Author Archive


November 8, 2013

8 November 2013 Books

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Commander Povey has been promoted to Captain and he has plans for Troutbridge, Priceless.
Quiet day post books no show by computer man
No Scrabble today Mary under the weather

Clifford Nass – Obituary
Clifford Nass was a sociologist who argued that digital multitasking makes us less sociable, less efficient and less clever

Clifford Nass 
5:49PM GMT 07 Nov 2013
Clifford Nass, who has died aged 55, was an American academic whose observations on the ways people interact with computers and other digital devices revealed much about modern social and working life.
His findings dealt an old-fashioned hammer-blow to the idea that the proliferation of screens at every turn — be they PCs, laptops, tablets, televisions or even satnavs — is necessarily a “good thing”.
In particular Nass singled out the ubiquitous smartphone, which encourages users to multitask by juggling different “apps” while Tweeting, making or receiving calls, checking emails, monitoring social media, playing games and surfing the internet all at once. “It is not physiologically healthy for you,” he declared, “because [humans] are not built to do a multitude of tasks at one time. Your phone makes you feel like you have to respond, which then increases your stress and harms your cognitive thinking.”
A sociology professor at Stanford University, Nass conducted pioneering research into how humans interact with technology and found that it was robbing us of the ability to concentrate, analyse or even feel empathy. He diagnosed young people of the Twitter era as suffering from “emotion atrophy” as a result of insufficient face-to-face “practice in observing and experiencing true emotions”.
Far from making people sharper, jumping around from emailing to texting to posting on social media can scramble the brain, Nass concluded. “People who multitask all the time show worse thinking abilities in every dimension that we know of.”
In the course of a quarter of a century of studying people’s attempts to keep pace with constantly changing technology, Nass found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
Nor did he find that multitasking made us more efficient. In a study in 2009 Nass and his colleagues tested the notion that people who frequently juggled computer, phone or television screens, displayed some special skill at filtering out irrelevant information, or efficiently switched between tasks .
But he was shocked by the results: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organised; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.” Curiously, Nass himself was an exception to the rule. A colleague described him as the greatest multitasker in the world. Contrary to his own research, “it only made him smarter”.
Nass’s research confirmed what every parent of a certain age has long suspected: that the modern appetite for more and more screen time can shorten attention spans and impair concentration. Last year, at an event organised by Stanford’s Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences, Nass pointed to research showing that teenage girls who spent endless hours watching videos and multitasking with digital devices tended to be less successful with social and emotional development than their counterparts who spent more time interacting face-to-face with friends, even if they too were also heavy users of media.
“We’ve got to make face-to-face time sacred,” he concluded, “and we have to bring back the saying we used to hear all the time, and now never hear: ‘Look at me when I talk to you’.”
Clifford Ivar Nass was born on April 3 1958 in Teaneck, New Jersey, and graduated in Mathematics at Princeton in 1981 before joining the computer firm Intel, where he worked on the development of the 286 processing chip. He became increasingly interested in sociology, and particularly people’s interaction with technology. In 1986 he joined the staff at Stanford and was later appointed professor of communication.
His early research explored the idea that humans relate to technological devices socially, and treat computers as if they were people. Users, he found, felt flattered when they were praised by computerised voices. As new media proliferated, he noted how addicts preferred to retreat to the comfort of texting rather than deal with potential emotional connection (and conflict) with those in the same room. He was startled when a student explained why she was texting her boyfriend down the hall. “It’s more efficient,” she told him.
Nass founded the university’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, and was co-director of Stanford’s Centre for Automotive Research into communication within and between the cars of the future. His work on the computerised voices of satellite navigation systems demonstrated that most people prefer to take directions from a male synthetic voice. He noted that in the late 1990s BMW had to recall its 5 Series cars in Germany when men complained that the “voice” was female.
In his spare time he was also an accomplished magician.
Clifford Nass, who died of an apparent heart attack on a hiking holiday, was divorced. His partner, Barbara Pugliese, and his son survive him.
Clifford Nass, born April 3 1958, died November 2 2013


UK couples now spend about 150 minutes per day together (Report, 30 October): 50 spent watching TV, 30 eating and 24 on household chores. This suggests there are only around 6.6 minutes where couples are interacting without distractions. So the principle of couples making time for themselves as partners to maintain healthy relationships has never been more important. Relationship breakdown can be devastating for families and individuals, and costs the UK economy £44bn a year. Investing in our relationships at individual and governmental level is crucial. The Relationships Alliance has come together to put good-quality relationships at the heart of our society, demonstrating that the relationships people can take for granted are as central to wellbeing as health and finances. The government should be constantly reviewing ways to remove or reduce barriers to couples and families having time together.
Ruth Sutherland Relate, Mark Molden Marriage Care, Susanna Abse Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, Penny Mansfield One Plus One

As fresh investigations are launched into Barclays’ dubious activities, the sense of a potential new direction for the bank generated by Antony Jenkins’ appointment has all but evaporated (Report, 31 October). Since Jenkins announced in February that Barclays was pulling out of food speculation, the World Development Movement has asked the bank four times to clarify what proportion of its agricultural commodities business has actually been closed down. When it finally came, the answer was, in effect, “we’re not telling you”. So while Barclays has bowed to public outrage by ending its own speculation on food, it continues to enable clients, such as institutional investors, to profit from the practice. Food speculation fuels food price spikes and contributes to the global hunger crisis. Through its continued involvement, Barclays puts its profits above the basic human need for food.
Nick Dearden
Director, World Development Movement
• The Co-operative Bank picked up customers while other banks were being rescued by taxpayers’ money. It was also named the world’s most environmentally sustainable bank by the FT. Now it has been laid low, with weaknesses that might appear endemic to the banking sector, it’s easy to assume that the ethics will ebb away (Letters, 5 November). This doesn’t have to be the outcome and I suggest we give it time to judge the truth of this.
We of course welcome the plans to preserve co-operative values and ethics within the bank’s constitution, for which the Co-operative Group deserves much credit for during negotiations. If the current proposals work out, there remains a degree of co-operative influence over the bank. Like the new wave of ethical “B corporations” in the US, it plans to have ethics entrenched in its articles. The bank was a pioneer of ethical reporting, independently audited and increasingly sophisticated. If this continues, there will be a measure of public accountability. The end of mutual ownership is not necessarily the end of its ethics.
Ed Mayo
Secretary general, Co-operatives UK

Malcolm Chalmers writes: “With or without a special defence relationship, an independent Scotland would remain profoundly dependent on its southern neighbour for security, even while absent when vital decisions are being made” (Comment, 6 November). Would that be the “security” provided by the London-centric MoD and experts who failed to predict the end of the cold war or the rise of al-Qaida, failed to respond adequately to the diversification opportunities (especially at the shipyards) that arose from the fall of the Berlin wall, took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq and a misplaced decade-long “war on terror” in Afghanistan, propose to modernise the UK nuclear “deterrent” (while simultaneously encouraging targets in Moscow and Beijing to invest in strategic British infrastructure, including nuclear energy), manage an out-of-control procurement process where major defence platforms arrive late and grossly over-budget and, above all else, would sell their own grannies (or spy on every UK household and European ally) in order to retain the “special relationship” with US interests?
Dr Ian Davis
Gairloch, Ross-shire
• The common consensus on the decision to keep Scottish shipyards open at the expense of Portsmouth has been seen as a political trump card played by the Tories. Vote yes to independence and lose the shipbuilding contracts seems to be the message. Once the political fallout has finished, there will be time for contemplation up here in Scotland as to whether or not we as a nation want to be subject to such political skulduggery for our jobs. Independence would remove such a threat.
As for Scottish defence, I am astounded by the political commentators who harp on about Scotland being able to defend itself. Against whom? During the IRA attacks on mainland Britain, not one such incident took place in Scotland. There has been one botched attempt at “terrorism” at Glasgow airport, where the assailants were apprehended by the locals. That apart? Nothing. How would Scotland be able to defend itself therefore becomes less of an issue than the media and politicians make it out to be.
Were there to be a yes vote then Faslane would become the real issue for Scottish defence as the SNP has committed Scotland to rid itself of the nuclear deterrent. Perhaps this could be accommodated at Portsmouth given the closure of the shipbuilding yards there? But surely if Scotland becomes an independent country and the threat is to remove the shipbuilding capability from it, the same would be true in reverse – in that what is left of the UK could not also be without a nuclear deterrent? Interesting times ahead.
John Holroyd
Thornhill, Dumfries
• The Scottish secretary says it would be difficult to award work building warships to Scotland if it were to leave the UK (Report, 7 November). Really? A UK minister believes that? In a UK where my bottom rests in a train seat part-owned by SNCF? In a UK which borrows a monstrously expensive nuclear deterrent from the US and pays them to service it? In a UK that proposes getting companies owned by the French and Chinese governments to build nuclear reactors? Is he saying that a rump UK will be so suddenly aware of its economic and strategic integrity that it won’t let people under the same crown, people who had formed part of their polity, build a ship cost-effectively? Apologies, but I am not sure how much of this rot I can cope with until the referendum.
David Stockley
Reigate, Surrey

Robert Hunter, the centenary of whose death you rightly mark (In praise of… Sir Robert Hunter, 5 November), would have been appalled by this government’s attack on green spaces. Ministers this year revoked the ancient law whereby communities could register much-loved open land as village or town greens, thus safeguarding them for the public against development. Now the developers have their way. Sir Robert was solicitor to the Commons Preservation Society which, as the Open Spaces Society, continues today to crusade for the cause he founded.
Kate Ashbrook
General secretary, the Open Spaces Society
• James Curran cites the 2010 Eurobarometer survey which showed that “the British public was least disposed to trust its press” (Letters, 7 November). Should we conclude from this, therefore, that, of the 27 European countries polled, the British were the least well-informed; or the best?
Mike Hine
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• Yet another photograph of Rebekah Brooks arriving at the Old Bailey (7 November). Why not save them up for a 2014 calendar for aficionados and spare the rest of us over the coming months?
Peter Barnes
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
• Great and even greater storms (Ian Jack, 2 November) have not been infrequent, but a decade ago I wrote a book about the storm of 26/27 November 1703 which, foolishly perhaps, I called The Greatest Storm. Approximately 8,000 died.
Martin Brayne
Chinley, Derbyshire
• The current debate about whether or not concussed sports players should be allowed to continue to play (Report, Sport, 5 November) reminds me of the story of the former Partick Thistle manager, John Lambie. When told that his concussed striker didn’t know who he was, Lambie said: “That’s great – tell him he’s Pele and get him back on.”
Sean King
• We are into the second week of November and I have not seen one Easter egg for sale. What’s gone wrong?
Alf Lee
Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire

Polly Toynbee fears for the future of arts subjects under the new curriculum and I agree with her (Austen, Orwell and Dickens will die out in Gove’s world, 5 November). The present situation is the logical conclusion of education policy over at least 30 years. “Child-centred education” is derided as insufficiently “rigorous” and the interests of employers and working parents take precedence. Longer hours and shorter holidays will result in children who are more tired and disengaged from education if more lessons are crammed into the day. Pupils who lean towards creative subjects will find that many schools no longer offer drama, art and other “soft” subjects that would better suit them. Education as a broad concept has been lost in favour of training in “the basics”.
Many years ago, as a young teacher, I read an American book called Teaching As a Subversive Activity which had a lasting effect on me. Its main premise was that an important part of a teacher’s job is to help the pupil to develop an inbuilt “crap detector” which would lead them to challenge attempts to influence them unduly by, for example, presenting opinion as fact in newspapers, broadcasting or indeed the classroom.
It would be useful from a political point of view if children were trained to be compliant and passive workers and consumers. This approach removes personal responsibility in favour of obedience and I think anyone with a sense of history will recognise the dangers inherent in it. It is those very “soft” subjects that encourage independent thought and creativity.
Education isn’t all about English and maths. Children are entitled to a wide variety of experiences inside and outside the classroom and their family life should be respected. This includes those children whose parents are teachers. Is it really reasonable to expect teachers to answer mobile phone calls from parents up to 8pm on weekday evenings, as one headteacher suggested, when they may be putting their own children to bed?
Jackie Brown
Norwich, Norfolk
• Polly Toynbee is wrong to say that in 1950s grammar schools fact and rote were all that was taught. For O-level English literature, which all pupils took, we read far more widely than is put forward for the new EBacc exam. We were encouraged to produce our own ideas and responses to the plays, poems and novels we studied; cribs were never mentioned and I’m not sure were even available. The teachers were enthusiastic about what they were teaching and encouraged us in wider reading. Multiple choice exams would have been laughed out of court as a ridiculous way of testing English literature. Don’t knock the good things that grammar schools did, though obviously for only a small proportion of the population.
Maureen Wood
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
• I have forgotten how to do quadratic equations, algebra, trigonometry and all the Latin verbs I had to learn, but I will never forget the words of Shakespeare that a passionate, dedicated English teacher delivered and often acted for us at my 1950s grammar school. Shakespeare’s words and works have shaped my life; the rest is silence. In spite of Mr Gove, Shakespeare will continue to shape people’s lives, long after most of the other subjects have faded.
Joe Haynes
Wargrave, Berkshire
• Polly Toynbee is spot on in her excoriation of Govian Gradgrindery. The inevitable marginalisation of the supposedly “soft” arts subjects in the state sector is a scandal. Mr Gove should listen not only to the subject specialists but also to the students themselves.
At the beginning of this academic year I asked a group of A-level drama students why they valued the subject. Their replies were instructive: “Teaches teamwork”; “Builds self-confidence”; “Meeting deadlines is a crucial life discipline”; “Opens you up to a wide range of human experience”; “It’s hugely enjoyable in its own right”. But is the secretary of state willing to be instructed?
Ian Barge
Ludlow, Shropshire
• Polly Toynbee denounces Michael Gove’s claim in Standpoint to have “rewarded schools that teach traditional subjects, which help all students to get into university”. But he is right. It is a cruel deception to tell pupils from poor backgrounds that a GCSE in drama will help them to get into Oxbridge. English literature, by contrast, will continue to be essential for those who wish to read arts subjects at good universities, and Polly is just wrong to claim that Austen, Dickens and Orwell will “die out”. The new English literature GCSE will include post-1914 British fiction or drama, as well as Shakespeare, romantic poetry and the 19th-century novel.
As for Polly’s lament for the “deep cultural loss” of the Bible in a generation, whose fault is that? It seems rather hard to blame Gove for biblical ignorance: a couple of years ago he was castigated for sending every school a copy of the King James Bible. For decades, Polly has hounded schools with a Christian or Jewish ethos. As St Paul said: “Whatsoever a man [or woman] soweth, that shall he [or she] also reap.”
Daniel Johnson
Editor, Standpoint
• Gus John (Mr Gove is running a department for inequality, 6 November) said there is “precious little evidence of Ofsted providing in its inspection reports” the attainment gap of children from different ethnicities. This is simply not true – as a look at our inspection reports will make clear.
The Ofsted inspectors’ handbook states that inspection is mainly about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from their school. If relevant, inspectors will pay particular attention to the achievement of ethnic minority pupils, as well as other groups of pupils.
Our Unseen Children report found that attainment at GCSE has improved for pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, and for pupils whose first language is not English. Moreover, we found that Bangladeshi pupils now outperform their white British peers while black African pupils attain a similar level.
However, Gus was right when he said there has been an improvement in schooling outcomes for most children. Our figures show that over 600,000 more pupils started the term in September in schools rated good or outstanding than was the case a year ago. Through our tough inspection framework, Ofsted is helping to drive improvements for all pupils, regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic background.
Michael Cladingbowl
Ofsted director of schools


On 9 and 10 November 1938, Nazi stormtroopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria, which the Nazis had annexed. During these pogroms, 91 Jews were killed, thousands were taken from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were smashed and looted. The Kristallnacht pogroms presaged attempts to remove Jews from German life completely.
Many Jews left hurriedly to seek refuge in friendly countries, including Britain, but Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”. Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country”. Despite wide public revulsion at the violence of Kristallnacht, powerful elements in British politics and business continued to admire Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees,
As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.
Benjamin Abeles, rescued by the Kindertransport in 1939
John Abraham
Ruth Abraham
Karen Adler
Rochelle Allebes
Ruth Appleton, Santé Project
Martha Jean Baker
Julia Bard
Zelda Bard
Jacob Bard-Rosenberg
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg
Mark Barnes
Ruth Barnett
George Barratt, Councillor, Barking & Dagenham
Larry Beckreck
N G Benjamin
Mike Berlin
Shelley Berlowitz
Jo Bird
Rica Bird
Prof Haim Bresheeth
Lorna Brunstein
Barry Buitekant
Lionel Burman
Mandy Carr
Prof Andrew Coleman
Paul Collins
Ilana Cravitz
Judith Cravitz
Ivor Dembina
Jack Dove
Norma Dove
Kjersti Dybvig
Prof Barbara Einhorn
Maggie Eisner
Antony Ellman
Michael Ellman
Judith Emanuel
Naomi Feldman
Rayah Feldman
Prof Robert Fine
Neil Finer
Sylvia Finzi
Frank Fisher
Nick Foster
Ann Frankel
Raymond Freeman
Melissa Friedberg
Carolyn Gelenter
Mike Gerber
Dr Ben Gidley
Goodman Stuart
Carry Gorney
Dr Claudia Gould Hertzmann
Jeremy Green
Prof Colin Green
Grahame Gross
Sue Gutteridge
Michele Hanson
Belle Harris
Lisa Hatton
Rosamine Hayeem
Mike Heiser
Ruth Hendrick
Alain Hertzmann
Prof Susan Himmelweit
Dr Deborah Hirshfield
David Hoffman
Justin Hoffmann
Claire Jackson
Riva Joffe
Dr Hannah Jones
Dan Judelson
Ann Jungman
Anne Karpf
Thena Kendall
David King
Susan King
Dr Brian Klug
Prof Francesca Klug
Tony Klug
Erica Kops
Sarah Kosminsky
Marion Kozak
Stevie Krayer
Caroline Kubilius
Richard Kuper
Vivi Lachs
Jude Lancet
David Landau
Jon Lansman
Sheila Lassman
Antony Lerman
Karl Lewcowicz
Vivien Lichtenstein
Hope Liebersohn
Marian Liebmann
Prof Yosefa Loshitzky
Sue Lukes
Ruth Lukom
Simon Lynn
Ilana Machover
Moshé Machover
Diana Maiden
Paul Mayersberg
Karen Merkel
Jane Merkin, Executive Producer, Suitcase 1938
Paul Morrison
Miriam Moss
Annie Nehmad
Diana Neslen
Esther Neslen
Michael Newman
Paul Oestreicher
Margaret Owen OBE
Dr Daniel Ozarow
Gail Pearce
Helen Pearson
Mike Peters
Rob Porteous
Charlie Pottins
Dr Claudia Prestel
Marsha Ragsdell
Ros Raizada
Roland Rance
Daniel Randall
Norman Randall
Ronne Randall
Jerome Ravetz
Dr Esti Rimmer
Brian Robinson
Rogaly Ben
Prof Jacqueline Rose
Prof Jonathan Rosenhead
Leon Rosselson
Michael Sackin
Jenny Salaman Manson
Raf Salkie
Prof Andrew Samuels
Ian Saville
Prof Joy Schaverien
Karel Schling, child of holocaust survivors
Monika Schwartz
Mike Scott, Trustee, Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum
Amanda Sebestyen
Lynne Segal
Prof Victor Jeleniewski Seidler
Sam Semoff
Barry Semp
Linda Shampan
Myrna Shaw
Polina Shepherd
Nicole Sherrick
Dr Jackie Shimshon
Wooldridge Shireen
Prof Avi Shlaim
Alan Silver
Evelyn Silver
Liz Silver, Notts Disabled People’s Movement
Clifford Singer
Juliet Singer
Laurence Singer
Ray Sirotkin
Barry Smerin
Sue Smith
Ben Soffa
John Speyer, Director, Music in Detention
Catharine Claire Stewart
Jennie Stoller
Monica Stoppleman
Judith Suissa
Vivien Sunlight
Inbar Tamari
Ruth Tenne
Gil Toffell
Niki Tragen
Eva Turner, child of holocaust survivors
Lesley Urbach
Dan Usiskin
Dr Nadia Valman
Ida Waksberg
Rafael Waksberg
Adrienne Wallman
Miri Weingarten
Pnina Werbner
Myra Woolfson
Dr Karen Worth
Binnie Yeates
Prof Nira Yuval-Davis, Director, Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, UEL

I have to congratulate you on the new design of The Independent. The paper is showing its class with the vertical masthead and the new fonts. Fantastic.
Jack Cockin, Gauldry, Fife
Just beautiful – well done!  The new masthead, the typography, the airy layout, just gorgeous, and reminiscent of the impact of the original launch. On a detail, less sure about the byline illustrations, but if the owners of the faces are happy . . .
Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey
This morning I went to read The Independent, as I have done almost every day since it was launched. I picked up this strange new neutral, colourless paper and found that the print was so pale I could not read it at all.
My eyes have not deteriorated overnight. It seems you have not taken into account that contrast is as important as print size for reading. Please give us back the old clear print.
Janice Bardwell, Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Yes, I like it, mostly. The font is a little strange, but I will get used to that. I was so excited to see “Section 2” was going to be there again. At last we can share the paper properly, I thought. But no, it isn’t a bit that can be taken out and still make sense. Is this too difficult to do?
Sue Stennett, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Nice new design – but why only give one paragraph on page 36 to the latest news on carbon-dioxide levels, the most important factor affecting the future of our planet? 
Victor Anderson, London SE23
See, you can do it! At last, a proper grown-up Independent, instead of a mad, hyperactive kid. I’m feeling calmer already. Please keep it up.
Don Thomson, London W13
William Haines, ShrewsburyImmigrants don’t place unjustified demands
We need immigration to help reduce our cost base, both for manufacturing and services. Anything that reduces costs, whether by efficiency or low rates of pay, will improve our competitiveness.
The alternative is to export these manufacturing processes and services to other countries. By retaining or winning business through lower cost competitiveness other UK businesses benefit.
The claim that immigrants place unjustified demands on our infrastructure is unfair. They are supporting that infrastructure, especially in the NHS. Their demands are less and contribution greater because they are younger than the indigenous population. Aside from the economic benefits they are also bringing extra dimensions to our culture, just as previous migrants did. 
It is also unfair to say that they are destroying British customs, values and language. When Brits retire or work abroad we either make no attempt or half-hearted ones to learn the language and customs. Immigrants quickly learn English. All right, perhaps immigrants need to learn one of our values – good old British hypocrisy.
Terry Pugh
Shipley, West Yorkshire
Where is the plan for shipbuilding?
Last year the Royal Navy placed a £452m order with a South Korean firm for four fuel tankers. UK firms bid but were unsuccessful in winning the order. It is inconceivable that the governments of many other countries would have permitted such a thing.
Each time it happens we are told that the winning bid was the most competitive. Never taken into account are the costs to the taxpayer of the unemployment that follows a large-scale shut-down or redundancy programme and the damage to a range of manufacturing industries.
We will always need ships. The depressing news of the end of shipbuilding in Portsmouth will not be the last unless successive governments decide to invest in a long-term plan to keep and improve a shipbuilding capability in the UK.
Instead of bickering about who got our country into this mess, we need a cross-party initiative to plan our way back. Chances with today’s politicians?  Close to zero.
Patrick Mill, Ryde, Isle of Wight
Cameron says unemployment in the Portsmouth shipyard is in the national interest. IDS says the unemployed are shirking scroungers. Does anyone in this government really know what they are doing, or why?
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire
Mercenary and selfish schools
The failure of so many academies to support other schools (report, 6 November) lends credence to those of us who have opposed academisation and its impoverishing, destabilising effects on education.
Very many schools converted to academy status for selfish and mercenary reasons, to protect or even enhance their budgets at a time of financial stringency. They took the Government’s 30 pieces of silver without regard to how their actions would affect their “weaker brethren”. As the Select Committee implies, they need to atone.
Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria
Parents are being encouraged by Ofsted to send children to “school” at two years of age. Presumably this is to enrol them as “performance data points”  at the earliest opportunity?
I do not see any evidence that the current government’s education policy is based on nourishing the development of the child as an independent, critical thinking individual – rather, the policy is one of labelling as “success” or “failure” a child and his/her school. Should we not be focusing our professional educators on honing their analytical and supportive skills so that “they make the tiny adjustments which can release the genius in any child” (Albert Einstein)?
Professor Bill Boyle, University of Manchester
Not talking about men
My two daughters set off to school this morning determined to identify the one scene in all the Harry Potter films where two women talk to each other about something other than a man (“X-rated means not enough women”, 7 November).
Thanks for the challenge – don’t publish the result before giving the nation’s children a chance to rise to the challenge.
Duncan Fisher, Crickhowell, Powys

Dear Russell,
I don’t wish to add to the vocal criticism you have received about the views you expressed in your interview with Jeremy Paxman. Instead I’d like to focus on the positive and so I respectfully offer some well-meaning suggestions on how you could use your position as someone with influence, particularly over younger people, to enhance our democratic system.
1) Form a political party / stand for Parliament or as a councillor.
You seem disillusioned with the current political parties, so utilise the long fought for freedom you enjoy to set up a political party and are free to choose its core values (as long as they do not incite hatred or violence). Stand for election at any level either as a candidate of your new party or as an independent. If your ideas gain traction, you will then exert political influence. My party, the Labour Party, was established because the parties of the late 19th century failed to represent ordinary working people. It is now one of the major parties. As UKIP shows, new parties can rise up and change the political weather.
2) Suggest ways in which our democratic system could be improved.
Our system is deficient in many ways and it is incumbent on people who believe things can be better to suggest improvements. Some favour proportional representation; I have advocated that the House of Lords be comprised of 50% Citizen Senators selected by lot as per jury selection. For progress to occur, people of good conscience must move beyond criticising the status quo to setting out a credible alternative.
3) Donate money to charities which seek to engage people in the democratic process, such as Bite the Ballot and the Electoral Reform Society and volunteer your time to reach out to those who don’t vote, especially young people.
Sadly, many in our society, especially younger voters, do not engage with politics. Most are not apathetic about politics, but too many feel disengaged from a political process which they reject as irrelevant to their lives. You could do much to reverse this trend by supporting, both financially and practically, the important work organisations do to engage particularly young people in the political process and educate them about politics.
4) Shadow an MP for a week.
Little is more relevant to our lives than politics and the decisions politicians make. Far from being an out-of-touch elite, MPs sit at the apex of a system which impacts on all of us. You should find out what they do before writing them off. Having worked for several MPs, I know of fewer people who are better plugged in to the concerns of ordinary people, through holding regular surgeries, spending every weekend in their constituencies meeting community groups, responding to hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls each week and fighting hard for constituents locally and nationally. They don’t go into politics for the money and bar a tiny minority, are completely devoted to improving their constituents’ lives and making Britain a better place. If you shadowed an MP and reported what you experienced, this would go some way to improving the public’s understanding of MPs’ work.
5) Visit a country without universal suffrage, or where democracy is relatively new and report about the attitude of people there to democracy.
In many places in the world people do not enjoy the freedoms we do, being unable to organise themselves into parties, stand for election, or remove a government through peaceful means. They long for and sometimes die for the democratic rights and institutions that so many people in Britain are rejecting or ignoring. It would be illuminating for you to visit these places and report back on your views having considered just what it means to live in the absence of any semblance of democracy.
I respect you for what you do in your various roles as comedian (you are one of the funniest), campaigner (particularly on drugs issues), television presenter (particularly when you charmingly expose bigoted people) and commentator. You have energy, intelligence and a passion for improving society and the human condition. You could channel this to inspire people to take constructive action, not destructive criticism. If you were to do one, or more, of the suggestions above, not only would you silence your increasingly hostile critics, but more importantly, you would help this cause and show younger people in particular that one of the most important tenets of living in a democracy is taking responsibility for using the freedom and democratic structures we enjoy to change society for the better. Freedom that is taken for granted withers and dies.
I chair Pragmatic Radicalism, an organisation run by Labour members in our spare time which holds events using our innovative Top of the Policies format, encouraging ordinary people to pitch policy ideas in 60 seconds, usually chaired by shadow ministers, all in the informal, friendly environment of a pub. We’d be delighted if you’d chair an event on ‘Improving British democracy’. Perhaps the Top Policies could be reported in The Independent?
With best wishes,
John Slinger
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism


Spending money on expensive machinery may save cash in the long term, as they will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not need holidays
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein is right, “Machines are becoming cheaper than labour” (Opinion, Nov 6). The West should grasp this opportunity with both hands. We are competing with the low labour costs of Far Eastern countries in every area of manufacturing. If we introduce machines that can manufacture goods with almost no labour costs, we will easily be able to make and sell products within Europe and America at competitive prices.
We need to encourage companies to come back to Europe, install these machines and start production again in the West. This would create vast numbers of jobs.
To finance this revolution, instead of purchasing Treasury bonds with the quantitative easing programme, the Government would provide half the money without charge, and the remainder at 0.5 per cent for 20 years. This would also bring inward investment from places such as Japan and South Korea. In addition, EU governments should consider subsidising university places for students taking engineering, design and computing degrees, with the aim of developing a new manufacturing class in Europe. John R. SolomonLiverpool Sir, A computer program may be able to replicate passable pieces of journalism but it cannot create the art of journalism, as Daniel Finkelstein’s article proves. In productive industries electronic machines are increasingly replacing human labour, but in low-skilled and low-wage servicing jobs such as cleaning and refuse collection, workers still have to worry about rising travel and energy bills.
In his seminal work Parliamentary Socialism (1972), the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband wrote about the adoption of a statutory living wage and state-financed family allowances by the Independent Labour Party in 1926. Ramsay MacDonald called the proposals millstones around the neck of the Labour movement.
These are indeed financial encumbrances to the Treasury and inimical to jobs (“It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs”, John McTernan, Thunderer, Nov 4), but a balance must be struck between living expenses and our resources in order to maintain a basic standard of living.Sam BanikLondon N10
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein is on the mark in saying machines are becoming cheaper than labour. A friend of mine has just bought a new machine for his business at a cost of £75,000. When I said that that seemed a lot, he replied that it would work for him 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and wouldn’t take holidays — much better value than an extra worker.Paul Milner Sheringham, Norfolk
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein’s forecast has already come to pass. Yesterday I visited a local bank to withdraw money. Since my last visit the branch had removed all its counters bar one. In their place were two rows of machines, one for withdrawing cash and the other for multiple transactions such as paying bills. A charming young man showed me how the technology worked and I received my money, albeit not in the denominations I had wanted because the machine had run out of £10 notes.
In one respect, though, low-tech lingers on: the machine could not provide the brown envelopes to put the cash in. These were kept in a pile behind the computer screen, and you had to help yourself.Michael BrownHighbridge, Somerset

Hospitals are full of doctor-managers with various titles such as clinical directors and medical directors — and they are usually a disaster
Sir, The chairman of CQC, David Prior, is at best naive in his belief that doctors as managers will benefit the NHS (report, Nov 5). What the NHS needs is managers who understand the meaning and purpose of management, particularly when it comes to managing the skilled and highly motivated workforce.
Experience tells us that doctors turned managers are a disaster — in fact, the cause of the problem. Hospitals are full of doctor-managers with various titles such as clinical directors and medical directors. Such doctors play no role other than to ensure that the coalface clinicians keep their heads down and carry on delivering a manner of service that may be contradictory to good clinical practice. This can best be seen in my speciality of ophthalmology, where there is a relentless drive to deliver eye care with a one size fits all approach. We want to speak about this but can’t because the medical managers are there to ensure that “. . . you will just do this!”Nikhil Kaushik Consultant Ophthalmic SurgeonWrexham

Weather conditions have far more impact on flight path noise levels than the age of aircraft or which airline operates them
Sir, The “blacklist” published by Heathrow to shame the noisiest airlines was useful in raising the profile of an issue which has blighted Hounslow for decades (report, Nov 6, and letter, Nov 7). Its usefulness beyond that extends no farther than the edge of the north and south runways where our borough starts. It ignores facts well known to people living under the flightpaths, such as how an aircraft is flown by its flightcrew, or how wind and weather conditions (it’s noisier on hot days) have far more impact on noise levels than the age of aircraft or which airline operates them.
While there are aircraft en route to and from Heathrow there will be noise pollution and a blight on the lives of residents, businesses and local schoolchildren. The solution is vastly improved mitigation on the ground for those people affected, not a 25-year wait for new aircraft that might make a marginal improvement in the sky.Colin EllarDeputy Leader, London Borough of Hounslow

‘Many bishops and cardinals who came to the Second Vatican Council were astonished at the changes since their own seminary days’
Sir, The Catholic Church was never tied to an ancient book or ancient decrees, but depended on the Holy Spirit enlightening the Church in each generation (“Vatican survey gives Catholics chance to question their faith”, Nov 6). Cardinal Newman defended the development of doctrine in his day against Anglican charges that it was inventing dogmas with no basis in Scripture.
It was unfortunate that the last two popes were men who could not break out of the medieval cast of their training, unlike their immediate predecessors. Many bishops and cardinals who came to the Second Vatican Council were astonished at the changes since their own seminary days, but being mostly of open mind they sought to bring themselves up to date.
Few cardinals, bishops, priests or lay people would regard masturbation or sodomy as sins. There is no logical reason why artificial contraception cannot be used. Nothing says that Jesus instituted an all-male priesthood. Rather, it can be argued that he left it to the Church to decide.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will allow Pope John XXIII’s interrupted aggiornamento to continue. The signs are hopefulDesmond KeenanWembley, Middx

‘If we had a cold winter, electricity sales went sky high and the excess profit was clawed back by lowering prices the next year’
Sir, In the latter part of the 20th century the Electricity Act required the chairman and members of the Electricity Council to produce a specified return on capital, by taking “one year with the next”. If we had a cold winter, electricity sales went sky high and the excess profit was clawed back by lowering prices the next year. With the present system the companies pocket the excess and are not obliged to (and don’t) put any money into building power stations. Not a single power station worthy of the name has been commissioned since the design and build facility in the Central Electricity Generating Board was disbanded in 1990.
We are now told to shop around for electricity. Surely we should be able to rely on politicians to legislate for a continuous and economic electricity supply — that’s their job. They should stop the exploitation of the population by the electricity companies’ simplistic profit maximisation of a variable energy market, which wiser predecessors recognised could never work without constraints. Jack Taylor(Marketing director, the Electricity Council, 1980-90) Ipswich, Suffolk


SIR – In the past, experienced elderly doctors often covered low-intensity, part-time sessions, and were always ready to help with holidays or sudden sick leave. Now, however, the compulsory “re-validation” of every experienced doctor requires so much official data collection that it would cost me more than £3,500 before being allowed to see a single patient. On my pension, I cannot afford that.
I would be quite happy to continue doing well-supervised sessions in any A &  E department, but, as a direct result of current demands, I and many colleagues, will, en masse, be giving up clinical work entirely.
Rupert Fawdry FRCS
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
Charitable e-cards
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SIR – While I agree with the Bishop of Hertford that “real” Christmas cards do add some cheer to a mantelpiece , it is certainly not automatically the case that charities lose out. Last Christmas, amazed by increasing postal charges, we decided to send a festive greeting to our email friends, and donated all the money we saved on postage to charity. We received very positive comments from recipients of the e-card, and an effusive response from the charity.
Caroline Faircliff
Bledington, Oxfordshire
Given short shrift
SIR – Men wearing shorts should take note of Psalm 147, Verse 10: “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man.”
Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
Teaching toddlers
SIR – While I am encouraged that there is such strength of feeling around the importance of ensuring children from a disadvantaged background are given the best start in life, I do not believe children should start formal education at the age of two.
Around the country, however, I have seen inspiring examples where primary schools are also delivering high quality nursery provision for their children. I would like to see more of this. We must ensure that children have access to high-quality, pre-school education, of course led by play, but introducing them to a learning environment.
There is a 19-month gap at the age of five between the poorest children and their affluent peers. This is a disgrace, and we have got to do everything we can to try to close that gap.
Baroness Morgan
Chairman of Ofsted
London WC2
Hats off to the assistant
SIR – Victoria Lambert’s feature about wardrobing – wearing an outfit once before returning it – reminded me of a tale told by my aunt, who worked in a top London store during the Fifties and Sixties.
Well-connected lady customers would select garments and charge them to their account. After wearing them, they would return them for credit with comments about the wrong size or that their husbands didn’t like it, despite the dresses being stained and sweat-marked. If challenged, they would threaten to tell their “circle” that the store had insulted them and so on.
However, when on one occasion a hat was returned, the lady in the store refused the customer credit, on the grounds that “I was at Ascot as well, Madam”.
Mike Lattimer
Woking, Surrey
Public school heroism in the First World War
SIR – Dr Anthony Seldon’s moving article rightly points towards the anguish that family stories of war can unintentionally bequeath to descendants of those who took part in such conflicts. Even where family members have remained stoically silent about their war experiences, the shadow of unrecounted horror can still reach future generations.
Dr Seldon also suggests that Blackadder bears some responsibility for depicting “bumbling public school boys” as running the First World War. While Blackadder certainly targets high-ranking imperial staff officers for satirical attack, when action is called for, the officers at the front – Blackadder, Captain Darling and Lieutenant George, all recognisable products of public school education – notably and courageously lead their men over the top.
Ian Hislop’s recent war drama, The Wipers Times, in showing how trench journalism sustained the morale of the soldiers at the front, has similarly shown the power of tragi-comic humour to portray appositely the horrors of war.
Philip March
Croydon, Surrey
SIR – My father served during the First World War, from the first day till the last, and returned with no physical injuries. He was born and raised in Canning Town. A man of very few words, I remember him mentioning the war only four or five times.
Some years ago, there was a discussion on the television about public school boys becoming military officers. He turned to me, and with admiration in his voice, said: “They were always the first ones over the top, but very few came back.” I think that these young men were something special to be able to gain the respect of men such as my father.
Alan Franklin
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Regional audiences benefit from live relays
SIR – Sue Spence fears that “live relays” in cinemas of top- class performances from Covent Garden might lead regional theatres to become mere screening facilities. Recently, I went to the relay of Covent Garden’s superb production of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes at a cinema in the centre of Birmingham. There were four other people in the audience, so hardly a great money spinner for the cinema.
However, staged performances this month by the Welsh National Opera, and concert performances next year in Symphony Hall by Opera North, and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, will be sold out. Cinema relays are a benefit for enthusiasts, not something to be deplored.
Richard Tomlinson
SIR – My husband and I watched Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes from the Royal Opera House on Monday evening at our local cinema. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance with wonderful close-ups of the cast. We also had a pre-performance talk and interval interviews, and helpful subtitles. To see this performance in London would have involved us paying for overnight accommodation plus travel; instead we caught the bus home.
These events do not put our local theatres at risk. In Cheltenham, we have the luxury of our own Everyman Theatre and there are also theatres at Stratford, Malvern and Bath. The Royal Opera House and its directors should be commended for bringing opera to the people.
Rosanne Cole
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – Gordon Brown’s blatant pork-barrel politics of building two giant, unnecessary and unsupportable aircraft carriers on the Clyde to buy support for Labour in Scotland is now being paid for by Portsmouth’s ship builders. With the referendum on Scottish independence less than a year away, surely the decision to close Portsmouth is short-sighted and not in the nation’s strategic interest.
Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey
SIR – Both Major General Julian Thompson and Peter Anson are correct. We need carriers, but not the two giants with which we are now stuck.
If you have only two such carriers, one is sunk and the other elsewhere, you have, at a single stroke, lost virtually all your seaborne operational air cover until another carrier arrives. As the Second World War proved, the loss of large, heavily armed ships from attack by suicide bombers is not a remote possibility.
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Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire
SIR – The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will be operational for about 30 years during which there is no guarantee of “peace in our time”. A generation of Britons will grow up in the knowledge that in a rapidly changing security environment, their government has at least some tools to protect their interests at home and abroad.
Chris Watson
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia
SIR – The prime role of a carrier is to be the core of a task force ensuring sea use. More than 90 per cent of Britain’s supplies come by sea and they can easily be threatened, especially at choke points such as the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz. Compared with this, intervening in failed states is a secondary function.
Captain Michael Forrest RN (retd)
Bridport, Dorset
SIR – The cost of building HMS Illustrious in 1939 was £3.8 million and her aircraft cost £600,000. On the night of November 11/12, 1940, 21 Swordfish took off in two waves from her flight deck and attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto. In one night, half the Italian capital ships were damaged and taken out of action. This made the Mediterranean safe for allied shipping.
The success of this operation was such that the Japanese navy visited Taranto and it led to them attacking Pearl Harbor by carrier-borne planes.
Derrick G Smith
Chief Radio Electrician (Air) RN (retd)
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
SIR – As the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, has suggested, the launch of HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a pivotal moment in the future of our nation. After decades of decline brought about by politicians obsessed with an inward-looking Europe, Britain will be giving notice to the world that it intends to resume its rightful place at the head of international trading nations.
I implore the Queen to declare the day of the launch a national holiday, and every school in the land should partake in this celebration of our achievement.
Since the end of the Second World War our defence establishment has been dominated by the Army and those who plan for inter-nation land battles. But defence in the 21st century is all about protecting long and vulnerable trade routes through which pass the oil, gas and minerals that ensure our nation’s survival.
Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
SIR – Carriers without their carrier groups and aircraft are defenceless. The cost of the carriers is about the same as the cost of each carrier group (two Type 45 destroyers and a submarine), plus the cost of the
on-board aircraft. So, the total cost of an operational carrier is three times the cost of the carrier itself – that’s about £20 billion, three times your figure of £6.2 billion and half the cost of HS2.
Roger Spriggs
Hythe, Kent
SIR – New Labour cut the order for Type 45 destroyers from BAE Systems from 12 to six. The Coalition has spent three years doing nothing to make up the difference.
The Type 45 project went 29 per cent over budget and each ship cost more than £1 billion, but they are some of the best guided-missile destroyers in the world.
Each ship was built in sections – the bow at Govan, the stern at Portsmouth and the midships at Scotstoun. Ordering two more would give the Navy more of the ships it needs and keep three BAE yards in full production.
Hugh Jaeger

Irish Times:

Sir, – How can the exercising of one’s human rights be a matter for public vote? The Constitution does not need to be changed; it needs to be given full effect. Article 40.1, our guarantee of equality, is currently undermined by statute. The bar to equality in marriage laws is contained within s. 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004, not the Constitution. Equality makes no restrictions on gender, but that statute does.
We know that the right to marry is a human right, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are not created by the Constitution; they are protected by it. It is not for a majority to purport to exercise a power it does not have, by deciding whether some be entitled to, or restricted from, the exercise of a human right.
It is for the legislature to exercise a power it does have and remove that discriminatory statutory provision. In fact, our Constitution, by way of Article 40.1, so demands it. – Yours, etc,
Mulberry Court,
Dublin 15.
A chara, – I would prefer a referendum, before the end of 2013, asking the electorate if they believe all law-abiding individuals should be treated equally? – Is mise,
Maxwell Road,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – At last Ireland has pledged to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage in an attempt to ensure all her citizens are treated as equals regardless of sexual orientation. This is to be welcomed, as is Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s vocal support in favour of the referendum.
Upon hearing that a referendum would be held in 2015 I felt proud to be Irish and a member of a society that was showing signs of increasing respect and compassion for fellow citizens. This feeling did not last long, however, and I was dismayed and disheartened at the statements of the Irish Catholic bishops and their intention to mount a campaign of opposition.
In light of this approach taken by the Catholic Church I will no longer be attending Mass, nor will I remain a practising Catholic. I would call on other Irish people to do the same in an act of solidarity for members of the gay community who have been discriminated against for too long in Irish society.
As a person of faith, I ask myself and I ask Bishop Nulty, “What would Jesus do?”. For if He was among us I do not think he would approve of the church’s campaign of opposition, which promotes intolerance and exclusion. – Is mise,

Dublin Road,
Navan, Co Meath.
Sir, – Only in the latter years of my work (giving day courses in relationships and sexuality to sixth class primary school children) did the subject of homosexuality arise.
Private sessions were scheduled into the day. In about 1980, in each of four schools, I was approached by one child. The questions of each of these four children were with regard to gay/lesbian parents. The questions would have been phrased much as follows:
1. I have two mammies. I haven’t told any of the other girls. I want a daddy who would be strong and look after us. Then I’d be the same as the others.
2. Why have I two daddies? From what you said about babies I must have a mum somewhere. I’m going to look for her when I’m older.
3. I have no friends in class because I don’t bring anyone home to play or to parties. That’s because I have two dads and no mammy. I can’t explain it.
4. The two of my dads can’t both be my dads because you said there is one sperm. Why have I two fathers and no mum?
Children do not want to be significantly different from their peers. Initially small children may be quite happy if the home is a happy one. But around adolescence questions begin and we have to give true answers. All of us, whether heterosexual, lesbian or gay, must think out the honest answers to such questions before giving a merely sentimental response to the referendum. – Yours, etc,
Lower Kilmacud Road,
Dublin 14.
A chara, – Dr Rachel Cave expresses bemusement at the Roman Catholic Church’s position on marriage (October 7th). How odd.
One might have expected her to notice that the Catholic Church does not tend to change its teaching on important issues. For example, the stance taken on recent debates in this country on issues such as divorce or abortion would have, I should have thought, given a fairly good indication of this. So the position taken on this matter shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
What is bemusing is that Dr Cave would expect the Catholic Church to hold any other. – Is mise,
Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Since 2007 the cost of an annual Dart ticket has increased by more than 44 per cent – almost five times the rate of inflation. During the same period the frequency of trains during rush hour has decreased by circa 40 per cent, while the number of carriages on off-peak trains has also been drastically cut back. It’s become a third-world service.
Evidently no one in Irish Rail has studied Junior Cert economics, as the company appears to believe increasing fares will stimulate extra demand. And then we wonder why Ireland is not competitive! – Yours, etc,
Whites Villas,

A chara, – Knowing what we now know about our politicians, our bankers and our developers, would it not be very prudent of us to request the troika to remain watching over us for another few years? – Is mise,

Sir, – When asked by British people, where is Co Cavan (the part of the country I owe allegiance to), I explain it to them as follows. Co Cavan is in the northern part of the South, it’s one of the counties comprising Ulster, but isn’t part of the North. – Yours, etc,
Pollard Lane,

Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, Health + Family, November 5th) asserts that the Roma families, so heavily featured in the news recently, received better care than their Irish counterparts and that the possible racism involved in these cases in fact served the Roma families well.
Ms Jones uses infamous past Irish cases of child abuse, child neglect and severe physical traumas to demonstrate her point.
Ms Jones should never have attempted to justify her point by using these cases; it could suggest that these Roma children were in some way neglected, abused or manipulated when no such evidence exists. The comparison serves only to denigrate these Roma families and their community.
Ms Jones states that in the cases of the past, Irish parents constantly lied to the gardaí. These Roma families did not. They said, truthfully, that these children were their own. They gave narrative and paper evidence and were disbelieved. They submitted to DNA testing and were proved truthful. There is simply no comparison.
If Irish parents are less suspicious than Roma families and gardaí neglect to interfere on that basis, this is a failing of the State to both.
Racism serves nobody well and Ms Jones in her article alarmingly expressed trust and faith in a system of institutional racism that serves only to damage and degrade. – Yours, etc,
Pavee Point Traveller and

Sir, – Paul Cullen’s assertion (Opinion, November 6th) that “newborns are transported in a hazardous fashion” to one of Dublin’s children’s hospitals is incorrect.
Newborn transport is at a very sophisticated level in Ireland. The National Neonatal Transport Programme (NNTP) has been in existence for 10 years, well ahead of many other countries in Europe. The programme consists of trained specialised neonatal registrars, neonatal nurses and clinical engineers who operate from the three Dublin maternity hospitals. The day to day operation is supervised by a national nurse transport co-ordinator and by a consultant neonatologist. The transports are undertaken by dedicated neonatal ambulances and ambulance staff.
In the case of urgent or long distance transfers the Army Air Corps can be employed. The helicopters are equipped to take transport incubators. The programme reports to the National Neonatal Transport Programme Committee. The NNTP team retrieve critically ill newborns from all 19 neonatal units across the State.
The programme has to date transported close to 4,000 sick newborns. Currently the programme operates from 9am to 5pm, seven days a week. The programme maintains a daily census of intensive care cots system across all tertiary hospital in place so the sick newborn can be rapidly assigned to an appropriate place. The programme is greatly appreciated by both the families of sick newborn infants and their referring paediatricians. The programme is about to be extended to a 24/7 this month and an additional full-time consultant neonatologist has been appointed to oversee and organise the service. This will further enhance the efficacy of a programme that has been effective and life-saving for many infants.
The achievements of the NNTP will be marked at a symposium on November 15th at the College of Anaesthesia which coincides with World Prematurity Day. The meeting is being opened by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
The national neonatal transport programme is a jewel in the crown of Irish neonatal care. Many medical groups have come from other countries to observe how our neonatal transport system functions. The HSE has been singularly supportive of this service and has clearly recognised its importance.
At a time of great financial restraints it has done its utmost to provide resources to expand this service and we are extremely grateful for its efforts. We wish to reassure parents of sick newborns that there is an effective, safe transport system in Ireland for sick newborn infants. – Yours, etc,
National Clinical Lead in
Neonatology & Dr ANNE
TWOMEY, Consultant
Neonatologist & Director of
the National Neonatal
Transport Programme,
Department of Neonatology,
National Maternity Hospital,
Sir, – Regarding articles (Business, Octobder 22nd, 23rd & 25th) on the serious problems encountered by SIAC and other Irish road construction companies in Poland: first, I wish to emphasise Poland truly appreciates the presence of Irish companies in the Polish market; not least your construction firms’ valuable experience in building Irish infrastructure, which we consider a model for us to follow.
There is no doubt the road construction process is complex, time-consuming and costly; the disputes that sometimes arise are not unusual in the construction industry, especially when a contract is undertaken abroad.
I have closely monitored the dispute that led to some Irish companies withdrawing from their projects in Poland. Over the past few years I have met regularly with SIAC’s chief executive Finn Lyden and discussed his impressions of conducting business in Poland. His wide experience, comprehensive knowledge and his insights on how to implement infrastructure projects were immensely valuable. As a result his observations and remarks were taken into account in the development and realisation of various investment projects in Poland. Nevertheless, I strongly disagree with Mr Lyden’s statements on the Polish road construction system cited in your paper (Business, October 22nd).
According to the Report on Road Construction in Poland by PwC, due to the development of the country’s road infrastructure in the years 2007–2013 Poland has gained 1,500km of motorways and expressways, representing more than a 150 per cent increase. Poland became the leader among European countries in terms of the growth dynamics of the motorway network. According to the report, currently nearly 75 per cent of expressways and motorways in Poland are completed on time. The remaining 25 per cent of projects are completed with an average delay of slightly over 10 weeks. A report from the European Court of Auditors shows the average delay in construction of express roads in the whole EU is 15 months.
As for the effectiveness with which the funds obtained from the EU are used, to date the Polish Road Construction Authority (GDDKiA) has received 77 per cent reimbursement and nearly 100 per cent of certification, which proves the extra funds granted have indeed been used correctly.
I also take issue with the following statement (Business, October 22nd) : “. . . the European Commission . . . was freezing hundreds of millions of euro in development aid for Poland, because of fears of corruption in road-building”. This sentence could easily be read as implying the EC suspected the Polish state road construction system of being corrupt; this interpretation could not be further from the truth. It was the Polish state that launched a criminal investigation to avoid an attempt of price-fixing involving some of the companies bidding for road-building contracts in Poland; the EC launched its audit and two months later it confirmed there was no malfunction and the Polish government provides sufficient supervision over EU co-funded projects. The fact Poland promptly uncovered the attempt to establish the cartel illustrates the efficiency of the system and the governmental actions.
In my opinion, the nature of SIAC’s difficulties in Poland is based on a different approach and practices in state administration in both countries; the Irish approach being more flexible and able to adapt more easily to new circumstances and the Polish approach being more rigid, cost-orientated and tied to regulations.
It is difficult to say which approach is better; and I would consider it wrong to blame the “other party” for not being flexible enough or being too strict about certain issues. Both approaches are equally valid, legitimate and legal; however, they have clearly proved to be incompatible in this case.
The bottom line is that the dispute which arose between Irish companies and the Polish Road Authority has been conducted in accordance with both Polish and EU law respectively.
I believe it will be quickly resolved and will enable continuation of friendly business relations between Poland and Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Polish Ambassador,
Embassy of the Republic o

Sir, – According to Carole Molloy, Messrs O’Neill and Keane are employed by ITV where it is the custom for everyone to wear a poppy in Remembrance Week (November 7th). In fact sporting red poppies on ITV (and on BBC and Sky) usually begins at least three weeks prior to Remembrance Sunday and it is more than a mere “custom”. It takes real bravery not to wear a large red poppy when appearing on UK television during the long Remembrance period. It begs the question: when UTV is up and running in Dublin in 2015, what will be the poppy rules?
For some, the red poppy symbol advocates war and for others it advocates remembrance of the war dead. The solution might lie with the white poppy which unambiguously advocates peace. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Apparently, the rain in Spain is falling as it always has, on the plain, and it tastes just the same as it does in Britain and Northern Ireland. What’s more, it appears the same.
The spin gurus in Ireland will have us believe that climate change is affecting only the rain that falls on Ireland. What the consumer notices is that the product that previously come out of his pipe looking like water, now appears to resemble soda-water or an elixir containing too many spoonfuls of Andrews Liver Salts. He lets the tap run to flush out the bubbles and clouding, and the announcements blare, “You’re using too much water”.
I have a hole in the garden and the water in it looks fine. I wonder could we feed it into the grid for credit? – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:

* I was lucky enough to see the two sides of how football should be played. Liam Brady, will-o’-the-wisp class, and Roy Keane, granite personified. Both midfield generals, both among the best Ireland ever produced and both played with top teams. Interesting then that Brady would charge Keane over “his judgment with players” saying “people say he has got great knowledge… why then did he not make it in the managerial sphere?”. Pot calling kettle black there, methinks.
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The positive side of secularism
Roy Keane got the same gig that Brady got with Trapattoni, but Brady seems to have forgotten his own managerial tenure at Celtic from 1991-1993. That team failed to reach a final under his leadership.
Whilst Keane took a foot-of-the-table Sunderland from League One to the Premiership and kept them there, his successor at Ipswich, who happens to be his former bete noir, hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees there either. Brady wasn’t a complete failure at Celtic as manager and in his judgment of players. Roy Keane managed at a level Brady didn’t. His was a mixed bag, but a bag that Liam doesn’t possess.
So, if this is his or RTE’s attempt at stirring the pot, or expert analysis, then it’s time to retire those sages Giles, Dunphy and O’Herlihy, who are in that happy little club since 1984. As public servants they would have been entitled to retire on pension for nigh on 30 years’ service.
Go, and let some fresh blood in, instead of the ‘decent skin’ crap we are now dosed with.
John Cuffe
Co Meath
* I ask, how can the exercising of one’s human right be a matter for public vote? The Constitution does not need to be changed; it needs to be given full effect. Article 40.1, our guarantee of equality, is currently undermined by statute.
The bar to equality in marriage laws is contained within section 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004, not the Constitution. Equality makes no restrictions on gender, but that statute does.
We know that the right to marry is a human right, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are not created by the Constitution; they are protected by it.
It is not for a majority to purport to exercise a power it does not have, by deciding whether some be entitled to or restricted from the exercising of a human right.
It is for the legislature to exercise a power it does have and remove that discriminatory statutory provision. In fact, our Constitution, by way of Article 40.1, so demands it.
Susie Glynn
Castleknock, Dublin 15
* Ming Flanagan’s guerrilla war against the state prohibition on cannabis use took a decidedly dopey turn for the daft when he “threatened” to report TDs who had previously used the drug.
Apart from the fact that he would have a pretty tough time proving his allegations, and avoiding scores of libel cases, he surely realises that any consequences wrought on TDs who did indeed use cannabis (if any) would be equally wrought on himself, as Ireland’s most famous cannabis celebrity?
Celebrity, being the operative, pejorative term, and the likely motivation behind this nonsense.
Killian Foley-Walsh
Kilkenny City
* So, it’s showtime for the FAI on Saturday with the Roy and Martin laugh-in. No Roy, of course, because he’s already off trolling for new talent.
Here’s hoping it won’t end with a curtain call on the ‘Muppets’ a la Statler ‘N’ Waldorf. Whatever happens, we Irish soccer fans are in for a rollercoaster ride and perhaps a few good surprises along the way.
Pat Bonner
Dungloe, Co Donegal
* So, the 14-year-old distressed girl found in O’Connell Street turns out to be 25. Where was Sherlock Holmes when he was needed!
Niall Ginty
Dublin 5
* Did you ever spend any of your summer holidays in the Isle of Man during the 1970s, either on vacation or actually working in the holiday industry? If so, do you ever think back to those great summer times?
Do you remember Sunday nights at the Palace Lido watching Slade, Sweet, Mott the Hoople and many others? Do you still remember your summer romances? Did you walk hand-in-hand under the sun along a golden beach to a soundtrack that included the Glitter Band’s ‘Love In the Sun’, Bobby Goldsborough’s ‘Summer The First Time’, The Bay City Rollers’ ‘Summer Love Sensation’, The Rubettes’ ‘Sugar Baby Love’, Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, and many more great records?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, we really want to hear from you! Please email your experiences to
Johnny Cooil
Lido Summers Limited
* Any doubt about the inhumanity of current austerity must be dispelled by correspondence from the manage-ment of four primary hospitals, that lives are at risk due to the savage withdrawal of resources from the most vulnerable in our country to satisfy an outdated ideology of a crazed monetary elite in Europe.
It is little wonder Mr Kenny is frontrunner for top position in the dictatorship.
The 21st Century is not a time of shortage; it is by far the most wealthy, creative period that ever existed. As well as abundance of practically everything, real healing power is available for the first time ever.
The obscenity of withholding such healing from the critically ill to repay debt unjustly foisted on a nation is surely an affront to all.
Generations of Irish people cursed the British for imposing monetarist ideology that destroyed our nation at a time of famine. How will future generations judge our own, for willingly imposing a similar ideology at a time of crisis?
Until there is realisation that policies of the past will not solve problems of the present and future; austerity will only bring greater misery and allow the sick to die.
Padraic Neary
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
* “There’s a silent listener to every conversation.”
The above saying has, until recent revelations, been attributed to the power of God. However, we the people of the world, have been treated to a vision from one Edward Snowden that suggests God’s power in this regard has been taken over by the spy agencies of the world.
Nobody likes a spy. Lauri Love is a case in point. He, Mr Love, an alleged computer hacker arrested recently in Britain, has been accused of the most heinous crime – spying on America. He is, we are led to believe, an evil man who accessed sensitive information and could, armed with this, cause untold havoc for America’s spying agencies. It seems spying makes Love bad!
We have England spying on Germany. Tut tut tut! Has Germany been spying on Britain? Who cares?
What do we in Ireland know about spying? We know Gerry Adams had one close to him in the shape of Denis Donaldson, and we had Charlie Haughey spying on Irish journalists.
And what did the Irish do with this despicable chap? Well, Mr Haughey was given a State funeral.
Dermot Ryan
Athenry, Co Galway
Irish Independent

Fridge man

November 7, 2013

7 November 2013 Fridge

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is a visit from the Admiral and he does not like Mrs Povey’s hat. “Like a mobile Kew gardens’, Priceless.
Quiet day post books Fridge repair man comes, give away book boxes
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets under 400 Perhap it will be my turn tomorrow?

Gwen Robyns – Obituary
Gwen Robyns was a journalist whose passion for ‘human interest’ once saw her unwittingly arrange plastic surgery for a call girl

Gwen Robyns 
5:40PM GMT 06 Nov 2013
Gwen Robyns, the journalist and author, who has died aged 96, helped to transform the way royal events are reported in the media; she also wrote biographies of, among others, Barbara Cartland, Princess Grace of Monaco and Agatha Christie.
In 1953, as woman’s editor of the The Evening News, she was one of seven journalists to accompany the newly-crowned Queen who, with the Duke of Edinburgh, was making a three-month tour of the Commonwealth. While her colleagues were reporting the royal round conventionally, Gwen Robyns was offering her readers quirky glimpses of what it was really like for the young Queen, who was being exposed to her first major tour.
On one scorchingly hot day in Rotorua, New Zealand, when the Queen was clearly exhausted and looking bored, and with the press pack muttering that she was in a bad mood, Gwen cabled back to her newspaper: “The Queen is looking tired; this punishing schedule of official events should be rescheduled to allow her time to get off those flag-decked daises and walk among the people” — forecasting the royal walkabouts that still lay 30 years in the future.
During yet another display of Maori dancing, Gwen Robyns hired a lip reader to decipher the Duke’s private remarks to the Queen, when she again appeared to flag. “Cheer up, sausage,” he was supposed to have whispered. Gwen’s news editor, Frank Starr, cabled back: “Lay off personal comments about the Queen. Buckingham Palace has complained and threatens to withdraw your accreditation. Now be a good girl and calm down.”

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The Queen during her 1953 Commonweath tour/AP
Gwynedd Robyns was born on January 29 1917 in Adelaide but brought up in New Zealand, to which her mother had returned on the death of Gwen’s father. She attended Wellington Girls’ College, where she was head girl, then worked on a weekly newspaper. Within a week of her arrival in London in 1946, when she was 28, she was at Wimbledon for the Sunday Express, reporting a front-page story about Queen Mary’s toque nearly being knocked off. As a result she became a regular Saturday reporter on a salary of £3 a day.
Six weeks later she joined a press trip to Germany to look for the grave of the New Zealand war hero Sergeant Pilot JA (“Jimmy”) Ward, VC, who had been killed on a bombing mission to Hamburg. Arriving at the press camp in Herford, near Hamburg, Gwen Robyns found she was the only woman among 40 male correspondents. There she met Paul von Stemann, of the Danish Berlingske Tidende, whom she married two months later in London.

As well as her Saturday work for the Sunday Express, she wrote a weekly “Letter from London” column which was eventually syndicated to some 40 newspapers around the world (Fiji paid her with sacks of coconuts sent by sea). In 1948 the Evening News, then the world’s biggest evening newspaper, offered her a job as its first women’s editor.
Over the next nine years Gwen Robyns specialised in human interest stories. When a woman wrote in saying that she needed to have an operation to remove layers of flabby fat, Gwen Robyns persuaded a weekly magazine to fund the woman’s plastic surgery in return for her attending the operation and writing an article — a daring suggestion 60 years ago. When she visited the woman some weeks later in London’s Shepherd Market she was told: “I am thrilled with my new self and business has picked up. I was broke before I met you and now I have a waiting list.” It was only then that Gwen Robyns realised that the woman was a professional call girl.
Not everything she learned found its way into print. She refrained from revealing that Mae West always travelled with 15 wigs, half-a-dozen handmade corsets, a box of half-inch false eyelashes and two handsome young men (“They come in handy”).
Her husband abndoned journalism to set up his own design company, but in 1965 this collapsed, forcing Gwen Robyns to diversify into writing books, her first being David Hicks on Decoration (1966), a collaboration with the celebrated designer who subsequently married Lady Pamela Mountbatten. When the book did reasonably well, Hicks commissioned her to write an authorised biography.

Gwen Robyns’s biography of Barbara Cartland
But when his father-in-law Lord Mountbatten heard about the project he was aghast. When he invited Gwen to lunch to discuss it, she refused his demand that she hand over everything concerning the book, particularly the tape-recorded interviews. In the end they compromised: Gwen Robyns was paid to remove any “sensitive” material from the book, and the tapes were burnt, the “cremation” taking place in the office of Mountbatten’s legal adviser. Although Private Eye ran a story claiming that Gwen Robyns had kept copies, this was not the case.
Her next biography, in 1972, was ghosted for the actress Margaret Rutherford; but Gwen Robyns was not permitted to tell the whole truth. For example, she was told to write that Margaret Rutherford’s parents had died in India, where Margaret’s father had been a silk merchant. In fact, he had died in Wormwood Scrubs, having murdered his father with a chamber pot.

