loosens or rescue comes.
Given that the Oxford English Dictionary records the last proper use of this word as being in 1913, I hope you can print this letter and so rescue this marvellous word for another century at least.
David Walsh , Skelton, Cleveland

Something missing on the new coin
It’s a pity that they couldn’t fit in on the new £2 coin after “Your country needs you” the words “to die”.
Mike Brayshaw, Worthing, West Sussex


Sir, Ian King is not the only one to find giving blood difficult (Thunderer, Jan 1). The last time my wife and I attended at our allocated time we were told that they were running 40 minutes late even though the session had opened only 30 minutes before. We were offered another slot on the same day but when we arrived they were now 50 minutes behind. We decided not to stay. I wrote an email of complaint, no reply ever arrived. I withdrew my services after giving since I was 18 a total of 97 donations. The service has a lot of problems to solve as it is less efficient now than ever.
Martyn Brown
Kingswinford, West Midlands
Sir, It will be of no consolation to Ian King to know that, in my experience, making an appointment with the NHS Blood & Transplant service (NHSBT) is unlikely to prove more rewarding than the walk-in alternative. Having made an appointment six months ago and having arrived punctually, I was informed that the session was running 45 minutes late. Having another appointment I had to cancel and so did not donate. In December I again made an appointment, only to be told on arrival that the session was running 30 minutes late. One reason given was that staff had to close the session for lunch.
Being an optimist, I have made an appointment for March. By then, hopefully, The Thunderer’s comments will have brought about improvements in the system, or is it just another case of an IT system that is not fit for purpose?.
Robert J. Taylor
Stockton on Tees
Sir, Ian King is right about the difficulty of donating blood. In my experience, however, he is incorrect that “NHSBT is particularly worried about a drop in young donors and is anxious to recruit new ones”.
In 2009, as deputy head of a state secondary school, I initiated hosting sessions for NHSBT to come and collect blood from 17-year-old, first-time donors. On each occasion we provided 60 to 100 new donors, many of whom will no doubt continue to donate through later life. I was overwhelmed by altruistic young people keen to set aside their squeamish reservations and do their bit — a far cry from the public image of teenage egocentricity.
Yet in 2011 NHSBT withdrew from the arrangement. I was told that because, unsurprisingly, the “fainting rate” at our sessions was a little higher than in a standard session filled with repeat donors like Ian King, they would not be coming again. Resources would be put instead into public collections with largely experienced donors, fewer faints, and a more predictable short term yield. The local team’s targets for units collected and “failed donations” would be more easily hit, and with less inconvenience to their staff.
Efforts to get NHSBT to recognise the shortsightedness of this approach fell on deaf ears, even though its own strategic plan aimed to “develop sustainable supplies”.
You couldn’t make it up.
Paddy Storrie
Deputy Head, St George’s School

The best hope is to get a conference to put in place a ceasefire to enable humanitarian assistance and secure a breathing space
Sir, I welcome Roger Boyes’ view (Opinion, Jan 1) that it is time for the UK to focus less on Assad’s political survival and more on the physical survival of the Syrian people.
However, a no-fly zone, presumably to be sponsored and enforced by the US and UK, cannot be the way forward. It will not be sanctioned by the Security Council. We have repeatedly used humanitarian arguments to justify intervention in the Middle East to secure regime change. Having nailed our colours to the “ Assad must go” mast, we can hardly expect the Russians to buy that one again. Would the Commons really support intervention that had no UN mandate? Is President Obama eager to take it on?
The best hope in an increasingly desperate situation is to get a conference, not to find long-term political solutions but to put in place a ceasefire to enable humanitarian assistance and secure a breathing space. For this the key players are the sponsor powers of this proxy war. The cooler heads in Saudi Arabia know that empowering uncontrolled jihadis threatens to backfire on the Kingdom. They have Egypt as an object lesson. In any case Saudi concern is to win the struggle for regional dominance with Iran and their proxies are not winning in Syria now. Iranian participation at the conference is essential; the prize of having its regional role recognised is important for moderates in Iran. For them as for the Assad regime the shift from a conference to oversee Assad’s downfall to one aimed at a ceasefire could secure acquiescence from Hezbollah units in Syria. Russia has every reason to fear the contagious effect of a broken Syria providing, with Iraq, another haven for Muslim extremists. On the other side, the jihadis depend on funding and logistic support from their backers and the neighbouring states, including Turkey.
It may be a long shot, but no party, with the possible exception of the jihadist fanatics, has an interest in a fight to the death over the bodies of the Syrian people. Surely it is worth a try, with more chance of success than attempting now to define a new political settlement in Syria or yet another military intervention with dodgy ambiguity about our final objective. Yes, it would leave Assad and the Baathist regime in place; but are not all the alternatives worse?
Sir Roger Tomkys
British Ambassador to Syria 1984-86

