itunes and Springpad

December 29, 2013

29 December 2013 itunes

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather and Judy feel they are being taken for granted and Pertwee has arranges some Humm-Gromits for the export marker. On Nunky’s tug Priceless.

Potter around sort itunes persevere with Springpad

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, she got all the vowels and I got the consonants. Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

 

Lady Acland – obituary

Lady Acland was a fifties mannequin and long-lost ‘Aero girl’ whose wasp waist made her a favourite with Dior

Lady Acland, who has died aged 85, was one of the leading models of the late 1940s and early 1950s and — as Myrtle Crawford — appeared on the front covers of Vogue and Harpers’ Bazaar.

At 36-19-36, Myrtle Crawford’s hourglass figure was highly fashionable in the early 1950s and she claimed that her father could girdle her wasplike waist with his hands. She worked with many celebrated photographers of the day, including John French and Norman Parkinson. On the catwalks of Paris she also modelled for Christian Dior and other famous fashion houses. Her face, like that of Elizabeth Taylor and other beautiful women of the time, was used to promote Lux soap.

Myrtle Crawford was also one of the Aero girls, whose portraits, painted in oils by accomplished artists, were used in an eye-catching campaign to advertise Aero chocolate, the bubble-filled bars marketed in the early 1950s as “The chocolate for her”.

She sat for a young art student at the Royal Academy, Frederick Deane, whose talent had been spotted by the J Walter Thompson advertising agency. Deane’s portrait of Myrtle Crawford, completed in only two sittings, has since disappeared. But he kept a photograph of it and wrote her name on the back. Last month Channel 4 News tracked down Frederick Deane, now nearly 90 and living in North Wales, and reunited him with his glamorous former sitter.

 

The second of three children, Myrtle Christian Euing Crawford was born on July 29 1928 in Stirling. In 1936 her father, Brigadier Alastair Crawford of the Scots Greys, settled at the family home, Auchentroig, a large Scottish house where Myrtle was allowed to run wild in the extensive grounds with little supervision and developed a fiercely independent character.

After boarding school at Killearne in Scotland, she was sent to Roedean, which had been evacuated to the Lake District during the war. On leaving, she enrolled at the London School of Architecture and, already a strikingly beautiful young woman, took modelling classes at the same time.

She started modelling in a small way, and at a fashion show for her mother’s tweed company in Glasgow was spotted by an editor from Vogue who gave her first proper assignment. Myrtle then joined the Jean Bell modelling agency, sharing a flat with another top model of the day, Susan Abraham.

Myrtle Crawford’s modelling career was brief but glamorous: she travelled frequently, and was well-paid, earning £5 a day at a time of post-war austerity when many were managing on £5 a month. In 1953 she married Capt John Acland and gave up her modelling career; but having trained as an architect and being a talented artist, she took up painting, studying at the Reading School of Art.

During her years as an Army wife, she lived in Germany three times, Kenya (where she learned to fly), and Cyprus as well as at numerous Army camps around England. Her husband became Maj-Gen Sir John Acland, a Guards officer who in the late 1970s helped to supervise the handover of power in Zimbabwe.

When he left the Army, they retired to his family home of Feniton Court, near Honiton in East Devon, where Lady Acland took up painting again, some of her work being exhibited at the West of England Academy and at the Westminster Galleries in London. She was a gifted gardener, and her expertise at fly-fishing was much admired by Scottish ghillies.

Myrtle Acland’s husband died in 2006, and she is survived by her son and daughter.

Lady Acland, born July 29 1928, died December 15 2013

 

 

 

Guardian:

 

To avoid facing up to the damage their policies are inflicting on some of the most vulnerable people in society, the DWP argues that because the Trussell Trust is opening new food banks “it’s not surprising more people are using them” (“Charities condemn IDS for food bank snub“, News). Furthermore “awareness has helped to explain their growth”. On this argument, all charities, which seek to extend their services and publicise them, are guilty of causing the problems they are seeking to solve. Clearly the reasoning behind the latest welfare reforms is intellectually as well as morally bankrupt.

John Saxbee (Rt Revd Dr)

Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

Oh dear, poor old embattled IDS. One can understand why the government is so keen to shut charities up for the year before an election. Of course there is a “clear political agenda” involved here. His “welfare reform” is part of a vicious political agenda. Warren Buffett said: “There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” But perhaps not as smoothly as IDS hoped.

John Airs

Liverpool

Maybe IDS should just cancel all forms of welfare benefit and, hey presto, he could claim to have cut welfare claims by 100%!

Elayne Kingaby

London SW19

British politics is shameful

A much better title for Andrew Rawnsley’s article would have been “How ridiculous can British politics get?” (“Why all three leaders reach the end of the year sighing with relief“, Comment). The party leaders may, indeed, be relieved, but it is shame they should really be feeling.

We have a duplicitous coalition government, with each of its member parties vying with the other for votes, while the opposition does nothing, hoping a general policy of silence, allied to one of wait and see, will enable it to scrape through to electoral success. Voters will spend the next 16 months listening to the parties blaming each other, and watching them behave like out-of-control bottom set year 10s at PMQs. Is it any wonder that pantomime buffoons such as Johnson and Farage win popularity?

Bernie Evans

Liverpool

Put our plutonium to good use

Jamie Doward questions the plans to build 50 nuclear power stations on the grounds of waste disposal (“Fifty new nuclear plants could be goal in official energy plans“, News). A more pressing problem is where is the uranium to come from? Most estimates put a 40-year limit on uranium supplies at the current rate of usage never mind the substantial increases proposed worldwide. It is time to develop new cycles to use up our grotesque dump of 120 tons of plutonium, a programme which might attract support even from those suspicious of present policies.

John Hurdley

Birmingham

Profumo didn’t topple premier

In her review of Stephen Ward (Critics, last week) Susannah Clapp is the latest to blame the “nonsense” of the Profumo affair for “the collapse of Macmillan’s government”. The affair undermined the reputation of Harold Macmillan as a leader and of the Conservative government he led but his premiership ended when he resigned believing (wrongly he later felt) that he could not continue as prime minister after a prostate operation.

The comments are perhaps meant more loosely, arguing that Profumo contributed significantly to election defeat for Alec Douglas-Home’s Conservatives a year later in 1964. Even this seems thin as Home was only narrowly defeated by Harold Wilson’s Labour party.

History has already been re-written as far as the 1966 election is concerned. Wilson, it is said, rode to victory on the outpouring of euphoria as a consequence of England’s victory in the World Cup final. Actually the election was held before England lifted the trophy.

Don’t let the reviewers of Stephen Ward do a 1966!

John Davies

Caerphilly, Mid-Glamorgan

Vive French film in the UK

It seems odd that your correspondent Kim Willsher, based in Paris, was not able to acknowledge in her piece on the invasion of French films on UK screens the work of the French Film Festival UK in broadening the horizons of British film-goers to French-language cinema for more than two decades (“Record number of French films will invade cinemas as Gallic charm seduces British“, News).

The festival’s role will remain pivotal in giving the French film industry a UK-wide showcase that displays le cinéma français’s true breadth and diversity.

Richard Mowe

Director, French Film Festival UK

Edinburgh

Make that the last gasp

Question 56 in the magazine quiz asked “Which woman – gasp – became the first conductor of the Last Night of the Proms?” If we could just cease gasping, equilibrium between men and women could get closer, quicker. The question should have read “Who conducted…?”

Margaret Davis

London SE18

 

 

The rediscovery of a moral consensus for a market capitalism that will meet human needs, and developing credit unions to see Wonga competed out of the market, are worthy visions brewing in Lambeth Palace (“Without morality, the market economy will destroy itself“, Comment). However they will take too long for the poorest citizens in the UK who are suffering a severe crisis of poverty, debt and related ill health today; it can only get worse. “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and invisible hand of the market,” in the Pope’s recent exhortation is closer to the mark.

We need economic, social and moral policies now that value, even love, the unemployed as the vital reserve workforce we all need. Parliament already has all the power it needs to pass and enforce moral legislation. Any implementation of Lambeth’s vision of a moral market will also need an early change of political leadership in parliament away from the insults and impositions of hunger, cold, unmanageable debt and insecurity of tenure, which sap the health and morale of the unemployed and low paid.

Rev Paul Nicolson

Taxpayers Against Poverty,

London

Competition already exists in health provision, where the private exists side by side with the public. A phoney market is encouraged in public health services where private operators manage to generate enough profit, and secure huge buy-outs, to attract investment by private equity firms with international interests. They are spared the cut and thrust of the normal market and relieved of the burden of producing something useful for public consumption and merely conjure up supposedly cheaper ways of administering that which could be kept within the public sphere, given the right leadership.

Howard Layfield

Newcastle upon Tyne

Malcolm Brown argues powerfully that without morality the market economy will destroy itself. In a sense though, those operating the unregulated market he condemns do have a clear moral guideline: the bottom line. If an action increases corporate profit or personal wealth it is, they believe, for the greater good and is therefore morally acceptable. This belief that money is a measure of virtue seems now to be widely accepted by business leaders and politicians. It has led to the perception that increasing inequalities of wealth are morally justified and to the deliberate creation of a society divided between the absurdly affluent and the hard-working poor.

Richard Latto

Liverpool

According to Malcolm Brown: “Markets serve human needs properly only if markets operate in a moral context.” What a wonderfully incisive and perceptive statement this is given developments in the UK over the last year, namely: the Royal Mail asset-stripped by the banks and financial institutions, growing homelessness, the increasing poverty and inequality in our society, little done to curb outrageous bankers’ bonuses, the impoverishment of benefits claimants, the creeping privatisation of the NHS and other public services, and the criminality and corruption of unaccountable outsourcing companies. No moral context there then.

Mike Broussine and Mick Beeby

Bristol

Malcolm Brown omits to consider the behaviour of capitalism’s rich members towards its victims – the poor. Jesus never condemned the poor, but he frequently criticised the rich. He instructed his followers: “Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth.” Why does the church not urge its millionaire members to distribute their wealth among the needy?

Bob Holman

Glasgow

Malcolm Brown is forgetting two things: capitalism is a system based on greed and the narcissistic sociopaths who run many of our multi-national companies have only one aim in life – more wealth and more power. Yes, capitalism isn’t working any more but the answer is not to appeal to the “better nature” of those who control the world, for they have no intention of giving up what they have, but democracy. Grassroots democracy – companies controlled by democratically elected boards of the people who work in the company, who hire the managers and set the pay rates; open democracy that tempers the obsessive greed of those that have much already. Unfortunately, we are approaching an era of more power and wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer.

Michael Jenkins

Bromley

While governments might pay lip-service to the notion of free markets, in reality they do everything in their power to stifle them. Britain has never liked free markets. From the imposition of the statute of labourers in the 14th century, through corn laws, the navigation acts, the calico acts and imperial preference, we have never approached within a million miles of genuinely free markets. Morality does not need to be imposed upon a market if it is genuinely free. Morality is an integral part of the market, which if truly free, expresses the ethics of its participants.

Chris Waller

Bristol

Malcolm Brown’s argument is equally relevant to the voluntary sector. We are currently witnessing a ruthless colonisation of the world of voluntary action, led by pure ideology from neo-liberal economics. All the malign processes to which Brown draws attention can be observed, including centralisation, cartels, dominance of economic values and polarisation of the sector in ways which threaten the very wellsprings of voluntary action. The voluntary sector’s basic values – free and willing co-operation, giving of time and resources to meet important human needs – are the antithesis of a market economy. Hence, the voluntary sector is in a good position to add its voice to the growing chorus of challenges from faith groups. But will it? Certainly not if it relies upon its national “leadership” bodies, whose limp pandering to the government and private sector throws petrol on the fire. But there are hopeful challenges, including the important campaign by the National Coalition for Independent Action (www.independentaction.net), and a growing voice from local groups, like West Sussex’s Don’t Cut Us Out (www.dontcutusout.org.uk). Without morality, unrestrained market processes are worse than self-destructive, for they take the rest of us with them.

Adrian Barritt

Adur Voluntary Action

National Coalition for Independent Action

Don’t Cut Us Out West Sussex

Like so many Irish Catholic families of that time, we had a nun among us – my Aunty Joan. Her parents – my grandparents – were from the south of Ireland. They had a mixed marriage in the 1920s, and it was hard to find their place in a free state that wasn’t really so free. So they moved north; my grandfather, George, the eldest son, losing his family farm for love of a sweet girl, Brigit, from “the other side”. They settled in Donegore, near Antrim, where George’s love of the land led him to labour on another man’s farm.

Joan was the youngest of seven. Although all were much loved, it was said that “wee Joan” held a special place in her father’s heart. Gentle, slight, spirited and with a deep faith, she left at the age of 17 to join a convent in the remote west of Ireland. That day George retreated to the land, unable to say goodbye. A man of great faith himself, he must have struggled to reconcile whose sacrifice this was, his love of a Catholic girl had lost him more than just his farm.

As a missionary sister with the Columban order, Joan travelled widely over the years. Her mission took her to the high villages of the Andes, until she settled in the late 1970s in the shanty towns around Lima, Peru.

Joan came home to Ireland every three to four years. As a child I remember the excitement and the baking and other preparations for her visits. There were family parties where she sang – her favourite was Over the Rainbow and on a par any day with Judy Garland’s version.

In Peru, she spent time helping in Lurigancho prison, visiting the poorest of the poor. Thirty years ago, on 14 December, we received an early morning call to tell us that she had been killed.

She had been taken hostage by a group of prisoners in a bid to have their conditions improved. The authorities opened fire, killing Joan and seven of the prisoners. She was 51.

The prisoners collected what little money they had to buy paint for a mural of Joan. It was painted on a public wall in the city and is still cherished. The prison library was named after her, as was a road – and many little girls locally were called Juanita after her.

As I leave on my first trip to Lima to mark the anniversary of Joan’s death, I think of the unlikely connection between a small village in County Antrim and Lima, and the many other connections created by chance and circumstance the world over.

Hilary Georgina Cross

 

 

Independent:

 

 

 

 

 

As the person in whose apartment Stephen Ward was staying at the time that he took the overdose of barbiturates, I have been following the controversy between the writers Tom Mangold and Anthony Summers (Letters, 22 December).

Contrary to what Mr Summers has said, I can state with absolute certainty that I have never refused to comment to anybody about this tragic and disgraceful affair.

I can state with equal certainty that nobody fed Stephen Ward his Nembutal. He took his overdose in the next room to the one in which I was trying to sleep, and I could even hear him striking the matches to light his cigarettes; no voices, door bell or knock, no MI5 agents, no Polish assassins, in short, nobody.

For Mr Summers’ version to carry any credibility, he would have to assume that somebody else wrote over a dozen suicide letters to everybody from me to the judge, counsel, journalists etc. Indeed, killing a man who had just expressed his intent to kill himself would appear to have been redundant, even in those days when “overkill” was a term in frequent use.

Noel Howard-Jones

Waterloo, Belgium.

Given the Royal Family’s delight in bloodsports, why did you make such a thing of Prince William signing up for your elephant poaching campaign (Page one, 22 December)?

Tim Mickleburgh.

Grimsby, DN31

The front page should have had a photograph of these magnificent creatures – the elephants. I thought that was what the campaign was about? Print Prince Williams’ contributions inside.

Jenny Bushell

Wimbledon SW19

DJ Taylor underlines the Victorian invention of Christmas traditions (“Bah to the humbuggers”, 22 December) and suggests that even if few know the true meaning of the festival it is worth having a celebration at this time of year anyway. I agree, but it is surely time to reclaim the more radical festival of Twelfth Night on 6 January, which the Victorian Christmas aimed to replace. Epiphany was traditionally focused on a Lord of Misrule and the turning upside down of authority, sometimes leading to riots. This more robust winter tradition speaks to the times we live in.

Keith Flett

London N17

Hamish McRae indicates (22 December) that the thing we have to fear is too much optimism. That may be so, but a greater fear might be too much prosperity.

Some time ago, in a letter to The Independent, I indicated that increasing prosperity, or apparent prosperity, (they are not the same thing) could undo our fragile economy. I suggested that there is no longer the capacity in the British manufacturing sector to meet demand created at a time when, whether justified or not, the “feel-good factor” is in operation. I also argued that this would lead to an increase in manufactured imports which might otherwise have been supplied by British producers.

Mr McRae, in an email sent to me, suggested that the London based service sector would fill the gap created by manufactured imports. I was sceptical at the time and it seems that my fears were justified.

Your sister paper published an article, by Russell Lynch, (21 December) entitled “Britain’s deficit soars to highest for 24 years”. In it, Mr Lynch points out that the deficit rose to £20.7bn for the third quarter of the present year compared with £6bn for the second quarter.

Perhaps Mr McRae still believes that, like the US Cavalry, London will ride to the rescue! Is it not about time that this myth is felled once and for all?

Roger Barstow Frost

Burnley, Lancashire

I disagree with your editorial that the “best protection for witnesses is that afforded by public opinion” (Leading article, 22 December). A video link would protect witnesses who feel vulnerable in court, because by simply having a delay to allow the judge to decide if the barrister’s question is fair and not intimidatory allows witnesses to be protected. Why subject witnesses to aggressive barristers and rely on juries to sympathise with the witness?

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

 

 

Times:

 

Putting court witnesses on trial is indefensible

I COMPLETELY support Dominic Lawson’s standpoint: how was justice and truth upheld during the trial of Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, at which his sibling Nigella was a prosecution witness (“My sister was found guilty — with no defence”, Comment, last week)? How irresponsible, too, of newspapers to print allegations against children who were not in court to defend themselves.

More than 20 years ago I was one of six victims of a violent serial sex offender. Two of the women he attacked were too badly damaged physically and mentally to attend court. Their cases were therefore thrown out by the judge. In order to do our “civic duty” and try to take this brute off the streets, the other four of us reluctantly agreed to testify as witnesses.

During the trial we were humiliated and ridiculed, first by the barrister for the defence, and then unbelievably by the defendant. He sacked his lawyer during the court case and was allowed to cross-examine his victims himself.

Had I known the horror and degradation that being a witness would involve I would not have come forward. And yet the criminal was convicted and received four life sentences. Had we not gone to testify he would have been freed. It is depressing to realise that things have not improved for witnesses in all these years.

It really is time that some new rules were drawn up to protect people who are not supposed to be on trial, but end up having their lives shattered because the courts and the press have no boundaries.
Name and address withheld

Legal advice
Nigella Lawson undoubtedly feels let down by the legal system and the great British press but it seems the public is on her side. The only real winners in this case were the lawyers. My stepfather was a solicitor and his advice to his clients was: never go to court.
Caroline Tebbutt Menai Bridge, Gwynedd 

Poor judgment
There should be no sympathy for Nigella Lawson over the trial of the Grillo sisters (“How the Nigella drug allegations surfaced”, News, last week). Her behaviour can only be described as stupid and naive. Stupid for allowing employees to use a company credit card without monitoring their monthly expenditure. And naive for not expecting to be called as a witness in the court case and to be cross-examined by the defence lawyer, who would inevitably discredit her by washing dirty laundry in public.
Richard Beames Andalusia, Spain 

Clown prosecution
Speaking as a former CID officer, I found Lawson’s article reminded me of a renowned barrister who more than 40 years ago wisely said to me after a crown court acquittal: “Please, never get downhearted — it’s all in the game.” The “wonderfully entertaining circus” in a courtroom is exactly what deters large numbers of victims and witnesses from giving evidence and in so doing denies justice to many.
Crawford Chalmers Weybridge, Surrey

Judicial review
May I congratulate Lawson and The Sunday Times for this column. I hope that he is successful in his efforts to change judicial procedures and thus prevent a repetition of such a travesty.
Stella Fearnley Poole

Long’s shot completely off the mark on Strictly

SURELY Strictly Come Dancing aims to entertain, and its continued popularity and the huge response from the public prove that it succeeds (“A handful of hot hormones”, News, last week). The contestants repeatedly tell viewers they are overjoyed to be part of the show — often described as a “life-changing experience”.

With the end-of-summer return to reality, many of us are delighted to have a few hours of escapism from shortening daylight and mounting pre-Christmas panic. Yes, a critic’s job is to criticise, but this article was rather spiteful. Camilla Long should be invited to compete on Strictly next year.
Anne Dale Repton, Derbyshire

Attacking position
Long’s article was offensive and unpleasant. Whether one is a fan of the programme or not — and many are, to judge by the 11m-plus viewers who watched the final — I cannot understand her need to attack and denigrate the participants.
Sarah Miles Carshalton, London

Out of step
Your critic has no appreciation of the time and effort the contestants must put into their performances. Clearly in excess of 11m viewers do not take this dark view of a family- friendly, inspirational and entertaining programme. If Long does not like dancing, then please ask her to keep her jaundiced views to herself.
Roger Longland Swindon

Curbing migrant myths

IT IS time to dispel yet another EU myth, promoted this time by Nick Clegg (“Clegg blocks more curbs on migrants”, News, last week). The deputy prime minister worries that we would lose German lawyers, Dutch accountants and Finnish engineers if there were restrictions on European migrants, and the NHS and City of London would grind to a halt without EU beneficence.

Yet professionals moved around unrestricted long before the EU talked of free movement. I myself relocated to Denmark nearly 50 years ago as a university teacher. There was no impediment and my rights were largely the same as those of nationals. Nor was there any impediment for much-needed labourers from Turkey to enter Germany.

The difference is that then a job was necessary, and now people move solely to better themselves regardless of the labour requirements of the host country. Before there was migration control; now it is a free-for-all.

Just as the euro cannot function over a wide range of disparate economies, so free movement cannot work over a wide range of pay and benefits — people will always go to where the money is best.
Kent Brooks Kendal, Cumbria

Points

Open all hours
So Michael Gove wants schools to be open for much of the year (“Yikes, Sir! Gove wants schools open 51 weeks a year”, News, last week). The education secretary would greatly strengthen his argument for this were he to press for the same arrangement for parliament.
Roger Howes Leamington Spa

Fertile ground
Almost 30 years ago New Zealand dropped farming subsidies and the result has been quite remarkable  (“Farm subsidies vital for a level EU playing field”, Letters, last week). Farmers no longer toe the line dictated by quangos and no one is starving.
Colin Milne Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross

First class
The picture of the late Peter O’Toole and the child (“Our Peter Pan”, News Review, last week) was wonderful. Surely it’s worth a place on a Royal Mail stamp.
Ken Bell Sheffield

Drink problem
India Knight (Comment, last week) said O’Toole hadn’t been an alcoholic since the 1970s. Alcoholism is an illness and unfortunately it stays with you for life.
Alan Kelleher Co Kildare

Mane man
I was disappointed and dismayed that Sir Henry Cecil, the greatest racehorse trainer of the past 50 years, did not feature in “The last goodbye” (Magazine, last week).
Andrew Blair London N6

Unsung hero
You published a photograph last week in the Magazine of the America’s Cup with a caption that referred to Ben Ainslie, but there was no mention of the late Andrew Simpson, who tragically died during training for the yachting race, leaving a family behind. The Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation was set up to support youngsters entering the sport.
Siobhan Filmore By email

Dickens humbug
India Knight (“Lay the ghost of Christmas past”, Focus, last week) needs to reread Charles Dickens. The Cratchits’ Christmas meal, so beautifully described by the author, is at a point in A Christmas Carol before Scrooge’s intervention.
Angela McCourt By email

Chewing the fat
While I agree with India Knight about actions rather than words in tackling obesity (“So, we can’t call anyone fat but we can still stuff them with junk food”, Comment, last week), we must not perpetuate some of the myths about eating healthily. Understanding basic good nutrition is not complex, and neither is healthy food necessarily costlier or more difficult to prepare than the fattening rubbish she mentions.
Gerald Hope Glasgow

Parcel farce
Poor parcel delivery service is not restricted to Yodel and Hermes (“No one home? Your parcel’s in the bin”, News, last week). The problem arises because however much they claim they want to offer a good customer experience, retailers don’t want to deal with the problem but would rather offload it onto the carriers. Retailers also want to pay as little as possible — the £1 per drop quoted in your article — yet charge consumers more, making delivery fees a nice little revenue stream.
Marcia MacLeod London NW6
Birthdays

Bernard Cribbins, actor, 85; Ted Danson, actor, 66; Jennifer Ehle, actress, 44; Marianne Faithfull, singer, 67; Aled Jones, singer, 43; Jude Law, actor, 41; Martin Offiah, rugby player, 47; Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland first minister, 65; Harvey Smith, showjumper, 75; Jon Voight, actor, 75
Anniversaries

1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered; 1809 William Gladstone, Liberal prime minister, born; 1890 US army kills 300 Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee; 1916 Rasputin, mystic to the Russian tsars, murdered; 1986 Harold Macmillan, Tory prime minister, dies

Corrections and clarifications

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

 

 

Telegraph:

SIR – David Cameron’s programme of commemoration for the First World War does not mention soldiers from the Empire who were drawn into the conflict.

There is great ignorance of the fact that thousands of Canadians, Australians, Indians, Africans, West Indians and New Zealanders were in Britain and France. In the case of New Zealanders, there were 131,000 in hospitals here, out of a population of less than a million. At Ewshot, Hampshire, where 5,000 New Zealanders were based, there is nothing to mark their presence.

Mr Cameron’s outline also neglects the suffering of the civilian population. The Defence of the Realm Act turned military towns like Aldershot into armed centres with such limited civil liberties that they resembled later towns in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Murray Rowlands
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – My father-in-law, Jim Purfield, joined the newly created 8th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent, in September 1914. After a year of training in southern England, the battalion, untried in battle, was pitched into the Battle of Looson its second day. After a disciplined march across open ground, the battalion was decimated by fire from three sides.

Cpl Jim Purfield’s diary records: “Ultimately got caught in a proper trap in front of barbed wire from L and R flanks. Stuck it for a time, losing heavily… Awful time, but boys stuck it grandly and behaved splendidly. Lost the battalion myself and wandered around for the rest of day in reserve trenches trying to find them again. Spent night in dugout in evacuated trench.”

Jim survived and, like many others, kept his memories and experiences to himself.

Alistair Riach
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire

 

SIR – The Church may sometimes be “overzealous” in enforcing criminal record checks for volunteers, but some checks will also be duplicated needlessly, as guidelines require a check for each role undertaken.

In recent years I had been checked in order to work as a GP at a local surgery but had to repeat the process within months to be allowed to continue as an altar server at my local church.

Dr James Hinksman
Canterbury, Kent

The man in plaster

SIR – As you reported, the man that the Queen referred to in her Christmas broadcast, who spent months in a plaster cast, but “realised this time of forced retreat from the world had helped him to understand the world more clearly”, was almost certainly Lord Home of the Hirsel, later Prime Minister.

As Lord Dunglass, when he was an MP, he was found in 1940 to be suffering from spinal tuberculosis. After a pioneering operation he was encased in plaster for nearly two years, during which he read deeply the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, giving him a far greater knowledge of the workings of the Soviet mind.

After he returned to the Commons in 1943 he challenged Churchill in debates on Poland’s future, greatly aided by the profound knowledge he had gained.

Gospatric Home
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire

Faiths in public life

SIR – If Christianity is pushed to the margins, as Lord Carey warns, then this does a disservice to all faiths. Faith is an abundant source of volunteering, charitable giving and other acts of compassion, and its principles can enrich contemporary debates in politics and on topics such as business ethics.

Minority faith groups, which according to the last census, are growing, tend to welcome a strong role for Christianity in public life, as a standard-bearer for all the faiths in our pluralist democracy.

Zaki Cooper
Council of Christians and Jews
London NW4

Downton return

SIR – In the Christmas Downton Abbey, a return railway ticket, York to King’s Cross, was found in Bates’s overcoat pocket, and several people concluded that this proved that Bates had travelled to London in order to murder the man who had raped his wife.

On the contrary it proves his innocence. Tickets were collected at the end of each leg of the journey, so he could not have used the ticket. Whatever was in his mind when he bought it, he did not carry it out.

Geoffrey Eastwood
London SW5

Parliament out of town

SIR – Richard Miller proposes moving Parliament out of London. A good idea, but, please, not in my back yard – all those ghastly politicians and their insufferable strap-hangers littering one’s restaurants, cafés and pubs.

Timothy Green
Exeter, Devon

SIR – May I suggest Parliament be located in Heckmondwike, in easy commuting distance of Osset, Batley and Cleckheaton? The cost of housing is low and anything that happens there is ignored by the rest of the country – a great improvement on Westminster.

Alan Shaw
Halifax, West Yorkshire

The right helicopter

SIR – David Wragg praises AgustaWestland for its sale to the Norwegian armed forces of 16 AW101 helicopters for search-and-rescue services.

The Royal Canadian Air Force also uses the AW101 (termed Cormorant in Canadian service) in a search-and-rescue role, not Sikorsky S-92s. The S-92s are due to be in service as a primarily anti-surface warfare platform with limited search-and-rescue capability.

Contrary to Mr Wragg’s suggestion, AgustaWestland received high levels of support from the Government via the Defence & Security Organisation and the Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence.

The Ministry of Defence has invested in the AW101 Merlin for both the RAF and Royal Navy in upgrades and life-extension work, which has benefited not only AgustaWestland but many small companies in the supply chain.

David Malleson
Enfield, Essex

Mobile mystery

SIR – Boris Johnson lists myths we’re brainwashed to believe, including the unnecessary ban on using mobile phones on aeroplanes.

I wonder if your readers could furnish me with a convincing scientific explanation as to why I may not use one in a petrol station. I have never known a mobile phone to emit sparks.

Jon Furness-Gibbon
Swaffham, Norfolk

Paying the bills

SIR – One wonders how much of the £2.7 billion spent on Boxing Daywas on credit cards, how much from benefit payments and how much from “savings” ?

Ian A. Powys
Isleham, Cambridgeshire

Sprouts and spring

SIR – While eating my Christmas dinner, I spotted a blue tit inspecting one of our nest-boxes.