Gwen Robyns’s biography of Princess Grace of Monaco
Gwen Robyns next turned her attention to Nicole, Duchess of Bedford, and by the time the book was finished the two women were barely on speaking terms. Even worse was the project to write the memoirs of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. The final straw came when the Duchess accused Gwen Robyns of leaking a diary item headed “Ghost To Two Duchesses” to the Evening Standard. She did not finish either book.
Although Gwen Robyns won an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for her biography of Agatha Christie, published in 1979, it was, she said, “the most frustrating book I have ever written”. The Christie family were determined to block every source of information about the crime writer’s personal life — and especially her faked disappearance in 1926 .
After the death of her husband in 1996, Gwen Robyns moved from their rented farmhouse in Oxfordshire to a small house in the courtyard of a nearby manor, which she called her new “paradise”.
Gwen Robyns, born January 29 1917, died September 12 2013


Your report of last week’s parliamentary debate on oversight of the intelligence services (1 November) did not mention the role of the interception of communications commissioner. He is responsible for oversight of all electronic surveillance under Part One of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
In the debate I raised the problem of the very low profile of this role and asked two questions which would be of particular interest to the Guardian and its readers.
First, we know from a letter to the Independent that the commissioner is carrying out an investigation into the Edward Snowden leaks. In relation to Tempora, I asked for an assurance that the commissioner would be given full access to all the surveillance information undertaken as part of Tempora, including that acquired from our allies.
Second, I asked whether a special report will be compiled by the commissioner and if so for a timetable. The last commissioner’s report covering 2012 was only published in July 2013. I believe that it is important that we have a timely report on this matter.
I did not receive answers from the minister in the debate and so have now written to him asking the same questions once again.
Diana Johnson MP
Shadow crime and security minister

Chris Huhne (Comment, 4 November) cites the Express’s claim that “freedom of the press is cast aside after 300 years” without questioning its historical veracity. This absurd claim implies that we had a free press in 1790 when criticism of the social system was a criminal offence, and guilt or innocence could be determined solely by a judge. It suggests that we had a free press in 1850 when the stamp, advertisement and paper duties were still fixed to price newspapers beyond the reach of ordinary people. And it suggests that this embedded press freedom, hallowed by time, will come to an end with the introduction of a cheap and open system of redress for press victims, with a state-underpinned audit every few years to ensure that press self-regulation (unlike its predecessors) works.
This version of history is manifestly self-serving. Yet, the “end of 300 hundred years of freedom” canard is being repeated by a number of papers, not just the Express. This distortion helps to explain why, according to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, the British public was the least disposed to trust its press, out of a total of 27 European countries.
Professor James Curran
Goldsmiths, University of London

Martin Kettle (What poppies and a royal baby tell us about freedom, 31 October) suggests Spinoza got it right: the state should pursue freedom. This interesting idea, however, is let down by Kettle approaching the state as a thing – one that can historically evolve, as things do, but whose meaning and definition are settled. As a concept, though (rather than a thing), the state is not settled. Definitions abound, varying across time, place, politics and purpose. Marxists sometimes include the church and family (against the liberal notion that these are private and so not-state); others argue that the state is merely an idea, without tangible form, yet an idea with powerful effects in masking societies’ divergent interests.
Competing definitions of the state aren’t arcane disagreements. How we think of the state, and what comprises it, affects how politics is done. Approaching the state as apparatuses and systems, as Kettle does, leads to the argument that we need more top-down control by elected government. Certainly, such practical reforms are needed. But if a progressive state is possible, we also need forms of thinking about the state that recognise the multiple ways people participate – as workers, community group members, service users, and residents. Control may be far from equal, but conceptualising the state in ways that treat human action including dissent – from rebellious schoolkids to discretion-exercising public officials – as an integral part, empowers us to think about how we inhabit and so can develop a more democratic state.
Davina Cooper
Professor of law and political theory, Kent Law School, University of Kent
• Martin Kettle’s refreshing analysis of the “timid form” of British democracy observes that “the crown is in no real sense democratically shaped – though it could be”. Though not, perhaps, if even the Guardian’s extensive coverage of the baptism of the infant George (Report, 24 October) persistently assumes the third in line to the throne to be “the future king”. Maybe. Maybe not.
Peter Fiddick
Kew, Surrey

Pay inequalities between men and women are still rife. Today marks the point in the year when women will be working for free for the rest of the year when taking the gender pay gap into account; 43 years on from the Equal Pay Act, this is a scandal. The pay gap is a result of, and contributes to, unhelpful stereotypes about men and women. The pay gap is wider in the private sector, so lessons can be learned from the public sector.
The impact of becoming a mother still has a greater impact on earnings than becoming a father. Working hours must be reduced for all and the stereotypes about who does the caring confronted. This would help all parents and accelerate equality.
Far from closing, the pay gap is actually widening, and the situation is set to get worse with privatisation and jobs being lost in the public sector. If this issue is not tackled, women may be working for free for even longer in 2014.
Teachers and parents work passionately to raise the aspirations of girls; girls should not face the prospect of earning 14.9% less than boys on average.
We call on the government to take urgent action to counter the causes ofthe gender pay gap.
Natalie Bennett Leader, Green party, Christine Blower NUT, Gloria De Piero MP and Sharon Hodgson MP Shadow ministers for women & equalities, Ceri Goddard Fawcett Society, Tony Greaves and Angela Harris House of Lords, Caroline Lucas MP, Margaret Prosser and Trevor Smith Vice-chairs, APPG on sex equality, Naomi Smith Co-chair, Social Liberal Forum
• Simon Jenkins (Comment, 6 November) is wrong to scoff at Ed Miliband’s proposed £1,000 reward per employee for employers who pay the living wage. Let the details be worked out while the principle is endorsed. There is a low-pay emergency created by a coalition that deliberately disconnects unemployment benefits from the rising prices of homes, food, utilities and other necessities in the market and then claims that work pays more, so leaving the false impression that work on the national minimum wage pays enough. The living wage is underpinned by robust research into minimum prices and quantities of necessities in the market and restores the integrity of a low-pay policy. However, that leaves open for debate the fact that unemployment benefits have been cut and capped so much that individuals, parents and children are both cold and hungry. That scandal will not be ended by funding the £1,000 reward with savings from the cuts in benefits.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Sadly, Polly Toynbee has shown her lack of understanding about our reforms to disability living allowance in her recent comment piece (29 October). There were several factual inaccuracies which could lead to unnecessary concern. She claims DLA is only paid to those of working age. That’s not true; it is paid to people of all age groups from children upwards. Polly questions where “3.1 million people can be tested” without realising that our reforms are for working-age claimants, which is actually around 2 million people. She also claims the total caseload has tripled to 3.1m claimants, whereas the total caseload is actually 3.3m. One final point, the Department for Work and Pensions did respond to her questions within her deadline.
Mike Penning MP
Minister of state for disabled people
• What has poor Enda Kenny done to deserve Mr Cameron’s “kiss of death” (PM backs Kenny to lead European commission, 5 November)? The last thing an Irish candidate needs is backing from a British Eurosceptic who is indeed playing Russian roulette with UK membership. As endorsements go, only Silvio Berlusconi could be worse.
Stephen Hughes MEP
Labour, North East England
•  A teenage Girl Guide says women are only on the front page of newspapers “if they’ve got big boobs or they’re married to someone”. (A girl’s guide to leadership, G2, 5 November). Who is pictured on the front page of the Guardian that day? The wife of the prime minister.
Jonathan Carmichael
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
• Does the Munich art hoard (Report, 6 November) include the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp?
Tony Macciochi
Ilford, Essex
• The polythene bag for the Guardian’s Saturday glossies (Letters, 6 November) is recyclable. Put it in the bin for recycling single-use carrier bags. You can put cereal bags, bread bags and fruit bags in as well.
Maureen Wood
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
• Ours are used to weatherproof posters for the St Day Historical and Conservation Society – just the right size.
Bernadette Fallon
St Day, Cornwall

Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand have much in common (What Paxman really thinks of politicians (it’s not pretty), 5 November). They both command significant audiences who take what they say very seriously. They have both correctly recognised that there is an ever-growing disconnect between people and politics, and that Westminster continues to appear remote and alien to the majority of the public. And they both – though to differing degrees – accept the argument for not bothering to vote. When two people with such popular influence both appear to have practised non-participation as a response to the problem of political disengagement, it is time others speak up. Britain’s political system desperately needs updating to match the expectations of the modern electorate, but we should not forget how lucky we are to have the vote at all. Participation is the cornerstone of our democracy – without it, the whole thing loses its legitimacy. While people have entirely understandable grievances about the current political system, the one thing that will guarantee things will get much worse is people not exercising their most basic civil right.
It is only by participating and engaging that people have the chance to change things they do not like. Instead of encouraging people to think there is no point in getting involved, we should be looking for ways to increase access to politics and raise voter turnout. Mr Paxman and Mr Brand should use their influence to confront the challenge of how to rejuvenate our democracy for the 21st century, instead of discouraging us from getting involved at all.
Katie Ghose
Chief executive, Electoral Reform Society
• Voting should be made compulsory, with fines for democratic negligence, the revenue raised to be spent on democratic education in schools. We have a non-choice of three free-market parties, and it’s time they cut the charade of being different. Democracy is throwing up new parties for a new age: the Green party, the People’s Assembly, Ukip, new alliances on the left of New Labour. Democracy works, but it is going through a period of runaway decay out of which will come new democratic opportunities. No one has the right to abdicate their responsibility to be a functioning democrat.
Alan Marsden
Penrith, Cumbria
• Russell Brand is spot-on in all his criticisms but presents no “strategy” for how the society he seeks can be achieved (A televised beginning to the Russell revolution, 6 November). Revolutions are inevitably bloody. I’d rather my children had to pay fees to go to university than be killed or maimed fighting for a better society. That is what democratic politics is. It enables the populace to change things without loss of life. But this can only be done by staying within the system and working to change it from the inside. If Brand urged the politically disenfranchised to vote Labour, and then worked within the party to ensure that his proposals for taxation of the banks and super-rich were on the manifesto (and a Tony Blair could never again take over), he could make exactly that real difference he wishes for.
Heather Govier
Croydon, Surrey
• Brand identifies a number of serious defects in our political processes, but there are too many to be solved at once. What is needed is a single change which would naturally lead to a number of other significant changes. I have two suggestions. First, allow no funding to political parties other than party membership subscriptions topped up from public funds. This would ensure that MPs are beholden to the voters only and not to large organisations of any kind. Second, ensure that exactly half of MPs are women. This can be achieved by a pairing of neighbouring parliamentary constituencies. Each new paired constituency would elect one man and one woman. Every voter in the new paired constituency would have two votes, one for the men’s list and one for the women’s. The number of MPs remains unchanged. Those women would be properly proportionate to our population and would surely bring radical change. Either of these ideas could be achieved by a single act of parliament.
Karl Gehring
• I hope Michael Gove read Russell Brand’s piece. If our schools were allowed to focus on teaching children to “love our planet and each other” as the basis of the curriculum, that would be a good start. Maths, English, history, science and art put to the service of valuing people and planet rather than responding to the whim of successive education secretaries would be an important part of the Brand revolution. Indeed all of our services need to be based on care rather than profit if we are to build an ethical and equitable society, and that applies to health, housing, social services and prisons as much as it does to education. To create a living democracy and bring about the kinds of changes that are needed, we must rebuild from the bottom up. An ongoing intergenerational conversation in which everyone can participate to re-establish shared values and core purposes could perhaps begin in our schools.
Fiona Carnie
European Forum for Freedom in Education
• We were surprised Paxman thinks the most blatant lie in recent political history was the pledge not to raise student fees. It was indeed a blatant lie, one of many – but surely the winner must be the pledge not to mess with the NHS.
Rosemary and Mark Haworth-Booth
Barnstaple, Devon
• Can someone organise a face-to-face between Brand and Tony Benn, and make sure it’s recorded for prime-time telly? Wouldn’t that be one to savour!
Jenny Mitton
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• A little of Russell Brand goes a very long way. We’ve had rather a lot of him recently; a little less would be most welcome.
Jonathan Harris
Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
• The debate about changing the political system must include the role of the rightwing press in this country. One of the main reasons we had a Labour government was because Blair wooed Murdoch, in particular. The rightwing press barons have the same agenda as Cameron. Issues of social justice are at best of no interest to them, at worst anathema. We are currently seeing a toxic partnership between an increasingly rightwing government and the ability of the press to promulgate successful propaganda which vilifies the more vulnerable sections in society and stirs racial hatred. The changes Brand appears to seek and most members of the Labour party passionately want to achieve are under attack. I use Twitter to find other left-of-centre thinkers who are certainly out there and ready to engage in setting out the steps which need to be taken towards a better, fairer place. Miliband took an enormous risk standing up to Murdoch and will never be forgiven. What’s to be done? Perhaps social media offers the only pathway to bring about a more equal and therefore healthier society.
Irene Short
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
• It is easy to accuse someone rich and famous of hypocrisy when they express socialist views but if Russell Brand wasn’t a celebrity he’s unlikely to have been invited on to Newsnight or given a full page in your paper. He is giving well-publicised voice to what thousands of us think. He mentions initiatives such as the People’s assembly which supports a diverse range of actions against the austerity policies of the coalition. In the last few weeks I’ve attended a rally in support of striking teachers, presentation of a petition to save care homes in Hampshire and demonstrations in Southampton outside the Atos office and in support of the probation service. Over 50,000 people demonstrated against cuts outside the last Tory party conference in Manchester but the amount of media coverage all these actions get is minimal. But they are happening all over the country. I’m not as rich as Brand or as young, but I’m not poor either and as a beneficiary of postwar council housing, free education and the NHS, I am not prepared to sit and do nothing while the welfare state is dismantled and public funds transferred to private providers who are only interested in profits. Russell Brand is not alone. I await my invitation from Mr Paxman.
Karen Barratt
Winchester, Hampshire
• Despite some “apparent” unruly thinking on his part, Russell Brand does have every reason to be frustrated at the gesture politics of Robert Webb (Report, 5 November). Had Mr Webb checked whether the Labour party he is rejoining is in fact democratic, before publicly patting himself on the back for his contribution to British “democracy?” A PM like David Cameron has to regularly go before voters in mandatory elections. Yet when is the next regular scheduled Labour leadership contest? Never, it doesn’t exist. How can ordinary Labour members demand a leadership election? They can’t. When is the next scheduled shadow cabinet election? There isn’t one – it was abolished by Ed Miliband upon becoming leader. How does a member propose and vote on mandatory Labour policy? They can’t, again abolished. In the period prior to Russell Brand being eligible to vote, Tony Benn had been proposing local “mandatory reselection” for MPs who failed to carry out Labour policy. But this was before the absurd New Labour coup that inverted the relationship between paid political representatives and the people they’re supposed to work for. Now even their Labour candidate is forced on local people by Central Office. As things stand, Russell Brand’s disengagement makes sense.
Gavin Lewis
• We admire the anger and passion with which Russell Brand calls for alternative approaches to the politics we have in Britain today. But we cannot agree that the answer is telling people not to vote. We hope we can persuade him to think again. We all came to this country as migrants or refugees from countries including Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Our free speech, democratic rights and ability to live alongside our neighbours were torn apart. This makes us deeply value Britain’s democratic freedoms.
When we are frustrated by the failure of our politics to live up to the values our country should stand for, that should strengthen our resolve to get involved and make change happen, not to walk away in defeat. We don’t want a politics where those at the top of government talk openly about wanting to make our country a more “hostile environment” to those already at its very margins.
So we believe that every disadvantaged and under-represented group should register and be ready to vote – so that we claim our full share of voice and power, when we put alternative demands to end economic exploitation and promote fairness for all. We want all of our friends to vote in every election. We do not want extreme voices of hate like the BNP to claim a popular mandate, because those who opposed them stayed at home. We want people to turn out and kick them out of office everywhere in Britain.
Russell Brand should use the power of his voice to persuade those who are angry to get involved, to argue and to agitate for an alternative future – for the country we want to live in and to share.
Russell, please don’t tell people to walk away and risk making those who are already most marginalised even easier to ignore.
Zrinka Bralo The Forum, Phil Mutero, Awale Olad Migrants Right Network, Nazek Ramadan Migrant Voice, Cllr Paul Sathianesan London borough of Newham
• It comes to something when a self-confessed “twerp”, “junkie”,and “Jack Sparrow” is the one best able to articulate what I suspect is the majority of the population’s frustration with our system of party politics. Hopefully Brand’s article will succeed as a wake-up call all to all holding power and influence, particularly to the Labour party, as clearly other tactics, even demonstrations, strikes and People’s assemblies have failed. So much of what he wrote is irrefutable, and the point about the “toxic belch wafted into our homes by the media” is particularly relevant on the day the BBC televises a programme about “Britain on the fiddle”, in the Guardian’s words, exposing those who cause a “criminal drain on resources”. No, it’s not about bankers’ corruption, or multinationals’ refusal to obey our tax laws, or even the scams of the utility companies. Nor even about multimillionaire MPs who claim costs for heating their second homes on expenses, but benefit fraudsters, with, no doubt, more to come on “health tourists” and illegal immigrants.
Since when have licence fees financed our nationalised broadcasting company in order for it to become a mouthpiece for the Daily Mail and other rightwing alarmist media? In fact, the BBC seems intent on doing everything it can to challenge this section of the media’s exaggerated claim that it leans to the left; there has been an almost total absence, recently, of discussion on tax avoidance and evasion, the really “criminal drain” on at least £35bn worth of our resources per year; no mention of the trillions squirrelled away in tax havens, but instead, a focus which verges on doting, on anything “royal”, another massive “drain” on taxpayers’ money.
David Dimbleby’s rude refusal of the right of Owen Jones to speak up for the nationalisation of energy companies on Question Time epitomised this rightwing stance. Is it any wonder that the views of a comedian, young, irreverent and rude, have such resonance in a society so subservient to the conservative and rich? Keep on rocking the boat, Russell!
Bernie Evans
• Russell Brand’s fluent tirade about what the franchise is accomplishing seemed worryingly convincing. But as for the dubious respective virtues of “won’t vote” or “spoilt paper”, a common alternative would be Polly Toynbee’s idea of voting with peg-on-nose for the least-worst option. Truer, though, to the spirit of Brand’s concerns might be an additional, final box, titled “none of the above”. Admittedly, if a majority were to vote for that, we might have to think again.
Mark Stallworthy
• It is childish to blame politicians. The fault lies with us, the electorate. No one seems to have the courage to say this – not even Russell Brand. If a big majority of the electorate made it clear that it wants a more equal Britain, an end to bonuses, an economy that serves all our long-term interests and not preferentially the interests of the wealthy, politicians would take note. They want to be elected into government. As it is, the electorate is not even interested in proportional representation, and regards as acceptable an election system so organised that a tiny minority, in marginal constituencies, decides the outcome of elections for the rest of us. There is an urgent need for good public education about what our problems are, and what we need to do about them.
Nicholas Maxwell
Emeritus reader, science and technology studies, University College London
• In the course of what adds up to a full-column account, given front-page prominence of the surrealistic lethal-leopard-versus-angry-butterfly Newsnight encounter between Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand about our body politic – an encounter which quickly went viral on YouTube – John Plunkett quotes what is surely Paxman’s unanswerable argument. Paxman concludes his own commentary on the interview, in the Radio Times Viewpoint column, with these words (harking back to his gibe about “the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster”): “Whether you bother to vote or not, someone is going to sit on those benches and tell you what to do.”
The Nobel prize-winning Portuguese anarcho-communist author José Saramago, in his wonderful novel entitled Seeing in its English translation, envisaged a time and place when the people had become so disillusioned with their politicians that they had decided, like Brand, that they couldn’t “be arsed to vote”. Thus they made – what Paxman charged Brand with wanting, and Brand readily agreed – a revolution.
Fine and right! But till that time comes, sad as it may be, rational resistance to the follies and injustices of the world in which we live has to be, whenever we’re free to cast it, “Vote for the least insufferable of the people vying for the right to order us about”.
Donovan Pedelty
Builth Wells, Powys
• Well done for giving Russell Brand the space to express his views. It is not surprising that Jeremy Paxman agrees with much of what he says. Just to take two examples: I live in a “safe” Tory constituency – what use is my vote? Also, instead of paying lip service to the idea of people paying “fair” tax, is it really beyond the wit of government to legislate for tax being payable where money is earned?
Danny Allen
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Ed Miliband should have no sympathy for the devil of Little Englander myopia when determining the Labour Party’s line on Cameron’s promise of a referendum on Europe (Steve Richards, 5 November).
For decades many of Britain’s electorate have been fed the blatant lies about EU membership of the self-interested right-wing press. Those who in their heart of hearts have known the sheer lunacy of leaving the European Union have remained deafeningly silent, for fear of losing their wafer-thin majorities.
Exiting the EU would be an act of national kamikaze, losing at least 4 million jobs and the massive international influence we enjoy as an active member of a major global economic player.
The Labour leadership should stand strong against such misplaced jingoism. As Steve Richards correctly points out, Ed Miliband always does well in the polls when taking an unequivocal line.
This is an issue vital to Britain’s long-term economic interests. The tail should no longer be allowed to wag the British lion.
Richard Denton-White, Portland, Dorset
When the British were last given a referendum on the EU, the political class systematically deceived them as to what was involved, in order to secure a yes vote. It is likely that this deceit is the most important reason why a clear majority in this country want another vote – and would quite probably cast it for exit.
Does it not occur to either Steve Richards or any other member of that political class that the incessant manoeuvring to avoid that vote is a large part of the reason that confidence in that class has all but collapsed?
Parliamentary candidates simply must go to the next election telling the truth about what they think about the EU, and if they would support a referendum or not. Nothing less will ever draw the poison around this issue and allow us to make a fresh start either in the EU or more probably outside it.
That is called democracy. Do you believe in democracy, Mr Richards?
R S Foster, Sheffield
It suits “call me Dave” to have everybody believe the UK is on the brink of leaving the EU. He thinks the EU desperately wants the UK to stay and will throw away loads of EU directives and agreements just to keep the UK within the EU.
But what happens if all other leaders say, “To hell with these right-whingers and their posturing; we’ve had enough of them. Let them go, they are too much of a problem, they are not worth persuading to stay”?
David Cameron could soon find himself in a position where other EU leaders don’t want him and he has convinced the majority of UK voters not to stay within the EU.
After all these years of antagonising the EU, David Cameron’s dalliance with Europhobic isolationism is risking his negotiating position, and he might find that he’s left with nothing more than a simple “in or out” vote.
Duncan Anderson, East Halton,  North Lincolnshire
If voting made any difference…
Having watched the Newsnight interview with Russell Brand I have been mystified by the almost universally hostile reaction from commentators to his views on voting. His views reflect a great swathe of opinion, particularly among younger potential voters who have no incentive to become involved.
As Matthew Norman (6 November) points out, Brand has underlined a situation that is becoming worse. Governments are coming into power with decreasing majorities.
As a committed voter I have participated in every election and referendum since I became eligible to vote and will continue to do so. However, following some recent gerrymandering – sorry, electoral boundary changes – my vote in parliamentary elections has become pointless. Whomever I vote for, the local, unseen and unheard Tory incumbent will be elected thanks to a voting system which disenfranchises millions.
Only when the country adopts proportional representation and the single transferrable vote will there be any prospect of the change so desired by Russell Brand and many more.    
Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset
Matthew Norman suggests a “none of the above” box on ballot papers as a means of luring the disillusioned masses to the voting booth by allowing them to express their frustration. Yes, of course. But why not insist that voting, rather than a right, is a civic duty?
“A plague on all your houses” is a valid option, but refusal to participate in elections to Parliament should incur a hefty fine. “Use it or lose it” should be the watchword of any democratic society.
Max Gauna, Sheffield
Business pays for maternity leave
It is obvious that the writer of your leader “A pregnant cause” (4 November) has never owned a small business.
If they had they would have experienced the chaos and cost when the key member of staff, usually a very capable young woman, who runs the office, pays the wages and copes with difficult customers and the host of other problems that bigger companies have whole departments to deal with, leaves for up to 12 months with no guarantee she will come back at all.
I am not suggesting that they should not be employed or be entitled to maternity leave, but to say that smaller companies are not disproportionately affected is ridiculous. The cost to the bigger companies would not entail the wrecking of the business plan, possible loss of other jobs and the calling in of bank loans.
Gary Kirk, Burnley, Lancashire
Don’t be beastly to the germans
The present government may not be personally responsible for GCHQ spying on the Germans from our embassy in Berlin (details of which you seem to be the only paper willing to reveal), being, as they are, victims of our privileged position in a North Atlantic alliance which is now over 20 years out of date.
However, if they had even a modicum of the courage required to do the morally decent thing for once, they would issue an apology to the German government, along with an assurance that it would be discontinued. This is highly unlikely, as we seem to live in a world where all sense of morality gives way to the quest for power and influence. This government is not one to break free from this.
Peter Giles, Whitchurch, Shropshire
How to make M&S less dreary
Here’s what would help Marc Bolland in his “uphill” task of improving Marks & Spencer clothing sales (Chris Blackhurst, 6 November). Forget about those expensive high-fashion collections: at the moment the mere act of shopping in M&S is a wearisome chore.
Go into the stores and clear out all those ghastly muddles, those corners where lurk the dreary grey and beige remnants of previous failed “fashion launches”, and sort out those overcrowded racks so that we can see what we’re looking for.
And bring in more pay-points so that we don’t have to trail the whole length of the floor for the privilege of handing over our money.
Jane Jakeman, Oxford
No place for burka in a civilised society
Well said, Dr Hargey (letter, 6 November). For too long misguided liberals have held up “culture” as an inviolable justification for practices which would not be acceptable in a civilised society. Burka-wearing militates against social interaction and therefore contributes to the unjustified distrust that many people feel towards Muslims.
Patrick Cleary, Honiton, Devon
Forcing young schoolgirls into burkas and denying them access to natural vitamin D from sunlight is child abuse. Pregnant women wearing burkas are abusing their unborn children by passing on their vitamin D deficiency. The Victorian disease of rickets is returning. A civilised society acts to stop child abuse and the preventable spread of disease. 
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Rewards for loyalty
Congratulations to The Independent for rewarding loyal readers who opt to take out a subscription to their newspaper, by not increasing the price. Would that other large businesses would follow suit, instead of reducing prices for new customers.
Although we are exhorted by the Government to switch our fuel providers, the most vulnerable in society often fail to do so. The administrative costs saved by discouraging all this “switching” could be used to reward long-standing customers to encourage them to stay with their present providers.
E King, Bexhill-on-Sea,  East Sussex
Not bad enough for this bank
It’s bad luck for David Punter (letters, 5 November), in his bid to be Bad Boss of a Bad Bank. There is already a wealth of internal candidates, equally well, or badly, qualified.
Beverley Southgate, London NW3


Sir, The decision to close the shipbuilding capability at Portsmouth is lunacy (report,, Nov 6). It leaves England without any advanced warship production capability. Moreover, there will be no maintenance work on the Royal Navy’s Type 26 global combat ships, let alone future designs, because there will be nobody experienced at Portsmouth in these ships to undertake such work.
With nearly 1,000 job losses expected at the shipyard next year, Portsmouth is going to suffer a lingering death after autumn 2014. It is all about giving English jobs to Scotland in the hope that this will scuttle the independence vote.
As a result of this decision, however, the Conservatives will lose massively in the South of England at the next election. It is a miscalculation of gigantic electoral proportions, and a gift to UKIP. R. G. Johnson Hook, Hants
Sir, In the event of Scottish independence, the by then disunited Kingdom would be unable to order warships from Clyde shipyards without first tendering across the European Union. This would place reliance on an international partner that would probably not be Scotland, and would also put sensitive national military information at risk.
If warship-building is allowed to cease at Portsmouth before the result of the Scottish referendum is known, the Government risks being the only major maritime country unable to build advanced surface warships within its own borders.
This seems a significant gamble with our national security.Vice-Admiral John McAnallyNational president, the Royal Naval Association
Sir, It is outrageous that Portsmouth should simply be closed. Eight hundred years of our nation’s history must not be sacrificed merely to save one company’s profits.
Before allowing the shipyard to close, the Government should force BAE to try to sell it.Dr Nick Winstone-CooperLaleston, South WalesSir, In the mid-1970s I was working in a shipyard in Norway building the largest offshore platform then being built. The yard manager told me that his greatest lifetime achievement had been when orders for seven super-tankers had been cancelled overnight when the price of crude oil fell dramatically. He had succeeded in finding other work, and not one employee had had to be made redundant.
That was in Norway, with employer-employee relationships high on the agenda. Can we not do the same here in the UK? And will BAE Systems rise to the challenge?Gerald GilbertWeybridge, Surrey

Sir, Perhaps John Simpson (letter, Nov 5) should explain away his “unclassified” in RE as “a rare grade awarded for work so extraordinary that it was deemed to be beyond the usual exam classification”. With luck, his son will be convinced that his father was one of the great, budding, theologians of the modern age.Mark PorterFarnborough, Hants

Sir, Matthew Syed’s insightful article (Nov 6) gives scientific credibility to an argument that fans have expounded from the terraces for decades: marginal decisions that go against our team are always the result of the ref’s optical shortcomings. It tends to be expressed somewhat more pithily than this during the match.
Greg AustinReading, Berks

Sir, Manufacturers insist on sewing labels behind the collars of men’s shirts. These strategically placed labels are usually made from a robust and stiff material, the corners of which cause the the maximum discomfort to the necks of the hapless wearer. Surely there is a better place for such information to be attached? Neil ArmerNewton Abbot, Devon

SIR – With the news that a £1 billion cache of “degenerate art” is in the process of being returned to its rightful owners in Germany, it is worth reflecting on the role played by the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Sub-Commission that was part of the Allied armies in the Second World War.
Without the efforts of these “Monuments men”, countless works of historic, cultural and aesthetic value would have been stolen or destroyed by Nazi forces.
Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria have taught us that without proper guarantees, cultural property is often the first casualty in conflict. Britain must make a commitment to protecting cultural property by ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols.
We remain the most significant international military power not to do so.
Professor Peter Stone
Chairman, UK National Committee of the Blue Shield
Newcastle upon Tyne
SIR – Baroness Morgan, the chairman of Ofsted, has recommended that children from poorer families should start formal school at two to avoid falling behind. Her comments may be well-intentioned, but they do not address the root causes of under-achievement among a higher percentage of children from poorer backgrounds.
Research carried out on children’s neuro-motor skills in primary schools has shown that children with immature motor skills do not perform as well on educational measures at eight years of age. The developmental window for developing neuro-motor skills and language skills is in the first three and a half years of life.
Neuro-motor skills are developed in the context of free physical space, while language develops through social engagement, free play and imagination. The problem will not be solved by putting children into formal settings at ever younger ages.
The solution is to educate future parents better about the needs of the developing child. This should form part of the education of every teenager currently in the system.
Sally Goddard Blythe
Director, Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology
Related Articles
Protecting artwork in times of armed conflict
06 Nov 2013
SIR – As chairman of governors at a primary school and as a retired schoolteacher, I always thought that Ofsted was off the wall. Now, I think that it is barking mad. Toddlers should be enjoying play activities and learning from parents or carers, not being exposed to formal education. There’s plenty of time for that at a later age. Frequently, I have heard Ofsted criticise schools (although not my own) for not having the facilities for young children to play. Much learning can be achieved through play, if directed correctly. It is time to stop the further erosion of toddler-time.
Rev Alan Wright
Barton upon Humber, Lincolnshire
SIR – Two changes could be easily made to encourage speech and social awareness in pre-school-age children.
Prams and pushchairs should face parents or carers, as used to be the case, making it possible to interact all the time. This makes an otherwise boring outing more interesting for both child and adult.
And parents should be encouraged to talk to their children, rather than constantly using their mobile phones. Recently I watched a young lady with a nice little boy spend a 45-minute bus ride on her mobile phone despite the efforts of the child to interrupt her. His reaction was eventually to wail.
Yvonne Gibson
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Two years old in Britain, seven years old in Finland; and Britain is much lower in the global education rankings. Clearly, we are doing something wrong.
Bill Halkett
Ormskirk, Lancashire
Aircraft carriers’ role
SIR – In your leading article, you question the ability of the carriers being constructed for the Royal Navy to intervene “in failed states that have become terrorist heartlands”.
It is possible that British forces involved in such an intervention will need combat air support, as in Afghanistan today. If the “failed state” is beyond the range of land-based air support, the two options are to build a hugely expensive base such as Camp Bastion, which is vulnerable to attack, costly to maintain, and will eventually be abandoned; or provide air strikes launched from carriers.
I doubt whether any British government in the near-to-medium future will want to commit the large numbers of “boots on the ground” that a Bastion-type base demands. A carrier allows you to operate without having to ask anyone’s permission to use their bases or set up your own. At the height of the Afghanistan campaign, much of the air support for ground operations, including those of British soldiers, came from American carriers in the Indian Ocean.
Major General Julian Thompson
London SW6
SIR – Britain cannot afford these carriers, nor does it require them. The proposed aircraft complement could easily be accommodated in carriers of 40,000 tons. The responsibility for ordering these carriers and for the increase in price lies at the door of the last Labour government.
Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the cancellation or the reduction in the size of these carriers was seriously considered. However, the contract agreed by the then Labour government with the consortium chosen to build the carriers ensured that any cancellation or alteration would have been financially prohibitive. The original order for 12 Daring Class destroyers was also reduced to eight and then to six by Labour in order to help pay for these carriers.
It beggars belief that Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, should criticise Philip Hammond for trying to rein in the costs of this flawed contract.
Peter Anson
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
To see or not to see
SIR – Sue Spence, who is concerned about the negative impact of live relays on regional theatre, need have no fear if our recent experience at the Royal Opera House Jersey is typical.
We hoped to see a live relay of the National Theatre’s Hamlet, starring Rory Kinnear. From the outset, the sound and picture were not synchronised, which made a nonsense of the soliloquies and made the performance impossible to watch. After 90 minutes, communications broke down totally and we all went home.
Maggie Tur
Axbridge, Somerset
Cramping my style
SIR – My bed is now full of corks, unwrapped soap, copper piping and sundry other cramp remedies.
C J Wright
London SW1
Working lunch
SIR – After some water damage, I have recently entertained an insurance assessor, two decorators, a carpet salesman, curtain maker, plasterer, chimney sweep and some furniture deliverymen. They all arrived at around 1pm, on different days. Is the era of the lunch break over, or do they play golf in the mornings and afternoons?
Jack Hay
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
High-speed rail abroad
SIR – The Gulf railway project is not quite as speedy as John Lloyd Morgan suggests. The project was first mooted 35 years ago, and I led the team that completed the design of the northernmost section in 1979. The design constraints of a railway in the empty desert are quite different from one in Britain. Nimbys are replaced by nomadic Bedouin, ancient woodlands by arrays of oil well-heads, and the shifting opinions of politicians by slowly migrating sand dunes.
It seems to be forgotten that the original justification for HS1 from St Pancras International to the Channel Tunnel was increased capacity, with international trains competing for space with commuter trains across Kent. In the event, the high levels of Eurostar traffic predicted by the financiers have never materialised. They are currently at less than half of the lowest of the three original estimates for 2013. The spare capacity on HS1 was invaluable in enabling thousands of passengers to reach the London Olympics last year, and is now used by high-speed commuter services from North Kent.
I have no doubt that extra capacity is urgently needed to relieve the West Coast Main Line out of Euston, but in light of experience, I hesitate to predict what that extra capacity will actually be used for.
Nick Alexander
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
SIR – In revealing that the Chinese completed their HS2 project in two years, Boris Johnson omitted to tell us that in China, there is vastly more wilderness and open space through which to drive 813 miles of “rifle-barrel straight” track.
More importantly, I do not imagine the authorities would have permitted any opposition to the project, and would certainly not have bothered with the sort of lengthy planning applications and expensive public inquiries that Mr Johnson bemoans here.
William Hollingsworth
Short change
SIR – What is this new obsession with wearing shorts during an English winter? Everywhere I go I see young and old men who should know better. Do they think that they are still in Benidorm?
I believe that British postmen will be issued with trousers in January. Does the management suppose that cold legs may speed up delivery times?
Charles James
Bognor Regis, West Sussex
The shingles vaccine is well worth £55
SIR – One in five people between the ages of 60 and 80 will suffer from shingles. This is caused by reactivation of the herpes zoster virus, which has lain dormant in the nervous system since an attack of chickenpox.
Shingles is not transmissible from person to person. The condition is acutely painful, and, if it affects the division of the trigeminal nerve innervating the upper part of the face and surface of the eye, can cause visual impairment. About 50 per cent of sufferers will develop constant intractable pain in the affected area.
A vaccine which can halve the number of cases of shingles, and thereby the number of patients affected by post-herpetic neuralgia, is well worthwhile.
Roger South FRCS
Capel, Surrey
SIR – The NHS shingles vaccination programme for the over-70s is aimed at entirely the wrong target.
While on business in Norway last year, I fell foul of a bad case of shingles. When I got back to Britain I was signed off work for two weeks, and was considerably under par for several weeks more. It is this loss of productivity that is worth far more than £55 to prevent. The target should not be the over-70s, most of whom do not work, but those like myself still at work who, having had an attack, are far more likely to succumb again, with the associated cost to the employer.
I inquired about getting vaccinated, but was told I was not eligible. I cannot even get a shot by paying for it. Preventing repeat attacks would be well worth £55, whether the sufferer is over 70 or not.
Cliff Billington

Irish Times:

Sir, – Having just been subjected to the ludicrous spectacle of Government TDs with no previous history of objecting to the Seanad utterly failing to convince us of the necessity for its abolition, it appears we are now going to be forced to listen to the same party mouthpieces, with no record whatsoever of gay rights advocacy, desperately trying to convince us that gay marriage is the civil rights issue of this generation. God between us and constitutional crusades! – Yours, etc,
Claude Road,
Dublin 9.
Sir, – I am bemused by the position of the Roman Catholic church on the planned referendum on gay marriage (News Agenda, November 6th). It seems it thinks that allowing gay people to marry will somehow harm or even prevent marriages between men and women. How could the marriage of my gay neighbour or colleague to their partner of choice, whom they love and cherish, do anything to harm my own heterosexual marriage?
On the contrary, allowing gay marriage will enhance and add stability to society, and strengthen the role of marriage by including those 5 per cent or so of adults who up to now have been denied it. As for the role of mothers and fathers in bringing up children, all any child needs to thrive is the love and care of one or more responsible adults.
The church does not rail against the bringing up of children by widowed men, hence the gender of the caring parent is clearly not an issue in its view, nor has it ever decried the bringing up of children in women-only households – which has been common throughout human history.
A happy marriage between a man and a woman based on mutual respect and love is a wonderful thing and, I would agree, currently the most important institution in society. An equally happy and respectful marriage between two men, or two women, will be just as important an institution in society in time to come, and will create more families for children to thrive in. I commend the main political parties for supporting a change in the Constitution to allow this. – Yours, etc,
Knocknacarra Park,
Sir, – And there I was unpacking the dress. – Yours, etc,
Clarke’s Bridge, Cork.

Sir, – On November 5th I travelled to Dublin with my daughter, family and friends to collect my daughter’s National Young Carer of the Year award from the Carers Association. My daughter helps my wife and I, as primary carers, to care for her brother who has autism.
There are more than 5,000 young carers in Ireland, many of whom are in the inappropriate position of acting as the primary carer due to lack of available services. Resources for children with autism and other special needs are also reducing to the extent that multi-disciplinary teams are spread too thinly to offer an effective service.
I am very proud of my daughter’s award, but would like to live in a society which provides adequate services to those who need them, rather than one which provides waiting lists and excuses. – Yours, etc,
Willowbank Court,
Midleton, Co Cork.

Sir, – This Government’s latest hike in the deposit interest retention tax (Dirt) rate to 41 per cent is a shameless stab in the back to the small saver. Clearly meant to encourage those with large sums of money to use them for investment purposes to help the economy grow, as a mechanism it fails to appreciate that most of the sums involved are small, deriving from long and hard-earned savings.
The majority of these savings are too small to use for any direct investment so all that is available is the deposit account gaining today little more than 1.5-2 per cent, if that. After Micheal Noonan’s 41 per cent Dirt, an investor will be left with little more than 1 per cent return; not enough to cover inflation. In any event these are “nest eggs” they are not going to be used speculatively. Who would fault that, having regard to the way banks and markets have behaved?
If the Government has any real care for the smaller members of society, perhaps it should implement a scale of Dirt rates, only rising to the 41 per cent for sums in excess of €200,000 but starting at 5 or 10 per cent for sums less than €20,000 euro; or even zero per cent for small sums. This might encourage people to save more.
It might give a badly needed “feel good” shot in the arm and not doing this is what this Government is really good at. We, “the blameless ones” have to pay. – Yours, etc,
Dublin Road,
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The African & Migrant Women’s Network in Ireland (AkiDwA) welcomes the Interim Report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project (Dr Carol Coulter, Nov 2013). Since 2006 we have expressed concern about the number of African children requiring State care or intervention. Protections and supports for unaccompanied minors, trafficked youth and those abandoned are of major concern for all. On the other hand the report also highlighted instances where some cases did not need to go to court and where greater cultural understandings and appropriate training could have helped.
A key area of concern for AkiDwA has been the mental wellbeing of parents within the asylum system. It would appear to us that the longer they are left in a prolonged state of uncertainty the most likely they are to fall into depression. Depression among African parents, while very much hidden from society, is very prevalent within the community. This impacts on the level of care given to children.
AkiDwA feels a closer examination of the reasons African children are taken into State care is needed. An open conversation between agencies and stakeholders is also needed. While not wishing to pre-empt the results of any such examination, AkiDwA believes plans for culturally appropriate timely interventions for parents and children in the asylum system, along with a speeding up of the asylum process, will be one of the most effective means of addressing the current issues.
One error in Dr Coulter’s report is the assertion African families are more than 20 times more likely to be involved in child care proceedings. This figure is based on an estimate of approximately 22,524 Africans in Ireland, or almost 0.5 per cent of the population. However the CSO’s 2011 census of population put the population of Africans at 41,642 or 0.91 per cent of the total population. Thus it would be more accurate to say that African families are 12 to 13 times more likely to be involved in child care proceedings. Despite this lower likelihood than the figure reported, it is still an unacceptably high statistic, a very real cause for concern and an issue that demands a response. – Yours, etc,
CEO, AkiDwA,
Buckingham Street,

Sir, – Chris Luke (May 6th) suggests doctors get free (or partially discounted) medical education in return for serving six months reasonably-paid time in hospitals after training.
Why not extend the idea further? Given what it costs the State to educate doctors, many of whom go on to earn large sums for life (at no return to the State if they leave), I suggest doctors (and other top-earning graduates) start repaying part or all of their fees to the State once their earnings exceed a comfortable amount per annum. This repayment could extend over decades, from wherever in the world they work, as part of the deal by which the taxpayer funds their education.
Such funds could help reduce the cost of third-level education for all or endow more scholarship for less fortunate students. – Yours, etc,
JOHN Sir, – Despite what the Constitution says, Edward Burke (November 2nd) holds that it is preposterous to claim that “a 26-county state constitutes Ireland”. I believe it is no less preposterous that, despite what geography says, the six-county entity calls itself “Northern Ireland”.
Why should many of its people take offence when “Ireland” is used for three-quarters of the island, when “Ulster” is often used semi-officially for only two-thirds of that province?
The problem that has never been solved is that “Ireland’s political division” does not and never did coincide with the border drawn in 1920. We’ll just have to continue to muddle through with the informal labels “the South, the North, the Republic” cited by James Carroll (also November 2nd). – Yours, etc,
Avenue Louise,

Sir, – The West sends much-needed aid to support programmes that will help the poor of India. There are more desperately poor people in just three of India’s states than there are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet that country now chooses to follow up on its nuclear ambitions (nuclear weapons arsenal since 1974) by spending massive sums on sending a space probe to Mars, an unmanned mission that has no guarantee of a successful conclusion (World News, November 5th).
To the starving millions in India, the success or failure of this experiment is of little concern. They will continue to live lives of abject misery while their “betters” remain stubbornly oblivious to the rising stench from the ghettoes.
There seems little will on the part of the Indian Government to wake up to its responsibility to provide a better life for all of the citizens of that great country. Promoting vanity projects ahead of the needs of starving people is unforgivable. – Yours, etc,
The Demesne,

Sir, – We are calling on Senators to oppose Section 9 (Jobseeker’s allowance – amendments) of the Social Welfare Bill 2013.
The reduction in social welfare payments for under-26s is inequitable and not an incentive to work. At the height of the boom, Ireland had one of the highest proportions in the EU of young people working. . Irish young people want to work. Getting a job is difficult, with 32 unemployed people for every job vacancy advertised in Ireland.
€100 per week is not enough to survive on. The Vincentian Partnership recently estimated the minimum cost of a single adult living as part of a household will be €184 in 2014. The recent OECD report Getting Youth on the Job Track found that 40 per cent of young people aged 16-24 in Ireland in 2011 were at risk of poverty, which is the highest in the EU. Budget 2014 cuts will impose further hardship on young people and force many to emigrate.
If the Government is looking to save an additional €32 million, the banking levy of €150 million could be increased to €200 million, this would allow banks to return to profitability while at the same time being significantly less than the eligible liabilities guarantee scheme (ELG) where banks including AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB cumulatively paid €1 billion a year to the exchequer in exchange for a State-backed unlimited guarantee on deposits. This would allow for social welfare rates to remain the same, but also allow for the Government to invest more in the youth guarantee scheme that currently stands at only €14 million.
We urge Seanad Eireann to stand up for young people by opposing and voting no to this Bill. – Yours, etc,
JOE O’CONNOR, President, Union of Students in Ireland; RONAN BURTENSHAW, We’re Not Leaving; CLARA FISCHER, Equality Budgeting Campaign; DAN
O’ NEILL, Young Workers Network; CIARAN GARRETT, Chair of Labour Youth; IAN POWER, Executive Director,; MARY
CUNNINGHAM, Director, National Youth Council of Ireland & PATRICK BURKE, CEO, Youth Work Ireland,

A chara, – Your report (Home News, October 31st) on the Government decision to abolish the extra 6 per cent awarded to those completing civil service entrance exams in Irish doesn’t appear to have provoked much comment. The proposal, it seems, is to replace the current practice with some sort of a panel system reserved for candidates with Irish, and 6 per cent is again the figure mooted. Worryingly, however, we’re told the details of the new system have still to be worked out.
As someone who is lucky enough to have both official languages of the State, I think it’s only right that citizens should be able to conduct their business with the civil service in the official language of their choice. I would be very happy with any new system which genuinely ensured that 6 per cent of civil servants were fully able and willing to provide a service in Irish. In the absence of concrete details on the new system, however, I can’t feel any assurance that this will be the case. – Is mise,

Sir, – Each year as we approach November 11th, Irish society has to endure sterile and divisive controversy concerning Armistice Day, poppy-wearing and the commemoration of those who died serving with British forces during the first World War. Those Irish who died fighting in both world wars are solemnly remembered in a dignified and respectful manner on our National Day of Commemoration each July. This commemoration is devoid of the jingoism of the British equivalent, Remembrance Day.
It is inconceivable therefore that the incoming manager and assistant manager of the Irish international soccer team, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, with poppy in lapels (Front page, November 6th), could be unaware of the symbolism of the poppy in Ireland which has a political subtext. It is even more inconceivable that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could be unaware that monies collected from the sale and wearing of the poppy is used to provide material support for British soldiers who fought in the illegal invasion of Iraq and  Afghanistan. Even British soldiers involved in the recent Troubles in the North, including the events of Bloody Sunday, are recipients of funds collected from the sale of poppies.
I am uncomfortable with any Irish sporting organisation aligning itself with the British army. I furthermore find it regrettable that the incoming managers of Ireland’s national soccer team would endorse publicly the purchase and wearing of the poppy in Ireland. – Yours, etc,  

Sir, – Recently at Ireland West Airport I went to the snack bar counter with a cup of coffee and a chicken sandwich. The cost, €6.20. The good lady assistant informed me that if I was to take a bag of crisps with my order the charge would be €5.50. Balancing a healthy lunch with thrifty economics I promptly selected my crisps, handed over €5.50 and returned the bag to its place on the shelf. We were all happy. – Yours, etc,
Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

  Sir, – “Delaney hails new dawn” (Sports Wednesday, November 6th). I wonder how long it will be before this “new dawn” slowly fades into a Celtic Twilight as O’Neill takes flight and once again the “Keaneing” starts. – Yours, etc,
Elton Court,

A chara, – In a bilingual country the eye-catching “Bod’s Ups and Downs” (Front page, November 6th) might seem to be the opening chapter of a new steamy bestseller: Fifty Shades of Green. – Is mise,
Bothar Bhinn Eadair,

Irish Independent:

* I read persistent expressions of regret about the way Ireland is becoming a secular society.
Also in this section
This emptiness is due to a lack of faith in God
We need a lot more parent-teacher meetings
Bright minds can help bring a dose of reality
Secularisation has been afoot for as long as I can remember and has a very positive influence in attempts to get clear about the relationship between religious belief and the public world we share with believers and non-believers alike.
Any society is a strange amalgam of different interests and beliefs. I find that a trip on the Luas tram in Dublin reveals the great variety of voices that make up human discourse.
When I visit Dublin, I invariably take a trip on the Luas. On my last visit, I sat beside a very genial gent who immediately regaled me with the assertion: “The curse of God is on the country.”
This confident view was outlined in lyrical detail, with politicians occupying a place of honour in his analysis of the decline of Ireland. What my trips on the Luas confirm for me is James Joyce’s view that human discourse slips in and out of sense.
What I love about the Luas is the nature of the conversations, including some down-to-earth religious exchanges, that one encounters.
Now that the Catholic Church has a more humble presence in Ireland, it is time to reinstate religious debate as one source of insight in determining the direction the country takes.
Religious discourse that is open and free is a crucial element in any democracy. Secularism helps to keep dogmatism and superstition at bay, stimulating us to focus on establishing a way of life that befits us as humans, irrespective of our particular religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, differing moral and religious views have tended to see one another as targets for adversarial confrontation.
This is a fault shared by Christians, atheists and secularists alike.
Philip O’Neill
Edith Road, Oxford
* The handling of communicating with customers about payment of the 2014 property tax would, in a properly run country, be ringing very loud alarm bells – but, of course, not in Ireland.
Firstly, can it be possible that such a high-profile event was not being actively managed from the top down at Revenue?
This begs the question of how many layers of management did the process go through before the final version of letters and processes were signed off, and how can it be that red flags were not raised about the wording of the communications or the processes for implementing the collection? If they were, were they then ignored?
It is such a disappointment to see that, despite the complete and total failure of the Irish system of governance to function properly over the last few years, absolutely nothing has changed.
The same culture of failure and unprofessionalism is as firmly entrenched as ever.
The second issue, which depressingly doesn’t come as a surprise, is the political response, especially from Fine Gael.
Why did the issue of hundreds of thousands of people receiving a large property tax bill just before Christmas, with unclear demands about how to pay it, not register around the cabinet table?
Why didn’t any of the highly paid advisers spot the problem? It beggars belief that there was no liaison between Revenue and the Department of Finance on this issue.
Of course, the property bill won’t cause any politician a flicker of fear as they will simply pay it.
The claims of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan that they can do nothing because the Revenue is independent is blatantly ridiculous.
The Revenue is an arm of the Government and it follows the tax-raising instructions provided to it by the Department of Finance, which in turn is given its remit from the Government of the day.
Desmond FitzGerald
Commercial Road, London
* Last week, in reply to a direct question, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that it was no longer to do with him, as he had handed “it” over to the Revenue Commissioners. What he should have said was that he was still responsible for the property tax and that he had assigned Revenue to simply collect the money.
But he said what he said and now there is a mess. By the way, his comment was fairly novel because he often says that he is waiting for “legal advice” when asked anything.
Since the letters arrived, it’s clear from news bulletins that people are confused and scared.
Who are these Revenue people? They work for us and we pay them very well.
The politicians work for us and we pay them very well, and at the moment we (the taxpayers) are being treated like dirt by one half of this lot and being patronised by the other half.
Why was it necessary for Revenue to know how we intended to pay the property tax? And, incidentally, why is Revenue assuming that everybody is online? Everybody is not online!
RJ Hanly
Screen, Co Wexford
* I have been observing from afar this coalition Government since it came to office in March 2011. The latest fiasco over payment of the household charge is merely another cabinet bumble as they fumble in the citizens’ pockets and purses.
It is now more than apparent that not one member of the coalition Cabinet has any vision or nous to create positivity and confidence in the Irish economy.
Declan Foley
Berwick, Australia
* As the nephew of two, sadly deceased, Sisters of the Presentation Order, I hope that your article on November 1, about the history of Venerable Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters, will provide an opportunity to review the practice in the Irish media of maligning and sneering the Catholic religious orders and their contribution to Irish life.
Presentation nuns, along with other religious orders including the much-maligned Christian Brothers, were the first to provide Irish people with the opportunity for an education when no Government or other public body was able or willing to do so.
Thousands dedicated their life to this and provided a first-rate education to generations of pupils who were thereby given the opportunity to better themselves and their country.
Today, Catholic religious orders continue to provide education – often the only education available – in some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.
It should also be noted that Nano Nagle, along with others in the church, provided education for girls – something that is still not available to millions of girls in the 21st Century.
Neil Addison
Fenwick Street, Liverpool
* In response to Liam Cooke (Letters, November 4), I find it amusing how many people here seem to be still losing sleep over why Warren Gatland dropped Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions team in the third test.
Gatters has made it blatantly obvious on a number of occasions that his test centre combination was always going to be the Roberts and Davies partnership. BOD starting in the first and second tests was only due to the fact Dr Roberts was injured.
Of course, with his recovery, the partnership could be fulfilled and poor BOD sent packing to the hills.
Unfortunately BOD did not play himself into the team . . . sport is cruel indeed.
For God’s sake, please move on.
Name and address with editor
Irish Independent


November 6, 2013

6 November 2013 Sandy

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is a trip to Greece to pick up a British spy, but doi they have the right one? Priceless.
Quiet day post books Sandy comes with crumble and duck
Scrabble today ipad collapses


Sir Paul Scoon – obituary
Sir Paul Scoon was the Governor-General of Grenada who kept his cool through a Marxist coup and subsequent US invasion

Sir Paul Scoon Photo: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT
6:27PM GMT 05 Nov 2013
Sir Paul Scoon, who has died aged 78, was Governor-General of Grenada when a Marxist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was imposed by a coup in 1979. He was still there four years later, when Bishop was assassinated and the Americans invaded the Caribbean island.
Throughout this period Scoon was the sole representative of legitimate authority in the Queen’s name, fulfilling ceremonial duties with great dignity. When the coup was first launched he had been escorted by Kalashnikov-toting revolutionaries to a radio station — but when Bishop, leader of the New Jewel Movement, saw him there he immediately had Scoon driven back to his residence. Two days later Bishop phoned to say that, although Parliament would not sit and a new high court was to be established, the Queen’s man would remain in place.

US Marines in Grenada in 1983
Few Grenadians mourned the fate of the eccentric premier Sir Eric Gairy, who had been in New York to lecture the United Nations on UFOs when he was ousted. Bishop regularly visited the Governor-General to explain government policies; and they got on well enough to play tennis together. But Scoon was not invited to sign any of the new “people’s laws” .
His continuing presence was a reassuring symbol of stability . It also meant that Grenada would not have to leave the Commonwealth and reapply for readmission.
Tactfully suggesting that God Save the Queen no longer be played when he arrived at ceremonial occasions, Scoon attended parades of the People’s Revolutionary Army. But he also ensured that the Scouts, Guides and the Red Cross continued as before. State dinners still began with a prayer and ended with the royal toast; and to counter the atheism being introduced into schools, he regularly lectured children and staff on their duty to God, their family and the state – in that order.
Meanwhile, the local economy was collapsing, free speech was banned and some 300 prisoners were locked up without trial. Tensions within the cabinet grew. Bishop was arrested, but was freed by demonstrators; when he sought refuge in an old fort and tried to regain control of the government, he was machine-gunned along with three members of his cabinet.
Scoon phoned the Queen’s private secretary in London to explain that the People’s Revolutionary Army had ordered a 24-hour curfew and that he was safe, but he made no request for help.
The next day he met a diplomat who briefed him about the invasion being prepared by Caribbean leaders with the Americans. When asked if he would support military intervention, Scoon uneasily replied that he would make a verbal request pro tem, but this would need to be confirmed in writing later. As the planning continued, a late request for British assistance was made. Margaret Thatcher, however, was adamantly opposed — and later made a testy phone call to President Reagan.

President Reagan with Grenadian Prime Minister Herbert Blaize and Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon in 1986
When a team of American Marines from the 8,000-strong invasion force landed by helicopter at the Governor-General’s house to provide protection they found it under constant fire from Cuban troops. For 26 hours the household remained on the dining room floor without food or water until Scoon and his wife were smuggled out to the American carrier Guam. Returning to the island the next day, Scoon found a letter, drafted for him by the Americans two days earlier, requesting military help. He signed it — but he declined to authorise a press release written by one American diplomat and ignored a list of names for an interim government committee prepared by another.
Paul Godwin Scoon was born on July 4 1935, the son of a street trader, in the coastal town of Gouyave. After Grenada Boys’ Secondary School, he came to Britain to study at the Institute of Education at Leeds, then went to Toronto University. He returned home with a plummy English accent to teach Chaucer and Shakespeare at his old school.
On rising to the post of chief education officer, he married, in 1970, Esmai McNeilly, who brought him two stepsons and a stepdaughter. He went on to become cabinet secretary and then deputy director of the Commonwealth Foundation in London.

After being appointed Governor-General, Scoon quietly settled into his round of conventional royal duties, opening Parliament, visiting hospitals and giving reassuring speeches. He liked to see the Union flag at the British Resident’s office, which he once telephoned to point out that the flag was upside down. He was appointed GCMG in 1979, shortly before the coup.
By the time the revolution had been quelled he had grown in confidence and political knowledge. For six weeks he exercised executive power with the aid of an advisory committee which he chose himself. He called experienced officials out of retirement, reinstated head teachers who had been fired, and expelled the Russian and Libyan ambassadors . When Parliament was refurbished and the mace retrieved from its hiding place, he ordered an election, and asked the experienced Herbert Blaize to form a government.
Scoon then settled back into his role for another nine years . He was delighted when the Queen signalled her approval of Grenada’s return to comparative stability by visiting the island in 1985, when she promoted him to GCVO on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Sir Paul Scoon, born July 4 1935, died September 2 2013


Illustrating your article on the art stash in Munich (‘Don’t believe anyone who said they didn’t know’, 5 November) is a fascinating photograph of the 1938 Degenerate Art exhibition in Berlin. I note that the second line of the Nazi banner over the pictures reads “paid for with the taxes of the hard-working German people”. Such a simple catchphrase. A pity many of our politicians and journalists should want to repeat it, changing only the nation’s name.
Andrew Hornung
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
• Ian Jack (2 November) might also have mentioned the great storm of 1990, which was far more destructive than either the storm of 1987 or that of 1968 and caused many more fatalities (87, according to the Met Office). Few remember the 1990 storm, even though it occurred during the daytime. I remember it only because I was nearly hit by a rubbish bin as it bowled across the common.
Peter Bendall
•  Can you seriously win the UK Scrabble championship using “wog” (sic), “grrl” and “urping”, as seen in your photograph (Men of letters: Scrabble championship, 4 November)? Can anyone advise which dictionary I need to purchase for 21st-century Scrabble games?
Helen Finch
• It’s a mistake to refer to “growing a beard” as if it were a voluntary act (Growing healthier?, G2, 4 November). A beard is the natural state of a man’s chin. The question is whether it is worth spending time every day shaving it off in response to the dictates of fashion.
Roger Musson
• The plastic bags containing the Guardian’s Saturday supplements are reusable (Letters, 5 November): I wrap my sandwiches for work in them. But what they really need to be is biodegradable.
Karen Lane
Ilford, Essex
• Surely the question of how you pronounce “h” depends on your aspirations (Aitch or Haitch? The letter that divides opinion, G2, 5 November).
Anthony Tasgal

The lack of female engineers in Britain today (Economy hampered by lack of female engineers, says Cable, 4 November) is part of a wider problem to do with public perception of what the word engineer actually means. No other professional body allows its title of qualification to be so misused or misunderstood as engineering does. A doctor, dentist or lawyer cannot use such a title without the appropriate qualification, but the mere fact that the local garage mechanic can be described as a mechanical engineer, that the electrician down the road calls himself an electrical engineer or that a jobbing builder has civil or structural engineer on his truck is clear evidence that we are allowing professional, graduate engineers to be grossly devalued. We must recognise and respect engineering as a range of scientific disciplines employing highly qualified and skilled men and women. Part of that recognition gives them exclusive rights to the title of engineer.
Janet Brindley
Cheadle, Cheshire

Seumas Milne, in his splendidly argued case for public ownership of basic utilities and services (The private grip on essential services has to be broken, 30 October), says that in spite of popular support “it’s taboo in the political mainstream”. We have to ask why.
Apart from the need to keep their corporate backers happy and the revolving doors open for when they retire from office, politicians cannot dream of supporting, protecting and developing public services. To do so would be to return to a bureaucratically run state economy. Death to innovation and enterprise. They clearly do believe that.
Mariana Mazzucato, in The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths, documents how the state played a crucial role in some landmark innovations of our time and makes “an open call to change the way we talk about the state, its role in the economy, and the images and ideas we use to describe that role”. It would be hard, if not impossible, for David Cameron and George Osborne to read and learn, but Ed Miliband and Ed Balls could.
John Airs
•  Privatisation of utilities had a two-pronged purpose: primarily, to remove borrowing requirements from the national debt to adhere to EC rules; second, to provide piles of wonga for government coffers. It’s obvious that each was flogged off on the cheap: just look at current share prices. Why is it that several other European governments found innovative ways around this problem? The chief method was forming standalone companies able to borrow money in their own right. In the main, these companies are majority-owned government assets. The supreme irony is that they are able to take over UK utilities, repatriating profits, thus subsidising their domestic operations. So we, the British public, subsidise many of our continental cousins. Who was the brainbox who allowed this to happen?
Ian Lowery
Kensworth, Bedfordshire

Your front-page story about the UK’s challenge in protecting women and girls from female genital mutilation (UK must act to halt mutilation of girls, 4 November) omitted one crucial element: the need to provide refugee protection to those women who have sought safety in the UK. The courts have said that if a woman is at risk in one part of her country and it would not be reasonable for her to live in another area, the UK should allow her to live here as a refugee. However, the Home Office is regularly refusing women and girls protection on these grounds, claiming that they can live safely elsewhere in their own country. This is not true: in many of these countries a woman cannot simply leave her family to escape mutilation or protect her daughter from the practice. Single women cannot live safely without the protection of a male relative. Nor is it possible to live safely outside your tribe. Often, the extended family can find the girls very easily to perpetrate genital mutilation.
We applaud the home secretary when she said mutilation is “an abhorrent form of child abuse which this government are committed to eradicating”. We now ask her to follow her words through and give instructions to her staff that they must grant asylum to women and girls seeking protection.
Emma Williams
Chief executive, Student Action for Refugees (Star)
• The excellent document launched by health professionals on Monday outlines the main barriers to eradicating female genital mutilation in the UK and provides invaluable recommendations for safeguarding girls and young women. The report focuses on the responsibilities of professionals for identifying and intervening in cases where mutilation is suspected, as well as recording and communicating information when it has taken place.
However, an equally important point made in the report deals with specialist clinical and counselling services for survivors. The report states that these are important in helping women understand that the health problems they are experiencing are caused by mutilation, which in turn lessens their support for this practice. The Tackling FGM Special Initiative works throughout the UK to provide grassroots prevention work. A number of the projects we fund work in close partnership with specialist clinics to help women reframe their perception of mutilation as a practice with negative consequences. However, projects operating in areas where such services do not exist face significantly more barriers.
There are a very limited number of specialist clinics around the UK, most in London. As an example, one of our projects recently received a self-referral of an 18-year-old girl who had undergone mutilation before she arrived in the UK. She wanted to undergo de-infibulation but was concerned about the consequences if her family found out. The girl was unable to travel outside her home town for fear of being found out, yet there was no professional in her local hospital trained to perform a reversal. As a result, the project was unable to support her.
We hope that the appointment of Jane Ellison as health minister will see these recommendations leading to change in the way health providers record and communicate information for children at risk, as well as better services for survivors.
Hekate Papadaki
Rosa, the UK fund for women and girls

George Monbiot’s article about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Comment, 5 November) makes one think that the multilateral agreement on investment (MAI) has emerged from its lair under a new name. When that agreement was negotiated among members of the OECD in the 1990s, the drafts were discussed at the OECD council, whose membership was restricted to the rich countries. The aim of the agreement was to draft universal investment laws guaranteeing corporations unconditional rights to conduct financial transactions unchallenged by national laws and citizens’ protests. If implemented, multinationals could sue governments when national health, labour or environment legislation threatened their interests. Fortunately, copies of the draft were leaked to a Canadian citizen group and the secret was out.
Confrontation began from the bottom up, with hundreds of grassroots organisations and activists protesting, often through the internet. France, one of the few governments that had woken up to what was going on with the MAI, acted decisively, standing alongside the people in their opposition. Activists in many other countries gave lessons on the agreement to elected members of parliament who had, for the most part, remained ignorant of the threat to their own limited powers. Opposition was such that the MAI beast was forced back to its lair to await a transmogrification which would allow it to emerge sometime in the future.
Jim Hynes
Mold, Flintshire
•  George Monbiot rightly highlights the serious implications for democracy and citizen action implied by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated by the EU and US. The issues it raises about arbitration procedures loaded in favour of investors and the erosion of the rights of governments to protect the welfare and environment of their citizens were raised some years ago by a group of concerned academics in a public statement on the international investment regime. Since that time it is clear the situation has got worse. We invite others to now sign this statement calling for some fundamental reforms of the investment rules (
Professor Peter Newell
University of Sussex
• Vince Cable quite rightly stresses the importance of the UK staying in the EU (Comment, 4 November). However, he goes on to welcome the prospect of the trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated under the radar. It is sad that through Cable and Clegg the Lib Dems are leading the negotiations with the coalition government in collaboration with US and EU partners. This agreement is a highly dangerous neoliberal piece of legislation. If it were passed into law, national governments and parliaments would have to comply with it. It would hand over all our public services to multinationals and large corporations. Legally, all services would be required to be open to this form of private provision.
Labour’s commitment to restore a publicly provided health service by repealing the Health and Social Care Act would be meaningless. The railways and the Royal Mail could not be renationalised. The dispute settlement mechanism within the draft agreement would ensure this. Food safety, the environment and intellectual property rights would also be at risk.
The British people need to understand the dangers we face. We need to get away from the “private good, public bad” approach. The public sector, the commons, needs to be protected for the good of the people.
John Lipetz
• It is inevitable that Derek Vaughan MEP (Letters, 5 November) should support Britain’s continued membership of the EU, as indeed I do, but surely as a member of the European parliament he should have been aware of the issues raised by George Monbiot in the same edition. It is clear why the CBI wants Britain to remain in the EU; with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in place, employers will be able to destroy workers’ rights, living wages and every regulation put in place to control the worst excesses of rampant capitalism. Is this actually the policy of the Labour party in Brussels? We should be told.
Les Summers
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

One of the least well understood pieces of social behaviour is that governed by financial dealings between people and between nations. That measure of social behaviour in trading is called economics. The Nobel prize is regularly awarded for advancements in understanding economics and many of those awards go to the University of Chicago, which apparently has a great lobbying organisation, not for economic understanding so much as for Nobel prizes: 28 Nobels have been awarded in economics to the university in 41 years. In 2013, the Nobel prize was awarded to three individuals, two of whom are, of course, from the University of Chicago. Despite all this apparent advancement no one is any nearer to understanding how economic pressures work.
These gentlemen “laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices” (14 October). A longer official tribute said: “There is no way to predict the price of stocks and bonds over the next few days or weeks. But it is quite possible to foresee the broad course of these prices over longer periods, such as the next three to five years. These findings, which might seem both surprising and contradictory, were made and analysed by this year’s Laureates, Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller.”
If that were true we would expect these three individuals to make a mint in the next three to five years. Unfortunately for them, that is not going to happen. Why? Because no one has the least idea of how economic principles work with any sort of surety. Furthermore, these gentlemen know that.
The Nobel prize in economics is a farce.
John Graham
Hoogstraten, Belgium
Malala deserved the prize
Malala Yousafzai as an education activist, campaigning for rights to education for women, and to ensure free compulsory education for every child, seems not to be good enough for the Nobel peace prize (‘I believe in peace. I believe in mercy’, 18 October). However, the prize went to President Barack Obama when he was in the midst of escalating the US war effort in Afghanistan, and who has now perfected targeted assassinations with his lethal drone policy. It would be interesting to find out the criteria followed by the selection committee for awarding the prize to “champions of peace”, as Alfred Nobel wanted.
Lucila Makin
Cambridge, UK
Munro has gone global
Margaret Atwood claims that Alice Munro’s Nobel “will draw international attention” (18 October). The truth is that Munro’s stories are already read and admired around the world. When I was in Buenos Aires in December 2011, a bookstore on Calle Florida was selling Las Lunas de Jupiter (Moons of Jupiter) and Amistad de Juventud (Friend of My Youth). Six of her books are translated into Farsi, and thus available at bookstores in Tehran. Runaway is translated into Chinese, and in Paris and Montreal, readers can buy, among others, Trop de Bonheur (Too Much Happiness).
Munro even transcends the high linguistic and cultural walls of Canada. Soon after her Nobel prize was announced, the respected Canadian novelist Yves Beauchemin expressed his admiration. “What is striking about her style,” he told La Presse Canadienne, “is the voice, at once tough and penetrating, yet always human and warm.”
Munro makes all Canadians proud.
R B Fleming
Argyle, Ontario, Canada
We have bigger problems
Yes, they built a tunnel under the Thames: so what. They sent a man to the moon: so what. They decoded the human genome: so what! And now an awful lot of money is going to build a model of the human brain (25 October), yet we already have 7bn human brains attached to real human beings, so why do we need another one?
The human brain is so sophisticated that we will probably never understand its basic functionality, let alone its incredible adaptability. I’m sorry about Henry Markram’s son, but I don’t think building a human brain will solve his autism. Could we please be a little more thoughtful about throwing €1bn at a project that is unlikely to solve any of the world’s pressing problems.
Bruce George
Candelo, NSW, Australia
We need the answers
So Gary Younge tells us that the Republican right was howling for the moon (25 October), Larry Elliott writes that the greening of the economy needs a commitment similar to that which put a man on the moon in the 1960s, and Timothy Garton Ash expects a friendly billionaire to subsidise a TV channel to tell Americans what they don’t want to know about their own country.
What better illustration could there be of the awful paucity of doable ideas and policies that would actually get us out of the mess we are in. It is now well-established that the American government is effectively dysfunctional. I wouldn’t bet that business and governments will adopt long-term policies to promote sustainability. And telling the Americans what the rest of the world thinks of them will only push them deeper into their laager.
Of course, all three commentators were right. But it left me even more pessimistic about securing a better life for future generations. We know the problems. When will somebody come up with realistic suggestions to change our trajectories? Or is this also calling for the moon?
John Burley
Divonne les Bains, France
Pilger is too simplistic
John Pilger’s article China’s role in Africa is Obama’s obsession (18 October) makes a simplistic and unwarranted assumption. “The shopping mall atrocity was a response to this [President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's effusive thanks to America for unwavering support] – just as the Twin Towers attack and the London bombings were explicit reactions to invasion and injustice”.
The motives for all three events were never so clear-cut: the perpetrators and the planners often had widely differing motivations and the messages broadcast by them show this clearly. Such writing is unbecoming of a journal known worldwide for its measured and unbiased treatment of global events.
Brian Turner
Adeje, Spain
Crazy party’s aftermath
Regarding your story, IPCC report: Human impact is unequivocal (27 September): I work in the New Zealand forest and am lucky enough to have little to do with mainstream society other than the Guardian Weekly, but two facets of the climate change debate never fail to dismay. First, the fact that people are even debating whether to use up all the available oil and coal resources. Surely that’s like someone arriving early at a party and debating if he or she should drink all the beer before everyone else arrives. Are we to be the generations that descendants refer to as the greedy bastards who didn’t leave any oil for them? Second, all this talk of “carbon budgets” and sustainable energy circumvents any reference to “people budgets”. If we reduced our population while we still have fossil fuels as a prop, carbon budgets would be a natural by-product of the process. Why should the right to bear children be any less questionable than the right to bear arms? From the outside looking in, global civilisation seems to me like a sex-crazed, binge-drinking party that some other poor bastards are going to have to clean up.
Chris Brausch
Katikati, New Zealand
We must protect small farms
Failure to nurture smallholder agricultural production – especially in developing countries – will have a negative impact on sustainable food production in the future (Colombians risk death in land fight; Coffee rust creates crisis in Guatemala’s fields, 25 October). Smallholders still produce 80% of food in developing countries and their contribution will be even more crucial as the population drift from rural to urban centres continues unchecked. Smallholder producers deserve to be protected from unscrupulous land grabbers whose aim is profit maximisation, which usually means producing industrial crops for export, rather than food for local consumption.
The inspiring example of the Guatemalan smallholders who are focussing on environmentally friendly food production is one to be supported. Protecting the environment while achieving food sovereignty is the key principle driving the UN’s global efforts to mainstream sustainable crop production intensification, which has the potential to feed the world and conserve our natural capital for future generations.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK
Problem with nuclear power
Tub-thumping like a used-car salesman, David Cameron dusts off the nuclear boilerplate: “kick-starting again this industry [like an old Harley], providing thousands of jobs [Homer Simpson wannabes] and providing long-term, safe [D'oh!] and secure [with Tridents trolling alongshore?] supplies of electricity far into the future [with 245,000 years' half-life]” (25 October). How, then, can he be such a confident man when EDF (backed by the French and British public) “will have to start depositing money into a special fund for such liabilities from the start of the project”?
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
• Compare and contrast: Fukushima’s shadow darkens and Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as big day for the country (25 October).
Peggy Thomas
Hebden Bridge, UK
• David Shariatmadari laments the change to polymer money in the UK (20 September). All I can say is there is nothing like going for a surf with your wallet safely in your pocket!
Sean Mitchell
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
• It seems that Mao’s Little Red Book has become Mao’s little read book (4 October).
Peter Reynolds
Christchurch, New Zealand