‘We must not lose sight of the fact that in the past 50 years a vast area of land has been covered by housing, roads and factories’
Sir, Congratulations to Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, for addressing the problem of rights of way for homeowners.
For years innocent people have been harassed by bullying officials, creating rights of way through their homes and gardens, even leading to suicides and nervous breakdowns. At last they will be able to live in peace.
We must not lose sight of the fact that in the past 50 years a vast area of land has been covered by housing, roads and factories, while the population has increased more than threefold. Common sense must now prevail.
Peter Sanguinetti
Wedmore, Somerset

Sometimes a piece of local dialect can be mistranslated and that has the potential for all sorts of trouble
Sir, “Scunnered” (Jan 2) translates to “disgusted” or “sickened” not “bored”. If, for example, you say “You scunner me” to a typical Scot, I can guarantee that you will be anything but bored.
David Watson
Waterlooville, Hants

‘The NHS doesn’t belong to the government or to doctors and nurses. It is a precious resource that belongs to us all’
Sir, Dr Liam Fox is right to say outcomes are more important than targets (“Don’t spare the NHS”, Jan 2) but the challenges facing the NHS are as much about attitude as they are about funding.
Libby Purves (Dec 30), writing about complaints from people affected by floods, talked of a nation that has shifted from citizen to client or customer. In 30 years as a GP, I too have observed the subtle evolution of a people now driven by an ethos of entitlement from a people willing to accept hitches and keep things going. If we continue to be “disgusted” at every turn, we are in danger of losing the very things we are so quickly disgusted with.
The NHS Alliance launches a NHS Temperature Check today, a new index to gauge public confidence in our health service. Surprisingly perhaps, given the media battering of the NHS throughout 2013, public trust in the service remains stable. But it is eroding and will continue to do so unless we think differently.
The NHS doesn’t belong to the government or to doctors and nurses. It is a precious resource that belongs to us all — an NHS Mutual if you like. We must all be part of its success — GPs, hospital doctors, nurses, pharmacists and patients. We must also be critical friends, but make no mistake, the new national sport of sniping at the NHS from the sideline at every twist and turn could lead to the loss of the UK’s greatest asset.
In 2014 I would ask not what can the NHS do for you, but what can you do for the NHS?
Dr Michael Dixon
Chair, NHS Alliance