Since birds are unlikely to seek refuge from the cold at the present time, is this an indication of a very early spring?

Roger Tame
Kettering, Northamptonshire

SIR – I have just seen a bumble bee.

Chris Yates
Peasedown St John, Somerset

Evidence on effectiveness of antibacterial soap

SIR – I was not surprised to read that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than soap and water. Most claim to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria but do not state whether this is 99.9 per cent of all existing bacteria or just bacteria most commonly found on hands.

On a recent episode of BBC Two’s Trust me I’m a doctor, Dr Michael Mosley showed that washing hands with soap and water was much more effective at removing bacteria than antibacterial soap. The American Food and Drug Administration requires companies to prove that their products are more effective than plain soap when used with water. Companies selling antibacterial soaps in Britain should be required to produce the same evidence. Thus far, the public has had to take the manufacturers’ claims at face value.

Robert Hood-Wright
Nanstallon, Cornwall

SIR – Your editorial was correct in highlighting the need for improved flood defences. There is another very important point, namely the need to avoid the risk of flooding in new developments.

The Government’s emasculation of the planning process will almost certainly worsen the situation. There are cases of developments being allowed where planning inspectors overrule refusals of planning permission by local councils, in areas where residents know that there is a high water table, even though it does not appear in the Environment Agency’s list of areas at risk of flooding.

Prevention is usually better than cure, even if is harder to accomplish.

David Muir
Bristol

SIR – In the Seventies, it was decided no longer to keep railway banks trimmed. The bushes have become trees over the years, and the result is seen now in train delays every time there is a gale.

Photos of railways before the Seventies show not a tree in sight. On Michael Portillo’s railway series, the helicopter now always shows his train in a green tunnel of trees.

Terry Putnam
Weymouth, Dorset

SIR – I have every sympathy for those who have suffered from the effects of the recent weather. I can’t help thinking that some of the flooding could have been avoided.

None of the rivers and streams in my area appear to have had any husbandry, and are now so clogged with vegetation and rubbish that it is no wonder they break their banks.

Maintenance is needed rather than spending on new projects, such as HS2 and other hare-brained schemes.

Isn’t that what “make do and mend” means?

Jeremy Singleton
Normandy, Surrey

SIR – I am amazed that Gatwick, an airport which is promoting itself as a contender for “hub” status in the south east, was not equipped with a stand-by generation system that could cope with some inclement weather.

J R Ball
Hale, Warwickshire

SIR – Among my family memorabilia I have a letter, written in a copper-plate hand and dated February 9 1814, addressed to my great-great-grandfather from his brother.

In it he describes the Frost Fair on the Thames.

He says that there were “nearly a thousand persons on the ice at one time”, and mentions the “fine elephant that was driven over the ice to perform its part in a play in one of the theatres”.

He predicted, correctly, that he would “never see anything like it again”.

David Osmond Davis
Hildenborough, Kent

 

Irish Times:

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* Something happened to Irish republicanism.

Also in this section

Letter of the week: Dole out soup, Enda

Letters: Sirens break peace

Letters: Light of Marie’s flame will shine

As a term, it became sullied by the deeds of a few.

The broad history of Irish republicanism started to become lost in a mist of pedantic revisionism. Marginal points became major. Core points were lost.

The political party most associated with Ireland’s recent demise and longest in power continuing to label itself the ‘The Republican Party‘ seems amiss.

On the eve of a new year, it would be grand if we could spare a moment for the Republic.

Not wearing the over-priced strip of one of the international teams, nor embarrassingly stumbling through the words of Amhran na bhFiann at a GAA match or plying oneself wet on Arthur’s Day.

Rather, asking what it means to be republican — and an Irish one at that.

This is, after all, what we are: citizens of an Irish republic with an Irish republican Constitution and part of a greater European project. Our elite let us down recently. We let ourselves down. What matters, though, is being able to learn from it, grow and strive to do better next time.

The Irish take on republicanism is unique. Although inspired by the French, our attempt seems closer to the real thing. As for the US version, tea parties aren’t us.

Our version of republicanism is generally about being equals.

We really don’t do snobbery well; hence the slaggin’.

We seriously do, do freedom; hence the disproportionate success.

And yet, on the whole we never lose sight of our core belief in caring — fraternity, you might say.

Never let anyone tell you or make you feel that caring is weak. That being equal isn’t reality. That success isn’t possible.

It’s fine to be an Irish republican. You’re not Sinn Fein/IRA; you’re not a bigot when it comes to the British and you’re not Bertie Ahern‘s mob.

Let’s reclaim Irish republicanism, embrace it and work together to make our republic and all our island of Ireland great in 2014.

ADAM O HAODH

FRANCE

LITTLE TOWN, BETHLEHEM

* Christmas, 2013, and excited tourists are milling around Bethlehem’s Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and enjoying the marching bands and scout troops performing next to the large tree in front of the Church of the Nativity.

Some 25,000 visitors are expected this year, up from recent years but way below the crowds that filled the area between 1967 and 2000.

In 1967, Christians made up 80pc of Bethlehem’s population.

During the period from the Six-Day War to Arafat’s intifada, there were no barriers to traffic between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. Muslims, Christians and Jews travelled back and forth to work, shop and play.

Everyone benefited.

The 1993-95 Oslo Accords marked the beginning of the end of Christian Bethlehem.

Bethlehem’s Christians were forced out and the PLO confiscated their properties. As conditions worsened, more families, who had lived there for centuries, fled. Today, Bethlehem is predominantly Muslim.

In 2000, following the Camp David talks between Clinton, Arafat and Barak, Arafat began the second Intifada.

This ended the peaceful commerce the region had enjoyed and Bethlehem became more isolated. Even the Church of the Nativity was later over-run and desecrated by PLO fighters.

Israel built the security barrier to thwart terror attacks, and it has been relatively effective.

The passage through the barrier near Bethlehem is lightly guarded and traffic flows through, slowing but rarely stopping.

At this time of year, we can all hope for success in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

LEN BENNETT

MONTREAL

NEW YEAR, NEW FUTURE

* As we get ready for a new year, it might be useful to reflect on some of the opportunities we will have to help shape our future.

In 2014, we have the opportunity to elect 950 local councillors and 11 Irish members of the European Parliament. Politicians are not universally popular at the moment, but we should remember the political choices we make do shape our future.

Our local councillors have an important say in local planning and environmental issues and the MEPs will play an important part in shaping international issues, such as trade and research policies.

During the coming year the Government will review Ireland’s foreign policy. This is important, as our foreign policy is an expression of who we want to be as a people. The global economy determines our economic prosperity and our foreign policy can help shape the global political framework we need to face the challenges of a rapidly changing international system.

Hopefully, in 2014, we will use our power as citizens of a democracy to benefit not just ourselves, but the planet and those without a say, too.

HANS ZOMER

DIRECTOR DOCHAS

NO MEN ALLOWED HERE

* I read with great interest Martina Devlin’s article about the Neanderthal and sexist men who run the various swimming clubs in this country and her call for state bodies to ensure they do all they can for equality. A great piece of journalism.

I wait eagerly for her next article on the organisations run by women which are equally as bad; I refer to the likes of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. No men allowed here. Why even our national broadcaster, RTE, has been caught up in this sexist organisation by giving it its own television show, ‘ICA Bootcamp’.

As a TV licence payer, I am disgusted to think my money is used to support an organisation that excludes men. I am sure Martina intends to give the same coverage to a sexist women’s organisation as she did to men’s ones.

PS. Anybody got an application form for CURVES?

VINCENT RYAN

NAVAN, CO MEATH

KEEP THE PARTY GOING

* Jose Manuel Barosso was quite rightly apoplectic and inconsolable; Herman Achille Van Rompuy was incandescent with indignation; Olli Rehn was incensed and infuriated; Mario Draghi was extremely vexed; while Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble were exasperated to the point of rage.

No doubt all of this due to some pending nuclear attack by Iran, eruptions in the Middle East, problems with the ESM, the ESFM, the EFSF or the backstop, or maybe those Russians are again muscling in on EU territory?

No, simply our own great leader Enda Kenny omitted to invite them to Paddy’s bailout exit party.

Such a gaffe represents a major diplomatic faux pas in the galaxy inhabited by these pygmaean giants, who stride across the continents making all those nasty austerity decisions designed to screw unrepentant Paddy for screwing up Europe in the first place.

Not to worry, our Enda and Michael are in recovery mode and have it sorted; they will be flying out to Brussels at the first opportunity in the two government jets.

We can console ourselves as we are in good hands — compliant and submissive Paddy will meekly step back in his box and normal business will resume.

Meanwhile, back in the stable, Jesus wept, uncontrollably.

JOHN HEALY

CORK

Irish Independent

 

Jill

December 28, 2013

28 December 2013 Jill

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather and Judy feel they are being taken fro granted and are pressing them to get married. Priceless.

Potter around Jill comes for a visit.

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

 

Obituary:

 

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, who has died of a heart attack aged 60, was the last scion of the Wadiyar dynasty that ruled the south Indian kingdom of Mysore between 1399 and Independence.

The Indian Constitution continued to recognise his father as the Maharaja of Mysore until 1971, when Indira Gandhi abolished the titles and allowances of more than 560 maharajas. But many people continued to use the honorific title, addressing Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar as maharaja after he succeeded in 1974.

While his ancestors reportedly buried troublesome subjects up to their necks in the public square and coaxed elephants to crush their heads, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar devoted his energies to more peaceful pastimes as an MP, hotelier, educationist and fashion designer, while striving to restore his family’s many palaces to their former glory.

As the last link with Mysore’s royal past, he continued to play a leading role in the city’s annual Dasara festival, now a major tourist attraction. A 10-day, 400-year-old celebration held in September or October, it culminates in a colourful procession, complete with caparisoned elephants, horses and camels, to commemorate the day the Hindu goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura.

Though the hereditary rulers of Mysore have lost their temporal powers, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar continued to observe the customary tradition whereby the maharaja, clad in rich silks and embroideries, ascends the golden throne in Mysore Palace and holds a durbar for subjects to pay their obeisance. During the final procession he travelled to a temple for prayers in a cart drawn by caparisoned bulls. Many Hindus in Mysore regarded him as a god.

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar was born in Mysore on February 20 1953, the only son of Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the 25th and last ruling Maharaja of Mysore, and his second wife, Maharani Tripura Sundari Ammani Avaru. Though Jayachamarajendra had lost his powers, he was a close ally of Nehru and retained a constitutional position as the head of Mysore State within the Republic of India and later as Governor of Mysore State (now Karnataka).

Srikantadatta was brought up amid the opulence of the family’s many palaces in south India and educated at Maharaja College, Mysore (now the University of Mysore), where he took a degree in Political Science and captained the university cricket team. He completed his education at Sharda Vilas Law College, Mysore. After his father’s death, he inherited many properties and palaces in Mysore, Bangalore, Srirangapatanam, Ooty and Kemmangundi.

In 1984, in the elections to the Indian lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he was chosen by her son Rajiv to contest the seat of Mysore for the Congress Party. He won and, except for a five-year period in the 1990s when he switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party and lost the seat to his Congress Party opponent, he served a total of four terms.

In the 1990s, with his wife Pramoda Devi, he developed a fashion business, promoting traditional Mysore silk saris under the own brand name Royal Silk of Mysore, which promised to re-create “the magic and glamour of a bygone era in a contemporary format”. Their fashion shows at the family’s Bangalore Palace, one of many royal palaces which he worked to restore, became a highlight of the city’s social calendar; but a project to launch the brand on the international market came to nothing.

Following the example of former princely families in Rajastan, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar also sought to convert many of his palaces into hotels. He succeeded with the Fernhills Palace in the hill station of Ooty, now a five-star “heritage” hotel; but plans to convert the Rajendra Vilas Palace in Mysore made painfully slow progress and the hotel has yet to be completed.

Similarly, plans to launch a new airline, Maharaja Airlines (branded the “Palace in the Sky”) never bore fruit, while his final years were overshadowed by a long-running dispute with state and national governments over the terms under which some of his family palaces had been nationalised in the 1990s.

A fervent believer in the power of the stars, the Maharaja refused to do anything without the consent of his astrologers and numerologists. The number 1953, his date of birth, had a great significance for him and featured in his mobile phone numbers and car registrations – quite a feat since at one point he had 20 cars and was known to carry a dozen mobile phones – separate devices for family, business, friends and so on.

The Maharaja was involved with many educational and cultural organisations and at one point lectured in Political Science at Mysore University. A lover of good food, crime fiction and music, from Indian classical to Western pop, he was also a passionate fan of cricket, golf and racing. At one time he bred racehorses and he was twice elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association.

The Maharaja had no children (some cited a 400-year old family curse), telling an interviewer in 2009 that he would not think about a successor until he was 70 years old.

He is survived by his wife.

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, born February 20 1953, died December 10 2013

 

 

Guardian:

 

The church has to become truly local so that it “can get on with things locally”, as Andrew Brown puts it (The Church of England’s unglamorous local future, 26 December). But it is not organised to become this: it is top-heavy, with too many bishops, archdeacons and committees, too much bureaucracy and management. The local church – a cluster of local churches, or deaneries – must be the focal point. This means they have control of the budget and resources now residing within the top-heavy church. When the archbishop of Canterbury was bishop of Durham, he set out these ideas. The difficulty will be for the bishops to let go of their authority. Bishops should co-ordinate the efforts of deaneries, but the power will lie with local churches. I was a parish priest for 30 years, and even then the glaring gap in the middle of the church’s organisation was obvious.
The Rev Donald Reeves
Director, Soul of Europe

• Andrew Brown is right to question the continuing relevance of the established church, a multinational corporation losing significant market share against its key competitors. In a domestic and global marketplace for religion, a product like any other, they have global competitors in Islam, catholicism and the evangelical churches. Like any business leader, Justin Welby wants both to maintain Anglicanism‘s domestic market as well as develop market share in the growth markets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The calculation may be that losing relevance in the UK by peddling a social conservative product is more than matched by the attractiveness of such a theological view in Africa and Asia, where there is a likelihood of market growth. This is a matter of business, pure and simple.
Jeremy Ross
Ashstead, Surrey

• Andrew Brown’s otherwise excellent argument for disestablishment overlooks one aspect which is of vital importance to the nation. It is that so long as the C of E is part of the fabric of state, there exists a body of volunteers who, however reluctantly, can be compelled to manage, largely at their own expense, a huge sector of our precious built heritage. If they were to become disestablished and, in Brown’s words, “go local”, the resulting rise in ecumenism would bring about a corresponding reduction in the need for church buildings.

When rationalising their resources in working out “the way that faith plays out in everyday life”, given a choice between a remote, high-maintenance monument which the state decrees may not be adapted to serve that purpose, or a Victorian (or later) chapel of no significance, it’s inevitably the latter which the unified faith group will choose as its base for mission. Who then will pick up the tab for maintaining our historic places of worship?
Roger Munday
Living Stones, The Church and Community Trust

 

 

The government’s net migration cap is hurting Britain’s economic recovery and long-term fiscal health (It’s not racist to be anxious over large-scale immigration, 23 December). It can take around three months for a business to apply for a visa for a prospective employee, a significant unseen cost of the cap, and international firms may prefer to base themselves in countries where they can bring in staff from abroad more easily than they can in the UK.

Entrepreneurship is being affected, too: more than a quarter of Silicon Roundabout startup founders are foreign-born, and more than half of tech startups in California’s Silicon Valley are founded by immigrants. The cap on immigration is a cap on the innovative industries Britain needs to thrive.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, without net immigration of at least 260,000 people per annum, public debt will approach 100% of GDP by 2060 as we struggle to pay for a ballooning pensions and healthcare bill. Countless studies have shown immigrants create jobs, raise natives’ real wages and even boost productivity.

Public concerns about benefits tourism are legitimate but are better addressed by reforms that restrict access to the welfare state. The migration cap does not discriminate between the small number of would-be welfare tourists and the many people who would like to work productively to create a better life for themselves and their families. The cap is hurting Britain and should be scrapped.
Sam Bowman Research director, Adam Smith Institute, Mark Littlewood Director general, Institute of Economic Affairs, Simon Walker Director general, Institute of Directors, Ryan Bourne Head of economic research, Centre for Policy Studies, Philip Salter Director, The Entrepreneurs Network

• A survey conducted last July by Ipsos Mori found that the British public significantly overestimated the UK’s immigrant population. Distorted and hysterical coverage of migration in the media meant that when asked what percentage of the UK’s population are immigrants (ie, not born in the UK), most of the people polled thought the figure was 31%; in fact, it is 13%. When asked how many of the UK’s immigrants were asylum-seekers, most people polled estimated the figure at 21%; it is, in fact, 4%.

When asked to account for the discrepancy between their high estimates and the actual figure, 56% insisted that their estimation was correct and argued the official figure failed to account for illegal immigrants. Of those questioned, 46% simply refused to accept that the UK’s migrant population was 13% of the total.

This poll marks a triumph for the rightwing press which have vilified and demonised immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers every day for decades. Their poison has had results. In 1997, 4% of those polled thought the UK had an immigration “problem”; in 2007, that had risen to 38%. Yet study after study has found that migrants put more back into society than they take out. In addition, immigrants are less likely to claim the benefits they are entitled to than the rest of society. But it is in this government’s interest that working people blame migrants for lack of housing and the destruction of the welfare state. That’s what’s behind the government’s current campaign against immigrants which has been rightly denounced by Vince Cable (Report, 23 December).

So when John Harris says “It’s not racist to be anxious over large-scale immigration”, he is being disingenuous. It is. Blaming migrants for social problems does nothing to help working people and lets the real culprits get away with it. The problem’s not Roma. The problem’s not Romanians. The problem’s not Bulgarians. The problem’s the Etonians.
Sasha Simic
London

• Younger voters are disenchanted with politics (Report, 27 December) partly because, despite the proliferation of “democratic” institutions in both the EU and UK, direct accountability has diminished. When workers (mostly young) move between EU states, in effect they become disenfranchised. This has an impact not only on their rights, but also on those of their co-workers. With a healthy supply of non-voting taxpayers, the government need not introduce policies aimed at helping younger workers, such as supporting a living wage or investing in the education of its own workforce. Unless this significant challenge to UK democracy is redressed, we would be better off outside the EU.
Dr Mark Ellis
Huddersfield

• When will politicians (and Guardian editorial writers) understand that immigration, like all key areas of public policy, needs to be properly planned and managed? Managed immigration brings benefits to people wishing to come and live in the UK and benefits the population as a whole. The current open borders policy risks a massive population rise, something that will be detrimental to the quality of life of most people living in the UK. It is the first duty of any government to protect the public rather than pander to unsustainable EU ideology.
Stephen Lavan
Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk

 

John Philpott’s prediction (Report, 23 December) of earnings growth next year of 2.4% and inflation, as measured by the CPI, of 2.2%, meaning “2014 will thus see the end of the post-recession squeeze on real earnings”, appears to ignore the impact of tax, national insurance and the loss of earnings-related benefits.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• Your letter writers (27 December) detail exactly why Chris Huhne was so wrong in his article (Someone needs to fight the selfish, short-sighted old, 23 December). Chris Scarlett’s assertion regarding tax rates needs qualification. Basic rate tax has gone down, but if you include national insurance the rate is similar at 32% (20% tax and 12% NI). For those on zero hours contracts, the rate of NI can be a lot higher as it is a weekly/monthly tax with no refund if you earn less or nothing in any week/month. The only people who have had a real reduction in income tax since the 70s are the very rich.
Karen Fletcher
Sheffield

• What a brilliant letters page on 27 December. If only the 17 contributors could form an emergency committee to run the country.
Diana Heeks
Llanrhystud, Ceredigion

• I see that Sir Nick Harvey, a former defence minister, describes the fox-hunting law as “an ass” because it is routinely ignored (Report, 26 December). Presumably he will be calling for the abolition of speed limits, too.
Ian Reissmann
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

• That families get together at Christmas may indeed partially explain the persistence of the festival (Editorial, 26 December). Families can remind themselves why they choose not to be together for the rest of the year. That way both institutions can endure.
Dr Alex May
Manchester

• Christmas day. Devon pinks flowering in our Devon garden, and bees on the rosemary flowers. No berries on the holly, though.
Ruth Smith
Bishopsteignton, Devon

 

 

 

Today marks five years since the Israeli military launched missile and ground attacks on Gaza, which Israel named Operation Cast Lead. According to the UN, 1,383 Palestinians died as a result, including 333 children.

And what of the survivors? For the 1.7 million living in the tiny Gaza Strip, life has become increasingly desperate because of Israel’s continuing blockade, backed by Egypt and with no effective challenge from governments around the world. The blockade has brought electricity cuts of 16 hours a day, which means the only street lights visible at night have been those from Israel’s nearby towns. The electricity shortages have severely affected almost all essential services, including health, water, sanitation and schooling. With waste plants not operating, Palestinian children have been wading through freezing sewage to attend school. The terrible floods in Gaza brought the promise of increased electricity supplies for a few weeks, but the international community must demand that supply is constant and permanent.

This blockade has also resulted in unacceptable limits on personal freedom. Most Palestinians are prevented from travelling outside Gaza, an area of 139 sq miles: about the same size, but much more densely populated, as Newcastle. It is deplorable for us to allow this continuing collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. We urge the UK government to take immediate action to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza.
Baroness Blackstone, Peter Bottomley MP, Richard Burden MP, Martin Caton MP, Katy Clark MP, Michael Connarty MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alex Cunningham MP, Lord Dubs, Mark Durkan MP, Lord Dykes, John Hemming MP, Julian Huppert MP, Lord Hylton, Hugh Lanning, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Lord Judd, Caroline Lucas MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, George Mudie MP, Grahame Morris MP, Sandra Osborne MP, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Rt Hon Dame Joan Ruddock MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Baroness Tonge, Yasmin Qureshi MP, David Ward MP, Mike Weir MP

 

 

Independent

 

Boxing Day is the only day on which the hunting lobby welcomes cameras. On every other day of the year, there is no surer guarantee of being violently assaulted and having your camcorder smashed than to attempt to film a hunt.

Christopher Clayton

Waverton, Cheshire

Too bad Andy McSmith’s education (Diary, 20 December) missed out on the importance of Hawick as a centre for Harris tweed production, an essential fact in geography when I was at secondary school 50 years ago. It’s an example of the rigour that Mr Gove hankers after.

Professor Guy Woolley

Nottingham

At least Mary Dejevsky admits that her hostitility towards family-friendly opera is ill-informed (“Child-friendly opera? Is nothing sacred?”, 20 December). The idea that opera is the exclusive preserve of a few is ridiculously outdated. Opera is a richly diverse art-form for which there is demand from a diverse range of audiences.

The engagement of children with the arts is critical if we are to nurture a new generation of culturally literate and passionate audiences and artists. But the main driver is in fact not to catch ’em young as Mary suggests. Instead, we believe that young people have as much right to high-quality arts activity as everyone else. And all the evidence suggests that young audiences are often much less prejudiced than their elders who insist on compartmentalising our cultural landscape.

The Royal Opera House has been commissioning family-friendly work for many years and if Mary Dejevsky came to see How the Whale Became, or other productions such as The Firework Maker’s Daughter, which we presented earlier in the year, I suspect she would find the art-form is far from simplified and that an audience involving young people can be as avid and focused as any.

And there is no reason to fear that her own enjoyment of opera will be compromised. Last night, we completed a run of performances of Parsifal, a wonderful production of a great opera. I suspect there were few children in the audience for this five-hour experience, which is also fine.

John Fulljames

Associate Director, The Royal Opera

London WC2

Following Bernie Evans’s letter (17 December) – my old school not only had A and B streams but also league tables every half term and promotion and relegation at the end of the year. The whole place was run as if we were football clubs. Today perhaps it has play-offs between pupils as well.

Ian Craine

London N15

The Owen Jones attack on secondary modern schools (19 December) was just the kind of quality writing that inspired me to leave the secondary modern school where I was teaching unqualified in the 1960s, go to teacher training college and commit myself to work in comprehensive community education.

I cut it out to send to one of the unqualified teachers that Ukip and pals are hoping to employ in all these new secondary modern schools they plan to reinvent.

Peter Thomson

Hitchin, Hertfordshire

With due respect to those that suffered the grammar school a system in place  40 years ago we must  acknowledge that a significant number benefited from it and gained social mobility (letters, 17 December). It is no surprise that the current government is packed with products of the private schools, when ours was the generation that experienced the comprehensive system which denied opportunity to the very bright to get to the very top.

To consider the  return of selection, we should look at the evidence of Germany, France and Switzerland where formal schooling starts later. They operate a three-tier system successfully, with movement between tiers at 13 and 15 possible. Once this is in place across the country all social classes have the opportunity to benefit.

The selective school debate omits the reality that currently at least 7 per cent of children are selected out of schooling by accident of wealth. The only way to properly break down social barriers is to keep our fantastic private schools but make them available on a merit basis, reverting to a full state selective school system.

Jane Allison

Edinburgh

Nigel Brody’s excellent suggestion (Letters, 16 December) to move Parliament and the Civil Service out of London touches on a much bigger issue: the total domination of the UK by London.

It is the political, financial, business, judicial, transport, media and cultural capital of the UK. The concentration in one city leads to an incestuous bubble where participants in each group know those from other groups intimately, and move between groups, trading power and influence as they go. They are insulated by wealth, geography and group-think from the lives of ordinary Britons, and for them life beyond the M25 exists only to provide holiday homes in quaint villages.

The effect of this full-spectrum domination of British economic and cultural life is the impoverishment of the other cities, towns and regions of the UK. This can be seen most starkly in the wild divergence of property values inside and outside of London (report 14 December), but can also be seen in the flow of human capital or arts funding towards London.

The contrasting fortunes of London and the rest of the UK make it difficult to pursue an economic policy that is suited to the whole country.

The US (New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco), Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt), Italy (Milan, Rome) and Australia (Sydney, Canberra) are just a few examples of countries with different cities acting as financial, political, business, media or cultural capitals. If our poles of activity were spread across, for example, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and London, the pressure on housing in the South-ast would ease, opportunity would be spread, and the lives of people across the whole of the UK would be enriched, culturally and financially.

Barry Richards

Cardiff

Like Homer, Guy Keleny very occasionally nods

If a serving Prime Minister either fails to seek, or fails to obtain, a vote of confidence in a parliament of a changed composition following a general election, he or she is not entitled to a dissolution without an opportunity being given to another party leader with a reasonable expectation of obtaining such a vote. This is not “overturning the verdict of the ballot box for party advantage”; such a verdict elects a parliament, not a government

Hence the “period for reflection” in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in the event of a mid-term Vote of No Confidence, and similar provisions in relation to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

No real power? What about Charles’s secret activities to influence government policies? How unconstitutional and anti-democratic is that?

Also this monarchy upholds the class system with all its snobbery and unearned privileges. The pageantry and parties exclude the people and reaffirm the anachronism of all this – out of step with a modern Britain.

Jenny Bushell

London SW19

Guy Keleny argues that the British monarchy is the “theatre” and not the reality of power; the ceremonial side that lends our system dignity (“Liberals can love the Royals too”, 26 December).

However it is the invisible tendrils of monarchy that are worrying: the monarch’s direct access to the Prime Minister, Prince Charles’s letter-writing to ministers, the armed forces and police officers swearing personal loyalty to the monarch and not a constitution, and the subtle influence of royal patronage and honours.

These  constitutional grey areas must be scrapped. Although our improvised constitution has never been seriously tested in the 20th century, we cannot assume all future monarchs will be benign and play by the rules.

Ian McKenzie

Lincoln

Steve Richards is right to highlight the role of the Royal Family in binding the nation together (“We love Christmas for the same reason we love the Royal Family. They give modern Britain a rare sense of community”, 24 December). This is not a political point, but more of a sociological one.

It was made eloquently by the celebrated academic Michael Young in his essay “The Meaning of the Coronation.” Young noted that the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of which we marked the 60th anniversary this year, sparked a range of parties, fetes and gatherings. An estimated 17 million people in the UK took part in these. Inspired by the collective nature of the celebrations, he described them as a “great act of national communion.”

The Royal Family, both through one-off events and its day-to-day work with charities and visits, continues to provide a much needed sense of community and togetherness.

Zaki Cooper

 

 

 

Times:

 

 

Sir, Philip Collins (“Will Welby ever make the case for God?”, Opinion, Dec 27) rightly reminds the Church of England that the Christian faith has no monopoly on compassion, but he adopts a lofty, under-informed critique about the factual basis on which the faith is contingent.

Not only is the historical narrative more compelling than he allows, but so is the experience of those who have put the faith into practice. We live in an empirical age, and so we might have expected critics of Christianity to have tried it and then critiqued it. Those of us who approached it as a working hypothesis to be tested have grown ever more deeply committed as it delivers what it promises — even to intellectuals.

Perhaps G. K. Chesterton was right when he wrote that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.”

The Rev Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden

Chaplain to the Queen, and Canon Theologian, Chichester Cathedral

Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church should do more to make the case for the Christian faith. However, to dismiss the Christian narrative as unable to withstand “the probing questioning of an inquisitive seven-year-old” is altogether too casual. Yes, the miraculous events described in the Bible may test our credulity but a God who is unable to do the miraculous would be no God at all.

Serious questions have been asked of the Christian faith by many intelligent people who have found answers that satisfied them. Mr Collins mentions some books but there are others that make the case better. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison are two of many. Strobel was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and an atheist when he began to investigate the evidence for Jesus. Frank Morison was a journalist who began his book with the intention of disproving the Christian narrative. Both men became convinced Christians.

I would encourage all who have questions about the Christian faith to look into it with an open mind. They will find a much stronger case for Christ than that generally presented in the media.