When will the British establishment bite the bullet and ban the burka? The distressing report that a terror suspect has escaped surveillance by changing into a burka (5 November) comes hard on the heels of Ken Clarke’s non-PC remarks that women covered in “a kind of bag” should not be permitted to give evidence in court. This and other recent incidents should convince pusillanimous politicians to follow the lead of France and Belgium and proscribe this preposterous costume that has nothing to do with Islam.
For too long a misinformed British public has been swayed by moderate as well as militant Muslim apologists – including Baroness Warsi – that female face-masking is a religious requirement, a free personal choice, or a woman’s prerogative to maintain public anonymity. None of these spurious assertions pass critical scrutiny.
Face-masking is a patriarchal invention that originated in ancient Persia over a thousand years before Islam. Now it is championed by backward Wahhabi, Deobandi, Salafi, Tablighi and other puritan clerics, and exported worldwide under the pretext of Islamic religion and culture. But British Muslims must reject this archaic tribal garb as empty emblems and superficial symbols of their faith. Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any obligation for Muslim women to conceal  their hair, let alone their faces. Since there is no compelling theological basis for this obsolete dress, and as face-masking poses grave security, legal, health and social implications for society, the time has come to outlaw this odious outfit that only serves to deform and defame Islam.
Parliament, do what is right: ban the burka and free women from male chauvinism.
Dr T Hargey, Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford
Child protection measure  could backfire
Kier Starmer is calling for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. We are writing to challenge this proposal, as a team who have undertaken child protection research in many countries including the UK and Australia.
We are driven by the same concerns to protect children as Kier Starmer. We therefore want to send a vital cautionary note. There is no evidence that mandatory reporting is the best way to protect children. In fact there is strong international evidence that mandatory reporting at best fails to improve the safety and well-being of children in those countries that have introduced it. At worst it has contributed to deterioration in the child protection system through overload and “loss of faith” both in child protection and the wider child welfare system. The result of mandatory reporting is to increase the number of children reported, without any increase in the number of children found to be maltreated.
Our research, published in the British Journal of Social Work last week, shows that in Australia, where all states have systems of mandatory reporting, between one in four and one in eight of all children are reported to child protection services during their lifetime. The vast majority of these reports find nothing, but their effect on children and families is often devastating. The impact of mandatory reporting is to increase the levels of surveillance and suspicion of poor and excluded families, without effectively doing anything to protect or improve the lives of those reported or at risk.
The Government is resisting pressures to introduce mandatory reporting. We support them in this because we fear that public pressures to do something that sounds to be a solution may have the reverse effect.
Andy Bilson, Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire
Rosemary Cant, Research Fellow, Centre for Vulnerable Children, University of Western Australia
Maria Harries, Adjunct Professor, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia
David H Thorpe, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Lancaster
Even without mandatory reporting there is over-referral of child abuse. Department for Education statistics show that for 2011-12 there were 42,900 children subject to a child protection plan in England – but that 166,900 children and families were falsely referred to children’s social care services.
It’s not just that actual child abuse cases become harder to diagnose and treat with excessive reporting. A referral of just one child also embroils parents, siblings and the extended family. That is a public health issue because the fear of false reporting spreads via community grapevines, and that  may lead to some families  avoiding initial contact with public authorities except out of sheer necessity.
England has a culture of policing, not helping, families. The unintended consequence of “mandatory reporting” could well be that many child abuse cases never even get near the net in the first place – never mind slip through it.
Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man
Jeering at ‘paedos’
One evening last summer, my husband and I came across a group of lads, 12 or 13 years old, heaving a supermarket trolley into our pretty canal. I remonstrated with them, saying I would report them.
“Go on then – nothing will happen,” the ringleader jeered, accompanied by some obscenities. As my husband took a photo on his mobile, there were cries of “Paedos!”
Like Margaret Brown (letter, 5 November), we are not disabled foreigners and we do have contacts. We gave the photo to our local policeman, and he was able to identify the boy, and, to the boy’s surprise, action was indeed taken. Luckily we know the policeman and anyway he has common sense.
I wonder now, in the light of recent events, whether I would do this again. As a white, middle-class woman, secure in her home environment, I probably would. Away from home, I might think twice. And that’s what is so disturbing: people will be unwilling to report or photograph incidents, because an accusation like this can have such repercussions – from the confiscation of a camera, as in Margaret Brown’s case, to death, as in the tragedy of Bijan Ebrahimi.
Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire
Long wait at outpatients
Martin Richards’ letter (4 December) regarding his four-and-a-quarter hour wait to see the doctor in an outpatient clinic made me feel I was fortunate in only having to wait an hour and a half for a recent appointment. 
As I don’t drive, and my husband has recently given up driving, I was very grateful to friends who drove me to the hospital and waited with me all that time. When we left I discovered that the hospital, having kept us waiting, then added the time to the parking fee. I know our hospitals need money, but this, surely, is most unfair.
Jean Elliott, Upminster, Essex
Hospitals are not measured on their waiting times for out-patients. They are measured for waits in accident and emergency departments, but not out-patients.
Regrettably the story you reproduce is perpetuated by ignorance, not just of the public, but of many doctors, who are unaware of the real pressures in hospitals. Waiting for consultants is nothing to do with government targets, but simply poorly organised clinics.
Dr Tim Coker, South Warwickshire CCG board member, Napton, Warwickshire
Russell Brand’s tedious antics
The “disenfranchised generation” that Stefan Wickham refers to (Letters, 3 November) have already revolted, in August 2011. In Clapham Junction, where I live, they saw fit to burn and pillage local businesses and make off with a lot of goods, most memorably large quantities of electronic equipment and trainers – and, as Howard Jacobson noted at the time, left only the local bookshop (Waterstone’s) intact with its stock. 
Whatever the inequities in our democracy – and there are many, I don’t deny, though I do deny that all politicians are the same – it’s a shame that Mr Wickham is so blinded by his lust for revolution that he can’t appreciate the sublime brilliance of Howard Jacobson’s intelligence and imagination (2 November) in comparing Russell Brand’s tedious antics on Newsnight with those of Shakespeare’s clowns.
Carmen Rodriguez, London SW11
An illusion of recovery
Such economic recovery as we have is based on three key elements: first, currency devaluation; second persistent erosion of employment rights; and finally a measure of inflation, CPI, which is utterly corrupted. Every one of these is massively regressive and has a worrying air of accomplished dishonesty.
R Goodall, Bewdley, Worcestershire
Hamish McRae tells us (“Confidence is returning”, 31 October) that the Bank of England now holds one third of the National Debt. Surely if this is the case they should go ahead and cancel it. The UK’s credit rating would soar. George Osborne should rejoice!
Frank Donald, Edinburgh
Ethical poppies
In two recent letters readers have mentioned being telephoned by their banks when they make online purchases of white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition. I had no such difficulty, but then I bank with the Co-operative. Perhaps this shows that they do still understand the ethical point of view in spite of their current travails.
Gyles Cooper, London N10
Fashion for boys
I was disappointed to read your description of the “Seedling the Fashion Designer kit” in the Ten Best Eco Toys feature (5 November). Why is the toy only suitable for “girls aged eight and over”? Are boys not allowed to be creative in fashion too? The huge presence of men in the fashion world would suggest otherwise.
Marc Harbourne-Bessant, Birmingham
Train to nowhere
We are told that there will be a growth in economic prosperity in excess of the huge development cost of HS2. Doncaster currently has an excellent high-speed rail link. There are up to four trains per hour to London, taking as little as 1 hour 30 minutes. Where is the economic prosperity in the area?
Brian Day, Doncaster
Perilous calls
After receiving an average of four nuisance phone calls a day lately, I wonder if anyone has ever made a claim for injury compensation after breaking a limb in their haste to answer a phone call from one of these offending companies?
Judi Martin, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire


‘It is dispiriting to see how the NHS’s main purpose — to make things better — fails to translate into its approach to complaints handling’
Sir, The highest quality organisations see complaints, no matter how undesirable, as being opportunities to improve, to prevent recurrence, to cut costs. They focus on getting to the bottom of problems and making sure they don’t happen again. In such cultures, the notion of blame avoidance is anathema and contradictory to their goals. Objectivity and a desire to make things better is king — tough, perhaps, for Philip Horsfield’s “deeply hurt” doctors (letter, Nov 4 ).
By contrast, it is dispiriting to see how the NHS’s main purpose — to make things better — fails to translate into its approach to complaints handling.
The best way the NHS could show leadership is to have an effective, open and robust process for handling complaints with organisational improvement as its goal. Sharing of solutions and prevention of recurrence should be a significant part of performance measurement at all levels. A robust process would be respected and would deal as effectively with malicious and trivial complaints as it would the opportunities presented.
As long as the NHS resorts to defence as the reflexive response to complaints, nothing will change. To prolong such a waste of opportunity is scandal in itself.
John Abson
Langford, Beds
Sir, David Prior has clearly never tried to rail against bad practice in the NHS (report, Nov 5), or he would know that even the most outspoken doctors find themselves threatened, as I was when I made a comment to the press about the formation of a London healthcare trust and my fear of problems (most of which came to pass). I was threatened with disciplinary action if I uttered any further public comment that contradicted Trust policy. Furthermore, my attempts to prevent managerial interference with my clinical practice were ignored. Despite having been president of a specialist society and a council member of the Royal College of Physicians, I found myself sufficiently intimidated to refrain from further comment. Several colleagues junior to me had found themselves in a similar position, and being much younger were unwilling to risk their careers. I am sure my experience is not unique.
Dr Andrew Bamji
President, British Society for Rheumatology, 2006-08

Properly organised adventure training for soldiers helps to maintain high levels of fitness and also develops leaders at all levels
Sir, General Houghton is out of touch when he says that he doesn’t want soldiers to waste time “going on adventure training or playing sport” (report, Nov 4).
I served for 34 years, playing and organising a wide variety of sports, and undertaking some challenging adventurous training. The quality of our young serviceman now is higher than when I served. T here is no “sitting around waiting for the next crisis” as far as our junior soldiers are concerned and many regard sport and adventure training as an important factor which encourages them to continue to serve. Also, of course, training for many sports is often undertaken in free time, and helps to achieve high levels of fitness. Properly organised adventure training also develops leaders at all levels.
On the likely success of recruiting a large number of reservists, I fear that unless significant payments are paid to firms to release their employees for training on a regular basis, and unless there is a clear career path for reservists, it will not be possible to attract sufficient volunteers.
Brigadier Philip Winchcombe (ret’d)
St Mary Bourne, Hants

Under the new proposals, many of the Bedouin will have electricity, water, healthcare and employment opportunities for the first time
Sir, The description of Israel’s proposals regarding the Bedouin of the Negev region (letter, Nov 4) gives a very misleading picture of a far-reaching initiative designed to provide modern services and opportunities to a traditionally nomadic population.
Of the 210,000 Bedouin living in the Negev, some 120,000 already live in established towns and villages. Under the new proposals, an additional 60,000 will have their current encampments recognised so that they too can be provided with electricity, water, health services and employment opportunities. To gain access to these services, the remaining 30,000 will have to move a distance of a few hundred metres to several kilometres, to locations where they will be offered agricultural, suburban or urban living options. This group includes those Bedouin who have encamped within the danger zone of the Ramat Hovav toxic waste facility.
These proposals, which are the result of extensive consultations with hundreds of Bedouin and dozens of Bedouin organisations, also include the provision of compensation for Bedouin land claims, even where no legal documentation of ownership is available, and a budget of more than $2 billion (over five years) to advance economic and social development while preserving Bedouin culture and heritage.
His Excellency Daniel taub
Ambassador of Israel

This reader firmly agrees that the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of children should be made compulsory
Sir, A s a circuit judge (now retired) and as a priest I have witnessed many lives which have been destroyed by sexual abuse and, like the former Director of Prosecutions, I too am convinced that the time has come to make the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of children compulsory (report, Nov 4). Such reporting should be not only to superiors but to social services and the police, both of which ought to be particularly aware of any similar allegations against the person concerned. Such compulsion should apply not only to teachers, social workers and doctors, but also to ministers of all faiths or denominations and whether the seal of the confessional applies.
The Rev Rupert Bursell, QC
Thornborough, Bucks

‘Workers earning a Living Wage are likely to be better motivated and more productive than those earning less’
Sir, John McTernan (“It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs”, Nov 4) claims modelling by the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research shows implementing the Living Wage across Britain would lead to 300,000 young people losing their jobs. This is not the case.
The report states clearly that the modelling is not a prediction of the direct employment effects of such a move. It is an estimate of how much demand for young people’s labour might fall in the extreme case of the Living Wage being implemented across the whole economy, with nothing else changing.
This is highly improbable. The Living Wage is voluntary; it is not an alternative minimum wage. Its implementation will remain partial and unevenly distributed across the economy, even if there is a tax break for firms that pay it. Furthermore, the modelling does not take into account the likely responses of employees and employers. Workers earning a Living Wage are likely to be better motivated and more productive than those earning less. This enables employers to pay them more.
The UK has so many people earning less than a Living Wage because it has many more people with low or no skills than most of our competitors. The real challenge is to equip these people with the skills they need to be more productive.
Tony Dolphin
Chief Economist, Institute for Public Policy Research

We now live in a society where it is cheaper and quicker to replace a gadget rather than to attempt to repair it
Sir, One of the reasons that our youngsters are not interested in training in engineering lies in the very nature of the industrial process we have developed. In my childhood I lived in a society which repaired every mechanical device, because they were so expensive, and they were constructed in a way that repair was possible. As a child I helped my dad to repair many household products: electric kettles, irons, fires, garden implements, brushes, wheelbarrows — you name it, we did it.
For children living in this throwaway and built-in obsolescence age, where can they begin?
D. R. H. Thomas
Rugeley, Staffs


SIR – The legend of the ravens of the Tower of London is one of many in a long tradition. After St Vincent of Zaragoza was martyred in Valencia early in the fourth century, ravens protected his body from being devoured by animals until his followers could recover it. They then guarded the shrine erected over his grave.
In the late 12th century, his body was exhumed and brought by ship to Lisbon, escorted by a pair of ravens, which accompanied it to its final resting place in a monastery. St Vincent was declared patron of Lisbon, and the coat of arms still bears an image of the ship and the two ravens.
Richard Symington
London SW17
SIR – In the early Fifties, my uncle supplied the Tower of London with at least one bird when the raven population was running low. He had an amazing affinity with birds. Two ravens would feign death in his hand, when told to. He would then throw one of them in the air and as it fell it would open its wings and land on his head or shoulder.
Edward Harding-Newman
Kelso, Roxburghshire

SIR – The strongest argument for HS2 is, as the Transport Secretary has said, not speed, but freeing up capacity on the existing, hugely over-tasked network.
If we are to build new lines to help with that, it makes sense to make them high-speed, which will bring the additional benefits of spreading economic growth from the South East to the North while helping to move passengers from Scotland and the North away from air travel.
Paul C Martin
Director General, The Railway Forum, 2006-2009
Alcester, Warwickshire
SIR – Pondering the HS2 controversy, I looked for the lessons of history in my work diaries from the Sixties during the development of Concorde.
It seems that one big mistake then was to have involved 17 interested airlines in redesigning the prototype to fall in with their often cranky ideas about aircraft production, causing long delays.
Related Articles
The myths and legends associated with ravens
05 Nov 2013
The new head of the HS2 organisation will have to have steely resolve to ignore similarly eccentric ideas, like rerouting HS2, with all their potential for delays.
It is axiomatic that delays mean rising costs, especially when hard-to-dislodge professionals are now paid so much compared with the disposable navigators of the past.
Christopher May
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
SIR – I presume that the people who say that there is no need for faster rail links always drive their cars on old roads rather than motorways to reach distant destinations?
By the same token, doubtless many of those HS2 objectors who reside in the Chilterns only bought their properties because of the ease of access provided by nearby motorways, which brought disruption to others when they were built.
John Weeks
Bridgwater, Somerset
SIR – On the very day David Cameron tells the CBI that opponents to HS2 lack vision, his Government announces the doubling in cost of taxpayer-funded aircraft carriers.
Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire
SIR – If it cost the French £9 million per mile to build their high-speed lines, the Spanish £36 million per mile for theirs, why is it costing us £129 million per mile?
John Bray
Purley, Surrey
SIR – I keep asking, but I get no answer: what are the fares likely to be on HS2? Will we be able to afford to travel on it?
Charles Efford
London E14
SIR – The HS2 debate has exposed the inability of some media presenters to pronounce the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Geoff Fleming
London SE13
Energy overpayment
SIR – One aspect of energy costs, relating to direct debits, is hidden from view.
In January, I agreed to pay by monthly direct debit at a rate set by my supplier based on historical usage. Five months later, I was informed that “to avoid building up a debt” the rate would increase by nearly 20 per cent. Now, another five months later, my meters have been read pursuant to the price increases and I am over £1,000 in credit. My monthly rate has been reduced by 13 per cent.
However, there is no suggestion of a return of my overpayment, which is the equivalent of five months’ consumption, so I will now have the credit used up but against the increased rates. Surely, in a contractual sense, I have created a £1,000 hedge fund by pre-purchasing energy. Why should I now pay at post-October rates until the fund is depleted in March 2014?
Philip Horton
Orpington, Kent
Using paper bags
SIR – I too was once an advocate of the American-style paper bag until I tried carrying one in the rain.
The bag dissolved into mush, depositing my shopping in a puddle.
Professor Trevor Harley
Dundee, Angus
SIR – Some years ago, when plastic bags became environmentally incorrect, Marks & Spencer sold cheap and cheerful coloured string bags at its check-outs. I still have mine, washed dozens of times, and it slips into my handbag.
Linda Bos
Midhurst, West Sussex
Live theatre screening
SIR – The “live relay” to cinemas and theatres across Britain of top-class performances from Covent Garden, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Met are a splendid opportunity for many who cannot get to, or afford, the live performance. But they are essentially films.
What will be the effect on original productions in regional theatres if they rely on live relays for their incomes? They will be mere screening facilities, with perhaps a few live musicals or pantos at Christmas.
Sue Spence
Lingen, Herefordshire
Memorable birthday
SIR – My favourite recollection of a Queen’s birthday party is of the event in 1983 in Nuku’alofa, in the Kingdom of Tonga. It had been raining beforehand and the lawn of the British High Commissioner’s residence was soggy.
Ladies wearing high heels were inclining after a couple of hours, and yet, heroically, they all carried on accepting drinks from the splendid staff while the Tonga Police Force silver band played delightful music.
The High Commissioner’s occasional interruptions to announce the British general election results merely enhanced this superb afternoon’s proceedings.
Richard Elsy
Carlisle, Cumberland
A smooth operator
SIR – I had an almost identical experience to Belinda Brocklehurst when trying to contact Scottish Power customer services with a query about my account. In desperation, I pretended to be a new customer when selecting options from their automated menu. The telephone was answered by a person on the first ring.
Tony Ash
Ashbourne, Derbyshire
European flushing
SIR – It is reported that the EU, after three years of work, is seeking to standardise the flush on lavatories across Europe. Even if the objective of water-saving is valid, surely there are more urgent and vital matters to address when the economies of many European countries are in crisis, unemployment and debt are exploding and the very future of the eurozone is in peril.
The European Commission is totally disconnected from reality. This bureaucratic and bloated beast must be tamed rapidly before it consumes our poor, abused continent. Who will perform this critical task?
Roger Carrington
Parekklisia, Limassol, Cyprus
SIR – I recently had to replace my lavatory and was told that the existing nine-litre capacity tank had to be replaced by a
six-litre one. This was to conserve water as directed by EU regulations. I now often have to flush twice, thus using 12 litres. This, to me, sums up the EU.
David Wilson
Cottingham, East Yorkshire
SIR – As a car-free family, the irony of the phrase “school run” is not lost on us as we walk past many cars, which are often stuck in a traffic jam.
Sally Jaspars
SIR – London Road in Guildford is jammed every school day by Chelsea tractors turning right into Guildford High School. The road is wide enough for a saloon not to block the road, but the giant vehicles necessary to navigate the jungles of Surrey and keep the little darlings safely cocooned in three tons of steel will not allow even my Smart car to get past.
Richard Duncan
Guildford, Surrey
In a nutshell
SIR – While consuming some wet walnuts the other day, I came across a very strange conical one. On cracking it open I found inside a single round kernel about the size of a small hazelnut, with none of the “two-brain” structure normally found.
A brave colleague who consumed the mutant kernel said it tasted distinctly “walnutty”. Have any other readers come across this phenomenon?
Stuart Hobday
Colchester, Essex
A Swedish sweetener to keep the streets clean
SIR – In Sweden, the children go round the parks and streets in the early morning collecting recyclable rubbish that was discarded the previous evening. They take it to special machines in supermarkets, and get a barcoded credit slip that they use to buy their sweets. Such a system in Britain would save councils a fortune by reducing the number of bins required for recycling.
As usual, Britain is behind the times.
Rob Parkes
Steyning, West Sussex
SIR – The individual and the community have a part to play in keeping our city clean. Our Capital Clean-up campaign aims to foster this community spirit by giving Londoners grants, advice and materials to tidy up, such as litter pickers and black sacks. Last spring, 1,560 volunteers collected 1,138 bags of rubbish and disposed of 55 tons of fly tipping.
Matthew Pencharz
The Mayor of London’s senior adviser environment and energy
London SE1

Irish Times:

Sir, – Am I missing something here or is there a large population of home owners who want to pay their property tax early?
Surely, in this day and age, the vast majority have bank accounts. Therefore, the only sensible option is to pay by direct debit on a monthly basis or have the payments deducted from salary on a monthly basis. Why would anyone choose to pay by debit or credit card? – Yours, etc,
New Ross,
Co Wexford.
A chara, – You report (Home News, November 5th) that “Revenue has said it must take payment immediately because it cannot retain card details on account of data protection laws”. This is untrue. My business is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant and registered. We store details of hundreds of cards, but safely and digitally encrypted for future membership transactions online. No problem in the smart economy? – Is mise,
Yoga Dublin Studios,
Rockfield Central,
Dublin 16.
Sir, – Further to Peter McNamara’s letter (October 26th): why can’t the Revenue accept post-dated cheques? If it insists on payment by credit/debit card four months, ie a third of the year, in advance, surely it is not unreasonable for taxpayers to expect a hefty discount for the financial hardship caused by such a demand?
In addition, as a taxpayer, I would like the Revenue to procure from the relevant local authority a detailed breakdown of how my LPT was dispersed and to in turn furnish me with same when presenting me with an invoice for next year’s LPT – as is normal practice in England. – Yours, etc,
Canal Walk,
Co Kildare.
Sir, – Page seven of The Irish Times (November 5th) displays an advertisement from Revenue.
The ad is misleading, to say the least. It reads, “Credit/debit card will be debited when the transaction is made online – this is how credit cards work”.
Perhaps Revenue has not heard of the book club, to which I belong, which allows me to spread a payment to it by debiting my credit card with nine or 10 equal monthly instalments. It works like a direct debit – except to the credit card, not the bank account. What works for nine or 10 months could surely work for 12.
As to security implications, Revenue already allows monthly debits to a bank account, which is, in essence, a series of numbers. A credit card account is also a series of numbers. Spot the difference. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Endless calls for “the truth” about what British soldiers did on Bloody Sunday finally brought resolution to long-suffering families and to all Irish people last year. The roles of maverick soldiers were revealed.
It is time for “the truth” about the Disappeared.
We watched years of detailed media coverage of the injustices perpetrated on Bloody Sunday as families and bystanders told their stories.
By contrast, little truth was written about the injustices perpetrated on the Disappeared” and their families. Bystanders feared to speak, while cynical IRA rumours of sightings, kept these IRA atrocities off our front pages. Injustice and further torment was heaped on innocent families.
Who ordered these people to be disappeared? Who ordered 10 innocent children, who had already tragically lost their father to cancer, to be orphaned?
We need an inquiry, which lets former IRA activists testify in anonymity, as Soldier A or Soldier B did in the Saville Inquiry.
No less than the Bloody Sunday families, the families of the Disappeared deserve the truth now. They have waited and suffered long enough. – Yours, etc,
St Enda’s Park,

Sir, – The world is surely ill-divided. While people rant on RTÉ about those in Dublin who have to survive for a few nights without water, 92 people die in the Sahara Desert from thirst. We need to get certain things into perspective. – Yours, etc,
Rail Park,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I’m sure Austin Hyland (November 5th) is aware of another solution that Myles na gCopaleen had for “shortages”; every person in the country stay in bed for one day every week. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – For the sake of clarity: the name of the island is Ireland. The name of the state is Ireland too, but that doesn’t include Northern Ireland, which is a separate part of Ireland. There is a south of Ireland but there is no Southern Ireland. The west of Ireland is the real Ireland. The real name for Ireland is “Éire”, but if you’re English don’t say that word as it may cause offence.
The Republic of Ireland is a football team; but it doesn’t include Stephen Ireland, who comes from the People’s Republic of Cork, which is the real capital of Ireland.
It’s all a bit Irish. – Yours, etc,
Cork Street, Dublin 8.

Sir, – It is with particular regret that I read of the imminent departure of the troika from our country, no doubt however to the delight of the indigenous political class who can get back to the ruinous unsupervised gombeenism that has masqueraded as leadership and democracy in the past. It has been a tough, but productive three-year period. – Yours, etc,
New Ross, Co Wexford.
Sir, – Colm Keena (Business, October 30th) is absolutely correct to point out that given the EU economic governance laws that have already been democratically voted for by our MEPs and Ministers, talk of “restoring our economic sovereignty” is simply “bogus faux-nationalistic nonsense”.
The EU has always been about sharing sovereignty for mutual benefit. – Yours, etc,
Avenue de Armee,
Brussels, Belgium.

Sir, – As the nephew of two, sadly deceased, Sisters of the Presentation Order, I read with interest your report (Patsy McGarry, World News, November 1st), about the history of Venerable Nano Nagle founder of the Presentation Sisters. I hope it will provide an opportunity not merely to review her life but also to end the current obsession in Irish media and public life of sneering at the Catholic religious orders and their contribution to Ireland.
Presentation nuns, along with other religious orders including the much-maligned Christian Brothers were the first to provide Irish people with the opportunity for an education when no government or other public body was able or willing to do so. Thousands dedicated their life to this and provided a first-rate education to generations of pupils who were thereby given the opportunity to better themselves and their country. Today Catholic religious orders continue to provide education often the only education available in some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.
Nano Nagle, along with others in the church, as far back as the mid-18th century, provided education for girls – something that is still not available to millions of girls in the 21st century and that contribution to the empowerment of women deserves to be acknowledged.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was when trying to explain the term “Polyester Protestant” to a New Zealand archbishop that I finally realised what it meant. It refers to all those people who wear their jackets inside-out, or in other words are turncoats. How polite and nonsensical! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was striking that Elon Musk, the superstar of last week’s web summit, suggested, in his “fireside chat” with the Taoiseach, that fee-free third level engineering courses would be a crucial step in turning Ireland into a (technological) “start-up hub”; and, moreover, “that these free courses should be open to students from anywhere with the trade-off that they stay in Ireland” (Cantillon, November 2nd).
Might I suggest that a similar strategy could revive the frontline of the health service in its present parlous plight, wherein lines of trolley-bound patients, chronic bed deficits and epic public health challenges now combine with a frightening shortage of doctors to choke our emergency departments (EDs)?
How about, say, free (or partially discounted) medical education in return for a six-month, reasonably-paid, European Working Time Directive-compliant stint in an ED allied to a medical school, with regular tuition and good prospects?
And, afterwards, the world would remain the doctors’ oyster. It’s a simplistic prescription, I know. A bit like oxygen, adrenaline or defibrillation. But at this stage, surely, just as desperately needed. – Yours, etc,
Consultant in Emergency
Cork University Hospital,
Wilton, Cork

Sir, – Given Dr James Reilly’s promise to abolish the 50 cent prescription charge on taking office, before increasing it to €1.50 and in last month’s budget further increasing it to €2.50, coupled with his apparent “problem” in dealing with figures in general (as instanced by his utter inability to offer even an approximation of his department’s budget overrun/supplementary budget requirements), does he actually mean there will be free GP care for all by 2026? Or maybe 2116? Oh look, a flying pig! – Yours, etc,
Ringfort Place,

Sir, – Anne Matthews (November 2nd) refers to medical cards awarded on a discretionary basis and states that the decision to award such a card is made by “civil servants on our behalf”. In fact the decision to award such a card is made by a medical officer following a detailed examination of a person’s individual circumstances. If a case is complex, the medical officer will engage in a case-conference with other medical officers and is likely to seek the professional opinion of the applicant’s GP or consultant.
Ms Matthews also comments on the information campaign currently underway in relation to medical cards. The purpose of this campaign is to let people know where to get easily-accessible information in relation to the eligibility criteria, the application process, the status of an application and the appeals process. Such information can be accessed on or by calling the lo-call number 1890 252 919 which is open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm.
The guidelines for eligibility are being applied consistently, objectively and equitably. Anybody who qualifies, as per the current guidelines, will receive or continue to hold a medical card. Discretion will continue to be applied fairly and compassionately for those people whose incomes exceed the prescribed thresholds. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – “While it is nice to be optimistic, one first and foremost needs to be realistic. Why does Iran need nuclear power when it is sitting on one of the largest oil fields in the world . . .?” (Boaz Modai, ambassador to Israel, November 5th). I think the answer is in the question; as a deterrent, lest one of its belligerent nuclear neighbours have a beady eye on such a desirable property. And that’s without mentioning fossil fuel finitude and the urgent need for carbon emission reduction.
An at least equally relevant, and less tendentious, question might be why does Israel need an arsenal of nuclear warheads with a range greater than Tehran when it has the most powerful conventional army in the region and the unflinching support of the most bloated military empire hominid martial psychopathology has ever assembled?
Perhaps the ambassador would venture a response. It is a debate we need to have. While we still can. The nuclear clock ticks. Iran seems to be one of the few nations trying to raise the issue of multilateral decommissioning of these infernal technologies of instantaneous mass incineration.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the man who resisted his hawkish generals’ eagerness to unleash just this diabolical idiocy perhaps our somnolent government might consider honouring him in more than lip-service; by returning to a once honourable record on the issue. It will not occur of its own accord. Anyone semi-literate in history knows what tends to happen when things are left in the lap of deities: Mars tends to celebrate. – Yours, etc,
Castleview Estate,

Sir, – I would like to put Donald Clarke’s mind to rest (“Why would anyone think blacking up is a suitable way to mark Christmas?”, Opinion, November 2nd) by informing him that the Zwarte Pieten (they usually come in a gaggle) have nothing to do with Christmas. They are the little helpers of St Nicholas, patron saint of children, whose birthday falls on December 5th.
The Dutch do not believe in Santa Claus. The Dutch Christmas period runs from about December 15th to 27th. Short. Such bliss!
From an ex-Zwarte Piet. – Yours, etc,
Glasthule Buildings,

 Sir, – At least with the appointment of Roy Keane to the managerial team the players will be ensured an appropriate level of hotel accommodation when they travel abroad. – Yours, etc,
Hampton Park,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me”. Having read Niall Quinn’s article (SportsTuesday, November 5th) with interest, if he is fooled by Roy Keane for a third time, where will the shame go? – Yours, etc,
Ashington Grove,

Sir, – In Culture Shock (October 26th) Fintan O’Toole refers to Frank McGuinness’s The Hanging Gardens, saying, “The house itself is called (somewhat improbably for Buncrana) Babylon”. Well, a quick perusal of the local phonebook yielded up one Shangrila and a couple of Mount Carmels. Near the town itself there is a hilly area called Gollan Heights, just next to the Tank Road. Not only that, back in the 1970s we nearly had a park named after Ho Chi Minh! Improbable indeed. – Yours, etc,
Maginn Crescent,

Sir, – Motor tax – “Dublin motor tax offices close for a week”. Water tax – “Restrictions on water supply in Dublin region”. Property tax – “Confusion over payment options”. Taxing times indeed! – Yours, etc,
Abbey Park,

Irish Independent:
* Teachers must feel like celebrities this week. Parents will queue patiently at schools to hear how their child is performing.
Also in this section
The positive side of secularism
Bright minds can help bring a dose of reality
Sinn Fein hypocrisy
I think, however, that parent-teacher meetings are an utter waste of time. Most parents will get, if lucky, a maximum of five minutes per teacher. Five meagre minutes is not enough time to find out how their child is performing, where they’re excelling and what they’re finding difficult.
But it’s not really five minutes. After polite conversation, this five minutes becomes three; the parents need to keep the teacher happy with their child, so they can’t rush him or her.
Then, the teacher has to excavate through his or her notes to find the student’s results and records; another minute gone. Meanwhile, the queue is getting bigger and more anxious by the second so the teacher will have to summarise it all in two minutes.
But the parents need to say goodbye and remark on how busy it is in the school tonight (remember, have to keep the teacher happy), so that’s another 30 seconds gone. Neither teacher nor parent nor student benefit from this organised rush.
How we approach parent-teacher meetings ought to change. There are three persons involved in a pupil’s education: the teacher, the student and the parent. And yet the parent and the teacher only meet once a year, for five meagre minutes. As a teacher, I find it absurd that parent-teacher meetings take place only once during an academic year; it’s something that needs to happen once every two months.
Why, I hear you ask. Well, circumstances can fluctuate at home and even the slightest change, illness in the family, for example, can have a huge impact on a pupil’s performance in class.
Chris Callaghan
Ramelton, Donegal
* I come from a much drier city than Dublin (Barcelona), but in my city, people – including tourists – can take a shower without problems. During my stay in Dublin this was impossible for me and my family.
It’s difficult to understand how is it possible to have so huge a problem with water in so green a country where rain is something usual. I hope that next time I visit Ireland I won’t have the same problem.
Marti Gassiot
* James Downey (Irish Independent, November 2) suggested that reinvention would bring order to a shambolic party political system – but he didn’t signpost the road forward.
Names like Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein detract from the parties’ true purpose – to choose representatives on personal abilities, qualifications and experience. These names are well past their shelf life.
Under fresh identities all parties could move forward with their portfolios and policies.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* I was interested, nay amazed, to see and read news that India has launched a mission to Mars with the intention of checking out the likelihood of life on the red planet.
Perhaps India would be better off checking out whether the teeming life on the streets of its filthy cities could be supported in some form of comfort and freedom from hunger and disease.
Tom Mangan
Ennis, Co Clare
* I was unsettled this week to hear the coverage of the murder of a young Dublin man whose body was found in Meath. Not only is this a new low in Irish crime, but the coverage of the story by some of the media sources is (in my view) a symptom of the disregard that currently exists in Ireland for some people in society.
All of the radio reports that I heard identified the victim as a convicted drug dealer, before they even gave his name. I felt saddened by that.
Perhaps I am being a little naive but whatever this guy did in life, he has paid the ultimate price and I feel strongly that the media in a ‘Christian’ society have an obligation to have a little more compassion and afford him some dignity in death!
John Byrne
Lecturer in Social Care Practice
WIT, Waterford
* The Battle of the Bridge boxing match that took place in St Michael’s clubhouse on Saturday night proved to be an entertaining night for all.
This was a fundraiser for two community-based clubs that are suffering because of austerity and emigration. It was an amalgamation of skills between Dunfanaghy boxing club and St Michael’s footballers, both of whom are good at footwork and hand skills. And not alone did you have that mix, but there was young and “old” in the ring as well.
I’s good for the heart when you see an oul fella (not mentioning any names) or two doing the Ali shuffle without tripping over their shoe laces.
Eddie Harkin was the referee on the night, which was unusual for a man who spends all of his time in the corner urging his proteges onwards.
The corner work was in good hands anyway, with Joe Harkin managing the blue corner and Patrick Durning in control of the red.
Micheal McDermott, one of the judges, was ducking and diving in unison with the boxers that much I don’t know how he had time to mark the cards.
The second judge, Rose Gillen, was feeling the pressure, she was nearly making holes in the floor with her high heels.
The third and final judge was Peter (the milkman) Sweeny, a very knowledgeable man on what ring craft should be about and was making sure all decision making was correct.
Three signed Donegal Jerseys went at auction and reached a combined total of €7075, that is quare money in these recessionary times.
It was an event that had all the right ingredients, a bit of seriousness, a bit of silliness and a good bit of craic, all for a good cause and it would not happen without the boys who put their “lives” on the line (and not a big payday in sight) by climbing into the ring.
J Woods
Gort an Choirce, Dun na nGall
* For many years, one of the greatest ways to relax was a visit to the cinema. As we used to ask when I lived in Dublin in the 60s and 70s: “Are you’s going into town to the pictures?”
With all the stress and depression in today’s world, a few hours at a good film is one way of trying to cope with life.
The only problem is that most of the films are aimed at a younger audience, very hi-tech, 3D and so on.
So, to my surprise, last week I visited the cinema twice to see two excellent movies.
The first, ‘Captain Phillips’, with Tom Hanks, wwas just superb.
The second was ‘Philomena’, with the wonderful Judi Dench. It had some great humour, along with the very sad reality that reminds us of some of our shameful history that is the Magdalene Laundries.
So film-makers take note and make some more movies like these, so we can once again “go into town to the pictures” and relax for a few hours.
Brian McDevitt
77 Ardconnaill, Glenties, Co Donegal
* The Government seems to expect some people to pay their property tax for 2014 out of as yet unearned income.
Would the members of the Dail in turn be prepared to wait until 2015 to receive their salaries for 2014?.
Brendan Horisk
Irish Independent

Victory church, again

November 5, 2013

5 November 2013 Victory church

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is a spy in their midst and Pertwees are going down like flies. Priceless.
Quiet day get a fridge man on Wednesday for free, more books from Victory church
We watch Hancock its not too bad
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets under 400, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson – obituary
Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson was a desert naturalist who toured the Sahara after an eventful war in which he faced an SS panzer ace

John Cloudsley-Thompson in the Sudan, 1964 
6:22PM GMT 04 Nov 2013
Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson, the tank commander turned desert naturalist, who has died aged 92, survived a confrontation with a Tiger in wartime, and with countless scorpions in peace.
The Tiger in question was all the more intimidating in that it was the German war machine commanded by Michael Wittman, regarded as one of the most formidable tank combatants of the war.

SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann on the barrel of his Tiger tank
Wittman is thought to have accounted for 138 tanks during the conflict, and it was Cloudsley-Thompson’s misfortune to find himself facing the panzer ace in a considerably outpunched Cromwell tank on June 13 1944 at Villers Bocage, 15 miles south-west of Caen.

Villers Bocage was considered a crucial battleground for control of Caen. Yet as Wittmann guided his Tiger down the main road it proved something of a rout as he knocked out tank after Allied tank. “Through the smoke loomed the gigantic form of a Tiger tank – it cannot have been more than 35 yards away,” noted Cloudsley-Thompson later, in his memoir, Sharpshooter (2006). “I fired the 2in bomb-thrower. The smoke bomb passed clean over the Tiger which very slightly traversed its gun. Wham! We were hit. A sheet of flame licked over the turret. ‘Bail out!’ I yelled and leapt clear. Then a machine gun fired at me. The Tiger rumbled past… then I heard my name called softly and looked round. There were my crew, hiding under a currant bush. Miraculously they were all safe.”

Cloudsley-Thompson’s Cromwell tank after his encounter with panzer ace Michael Wittman
It was Cloudsley-Thompson’s second narrow escape. The first had come in the Libyan Desert when, in May 1942, he took part in the battle for the Allied defensive region known as Knightsbridge. He had just turned 21, when he had been presented with a “magnificent birthday cake made from ground up biscuits and sugar”. He had also been promoted to Tank Commander. It was a tempestuous battle, with smoke and dust drastically reducing visibility. “The shelling was prodigious. [Suddenly] There was a tremendous crash.”
It turned out that Cloudsley-Thompson’s Crusader A15 Mark VI had been hit by a high explosive shell fired from a mile away. Despite a wound to his leg he managed to scramble out and jump on another tank which took him clear. Evacuated to Tobruk, he drifted in and out of consciousness. The rest of his crew, however, were either dead or fighting for their lives. Heavily sedated, Cloudsley-Thompson awoke to find a man he took to be his father by his bedside. Once his mind had cleared he realised that it was his uncle, Brigadier LF Thompson, who secured a place for Cloudsley-Thompson on a train to Cairo, where doctors managed to save his leg.

John Leonard Cloudsley-Thompson was born on May 23 1921 in Murree, in pre-partition India, now Pakistan. He was educated at Marlborough and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war. In September 1939 he helped his father, who was health officer for Lambeth, organise the borough’s casualty clearing stations, before volunteering for the Royal Tank Regiment. “I would rather drive than march in the infantry, and also I would like to see what I was shooting at and therefore not serve in the RA,” he explained later.
While waiting to be called up he joined the Local Defence Volunteers and the Home Guard before further training at Sandhurst, from which he was commissioned into the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. He then transferred to the 4th County of London Yeomanry (4 CLY “Sharpshooters”), sailing immediately to join the 7th Armoured Division (Desert Rats). Despite a bout of dysentery, he took part in Operation Crusader in November 1941.
After hospital in Cairo, Cloudsley-Thompson recuperated in England, where he became an instructor at Sandhurst. He convinced his superiors to allow him to rejoin 4 CLY in time for D-Day, and took part in the Normandy landings. A week later he was confronted by Wittman’s Tiger.
In July 1944, however, he scored a remarkable success during Operation Goodwood, the attempt to storm the Bourguébus Ridge and enable a total encirclement of the German army in the Falaise Gap. Three British Armoured Divisions were sent across the open plains south of Caen under the sights of well-hidden guns. Hundreds of Allied tanks were knocked out, and Cloudsley-Thompson’s four poorly-armoured Cromwells were ordered through the thick of the battle to establish a foothold on the ridge itself. Emerging through the burnt-out wreckage of seven tanks, Cloudsley-Thompson managed to reached his objective. But as the artillery barrage intensified, his troop was withdrawn. It took another three weeks of high Canadian casualties to reach the top of the ridge. “What a pity we were not reinforced rather than being withdrawn on July 20,” he noted.
After the war he completed his studies at Cambridge and in 1950 was appointed a lecturer in ­Zoology at King’s College London. His interest in the natural world had endured through his fighting career; in the desert he had defused the tension of waiting to take on the Afrika Korps by directing his crew to hunt for spider and scorpion specimens. He even acquired a desert fox from a local which his crew tamed and nicknamed “Noball”. At one point the fox got lost inside the tank’s engine, forcing the entire squadron to wait before moving off.

Noball, the Desert Fox that Cloudsley-Thompson adopted
Immediately after the war Cloudsley-Thompson began writing for Nature and the journal of the British Naturalists’ Association (BNA). Then, after a decade at King’s, he was appointed, in 1960, Professor of Zoology at the University of Khartoum and Keeper of the Sudan Natural History Museum.
He was fascinated by creatures that were able to survive desert conditions and heat. Scorpions, centi­pedes, spiders and woodlice were his speciality, but he was not averse to crocodiles or tortoises. When one crocodile escaped its enclosure he found that the locals did not share his enthusiasm; the police shot the reptile.
With his wife, Anne, who worked as a nurse and physiotherapist in the hospital in Omdurman, he would also embark in his Land Rover on lengthy off-road expeditions, including one trans-Saharan trip. On one occasion he ventured to Jebel Marra, a huge extinct volcano in Darfur. Interesting specimens might be brought back for study in the little laboratory he kept next door to his office, which was usually filled with animals.
He was passionate about Sudan, and collected many Sudanese artefacts, including silver bowls, knives and sculptures. When he eventually returned to Britain to take up, in 1972, the position of Professor of Zoology at Birkbeck College, London, they festooned his house.
A determined, energetic man, Cloudsley-Thompson lectured around the world and was a prolific writer of books and papers. Many of these were produced in retirement (some 45, with Wilson Lourenco, on scorpion biology alone). But they were not limited to the desert and its creatures, and addressed subjects ranging from seals to bees. For the BNA, of which he was chairman from 1974 to 1983, he wrote for the Guide to Woodlands (1985).
Cloudsley-Thompson was also president of the British Arachnological Society, the British Society for Chronobiology and the British Herpetological Society. In 1993 he won the Peter Scott Memorial Award for outstanding services to our understanding of natural history.
John Cloudsley-Thompson’s wife predeceased him. He is survived by their three sons.
Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson, born May 23 1921, died October 4 2013


Simon Jenkins (Comment, 2 November) suggests the International Committee of the Red Cross has become an inadvertent tool of western powers who disguise adventurism as humanitarian action. It is not a reality we in the ICRC recognise, particularly not in places like Syria, where our independence from political sponsorship by any state or faction is key to our being able to deliver assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas.
Throughout the 150 years of the ICRC response to the needs of the victims of conflict, our organisation has weathered numerous attempts to cast us a lackey of interest groups, power blocs or belief systems. Every day in Syria we reassert our neutrality, in order to feed the hungry, provide water or get medicine to the sick. It is not easy to counter negative perceptions, whether they come from the misuse of the language of humanitarianism or allegations that we have a hidden ideological agenda. And notwithstanding setbacks – kidnappings and attacks on staff – we have found that constant dialogue with all sides and a demonstrably impartial response to people’s needs are the most effective arguments. In Syria it works.
This year, we have conducted 120 missions across the country, through dozens of checkpoints and across frontlines. With volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent we feed 450,000 people every month. However, our efforts to provide medical care are sadly impeded by those who do not accept the principle that all sick and wounded are entitled to treatment. Neutrality must be demonstrated, not declared. That’s the difference between an intervention that helps those in need impartially, and deserves the name humanitarian, and one that does not.
Robert Mardini
Head of operations, Middle East, ICRC, Geneva

It is difficult to see how the Co-op Bank can remain a “world leader in ethical investment” (Letters, 4 November) when it is to be significantly owned by vulture fund Aurelius Capital. Aurelius is trying to force Argentina to default on its debts in a legal case in New York. The vulture fund bought up Argentinian debt cheaply when the country was in crisis. Unlike other creditors, it refused to renegotiate the amount of debt owed, and is now seeking huge profits out of the South American country. Along with fellow vulture fund NML Capital, it has bizarrely got a US court to rule that if the vultures don’t get their huge profit, no one should get anything.
Vulture funds show most starkly the moral failures of our out-of-control financial system, from seeking vast profits out of crises in Argentina, Liberia or Greece, to demutualising the Co-op Bank through their aggressive strategy. A bank owned by vulture funds cannot be considered ethical.
Tim Jones
Policy officer, Jubilee Debt Campaign
• The Co-op Bank’s hedge-fund owners might well be prepared to keep its ethical stance in the short term, for branding reasons. But any bank constitution won’t be worth the paper it’s written on once it appears to stand in the way of profit. Rather than fighting an unwinnable war, a better strategy for disgusted members might be to switch, if they can, to an ethically tolerable alternative. Meanwhile, the wider labour, co-operative, green and social investment movements should get to work on founding a new bank, perhaps in association with Triodos Bank (which, I understand, plans to introduce a current account in 2016). The Co-operative Bank is lost; start afresh.
Richard Middleton
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
• If there was a word to label the amalgamation of an ethical bank and hedge-fund backing, it would undoubtedly be an oxymoron.
Craig Alexander
Ashwell, Rutland

Italian prime minister Enrico Letta’s jitters about Eurosceptic parties becoming more powerful after next May’s European elections overlooked the far more ominous fact that most of these parties are on the extreme right (Europe must unite to counter sceptics, 1 November). They are gaining in influence and support because economic insecurity is rife across the continent and is easily channelled into blaming immigrants for domestic problems.
Free-market, pro-European governments have introduced austerity and weakened domestic businesses and employment through the economic warfare inherent in the free movement of goods, money and people. As such, they have nothing to offer the unemployed and the insecure, except more of the same. People will only return to supporting “Europe” if it changes its end goal such that it is able to protect and rebuild national and local economies.
The present open market obsession of the treaty of Rome must be replaced by a treaty of Home, giving priority to the diversification of national economies, rather than endless austerity and ruthless competition. It is the only way to reduce insecurity and people’s readiness to vote for extremist parties.
Colin Hines
Author, Progressive Protectionism (forthcoming), East Twickenham, Middlesex
• Enrico Letta says the EU must unite against sceptics, but I fear the moment has passed. Nationalism appeals to human nature because it offers us all a recognisable home among our fellows. Europhiles have had more than 60 years to express their project in terms that offer the same thing bigger and better, but have failed to find a formula that speaks to the heart. Rather than embodying the promise of a shared European homeland, the EU haunts the public consciousness as part pipedream, part nuisance. Against the warm familiarity of a more restricted view of kinship and geography, there is no contest.
Roger Woodhouse
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• Enrico Letta calling for a great battle between “the Europe of the people and the Europe of populism” would have made Bertolt Brecht proud. The best he could do was “Would it not be easier to dissolve the people, and elect another in their place?” The EU’s democratic deficit is no accident but a deliberate policy to ignore the actual people of Europe and act in the name of an abstract concept, “the people”, which just happens to want what the elites think they should want.
Roger Mortimer-Smith
Hampton, Middlesex
• I’m pleased the CBI admits the benefits of being in the EU “significantly outweigh” the costs. Half of our exports go to the EU and, according to the CBI, EU membership is worth £3,000 a year to UK families. Yet rightwing Tories and Ukip are pushing for an exit. I hope the fact our main business group is wholeheartedly in favour of staying in the EU will be recognised in Downing Street.
Derek Vaughan MEP
Lab, Wales
• Can the Vince Cable who says the EU is a good deal for Britain (Comment, 4 November) be the same one who catastrophically underestimated the value of Royal Mail in its privatisation, leading to a huge financial loss to the Treasury?
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire
In a piece of disinformation often used by the government to justify the privatisation of 70% of the probation service, the Ministry of Justice mentions plans for supervision of 50,000 prisoners currently “released with no statutory support” (Delay probation shakeup or risk deaths, Grayling is told, 29 October). In fact, the probation service does not and never has worked with these problematic offenders sentenced to less than 12 months, though the probation minister, Jeremy Wright, and the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, trot out the statistic to suggest that this high rate is a failure of the service. The probation service was awarded a BQS gold award for excellence in 2011, but a more important measure of its success is that the public are often so oblivious of it.
However, based on past experience of G4S and Serco (both currently under investigation for defrauding the public), one has a firm basis for fearing that probation work will be far more visible if the privatisation goes ahead.
Joanna Hughes
Campaigning committee, National Association of Probation Officers (Napo)
•  It’s disingenuous of the MoJ to justify rushing ahead with privatising probation on the basis that it consulted widely and that experiments at Doncaster and Peterborough prisons were successful. It has failed to allay the plethora of concerns expressed during the consultation, and the experiments were brief and far from conclusive. Another experiment in the West Midlands and Staffordshire that involved the probation service was stopped without securing an evaluation.
Grayling’s refusal to pilot his proposals underlines the fact that the approach to the probation service, unlike the commendable objective to reduce reoffending, owes more to ideology than criminology.
Jeremy Beecham
Shadow justice spokesman, House of Lords
•  When I heard of proposals to privatise the probation service I wrote to the Ministry of Justice to say I assumed that such a move would not go ahead without good evidence from pilot studies about the effectiveness of such a transfer. After protracted correspondence, I was directed to two pilot studies. It turned out that these were in the very earliest stages of recruitment and in no way provided such evidence (as confirmed by the researchers themselves) but also the studies were not addressing the proposals I had questioned. I was not sure whether to be insulted that I was being palmed off with this information, or distressed that people in the MoJ could conceivably have imagined that they had provided an answer. The only evidence I now have is that the move is based on dogma rather than evidence. There’s a surprise.
Dr David Griffith
•  Any experienced probation officer could tell the government and any organisation that believes it will make money from the supervision of low- and medium-risk offenders (How to make recidivism and costs rise? Privatise probation, 31 October) that high-risk and sex offenders are the easiest to manage because they are usually either in prison or, in the case of sex offenders, turn up for all appointments. The low- to medium-risk offenders who will be farmed out on a payment-by-results basis, are in the main the sofa surfers, the homeless, the drug and alcohol misusers, who are not known for their reliability or co-operation. Payments by results? I can’t wait for the realisation that they have shot themselves in the foot.
Patricia Fagg
Retired probation officer, Bristol
•  As a member of the public, I read with increasing concern that the government appears to be proposing placing 70% of probation work in the hands of untrained companies, some of whom are under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.
The quality of supervision is crucial in reducing reoffending. The probation service is rated ” good to exceptional” by the National Offender Management Service, with reoffending rates down by 5%. It deals with the police, the courts, CPS, mental health, social services and other key agencies. The proposed changes would lead to a fragmented service unable to co-ordinate responses to a situation in which 80% of further serious offences are committed by people deemed to be medium- to low-risk.
Payment by results has been seen to fail. The Work Programme has cost £5bn with little to show for it. If some of our lawmakers were quantified in such a unitary way, there probably would be few A*s or value for money.
Mildred Williams
Brewood, Staffordshire
• I have to wonder how “grounded” in probation practice Sarah Billiald (Interview, Society, 23 October) actually was, given her short time at Kent probation trust. The privatisation of probation trusts, which she seems happy to profit from, is predicated on the high reoffending rates of those sentenced to less than 12 months imprisonment – exactly the group of people who have no contact with probation. A simple solution to this would be to extend supervision of these to the current probation trusts, which have a proven track record in reducing offending rates, rather than to give this important work to unproven organisations driven by a profit motive.
Gregory Moreland
•  The supervision of offenders requires skills acquired through rigorous training, and through experience. The ability to assess risk is paramount, but along with this is a need to understand and work with people to enable them to lead law-abiding lives.
I cannot believe that the likes of G4S and Serco could possibly deliver a service to offenders and to the public. How are they going to make a profit from supervising offenders, other than by employing unqualified people on lower salaries and poorer conditions?
Our probation service is respected throughout the world, but not apparently by this government.
Kate Willan
Retired probation officer, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear

Many readers may have missed Paul Brown’s short account in Weatherwatch (4 November) about the wonderfully timely production of electricity from renewables. The maximum output from PV panels meets a peak demand round about lunchtime, and wind turbines have a maximum output that matches a similar high demand in the late afternoon or early evening. A powerful counter-argument when government support for renewables seems to be faltering.
Anne Hall
• Why would anyone allow their energy supplier to estimate their bill and keep the surplus (Report, 4 November)? It takes me five minutes each month to read my meters and send the readings to my supplier via my online account. I pay for what I use, not a penny more.
Ralph Jones
Rochester, Kent
• I have considerable sympathy with Ian Jack (I remember Scotland’s killer storm of 1968, 2 November). On 2 January 1976 hurricane winds swept England and 22 people lost their lives; my father was one of them. Yet this storm seems to have been wiped from history – all the talk this week has been of 1987, which resulted in five fewer deaths.
Wal Callaby
• The ongoing destruction of the legal aid system was brought home to me by the closure of Michael Mansfield’s chambers (Interview, 2 November). Last week I also learnt of the closure of Joan Ferguson’s legal-aid firm in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, because the effect of the continued cuts in legal aid is to make such firms unviable.
Guy Otten
• You say “squash is the only racket sport where the players share the same playing space” (Sport, 2 November). Have you not heard of rackets (18th century) or racquetball (1950s), both still going strong?
Nick Clayton
Alderley Edge, Cheshire
• You know the polythene bag you sell us containing your Saturday glossies? Well, why not make it reusable?
Dr Ian MacIntyre
Barmouth, Gwynedd

Even the most optimistic person could not claim that the UK electricity generation and supply arrangements inspire confidence. The private utilities have not served either the consumer or the UK well. The consumer has not seen the promised reduction in tariffs and the UK has not seen strategic investment for the long term.
This is not a criticism of the private utilities. They are obliged to act in the interests of their shareholders, to maximise return and minimise risk. They will, therefore, only invest in the lowest-cost, lowest-risk form of generation, which today is gas. They can only invest in alternative forms of generation such as wind, solar or nuclear if eye-watering subsidies or guarantees are provided by the taxpayer.
It is time to put aside dogmas such as “private good; public bad” and carry out an objective review of how best to provide a sustainable, secure electricity supply for the UK long term.
Although memory is fading, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Scottish electricity boards did an excellent job for the UK. A mixture of generation technologies ensured that no single energy supplier could hold the country to ransom and the lights stayed on with a reliability that had not previously been experienced. They operated with truly impressive safety and reliability a somewhat disparate fleet of nuclear generating stations that were not that much better than prototypes.
No doubt there was inefficiency and bureaucracy, but a significant part of the cost was associated with research and development to identify technologies for the future, and to keep safe and efficient existing facilities. This R&D expenditure was dramatically reduced (or passed to BNFL with the Magnox stations) on privatisation.
There is clearly no simple answer, but a non-partisan, objective review is surely called for. Options might include a separation of high cost base-load capacity from smaller more flexible generation. The highly strategic base-load might be better centrally owned and operated.
David Horsley, Wigton, Cumbria
Smaller energy companies, with fewer than 250,000 customers, are exempt from green and social levies and don’t have large corporate shareholders to satisfy, so their prices are lower. By doubling the exemption limit, the Government could start applying real market pressure to the Big Six.
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Public Health England claims that fracking poses a low risk to public health (report, 1 November). Really? Fracking generates gas. Gas, when burnt, generates CO2. CO2 contributes to global warming. Global warming is a profound threat to human health. Who do they think they are kidding?
Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury
Why some have mixed feelings about migration
As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown rightly reminds us (“Why does our compassion for the unfortunate stop at Calais?”, 4 November), many of those willing to cross continents and oceans to come under British rule are from places that were until recently our colonies. However, at that time our rule was deemed to confer no benefits, but rather to be vicious, exploitative and racist – and those peoples and places couldn’t see the back of us quickly enough.
So we left, often with sorrow and great loss after generations of what we thought of as honest service but which we were assured was actually systematic wickedness.
Perhaps if Ms Alibhai-Brown – or somebody – could explain to us why, if we were so awful then, coming to live amongst us now is so obviously desirable, we might be a bit less ambiguous about the whole question of migration.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown complains about British compassion stopping at Calais but seems herself to discriminate between those who “manage” to find “sanctuary” here and those who cannot.
There are many “homeless, pregnant women”, “rape victims of war” and “economic refugees fleeing destitution” not only in Africa but in “failed states” elsewhere. Millions across the globe are “displaced, disabled and unemployed”, and millions more would rather live in England or Scotland for reasons of politics, religion, health, sexual rights, climate change or just poverty.
What about them, Yasmin? Does your own heart and imagination end at the cliffs of Dover? Shouldn’t we welcome everyone seeking better “life chances”?
David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s column which, as with others she has written on migrant rights, she finds “draining and hopeless”’, comes to me like the beams from a lighthouse in a dark and merciless sea. Her bright voice is a beacon. Long may she shine. And long may you enable that.
Charles Becker, Plymouth
Calls of ‘Paedo!’, then a murder
The implications of the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi should fill us all with disquiet.
With shouts of “Paedo!” his neighbours provided psychological protection for those of their number who first vandalised his property, then beat him up for photographing them and finally murdered him. The police had arrested him for photographing the youths concerned and then released him on bail.
Four years ago I was working on a seaside campsite. Through an oversight a single-sex group of 10 boys in their teens and twenties was booked in. Their conduct was such that the police had to be fetched to compel them to leave by the end of the day.
As they were on their way out I photographed them with a view to preventing their return to the site or their booking in elsewhere in the area. Cries of “Paedo!” rose from them and they reached for their mobiles.
The police returned – and confiscated my camera. I might not have got it back if I had not written to the police requesting its return as the roll contained photos of the local MP at a dinner which I had attended. How fortunate that I was not a disabled foreigner with no contacts.
There have been too many cases of police sluggishness in protecting the vulnerable. I sincerely hope that there is a full investigation into the Ebrahimi episode and that its lessons are taken to heart.
Margaret Brown, Burslem, Stoke
In this case, the EU is not guilty
Oh dear!  Even Terence Blacker has fallen for it. In making some perfectly sensible comments about prisoners, voting and the internet, he refers to “the perfectly sensible EU directive that prisoners should be allowed to vote in elections” (“Prison reform should start with internet access”, 29 October).
There is no directive and it has got nothing to do with the EU. What he has in mind is a verdict of the European Court of Human Rights, which is overseen by the Council of Europe. That is not the European Union, which has no say in penal policy or the electoral franchise.
It’s confusing, perhaps, but the confusion is sometimes deliberately sown by anti-Europeans. What a pity that someone as discerning as Mr Blacker should fall prey to it.
Tom Lines, Brighton
Good bank, bad bank
Chancellor George Osborne says RBS’s new focus will see it being a “boost to the British economy instead of a burden” (“RBS avoids being split into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks”, 1 November).
Well that’s one way of looking at it: another is that once again the banks, even ones we own, get the opportunity to eventually revert to their greedy, reckless ways.
Eddie Dougall, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I wish to apply for the vacant post of boss of the RBS “bad bank”. My credentials are impeccable.
I am thoroughly bad; I have a wealth of bad debts; I have a strong track record as a very bad manager; and I have even taken a course in bad. I would promise to bring to the post some truly bad ideas, thus consolidating the essential reputation of a bad bank. Please send application form (preferably a bad copy).
David Punter, Bristol
Clash of cats and dogs
I have encouraged my dogs to chase cats that enter my garden (letter, 4 November), one of the few legal ways of keeping them out. My dogs were not bred for fighting but were effective deterrents in their younger days. Now they are old or gone, the cats are back.
My suburban garden has a pond, bushes, lawn and table to attract birds. The cats’ attempts to capture, torture and kill wildlife have driven all the birds away. Until cat owners keep them under control, I think owners of surrounding gardens are entitled to deploy whatever legal deterrents they have to curb this menace.
Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire
Poppy spooks
Just like Dr Buckingham (letter, 1 November), who wrote about his experience after ordering white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition, I too sensed a presence breathing down my neck. I didn’t actually complete the purchase (of one poppy) before the phone rang from Lloyds fraud investigations wanting me to confirm recent transactions. At the time I thought this must be a coincidence, because I have had fraudulent charges on a debit card. But now? Very creepy and infuriating.
Dianne Frank, Oxford
Portrait of evil
Please, please stop publishing photos of Jimmy Savile. Today’s (4 November) is even more gratuitous than usual. I, like many others, always thought he was very creepy when my children were watching Jim’ll Fix It years ago. Now we know just how evil he really was. We really don’t need to keep seeing photos of him.
P Allsopp, Bramley, Surrey
Poirot mystery
I was fascinated to read (2 November) that the wrap party for the cast of Poirot was held in a marquis in the grounds of Agatha Christie’s house. I imagine the noble lord was much surprised. I suspect predictive text: a mystery worthy of Poirot himself.
Chris Bratt, Arnside, Cumbria
Brand’s model
Chancing to watch an episode of The Young Ones last night I realised who Russell Brand reminds me of: Rick, a middle-class boy trying to convince others that he’s an anarchist, because he fears that otherwise they will hate him.
Dan Dennis, Reading


‘The wearer of a veil may give rise to those very prejudices by wearing it, but whether to take that risk is one that the witness should be permitted’
Sir, The latest contribution from Kenneth Clarke ( Nov 4 ) on the wearing of the veil in court adds nothing to the debate which is being clouded because it is being driven by motives such as prejudice, ignorance, Islamophobia, seeking popularity or simply jumping on the bandwagon, rather than a genuine desire to understand and find a workable solution.
In recent reports, the justification for banning the niqab has been based on the inability of jurors and judges to assess whether a witness is telling the truth, as “body language plays a vital part” in that process. Has anyone considered the regular situation where evidence is given through an interpreter? Whose “body language” is the jury or judge assessing in that case: the witness or the interpreter?
I have been a practising criminal barrister for nearly 40 years. T he same arguments were peddled before the introduction of evidence by video link by victims and other witnesses. How wrong we were. Do we want to make the same mistake? If there is a genuine desire shorn of prejudices, I am sure we can find an acceptable solution.
Mukhtar Hussain, QC
Lincoln House Chambers, Manchester
Sir, The logical conclusion of Ken Clarke’s argument is that blind people should be banned from being jurors or judges. He did not impose such a ban when he was Secretary of State for Justice because blind people do not lack the ability to make a judgment on whether someone is being truthful. The belief that one can tell from someone’s face whether they are telling the truth is deeply held, but unreliable. Not only are facial expressions often misinterpreted, but appearance gives full rein to racial and other prejudices. The wearer of a veil may give rise to those very prejudices by wearing it, but whether to take that risk is one that the witness should be permitted.
Jonathan Haydn-Williams
Richmond, Surrey
Sir, The decision to allow a woman charged with witness intimidation to wear a full-face veil throughout her trial represents a fundamental breach with the long-held principle that all suspects should be treated equally before the law. Members of juries hearing criminal cases have always considered their ability to see the facial responses of the accused to evidence given by witnesses against them as a vital part of the process of arriving at a verdict. To remove this discriminates against all those accused persons who would not be allowed by the courts to cover their faces during their trial. Furthermore, since the wearing of the niqab is not an inherent part of the Muslim faith, in the way, for instance, that the wearing of the turban has been for devout Sikh men, this present concession is likely to be seen as divisive and discriminatory.
Stephen Porter
London NW6
Sir, It may indeed be “peculiar” to wear a veil in court, as Ken Clarke says; almost as peculiar as wearing a curly horsehair wig. Looking at people’s faces, however, is a risky way to determine if they are telling the truth. Might it not be better for jurors to rely on the evidence instead?
Andrew Taylor
Barton on Avon, Warks

The progressive commercialisation of universities makes it increasingly difficult for people to be released for other important roles
Sir, In the recent discussion of the balance between research and teaching (letters, Oct 29 ), there has been no mention of the responsibility of universities to serve their communities. Major redbrick universities were rooted in their cities, often sponsored by local business and worked at a grass-roots level through the establishment of, for example, social work and educational establishments, as well as through local medical schools.
While institutes and faculties have traditionally carried out pro bono work, the progressive commercialisation of universities makes it increasingly difficult for people to be released for important roles — even, for example, those on the boards of medical royal colleges.
The tension between blue skies, potentially commercially rewarding research and work for local communities is becoming unsustainable. The public health community has striven to maintain this link between academia and practical research through the establishment of public health observatories. Maybe the time has come for standalone research institutions and for citizens to reclaim the practical functions of their universities.
Professor John R. Ashton
President, Faculty of Public Health
London NW1