SIR – In 2014 I would like to see all politicians promise to give up using the word “tough”. Talking about being “tough on this” and taking “tough decisions” is just posturing that convinces nobody.
Will they please treat the electorate as grown-ups? Then we might engage with them more.
Alan Swift
Exmouth, Devon
Related Articles
The new fitness craze goes back a long way
02 Jan 2014
SIR – My New Year’s resolution is not to watch any television programme with “celebrity” in the title.
Roger Castle
SIR – Some calendars start the week on a Sunday and others on a Monday. Surely the week starts on a Monday and weekend is Saturday and Sunday.
I now have one for 2014 that starts on a Monday, with Saturday and Sunday coloured differently at the end of the week.
My husband is adamant the week starts on a Sunday.
Sheila Maguire
SIR – Is it significant that the official pound-euro exchange rate yesterday morning was listed as 1.2014?
Gordon Sigston
Sevenoaks, Kent
Abuse of the Queen
SIR – It is indeed “a constitutional fact that the prime minister must approve everything that the Queen does or says in public” (Peter Oborne, Comment, December 28), but in return Her Majesty should not be expected to permit her royal prerogative to be abused by politicians to bypass Parliament, as recently happened when the Privy Council granted the cross-party royal charter on the regulation of the press “on the advice of the Government”.
The advice in fact came from the three party leaders, one of whom (Nick Clegg) is the Lord President of the Council, in which capacity he should have advised the Queen to have nothing to do with it.
Professor A W F Edwards
Gonville and Caius College
Eureka napkins
SIR – Your report (December 27) that the former Concorde pilot William “Jock” Lowe sketched out his ideas on how to expand Heathrow on a napkin in a restaurant in Dubai 25 years ago reminded me of other such eureka moments.
The Laffer curve, one of the main theoretical constructs of supply-side economics, was sketched on a cocktail napkin in 1974 during a dinner with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Jude Wanniski.
Carles Rexach, Barcelona football club’s technical secretary, drew up an informal contract on a napkin at the Pompeia tennis club in 2000 to sign up Jorge Messi’s 13-year-old son Lionel. The same year, the Italian architect Renzo Piano sketched out the design for the Shard on a napkin in a restaurant in Berlin.
Napkins have also been used for more nefarious reasons. Paddy Ashdown testified at The Hague that Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian president, drew the proposed carve-up of Bosnia on a napkin at a Guildhall banquet in 1995.
Manucher Ghorbanifar, who had a part in the Iran-Contra affair in 1986, reportedly sketched his ideas for regime change in Iran on a napkin in a bar in Rome in 2001 in the presence of Pentagon officials.
Perhaps readers will know of other eureka moments involving napkins.
Colonel Martyn Forgrave
Kingham, Oxfordshire
Blind widow’s phone cut off
SIR – The power companies are to be congratulated for reconnecting their customers so quickly, compared with BT Openreach.
My mother is 89 years old, housebound, registered blind, reliant on friends, neighbours, family and a land-line panic button to stay in her home.
On Christmas Eve, her land line failed. Even yesterday, New Year’s Day, she still has not been reconnected, because of the inefficiency of BT Openreach.
BT Openreach engineers said that, in the above circumstances, she does not come under the “priority care team”. Ha!
Colin Hingston
Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire
SIR – A great deal is made of the expected arrival of thousands of Eastern Europeans coming to Britain to find work. I cannot believe they make this decision lightly.
If this work is available, what additional carrots or sticks can we utilise for our own unemployed nationals who failed to fill these positions?
Richard Jones
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Memorable pigs
SIR – An excellent biochemistry lecturer in the Seventies introduced me to this mnemonic (Letters, January 1): Very Many Little Hairy Pigs Live In The Torrid Argentine. It is an aide-memoire to the essential amino acids. Unfortunately, while I remember the mnemonic, the names of the amino acids now escape me.
Adrian Waller
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire
Petrol myth exploded
SIR – I am afraid that David Bond (Letters, December 30) has fallen for old misinformation about the dangers of mobile phones in petrol stations.
There is no verifiable case of a fire or explosion brought about in this way. The three most commonly quoted incidents were allegedly publicised by Shell. Shell denies issuing such “information”. None of the incidents has ever been identified.
We should be far more worried about the huge battery in a car, the sparking motors in the car and the incredibly hot catalytic converter slung underneath it. Then there is a real risk of a spark from static electricity between the driver and the car door.
A more realistic safety measure would be to ban cars from petrol stations.
John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire
T-shirts take over from college scarves
SIR – The college scarf (Letters, January 1) has been replaced by the university or college T-shirt. It has the facility of showing the college name and badge emblazoned across the front.
Paul French
Andover, Hampshire
SIR – In the Sixties, my extended thumb, a big smile and my Sheffield college scarf (and at times a climbing rope across my shoulder) allowed me to hitch-hike speedily throughout Britain.
I met bored honeymoon couples, racing drivers, perverts and beautiful women, who all added greatly to my education.
Once I was even given a job at a Batchelors food factory after a manager saw my blue and white scarf and screeched to a halt. I was working within the hour.
My wife has disposed of my moleskin climbing breeches, as well as my 28in flared trousers and psychedelic shirts from the Seventies. If she touches my treasured college scarf there will be trouble.
Geoff Milburn
Glossop, Derbyshire
SIR – I’d still pick up a hitch-hiker in a college scarf, but most students are too scruffy.
Tony Baker
SIR – The only scarf I wear is the one from my old school, King Edward VI, Camp Hill, Birmingham. I am always happy to identify its provenance to all who ask. Unfortunately no one ever does.
Clive Percival
Fareham, Hampshire

SIR – The new fitness craze, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is not new.
The training regime going by the name fartlek was developed in Sweden in the Thirties.
The interval training used by Seb Coe was a system for athletes developed during the Thirties and Forties by Woldemar Gerschler and others.
The circuit training developed at Leeds University in 1953 consisted of three sets of 10 or so exercises of around 30-60 seconds’ duration completed without a break. One usually ended standing in a pool of sweat. At 72 I am still going strong.
Bernard Cherry
Dunton Bassett, Leicestershire