Mark Franklin

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir, Philip Collins cannot be correct when he asserts that the Church of England must find better arguments for the survival and continuance of its belief. Empirical analyses would invalidate the Immaculate Conception and transubstantiation as implausible, but what is wrong with such innocent and popular beliefs? I am a secular expatriate but I love the idea of Christianity as a unique expression of love and compassion, charity and a great source of moral support at times of anguish and hopelessness.

Sam Banik

London N10

Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church of England “should concentrate on devising retorts that didn’t collapse under the weight of their own evasions”. However, when he tells us that the theological basis for the Church’s political involvement is found “notably in the Gospel of James” one begins to wonder if he has read the documents he does not believe in.

Marcus Paul

West Monkton, Somerset

 

Sir, Further to your report “Millions for wind farms to switch off” (News, Dec 27), it is true that wind farms are paid money not to produce electricity when the grid is stretched — but so are most other electricity generators. As your report indicates in the penultimate paragraph, “constraints payments” are used by the National Grid to regulate the system. Anyone not reading that far, however, would miss the key fact that puts the issue into context: wind accounts for only about 10 per cent of constraints payments, which means that 90 per cent of payments go to gas, coal and oil, etc.

Wind is more flexible than most generators and is therefore easier to take off the system at short notice when the grid is at capacity. Constraints payments are necessary due to the current inflexibility of the grid — the issue would exist even if there were no wind turbines. However, once a reliable interconnector with the Continent is in place there should no longer be a need for constraints payments, and we will be able to sell the excess electricity we produce to other countries.

John Mills

Partnerships for Renewables

 

Cromwell’s challenge to unjustified authoritarianism demonstrates his continuing relevance — including in Putin’s Russia

Sir, In the preface to the 2008 edition of her seminal biography of Oliver Cromwell, Antonia Fraser writes that the 18th-century Russian radical Alexander Radischev regarded Cromwell (letters, Dec 26 & 23, and leading article, Dec 20) and the Parliamentarians as a “standing challenge to political systems like the Russian autocracy of the Tsars”. This telling reference demonstrates not only the continuing relevance of Cromwell, but the need to ensure that his achievements (accepting that not all were positive) remain widely known and understood — including in Putin’s Russia.

Now it seems that the Cromwell Museum at Cromwell’s birthplace in Huntingdon is threatened with closure as a result of planned budget cuts by Cambridgeshire County Council, so it is to be hoped that all those who acknowledge Cromwell’s significance as a standing challenge to unjustified authoritarianism will add their voices and their resources to the campaign to keep the museum open.

Stephen Hockman, QC

London EC4

Sir, Lord Taverne is right to say the UK drug laws need reforming (letter, Dec 26). However, no one is jailed for simple drug possession on a first offence any longer. If someone is in prison for a drug offence it is because it formed part of other charges, or because he or she supplied drug. I would expect a QC and former Home Office minister to know that.

Certain drugs are illegal because of the harm they do to a person’s health, the community and ultimately the tax payer in treatment costs. Cannabis is arguably the first step to addiction; in the early 1970s the THC content of cannabis was about 3 per cent; today the average is about 16 per cent (according to Home Office studies).

The classification of drugs does not appear to be based on scientific evidence, so why not do away with it altogether, and make a drug illegal or not. If classification has to stay then base it on the harm a drug does.

I also think Lord Taverne is wrong to state that a confession of drug use by a witness could lead to prosecution. This is highly unlikely and I cannot find a single instance of it ever occurring.

Nigel Price

Lisvane, Cardiff

 

 

Sir, Peter Mooney (letter, Dec 24) asks why so many Germans have settled in the UK. I moved from Bad Brückenau in Bavaria to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1996, aged 19, for a three-month work experience placement. For me, coming from a small rural German town, Newcastle had everything a young person could ask for in terms of culture, sport, shopping and going out. Most importantly, the people were (and still are) incredibly friendly, polite, open and have a great sense of humour (yes, a German says this). Although I currently work most of the time in Germany, I still class the North East as “home”.

Monika Loveday

Whitley Bay, North Tyneside

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – If, as Lord Carey suggests, the Government is guilty of “washing its hands” of the problem of worldwide anti-Christian persecution, it may indeed have something to do with the fact that, in Britain, many Christians “feel cowed into silence”.

The rise of violent Islamism has given secularists the pretext of blaming religion in general, but silencing Christians in particular. While we are fighting for the right to be heard, and to preserve the Christian idea of marriage and the family, we are less able to support our Christian brothers and sisters across the world.

In the Middle East – with the exception of the much-demonised state of Israel, which, however, lies under the long shadow of a nuclear Iran – the signs are that, soon, the only visitors to the empty cradle of Christianity will be Islamism and aggressive atheism, two nihilist religions in unholy alliance. The gifts they bring will not include peace and goodwill to all men.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – The Thames Valley Housing Association is to be highly commended on the originality of its take on the commercialisation of Christmas by removing Christmas wreaths from its tenants’ front doors and then charging them £10 for their return.

Coincidentally, the headline on the front page of The Daily Telegraph on the same day was: “Christians ‘feel cowed into silence’.”

Christopher Sharp
Kenilworth,Warwickshire

Outdated digital

SIR – Those who bemoan the problems of DAB radio, with poor coverage and quality, should move with the times. DAB was outdated even before it was introduced.

We stream radio from the internet to speakers around the house. We can receive stations from anywhere in the world with great quality and no reception problems.

Simon Taylor
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – I changed my kitchen lights from halogen to LED. My kitchen DAB radio now instantly falls silent the moment the lights are switched on. That’s progress.

Peter Jordan
Pinner, Middlesex

Frank confession

SIR – At least 20 Christmas cards arrived at our house with unfranked stamps. So I can use them again.

Phillada Pym
Ashford, Kent

SIR – Of items that I have ordered recently, those delivered by Royal Mail were on time. Those to be delivered by carrier were not.

What for the future?

Chris Dooley
Swadlincote, Derbyshire

Dear Diary

SIR – Does anyone else share our enjoyment between Christmas and the New Year of reading one’s diary from years ago?

This year my husband and I will have known each other for 40 years and each day of the Christmas period we read, with considerable nostalgia, mirth and sometimes excruciating embarrassment, the entries for the relevant day those same 40 years ago.

Fiona Brown
Torquay, Devon

Labour policy on Syria

SIR – John Kerry recognises that the Syrian revolution has become a huge sectarian mess. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has helped create this tragic situation.

Groups affiliated to al-Qaeda opposed intervention, believing that they would be targeted along with Assad’s forces. After the Commons vote, the Free Syrian Army lost a great deal of support, enabling the sectarian militants to become dominant.

Mr Miliband promised that he would keep up the pressure on Assad after the vote. He has been silent for months. He is not a visionary peacemaker. By abdicating any responsibility for resolving Syria’s tragedy, he has merely become Assad’s useful idiot.

Brian Devlin
Galashiels, Selkirk

Britain: statin island

SIR – It is a bit rich of Professor Sir Roger Boyle to accuse doctors of using too many statins. He was the national director for cardiology at the time when the Government introduced incentive payments through the GP contract that were based on levels of cholesterol and levels of statin prescribing.

Dr Robert Walker
Workington, Cumberland

Thawed in translation

SIR – Listening to a recording of Christmas songs in Swedish (as you do), I realised that a version of White Christmas says: “I’m dreaming of a Christmas at home.” Presumably, the whiteness is taken for granted in Sweden.

I wonder how other countries amend the lyrics of popular songs to suit their own circumstances.

Chris Andrews
Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Currency laundering

SIR – We are told (Letters, December 26) that plastic bank notes wash well. In my experience, our current bank notes wash very well indeed.

My mother did it quite often, and I seem to be carrying on this family tradition. As a family, however, we were quite relieved when the plastic driving licence was introduced, as the old red book-style licence did not fare so well, at least not in a twin tub.

Rosie Harden-Vane
Holywell, Northumberland

Pointless pardon for Alan Turing

SIR – A royal pardon does not affect the conviction to which it refers, it merely quashes any consequent penalties. What is the point of pardoning a man long dead, as is the case with Alan Turing?

Vic Bannister
Boston, Lincolnshire

SIR – Granting Alan Turing a pardon appears commendable, but leaves me feeling uneasy. Others convicted of crimes no longer on the statute book will surely demand similar treatment, if justice is to be seen to be equal for all.

Might it not be fairer to devise a posthumous honour to recognise outstanding service to the nation, such as Turing’s?

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Can we expect a similar initiative in the case of Lieutenant Colonel James Michael Calvert DSO? Calvert, the commander of a Chindit brigade in Burma, was also a genuine war hero.

Court-martialled, also in 1952, for, “gross indecency with male persons”, Calvert was convicted as a result of unreliable witness testimony.

Calvert is no longer alive, but this would appear an excellent opportunity to remove the stain from his reputation.

John Clapham
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

SIR – Would it not be a splendid idea for Parliament to pass a Bill declaring that Britain apologises for all wrongs it has committed?

The apology should cover known wrongs and wrongs not yet known or not yet recognised as wrongs. Let the apology apply to continuing and future wrongs.

The apology should extend to everything, including apologising, just in case we come to realise that we cannot apologise for things we have not, in fact, done.

Peter Cave
London W1

 

111 Comments

SIR – Nicholas Nelson (Letters, December 20) finds that his history students associate the word Germany with war, and he worries about the approaching anniversary of the First World War reinforcing such associations.

I spent more than 30 years in Germany and Austria as a soldier, civil servant and tourist. I grew to love these countries, their people, culture and cuisine.

I believe that in addition to Beethoven concerts, the introduction of British schoolchildren to the delights of Apfelstrudel, Kaffee und Torte mit Schlagobers and Sauerkraut mit Haxe might help change ideas associated with Germany. (On reflection, it might be better to leave out the sauerkraut.)

A F Judge
Deeping St James, Lincolnshire

 

SIR – Your editorial, “We must do more to protect against flooding”, calls for a renewed focus on prevention, and this makes total sense. I wonder where we have got to with the Pitt Review, following the floods in 2007.

The more extreme weather events arising from the effects of climate change are no doubt a factor, but have we also forgotten the basics?

For decades we have filled in ponds, filled or culverted watercourses, not maintained rivers and ditches, changed agricultural practices and then wonder why areas known by our ancestors to be flood plains are inundated.

We cannot expect surface-water sewers in urban areas to deal with the flows from inundation, which has never been their role.

Once we wake up to the idea that our land drainage system is defunct, we might be able to move forward.

Stuart Derwent
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – Having been experiencing a lack of power since Monday evening, I’m now even more keen on prolonging the life of the land line, as all our mobile phones have long-since died, because we cannot recharge the batteries.

We are relying on a relic of the Eighties: a twirly-cord telephone that works simply from the telephone socket. The teenagers jump every time it rings.

Belinda Hunt
Crowborough, East Sussex

SIR – On Christmas Day, while reading Leaves on the Line: Letters on Trains to ‘The Daily Telegraph’, a welcome present, I received a cheery email from East Coast telling me that “there is no disruption at this time affecting services between your selected stations London Kings Cross to Peterborough”.

I was pleased to hear this, but also a little surprised, as East Coast’s website confirmed that “as usual, we will not be running trains on Christmas Day”.

So now we know that the railways run best when there are 1) no passengers, and 2) no trains.

Jennifer Maclean
Bourne, Lincolnshire

SIR – In the last few days, BBC news has advised me of strong winds, measured in miles per hour; heavy rain, gauged in millimetres; and massive waves, in excess of 30 feet. Distances under a mile are given in metres. It’s small wonder schoolchildren struggle with simple daily arithmetic.

Peter Harrison
Northiam, East Sussex

SIR – On Radio 4’s Today yesterday, Justin Webb was interviewing a woman in the South of England, one of many unfortunates without electrical power. “People get their power from various companies,” he said. “Do you know neighbours who fared any better?”

Michael Rogers
Sevenoaks, Kent

“I do not usually air my grievances by writing letters to papers…” So starts one missive to the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser exactly 60 years ago. Sadly, 1954 marked the final year of publication for that doughty local newspaper.

But the Advertiser lives on in our memory thanks to a rather desperate editor. When correspondents started to dry up in the final days of the paper, Nigel Chapman told his staff to make up letters, and sign them, “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

The term is now shorthand for the most provincial, narrow-minded grouch, the sort, indeed, who pens angry letters to local newspapers. The BBC even gave the name to its new feedback programme in 1978.

And yet a round-up of the best letters sent by (real) residents of the Kent town, newly collected by the author Nigel Cawthorne, shows that they were a varied bunch.

The letters, dating from the beginning of the 20th century to the paper’s demise, reveal both strange local obsessions and national anxieties, some not so distant from our own.

So the fad for 3D cinema is decried, the punctuality of trains is endlessly fulminated upon, dangerous dogs are complained about, drunks are lectured. Women, meanwhile, appear to be a source of endless mystery and frustration to the “menfolk” of the town.

Cawthorne says he has a fondness for Tunbridge Wells that goes beyond childhood trips to visit his grandmother. “I think the letters reveal a group of people who are slightly boring, but very gentle. They are the sort of people you want around you.”

Even in 1915, the year the town was bombed by German Zeppelins, one correspondent can be found complaining about the nuisance of cock-crowing at dawn. “It is the world of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie,” says Cawthorne. “The letter writers are terribly polite.”

Here is a selection, covering topics that still exercise many to this day, not least those who correspond with The Daily Telegraph.

As Cawthorne tells his own readers, “Long may there be outrage in Britain.”

Transport trouble

SIR – Can anyone beat the Southern Railway SE and CR Section for slackness? I am one of the army of those who get to and from work by rail. Twice during the last week the 9.45am from Wadhurst has been an hour late, while the number of times it has been anything up to half an hour behind is considerable. On eventually arriving, it usually has three carriages, and very often one is reserved.

FC Boorman

August 1 1924

SIR – On behalf of the menfolk who, either having their hour’s break for lunch, or, in many cases, having had sandwiches for the midday meal, wait for a bus to take them home to a well-earned hot meal, I protest that it is sickening to see the buses come in loaded chiefly with women returning from shopping during the lunch hour or between 5pm and 6pm.

I, myself, this week on one occasion had to let five buses go and not until the sixth was I able to get on.

No doubt if you publish this a good many women will want to pull my hair out, but I take that chance, knowing full well the menfolk will agree I am correct.

So come along, ladies, look after your husband. Shop early and help him get home in comfort and good time.

RT Corden

December 5 1947

God

SIR – The latest pronouncements of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, giving permission to women to attend God’s house without covering their heads, is directly opposed to God’s Word. This is simply pandering to the fashion of the day, and is utterly unworthy of the heads of the Church.

The Bible is an eternal book written for all time, and all talk about modern times and modern thought is worthless.

ME Welldon

November 13 1942

SIR – Will you allow me, through the medium of your columns, to warn your readers against receiving into their houses the leaflets “Rays of Living Light” that are now flooding the town.

They are being circulated by a sect calling themselves “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”, but who are in reality Mormons, some of them missionaries over from America.

Not only is their teaching erroneous, but seeking, as they do, to draw young girls over to Utah, they become a danger to women. And they may be seen and heard day after day in Tunbridge Wells, talking with maid-servants at the doors, seeking to ensnare them.

Bee

February 28 1908

Animal spirits

SIR – I have seen people come into parks with a dog on a lead and immediately let it off the lead to relieve itself, and then children run around and sit in some of this filth. A lady a few doors away from me slipped on some in Norman Road and broke her wrist and was attending the hospital for some weeks.

Make it an offence for any dog to be about the streets, and if it has no collar and nameplate, have it destroyed.

Angry and Disgusted

October 7 1954

SIR – May I beg the favour of a space in your columns to protest against the revival of the cruel fashion of trimming women’s hats with the plumage of ospreys and other beautiful birds, and at the same time make an appeal to all women and girls not to wear them.

I will merely point out that it is a crime of the meanest and most contemptible kind, and one against which every right-minded person should protest. Nothing can be said in its defence.

Amy Woodburn

May 2 1919

Youth offenders

SIR – As a southerner, I would normally have been among the first to fight against S Raymond’s allegation of “southern rudeness”, but now I have had an object lesson.

In a Midlands town last week, I passed three juvenile train-spotters on a railway footbridge… each smiled and said, “Good afternoon, sir.”

In Tunbridge Wells a few days earlier, I had to pass through a gate on which three lads of about the same age were sitting. They did not get off, but regaled me with the greeting, “Wotcher, shorty.” As I walked off, I was hit in the back by a stone.

Disillusioned

September 16 1953

TV-itis

SIR – I notice in Tunbridge Wells the ever-growing forest of TV aerials and wonder how fast “TV-itis” is gaining a grip on the town.

This loathsome disease, if allowed to grow unchecked, will turn our youth into myopic, open-mouthed sheep, incapable of constructive thought and able only to soak up canned entertainment.

Educational value? I wonder!

Old Fashioned

March 3 1954

SIR – Your correspondent “Old Fashioned” is more than that – he is plain daft!

His fear that “TV-itis” will make the youth of today the myopic morons of tomorrow is just the unenlightened and unimaginative point of view through the ages of people who cannot tolerate the idea of progress or see the benefits of new inventions.

They said much the same of the coming of the gramophone, the cinema, and the radio, but is youth today any more myopic or incapable of constructive thought than the youth of 50 years ago?

Myself, I neither own a TV set nor am I still on the right side of 40 – but I do realise that I am living in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Old Young-un

March 10 1954

Hat stand

SIR – Being present at the unveiling of the plaque on Thursday last week on the Pantiles, I was surprised when the National Anthem was played to see that in a place like Tunbridge Wells, which is noted for its loyalty and calls itself “Royal”, there should be people who refused to remove their hats.

Are such people Communists? If they are, Tunbridge Wells should be no place for such as they. We can do without them.

Imperialist

June 14 1929

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

A chara, – Class sizes in Irish primary school classrooms have been the second highest in the European Union every year for two decades. The UK tops the league of shame, but at least there they employ a second adult in every classroom. In our context, no matter what economic circumstances we experience, any increase in primary school class size is a retrograde step. Strategic investment in primary education has stimulated economic success across the globe from Scandinavia to southern Asia. It makes perfect sense.

When Sheila Nunan (INTO) pointed out earlier this month that the current Government had actually increased class size in our small schools for the third year in succession she was highlighting the scandalous targeting of these schools by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

Schools with 84 pupils had four mainstream teachers in 2012. Their average class size was 21 pupils, notably with at least two different class groups in each classroom. In 2013, due to Government cutbacks, these schools now have only three mainstream teachers. Consequently their average class size has increased to 28 pupils. This is a year on year increase of 33 per cent.

As a result of this Government’s unequal treatment of small schools, many of which lie at the centre of our rural communities, the quality of primary education in these schools is being compromised.

The reversal of the cuts in small schools must be prioritised in 2014. Children in rural schools deserve the same educational opportunities as those in city suburbs such as Swords.

The EU average class size is less than 20. Ireland now languishes close to an average of 25. Research shows that smaller class sizes, particularly when children are young, produce better educational outcomes, with average students moving from the 50th percentile to above the 60th percentile on achievement tests.

Despite the obstacle of overcrowded classes in most of our Irish primary schools, Ireland’s education system has been remarkably successful, as evidenced by recent Pisa scores.

Imagine how bright the future would look if we had the political will to reduce our average class sizes to 20 like our European neighbours, our economic competitors. We’ve done it in our most disadvantaged schools and are already reaping the rewards. My vision is class sizes of 20 for every primary school pupil by 2020. All it would take is a reduction of one pupil per teacher every September beginning in 2014. As a starting point, surely we will cherish all the nation’s children equally (in big schools and in small schools) by 2016. – Yours, etc,

JOHN BOYLE,

Principal Teacher,

St Colmcille’s Junior

National School,

 

 

 

Sir, – “Taoiseach Enda Kenny has ruled out the prospect of allowing all citizens to vote in Seanad elections, saying it was not what the framers of the Constitution envisaged” (Stephen Collins, December 19th). What a silly justification of an arrogant position. The framers of the Constitution were men of their time, they are long dead and their time has passed. And there must be very few left who simply voted for it either, those who did are all over 98.

To my mind two things are essential for a reformed Seanad: every citizen of voting age should have a vote in its election and every citizen of voting age should be entitled to stand for election.

After that, everything about its election, composition, functions, powers and duties should be up for discussion. By all accounts the present Constitutional Council of 100 has been a success and, although I would not agree with all the recommendations it has made so far, I feel it would be the proper forum for this discussion.

Senator Zappone says (Home News, December 6th) that a simple legislative amendment could provide for direct elections to all of the 43 panel seats; if that is the case I echo her, “What is the delay?” – Yours, etc,

PN CORISH,

Oaklands Drive,

 

 

Sir, – The news that the St Vincent’s hospital CEO, Nicholas Jermyn, is receiving a pay package of close to €300,000 per annum, including “top-ups” of €156,000 approximately (Home News, December 24th) only continues the already notorious trend of health executives of whatever stripe paying themselves excessive salaries. Even the director of finance/company secretary and the director of nursing in St Vincent’s have got in on the act, receiving “top ups” of various amounts.

It is clear that the Department of Health is in serious financial trouble.

It has the biggest budget shortfall of any government department and some poor sick people are going to suffer when medical items and services are cut because of this situation. Minister for Health James Reilly does not inspire anybody with confidence that this task will be carried out efficiently and with the least inconvenience to all concerned.

I hope the PAC gets to the bottom of this scandal and see appropriate action is taken to remedy the situation and, ideally, that steps are taken to ensure a repetition does not occur. People making a living from the health service is one thing, people milking it is a different thing altogether. – Yours, etc,

LIAM COOKE,

Greencastle Avenue,

 

 

Sir, – The Gathering generated €170 million in tourism revenue (Home News, December 23rd). Perhaps it is now time for Gabriel Byrne to eat that humble pie? – Yours, etc,

URSULA HOUGH-

GORMLEY,

Sir, – David McConnell (Opinion, December 24th) argues, convincingly, the benefits of genetically modified (GM) food. He is less convincing when he asserts that it is safe. He points to a “consensus” that Europe has got it wrong, and “more than a decade of research” that, he says, has shown GM plants to be no less risky than others. But he offers no argument, no explanation.

Prof McConnell heaps scorn on “politicians and the media, one group as ill-informed as the other”. Of course, it isn’t easy to explain specialised scientific subjects to politicians, the media, or rest of us. But it has to be done. If science educators (of all people) merely rely on authority and don’t explain, we remain uninformed.

In a commencement address at Caltech in 2008, American journalist Robert Krulwich argued powerfully for the importance of science making its case well in the public arena. Like McConnell, Krulwich cited Galileo, who got into trouble precisely because he made his case so well, not only by dropping balls from Pisa’s famous tower, but also in writing that was gorgeous, poetic, combative . . . and ultimately persuasive. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN CONLON,

Dublin Road,

Shankill, Co Dublin.

 

 

 

A chara, – The stormy weather that we endured over the Christmas period was significant, not only for the damage and disruption that it caused, but also for the manner in which it highlighted the hypocritical and often vicious nature of large sections of the Irish media and Irish public life.

Not so long ago, during the recent dispute over the diminution of their pension rights, ESB engineers were the subject of some nasty headlines and reporting, accusing them of “holding the country to ransom” and labelling them as “greedy” and “grinches” that were out to steal Christmas.

Yet on Christmas Eve, as the majority of the rest of us were relaxing, doing some last-minute shopping, wrapping presents or maybe starting Christmas celebrations, the “grinches” were out all over the country, trying to restore power to thousands of families so that they could enjoy Christmas.

The next time a group of workers has the temerity to stand up for their agreed pension rights and conditions, perhaps our media could retain a little perspective and not cheer-lead a self-serving and puerile attack. – Is mise,

SIMON O’CONNOR,

Lismore Road,

 

Sir, – William Reville (Science, December 19th) extensively quoted Prof Mike Gibney’s assertion that many factors including genetics are key to tackling obesity and that focusing on socio-economic and food-chain factors are too simplistic.

Obesity is well acknowledged to be a complex problem with many factors influencing it. And while the role of genetics in weight gain is one important factor, in Ireland in the past 20 years, obesity has doubled in women and tripled in men. Worryingly, the National Pre-School Nutrition survey reported 6 per cent of three-year-olds are now obese, while one in four of our primary school children is overweight or obese. This is clearly not just a result of genetics.

Public health awareness campaigns have been developed with the aim of changing things we can actually change; the foods we eat and how active we are as families. We can’t change our genes. Our current Safefood campaign in partnership with Healthy Ireland was developed based on strong feedback from parents that they wanted a solutions-based approach and advice on how to make practical, sustainable changes to their everyday lifestyle habits.

Dr Reville expresses reservations about the socio-economic influences, yet current childhood obesity figures in Ireland clearly show gradients in levels of overweight and obesity by social class: boys and girls from professional households have the same probability of overweight or obesity (19 per cent boys/18 per cent girls) but for the unskilled group the comparable probabilities are 29 per cent of boys and 32 per cent of girls. This social class variation is also evident in adults where overweight and obesity is the norm and therefore levels are high in all social groups.

Dr Reville queries a focus on certain foods (“fast foods” and sugary drinks). However, the evidence base for an association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and overweight is robust. Similarly, health authorities including the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend very limited intake of foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Dr Reville does, however, usefully point out that overeating any food as well as the quality of foods is important.

Tackling an issue as complex as obesity requires a multi-pronged approach and halting or even slowing down overweight and obesity trends of the last 20 years won’t be easy. Food industry initiatives and Government policy form elements of the approach. Public awareness interventions focusing on our food choices and activity habits are also internationally recognised as an important step. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN HIGGINS,

Chief Executive Officer,

Sir, – William Reville (Science, December 19th) extensively quoted Prof Mike Gibney’s assertion that many factors including genetics are key to tackling obesity and that focusing on socio-economic and food-chain factors are too simplistic.

Obesity is well acknowledged to be a complex problem with many factors influencing it. And while the role of genetics in weight gain is one important factor, in Ireland in the past 20 years, obesity has doubled in women and tripled in men. Worryingly, the National Pre-School Nutrition survey reported 6 per cent of three-year-olds are now obese, while one in four of our primary school children is overweight or obese. This is clearly not just a result of genetics.

Public health awareness campaigns have been developed with the aim of changing things we can actually change; the foods we eat and how active we are as families. We can’t change our genes. Our current Safefood campaign in partnership with Healthy Ireland was developed based on strong feedback from parents that they wanted a solutions-based approach and advice on how to make practical, sustainable changes to their everyday lifestyle habits.

Dr Reville expresses reservations about the socio-economic influences, yet current childhood obesity figures in Ireland clearly show gradients in levels of overweight and obesity by social class: boys and girls from professional households have the same probability of overweight or obesity (19 per cent boys/18 per cent girls) but for the unskilled group the comparable probabilities are 29 per cent of boys and 32 per cent of girls. This social class variation is also evident in adults where overweight and obesity is the norm and therefore levels are high in all social groups.

Dr Reville queries a focus on certain foods (“fast foods” and sugary drinks). However, the evidence base for an association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and overweight is robust. Similarly, health authorities including the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend very limited intake of foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Dr Reville does, however, usefully point out that overeating any food as well as the quality of foods is important.

Tackling an issue as complex as obesity requires a multi-pronged approach and halting or even slowing down overweight and obesity trends of the last 20 years won’t be easy. Food industry initiatives and Government policy form elements of the approach. Public awareness interventions focusing on our food choices and activity habits are also internationally recognised as an important step. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN HIGGINS,

Chief Executive Officer,

 

 

 

Sir, – You re-published 40 of the year’s letters under the heading Letters 2013 (Opinion, December 27th), presumably to give a flavour of the year’s issues in brief. Of these some 80 per cent were from men. I think that it tells its own story, in brief. – Yours, etc,

EDITH WYNNE,

Terenure Road West,

Dublin 6W.

 

Sir, – I have been reading, with avid interest, accounts of the ethnic tensions emerging in the newly-established state of South Sudan. As a member of a congregation which has Sisters in Rumbek, in the Lakes District, and because of my studies about the Holocaust, I am extremely concerned about adverse political developments affecting the people of South Sudan.

How many times do we have to hear such stories of ethnic cleansing, and pose as bystanders, observing but doing little to counteract it?

Throughout history, we have seen situations such as the fate of the Jews in Nazi occupied territories in Europe, the victims of the Pol Pot Regime in Cambodia, the conflicts involving the Tutsi and Hutu tribes in Rwanda, the Kikuyu and Kalenjins in Kenya, Bosnians and Serbs in Srebenica.

What is happening to stop this relentless massacre in an age when we have every facility of communication, intervention, and dialogue available to us – more than in any other era?

I plead with whoever reads this to heed what is happening, to be informed about it, and to lobby where possible to effect peaceful solutions to this current conflict. In this season of peace and joy, can we hope that the voices of our 20,000 internally displaced people from Jonglei State to the Lakes State will be heard? – Yours, etc,

LOUISE O’SULLIVAN

IBVM, Loreto,

Sundrive Road,

 

 

Sir, – December 2013: the stock market up 35 per cent, a housing boom, income tax coming down and the Government throwing money at public service unions to avoid a strike. Whoopee! It’s 2003 all over again . . . – Yours, etc,

NORMAN DAVIES,

Belton Terrace,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

 

Sir, – The Santa Splash at Portrush (Front page, December 23d) and the contrasting peacefulness of Bunnacurry Church, Achill (Front page, December 24th) December) are excellent examples of your newspaper’s flair in selecting eye-catching photographs.

I’m sure, like me, many readers have been impressed by the variety of topics and subjects published over the past year such as the crowded beach in summer, the view from the top of Sugarloaf, Seamus Heaney’s funeral or some of the 300-plus others. A picture does paint a thousand words. Please keep up the good work in 2014. – Yours, etc,

CHRISTIE COLHOUN,

Cennick Grove,

Gracehill,

Ballymena,

Co Antrim.