There are still so many conspiracy theories surrounding the death of President Kennedy, partly because of his extremely complicated love life
Sir, The details of President Kennedy’s energetic love life which emerged after his death must surely contribute to the multiple conspiracy theories that still surround his assassination 50 years after the event (“Why did JFK die?”, Nov 1).
The most notorious case was his affair with Judith Campbell Exner, girlfriend of Frank Sinatra and mistress of the Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana. At the same time Giancana had been approached by the CIA to help to plot the assassination of Fidel Castro.
Another of Kennedy’s mistresses at the time was Mary Meyer, the wife of Cord Meyer, a senior CIA agent and one-time agency station chief in London. The end of the affair came when Mrs Meyer was shot and killed in 1964 while walking along the towpath of a canal in Washington. As soon as her death was discovered James Jesus Angleton, the CIA counter-intelligence chief, went straight to her house and removed all evidence of her affair with the President.
Another sexual adventure by the President was said to have been with an East German woman spy.
There was certainly much in Kennedy’s life for the conspiracy theorists to work on.
Richard Beeston
London W6

‘Closures and c uts mean that it will take longer for firefighters to arrive at emergencies. That is not what the public wants’
Sir, Matt Ridley’s article “London isn’t burning. Don’t fetch the engines” (Opinion, Nov 4) was misleading. It is both true and welcome that there are fewer fires than ten years ago. T hese improvements, however, are largely a result of preventative work undertaken by firefighters themselves. Cut back on firefighters and you will cut back on prevention.
In addition, as well as tackling burning buildings and undertaking prevention work, firefighters attend road traffic accidents, civil disturbances, terrorist incidents and floods. And although fire incidents are down, this does not mean that large-scale fires do not happen, sometimes simultaneously, or that the need to have a properly resourced fire service to deal with them has decreased. Closures and c uts mean that it will take longer for firefighters to arrive at emergencies. That is not what the public wants and cannot be in anybody’s interest. Politicians are often quick to credit the fire service for its response, but firefighters are sick of being praised one minute and having their service cut to shreds the next.
Matt Wrack
General Secretary, The Fire Brigades Union

If cross-Thames tunnels and bridges are essential to the lifeblood of the nation, why are there virtually no crossings east of Tower Bridge?
Sir, I hope the exciting proposal for a “garden bridge” across the Thames (report, Nov 2 ) will be encouragement for planners at every level to get a strategic grip on transport links across the Thames to the east of Tower Bridge.
There are at least 15 bridges to the west of London as far as Kew and just two tunnels and one bridge to the east. If good communications are essential to the lifeblood of a nation then cross-Thames links, tunnels and bridges are crucial to the wellbeing and prosperity of all that lies to the east of Central London.
It will be a delight to have a “garden bridge” in Central London, but when will we see strategic green shoots appearing in the East? And some tarmac?
The Ven Patrick Evans
Saltash, Cornwall


SIR – Teaching is not like plumbing, which requires technical skill. Good teaching requires close and constructive social interaction between teacher and student. This is a skill that comes from within and depends on an attitude of mind. If teachers don’t have that innate ability to interact sensitively with those in their charge, paper qualifications will count for nothing.
D L Stewart
London N2
SIR – The 17 signatories who wrote in to support compulsory teaching qualifications belong to a cohort – including education academics, teaching unions, Whitehall public servants and quangos – which for the past 20 years has presided over Britain’s catastrophic slide in the educational league tables.
Their opinions should not be given credence by those struggling against vested interests to improve our state education.
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Building new bungalows will just lead to more canny home conversions
04 Nov 2013
John Wilson
Hill Head, Hampshire
SIR – I am surprised that every mention of falling standards of literacy and numeracy is followed by an inquest into the quality of our comprehensive schools.
When I was a child in the Fifties, primary schools taught little beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Most of the learning was by rote and by the age of 11 the majority of pupils had a firm grounding in the basics and were unlikely to leave secondary school without being sufficiently literate and numerate to obtain a job.
The early years are the most formative and it is very important that these aims still exist. I cannot understand the suggestion that children commence schooling at the age of seven, thus depriving them of two or three of their most valuable years.
Trevor Miles
Highnam, Gloucestershire
SIR – Perhaps the biggest problem with our education system is that we keep playing politics with it.
Chris Dixon
Hambledon, Hampshire
The great train gamble
SIR – Despite the deceptively large vote for HS2 in the Commons last week, it is clear that enthusiasm for this huge gamble is fading fast. The principal remaining champion is neither the Prime Minister nor Patrick McLoughlin, the hapless Transport secretary, but George Osborne, the Chancellor. He at least is keen to gamble £50 billion or, more likely, £70 billion of taxpayers’ money on a financial maybe.
Years ago a bleeding heart approached New York banker Bernard Baruch with the appeal: “There has been a terrible earthquake in Peru. Thousands are homeless – are you not sorry for them?” The shrewd banker’s response was: “Most certainly, I am $10,000 sorry. How sorry are you?” He was referring to his donation to the relief fund.
One might ask of Mr Osborne: how much of your personal fortune are you prepared to invest in this mercantile long shot?
Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Here in the Gulf there is a proposed rail link to connect all six Gulf states. It will be 1,352 miles long and cost £125 billion. According to last Wednesday’s Gulf News, the designs “will be completed by the end of this year or in the first quarter of next year. Construction on the network is to start in 2014-2015 and it will be fully operational by 2018”.
HS2 is for 351 miles, costing £42 billion (before any rolling stock is accounted for) and won’t be ready until 2032. This mad project would be laughable if it weren’t so frightening.
John Lloyd Morgan
Dubai, UAE
Holding the phone
SIR – My struggle to switch gas and electricity supplier is facing stiff resistance – from the suppliers. In the past week, I’ve had to wait to speak to British Gas for 20 minutes, 30 minutes and 25 minutes. I simply cannot spare this much of my time to sit on the end of a phone!
Clive Peacock
Kenilworth, Warwickshire
Clear as a bell
SIR – I am lucky to have two daughters who attended an all-girls school, where each in turn was head of the chapel and senior choirs.
My wife and I have therefore enjoyed countless magnificent performances led by a brilliant director of music, but their sound, however beautiful, is not the same as that of a boy’s choir. There are subtle physical differences dictated by nature that give boys a certain clarity of sound, akin to that of a well-founded bell on a clear, frosty morning, that is impossible for girls to achieve.
Lance Warrington
Northleach, Gloucestershire
Next question
SIR – Might I save a lot of expensive Electoral Commission time and suggest that the proposed question for the referendum (“Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”) could be modified for those unaware that the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union to read: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should continue to be a member of the European Union?”
Sadly this may need further reworking for those who are unaware that they live in the United Kingdom.
Jeremy Burton
Shurlock Row, Berkshire
Let’s celebrate Bonfire Night not Hallowe’en
SIR – I was dismayed to see those who disagree with “trick or treating” described as “Scrooge”.
Trick or treating is an excuse for blackmail and hooliganism. People have a right to hold Hallowe’en parties, but allowing children out to knock on strangers’ doors and teenagers to roam the streets and threaten residents is unacceptable. Bonfire Night is already under threat from health and safety and local councils’ red tape. I would have expected a more robust defence of our traditional and much-loved celebration.
Jacqueline Mitchell
Smarden, Kent
A welcome landing
SIR – First impressions count. If Hugo Swire, the minister for the Commonwealth, really wants to strengthen Commonwealth ties, he could begin at British airports, where there is no Commonwealth channel at passport control, while there is one for the EU.
Alan Croxford
Lower Beeding, West Sussex
Tying one on
SIR – I was glad to read Damian Thompson promoting the wearing of cravats.
Last winter, as the temperatures dropped viciously, I decided I had had enough of going tieless, as fashion dictates, and found two or three of my old cravats in the bottom of my wardrobe drawers. What a transformation in the warmth, look and feel of the scraggy neck.
Denis Ling
Woodham, Surrey
Putting cramp to bed
SIR – For many years my wife suffered from severe night-time cramp in her feet. Homeopathic pills which provided a degree of relief were found to contain copper. A two-inch length of copper pipe has been taped to the mattress on her bed, and cramp is now a thing of the past.
Les Devenish
Emsworth, Hampshire
SIR – Nick Boles, the planning minister, wants more bungalows built in order to encourage older people to move out of bigger homes to make way for young families.
There used to be many bungalows around where we live but they are rapidly being sold and turned into large houses. A four-bedroom, two-bathroom house might cost £500,000, plus stamp duty of 3 per cent. You could buy a Fifties two-bed bungalow on a nice plot for under £250,000 with stamp duty of only 1 per cent. Build on two bedrooms and a bathroom and you have a large family house without incurring the cost of stamp duty: the money left over will lay a great many bricks.
Peter Colson
Chelmsford, Essex
SIR – I have difficulty driving around local roads because of builders’ lorries and skips all engaged in converting the many bungalows in the area into houses. What is the point of the Government’s scheme other than to supply additional work to the conversion companies?
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Ian Thomas
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
SIR – If Mr Boles is serious about increasing the number of bungalows, a simple expedient would be to ban local authorities immediately from giving planning consent to convert single-storey dwellings into two- or even three-storey properties.
Brian Follett
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
SIR – My work involved helping people prepare for their retirement. Bungalows were the worst option for keeping fit – more stairs do just that. Bungalows are useful for those who are already restricted.
Del Pasterfield
Colchester, Essex
SIR – Building more bungalows is not the solution to the shortage of housing for older people. Bungalows waste land and eat up the green belt. Because it is virtually impossible to build bungalows near town centres, they often mean old people are abandoned in remote and inaccessible locations far from friends and family.
Older people need housing that is reasonably priced, close to shops, with excellent security and good facilities.
Spencer J McCarthy
Churchill Retirement Living
Ringwood, Hampshire
SIR – Many of us do, indeed, want to end our days in a comfortable bungalow. And yes, the convenience of town-centre living is well suited to the over-sixties.
I must rush now: I have to get my planning application in to Cambridge City Council in order to build my retirement home on the grass in Trinity Great Court (there should be enough room to grow a few vegetables, ticking the “green” boxes).
If that is refused, there is the Market Square, although I shall make a fuss until the bells of Great St Mary’s are silenced.
We oldies like our peace and quiet.
Liz Wicken
Orwell, Cambridgeshire
SIR – I moved into a bungalow at a relatively young age and, despite a little sneering from my children, I have never been happier. I am surrounded by a lovely garden, save on scaffolding when the roof leaks and, when I forget what I have gone to fetch from the bedroom, I do not have to trudge back upstairs again when I have remembered.
Sally de Sancha
Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Most of the outrage about the Local Property Tax payments for 2014 has focused on the issue of payment being required in November 2013 for those who wish to pay by cheque or credit card, and also on the general lack of clarity in the Revenue’s communications on this issue.
However, a more fundamental point has been obscured by all of this. The payment date for those who opt for a single debit is March 21st, 2014. For those who opt for deduction from salary or pension in monthly instalments, the “average” payment is mid-year. So there is a financial penalty and a perhaps a significant cash-flow problem for those who wish to make a single payment.
The only really just and reasonable solution is to make mid-year (June 30th) the deadline for single debit authority payments, and a somewhat earlier date (say end-April or May) for those using cheques or credit cards to allow time for clearance and processing. Of course changing things would be inconvenient for the Revenue: it might even be impossible at this late stage. But a firm direction should be given to the Revenue about 2015 and, if necessary, legislation should be introduced regarding payment dates in the future, to make sure that this debacle never happens again.
The only need for the Revenue hearing from anyone this month should be in cases where people wish to change payments from monthly to annual or vice versa. – Yours, etc,
Willbrook Lawn, Dublin 14.
Sir, – Michelle Carroll from the Revenue Commissioners is completely missing the point (November 1st). The issue is that those of us who wish to pay by credit/debit card, and select this option on the Revenue website, are charged immediately and this is made clear.
I do not wish to pay monthly, nor do I wish to select a single debit option. I want to pay by Mastercard as I paid last year and also paid the household charge by this method. However, I have no intention of paying in November!
Revenue has slipped up here and would be better to correct the error and let people select an option to pay by card and then come back and pay in January. Revenue is usually the most efficient and easy to deal with of all the government departments but everyone can make a mistake. Correct it and stop confusing everyone. – Yours, etc,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – Maybe the Revenue Commissioners would be better advised to stick to the time-honoured KISS principle when advising the Irish taxpayer on how to pay. It appears that giving us seven options has proved more controversial than the tax itself. – Yours, etc,
Bullock Park,
Sir, – Only seven ways to pay the centrally collected property tax? Why are we not allowed to pay in cash? Is it too inconvenient for the Revenue?

Would somebody please check the Constitution – are the government departments serving the people or are we working for them, making things so very convenient for them all? What’s wrong with having cash? Unfashionable as it may seem, if we had a good few bags of it, sure the country wouldn’t be broke! – Yours, etc,
Braemor Grove,
Dublin 14.
Sir, – The mandarins in the Department of Finance have certainly got it wrong this time. Whatever is paid in property tax at the end of the month will be deducted from the Christmas spend, 23 per cent of which goes back to the Government in VAT. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. – Yours, etc,
Pope’s Quay,
Sir, – It took less than two minutes for me to file my return for 2014, and print off the Revenue receipt, confirming that the charge will be debited to my current account on March 21st.
Simple, efficient, no confusion. – Yours, etc,
Clontarf Road,
Dublin 3.
Sir, – I wish to wholeheartedly back the brave Cabinet ministers tackling our wayward revenue officials (who could possibly have authorised them to collect a property tax?).
I also hope they will turn their attention to another appalling rip-off many of us face week in, week out. I have for a long time been confused and dismayed at having to use a device called a “credit card” on this thing called “the Internet” only to be sent complex numbers in some sort of booking code for a variety of goods and services. Indeed, just like the property tax, I am expected sometimes to pay upfront for things such as flights and hotels. A terrible state of affairs!
I can also exclusively reveal that one prominent such firm in the air transport area imposing these dastardly practices has the State as a major shareholder! I call on our brave Cabinet ministers to compel Aer Lingus to return to quills, semaphore and used banknotes, otherwise none of us will ever make it off this island haven of hi-tech cloud computing. – Yours, etc,
Riverwood Heath,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – The impression given (Michelle Carroll, Revenue Commissioners, November 1st) is one of payment being accepted by the Revenue under any normal method of payment. But only today I learned that it doesn’t accept payment by credit card in instalments. Direct debit instalment payments are accepted, but not credit card instalments “The Revenue haven’t set it up like that” I was told when I inquired.
Maybe somebody should tell Revenue to set things up to help people pay this tax which only came about because of hubris and over confidence on the part of the civil service and the government letting the country’s financial system slide into the abyss and thereby providing an opening for the troika to order the introduction of the property tax. – Yours, etc,
Greencastle Avenue,
Dublin 17.
Sir, – To solve the capital’s water shortages, could the Government not come up with a Myles na gCopaleen’s de Selby type solution like dilute existing supplies? – Yours, etc,
Rue de Normandie,
Plaisance du Touch, France.
Sir, – Met Éireann tells us that about 1.2 metres of rainfall is average for a year across Ireland. Ireland’s area is a little over 84,000 square kilometres. If you do the arithmetic, this means that roughly 100 trillion (one followed by 14 zeros) litres of water lands each year. We use around 160 litres per day and there are around four million of us, so a total of around 0.23 trillion litres per year. In other words we use less than 0.25 pe r cent of the water that falls from the sky. And yet we have shortages.
We speak jokingly of people who couldn’t organise a drinks party in a brewery. Our wonderful politicians are so incompetent they can’t collect a quarter of a per cent of rain water. And they claim to spend €86 per head per year failing to do it. That’s over €3,000,000,000 in the past 10 years. In private industry that level of incompetence results in companies failing and jobs going. With politicians it results in higher taxes and bigger pensions. – Yours, etc,
Glounthaune ,
Co Cork.
Sir, – It is suggested that we drain water from the Shannon; while the Dublin rivers, the Swan River, and the Poddle, are culverted and flow via our drains straight into the sea, as does the Dodder, unculverted, when it doesn’t overflow its banks with its excess?
There must be a good reason, mustn’t there? – Yours, etc,
Milltown Road,
Dublin 6.
Sir, – Gearóid Ó Loingsigh (November 1st) shares his experience of a high quality water supply in Bogotá, Colombia. He indicates that to suggest Ireland’s water supplies are “third world”, as many are doing, would in fact be an uneducated insult to so-called “third world” countries like Colombia, since he contends that Ireland’s water service “isn’t up to such a high standard”.
Information available on the World Bank’s Spanish website ( states that in Latin America and the Caribbean 33 per cent of the rural population do not have access to basic sanitation services, including a safe water supply. I believe this to be more appropriate for loaded labels such as “third world”, and not a situation which will last “until at least Thursday” .
Ireland has faced, is facing, and will face many more, negative situations. But when we get ahead of ourselves and use highly sensationalised and inaccurate language for events which are not worthy, it only serves to cheapen the effect of the language needed for a situation when it is worthy, making its audience indifferent to a serious matter just when our attention is most needed. – Yours, etc,
Ulverton Close,

Sir, – At the constitutional convention’s consultative Galway meeting aimed at broadening its agenda (Lorna Siggins, Home News, October 31st) John Hughes of the Second Republic group pointed out that the convention must address the constraints of Article 46.2 whereby constitutional amendments can only be formally proposed by way of Bills submitted by Cabinet to Dáil Éireann. This is a crucial point.
Under the convention’s terms of reference there is no obligation on the Cabinet to put any of the convention’s recommendations to a referendum. It is essential that the constitutional convention examines the implications of article 46.2 for any future deliberative democracy initiatives such as constitutional conventions or citizens’ assemblies. – Yours, etc,
Ardee Street,
Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Many of the measures announced recently regarding the misuse of alcohol are to be welcomed. However, the support for some of the alcohol consumption claims by the Department of Health appear to be exaggerated. The quoted consumption of 11.63 litres of alcohol per year for “everyone over the age of 15” appears to mistakenly include the consumption by some three million or so foreign tourists that visit the State’s hostelries and consume beers, spirits and wines during their stay. It also mistakenly includes the considerable duty-paid spirits, wines and beers that are exported from our airports and ferrie .
So it appears to be somewhat of an exaggeration to suggest that the average Irish adult consumes “roughly” a bottle of vodka per week.
This is not to undermine the issue of alcohol misuse and the good intentions of the Department of Health. But everything in moderation. – Yours, etc,
The Dalcassian Wines and
Spirits Company Ltd,
Beacon Court,

Sir, – My compliments to Peter Murtagh on his interesting article (Weekend Review, November 2nd). However, the largest number of executions at one time during the Civil War was not seven. Eight irregulars were executed at Ballyseedy Cross in March 1923. – Yours, etc,
Law Library,

Sir, – Bethany survivors twice met with Archbishop Michael Jackson, twice more than his predecessor managed. On both occasions we discussed the church’s responsibility for the Protestant evangelical Bethany Home and its legacy. We challenged a mistaken view that what happened there – death, neglect, starvation – was not really a Church of Ireland issue. Most of the residents were Church of Ireland and many were referred by clergy, some of whom sat on the home’s managing committee. The church and its people were part of a conservative mindset in Irish society. Unwed pregnant women were shut off in religious institutions. The church at large closed its eyes to the resultant “unwanted” children. We are those children.
Archbishop Jackson listened but it seems from reaction to your report of his recent speech many are not in listening mode.
If there are stand-offish attitudes toward “polyester Protestants”, previously part of other religious traditions, or “new Irish” Protestants from abroad, than what hope for us, quintessentially illegitimate Protestants? Our experience is largely ignored in the life of the church. For example, one Bethany survivor who works voluntarily in her local church was televised at a gathering around unmarked Bethany graves. She was pleased that many local people afterwards wished her well, but “not one parishioner”. That was hurtful.
Currently, we are raising money for a memorial to 220 dead Bethany children (that we know of), to be placed over the unmarked graves in Mount Jerome cemetery. When we unveil it, we hope that clergy from the Church of Ireland and other denominations will be present. It would be nice if other church members turned up too. They would be more than welcome. If they did, we might feel legitimised.
Archbishop Jackson has not opted for the quiet life and has his work cut out. We wish him well. – Yours, etc,
Chairperson, Bethany Survivors,

Sir, – Your Editorial (October 21st) on Iran’s new horizons trusts in the good faith of the new Iranian government regarding its nuclear programme and general relations with the West.
The Editorial refers to the “honesty” of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, says that he set a “positive agenda” at the recent Geneva talks, and claims there is “no proof that Iran has a military programme” regarding nuclear power.
While it is nice to be optimistic, one first and foremost needs to be realistic. Why does Iran need nuclear power when it is sitting on one of the largest oil fields in the world, with more than enough natural energy to power its economy and society for decades? Countries which have peaceful nuclear energy such as Canada or Japan do not have plutonium and centrifuges which are necessary components of nuclear weaponisation; Iran does. Nor are they trying to build intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which are expressly designed to deliver nuclear warheads over thousands of miles; Iran is doing so.
Your Editorial does not mention that in the regime of the Islamic Republic, the presidency is merely a front; the real power lies with the clerical elite, and, despite President Rouhani’s charm offensive, which has beguiled many in the West, the regime has not really changed its spots.
Iran has not ceased its support for international terrorism, it has not cut its ties with Hizbullah in Lebanon, it still denies Israel’s right to exist and, as recently brought to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Oireachtas, it has not ceased its persecution of Bahais.
How can your Editorial believe so easily a country that has no respect for human rights? We all want to be optimistic about the Middle East, especially in the wake of the failure of the Arab Spring to create a brighter future for the region. However, this should not produce a mood of naivety where the West agrees to relax the sanctions on Iran in return for cosmetic gestures by the Iranians, when it is precisely the harsh sanctions that have brought the Iranians reluctantly to the negotiating table in the first place. – Yours, etc,
Ambassador of Israel,
Pembroke Road,

Sir, – Roy Keane to be assistant manager of the Irish soccer team? Will part of his brief be to instruct the players in how to desert their country in its hour of need? – Yours, etc,
Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.
A chara, – I have my fingers crossed that the rumour turns out to be true, that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are becoming the next management team of the Republic of Ireland.
O’Neill will bring motivation, belief and enthusiasm, Roy Keane will bring determination, leadership and perfectionism: both will bring brutal honesty.
Even though we are guaranteed box office entertainment it is inevitable that this story will eventually evolve into either Saipan 2, Titanic or optimistically Roy of the Rovers.
So let’s leave Saipan 1 back in 2002 where it belongs and support this idealistic rollercoaster adventure we are all set to embark on but before it truly kicks off let’s ensure that each of our seat belts is fastened, securely. – Is mise,
Maxwell Road,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
A chara, – So the King is to be replaced by a man who has turned down a job at the Palace rather than a man who wore a black armband after the death of a princess; a man from the north of Ireland with an assistant from the city that cheered the queen rather than a man from the north of England who was captain under the Jack; a man who will embrace the prince from the deep south rather than sending him home from the Far East. They don’t need to turn water into wine; at present just water will do. – Is mise,
Kiltipper Road, Dublin 24.
Sir, – “Keano!” or “Keane? No!”? Never in the history of Irish soccer has the mere mention of one man’s name engendered so much heated discussion and caused so much division among genuine football fans, fair- weather Ireland supporters, soccer pundits and soi-disant “experts”.We live in interesting times; bring on the “prawn sandwiches”! – Yours, etc,
Beacon Hill,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – As a subscriber to your newspaper for more than 50 years, I was shocked and disappointed by your publication (Sports Weekend, November 2nd), with expletives undeleted, of the extract from Ronan O’Gara’s book. Much of the language used may be regarded as appropriate to the relative privacy of the changing room, or playing field, but surely not in the pages of a family newspaper?
As a former rugby player, none of the language is new to me, but surely we haven’t lost all discretion – or have the real Barbarians taken over? – Yours, etc,
Glanmire, Cork.

Irish Independent:
* I was struck by the energy, enthusiasm and innovation that characterised the hosting of the Web Summit. For a brief period, people lifted their heads to the blue sky and light that comes with untrammelled possibility and ingenuity.
Also in this section
The positive side of secularism
Sinn Fein hypocrisy
Tackle ‘fat tax’ head on
Imaginations were ignited and people engaged with each other creatively. This little country has spent the past five years with its head in its hands as big finance rained anvils down upon the heads of the hard-pressed man and woman. We have done all that we can to clean up the mess but the anvils keep falling.
The Government says: “Just keep head-butting them away, all will be fine; we appreciate that these are crushing burdens that you did nothing to visit upon yourself, but the Chancellor in Germany and the great men in Europe say otherwise.”
These blinkered bureaucrats will lead us to our doom if we do not free ourselves from the bogus enchantments of Brussels.
Those who attended the Web Summit were encouraged to be inspired by failure; certainly not to be seduced, and ultimately defeated by it.
But our deluded Government is beguiled by empty promises.
It returns from summit after summit saying that it has achieved “peace in our time”, in our financial wars.
But now that the time has come for Europe to make good on its word, the goal-posts are moved again.
I would entreat those who brought the hope and positivity of the Web Summit to our shores, to get on to our Taoiseach and explain to him that we cannot continue to be the galley-slaves of Europe as we sink under a weight of toxic debt.
Mr Noonan told us that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart, even as he blithely unveiled a Budget that would take medical cards off pensioners, and meted out another dose of austerity.
Again, may I beseech one of those bright boys and girls, who ambled off the super-information highway for a short spell to be with us in Dublin, to get on to Enda and Company, and inform him that it is time to reboot and log off from this cycle of self-defeat.
We need new ideas, new light, and new thinking to come to bear on our fatal relationship between the banks, Brussels and the troika.
TG O’Brien
Killiney, Co Dublin
* It seems that everyone is worried about banks leaving Ireland, because it will reduce the competition. I think a lack of competition in banking will be good for Ireland.
It was the competition between banks that caused the ‘bubble”, which brought the loss of our sovereignty to the troika. If there were fewer banks, 10 to 15 years ago, they would not have had to make such bad lending decisions to get a piece of the action. They made foolish investments, which the State (all of us) ended up paying for.
Kevin Devitte
Westport, Co Mayo
* I see Tom Brazil (Letters, November 1) thinks I am overstepping the mark by asking that Warren Gatland answer fully the question – Why did he drop Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions squad for the third and final test against Australia?
What I am interested in is the rugby reasons why O’Driscoll was dropped. Was it because he was not big or strong enough for the way Gatland wanted to play?
Was it because Gatland felt he was injured and had him replaced? Or did Gatland feel that his Welsh players were better for the task than the relevant Irish players? He also replaced Jamie Heaslip at number 8 with another Welsh player.
So I ask again – when are the media going to insist that Gatland fully answer the main question – why was O’Driscoll dropped?
Liam Cooke
Dublin 17
* I agree with reader Tom Gilsenan about the world’s tallest man marrying a woman who barely reaches up to his waist (Letters, November 1).
How could he stoop so low?!
Fergus O’Reilly
Mealisheen, Leap, Co Cork
* As a second-level teacher I read with interest ‘How to make the most of your guidance counsellor’ (Irish Independent, October 23). Discussing “individual needs”, “one-to-one career appointments” and “returning for as many more appointments” as students feel they require, all play an important role in helping young people to navigate successfully through the secondary school system. It is exactly these services, however, that have been systematically stripped from our schools by a series of short-sighted Budget cuts.
Since September 2012, one-to-one counselling time has been cut by more than half and there has been a 21pc reduction in the overall provision of guidance services. The ability of schools to identify and help students with anxiety, stress or depression has been severely reduced.
Reducing the already meagre resources available to young people at a time when they most need them makes no educational or economic sense and will most likely prove far more costly in the long term.
Kevin P McCarthy
Killarney, Co Kerry
* James Gleeson reflects much of current public commentary when he complains that, in the recent Budget, we had the “old guard” making decisions and “we had the wealthy and upper crust, as ever, heaving and weaving the balance of power” (Letters, October 30).
Such public commentary on the actions of our most important decision-makers in Government seems to miss the important point that this country was bankrupted mainly by the decisions of its democratically elected government during the Celtic Tiger time. In addition to public policy, media and academia tolerated the recklessness of financial institutions and the property bubble at that time.
As a result, even after some very severe Budgets, the Government is still spending a billion or so a month more than it is collecting in taxes and is borrowing the balance from foreigners.
It was not just the “old guard” and “the wealthy and upper crust” who were to blame. They also seem to have had the uncritical support of the principal opinion formers right throughout the Celtic Tiger era.
So any new guard or any different upper crust will need to be held to account by media and academia if what James Gleeson calls “the middle class and vulnerable sectors” are not going to continue to suffer.
A Leavy
Sutton, Dublin 13
* Viewers to yesterday’s ‘The Week in Politics’, including myself, were gobsmacked to hear the Social Protection Minister impute that only accountants could understand the contents of a recent letter from Revenue regarding the property tax.
The message in it was clear to all. Joan Burton, we are not thick, and fully comprehend the issues raised in the vastly increasing number of letters emanating from the Revenue in latter times.
Furthermore, if her government colleague Pat Rabbitte has his way, duties hitherto performed by An Post on collection of TV Licence revenue will be in the domain of Revenue.
So, the message to Ms Burton is simply not to regard the so-called ordinary Joe as a thickhawk and to dismount from the collective high-horse sadly so endemic in many of her governmental colleagues in these austerity-driven times.
The electorate, at least, deserves that much respect.
Sean Guinan
Ferbane, Co Offaly
Irish Independent

Wine and leaves

November 4, 2013

4 November 2013 Wine and leaves

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they Pertwee and Fatso are sent on an initiative test they have to get to Malta on sixpence.
Quiet day relaxing post books , sweep leave and make wine
We watch Hancock its not too bad
No Scrabble today ipad collapses half way through


Gérard de Villiers
Gérard de Villiers, who has died aged 83, was a prolific spy novelist and created the bestselling SAS series, which became a French publishing phenomenon.

Image 1 of 2
Gerard de Villiers Photo: AFP/GETTY
6:39PM GMT 03 Nov 2013
A former journalist, whose mastery of political intrigue made him France’s most widely-read author, de Villiers claimed that his thrillers sold up to 150 million copies worldwide. His novels featured an aristocratic Austrian hero called Malko Linge, sometimes described as France’s answer to James Bond, and who works as a freelance agent for the CIA to finance the restoration of his family chateau.
The books followed the same formula — fast-moving plots, exotic settings and generous doses of graphic sex. Instantly recognisable by their lurid covers invariably featuring a femme fatale brandishing a handgun or assault rifle, they were ignored by the French literary establishment.
But outside literary circles, de Villiers was often congratulated on his geopolitical insights, and was known for cultivating a vast network of intelligence officials, diplomats and journalists who fed him information. His books were often ahead of the news and contained information about terrorist plots, espionage and wars before they appeared elsewhere.
“I never had any pretensions of being a literary writer,” de Villiers explained. “I consider myself a storyteller who writes to amuse people.”
He was also considered uncannily prophetic, outlining a plot to kill the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year before his actual assassination in 1981, and foreshadowing the arrest of the terror suspect Carlos the Jackal in 1994. Last year he published a novel about the threat of Islamist groups in post-revolutionary Libya that focused on jihadis in Benghazi and on the CIA’s role in fighting them, six months before the raid in which the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was killed.
Gérard de Villiers was born in Paris on December 8 1929 and during his early career as a journalist worked as a correspondent for France-Soir in the United States and reported on the Vietnam War.
Following the death of Ian Fleming in 1964, he was prompted by the success of the James Bond series to write his first novel, SAS in Istanbul (1965).
He went on to publish an average of four SAS novels a year, rattling each them out in a month flat on an elderly electric typewriter. The SAS tag derived from Linge’s codename “Son Altesse Sérénissime” (His Most Serene Highness).
Although de Villiers was often deprecated for his right-wing views and his overtly sexual portrayals of women, he remained unapologetic. “Some women are sexual objects in my books but others are beautiful, intelligent and brave,” he insisted.
The 200th book in the series — SAS: The Kremlin’s Revenge — was published last month. Before his death de Villiers appeared to be on the verge of realising his ambition to break into the English-language market, with reports he was working on a deal with the American publisher Random House.
Married four times, Gérard de Villiers was estranged from his wife, Christine. A son and a daughter survive him.
Gérard de Villiers, born December 8 1929, died October 31 2013


Judy Marsh is right about the Jane Austen portrait of course (Letters, 2 November). The only one we have from life is her sister Cassandra’s sketch, which shows a formidable person with dark curls cut short, intelligent eyes and a hint of a caustic smile. Perhaps she is thinking of how Pride and Prejudice was pronounced by a literary gentleman in London much too clever to have been written by a woman. Cassandra loved Jane and knew her better than anyone else. It seems absurd to use a watered-down copy of a copy when we have this genuine portrait.
Claire Tomalin
Richmond, Surrey
• Amusing as it is to be described by Nicholas de Jongh as having composed an obituary of Lou Reed in the language of “a homophobic 1950s judge” (Letters, November 2), I feel he has missed the point. Behind the use of a phrase such as “transgressive sex” and the reference to “electroconvulsive therapy intended to cure him of… homosexual instincts” lay the intention to reflect the prevailing moral climate during the period of Reed’s adolescence and subsequent emergence into public view. It was a climate he did much to change, as I hoped the obituary would make clear – though not, regrettably, to Mr de Jongh.
Richard Williams
East Twickenham, Middlesex
• I was disgusted by the Newsnight Halloween stunt (Report, 2 November). None of the zombies was wearing a poppy.
Chris Parkins
Stanmore, Middlesex
• So Ed Davey is going to shine a light on energy companies (Report, 1 November). That’ll cost him.
Gwyneth Pendry
Holyhead, Anglesey

It would be hard to find a pithier summation of the GM lobby’s misinformation and self-righteousness than the letter from Professor Dale Sanders on golden rice (29 October). There is currently no scientific or socioeconomic evidence on the practical efficacy of golden rice because it has not yet been released, for reasons that have almost nothing to do with disruptions of field trials in the Philippines. Free licences for it are indeed available for small-scale farmers, but not for anyone else – how the money will flow with golden rice and other GM golden geese is currently anybody’s guess.
And Professor Sanders’ sarcasm at the suggestion that the target populations might get their vitamin A from green vegetables speaks volumes.
He may be happy with a world in which many are too poor to eat any thing but rice, but nobody else should be.
Chris Smaje
Land Workers’ Alliance
• Has Professor Sanders ever heard of brown rice? Over 40 years ago, in parts of the Philippines, people were dying of beriberi. Their basic diet was white rice, whereas in other areas, where brown rice was still consumed, this problem did not exist. Free licences for golden rice may be available. It is still probably a covert entry into a very lucrative market supplying GM seeds. It has taken a long time to get poor farmers in certain parts of the world Fair Trade conditions. They do not need a future of premium-priced GM seed. It is insanity to strip natural foods of nutrients and then put them back artificially.
Hazel Downey
Ware, Hertfordshire

Polly Toynbee (Welfare dependency isn’t the problem. Pitiful pay is, 1 November) is undoubtedly right to point to widespread passivity against the background of “pitiful pay” for many and eroding real wages for many more. Some of the most drastic restrictions on trade union activity in the western world are part of the explanation. But when I scoured the pages of the same edition of the Guardian, I could not find a single mention of the 31 October strike by tens of thousands of members of three unions – Unison, Unite and the UCU – taking co-ordinated action for the first time across Britain’s universities over the issue of endemically low pay.
For the majority of direct employees the real value of pay has shrunk by nearly 15% in the past five years, while thousands in the higher education sector work on hourly rates well below the current standards for the “living wage”, not to mention thousands more on outsourced contracts on the £6.31 an hour national minimum. And as in the FTSE boardrooms, the salaries of university chancellors and other executives continues to balloon, with more than half now on remuneration packages exceeding £250,000 a year. The fact that thousands were and remain prepared to take a stand over pay in a sector hardly renowned for union militancy surely warranted coverage in Britain’s foremost liberal daily.
George Binette
Unison, Camden branch secretary
• Polly is right on one thing in particular: we do need to learn the real lessons of Grangemouth. We have ruthless employers prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods of their entire workforce to maximise their already obscene profits, and we have politicians who will support them in doing so all the way to the bank. In such a situation, our union leaders need to do a lot better than capitulate under such intense media and political pressure. They need to lead from the front and call upon their members nationally to stand up in solidarity with their targeted colleagues, and they need to go beyond the rhetoric of resistance and actually resist. In the specific case of Grangemouth, they should have learnt the lessons of the Upper Clyde shipbuilders (UCS) and occupied the plant against closure and put real political pressure on the SNP, as the independence referendum looms closer, to do the genuinely popular thing and nationalise the plant. The lesson for the union movement is simple: when the going gets tough, we have to get tougher.
Mark Campbell
UCU national executive committee, London Metropolitan University
• Polly Toynbee points out that the Treasury spends billions subsidising workers paid less than a living wage. A similar situation existed in southern England after the Napoleonic wars, when agricultural workers received extra money from poor rates to supplement inadequate wages. When the burden of rates was deemed too onerous, the system was replaced by the New Poor Law. Instead of subsidy, the poor were threatened with incarceration in the workhouse, where conditions were meant to be worse than for those living outside. This least-eligibility principle is echoed by Iain Duncan Smith’s mantra that the universal credit should ensure that benefits are always less than wages. Should we be worried that, rather than consider laws to enforce the living wage, IDS will reinvent the workhouse?
Malcolm Thick
Didcot, Oxfordshire
• “I’ll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man (sic) a living wage” – so sang Billy Bragg in Between the Wars in 1985. Yet here we are, a generation later in 2013, with a government robustly denying anything approaching what should be a fundamental right. Part of the problem, though, especially in the light of zero-hours beck-and-call-contracts, part-time work and chronic underemployment, is expressing the living wage as an hourly rate. The weekly and annual figures of £342 and £17,784 or £298 and £15,496 for London and elsewhere respectively give a clearer picture of the incomes needed to maintain a decent standard of living, while at the same time allowing an easier comparison with those nearer the top on living-it-up salaries whose incomes may be expressed in multiples of the living wage.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Knowing our neighbours is vital, no matter what your age, where you live or your personal circumstances – as, pleasingly, Guardian writers have just discovered (How well do you know your neighbours?, G2, 31 October). Ten years ago I founded Australia’s annual celebration of community, Neighbour Day, after an elderly woman was discovered dead in her home two years after she had died. The circumstances were eerily similar to that of Joyce Vincent of north London, who became the subject of the film Dreams of a Life. On the last Sunday in March every year, Australians get together for everything from a cup of tea and slice of cake, to a BBQ, street party or fair to celebrate each other and why where they choose to call home is such a great place to live.
There’s no doubt that, around the world, our suburbs and towns have changed dramatically in the past 40 years. Both parents need to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table; our careers and family responsibilities, such as children’s sport, keep us away from home longer and there is a creeping paranoia to make our homes maximum security fortresses. What hasn’t changed is that we still have neighbours and whether we choose to interact, or not, we are part of a community. As Guardian staff discovered, knowing the people next door and across the street promotes social inclusion, builds social capital and creates places which are safe, connected and sustainable. Communities are only as strong as the people who live in them, which has been proven yet again this week by the massive storms which battered the UK and the bushfires which have destroyed over 200 homes in Australia.
Andrew Heslop
Founder, Neighbour Day, Sydney, Australia

Dear Prime Minister,
We have joined together as an international coalition of free speech, media freedom and human rights organisations because we believe that the United Kingdom government’s response to the revelations of mass surveillance of digital communications is eroding fundamental human rights in the country. The government’s response has been to condemn, rather than celebrate, investigative journalism, which plays a crucial role in a healthy democratic society.
We are alarmed at the way in which the UK government has reacted, using national security legislation against those who have helped bring this public interest information to global attention. We are concerned about:
• The use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain the Brazilian media worker, David Miranda on 18 August 2013 at London Heathrow Airport. Miranda was carrying journalistic material on behalf of the UK’s Guardian newspaper and is the partner of the journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of mass surveillance of digital communications by the UK and USA
• The sustained pressure against the UK’s Guardian newspaper for reporting the disclosures of whistleblower, Edward Snowden, including sending officials to force the Guardian to destroy hard drives allegedly containing information from Snowden
• Your call on 16 October 2013 for a House of Commons Select Committee to review whether the Guardian has damaged national security by publishing material provided by Edward Snowden, and a subsequent announcement that the review will be conducted by the Home Affairs Select Committee as part of their inquiry into anti-terrorism.
We believe these actions clearly violate the right to freedom of expression, which is protected under British, European and international law. Under such laws, the right to freedom of expression includes the protection of both journalists, and those that assist them in the course of their vital work.
The right to freedom of expression and media freedom enable the free flow of information in order for the public to hold their governments to account. While the protection of national security can be a legitimate ground for restricting the right under international law, such restrictions are narrowly defined. Governments must show that a restriction is necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose and must be proportionate to the aim pursued. The presumption in favour of freedom of expression requires governments to demonstrate that the expression will actually harm national security; it is not sufficient to simply say that it will.
National security should never be used to justify preventing disclosures of illegalities or wrongdoing, no matter how embarrassing such disclosures may be to the UK or other governments. In the case of Snowden and the Guardian, the disclosures have facilitated a much-needed public debate about mass surveillance in a democracy, and exposed the possible violation of the fundamental human rights of millions of people worldwide. As such, no liability should be incurred as the benefit to the public outweighs the demonstrable harm to national security.
We also believe that this use of national security will have dangerous consequences for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the UK and beyond, creating a hostile and intimidating environment and discouraging those who could reveal uncomfortable truths and hold those in power to account. We are concerned that this will further create negative consequences for the reputation of the UK as an advocate for the protection and realisation of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom worldwide. States with little regard for the human rights of their people will seek to use the UK’s example to legitimise their own repressive practices.
The UK has a strong history of democracy, and while targeted surveillance may play an important role in protecting national security, in doing so it should not erode the very values it seeks to protect. We call on you to honour the UK’s international obligations to defend and protect the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, and to end the UK government’s pressure on the Guardian and those who assist them.
Yours Sincerely,
Gergana Jouleva, Access to Information Programme, Bulgaria
Mircea Toma, ActiveWatch, Romania
Ahmad Quraishi, Afghanistan Journalists Center
Remzi Lani, Albanian Media Institute
Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19, international
Zuliana Lainez, Asociacion Nacional de Periodistas del Peru (ANP)
Khaled Amami, Association of Citizenship and Digital Culture (ACCUN), Tunisia
Jasna Milanovic, Association of Independent Electronic Media, Serbia
Hans de Zwart, Bits for Freedom, Netherlands
Guilherme Alpendre, Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Yuri Dzhibladze, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia
Ramana Sorn, Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Laura Tribe, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Olexandra Matviichuk, Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
Ioana Avadani, Center for Independent Journalism, Romania
Masjaliza Hamzah, Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Paul Dawnson Formaran, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippines
Dr Leila Alieva, Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
Edison Lanza, Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública (CAinfo), Uruguay
Cristian Horchert, Chaos Computer Club, Germany
Kate Watters, Crude Accountability, USA
Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation, international
Jo Glanville, English PEN
Shiva Gaunle, Federation of Nepali Journalists
Karim Lahidji, FIDH / International Federation for Human Rights
Andres D’Alessandro, Foro de Periodismo Argentino, Argentina
Chiranuch Jiew, Foundation for Community Educational Media (Prachatai), Thailand
Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation, USA
Ayushjav Tumurbaatar, Globe International Center, Mongolia
Eka Popkhadze, GYLA, Georgia
Artus Sakunts, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Armenia
Avetik Ishkhanyan, Helsinki Committee of Armenia
Danuta Przywara, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
Eldar Zeynalov, Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
Rasul Jafarov, Human Rights Club, Azerbaijan
Robert Ssempala, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda
Sanar Yurdatapan, Initiative for Freedom of Expression, Turkey
Emin Huseynov, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
Mayumi Ortecho, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Latin America
Elizabeth Ballantine, Inter American Press Association
Ann-Sofie Nyman, International Partnership for Human Rights, Belgium
Alison Bethel McKenzie, International Press Institute
Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Mariya Yasenovska, Kharkiv Regional Foundation ‘Public Alternative’, Ukraine
Alban Muriqi, Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims
Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty, UK
Prof. Amal Jamal, Media Center for Arab Palestinians, Israel
Meri Bekeshova, Media Workers’ Trade Union of Kyrgyz Republic
Nani Jansen, Media Legal Defence Initiative, UK
Soe Myint, Mizzima, Myanmar
Ludmilla Alexeeva, Moscow Helsinki Group
Omar Faruk Osman, National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Andre Loconte, Net Users’ Rights Protection Association (NURPA), Belgium
Gunnar M. Ekelove-Slydal, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Alberto Cerda, ONG Derechos Digitales, Chile
Makereta Komai, Pacific Islands News Association
Owais Aslam Ali, Pakistan Press Foundation
Mousa Rimawi, Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Larry Siems, PEN American Center
Tasleem Thawar, PEN Canada
Laura McVeigh and Anders Heger, PEN International
Gus Hosein, Privacy International
Natalia Taubina, Public Verdict, Russia
Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders, international
Oleksandra Sverdlova, No Borders Project, Social Action Center, Ukraine
Gayathry Venkiteswaran, Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Nalini Elumalai, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Alison Meston, WAN-IFRA, international
Maria Pia Matta Cerna, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
Arthur Gwagwa, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum


I attended an outpatient clinic at one of the large London hospitals. I arrived 10 minutes before the appointment time and was depressed to see about 40 people already waiting.
After about 10 minutes I was called in by a nurse who asked me various questions, some of which were answered by the referral letter she had on her clipboard and others of which seemed irrelevant to my condition. She then told me to go out and wait for the doctor to call me. He called me four and a quarter hours later.
Coincidentally we were having supper that evening with a doctor friend who works at the hospital. When I told him of my experience he grinned and said that, if the Government plays games with the hospital over waiting times, the hospital reciprocates. He said my waiting time will have been recorded as 10 minutes, as that’s how long I waited before seeing the nurse. The fact that I waited another four and a quarter hours before seeing the doctor was irrelevant (“Revealed, how targets make the A&E crisis far worse”, 31 October).
I asked him if all outpatient clinics at the hospital had a nurse whose role was to call people in and tick them off in order to fix their waiting time and he said yes, as it enabled the hospital to achieve its waiting time target.
Martin Richards
London SW12
Stick to the  ethics of the  Co-op bank
Over the past two decades many charities and campaigning groups have moved their accounts to the Co-operative Bank and urged others to do so. A major reason for this was the bank’s ethical policy – which sets out clearly and uniquely how monies will and will not be invested.
As customers, we call those involved in setting out the bank’s future to do their utmost to set in stone the continuance of the Co-operative Bank ethical policy and the underlying commitments to customer consultation, well-resourced implementation, third-party independent audit and warts-and-all reporting. The establishment of these commitments in the Articles of Association of a new entity would provide serious reassurance that the Co-operative Bank can continue to be a world leader in ethical investment.
Jenny Ricks
Head of Campaigns, Action Aid
Mary Shephard
General Manager, Animal Aid
Mark Farmaner
Director, Burma Campaign UK
Tim Hunt
Director, Ethical Consumer
Craig Bennett
Director of Policy and Campaigns, Friends of the Earth
John Sauven
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
Sally Copley
 Head of UK Campaigns, Oxfam
Phoebe Cullingworth
Ents Officer, People & Planet
Keith Tyrell
Director, Pesticide Action Network
Catherine Haworth
Chief Executive Officer, ShareAction
Jeanette Longfield
 Co-ordinator, Sustain
Paul Monaghan
 Director, Up the Ethics
John Hilary
Executive Director, War On Want
Nick Dearden
Director, World Development Movement
Food banks see depth of need
Your recent pieces giving details of vastly increasing numbers of people having recourse to food banks, and highlighting the work of the excellent Trussell Trust, gave a considerable underestimate of the number of people in need.
There are many food banks operating independently, including the one in my home town, which has within it areas of the worst deprivation in the country, and many other organisations working in this area of need.
Additionally, there is a huge network of soup kitchens, most of which have experienced not only an increased demand, but a changing one. For the past 20 years the kitchen with which I am involved had an attendance of an average of 35, mainly single men; this has now risen to an average of 95 and sadly includes families.
It has become apparent that a significant proportion of the increased need is directly attributable to the imposition of draconian benefit sanctions; for example, being late for an interview means two weeks of benefit being halved.
One wonders too what effect the operation of this draconian system has on the front-line workers in offices paying benefits who are prevented from using any professional discretion.
Diane Parker
War’s forgotten casualties
On Remembrance Day, please spare a thought for all the many munitions workers, mostly young women, who were killed and injured by their work producing munitions. They are just as  much casualties of war as front-line troops.
Many of these forgotten casualties of war were not only killed and injured by accidents and explosions in munitions factories but by their exposure to very toxic chemicals, with many dying of toxic liver overload and conditions such as aplastic anaemia which can be precursor conditions to cancers. There are lists with names and addresses of some of these casualties now posted on the internet.
The legacy of the exposure to toxic chemicals can be passed in the form of cell mutations to future generations.
Edward Priestley
Brighouse, West Yorkshire
HS2 will be  no good to us
I live about a third of the way from Birmingham to London and am interested to know what use HS2 will be to the many travellers like me who would have to travel nearly 40 miles either by road or current rail north-west into Birmingham in order to access the line. This would be pointless and both time- and energy-consuming.
Assuming that the majority of rail users travelling between Birmingham and London will use HS2, what will become of the current regular services on the existing track? It would appear inevitable that with loss of revenue on these services they will be reduced, leaving those of us not in the major conurbations much worse off.
Graham Ruff
Lutterworth, Leicestershire
We are being told much about the ability of HS2 to reduce travelling times and to increase capacity for passengers. But I have seen nothing about its use as a means of transporting goods. The high-speed rail through the tunnel between Folkestone and Calais takes a substantial amount of goods traffic, particularly at night.
Surely there should be an opportunity to use HS2 to carry a substantial proportion of goods, particularly at night, between the North, the Midlands and London rather than have it clogging up the roads.
AB Crews
Beckenham, Kent
Peter Kampman  (letter, 2 November) writes from Edinburgh: ”I have yet to read about [HS2’s] connectivity to Europe”. I can advise him not to hold his breath. Seven years after Eurostar services started from St Pancras, the East Coast train company website still tells us Paris is “not a valid destination”. Eurostar and HS2 are for Londoners. The rest of the country can go hang.
Chris Bond
Newcastle upon Tyne
Etiquette for a lover’s letter
Keith Flett (letter, 2 November) says he is reassured by Rebekah Brooks choosing to communicate with Andy Coulson, during their affair, by sending a letter. It would, perhaps, have been more reassuring to Andy Coulson if the letter had been handwritten and not typed and saved on a computer.
Letters from lovers, close friends and family should be hand-written and personal. I have a large box full of hand-written letters from my late husband which is one of my most valued possessions. I wonder if Andy Coulson kept this particular letter from Rebekah Brooks, or was it shredded instantly?
Gillian Munrow
Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Written out  of history
I look forward to making a judgement on your new front cover on Thursday, as someone who bought the original Watford-printed issue and has stuck with the paper since.
I am puzzled, however, that you  mention in your Letter from the Editor (2 November) three of the founders of The Independent, but omit that giant of Fleet Street, Brett Straub. Has he done something to upset you, or was his role in the Leveson Report just one PR stunt too many?
Colin Standfield
London W7
Nothing cancels Guantanamo
Your paean for President Obama (leading article, 2 November) is misjudged. Whatever good he does, you must never forget the abomination that is Guantanamo Bay. Innocent men have been “disappeared”.
 Whatever comment you may make on behalf of the USA or its President, you must never end  without qualifying it by mentioning Guantanamo Bay. To do otherwise is to be complicit in this crime.
Finlay Fraser
Cottingham, East Yorkshire
Brand’s revolt
Howard Jacobson (2 November) has completely missed the point about the Paxman-Brand encounter. Democracy is meaningless when, once in power, all our politicians are the same, whatever their previous rhetoric. Corporate greed is ever channelling wealth into the hands of the very few and creating a disenfranchised generation – who will revolt.
Hove, East Sussex


The professional bodies should not only be providing confidential support for whistleblowers, but also the tools and training to investigate complaints
Sir, Sir Richard Thompson’s letter (Nov 2), as president of the Royal College of Physicians, will be welcomed by those with experience of NHS procedures with patients’ complaints producing less than satisfactory results. However, his contention that “concerns” is a better term than “complaints” is, I believe, misplaced. While patients’ concerns should indeed be dealt with at the lowest level for resolution, particularly after handovers of shifts, complaints can result from concerns which have not been resolved, even if elevated to the levels Sir Richard suggests.
What the NHS lacks is the ability to investigate complaints properly. There appears to be no national regulations or guidance for investigations, and those conducting them are too often ill-suited and unprepared for the task. The professional bodies should not only be providing confidential support for whistleblowers who fail to get satisfaction, but also the tools and training to get to the bottom of complaints by patients and their advocates.
Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berks

Sir, As a manager in a GP practice I have to deal with complaints about clinicians (“Quiz all hospital users, urges leading doctor”, Nov 2). This gives me a perspective overlooked by those who portray the NHS as a wasteland of care.
The current complaints process, which is onerous to administer, is described as defensive and delaying. NHS complaints span a huge range, from “I didn’t like the nurse’s attitude” to “I think your doctor was to blame for my husband’s death”.
Sadly, the preferred public perception in any complaint is that the patient is entirely right and clinician is entirely wrong. This is rarely the case and is, in my opinion, the root cause of the defensiveness of defendants. Doctors are deeply hurt when people complain about them. Most patients are astonished when I tell them this.
If there is to be a change in the NHS Complaints Proceedure, it must include at an early stage a statement from both sides answering the following question: “To what extent, if any, did the attitude or actions of the patient or their relatives diminish the ability of clinicians to carry out their duties to the best of their ability?”
Aggrieved and emotional relatives are rarely reliable witnesses. Exaggeration and comments taken out of context are routine. And don’t get me started on the phrase “I have been on the internet and it says …..”
Philip Horsfield
Chester-le-Street, Co Durham
Sir, I share Sir Richard Thompson’s fears about the NHS’s handling of complaints, despite repeated reassurances that such matters are being taken seriously.
My attempts at raising concerns about my own and my family’s care in public and private healthcare are nearly always met with a mixture of defensiveness, hostility, indifference, and economy with the truth.
Few people wish to spend weeks going through their own or their loved ones’ notes, as I have had to do, to prove that they were not treated safely or effectively. Yet this appears essential in getting a proper investigation, acknowledgment of failings, and measures to prevent recurrence.
I hope Sir Richard’s suggestions will be swiftly implemented, so that patients may be returned to their rightful place at the centre of care.
Alison Blenkinsop
Retired midwife, Aldershot, Hants

The Prawer Bill that enables the internal deportation of Bedouin from their villages contravenes international human rights law
Sir, We write as Jews, appalled by the “Prawer Bill”, now before Israel’s parliament, which will enable the internal deportation of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin from their villages into designated townships.
The Bedouin are Israeli citizens. They have been living in the Negev region for generations, from long before Israel existed. Their villages will be demolished and their lands given for new, racially exclusive, Jewish settlements and farms.
The Jewish National Fund will take control of the land as the owners are evicted. Its “Blueprint Negev” aims to move 250,000 Jewish residents into the area. Expansionist settlers call it “the next frontier”. One village, Al Arakib, has already been demolished over 50 times, and rebuilt in dogged resistance.
Many Jews are disgusted by what Israel is doing to its own citizens. The European Parliament and UN say the Prawer Bill contravenes international human rights law. In Israel it has been met with strikes and demonstrations.
We call on Israel’s Government to abandon this cruelty and injustice against defenceless, law-abiding citizens. We call on the British Government to take up the Bedouin case with Israel and to demand that Israel complies with international human rights law.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, QC; Professor David Epstein; Morris Farhi; Dr Julian Huppert, MP; Professor Francesca Klug; Professor Sir Harry Kroto; Peter Kosminsky; Mike Leigh; Miriam Margolyes; Professor Susie Orbach; Professor Laurence Pearl; Michael Rosen; Professor Jonathan Rosenhead; Alexei Sayle; Dame Janet Suzman; Zoë Wanamaker

“Forum shopping” also goes on with insolvency: the period of bankruptcy is longer in some jurisdictions than in England and Wales
Sir, Aspiring Italian divorcees (Report, Oct 31) are not the only group to seek to exploit our justice system. “Forum shopping” also goes on with insolvency. The period of bankruptcy is longer in some jurisdictions, such as Germany and Ireland, than in England and Wales. This attracts some debtors to claim that their centre of main interests (COMI, the relevant jurisdictional threshold) is in the UK.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this because the motive in acquiring an English COMI does not invalidate the resulting bankruptcy process, provided the English COMI is a genuine one. Nevertheless, the potential for abuse does mean that the English courts scrutinise claims from European nationals to have acquired an England COMI with considerable care.
His Honour Judge David Hodge, QC
Specialist Chancery Judge
Manchester Civil Justice Centre

While some people believe that statue to Mary Seacole would be a disgrace, others see no competition between her and Florence Nightingale
Sir, Further to Richard Morrison’s piece on Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole (“Nursing our rival heroines”, Times2, Nov 1), Seacole wasn’t a nurse, never made any contribution to the development of public health in this country, and never worked in a British hospital. Nightingale founded professional nursing, reformed the Army Medical Services, pioneered the use of statistics and the visual presentation of health data — and much more.
A statue to Mary Seacole in the grounds of the hospital most closely associated with Florence Nightingale would be nothing less than a national disgrace.
Mark Bostridge
London NW3

Sir, Can I assure your readers that the trustees of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal see no competition between Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale.
Nightingale created the modern nursing profession for everyone and brought her organisational and campaigning genius to the service of our forces; Seacole was a battlefield nurse who used her skills, care and compassion to treat our troops in the Crimea and the Caribbean. Both deserve celebration and are part of our world history.
Lord Soley of Hammersmith
Chairman of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal
House of Lords

Argentine claims that the UK is increasing its military presence in the Falklands are false: this is the minimum necessary to defend the Islands
Sir, The Argentine Ambassador’s suggestions (letter, Oct 31) that the UK is militarising the South Atlantic and that Argentina would like to ­
co-operate on issues of mutual interest on the Falklands do not stand up to scrutiny.
Argentine claims that we are increasing our military presence in the Falklands are false. UK forces are deployed to defend the freedom of the Falkland Islanders following the Argentine invasion of 1982. The numbers are not increasing. They represent the minimum necessary to defend the Islands.
Ambassador Castro makes a plea for peaceful dialogue, yet her Government refuses to acknowledge the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future. Earlier this year, 99.8 per cent of Falkland Islanders voted to retain their status as a British Overseas Territory.
Although we and the Falkland Islands Government wish for a friendly relationship with Argentina, over the past decade Argentina has refused to discuss issues of mutual ­co-operation, including on flights and fisheries. Argentine calls for a dialogue ring hollow when their Foreign Minister refuses an invitation to meet the Foreign Secretary and representatives of the Falkland Islands Government, as happened in February this year.
However, if the Argentine Government is genuinely keen to promote air links between the continent and the Islands as Ambassador Castro says, reconsidering its ban on Falklands-bound charter flights through its airspace would be a welcome indication of this change of heart.
Andrew Rosindell, MP
Secretary of the Falklands All-Party Parliamentary Group

Sir, The Falkland Islands Government wishes to clarify that we are open to a neighbourly relationship with Argentina, and in recent times have extended several invitations to the Government of Argentina to enter into discussions on matters of mutual interest, such as co-operation in the fishing industry and hydrocarbons exploration. These invitations have, unfortunately, gone unanswered.
Regarding economic activity with the wider South American continent, we are pleased to report healthy working relationships with several countries in the Southern Cone and hope that these continue to develop.
Sukey Cameron
Representative, Falkland Islands Government

In the view of one reader at least, the time has come to abandon the editorial practice of replacing letters in swearwords with asterisks
Sir, The use of asterisks for “naughty” words is ridiculous. These can be heard on the radio and TV and read in books. And asterisks on the printed page automatically draw the readers attention to the word in question.
C. Brougham
London NW1


SIR – Madhur Jaffrey says that parents must teach their children to cook. But since both parents these days are often working to pay the mortgage, this might be a more suitable role for grandparents.
My 13-year old grandson spent some time with us this summer and took up my offer of cookery lessons. He chose some of his favourites and I added some of my basic staples.
Jars and tins were forbidden, with the exception of tinned tomatoes and pulses, and we planned the menus, shopped, prepared and cooked together. He even cooked a paella for our friends with his grandfather on the barbecue.
He started a recipe book of his own and has since cooked for his parents and his class at school. We had fun together and his parents are delighted.
Chris Beardshaw
Wickham, Hampshire

SIR – For almost two generations, children have not been taught no cookery at school. Madhur Jaffrey’s suggestion is not possible when many of the parents in question are themselves unable to cook.
Freda Schaffer
Highcliffe, Dorset
SIR – I agree with Madhur Jaffrey but it does depend on parents’ ability. Early in my education I had the choice between Latin or domestic science. I chose the former because I could learn cooking from my mother.
Television soaps are the way to spread the word about healthy eating and cooking at home. No one in them seems to cook – instead they go to the café or pub and spend money. Storylines in the past have dealt with a variety of public messages, so why not buying and cooking food?
Erica Lund
Moira, Co. Down

SIR – The purpose of the BBC Trust is to “set new standards of openness and transparency and do more to serve all audiences”.
Given the BBC’s clear Left-wing bias, the Trust is failing to achieve this. The licence fee should be scrapped and the BBC should earn its money through advertising. That would level the playing field for all broadcasters.
Lesley Hovington
SIR – The BBC’s tendency to make up its mind on certain issues and then cut off all debate is beginning to antagonise more and more sections of licence-fee payers.
Related Articles
How children with busy parents can learn to cook
03 Nov 2013
The idea of a public broadcaster is a fine one, but the BBC no longer broadcasts on behalf of the public – it broadcasts at the public.
Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex
SIR – The gulf in understanding between the BBC and the rest of the world over its biased news coverage is deeper than we on the outside can comprehend.
Whereas those with open minds can allow for diverse opinions, the BBC perceives only “truth” and “lies”. It is the self-appointed arbiter of the truth – everything else is lies and Right-wing propaganda (never Left-wing propaganda).
David Gilchrist
Johnstone, Renfrewshire
SIR – When quizzed by MPs on the culture, media and sport committee about Left-wing bias, Tony Hall, the BBC’s new Director General, said that the BBC was “bound” to get some things wrong. But were he to check, Lord Hall would discover that, over its 90 years of broadcasting, the BBC has never made an error of impartiality.
In all matters of bias and balance, complaints can be directed to nobody but the BBC itself. By “marking its own homework”, the BBC finds there has never once been a case to answer, and judges that its output has never wavered from being “fair, balanced and impartial”.
Martin Burgess
Beckenham, Kent
SIR – Although Auntie is not without fault, she is not the pariah described by Grant Shapps.
Many of the scandals involving Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and others occurred on the watches of managers now long gone.
I have found the old dear to be biased against the government of the day throughout my adult life. If you tread a middle road this is inevitable. It means she is doing her job and annoying all her relatives with equal aplomb.
Long may she continue.
Charlie Bloom
SIR – In today’s digital, multi-media age, the days of the licence-fee funded BBC may be numbered. However, from natural history to religious programming, classical music to extensive coverage of royal events, how much of the BBC’s current output would survive as free-to-air broadcasting without a licence fee, is questionable.
We may complain about the BBC, often justifiably, but I think we will miss it when it’s gone.
William Cook
Blandford Forum, Dorset
SIR – It is some 17 years since I discontinued my subscription to the TV licence. Having witnessed the BBC’s largesse since, I’m delighted to know I haven’t been paying towards it. Jonathan Ross was paid £16 million, staff kept their London weighting when they moved to Salford, Television Centre was sold for too little (so soon after millions were spent on it); £300,000 was handed over as “compensation for forgoing a promotion”, and a large severance package went to someone who found another job and then resigned.
Geoff Dees
Alford, Lincolnshire
SIR – If Grant Shapps really thinks £145.50 per year is “quite a lot to pay” for the remarkable range of channels, stations and other services (such as the Proms) provided by the BBC, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
David Woodhead
Leatherhead, Surrey
Great Central Railway proposal beats HS2
SIR – Andrew Gilligan’s persuasive argument for the resurrection of the Great Central line to the Midlands and North at modest cost frankly demolishes the HS2 case for additional rail capacity.
As a student in the Sixties, I commuted daily on the Great Central, and its closure in 1969 was a disgrace. Rail experts concede today that at least a third of Dr Beeching’s cuts were unjustified.
David Clegg
Shrewsbury, Shropshire
SIR – Reopening the Great Central Railway would enable completion very much sooner than 2026. Thirteen years is too long to wait to tackle the congestion problem.
Owen Edis
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire
SIR – Unlike HS2, the Great Central Railway would connect with HS1 and the rest of Europe.
The plan to revive it has been devised by people who understand railways. It is not just a vanity project, which HS2 in its present form clearly is.
Peter Coton
Pitsea, Essex
SIR – A mixed-use railway such as the West Coast Main Line cannot run to its full theoretical capacity, whereas HS2, to be used only by high-speed trains, can. A newly built railway can also be designed for longer trains than the current network could conceivably accommodate, and thus carry many more passengers on each train than a conventional solution.
The double-track line from Rugby to Birmingham carries a mix of expresses, stopping trains and freight trains. Even if a re-opened Great Central were to carry trains to Rugby, they could not reach Birmingham unless this stretch were to be quadrupled, or local and freight services reduced.
William Barter
Towcester, Northamptonshire
SIR – In his consideration of the proposal by Kelvin Hopkins, the Labour MP, to reopen the Great Central Railway, Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, might wish to consider the amount of compensation due to Tony and Cherie Blair, whose country home at Wotton lies within a few hundred yards of the line.
Chris Pullin
Ashendon, Buckinghamshire
Narrow Home defeat
SIR – Alec Douglas-Home should have won the 1964 general election. Unfortunately, two of the most influential Conservatives, Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell, disagreed with the method by which Sir Alec had been chosen to succeed Harold Macmillan and refused to serve in his government. So they were not at the forefront of his election bid. Meanwhile, the BBC ran a vicious campaign satirising Sir Alec’s appearance and style of speech.
Keith Ferris
Coxheath, Kent
SIR – Dr Martin Smith’s letter setting out the deficiencies of former prime ministers and defending Sir Alec Douglas-Home omitted Sir John Major and the free movement of labour within the EU – one of the biggest own goals in our history.
Colin Laverick
London WC2
Scottish poppies
SIR – Visiting my youngest son and his family in Scotland last weekend, I saw a box of poppies in a local garage with the legend “Buy a poppy for Scottish poppy day”. Has Mr Salmond pulled off another trick?
J S Hayhoe
Shenstone, Staffordshire
Falklands command
SIR – Much as I admire Lord Bramall, he was not “in command of British Forces during the Falklands conflict”.
The campaign was commanded by Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse from his headquarters at Northwood.
As Chief of General Staff, General Bramall was responsible for providing supporting army assets such as 22 SAS, 5 Brigade and other units such as artillery.
While his support was hugely welcome and appreciated, at no time was he part of the operational command.
Captain Michael Clapp RN (retd)
Broadhempston, Devon
The hull story
SIR – The French had copper-bottomed ships at Trafalgar as well as the British. They used 310 tons of copper sheets and nails.
The hulls of the French ships were not built of Corsican pine; the masts and spars may have been, although Scots pine and spruce from the Baltic was the norm.
A French hull was built of 90 per cent oak. The rest would have been elm and some beech.
They were relatively lightly built above the waterline, so could not stand hard pounding in battle or severe weather, as the British ships could.
R T Harrison
Alnwick, Northumberland
Sir Richard’s a foolish Virgin on Europe
SIR – Sir Richard Branson trots out the old canard that if we were to leave the EU this country would suddenly “have to start paying taxes for exporting goods into Europe”. Given that the EU sells so much more to us than we sell to the EU, that seems an unlikely prospect. Would Sir Richard treat his best customer in such a cavalier fashion?
Sir Richard also ignores the fact that the rules of the World Trade Organisation effectively prevent such a course of action. Sir Richard avers that “we’ve already made up our mind to be part of Europe”, to which anyone under the age of 56 might reasonably retort that they’ve never been asked.
Christopher Gill
Bridgnorth, Shropshire
SIR – Richard Branson’s love for the EU evidently blinds him to the harsh realities of belonging to this anti-democratic and seriously mismanaged organisation.
His opposition to a referendum ignores what the EU has become since 1975, and those European countries that are thriving outside the EU.
David Rammell
Lymington, Hampshire
SIR – Since all EU countries that host immigrants complain about benefit tourism to some degree, they should deal with it.
Set benefits for, say, Bulgarian citizens in Germany at Bulgarian levels and recover the cost from the EU. The country of origin would lose that amount from its EU funding. The same would apply to the French in Britain or the British in Spain.
Bill Wilson
Ushering out noise
SIR – At the cinema recently the advertisements were so loud that everyone around us had their fingers in their ears. I found an usherette in the foyer and explained the problem. She went at once into the projection room and the volume level was immediately reduced. We then went on to enjoy the film.
Patricia Carter
Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire
Unalloyed joy
SIR – Not only are 1p and 2p coins magnetic, but also 5p and possibly some 10p coins. They are not made of cheap alloys, which would not be magnetic, but of steel, plated with copper (1 and 2p coins) and nickel (5p). My door key, which is magnetised, comes out of my pocket with a 5p coin attached.
Eric Crook
Writtle, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The issue of apprentices facing exorbitant registration fees as a result of the recent Budget (Paul Gorey, October 31st) is all too familiar to the Technical, Engineering & Electrical Union, which successfully challenged the Department of Education over the very same issue in 2004.
The attempt by the Department of Education to impose a similar charge met with a nationwide apprentices’ protest and a High Court challenge before an agreement was reached. Now in 2013, workers once more appear to be the forgotten group in terms of the Government’s considerations. Eamon Devoy, general secretary of the TEEU, said: “Apprentices are employees not students and the proposed imposition of this stealth tax against young people who are working for less than the minimum wage, in many instances, flies in the face of the Government statement that youth employment is one of their key strategies”.
As mentioned the TEEU reached an agreement with the Department of Education on this matter in 2004 and would still expect that such an agreement would be “honoured”. With that in mind one would have to ask has the Minister and his Department lost site of this concept of honouring agreements along with losing site of the commitment the Government made to Youth employment? If this is the case then it may well be time to remind them once again. – Yours, etc,
TEEU , (National