SIR – The NHS dentistry system in England is unfit for purpose. As dental professionals, we fear that a disaster in NHS dentistry that mirrors the Mid-Staffordshire hospital mismanagement scandal is inevitable.
NHS dentistry in England is not fully available to all 55 million citizens. It is not health and prevention based, and it is not a service free to all, as GP services are.
The Francis report in 2013 showed that bad NHS systems and management lead to bad NHS compromises that can harm the public. It insisted that health-care professionals must at least speak out and raise their concerns.
The Government continues to promise the public that all dental clinical health needs for the population of England are met under the NHS dentistry system, to the highest standards. Yet, with compromises on a national scale, it is frankly impossible for dental professionals to deliver this.
The third most common medical reason for any child occupying a hospital bed is rotten teeth. Nearly half of all adults walk around with deep gum problems in their mouths.
Government statistics hide the rotten truth, for example, by excluding X-ray measurement of decay and relying only on “visible” naked-eye detection, which misses hidden decay.
The chairman of the Care Quality Commission in England, David Prior, recently called for more honesty about NHS failings too, where the “system” simply didn’t tolerate criticism.
We are so concerned that compromised and mismanaged systems will deteriorate further, that we are exposing the above concerns in the public interest now, so that those responsible for NHS dentistry can truly change to be more honest and transparent. Then they might be able to create an NHS dental system in England that is fit for purpose.
Dr Anthony Kilcoyne
Specialist in prosthodontics
Dr A V Jacobs
Founder GDPUK, dental forum; Chairman Annual Conference of Local Dental Committees.
Dr Martin Mayhew
Specialist in dental public health.
Dr Nicolas Taylor
Dr Simon Thackeray
Dr John Anderson
Dr Tim Coates
Dr Donald Sloss
Dr Scott Aaron
Dr John Bates
Dr Adam Randall
Dr Peter West
Dr Andrew Adey
Dr James Mehta
Dr Ray Steggles
Dr Nigel Edwards
Dr Hiten Patel
Dr Alistair Wrigley
Dr Jim McCubbin
Dr Richard Leigh Evans
Dr Andy Lane
Dr Richard Fretwell
Dr Nethin Warnakulasuriya
Dr Anna-Marie Steel
Dr Jason Wong
Dr Ben Zanjani
Dr GP Visser
Dr Ajay Mathur
Dr Sylvia Andrews
Dr Anta Reikstina
Dr Sanjeev Bedi
Dr Martin Damyanov
Dr Georgi Drenski
Dr Tavi Moldovan
Dr Ritesh Lad
Dr Diana Nuca
Dr Andrew Miles
Dr Hitesh Panchal
Dr Eurico Martins
Dr Neil Appleby
Dr Bhavnish Waghela
Carl Fenwick
Clinical Dental Technician
Dr Tejaswi Mellachervu
Dr Meredyth Bell
Dr David Peltz
Dr Anthony Inman
Dr Monik Vasant
Dr Michael Day
Dr Fara Aga
Dr Keith Hayes
Dr Jamie Maguire
Dr John McVeigh
Dr Bogdan Krastev
Dr Richard Vernon
Dr Gopal Varma
Dr Lana Gilchrist
Dr Marc Clery
Dr Neil Austin
Dr Julian Thornton
Dr Carl Taylor
Dr Richard Bannister
Dr Chris Borne
Dr Michael Bellow
John Broughton
Dental Laboratory Owner
Dr Suleena Powar
Dr Mark Johnson
Dr Dahlia Sunba
Dr Ahmad Nounu
Dr Suren Fernando
Dr Arun Kosla
Dr Minal Patel
Dr Rakhshi Qureshi
Dr Mukesh Soni
Dr Kim Spong
Dr Svet Bot
Dr Amit Mehta
Dr Norman Bloom
Dr Prem-Pal Sehmi
Dr Aftab Hussain
Ross Chapman
Registered Dental Technician
Dr Tam Haque
Dr Rob Ardern
Dr Shaeed Karim
Dr Vijay Gohil
Dr Kartik Patel
Dr Andalib Gornall
Dr Joe Rawcliffe
Dr Julian Holmes
Dr Jappreet Singh
Dr Jansie van Rensburg
Dr Hilary Poole
Dr Sean Gibbs
Dr Mayhana Indrakumar
Dr Veeren Gupta
Dr Jane Ainsworth
Dr Martin Marinov
Dr Kandy Ganesan
Dr Ramesh Parmar
Dr Justin Roberts
Dr Kevaal Patel

Irish Times:

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole asks: How can the State convince its citizens that Plan A is viable? Plan A being the creation of a stable democratic state with a reasonably prosperous economy and an independent place in the world (“What makes us world champions at fecking off”, Opinion, December 31st).
Is he being a little melodramatic? Not all emigrants leave because they have weighed up the ideological arguments around patriotism and decided their country offers little to be patriotic about: I’d argue that such considerations are in fact quite low on most emigrants’ priority list.
Plan A can be much improved of course, I wouldn’t, and don’t, hesitate in criticising it; but just because some respondents of a recruitment company’s survey said they might consider emigrating within three years to improve their career prospects does not mean that we can extrapolate that Ireland is a failed or failing in its objectives.
As a journalist he is right to highlight our country’s many problems; his call to action to get us debating these shortfalls is to be lauded. However, I believe that on this occasion he is being too pessimistic. – Yours, etc,
North Circular Road,
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole “What makes us world champions at fecking off” (Opinion, December 31st) has raised in me angry emotions which I hardly knew I harboured.
As a result of the unemployment in the 1980s I have no grandchildren in this State, having educated my children through much hard work and many sacrifices. I am lucky that I can afford to travel to keep in touch.
My anger is aimed at the 67.4 per cent who have jobs but who are quite prepared to “feck off” if their careers don’t improve. I’m tired of hearing of doctors, nurses, speech therapists, occupational therapists – all highly educated by this State – who are allowed to “feck off”!
If the State insisted they stay here and contribute five years to this country at lower wages they could at one fell swoop: increase employment, repay the grants and free education they have received and help rebuild the health and education services, which are crying out for dedicated workers.
Make Plan A viable! If it has to be compulsory, so what. Hopefully, this young educated workforce by dint of hard work and sacrifice could “establish an ethic of equal citizenship”. – Yours, etc,
Seaview Park,
Dublin 18.
A chara, – Fintan O’Toole contends that the Irish nation has failed to forge a genuine patriotism due to the lack of functioning democratic and economic institutions. Therefore, “actual attachment to the State is weak”, and as a consequence Irish citizens are more inclined to invest their human potential in other countries.
Viewing the latest wave of Irish emigration through this narrow prism of 20th- century nation-statism seems a touch archaic. Instead, O’Toole might have emphasised Ireland’s marvellous opportunity to construct a new, bold post-nation-state patriotism in partnership with our EU neighbours.
One commentator summarised this opportunity beautifully: “Irish culture does not entirely fit the nation-state, [and as it] is complex, many-layered and continually evolving, the set of political structures that would best reflect it would also have all of those characteristics. The nearest thing we are ever likely to get to that ideal set of political structures is a place within an open, democratic, responsive European Union”.
That commentator was Fintan O’Toole. – Is mise,
An Muileann,
Oilean Chliara,
Co Mhaigh Eo.
A chara, – Fintan O’Toole’s observations on the propensity of Irish people to migrate to the British Commonwealth because of a lack of connection with the State are well made.
In most countries a connection with the State arising out of a shared fate is ensured by the cultivation of the national language. In the absence of Irish, why not migrate and give one’s loyalty to countries with the same (English) nursery rhymes, songs, poem, plays and legends (Robin Hood, etc).
An English-only mentality also costs us export markets and jobs. Our negativity toward speaking Irish saps morale. We need to open our minds to the wider world.
Rejection of Irish, no matter how it is presented, is profoundly negative and shameful, rejecting as it does normal curiosity as to the meaning of place names, common surnames and historical sources in the majority language of Ireland until the mid 1800s.
America and Australia are offshoots of English culture. We are not. Americans promoting English is an affirmation of self. The Danes learnt English without abandoning Danish and have a stronger economy than we. Small open economies with educated multilingual confident populations do well.
It’s high time to stop being in awe of the Dutch or Finnish multilingual and become Irish multilinguals. Speaking Irish makes Ireland sound and feel like a regular European country. It is the recovery of our intellectual and cultural sovereignty and contributes to an inclusive Irish identity beyond colour or creed. Such an exciting project would surely attract the brightest and best to stay on and build the nation. – Is mise,
BL, An Leabharlann Dlí,
Baile Átha Cliath 7.