 

Sir, – Now that The Gathering has been launched and we are once more asked to don the green shirt, I would encourage the Taoiseach to also extend a warm welcome to our tax exiles to return to Ireland and pay their taxes here. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK HARRINGTON,

Ballinteer Court,

Dublin 16.
Inside Irish beef burgers

Sir, – Fifty shades of neigh. – Yours, etc,

ANTOIN MULLEN,

Kinsealy Court,

Kinsealy, Co Dublin.
Cry of the ‘Skibbereen Eagle’

Sir, – Are we beginning to regain our confidence ? Apparently so , to judge by your headline, “Kerry vows to keep pressure on Iran” (Breaking News, January 25th). Let Putin beware. – Yours, etc,

ROBIN HARTE,

Strawberry Beds, Dublin 20.

February
Fast forward to
‘Irish Times’ in 2023

Sir, – The front page of the futuristic Irish Times is interesting. It suggests that in 2023 we will have reached Mars and be holidaying in Space. Looking at the banner photograph on the front page however shows one woman very much stuck in the past . . . smoking a cigarette in public . . . in 2023! – Yours, etc,

EMMELINE SEARSON,

Bru na Ghruadan,

Castletroy, Co Limerick.
Breathalysing Deputy Daly

Sir, – So gardaí breathalysed Clare Daly, and got a breath of fresh air. Why are we not surprised? – Yours, etc,

OLIVER DUFFY,

Fremont Drive,

Melbourn Estate, Cork.
O’Brien defamation
and a ‘free press’

Sir, – Denis O’Brien awarded €150,000. Unfortunately, that is all I can say. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN DEVITTE,

Mill Street, Westport,

Co Mayo.
Selling State assets

Sir, – As the troika is insisting that we sell State assets, why don’t we hold on to our trees and sell the State-owned banks? – Yours, etc,

AVRIL HEDDERMAN,

Priory Grove,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.
March
‘Provo’ car outrage

Sir, – Regarding the decision of Korean motor company Kia not to proceed with plans to name its new sports model “Provo” (Home News, March 6th): “Tiocfaidh ár carr”? – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Beacon Hill, Dalkey,

Co Dublin.
Property tax exemptions

Sir, – I note that houses in ghost estates are exempt from property tax (Politics, March 21st). A case of no taxation with visitation? – Yours, etc,

NIALL McARDLE,

Wellington Street,

Eganville,

Ontario, Canada .
Awash with the weather

Sir, – I see from the Front page (March 23rd) that among the items washed onto the N11 by the heavy rain were “tree particles”. Twigs’ bosons, perhaps? – Yours, etc,

MARK HAYDEN,

Rue des Epicéas, Brussels.
April
Trouble with threesomes

Sir, – Is today’s Ireland caught between the Trinity, the troika and the threesome? – Yours, etc,

MAOLSHEACHLANN

Ó CEALLAIGH,

Sillogue Gardens,

Ballymun, Dublin 11.
What of that?

Sir, – Does inserting an extra word in the Joyce coin (Home News, April 11th) constitute a form of “quantitative easing”, and so run foul of ECB rules? – Yours, etc,

FELIX M LARKIN,

Vale View Lawn,

Cabinteely, Dublin 18.
What of ‘that’?

Sir, – It would appear to me that it is no longer the story of “Why”, but the story of “That”. – Yours, etc,

ANE HASTIE,

Ballynerrin Lr, Wicklow.
May

Name for new Liffey bridge

Sir, – The suspension is killing me.- Yours, etc,

TOM GILSENAN,

Elm Mount,

Beaumont, Dublin 9.
Residence tax for emigrants

Sir, – Thanks to Ceire Sadlier and to The Irish Times for publishing her letter on May 13th, we too discovered that we were liable to pay the non principal private residence tax. It seems that The Irish Times Letters page is a more effective means of advertising this tax obligation than the local authorities’ choices so far. – Yours, etc,

THOMAS HUBERT &

MARY TRAYNOR,

Avenue Simon Bolivar,

Paris, France.
Shortage of humanist solemnisers

A chara, – Isn’t it ironic that humanist celebrants find themselves in limbo (Home News, May 27th) six years after the Vatican abolished it? – Is mise,

LOMAN O LOINGSIGH

Ellipper Road, Dublin 24.

June
Cuts in special needs assistance

Sir, – I assume the decision on supports for special needs primary school children makes Enda Kenny a Taoiseach who cares but not a caring Taoiseach. – Yours, etc,

DERMOT SHINNERS

-KENNEDY,

Ballysimon,

Limerick.
Hanging adverbs

Sir, – Paradoxically, while Frank McNally might sound like a hanging adverb, he is, in fact, a proper noun. – Yours, etc,

PÁDRAIC HARVEY

Bóthar an Chillín,

An Cheathrú Rua,

Co na Gaillimhe.
July
The dropping of O’Driscoll

Sir, – What . . .NO’Driscoll? – Yours, etc,

JOHN O’DONNELL,

Temple Villas,

Dublin 6.
Me Darwin, you Jane

Sir, – Would Charles Darwin regard the decision to replace him with Jane Austen on the £10 note (World News, July 25th) as evidence for or against the survival of the fittest? – Yours, etc,

EIMER

PHILBIN BOWMAN,

Pembroke Lane, Dublin 4.

August
Oh boy, it’s a GAL

Sir, – Is George Alexander Louis a good idea for naming a boy, initially? – yours, etc,

MICHAEL DUGGAN,

Kilcredan,

Ladysbridge, Co Cork.
Worship in a warehouse

Sir, – Fingal County Council is annoyed at people using warehouses to pray in (Home News, August 24th). Health and safety have been called in: presumably they have advised the users to get hold of some straw, and a couple of donkeys to keep the place warm. – Yours, etc,

KEN BUGGY,

Ballydubh Upper,

Co Waterford.
No country for ‘cavemen’?

Sir, – I write as a newly outed caveman. I have not had a television for 10 years or so, and do not miss it in the slightest. With the utmost troglodytic respect, Minister, if I am a Cro-Magnon, you, sir, are a Neanderthal. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK EDMOND

Ballymun Road,

Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

September
Remembering Seamus Heaney

Sir, – Seamus Heaney: “His coffin as befits a Giant seventy-four foot long. A foot for every year”. – Yours, etc,

DEREK SCANLAN,

Pleasants Street,

Portobello, Dublin 8.
Responsibility issues

Sir, – Fianna Fáil, the hierarchy, the bankers, the property speculators – they all have no difficulty in washing their hands of their responsibilities. Why can the medical professionals not follow suit? – Yours, etc,

GRAEME GUTHRIE,

Kilmeena,

Westport,

Co Mayo.
Something to tweet about

Sir, – The announcement that Twitter will employ an extra 100 individuals in Dublin is great (Business, September 25th). What a shame it did not stretch to 40 per cent more, as it could then have announced that its growth would lead to an extra 140 (real) characters here. – Yours, etc,

 

 

CONN CLISSMANN,

Citywest,

Dublin 24.

October
Aftermath of the
Seanad referendum

A chara, – Yes 19 per cent; No 20 per cent; Don’t care 61 per cent. – Is mise,

LOMAN O LOINGSIGH,

Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road, Dublin 24.

Sir, – Voting last Friday was like taking a Mensa test set by Éamon Ó Cuív. Did it have to be so hard? – Yours, etc,

MARK O’SULLIVAN,

Whitehall Road, Dublin 14.

Sir, – My commiserations to Taoiseach Enda Kenny on losing the Seanad referendum and the Senior All-Ireland football final. – Yours, etc,

DEREK HENRY CARR,

Harcourt Terrace,

Dublin 2.
‘Love/Hate’ cat saga

Sir, – As an animal lover I am comforted by the fact that according to the laws of quantum physics the now famous cat could, like Schrödinger’s cat, be both alive and dead at the same time. This should provide satisfaction for those on both sides of the argument. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN MANSFIELD,

Helvick,

Ring, Co Waterford.
Cuts and taxes in Budget 2014

Sir, – My mother will be spinning in her grave at the news of the bereavement grant being buried with her. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’DONOGHUE,

Ardnapondra,

Moate,

Co Westmeath.
Polyester Protestants and sectarianism

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,

VENETIA HILL,

Mulgrave Terrace,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.
Listening to calls of world leaders

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,

ROLAND EVANS,

Dundela Park,

Sandycove, Co Dublin.
Water, water . . . where?

Sir, – An excess of raw material causing a shortage of product. Well done, Dublin City Council (Home News, October 30th). – Yours, etc,

CONAN DOYLE,

Pococke Lower,

Kilkenny.
November
O’Toole’s 25 years a-commenting

Sir, – I put your supplement of “25 years of Irish life through the columns of Fintan O’Toole” (November 20th) to good cheerful use, this cold and wintry morning. I made paper sticks to light the fire. – Yours, etc,

KEITH NOLAN,

Caldragh,

Carrick-on-Shannon,

Co Leitrim.
The flight of the sparrows

Sir, – The appearance of a lone sparrow in Dublin Airport (Peter Pearson Evans, November 27th) answers the question about the disappearing flock. It is obvious they have taken flight and emigrated with the thousands of young Irish people who continue to leave the nest. – Yours, etc,

T McELLIGOTT,

Fortfield,

Raheen,

Limerick.
December
Troika turnoff

Sir, – When leaving the country, can the last member of the troika please switch out the lights? – Yours, etc,

WILLIE DILLON,

Coast Road,

Bettystown,

Co Meath.
Top-ups: the pantomime

Sir, – How heartening to hear that the CRC and HSE are getting into the spirit of pantomime season.

CRC: Oh yes you did!

HSE: Oh no we didn’t!

Repeat for comedic effect. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY MORAN,

Knocknacarra Park,

Salthill, Galway.
A selfie, or not a selfie?

Sir, – Might I suggest that as there were three people in the controversial photo (Robin Harte, December 12th & Life, December 11th) it might more appropriately be described as a groupie? – Yours, etc,

CIANA CAMPBELL,

Cahercalla,

Ennis,

Co Clare.
Pigeons and top-ups

Sir, – Recent top-up scandals provide reassuring evidence that, no matter how impoverished we become here in Ireland, we need never go hungry as, even after we’ve eaten all the pigeons (Home News, December 13th), there will still be plenty of fat cats. – Yours, etc,

FINBAR O’CONNOR,

Claude Road,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

As a term, it became sullied by the deeds of a few.

The broad history of Irish republicanism started to become lost in a mist of pedantic revisionism. Marginal points became major. Core points were lost.

The political party most associated with Ireland’s recent demise and longest in power continuing to label itself the ‘The Republican Party‘ seems amiss.

On the eve of a new year, it would be grand if we could spare a moment for the Republic.

Not wearing the over-priced strip of one of the international teams, nor embarrassingly stumbling through the words of Amhran na bhFiann at a GAA match or plying oneself wet on Arthur’s Day.

Rather, asking what it means to be republican — and an Irish one at that.

This is, after all, what we are: citizens of an Irish republic with an Irish republican Constitution and part of a greater European project. Our elite let us down recently. We let ourselves down. What matters, though, is being able to learn from it, grow and strive to do better next time.

The Irish take on republicanism is unique. Although inspired by the French, our attempt seems closer to the real thing. As for the US version, tea parties aren’t us.

Our version of republicanism is generally about being equals.

We really don’t do snobbery well; hence the slaggin’.

We seriously do, do freedom; hence the disproportionate success.

And yet, on the whole we never lose sight of our core belief in caring — fraternity, you might say.

Never let anyone tell you or make you feel that caring is weak. That being equal isn’t reality. That success isn’t possible.

It’s fine to be an Irish republican. You’re not Sinn Fein/IRA; you’re not a bigot when it comes to the British and you’re not Bertie Ahern‘s mob.

Let’s reclaim Irish republicanism, embrace it and work together to make our republic and all our island of Ireland great in 2014.

ADAM O HAODH

FRANCE

LITTLE TOWN, BETHLEHEM

* Christmas, 2013, and excited tourists are milling around Bethlehem’s Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and enjoying the marching bands and scout troops performing next to the large tree in front of the Church of the Nativity.

Some 25,000 visitors are expected this year, up from recent years but way below the crowds that filled the area between 1967 and 2000.

In 1967, Christians made up 80pc of Bethlehem’s population.

During the period from the Six-Day War to Arafat’s intifada, there were no barriers to traffic between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. Muslims, Christians and Jews travelled back and forth to work, shop and play.

Everyone benefited.

The 1993-95 Oslo Accords marked the beginning of the end of Christian Bethlehem.

Bethlehem’s Christians were forced out and the PLO confiscated their properties. As conditions worsened, more families, who had lived there for centuries, fled. Today, Bethlehem is predominantly Muslim.

In 2000, following the Camp David talks between Clinton, Arafat and Barak, Arafat began the second Intifada.

This ended the peaceful commerce the region had enjoyed and Bethlehem became more isolated. Even the Church of the Nativity was later over-run and desecrated by PLO fighters.

Israel built the security barrier to thwart terror attacks, and it has been relatively effective.

The passage through the barrier near Bethlehem is lightly guarded and traffic flows through, slowing but rarely stopping.

At this time of year, we can all hope for success in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

LEN BENNETT

MONTREAL

NEW YEAR, NEW FUTURE

* As we get ready for a new year, it might be useful to reflect on some of the opportunities we will have to help shape our future.

In 2014, we have the opportunity to elect 950 local councillors and 11 Irish members of the European Parliament. Politicians are not universally popular at the moment, but we should remember the political choices we make do shape our future.

Our local councillors have an important say in local planning and environmental issues and the MEPs will play an important part in shaping international issues, such as trade and research policies.

During the coming year the Government will review Ireland’s foreign policy. This is important, as our foreign policy is an expression of who we want to be as a people. The global economy determines our economic prosperity and our foreign policy can help shape the global political framework we need to face the challenges of a rapidly changing international system.

Hopefully, in 2014, we will use our power as citizens of a democracy to benefit not just ourselves, but the planet and those without a say, too.

HANS ZOMER

DIRECTOR DOCHAS

NO MEN ALLOWED HERE

* I read with great interest Martina Devlin’s article about the Neanderthal and sexist men who run the various swimming clubs in this country and her call for state bodies to ensure they do all they can for equality. A great piece of journalism.

I wait eagerly for her next article on the organisations run by women which are equally as bad; I refer to the likes of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. No men allowed here. Why even our national broadcaster, RTE, has been caught up in this sexist organisation by giving it its own television show, ‘ICA Bootcamp’.

As a TV licence payer, I am disgusted to think my money is used to support an organisation that excludes men. I am sure Martina intends to give the same coverage to a sexist women’s organisation as she did to men’s ones.

PS. Anybody got an application form for CURVES?

VINCENT RYAN

NAVAN, CO MEATH

KEEP THE PARTY GOING

* Jose Manuel Barosso was quite rightly apoplectic and inconsolable; Herman Achille Van Rompuy was incandescent with indignation; Olli Rehn was incensed and infuriated; Mario Draghi was extremely vexed; while Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble were exasperated to the point of rage.

No doubt all of this due to some pending nuclear attack by Iran, eruptions in the Middle East, problems with the ESM, the ESFM, the EFSF or the backstop, or maybe those Russians are again muscling in on EU territory?

No, simply our own great leader Enda Kenny omitted to invite them to Paddy’s bailout exit party.

Such a gaffe represents a major diplomatic faux pas in the galaxy inhabited by these pygmaean giants, who stride across the continents making all those nasty austerity decisions designed to screw unrepentant Paddy for screwing up Europe in the first place.

Not to worry, our Enda and Michael are in recovery mode and have it sorted; they will be flying out to Brussels at the first opportunity in the two government jets.

We can console ourselves as we are in good hands — compliant and submissive Paddy will meekly step back in his box and normal business will resume.

Meanwhile, back in the stable, Jesus wept, uncontrollably.

JOHN HEALY

CORK

 

Boxing Day

December 27, 2013

27 December 2013 Boxing Day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a secret mission for Troutbridge, will she survive it after her refit?

Priceless.

Potter around sort itunes and google

Scrabbletoday I winand gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Alan Brooke Turner, who has died aged 87, served in diplomatic posts in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the years of the Cold War.

The first of Brooke Turner’s postings to Moscow was from 1962 to 1965, when he served as Cultural Attaché. The Soviet capital was then a place of acute shortages; there was, for example, only one functioning petrol station, in Gorky Square, which could be used only by VIPs and diplomats. Filling his car with petrol one evening, Brooke Turner found himself opposite a young man vigorously pumping the lever to move fuel into a glass balloon above the pump to then fill his car. As they stared at one another across the courtyard, Yuri Gagarin looked wistfully at Brooke Turner and said: “Well, it worked in space.”

The role of culture in the Soviet Union was vital to the thawing of the Cold War in the 1960s, and Brooke Turner invited many of Britain’s leading actors and artists to Moscow. On one occasion he was asked by John Gielgud to visit Marlene Dietrich, who was coming to the city to appear in a show. She arrived in her dressing room dressed in a khaki coat and carrying a heavy bucket. “It’s a good job I was in the Army and I can look after myself,” she said, as she began to wash off her make-up with the cold water.

Alan Brooke Turner was born on January 4 1926 and educated at Marlborough. In 1944 — a year after his brother, Evelyn, had been killed flying a Spitfire — he joined the RAF, and watched the end of the war as a young trainee pilot based in Cumbria. The RAF then sent him to Cambridge to learn Russian under Dame Elizabeth Hill, who in 1948 would become the university’s first Professor of Slavonic Studies. Brooke Turner (who also spoke French and German) was then dispatched, in 1947, to the Berlin Air Safety Centre, where he helped to prevent air accidents over Tempelhof airport.

After leaving the RAF, Brooke Turner went up to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Latin and Greek, graduating with a double first in 1951. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1951 and was part of the UK delegation to the Nuclear Tests Conference in Geneva. In 1953 he was posted to Warsaw, where he met his wife Hazel, who was in the Polish capital working for MI6. Throughout their courtship they were “chaperoned” by the Polish secret police, who followed them when they were enjoying picnics or sightseeing. On their marriage in 1954, Hazel was obliged to resign from MI6.

A posting to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia followed, but the British mission was expelled during the Suez Crisis — after a senior colleague had memorably instructed Brooke Turner: “Do nothing, it’ll all blow over in a day or two.” After a spell in Lisbon, he was sent to Moscow.

In 1968 Brooke Turner was dispatched to study at the School of International Affairs at Harvard University, followed by a posting to Rio de Janeiro, and then several enjoyable years in Rome, where he could indulge his love of antiquity and culture.

In 1976 he became Director of Studies at the Nato Defense College in Rome. Later in life he was periodically called upon as an adviser when Nato ran elaborate theoretical war games simulating a Soviet invasion of western Europe. His role was to decide which moves would be typical of the players in the “great game”.

His second tour in Moscow (1979-82) was dominated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The thaw in Anglo-Soviet relations which had begun in the 1960s had ended, and it was a tense period for Brooke Turner and his fellow diplomats. He described once being taken to see the editor of Pravda, and on passing the fully set printing plates, asked what was in tomorrow’s edition. “I don’t know,” came the reply, “that is next week’s.”

Brooke Turner was appointed CMG in 1980, and his final posting, in 1983, was as Ambassador to Finland, a country he had first visited in 1946. There he saw glasnost unfold under Gorbachev across the border in the Soviet Union.

After his retirement in 1985, Brooke Turner became director of the Great Britain/East Europe Centre (now the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe, or BACEE). When, in 1989, the Soviet Empire collapsed BACEE brought representatives from these emerging democracies to Britain for week-long seminars on aspects of parliamentary practice and democracy.

Although very successful, these tightly scheduled programmes did not allow for shopping — which caused a rash of absenteeism by some delegates. Brooke Turner quickly realised that an afternoon in the West End demonstrated the benefits of capitalism better than a talk from an MP.

Brooke Turner finally retired in 1995, but he remained involved in Anglo-Russian life, the Diocesan Synod and in supporting cultural events near his home in Surrey.

He is survived by his wife and by their two sons and two daughters.

Alan Brooke Turner, born January 4 1926, died October 5 2013

 

Guardian:

 

Chris Huhne is right to criticise successive governments’ failure to tackle the growing load on younger people that results from fear of the grey vote. While illustrating the intergenerational injustice, he forgets that half of the problem (and the opportunity for its solution) lies in the even more striking inequity in the distribution of wealth within that older generation – even greater in the large cohort of baby boomers in their wake. Among those currently over 50, the top 50% have over 90% of the assets; the wealthiest 25% has five times that of the lowest 25%. Those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed free university education have four times the wealth of those who went out to work at 15 to help pay for us, not to mention our considerably better life expectancy. It is not all the old who are “short-sighted”; it is those with most of the assets.

The answer to Huhne’s conundrum is therefore in each generation picking up some of its pension and heavier health and social care costs by each of us contributing 15% of our wealth as we reach 65. As Huhne points out, most of those health and social care costs accrue in the last year or two of life, so the money only needs to be collected after we die. This would put social care on a par with health care (especially for conditions like Alzheimer’s) and would balance the equation for population bulges like the baby boomers. It would be nice to think that this rekindling of the cooperative spirit that so benefited our generation after the war would make the 15% subscription palatable, especially if bus passes were seen as part of the package.

This “insurance for old age” still leaves most of our assets (and for the top 5%, hundreds of thousands of pounds) untouched. I am sure it was only an oversight that got Chris Huhne through his piece without a mention of inheritance tax. That should remain but one advantage of assessing wealth at 65 is that it makes avoidance less easy (and hopefully less acceptable).
Colin Godber
Winchester, Hampshire

• I am over 65. For the first decade of my working life I paid the basic rate of income tax at 33%, decreasing over my working life to the current rate. A rough calculation tells me I have paid significantly more into the Exchequer than those will who started paying tax at today’s much lower rate. I have never complained about this. I hold the wildly unfashionable view that income tax should go up, not down. While the basic rate of income tax remains at the current level, what do we expect? If you want more out of the system, start putting more in.

And here’s another thing. My husband and I haven’t complained about providing the deposits for two of our children’s first home purchases. Neither are we muttering about the holidays we forego as we save for our grandchildren’s future higher education costs. As with everything else in these benighted times of the coalition government (yes, your lot, Mr Huhne), support to the younger generation has become privatised along with the rest. Older people may be taking out of the state what they have put in over their lifetimes, but we are also giving crucial educational, social and housing help to our children and grandchildren out of our own pockets in the face of this government’s dereliction of duty. And here’s the last thing. Do you seriously expect us to believe that benefits cut from older people would be redistributed to the young? By this government? Come off it.
Chris Scarlett
Sheffield

Chris Huhne is the latest in a growing number of misinformed politicians trying to argue that younger people are suffering under austerity because the nation is pandering to pensioners. The truth is that 60% of older people have an annual income of less than £10,500, one million suffer from fuel poverty and most live with a long-term disability or illness. Since 2010, they have also experienced lower pension increases, cuts to the winter fuel allowance, a freeze on tax allowances and reductions in social care services. Contrary to his suggestion, older people care about the younger generation. They want them to have a decent education, good jobs and somewhere affordable to live. They also share concerns about public transport, the retirement age and low wages. Yet Huhne misleads by saying that more than half of all welfare payments go to pensioners. This is only true if you include the state pension – which, of course, you only receive if you have made contributions over a lifetime at work. Let’s unite the generations against austerity rather than trying to push them apart.
Dot Gibson
General secretary, National Pensioners Convention

• In 2005, Ajay Kapur came up with the term “plutonomy” to describe a country defined by massive income and wealth inequality. The state of the economy is determined by how far those ostensibly in government “pander” (to quote Huhne’s invidious term) to the plutocracy rather than to pensioners. And the democracy which, according to thinkers of Huhne’s ilk, is skewed by the voting habits of the old, has virtually no impact on this unfair distribution of wealth. But until this wealth inequality is fixed, I shall not submit to blackmail and will continue to use my bus pass and avail myself of NHS services with a relatively clear conscience.
David Walker
Sheffield

• Doesn’t it occur to him that many of us are desperately concerned for the plight of our children and grandchildren and the future of the planet for all our descendants? We would willingly be means tested or pay higher taxes to help them. Don’t blame us because Cameron will grovel anywhere he thinks will win votes.
Jean Cardy
Barnet, Hertfordshire

 

Chris Huhne’s rant shows a disturbing lack of understanding of a key area of public policy. Contrasting “the old” against “the young” makes little sense when the inequalities within age groups are now just as great as those between them. He seems to suggest public spending is part of a “zero-sum” game where spending on one “generation” means less for another, despite evidence to the contrary from surveys of how welfare states actually operate. And he ignores the compelling evidence showing older people as active participants within work, families and communities – illustrating the extent of cohesion and reciprocity which exists within ageing societies.

But the equally good news is that what works in policy terms for older people is pretty good for younger people too, that is: lifelong education, quality jobs, a fairer system of taxation, housing to suit groups at different stages of their life, and of course a properly resourced NHS. The Lib Dems are currently running an inquiry into the “ageing society’. Hopefully, it will provide a more balanced approach than Mr Huhne’s article.
Professor Chris Phillipson
University of Manchester

• Chris Huhne laments the fact the young don’t vote. Many first-time voters voted Lib Dem at the last election because of their commitment not to raise tuition fees. By the time freshers’ week was over they’d broken their promise, and what’s more justified it with spurious reasons as to why their solemn pledge was not binding. If Huhne wants the young to engage politically, surely the answer to the alleged grip of the old, he should look at his own party, whose treacherous behaviour has alienated a whole generation of new voters.
Jacky Davis
London

 

 

So at last one of this government’s supporters has come out and said it clearly: “All you old people, go away and die!” (Someone needs to fight the selfish, short-sighted old, 23 December). Well, I have got news for you, Chris Huhne: we are not going to simply go away and die quietly. We oldies lived through the war and grew up during the tough postwar years which saw the creation of the welfare state and hope of a fairer society. We signed up to the social contract, paid our taxes and social security contributions, did our national service and now we expect the government to honour its side of the bargain. We are not going to stand idly by while Mr Huhne and supporters of this government of the rich and privileged try to slide out of that contract by putting forward specious arguments about fairness.

Mr Huhne, reportedly a millionaire and owner of seven homes, cites examples of policy areas where he claims the interests of the young are being marginalised in order to “kowtow” to the interests of a “gerontocracy”. However, the revealing thing is that if, in each example where he uses the word “old”, you substitute the word “wealthy”, his real argument becomes crystal clear. What he really cares about is not the marginalisation of the young but the interests of the rich. It is just another example of the rich and privileged pretending to be concerned about the interests of the less well-off while trying to protect their own interests and those of their wealthy friends.
Michael Darlow
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

• I read with interest Mr Huhne’s article aimed at me, one of the so-called “selfish short-sighted old”. However, only one of those adjectives apply to me and that is the one that states I am old (70+). Having a large family myself, made up of many age groups, I see first-hand how my own children will never benefit from the things I am privileged to have and how my grandchildren do not have the security of work, nor can easily buy their own homes, things that I enjoyed throughout my lifetime. I realise that this is a political decision to keep us thus protected from everything while younger generations struggle to maintain us in the manner to which we have become accustomed. And, furthermore, we are kept alive, often long past our sell-by date, taking unprecedented amounts of money from the NHS, well above any amount that we could possibly have paid in for.

Unfortunately, I am in a minority among my peers who, yes, selfishly tell themselves that they are entitled to all these things because they have paid in for them over the years. We need to hear a lot more around the issues bought up in Mr Huhne’s article and maybe eventually it will cause a few more of us to understand that we cannot carry on to the end of our days being a burden to the rest of the country.
Val Efford
Ickleford, Hertfordshire

• I was not happy when Chris Huhne began writing a column in the Guardian, but after his article I am considering cancelling our subscription. To describe my generation as “selfish and short-sighted” is a disgraceful slur. We are not all like him. Like many, I have protested via petitions, writing to my MP and marching on the very issues he writes about, not because I am selfish and short-sighted‚ but because I want the young people of this country to have the same rights as I have had: the right to buy houses at decent prices, access to a free, excellent NHS, a good education for all regardless of social background and, of course, protection of the planet for future generations.

Most of my retired friends do voluntary work and/or support their children by providing childcare, often using senior travel passes to do so. Like many I know, my winter fuel allowance has gone to charity. All this article does is provide another target. First the poor were “scroungers”‚ now the old. My husband and I have already suffered verbal abuse from someone addressing us as “parasites” because of our age.
Christine Lomax
Stockport

• If I am one of those requiring the NHS to care for me in the last years of my life, that is what I will have paid NI and tax towards all my working life (which for many pensioners started at age 14), as well as to keep it available to those too young to have paid at all yet, if they need it. This is why, when two close family members needed extended care till their deaths at early ages, that care was available without any queries about whether they had paid enough to merit it. Huhne must be aware of the parlous state and cost of care provision for elderly people, so to attack us as selfish adds insult to injury. Like many parents, I am heavily subsidising the lives of my hard-working children, even into their middle age, and the ridiculous rise in the price of my house, simply because I stayed there for 30 years, is more likely to benefit them on my death than me during my lifetime. I have consistently opposed, at the ballot box, the parties most to blame for these policies, and deplore the situation young people find themselves in. I don’t know what else I can do, but I will not apologise or accept attack, simply for having grown old.
Jill Wallis
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

 

The rehabilitation of offenders is a solid virtue. But I begrudge that part of the £1.40 a day I spend on my Guardian that goes to support Chris Huhne’s surreptitious sidle back into the limelight. The attack on the welfare state by the government he was part of aims to hurt the poorest in our community, old or young. He is trying to set against one another those of us who reject his simplistic either/or approach and who are working to sustain the welfare safety net for all who need it.
Nik Wood
London

• I see Chris Huhne’s still trying to load the blame on to others. Interesting to compare his belligerence with Vicky Pryce’s concerns about prisons and prisoners. Prison clearly didn’t work for him.
Rev Peter Phillips
Swansea (retired prison chaplain)

• I can think of few people less entitled to lecture others on any subject related to morality.
Joyce Brand
Ludlow, Shropshire

• Another fine article from Chris Huhne – an incisive analysis of how electoral arithmetic creates a skewing of political influence towards the older generation. If nothing else, this article should be a rallying cry for the younger generation to vote in much greater numbers.
Dr Martin Treacy
Cardigan, Ceredigion

• I have every sympathy for the young these days. I have regular savings accounts for both my granddaughters in the hope that as a family we can scrape together enough to give them a university education. This despite the fact that governments, both Tory and New Labour, have manipulated the interest rates so that my savings are shrinking, while young housebuyers benefit from the lowest mortgage rates on record.
Elizabeth Cassell
University of Essex

• So older people are responsible for most of the ills that beset the UK? None of these things could be due to the policies of the coalition government, could they? I’m surprised Huhne didn’t blame older people for the poor performance of the Ashes cricket team or England’s poor prospects in Brazil.
Michael Pidd

 

 

 

Independent:

 

 

 

 

Andreas Whittam Smith (20 December) bemoans the decline of Christianity throughout Europe, but fails to address the cause. This is simply that Christianity has lost the intellectual argument, and now relies on tradition and emotion to keep going.