Sir, – In most matters of tribulation a point is inevitably reached when one ends up saying that enough really is enough. The latest announcement by Revenue in relation to the payment of the controversial property tax reached this point for me personally and it showed clearly that this Government’s brass neck has neither dulled nor softened.
Revenue’s statement that those opting to pay this tax, in respect of year 2014, by either cheque or debit card can expect to have the monies deducted instantly after a November 27th deadline of its designation left even a hardened cynic like me aghast. Not alone has it committed daylight robbery upon the property-owning populace – whom will receive absolutely nothing in return for this cash grab – but it has the gall to demand the money be given to it ahead of the year concerned.
But please remember, none of this is its fault. It’s those nasty banks yet again. Because Revenue’s website has the temerity to blame the fact that monies will be instantly deducted, over five weeks ahead of the year of the tax itself, on account of “the nature of the banking and credit card systems”! Obviously the simple expedient of allotting a deadline in January or February of 2014 escaped the Revenue.
Never mind that this course of action will be monumentally unpopular and massively unfair (it has long since abandoned any considerations with regard to these matters) but has it even half considered the gross economic stupidity of sucking millions of euro out of a half-dead economy at precisely the time of year when the hard-pressed citizen might be prepared to part with at least some of their dwindling cash? – Yours, etc,
Stillorgan Road,
Stillorgan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The NUI Maynooth report summarised by Frank McDonald (Home News, October 25th) on the economic impact of climate change on the agriculture sector has many flaws and ignores the significant action of farmers in addressing the climate challenge.
The reported economic losses to agriculture are unrealistic. For example, the reported economic cost to the arable sector is €530 million per year, despite the value of the output of the sector being only €264 million at the moment. How can the cost to a sector be twice the value of the sector?
There are 20 references in the report, only two of which are peer-reviewed, one of which discusses the role of genetically modified crops in addressing the economic losses associated with climate change. This adaption measure is ignored in the report.
Irish agriculture is a serious business, supporting more than 300,000 jobs in all parts of the country and contributing in excess of €9 billion in exports last year. This is being done sustainably, as will be the extra output as part of our expansion plans. Emissions per kilo of beef and milk produced are among the lowest in the world.
Farmers continue to build on this. Several thousand farmers participate each year in carbon auditing programmes to verify the low carbon count, in schemes operated by Bord Bia, Glanbia and others.
IFA will not accept pot-shots from environmental groups or NUI Maynooth which are inaccurate and potentially damaging to the sector.
The association highlighted the flaws in the report directly with the groups concerned and sought retractions. However, these have not being forthcoming. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – An article “Row about electricity pylons turns into insults about dogs and cows in Dáil row” (Dáil Report, October 24th) made light of a row over the Eirgrid Link project, Eirgrid’s scheme to link Leinster and Munster with a €500 million extension to the national grid. The proposed project would march a network of 45 metre and 60 metre pylons through some of the most beautiful parts of Co Waterford – so residents in the area are not amused.
Waterford residents were shocked by reports in September that a major upgrade to the national grid could involve a route from Cork through the Blackwater Valley and Comeraghs to Co Wexford. We now know why the project caught so many unaware.
Eirgrid’s Stage 1 Report contains a long list of newspapers in which the company had advertised as part of its first and second periods of public consultation. Neither the Dungarvan Leader nor the Dungarvan Observer – the local papers of Waterford’s largest town – appear on that list. In a letter to members of this committee, Eirgrid confirmed no such advertisement had been placed during the first two periods of public consultation.
Eirgrid has previously stressed the importance public consultation would have on the selection of GridLink’s final route: “During this first stage of public consultation we would urge people to come in and talk to us about the study area. Local knowledge is invaluable and all information received will inform preparations and plans for proposed route corridors . . . Eirgrid will identify, with the help of the public, constraints within the proposed study area . . . Constraints can be anything from natural features in the landscape to cultural or archaeological structures. They are mapped in the study area and taken into account when corridors are identified.”
While advertisements were placed in numerous papers outside the region – some as far afield as Limerick – the failure to advertise locally puts Waterford residents at a disadvantage. This is especially so because 75 per cent of the routes between Cork and Wexford revealed by Eirgrid last month would pass within three miles of Dungarvan.
The project is in its third public consultation phase – which ends on November 26th. In its letter, Eirgrid claimed it did not rely on advertising to spread the word about this project; but why then did it advertise in 30 other papers? How is it that it received more than 800 submissions from individuals living in areas covered by advertising, and few from the people of Waterford where no such advertising took place?
Only now, when the shortlist of routes has been made, has this project been properly advertised locally. This makes a mockery of Eirgrid’s commitment to public accountability.
An ex-post facto consultation is no real kind of consultation at all. We call on Eirgrid and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte TD to immediately halt this flawed consultation process. We request that Eirgrid investigate these failures, identify how the process erred, and publicise its findings. The Eirgrid Link project team, meanwhile, must start again at square one. Eirgird’s plan to despoil Waterford is no laughing matter. – Yours, etc,
PRO Comeraghs Against

Sir, – The frequently mentioned instances of the callous way in which the entitlements of various health and social welfare recipients are being investigated caused me to remember an event that occurred about 50 years ago.
At the time, officials directly involved with the management of welfare were obliged to live in the areas they served. They were often attached to the local dispensary. One of these officials was a neighbour and friend of my own parents. Indeed, he was a friend to all his neighbours. To everybody’s shock he died suddenly some time in the late 1950s. Of course I accompanied my parents to his funeral. The church was filled with many of his former clients, who were the poorest of the poor. After the service, some of them approached the official’s widow and told her of the great kindness her late husband had shown to them. Many of them were in tears.
If anyone can suggest a more noble memorial to a life than the love and respect of the poor, I would like to know about it. I would also suggest that we may need to review the manner and underlying attitudes with which we now concern ourselves with their needs. – Yours, etc,
Hillside Drive, Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Flood Relief Works along the River Dodder from Ballsbridge to Ringsend in Dublin 4 have almost been completed. Walls and banks have been raised, and no less than six mighty flood gates, that could hold back a Niagara in spate, have been installed. This should all allow the residents of the area to sleep more soundly in their beds.
These flood gates are held in the open position by impressive padlocks and bolts. Keys and other tools are needed to allow the heavy gates to be manhandled into position in the event of threatened high water. It would be reassuring to know that a Dublin City Council crew, trained and practiced in the operating of these gates, and with a knowledge of where the keys are kept, was standing by.
This was not the case two years ago, when the first new flood gate at Londonbridge Road was called into service during a November storm. Nobody knew where its key was, and eventually fire brigade personnel had to jemmy open the padlock. A pathetic debut. Fortunately St Jude spared us on this island the worst of his wind and rain on Bank Holiday Monday. But if he had not been so considerate, I wonder if our much vaunted flood gates would have been able to save the day? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I was saddened to read the comments of Dr John Bosco Conama (October 29th) regarding bilateral cochlear implantation for profoundly deaf children. He clearly shows a misunderstanding of the technology, of advances in medicine, the results of research, and of the pathos and significance of Deputy O’Brien’s gesture in the Dáil two minutes’ silence.
My son, who is 20 months-old was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf at birth. Hearing aids were fitted, but he showed no response to any sounds despite the aids being at their maximum setting. We never heard his voice until six weeks after his cochlear implant was switched on at 13 months of age. He now has about 30 words, is responding to and understanding many more, and dances when he hears music.
However, he has no idea where sound comes from. This is a constant worry as he grows and gets more independent. He can’t tell if a lorry is coming down the street from his left, or right, or if it’s behind him. Similarly, when he goes to school, he will have difficulty locating people’s voices, and discerning the teacher’s voice if there is background noise in the classroom.
There is a large body of peer-reviewed research to support not only cochlear implantation for profoundly deaf children, but also evidence is emerging of significantly improved results for children who have bilateral implants, in hearing voices amid noise, the localisation of sounds, and in their quality of speech. More research is needed, but so it is with every new development in medicine.
I have the highest regard for members of the deaf community who have opted for their profoundly deaf children not to have implants. That is their decision, and if they feel their children would be happier and more fulfilled in that community, then hats off to them.
However, I and my husband, as well as many other parents, are abundantly thankful to medical science for the invention of the cochlear implant, and to Prof Laura Viani and her wonderful team in Beaumont, who simply want to provide a world-class service and are hindered because of Government short-sightedness and lack of funding. – Yours, etc,

MB BCh BAO Sir, – I see Colm Kelly (November 1st) is indulging in that love, peculiar to the Free State mindset, of attempting to define away the northern nationalists abandoned in 1922. As a proud Armagh man born and bred I have no problem informing Mr Kelly that my entitlement to describe myself as Irish is not a mere function of my postal address. – Yours, etc,
The Mullans,
Co Donegal.

Sir, – Apropos of Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary (October 24th) regarding nuances of certain Hiberno-English words, he refers to a nursery child who had not been collected from school. An American friend recently corrected me for using a similar expression, pointing out that children are “picked up” from school but garbage is “collected”! – Yours, etc,
Beechwood Lawn,
Dún Laoghaire,

Sir, – Msgr Dermot Lane, president of the Mater Dei Institute, suggests the Catholic Church should reinvent itself as Fianna Fáil has done in recent years (Patsy McGarry, Front page, November 1st). If the monsignor ever decides to leave the institute, perhaps he might consider a new career as a stand-up comedian. – Yours, etc,
Albert Park,

Sir, – Well said, Vincent Hibbert (October 29th), in relation to the logic-defying increase in public transport fares, and the inane attempts at justification by the NTA spokesperson.
We will soon have no public transport system if this logic persists; a spiral of unaffordability driving further fare increases which drives further drop in usage due to unaffordability, etc, etc. – Yours, etc,
Shanliss Avenue,

Irish Independent:

Madam – November brings timely reminders of the lives that were lost during various world wars – none more so than former alumni of Trinity College who paid the ultimate price on the various battlefields of the Second World War. And yet there is no extant memorial to their sacrifice. It would appear that they have been written out of the story.
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Consequently, the Trinity College Dublin War Memorial Project has been inaugurated to support a campaign to erect a memorial within the college to remember their heroic dead of the Second World War.
Peter Mulvany, Co-ordinator,
Trinity College War Dublin Memorial Project, Dublin 3.
Madam –Yippee, the recession is over! Oh, didn’t you know?
Well, it must be over because, while flicking through your Life magazine, I was pleased to see that winter coats are “only” from about €500 to €2,000. And the ‘Masterchef’ Marco Pierre White is giving a jolly good lunch at his new Donnybrook premises for outrageous prices. And this, when cuts are being made right, left and centre in “ordinary” people’s incomes. And while your paper is continually berating the present Government for its profligacy. Shame on you!
Kitty Carroll,
Kilmallock, Co Limerick
Madam – All the media coverage on the state of the health service is forgetting to mention the fate of older people in our hospitals. They are waiting for increases in their home care packages or for nursing homes. On average, this process is taking two to three months for each person. This is leaving our older people open to increasing risks of re-infection and depression as they wait for these services to be set up.
It is very difficult and frustrating for the hospital staff to see this situation continue. This process is inefficient and financially wasteful to taxpayers. This is causing major delays in hospital discharges and increasing A&E waiting times.
It would be wonderful if the Sunday Independent would start the discussion on people preparing for their old age. In particular, who is going to fund the nursing care?
Johann Doohan,
Ballymote, Co Sligo
Sunday Independent

Madam – Well done, Emer O’Kelly, but we should not be surprised at various Sinn Fein events and actions which are offensive to ordinary decent people given that they have been led to believe that anything they do or say will not lead to serious questioning, challenge or outcry at their hypocrisies by most media commentators.

Let’s look, for instance, at their approach and contrasting stances to child abuse; towards Cardinal Brady on the one hand and towards Gerry Adams on the other; in the matter of failure to report incidents of child abuse.
Likewise their high moral stance on recent incidents involving Roma children contrasts with their involvement in what was described in an article by Prof Liam Kennedy (Sunday Independent, October 24), as the worst form of child abuse in western Europe. This was in reference to their practice of blowing the knees or ankles off children as young as 12 or 13.
They must find comfort in the fact that those atrocities raised less controversy than hare coursing or fox hunting.
Pat O’Mahony
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Sunday Independent

Madam – I refer to articles written by Niamh Horan: ‘No running away from it – you are what you eat’ (Sunday Independent, October 27) and ‘Reilly chews the fat as nation gets more obese’ (Sunday Independent, October 20). First of all, I would like to congratulate Ms Horan for having the courage to broach the subject of the ‘Minister for Health James Reilly’s waistline’, which has indeed been ‘the elephant in the room’ for far too long.
There is no doubt that her article was not a personal attack on Dr Reilly, but rather an opportunity to put important information out into the public arena – information that was badly required in an effort to highlight the increase in obesity and the danger to health that it causes.
I was, however, disappointed to learn that the government spin-doctors’ response was to ignore what I believe were some of the most poignant points that Ms Horan was alluding to in her first article. For example, the fact that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan ignored the representation made by Dr Reilly prior to the 2014 Budget? Ms Horan also mentioned that the Department of Health had previously admitted that obesity was ‘a ticking timebomb’. She also said, and I quote: ‘Junk food is far more addictive than cocaine.’ It was clear that Ms Horan had every right to question why a so-called ‘fat tax’ – a levy on fattening food and beverages – was ignored in the Budget?
Surely the most important thing regarding obesity is not about trying to make the Minister for Health look good by having him pose for a photograph with a large bowl of fruit – but all about tackling the matter head on and for Dr Reilly and the Government to take the risk to rattle the cage of the all-powerful food companies by introducing the proposed ‘fat tax’.
Derry-Ann Morgan,
Naul, Co Dublin
Sunday Independent
Madam – Over the years I have threatened to go on diets, write to a paper, all the usual stuff. I’ve stopped buying your paper on a number of occasions because of some of the anti-Northern nationalist tripe spewed out with glee by some of your regular contributors.
I am a card-carrying GAA member in my 40s. I had the luck to meet some Northern Irish people on holidays over 25 years ago; we became firm friends. Over the years, myself and my family have had the pleasure of meeting people from all persuasions in the ‘black wee north’. I used to sing Wolfe Tones songs in full voice but no more. If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that we should be slow to judge those who’ve lived through the conflict in Ulster.
Emer O’Kelly’s article (Sunday Independent, October 27) sums up the type of attitude we need to move away from in the Republic if we are to ever understand the conflict and the people on all sides with whom we share this island.
Over the years, the reason I continued to buy your newspaper was for the sports section. For a time, I would insert the sports section into my changed choice of Sunday weekly. Eamon Sweeney’s article on the back page last week relating to Northern GAA clubs saved me from resorting to my old habits.
John O’Brien,
Sandyford, Dublin 18

Madam – Congratulations on your article about Christy Moore (Sunday Independent, October 27). When the diaspora was on its knees, Christy gave us the confidence to stand up.
Bobby Gilmore, SSC,
Dalgan Park, Navan
Sunday Independent

Madam – Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, October 27, 2013) rightly drew attention to the racism which is prevalent throughout Irish society; be it a throw-away comment or something more insidious, it is something we encounter far too often. I believe this stems from post-colonial insecurities we have yet to rid ourselves of.
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After nearly 100 years of independence, it is apparent we are still not comfortable with our identity. This can be seen in the innocuous (but often deluded) chant on the football terraces, “You’ll never beat the Irish”, or by the seemingly harmless desire to be loved by everyone. This betrays a lack of confidence in ourselves as a people and shows we have yet to assert ourselves as a confident nation.
Still, we have much to be proud of: we are one of the leading nations when it comes to private charity donations, and a recent report showed we are one of Europe’s least developed nations (building/ land ratio). Let us keep it that way and enjoy it together with whoever chooses to make this beautiful island their home.
John Bellew,
Dunleer, Co Louth
Madam – I would like to thank councillor Malcolm Byrne for bringing to our attention the unbelievable waste of money handed out to gangsters’ molls so they can visit their men in prison. For the crimes they have committed the guilty should be severely punished. They should be deprived of getting to see their loved ones for the duration of their sentence. The money saved could then be used as a pension for a deserving 70-year-old justice mandarin or politician for one year. Thank you again, Mr Byrne.
Danny Conroy,
Ballymoe, Co Galway
Madam – I write regarding Gene Kerrigan’s article about police accountability. (Sunday Independent, October 27, 2013).
I don’t wish to make any judgement on the case of the Roma child in Tallaght. However, I wish to pose the following scenario to Mr Kerrigan. If the gardai simply made inquiries and left the house, and if the family left the address and could not later be found, I am sure Mr Kerrigan would be outraged that the gardai were negligent in the execution of their duty. Gardai have to make a judgement call at the scene, and sometimes this can be very difficult.
He seems to think that gardai should not be allowed to investigate other gardai. I can assure him that complaints against gardai are thoroughly investigated. I am aware of a number of gardai who have received prison sentences over the years. All of those cases were investigated by their fellow officers. As a retired garda, I can assure Mr Kerrigan that wrongdoing by any garda is frowned on by colleagues.
M Fitzpatrick,
Madam – Seymour Hersh recently addressed a packed audience at City University, in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, and described how he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize because of his exposition of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and how he was the first reporter to uncover the pictures of the American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib.
He said that investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails. “Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize – it’s a packaged journalism – looking for easy stories without any real investigative journalism present. When he was asked what the solution is, he responded: “I’ll tell you the solution – get rid of 90 per cent of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control.”
Needless to remark, none of Mr Seymour’s speech was covered by the Irish mass media.
Vincent J Lavery,
Dalkey, Co Dublin
Madam – Michael McDowell wrote re- the encyclical Humanae Vitae: “Confession of the error of that encyclical would not weaken the church; it would strengthen it. It could do wonders for the revival of the church as a community of the people of God.” (Sunday Independent, October 27, 2013).
This is an erroneous opinion. The opposite is the truth. Jesus told Pilate that he was born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). Down through the centuries, he has continued to bear witness to the truth, especially through the Magisterium of the church.
Pope Paul VI told priests that they should accept Humanae Vitae because what is written in it is the truth (H.V. n.28). Some people do not appreciate the fact that the strongest argument in theology is that from authority, whereas the strongest in philosophy is that from reason.
Fr Peter O’Grady, OFM,
The Abbey, Galway
Madam – As one having respect for the large intellect of Michael McDowell, I was very puzzled when he stitched together Humanae Vitae and celibate priesthood.
As everybody knows, Humanae Vitae is concerned with the sacredness of potential and unborn life.
Celibate priesthood is simply a commitment to living celibate.
I am still very puzzled.
John Smyth,
Malahide, Co Dublin
Madam – Michael McDowell makes a big mistake comparing Lucinda Creighton’s situation to Derek Keating’s (Sunday Independent, October 27, 2013). Lucinda’s party reneged on their pre-election pro-life promise, and she stood up to that and did what she was voted in to do, while Derek Keating knows that the Catholic Church is pro-life, voted anti-life and suffered the consequences.
Eamon Reilly,
Mullingar, Co Westmeath
Madam – I welcome the interest shown by a politician of the standing of Michael McDowell in the need to reform politics and the church.
However, typical of politicians, his understanding of church reform is superficial. The obsession with sexuality is a trait of the modern world more than it was of the church. For example, celibacy was introduced to protect the church from family dynasties. It had little to do with sex as such. It is a church regulation only and could be dropped at any time, just like the Friday fast. But is it not strange that the church’s moral teaching on questions of justice, charity and peace does not seem to catch the world’s attention in the same way as its teaching on sexual morality?
We must, of course, recognise that the two most powerful instincts in man are the instinct for self-preservation and the preservation of the human species. These instincts are god-given and must be respected; respected, yes, but not exploited. The discipline of reason, which is also a god-given gift, needs to regulate these instincts. Very often it does not. Why? Because we live in a hedonistic society which resents anything which limits its enjoyment and pleasures. It has adopted a relativistic morality which gives it its maximum freedom. This, anyhow, is the age of relativism. Objective reality is old hat. The objective morality of the church is particularly odious to modern society, the spokespersons for which, with few exceptions, are usually the media.
But this wave of hedonism will break, as in the past, on the cold grey stones of reality.
In the meantime, we need the institution that gives witness to objective morality. It is “the truth that makes us free”, not the changing trends of society. These trends may determine the policy of the politician, though one always hopes for the statesman who can rise above the trends of the day.
James Neville,
Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick
Madam – Dr Ruairi Hanley’s criticism of the HSE makes some legitimate points (Sunday Independent, October 27, 2013).
I am aware of the weaknesses, but what Dr Hanley fails to acknowledge is the progress that has been made. The HSE now sees more patients, and many of its new buildings are fit for purpose. Dr Hanley’s suggestions of reform, removing administrators, ending team meetings and paying new consultants the high salaries others have do not inspire my confidence, as administrators are the ones the public deal with first as reception staff.
Team meetings often focus on the most complex cases and getting all involved to work together, and I would rather offer junior doctors decent working hours and career structures than necessarily treating them badly on the promise of a future higher salary.
F Browne,
Dublin 16
Sunday Independent

Dewsbury road

November 3, 2013

3 November 2013 Dewsbury road

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they have to take the Todd-Hunters to Shanghai but there has been a coup.
Quiet day relaxing after the funeral yesterday get some books from Victory Church Dewsbury road from two South Africans.
We watch Hancock its not too bad
Scrabble today Mary wins just under 400, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow


Jonathan Minns
Jonathan Minns was an engineer who showcased the British age of steam at his museum in Sussex

Jonathan Minns at the British Engineerium in Hove Photo: PA
6:12PM GMT 01 Nov 2013
Jonathan Minns , who has died the day after his 75th birthday, was an engineer infused with the spirit of Stephenson and Brunel; entranced by steam and the marvels of mechanical antiquities, he restored a derelict Victorian water pumping station at Hove, Sussex, and transformed it into the “British Engineerium”.
A world-renowned expert in his field, Minns, a maestro of groaning gears, heaving pistons and spinning flywheels, spent more than 40 years researching, conserving and collecting engineering artefacts. With a showman’s flourish, he would often present them using dry ice and video projections, at the same time enthusing about “the rabid sexuality of steam”.
At the Engineerium, the unlikely crowning jewel of his collection was a battered 22in model built by George Stephenson of his famous Locomotion No1, the first engine built by the world’s first locomotive builder. In 1825 the full-size version, originally known as “the Iron Horse”, with Stephenson himself at the controls, took two hours to haul 38 wagons of coal, flour, passengers and engineers from Darlington to Stockton in Co Durham.
As well as steam engines and locomotives Minns collected road, rail, marine and stationary steam engines, traction engines, manufacturers’ nameplates and working tools, hot air and internal combustion engines, domestic tools and assorted memorabilia. Another prize at the Engineerium was the superb 10 metre-high Easton and Anderson beam engine which had been installed in the pumping station in 1875.

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Amid the sweet smell of coal smoke, hot steel, Brasso and machine lubricant, visitors could marvel at an 1802 model engine signed by Richard Trevithick; a scarlet Victorian horse-drawn steam powered fire engine; and (at 14.5 tonnes, the largest exhibit) a gold medal-winning Corliss engine built by Crepelle and Garland of Lille in 1889, for which Minns had outbid a scrap dealer.
Although it was regarded as the most important private collection of its kind, funding was always a problem. Neither government nor the local authority offered financial support; a bid for lottery money failed; and visitors covered only a fraction of the costs. Minns subsidised it by undertaking contract engineering in Britain and abroad, and by designing and building other industrial museums. In 2002 he suffered four heart attacks, an experience he described as “absolutely fascinating”.
Tall and elegant, Minns was at various times an underwater archaeologist, an actor in Paris, a rancher in Mexico, a London plumber, a television presenter, the proprietor of a marriage guidance agency and, for nearly 20 years, a judge for the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World Award for Invention, presented annually by the Prince of Wales.
When his Engineerium closed down in 2006, it was put up for auction — only to be saved at the last minute with a £3 million offer from a local businessman. Currently closed for restoration, it is due to reopen in 2016. Minns marked the closure with some bitterness. “In every other profession, in art, in law, in medicine, in architecture, students are taught the history of the discipline. They understand that the past informs the present,” he said, “but not in engineering, where the past is seen as irrelevant stuff… And yet the world has never had more need of engineers.”
The second of three brothers, Jonathan Ellis Minns was born on October 12 1938 into a family steeped in engineering. His father, the engineer Anthony Minns, kept a shed in the garden and taught his sons about wheels, cogs and rigging; an uncle was the hovercraft inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell; and his maternal grandfather, Sir Sidney Cockerell, was director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (his other grandfather, Sir Ellis Minns, was Dean of Pembroke College).
While the Cockerell pioneering spirit inspired him, his father’s interest in steam strongly influenced Jonathan’s childhood in a house crammed with working steam models. Through the family shipping company, he enjoyed clambering aboard Thames tugs, treacle barges from the West Indies, a steam pinnace at St Katharine Docks, and visits to many steam pumping stations and watermills all over England.
Educated at Haileybury, at 17 Jonathan enrolled on an engineering apprenticeship with WH Allen in Bedford. A two-year placement with Gulf Oil took him to the United States, working in Boston, Texas, New Orleans and on the oil rigs of the Gulf of Mexico; but when he eventually returned to Gulf Oil in Britain he soon wearied of office life.
While working on restorations for the wealthy antiques dealer and nightclub owner Horace (Hod) Dibben, he remodelled (with his younger brother Patrick) his mother’s beautiful 11th-century house at Ramatuelle, in the South of France, before launching Jonathan Minns Steam in Hollywood Road, Fulham. There he stocked a profusion of Pre-Raphaelite nude images alongside oily engines, all restored to perfection. As well as the steam variety, he surrounded himself with live fashion models and other “beautiful people” of the 1960s London scene, while in the basement amateur engineers learned the intricacies of the lathe.

Jonathan Minns as a man about town in London
At the same time Minns was a consultant on steam engines to Christie’s and ran the firm’s Steam Model and Mechanical Antiquities sales, first in London and eventually at the Engineerium.
In 1971, with a few friends and £350 capital, he saved the Goldstone pumping station in Hove a fortnight before it was due to be demolished. Having managed to persuade the authorities to list it grade II*, Minns started restoring it three years later. It was opened as a Steam Museum in 1976 and subsequently as the British Engineerium.
Among its most popular exhibits were an 18-ton flywheel and “Chain Reaction”, a history of the lavatory illustrated with working examples.
As he assembled his collection, Minns had to recast missing flywheels, melted down for armaments during two World Wars, and cleanse steam engine parts of centuries of oily grime. One engine was found in a mouldering barn, another in a long-forgotten hospital.
Minns’s personal steam artefacts included The Little Gem — a traction engine on which he travelled all over southern England with his restored 1895 showman’s wagon. He also ran Firebird, a steam launch, which he kept at Hurley on the Thames. He restored the Dutch tug Liberty and sailed one of the Dunkirk “little ships”, Providence, a gaff cutter built in Cornwall in 1936.
Minns was concerned that in a post-industrial age people should keep in touch with moving objects. “Pure interpretation is not enough. Someone has to get their hands dirty,” he declared. He deplored the tendency of centres like the Science Museum to put real mechanical objects in storage and instead offer multimedia interactive displays.
“Our fate is a microcosm of the country’s attitude to value-added manufacturing,” Minns reflected. “We make nothing, and we don’t care. We’re not even a nation of shopkeepers, we’re a nation of shelf-stackers — Napoleon must be screaming with laughter.”
With his wife, Vanessa, Jonathan Minns lived at Hellingly in East Sussex in a beautiful watermill that he restored. She and their two daughters survive him.
Jonathan Minns, born October 12 1938, died October 13 2013


Rachel Cooke’s article (“The open spaces where we played are cruelly lost to today’s children”, Comment), rightly draws attention to the diminishing amount of time children spend outdoors.
A National Children’s Bureau report this year showed that 50 years ago there was no difference between the access to, and use of, open spaces and leisure facilities between advantaged and disadvantaged children. Today, there is a ninefold difference.
This huge increase in inequality cannot be reduced by individual parents, however hard they “strive”.
As the social philosopher RH Tawney pointed out 80 years ago: “No individual can create by his isolated action a healthy environment… or eliminate the causes of accidents in factories or streets. Yet these are all differences between happiness and misery and sometimes, indeed between life and death.” 
The current generation of young citizens is paying a very heavy price for the erosion of social income and the hollowing-out of the meaning and content of citizenship, which started in the 1980s. It will take more than vitamin pills to secure the wellbeing of all our children.
Hilary Land Emeritus professor of family policy, University of Bristol
As a GP and the clinical lead for Vitamin D in Liverpool, I was pleased to see an article emphasising the importance of getting outside. Rachel Cooke reminds us that we need to maintain and improve urban environments so people can enjoy the outdoors. This is particularly true in the inner city. I am not surprised at the upsurge in rickets.
I was all the more shocked to read her comments about Liverpool One. This development has dramatically improved a grotty part of Liverpool, previously featuring grim streets and a piece of mostly unused and unloved waste ground.
I have just returned from there on a sunny afternoon, where the green space, fountain area, extensive walkway and wide steps were full of people enjoying the sun, splashing in the fountains, sitting on the steps and on the grass.
I am passionate about Liverpool and we are fortunate in having many green spaces, including in some of our very deprived areas. As for private funding: would someone tell me what other means there may be, as this government is busy removing money from the city in an unprecedented way?
Dr Katy Gardner Liverpool
Rachel Cooke is correct in bemoaning the loss of open spaces where children can play and the effects of this on physical health Equally important, though, is the decline in street play and the potential effects of this on children’s social health.
Growing up in Newcastle upon Tyne, we all “played out”, feeling very fed up when a car spoiled a game of rounders. My sons were lucky enough to have the same experience in Edinburgh, rushing to call out friends to play in the street after school and at weekends.
Now, I see the parents of kids in my street supervising them as they scooter along the pavement or taking them to cycle with them on the roads.
What happened? Parking charges moved relentlessly further out; our street is on the periphery, becoming effectively a park-and-ride street, congested and unsafe for the free and easy play and social life right outside our children’s homes. Did the decision-makers never come and see those children having fun and developing unfettered friendships 20 years ago?
Professor Kathryn Milburn Edinburgh

The reference in your editorial to “low-skill sectors such as social care” exemplifies so many problems (“Time to learn from post-crash economics”, Comment). Caring is not low skill. It is hugely demanding and needs a broad skill set – empathy, basic pharmacology, low gag reflex. I have a PhD and years of academic experience but faced with the task of nursing my elderly mother I floundered.
The problem is presumably that the skills needed for caring are the traditional “womanly” skills and these have always been belittled and devalued by the job market. This is why the people who perform this most crucial (and skilled) of functions are paid miserable wages, have to cope with zero-hours contracts and are being laid off because politicians think anyone can do their job. And should. For no money.
Maddy Gray
Feminists, face the ugly facts
If we really want to challenge the sexism in our culture, then there are two uncomfortable truths for feminists to confront (“Maybe we can develop an app for gender equality”, News). The first is that the prediction that ubiquitous sexually explicit material in the mass media would be hugely socially harmful was right. It is difficult to uphold female dignity in an ultra-permissive society. The second is that female repression is so persistent because women are complicit in it.
History is full of women spurring each other on to damage their bodies out of sexual competitiveness: foot-binding, corsets, plastic surgery, high heels, excessive slimming. Tell it straight and teach our daughters that women who place physical beauty above character, intelligence and wellbeing are mugs, morally wrong, or both.
Helen Jackson
Saffron Walden, Essex
School sums don’t add up
Innumerate politicians are squabbling over “facts” about the relative performance of a handful of free schools (“‘False’ data on free schools attacked”, News) when neither party realises these numbers are not statistically significant. Compared with the other 21,162 state schools in England, they would not be meaningful even on a longer timescale, unless there were a really marked difference.
When New Labour introduced “value added” measures, the Department of Education didn’t understand that individual Sats results for each child at primary school, and not their levels of attainment, had to be compared with GCSE results to have any semblance of validity. Silliest of all are the new tables for “GCSE and equivalent results” for pupils in each council ward. The results are for schools and not the local population, leaving some very odd blanks and distortions in the data, while A-level results are only given at the local education authority level. If the Ucas system can access university applicants’ full postcodes, then why can’t exam boards and the Department of Education get their act together?
David Nowell
New Barnet, Herts
Take the long view on the UK
Your articles on housing and energy reinforced the general point that we should be planning for posterity, not austerity. The UK has been living off capital for decades when it should have been investing. As a consequence, social divides have widened. We should learn from countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, which all have state investment banks and local authorities that take a much longer and wider perspective. A short-term freeze on energy or any other prices is not enough.
Nicholas Falk
Director, London Office
URBED (Urbanism Environment Design)
London WC1
The fathers who suffer still
Yvonne Roberts’s article about adoption (“I lost my son for 29 years”, Magazine) captured the pain of birth mothers but unfairly dismissed the grief of birth fathers in one sentence: “The men, at worst, had to endure shotgun marriages.” Celia Witney’s research, published in 2004, showed that nearly 80% of birth fathers saw the emotional impact of the adoption as deeper and more lasting than anything else in their lives. I am one of the 1960s’ generation of birth fathers who have found it difficult to deal with the loss. Many of us felt we had let down the mother as well as the baby.
Andrew Ward
Author of The Birth Father’s Tale
Stroud, Glos
Railroaded by the railway
While it is right that any profits from a publicly subsidised service should be returned to the public purse (“Profitable and publicly owned – so why sell it?”, News), the state-owned Directly Operated Railways appear to have adopted Ryanair as their business model: ruthlessly enforcing the conditions of carriage in circumstances where a bit of humanity, common sense, or simply understanding that running the trains is not an end in itself, would suggest some flexibility is in order. While passengers should pay for the service they are using, it is equally important for a company to ensure that clients should get the service they have paid for.
T Lidbetter
Kingston upon Thames

Sifting through an envelope labelled family, I found this photo. I was immediately struck by the man on the left – he reminded me of Captain Birdseye in the old TV adverts. On the back, my father has written, Ayr circa 1918/1920? Frederick (?) Timbury at 90+, Henry Thomas Timbury.
Henry was my great-grandpa and I have a vague recollection that Frederick was my great-great-grandpa. Looking at this photo, though, brings back many happy memories of my own Grandpa Timbury of whom I was particularly fond; Montague Charles Timbury, known as Mont, son of Henry.
I still smile to myself remembering, as a wee girl, how I thought it was very clever to call Grandpa “Polo Mont” and giggled and squealed with delight as he laughed along with me. My father, Gerald, told me that Grandpa’s love of making model ships was a result of his disappointment at not being accepted for the Royal Navy, like most of his predecessors, because of his childhood asthma or “weak chest”. The model ships became his way of maintaining a connection with the navy. A man who was very neat, tidy and hyper-organised (rather like me!), making models – including a replica of the Cutty Sark in a bottle – played to his strengths of exactitude and attention to detail.
Starting out as a boy apprentice in the Glasgow optical engineering firm Barr and Stroud, Grandpa eventually became managing director. One of the greatest prides of his career was that one of his radar designs was stationed in Singapore in the second world war to detect enemy ships for the Royal Navy. My own father broke with the nautical tradition and became a consultant psychiatrist, but he too loved boats. Together we went fishing and sailing while he, upholding Timbury tradition, puffed on his pipe.
Along with the naval heritage, there is a long history of only children through the Timbury generations, and I feel sad that, having no other Timbury relatives nor children of my own, this family of seamen will end after my passing. How special, therefore, to have this old photograph and mark its significance with this story.
Judy McCulloch
Playlist: Dad doing the funny voices
New York Telephone Conversation by Lou Reed
“I was sleeping, gently napping / when I heard the phone / Who is on the other end talking / am I even home”
New York Telephone Conversation from Lou Reed’s Transformer album.
My mother’s side of the family is the creative half. The eldest sister is (still) a hippie, the second was so deeply immersed in Berlin’s art scene in the 70s and 80s that she told me to call David Bowie “uncle” – they had an affair – the third is a singer and musician and my mother is a theatre and TV actress. My father is a professor of immunology.
But it was he who introduced me to the records that first shaped me. I was five when my parents separated, after which my father moved into flatshares with a handful of other twenty and thirtysomethings. It was incredibly fun – I was allowed to ride a bicycle in the hallway. Play Sim City on his boxy Macintosh. Hang self-made anti-George Bush Sr posters in the hallway.
I also got to run my fingers through his record collection. If I washed and dried my hands first and was supervised, that is. Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Beatles’ White Album both got me, immediately. Nothing made me giggle as much as my father replying to my early morning requests with a rendition of I’m So Tired.
The lyrics of Transformer were too mature for me, but I learned that Holly went from a he to a she and someone was bold with Harry, Mark and John.
New York Telephone Conversation was the track my dad found particularly funny. He’d sing it to me – he doesn’t sing often – in a nursery-rhyme manner. It was funny because he would act out the voices (“Did you see what she did to him / did you hear what they said?”) and it was poignant because I only saw him every second weekend (“I am calling, yes I am calling just to speak to you / For I know this night will kill me if I can’t be with you”).
Johanna Kamradt
We love to eat: Auntie’s Yorkshire parkin
Auntie Kath’s Yorkshire parkin.
2 cups medium oatmeal
1 ½ cups plain flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
6oz (170g) margarine
12oz (340g) golden syrup
2 eggs, plus a drop of milk
Mix the dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl. Spoon the syrup into a small pan. (Be generous: the stickier the parkin, the better.) Add the margarine, heat until melted, then pour on to the dry ingredients, along with the beaten eggs and milk. Combine to a sloppy mixture, turn into a greased and lined 9in square tin and bake at gas mark 3/160C for 1-1¼ hours. Time to lick the spoon! The parkin is ready when the top is firm to the touch and a glorious golden brown – see my photograph.
Every bonfire night, when I was a child, we used to fatten ourselves up with layers of clothes, pull on our wellies and stomp to the end of the cul-de-sac where our friends lived. They had a sprawling back garden on two tiers and with a steep bank down to the main road below; this was where the big bonfire used to burn.
We’d gather on the top tier for the fireworks display, watching catherine wheels spitting and fizzling out on the tree trunks, sparklers dancing in our hands. Then it was time for the food: the crisped, blackened shells of jacket potatoes full of fallen fluff and melting butter; the brittle, dark bonfire toffee and my mum’s sticky, grainy parkin.
This was Auntie Kath’s recipe – my children love it and we don’t wait for bonfire night to bake it!
Lisa Fisher


Thank you for exposing the scandal of power giants using a loophole to drive down their tax bills (“The other energy scandal: tax avoidance”, 27 October). As a recent pensioner, I am happy to pay tax on my income, just as when I was employed. But it is reasonable to expect that everyone else, including huge companies who make large profits from their UK operations, also pay tax. Please sort out this scandalous state of affairs, Mr Osborne.
Linda Menzies
Joan Smith rightly dismisses Russell Brand’s political posturing (“Spare us the vacuous talk “, 27 October). Proudly declaring that he doesn’t vote, and encouraging others to do likewise, is profoundly irresponsible. Celebrating cynicism benefits no one and insults those who died to preserve our precious right to peacefully change society through the ballot box. The young deserve better leadership.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire
In the aftermath of all this revolution will you, Mr Brand, hang about the decimated streets of our towns and cities to help sweep up the destruction of homes and livelihoods? Or will you be jetting home to your Hollywood Hills mansion?
Angela Jenner
Macclesfield, Cheshire
Jane Merrick is correct in highlighting the apathy that exists in young voters (“Young voters are bolder than Brand”, 27 October). However, the way we cast our votes is archaic. It is time to introduce internet voting. Yes there would be security issues but there would, I think, be a surge in voting. Times have changed – simple as that.
Tony Webb
I live part-time in a small Andalucian village in Spain where quite a few of my neighbours are “gypsies”, (“Grim history of the Roma is no fairy tale”, 27 October) who work, worship, and live in houses alongside the other inhabitants. As in the rest of Spain, the Roma have integrated. There are some in the cities who operate in the drugs and crime world, just as the non-Roma do. And their traditions, particularly their love of Flamenco music and dancing, are celebrated worldwide. What is happening elsewhere in Europe is the obvious result of marginalisation and exclusion, and the shameful scapegoating by individuals and governments for their own interests.
Mo McIntyre
Hove, East Sussex
Sue Lewis criticises the “middle class value judgments” of those who campaign against payday loan companies.(“Payday loans defended by new consumer champion”, 27 October).
She says that bank charges on overdrafts and unpaid credit card bills are a bigger problem.
In a recent study, we found that many very low-income households tended not to have credit cards or bank accounts. They used high-cost credit providers – doorstep lenders, rent-to-own companies, catalogues and payday loans. To tackle the problems faced by people on very low incomes, as well as wealthier people who take on too much credit, it is vital that there is much tighter regulation of all high-cost credit.
Professor Sarah Banks
School of Applied Social Sciences Durham University, Durham
We don’t have to buy “two for one” just because they’re offered to us (“Let’s check out of this supermarket swizz”, 27 October). I don’t like wasting food so I don’t buy more than I need. It isn’t rocket science! (Pun intended.)
Sara Neill,
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
According to my 2013 Whitaker’s Almanack, Birmingham has a population of 1,073,000, compared to Glasgow’s 592,800. So it is not being anti-Scottish to call Birmingham Britain’s second city (Letters, 27 October).
Tim Mickleburgh,
Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Stephen Brenkley lists 12 English captains to have won the Ashes in Australia (“Cook faces toughest test”, 27 October). Surely he forgets one of the best: Raymond Illingworth. He is still alive and well and has not been subject to any of the unusual ends of other captains listed.
Peter Brookes


English lit must stay a core subject
UNDER the government’s reforms, the English GCSE, which covers language and literature, will no longer be available to pupils. The proposed content of the new language GCSE narrows the field of study, while the new literature exam contains more challenging texts than the existing syllabuses. English language has a designated “core” status, while English literature will become an optional GCSE subject.
There is great concern among teachers and academics — and beyond — that the reduction of English literature to an optional status will result in a drop in the number of pupils taking it at GCSE and in the take-up of the subject at A-level and at university. We are also concerned that because those students who are not being entered for GCSE English literature will be assessed only on unseen texts in the English language exam, they will have limited opportunity to read and study whole novels and plays. We believe that both English language and literature are worthy of study and public assessment; in fact, an integrated approach to the subjects is the most fruitful for students and teachers. Both aspects of English should be given core status at GCSE.
Michael Morpurgo, Author, poet and playwright, Robert Harris, Novelist, John Carey, Professor of English literature, Oxford University, Professor AC Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities, John Sutherland, Professor of English literature, University College London, David Crystal, Professor of linguistics, Bangor, Professor Robert Eaglestone, Royal Holloway, University of London, Professor Philip Davis, Liverpool University, Dr Jennifer Wallace, Cambridge University, Dr Bethan Marshall, King’s College London, chairwoman of National Association for the Teaching of English, Professor Christine Hall, Nottingham University, Roger Scruton, Visiting professor, Oxford and St Andrews, Dr Andrew Green, Brunel University, Miriam Margolyes, Actress, Sheila Hancock, Actress, Susanna Jones, Award-winning novelist, Tom Healy, professor of Renaissance Studies, Sussex University, Michael Rosen, writer and former Children’s Laureate, Morlette Lindsay, lecturer, Institute of Education, London, Sarah Butler, lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University, Jane Coles, lecturer, Institute of Education, John Gordon, lecturer, University of East Anglia, Prof Philip Davis, head of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems, Liverpool University, Dr Jennifer Wallace, directs English studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge University, Professor Christine Hall, head of education, Nottingham University, Dr Andrew Green, senior lecturer, Brunel University, Mick Connell, lecturer, Sheffield University, Simon Gibbs, former chair of NATE, John Hodgson, Lecturer, University of the West of England and chair of NATE post-16 and higher education committee, Moyra Beverton, teacher and education consultant, Jane Bluett, teacher, Susan Cockcroft, teacher, Jean Dourneen, senior teaching fellow, Bristol University, Marcello Giovanelli, lecturer, Nottingham University, Ann Harris, teacher, Marcella McCarthy, vice principal, Gary Snapper, teacher

Taking the gene out of genius for pupil IQ tests
ROBERT PLOMIN claims that genetics is “the biggest factor by far” in predicting academic success, and that IQ is the “best predictor we have of success in later life” (“Genes test may find top pupils”, News, last week).
But Professor Plomin’s own data implies that genetic differences between pupils account for less than 60% of the variation in GCSE exam results, and although IQ scores certainly do predict educational success, there is only a limited correlation between IQ and GCSE results. So environmental differences and factors other than IQ are also very significant.
As for the idea that genetic screening will identify children with lower abilities — and presumably also those with higher ones — the pursuit of the genes “for” intelligence has so far proved singularly unsuccessful.
A recent report by the US academic Christopher Chabris and his colleagues, based on three studies that tested nearly 10,000 people, failed to replicate any previously reported claim to have identified a gene associated with variation in IQ. Its title was Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives — that is to say untrue.
Nicholas Mackintosh, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge
Healthy environment
Your article on genes and IQ frightened me. My fear is that my grandchildren’s education may suffer if politicians are guided by people such as Plomin. Charles Darwin observed that species changed in shape and size to suit the environment in different parts of the world.
Our children are also influenced by environmental factors such as wealth, ambitious parents, good teachers and numerous other things. For example, I have seen children who were below average gain A and A* grades after numerous expensive private lessons.
Denzil Morgan, Swansea
Flair for the dramatic
The desire to learn is perhaps the best gift we can bestow on our children. Youngsters need a broad, balanced curriculum to find out how best to find and live this passion. Your report of GCSEs being sorted into “hard” and “soft” disciplines (“Axeing of soft GCSEs to hit PE and drama”, News, last week) shows that examination boards are not just simply wrong — so actors aren’t “intelligent”? — but are also condemning many to live their lives without their passion being justly recognised.
Mark Featherstone-Witty, The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
Physical development
Subjects such as PE are misunderstood: there is a lot more to it than running round a field. A large percentage of PE is theory and includes a significant amount of biology. All this talk also goes against the grain, especially after recent initiatives to drive the interest in sport, including the Olympics.
Pindi Sandhu (16) Studying for a career in sport

Clear-sighted MPs show vision on Heathrow hub
THE article by Nick Raynsford and Bernard Jenkin (“A Thames airport to end the nightmare”, Comment, last week) on the need to replace Heathrow with a new terminal restores my faith that we have MPs who can throw off the myopic focus on the next election and do what is right.
If we can only get a few more with vision to see HS2 for the obsolete project it is and replace it with a Maglev project, similar to the magnetic levitation train in Shanghai, or look at the Hyperloop proposed between Los Angeles and San Francisco that will make HS2 look like a horse and cart. If money is an issue we could scrap Trident, which should be named HMS Good Money After Bad.
Russell Sage, By email
Third way
Raynsford and Jenkin make a spirited case for a new London airport. However, the total cost will not be £24bn but about £70bn. An estuary hub would not be in the right place. The bulk of Heathrow traffic comes from the north and west of Britain, not the south and east. Stansted is half empty. An estuary airport will be like Canada’s Montreal-Mirabel terminal, a white elephant, especially if the airlines decide to decamp to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris or Madrid. Most importantly, a new estuary airport could take decades to come on line yet the crisis in London airport capacity is here and now.
More than 2m UK passengers travel via Schiphol in Amsterdam to pick up connections to the global air service network. Amsterdam is connected to 22 UK airports; Heathrow currently seven.
Whatever option is proposed by the Davies commission, a third runway at Heathrow is going to have to be built if we are to be a major aviation hub.
Andrew Brookes, Director, The Air League
Plane crazy
Making a first visit to Kew Gardens we were appalled at the sight of planes descending into Heathrow every few minutes at what appeared to be chimney-pot height. How anybody in their right mind could consider continuing subjecting human beings to this cacophony and danger is beyond comprehension.
Gerald Edmonds, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Flying doctor
In all the NHS debates, newly qualified doctors are hardly mentioned. My son recently qualified as a GP and has been offered £50,000 a year, the average salary of workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Falkirk. He is 29, and in the past 10 years he has never been on holiday without a pile of books to study. He is going to Australia or Canada along with 12 of his year group because there is no respect or a decent salary here. I’m devastated — not so much as a mum, but for the loss to the NHS.
Name and address withheld

Crying foul over selfish dog owners
I HAVE little sympathy for the dog owners (“Dog bans get pet lovers hot under collar”, News, October 20). All too often lanes, parks and country walks are turned into dog lavatories that make them no-go areas.
The clampdown has reduced the amount of dog mess on our streets but has left us with another problem — bags of canine waste dropped on the ground, or left hanging from hedges, trees and fences.
My husband and I were walking around a beautiful Jacobean property in Norfolk and despite notices pleading with dog owners not to deposit the bags, the perimeter fence was festooned with them. Many people with dogs are responsible but there are still plenty who are not.
Joanna Holding, Cambridge
Play dirty
Dog owners have been marginalised for good reason — a large number of them promenade with a supercilious air while little Rover defecates at will. During the summer while I was watching a cricket match I saw an elderly gentleman allow his dog to run on to the outfield and foul the pitch, after which this individual carried on without the slightest sign of remorse.
It is not just young thugs who are antisocial where dogs are concerned. I am glad there are playgrounds and gardens to which I can take my children without fear of them being bitten by dogs or blinded by their waste.
Vincent Coster, Dorset
Tail end
Clean, safe beaches are a priority as the Environment Agency works to raise standards before the introduction of the 2015 bathing water directive. Like smoking regulations, this is a matter of public health, not a punishment. The Kennel Club should end its campaign against restrictions on dogs.
Mark Noall, St Ives, Cornwall

Must do better
Your editorial “Mr Cameron snatches defeat from victory” (last week) contends that “the government should be doing well [in the opinion polls]” mainly on the basis of three periods of growth averaging 0.6%. Really? It is not doing well because 2.5m are unemployed, many in work either earn a pittance or do not receive wage increases, inflation is running well above the government’s target, those with hard-earned savings see them eroded, energy prices are soaring — and so on.
David Middlemiss, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Independent thinking
Sir Ian Kennedy, head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), is rightly concerned about his independence (“Threat to quit by battered overlord of MPs’ salaries”, News, last week). But is he representative of the people of the country? Is there a healthcare worker, teacher or police officer on Ipsa? I doubt they would recommend an 11% pay rise for MPs in 2015.
Vernon Muller, Chelmsford, Essex
Christian soldiers
Dan Snow says religion has co-opted rituals for marriage and death (“God dismissed as atheists honour fallen”, News, last week) but if he studied prehistoric archeology he would know they have always been intertwined. If you talk to many Second World War servicemen they will tell you that they went to church as children, and often to Sunday school. They remember hymns from childhood and a surprising number sang in the choir. It is not possible to say what impact this had on their later lives but they are a more disciplined generation than those that have followed them.
Ann Ferguson, By email
Beyond belief
Well done to Dan Snow et al for providing an alternative to the usual religious service of remembrance. This kind of event would let non-believers such as myself pay their respects and honour the fallen without the religious trappings we find impossible to buy into.
Gill Morse, Southampton
Age of enlightenment
Your report that older audiences are saving the film business is borne out by my two recent visits to the cinema (“Hollywood veterans coax grown-ups back to cinema”, World News, last week). At a senior citizens’ screening of Beyond the Candelabra in Rochdale, a 400-seat venue was almost full. A Bolton cinema was two-thirds full for Captain Phillips and most attending were as snowy-haired as me.
Martin Henfield, Bury, Greater Manchester
Back of the class
The case of the teacher who wrote “you could of” on a child’s work (“Writing wrongs”, Letters, October 20) is not an isolated one. It does seem strange that while pupils are regularly tested and they and their parents are lumbered with hours of homework, prospective teachers are not expected to have acquired the same grasp of English.
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Corrections and clarifications
Remarks by two former nurses, Richard Harrison and Bob Allen, in the article “Savile’s power as secret king of Broadmoor” (News, last week) should have been attributed to Channel 4 News. The attribution was removed in editing. We apologise for the error.
The article “Prisoners gloat over medical records of sex assault victims” (News, last week) referred to “recent research commissioned by Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general” on medical records of sex assault victims. The information, in fact, came from a report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, which is an independent body.
■ Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission ( or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Adam Ant, singer, 59; Roseanne Barr, comedian and actress, 61; Ben Fogle, television presenter, 40; Viscount Linley, 52; Lulu, singer, 65; Dolph Lundgren, actor, 56; Marilyn, singer, 51; Dylan Moran, comedian and actor, 42; Jacqui Smith, former Labour home secretary, 51; Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, 64; Ian Wright, footballer, 50; Dwight Yorke, footballer, 42

1534 Act of Supremacy makes Henry VIII head of the Church of England; 1843 the first half of Nelson’s statue is sited on top of the column in Trafalgar Square — it was completed the following day; 1903 Panama declares independence from Colombia; 1954 death of Henri Matisse; 1957 the Soviet Union launches Sputnik II, carrying Laika, the first dog in space; 1978 Dominica gains independence from the UK


SIR – I have been trying to make voice contact with Scottish Power for three days without success.
First, I have to dial an expensive 0800 number. Then, I’m told that, due to the high density of calls requesting information about its products, there will be a half-hour wait.
When I finally press five to talk to someone, I’m told that, to save holding on, I can leave my number and they will call back. “You won’t lose your place in the queue” – but the wait will be between four and six hours.
Having been told there is a 30-minute delay at the start, it looks as though the company does not want to talk to me, and that I most certainly will lose my place in the queue.
In desperation I have sent two emails and have been told I will receive a reply in five days. What sort of business is this?
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I have just done as David Cameron suggested and bought two electric radiators to heat my bedroom and drawing room to save heating the whole house with gas central heating.
All I want to know is how much extra I have spent on electricity since I have been using them.
The Scottish Power bills are too complicated to work this out myself.
Belinda Brocklehurst
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Helping possible immigrants to stay at home
SIR – David Cameron is right to focus on education, welfare and immigration policy as a means of helping young British people compete for jobs with immigrants from Eastern Europe.
This, however, is only one element of what his Government can do to level the playing field. It is equally important that Britain and its EU allies encourage the immigrants’ home countries to pursue sound economic policies that would lessen the likelihood of their workers seeking employment in Britain in the first place.
Two of the poorest countries in the EU, Bulgaria and Romania, will have worker travel restrictions removed in January 2014. Our study of Romania’s economy found that Victor Ponta, the prime minister, and his parliament are at a crucial point for decision-making, where their policy choices could either set the country on a course to Western-style prosperity or relegate it to the status of an impoverished backwater.
It is up to Mr Cameron and other Western leaders to encourage countries such as Romania to make the kind of choices that give the best chance of economic success. The alternative would be disastrous for domestic prosperity and have profound consequences for the job market in Britain and elsewhere.
Patrick Basham
Director, Democracy Institute
Washington DC
SIR – Graeme Archer’s article on immigration was highly thought-provoking. No other country has an open-door policy like Britain’s. If politicians in Austria promoted this “to keep wage levels down”, their capacities would be seriously questioned.
A far more simple and orderly way of controlling wage levels is by negotiation between workers’ and employers’ representatives. In Austria and Germany, this is called the “social partnership” and it works quite well. Youth unemployment in both countries is among the lowest in the EU.
Janet Muehlbacher
Ulrichskirchen, Austria

SIR – Overseas investors in British property should not be exempt from capital gains tax. But the Government should think carefully before slapping capital gains tax on everybody just to hit short-term speculators.
France has a system that makes speculators pay without penalising long-term investment in property. As in Britain, the main residence is exempt. On second homes or investment properties, capital gains tax is payable at the full rate for the first five years. Each subsequent year sees a reduction of 10 per cent, until after about 20 years there is no tax to pay.
France also allows for the erosion of money so gains are adjusted each year for inflation. This means that any investor who acquired property 20-30 years ago will not pay any tax on the increase in values.
Peter Fieldman
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02 Nov 2013
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02 Nov 2013
Care pathway evidence
SIR – It is ironic that Margaret Kendall, a leading nurse, should make anecdotal claims of patient suffering now following condemnation by the Neuberger Report of the similarly evidence-free Liverpool Care Pathway.
Many in palliative care seem to remain as unwilling now to accept Lady Neuberger’s findings as they were to investigate earlier reports of severe suffering and harm caused by the Liverpool Care Pathway.
It is profoundly disturbing that the Liverpool Care Pathway should continue in use at all, whether under its own name, or, increasingly, in derivative or “rebadged” forms.
Dr R J Clearkin
Harborough, Leicestershire
Two-poppy lapel
SIR – My father was a pacifist and a conscientious objector during the war. I have always admired him for the strength of his beliefs and worn the white “peace” poppy at this time of year for him.
I often explain that it is also in memory of those who fought and gave their lives for whom I have a similar great respect. But should I wear both a red and a white poppy to avoid any misunderstanding?
Ann Hewitt
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
Notable likeness
SIR – The Bank of England has made a brave attempt at conveying what Jane Austen could have looked like. There was never the remotest possibility that this would be a close likeness.
Since the only known lifetime image of Jane Austen is a feebly drawn amateur effort by her sister, which only replicates the conventionally fashionable idiom of the period, it affords no more reliable evidence of her appearance than the banknote.
Michael Liversidge
Emeritus Dean, Faculty of Arts
University of Bristol
Mystery remedies
SIR – I am intrigued. How do readers discover these wackadoodle remedies? Was the unwrapped bar of soap that prevents night cramps put in the bed by accident? Was someone else dissecting the broad beans that cure warts?
Rosie Harden-Vane
Holywell, Northumberland
Colombo bound
SIR – Peter Oborne’s claims that ministers are treating the Commonwealth with “contempt” could not be further from the truth. In our Coalition Agreement, we promised we would “strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for promoting democratic values and development”. That is what we have done.
We worked with Australia to ensure that in 2011 the Commonwealth adopted the most significant reforms in its recent history, including the adoption of a historic Commonwealth charter. We have increased the number of FCO staff working with the Commonwealth on trade, development and good governance, in London and in Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ghana and Mozambique.
We are its largest financial contributor – providing approximately a third of funding. The Department for International Development is now spending more in Commonwealth countries because we want to support its members’ development. We ministers take pride in the Commonwealth as a legacy of our great history and a unique diplomatic asset for the future, underpinned by common values.
Because we attach such importance to its future, we are attending the Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo shortly – in the teeth of opposition in some quarters. We want the Commonwealth to take action on the things that matter to Britain, so we need to be at the table – and we will be, now and in the future.
Hugo Swire MP (Con)
Minister for the Commonwealth
London SW1
Grade 9 returns
SIR – After 50 years of shame I can finally display my grade 9 certificate for O-level biology with pride.
Adrian Buck
Wantage, Oxfordshire

SIR – Further to comments by Tessa Munt, the parliamentary private secretary to Vince Cable, the real problem would be that the jam at 50 per cent sugar solids would no longer be microbiologically stable.
In the Fifties, sugar solids of jams were 67 per cent, making them microbiologically stable. At lower solids, the only people to benefit would be jam producers, who could sell more jam (and water), as more jam is thrown away because it has gone mouldy.
Peter Hull
Hoo, Kent
SIR – Tampering with the amount of sugar means British companies will not be delivering “delicious British jam” to the world as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs imagines. If too little sugar is used, jam decays sooner, particularly in warm climates, and will not reflect the quality for which Britain is renowned.
Instead, British jam, if it is fully made in the United Kingdom to the traditional fruit-sugar ratio, should be given Protected Geographical Indication by the EU.
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Heather Erridge
Congresbury, Somerset
SIR – Shop-bought jams may be heading for a transformation into coloured gloop but I won’t be reducing the sugar in my home-made Seville orange marmalade. I occasionally end up with a “soft-set” batch, but storing it in the fridge will solve that.
The correct amount of sugar is essential to give Seville marmalade that wonderful bitter-sweet “kick”. Roll on January.
Michele Platman
SIR – The normal ratio of sugar to fruit for home jam-making is 50-50. Only sour fruit (such as citrus, for marmalades) may need more sugar. Using jam sugar for low-pectin fruit or combining high and low types (pear with damson) avoids runniness. Preserving-sugar enhances the beautiful colour of jellies. Otherwise, granulated does the job.
Penny Ann McKeon
Henfield, West Sussex
SIR – Surplus pumpkin can become angel’s hair (cabello de ángel). Cover 4lb pumpkin chunks with water. Simmer 20 minutes. Drain, cool and shred. Put 2lb sugar in a pan with ½ tsp ground saffron, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp ground ginger and juice of 2 lemons. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, add the pumpkin strings, boil for an hour until setting point is reached, cool, put into warm jars and seal. Ideal with ice-cream.
Rev David Johnson
SIR – Mrs Munt believes British preserves keep for a year. We are enjoying my mother’s 1968 quince and crab-apple jelly.
Nick Cowley
Nuthurst, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:
In most matters of tribulation, a point is inevitably reached when you end up saying enough is enough.
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Tackle ‘fat tax’ head on
We must change Northern attitude
The latest announcement by Revenue about the payment of the controversial property tax reached this point for me, and it showed clearly that this Government’s brass neck has not dulled.
Revenue’s statement that those opting to pay this tax for 2014 by either cheque or debit card can expect to have the money deducted instantly after the November 27 deadline left even a hardened cynic like me aghast.
Not only have they swooped upon the property-owning populace – who will receive absolutely nothing in return for this cash grab – but they have the gall to demand that the money be given to them ahead of the year in question.
But please remember, none of this is their fault. It’s those nasty banks yet again.
Revenue’s website has the temerity to blame the fact that the money will be instantly deducted more than five weeks before the year of the tax itself on “the nature of the banking and credit card systems”!
Obviously, the simple expedient of allotting a deadline in January or February 2014 just did not occur to them.
Never mind that this course of action will be monumentally unpopular and massively unfair (the Government has long since abandoned any such considerations with regard to these matters) but have our leaders even half-considered the gross economic stupidity of sucking millions of euro out of a half-dead economy at precisely the time of year when the hard-pressed citizen might be prepared to part with at least some of their dwindling cash?
JD Mangan
Stillorgan, Co Dublin
* The State spent €100m on the Ballymore Eustace water plant when it had the money to burn.
Now that the country is bankrupt, there is not an earthly chance that we can do the necessary repairs to address our water needs.
I dread to think what the infrastructure around the country will look like about 10 years from now. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that parts of the country will resemble scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Road’.
Sean Mc Phillips
College Point, New York
* Those reading your Motoring section’s review of the new S-Class Mercedes (Irish Independent, October 30) will either be salivating with anticipation at getting one or seething with rage at the injustice of the road tax regime.
Isn’t there some irony that in a bankrupt country, a person who can afford a €100,000 car will only pay some €200 or less in road tax, whereas the vast majority of the downtrodden, taxed-into-oblivion masses pay over €700 for an old, two-litre family car?
Of course, the mantra is trotted out again and again that the older cars are contributing more to climate change than the newer models. The dogs in the street know that the politicians don’t lose sleep over global warming but the excuse is a nice little earner for the Exchequer.
History will record these times as a period of great unfairness and injustice by the Government towards its people.
John Hughes
Clonbur, Co Galway
* “Innovative and interesting” – that’s the phrase that best describes Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s decision to engage Willie Walsh, current head of International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways and Iberia’s parent company, as chairman of the advisory committee of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) (Irish Independent October 29).
It is a real breath of fresh air when one realises that this vast wealth of knowledge and experience is being tapped free of charge. The former Aer Lingus boss had a salary of £1.08m (€1.3m) from his day job last year, but won’t earn a cent from the NTMA.
Come to think of it, hasn’t the boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary – another world leader – been advising the Government where to “get on and get off” for years, and has charged them nothing for it?
It would be another real coup for Mr Noonan if he succeeded in roping him into the NTMA on an official basis, similar to Mr Walsh’s role. Mr O’Leary’s vast experience would be a mighty asset.
Incidentally, I would like to compliment Mr Noonan on his foresight in selecting Mr Walsh and in realising that those of “sky-high ambitions” are undoubtedly a cloud above the rest of the posse.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* I refer to an article by David McWilliams (Irish Independent, October 30).
I always get depressed when some economic expert writes, “it is just like the 1980s”. The time we live in is unlike any other in history.
The great economic ambitions of past centuries have been spectacularly achieved – the world can produce everything in great abundance and as a consequence “growth” is no longer necessary or possible.
But an endless frenzy to promote growth continues and as long as it does, economics will lurch from boom to bust, with each collapse leaving greater debt and human casualties in its wake. The economics of “growth” have been replaced by the economics of sufficiency or “enough”.
The economics of work have been replaced by the economics of “automation”, which, without policies to create more jobs from less work, will lead to unsustainable unemployment.
That is why the 21st Century is totally unlike any other period in history.
It is a remarkable time with great potential, but we will realise this potential only if we can adapt an out-of-date, ineffective economic philosophy to manage an entirely new and wonderful technological age, unlike anything ever experienced before.
Padraic Neary
Co Sligo
* The fluid situation regarding water supplies at the moment reminds me of the advice given to consumers in Britain during a long, hot summer by Ken Dodd: “When having a bath, just fill the water to a depth of six inches . . . that should cover it.”
Tom Gilsenan
Beaumont, Dublin 9
* Your letters page on October 31 showed an interesting and contrasting view on the quality of the programmes on radio and television these days.
Using phrases such as “enthralled”, “top-notch drama” and “excellent narrative”, Aaron McCormack asked whether we have “reached the pinnacle of television”.
Gary Cummins, on the other hand, came to the conclusion that we are “being insulted with the general lack of quality in the programmes being screened” to the extent that they are “an affront to people’s intelligence”.
The fact that such programmes mirror a decadent and violent society raises questions as to the effect these shows have on the mentality of the the millions who watch them each week.
It also raises questions as to how displaying arrogance and contempt for fellow human beings week after week could be declared the pinnacle of television.
A Leavy
Dublin 13
Irish Independent


November 2, 2013

2 November 2013 Funeral

No jogging around the park today no Leslie No Pertwee no Heather, no Troutbridge for we are off early to pick up Michael and Shanti. Its at Nine am not a bad turn out old friends cares June, and of course us not a bad service well done and the off home
We watch Hancock its not too bad
No Scrabble today


Anca Petrescu
Anca Petrescu was the architect who designed the People’s Palace – Nicolae Ceausescu’s monstrous monument to totalitarian kitsch

Anca Petrescu inside the People’s Palace Photo: AP
6:02PM GMT 01 Nov 2013
Anca Petrescu, who has died following a road accident aged 64, was an architect known as the “Albert Speer of Communism”, responsible for the Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu’s “Palace of the People” in Bucharest — the world’s greatest monument to totalitarian kitsch.
Ceausescu conceived the idea of building the palace in 1977, when an earthquake struck Bucharest leaving more than 1,500 dead and large areas devastated. He saw the disaster as an opportunity to build a new “civic centre”, and in the summer of 1977 two competitions were launched — one for the overall master plan; the other for the “House of the People”, as the Palace was then called, to house Ceausescu and his entourage, along with key government departments.
Anca Petrescu, a junior employee at the state design institute, had only just qualified as an architect, so at first she did not enter the competition. But because Ceausescu took so long to decide what he wanted it was still going in 1981, by which time she had finished second in one of the aborted heats and had met the dictator. “He was a good listener, a very patient man,” she recalled. “He wasn’t a vampire!”
Although Anca Petrescu failed to make the final shortlist in 1981, she refused to give in and, resigning her job, she spent three months building a scale model of her design — bombastic, ornate and smothered in gilt. She then wrote Ceausescu a letter saying that she would like to present it to him. At first she was fobbed off, but her persistence paid off, and in the end her model was presented alongside those of the other finalists.