Sir, – James Morrissey, communications adviser to Denis O’Brien (December 31st) ought to know that when you are explaining you are losing, unlike good journalism. The links between Nama, property developer Paddy McKillen and Denis O’Brien are in the public interest. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Brian Callagy (December 31st), writing about the price reductions in supermarkets, states, “Such practices in the long term may well become predatory”.
As the great economist JM Keynes said, in the long term we are all dead. Meanwhile, cheaper prices will do. – Yours, etc,
Ceannt Fort,

Sir, – If Michael Harding continues to contribute pieces of the quality and generosity found in “Message to a heartbroken widow” (Life, December 31st), 2014 will be marked by regular genius and glory.
This column should be reprinted on your Front page to remind everyone about love, loss and humanity. And why we must cherish the present. – Yours, etc,
Somerton Road, Belfast.

Sir, – I have been trying to make sense of the furore over Nicolas Anelka’s gesture known as the quenelle. The pictures of Anelka seemingly making the gesture seemed harmless enough, but certain people are jumping in and blowing it out of all proportion.
The picture of Manchester City player Sami Nasri and friend (Soccer, December 31st) making the quenelle don’t support the present furore. Many international soccer teams make a similar gesture when they are standing to attention for their national anthem before an international soccer game. I seem to remember American citizens, including presidents, making a similar gesture when Old Glory is being raised up the flagpole and the Star-Spangled Banner is played.
Are the French now saying all Americans and any international side that makes a similar gesture are anti-semitic? – Yours, etc,
Greencastle Avenue,
Coolock, Dublin 17.

A chara, – John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High is one of Colorado’s official state songs. How apt, now that the sale of marijuana has been legalised there. – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – “World’s first state-licensed cannabis stores open in Colorado” (World News, January 2nd). I suppose Colorado’s state capital, Denver, will now be known colloquially as Mile High City? What? It already is? – Yours, etc,
Beacon Hill,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dr Mait O Faolain (December 30th) is to be congratulated for defending a particularly vulnerable Minister for Health at this festive time. However he is incorrect in asserting that the artificial separation between the policy setting of the Department of Health and the policy implementation of the HSE introduced by a previous minister for health absolves Dr Reilly of his responsibilities in this matter.
The “probity” exercise comes from Government. The under-six medical card comes from Government. Therefore, Government and the relevant Minister are responsible.
His letter also implies that GPs somehow benefit from a delay in informing the HSE of a patient’s death. As any payments made in respect of a deceased person are subsequently recouped, backdated to the date of death, this is irrelevant. Unless I have personally attended someone on their death, it is not uncommon for a delay of a number of weeks or months before I learn of the death of a patient in hospital. The system is flexible enough to take into account this delay. His letter further implies that the HSE, as the body responsible for registering deaths, relies solely on GPs to inform it of the death of a patient. I am pleased to inform Dr O Faolain that this is not the case. – Yours, etc,
Family Doctor,
Baile Átha Luimnigh,

Sir, – The recent announcement that Dublin is to have an Independence Trail is most welcome to those still campaigning to save the GPO/Moore Street 1916 battleground – the only extant battleground in 20th-century British and Irish history.
Under the current planning application by Chartered Land this historic area is to be obliterated to make way for a shopping centre development. Under that proposal the planned freedom trail would have to be routed through, of all things, a “Celtic Tiger” shopping mall.
The inclusion of this historic area in the proposed Independence Trail is official recognition, at long last, that the campaign to preserve and restore the area and its “laneways of history” as An Taoiseach describes them is now accepted as the way forward.
The Save 16 Moore Street Campaign Committee deserves great credit for its tireless efforts over a decade to save this historic area from the wrecking ball. There is now a golden opportunity for the State to preserve and develop this battlefield site into a historic and cultural quarter for future generations as a 1916 Centenary Project. It is imperative that a new plan is drawn up immediately to see this through, with input from appropriate State agencies under National Museum supervision, in the national interest. – Yours, etc,
Concerned Relatives of the
Signatories to the 1916