In earlier centuries, God was needed as an explanation for what we did not understand. But our scientific understanding has now grown to the extent that we no longer see the need for a deity to explain any phenomenon. It is not that science has explained everything; rather that we can now see the futility of plugging the remaining gaps in our knowledge with the supernatural.

Nor does turning to the New Testament any longer offer the honest believer any hope. Modern New Testament scholars recognise that the historical Jesus was a very different figure from the Jesus of faith. The former was a devout Jew, who never intended to found a religion outside Judaism, and who believed that God’s kingdom was about to come on Earth – a prediction that failed to come true. The latter figure is largely a construction of later followers, from St Paul onwards.

David Love

Torquay, Devon

 

A couple I know attended their local Methodist church for many years, playing a large role in its music-making and pastoral care. Their reasons for attending that church were their desire to worship with a congregation which shared their faith and with ministers who brought a deep and thoughtful level of substance to the sermons and activities of the church. They left recently, along with many others, when a new minister arrived trying to engage with the young generation.

In the pursuit of families the sermons became bland and simple, the content of the music became poor and the long-serving volunteers were brushed aside. That church is now struggling.

Most churches can’t put on a show to rival modern entertainments, but in the pursuit of this aim there is less time for enlightening and thoughtful words. People grow into or return to the church as they experience life and feel the need to explore a different dimension to their lives. When the church fails to put flesh on the bones of the questions these people ask it becomes irrelevant.

Jonathan Allen

Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

 

Perhaps children are not going to church because they see no evidence of the existence of God or that prayers to him are answered, but plenty of evidence of people conducting their lives in a manner blatantly at variance with the doctrines they supposedly believe in.

Julien Evans

Chesham, Buckinghamshire

 

BRITAIN’S UGLY BUILDINGS

As an architect, I have great sympathy with Alain de Botton’s comments (4 December). However nothing is likely to change fundamentally in our construction industry as a result of Sir Terry Farrell’s report, until our population begins to appreciate the benefits of living and working in a good environment. To many, good design is confused with kudos or ego – the smart car parked in the drive of a developer’s boxy house.

At the heart of our problems are the methods we use to procure many of our buildings. This is particularly true in the pubic sector. Working for a main building contractor, I see it first hand. Crucial design decisions affecting the lives of many people are frequently made by government officials with no training in design.

Today the only items on the agenda are process and bureaucracy. The end product, a piece of architecture, is totally subordinated and lost. And sadly, nobody appears to have noticed its absence.

Peter Gibson

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

 

 

WHO PAYS TO KEEP THEATRES SAFE?

Of course, any period property is expensive to maintain. Alice Jones (21 December), commenting on the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London, says: “Spending on restoration (must be) prioritised. If private investors lack the resources, then the Government must step in to assist.”

This, I think, is already done in the case of royal palaces, but I wonder if it would be wise to extend the system to all period property. Would this not represent a further transfer of resources from taxpayers to wealthy individuals and corporations?

David Culver

London SE9

 

 

MUSLIM STAFF AT THE CHECKOUT

Marks and Spencer have overplayed their hand in their decision to allow Muslim staff to refuse to handle pork or alcohol products; moving them into different sections does not amend the mistake.

It is unfortunate that a small number of religious people choose to interpret their doctrines as having no room for the rights of others, and that they are encouraged to do so by well-meaning but deluded liberals.

For a shop as well established as M&S to allow them is even worse. Plenty of people are required to do things during their working lives which they do not choose to do in their private lives; it is called being professional. Nobody is asking the staff to consume the products, only to touch the packaging. If people’s views are really so intolerant as not to be able to do that, then perhaps they should work elsewhere.

There are halal and kosher meat providers who are allowed to only employ people of their own faith (no double standards there!) so why not work for them if mainstream British stores are too offensive?

In the meantime people should boycott M&S until they rescind such a backward policy. Pandering to the most extreme elements does not help social inclusion.

Sally Bland

Orpington, Kent

 

 

TIME IS UP FOR PRIVATISATION

Despite their huge profits, in the face of weather chaos, Britain’s privatised utilities and public services are letting the country down once again. Already facing soaring bills, electricity customers have been literally left in the dark, while the privatised National Grid can barely cope with demand even in normal conditions. All this despite two decades of private management which promised, but plainly did not deliver, improved, cheaper energy supply.

The worst offenders are the airports and railways, where customers have been let down in the Christmas storms with a lack of coordinated information due to the fragmented structure of the industry. Time and time again, in the face of even light snowfall or heavy rainfall, the privatised public services have proved they are not up to the job.

It is time to consider bringing the majority of major utilities and transport services under state control or merging them into larger units with vertically integrated command and control structures.  Time is up for privatisation; it is a dogma whose abysmal record in ripping off the public while letting down the bill-payer and pocketing the spoils says it all.

Never mind the wrong kind of snow, Britain has the wrong type of profit-driven public services and it is time to pull the plug on them all.

Anthony Rodriguez

Staines, Middlesex

 

 

RATTLING THE BONES OF T E LAWRENCE

It would be heartening to think that David Cameron’s enthusiasm for Lawrence of Arabia was due to his admiration for this intelligent, complex man, whose knowledge, empathy and understanding of Arab culture gave him the unique distinction of having been able to unite the Arab tribes of Mesopotamia against a common foe, the Ottoman Turks, in 1916-18.

In Cameron’s whizzy plans for the centenary of the First World War, will he be celebrating the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France managed to carve up what was Mesopotamia, thereby sowing the seeds of much of the present-day Middle Eastern conflicts?

Brothers are not always the best assessors of every aspect of each other’s character (Letters, 18 December) and Peter O’Toole’s brilliant performance as Lawrence did capture much of the essence of a man who was so upset by the British establishment’s treatment of Faisal and the Arabs that he left the Army, changed his name and “backed into the limelight”.

Lawrence himself said, “After I’m dead, they’ll rattle my bones about, in their curiosity.” He was right.

Sue Breadner

Douglas, Isle of Man

 

 

TRAPPED AT HOME AT CHRISTMAS

It is Carol Wood’s attitude (Letters, 23 December), not Gudrun Parasie’s, that is self-serving, and indeed selfish. Not a thought for people on their own and without transport who are unable to visit friends at Christmas because there is no way to reach them.

When I was young, in the 1950s and ’60s, there was limited public transport, including rail services, on Christmas Day; but not any more. We are all expected to cocoon ourselves within our so-called “families” and “stop, think and enjoy life”, as Ms Wood puts it.

Nick Chadwick

Oxford

 

 

Times:

 

Sir, Iain Duncan Smith claims that some food banks are making their “political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear” (report, Dec 23). We have run the Community Emergency Food-bank (CEF) in Oxford for the past six years and since it began it has provided food for more than 11,000 people. CEF is independent of campaigning groups.

The reasons for the rise in the number of claimants are complex, and seeking to highlight welfare reform is simplistic. In the unlikely event that the provision of welfare benefits was to be substantially increased, the need for food banks would continue unabated because no government of any stripe could create a system of relief that caters for the myriad of human dramas — prison, gambling, drugs, desertion, gaps in benefit provision, sudden job loss, and unforeseen misfortune — that afflict families. Further, the substantial publicity surrounding the rise of food banks in general has advertised the availability of the service, hence the marked increase in the number of applicants.

Tom Benyon

Sir, To accuse Fareshare of “scaremondering” is a travesty of common sense at anytime of year but especially at Christmas, when good cheer is as about as remote as food on the table for many.

As a volunteer for ReadiFood, a food bank that delivers to some 110 individuals and families per week in the Reading area, I have spent much of my free time this year, as have many other volunteers, working with Fareshare and other local agencies, trying to meet the very real challenge of feeding the needy.

The Trussell Tust, FareShare and ReadiFood are not imagining these figures — they are real, and Mr Duncan Smith should recognise this.

Chris Cordrey

Wargrave, Berks

Sir, Religion is an abundant source of social capital (“Doing good is religion’s best recruiting tool”, Libby Purves, Opinion, Dec 23). Research from Professor Robert Putnam, the eminent sociologist, has shown that religious people are more likely to volunteer, give charity, help someone in need and “do good”. He argues furthermore that within a community there is competitive emulation, meaning that people seek to be the most virtuous person in their social grouping.

A report this year from the think-tank ResPublica shows that 79 per cent of Anglican congregations formally volunteer compared with only 49 per cent of the general public. Much of this “active citizenship” takes place locally and quietly, without fanfare, in thousands of communities across the UK.

This is of massive value, especially in austere economic times and for people reliant of foodbanks. Religion builds community and belonging, which is the wellspring of social good in so many communities around the UK.

Zaki Cooper

London NW4

 

 

Sir, According to Helmut Schmidt, in the 19th century Britain was the most advanced engineering nation in the world but now “it has more or less given up on engineering and replaced it with finance”.

It’s certainly true to say that engineering has been neglected by recent governments, which is why organisations like the Institution of Engineering and Technology have been working so hard to put it back on the agenda and make sure that the UK doesn’t give up on engineering. As a result, there are encouraging signs that things are starting to change. New orders for UK manufacturing in November 2013 were the strongest for almost 20 years — and job creation also accelerated. The recently published Perkins Review promises £200 million of government funding to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching in universities — and to raise the profiles of engineering careers. There is also a planned £30 million of investment to develop engineering in sectors suffering acute shortages.

Clearly, there is still a lot of lost time to make up for, but the UK hasn’t given up on engineering in favour of finance. In fact, given the pitiful performance of the finance sector in recent years, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the UK is slowly starting to recognise that engineering will play a vital and central role in our future economic growth.

Barry Brooks

President, Institution of Engineering and Technology

 

Sir, Hugh Thomson (Opinion, Dec 26) writes as though the “Right to Roam” Act of 2000 is an unmitigated good. Some may disagree. There was plenty of public access available before 2000, and the Act will serve to destroy some of the few wilderness areas uncontaminated by man that remain in Britain.

Genuine lovers of the countryside who are not politically motivated recognise that sometimes the best thing to do with the natural environment is to leave it alone.

David Harris

London SW13

 

 

Sir, Your report on improvements to the adoption recruitment system (“Parents to adopt online”, Dec 24) neglected to mention that it is not just a local authority that can recruit and approve potential adopters. There are many non-statutory adoption agencies (for example, Barnardo’s) that operate throughout the country.

The Government has funded a dedicated information service called First4Adoption which provides advice and guidance for people interested in adopting a child, including suggestions about the most appropriate adoption agencies in their area (including the non-statutory agencies) to contact.

Pete Bentley

(Adoption consultant)

Seaton Sluice, Northumberland

 

Sir, You say (“Barristers say ‘no’ and put fraud trials in jeopardy”, Dec 23) that 17 chambers have refused to provide barristers for a very complicated fraud case. What a disgraceful state of affairs. And how has this been allowed to happen? Cut after cut in legal aid, and a government and Justice Secretary who refuse to listen to genuine concerns from the legal profession. There has just been a vote of no confidence in the chief executive and president of the Law society by solicitors, and criminal barristers will be on “strike” on January 6. This from members of a profession who never normally get together to protest. What more do they have to do to underline the seriousness of their concerns that the best legal system in the world is now under threat?

Sue Wood

Radlett, Herts

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – Tory MPs campaigning for the Government to scrap VAT on energy bills are targeting the wrong tax if they mean to alleviate energy price rises in the long term.

Instead they should call for the scrapping of the new carbon price floor, which was introduced by the Government in April and which will force bills to rise quickly.

The carbon price floor taxes emissions from Britain’s coal-fired and gas-fired power stations, which provide over 70 per cent of UK electricity generation, starting at £16 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted this year and rising to £30 per ton in 2020.

This tax will raise more than £4 billion for the Government over the next four years but increasingly ramp up electricity bills as generators pass the costs on to consumers.

Britain’s carbon taxes are now four times higher than those in the rest of Europe; this makes Britain increasingly uncompetitive and is leading to some manufacturers relocating due to rising costs. Britain should enjoy the same carbon taxes as the rest of Europe so to enjoy a level playing field amongst our nearest economic competitors and help keep energy costs down.

Tony Lodge
Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies
London SW1

SIR – Everyone agrees that energy bills are unpalatably high in these difficult economic times. The policy prescriptions of both Labour (freezing prices) and the Coalition (encouraging more suppliers by excusing them from environmental and social costs) assume insufficient competition and excess profits. Yet, despite best efforts, no evidence has ever been found for this.

Again, contrary to loudly trumpeted preconceptions, the energy market is more transparent than any other competitive market, with the regulator publishing annually the accounts of the Big Six separately for their generation and retail businesses.

Isn’t it time we started instead to look at explanations where there is hard evidence and debate what can be done about those? This would be a lot less popular than blaming the energy companies, for any solution will upset some interest group. But it would be more productive.

David Mannering
Chippenham, Wiltshire

 

SIR – The Palace of Westminster needs major renovation, requiring both Houses to relocate to temporary accommodation for several years. Wouldn’t it be better to relocate Parliament away from London permanently, where it could stimulate the local economy and, hopefully, reduce the trend for everything to move to London?

Several other countries separate their commercial and political capitals: Washington and New York; Rome and Milan/Turin; Beijing and Shanghai; Madrid and Barcelona. As a newly built seat of government, Astana in Kazakhstan has been a success.

The Palace of Westminster could be redeveloped as a cultural centre or hotel to maximise its income potential. A modern parliament building would be far more suitable for its purpose.

Richard Milller
Reading, Berkshire

 

SIR – Like many disabled people, I am grateful for the parking privileges given by the Government’s Blue Badge scheme, without which my life would be much more restricted. It is also sensible for the Department of Transport to have decided to tighten up on the issuing, renewal and general misuse of these badges.

Unfortunately the new measures taken are a serious blow to the genuinely disabled. The service has been privatised this year, and many of us must now attend a panel for medical assessment. But the service is too overwhelmed to cope.

I have been a disabled badge-holder for seven years, and I returned my application for renewal as soon as it was sent me. It has been with the local office for nearly six weeks, and I have not yet even received an appointment for the assessment panel.

The badge expired yesterday, but I am told to expect a “considerable” delay before there is even a possibility of a new one being issued. Meanwhile, I shall apparently be fined if caught using an out-of-date badge in a restricted area, and prosecuted if I refuse to pay the fine.

The Department for Transport already has a simple solution to a similar problem. Those who must renew a driving licence every three years for medical reasons are allowed to continue driving on an expired licence, providing the application for renewal has been received by the DVLA. To extend this humane and sensible flexibility to the Blue Badge scheme would surely be better than to risk criminalising large numbers of the disabled.

Dr Michael Harriss
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Secateurs and a stick

SIR – I use both footpaths and bridleways. Of course, every effort should be made to ensure that existing rights of way should be kept, but we walkers, riders and cyclists can do far more in self-help.

A pair of secateurs and a strong stick are to me useful in keeping the paths I use in a passable state. The more the paths are used the more they are clear of vegetation.

Some of the paths complained about by the few are barely used. In these times of financial constraints on councils we should not expect so much. Personally I would rather the pothole on the road was filled than the bramble cleared back.

As for direction signs, they are often vandalised and pulled down as fast as they are put up, at vast expense. It would be better to educate the general public in the art of reading an Ordnance Survey map .

Jill Tyler
Long Stratton, Norfolk

Fairisle memory

SIR – A few years ago my husband and I visited my ex-husband in New York. I had not seen him for 20 years, but we had kept in touch.

We met in his flat and I noticed, draped over the sofa, a familiar object. It was a Fairisle jumper I had knitted him when we first met. He was so impressed he kept it on display. I was thrilled, remembering the time and effort it took.

I have never knitted anything like it since.

Judy Underwood
Devizes, Wiltshire

Nasty notes

SIR – Having visited Australia and been exposed to plastic currency notes, I can honestly say that they are very nasty.

They do not feel like proper money, and do not fold properly. Sure, they wash easily, but so what?

Charles Pointon-Taylor
Penn, Buckinghamshire

Osborne for deputy PM

SIR – If Britain is to survive and thrive in the global race we need a radical restructuring at the top level of government. Whitehall must be leaner, and very much more focused on delivery. This comes down to real responsibility covering needs, inputs and outputs.

So, the Chancellor should formally be given deputy prime ministerial clout. Appoint one further deputy prime minister, a new foreign and domestic security “supremo” – one person with overall responsibility for foreign, defence and domestic security. In other words: make one person responsible to the PM and the nation for hard and soft power security.

There should be no more bad connections between foreign and domestic goals and approaches. No more passing the parcel of culpability between departments. No more excuses for a woeful lack of agility because some parts of the team are sticking to out-dated scripts and prejudices.

One person truly in charge across the key departments could refresh Whitehall’s “Comprehensive Approach” – which has lost steam. Such a person could produce a much-needed top-level national strategy, and get the National Security Council to advance beyond being a talking shop.

We should not underestimate the obstacles that must be overcome of “my turf”, “my space”, and “my career”. Yet massive improvements and efficiencies are there to be grasped.

In the Sixties we had separate single military service ministries (the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry), between them employing more people and taking a larger share of public expenditure than today’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development. The radicals – the proponents of a unified Ministry of Defence – won, in the face of immense Luddite opposition. And the radicals can do so again.

Brigadier Nigel Hall (rtd)
General Tim Cross (rtd)
Cat Tully
London SW1

The sound of winter

SIR – The sound that makes me acknowledge the arrival of winter (Letters, December 23) is that of the lorry gritting the road. There is no sign of it yet. Despite this, I did fall off my bicycle, due to frost on the roads. No harm done.

I hope, though, that the orange flashing light of a large vehicle will be seen in the vicinity soon. I’ll then go into hibernation.

Alex Smith
Orford, Suffolk

The legendary origins of the Stone of Scone

SIR – Christina Jury’s letter (December 18) suggesting that the Stone of Scone could be a fake ignores the legend that it did not originate in Iona but was taken there from Dalriada (present-day Ulster) and, long before that, was removed from the Hill of Tara just outside Dublin, where it was used as part of the ceremony to crown the High Kings of Ireland.

Perhaps we should be looking at the geology of that part of Ireland before we discount the stone’s origins.

Mike Mullan
Hove, West Sussex

SIR – There is a legend that the Stone of Scone comes from the Temple at Jerusalem and was taken to Ireland by a daughter of the royal line of David after all the men in that royal line were slaughtered by the Romans in AD70.

The princess married into the royal line of the Irish, whose kings were then crowned on the stone. Later, through intermarriage, the stone was taken to Scotland and so then down to England.

The legend goes on to say that there will never be a King David in the British Isles until the return of Jesus. Interestingly, although David was only his calling name, Edward VIII abdicated the throne before he was crowned.

Sonya Porter
Woking, Surrey

SIR – I enjoyed reading Christopher Howse’s piece on the Stone of Destiny (Comment, December 14), but, as a Scots exile of long standing, I was struck by its strongly English perspective.

It appeared to be of no consequence that the English Church, in all its guises, was quite happy to cling on to stolen property, and not permit even Edward III to return it to its rightful owners. So well done to Sir John Major for giving it back.

Ian Melvin
Cambridge

SIR – I returned to Britain this year after years abroad with the Forces. I needed a radio for my home and bought a DAB as recommended.

The recent storm surge floods came within half a mile of our home, and the only reliable information was on local radio: Lincolnshire has only FM.

Ignorance in these circumstances was not bliss.

The digital switchover has been a masterpiece of poor planning.

M J Sharp
Wyberton, Lincolnshire

Related Articles

SIR – While digital television has improved the audio and visual quality of television, this is not the case for radio.

Ofcom stopped a digital marketing agency claiming DAB was of “CD quality”. Clearly it isn’t. Most broadcasts are currently below the audio quality of a good FM stereo broadcast.

Even now, many advertisements for DAB refer to “digital quality” – a meaningless statement. As for DAB reception, it varies according to area, and in a moving vehicle, signal break-up is still a big problem.

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

SIR – The box for my radio lists many DAB radio stations that no longer exist. This year, further regional DAB signals have been shut down: here in Manchester I can no longer listen to LBC on my DAB radio.

Dr Alex May
Manchester

SIR – I returned my DAB radio to the retailer when I found that it used batteries at a far faster rate than my analogue radio. In this energy-aware world, I cannot see why DAB is being promoted so strongly.

Richard Ashworth
London SW6

SIR – My wife listens to Radio 4 in the kitchen, and at dawn via a bedroom clock radio. In the past I have bought DAB radios for both rooms, but they would not hold a station unless they were put right next to a window, which was not practicable. They were promptly returned and replaced with new analogue models.

People may learn to love DAB radios, as the BBC suggest, but only when they are made to work as well as their predecessors.

Mick Andrews
Doncaster, West Yorkshire

SIR – To set his clocks accurately after the FM radio pips are switched off, Adrian Waller (Letters, December 18) should buy a radio-controlled alarm clock for as little as £5. These receive Britain’s national time signal, which is transmitted from Anthorn, 13 miles west of Carlisle, by the National Physical Laboratory. This uses caesium atomic clocks to provide continuously accurate time to the second, and covers the whole of the United Kingdom and most of northern and western Europe.

Patrick Tracey
Carlisle, Cumberland

 

 

 

Irish Times:

Sir, – Having announced that the HSE is about to cull 75,000 medical cards in the coming year, it has been of interest to observe its modus operandi.

In October the HSE wrote to an 84-year-old lady who lives alone and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She had a medical card valid until 2016 and the HSE wished her to update her circumstances. Upon not receiving a reply it cancelled her card forthwith. This vulnerable lady has no capacity to deal with such requests. If the HSE had sent a registered letter to the patient it would have been dealt with appropriately by a family member. However, not only did the HSE cancel her card, but it never informed her. It operates with Gestapo tactics.

All this happens on the watch of Minister for Health James Reilly, authorised by him. Probity means being morally and ethically above reproach. It is another word used out of context by the Minister. He should stick to his vintage cars and leave the caring of people to the people who care. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN CROWLEY GP,

Douglas East,

Cork.

 

Sir, – Your supplement, After the Bailout (December 13th), gave us insights into the thinking and views of the many contributors on the bailout. For the majority of the citizens of this country the exiting of the bailout meant nothing but continuance of survival in a barren society where families suffer food poverty and suicides occur at a rate of two per day.

Your Front page headline (December 14th) tells us that EU leaders were told to stay away on exit day. It was stated that a visit would be inappropriate: which I read to infer that the four who deign to rule our country needed to show that they were in charge without their masters in attendance.

Edna Kenny’s address to the nation, published in full in your Monday edition (December 16th), was that of a puppet ruler to an oppressed people. A people ruled by compliant non-leaders at the behest of our European masters and taxed beyond reason “to show investors, and markets and our international partners that we were serious about our economic problems” with no regard for social, economic and health well-being of the citizens.

We have many commentators who direct their attention at the wrongs within our systems and institutions and offer possible solutions within the present boundaries and structures. The 10 per cent are comfortable within these structures because they are not discommoded and fear change.

Our Constitution is not fit for purpose; nor are our institutions, political system or electoral system. We need to question all aspects of our society and transform our lives on this island as one people.

A starting point would be for the citizens to be engaged, identify the changes that need to occur and set about creating change beneficial to all. “What can I do?” is the usual refrain, with a shrug of the shoulders.

It is a duty and responsibility of every citizen to use their vote at election time, otherwise we will continue to hand the power to govern to rulers who rule by fear and continue to oppress while garnering excessive rewards of office for themselves and their friends. –Yours, etc,

HUGH McDERMOTT,

The Rise,

Glasnevin,

 

 

Sir, – Surely the main issue is not the supposed avarice of those directing charitable institutions but rather the total reliance of service users on these semi-private organisations in the first place? Why is the care of the most vulnerable in our society outsourced to bodies outside the direct control of the State?

We may pride ourselves as a nation on our generosity with our time and money to the many wonderful voluntary organisations that play such an important role in keeping our society afloat. But surely this is not the most efficient way to organise a modern society? Is it not perverse that hospitals are forced to fundraise for essential equipment and that schools rely on the not so “voluntary” contribution for basic running costs? Is it not reprehensible that the lobbying capacity of a certain charity has as much, if not more, of a bearing on the allocation of funds as the public need?

I am sympathetic to those who are sceptical when it comes to extending the remit of our troubled health services, but if we are ever to construct an integrated social and healthcare system, the State needs to take on full responsibility for the care of its citizens. Direct provision, which underpins the successful system in France for example, is not only more efficient and transparent but it also represents a rights-based approach to welfare that contrast sharply with the increasingly outdated “voluntarist” model in operation here.

We will need to abandon the feel-good factor of charity donation in favour of the less palatable option of higher taxes to ensure provision for all. We as taxpayers need to be willing to pay the price so that we as citizens can build a fairer and better system of provision. – Is mise,

DÓNAL HASSETT,

Orlynn Park,

Lusk,

A chara, – Alan Shatter is concerned that paramilitary groups seek to usurp the name Óglaigh na hÉireann (Home News, December 17th). The misappropriation is facilitated by default.

How many times has Mr Shatter referred to the “Irish Defence Forces” as Óglaigh na hÉireann? How many times do Army personnel refer to themselves as members of Óglaigh na hÉireann?

The Minister could transform the situation by making the name Óglaigh na hÉireann as well-known as An Garda Síochána. – Is mise,

PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,

Bothar Bhinn Eadair,

Baile Atha Cliath 5.

 

 

Sir, – Stephen Collins (Opinion, December 21st) jumps to a number of conclusions about the need for political reform in this country.

He considers the rejection of the Seanad referendum “a serious dent in the reform project” when it demonstrated the electorate has a more nuanced understanding of political reform than it is given credit for. He points to the “limited remit of the Constitutional Convention” without acknowledging it arose from the same problem behind the Seanad referendum; a top-down approach to reform rather than a bottom-up approach that could have engaged society.

He may certainly argue that reforming political institutions will not solve all of the political culture’s problems, but the tone of his article seems to suggest that neither should be reformed.

Collins underestimates how much impact institutions can have on human behaviour.

I can point to at least three ways our dysfunctional political system contributed to the financial crisis; a lack of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive, a lack of transparency for the civil service and a lack of direct citizen participation in key government decisions.

Addressing these systemic flaws is part of the work of changing our political culture. The reform project is therefore far from over. – Yours, etc,

JONATHAN VICTORY,

Clonard Drive,

 

A chara, – Every now and again, you hear a report of a robbery: a knock at the door, the house-holder opens, the robbers rush in. You know the rest.

Why are people so naive? It could be the devil, or Dr Paisley, and yet people open their doors without knowing. Closed circuit TV cameras are not expensive – any handyman can install them. Why not do it? – Yours, etc,

JAMES HARDEN,

The Avenue,

 

 

Sir – Despite Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney’s reassurance, marine fishing opportunities worth €250 million (Home News, December 18th) are anything but “steady”. The value of seafish landings peaked at €352 million in 2001. Allowing for inflation, that figure has halved in the meantime. The value of our marine produce is currently much the same as it was in 1973 when Ireland entered the EEC, before fleet expansion all but obliterated our whitefish fisheries. We now enjoy an enormous fleet which has less and less to harvest.

Sadly, the Minister was, on this as on previous occasions, unwilling to act in accordance with scientific advice and we can anticipate further reductions in the value of this industry as well as the volume of landings in the years ahead. – Yours, etc,

EDWARD FAHY,

Drumree, Co Meath.

Sir, – In the discussion of whether museums should adopt a more pragmatic stance on selling their art collections (Arts, December 5th), the absence of any reference to the ethical circumstances surrounding donated artworks was worrying. Museums that show reluctance to sell their collections are described as “coy”, because this may partly be to admit that a mistake was made in buying them.

But a great many museums do not rely on buying or selling for the quality of their collections. They rely on the spirit of philanthropy or patriotism that motivates often wealthy owners to donate objects or collections to public institutions on the understanding that they will not be alienated through sale. This involves no small matter of trust between donors and museums, a principle underpinned by the ethical presumption against sale.