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The Palace of the People, Bucharest
Legend has it that Ceausescu walked into the room and was bowled over by the glitzy interloper — but there were also rumours that he may have taken a shine to its creator. In February 1982, at the age of 32, Anca Petrescu was appointed chief architect of a project whose raison d’être, in Ceausescu’s tautological phrase, was to be “a grandiose edifice that reflects the epoch of the time”.
The construction, which began in June 1984, was a project akin to the pyramids. During the five years leading up to Ceaucescu’s execution one million Romanians, including military conscripts, political prisoners and a team of 700 architects, worked round the clock to put it up, painstakingly carving huge oak, elm and cherry doors and sculpting giant crystal chandeliers for marble rooms almost as big as athletics fields. Even nuns were forced to work, weaving acres of carpets and embroidering gold-threaded curtains. There were never fewer than 20,000 workers on site at any one time; deaths were common.
The project had a huge impact on the Romanian capital. Three historic districts in the centre of Bucharest — four square miles of the city — were demolished, along with 27 churches and synagogues. Around 40,000 people were given only two days to leave their homes, and some had no alternative but to leave behind their possessions for the bulldozers.

A reception hall inside the Palace of the People
Elsewhere, two mountains were hacked down for the one million cubic metres of white and pink Transylvanian marble required, while entire forests were destroyed for panelling, floors, furniture and doors (Ceausescu insisted that all materials used should be native to the motherland). The cascading chandeliers alone accounted for 3,500 tonnes of crystal; the largest, measuring nine metres in diameter and weighing five tonnes, had 1,000 light bulbs.
By the time the palace was completed, it could burn more electricity in three hours than all of Bucharest’s two million inhabitants consumed in 24. Between 1984 and 1989, while the Romanian people were struggling to survive with limited heating and meagre rations, the building consumed 30 per cent of Romania’s national budget.
Ceausescu took a close interest in its construction, terrifying the workforce with impromptu visits to the site and frequent changes of mind which resulted in the building featuring a mishmash of styles. Anca Petrescu recalled how, on one visit, he claimed to notice that some carved flowers decorating columns inside the building were not equal: “I never noticed that,” she recalled. “I was exhausted and the others were petrified… We all swore that it was OK.” But he ordered someone to climb a ladder and measure them, and determined that one flower was one centimetre shorter than the others. The columns had to be made all over again.

The tyrant visited the palace for the last time in November 1989, to witness the first completed room — a month before he and his hated wife Elena were executed on live television by firing squad.
The end of communism brought work to a halt as Romania’s new leaders pondered what to do with the building. Suddenly Anca Petrescu found herself being treated as a pariah, and in 1990 a group of architects led a campaign to see her stand trial for misuse of national assets; she was even accused of genocide. She denied all charges, and the cases against her fell apart. But she was ostracised from her profession, received death threats and her house was set on fire. Later that year she left for Paris (at the invitation of President Mitterrand, she claimed), where she won commissions to build hotels for Club Med.
In the early 1990s the debate over the future of the unfinished palace, now open to the public, became heated. Some wanted it demolished; others suggested it could be turned into a museum of communism, a Dracula theme park, or even the biggest casino in Europe. Meanwhile, looters set to work, removing bags of cement, marble, doors, and furniture.
Four years after Ceausescu’s execution the government decided to act. They rebaptised it the “Parliament Palace” and, in 1994, resumed work. In subsequent years an international conference centre was opened inside; the lower and upper houses of parliament moved in, along with a new museum of contemporary art, the Romanian Constitutional Court and the South-east European Law Enforcement Centre.
Although one travel book described the palace as “one of the world’s worst eyesores”, over time public aversion waned. Indeed, many Romanians began to claim that they liked the building; and even those who did not took pride in the exquisite workmanship involved.
In 2002, when the decision was taken to add a Reichstag-style glass cupola in the centre of the building, Anca Petrescu was brought back in from the cold and asked to supervise the job.
At 84 metres in height, 270m long, 245m wide, and stretching 92m underground, with 13 floors, 7,000 rooms, three kilometres of passages and a total floor area of 450,000 square metres, the “People’s Palace” occupies seven times the cubic volume of the Palace of Versailles, and is the second-largest public administration building on earth after the Pentagon. But it still has problems: among other things, Ceausescu vetoed the installation of air conditioning, fearing chemical attacks through the ventilation system, while the monstrous staircases, cut to fit the dictator’s tiny feet, are notoriously difficult to walk up and down.
The daughter of a surgeon, Mira Anca Victoria Marculet Petrescu was born on March 20 1949, a year after the communists came to power in Romania. She was brought up in Sighisoara, a Transylvanian fortress town north-west of Bucharest. After graduating in 1973 from the Ion Mincu Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, she joined the state design institute.
After her return to Romania Anca Petrescu became involved in politics, and in 2004 entered parliament on the lists of Romania’s opposition nationalist Greater Romania Party. The following year she stood for election as mayor of Bucharest but won less than four per cent of the vote.
When interviewed about her role in building the People’s Palace, Anca Petrescu tended to lapse into evasive, Soviet-style doublespeak, cutting off interviewers brusquely if they enquired about her relationship with Ceausescu. When asked by one western journalist how she justified the suffering Romanians went through as a result of her work, she retorted: “That is a question originating from someone who can only understand a system based on profit as motivation.” Her favourite novels, she revealed, were the “sick works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, because they fit my soul”.
Anca Petrescu, born March 20 1949, died October 30 2013

I see Jane Austin’s sister Cassandra’s drawing of her as a feisty, determined, thoughtful and observant portrait (Comment, 1 November); her mouth expressing a steely intolerance of bullshit; in her eyes a certain exasperation with the world. It’s characterful, a real person, completely without artifice or pretension. A brave and stalwart person, who, it is easy to imagine, could have patiently engaged herself in writing those books. Tanya Gold falls into the trap she complains of, describing Cassandra’s portrayal of Jane as “a wonky cross patch, staring with mild malevolence out of the past”. Look closer, Tanya. You are perpetuating the confusion over what is and isn’t an acceptable image of women, thus contributing to the reason why we are going to have on our £10 notes, via the airbrushed watercolour of Jane, a mindless, doe-eyed, dim-witted, fearful girl who could never in a million years have had the depth of thought and feeling, the sparkling integrity, to write those books.
Judy Marsh
• Tanya Gold bemoans the prettification of Jane Austen on the English tenner as further evidence of the malign influence of deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes. But she should take note of a more enlightened approach north of the border. For years the back of Clydesdale Bank’s £10 note has been graced by a less than flattering portrait of the 19th-century Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor. She’s the only non-royal female to appear on a banknote, I gather. And a female recognised for her achievements – not her looks. I’ll send one down Tanya. But be warned, due to another form of discrimination, you may have some trouble using it in London.
Colin Montgomery

There has been a surprisingly low level of comment about the takeover of the Co-op Bank by two US hedge funds, leaving the Co-op with a mere 30% stake (Co-operative Bank sale leaves ethical savers with a dilemma, 24 October). The Co-op movement has deep roots in mutualism, ethical and collective principles which are ostensibly at odds with the capitalist principles upon which the takeover is based.
Illustration by Gary Neill
This suggests that there are three options: 1) a name change for the currently named Co-operative Bank if the bank no longer operates as a mutual; 2) the possibility of switching members from the currently named Co-op Bank to a newly structured entity (perhaps based on credit unions) and residing within the Co-op structure (should that be permitted); 3) the 30% Co-op members acting alone to switch or remain in a bank that no longer is based on the principles which had drawn them to it in the first place.
We therefore call on Vince Cable, the secretary of state for business, to exercise his powers under section 76 of the Companies Act and require the Co-operative plc board to: (1) outline a plan to return the bank to democratic member-control within a fixed time frame; 2) give notice to the bank that it must change its name if it fails to return the bank to democratic member-control within a fixed time frame, so that members of the public are not misled regarding its structures, operating values and guiding principles; 3) work with the Financial Conduct Authority and Co-operative Group to ensure compliance with the Co-operative Group’s own rules.
Those people who recognise the importance of the Co-operative Bank can sign our petition, organised by the Fair Shares Association which, as above, calls on the secretary of state to exercise his powers  ( We also support the Save Our Bank – Co-op campaign (see We as a nation should have a variety of banking institutions and in this regard the mutualised financial institutions are a crucially important variant.
While there will be further developments on Monday, it is important to maintain pressure on those people with the power to do the right thing.
Professor Elizabeth Chell Kingston University, Rory Ridley-Duff Fairshares Association, Cliff Southcombe Social Enterprise Europe, Ian Snaith Consultant solicitor, DWF LLP, Ashley Simpson National Youth Committee
• Over the last two decades many charities and campaigning groups have moved their accounts to the Co-operative Bank and urged others to do so. A major reason for this was the bank’s ethical policy – which sets out clearly and uniquely how monies will and will not be invested. As customers, we call on those involved in setting out the bank’s future to do their utmost to set in stone the continuance of the Co-op Bank ethical policy and the underlying commitments to customer consultation, well-resourced implementation, third-party independent audit and warts-and-all reporting. The establishment of these commitments in the articles of association of a new entity would provide serious reassurance that the bank can continue to be a world leader in ethical investment.
Jenny Ricks, Head of campaigns, Action Aid, Mary Shephard, General manager, Animal Aid, Mark Farmaner, Director, Burma Campaign UK, Tim Hunt, Director, Ethical Consumer, Craig Bennett, Director of policy and campaigns, Friends of the Earth, John Sauven, Executive director, Greenpeace UK, Sally Copley, Head of UK campaigns, Oxfam, Phoebe Cullingworth, Activism & events Manager, People & Planet, Keith Tyrell, Director, Pesticide Action Network, Catherine Howorth, Chief executive officer, ShareAction, Jeanette Longfield, Co-ordinator, Sustain, Paul Monaghan , Director, Up the Ethics, John Hilary, Executive director, War On Want, Nick Dearden, Director, World Development Movement
• Now that a decision appears to have been taken on the structure of RBS (Bad-bank verdict may upstage RBS chief, 1 November) surely it’s time for a proper debate about its future. The loss of the Co-op Bank to hedge funds means that the option of retaining RBS in the public sector makes sense. It could be positioned as an ethical bank, supporting strategic industrial and business investment. That would offer real choice and people would flock to it. We might call it the People’s Bank.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

The magnetic levitation railway technology, which David Hurry says has been “proven in Japan and China” (Letters, 31 October) was pioneered at Birmingham airport, coincidentally on the HS2 route.
Dr Ian West
Telford, Shropshire
• Any party that will renationalise the railways, energy companies and water will have the greatest win in any election ever. Just have the courage.
Elizabeth Bakhurst
Barnet, Hertfordhire
• Our trick or treaters included a girl in a cloak and pointed hat, one in a brown animal costume, and a small boy wearing a Tony Blair mask: the lion, the witch and the warmonger.
Dave Headey
Faringdon, Oxfordshire
• Can I nominate Jane Wade (Letters, 30 October) for a Guardian award for “best letter”? The beautifully written description of her encounter with a destitute young man on her way to a concert, so tellingly and imaginatively compared with another young man, the concert pianist, conveyed the utter depravity of aspects of this government’s social security programme with truly poetic concentration and insight. Please send copies to all coalition cabinet members, their aides and abetters.
Keith Hearnden
Loughborough, Leicestershire
• My parents, in 1944, both said “love, honour and equal pay” during their wedding (Letters, 30 October). I am still waiting for equal pay for all women.
Mari Booker
• Here on the edge of the Peak District (Letters, 31 October), I’ve just made six pots of own-brand crabapple jelly, harvested a basketful of fine yellow quinces, and picked a supper’s worth of pot-grown courgettes and the final four fat figs (the last of at least 20). Well, this is Yorkshire.
Kirsten Cubitt Thorley
• We have heads of purple sprouting broccoli and primroses in flower. They’re both either six months early or six months late. I’ve no idea which.
Peter Hanson

Your obituary of Lou Reed (29 October) refers to Lou Reed’s sexuality, character and environment in the diction of a homophobic 1950s judge poised to pass sentence: “aberrant sexual behaviour”, “sexually ambiguous underworld”, “transgressive sex”, “electroconvulsive therapy intended to cure him of … homosexual instincts”, “lived openly for several years with a transvestite”. While sheltering behind outdated cliches and failing to consider what impact it might have had on Reed’s adolescent character to be given electroconvulsive therapy to “cure” him of homosexuality – or rather bisexuality – it betrays no awareness of how far this extraordinary singer-musician-poet’s creativity was surely shaped and spurred by his sexual nature and his affinity, when adult, with the sexually unconventional and stigmatised to whom the obituary merely alludes
Nicholas de Jongh

With the rejection of the Press Standards Board of Finance’s application for an injunction to prevent the government’s royal charter being accepted by the privy council (Report, 29 October), there is just a possibility that reality will begin to dawn in the war of words waged by the press on one side and the victims of press intrusion on the other.
To suggest that 300 years of press freedom have suddenly been consigned to the rubbish bin is pure tabloid nonsense. Again, to talk about the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Report, 31 October) as about to dole out £1m fines to newspapers which breach a new code of conduct is pure cloud cuckoo land stuff. It just won’t happen.
Interestingly, it may be the judges who can now unlock the stand-off in the fighting between politicians and the press. The judges are independent of the executive and there is nothing to stop them making it clear that hopeless or vexatious cases brought against the press under a “free” arbitration system paid for by the press will simply not be allowed. Access to justice is wholly laudable but any attempt to abuse either a “free” arbitration system or the judicial process needs to be deterred with indemnity costs orders.
The judges draft the civil procedure rules. They could and should make it clear that they will play their part in making sure a “free” arbitration system is not abused and that it should be a mandatory precursor to expensive high court litigation. While newspapers must shoulder the cost of resolving ambiguities or inaccuracies in what they print, those bringing bad or frivolous claims must know that they will be penalised if they try to abuse a “free” arbitration system.
The high court rules committee must act now and make it clear that it will stay libel or privacy claims and send them off to fasttrack arbitration under the defamation pre-action protocol – like 28-day adjudication in the construction industry – if there are key issues in dispute, such as the “meaning” of the words complained of, which could and should be determined quickly and easily outside our hugely expensive high court system.
Alastair Brett
Managing director of Early Resolution and former legal manager at Times Newspapers Ltd
• The Guardian’s own stance on the rival royal charter proposals has been judicious, diplomatic and fair; but I very much hope that now a charter has been sealed, the Guardian will initiate or join in vigorous efforts to set up a regulator under it.
Dick Nowell
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire


‘In even the best of independent schools, there are many teachers of maths and physics who do not hold a degree in those subjects’
Sir, Richard Cairns may well have 39 teachers in his school without formal teaching qualifications (letter, Oct 31) and, as head of an independent school, that is his prerogative. Many independent schools, however, encourage such teachers to obtain a teaching qualification while in employment, thereby increasing the supply of qualified teachers, some of whom may later wish to find employment in state schools. Such an enlightened approach is a benefit to the nation and to the teachers themselves.
Mr Cairns’s comment concerning “the great army of state teachers who are genuinely unqualified” is an unworthy swipe at schools working in circumstances more difficult than his own. In even the best of independent schools, there are many teachers of maths and physics who do not hold a degree in those subjects, but in a related discipline — and the point is that this really doesn’t matter. Most teaching takes place at GCSE level and below, and is not rocket science, so to speak. An enthusiasm for the subject being taught and an interest in how young people learn make these teachers more than adequately qualified, and a formal teaching qualification demonstrates their commitment to the profession.
Graham Cramp
Malvern, Worcs

Sir, The Head Master of Brighton College, relying on his experience of teaching the children of comparatively prosperous and supportive parents, does not think that teachers in publicly funded schools need to be qualified. As any of us who have been educated and then taught in schools of the kind he runs knows, teaching in such schools is one thing, teaching in schools with a high proportion of children lacking those advantages is very different. The opinions of headmasters without substantial experience of teaching in such schools on the need for the teachers in them to be trained is worth rather less than they may suppose.
Sir Peter Newsam
Pickering, N Yorks

Sir, In an age which values research and expects universities to convey the knowledge gained to their students, why should intending teachers be deprived of advances in knowledge about such things as children’s behaviour, cognition, creativity, learning and learning difficulties, problem solving, etc? I would have some respect for Mr Cairns and his colleagues if I thought that they were conversant with that body of knowledge and had judged it objectively.
The English continually fail to learn from the past. They lost out in the second half of the Industrial Revolution because they valued “sitting by Nellie” as the preferred means of learning. In contrast, the continentals, especially Germany, developed their education and training systems and leapt ahead. The standards of teaching cannot be raised if governments persist in the de-professionalisation of teaching. There are many other constraints that prevent good teaching, notably overloaded curriculums and badly designed assessment and examination procedures.
In Ireland, where teacher training is compulsory, many adults who had been teaching without qualifications elsewhere, including England, found the training to be of benefit.
John Heywood
Professor of Teacher Education (1977-1996),
University of Dublin, Trinity College


More changes are needed to ensure an effective complaints system within the NHS, and this reader gives some practical suggestions
Sir, It is good that Ann Clwyd and Tricia Hart have taken a hard look at the failing complaints system (report, Oct 29), but I fear that, in spite of the reports from Robert Francis and Don Berwick, we shall need stronger action to achieve change in the culture in the NHS.
I proposed to the working party that the raising of concerns (a better term than complaints) by all NHS staff should be discussed within annual appraisals, and appraisers should bring these concerns to the attention of management.
There should be a doctor elected from the medical staff co-opted on to the Trust Board responsible for overseeing concerns, plus two patients with the same remit.
Patients should be asked by nursing or other staff when leaving a ward or clinic whether they have any concerns, which would be collated by the ward/clinic nursing sister. Any concerns would initially be handled by the responsible named consultant and the ward/clinic sister face to face with the complainant or in writing, and then when it is necessary they should be responsible for following any escalation of the concern through the Trust management system. Whenever possible the consultant should sign off the reply to the concern, and not the chief executive.
Professional groups within hospitals, such as the committees of doctors or nurses, should discuss concerns and suggestions of their group and take them to management.
More attention should be given to the views and experience of trainee doctors, who are “the eyes and ears of the hospital”. The professional bodies (Royal Colleges, etc) should provide confidential support for whistleblowers who fail to get satisfaction.
These measures would be a start in encouraging an open exchange of concerns and suggestions throughout hospitals and eliminating bullying.
Sir Richard Thompson
President, Royal College of Physicians
London NW1

The press’s own substantially Leveson-compliant, independent organisation for self-regulation will be up and running long before the government equivalent
Sir, “A recognition body that nobody recognises. A system of voluntary regulation without volunteers.” Your leading article of Oct 31 aptly summed up the messy pizza cooked up by politicians and the Hacked Off lobbyists to regulate the British press.
We’ll never know what the Queen thought of the Royal Charter she was obliged to ratify by the Privy Council. But Her Majesty could be forgiven for privately wondering why she’d been cast in the starring role of an off-Westminster farce with Buck House turned into the Palace Theatre. With most of Britain’s national and local press at the Appeal Court arguing that 300 years of press freedom was being undermined, this was a Royal Charter like no other. Royal Charters (or Letters Patent) are all about the royal imprimatur being granted to organisations which voluntarily seek it, not imposed on a steadfastly opposed key player.
If the following morning the Queen listened to the BBC radio programme on which Hacked Off’s Dr Evan Harris, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller and I variously appeared, she would have been entitled to feel somewhat confused. Harris declared that newspapers could “unsign” from the regulatory system laid out in the Royal Charter. Miller insisted that it was “entirely voluntary” for the press while returning to the sinister old line that the Royal Charter was “the best way to resist full statutory regulation”.
She now admits it will probably take a year to set up the body responsible for overseeing the new press regulator created by the Royal Charter, begging the question of who would volunteer for the role of overseeing a “voluntary” body to which the newspaper and magazine industry en masse was refusing to “volunteer”. Long before then the press’s own substantially Leveson-compliant, Independent Press Standards Organisation plan for self-regulation will be up and running. The public — simultaneously favourable to tougher press regulation but hostile to politicians’ fingers all over it — are likely to be satisfied.
Paul Connew
Former editor of the Sunday Mirror

Sir, Without the support of the press many government failings and public health scandals would never be exposed. For example, in the case of pesticides, rural residents whose health has been put at risk from pesticide spraying near homes, schools and playgrounds have been failed at every turn by the State, parts of the judiciary, even certain NGOs. The only sector prepared to help expose this scandal is the media, predominantly the print press.
There have been many victims of establishment cover-ups, corruption and collusion who have only had their voices heard because we have a free press. There is much that can be said in favour of a strong independent media that exposes disgraceful injustices, and is able to shine a light in places which, no doubt the State, along with many politicians, would prefer remained in darkness.
Georgina Downs
UK Pesticides Campaign
Runcton, West Sussex

The Falkland Islands have been under British governance from 1765. Argentina did not come into existence until 1816
Sir, Alicia Castro, Argentina’s Ambassador, stated that “the Malvinas’ inhabitants are British, but the territory in which they live is not” (letter, Oct 31). That is a lie.
Having been first landed on by the English in 1690, when the Falkland Islands were so named, they have been under British governance from 1765. Argentina did not come into existence until 1816, when it claimed its independence from Spain.
In 1982 the Galtieri junta attempted to take by force land that has never belonged to Argentina, and been inhabited for generations by English-speaking people of British descent.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
London W1

‘The largely incompetent trustees of the British Museum fell under the influence of Joe Duveen, the world’s most unscrupulous and successful art dealer’
Sir, The Elgin Marbles could have done with a safe refuge such as the Museum of the Acropolis, commended by Oliver Kamm (Notebook, Oct 29) during the inter-war period. The largely incompetent trustees of the British Museum fell under the influence of Joe Duveen, the world’s most unscrupulous and successful art dealer, who in effect bought his position by lavish benefactions which included a large sum to rehouse the Marbles. He insisted that they “should be thoroughly cleaned — so thoroughly that he would dip them into acid”, as the chairman of the trustees, Lord Crawford, recorded in his diary on May 8, 1931. A terrible disaster was only narrowly averted.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords


SIR – Train companies and Network Rail ran amended timetables on Monday to ensure the safety of passengers and staff. The severity of the storm indicates this was the right decision; more than 400 trees fell on to tracks. Operators will be giving full refunds to passengers who could not travel.
Network Rail separately compensates operators for the impact of disruption on long-term revenue. It is wrong to suggest that this money is meant to be “passed on” to passengers. This system, overseen by the rail regulator, ensures the millions paid to government by train companies are not jeopardised by events beyond their control.
Michael Roberts
Director, General Rail Delivery Group
London EC1
SIR – “Trackside growth” provides an invaluable habitat for wildlife that is being driven out by our burgeoning human population. I hope Network Rail does not resort to the destruction of these havens by over-reaction to the rare chance of a hurricane.
Gary Spring
Swansea, Glamorgan
SIR – Ian Robertson asks how well our wind turbines performed during the storm. From 6pm on Sunday to 4am on Monday their output fell from 5 gigawatts (GW) to about 1.5 GW, presumably as they were turned off. During the week, wind turbine output fluctuated between 0.5 GW and 5  GW. This large variation is the real problem with wind power.
G H Williams
Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

SIR – David Kynaston seems ill-informed about independent schools’ contribution to social mobility. Far from being full of Tim Nice-But-Dims, many are in the vanguard of widening educational opportunity.
My school’s access scheme, the Arnold Foundation, has admitted dozens of underprivileged pupils in the past decade, being praised by the National Foundation for Educational Research for lifting educational ambition in deprived parts of Britain. With other members of the sector, we are expanding this work through the Springboard bursary foundation.
Patrick Derham
Head Master, Rugby School
Rugby, Warwickshire
SIR – Northern Ireland never relinquished grammar schools and has the highest social mobility in the British Isles.
Brian J Singleton
Baslow, Derbyshire
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It was safest to cancel trains before the storm
01 Nov 2013
SIR – David Kynaston is right to argue that the grammar school did not serve poorer pupils as well as it might. Its demise is surely a red herring when it comes to assessing the cause of a stalling of social mobility in the United Kingdom.
A more likely factor is its replacement: comprehensive schools. Middle-class parents like me were more than happy to move house in return for places at the better ones. This process, over decades, has left us with one class of state schools serving the disadvantaged poor, and one serving the better off. Ask any estate agent.
Dr Andy Dyson
Southwell, Nottinghamshire
SIR – Lack of social mobility is due to the chronic under-performance of state schools that politicians have allowed to be run for the benefit of the teachers, not the pupils, for generations.
The debate about unqualified teachers is part of this failure: a triumph of flawed social engineering over true results. David Kynaston is a fine historian but he needs to spend more time with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who will reverse the rot in the state system, and allow the many who are nice but neither indolent nor dim to become upwardly mobile.
Giles Vardey
Donhead St Mary, Dorset
SIR – I read with incredulity the letter from Toni Fazaeli of the Institute for Learning and others. The qualified teachers that they trained have presided over a disastrous decline in the basic skills of primary-school leavers over 60 years. Michael Gove is now trying to reverse this.
Despite smaller classes and better resources, they have done much worse in imparting basic skills than the largely unqualified teachers of earlier generations. No lack of personal commitment by our teachers is responsible; it is the wrong-headed training they have received.
David Paul
Bromley, Kent
Criminal destruction
SIR – Waste no time pitying barristers at the criminal bar. That their fees are about to be reduced by a further 15-20 per cent (having already suffered in real terms a 35 per cent cut since 2007) is not something for which many will feel inclined to shed tears. They are generally able people who will find something else to do.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has made a no-doubt astute political calculation that pleas from barristers as to their own plight, as opposed to that of their clients, will always fall on deaf ears. The ministry hopes to justify the cuts by relying on public misconceptions about what criminal barristers earn and broadcasting the gross fees of a select few at the very top of the profession. In fact, Mr Grayling knows full well that net earnings of the vast majority of the state-funded criminal bar are about £35-£40 an hour – lower than most doctors.
Criminal justice in the Crown Court is still delivered mainly by the independent self-employed bar. Employed Crown Prosecution Service and defence solicitor advocates have made inroads. But it is still independent barristers, by and large, who provide the service many take for granted. Most important cases (all are important for those, including victims, directly involved) are still handled by the bar.
This brings to the criminal justice system the ethos of fairness and excellence of the chambers system, where senior people give their time freely to junior barristers who are taught that independence counts and winning is not all.
The new cuts are so savage that the chambers system will not survive. Barristers will do other things or become employees of one side or the other. Once the chambers system is gone, replacing it with something as fine – and unashamedly British – will be impossible.
Mr Grayling, who is also our Lord Chancellor, does not appreciate the value of what he is so casually about to destroy.
So do not weep for barristers. But feel unease at the irreparable harm about to be done to a system which for a very long time has produced independent, free-spirited men and women whose quality ensured that the standard of British criminal justice was something to be proud of.
Andrew Langdon QC
Leader of the Western Circuit
Rick Pratt QC
Leader of the Northern Circuit
Alistair MacDonald QC
Leader of the North Eastern Circuit
Gregory Bull QC
Leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit
Mark Wall QC
Leader of the Midlands Circuit
Sarah Forshaw QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit
Cry freedom
SIR – Goodbye freedom of the press.
Next, freedom of speech? Coming soon, freedom itself?
Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Stuck in a jam
SIR – Britain is being forced to accept pointless legislation from the EU, reducing the sugar in jam and marmalade (report, October 31). Sugar is an essential setting and preserving aid when making jam.
This directive serves only to bring us
“in-line” with European manufacturers who, unlike Britain’s commercial and domestic jam-makers, produce jam lacking in taste and with limited shelf life.
If this legislation goes through, people should, as I do, make jam themselves. They will not be disappointed.
Bill Hollowell
Undercover liaisons
SIR – As a former detective with the Regional Crime Squad in the Seventies, I often went “undercover” with women: wives and girlfriends of suspected offenders mainly.
It was clear to me at the time that in many cases they enjoyed our secret liaisons, and that sex would have been available had I sought it. However, I believed (without having to be told) that undercover sex was taboo and I would never have dreamt of indulging in something that could have cost me my job (so I thought) if I was discovered.
And now, many years later, I learn that undercover sex might have been OK. Had I taken advantage, it would surely have led to more arrests. If only somebody had told me.
Paul Heslop
Keswick, Cumberland
SIR – Undercover police are to be banned from having intimate relations with those they are investigating. Now the unlikely suggestion by Jenny Jones, a Green member of the London Assembly, is to legislate them out of existence.
One suspects that our security services may be a little more reluctant to surrender the honey trap than the Met. And in the spirit of the level playing field, who would tell Russia’s FSB (veteran honey-trappers par excellence) to keep espionage out of the bedroom?
Jules Wright
Hallaton, Leicestershire
Ring of truth
SIR – Gold is a “noble metal” and does not react with dilute hydrochloric acid. So a gold ring would not produce gold chloride if held to the eye. Copper does react with dilute hydrochloric acid, and copper salts have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Hence the former practice of making hospital door-handles of copper or brass.
However, it is theoretically possible that a low-purity gold ring, containing a large proportion of copper, zinc or silver, might show some degree of reaction.
Dr Chris Alabaster
SIR – Many years ago I suffered from sties and the gold ring remedy just did not work for me.
Mind you, neither did brushing a sty with a cat’s tail (another old wives’ remedy). I don’t think our cat was too happy about it, either.
J E Dixon
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
No return to Liverpool Care Pathway barbarism
SIR – It is astonishing to read that medical staff now claim that “patients are dying in agony” because halting the Liverpool Care Pathway leaves them too frightened to discuss end-of-life treatment. The way that the pathway was working meant that, too often, neither patients nor their relatives were given any information about it, or even asked whether they wanted to be put on it.
It was not that relatives simply did not understand why their loved ones could not have the drink they begged for, since when those relatives gave them water, they often recovered. It is to be devoutly hoped that we never return to such barbaric practices.
Baroness Knight
London SW1
SIR – If all good things were scrapped simply because some people handled them badly, we should be in a sorry state. The care of my late wife in Derby, when put on the pathway, was handled sensitively. It was a great comfort to her and to us, her family, in her last 48 hours.
Rev John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Could there be any more stark contrast between the success of the Web Summit and the failure of our capital city’s water supply over the past few days?
On one hand we have a hugely successful event, bringing key decision-makers and investors to Ireland to look at our burgeoning internet and digital industry, investing, creating employment and wealth. On the other hand we have a water supply system that fails to meet the basic needs of the population.
Imagine a group of investors, after meeting young Irish entrepreneurs at the summit and considering investing in their young company. They arrive in town for a meal to mull over the deal to find a restaurant unable to brew coffee, flush toilets and function normally because of a water shortage. What a wonderful advertisement that is for Ireland.
Clearly reform of our public services needs fresh impetus! – Yours, etc,
Caragh Green,
Naas, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Might the creation of a national infrastructure authority, into which the National Roads Authority could be subsumed, be an appropriate response to the present and projected water supply problems in Dublin? Such an authority would handle project planning for all major infrastructure projects in the State, including those connected with the supply of energy and water; and the processing of waste, as well as interconnections with other states. – Yours, etc,
Glencree Road,
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Is the Government’s water policy a washout?
Fremont Drive,
Melbourn Estate,
Sir, – Ballymore useless water treatment plant? – Yours, etc,
Shandon Crescent,
Dublin 7.
Sir, – We are told water is turned back on at 7am but it may take two hours to get to some people.
Then we are assured that if the fire brigade needs water in a location where there is none that it will be turned on for them. Could this also take up to two hours to get to them? – Yours, etc,
Birchfield Park,
Goatstown, Dublin 14.
Sir, – At a time when a great deal of attention is focused on the water supply problems of our capital city and environs, a case in the High Court (Home News, October 22nd) draws attention to another significant environmental challenge facing Dublin – the proposal to extend the Ringsend treatment plant and build a 9km tunnel to discharge treated effluent into Dublin Bay.
The bay is, of course, a treasured amenity used by thousands of people on a daily basis. Moreover, Ireland rightly aspires to being a “green” location – for tourism, for clean industries and the like. Dublin Bay is a magnificent gateway to this island for visitors by air and, especially, by sea.
Surely, discharging sewage in the vicinity of an area designated as a Special Area of Conservation is wrong on every level? In the 21st century, we can do better than the traditional “Irish solution to an Irish problem”. – Yours, etc,
Prospect Terrace,
Dublin 4.
A chara, – We’ve had a week of mind-blowing high-tech in Dublin.
The authorities want to pipe 600 million litres of water per day from the Shannon.
Is there not one low-tech entrepreneur out there who will show me how to pipe some of the 35,000 litres of rainwater that falls on my roof each year into the house for those tasks which do not need treated water? – Is mise,
Blackthorn Court,
Dublin 16.

Sir, – You assert there is “scant evidence of a significant reduction in the State’s pharmaceutical bill that the bailout programme prescribed” (Editorial, October 31st). I can understand how this perception prevails, but it misrepresents the efforts made by the research-based pharmaceutical industry (represented by the IPHA) to play its part in reducing the healthcare bill. Furthermore, it should be noted that medicines account for only 12.5 per cent of the total healthcare bill.
From 2008 to 2013 the number of medical cards issued to patients rose by a staggering 520,000, and these additional card-holders would have been prescribed about 15 million items of medicine over the period. Following a series of price reductions by the research-based pharmaceutical industry, the cost to the State per item was reduced by more than 20 per cent, generating savings for the Exchequer in the GMS scheme alone of circa €266 million. The total savings to the Exchequer across all community-based schemes over the same period was in the region of €554 million.
Currently, the prices of original brand medicines (both on- and off-patent) supplied by members of the IPHA are now at or below the European average. Significant further savings are on the way in the off-patent sector via the new system of reference pricing and generic substitution that is being rolled out.
Put simply, the significant savings made in the State’s pharmaceutical bill have been masked by the huge growth in the numbers of medicines dispensed to patients. However, it should be acknowledged that through the provision of deep cuts in the price of medicines, the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland has played its part in assisting the Government in its efforts to bring us through these very difficult times. – Yours, etc,
Chief Executive,
Irish Pharmaceutical
Healthcare Association Ltd,
Pembroke Road,

Sir, – Paul Cullen’s analysis (Home News, October 31st) of the current HSE medical card PR campaign and Muiris Houston’s article (Opinion, October 30th) on the same topic are very welcome.
The farcical publicity drive underway from the HSE, to inform and reassure people about the current “discretionary” medical card fiasco, is fooling no-one. Reassurances about “eligibility” are being tossed around as if eligibility is not something upon which a deliberate decision is made, by civil servants on our behalf.
Means-tested income is one basis for eligibility, but so is need. Parents’ and carers’ heartfelt efforts on behalf of their children and family members with serious enduring conditions and health needs are being swept aside as “political” manoeuvring. How distasteful!
The only political thuggery is keeping the masses who have children without serious medical conditions apparently happy by offering their children free GP care, while at the same time taking away medical cards from those who need them most. Universal access to primary care for all is a policy I support, but not as a meaningless token while slashing services with the other hand.
The universal five-and-under GP access was dressed up on Budget night as representing that we “cherish all our children equally”.
This smug nonsense hides the fact children have different needs. They require different levels of support and resources. This “capabilities approach” to human development, from economist Amartya Sen, and philosopher Martha Nussbaum is internationally recognised and used to enhance and measure human development, including within the UN Development Programme.
Real opportunities for all require different sets of resources for some, and it is a shame that those left to fight day-in, day-out for services for their loved ones are patronised and undermined. As an Irish citizen I am ashamed to stand over and participate in this. – Yours, etc,
Elm Mount Road,

Sir, – Joe Coy writes that he will not tolerate any geographical reference to describe the state that lies predominantly to the south of Northern Ireland, including the term “Southern Ireland” (October 29th). He insists that the 26 counties will instead be simply referred to as “Ireland”.
This monopoly on the use of Ireland is both ugly and divisive. It tries to reduce Ireland and an Irish identity to an adherence to a state that is made up of only one part of the country. The former unionist leader, Terence O’Neill, was always offended by the idea that he did not live in Ireland. He saw state and country as not enjoying absolute equivalence. One could be loyal to the United Kingdom and still be a proud Irishman. Ironically it is the attitude of people like Mr Coy, who evidently dislikes Ireland’s political division, that digs a trench across this island, making it easier for some in Northern Ireland today to deny any trace of a common Irish identity with those living south of the border.
Perhaps it is better to use “Southern Ireland” than continuing to make the preposterous claims that a 26-county state constitutes “Ireland”. The country is far greater than that. – Yours, etc,
The Centre for the Study of
Terrorism and
Political Violence,
St Andrews University,
Fife, Scotland.
Sir, – We are back to the perennial difficulty that gets an airing in your columns: the respective names of the two jurisdictions that between them rule what can unequivocally and without contradiction be called Ireland.
I agree with Joe Coy (October 29th) that there is no country called “Southern Ireland”. I automatically think of Cork and Kerry whenever I hear these words being voiced. Neither are there countries called “The North”, “The South”, or “The Republic”. Yet in everyday conversation these terms are commonly used and understood as referring to either of the two political regimes that hold sway over us.
To add to the confusion, both our postage stamps and our money declare our name as being Éire. – Yours, etc,
Ballymany, Newbridge,
Co Kildare.
Sir, – While Colm Kelly’s response (November 1st) to Paul O’Neill (October 31st) regarding the status of the two states in Ireland is no doubt accurate from a technical point of view, it does demonstrate a rather disappointing attitude regarding what “Ireland” actually is. He seems indifferent and lacking in knowledge that northern nationalists would refer to Ireland to include all 32 counties, which of course in our complex history should not come as a surprise to him or anyone.
While he quotes articles within the Irish Constitution, it is also worthy of note that in sporting terms the 26-county soccer team is referred to as the Republic of Ireland and the six-county team as Northern Ireland. In rugby terms the team comprising all 32 counties is simply referred to as Ireland, perhaps a term I would suggest everyone is comfortable with.
I also noted that in his reference to “our state” as Ireland he too displays an equally confusing version of geography as the last time I looked Cambridge, where Mr Kelly resides, was in England, United Kingdom! – Yours, etc,
Sharman Road,
Belfast 9.

Sir, – There has been an awful lot written about “Polyester Protestants” in your Letters page of late. Spare a thought for other groups who haven’t had a look in: Bombazine Buddhists, Calico Catholics, Jaconet Jews, Muslin Muslims and Nylon Non-believers, to name a few. – Yours, etc,
Meadow Copse,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – Dr Desmond Fennell (October 31st) faults the multi-party system as an impediment to democracy. Political parties are the natural outcome of like-minded individuals combining their efforts to achieve a shared goal. The obvious faults in our political system, which Dr Fennell points out, are more the results of manipulations generated by successive leadership cohorts which dominated the parties, rather than any inherent flaw in political associations. Greater levels of participation by the general public in the political process and greater control of the process at grassroots levels, are steps which can help ameliorate the existing flaws.
Candidates for local and national offices should be selected by members of cumanns in secret ballot, primary-style elections; officials at party headquarters should be barred from interfering/influencing this nomination process. At local and national levels the party-whip rule and the guillotine procedure should be banned. Elected members of a political party will agree with the party’s general views the vast majority of times; when an elected member feels the need to disagree it should be remembered the individual was elected to represent the people and not the organisation. The guillotine procedure is an affront to the principle of freedom of speech. Use of the procedure implicates its practitioners as those who prefer to control rather than confer.
Democracy is the form, and political parties the function, of representing the aspirations of the people. – Yours, etc,
Shandon Street,
Co Waterford.

Sir, – With all the talk and worry about binge drinking, I wonder why Tesco has included gin and vodka in its Every Day range. Strange! – Yours, etc,
Brighton Avenue,

Sir, – Hill walking is increasingly being promoted for natives and tourists alike. So why can’t we make life a little bit easier and safer for the hill walker by discreetly marking the tops of our mountains and hills, with a stake and sign denoting the name and height of the mountain?
It is done in other jurisdictions and in no way defaces the mountaintop. I recently wandered in a south-westerly direction off Scarr, Co Wicklow, instead of in a north westerly direction towards Kanturk, by not realising I had reached the top of Scarr, as it was enveloped in dense fog. I have done the Tour of Mont Blanc, walked in the Tyrolean Alps and the English Lake District and have found all mountain-tops and paths well marked and signposted, I never felt the markers were an intrusion on the landscape. And of course I never got lost! There are some great markers on our way-marked ways. Why can’t we continue the practice on our mountain tops? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I wholeheartedly support Mary O’Rourke’s plea to Ruairí Quinn (Education, October 29th) to keep history as a core subject at Junior Cert level. I think it should also be a core subject at Leaving Cert level.
How can we understand the state of the world today if we don’t know about the events and processes which brought us here? Indeed, if we learn about the events, failures and successes of the past we not only more fully understand the world we live in, but we are in a better position to plan the future. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Has Dublin City Council checked for bugged water? Perhaps our mobile phones have not been tapped, but the water services have! – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:
In most matters of tribulation, a point is inevitably reached when you end up saying enough is enough.
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If you want to see a really big tractor, call me
The latest announcement by Revenue about the payment of the controversial property tax reached this point for me, and it showed clearly that this Government’s brass neck has not dulled.
Revenue’s statement that those opting to pay this tax for 2014 by either cheque or debit card can expect to have the money deducted instantly after the November 27 deadline left even a hardened cynic like me aghast.
Not only have they swooped upon the property-owning populace – who will receive absolutely nothing in return for this cash grab – but they have the gall to demand that the money be given to them ahead of the year in question.
But please remember, none of this is their fault. It’s those nasty banks yet again.
Revenue’s website has the temerity to blame the fact that the money will be instantly deducted more than five weeks before the year of the tax itself on “the nature of the banking and credit card systems”!
Obviously, the simple expedient of allotting a deadline in January or February 2014 just did not occur to them.
Never mind that this course of action will be monumentally unpopular and massively unfair (the Government has long since abandoned any such considerations with regard to these matters) but have our leaders even half-considered the gross economic stupidity of sucking millions of euro out of a half-dead economy at precisely the time of year when the hard-pressed citizen might be prepared to part with at least some of their dwindling cash?
JD Mangan
Stillorgan, Co Dublin
* The State spent €100m on the Ballymore Eustace water plant when it had the money to burn.
Now that the country is bankrupt, there is not an earthly chance that we can do the necessary repairs to address our water needs.
I dread to think what the infrastructure around the country will look like about 10 years from now. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that parts of the country will resemble scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Road’.
Sean Mc Phillips
College Point, New York
* Those reading your Motoring section’s review of the new S-Class Mercedes (Irish Independent, October 30) will either be salivating with anticipation at getting one or seething with rage at the injustice of the road tax regime.
Isn’t there some irony that in a bankrupt country, a person who can afford a €100,000 car will only pay some €200 or less in road tax, whereas the vast majority of the downtrodden, taxed-into-oblivion masses pay over €700 for an old, two-litre family car?
Of course, the mantra is trotted out again and again that the older cars are contributing more to climate change than the newer models. The dogs in the street know that the politicians don’t lose sleep over global warming but the excuse is a nice little earner for the Exchequer.
History will record these times as a period of great unfairness and injustice by the Government towards its people.
John Hughes
Clonbur, Co Galway
* “Innovative and interesting” – that’s the phrase that best describes Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s decision to engage Willie Walsh, current head of International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways and Iberia’s parent company, as chairman of the advisory committee of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) (Irish Independent October 29).
It is a real breath of fresh air when one realises that this vast wealth of knowledge and experience is being tapped free of charge. The former Aer Lingus boss had a salary of £1.08m (€1.3m) from his day job last year, but won’t earn a cent from the NTMA.
Come to think of it, hasn’t the boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary – another world leader – been advising the Government where to “get on and get off” for years, and has charged them nothing for it?
It would be another real coup for Mr Noonan if he succeeded in roping him into the NTMA on an official basis, similar to Mr Walsh’s role. Mr O’Leary’s vast experience would be a mighty asset.
Incidentally, I would like to compliment Mr Noonan on his foresight in selecting Mr Walsh and in realising that those of “sky-high ambitions” are undoubtedly a cloud above the rest of the posse.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* I refer to an article by David McWilliams (Irish Independent, October 30).
I always get depressed when some economic expert writes, “it is just like the 1980s”. The time we live in is unlike any other in history.
The great economic ambitions of past centuries have been spectacularly achieved – the world can produce everything in great abundance and as a consequence “growth” is no longer necessary or possible.
But an endless frenzy to promote growth continues and as long as it does, economics will lurch from boom to bust, with each collapse leaving greater debt and human casualties in its wake. The economics of “growth” have been replaced by the economics of sufficiency or “enough”.
The economics of work have been replaced by the economics of “automation”, which, without policies to create more jobs from less work, will lead to unsustainable unemployment.
That is why the 21st Century is totally unlike any other period in history.
It is a remarkable time with great potential, but we will realise this potential only if we can adapt an out-of-date, ineffective economic philosophy to manage an entirely new and wonderful technological age, unlike anything ever experienced before.
Padraic Neary
Co Sligo
* The fluid situation regarding water supplies at the moment reminds me of the advice given to consumers in Britain during a long, hot summer by Ken Dodd: “When having a bath, just fill the water to a depth of six inches . . . that should cover it.”
Tom Gilsenan
Beaumont, Dublin 9
* Your letters page on October 31 showed an interesting and contrasting view on the quality of the programmes on radio and television these days.
Using phrases such as “enthralled”, “top-notch drama” and “excellent narrative”, Aaron McCormack asked whether we have “reached the pinnacle of television”.
Gary Cummins, on the other hand, came to the conclusion that we are “being insulted with the general lack of quality in the programmes being screened” to the extent that they are “an affront to people’s intelligence”.
The fact that such programmes mirror a decadent and violent society raises questions as to the effect these shows have on the mentality of the the millions who watch them each week.
It also raises questions as to how displaying arrogance and contempt for fellow human beings week after week could be declared the pinnacle of television.
A Leavy
Dublin 13
Irish Independent


November 1, 2013

1 November 2013 Hospital

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble the have to find a lost missile and disarm it!
Take Mary to the GP and hospital lonh wait for blood tests 5 hours home fish and chips
We watch Hancock its not too bad
No Scrabble today


Graham Stark
Graham Stark was an actor alongside Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films and provided voices for The Goon Show

Graham Stark (right) with Peter Sellers in ‘A Shot in the Dark’ Photo: REX
6:41PM GMT 31 Oct 2013
Graham Stark , the actor, who has died aged 91, was frequently cast in supporting roles in comedy films starring his close friend Peter Sellers.
Never quite achieving stardom himself, Stark moved on the periphery, appearing in nearly 80 films, often as the fall-guy or put-upon sidekick.
Stark’s links with Sellers dated from the post-war heyday of The Goon Show on BBC Radio, where his natural talent for creating funny voices shone through. The pair went on to appear in the popular Pink Panther films, Sellers starring as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau while Stark took various subservient roles. He was particularly notable as Hercule LaJoy in A Shot in the Dark (1964).

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Off screen, Stark and Sellers not only became good friends, but — as single men in the 1950s — shared many amorous adventures together, often taking girlfriends back to Sellers’s flat in Finchley Road where the machinery of seduction included one of the first automatic record-players in London. Stark would later stand as best man at all of Sellers’s four weddings.
Although best known as a comedy actor, Stark turned in a touching performance in the film Alfie (1966) as Humphrey, the bus conductor who marries the pregnant girlfriend of Michael Caine’s title character.
The son of a purser on transatlantic liners, Graham William Stark was born at Wallasey, Merseyside, on January 20 1922, and educated at Wallasey Grammar School, where he acted in school plays. He was only 12 when he appeared with the Liverpool Repertory Company as Macduff’s son in a production of Macbeth.
Dancing lessons led to his professional debut the following year in a West End pantomime, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (Lyceum, 1935). Moving to London in 1937, he took elocution lessons to lose his Merseyside accent and made his first, fleeting, film appearance as a bellboy in the thriller A Spy in Black (1939).
At 17 Stark enrolled at Rada, but volunteered for the RAF when war intervened, joining Ralph Reader’s gang shows and entertaining troops in North Africa, the Far East and Germany.
After the war Stark joined the bohemian coterie frequenting the ornate Grafton Arms pub in Victoria where up-and-coming entertainers like Terry-Thomas, Jimmy Edwards, Tony Hancock, Dick Emery and Alfred Marks held court. It was in the Grafton’s back bar that Stark renewed an RAF friendship with Peter Sellers while Sellers and Spike Milligan experimented with material that, in 1951, would metamorphose into The Goon Show.

Graham Stark in ITV’s ‘Tiger Bastable’ (ITV/REX)
As well as providing madcap voices for The Goons, Stark also appeared in other popular radio shows of the day, notably Educating Archie, with the ventriloquist Peter Brough, and Ray’s A Laugh, starring the Liverpool comedian Ted Ray.
Stark had a complex relationship with Spike Milligan, who suffered from manic depression . Whenever Milligan failed to turn up for a Goon Show recording, Stark would stand in for him; and when Milligan and Sellers moved into television with A Show Called Fred in 1956, Stark joined the cast.
In 1963 he appeared as a psychiatrist in Milligan’s bleak satirical comedy The Bed Sitting Room, set in the aftermath of World War III. But when Stark’s stage performance attracted critical acclaim, Milligan flew into a jealous rage and threatened to shoot him. Since Milligan was known to keep a revolver, Stark took the threat seriously — but the two were later reconciled.
In 1964 Stark starred in his television comedy sketch series, The Graham Stark Show, which — although written by Johnny Speight, later to create Till Death Us Do Part — proved a flop.
Stark was also an accomplished photographer, and often took pictures of stars, including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor , whom he encountered on film sets.
He published Remembering Peter Sellers in 1999 and an autobiography, Stark Naked, in 2003.
Graham Stark married, in 1959, the actress Audrey Nicholson, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.
Graham Stark, born January 20 1922, died October 29 2013


In September, a group of activists (mainly women) took action to stop the DSEi arms fair at the Excel centre in London. They are being taken to court and charged for peaceful actions such as blocking military equipment from entering the arms fair. But where is the wrong? Inside the arms fair, governments, military and private delegates were encouraged to spend on the latest military wares. Those who attended are fuelling murder, torture, and conflict across the world. They were not questioned, searched or arrested during their time in London, even though many of the attendees were from countries our own government identifies as having “the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns”. We support the activists who have stood up for peace and human rights and we support the right to strongly oppose and challenge the arms trade. The activists being charged, and taken to court on 4 November, for trying to stop this illegitimate trade should be congratulated, not convicted.
Caroline Lucas MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Linda Riordan MP, Mark Thomas, Michael Mansfield QC, Owen Jones, Peter Kennard, Peter Tatchell, Will Self, Emily Johns co-editor, Peace News, John Hilary director of War on Want, Dr Stuart White Jesus College, Oxford, Sam Hollick Oxford city councillor, Glyn Robbins chair of United East End, Shelley Sacks professor of social sculpture, Oxford Brookes University, Dr Rebecca E Johnson executive director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, Angie Zelter, Julia Oyster, Deborah Glass-Woodin, Bethan Tichborne, Helen Swanston, Rupert Eris, Tiggy Sagar, Valerie Cochrane, Philippa Cochrane, Kevin Meany, Jo Rowlands

Felicity Lawrence (Where did the 29% horse in your Tesco burger come from?, 22 October) misleadingly puts ABP Food Group at the heart of a story of alleged malpractice by Dutch meat trader Willy Selten. While ABP Silvercrest received a small amount of his meat, this was via a third-party supplier, Norwest. ABP was not one of the 502 customers in 16 different countries who purchased meat directly from Selten – meat that was later recalled by Dutch food authorities due to concern that it may have contained equine DNA. The meat that Norwest delivered to ABP Silvercrest was less than 0.1% of this total product recall.
In a second article (24 October), Ms Lawrence asserts “it is still not clear that anyone will be found responsible” for the horsemeat incident. ABP is taking every step possible to establish the source of contaminated product and reached a legal settlement in September with Norwest, which apologised for inadvertently supplying our company with contaminated product. We have also started legal proceedings in the Irish high court against a second supplier in Poland.
Among other misapprehensions, the second article gives the impression of an axis of corporate and personal relationships between Eamon Mackle of Freeza Meats and ABP’s chairman Larry Goodman. Mr Goodman was never friends with Mr Mackle and has not spoken to or met him in over 20 years, making the article’s characterisation of him being an “old friend” difficult to sustain. It is clear that the horsemeat issue was the result of an EU-wide fraud, and that many leading food producers – including Nestlé, Birdseye, and Findus – were independently and inadvertently affected by it. ABP is as keen as anyone to see that those responsible are prosecuted. We believe the industry in general, and ABP in particular, have made more progress than these two articles recognise.
Paul Finnerty
Group chief executive, ABP Food Group

Your call for a review of all intelligence surveillance programmes in Britain (Learning the Feinstein lesson, 29 October) is well made but makes one error. Those responsible for oversight here did know what was going on; they just failed to tell the rest of us. The interception of communications commissioner’s annual reports detail the process by which warrants for targeted interception are authorised but not those for mass surveillance.
The intelligence and security committee reported on the government’s communications data bill last February and must have been aware of the breadth of GCHQ surveillance programmes, but just did not tell us. Intelligence oversight institutions can never make public everything they read in their work, but those here must move beyond seeing their role in narrow legal and managerial terms, to inform the public as to the complexities of intelligence, while acting as real protectors of citizens’ rights.
Peter Gill
Research fellow, University of Liverpool
• Congratulations to the Guardian and its brave editor and staff for publishing the latest revelations on the US spying programme. I have been an editor and journalist for 40 years (now retired), and I am aware of the constant pressure from vested interests. Now David Cameron is threatening to use regulation to rein in the scope of the Guardian’s investigations. It’s outrageous; shooting the messenger because you don’t like the message. We must have newspapers such as the Guardian which, unlike other major newspaper groups, cannot be bought off or intimidated by powerful interests. Full support to the Guardian.
Darrel Cake
Spearwood, Western Australia
• Re the phone hacking trial (Report, 29 October): it would be helpful to we lay people if Judge Saunders could summarise when the hacking of innocent people’s phones ceases to be a criminal offence and becomes vital to national security. Is it a matter of scale?
Kevin Bell
I know I am a lone dissenting voice, but the truth is that Lou Reed was a poor musician (Obituary, 29 October). He could hardly sing or play. He also had an appalling effect on music, especially in Britain, being one of the main influences on the disastrous and unmusical punk movement, which flooded the scene with DIY players and destroyed the skill base here for years. He furthermore promoted heroin openly, leading to more horror. I can’t help feeling anger at the way he is revered. And a blow to his “alternative” status: it was revealed this week on BBC TV News’ that after the disintegration of the execrable Velvet Underground, he went back to working for his father’s accountancy firm. Hip!
Pete Brown

• Is it a symptom of an ageing society that even the man who sang “Heroin, be the death of me” in 1967 lived on to the age of 71?
Martin Hillary
Ipswich, Suffolk
• So I too must commit a crime and be sent to prison in order to become more of a “complete person” (Prison clearly does not work, G2, 30 October)? Overweening, arrogant and narcissistic crap.
Pete Lavender
• The Guardian, 30 October: front page – photo of model when she was 14; page 19 – article on the joining of Europe and Asia by the Istanbul tunnel. Are you chasing a tabloid readership?
Mike Clarke
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
• Forget about strawberries and peas. Is it a record that one letter writer has two letters published on the same day (David Craig, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire: Letters, 31 October)? I never get one published.
Anne Abbott
• Regarding Patricia Lowe’s query about when the word “electric” became a noun (Letters, 31 October), I’m 84 years old and clearly remember standing in shops, aged nine or 10, and hearing women saying how hard it was to put by enough money for “the gas”, or (more rarely) “the electric”.
Beryl Jackman
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Colin Leys (Private hospitals fail too, 28 October) is misleading on the transparency and availability of data about independent sector providers of NHS care. They are subject to the same regulatory scrutiny as the NHS and provide the same information so as to allow transparency and comparison. The Care Quality Commission includes independent providers in its annual audit. Independent hospitals are regularly inspected by the same CQC inspectors as the NHS, using the same inspection standards. The new friends and family test also includes independent providers and allows patients to rate independent hospitals using the same criteria as they use for NHS hospitals.
For elective procedures such as hip and knee replacements, independent providers submit the same comprehensive performance data including Patient Reported Outcome Measures, National Joint Registry statistics and NHS Hospital Episode Statistics. All these are available online and are collated by the Private Health Information Network and published by the NHS Partners Network. Like NHS hospitals, most independent sector hospitals provide outstanding care and the data show that, overall, the sector consistently achieves outcomes at least as good and sometimes better than those of the NHS providers.
When rare lapses do occur, in the past, as with NHS hospitals, these have usually only become apparent after the event. The CQC’s new approach to regulation and inspection will hopefully make it easier for risk to be identified in advance, for all types of provider, before patients suffer, and has our full support.
David Worskett
Chief executive, NHS Partners Network
• Colin Leys claims “private hospitals have successfully resisted publishing information which would allow them to be compared with NHS hospitals”. In fact, data soon to be published by the Private Healthcare Information Network directly equates and compares the performance of NHS hospitals against their independent counterparts. His article takes no account of the CQC’s inspections that found the independent sector is on average 93.1% compliant with standards, or that the clinical governance structures required across the whole service are in place. All hospitals, independent and public, are regulated and inspected by the CQC – and are held to the same standards.
In the wake of Mid Staffordshire and the Francis report, the emphasis is rightly on ensuring quality and transparency. All hospitals need to learn from these mistakes and contrary to Mr Leys’ claims, the independent sector is not immune from this rigour. Furthermore, the independent sector supports the NHS in covering a range of general and acute services, and provides complex and challenging treatment pathways. Given the significant economic and medical challenges facing our health service, the independent sector would welcome the opportunity to provide more services to complement and support the NHS.
The failings at Mid-Staffordshire do not reflect the excellence within the NHS. Similarly, it is wrong to write off the high-quality, patient-focused provision the independent sector offers based on one case.
Fiona Booth
Chief executive, Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations
• While politicians and officials call for greater transparency by health service providers, they look the other way so far as it might be applied to their responsibilities (Drive for transparency on NHS treatment to be extended, 31 October). We’re still waiting for the health secretary to comply with the information commissioner’s longstanding ruling that the risk register, prepared in the process of driving through the flawed legislation that became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, should be put into the public domain. So long as the register remains hidden, it is likely that many of us will continue believing that it is a damning indictment of changes, predicting problems that could be prevented.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

The affordable energy crisis (Energy firms ‘overcharge by £3.7 bn a year’, 30 October) is an inevitable consequence of three essential planks of coalition policy: engineered inflation through QE; further pressure on employment rights; and a farcically corrupt CPI measure of inflation – all highly regressive policies which have resulted in five years of falling real incomes. We seem to be living in a consumer society without the means to consume, a paradox of austerity which is entirely analogous with the paradox of thrift, being permanent, perplexing and palpable. The regional recession will not end until incomes start to rise, though it is quite unclear how that will happen. A significant rise in the nationally established minimum wage might be a good start.
Bill Goodall
Bewdley, Worcestershire
• Little attention has been focused on changes to be introduced by British Gas of a standing charge of 26p per day (£94.9 a year), removal of the prompt payment discount (about 1.7% 0f the cost of gas used), and also the continuing penalty of about 7% for those paying by cash or cheque rather than direct debit. Although the standard gas charge for those paying by cash or cheque has been reduced from 8.072p to 5.05p for users of less than 2,680kWh a year, the percentage increase in the annual bill for a small user (eg less than 1,000kWh) is close to 95%. Is there potential here for easing the burden of energy costs?
Alan Haines
• If the larger energy companies are indeed set to increase residential fuel prices (unnecessarily) by £3.7bn, it is worth noting that the consequent increase in VAT revenues will ensure the Treasury will also be receiving a windfall of an additional £180m next year. Equally, if the energy companies were to succeed in their disingenuous campaign to cease collecting funds for social welfare and environmental improvements (have they forgotten the polluter pays principle?), an additional consequence would be that the Treasury would be forced to forgo annual VAT revenue of well over £230m.
Andrew Warren
Association for the Conservation of Energy
• The government’s concern for consumers securing the best deal regarding energy supplies is surely disingenuous (Government set to make it easier to switch energy suppliers, 31 October). We all know that working through tariffs and comparisons is far from easy and leads many of us to despair and paralysis. As it is an objective fact which supplier is best for which circumstances at any given time, there is a simple answer: insist that the companies – or the regulators – automatically perform the switch for us. After all, they have all the relevant information and presumably are not baffled by the comparisons. Mind you, maybe that would bring to light how capitalist success partially relies on consumer ignorance, apathy or bewilderment in the face of marketing ploys, advertisements and temptations. After all, how many of us can work out the best deal, be it regarding energy, pensions, mortgages – or even wine sold as three for the price of two?
Peter Cave
• The argument by the energy companies that they do not make as much profit as, for example, Vodafone, is specious and irrelevant. Consumers have a choice as to their use of their mobile phones – including none at all if they fall on hard times: this option is not available to consumers of energy. These companies must remember that they are national utilities that have a duty to serve the community, not to screw customers for as much as the market can stand, as unfettered capitalism demands.
Frank Fahy
King’s Somborne, Hampshire
• My latest Scottish Power bill says that electricity costs make up 39% of their costs. So if their latest 9% rise is to be justified, that means wholesale electricity costs must have risen by 23%, not the 1.7% actual increase stated by Ofgem. Who’s telling porkies?
Peter Hanson
• I don’t see much written about the consistently rotten job that the toothless poodle Ofgem has done for the past decade. Compared to the rather good Ofcom, Ofgem has been a joke in particularly bad taste.
Stewart Taylor


Having been a head at a school where over 80 per cent of the young pupils had families living abroad, I am familiar with the problem of term-time holidays (“The easyJet generation revolts over holiday ban”, 31 October).
Then, as now, the guidance was that these were to be taken in exceptional circumstances only, and, then as now, families took the cheaper option. It was common for pupils to be absent for six weeks or more and, although the contact with their families was enriching, there was no doubt that their academic education, particularly their language skills, suffered. This is more serious than the short holiday with cultural trimmings, and has to be addressed by the travel companies with government regulation, as will certainly be necessary.
In the case of short holidays, there is room for negotiation, with attendance and attainment taken into account. But school is not something to do until a better offer turns up. Parents should ask whether a simpler holiday, in the UK during the school holidays, would give their child a better signal as to value.
Schools are not blameless. Of course, they want to minimise the disruption to children, but they are also target-driven. Successive governments have imposed arbitrary attendance and attainment targets on schools. These are turned into published data which is interpreted negatively by the same parents who contribute to the problem. If leave is refused, the family invariably take it anyway and the school is caught on the other horn of high unauthorised absence.
As an Ofsted inspector once memorably put it to me: “I know there isn’t anything you can do, but you’ve got to find something.” Instead of petitions, parents and schools would be better occupied in fighting this cockeyed attitude.
Jean Gallafent
London NW1
Council acted too late in Shoesmith case
The news that Sharon Shoesmith is to receive a large settlement following her dismissal by Haringey Council in the wake of the Baby P tragedy comes as no surprise, but this outcome could have been averted. 
Rumours of the death of another child were circulating in Haringey months before the court case that precipitated Shoesmith’s demise. The Labour administration employed specialist public relations advisers to assist in dealing with the anticipated negative fall-out when the verdict was announced.
This attempted spin failed because Shoesmith and the politicians in charge were not deemed to be sufficiently contrite, so Ed Balls said they had to go.
A more sensible approach for Haringey would have been to instigate a confidential in-house review into the circumstances that led to the death in advance of the trial, so that the council could have demonstrated that lessons had already been learned and acted on, rather than simply issue another lame apology.
There was no good reason to delay this process for a year until after the trial, and every reason to get on with it. Positive action could have saved Shoesmith’s career and the taxpayer a lot of money.   
Nigel Scott
Liberal Democrat Councillor for Alexandra Ward, Haringey
London N22
Peace poppies? Very suspicious
Early last night I ordered 10 white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition website, using my credit card online.
Within five minutes, I received a text from Tesco Bank asking me to ring them urgently. In case this was a phishing exercise, rather than replying directly, I looked up their number and rang from my landline.
They said they were making a security check because of recent suspicious activity on my account. They asked me to verify some recent transactions, including this last one, which I did. They said everything was fine and I hung up, but as soon as I put the receiver down, I felt a shudder.
Am I being paranoid or had the covert eyes of the State just turned in my direction? Have any other readers had a similar experience?
Dr John Buckingham
Hounslow, Middlesex
Nigel Cubbage is brave to not wear the remembrance poppy this November (letter, 31 October). It is perhaps worn too widely with too little thought – it seems odd a pop star would have to wear it on Saturday night television.
Neither world war was fought for Britain to become unthinkingly conformist in public. I might make a donation to the British Legion, but I should not have to feel I must broadcast the fact by wearing a poppy.
Ian McKenzie
Paying the bill for a waste of gas
The concern about the increase in gas prices exposes the ill-founded thinking underlying the “dash for gas” for electricity generation.
Modern combined-cycle gas-fuelled electricity generation plant results in a net energy conversion  efficiency of some 50 per cent,  allowing for production and transmission losses. When gas is piped and used as a prime  energy source its overall energy conversion efficiency is about 90 per cent, allowing for the storage and transmission losses.
When there are energy uses which can be satisfied from either of these routes, such as space and process heating, it would suggest that we require almost twice as much gas for the “electricity route”. Surely this extra, and perhaps unnecessary, demand for a finite resource tends to increase its price.
Until we have developed  sustainable energy resources and an effective national energy policy, we can at least educate domestic users to operate energy management strategies, such as the installation of efficient house insulation, which will serve to reduce both the demand for and the cost of fuel.
Dr David Bartlett
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
I do not understand why so many people are complaining about energy bills to heat their homes.
My 93-year-old grandmother wears two jumpers in the winter, sits in front of the gogglebox, a hot water bottle on her lap, and, armed with a flask of warm tea, regales her carers with stories of Winston Churchill, doodlebugs, the bygone days when there was no television or central heating, and, indeed, refuses to turn on the gas fire in her own front room.
At night, fortified with a cup of warm milk and another hot water bottle, it’s off to bed. No problem, fuss or complaint.
Her secret? Good home insulation to keep out the draughts.
Dominic Shelmerdine
London W8
Utility companies currently seem to regard it as their right to rip us off, especially the poor. Several of your correspondents recently have expressed understandable surprise and horror at this.
However, if we accept that the purpose of society is now to serve the economy, it all makes perfect sense.
Susan Alexander
Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
It’s those crazy Froggies again
Another day, another French-bashing piece in the British media (“The French malady”, 31 October), replete with the usual, tired, old – and inaccurate – stereotypes. Allow me to counter them with some facts of daily life in France.
You describe a “way of life, a culture, a language and cuisine that critics describe as xenophobic”.  My local cinema in a small town is showing 13 films this week, of which five are in their original language with subtitles: three American films plus one Belgian and one Palestinian. English words pepper French daily discourse. I’m going to see a French Top 14 rugby match on Saturday in which both teams will have a mix of national and international players.
You highlight “the resistance to supermarket bread and McDonald’s”.  Supermarkets have sold sliced bread for ages: ours even have a machine for slicing up more traditional bread (French compromise: they’re as adept at it as we are). France is McDo’s largest European market, we even have one here. As to the “sclerotic labour market”, another old favourite, French labour productivity is higher than Britain’s.
Hollande is vastly unpopular, but little more so than Sarkozy was latterly. But the predominantly right-wing media on both sides of the Channel are becoming hysterical in their criticism of him, while pandering to the agenda of the extreme right.
Rod Chapman
Sarlat, France
How many more drone strikes?
In 2006 a US drone killed 85 teenage boys in Bajaur close to the Pakistan/Afghan border. My students in Peshawar told me this at the time, and the strike has  been independently confirmed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. And yet this has still not been admitted by the USA. So how many more drone strikes have there been in these borderlands than the ones you list in your poignant article of 30 October?
Dr David L Gosling
(Former principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar)
North star
Rather than HS2 bringing London’s “prosperity” to Yorkshire (Jane Merrick, 30 October), we might debate what Yorkshire offers to London (apart from myself!). Yorkshire has a natural boom – dales, wolds, rivers, coast, hills – which feels completely different to the hectic economic well-being of the South-east. There is also still a mutuality which is beyond price.  Let’s appreciate the differences, and accept London might learn from Yorkshire. That’s not to classify either as bad or good.
Chris Payne
London NW1
Avoiding the issue
At last a letter about tax avoidance that hits the mark (John Seymour, 30 October). Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, whether it be by individuals, small companies or multinational concerns. If the politicians don’t like what is happening, then they should stop the posturing and change the laws. Put up or shut up.
David Edmondson
Bacup, Lancashire
Today’s eagles
I see that the magnificent Roman eagle unearthed in the City of London (report, 30 October) belonged to a prosperous and important early Londoner. I wonder what sculptures future archaeologists would find that represented the power of the present wealthy City elite? Perhaps a statue of a fat cat smoking a cigar?
Ivor Yeloff
No error
Peter Whitehead (letter, 28 October) quotes a newspaper letters editor who does his best “to keep errors of fact off the letters page”. Please don’t say you will be adopting this policy. I would miss the Independent letters page.
Julian Gall