Sir, – I refer to Eamon Devoy’s response (Letters, December 31st) to Fionola Meredith’s article (Opinion, December 28th). Meredith points to the role of Ruhama and Immigrant Council in driving the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. This campaign has been in preparation for several years and is motivated by the ideology of radical feminism with some religious fundamentalism thrown in. The two organisations are core members of the campaign; they initiated it, organised it with other groups, recruited other civic organisations including trade unions, provided the narrative and altogether controlled the agenda. Meredith is correct to point this out.
The trade unions which supported the campaign, including Mr Devoy’s TEEU, have some questions to answer. First, did any of them seek out alternative views to those proposed to them? If not, why not? This issue has been debated in several countries in recent years and there are strong opposing views. Second, did TEEU or indeed any of the unions hold a ballot of its members to ascertain their views before committing to Turn Off the Red Light? If they did not, how can they be so sure they correctly reflect union position on this highly contentious issue? The real story of how the unions came to sign up for this campaign needs to be told, whether there was internal opposition to the move and how that was dealt with.
Finally, Mr Devoy states the reason TEEU signed up was because of trafficking into the sex trade. Clearly it accepted the claim that human trafficking for sexual purposes and prostitution are effectively identical. This conflation of two separate phenomena most definitely suited the campaign agenda and was designed to sway wavering supporters or those with misgivings otherwise. This conflation was also challenged at the hearings before the Justice Committee and has been condemned both by the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law 2012 and the UNAIDS advisory group on HIV and Sex Work 2011. The union support for Turn Off the Red Light was a crucial factor in its success so far and was seized upon by the Justice Committee as evidence that a broad cross-section of Irish society was in favour of the Swedish model and an important factor in its decision to recommend it for legislation. It coloured the whole conduct of the hearings, ensuring that Turn Off the Red Light was accorded the great bulk of time allotted, while the opposition was not afforded sufficient time to even make a proper case. Were these considerations weighed properly by the unions before they made their decision? – Yours, etc,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – As a citizen of Dublin I feel there is something crass in the way Dublin city councillors agreed to close College Green on New Year’s Eve and to charge visitors €25 to celebrate the festival in what is essentially a public space. Have we learned nothing from the collapse of the Celtic Tiger? – Yours, etc,
Lorcan Drive,
Dublin 9.

Sir, – Well done to your correspondent for bringing the plan for the urban beach on Dún Laoghaire East Pier to our attention (Fiona Gartland, Home News, December 31st).
As we can now see from the white elephant of the new library, DLR Council has no interest in conserving the wonderful Victorian character of the harbour and seafront.
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council is co-funder of the urban beach and will again muzzle its own conservation department – as it did for the library.
The next item on the DLR CoCo’s agenda is another huge modern building in the harbour – on the Carlisle Pier – the Diaspora Centre.
The council would be far better off redeveloping the old baths, as well as changing the new library into a diaspora centre and trying to get some value for the €40 million wasted to date.
Hopefully the Minister’s excellent move to refuse to take on any more debts incurred by councils, will prompt DLRCoCo to act in a more commercially aware fashion.
In summary, say no to the urban beach – it will greatly damage the Victorian ambiance of the pier we love so well. – Yours, etc,
Clarinda Park West,

Sir, – Last year, 2013, the Irish nation happily celebrated an event the Government termed “The Gathering”.
But after the Christmas break, with so many Irish people leaving the country, ought not the Government, in turn, mark this sad New Year event of 2014 as “The Scattering”? – Yours, etc,
Clonliffe Road,
Dublin 3.

Sir, – Like Brenda Morgan (December 30th), I have a wish for the New Year, mine being that titles of public figures should reflect the transparency which we all crave to see in public life.
For a start, may I suggest Michael Noonan’s title be Inance Minister, because we all know that in this country, there is no “F” in money. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:

* As we enter the new year, I am reminded of something Seamus Heaney said in an interview: “I believe we are put here to improve civilisation.”
Also in this section
Letters: Our EU ‘friends’ not worried about fairness
Letters: A game that will go down in history
Tribute to a man’s courage and foresight
Of course in Ireland, much has improved for the better, but some things stay the same and there are some awful abuses of human rights that make one ashamed. And like in so many countries, the poor, the homeless, the disabled and the prisoners will always be marginalised.
But top of my list for blatant discrimination by the State is the treatment of Travellers and refugees and asylum-seekers living in direct provision.
There are more Travellers living in appalling conditions now than in 1999. All you have to do is look for example at Dunsink Lane in Finglas, north Dublin.
Until Travellers are appropriately accommodated, there can be no improvement in their lives. As a report recently stated: “On every human indicator Travellers’ lives are blighted far beyond those of their settled neighbours: in unemployment, poverty, life expectancy, child mortality, literacy, numeracy, depression, addiction, homelessness and suicide.”
It seems to me that because there are no votes in being fair to Travellers, that the councils fail consistently to provide adequate accommodation in case they alienate their constituents. The State too presides over this and does nothing to encourage a more tolerant, inclusive society.
In the case of refugees and asylum-seekers, the State puts these people into conditions that are akin to open prisons. They are denied the basic living conditions necessary to get over the trauma of having to flee their country and leave everything that gave their life meaning behind — their extended families, their friends, their culture and often their language. They cannot even buy food or cook for themselves. They have no privacy. They are not allowed work. On €19.10 a week in institutionalised accommodation, there are no choices.
I would appeal to the Government to provide appropriate housing for Travellers, despite opposition from locals, and to end direct provision for refugees and asylum-seekers in 2014. We’ve become desensitised to their plight.
* It’s a shame that Liam Fay does not understand how important the public use of Gaeilge is, especially in the spelling of place names on road signs. For many, these signs form the only engagement they have with their country’s language. But the disparity in the two font sizes exposes the lack of importance the Irish State gives to its own language, a fact that Mr Fay seems quite content with.
Up until 2005 the only legal form of a place name was the anglicised one. This was corrected by Eamon O Cuiv in a Bill that gave the original Gaelic place name parity of esteem. Leo Varadkar’s support of the initiative to have the original Gaelic place names written in the same font and size as the anglicised ones, albeit in a different colour, is the obvious next step and is an important step toward the full recognition of our own language.
Liam Fay talks about cultural inclusion for non-Irish speakers but misses the point that it is actually the Irish language speakers in this country who feel excluded. When I was a young boy I was actually thrown off a bus returning from school because the conductor (remember them?) could not read my address, which was in Irish. More recently, An Post has been putting stickers on my letters telling me Laitriom is ‘incorrect’ and it should be Sligo.
In the local motor tax office I’ve been told to move aside while they searched for Gaelic forms, I then had to wait while they served the others behind me in the queue.
Liam Fay fears Gaeilge being presented on par with the anglicised version on roadsigns will cause traffic chaos. But same-sized bilingual road signs already exist in Wales and Belgium with no reports of increased accidents on their roads.
* On Friday, December 13, a 51-year-old unemployed sales man from Wexford stood at Newlands Cross wearing a sandwich board saying “To all employers prove to me that you don’t age discriminate, employ me”.
The thing is I feel the same way. I believe that some employers do discriminate, not just against age but also the long-term unemployed.
If any employers don’t discriminate then it’s simple: prove me wrong and hire me.
I’m 48 and have been unemployed for four-and-a-half years now so I fit into two categories: I’m long-term unemployed and middle-aged. I know not all employers and recruitment agencies discriminate this way, but until I get a job I will have no other choice but to believe otherwise.
I’m sick of the rejection letters and emails, the excuses, employers and recruitment consultants that don’t respond. I know that some employers think that if a person is at a certain age or is long-term unemployed it’s because they are lazy and don’t want to work.
Something needs to be done so that people like myself and men like the Newlands Cross protester don’t have to take certain measures to get a job.
We need to start with the Government and the employers if we are to make sure that future generations aren’t left unemployed just because they’re middle-aged or long-term unemployed.
* I feel there is a touch of Oscar Wilde’s famous definition of a cynic as one who knows “the price of everything and the value of nothing” in the RTE sports department, which can show a similar lack of appreciation of what is truly valued by the Irish people.
While the presenter of the RTE sports awards was busy drooling over anything to do with soccer, the plain people of Ireland were busy voting for the team and manager of the year, and hey presto, they voted for Clare’s Davy Fitzgerald as manager and for the Clare hurling team as their team of the year. No soccer accolades in sight!
While players such as the Brogan brothers of Dublin and Kerrymen such as Colm Cooper are playing Gaelic football (fair play to them — no pun intended) all the Roy Keanes and Martin O’Neills in the world will not produce a world-class soccer team, so the sports boys in RTE had better get used to that (for them) unpalatable fact.
Eileen Malone
* Dr Haass suggested a compromise flag for Northern Ireland. May I suggest an adoption of a layout such as the New Zealand or Australian flags? This could be the Tricolour with the Union Jack at the top left quarter or the opposite, the Union Jack with the Tricolour inserted.
* Our good friend Micheal O Muircheartaigh says that it would be fitting if the Dubs won the double this year to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf (Irish Independent, January 1).
Surely it would be more fitting if Clare hurlers won again — after all Brian Boru came up to Clontarf from the Banner county to show the Dubs how to win, just as Anthony Daly did almost a thousand years later!
Irish Independent


January 2, 2014

lemons hunter

January 2, 2014

Game over

January 2, 2014


January 2, 2014

Polar Bear Fight

January 2, 2014
Taken a few days ago in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska via 500px

See it here:

Middle Rows II

January 2, 2014


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