Many museums, and particularly non-art museums, depend primarily on donation to build the quality of their collections. A more casual approach to the sale of objects would undoubtedly undermine the trust on which these philanthropic transactions depend. The presumption against sale in the International Council of Museum’s Code of Ethics is primarily directed at safeguarding that trust. – Yours, etc,

PAT COOKE,

Director,

 

Sir, – Your Editorial (December 19th) raises interesting questions about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. The professions in Ireland have expressed legitimate concerns about the fact that modifications to business structures and legal practices must take place only after careful consideration of the effects these would have on the interests of citizens, the independence of the professions and the creation of conflicts of interest.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns about the way in which reforms (such as the introduction of alternative business structures) are proposed to be introduced. At minimum, a proper, independent assessment should be carried out to ensure that any proposals will reduce costs, ensure greater competition, and preserve the independence of legal professionals. – Yours, etc,

EVANGELOS

TSOUROULIS, CCBE

President; HUGO

ROEBROECK Director,

 

Sir, – I am amazed that in the debate on the cost of health insurance there is a disjuncture between it and medical fees and charges. These fees and charges represent by far the highest element of premium costs, exceeding both Government taxes and levies and the profits of insurance companies. But it is the premiums that are constantly criticised without any reference to fees and charges which seem to be implicitly accepted by all.

There was an effort to cut back on fees in the public sector in conjunction with Croke Park. There was no similar effort with private fees. Salaries and wages of most people have been cut, but when you go to a GP or specialist you still have to pay around €60 and €150 respectively.

Even if they had been cut back in line with Croke Park, private costs would still be too high either objectively or compared to other countries. I have extensive experience of both the Irish and Belgian systems and here are three standard examples: 1. Visit to GP: €32 in Belgium as opposed to €60 here (187 per cent). 2. Visit to consultant: €65 as opposed to €150 (250 per cent). 3. Simple dermatological excision: €140 as opposed to €700 (500 per cent). Differences of this order are indefensible.

I have queried the level of fees with medical practitioners and they raised the usual arguments about overheads and in particular the costs and rules of professional indemnity insurance. I pushed one specialist on these details many years ago. In his frustration he asked what I expected him to charge in the light of the earnings of lawyers and accountants. I had no answer to that.

I previously drew this matter to the attention of politicians, the media and the Irish Patients’ Association with the suggestion that pending a review of fees people should unilaterally reduce their premium payments in line with public service cuts. That was perhaps too radical.

While the troika was here the Government had the perfect cover for taking direct action on fees in the largely self-regulated professions. That they did not do so shows the perceived strength of the professions at political level. This is further reflected by fact that we seldom if ever see any sustained argument on this matter from the opposition parties in spite of their protests on the costs of health insurance.

Ironically, the highlighted words on the attractive home page of the Health Insurance Authority are “Go Compare”. It is high time that the Minister or the authority took this advice and compared fees and charges with comparable EU states. This is not a complicated matter. In all jurisdictions either the insurers or the state will have fixed maximums which they consider justified for fees and charges on the whole range of procedures (exactly as is done here). – Yours, etc,

JOHN F JORDAN,

Flower Grove,

Killiney,

 

Sir, – Vladimir Putin is no angel, but then angels are rather rare among leaders of powerful nations. Politicians in the West and Western media in general have by now developed an almost Cold War attitude to Russia and to Putin in particular. The Irish Times is no exception, in this regard. Your Front page and your article inside (World News, December 23rd) both refer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky as having been a political prisoner.

Under the chaotic reign of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s a group of individuals, including Khodorkovsky, emerged as oligarchs in the course of grabbing control of huge state assets, including oil companies, for knock down prices. .Overnight they became unbelievably wealthy. They were not noted for being too scrupulous in the nefarious methods they used in acquiring such vast assets. What is rarely if ever mentioned by anyone in the West is that the European Court of Human Rights has concluded, on more than one occasion, in relation to Khodorkovsky and others of his ilk, that they could not be designated as political prisoners and stated that they were in prison for the crimes they had committed.

That Putin was responsible for putting an end to the chaos that had existed made an enemy of him in the eyes of those who had profited mightily and so they were glad to describe themselves as political prisoners. In fact Khodorkovsky and others like him had never shown any interest in politics. Whatever one might say about Putin it in undeniable that the economic situation in Russia is far healthier than it was under the previous regime. In his favour he was largely responsible bringing about the current promising negotiations between Iran and the West and preventing the threatened American missile attacks on Syria. – Yours, etc,

ALBERT COLLINS,

Bishopscourt Road, Cork.

 

Sir, – How come top-ups are from the top down and not from the bottom up? – Yours, etc,

KEVIN DEVITTE,

Mill Street,

Westport,

 

Sir, – The lachrymogenic tidings of the retirement of your “Words We Use” columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (Home News, December 23rd), has left me discombobulated.

Mr Ó Muirithe, your expert on verbomania and quidditative terms, was no philologaster but provided a xenoglossia which steered us from cacology. I trust his magniloquence will be rewarded with a loud fanfaronade as he leaves The Irish Times. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN O’SULLIVAN,

Ballyraine Park,

Letterkenny,

Co Donegal.

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hope that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

Also in this section

Thanks to the baby who brought us all home

Letters: Goodbye to two wise men

Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all

But this year Saint Nicholas, or Santa, required a little more hope than usual in the way of help to meet Christmas wish lists.

The Saint Vincent De Paul, Crosscare, Legion of Mary and those other shining souls who gave of their time and energies to think of others less fortunate deserve all of our thanks. Can I include the nurses, the doctors and the carers too?

We also should think of all those who work for Childline, the Samaritans and Simon.

I hope this year there will be fewer people sleeping in the doorways and lanes of our cities.

I hope no one else will freeze to death, as has been the case over the last few years.

I also pray that the rest of us will realise that we are very fortunate to have somewhere warm and dry to sleep and enough to eat. All of these are blessings that we can share with others.

Didn’t Gandhi once write that we must not look upon a beggar as an obstacle to generosity?

Finally, I hope we can all take care of each other a little better. A society is not one singular entity, it is a series of smaller communities looking out for each other.

Maybe we can look out for each other a little better, by trying a little harder this year and by treasuring the gifts we have.

The family, the friends, the blue sky and the song of birds and the gradual stretch in the evenings.

I hope we can all keep on keeping on together.

N DENNEHY

KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN

A TURKEY’S REVENGE

* We had the usual debate — goose or turkey, turkey or goose? To make for a peaceful house and as an act of penance for my unseasonal ill humour, not only did I agree to opt for turkey, but I volunteered to cook the shagging thing into the bargain.

This took me on to the internet for a suitable recipe. I came upon the following gem:

Step 1: Find yourself a turkey

Step 2: Take a drink of whiskey

Step 3: Put turkey in the oven

Step 4: Take another two drinks of whiskey

Step 5: Set the degree at 375 ovens

Step 6: Take three more whiskeys of drink

Step 7: Turn oven the on

Step 8: Take four whisks of drinky

Step 9: Turk the bastey

Step 10: Whiskey another bottle get

Step 11: Stick a turkey in the thermometer

Step 12: Glass pour of whiskey

Step 13: Turk the carvey

Step 19: Tet the sable and pour yourself a glass of turkey.

AINE E FULLAM

CO WICKLOW

JESUS IS NOT TO BE FEARED

* Whether believers or not, everyone living in western countries should respect and honour Our Lord’s birth date. Western society evolved through the Roman Empire and was built on Judeo/Christian principles.

I’m neither embarrassed nor ashamed to say I’m a believer.

Jesus’ life — He really did exist! — on Earth was one of love, healing and forgiveness. Sure, terrible things have been done by terrible people in Jesus’ name. However, these things were neither done nor condoned by Christ Himself.

So why do so many ‘clever people’ and ‘cultural elites’ so fear The Man, always turning His other cheek?

Perhaps it is that they have more hang-ups than an Imelda Marcos wardrobe?

In that spirit of great tolerance and affection, I wish you all a very merry and holy Christmas.

HOWARD HUTCHINS

AUSTRALIA

IT’S TIME TO CALL A HALT

* The survey of over 40 charities in Ireland recently showed us that most of the CEOs are paid around €100,000. May I ask what in God’s name do they do to justify earning nearly €2,000 a week? This is an absolute disgrace and very hard for the generous people of this country to stomach.

I, for one will, in the new year, be stopping a direct debit going to one particular charity. We tolerate too much of this in this country.

BRIAN MCDEVITT

GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL

HANDS OFF OUR TRACKERS

* I write in relation to Stephen Kinsella’s column ‘Tracker mortgages are damaging the economy’ (Irish Independent, December 24).

Mr Kinsella urges the abolition of tracker mortgages, arguing that this will remove their drain on our banks and so improve credit facilities.

The tracker mortgage that we have enables us to maintain our payments on a house that is now worth less than half of what we paid for it, from wages that are constantly being reduced.

Each week, I pay a day’s wages in tax. On top of this, the USC repays the debts incurred by former banking chiefs, who have been responsible for the plight we now face.

Mr Kinsella would do well to consider the common working people, whose taxes keep us all in gainful employment.

T. RUMLEY

ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

’12 DRINKS’ MUST STOP

* This new Christmas activity — Twelve Drinks in Twelve Pubs — is a total nuisance, an exercise in gross misbehaviour and a disguise for underage drinking.

Fifty people, no less, arrived without notice to a pub in town on the Sunday before Christmas, causing chaos and disruption. If it continues city pubs will lose business.

As for the individuals concerned, their parents will be mopping up this morning and a few of the drinkers will awaken in A&E units.

The most experienced of drinkers could not do this, yet teenagers are indulging. It has to stop.

HARRY MULHERN

MILLBROOK ROAD, DUBLIN

LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR

* How is it that the 21st of December is the shortest day of the year, but the 24th always feels like the longest?

KILLIAN FOLEY-WALSH

KILKENNY CITY

PARDON OSCAR WILDE

* A posthumous pardon for Alan Turing is all well and good, but if that is any yardstick, the British establishment should collectively prostrate themselves and beg forgiveness for the even greater damage they did to an equally brilliant man.

They sentenced him to the harshest of prison regimes in an effort to break his spirit. And some say they succeeded.

Even Pussy Riot were treated lightly compared to the great Oscar Wilde.

DAI WOOSNAM

GRIMBSY, ENGLAND

CHILD REWRITES NATIVITY

* I enjoyed Clodagh Finn’s recollections about family Christmas, especially her memory of one little person’s version of ‘Away In A Manger’, including the line: “The little Malteaser lay down his sweet head.”

I remember our daughter drawing a nativity scene in junior school. Her teacher was puzzled.

There were Joseph, Mary and Three Wise Match-stick men, the Baby Jesus was also included but pride of place was given to a Humpty Dumpty-type character.

“Who is that?” asked a bemused teacher. “That’s Round John,” answered the child, surprised at her teacher’s ignorance.

“Round John?”

“Yes”, replied the little girl, before explaining: “Round John, Virgin Mother and Child.”

Here’s to a silent night.

N O BRIEN

BRAY, CO WICKLOW

Irish Independent

 

 

Christmas Day

December 26, 2013

26 December 2013 Christmas Day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a inspection for Troutbridge, will she pass it after her refit?

Priceless.

Potter around start Doctor Who blog, get sonic screw-driver bafled by the DeCrapio Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor

Scrabbletoday I winand gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

The 4th Lord Ashcombe, who has died aged 89, was a descendant of the master builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855), who made the family fortune building much of London’s Bloomsbury, Pimlico and Belgravia, and he carried on the family’s business tradition as heir and then head of the Cubitt family.

Henry Edward Cubitt was born on March 31 1924, the eldest son of Roland Cubitt, who would become the 3rd Lord Ashcombe on the death of his father in 1947. The title had been created in 1892 for George Cubitt, son of the famous builder, a Conservative MP for West Surrey, then Mid-Surrey, and a Church Commissioner.

Henry Cubitt went into the RAF directly after Eton and served during the Second World War, mainly in pilot training in Canada. After the war he embarked on his career in the family businesses, serving, over time, on the boards of more than 30 companies, including some linked with large American and Canadian developers.

He was chairman of Holland, Hannen and Cubitt when it was a major shareholder in ACI Property Corporation, which built the $9 million Le Cartier Apartments in Montreal, in 1965 the tallest apartment block in the Commonwealth.

In 1970 his CR Developments sold, for £4.4 million, the Pimlico Estate covering 27 acres in Victoria, including 480 homes, to a consortium controlled by the Hanson Trust. During the 1960s he had served as consul-general in London for the Principality of Monaco.

It was difficult to distinguish Lord Ashcombe’s personal wealth from that of his family’s firms and, possibly as a result, he did not feature in newspaper “rich lists”. In 1958 he transferred to the National Trust his 800-acre Denbies estate near Dorking (which now boasts the largest vineyard in England) to meet duties on the estate of his grandfather, the 2nd Lord Ashcombe. From 1985 he had no estate of his own after selling his Surrey home to move into Sudeley Castle, the 1,000-year-old house in Gloucestershire where Henry VIII’s widow Katherine Parr died, the home of his American third wife, Elizabeth.

Lord Ashcombe was no politician. He listed himself as a Conservative, but did not take the party whip in the Lords. After succeeding to the title on the death of his father in 1962, it was 11 years before he took the Oath. He made his maiden speech a year later, in May 1974, on the theme that Britain could no longer stand alone and its companies — like his own — had to build links with firms in other advanced countries. After that, until the abolition of the hereditary peers, he attended the Lords once or twice a year, neither voting nor speaking.

Despite his wealth and the attention it attracted, for the most part Lord Ashcombe managed to keep out of the diary columns. This was perhaps surprising given that his niece was Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall. Although he never courted publicity, however, Ashcombe did not go to great lengths to avoid it — as when he bought 50 tombola tickets for £50 each at a charity evening at Annabel’s nightclub in aid of the widows and dependants of members of the SAS.

Possibly because he was at the time only an heir to a peerage, moderate attention was paid to his first marriage, in 1955, to the American-born Ghislaine Dresselhuys who, as Ghislaine Alexander, had made her name in the early 1950s as the “gentle-voiced beauty” — one of the first women television panelists on the BBC television game show What’s My Line?

The marriage was dissolved in 1968 and in 1973 he married, secondly, Virginia Carington , the younger daughter of Lord Carrington. That marriage, too, was dissolved, and in 1979 he married his third wife, Kentucky-born Elizabeth Dent-Brocklehurst, the chatelaine of Sudeley Castle. She was the widow of his friend Mark Dent-Brocklehurst, who had died of a heart attack in 1972 aged 40, leaving Elizabeth to raise two small children, Henry and Mollie, and to pay hefty death duties and work out how to turn Sudeley into a tourist attraction.

In semi-retirement as chairman of Sudeley Estates, Ashcombe helped his wife to restore and renovate the castle and grounds, and converted cottages on the estate. He also devoted much time and effort to quietly effective charitable work. Having survived his own battle with alcohol, he channelled his energies into charities involved in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders with alcohol problems, notably the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt) and The Bridges, RAPt’s residential drug and alcohol treatment centre in Hull, helping to raise

A popular, self-effacing man, and a kind and loyal friend, Lord Ashcombe took a share in the Helmsley sporting estate in Yorkshire, where he was a generous host. He also bought a Yorkshire grouse moor on behalf of his friend, the Saudi racehorse owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, and continued to look after the Prince’s interests in the county.

Lord Ashcombe is survived by his wife. He had no children by any of his marriages, and the title passes to his cousin, Mark Edward Cubitt, born in 1964.

The 4th Lord Ashcombe, born March 31 1924, died December 4 2013

 

Guardian:

 

 

Many people will welcome the granting of a retrospective royal pardon to Alan Turing, and there can be no doubt that those who have campaigned for one have been well-intentioned and moved by perfectly understandable feelings. But Andrew Hodges is absolutely right in his criticism (Report, 24 December). The fact is that Turing was properly convicted of what was at the time a criminal offence. There was no doubt about the soundness of the conviction, and there were no extenuating or mitigating circumstances. Lord McNally was accordingly quite right to decline the request for a pardon, harsh as his decision doubtless appeared to many.

Contrary to what some seem to think, the fact that Turing was a great mathematician who performed, during his time at Bletchley Park, an enormous service to his country which may well have saved hundreds of thousands of lives is completely irrelevant. What was wrong was not the conviction, but the law under which Turing was convicted. Singling him out for special treatment in a way that conveys the appalling message that, as Hodges put it, “a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else” is both morally offensive and damaging to our system of justice. If anyone who was convicted under that law is to be “pardoned”, everyone should be – at least then there would be some chance that some of those affected by convictions under the bad law which was then in place would derive some consolation. But better simply to acknowledge that it was a bad law, and to be ever wary of introducing legislation which panders to the “moral sense” of the majority.
Bob Hale
Sheffield

•  You state that a pardon is normally granted only when a person is innocent (in which case, of course, the term “pardon” is surely inappropriate). In fact the strict Home Office criterion has been that the recipient be both “morally and technically innocent”. It seems that Turing’s technical guilt in 1952, despite his “moral” innocence in 1952, prompted the then justice minister Lord McNally to refuse a recommendation in 2012.

However, that decision may have ignored the administrative practice that has existed since the early 1960s (and which Turing’s pardon now reflects) whereby the strict Home Office criterion for a non-statutory pardon can be sidestepped. The breakthrough was the award of pardons in 1964 in two separate cases to prisoners convicted of possessing offensive weapons that had been planted on them by “bent coppers”, including the notorious Detective Sergeant Harold Challenor. While the innocence of the prisoners could not apparently be conclusively established, Roy Jenkins had these cases in mind when he recommended a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans in 1966. For despite Evans’ “technical” innocence (though still disputed by some), the latter’s “moral” innocence might have been considered compromised by his prior belief that Christie was going to carry out an illegal abortion on the subsequently strangled Beryl Evans.
Gerry Rubin
Bridge, Kent

•  Most of us appreciate the pardon of Alan Turing, but we cannot atone for his appalling treatment and eventual suicide by persisting in the “Colossus misconception”. Professor Jack Copeland and Paul Gannon, in their books on Colossus, draw attention to the misconception that Turing played some part in the design and build of the world’s first electronic computer. Turing was in America when Tiltman and Tutte broke the more complex Fish/Tunny code.

Thomas H Flowers, a Post Office engineer, already using valves, knew he was the only one with the expertise to build an electronic machine that would speed up the urgent deciphering process. His offer to build a machine was turned down. He went back to Dollis Hill and, with his own money, built Colossus. Installed in January 1944, it was an immediate success and allowed the Allies to read messages between Hitler and his high command. It was Colossus that shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. It was Flowers who led the world into the electronic computer era we now live in. When asked what part Turing played in the Colossus computer, Flowers said “he had nothing to do with it”. Why the misconception persists and Flowers’ role is diminished is worthy of some consideration. He may himself have been the victim of a different form of discrimination. His degree in electrical engineering was gained at night school at London University. He was not an Oxbridge chap and was referred to at Bletchley Park as “the cockney”.
Jack Armitage
Silverdale, Lancashire

•  By definition, “granting a pardon” means forgiveness or exemption from punishment for an offence committed. Alan Turing’s “offence” was to be in a relationship with a man in the privacy of their own homes. He quite rightly felt no remorse or guilt for his lifestyle and it would be surely be more appropriate to declare void all laws outlawing homosexuality, including the 1885 Act under which he was convicted, thus meaning that he was never guilty of any crime and thus obviating the need of a pardon.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• It is not Alan Turing who is in need of a pardon. It is the British government for having, in the recent words of Lord McNally, “properly convicted” him.
Michael Holroyd
London

 

 

On 29 June 2010 you reported that all the hundreds of diplomats in the US embassy in London refuse to pay the congestion charge, citing their immunities under the Vienna convention. Now (20 December) you report that the Indian deputy consul-general in New York, despite her diplomatic immunity, has been arrested, strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts. With such a clear precedent, should the Metropolitan police now be asked to take a more robust approach to the congestion charge issue?
Mark O’Sullivan
Bath

•  Denis MacShane is prosecuted and sentenced to six month for expenses fraud amounting to £13,000 and the judges remarks that he was guilty of deliberate deceit and dishonesty (Report, 24 December). David Laws admitted to false claims of around £40,000 over a period of eight years but wasn’t prosecuted. Has there ever been an explanation for this?
Geoff Clegg
London

• You report that “laboratory tests showed polymer banknotes … would fare better in washing machines” (Plastic banknotes will come into use in 2016, 18 December). Does this mean that, while they will be harder to counterfeit, they will be easier to launder?
Barry Luckhurst
Havant, Hampshire

• That Anna Soubry can recognise the look of somebody who’s had a finger “put … up his bottom and he really rather likes it” (Tory minister apologises for remark about Ukip leader, 23 December) gives us a fascinating insight into her private life.
Bruce Holman
Waterlooville, Hampshire

• Chris Elliott states (Open door, 23 December) that “Guardian readers are … 84% more likely to say they do not have time to prepare and cook food”. Maybe we are all exhausted and satiated after reading the interminable food supplements and recipes. Enough! No more second helpings in the new year, please.
Roshan Pedder
West Molesey, Surrey

• Why were there pastry swastikas on the cover of last Saturday’s Christmas edition of your Cook supplement?
John Woolford
London

 

The embarrassing turnaround by Marks & Spencer (Report, 24 December), revoking their policy to allow Muslim personnel not to handle alcoholic or pork products, must be applauded. It’s a major triumph for common sense against emerging Wahhabi-Salafi extremism in the UK. During the past decade, numerous Saudi-funded institutions and clergy in Britain have led an insidious theological campaign to impose primitive tribal mores and cultural rigidity of the most backward land of Islam upon British Muslims. Sadly, many ill-informed followers of the faith have been programmed by Wahhabi-Salafi fanatics to believe that the touching of alcohol or pork is impermissible in Islam. They have also been duped by these ultra-conservative zealots about gender segregation, female head-covering (hijab), face-masking (niqab) and other non-scriptural “customs”.

However, there is nothing in the Holy Qur’an that sanctions this or their repressive and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalist zealots flaunt the reputed and manufactured oral traditions of Muhammad (Hadith), compiled some 300 years after his death, as the sole basis for their warped perversion of the faith. But educated British Muslims must resist this risible movement seeking to recreate the mythical seventh-century Arab utopia that is now foisted upon Muslim society worldwide by Saudi finance and fanatics. Right-minded Muslims uphold a British Islam that is integral to original Qur’anic precepts, but is also compatible with British social norms. We are relieved that M&S has played a small part in rejecting pernicious Wahhabi distortions.
Dr T Hargey
Director and imam, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford

 

Since you have allowed Geoffrey Robertson QC, a friend of Nigella Lawson, substantial space to plead on her behalf (21 December), I trust you will commission a lawyer of equal status to put the case for the relatively poor Italian sisters who have also suffered vilification of their characters by the Lawson-Saatchi legal team. Saachi would have had the sisters in jail for Christmas had not the judge, quite rightly in my opinion, allowed Saatchi’s email to Lawson referring to her drug-taking to be placed in the public domain; it was highly relevant to the Grillos’ defence. Robertson, who is normally on the side of the oppressed, should be applauding this verdict for the weak against the strong, instead of sticking up for his rich friend who was simply embarrassed at being caught out as an illegal drug user – after all, no one forced the Lawson-Saatchis to bring this prosecution, and besides, judging by their weekly spending as revealed in court, they can well afford to take the hit.
Dr Colin Lovelace
Anglet, France

• Dominic Lawson has used his Sunday Times column to rail against the unfairness of his sister, Nigella, being compared to a “druggie on a council estate” (Report, 23 December). It was this snobbishness and belief that masters should always be supported against servants that led ministers to come out for “Team Nigella”. The comparison is indeed unfair – to those on a council estate.
Martin Mitchell
Blackpool

• This week, my colleagues on the management committee of Barnet Law Service have been drafting redundancy notices to advisers and support staff who for the past 12 years have, on their own account and by supervising volunteers, provided legal services to those of few or modest resources living or working in the London borough of Barnet, ensuring that the rights of thousands of individuals have been respected by employers, landlords and state institutions. The near abolition of legal aid, cuts in council spending and the reorientation of charities towards ever more extreme need mean the service can’t continue. David Cameron should be ashamed to whisper the words “big society” (Report, 24 December) when it is his government which is overseeing its destruction.
Helena Wray
Barnet, Middlesex

Just two years since independence – and nine years since the end of South Sudan‘s protracted conflict with what is now the Republic of Sudan – political discord and spreading internal violence are pushing the fledgling state to the edge of breakdown (Report, 24 December). Over the next few weeks, restraint and a commitment to peaceful dialogue will be critical to South Sudan’s future and its prospects of avoiding a slide to civil war. But when the guns do die down, South Sudan will have to turn to the difficult task of addressing the underlying issues that led to the present crisis. There are many questions that will need to be asked during the recovery process. How have the legacies of war been dealt with? How effective has the transformation and reform of the country’s security services been? Is the system of governance serving the needs of the new state?

For the sake of long-term peace and stability, South Sudan desperately needs to engage in a broad-based reconciliation process as an essential part of developing a new constitution. This would be an opportunity for wide public engagement to both deal with past political violence and grievances, and to cultivate greater public accountability, transparency and oversight of political processes and the management of its security services.
Paul Murphy
Executive director, Saferworld

• Wow, 90m Kalashnikovs produced – well worth commemorating in a full-page obituary of their inventor (24 December). At least this guy was famous for something. Looking forward to the obits of the countless millions mown down by the bloody things.
Root Cartwright
Radlett, Hertfordshire

 

 

 

 

Independent:

Steve Richards’ concern over the mounting housing crisis (16 December) raises questions about our society’s objectives.

Does Britain really need a new railway between London and Birmingham and an extra London airport runway more than it needs to build more homes? The compulsory purchase of land is taken for granted for infrastructure projects. Perhaps the country should be extending the same acquisition processes to appropriate small areas of land for new social and affordable homes?

The economics of the current planning process are hugely biased in favour of the lucky landowner who receives such a hugely inflated price for land that his personal bonanza can add £50,000 to the cost of each modest, desperately needed home, before a single brick has been laid.

This burden on hard-pressed private buyers, housing associations and other providers of affordable new housing could be dramatically reduced by allowing local communities to identify the need for low-cost housing and its optimum location. All that is needed is for local authorities to have the right to use such land, just as though it were for another “public good” like a new road, HS2 or Heathrow and pay the owner equally fair compensation.

Unless something along these lines is done, the provision of homes for “hard-working families” will never escape the transfer of their earnings to the wealthy few who happen to own land.

Aidan Harrison

Rothbury, Northumberland

 

Ed Miliband’s attack on developers demonstrates the political posturing and housebuilder-baiting that has blighted the sector for decades, and is the primary reason why we have a such a chronic shortage of homes in this country.

It’s an area which has attracted all the wrong type of political interference at both local and national level, and consequently this has hindered supply, restricted innovation and squeezed profitability. It has done so to such an extent that the vast majority of the instances of land-hoarding Mr Miliband refers to, exist only because the development of these sites has been made economically unviable by the financial demands and bureaucratic burdens imposed by local councils.

The key to increasing housebuilding is improving supply by simplifying the planning process. The clue to our industry is in the word “housebuilding”, and of course this is what we want to do. But we can only grow and generate employment if we are allowed to build the houses our country so desperately needs

Bob Weston

Chairman and Chief Executive, Weston Homes plc, Takeley, Essex

 

ARTS OUTSIDE LONDON STARVED OF CASH

On 17 December you reported that the Serpentine Gallery has been given 12 National Lottery awards totalling £6.8m. Recently, the Royal Academy was given £12.7m and Tate Britain £45m, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Today I also received news that the wonderful, but struggling, Gladstone Gallery in Stoke is so starved of funds that its very survival is now threatened.

Why has the glaring imbalance in funding, both from central government and bodies such as the Arts Council, been allowed to continue unchallenged? We are at risk of losing  precious and irreplaceable parts of our cultural heritage while London gobbles up a wholly disproportionate share of the money.

Who makes these choices and who can be held accountable, and most importantly will those holding the purse strings act now before it is too late?

Miriam Mazower

London NW11

 

NO LIFE FOR A CHILD

I wholeheartedly concur with Imogen Thompson (Letters, 20 December). I have worked in primary schools where some children as young as four were left with child minders at 7.30am and collected after their parents finished work. This is no life for a child.

So many reception class children miss out on Mum or Dad being able to collect them from school. I would urge any parent to think very hard before putting their baby or young child in someone else’s care all day. Your child is precious and needs you.

Hazel Burton

Broadstairs, Kent

 

CYCLISTS AREN’T THE WORST

I’m not surprised that Lesley Smith (letter, 14 December) has been put off cycling – even in Oxford, which seems a very cyclist-aware city.

I am not a cyclist, but the number of letters pointing out that some cyclists ignore red lights and other traffic regulations seem astonishing to me. Plenty of car drivers slip through changing lights, even fail to stop at zebra crossings, and appear to feel they have a right to travel at whatever speed they like, especially through built-up areas. Ignoring 30mph signs is not only dangerous to pedestrians, other drivers and cyclists, but extremely unpleasant for those who live nearby.

Unlit bicycles and foolish behaviour by cyclists certainly can be dangerous, but most accidents are caused by irresponsible and dangerous motorists.

Sarianne Durie

Bampton, Oxfordshire

 

ADDICTION AND RETREAT FROM MORALITY

Matthew Norman (23 December) writes that I believe drug “addiction” is a “sign of moral fecklessness”. No I don’t. I think the expression has no consistent meaning and that it does not describe any objectively discoverable or measurable physical condition. The concept of “addiction” is currently popular because it seems to validate our general retreat from morality and justice based on free will and personal responsibility.

Peter Hitchens

 

 

Times:

 

‘There are only four free-standing statues of Cromwell in England, and none was erected under the Protectorate, or subsequently by the state’

Sir, Your corrective editorial (Dec 20) to Vladimir Putin’s comparison of Cromwell and Stalin is much understated in saying “perhaps there is some difference”.

Mr Putin seems obsessed with statues of Cromwell. At a dinner in Sochi in 2010 he responded to a question about the possibility of moving Lenin’s tomb from Red Square by stating that there are statues of Cromwell all over England, and “who was worse, Cromwell, or Stalin?”