‘Britain’s place in world business and politics is due to the enterprise of the Industrial Revolution when vision was the driving force’
Sir, Your editorial “Right Track” (Oct 30) was indeed apt in questioning the reasons why HS2 should not be built by various siren groups that crop up whenever anything new is mooted. The same arguments were made by landowners and businesses, such as the canal companies, at the construction of the first railway between Liverpool and Manchester in the days of “the Rocket” and the Rainhill trials. The Luddite movement still flourishes.
The campaign against HS2 seems to be one of thinking of the cost and doubling it, or the even bigger lie that money “saved” will be spent on improving the current system. I have as much confidence in that as travelling on a flying pig. It will just be reassigned to something else.
I still recall the promise, when billions of pounds were thrown at the Channel Tunnel, that we would get a high-speed link to the North West. I urge the Government and the vacillating Labour Party (as a local councillor and secretary) to get a grip and support the project, otherwise there will be a lot of Labour voters and councillors very upset up t’North.
Bill Bradbury
Billinge, Lancs

Sir, You are right to highlight the peculiarly British symphony of opposition to major infrastructure improvements. It is tiresome, and drowns out the far more rational worry that HS2 will just turn Birmingham into a suburb of London (which a 49-minute journey could well do). Already we are being told that the Tube would not be able to cope with the huge increase of passengers at Euston, which would necessitate the construction of Crossrail 2 — another £12 billion. This will do nothing for the Midlands and the North.
HS2 emulates the French TGV model, which makes some sense where cities are generally 80 to 100 miles apart, but not in crowded Britain. Germany — which, like us, has closely spaced cities — has steadily and successfully improved its railways and the economic balance of the regions by upgrades and some shortish new lines. Most of these have not been exorbitantly expensive because in most cases very high speed was not needed. Surely that is a better model for us?
Dr Dominic White

Sir, Sluggish enthusiasm for HS2, together with the National Trust backing away from fracking, takes us back to the 19th-century days of the Luddites. Britain’s place in world business and politics is due to the enterprise of the Industrial Revolution when vision was the driving force behind cotton, coal, steel, railways and worldwide trade.
The National Trust should look at its stately piles; I would bet that most were built by men and women with backbone and foresight, creating industry and business.
David Sugden
Worsley, Manchester

Sir Our granddaughter recently won a temporary student job in Germany. The interview was done on Skype. Another family member was involved with a conference in Manchester where the lecturer was unable to attend, but appeared on a screen, not only talking but answering questions. It will not be long before such procedures are commonplace and the need for a second, overpriced and destructive railway system will be gone.
Pam Braithwaite
Ilkley, W Yorks

If our sense of morality diminishes during the course of the day, shouldn’t PMQs be moved to an earlier slot?
Sir, I noted with interest the claim by Harvard researchers that people are more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon than in the morning (report, Oct 31). As a chartered psychologist, I am moved to suggest that we bring Prime Minister’s Questions forward by an hour from its traditional noon start. I’m sure all sides of the House would benefit.
Professor Patrick Mcghee
Chorley, Lancs

Drama schools have decades of experience in helping people to overcome their fear of speaking in public places
Sir, The news that for most people public speaking is more terrifying than death (report, Oct 30), will come as no surprise to the many performers who have “died” in front of an audience. Drama schools have decades of experience in helping young people overcome this anxiety and in recent years RADA has had to develop ever more courses to meet the demand from those in public and private service who periodically have to emerge from behind their keyboard to speak to other human beings.
The results can so often transform people’s lives that one of our teachers wondered recently whether drama training should be available on the National Health, or at least the national curriculum.
Edward Kemp
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

The armour-plated species of insect, designed to withstand massive shocks, are probably the form of life that will survive a nuclear blast
Sir, Reading Matthew Parris’s entertaining account of his battle with the beetles occupying his African drum (Oct 30), I was reminded of a paperweight given to my father and which I now own. An entomologist, he studied and admired most things that crawled and waved their legs in the air. The paperweight contains a small locust and is accompanied by a quote from The Rival World. It reads, “Who shall inherit the earth? Shall it be the rival world of the insects, striking us down in pain and death, destroying our possessions, devouring the food we now so sorely need?”
I hate to break it to Mr Parris but the answer is probably yes. The armour-plated ones, designed to withstand shocks up to nuclear attacks, will probably win the day.
Jane Hardy

The number of pupillage places available is decreasing steadily year on year and those aiming for the Bar deserve to know that
Sir, You suggest that there are 900 pupillages available (Student Law, Oct 31). I doubt the number will even be 400 this year, based upon the steady decline from more than 500 in 2005 to fewer than than 450 in 2010 alone. While I’m sure your article was not intentionally misleading, those considering a career at the Bar deserve to know the harsh reality.
Edward Ross
Pupil barrister, 3PB Barristers

SIR – Joe Shute is correct to point out that there is plenty of life yet in the Mark III coaches that make up the royal train.
He, and the Royal family, should look no further than Chiltern Railways and First Great Western to see what contemporary designers and operators can achieve with older rolling stock of the Mark III design.
Chiltern have set new standards in comfort for standard-class passengers, and First Great Western have got it spot on with their first-class seating and fine dining.
Anyone thinking of sending the royal train to the scrapyard should see and enjoy what is possible with the existing kit before making a rash decision.
Andrew Castledine
Petersfield, Hampshire

SIR – At last the penny seems to have dropped in Westminster as to the real problem with the British energy market: the lack of competition.
Last week Jeremy Warner defended the power companies, arguing that “since costs are largely the same… genuine price competition is at best marginal”. The inference is that there is little to be done.
While there is not much scope for large differentials in pricing, there is room for variation in operational efficiency and profit margins. The fact that all energy companies are showing increases in profits proves that there is no real competition. The companies have decided that there is more to be gained by following the herd on price and not going for market share. Whether this is by agreement, or by a common recognition of an exploitable oligopoly, is not important.
Now that the Government recognises the inherent competitive weakness in the energy sector (and similarly in the fuel, banking and water sectors) and the ineffectiveness of the regulatory bodies, it must actively foster new competitors. Until that happens there must be a constraint on profits, either by capping or taxation.
Peter Jackson
Poole, Dorset
Related Articles
The royal train has plenty of mileage in her yet
31 Oct 2013
SIR – I am confused. All our main political parties have announced loudly, at one stage or another, that they will pursue policies – encouraged or required by EU directives – designed to increase energy costs, in order to reduce usage of fossil fuels. Energy prices are now duly increasing and our political parties are falling over themselves to try to stop this. Have I missed something?
Charles Pugh
London SW10
SIR – What a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. The MPs were totally out of their depth while questioning the energy representatives. We need MPs who have worked in the world of business and commerce, not schoolboys who have gone straight into politics from university.
John Millar
Hemingford Grey, Huntingdonshire
SIR – Iain Martin is right to draw attention to the unedifying interviews by House of Commons committees. MPs need reminding that they are public servants, and that their interviewees should be treated with courtesy and respect.
Peter Wills
Long Melford, Suffolk
SIR – When I asked my energy provider why they had not put me on their preferential 60-plus rate when I first joined them months ago, their answer was: “You didn’t ask”.
Gerald Puttock
Children and tablets
SIR – How worrying that children as young as two typically spend an hour a day in front of a screen.
Yesterday, while I was travelling by train, I sat next to a father and his young sons. Not a single word was uttered between them all for the entire two-hour trip. During this time the boys remained glued to their tablets, pausing only to grab a sweet from a packet without their eyes ever leaving the screen, while their father was absorbed in his work.
Were they just perfectly behaved young boys or products of a generation who may have lost – or never gained – the ability to have a family conversation?
Dr Jennifer Pendleton
Metal hip replacements
SIR – In 2004 and 2009, I had metal-on- metal hip replacements. Everything was fine until 2011, when I started experiencing physical symptoms. Following media coverage about metal toxicity, I contacted my GP who arranged for blood tests. Results for chromium and cobalt were high: over twice the normal levels, but not at danger levels.
My orthopaedic consultant said these levels were not serious, but I am concerned about the health risks associated with constant high levels of metal in my blood.
Julie Luscombe
Harberton, Devon
SIR – I have had two metal-on-metal hip replacements, both inserted by Ronan Treacy, the co-designer of the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing. As a result, I now play tennis, walk and garden.
I remember my grandmother crippled because of arthritic hips, before any replacement was available. Every day, I am grateful to my surgeon for giving me a normal existence.
Celia Foulkes
Hambleton, Rutland
Gadgets galore
SIR – One of Aldi’s attractions for men is a regularly changing selection of non-food items. My garage is filled with items bought from the supermarket, including a garden trolley, tarpaulins, torches, tools and paint.
I try to visit their store once a fortnight, preferably when my wife is not around, as, if she knows I have been there, she greets me with: “What have you bought now?”
Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire
Saving state schools
SIR – David Kynaston argues against private schools but ignores the underlying truth: for the vast majority of parents, making the huge financial sacrifice of paying twice for their children’s education is a necessity, given the evident failures within state schools.
Politicians should stop using education as a political football and start serious investment in a consistent curriculum, teacher numbers and basic infrastructure. They should also instil in staff a renewed appreciation of non-academic arts and sporting activities. If that happened, within a single generation, hard-pressed middle-class parents would desert the increasingly unaffordable private schools in droves.
It is time the Left embraced policies that improve state-funded education instead of fighting an outdated class war.
Anthony Fry
London W11
Undercover police
SIR – I greet the news that undercover police are to be banned from having sex with individuals they are investigating with a great deal of scepticism. Just last week I was told by the Met Commissioner that the police have “always” had such a policy – yet we know that the Met authorised Mark Kennedy to have sex with the people he was targeting.
What is there to stop this new guidance being ignored, just like the Met’s own policy? Other countries legislate to make clear this practice is unacceptable, and it’s time for Britain to do the same.
Jenny Jones
London Assembly Member (Green)
London SE1
Charity expenditure
SIR – For years, we have been receiving mail from the British Red Cross. This contains cards, coasters and sometimes pens. I wrote to the Red Cross complaining about this, but, as yet, I have not received a reply.
Trying to return these unwanted goods is not possible as on the envelope, in small print, it states: “Please do not return.” I do not want our small donations to go towards these unwanted “gifts”.
Valerie Hampton
Tettenhall, Staffordshire
Profitable litter
SIR – Roger Marlow’s letter about the 25 cent deposit on beer cans in Germany reminded me of a British soldier in the early Eighties who bought beer in East Berlin.
After legally exchanging his currency in marks at 5:1, he drank it in West Berlin and, after floating the labels off the bottles in a bath, reclaimed his deposits in the West, making a handsome profit on them.
He was eventually found out and court-martialled.
Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire
SIR – Forty years ago, as children on a camping holiday, we would go out each morning to collect discarded bottles from the site and return them to the camp shop.
We received many francs in return.
Sara Dickinson
Tadworth, Surrey
Return to sender
SIR – I have received a letter from my bank thanking me for informing them of my change of address. It was sent to my old address.
Margaret Nicolson
Ranish, Ross-shire
Take one broad bean, a gold ring and some soap
SIR – The best home remedy for nasty warts is to use the inside membrane of a broad bean skin.
I can assure you that it removes them every time.
Sue Burtsell
Ash Vale, Surrey
SIR – In answer to Barbara Loryman, touching a sty with a gold ring works because the tear gland of the eye produces trace hydrochloric acid, which reacts to create gold chloride and effect the cure.
Geoff Smith
Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire
SIR – A bar of soap (unwrapped) between the sheets near your feet will prevent night leg cramps.
Faye Morris
SIR – My mother claimed that she cured her night-time cramp by getting out of bed and standing on a magnet. She said that it was the magnetic field that cured the problem.
I sceptically used to suggest that it was the getting out of bed and standing on a cold object that stopped the cramp.
William Petch
London SW20

Irish Times:

Sir, – Once again we find ourselves faced with a spectacular failure of an essential public service. It appears that the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant has been overwhelmed by a change in feed water character. Professionals are paid to anticipate and plan for such events.
Those who plan to meter and charge for water need to be aware of the resulting contractual obligations. Once a commodity is charged for, it is required to be of “merchandisable quality”. I write as one whose water supply has tested positive for Cryptosporidium within living memory. Continuity and reliability of service are also issues.
We appear to be moving to an economic model of Scandinavian levels of tax (for the PAYE sector, pension fund contributors and health insurance holders at least) coupled with third-world standards of public service. This is not sustainable. Troika please copy.
The situation is clearly serious, they have called in the chemists! – Yours, etc,
Shanganagh Road,
Killiney, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I am amazed at how Dublin City Council and The Irish Times present the tapping of the Shannon as a done deal: it is not, and the proposal would likely breach, inter alia, the European Habitats Directive and the EU Water Framework Directive. The Greater Dublin Area proposes to tap the Shannon for 600 million litres per day, while 300 million litres of water leak away daily due to Victorian pipelines. What an Irish solution to an Irish problem!
Several consultation papers have identified 60 adverse effects on the Shannon and its lakes, and Dublin City Council has made no provision for alternatives such as exploring ground water aquifers, which supply 90 per cent of demand in Cork city. Nor has it done a relative costing on the option of desalination versus the enormous costs involved in pumping water right across the country. The madness of having the Greater Dublin Area paying the ESB compensation for the loss of generation capacity from the Shannon hydro-electric scheme speaks for itself: it’s a double environmental disaster. We’re obliged by the EU to boost our energy production in renewables, not reduce it.
I’m afraid this is the reaping of poor spatial planning in Ireland. Our regional cities are falling into economic slump while Dublin continues to grow and grow and grow. Ireland is a tiny island – people in New York State travel greater distances to work daily than the relative distances between Limerick/ Cork/Galway to Dublin, and they do so on an efficient public transport network. The solution to this problem is clearly regional development and investment in high- speed transport nodes. – Yours, etc,
Tulla, Co Clare.
Sir, – Adrian J English (October 31st) bemoans the introduction of a “water tax” even as the Dublin area suffers another set of water restrictions. I take the opposite view – the current shortage shows the need to better fund our water treatment system, and encourage people not to waste a precious resource in times of scarcity. – Yours, etc,
St Alphonsus Road Upper,
Drumcondra, Dublin 9.
Sir, – I wonder how much water is wasted by people filling up every utensil and bin they have in their homes with water that probably will never be used just because of the water being turned off for a time? – Yours, etc,
Glenageary Woods,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – One’s heart sinks when reading headlines such as “Dublin area ‘faces 10 more years of water shortages’ ” (Front page, October 31st)
The attitude that allows such an unreasoned and unsophisticated approach to communicating the true nature of the problem and possible solution in relation to issues such as these brings about a degree of despair among people observing from the outside.
While people leave the country for many different reasons, a key factor encouraging them to stay away is unquestionably Ireland’s tolerance for this “can’t do” attitude.
Why should it take 10 years to solve this issue? It shouldn’t and it needn’t.
I hope all future stories about why Ireland can’t, also include the question “Why not?” – Yours, etc,
Strathmore Avenue,
Sir, – It’s autumn in Dublin, the leaves are falling from the trees, the evenings are shorter & with the changeable weather in the last few weeks, there has been at times water, water everywhere, but now at night, there is not a drop to drink (or wash, or clean). It is a national disgrace. – Yours, etc,
Beaumont Road,
Dublin 9.
Sir, – Everyone is calling Ireland’s water supply “third world”. Please stop, it is insulting. I have never had my water supply cut for anything more than one day for repairs on local pipes – and even that is not very frequent. Sometimes this is due to leaks being repaired (the Government might want to take note that this is what you do with a water service). Ongoing restrictions for an indefinite time period? Never! So whatever you want to call it, don’t call it “third world”: it isn’t up to such a high standard. – Yours, etc,
Calle 12D,
Bogotá, Colombia.

Sir, – The successful Bord Bia trade mission to the Middle East is to be welcomed. This is, indeed, evidence of a robust green shoot breaking hard economic ground. Quality food is to Ireland what engineering excellence is to Germany.
All concerned with the Bord’s export drive are to be congratulated. – Yours, etc,
Montrose Crescent,
Artane, Dublin 5.

Sir, – In Derek Scally’s article about NSA spying (World News, October 31st), he cites a Washington Post article that stated the “Muscular” programme was “illegal in the US but was permitted . . . overseas on the assumption that anyone using a foreign data link is a non-US citizen”.
As a US expat living in Ireland, I have always used my e-mail address when corresponding via the Internet. This is also the case with other US citizens living in Ireland: I know this as fact. As past vice chair of the US Democratic Party Committee Abroad, Ireland chapter, I know that many of our members have non-US data link e-mail addresses which would have made them and me targets for data gathering by Muscular. This would have been illegal had we remained in the United States. – Yours, etc,
Crana View
Buncrana, Co Donegal.
Sir, – Politicians in the US are fond of saying that Ireland is a good friend, but surely actions speak louder than words? If we are such a good friend, then how come our leaders’ mobile phones haven’t been bugged by the NSA? – Yours, etc,
Seafield Crescent,
Booterstown, Co Dublin.
Sir, – To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: surely, for the democratically-elected leader of a western nation, the only thing worse than the annoyance at learning that your mobile phone was being tapped (presumably by the state security apparatus of a large powerful ally) would be the dismay at realising that your mobile phone was not being tapped. – Yours, etc,
Orlagh Park,
Knocklyon, Dublin 16.
Sir, – I am beginning to (nearly) feel sorry for the US president and Jay Carney and their specific troubles. They are discovering that there are deniable deniables, but there are also undeniable deniables. Should Mr Carney and other spokespersons attend a course in Jesuistic semantics? – Yours, etc,
Brookside Terrace,
Dublin 14.

Sir, – Paul O’Neill (October 31st) is making the unfortunate mistake of confusing geography and law.
Undoubtedly, all 32 counties compose the island of Ireland as a matter of geography.
However,when it comes to statehood, matters are well-defined. Article 4 of our Constitution clearly states that the name of our state is Ireland. The constitutional aspiration to a unified Ireland in Article 3 also acknowledges the different jurisdictions north and south.
Regarding our status as a republic; this is a description of the kind of democracy that we are and not part of the State’s name.
Mr O’Neill undoubtedly lives on the island of Ireland but he resides in the state of Northern Ireland, which is of course part of the UK. – Yours, etc,
Christ’s College, Cambridge,
First published: Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 01:06

Sir, – Cork hurler Conor Cusack’s incredibly brave public stand on dealing with depression was inspiring to read online (October 30th), and to listen to on Prime Time. In his blog entry that went viral this week and last, he specifically mentions bullying at school as a factor that contributed to his condition. He talks about an improbable stroke of luck in his mother breaking a habit of going to Mass, on a particular Saturday, for saving his life, as he was just hours away from taking his own life.
In 2009 his elder brother Donal Óg Cusack publicly came out as gay while at the top of his game, as Cork senior hurling captain, and has been an inspiration to young gay Irish people who feel trapped and isolated, particularly in rural Ireland as they struggle with bullying and prejudice, both real and perceived. Indeed rates of suicide among young gay Irish people are multiples of their peers.
While not taking away from either Conor or Donal Óg’s bravery and integrity, I think someone should interview Mammy Cusack and find out how she managed to raise two boys that grew into such stalwart and inspirational men.  – Yours, etc,
Vevay Road,

Sir, – Andy Pollak (Weekend Review, October 26th) writes, “The Government of the Republic should stay out of thorny issues such as ‘dealing with the past’,” and that any “compromise” was merely for the satisfaction of “tribal leaders in the North”.
In doing so, Mr Pollak ignores the fact that Dáil Eireann passed an all-party motion in 2006 calling on the British government to establish an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and collusion between Britain and loyalist paramilitaries in the killing. To date, this remains Irish Government policy. It is affirmed at every opportunity by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to their British counterparts and rightly so.
The failure to hold an inquiry is a broken promise by the British government and it is right that Ireland should involve itself and hold it to account. Britain would like nothing more than to be rid of its responsibilities. It behoves the Irish Government to ensure they fulfil them.
What is evident here is the extent to which efforts made to address other all-island issues such as energy, health, tourism and investment contrast sharply with the absence of imagination and industry when it comes to the legacy of the past conflict. Despite the position of the British government on the Finucane Inquiry and recent comments by Theresa Villiers MP, the past is unresolved and must be dealt with; and unlawful British state involvement was a significant contributor.
In the era of external management consultancy, it is unsurprising that Britain chooses the option of bringing in Richard Haass from the US to find a solution to this problem. However, this risks abandoning the issue of the past to a process internalised to Northern Ireland and its “tribal leaders”, letting both governments off the hook.
Ignoring the past and simply giving it to an outsider who can be readily blamed for any shortcomings is worse than failure. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of responsibility by all of those involved in and affected by what is undoubtedly the most important issue of the peace process that remains unresolved.
Matters cannot be left as they are; more ingenuity must be shown in how this problem is tackled. The potential consequences of failure are simply too monstrous to calculate. – Yours, etc,
Arran Quay,
Dublin 7.

Sir, – Further to letters (David O’Brien, October 24th & Dr John Bosco Conama, October 29th) relating to my request for a two-minute silence in the Dáil to highlight the experiences of deaf children seeking second bilateral cochlear implants, I wish to outline the reasoning behind my action.
This act was merely an attempt to make my Dáil colleagues aware of the experiences of parents and children who are seeking bilateral cochlear implants. I am not a spokesperson for the groups campaigning for this, nor am I a spokesperson for the deaf community, but I am an elected representative and have a role in advocating causes at the request of members of the public, and this is one of them.
I am fully aware of the debates surrounding the construction of deafness as a pathology and its subsequent medicalisation, and surgical treatment with bilateral cochlear implants, and the opposing view of deafness as a cultural minority to be emancipated – but my request for two minutes silence in the Dáil was certainly not to pitch one against the other, nor to define those who are deaf as either a linguistic community or a group of persons with a disability.
Sinn Féin has long supported the campaign by the Irish Deaf Society for official recognition for Irish Sign Language as a third official language and has called on this, and previous governments, to address this as a matter of priority. We are committed to the positive promotion of equality for the deaf community and have called for a bilateral cochlear implant programme in the HSE national service plan due to be published next month.
Equality is an integral part of a democratic society and this includes upholding the rights of those who use Irish Sign Language. However, equality should mean that people also have access to medical and surgical treatments should they wish to avail of them. – Is mise,
Sinn Féin Spokesperson
on Education, Skills,

Sir, – In response to Edel McMahon’s letter (October 30th), there are a number of payment options which allow you to pay local property tax by phased payments. Revenue is asking you to decide now on your payment method for 2014 so that we can set these up in good time to spread the payments evenly throughout 2014, beginning in January.
In fact, Tim O’Brien’s article “What’s the best way to pay my property tax in 2014?” (Home News, October 30th) is very clear on the range of options available and the relevant payments dates. – Yours, etc,
Media Relations Manager,
Revenue Commissioners,
Dublin Castle,
A chara, – It was great to read about “One Voice”, various language teaching professionals co-operating toward the vision of a multilingual Irish population (Education, October 29th).
The strategy of an integrated language curriculum with Irish and English at its core and involving teaching through the medium of second and third languages as a matter of course has long been championed by Prof David Little of TCD and is certainly an idea whose time has come.
The Finnish education system is often held out as an ideal by Irish commentators and rightly so. The Finnish system has multilingualism at its core, rooted in early acquisition of the country’s two national languages: Finnish and Swedish.
Teacher training is key. High standards must be expected in order to be achieved. Investment is needed but even more important is the understanding that the acquisition of languages to a very high standard by teachers of those languages is a condition precedent.
We are the most gregarious people in the world. We are natural linguists, we just don’t know it yet. – Is mise,

Sir, – There has been some criticism in the media of the gender imbalance of those involved in the Web Summit at the RDS. Will the same criticism be brought to bear in respect of the upcoming Knitting and Stitching Show at the same venue? – Vive la différence. – Yours, etc,
Seafield Road,
Killiney, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

31 October 2013
* I always fear what I see as a ministerial PR stunt, especially when it goes unchallenged. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s project runs roughshod over the reservations of teachers, particularly in the area of assessment.
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If you want to see a really big tractor, call me
Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it alright
In a radio interview, he went totally unchallenged as he promoted his Framework for Junior Cycle. Does it not appear strange that he failed to consult teachers, the experts in education? Did he fear that the changes in assessment might be exposed as a money-saving rather than educationally sound exercise?
The proposed statement of achievement, at the end of Junior Cycle, will not be state-certified. So let’s call a spade a spade. It will be a school report, nothing more and nothing less. Why would he not want students to have state certification, considering he expects them to achieve so much under his new proposals?
If Mr Quinn’s proposals go ahead, the first time students will be assessed by the State will be at the Leaving Certificate Examination. If we think senior cycle students are currently under pressure, what will it be like for them in the future facing a state examination for the first time after six years at second level?
He speaks about project work as if it is the answer to all our woes. Mr Quinn should talk to teachers, whose subjects currently have a second component such as a project. He might then understand the difficulties of this approach.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this minister does not listen. He stated that there are sufficient resources to deal with the implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle.
We in the profession know that there is a total lack of resources and that schools depend hugely on the goodwill of teachers.
Perhaps if the teachers gave up the teaching part of their job, they might have time to make out exams, assess, moderate and deal with appeals – all in the name of progress at Junior Cycle.
Mr Quinn would be well advised to consider the excellent ASTI publication ‘Teachers’ Voice’. Talking to and consulting with the experts would be a very worth-while experience for him.
Maire G Ni Chiarba
Muinteoir meanscoile, Priomhoide chunta & ball de Bhuanchoiste Chumann na Meanmhuinteoiri
* With the recent controversies over the parentage of non-stereotypical Roma children, we have to wonder whether there is now such a thing as being illegally blonde?
Killian Foley-Walsh
Kilkenny City
* The EU had one of its many euro summits last week and there were many serious issues to consider: the ongoing debt issue, the massive unemployment problems across the EU especially among the youth, to name but two of them.
Yet what was discussed was the minor problem concerning German Chancellor Angela Merkel when it was found that the NSA had been listening to her mobile phone calls.
There was not a problem some weeks ago when it was found that most of the German population’s phone calls were being listened to. One wonders – does it suit the EU that the major issues are not dealt with and put on the back-burner?
Frankly, I cannot understand the problem of spying as the only revelation that happened was that someone got caught.
Paul Doran
Dublin 22
* Your wonderful picture, of the crow sitting on the deer’s head, reminded me of a song from ‘The Sound of Music’ . . . All together now: Crow, a deer, a female deer . . .
Fergus O’Reilly
Mealisheen, Leap, Co Cork
* I’d like to complement former Cork hurler Conor Cusack, younger brother of legendary Cork goalkeeper Donal Og, for his honesty in writing about his battle with depression and how he was able to move on with his life in ‘Depression is a friend, not my enemy’, (Irish Independent, October 29).
It is very brave for a young man like himself to speak as openly as he does and his wisdom shines clearly through his writing, a wisdom gained from facing his demons and being prepared to be vulnerable. He writes about therapy as a “challenging experience” and “it can be quite scary”.
I myself suffered depression in my late teens and early 20s and like Conor benefitted from psychotherapy, having originally been diagnosed as suffering from manic depression at the age of 20. Last July I celebrated 20 years free from all psychiatric medication.
Thomas Roddy
* In relation to the much-discussed contretemps between Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane inter alia, let us not get our underwear into a proverbial tangle. It is an argument of two halves. To be fair, both Roy and Alex gave 110pc for their club Manchester United. We cannot ask any more of the lads than that.
Some egos have been bruised in the current spat but nobody has died.
Tony Wallace
Longwood Co Meath
* Have we reached the pinnacle of television?
A few weeks back we saw the eagerly awaited finale of the TV show, ‘Breaking Bad’. After five years of top-notch drama, more than 10 million viewers were treated to an epic conclusion. It took the internet and social media sites by storm. The show that encapsulated and enthralled so many, finally came to a gratifying conclusion. Vince Gilligan’s writing is genius.
In recent years other shows have been aired displaying a tremendously excellent narrative. ‘The Walking Dead’ and the Irish hit ‘Love/Hate’, are examples of such shows. It is the expertise of these narratives that allow them to garner so much attention. Show writers have really come a long way.
Television is evidently at its best right now. With TV services now shifting online, it is no surprise ratings for shows rocket into the millions each week.
Aaron McCormack (15)
Kilcormac, Co Offaly
* Your editorial ‘Emigration is a poor substitute for real choice’, (Irish Independent, October 26) raises some interesting points.
However, in line with the majority of Irish media coverage of emigration, the melancholic tone betrays the reality for many of the people who leave this country in search of work.
Yes, for some emigration is a terrible thing, yet for a vast number of young, well-educated and ambitious people – a group I include myself in – having the option to go overseas and find decent, fulfilling employment in line with our skills is something to celebrate, as well as being a privilege.
The grass is not always greener; but it can be worth a look.
Brendan Corrigan
Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon
* There are a number of irritating advertisements on radio and television these days and the one which insists that it is the law to have a television licence is among the most infuriating.
Yet for the €160 fee, purchasers of licences are still being insulted with the general lack of quality in the programmes being screened. Saturday night should be a prime viewing time but the offering on RTE 1 these weeks is an affront to people’s intelligence.
Surely RTE could do better?
Gary Cummins
Dunshaughlin, Co Meath
Irish Independent

Doctor and dishwasher

October 31, 2013

31 October 2013 Doctor and Dishwasher

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Heather wants Leslie to name the date of their marriage. Priceless
See the doctors not too bad dish washer repair man comes
We watch Hancock its not too bad
Scrabble today Mary wins get just under 400, though perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Jean Weston
Jean Weston was a House of Worth model whose tall, slim figure suited the postwar fashion revolution launched by Dior

Jean Weston modelling a Worth evening dress for Queen Mary 
5:50PM GMT 30 Oct 2013
Jean Weston, who has died aged 83, was better known, in the immediate post-war years, as “Rowlande”, one of the leading models at the House of Worth.
She was 17 when, in 1947, she joined the famous fashion house at £3.8s per week. Earlier the same year Christian Dior had taken the fashion world by storm with a collection of glamorous designs characterised by small, nipped-in waists and full skirts falling below mid-calf length, which became known as the “New Look”.
At 5ft 9in tall, weighing 7½ stone and with an 18in waist, Jean had the ideal figure for the new style and, as one of Worth’s six permanent models working in London, was quickly propelled into the limelight, appearing at both catwalk shows and in private showings to Worth’s regular clients.
For every season each of Worth’s models had her own collection of outfits, each individually named. At any one time “Rowlande” had 14 different outfits, which would take between four and six weeks to make and were divided into three groups: Day, Evening and Cocktail. She had three pairs of shoes (supplied by Rayne of London), one to suit each group.

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Jean Weston in a Worth ballgown
Many of Jean’s private clients were titled or famous, and there was great competition between them to ensure that they were dressed in the latest Worth outfit. One of her outfits — a chiffon dress called “Damask Rose” — caused a buying frenzy after the actress Valerie Hobson wore it in public. A three-quarter-length dress with a ruched design and no seams, it became one of Worth’s best sellers.
Jean Weston recalled that managing the day’s appointment book was a job that required diplomatic skills of the highest order. Worth’s London premises in Grosvenor Street featured private cubicles for the girls to model for their regular clients; and sales assistants were expected to ensure that clients were assigned cubicles away from each other to ensure their privacy and avoid embarrassment. On one occasion Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, visited on the same day as her husband’s (the 11th Duke’s) previous wife and his current mistress. Jean’s other clients included Raine McCorquodale (later Countess Spencer) and Lady Mountbatten.
Many of the Worth models were themselves members of the aristocracy, and some were quite put out when Jean was invited to St James’s Palace to model for the then Queen Elizabeth, her mother-in-law Queen Mary, and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

Jean Weston modelling a Worth suit for Queen Mary
Three months after starting work at Worth, Jean was approached by Hardy Amies, who offered her a salary rise. When the financial director at Worth heard about it he immediately put up her salary to £5 a week. Although she continued to work for Worth until 1951, at larger events she would often model creations by other designers, such as Norman Hartnell, Molyneaux, Amies and Paquin.
The daughter of a commercial property landlord and manager, she was born Jean Roland Farrant on January 11 1930 and grew up in Ealing, west London. She was educated locally at Haberdasher’s School, Ealing, and at St Augustines Priory, where she was captain of the tennis and netball teams.
After leaving school she enrolled, aged 17, at the Lucy Clayton finishing school, where the principal suggested she should pursue a career in modelling and sent her to see Victor Stieble of Jacqmar. While Stieble acknowledged her potential, he felt that she was too young for his designs. Instead he introduced her to Madame Elspeth Champcommunal, the head designer at Worth, who happened to be looking for a young model to replace one who had just left.
In 1951 Jean married Major Hugh Bruce, a Royal Marines officer who had spent most of the war in Colditz after being captured while defending Calais in 1940. Shortly after their wedding, Jean was invited to model at the Cannes Film Festival, but her husband felt that it would not be appropriate for the wife of an officer.
She never modelled again, though she kept her figure and good looks throughout her life. She continued to insist on being glamorously dressed for every occasion, whether it be a ball, the gardening or the housework — which she performed to the accompaniment of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. A perennial flirt, she enjoyed competing with her daughters at social events and was delighted when, aged 80 and attending a funeral of an old family friend with two of her daughters, she was mistaken for their sister.
After her husband’s death in 2003, in 2005 Jean married, secondly, John Weston MC, an old friend and comrade-in-arms of her first husband who had supported her after he suffered a stroke.
He survives her with the son and three daughters of her first marriage.
Jean Weston, born January 11 1930, died October 13 2013


Families should not need to move to gain excellent autism teaching and ABA is not the only or necessarily the best approach (Report, 29 October). All children should be able to get the kind of education and services they need to develop and thrive wherever they live in the UK. Enabling our children and young people to be happy and to learn, and supporting families to manage in their communities, is what matters. It does cost money, though, and the focus should be on what we are losing in the current climate as local supports are destroyed and good state schools are starved of cash.
Liza Dresner
Director, Resources for Autism
• As anyone lucky enough to be born in Yorkshire will proudly tell you (What’s so chuffing great about Yorkshire? G2, 30 October), there are only three types of people in this world: Yorkshire people; those who wish to be Yorkshire people; and those with no ambition at all.
Duncan Lister
Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
• When did the word “electric” change from being an adjective to being a noun, as in “gas and electric are becoming more expensive”?
Patricia Lowe
Lymm, Cheshire
• Every elderly person should be introduced to Facebook. Confined as I am, I get much pleasure in following the lives of young relatives – and enjoying cosy chats with old friends. Laptops on the NHS, I say!
Ann Tate (aged 82)
• Having just returned from that country, I note one curious fact you missed about Uruguay (Shortcuts, G2, 23 October): duelling is allowed provided that both parties are registered blood donors.
David Craig
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
• I’m surprised no one has replied to the query asking if still picking strawberries and sweet peas now was a record (Letters, 28 October). Despite last night’s frost, and St Jude’s storm, I just picked sweet peas, a courgette and a generous handful of raspberries – that’s why they’re called “autumn bliss”. Any advance on this?
Jill Bennett
St Albans, Hertfordshire

We are gravely concerned at the possibility that annual data on child mortality rates in the UK, including the number of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, unexplained infant deaths and deaths from injuries and suicide, will no longer be published. This poses a real threat to improving the health of our children, particularly given that the UK has one of the worst child-mortality rates in Europe. Without this data we won’t know why children in the UK are dying. If we don’t know that, we can’t develop interventions to prevent these deaths. And without annual data, we won’t know whether any steps that are being taken are having a positive effect. The cost of producing each data set is said to be between £10,000 and £50,000 a year; a small price to pay for an invaluable measure of child health.
Dr Hilary Cass, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Francine Bates, Chief executive, The Lullaby Trust, Peter Wanless, Chief executive, NSPCC, Dr Hilary Emery, Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau, Jane van Zyl, Deputy chief executive, Sands, Andy Cole, Chief executive, Bliss, Katrina Phillips, Chief executive, Child Accident Prevention Trust

Simon Jenkins (Comment, 30 October) is spot on in identifying London as the soft underbelly of the HS2 case. Given the housing bubble, how much more than the £5bn estimated for Camden will compensation cost? This alone could drive a coach and horses through the supposed £42bn maximum. Why has nobody suggested longer trains as a way of increasing capacity? The cost of extending platforms would be negligible. Another way is to run slower (not faster) trains. They need less braking distance and hence more can be slotted into a given length of track.
Stan Zetie
• If HS2 is so important to connect Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, might it not be more appropriate to link these cities first? London doesn’t need more trains or lines. The original HS2 was to be centred on linking to a hub at Heathrow, which still makes more sense.
Derek Wyatt
• I note that one arm of the government has stopped the repeat entry of candidates for GCSE exams to “increase rigour”. The proponents of HS2 have just submitted their fifth submission to correct earlier errors in calculation. Should the government accept this?
Geoff Fagence
Oakham, Rutland
• Many would agree with Simon Jenkins that there are more urgent priorities for the HS2 billions. First and foremost, all our major cities need light rail or metro systems. Then, most or all of the rail network should be electrified and passenger and freight capacity expanded. Unfortunately, that money diverted from HS2 would simply go to something unsustainable, like our fast-expanding road-building programme – utter madness in a world which very urgently needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
Jon Reeds
• If HS2 is such a good way of increasing capacity, should we ease congestion on the M1 and M6 by building a new “super motorway” with no upper speed limit, few access points and access restricted to cars capable of cruising at 120mph?
Jon Bell
Machynlleth, Powys
• I detect a bit of nimby, plus a hangover from a previous anti-public transport bias. I would like an expert to calculate what it would cost to build a six-lane motorway from London to Manchester/Leeds, compared to HS2. I don’t think motorways were rejected because they would drain prosperity from the north.
Tim Baynes
Kendal , Cumbria
• Using 150-year-old technology can never be justified: steel wheels on steel tracks. The only way to go is with magnetic levitation (maglev), a technology that has already been proven in Japan and China.
David Hurry
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
• Why will the construction of HS2 take so very long? The construction of TGV routes in France took a fraction of the time estimated for HS2.
David Craig
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
• HS2? More like H2S.
Dr George Duckworth
Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire

We are all Sussex University professors who wish to signal our support for the industrial action being taken by UCU, Unite and Unison today. We support industrial action over a 13% real-terms pay cut since 2008, with staff having been offered just 1% this year by the university employers’ association. The squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when pay and benefits for university leaders increased, on average, by more than £5,000 in 2011-12, with the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors hitting almost £250,000; at Sussex, that figure hits £280,000. As higher-paid members of the university, we support the claims of our lower-paid colleagues.
We support the strike because universities have acquired over £1bn in surpluses as their staff’s salaries have fallen. At Sussex, the university had a financial surplus of £13.7m in 2012. Students now face greatly increased fees and staff work harder to provide more contact time and a better student experience. But none of this increased revenue is passed on to staff, despite the evidence that rewarding staff appropriately increases the quality of education for students.
We support the strike on behalf of all university workers from the lowest-paid upwards – our porters, cleaners and low-paid clerical, technical and administrative staff – and on behalf of women colleagues for whom the gender pay gap means unequal pay for equal work. We support the strike in protest at greatly increasing inequality across the UK. Company shareholders, investors and the highest-paid members of staff see their salaries grow significantly, while those of lower-paid staff fall to the point where people struggle to pay utility bills and afford food, whose prices are rising far faster than pay. There is a trend of increasing inequality in the UK since the 1970s, so the gap between rich and poor is as great as at any time since the 1930s.
Jane Cowan Professor of Anthropology
Rupert Brown Professor of Social Psychology
Ben Rogaly Professor of Geography
Filippo Osella Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies
Mick Dunford Professor of Economic Geography
Pete Newell Professor of International Relations
Dai Stephens Research Professor in Psychology
Mario Novelli Professor in the Political Economy of Education
Dominic Kniveton Professor of Climate Science and Society
Cynthia Weber Professor of International Relations
Jenny Rusted Professor of Experimental Psychology
Zoltan Dienes Professor in Experimental Psychology
JoAnn McGregor Professor of Geography
Justin Rosenberg Professor of International Relations
Andrea Cornwall Professor of Anthropology and Development
Luke Martell Professor of Sociology
Mark Hindmarsh Professor of Theoretical Physics
Máiréad Dunne Professor of International Education
Maya Unnithan Professor of Anthropology
Beate Jahn Professor of International Relations
Nick Royle Professor of English
Raminder Kaur Professor of Anthropology
Jenny Bourne Taylor Professor of English
Sally Munt Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies
Sally Jane Norman Professor of Performance Technologies
Valerie Hey Professor of Education

The transport minister’s constant repetition – to boost the HS2 project – that the Olympics and HS1 were delivered within budget is disingenuous to say the least (Report, 20 October), since it deliberately fails to distinguish between the original and final budgets. All projects throughout history have always been delivered within the final budget – that is a truism. But the real question is, how many of them were delivered within the original budget? Almost none. The original Olympics budget was £2bn, the final budget was £10bn. The HS1 project has left a public debt of £4.8bn (according to the public accounts committee), and its predictions of passenger numbers were woefully over-optimistic. From past history we can therefore be supremely confident that the final budget for HS2 will be at least £100bn. Its supporters are no doubt relying on the certainty that once the project is under way and costs are soaring, there is no way that any government can pull the plug on the project when countless billions have already been spent.
One hundred billion pounds to save a few minutes on the journey to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds? A monumental folly. If the people of those cities want so badly to save those few minutes, why don’t they pay for HS2 out of their own coffers, not out of ours? It would only cost them about £25,000 per household, which could easily be spread over many years or decades.
Charles Rowe
Wantage, Oxfordshire
• Instead of rubbishing HS2, John Harris should promote extra connections to the proposed high-speed network (Comment, 28 October). Even with just the first section open, there will be train journeys that use both the new track and the current network, for instance from London to Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. But an extra connection near the new Birmingham Curzon Street station would allow his West Country train to call at Birmingham New Street, then join the high-speed network to Manchester airport and Manchester Piccadilly, both of which connect to his Stockport destination. This is called modernising the network.
At some stage a second high-speed line to London, from Nottingham via Leicester, will probably be needed. We should also plan a fast cross-Pennine line, to join the northern city centres, and high-speed lines from Cardiff and Bristol merging, and then splitting again towards Birmingham and west London. There needs to be passive provision in the HS2 plans to allow, at modest cost, this wider high-speed network to develop in the decades ahead. Any short-termist Labour party amendment to the HS2 bill should not be allowed to screw that up.
John Cox
• No doubt we should be grateful that, despite its callous disregard of the need for jobs and public spending in the north, the government is deeply protective of our leisure time. Suddenly, when it comes to making a “business case” for HS2, weekend disruption on the existing north-south lines is more important than the destruction of farmland and historic landscapes, new noise pollution and a £42bn bill. The government should stop worrying about us – we’re used to weekend line closures already, for “essential maintenance” ie the struggle to keep an ageing infrastructure going during years of underinvestment
Taking 4½ hours to get from London to Newcastle via Sleaford, or being tipped out of the train at Doncaster to get on a replacement bus pounding up the A1, are not ideal ways to spend one’s Sunday evenings, but if the result is three fully functioning and modernised north-south lines, rather than one hugely expensive white elephant, I’d choose the weekend disruption.
Sue Ward
Newcastle upon Tyne
• HS2 is about much more than speedy links between UK cities, important though these are. I am disappointed that Guardian commentators ignore wider debates concerning the triple bottom line. HS2’s direct economic impacts are critical, but so are potential social and environmental impacts – aspects of critical importance in progressive thought. We’ve lost the plot if the HS2 debate reduces to whingeing about London’s overcrowded stations. The point is that HS2, managed well, becomes an opportunity for other cities to benefit from some of the high-level employment and capacity currently causing problems in London. And surely those cities’ hinter-regions have enough warning now to manoeuvre advantageously too.
What about the reductions in road casualties, better air quality and carbon savings if more people use trains? The claim that HS2 is only for the rich is also ridiculous; I use the north-west intercity route several times a month and am not remotely wealthy – I buy my tickets online cheaply in good time. Why are we confusing silly ticketing and pricing now with potential for positive change in years to come?
Maybe more data is required before a final decision is made, but I am surprised Guardian writers have glossed over an ideal chance to explore the cost benefits of things that, in the direct in-your-pocket sense, money cannot buy. Where’s the vision?
Hilary Burrage
• I don’t remember anything like the campaign against HS2 taking place when HS1 was planned. There was, I recall, some opposition from people along the proposed route, on cost and environmental grounds, and a TV programme about the blight and uncertainty caused to those whose homes were close to it, but nothing to approach this vilification. Perhaps John Harris has never had the pleasure of sitting on a Virgin train which, because it had set off a little late from Euston, had to wait for every slow local train using the same overcrowded line. On what evidence does he say HS2 would provide “services for which there is no obvious demand”? If HS2 is used as an excuse for not investing in local services, should we not be doing both?
Moreover, your front page (Weekend rail closures for up to 14 years if HS2 is scrapped, 28 October) illustrates the difficulties of the alternatives. I can only conclude that many regard the saving of the odd 15 minutes on a journey to Paris, as being of greater importance than saving an hour on a journey to Manchester. Perhaps they should, in all conscience, eschew catching Eurostar on their next trip and use the older slower services all the way to Paris/Brussels/wherever.
Bill Sharrod
Coniston, Cumbria

Did you hear the joke about the African kids living in grinding poverty? Ok, so comedy and global development may not seem like the most obvious companions, but humour can be the best way to engage people with difficult, and sometimes controversial, social issues.
A video produced by a group of Indian stand-up comics satirising people who blame women for sexual assault recently went viral. The rapes in Delhi and Mumbai has meant that many Indians are starting to protest their outrage about the way women are treated in India.
Women have been blamed for dressing ‘provocatively’, for travelling at night alone, for working late, for being seen in the company of men – for pretty much anything really – and this is the point of the video, in which women talking directly to camera admonish those who blame men, saying instead “It’s my fault”.
G Khamba, one of the Indian comedians behind the video, said that comedy “provides an easy way in” to difficult subjects. “People tend to get put off when you’re talking about a social issue in a preachy or a top-down way.”
Whatever social message a comedian intends to send though, it must obey the first rule of comedy: be funny.
This year, a Bill and Melinda Gates initiative called Stand up planet: the revolution will be hilarious, has been filming comedians from around the world who give a better insight into their lives than any policy document could hope to do.
Though the documentary is yet to premiere, in a Youtube video, one South African comedian says: “I hate my teeth. Even though they are white minority of my body, they still get the best treatment,” hitting home about racial tensions in 10 seconds.
Watching comedy from non-Western countries humanises the subjects of development in a way that nothing else does. It makes people in the West realise that problems like sexual assault, hunger, and disease don’t just happen to some unknown face in South Africa or India. And empathy really is the first step in engaging with any issue on global development.
Priya Shetty in Brighton
Global health journalist
Comedy in development isn’t just appropriate, it’s vital
Comedy and satire are incredibly powerful tools. They allow us to deal with issues sometimes too hard to think about face on. We ask ourselves: is this true? Is this the reality? Can something this ridiculous or bad really be happening? That is the true power of comedy.
The satirical video about rape in India ‘It’s your fault’ probably caused more people to rethink their values and this situation than any amount of campaigning would do. It has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube – do you think any organisational campaign video could achieve that much?
Comedy like this makes us face our fears, we break through taboos, we say and hear things that people try to hide. Using humour gives people back control, it gives them a place to speak about issues and talk about problems in a way that feels comfortable. And as such, comedy is not only an appropriate tool to use in development, it is a vital one – one that can help break down those barriers we dare not talk about. One that gives a voice back to those who can’t talk. One that helps us deal with situations too hard to believe.
Emily Barker in Brussels


I was disappointed, and rather shocked, to find that the responses to the hideous death of the innocent Bijan Ebrahimi (letter, and article by Frank Furedi, 30 October) were in terms of hysteria about paedophilia.
That was, of course, a major factor, but so must have been the constant vilification of immigrants and disabled people touted by the Government and screamed out from some tabloids. We are not encouraged to learn about or understand our disabled neighbours, but are repeatedly urged to view them as layabouts and frauds.
There is even a surprising difference between being falsely accused of being a paedophile and being falsely accused of being a benefit cheat. The former may be preferable, because in the latter case, regardless of your innocence, the DWP have decreed you must lose your benefits immediately and cannot get them back until you have been reassessed, possibly under more stringent rules and after a lengthy wait.
Many disabled people, just like Mr Ebrahimi, do not have visible impairments and are extremely vulnerable to false accusations. Our culture is encouraging every kind of vigilante and lynch-mob mentality and we will all be the worse for it.
Merry Cross
As your report said (29 October), a typical British murder driven by ignorance, stupidity, misinformation, prejudice and thuggery. Pity the oddball or quiet person living in one of these unforgiving, rapacious and violent alpha-male estates that exist all over this sad, heartless country. Pity us all.
Ronan Breslin
Strange logic  of the energy markets
I could not believe one of the answers from one of the power company executives appearing before MPs on Tuesday: “The mobile phone companies are making far larger profits than we are.”
You can buy mobile phones at stupid inflated prices, but you can also buy cheap versions at low cost. You do not have to buy a mobile phone, but you have to have energy supplies or you freeze to death. What kind of ivory towers are these executives living in? 
I am afraid Government can no longer sit back. When the cost of living is dropping prices must be held to protect British citizens.
Robin G Howard
Margate, Kent
I fail to understand how utility companies can compete other than by price and service differences – 240 volts at my plug is the same product whoever provides it; similarly with pure water and gas.
Product differentiation is the only real basis for competition. Hence, these services should be run as a national operation with managers judged on private industry performance levels and not the less demanding standards of the Civil Service.
Eric V Evans
Dorchester, Dorset
In Holland, my mother-in-law tells me that her gas and electric bills have been reduced. Perhaps they have their own supply there that’s not dependent on the same market as ours.
How is it that other countries’ governments can invest in and run their own and our gas, electric, water and train services at a profit, whereas our government can’t even run ours? Maybe I’m too stupid to understand it all….
Kate aan de Wiel
London SE21
Having received from British Gas their letter advising of the latest gas price increase, I calculated what my last quarterly bill would have been at the new terms. To check my calculation, I rang the 0800 number. At the outset I was told the wait was 15 minutes, it turned out to be 35.
Eventually, with some help from me, the assistant confirmed my calculation. Her initial effort, from her chart, was to say my bill would have been almost 150 per cent more than I paid. In actual fact the increase is 17.6 per cent, bad enough and some way above the 8.6 per cent mentioned as typical in BG’s letter.
During the conversation, I was told the tariff shown in the letter was the only one available to all British Gas customers. The one way I could save anything would be to pay by direct debit. Apparently, prompt payment and dual fuel discounts are now banned by the regulator. Incidentally, the assistant who provided this information was in Cape Town.
Is this the competitive, efficient, privatised energy industry we were promised by Thatcher?
Tony Smith
Woking, Surrey
Anyone who believes we all have some right to shirt-sleeve warmth through the winter hasn’t grasped that the age of cheap fossil fuels is over. The debate about keeping fuel bills down underscores the tension between sustainability (long-term) and democracy (short-term). It takes grown-up leadership to reconcile these, by spelling out tough truths.
I am 72 and do not heat my house, except for guests. The appropriate technology for staying warm is to heat only that air actually in contact with one’s skin, by means of thermal clothing.
If astronauts can stay comfortable in the near absolute zero of space by wearing hi-tech clothes, we could easily put up with cold weather if we applied our technology to the challenge, rather than dismiss it all as “putting on a jumper”.
The winter fuel allowance is misapplied. It should be a winter clothing allowance.
Roger Martin
Upper Coxley, Somerset
Remembrance hijacked
How sickening to see David Cameron using the launch of this year’s Poppy Appeal as a photo opportunity – one shudders at the thought of what next year’s First World War “commemorations” might hold for us.
My grandfathers both fought in the First World War trenches. I wear a poppy each year on behalf of them for the comrades they knew who suffered and died. I do not do it because I support British troops fighting wars overseas – and that is a distinction the idea of the beautiful blonde “Poppy Girls” fails to make. It is about commemorating the sufferings on all sides.
In the last few years one has sensed a desire by politicians to take over the national remembrance for their own political purposes, to establish a subtle link to ongoing conflicts in an attempt to somehow legitimise them.
This year I shall not be buying a poppy in protest – I am certain it is what my grandfathers would wish.
Nigel Cubbage
Merstham, Surrey
All responsible for quality care
Your editorial “Social care: The continuing disgrace of our care homes” (18 October) is right to ask questions about the role of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) through successive scandals (Winterbourne View, Mid-Staffordshire, Orchid View).
As you noted, CQC has not had sufficient resources to do the job expected of it; I am not convinced, however, that an “aggressive culture” is what we want. Don’t we want knowledgeable inspectors who can support well-motivated services to do better, as well as challenge poor practice?
However, regulation and inspection can never be completely relied upon to keep people safe. While regulatory failings surely played a part in these scandals, pointing the finger at CQC allows us to take our eyes off the responsibilities we all have – as friends, relatives and employees – to question poor practice when we see it. Having people who know and care about you involved in your life is the best safeguard.
Alison Giraud-Saunders
Brill, Buckinghamshire
Scapegoat for death of Baby P
It was interesting to read about Ed Balls’s “outrage” at the pay-off to Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey Council’s former Head of Children’s Services. Had Ed Balls not authorised Ms Shoesmith’s unlawful dismissal, one suspects such a pay out would not have been made.
At the time, it seemed clear that Ms Shoesmith was being made the scapegoat for the systemic failures that led to Baby P’s tragic death. I am keen to learn more about what lessons have been learnt by Haringey Council and other local authorities since then.
The Court of Appeal’s decision confirms that Ms Shoesmith was unfairly dismissed. Instead of looking for a scapegoat, the Government and Haringey should have initiated a proper, transparent investigation that would have led to the appropriate disciplinary sanctions for the relevant people.
Shah Qureshi
Head of Employment Law, Bindmans LLP, London WC1
Charming side  of Lou Reed
Like many others, Sir Tom Stoppard felt intimidated by Lou Reed’s brittle persona (“Anti-hero of the Czech underground”, 30 October). My experience was different.
In 2007 and again the next year, I was one of a small group of young singers from the New London Children’s Choir who toured Europe with Reed when he revived his controversial Berlin album to widespread acclaim. He was the very model of charm and politeness. It must have been the yoga, which he often had us perform with him on airport transfer buses, much to the surprise of our fellow travellers.
Elly Brindle
London SW6
Bullying press must be curbed
I am bitterly disappointed to see The Independent’s vociferous objections to the negotiated compromise proposals for press “regulation” (leading article, 29 October). As I understand it, the proposals as they stand will not prevent the press investigating wrongdoing or speaking on issues of importance.  What it should do is provide some sort of redress for those innocents bullied and libelled in the name of “public interest”.
I read The Independent because I respect it, but its whingeing over this issue is fast eroding that respect.
Sara Neill
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Dogs that attack other animals
While Blue Cross supports an increase in penalties for irresponsible dog owners (“Owners of dogs that kill to face longer prison sentences”, 30 October), more action is needed on out-of-control dogs. This includes dealing with dog attacks on other animals.
A dog that injures or kills another pet should be a cause for concern. Allowing or encouraging such behaviour towards a cat, a horse, or another dog is antisocial behaviour and should be considered in this legislation.
Rachel Cunningham
Blue Cross pet charity
Burford, Oxfordshire
Blair’s legacy
In the interview on pages 12 and 13 of Tuesday’s Independent we read that Tony Blair is now advising 20 countries. On page 17 the headline for Patrick Cockburn’s piece is “As Syria disintegrates, so too does Iraq”. Enough said?
Brian Mitchell


It is not justice when a judge abstains from praising men’s virtues — and abstains from condemning men’s vices
Sir, In response to Sir James Munby (“Our courts are no longer Christian, says top judge”, Oct 30), while I agree that faith should not be the foundation of morality, it is obvious who profits and who loses by the precept of moral agnosticism (the idea that one must never pass moral judgments on others). To pronounce moral judgment is an enormous objective and responsibility. A judge should possess an unimpeachable character and unbreached integrity. It is not justice or equal treatment that is granted to men when a judge abstains from praising men’s virtues and abstains from condemning men’s vices.
D. S. A. Murray
Dorking, Surrey

Sir, You suggest that the President of the Family Division’s remark that judges should not “weigh one religion against another” is a recent development. As long ago as 1862, in the case of Thornton v Howe, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Romilly, remarked that, “I am of the opinion that the Court of Chancery makes no distinction between one sort of religion and another . . . Neither does the Court, in this respect, make any distinction between one sect and another.” This principle was subsequently applied in other cases, notably those concerning Scientology.
Howard Self
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Sir, The British judicial system, enshrined in Magna Carta, upholds the rule of law, property ownership and trial by jury as statutes mandated by the sovereign and the Bible. With our society becoming increasingly secular and pluralistic, it is imperative that we firmly adhere to our millennia-old Christian values and norms which underpin our social and moral structures and constitute the basic elements of social conservatism.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in Truth and Tolerance (2004) about cultural relativism which sanctions degeneration, decadence and disintegration of reason and asked whether one should reject the conception of pluralism which reflects moral relativism.
Sam Banik
London N10

Sir, Sir James Munby is mistaken in saying, “Happily for us the days are past when the business of judges was the enforcement of morals . . . we sit as secular judges”. He contradicts himself when he goes on to say that all tenets are entitled to respect provided they are . . . “not immoral”.
At her coronation the Queen swore an oath that she would to the utmost of her power maintain in the United Kingdom “the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law . . . the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England”.
In the 2011 census 59 per cent gave the Christian religion as their affiliation. Parliament has not seen fit to disestablish the Church of England. It is for the legislature, not the judicature, to make fundamental changes in our country’s legal policy if it thinks it right to do so.
Francis Bennion
Retired Parliamentary Counsel
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Even though rail services are nearly back to normal after the recent storm, passengers may still advised not to travel
Sir, Andrew Dow (letter, Oct 29) ought to be aware that the failures of rail privatisation are not unknown to the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). Yesterday morning’s National Rail Enquiries website (part of ATOC) proclaimed “First Capital Connect are expecting to run a near normal service. Passengers are advised not to travel”.
Stephen Briggs
Litlington, Herts

Two outstanding people, both natives of Bradford, have been omitted from the list of Yorkshire’s cultural icons
Sir, The writer of your third leader (“The Majesty of Bridlington”, Oct 29) omitted two outstanding names from the list of Yorkshire’s cultural icons, Fred and Jack, both native Bradfordians. I refer to Delius and J. B. Priestley.
Just rubbing it in.
Keith Copland
Baildon, W Yorks

Does Oliver Kamm believes the works in the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut should be sent home?
Sir, I very much enjoyed a visit to the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and was impressed by the size and quality of the collection. However, as Oliver Kamm believes “the Marbles should go back home to Athens” (Oct 29)’ he would presumably argue that this whole collection should be shipped back to Britain. The return this year of the Walpole paintings to Houghton (though temporary) shows what a dramatic impact this would have on many houses open to the public and galleries the length and breadth of the country. Though perhaps Mr Kamm would have wanted the Walpole collection to have gone straight back to Italy and other countries in which the works were created.
Alan Toop
London SW3

The proposal that Royal Collection of Art should permanently be sent on tour around the country is foolish and dangerous
Sir, It would be hard to imagine a more misguided and potentially destructive proposal than urging that the Royal Collection of Art should permanently be sent on tour around the country (letter, Oct 30).
Moving works of art is risky and is frequently found (if not always admitted) to have been injurious. Renoir’s large masterpiece The Umbrellas is, for legal reasons, shuttled between the national galleries of London and Dublin. Its conservation records show that the first cracking of paint was suffered along the line of a horizontal supporting bar on the stretcher frame, against which the canvas vibrated during travels.
Because of the increased risks (estimated by insurers to be six times as great) when moving works of art around, pictures are often “conserved” prior to their travels. These treatments themselves can constitute a hazard. When The Umbrellas received its first cleaning the paint suffered further massive cracking and actual losses.
Since the National Portrait Gallery began sending Laura Knight’s Self-portrait with Model on tours of provincial galleries the picture has undergone frequent conservation treatments for cracking and flaking paint. Viscount Dunluce, when head of conservation at the Tate Gallery (1975-1995), wisely noted that pictures are made to hang on walls and not to be shuttled around on lorries.
Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK

Ed Balls said the payment to Sharon Shoesmith “leaves a bad taste in the mouth”. But it is partly his fault
Sir, Ed Balls yesterday told BBC radio that the reported £600,000 compensation payment to Sharon Shoesmith “leaves a bad taste in the mouth”. Many would agree that Ms Shoesmith might honourably have taken responsibility and resigned over the Baby P scandal, and that if she had not resigned she ought to have been dismissed, after due process had been observed. H er dismissal, though, was so badly botched by Haringey Council and the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families that the Court of Appeal awarded her compensation.
The figure of £600,000 is shockingly high, but what really “leaves a bad taste in the mouth” is that the Secretary of State was Mr Balls himself. Ms Shoesmith is getting this payment because Mr Balls failed to follow the law. Is he now seeking to question the authority of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, who held that Ms Shoesmith was entitled to compensation precisely because Mr Balls and Haringey dismissed her without the natural justice that exists for the protection of all employees? If fair procedure had been used, and employment law observed, Ms Shoesmith could and should have been dismissed without this new cost to the public purse.
Jonathan Morgan
Fellow in Law, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge


SIR – As you report in your leading article, a fox has broken into the Tower of London and killed two of the ravens, bringing the country perilously close to disaster. As legend has it, any fewer than six ravens and the Tower will fall, and the kingdom with it.
However, a yeoman warder told us last week on a guided tour that there are in fact “usually nine held in the Tower; the six required by Charles II and three spare – not that we’re superstitious or anything”.
Thus, despite having sadly lost two, we still have one spare. We can breathe a little more easily for now. That is, until Mr Fox gets in again.
David R Stearne
Eythorne, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – Recovering our economic independence has become a bit of a mantra from the Government. It is also a myth.
Reaching the magical 3 per cent deficit is not the end of our obligations under Lisbon and the Fiscal Compact. We are obliged to bring our debt to GDP ratio down to 60 per cent and to work towards a balanced budget.
Either a buoyant international economy will allow us grow our way towards those goals, or we will be stuck in the rut of further cuts and tax increases.
The precautionary line of credit from the troika is a sensible insurance policy in the event the world economy doesn’t come to our rescue. I can’t see that any conditions attached will be much different from what we will have to do in any case to meet our targets. We will have to have our budget reviewed and approved in either case.
It would be better if Minister for Finance Michael Noonan would stop the macho rhetoric about regaining our economic sovereignty and opt for the insurance of a precautionary line of credit. He has no right to gamble on international recovery at our expense. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Buried in the Department of Education and Skills website there is a statement in relation to apprenticeships. Essentially, from 2014 onwards, the onus is placed on apprentices to directly pay the institutes of technology for their tuition.
Previously this fee was paid by the government.
Some of these fees could run as high as €1,890 per student.
Apprentices already pay “part registration fees” for their time on campus and this will add to the economic burden on some of these young people. In addition, given that apprentices will now be paying registration and tuition fees to the institutes while the CAO first-time applicant pays only registration fees this is grossly unfair.
This type of action shows the Minister’s lack of regard for vocational training in the State.
Moreover, the covert manner of its publication leaves me with a worrying feeling in respect of the future of apprenticeships in the State. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – “Blueprint for a smarter society” is a great article by Fintan O’Toole (Weekend Review, October 26th). It has always struck me as a huge paradox that we use a top-down centralised hierarchical system of government, when we have a community-based culture most European countries must envy.
Our politicians seek power, when what they really should be doing is seeking to leave a legacy for the generations to come. Instead, they use the resources of the State to retain power, all the time claiming to be “looking after” their constituents.
If it is any consolation, the same complaints can be heard by people across the western world. This short-term power craving over long-term planning is failing people now, and storing up huge problems for the future.
Real change will never come from the top down, but rather from the still-strong grass roots. Perhaps The Irish Times might like to take the next step and help organise/sponsor a conference for a community-centred Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Orwell Gardens,

Sir, – Irene Crawley, director of the Hope project, based in Dublin, states long-term methadone use is a form of State-sponsored social control (Home News, October 21st). Presumably the same could be said about any form of public health service, as well as welfare payments, governmental support of education, etc.  However, the specific criticism of methadone treatment attributed Ms Crawley is difficult to reconcile with the evidence – or with pragmatism.
To start with the latter, one can only wonder what alternative hope (or Hope!) she would offer to the almost 9,000 current recipients of methadone maintenance in Ireland, and the thousands more who want it, need it, and may well die without it. As for evidence, it’s unequivocal:  opiate addiction is a chronic condition which, to date, we can treat but simply do not know how to cure (the same is true of alcoholism). It’s also a condition where relapse is the rule rather than the exception when treatment – any treatment – ends. 
It is not dissimilar from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. And yet few would criticise the management of these diseases because the vast majority of patients are unwilling or unable to become “drug-free” through behavioral change, such as rigid adherence to a prescribed diet and exercise regimen. For sure, supporters should express their pride and admiration of Hope, and applaud its contribution to the well-being of its successful clients. Denigrating other types of care, however, discredits their advocacy. – Yours, etc,

First published: Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 01:09

Sir, – The explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, once cut off his dog’s tail, cooked it and fed it to him. A suitable metaphor to describe the most recent Budget. – Yours, etc,
Chemin du Gaz,

Sir, – Brian O’Reilly (October 28th) would probably find that his personal tax liability would increase hugely if he moved from the US to almost anywhere else.
Interestingly, if I was a resident of Ireland last year, my take home pay would have been slightly higher than it was here in Australia (assuming the same income). On the other hand, it would have been lower if I lived in the UK.
In my opinion, these comparisons are more useful than Mr O’Reilly’s, as Australia, Ireland and the UK all have relatively similar healthcare, education and social welfare systems.
Those with low incomes are unquestionably better off almost anywhere in the developed world other than the US. In fact, even middle-class families would probably be better paying more tax rather than having to save upwards of $100,000 for each child’s college fees. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – “Dubliners face water cuts due to problems at treatment plant” (Front page, October 30th). How ironical! Just as we face the imposition of a water tax, masquerading as payment for the treatment of water, the authorities responsible for the provision of treated water in the greater Dublin area are shown to be incapable of providing such a service! – Yours, etc,
Kilcolman Court,
Glenageary, Co Dublin.
Sir, – An excess of raw material causing a shortage of product. Well done, Dublin City Council (Home News, October 30th). – Yours, etc,
Pococke Lower, Kilkenny.