Actually, there are only four free-standing statues of Cromwell in England, and none was erected under the Protectorate, or subsequently by the state. Even the one at Westminster was privately funded and controversial, which is probably a surprise to Mr Putin.

While Cromwell was, and still is, a figure of great historical debate, his belief in a providential God and liberty of conscience, distinguishes him absolutely from Stalin and all other dictators of the 20th century. And he played a pivotal role in securing the readmission of the Jews to England under the Protectorate.

John Goldsmith

Cromwell Association

Comberton, Cambs

Sir, If Cromwell’s “most notorious act” lies in the fact that the garrison at Drogheda died under the normal rules of siege warfare in 1649, not massacred, just as the garrison of, say, Badajoz died after Wellington’s siege of 1812 (with no opprobrium falling upon him), then that hardly brings him into the realm of “bloody dictator” when he was neither commander-in-chief of the armed forces nor head of the English government.

Mr Putin was just following the Royalist propaganda which persists in our history books, including the very accessible History of the English Speaking Peoples by Churchill.

Tony Pointon

University of Portsmouth

Sir, Brian Withnall presents the myth of Oliver Cromwell’s “tolerance” (letter, Dec 23). It is an odd sort of tolerance that forbids worship by Roman Catholics, Quakers and Anglicans, the last of whom made up most of the population at the time. In fact Cromwell only tolerated those who agreed with him at the time, as his frequent changes of government system prove. He is often quoted in support of this theory of his tolerance as writing to an opponent on the eve of battle “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”; however, there is no record that he ever thought he was mistaken. Oh, yes, he also banned Christmas and anything associated with it.

Hugh Mchristian-Carter

Reading

Sir, It is a dereliction of moral duty to excuse past massacres such as that perpetrated by Cromwell’s troops at Drogheda on the grounds that they should “be judged by the standards of the time”.

A massacre is mass murder and should be recognised as such. The stain on our history and Cromwell’s reputation should remain; and we should continue to denounce it as vigorously as we denounce those who attempt to justify current atrocities as being contextually acceptable. Otherwise they will continue to use our past behaviour as an excuse for their crimes, and with some justification accuse us of hypocrisy.

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent

 

An edited selection of readers’ letters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taken from the Times Archive

Football fatality

December 25, 1880
Sir, I venture to disagree with Mr E. C. Clark in attributing a special risk in football as played under the Rugby Union rules, which allow handling, as opposed to the Association rules, which forbid it.

During ten years, in which I played regularly once a week in various Rugby Union clubs, I can only recall one accident, and that was the result of a collision between two players who attempted to kick the ball at the same instant — a casualty far more probable under Association rules than under Rugby.

If our manly sports are to be magisterially interfered with, this great difficulty will arise, “Where to draw the line?” If playing “forward” under Rugby rules is to be restricted, wicket-keeping and fielding “point” at cricket must be abolished altogether, and rowing in a University boat race made a criminal offence.

The remedy for these perils lies in the common sense and manliness of those who engage in our sports. Any attempt at outside regulation would certainly be futile, and might be ridiculous.

I am, Sir, yours obediently,

T. B. R.

Lackadaisical

December 25, 1883

Sir, Those who do not [understand the risks involved in extending the underground railways to the City] should take a survey of the situation at the corners of Cannon-street and King William-street near to the statue.

The incessant block at these corners baffles description. It causes immense loss of time and temper to passengers, injury to horses and vehicles of all descriptions, and serious detriment, through the impossibility of crossing, to business people having high rents and heavy taxes to meet.

If it were, however, seen that those who have the work in hand were pushing it along with energy or desire to complete, the loss though very great could be borne patiently, but as this seems to be a matter of no importance to the parties concerned, the grievance is intolerable.

Sufficient men are not employed. No work is done at night. As an instance, yesterday morning at 10 not a man was at work, a boy shovelling some gravel into a heap being the only person on the ground.

At 2 p.m. three men were amusing themselves by a little display, but at this rate the final completion of the work, at this, probably the busiest corner of the metropolis, seems to be in the distant future.

We are, Sir, yours obediently,

Mappin Brothers

67 and 68, King William-street, London-bridge

 

 

13

Parking fines, and the amount that local councils make from them, divide motorists fairly evenly across the board

Sir, It is easy to see how Westminster Council achieves its No 1 spot in the Parking Fine league table (report, Dec 23). Queuing for theatre tickets this morning, I watched as two delivery trucks pulled up in St Martin’s Lane. With no parking bays provided, they had to stop on double yellow lines before unloading their supplies.

Sure enough, within seconds, parking wardens pounced, taking photographs and handing tickets to the aggrieved drivers. With daily deliveries necessary in central London, it’s easy money for the councils.

Peter Wallace

London NW3

Sir, As both a motorist in a semi-rural area dependent on (and enjoying) driving and a council tax payer, I very much welcome the news that some councils have the good sense and financial acumen to combine moneymaking and the control of parking. I congratulate them and hope that they will hold firm against populist and foolish campaigns against parking charges.

Roderick W. Ramage

Coppenhall, Stafford

 

3

Today anyone who confesses addiction to illegal drugs confesses to a crime and risks a criminal record, with all its consequences

Sir, Before the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, possession of illegal drugs was not a crime. Heroin addicts, for example, could openly admit their addiction, register with their GP and obtain a prescription for unadulterated heroin from a pharmacist. This meant that their health was less likely to suffer from using impure substances and they were also encouraged to start treatment.

Today anyone who confesses addiction to illegal drugs confesses to a crime and risks a criminal record, with all its consequences. There is no evidence that criminalising possession of drugs for personal use acts as a deterrent. In fact, there is every incentive to keep addiction hidden. At present some thousands of people go to jail every year for possession of drugs, at vast public expense and probable ruin of their lives.

The law urgently needs reform, but until the law is reformed, at least the Director of Public Prosecutions should use the discretion she has, and often exercises, not to prosecute if to do so would be against the public interest. This would be particularly appropriate in the case of confessions to drug taking by witnesses in a trial, as it would discourage witnesses from giving frank and possibly relevant evidence, or even from giving evidence at all.

Lord Taverne

House of Lords

 

Knock them down and start again? Or make every effort to preserve? Two readers disagree vehemently about London’s theatres

Sir, After the distressing events at the Apollo Theatre, we have heard a lot about the need for investment to restore our West End theatres. These late Victorian and Edwardian theatres need no restoration. They need razing. They are not fit for purpose.

We don’t go to the theatre to admire architecture or plasterwork — we go to see plays. West End theatres offer uncomfortable seating, cramped foyers, inadequate toilets, a poor view of the stage and an actor-audience relationship that does not conform to the way we make theatre these days.

These archaic buildings need to be replaced by purpose-built theatres. Lord Lloyd-Webber had the right idea when he said that was what he wanted to do to the Apollo. Shame on the Theatres Trust and English Heritage for trying to prevent it. Let us hope that some good may come of this disaster, and that owners, funders and government stop wasting money on restoration and start putting the art of the theatre above buildings.

David Emmet

London W5

Sir, As a director of Wilton’s Music Hall I was sharply reminded by the Apollo roof fall of the fate that could have occurred to us. There is a precedent for this as, in 1828, on a site in Wellclose Square, near Wilton’s, the roof of the Brunswick Theatre fell in, killing and maiming many. I suspect that this was a design and build fault, as it occurred soon after the theatre opened. Happily, due to the generosity of many institutions, and the public, the roof of Wilton’s has now been refurbished completely .

John Gayner

London E1

 

Telegraph:

 

 

 

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

* After all that, the lights of the tree still have a sparkle; but I doubt very much whether the eyes of my bank manager will have one when he sees the state of my account after the spending of the last few days.

Also in this section

Letters: Goodbye to two wise men

Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all

Letters: Support our own causes

I’m wondering how an infant born into swaddling clothes, in a manger on the side of the road, could have become the catalyst for such an explosion of consumerism.

The thing is I don’t regret a bit of it. Giving is a win-win. Somebody gets something they have wanted, and I share their pleasure.

I am one of the lucky ones because all the children are home; for one that meant a trip from Australia, two others came back from Europe, but the blessing was that we were all under the one roof.

It would be wrong to say that it was all sweetness and light. My lord and master was overtraining the previous night, and managed to doze off with one ear finely embedded in the Christmas pudding.

I was promised the spuds would be peeled when I came home from Mass, instead there was a circle around the Playstation as they shot down Russian Migs and blew up zombies.

So much for goodwill to all men. There was the usual jeering to see what the queen might be wearing for her speech, and then there was the wreckage of the kitchen to attend to.

It was as if a B52 had singled it out for special pounding.

None of it mattered one fig though, they were all home under the one roof and we were a family again.

I couldn’t help but think that that little fella born in swaddling had done an exceptional job.

The year had been tough but last night there was redemption and a little bit of harmony. I hope we were not the only ones who felt it.

When they are all gone again in the new year, I’ll remember the bombed out kitchen fondly, even the exploding zombies will take on an affectionate glow in my heart.

NAME WITH EDITOR

GREYSTONES, CO WICKLOW

THANKS FOR THE LETTERS

* It was lovely to hear from Santa and the man (and baby) Jesus through the wonderful Christmas letters of Philip O’Neill in Oxford and BB Toal in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Thank you for publishing their rich pickings!

RICHARD DOWLING

MONTRATH, CO LAOIS

IT’S THE WAY I TELL ‘EM

* Can I share with you some of the wisdom I picked up from two Christmas crackers over the last few days?

The Three Stages Of Life:

Stage One: You believe in Santa.

Stage Two: You don’t believe in Santa.

Stage Three: You are Santa.

What did the big cracker say to the little cracker ?

My pop is bigger than yours!

J O’BRIEN

ALBERT ROAD, SANDYCOVE, CO DUBLIN

SHAM OF ‘CARBON’ TAX

* Conor Faughnan is right to be sceptical about the Government’s consultation document for setting out a low-carbon roadmap for the transport sector.

We already pay more than enough carbon tax (in addition to the usual taxes) on our vehicles and at the filling stations etc.

Any attempt to increase taxes and toll charges with a view to encouraging public transport use is both flawed and disingenuous. I would not be surprised if this document, rather than being an initiative to reduce the number of cars on our roads, is yet another means of increasing the State’s coffers.

The Government knows (or at least, should know) that with a few exceptions, our egregious public transport system is inadequate to cater for the masses. Consequently, in most cases people have little choice other than to continue using their cars.

If the Government decides to go ahead and impose increased road/transport taxes, thenit will be punishing motorists for nothing other than its own failure to deliver a properly functioning public transport system.

JOHN BELLEW

PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

BARROSO‘S HARMFUL BARB

* Well I never! There I was, silly old man that I am, thinking that the world financial foul-up started with the American sub-prime insanity quickly spreading like an aggressive cancer eventually to become the root cause for an almost worldwide money meltdown.

Now I hear some Portuguese guru called Barroso says that it was actually little old free-spending Ireland that almost finished off the whole euro set-up!

If this guy has got it right then a comparatively tiny geographical pimple like Ireland with a tiny population almost pulled the plug on the whole eurozone! If that is really the case then surely the whole eurozone concept is far too fragile to continue as is.

On the other hand, if this is simply an uninformed but potentially harmful outburst of bull from Barroso then surely it is time he was granted the usual golden handshake and gold-plated pension and shuffled off the world stage.

GEORGE MACDONALD

GOREY, CO WEXFORD

* Former prime minister of Portugal and present EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso has the bearing, the manner, and a demeanour of gravitas — while our political masters come across as a bunch of serfs, who do precisely what they are instructed to do.

Barroso’s arrogant tirade at last week’s press conference where he laid all the blame of the bust European banking system at Ireland’s door could only have been delivered by a man who hails from “a country by the way that is also on the financial ropes”, but which up until recent times ran an empire that spread across the world, from the Americas to south-east asia. Portugal’s elites made vast fortunes from their colonies.

We’d already taken a hit worse than anything Cromwell ever delivered, and now it seems that Ireland has been left to carry the entire burden of the European banking collapse thanks to the softly, softly approach of our governments.

PADDY O’BRIEN

BALBRIGGAN, CO DUBLIN L JOSE MANUEL BARROSO NOW BLAMES IRELAND FOR HIS EURO PROBLEMS. BIG BAD IRELAND SHOULD NOW DISCARD THE CURRENCY AND SAVE THE POOR LITTLE OLD EURO!

K NOLAN

CALDRAGH, CARRICK-ON-SHANNON, CO LEITRIM

CHILDREN NEED STABILITY

* In a recent article quoting research by the University of Limerick, it was claimed in this paper that parental arrangements, whether single mother, cohabitants or married parents, made little difference in outcome for the children. This conclusion flies in the face of the bulk of research in this area.

Single mothers are often poorer than other parents. They also find difficulty in coping alone, especially with adolescent boys. Cohabiting arrangements are more prone to breaking up than married partners, endangering the stability of a child’s background.

From personal observation during a 30-year career in education, I have observed first-hand that children of marriages fare better in most cases than those whose parents are not married. Too often under the guise of “equality” the rights of adults to make unstable relationships is put above the rights of a child to live in a settled and secure relationship.

WILLIAM SHEPHERD

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

December 25, 2013

25 December 2013 Christmas Eve
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a new Wren and Leslie has fallen for her already. Priceless.
Potter around exhausted from the hospital yesterday.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets  under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Sir Derek Hornby , who has died aged 83, enjoyed a successful business career overshadowed at its close by the near-collapse of London & Continental (LCR), the company he chaired to operate Eurostar and build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. He had previously been chairman of Rank-Xerox and the British Overseas Trade Board.
Early in 1996 LCR outbid its rivals to secure its franchise from John Major’s government; it was believed that profits from Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels could finance construction of the high-speed link – which was to run 67 miles from London to Folkestone.
But Eurostar was losing £248 million a year when LCR took it on. And the challenge was not just financial — arriving in Brussels in the early days of Eurostar, Hornby was sent back by Belgian immigration because he had forgotten his passport.
Preparations were made to float LCR on the London stock exchange during 1997, but it became clear that Eurostar, far from becoming a money-spinner, would continue to make thumping losses. The fire that briefly closed the Tunnel in November 1996 did not help.
Planned through-trains to the Continent from the regions and Scotland were abandoned, sleeping cars worth £130 million were sold unused to Canada at a knock-down price. And in January 1998 a mortified Hornby told the new Labour government’s transport “supremo”, John Prescott, that LCR could not deliver the link without extra funding.
Prescott refused, and in a late-night statement told the Commons that new funding arrangements would be made — with British Rail, which still existed on paper, taking over Eurostar if no private operator could be found. A new consortium was formed to operate the British end of Eurostar, and LCR survived to deliver the link and the spectacularly renovated St Pancras terminus. It turned out that a change of ownership would have voided European funding. Hornby and his management team, headed by Adam Mills, stood down soon after.
Formed initially by Virgin and Warburgs, with shareholders including Bechtel, National Express, Systra and London Electricity, LCR appointed Hornby its chairman in August 1994, just before Eurostar services began. While its bid of £2.7 billion (raised by £200 million at the last minute to make sure of success) was over-optimistic, LCR’s failure was no reflection on the amiable but cautious Hornby’s abilities.
After working his way up with Mobil, Mars and Texas Instruments, he had made his mark during 17 years with Xerox (later Rank-Xerox) as director of international operations (based in the South of France and Connecticut), executive director and ultimately chairman.
Appointed to the British Overseas Trade Board in 1987, he became its chairman in 1990 — the year he was knighted — and served with vigour for five years.
Hornby believed that business had to be outward-looking, and at Xerox funded the CBI to deliver educational programmes to schools. Again through the CBI, he pioneered initiatives to improve relations between companies and their suppliers. As the final chairman of the British Institute of Management from 1990 to 1993, he presided over its amalgamation with the Institute of Industrial Managers to form the Chartered Management Institute.
Hornby had no connection with the eponymous model train maker . But he had spent five years as a board member of British Rail as Channel Tunnel services were being planned. Tempers at 222 Marylebone Road could run high; one late-night meeting culminated in Hornby and Lord Sheppard, of Grand Metropolitan, clutching each other by their ties across the boardroom table.
A lover of theatre, Hornby met Peter Hall through his (Hornby’s) second wife, the broadcaster Sonia Beesley, and took a year off from Texas Instruments to be administrative director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, close to his Warwickshire home. He was later president of the Shaw Trust. He leaves a creative legacy: his elder son is the author Nick Hornby, who movingly chronicled, in Fever Pitch, the times he spent with his father watching Arsenal after the break-up of Sir Derek’s first marriage; his son-in-law is the novelist Robert Harris.
Derek Peter Hornby was born in Bournemouth on January 10 1930, the eldest of five children. Even before his father was killed in the war, he was brought up by his grandmother down the road from the rest of the family as money was short. Educated at Canford , he joined Mobil after National Service in Aden.
At Mars he was put, aged 29, in charge of a factory with 600 workers. He found out the hard way about the company’s egalitarian ethos; its founder, Forrest Mars, visiting at 7.30am, ordered a carpenter to remove Hornby’s glass door and put his desk where the staff could see it.
In addition to LCR, he was chairman of Video Arts, Partnership Sourcing, IRG and Morgan Sindall. His directorships included Cogent Elliott, London and Edinburgh Insurance, Kode International, Dixons (where he chaired the audit committee), the Sedgwick Group, Pillar Properties and Savills.
Derek Hornby married first, in 1953, Margaret Withers, with whom he had a son and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved, and in 1971 he married Sonia Beesley, who survives him with a younger son and daughter.
Sir Derek Hornby, born January 10 1930, died December 16 2013

Guardian:

I met the painter Maurice Cockrill one evening in April 1968 in O’Connor’s, the pub that had become the hub of the Liverpool poetry scene. He was then living in a room on the first floor at 64 Canning Street; Adrian Henri had the two floors upstairs. With fellow artists John Baum and Sam Walsh, Maurice was teaching in Liverpool College of Art’s pre-diploma department.
Maurice was also a poet. He gave readings, notably at the Traverse theatre during the 1968 Edinburgh festival, when he shared the platform with Alan Jackson, Pete Morgan and Brian Patten.
His poems were published in the magazine Ambit, and two were included in Pete Roche’s anthology Love, Love, Love. The poem Happy Burial, an elegy for his second marriage, became a blues song composed by Mike Evans and Mike Hart; Hart sung it piercingly on his album Mike Hart Bleeds.
I note that in last week’s debate in parliament Conservative MPs voiced the view that users of food banks were deficient in budgeting skills (Charity’s fine, but it can’t justify the wealth of the 1%, 20 December). Providentially, now that parliament is in recess, they have time to help by visiting their local food bank – there is bound to be one nearby.
One of the things we do when clients come to us in the food banks is to ensure that they are receiving advice and support in finding solutions to their problems. These MPs, led by Iain Duncan Smith, that magically gifted operator of budgets, will be able to advise – after all, if it’s possible to continue with one’s project while writing off millions by the score, what possible difficulty could there be in managing when short of the odd tenner?
Mollie Whitworth
North Walsham, Norfolk
•  It’s a shame that the great philanthropist Joseph Rowntree isn’t around to appreciate the Guardian. He would have agreed with Polly Toynbee’s reflection on the limits of charity. In 1865, he wrote: “Charity as ordinarily practised, the charity of endowment, the charity of emotion, the charity which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery which it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.”
Steven Burkeman (@stevenburkeman)
York
•  Tory MEP Anthea McIntyre defends the government’s refusal to accept EU funding for food banks on the grounds that “Britain should decide how it spends its own money” (Letters, 20 December).
So what is government policy on food banks, how much, if at all, do they spend on supporting them, and why did they reply to a parliamentary question of mine in relation to food banks that “food banks are not a government responsibility and we do not gather statistics”?
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

Independent:
Times:

Educationists want equality enforced by reducing selective schooling. Aspirational parents want old-fashioned education
Sir, Demitri Coryton, the editor of Education Journal (letter, Dec 21), is correct that I and others are nostalgic for the age of the grammar schools, with good reason.
Take Derby. There were four excellent grammar schools in the town in the 1970s, all of them taking in more working-class children than middle class. I attended Bemrose, an excellent grammar school securing places by attainment alone at Oxford and Cambridge. It is now comprehensive and in June 2003 was placed in “Special Measures”. Of the other three schools, Derby Grammar School for Boys, founded in 1160, was rated as highly as Bemrose. It was re-created in 1994 as a fee-paying school for the middle classes. So I ask Demitri Coryton, what price social mobility now in the city of Derby?
Don Shaw
(Retired Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Derby)
Sir, Until reading the letter from Demitri Coryton I had not realised that I and my fellow 6th-form students in a local authority grammar school in Leeds in the late 1950s were middle class. Most of us lived in back-to-back terrace houses and council houses. Two of us, of whom I was one, lived in prefabs.
Our fathers engaged in such “middle class” employments as butcher, baker, tram driver, British Rail electrician and prison officer.
Bernard Ackroyd
Great Alne, Warks
Sir, Modern educationists’ primary concern is equality. Favourite phrases include mixed-ability, non-streamed, informal, education-through-play, group learning, child-centred, non-competitive, non-labelling. This system works because advantaged children stimulate and inspire others. Unfortunately, aspirational parents are ruining the nation’s education by buying houses together near better schools or, even worse, paying for private education. Their favourite words include work, selective, streamed, formal, spelling, competitive, discipline, times-tables.
The solution is clear to both sides. Educationists want equality enforced by reducing selective schooling. Aspirational parents want old-fashioned education. Whichever side you take, we can agree that modern education is delivering equality: neither my doctor nor plumber is British, and my bright daughter learnt little all year next to the most disruptive boy in her class.
The Rev Ulric Gerry
Glasgow
Sir, The main objection to private education as we know it is not that it removes children from the state system, but that it removes their parents. So, many people who possess influence and know how to use it have no immediate interest in improving state schools. As Bernard Levin pointed out, if their children went to the same schools as the majority we could expect a dramatic improvement in standards, which might then equal those of countries ahead of us in the league tables.
Jim Dukes
Oxford
Sir, As a working-class “kid” who, thanks to a grammar school education, read modern languages at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1948-1951, I was momentarily distracted from disagreeing violently with Sir Michael Wilshaw (Dec 16) by feeling fastidious about the lack of elegance in the expression of his views.
Kathleen Kummer
Stoke Gabriel, Devon

Perhaps if a planning application for greenbelt land is submitted, it should only be considered if paired with a brownfield development
Sir, When the green belt was first put in place, just after the war, there was ample space for house building within towns and cities (letters, Dec 20). It is now an anachronism but is rather selfishly guarded, particularly by those who want the brownfield sites to be built upon. Why not allow the building of houses within green belt areas and green up those brownfield sites? This would go some way to satisfying both sides.
Dan Green
Ewell, Surrey
Sir, The battle over the green belt has already been won: it has been overrun by horses and their attendant paraphernalia. I would be happy to find some remnant scrub land locally, but it has mostly been cleared so as not to impede these galloping pets. I now actually believe that building houses with gardens in the green belt would improve it from a wildlife point of view. It is certainly no longer worth preserving in its present state as a refuge for our fauna and flora.
Andrew J. Bissitt
Romiley, Greater Manchester
Sir, Would it be too controversial to suggest that any planning application on a green-belt site be considered only if matched by an application for an equivalent number of households on a brownfield site somewhere, stimulating an element of co-operation and perhaps even cross subsidy between the development companies involved, one not being permitted to proceed without the other?
Bill Woodcock
Lytham St Annes, Lancs
Sir, It is a profligate use of a finite resource to continue to build so many one and two-storey properties. Flats represent a much better use of land and also cost less than houses. Well designed and well landscaped, they are a very attractive option.
Roger Stapleton
Poole, Dorset
Sir, The recent correspondence regarding the protection of green belt suggests the usual solution of using brownfield land for house building. This land is usually former industrial sites with contamination of heavy metals, arsenic, the remnants of town gas lagoons and sometimes worse. This can all be remedied but who is willing to pay a ten per cent premium to buy a house in these locations? The market dictates price and it is based on low development costs, and always will be. The “clean” brown land is mostly gone now — we need to formulate strategies for the future without it.
Keith Hayday
Attenborough, Nottingham

Telegraph:
SIR – Last year you drew attention to a report on the selection of public art called What’s that thing? (“This is what you get when you put bureaucrats in charge of public art”, report, May 10 2012).
The nub of it was that much bad art, often subsidised by the taxpayer, ends up in our midst and that those most affected by it should be able to vote on a project rather than just finding themselves saddled with it.
Equally important would be to establish a procedure whereby we could vote to get appalling pieces of public art removed, preferably at the expense of whatever organisation caused them to be erected in the first place.
We might thus recover some of the green spaces that most would prefer to have remained as they were.
David Gunn
Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire

SIR – You report the dilemma faced by Forces’ widows who lost their spouses before 2005 (“Military widows ‘forced to choose between love and pension’,” December 19). Sadly, a similar ruling applies to widows of teachers who died before January 1 2007, in that they cannot cohabit or remarry without losing their late husband’s pension.
This inhumane ruling means that widows affected could lose their financial independence if they enter a new partnership. Had they divorced they would almost certainly have been awarded a pension for life or some equivalent financial compensation.
There is surely something very wrong in a ruling that penalises women who have, as in my case, been widowed in my early fifties and been told that I cannot enter a new relationship without losing a pension to which, as a wife, mother and part-time worker, I have also contributed.
Lynn Jones
West Kirby, Wirral
Related Articles
Who will rid us of these awful public art works?
24 Dec 2013
Zoomer not zimmer
SIR – Passing the driving test at 70 (Letters, December 23) is a doddle. Passing the motorbike test at 75 for the first time, as I’m discovering, is a bit more tricky.
Graham Aston
Weybridge, Surrey
Fairytale horrors
SIR – Joanna Comer (Letters, December 21) may well be right that children love gruesome stories. As a professional storyteller, I obtained a copy of the works of Hans Christian Andersen in 2005, to put together a programme for his bicentenary. I could barely find a story that I could bring myself to read to primary school children, such was their baleful content. The Ugly Duckling is a notable exception.
My attempt failed, but his tales live on.
Robert Leven
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
Ringed moon, rain soon
SIR – A lunar halo is not a rare phenomenon (report, December 18). It has nothing to do with cold weather. Such haloes, either solar or lunar, occur in any season when a veil of cirrostratus cloud covers the sun or moon. They are often the precursor of precipitation.
Michael Shaw
Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Songs everyone knows
SIR – When I was at college in the Sixties, the song that always provoked a rumbustious lung-bursting effort from everyone in the pub (Letters, December 23) was I’m Getting Married in the Morning. No one really knew all the words, so the chorus tended to be repeated fairly often.
Nevertheless a good time was had by all, and most of the participants ended up married – and they stayed married to this day. That was a different world.
Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall
SIR – How about Nellie the Elephant?
Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – When I was singing in a choir, our conductor used to invite audiences to join in singing My Bonny Lies over the Ocean.
Everyone knew the words, and when they were asked to stand or sit when singing a word beginning with a “B”, happy chaos was achieved.
Sid Brittin
Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey
Helicopter deal
SIR – David Cameron and Vince Cable have warmly welcomed the Norwegian government’s decision to buy 16 AW101 helicopters for search-and-rescue services, safeguarding jobs at AgustaWestland’s factory at Yeovil in Somerset.
If only the Government had shown the same support for British industry by buying AW101s for the RAF and Fleet Air Arm search-and-rescue flights, which are currently equipped with the elderly Sea King helicopter. Instead, search-and-rescue is being privatised and the chosen commercial operator is buying US-built Sikorsky S-92s for the role, which have less interior space than an AW101 and which the Canadians are finding ill-suited to the search-and-rescue role.
The Government claims that it is promoting British exports and supporting advanced technology, but this is to live on borrowed time, and on past investment in new designs. In future, our Armed Forces will be expected to buy “off-the-shelf” equipment from abroad when we cease to invest in new projects.
David Cameron may travel the world acting as a salesman for British industry, but as the years pass he will have less to sell. That AgustaWestland pulled off such a deal in the face of the Government’s indifference to its fine product is a real achievement for the company.
David Wragg
Edinburgh
M&S Muslim code
SIR – I read with horror the report of M&S allowing Muslim staff to refuse to sell alcohol or pork at the checkout (December 23).
This trend must be stopped. We will soon have Jews refusing to sell shellfish or Hindus refusing to sell beef. All these religious laws are based on outdated ideas.
Dave Ketteridge
Doncaster, West Yorkshire
Hang on to the line
SIR – Boris Johnson (Comment, December 23) suggests that we can do perfectly well without a fixed-line telephone. I invite him to visit my home in the Tillingbourne Valley, near Guildford, where he will need to trudge to the end of the garden in the hope of obtaining a signal, only to be cut off in mid-conversation.
The fixed-line telephone does not require recharging, and I have never absent-mindedly left it behind on the train.
Richard Floyd
Chilworth, Surrey
An unexpected present from the Christmas tree
SIR – Further to your report regarding Christmas trees harbouring insects (December 21), today we were sitting by the tree when suddenly a peacock butterfly (Inachis io) flew out into the room.
After taking several photographs of it, we carefully carried it out to a nearby conifer hedge in the hope that it will survive the winter.
Helen Mortimer
Bladon, Oxfordshire
SIR – Anne Stone (Letters, December 20) may be interested to know that I used to have a sign pinned to the front door that read: “If you don’t know two verses, please don’t knock”.
This was much to my girls’ embarrassment, but we always went out when the Salvation Army came to call, and gave generously.
Patricia Camm
Filey, North Yorkshire
SIR – The joy of sending greetings at Christmas is certainly muted by the cost of postage. However, some of our friends and family seem to have solved this problem by not bothering to buy stamps at all. Three times in the past week we have had to make a round trip of 12 miles to the local sorting office to collect unstamped mail, at a cost of £1.50 a time – 50p for the unpaid postage plus £1 “handling charge”.
Jill Smith
Stalbridge, Dorset
SIR – Now that charity cards are so common, would it not make some commercial sense if the Royal Mail offered charity stamps, eligible for use only in the weeks leading up to Christmas?
Not only could this help worthy causes, but it might also help to save us from those often dreadful free email cards.
Mike Cole
Edington, Somerset