Sir, – The reported death of Australian runner Albie Thomas (Sport, October 30th) brought back memories of that wonderful evening in August 1958. With hundreds of others, I queued outside the Carlton Cinema for the special buses to Santry Stadium. The buzz of excitement was added to by Billy Morton who exhorted us by loudhailer to “Kindly infiltrate up to the back of the terrace”. We did and soon 20,000 sardines roared home the five athletes who magically broke the four-minute mile barrier. What a privilege it was to be there on such a historic occasion.
By the end of the evening Billy was out again with his loudhailer appealing to us not to damage his beloved track by bringing home matchboxes full of souvenir cinders. I was too busy chasing the “Famous Five” for their autographs – and was successful on all counts. I was 16 years old and it was, to quote Lou Reed, “a perfect day”. God rest you, Albie. – Yours, etc,
Stradbally North,
First published: Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 01:05

A chara,  – Last Sunday, I left Ireland after a two-week holiday to return to Denmark, my home for the last four years. Saying goodbye to my family is inevitably always a tearful affair, but when going though the security check, one of the airport personnel took one look at my face, looked me in the eye and asked a very simple question, “Did you just say goodbye?”. This prompted a fresh flood of tears while she very gently and calmly helped me sort out my bags, buggy and young daughter, talking to me all the while until she could see I’d managed to get myself a little more together. Then she wished me well on my journey home and sent one emigrant on her way with a lighter tread. 
The security check at Dublin Airport can be the most pitifully lonely place as an emigrant; you’re surrounded by people excited to be leaving the country on holiday, looking forward to leaving those shores and yet you stand there, absurdly queuing with laptops and liquids in hand while your heart is breaking, and all you want to do is turn around and run back to the family you’ve just said goodbye to. Those few moments grace that she bestowed on me reminded me that I wasn’t alone. 
Don’t ever underestimate the impact a gesture or a word can have on someone’s day – I don’t even know her name but I’ll always remember what she did for me that day. – Is mise,
Ladby Longvej,

Sir, – In the ongoing search for a reform of Irish democracy, a key element which has not been questioned is the multi-party system. It injures democracy in three ways. It allows party managers to dictate the voting decisions of TDs and, in cases of disobedience, to limit the nonconformists’ contributions to the Dáil.
In general elections, political parties, interested only in winning Dáil seats, induce the electors to choose representatives on grounds of party affiliation rather than personal qualities. At the same time, in Ireland, as indeed in other European countries, the parties have lost the role and utility which they originally possessed by representing ideological differences that were substantially present in the electorate. All the parties now claim to hold in varying degrees more or less the same values and to be pursuing more or less the same objectives. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution.
Getting rid of them would not require a referendum; it could be done by enacting a law defining Dáil and Seanad as unitary bodies undivided by formal party affiliation. Imagine the parties replaced by the entire adult citizen body acting as a single “party” to elect the Dáil. The Dáil, as hitherto, would elect the taoiseach who would appoint the government. That, combined with devolution of substantial powers and functions to local authorities, would constitute for our democracy a clean break and an invigorating fresh start. – Yours, etc,
Sydney Parade Avenue,

Sir, – Roman Catholic ascendancy and in particular the Ne Temere marriage decree were largely responsible for the narrow parochialism of the Church of Ireland in Dublin and elsewhere during most of the last century. There was the constant fear that the loss of children to the Roman Catholic faith as the result of a mixed marriage would eventually lead to the annihilation of Protestantism in the South of Ireland. Therefore “circle the wagons”, avoid any social or political involvement which might lead to a mixed marriage or branded as an enemy of Holy Catholic Ireland, Irish and Catholic being synonymous.
I well remember my mother’s warning: “Keep off religion and politics or you’ll get us all burnt out”. Thankfully things have now changed and we should welcome and seize the opportunity to have done with religious segregation and participate fully in public and political life, North and South, as Archbishop Jackson rightly emphasised at the Dublin Synod. – Yours, etc,
Very Revd VICTOR G
(Dean of St Patrick’s

Sir, – The figure of St Patrick has been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout Irish history. Your recent article (Sarah McDonald, Opinion, October 29th) concerning Revd Marcus Losack’s theory on the saint’s Breton origins is one more. Far from being the man of mystery, described by Marcus Losack, Patrick’s context is broadly understood by the many scholars who have worked on the saint, his writings and his missionary activities.
These allow us to identify Patrick as a Romano-Briton (a person of British origin who was culturally influenced by Roman society) from western Britain; he is not Breton.
The place-name evidence, adduced by Marcus Losack, does not carry any historical weight. Patrick’s own writings clearly identify him as British and his earliest biographers, writing in the seventh century, follow this lead.
The idea of a Breton Patrick is nothing new, however. It features in non-Irish works from the ninth or tenth-century, at which point the cult of the saint had spread beyond Ireland leading to renewed speculation. This was facilitated by the linguistic confusion whereby Britannia could refer to Britain or Brittany, similar to the confusion which existed between Scotia as either Ireland or Scotland. However, this speculation, written several hundred years after Patrick’s writings, should not supercede the saint’s own testimony. After all, he was in the best position to know where his home was located!
Fortunately, Patrick’s work is now more accessible than ever. I would urge readers to visit the excellent Confessio website, hosted by the Royal Irish Academy. It can be found at There, Patrick can be read in his own words; it is worth taking him at them. – Yours, etc,
School of History and
UCD, Belfield,
Dublin 4.
A chara, – As a proud Irishman I was disconcerted to hear my five-year-old son recently tell me that we didn’t live in Ireland, we lived in Northern Ireland. A fact gleaned from his (rationed) Playstation football activities. Joe Coy’s letter (October 29th) reinforced this obsession with terminology.
Recent events in Belfast reinforce the value of symbols and terminology in Irish life. I perceive the current state in Southern Ireland (including the island’s most northern part) as the Republic of Ireland. The Ireland referred to in the Constitution is the island which we as an Irish nation wish to see (peacefully and with consent) politically reunited.
I am not a legal expert, but I do not believe the will of the Irish people is for the people of the north east six counties to be refused the privilege of describing themselves as Irish or saying they are from “Ireland”. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:

* I was sitting at a table in Ionad Cois Locha Dun Luiche, sipping a cup of sugarless coffee. A friendly greeting by a tourist who sat down beside me got me in the mood for talking. Your man began telling me how he had come up from Dublin to have a look at the scenery.
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This fellow was a proper Yank – from Montana or Minnesota. He told me he was a farmer who owned eight quarters. I hadn’t a clue what he was on about until he saw the blank expression on my face. “You guys over here have farms,” he says, “but we have what’s called quarters, and each one of my quarters has 150 acres”. Well Byjasus, that put me firmly in my quarter. How could you argue with a man who had a farm the size of Donegal? And, to make it that bit more insane to me, it was only a sideline as he had many more fish in the pan. He bends down, and takes out three different iPads from a briefcase and opens one up.
I was mesmerised as he went on to show me his “quarters”, zooming in to show me a massive tractor ploughing land that would take all day to walk from one end of the furrow to the next.
He gave me a grand tour of the inside of his houses via the iPad. He showed me some of the pictures he had taken in his travels around Donegal. One of a crow taking off with a sausage discarded from some litter lout’s takeaway that was almost too big to allow take-off.
But my ears really pricked up when he said that his main reason for coming to Ireland was to attend a meeting in Dublin with a government estate agency! I was beginning to form the opinion that he was a real crackpot until it dawned on me that what he was referring to in actual fact, was NAMA. He advised me that if I had a few million dollars, I should start buying as there were real bargains to be had . “I don’t understand your Government,” he says. “If they had any business acumen, they would buy all this property cheaply as a future investment with taxpayers’ money and make it work for the benefit of the people, instead of giving money away to financial speculating bailout programmes.” I was really beginning to warm to this crazy man because of the simplicity he attached to the invest-and-return policy.
He looks at his watch, then takes out a fat wallet and extracts a business card from it and hands it to me, saying: “If you want to see a really big tractor, come and visit.”
J Woods
Dun na nGall
* I love the irony of the new water advertisement. We are told that water is our most precious resource, naturally of course, after our people, the Irish people.
And by God are the Irish people some resource. The common or garden ‘mark one’ version pays off debts not incurred by them after developers, bankers and politicians went on an orgy.
In addition, they are also now compelled to pay a house tax to sate the greed of the unsecured bondholders.
Naturally enough, they take one on the chin so that the various gas, oil and electricity moguls make a healthy profit.
They also pay for the removal of their own refuse and upkeep of their own estates because the county councils who operate at the pace of a frozen glacier haven’t taken them into their charge yet.
Now if you are unfortunate enough to have to call the fire brigade, they also charge. Why? Maybe to pay the lump sum and pension of the various county managers who earn more than the leader of the free world.
Worse, as happened in Galway where some unfortunates went into a church to pray to St Anthony. On coming out, they found their cars clamped and had to pay cash to get them released. My, my . . . don’t think St Anthony would approve of that.
I now await the next miracle of this Government and that is doing what has, up to now, been impossible. The best brains in the world have failed to extract blood from a stone or a turnip.
I predict that before the next Budget, this Government will have achieved what everyone else has failed to do – and that is to extract blood from those two soulless objects. Mother Angela will be impressed indeed.
John Cuffe
* ‘Every person to their own job’ was the old criteria – provided, of course, they had the professional qualifications or necessary skills. When it comes to top people in government, ‘merely running a country’, there are many contradictions.
To explain, in a nutshell, it is irresistible not to quote Deputy Stephen Donnelly’s recent statistics on the four members of the Economic Management Council – Kenny, Gilmore, Noonan and Howlin.
“Four men, average age: 62; average income: €180,000; accumulated time in Dail: 120 years; and accumulated time in the private sector: zero. Professional training for all four: ‘teacher’. When I look at that group, I see an old guard and an old way of thinking.” And there wasn’t a female in sight!
I simply say: “God help them and us.” Is it any wonder our country is lopsided?
After the Budget, we had the wealthy and upper crust, as ever, heaving and weaving the balance of power; while the middle class and vulnerable sectors were treated like a pack of schoolchildren.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* With the passing of the new Social Welfare Bill, Ireland has reached a new juncture. We now have a situation where an 18 year old can have the full weight of the law thrown at them, but when it comes to social support, we, as a nation, only throw little more than half of that which is deemed acceptably necessary for more mature adults.We have created, in my opinion, a second-class fiscal citizen. Are we saying to families that, now more ever, you are going to keep paying for your children?
Yes, Michael Noonan may have lost his medical card in the Budget, but his grandchildren, or indeed, given his age, his greatgrandchildren (if he has any), be they under the age of five, will be entitled to one, regardless of circumstance. So some children win and some lose.
Isn’t it somehow ironic that the kids that lose now are the very ones that do so because they have just turned an age when they are meant to stop being children and start being an adult part of our bright new post-bailout future? One-way ticket to Canada anyone?
Dermot Ryan
Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway
* The Friday night appearance of Warren Gatland, British and Irish Lions rugby coach, on the Late Late Show, only serves to show the vacuity of press and media questioning on any topic. It’s amazing what people can get away with using a bit of charm on the media who only seem interested in filling paper space or air time.
Gatland’s most controversial decision during the Australian rugby tour was the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll for the deciding third and final test.
Though Gatland was apparently vindicated by the victory of the Lions in the third and final test, he has never explained exactly why O’Driscoll got the chop. Such soft soap as “Brian was disappointed” and “it was the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my coaching career” are all he’s come up with when asked.
It’s now a couple of months since the last Australian test and in all that time no press or media person has put Gatland under real pressure to properly answer the question.
Isn’t it about time somebody did?
Liam Cooke
Dublin 17
Irish Independent


October 30, 2013

30 October 2013 Tired

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Troutbridge has been fitted with an electronic navigator. Leslie has been automated. Priceless
Sort the books, tird potter around not doing much
We watch Hancock its not too bad
Scrabble today Mary wins get just under 400, though perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Nigel Davenport
Nigel Davenport was a magnetic actor in theatre, TV and film and had roles in A Man for All Seasons, Howard’s Way and Chariots of Fire

Nigel Davenport with Vanessa Redgrave in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Photo: GETTY
6:06PM GMT 29 Oct 2013
Nigel Davenport, the actor, who has died aged 85, will be best remembered for playing dark, strong, rakish toffs, aggressive heroes, scowling villains – and for what he himself called his “dodgy” eyes.
Whether in films, plays or on television, Davenport’s power largely derived, some thought, from his expressive gaze. It could be even more striking in close-up. Amiable or disturbing, it caused tough guys to wilt and pretty girls to sigh.
Whether he glanced, or glared, grinned or grimaced, Davenport had an unusual magnetism. He also had a kind of rasp in his voice which some called gravelly and others abrasive, and altogether added to his authority.
One of the most versatile and busy of British character actors, after a strong theatrical start Davenport alternated between films and plays for nearly five decades. On the small screen he might be a red-hot titled lover in Howard’s Way; an aggressive boss on a North Sea oil-rig; a moody Yorkshire squire in pre-war England (South Riding); an interfering working-class racehorse owner (Trainer); or King George III in Prince Regent.
He appeared in more than 40 feature films, ranging from a detective in Peeping Tom, via a tough guy among conscripts in The Virgin Soldiers, to a resourceful psychopath who (in Play Dirty) wipes out a whole army encampment on the grounds that “I didn’t like the tea”. He was also the game warden in Living Free who resigns in order to capture lion cubs and transport them to a distant game reserve, and Lord Birkenhead in Chariots of Fire.
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Nigel Davenport (right) with Paul Scofield in ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (GETTY)
Something of a political magpie, Davenport started out on the Left before becoming an early supporter of Margaret Thatcher. He switched allegiance to the SDP (Shirley Williams had been a bridesmaid at his wedding) before returning to Labour and then declaring himself a “Radical”, declining to vote at all.
He was always, however, a staunch believer in the rights of his fellow workers, and for six years from 1986 was president of British Actors’ Equity Association, the actors’ trade union. It was a role in which he did not mince his words.
At the TUC Congress in 1988, for example, he was cheered when he described Rupert Murdoch as a “toxic waste dispenser with his global collection of refuse tips in the media and television”. Deregulation would lead, he said (to further applause), to “tabloid television” and “pathetic drivel”.
Arthur Nigel Davenport was born at Shelford, Cambridge, on May 5 1928, the son of a Cambridge bursar awarded an MC after serving for four years in the Royal Engineers during the Great War. Nigel’s great-uncle, Major Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn, won a VC during the Second Boer War.
Davenport was educated at Cheltenham College before reading English at Trinity College, Oxford, where he acted with the OUDS. It was there that he decided he would make acting his life.
While on military service with the RASC he worked as an Army radio disc jockey in Hamburg. His first professional acting job was as an understudy in a Noël Coward play, Relative Values (Savoy, 1952) .

Nigel Davenport in the 1963 ITV drama ‘Espionage’ (ITV/REX)
His supposedly “dodgy” eyes derived from a strong squint caused by a lazy eye, of which he was always conscious. From his right eye, he saw little but a blur. “I’ve a great left eye — that’s my secret,” he would say. When he heard a director remarking “That young man will never get anywhere unless he does something about his eyes”, Davenport had an operation to straighten them in 1953. It was impossible to correct the condition fully, but Davenport was not discouraged. He went on to act with the Shakespeare Memorial Company at Stratford, Chesterfield Civic Theatre and Ipswich rep before becoming one of the first members of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court .
He was John Osborne’s choice for Cliff in Look Back in Anger (1956), but the director Tony Richardson protested: “Nigel’s just like an old horse.” He appeared, however, in 15 other Royal Court productions, notably as Bro Paradock in A Resounding Tinkle (1957-58), a performance which Kenneth Tynan described as “a splendidly sour creation, drab, leather-elbowed, and disgruntled, comic because he reacts with no surprise to circumstances of absolute fantasy”.

In Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop production of A Taste of Honey (Theatre Royal, Stratford, 1959) Davenport played Peter, a used-car salesman and lover of the heroine’s indifferent mother, transferring with the play to the West End, and to Los Angeles and New York in 1960.
By then Davenport had appeared in his first feature films, Look Back in Anger and Peeping Tom, and from 1961 on television. His first major feature film was A High Wind in Jamaica. In A Man For All Seasons he played the Duke of Norfolk and, between films, took various roles on television in series such as South Riding, Oil Strike North, The Prince Regent, Howard’s Way, The Treasure Seekers and The Opium Wars.

Meanwhile, he returned from time to time to the stage. In the West End his parts ranged from Odilon in Félicien Marçeau’s Bonne Soupe (Comedy and Wyndham’s, 1961-2); Moncau in Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy (Phoenix, 1966); Irene Worth’s ex-husband Jim North in Frank Marcus’s Notes On A Love Affair (Globe, 1972); and Vershinin in Jonathan Miller’s revival of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (Cambridge, 1976).
Other feature films at this time were Sebastian, Sinful Davey; The Royal Hunt of the Sun; No Blade of Grass; The Mind of Mr Soames; Villain; Mary, Queen of Scots; and The Island of Dr Moreau. His many television credits included The Bika Inquest, which in the 1980s was followed by a return to the stage as King Lear in a countrywide tour.
Davenport also toured as Andrew Wyke in Sleuth; Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest; Duff in Alan Bennett’s The Old Country; Mortimer Durham in Maugham’s The Constant Wife; and as Arthur Fenwick in Maugham’s Our Betters at Chichester Festival. His extravagant conception of Lord Whitfield (with a direct line to God) reached the West End in Murder Is Easy (Duke of York’s, 1993), adapted from Agatha Christie.
Though steeped in the values of his family’s military tradition, Davenport was also fascinated by true-life villains, and when in London was known to drop by at the Turk’s Head, a pub frequented by both actors and the criminal fraternity. Blessed with a fine sense of humour, he was often to be found at the centre of a conversation about the day’s horse racing – a lifelong passion.
Having moved to a farmhouse in Suffolk in the 1970s, he spent the last years of his life in Gloucestershire. Though happy in his own company, he delighted in taking on guests in fiercely competitive games of backgammon, Scrabble or Monopoly.
Nigel Davenport married, in 1951, Helena White, who died in 1979; and secondly, in 1972, the actress Maria Aitken; that marriage was dissolved. By his first marriage he had a son, the journalist Hugo Davenport, and a daughter, Laura. With Maria Aitken he had another son, the actor Jack Davenport.
Nigel Davenport, born May 23 1928, died October 25 2013


You report that many people have to decide to “heat or eat” (26 October). Some people do not even have that choice. The Canterbury Festival is in full swing and last Thursday evening on my way to a concert, I saw in a side street a seated figure silhouetted against a bright shop window. A small cardboard notice on his lap said NO FOOD. I was carrying a bag of goodies from M&S so crossed the road, thinking it meant “no food, but cash”. I looked again and it read NO FOOD FOR 9 DAYS. The young man told me the hostel knew about him, but they had no room. He had no social benefit because he had no address. “And so it has come to this,” he said quietly. He was well spoken with curling hair and a neat beard. He clutched a small rucksack, but his fingers trembled involuntarily. At the concert hall a brilliant young Russian man had chosen pieces by composers at the height of their careers. But as his fingers swept the keyboard, I could not concentrate.
Jane Wade
Faversham, Kent

The alleged abuse at the G4S-run prison in South Africa (Report, 28 October) is just the latest in a string of damaging claims. War on Want conducted an intensive fact-finding mission to South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi, finding that low wages, long hours and cost-cutting exploit G4S workers and create conditions ripe for abuse. Corporations like G4S must not be handed taxpayers’ money to profit from imprisonment and misery.
Rafeef Ziadah
Senior campaigns officer, War on Want
• It’s not only political power that has been sucked out of cities (Editorial, 29 October) for generations but also the personal wealth of millions, by the rapaciousness of London financial institutions which have flogged us poorly performing financial products, as well as raking in billions each year through hidden and excessive charges.
Alistair Gregory
Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire
• It is noted, from your archives (26 October 1931, reprinted 26 October 2013) that Lady May Cambridge broke a tradition of centuries by omitting the word ‘obey’ from her marriage vows. However, 19 years earlier, on 13 January 1912, when the suffragette Una Dugdale married Victor Duval at the Savoy Chapel, the couple also insisted that obey be deleted. That year Una Duval published a pamphlet, Love and Honour – But not Obey.
June Purvis
University of Portsmouth
• A great heading for Polly Toynbee’s article on Iain Duncan Smith’s assault on people with disabilities claiming benefits (These brutal disability cuts fuse ideology and idiocy, 29 October). May I add “ignorance” and “inhumanity” to “ideology and idiocy”?
Stuart Weir
• Since their release from prison, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce seem to have taken up permanent residencies in the Guardian and on Radio 4. Any chance of passing on the names of their agents?
Alastair Gilmour
Newcastle upon Tyne
• Why should poor St Jude take all the blame? He shares his day with St Simon (Report, 29 October).
Canon Peter Hearn
Burton upon Stather, North Lincolnshire

David Cameron’s proposals to roll back green taxes (Report, 28 October), which account for around 4% of an average energy bill, rather than tackling the underlying causes of rising prices and increasing fuel poverty, are symptomatic of the government’s chaotic energy policy. At the moment gas prices in the UK are lower than in most European countries, but UK households use more energy and so pay more due to lack of sufficient home insulation. Yet the government is investing next to nothing in insulation and failing to support serious investment in renewables. The National Grid Future Energy Scenario in 2012 predicted that with proper investment in renewables, the UK could become free of energy imports by 2020.
Instead of pouring billions of pounds into additional subsidies for dangerous and polluting new nuclear power stations, which will only come online too late (if ever) to address our energy gap, the government should switch to a proper programme of investment in insulation and proven, clean and safe renewables. This would provide Britain with energy security, tackle fuel poverty and create lasting jobs.
Denise Craghill
• George Monbiot advocates using as much renewable energy as possible, but then downplays its potential in favour of nuclear power. When it comes to solar, as the Royal Society says, “no other sustainable energy source comes close”. Contrary to Monbiot’s claims, solar across all the UK’s roofs would exceed current fossil power supply. Solar’s full potential can be increasingly realised as storage systems commercialise. Cost reductions in solar have been so exceptional that by 2018 we anticipate large-scale solar will need lower public support than nuclear is due to receive in 2023 – and for 15 years, not nuclear’s 35 years. Furthermore, solar puts power directly in the hands of millions of people, not a single utility or overseas state. Nearly half a million homes have now gone solar in the UK. Whatever the controversies over nuclear power, credit to the government for backing this winning technology.
Leonie Greene
Solar Trade Association

Your editorial (28 October) called on victims of hacking to sit down with the politicians and the press to “find a compromise” on press regulation. As a victim of computer hacking, I find your suggestion ironic. Victims have done nothing but compromise in our quest for effective, independent regulation. We accepted the mechanism of a royal charter, which you rightly describe as an “obscure device”, but wrongly blame for the apparent impasse in which we now find ourselves. And would that the press and the politicians had sat down with us in the last few weeks, as they continue to court one another just as they did before the Leveson Inquiry.
The real cause of the “enormous damage” you identify is the deliberate and mendacious fiction, constantly repeated by almost all the press and even many broadcasters, that setting up a new self-regulatory body to replace the toothless Press Complaints Commission is state regulation by another name. The reason is obvious: they want the public to forget the gross abuses perpetrated on families like the Dowlers, the McCanns and the Watsons by certain sections of the press.
What they really want is the “right” to carry on intruding on private misery and marking their own homework when anyone has the temerity to complain. Despite having been hacked, I support freedom of expression. I know many wonderful journalists who risk their lives to tell us the truth and to hold governments, including our own, to account. It is precisely because I want them to be able to carry on performing those vital roles that I want to see them regulate themselves properly, instead of bringing themselves into disrepute by defending the indefensible and resisting the reasonable, light-touch self-regulation that Leveson recommended and which both houses of Parliament and the overwhelming majority of the public support.
Jane Winter
• You suggest that everything would be fine if only everybody got together and talked. For 11 months politicians have been talking to all parties, and they have repeatedly compromised on the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry in the hope of winning over the Murdoch, Mail and Telegraph papers. Unfortunately those papers listen to no one. Instead they use every conceivable means to block change while engaging in hysterical scaremongering. Brian Leveson foresaw this. His carefully structured scheme, embodied in the royal charter, provides victims of press bullying with meaningful redress for the first time – without posing any threat to freedom of expression. It also provides substantial benefits for participating publishers, both financially and in terms of journalistic freedom. These arrangements should be given a chance to work and newspaper groups that refuse to listen to reason or to the voices of their own readers should not be allowed a veto.
You mock as medieval the use of royal charter, but again this is ill-judged. Whatever its trappings, this charter has legitimacy. It was fully endorsed by all parties in the commons on 18 March and the polls show it has overwhelming public backing. All leading victims of press abuses, whose views the party leaders said were important, endorse it. Further, it implements the recommendations of a senior judge following a year-long public inquiry in which every relevant view was heard. That it requires royal assent may indeed be medieval, but so does ordinary parliamentary legislation; I take it you do not question the legitimacy of all our laws.
Brian Cathcart
Executive director, Hacked Off
• If I had any hope that the aggressively unrepentant editors were really interested in co-operating and setting up a truly independent regulator, then perhaps more discussion would be constructive. The problem is that there has been a chorus of protest and resistance to meaningful negotiation alongside campaigns of misinformation, all designed to block the reforms recommended by Leveson. The public wants and deserves better. The royal charter was a compromise back in March – why would a new initiative be any better? Let’s sit down together to discuss how to make the royal charter do its work rather than delaying yet again.
Professor Sheila Hollins
House of Lords

Much recent commentary about the poor and declining pay and conditions of care workers (Cuts forcing care firms to break minimum wage laws, 23 October) has rightly drawn attention to the contributory role of cuts in local authority budgets. What has received much less comment has been the role of the marketisation of social care services.
Since the 1980s, governments – Conservative, Labour and coalition – have pursued policies intended to increase competition in social care provision. One upshot of this is that the majority of care is outsourced to often non-unionised charities and, increasingly, private companies. Another is that the resulting price-based competition has acted to increase workloads while driving down pay levels and a host of other staff conditions, such as pensions, sick pay entitlements, overtime payments, and allowances for callouts and night work. Recent revelations that providers have struggled to provide services at the price local authorities have been prepared to pay, or that they are refusing to bid for unsustainable contracts, come as no surprise to those of us who have been researching the impact of social care marketisation.
Action is clearly needed to counter the adverse consequences of these developments for both staff and the clients they serve. The introduction of a requirement on contractors to pay a living wage would be a clear step in the right direction. More positive still would be the imposition of duties on local authorities to only contract out services on the basis of nationally negotiated terms and conditions.
Is it too much to hope that the Labour party will commit itself to act in this way?
Professor Ian Cunningham University of Strathclyde, Professor Phil James Oxford Brookes University
• Your headline is wrong to suggest that owners of social care companies are forced to further underpay their workers – they choose to do so. They could take a reduction in their profits; they could acknowledge that their current difficulties are to an extent a consequence of low bid strategies designed to force competitors out of the market and then rack up charges; they could acknowledge that boards meeting hundreds or thousands of miles away from where the services are delivered have no concern about the conditions of their workers and users.
Before a charity I chair was driven from the market, complaints against our provision were board agenda items. For the hedge funds and other interests that own many of the providers, complaints, even if serious, are simply a business expense.
The value of companies providing social care has been one of ups and downs. The trick to success has been to buy low and sell high. It has had little to do with the quality of provision and consistency of service. There are people working in the care and nursing home sector who are trying to do a good and decent job. But too much of it is now a world of franchises. financial engineering, leasebacks and property deals.
Leon Kreitzman
• Many of these problems in caring are directly attributable to the policy of outsourcing care provision, so that what the government in its recent white paper calls “for profit” organisations bid for care contracts and the needs of the sick and elderly are subject to auction. What no one in government seems to want to admit is that a significant amount of money is being diverted into the pockets of shareholders in companies which provide little more than office support in the organisation of care visits, together with recruitment of care workers and a limited amount of training.
What the Equality and Human Rights Commission calls “the quiet revolution” in home care provision resulting from the 1990 act needs to be gradually reversed, so that social services authorities would take over the organisational role once again. In the long run, social care needs to the integrated with the NHS service, and funding must ultimately come from national insurance contributions.
Peter Dyson
Cawood, North Yorkshire
• I was able to hear first hand about the striking workers of Future Directions, the care company that Rochdale council contracts with, when one of the Unison stewards attended a Save Bolton Health Services campaign meeting this month. It was distressing to hear how many of the workers have seen pay cuts upwards of 30% and even 43%, including cuts in sick pay, unsocial hours pay and holiday entitlement. This company, Future Directions, is being run by a number of current board members of an NHS foundation trust based in the region. I would urge a thorough appraisal of these management issues by Monitor and the Department of Health.
Susan Haworth
Save Bolton Health Services campaign
• There is another side to councils underfunding care providers, and that is the amount charged to those who have to pay their own costs through having savings above the maximum level for subsidy. I am disabled and, through wanting to lead as normal a life as possible, have little choice in the care worker I use in the evening. This is being charged out at £28.60 an hour – and with an increase now being demanded on the pretext that more time is needed. At least this company pays travelling time – but I know not whether there is some cross-subsidy of local authority work going on here.
Keith Potter
Gunnislake, Cornwall
• It is not just care homes that are under pressure to cut wages. The voluntary sector is under the same pressure. Our staff are paid well above the minimum wage for a job that demands immense skill, so are also offered continuous and often costly training. In return I expect and get the highest standards of professionalism, and our users the best possible care. It now seems that rather than being a rate people should be slightly ashamed of paying, the minimum wage is becoming the benchmark figure for those working in the frontline of caring.
Liza Dresner
Director, Resources for Autism


I thoroughly applaud the article by Michael Williams on an alternative to HS2 (28 October). The Great Central (which incidentally did not go to Birmingham as he stated – only in the present Chiltern Railways era have trains gone there from Marylebone) was built to the Continental loading gauge with a view to its becoming part of a through route from Manchester to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, a project which was also started at the same time.
It is a tragedy that the Government allowed it to be closed in the 1960s, at a time when the possibility of a Channel Tunnel was once again on the radar. It was closed because it duplicated the parallel Midland Railway route from St Pancras to the Midlands, yet now the Midland Railway route lacks capacity and we need the Great Central once more. What lack of foresight!
I would therefore urge that, before the Government goes further with the present exorbitant HS2 proposals (which involve the reuse of only some 15 miles of the former Great Central route in north Buckinghamshire), a very careful study is made of the relative costs of reopening as much as possible of the Great Central.
It is probably too late to save the trackbed in urban areas of the cities of Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield through which it went on its way to Manchester, but with some relatively short stretches of new track around those places the majority of the remainder of the old line could potentially be reused, with enormous benefits to the costs of the project.
Peter Nixon, Richmond, Surrey
Michael Williams’ suggestion that the route of the old Great Central railway from London to Sheffield should be reopened instead of HS2 has rather garbled the facts.
Yes, it was impressively engineered and designed for speed (as were other late Victorian main lines), but it is sadly a myth that it can take today’s European-sized trains. The line went no nearer to Birmingham than Rugby, and its route to Manchester via Sheffield is very roundabout.
Among the obstacles in the way of reopening it are the need to bypass Leicester and Nottingham and to provide additional tracks alongside the existing route for the first 40 miles or so out of London.
Reopening it as a conventional commuter railway like the Borders line in Scotland might be relatively easy, but that is very different from the HS2 proposals. From a North-western (or indeed a Yorkshire) perspective it has little to recommend it. 
Colin Penfold, Great Harwood, Lancashire
There was no fuss at all at Railtrack spending nearly £10bn on the West Coast Main Line, with years and years of disruption, yet the money was still insufficient to allow speeds higher than 125mph. And now £15bn is being spent on Crossrail and yet more vast sums on Thameslink, yet HS2 is getting inordinate attention for its cost of £32bn plus the vast Treasury contingency sum of £12bn. Up-to-date cost parameters are available from the HS1 project meaning the original £32bn estimate is credible. 
So  who is Michael Williams speaking up for? London, or the poor citizens in the rest of this country who pay vast sums in taxes and get almost nothing related to transport in return.
F F Mitchell, Haslington, Crewe
I can quite understand that an alternative to HS2 may cause considerable disruption, but that is not a reason for continuing with HS2. 
At home, we are now in the third week of disruption as the result of replacing a kitchen not fit for purpose with one that is. We could have avoided the disruption by having, say, an ornamental water feature built in the garden, but the end result would not have been as beneficial, despite the saving in disruption.
Gordon Whitehead, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Don’t forget, the fares on HS2 are expected to be double the standard fares. As with the private motorway, I suspect most people would prefer to take the cheaper option and grumble.
David Ridge, London N19
Believe it or not, the NHS does quite well
Since the Care Quality Commission report finding almost a quarter of NHS hospitals are “at risk” of giving poor care, readers might have noticed the upsurge in adverts for private medicine. Yet comparing NHS hospitals ignores the financial context of the NHS compared with the other 20 Western countries.
The main medical objective is to reduce feasible mortality, and our studies contrasting the NHS with other nations provide a more accurate picture of NHS efficiency. Between 1980 and 2006, 18 countries spent more GDP on health than the UK, yet UK adult all cause mortality had the fourth highest reduction, and for cancers deaths the UK had the second biggest. Soon-to-be-published research shows the NHS has achieved even more up to 2010.
The evidence is available in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Pritchard & Wallace, 2011, and in the British Journal of Cancer, Pritchard & Hickish, 2011.
Health Secretary Hunt calls for “openness” about the shortcoming of the NHS but ignores the fact that the NHS is chronically under-funded but achieves more with less.
Colin Pritchard, Research Professor in Psychiatric Social Work, Bournemouth University
Back to conflict in the workplace
Owen Jones’s article about the Grangemouth dispute (28 October) took me right back to when I was an undergraduate at Liverpool University in the 1950s. At that time the management and unions in the shipbuilding industry were having so much fun knocking the spots off one another that they quite forgot to build any ships that any customer would want, with the inevitable result that shipbuilding on Merseyside has virtually disappeared. 
It is clear from what Owen says that something similar was happening at Grangemouth. The agenda of the union leaders appears to have been to bring down the company so the plant would be nationalised, and they used the workers as their weapon. The management also seem willing to play on the same playing field, and apparently made no attempt to engage the workers.
The workers, caught in the middle, didn’t know whether they owed their loyalty to the company or the union, but Owen rightly points to the relief of the workers when the plant was “saved”. 
Unless the management of Grangemouth really learns from this near-disaster, and treats its workers as the fantastic resource they are, the union bosses will be back and the whole thing will start again.
David Pollard, Salen, Isle of Mull
Being a lifelong Tory, I can’t totally agree with Owen Jones’s implied call for a revolution. But I find myself increasingly sympathetic to his views, as our infrastructure gradually falls into the hands of foreign shareholders, whose interests and objectives may differ from ours in the UK. I find this very frightening.
James Dunlop, Whaley bridge, Derbyshire
Look to the  tax laws
While  we applaud the good work of Margaret Hodge MP and her committee, together with some of the more responsible press, including The Independent, is it not time for her, and her committee, to focus on the cause, not the results, of these vast corporate tax mitigation activities?
There can be little doubt that the majority of these major UK trading concerns have the tax law on their side – and if they don’t, it will be the tax advisers’ professional indemnity insurers picking up the costs. The cause has to be the inept, outdated, UK corporate tax laws. 
The corrections have to come from within Mrs Hodge’s own House. Until these laws are rewritten this public breast-beating will remain the hollow sound it currently is, and HM Treasury will continue losing many hundreds of millions of tax revenue through the activities of the super-bright tax-mitigation experts.
John Seymour, Ashington, Sussex
No chance  to be lonely
I had to smile when I heard that two leading charities have said more than a third of older people are suffering from loneliness. 
You see, at the age of 87 I am the sole carer for my 60-year-old autistic, insulin diabetic, asthmatic son, who lives with me. I love him to bits, but the continuous years of strain and the fact that more and more cutbacks mean that there is even less help available than ever, makes me wish I could have the opportunity at times to be lonely!
Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff
Not too clever
Steve Richards (29 October) claims that “Balls has displayed astute judgement on the big issues in recent decades.” How astute was he with regard to his support for tearing up regulatory controls on the big banks, keeping interest rates very low throughout an unsustainable boom, and allowing government debt to increase during the years of strong economic growth? If his views on all these issues are astute, then perhaps we need less astuteness from Ed Balls.
Professor Michael W Eysenck, London SW20
Parking time
The Government is to allow drivers who overstay their allocated parking time a period of five minutes’ grace before a fine is imposed. I guarantee that within a week of this becoming law we will hear of somebody complaining that they were only in their sparking bay for one minute over this new time limit and it was just an overzealous traffic warden coupled with an obsessive desire for local authorities to bleed the poor motorist dry that caused them to be stung.
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Power of protest
Will all those busily campaigning against wind and solar farms (“Most treasured landscapes ‘can be vandalised by developers’ ”, 28 October) be the first to volunteer for the inevitable power cuts if their efforts prove successful?
Anthony Batchelor, Bromyard, Herefordshire
A suspicion of paedophilia is today’s trigger for witch-hunts.  When you have witch-hunts, innocent people get killed (“A modern British murder”, 29 October). Many of us are not as civilised as we like to believe.
Nigel Scott, London N22


Sir, Professor Norman Williams is right that patients will have to accept closure of hospital facilities if the NHS is to achieve “super-deluxe” round-the-clock care (“Seven-day NHS ‘means hospitals must close’,” Oct 28). In a publicly funded healthcare system that needs to improve quality with virtually zero real-term funding increases, an ageing population and an ever-increasing cost base it is simply impossible for the NHS to provide a higher quality service across all its existing hospitals.
The only way the NHS can deliver services seven days a week is through significant, clinically-led reconfiguration of care. This means delivering more services closer to home and fewer — but appropriate — services in larger acute hospitals. This will result in smaller, local hospitals becoming community hubs for primary and social care and greater centralisation of emergency and acute services on to fewer larger hospital sites. While these changes are often understandably opposed by local people, they are absolutely necessary to drive up quality and save lives, so it is time for local political leaders to show courageous leadership and become advocates for the changes which they know provide the only mechanism to improve care standards for patients.
sam burrows and matt hannant
PA Consulting Group, London SW1
Sir, A seven-day NHS would be ideal for patients and their employers but it could only be achieved by initially unpopular hospital mergers. This would allow critical levels of need to be met with the possibility of consultant-led services at most, if not all, times. These benefits would only be achieved if professional staffing levels were to be maintained but the savings in maintenance of buildings would be considerable. The more economic use of equipment which may now be used at less than optimum levels is also a consideration.
The introduction of shift work is already taking place in support areas such as laboratories. T he prospect of a rolling four or five-day week may create problems for those with dependent children or elderly parents, but these difficulties have been met in the private sector and should be faced in the public sector too.
Dr Robert J. Leeming, frcpath
Sir, Of course simple treatments can be carried out by GPs, and complex procedures requiring sophisticated expertise and expensive equipment need to be centralised.
The difficulty lies with the mass of work which falls into neither category — hip replacements, hernia repairs, maternity services and medical conditions such as pneumonia, strokes and diabetes.
There are downsides to centralisation. If a smaller hospital is closed, replacing the beds required in the closest major hospital will be near impossible, as these are invariably in conurbations with no free land. So waiting times go up and increased travelling for relatives can cause major problems and expense, particularly in rural areas.
Dr Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts
Sir, If local hospitals are to be closed and GPs’ offices expanded (leading article, Oct 28), why not rehouse the GPs in the hospitals and retain simple diagnostic and treatment services?
Dr Robert Lefever
London SW7

The Heathrow Hub concept suggests extending both runways at Heathrow to the west and making a link to the mainline national railway system
Sir, We have put forward a pragmatic, sensible and affordable scheme to increase the capacity at Heathrow sufficient to cater for expansion for decades to come. It will allow noise mitigation in addition to the very considerable reduction in noise which new aircraft can and will generate.
So the claim by Boris Johnson (letter, Oct 28) that Willie Walsh will not meet with the Mayor to discuss the plan for a new East London airport is the pot calling the kettle black. Mr Johnson does not appear to be willing to listen to proposals other than his very expensive idea.
We will be very happy to meet with him to outline our far more practical and affordable submission.
Our Heathrow Hub concept suggests simply extending both runways at Heathrow to the west and making the obvious but sadly missing link to the mainline national railway system. Available capacity would be doubled, although a significant percentage of the slots could remain unused for noise alternation protocols. Also, early morning flights can land much farther down the extended runway so reducing noise to a large area of west London.
Our estimate of total cost including road diversions and a station is approximately £12.5bn, which is much lower than all other suggestions and would be funded from private capital. What is more, Heathrow is already one of the safest airports in the world and this scheme will make it even safer.
Our proposals meet all the criteria laid down by the Davies Commission. We have written to Mr Johnson to ask for a meeting but to date have heard nothing. Perhaps he already realises that our scheme has great merit but it would be beneficial if we could discuss the topic face to face.
Jock Lowe
Heathrow Hub

There are issues that are nothing to do with privatisation that now make pre-emptive responses to emergencies on the railways difficult
Sir, As a former engineer on the railways in the BR days, I do have some sympathy for Mr Dow’s point of view (letter, Oct 29).
However, there are issues that are nothing to do with privatisation that now make pre-emptive responses to emergencies difficult. Much of the routine maintenance has been mechanised so there are fewer gangs that can respond. Gone are the railway cottages for key staff. When major 24/7 planned engineering works have been undertaken at key stations recently, Network Rail booked local hotels to ensure that its teams of contractors could be fed, watered and rested. To undertake almost any trackside task or use any machine, operatives will now have had to attend the necessary health and safety training course and thus it is no longer possible to adopt an “all hands to the pumps” approach. The systems are now far more complex than in the BR days and to ensure that the track and signalling are safe for 125mph traffic after any damage, the technicians need to be alert and concentrating on the task in hand.
Richard Philips
Ham, Surrey

‘The public deserve not to be sold down the river by disgruntled MPs and image-preening celebrities over press regulation proposals’
Sir, Not only was the Institute of Journalists incorporated by a Royal Charter in 1890 (letter, Oct 28) but it has a duty under that charter to uphold ethical and professional standards in journalism. As the current president of the Institute recently pointed out: “The public deserve not to be sold down the river by disgruntled MPs and image-preening celebrities over press regulation proposals. It is time these individuals come clean and admit that, when the police do their job, there are perfectly acceptable laws that already exist to keep law-breakers, including those in journalism, in check”.
Roger Bush
President of the Chartered Institute of Journalists 1995-96

It would be wonderful if sections of the Royal Collection of Art could be sent around the country visiting galleries across the nation
Sir, Andrew Adonis is right (Thunderer, Oct 28): a permanent place to view the treasures of the Royal Collection of Art would be a wonderful attraction. Better still would be travelling sections of the collection visiting galleries across the nation: Leonardos in York, Van Dykes in Manchester, stamps and prints in Cardiff, silver in Scotland, the scope is endless. Look what the Walpole/Catherine the Great visiting collection has done for Norfolk’s visitor numbers, and consider the amazing regeneration of Margate which has followed the Turner Gallery’s establishment there.
If Her Majesty were to approve such a venture her legacy to this nation would be accompanied by ringing cash tills for generations.
Mark Dunn
Stoughton, W Sussex


SIR – The great storm of 2013 was a bit of a damp squib. While I fully appreciate the need for preparation and warning, especially given what happened in 1987, I can’t help wondering how much absenteeism as a result of this widespread panic has cost Britain’s businesses and the economy.
I rent office space for my PR company which I can reach easily enough, no matter what the weather. But for the small and medium-sized enterprises that almost had to write yesterday off, for lack of employees, this is going to be a significant hit.
By 9am yesterday morning, many must have been wondering what all the fuss was about.
National broadcasters completely over-dramatised their live reports from locations such as Brighton beach and Lyme Regis. They won’t be compensating small businesses for the consequence of having scared away employees.
Craig Peters
Worthing, West Sussex
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29 Oct 2013
SIR – I don’t agree that it was “overkill” to think that extreme care might have been needed for those considering getting to work yesterday.
I too well remember the 1987 hurricane, the loss of life and the years it took to right the damage done.
So warnings were necessary: these weather systems cannot ever be foreseen exactly.
Rica Hare
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
SIR – I suppose it was commendable for the train-operating companies to postpone commencing services on a day when severe gales were forecast, in order to avoid stranded trains full of passengers and, worse, accidents.
But the problems of fallen trees on the line would have been almost non-existent had Network Rail kept trackside growth in check.
Peter Maynard
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Would anyone care to report how our “essential” wind farms performed on Monday (apart from the one that fell over)?
Ian Robertson
Hook, Hampshire
SIR – Were these power cuts actually an attempt by the energy companies to help us reduce our energy bills? (Sent from my smartphone, as I have no power at home.)
John Rowlands
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
SIR – Despite the dire weather warnings, our Telegraph was delivered yesterday as usual at 6.30am.
Ken Jones
Hambledon, Hampshire
SIR – A hurricane haiku.
Hurricane forecast.
Trees down, roads flood, some winds come.
Met Office over blow.
Ian Pearson
Nether Stowey, Somerset
Foreign patients
SIR – In discussing the health tourism issue and associated costs, doctors’ representatives maintain that it should be no part of their members’ duties to act as Border Agency surrogates or to check on the legitimacy of foreign nationals’ entitlement to NHS services. In effect, the cost factor is not part of their remit.
I wonder if they would take the same attitude in respect of foreign nationals presenting themselves for treatment by private medical practitioners?
Alan Rayner
Godalming, Surrey
SIR – Here, in France, the system is simple: if you are a French resident you present your health identity card, which entitles you to treatment. Everyone else, even those who have the European health insurance card, pays for everything. They are then given a form detailing what they have paid for and can submit this for a possible refund. The only exception is, if involved in an accident, you will not be left at the roadside.
Harvey Schneiderman
Narbonne, Aude, France
SIR – My cousin, recently visiting Britain from Australia, developed an ear infection. My wife phoned our GP and got an appointment the same day, appropriate treatment was administered and £40 charged. The process worked well.
So what is the difficulty in recovering costs from foreign visitors?
Alex Taylor
Thame, Oxfordshire
Police dress sense
SIR – I was in the supermarket at the weekend, where there were two policemen, buying cigarettes and crisps. They were laden down by heavy equipment round their waists, with more hanging from loops on their open-necked shirts. They had bulging pockets and loose fitting trousers tucked into boots.
Not that long ago the police wore white, collared shirts and ties, smart jackets and trousers and shining shoes. At least then they looked helpful, and not as if they were about to drag you off to prison.
Terry Duncan
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Leaving a paper trail
SIR – I have now received four letters from my bank thanking me for registering for their paperless service.
Pene Cook
London E18
Hip replacements
SIR – The problems with some metal-on-metal implants have been widely publicised for years. In collaboration with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the British Hip Society and British Orthopaedic Association produced guidance for patients several years ago, which was updated recently.
There has been a significant reduction in the use of metal-on-metal devices over the past few years. The worst-performing implant (the ASR) was recalled three years ago and other poorly performing devices have been withdrawn since.
Some devices, such as the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing, have had good results and a low revision rate in certain population groups. In resurfacing 55-year-old males, with a 54mm head has a revision rate of 3 per cent at seven years.
John Timperley FRCS (Ed)
President, British Hip Society
John Skinner FRCS (Orth)
President Elect, British Hip Society
London WC2
SIR – Metal-on-metal hip replacement has not been “banned”; it is the subject of ongoing deliberation by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and others. More than a million metal-on-metal devices have been implanted in patients in the past 25 years, but true toxicity has only been published in a handful of case reports – one of which, ironically, was a result of a shattered ceramic bearing.
Your article does not mention the success of Birmingham Hip Resurfacing – the most widely used procedure, and therefore the most relevant to patients.
Ronan Treacy FRCS Orth
Derek McMinn FRCS
Co-designers, Birmingham Hip Resurfacing
Beating parking fines
SIR – Peter Sissons is to be congratulated on fighting and beating his incorrectly issued private parking ticket. However, Mr Sissons says: “If you throw the ticket in the bin and refuse to pay the fine, it can affect your credit rating.” Fortunately this is not correct.
The only time a motorist’s credit rating would be affected is if the parking company took him or her to court, obtained judgment and the motorist failed to pay this judgment. Only a very tiny percentage of these cases go to court. Recently, a district judge threw out a claim for the high penalty requested by a parking company because the penalty was illegal and did not represent the loss to the parking company.
Barrie Segal
London SW1
SIR – I was interested to read that it was not the £90 fine that worried Peter Sissons, but the deception of the fine. Mr Sissons should worry about the fine.
I was fined £90 for parking in a disabled bay with a disabled badge on show because it was a private pay-and-display car park. Why are parking companies allowed to post disabled signs and charge that amount?
B E Tuppen
Pulborough, West Sussex
Cherie as martyr
SIR – I was surprised to learn that Cherie Booth was thought to have had special vocal lessons to deepen her voice. When I first encountered her I was a new teacher at her school and she was starring in the school’s production of Murder in the Cathedral. She was a Lower VI student. Her voice was deep and resonant, and she absolutely convinced me that she was a 12th-century archbishop.
Anne Crew
Wigton, Cumberland
Were our bags dangerous before the plastic era?
SIR – What do the scientists think we did before the advent of single-use carrier bags? Baskets and bags were made of a variety of materials, and foodstuffs were not wrapped in plastic, yet somehow we survived.
Keith Kenworthy
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
SIR – My mother used the same basket to carry her meat, eggs and cheese every week for many years. After she died at the age of 88, I took over her basket and have used it now for seven years to no ill effect.
Sarah Allen
Bridgwater, Somerset
SIR – Colour-coding re-usable bags, to show what they have been used for, might help to prevent illness from bacteria.
Sarah Gall
Rochdale, Lancashire

SIR – I, too, share the concerns of John Alcock (Letters, October 26) about pumpkins being hacked up for Hallowe’en, and then left to rot. My love of eating pumpkin arose during my visits to Uganda, where it was used to supplement the rice or sweet potatoes that accompanied the bean, fish or occasional goat stews prepared for a household of seven.
Sadly, even the smallest pumpkins are too big for a person like me, living alone, to use without wasting a large proportion. However, I understand our local guide leader is planning to show her members how to make pumpkin soup from the edible parts that are left over, once Hallowe’en pumpkin lanterns have been made. A commendable task, which will be exciting, nourishing and useful.
Alan Mabey
Hook, Hampshire
SIR – When I lived next door to neighbours who had children, I helped to prepare their pumpkin for Hallowe’en. They kept the shell; I kept the insides for soup. On November 1, I buy pumpkin for practically nothing; the Americanisation of Hallowe’en has resulted in the pumpkin losing its culinary value.
Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset
SIR – John Alcock writes that Hallowe’en is a mindless celebration. Pagans who celebrate Samhain as being the end of summer and the start of a new year would not agree with him.
Marysia Pudlo-Debef
Colchester, Essex
SIR – I really do think there are more important things to get offended by than pumpkins being carved up for decoration.
Alastair Cannon
Bridport, Dorset

Irish Times:

Sir, – Noel Whelan’s incisive analysis of the pervasive practice of the bugging of the telephones of world leaders is topical, but it is not a recent phenomenon (Opinion, October 26th). The attitude of the Taoiseach that presumes all his telephone calls are monitored is sound reasoning; and similar to the attitude of Lloyd George during the first World War. He always assumed agents of the kaiser would be eavesdropping on his conversations, and whenever possible he would speak in Welsh. In the 1960s, I read of a British academic making a call from his hotel in Bolivia, only to be castigated over the phone by an unknown third person for speaking too fast.
The Orwellian environment in which we now live is concerning and a disturbing feature of the landscape in which we operate. It’s not just world leaders and high-powered politicians who are susceptible to this practice, it affects us all. – Yours, etc,
Lonsdale Road,
Liverpool, England.
Sir, – All over Europe media sources are clamouring to reveal details of US monitoring of millions of phone calls, including the phones of national leaders. Such spying on one’s friends is more akin to the role of a peeping Tom than pursuing genuine national security aims.
The Irish media by contrast seems to adopting a deafening silence on the likelihood that the US embassy in Ballsbridge and the US ambassador’s resident in the Phoenix Park may have been involved in similar widespread communications monitoring. – Yours, etc,
Castletroy, Limerick.
Sir, – When President Obama came to Europe shortly after election, he promised his administration had come to Europe to listen and listen carefully.
Nice to see a government keeping its word. – Yours, etc,
Dundela Park,
Sandycove, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s recent comment that he always operates on the basis that his calls are monitored (Miriam Lord, October 26th) echoes that of Dr Garret FitzGerald almost 30 years ago. The then taoiseach said, “Any Irish government that was simple-minded enough to assume that the intelligence services of the Soviet Union or the United States or Great Britain did not have the power to intercept messages would be taking risks with our national security.”
Dr FitzGerald was reacting to evidence that British Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham had intercepted a coded message to him from an Irish diplomat in London in the run-up to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and passed it on to the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. In the message, the diplomat advised the taoiseach that a junior British minister had confided to him that a critical speech by a British cabinet member on Ireland was for domestic consumption and not to worry about it. Within hours the junior minister was carpeted by a senior Whitehall official and told Mrs Thatcher was rather cross to learn the Irish were being given such privileged information. The Irish were tipped off about this encounter as well. Aware that their Swiss code machine was compromised, Irish diplomats resorted to sending sensitive despatches by hand. An embassy official would fly to Ireland, or hand the message to an Aer Lingus pilot at Heathrow for delivery to an Army despatch rider in Dublin to take to the taoiseach’s office. These were typed on an old mechanical typewriter, as the diplomats were also tipped off that a listening device could translate the sound patterns of the embassy electric typewriter.  The lesson, then and now, is that the only way to beat new technology is with old technology. – Yours, etc,
Former Irish Times London Editor,
Stepaside, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I have read reports of Chancellor Merkel’s phone being tapped by the Americans. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the NSA has never bothered to tap his phone, preferring, rather, to monitor the communications of the troika? – ours, et,
Tweed Street,
Highett, Victoria,
Sir, – Just as the effects of an earthquake can be quantified on the Mercalli scale, will future monitoring of communication devices be measured on the Merkeli scale? – Yours, etc.
Brendan Treacy,
Drumree, Co Meath.
Sir, – We still await expressions of gratitude to Edward Snowden and statements of concern for his safety, from Angela Merkel and other European leaders including Enda Kenny. Don’t hold your breath. – Yours, etc,
Dún Chaoin, Co Chiarraí.­
Sir, – Would our Government now consider granting Edward Snowden political asylum for his sterling service to the European community? – Yours, etc,
Mountjoy Street, Dublin 7. 

Sir, – Una Mullally (Opinion, October 28th) brilliantly criticises the use of drones, stating “killing remotely from a computer is constructing a new wireless axis of evil”. Referring to Barack Obama, she states, “He won the Nobel Peace Prize after all”.
The Nobel Peace Prize is normally awarded on the basis of an outstanding record of accomplishment in working for peace. In the case of Obama it was more in the nature of an anticipatory award based on the expectation the he would fulfil the promises he had made so convincingly during his pre-election campaign. It is now fairly obvious that the Nobel awarding committee should have waited for results rather than banking on expectations. – Yours, etc,
Bishopscourt Road,

A chara, – “The Minister [Michael Noonan] said that a decision on an exit strategy for Ireland would not be made until a new Government is formed in Germany” (Suzanne Lynch, Front page, October 29th). Could Mr Noonan explain if it was the Seanad or the Bundestag that the Irish electorate voted to retain? – is mise,
Sir, – Senator David Norris (October 23rd) rightly indicates the problematic dilemma regarding preparation of an accurate register for university panel Seanad seats, once updated to include graduates from all third-level institutions.
As he mentions, the current combined register entails approximately 200,000 registered details, while there are a great number of graduates who are not registered, or registered for example at an outdated address (not untypically a residence at time of graduation; a costly discrepancy as State-funded postage is sent to such addresses).
In particular, it is disconcerting that the number of younger registered graduates is relatively low.
The registration problem with the university panel Seanad seats has severely impinged on the entire credibility of this mode of election, and this issue must be seriously tackled before the next election takes place.
Essentially, on this basis, a new registration mechanism involving automatic registration and updating using PPS numbers should be introduced in tandem with the extension of the Seanad voting franchise to all third-level graduates.

Sir, – While I enjoyed Frank McNally’s article (An Irishman’s Diary, October 25th) on the potential for confusion in the complexities of timekeeping in Ireland and England circa 1920, I fear he over-simplified matters by saying Dublin Mean Time or Dunsink Time was “apparent time”. Apparent solar time is based on the successive passages of the sun across the meridian and these intervals are not uniform. It is the time displayed by a sundial. Most clocks advance at a constant rate and instead keep a “mean” time, where these differences are averaged over the solar year. – Yours, etc,
Science Museum,

First published: Wed, Oct 30, 2013, 01:08

Sir, – I think Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore meant they were cutting pensions “To the core” (Phil Sheridan, October 26th)! – Yours, etc,

Sir, – And where would you leave “a moxy”, “a gansey-load”, “a clatter”, “a dose” or “ a lock” (Irishman’s Diary, October 24th & Letters, October 28th)? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Thank heavens for Peter McNamara (October 26th) whose letter consoled me that I wasn’t the only one bamboozled by the letter from Revenue regarding Local Property Tax.
Notwithstanding an honours degree in English, I found the correspondence utterly confusing. Why is one being asked to “commit to your payment option” by November 27th, 2013, for a tax payable on March 21st, 2014? And if one should choose to pay online by credit card, will that payment be deducted then and there, ie before November 27th next (therefore clashing with Christmas bills and expenses!)? Anyway, what if we don’t “commit” before the November 27th deadline? Will we then be barred from using an online payment option later? Is it that those of us who are fully tax compliant are now also considered a soft touch to be tapped early?
Perhaps the Collector General could simplify the process by allowing us to choose a payment option in the days and weeks before the March 2014 deadline, instead of writing to us with a deadline some four months before the actual due date. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Hugh Gibney (October 28th) makes a valid point when he writes that the content of what the speakers at this week’s Web Summit in Dublin say should matter more than their gender.
It should, of course, be the case in every industry that the content of what people say matters more than their gender and, indeed, that the best qualified person is always chosen for the job. Academically, women have consistently outperformed men over the past number of years, so it cannot be the case that they do not have the relevant knowledge or expertise, regardless of the industry. The problem is not that they have nothing to say, merely that they are not invited to say it.
Women account for 82 per cent of graduates in health and welfare, 74 per cent of graduates in education and 63 per cent of graduates in arts and humanities. Yet a mere 15 per cent of our TDs are women, a little over one third of the members of State boards are women and less than a fifth of the members of local authorities are women.
It is a matter of concern that men do not appear to think primary school teaching is a viable career opportunity. Nevertheless, although 85 per cent of primary school teachers are indeed women, only 53 per cent of them are managers. In secondary education 63 per cent of teachers are women but only 41 per cent of them are managers.
Mr Gibney is concerned about future imbalances in law and medicine. Clearly, with the academic results above, there should already be a massive imbalance. The fact that it hasn’t happened leads me to believe that although we have equipped ourselves with the intellectual ability to compete at the highest level, women still haven’t learned to edge their male counterparts off the podium. – Yours, etc,
Copeland Grove,

Sir, – So now we have it. The ructions caused by Archbishop Michael Jackson’s “Polyester Protestants” address is the fault of The Irish Times (Letters, October 25th). Keep digging, your Grace – the South Pole is only a shovelful away. – Yours, etc,
Dean of Leighlin,
Old Leighlin,
Co Carlow.
Sir, – Archbishop Michael Jackson’s letter (October 25th) demonstrates that he has not opted for the quiet life. Clearly from the feedback published in the Letters page in recent days, he has his work cut out.
At least some of his flock is not afraid to “wash their linen”, or polyester, in public! I wish him well. – Yours, etc,
Grange Crescent,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – My maternal ancestors were Protestant Palatines who settled in Ireland centuries ago while escaping from religious persecution. For my own part I chose to be a member of the Church of Ireland more than 40 years ago and, although I now form part of the Irish diaspora, I am very much still a practising member of the Anglican Church.
Although in the past there were divisions in Irish society, including some very sad ones affecting members of my own family, for the most part attitudes have changed with the times. There are bound to be vestiges of ancient suspicions. How could there not be given the ecclesiatical history of these islands? We should not, however, be afraid to discuss these matter openly in our Diocesan Synods if we perceive that they are affecting the well-being of the church. Certainly unhelpful remarks about members of our hierarchy serve no positive purpose in our mission.
When attending a main Sunday service in a rural cathedral of the Church of Ireland last summer, there were seven of us plus the dean and the organist. I would say that polyester is the least of our problems. – Yours, etc,
Admiralty Way,
Sir, – Enough of this divisive debate. Let us acknowledge our differences, celebrate our similarities and move forward together.
As someone who worships in both Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, I do not see myself as a polyester Protestant or a woolly Anglican – but more as a cotton-rich Christian. – Yours, etc,
Mulgrave Terrace,
Dún Laoghaire,

Sir, – It’s very obvious from the Government’s different responses to the alcohol and smoking issues,which of these two industries (tobacco and alcohol) exerts the greatest clout in this country.
Tobacco can’t advertise or offer sponsorship and now its having its shiny packaging taken away – all good news. Alcohol can advertise, offer sponsorship, hold an annual “let’s all drink as much as we can day” and keep its shiny packaging!
If the Government and Minister for Health James Reilly are so convinced that plain pack cigarettes will reduce cigarette smoking, then by logic, what works for cigarettes should also work to reduce alcohol consumption: introduce plain bottle alcohol. And while they’re at it, ban alcohol sponsorship and advertising. – Yours,etc,
Deerpark Court,

Sir, – So our Minister for Education is happy for teachers to get involved in student assessment because such methods show “satisfactory results” in other countries (Breaking News, October 29th). Ruairí Quinn obviously has never been involved in any form of assessment, or else he would realise that “satisfactory” comes after Excellent and Very Good, with Poor following Satisfactory. I thought he was aiming for an “excellent” education system, not a satisfactory one! – Yours, etc,
Shelton Gardens,

A chara, – Robin Heather (October 28th) is being somewhat overcautious in insisting that mobile phones should not be used around petrol pumps.
Such a device is simply not capable of generating sufficient power to create a spark with enough energy to cause ignition. This is why there has never been a proven incident of this kind anywhere in the world.
In fact, your correspondent would be more likely to cause an explosion by wearing nylon stockings while refuelling. Unfortunately his/her androgynous Christian name prevents me from surmising the relevance of this last piece of advice. – Is mise,
Department of Interface
Chemistry & Surface
Engineering, Max Planck
Institute for Iron Research,

Sir, – Shouldn’t the Vatican check if anything is hidden behind the Bishop of Limburg’s €15,000 bath? – Yours, etc,
Cherryfield Avenue Lower,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

The reduction in the dole payment is an act of blatant unfairness. Yet again the poor and the unemployed will be disproportionately hit and have no redress. This is justified by the convenient myth that these people are mostly feckless and undeserving.
Also in this section
If you want to see a really big tractor, call me
Outrage at US spy scandal is just plain naive
Stout reason to cut price of pint
The notion of fairness is close to the heart of even very young children. It seems to come with them at birth. Embedded in our dealings with one another is an abiding sense of what is fair.
The identification of justice with the administration of law and not with fairness tends to weaken our moral sensibilities.
Political, banking and business miscreants, and we have had many, when suggesting that they have done no wrong, appeal to the law but not to the mutual moral expectations, particularly that of honesty and fairness, that are at the heart of our way of life.
The fact that the legal system administers the law, but not necessarily fairness, drove Mr Bumble in ‘Oliver Twist’ to proclaim “The law is an ass” when informed that he was legally responsible for his wife’s theft of jewellery.
In the case of the findings of the Mahon Tribunal, there was a wave of national outrage as neither the law nor the principle of fairness were well served. There seemed to be one law for errant politicians and another for the rest of us.
Whatever policies and practices we invoke in the governance of our country, their value resides in the extent to which they improve the lot of the most disadvantaged, not the rich. This is not some Marxist proclamation, but a reminder of what holds a people together, namely a deeply rooted, intuitive sense of fairness.
Philip O’Neill
* I am 23 and from Cavan. I have been living in New York for the past nine months with no plans to move back home. After I did my masters in English I qualified as an ESL teacher. After applying to numerous ESL schools and having no luck I decided to move to New York to seek out better opportunities as opposed to applying for the dole.
My brother is a civil engineer. He had a similar experience after completing his honours degree. He applied for many jobs and found himself settling for positions for which he was over-qualified, both in England and Northern Ireland. He has been living in Perth, Australia for the past few years, where he found better opportunities. He too has no plans to move home.
My sister is at home with a first-class honours degree in social care. The only work she can find is unpaid voluntary work and even that was difficult to find. The only reason she is still at home is because she is waiting to do her master’s degree. After that, she plans to join me in New York.
My mother is an accountant in Cavan town and my father is a principal in Killenkere NS. I follow the news of my beloved country very closely. I am disappointed more every day. The 2014 Budget really got to me, as it forcefully hit my generation and my friends.
Laura Rahill
Douglaston, NY
* It is more urgent than ever to have an EU fingerprint ID card, especially given what has happened with the Roma children and the 14-year-old Eastern European child found in a distressed state at the GPO who still remains unidentified. This card could also contain medical data. Ireland could lead the way, as we did with the smoking ban.
It would help in the fight against child trafficking. It would make the gardai and HSE’s jobs much easier. If we all had these cards, no one group would feel discriminated against and it would only take minutes to identify a person or child. Surely no one would object.
Kathleen Ryan
Tallaght, Dublin
* Yesterday, my wife and I – a pair of 70+-year-olds from the country – having visited a few days with friends, got on the DART at Glasthule with a view to getting to Heuston Station via Connolly and Luas. The first three trains were terminating at Pearse, so we took the first, hoping to find some form of connection there. There were no announcements on the train about anything – as we walked along the platform at Pearse, there were still quite a few people sitting on the train.
At Pearse, we sought information to be told that line works this weekend meant no trains to Connolly (a bank holiday weekend, with matches both north and south of the Liffey?). Was there a replacement bus? Not to Connolly! How do we get there? It’s only a 10-minute walk! Are there scheduled buses from here to either Connolly or Heuston? I don’t know! Leaving the “information” office, we went to the ticket barrier to find the same level of knowledge.
I know that the Irish management module is the ‘mushroom system’ (smother them in manure and keep them in the dark), but is that the way to operate a railroad?
Cal Hyland
West Cork
* The opening seconds of ‘Love/Hate’ on Sunday night had another scene involving cruelty to animals. This time it was a dog-fight, which the gangsters found edifying and most viewers (I imagine) repulsive. It was a true-to-life depiction of this appalling blood sport in which dogs are pitted against each other while fans gather to watch, cheer, and bet huge amounts of money on the outcome.
The dogs suffer horrific injuries, and are goaded to fight on until one of them has been severely mauled or killed. By the end of a fight, both animals will be bleeding all over, have bits of their faces missing or maybe their eyes ripped out, and be covered in cuts and bite marks.
There have been precious few convictions for this illegal activity over the decades, but the new Animal Health and Welfare Act (despite its many shortcomings) has additional measures aimed at stamping it out. Now, anyone present at a dog fight, in addition to those organising it, can be prosecuted and subjected to heavy fines or imprisonment.
Anyone with information on dog fighting should pass it to the gardai or nearest SPCA branch.
John Fitzgerald
Campaign for the Abolition Of Cruel Sports Callan, Co Kilkenny
The thing is, if Enda Kenny hasn’t had his phone bugged by the US, he’ll embarrass the hell out of us by complaining to Obama for having been left out.
Robert Sullivan
Bantry, Co Cork
Irish Independent


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