SIR – Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, says that our health service would “fall over” if it were not for the foreign nationals working within it. This may be true, but he seems to lack any appreciation of the questionable morality of this position.
Is it fair for a wealthy country such as ours to poach health professionals from poorer countries, whose own health services may then be in danger of “falling over”?
We read that midwives are being recruited from Bulgaria at a salary of £35,000 a year. This may be great for the midwives concerned, but one wonders how this will affect the service available to mothers in Bulgaria.
This seems even more unfair if one considers that Bulgarian taxpayers have paid for the training of these folk. Surely we should be striving to train our own health workers rather than relying on foreign workers who are trained at someone else’s expense.
John Glanville
Hornchurch, Essex
Related Articles
Who will rid us of these awful public art works?
24 Dec 2013
SIR – Madeleine Worrall (Letters, December 23) may well be right about the intelligence and charm of Bulgarian would-be immigrants, but she doesn’t explain where we are supposed to put them all.
I live in one of the numerous areas in the country threatened with large-scale development because of the increasing need for houses.
Our countryside is vanishing, we are running out of space to bury our dead and our rubbish, we are currently the second most overcrowded country in Europe and all Vince Cable can do (report, December 23) is produce the “racist” card. It’s not race, Mr Cable, it’s numbers.
Maggie Hughes
Gnosall, Staffordshire
SIR – Perhaps, as Christmas approaches, those who advocate ever stricter immigration controls should remember that, for two years, Jesus and his family were, effectively, immigrants and asylum seekers in Egypt?
Dr Nick Winstone-Cooper
Laleston, Mid Glamorgan
SIR – How can David Cameron survive the election when his Cabinet colleague Vince Cable likens him to Enoch Powell, and one of his MPs crudely attacks Nigel Farage?
If he believes his own rhetoric on the EU and immigration, he should be brave enough to sack those who disagree with Tory policy, including Ken Clarke, and be prepared to face the consequences.
He might be very pleasantly surprised how much support he gets – more than if he sits on his hands and does nothing.
Maurice Hastings
Bickington, Devon
SIR – “Cable compares Cameron to Enoch Powell” (report, December 23). If only…
John Carlisle
Conservative MP 1979-97
Sevenoaks, Kent
SIR – Steve England has found raspberries in fruit in December. One of our geese started laying in October and is still laying now.
Liz Lucy
Aylton, Herefordshire
SIR – As I watched my pond from my bedroom window this week, a mallard dropped into the water followed by eight newly hatched ducklings. Sadly, I think survival is unlikely without the insect life found on the water at the right time of year.
Jane Neame
Wittersham, Kent
SIR – The raspberries are more likely to be late than early. When I used to grow autumn bliss, it wasn’t unusual to find berries in December in a mild winter.
Mary Richards
Gunnislake, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

* Christmas is a time when we celebrate simplicity and redemption. This year, two leading lights of the world were quenched. In the autumn we lost Seamus Heaney and in winter Nelson Mandela also moved on. Both men were exemplars and champions of truth, though the greatness of each was cloaked by modesty and integrity.
Also in this section
Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all
Letters: Support our own causes
A Christmas message
Each struggled with doubt and uncertainty and in the empty spaces found sustainable nuggets of wisdom that will shine long after their passing.
Unsurprisingly, their passing was marked more by a celebration of their accomplishments than by mourning. We lost something but because their sum was greater than their parts, they left us the richer for their being.
Seamus Heaney wrote that: “I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original centre.”
What a lovely thought, we all flow and are carried from and to a source. To him the world was a celebration of the processes of life, he spoke of purification in the grounds of our beseeching. Every battle for understanding and enlightenment was worth the fight and, like Nelson Mandela, he had many victories.
Like Madiba, he understood that insight knows no limits and he once noted that: “I credit poetry for making the space-walk possible.”
Also like South Africa’s most famous son, he did not set much store by boundaries or walls of confinement. Hope’s lantern always burned in his heart even though he accepted that “as writers and readers, as sinners and citizens, our realism and our aesthetic sense make us wary of crediting the positive note”.
Mandela, too, was indifferent to high praise. He scoffed at notions of sainthood, insisting he was an ordinary man who sinned.
Mr Mandela was adamant that: “It is amazing how many things are impossible until they are done.”
RACHAEL E CONNELLEY
CO GALWAY
FOLLOW YONDER STAR
* My niece rushed into the sittingroom the other day wild with excitement. In the eight-year-old’s trembling hand was a gold envelope with a broken seal, inside of which was a note from the North Pole.
Santa had written to her personally assuring her that she had got herself on the ‘nice list’. This was no mean achievement.
It required not missing a day at school, being nice to her two brothers — something that required more effort than a 100 years of homework — but it had all paid off now.
The nice list, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Well, it got me thinking about our belief in magic and enchantment. In particular, it reminded me of the great hopes we have all invested in the ‘Growth Fairy’.
According to Michael Noonan, growth, that great benevolent economic enchantress, will transform us from being bonded to austerity and retrenchment perpetually, to full prosperity in a matter of months. Bah humbug, to those of you non-believers who doubt the purveyors of the dismal science, the elves of the ESRI or the good burghers of IBEC, who are all singing off the same hymn-sheet.
The hymn in question is ‘Joy to the World’, and anyone who sounds a bum note will be kicked out of the gallery.
It is not that I have any problem in believing in growth; it is just that I feel the real heroes of the piece, the working man and woman, are somehow wiped out of this epiphany.
The extra hours put in, the increased workload borne by the few after the many have been made redundant; those who shoulder the levies and the taxes; those for whom there is no real room at the inn when it comes to celebrating the great miracle of the birth of growth; these are the ones I would like to see recognised and exalted.
Despite the slavish devotion, few reap the rewards. And those whose labours and exertions are responsible for producing growth are never invited on to the high altar.
A star was born in the east and it shall be known as ‘growth’. Follow yonder star. The meek may indeed inherit the Earth, but only after the profits have been extracted and the dividends paid to the big stake holders.
R D Ellis
BLACKROCK, CO DUBLIN
HEALTHCARE CRISIS
* The healthcare budget of the public acute system has been mauled over the last four years. This is set to continue into 2014. Nothing should be allowed to divert attention from this reality.
There are two consequences. The first is that service provision, especially for patients seeking access to the public system, has been cut to pieces. The second is that medical stress has increased across the public system, putting more pressure on staff. Notwithstanding new institutional structures, the dysfunctionality and the contradictions in policy are very evident.
What has been presided over — the cuts and the ‘savings’ — has depopulated the public system of medical and nursing staff.
We know from the international data that cuts of this nature and on this scale will ultimately cost far more to put right than the putative ‘savings’ to meet short-term budgetary ‘targets’. The departmental allocation to health, and therefore the allocation to the HSE, is wholly inadequate.
Government policy is, as a consequence, disingenuous. A fictional ‘overspend’ has been injected into the policy narrative, when the reality is that funding of the public acute system falls far short of what is required.
The Government appears to be in denial of the facts and the truth with which senior clinicians and management are having to contend; and it’s not for lack of being told. This is unworthy of the kind of dialogue to which patients and the public are entitled.
PROF RAY KINSELLA
ASHFORD, CO WICKLOW
TURKEY SHOPPING
* It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one.
In desperation, she called over a shop assistant and said: “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?”
“No,” he replied. “They’re all dead.”
J PENDRED
GREYSTONES, CO WICKLOW
A CHRISTMAS POEM
* Two girls wait for Santa’s Christmas smiles, while likewise their cousins wait across the miles
They spread girly joy where ever they go, but in their dreams they play with snow
Torn between the hot and the cold, still daydreaming of new versus old
Lots of festive lollies and candy to chew, they’d prefer granny’s baking and Irish stew
Seeing loved ones on Skype is not quite the same, between lifestyle and loans, who’s taking the blame?
Carols will be sung but not in Irish voices, I guess that’s what it’s like making life’s choices
A kookaburra sits squawking in his tree, while in my mind’s eye it’s where a robin should be
For us there’ll be no foggy Christmas Eve, but red hot beaches and sun to receive
Barbequed food can be great when you eat it, stuffed turkey and roast spuds surely could beat it
It’s not fair to be pondering as time goes on by, on all that we’ve lost, and gained and why
Christmas just seems so upside down, but a sleigh that goes worldwide must still serve all towns
‘Tis the season to be jolly but in WA there grows no holly
So merry Christmas to all and to all a good year — let’s hope the love grows between Eire and here.
OLIVIA BRENNAN TULLY
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Irish Independent

Hospital

December 24, 2013

24 December 2013 Hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. The have to pick up a British spy from Sicily but the get the wrong one a Russian with bombs in every pocket. Priceless.

Hospital no change back in two weeks selivery Shantis pressies

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Rae Woodland, the soprano, who has died aged 91, overcame a hare lip to achieve operatic success, notably as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a role she took to Sadler’s Wells and Glyndebourne.

Benjamin Britten invited her to join the English Opera Group tour to Moscow in 1964, when she sang the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, and she remained associated with his music for the rest of her life.

She was thought to be the first English soprano to sing with Luciano Pavarotti, when she made her debut at Covent Garden in Bellini’s La sonnambula alongside Joan Sutherland in 1965; her performance, in the words of one critic, was “radiant”.

An earlier reviewer had noted how, as Queen of the Night at Glyndebourne in 1960 under Peter Gellhorn, Rae Woodland “launched herself into the vocal equivalent of outer space without apparent qualms, hitting the starry top Fs in the middle”.

Another role was as Elektra in Idomeneo, which she recorded with Peter Pears and Heather Harper under Britten in 1969 and sang at Rome Opera with Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda in 1971. But Glyndebourne was where she was happiest, as she once explained in a recording made for the British Library. It was a “home from home”, she said, describing with fondness the family atmosphere there.

Rae Woodland was born in Nottingham on April 9 1922. Her father had been a professional footballer with Norwich City and later managed a hotel. She was sent to a convent school at Southam, Warwickshire, before finishing her education at Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham.

Seeking to correct her daughter’s hare lip, Rae’s mother saved for many years to take Rae to see Sir Harold Gillies and Archibald McIndoe, pioneers of reconstructive surgery, in London. “I was terrified, of course,” Rae Woodland later recalled. “But not nearly as much as my mum – she spent the night of the operation in the Catholic church near the clinic.” Rae was eventually left with barely a mark.

Meanwhile, her family moved to run a hotel at Wickersley, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, where Rae and her sister, Christine, sang for guests accompanied by a piano trio. Meanwhile, an adjudicator at the Mexborough competitive music festival, where she won several classes, helped to put her in contact with Roy Henderson, Kathleen Ferrier’s teacher. However, their relationship nearly got off on the wrong note when Henderson told Rae Woodland — who had dressed in her smartest outfit for the audition — to visit Bond Street to observe how fashionable women were attired.

After understudying for Mattiwilda Dobbs at Glyndebourne in 1956, Rae Woodland sang for Lotte Lehmann in a masterclass at the Wigmore Hall (Grace Bumbry was also a participant). Joan Cross then invited her to join the National Opera School, which led to Sadler’s Wells, where she sang Queen of the Night in 1957 under Rudolf Schwarz. She sang in the premiere of Nicholas Maw’s The Rising of the Moon in 1970, Verdi’s Macbeth in 1972 and Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (1980 and 1982).

In 1963 she took part in the Proms premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 with Janet Baker under Leopold Stokowski, a recording of which has appeared on the BBC Legends label.

During the 1970s Rae Woodland moved towards lighter music, becoming a stalwart of Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2, though still appearing in Britten productions, including a well-received Albert Herring for Welsh National Opera in 1976. She bade farewell to the stage in 1984 and, after a period teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, retired to Snape, where she taught on the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme.

Her husband, Denis Stanley, whom she married in the 1950s, died in 2011. They had no children.

Rae Woodland, born April 9 1922, died December 12 2013

 

Guardian:

 

 

Jonathan Freedland’s piece regarding the embracing of Christmas by Britain’s other faiths and cultures is spot-on (My family used to ignore Christmas, but not this year, 21 December). The Hindu religion, he observes, has always had an all-embracing approach to the customs of other faiths. It is due to this catholic approach that persecuted faiths like Zoroastrians and Baha’is have found a safe home in India, as have Jewish people, who have lived in India for centuries. Hindus believe all paths to God are valid and this approach has meant that they have never persecuted or waged wars against those of other faiths. In the UK, here in Croydon we have been organising a Christmas lunch for the local community for the past 33 years. Peace in the world will only be achieved when we begin to respect and accept other paths to God. The truth Lord Buddha observed can be arrived at from different angles.
Nitin Mehta
Croydon

•  As society fragments, it would seem positive for the spirit of Christmas to bind us all together. British society is becoming increasingly multi-faith, according to the census. Non-Christian households taking on some of the trappings of the day, such as the Christmas tree or turkey meal, does not do any harm. However, all this widespread festive cheer should not dilute the religious significance of Christmas. At its core, it is a religious festival marking the birth of Christ. We should be wary of the folly of stripping it down to a universal celebration and denuding it of its Christian content, in some well-meaning but misguided multiculturalism. In my experience, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs tend to enjoy the fact society “switches off” for a few days, and that our Christian friends celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. Each of the great faiths has its own festivals, and the goal of multiculturalism should be to respect the differences, as much as to accentuate our commonalities.
Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

•  On Sunday, after a traditional service of nine lessons and carols, Archbishop Sentamu announced that he was going to switch on his phone and send a tweet. How wonderful, I thought, he is going to tell his followers about the true state of Bethlehem today. Surrounded by a massive separation wall and high watch towers, the entrance to the Church of the Nativity pockmarked by Israeli bullets, the fields where the shepherds had sat now built on by illegal settlements. How the Roman occupation of Palestine over two thousand years ago was now mirrored by the Israeli occupation of today. Would he have enough characters? I had seen all two months ago. But my hopes were shattered: it was about auditions for his choir; how safe, how inward-looking, sadly, how predictable.

How wonderful it would be if tomorrow, in every Christian service across the world, congregations could be told what Bethlehem is really like today, instead of the saccharine songs about little towns lying still under silent stars.
Janice Gupta Gwilliam
Norton, North Yorkshire

•  On Christmas day, many people will be celebrating the birth of a healthy baby. It can be assumed that his mother had an adequate diet before she conceived and while she was pregnant because her baby did not suffer the catastrophic consequences of poor maternal nutrition. Her son grew up to call on society to see the misery of sickness, hunger, homelessness and thirst, and act to remove them.

There are intergenerational effects of malnutrition. Many researches show this, including those about the famine in the western Netherlands winter 1944/spring 1945. It took place in a modern, developed and literate country, albeit suffering under the privations of occupation. Subsequent studies have found that children of pregnant women who were exposed to famine were more susceptible to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Their children were smaller at birth and as adults. The changes were passed down to the next generation. Subsequent academic research on the children affected in the second trimester of a pregnancy found an increased incidence of schizophrenia.

I suggested in 2009 to ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions that poor maternal nutrition, low birthweight, and some consequent ill health in the UK might be due to inadequate incomes; they sent the evidence to ministers at the Department of Health, “to allow them the opportunity to respond to your detailed analysis of the effects of maternal nutrition on child physical and mental health”. The DoH passed it on to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, but economic questions were not in their remit. In 2010 the government changed, SACN was abolished, and a letter from the DoH told me that income levels are dealt with by the DWP. Now GPs report that malnutrition is reaching damaging levels.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

•  Gatwick airport, around 7am on Friday. A little four-year-old girl is happy and excited about her Christmas trip to Finland. At the security check area she is selected for a random search. She is embarrassed, frightened and wonders what she has done wrong. She doesn’t stop crying for five minutes, even when being comforted by her mother. Was this action really necessary in the interests of national safety – or was it another mission accomplished in the war on terror?
Brian Hartigan
Banstead, Surrey

•  Anyone still unclear about Ed Miliband’s distinction between “responsible” and “predatory” capitalism should tune in to It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve on Channel 4.
Ian Bullock
Brighton

• OK, so according to your article (Weird ways we spend Christmas Day, 21 December) we have only 38% of women but 55% of men sneaking away during Christmas Day for lovemaking … meaning?
Ishbel Askew
Sampford Courtenay, Devon

 

 

It is disappointing that Vincent Nichols’ compassionate article (How our ‘pro-marriage’ government splits families, 16 December) hasn’t been more widely supported in the Guardian. He shows how it will be impossible for many citizens to meet the stringent new regulations to bring over their spouses, and this is likely to break up more than 17,000 families a year. This, together with the scaremongering over the predicted arrival of Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January 2014, makes our society hostile indeed for immigrants. I suspect it is too much to ask that, like Germany, we offer to take in some of the Syrian refugees hungry and cold in Lebanon?
Thelma Percy
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Nigel Farage complains that “this latest, remarkable foul-mouthed attack is utterly incredulous” (Minister apologises for quip about Farage, 23 December). Is it not a little surprising – incredible even – that Mr Farage, whose entire political career is based on pandering to the credulous, should fail to grasp the difference between the incredible and the incredulous?
Philip Hoy
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• David Conn is quite correct to lament the move by Hull City’s owner to rename the club Hull Tigers (Tigers and Tan show no one will speak out in age of the owner, 21 December). This will be anathema to traditionalists everywhere, not least hardened quiz fans who know that Hull City is unique among the names of the 92 league clubs in not containing any letters you can colour in.
Jem Whiteley

Oxford

• Chris Elliott states (Open door, 23 December) that “Readers of the Guardian are 77% more likely to say the point of drinking is to get drunk; 82% are interested in the arts.” Am I to infer that most Guardian readers are piss-artists?
Waldo Gemio
London

• You left it until very late in the day, but congratulations on the punniest headline of 2013 (Elfin safety concerns prompt Iceland court to delay highway, 23 December).
David Collins
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Geoffrey Robertson (The vilification of Nigella: no way to treat a witness, 21 December) is of course right that “English law is in blatant breach of the European convention on human rights by providing no effective way for witnesses to protect their reputations”.

Spare a thought, then, for the recent Rochdale and Oxford sex-grooming trials, when defence barristers, on the basis of testing the credibility of the victims, tore these distressed young women to pieces. After the first day of the Operation Bullfinch trial at the Old Bailey one witness took an overdose, which she survived physically, but her emotional anguish won’t go away.

Subsequently Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has spearheaded a campaign to create more effective police powers (of prevention), and the judiciary is reviewing how witness “credibility” can and should be questioned. Too late for the Rochdale and Oxford victims, too late for Ms Lawson, and there the comparison ends.

As for the European convention, the government is keen to withdraw from this intrusive “foreign” concoction.
Bruce Ross-Smith
Oxford

• Master and servant may be one root of the Lawson saga (The relationship between master and servant is at the heart of the Nigella case, 21 December) but is not another that some people just have too much money? Roll on a return to the days of high taxes, say 60p in the pound after £150,000 and 90p after £250,000, and more on capital gains. Then we might begin to reduce the appalling inequality that afflicts our national community, benefits would not need to be cut, a lot of families would have less debt and a happier Christmas, and food banks would be on the way out.
Revd David Haslam
Methodist Tax Justice Network

•  While the police waste their time wondering how they can prosecute a woman who might have taken a controlled drug a few times (Met police to review Nigella drug-taking claims, 23 December), how many others might they investigate? I wonder if HMRC will be investigating if the Grillo sisters paid tax on the £600,000 of bonus and benefits they legitimately received? And if not, will they be pursued for it?
Neil Burgess
London

•  Shame on the British judicial system, shame on the judge, shame on the jury, shame on the media. The whole focus was not on the accused but on destroying the reputation of a successful woman. Nigella Lawson was the real victim in all of this, and the trial should never have involved her children. There should be an injunction to stop the Grillo sisters from exploiting this charade by selling any stories to the media or signing any book deals.
Virginia O’Leary
Blarney, Co Cork, Ireland

•  You report that Francesca Grillo’s defence barrister, Anthony Metzer QC, in his summing up to the jury said “this is a case with no winners” (21 December). Not so. It was a bumper end-of-season beanfeast for lawyers and media alike. As usual, envy and tittle-tattle also played a blinder.
Chris Trude
London

 

In his article “Teaching Niall Ferguson a (Colombian) history lesson” (20 December), David Hill launches a bizarre attack against me. The accusation relates to the single paragraph in my book The Ascent of Money that refers to the Amazonian Nukak people. According to Hill, what I wrote was inaccurate because I did not refer to a book about the Nukak edited by two Colombian anthropologists, Dany Mahecha and Carlos Franky. Nor did I refer to Franky’s PhD thesis.

This would indeed have been negligent of me – but for the fact that my book was published in 2008 and their work was published three years later, in 2011.

Does the Guardian now expect clairvoyance of historians? The book by Mahecha and Franky sounds important and worthy of your readers’ attention. The same can hardly be said for the fact that I was unable to divine its findings before they had written it.

In any case, nothing that Hill writes invalidates my point that traditional Nukak society had no use for money. The irony will not be lost on your readers that my source for the paragraph in question was Juan Forero, the Washington Post’s Colombian correspondent.
Niall Ferguson
Harvard University

 

 

 

Aber Falls make an excellent family winter walk. It’s two miles up a buggy-friendly track signposted from the bridge in Abergwyngregyn. The falls are a fine sight in spate or frozen. With older children you can return through the spooky forest, or cross the stream and follow the track on to the other side of the valley. Look out for wild horses as you climb high above the coast for views to Anglesey. Drop steeply to the village and the Old Mill Cafe for tea and Welsh cakes. Bendigedig (Welsh for brilliant)! eryri-npa.gov.uk
PeterOwens

Hall Walk, Polruan, Cornwall

Take the ferry to Bodinnick from Fowey, then amble through the woods above the creeks towards Polruan. Through winter-bare trees you glimpse boats, herons, jetties and houses with lush gardens. At Polruan, enjoy the busy-ness of boats, eat a hot pasty, or warm up in the Lugger Inn , then take the ferry across the harbour, back to Fowey.
shorewalker

 

 

 

Independent:

 

On Christmas Eve, as most of the population are preparing for Christmas, firefighters will be on picket lines up and down the country, with another strike planned for New Year’s Eve.

It might seem odd to the public that firefighters are striking on such significant dates, but the Coalition Government has been doggedly refusing to negotiate throughout the dispute. In contrast, the Scottish government has shown some willingness to compromise and meet the firefighters’ demands part-way.

Speaking with firefighters about their job, about their reluctant industrial action and about the feasibility of them working until 60, you can’t help but be struck by their sense of commitment to the community they serve. Firefighters need to be fit to do their job. In London, with the recent theatre collapse, we have seen how reliant we are on this commitment and physical fitness when we need it.

The Government knows this. Their own review found that two-thirds of firefighters would not be capable of doing the job at 60. They should acknowledge this and recognise that firefighters should not be forced to potentially lose a significant part of their pension if they are not fit enough to serve in their jobs after the age of 55.

With the Government failing to meet for substantive talks, at Monday’s London Fire Authority meeting we agreed to take a cross-party delegation to see the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, to discuss the resolution of the dispute and the financial cost to the London Fire Brigade. This dispute is being caused by national government, but the costs are being picked up by us at a local level.

It is time the Government listened and negotiated in good faith.

Fiona Twycross AM, Leader Labour Group , London Assembly London SE1

Will arms makers help the syrians?

In 1961, at the end of his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” Of all statesmen he was surely the best informed in this area.

After the disaster of Iraq, and indeed Libya, the US and UK have wisely resisted the temptation to pour arms into Syria. There are already far too many weapons in that country. I would like to suggest that the arms manufacturers donate some of their ill-gotten gains for the welfare of Syrian refugees.

As an unthinking young man I joined the RAF, where I learnt to fly and, as a V bomber captain, possibly drop a nuclear weapon on USSR. I am grateful that this military training helped me to get a good peaceful job flying as an airline pilot.

As an indirect beneficiary of the military industrial complex, I have asked that my Christmas present from my wife be a donation to Unicef’s appeal for Syria. I am glad the UK Government is currently doubling such individual donations.

Michael Melville, Northwich, Cheshire

Of course the NHS must be open all hours

Of course the NHS should operate uniformly 24/7 for unscheduled care, as Sir Bruce Keogh has proposed (report, 16 December). Scheduled care could usefully be distributed over seven days of normal daytime hours too, obviating the need for midnight out-patient appointments for day-time workers.

The clinical staff – all functions – need the full spread of support services to run continuously. That means sterile supplies, pharmacy, imaging, blood product supplies, catering, laboratories, transport, portering, laundry and management – even them.

We know it can be done because it used to be done. When I was a houseman  in the late 1970s, on a 104- hours-per-week contract, I had access to freshly cooked meals at any hour of the night and a decent quiet room in which to rest if the opportunity arose – as  did those providing the support services.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Belated justice for Stephen Ward

Whether Geoffrey Robertson QC’s book on Stephen Ward will enhance the fortunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical on the same subject, or vice versa, is intriguing but irrelevant. What matters  is that the combined  force of two high-powered takes on the disgraced osteopath, unveiled simultaneously, may lead  to a retrial of his case.

Geoffrey Robertson, no stranger to miscarriages of justice, makes an unassailable argument for a re-hearing, citing the “moral panic” induced by the Profumo affair, which focused on a viciously demonised Ward and led ultimately to his suicide.

The backstage pressure of the Macmillan government at the time, not to mention the hiding of evidence, police malpractice and the perjury of a witness, required a scapegoat to take the pressure off the establishment. Ward, publicly vilified in the lynch-mob hysteria, was the ideal candidate. His forlorn suicide note – “I’ve given up all hope” – received a stony silence from his accusers.

Showbusiness is not noted for its campaigning zeal, so it’s refreshing to see the worlds of entertainment and the law joined in the pursuit of justice. Too late for Ward. But not for putting right a blatant wrong.

Donald Zec, London W14

A game for the festive season

In the festive season, parlour games are popular.  I have a twist to an old favourite. Readers may recall the silly game played by employees to raise their spirits while having to listen to tedious cliché-filled management presentations. Points would be scored when the speaker repeated overused expressions such as those extolling teamwork and embracing change. “Our employees are our greatest asset”, was the most overused.

Recently, I have been playing the game by spotting the incidence of “the mess left by Labour” and “hard-working families”.  However, the game has stopped being fun, since every – and I do mean every – Tory speaker reprises these two themes on all occasions, whatever the topic being discussed. Are they all issued with the same repetitive material?

Readers should try it; they’ll soon get bored counting.

Tim Brook

Bristol

Wrong-footed at the national theatre

If the safety curtain had safely made it (Letters, 20 December, “Unscripted drama at the NT”) the feet Andrew Jackson saw (though not in slippers) were not Sir Ralph’s. They were Sir John’s. It is not even as if the two theatrical knights were principally famous for the similarity of their ankles.

Peter Forster, London N4

Christmas lockdown

As Carol Wood (Letters, 23 December) wants a lockdown on Christmas day “to stop, think and enjoy life”, I presume she would be quite happy for electricity supply workers to take the day off in addition to those operating our public-transport services?

Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Christmas 1914 – a beacon in the darkness

As readers will be aware, 2014 will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

By the end of 1914 a number of battles had been fought with significant losses on all sides, and as the year’s end approached it slowly dawned on the various participants that this war would most probably not be over by Christmas after all. The set-piece battles of past conflicts were consigned to the history books and were replaced with the horrors of trench warfare. Though few could have guessed it at the time, the scene was set for a slaughter of Europe’s youth on an industrial scale that would shape the rest of the century.

Yet as Christmas Day in 1914 approached, the guns increasingly fell silent. In many sectors, troops from opposing sides offered one another a hand  of friendship. Soldiers erected makeshift Christmas trees, sang carols together, and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate and other gifts. Some played football.

I find it heartening and yet heart-breaking that such a spontaneous truce was possible. Heartening in that for this short time the youth of Europe could put aside their artificially imposed enmity and join together in the celebration of a common custom, and heart-breaking in that a short time later these young men who had been happily socialising with one another would be killing each other on a colossal scale once again.

I regard the Christmas Truce of 1914 as a beacon of humanity among the unimaginable pain and suffering of the Great War and think that this is a story worth reflecting on as we celebrate the festive season and see in a new year which will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of this tragic conflict.

I wish all your staff and readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Chris Beverley, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

 

Times:

 

Sir, Demitri Coryton, the editor of Education Journal (letter, Dec 21), is correct that I and others are nostalgic for the age of the grammar schools, with good reason.

Take Derby. There were four excellent grammar schools in the town in the 1970s, all of them taking in more working-class children than middle class. I attended Bemrose, an excellent grammar school securing places by attainment alone at Oxford and Cambridge. It is now comprehensive and in June 2003 was placed in “Special Measures”. Of the other three schools, Derby Grammar School for Boys, founded in 1160, was rated as highly as Bemrose. It was re-created in 1994 as a fee-paying school for the middle classes. So I ask Demitri Coryton, what price social mobility now in the city of Derby?

Don Shaw

(Retired Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Derby)

Sir, Until reading the letter from Demitri Coryton I had not realised that I and my fellow 6th-form students in a local authority grammar school in Leeds in the late 1950s were middle class. Most of us lived in back-to-back terrace houses and council houses. Two of us, of whom I was one, lived in prefabs.

Our fathers engaged in such “middle class” employments as butcher, baker, tram driver, British Rail electrician and prison officer.

Bernard Ackroyd

Great Alne, Warks

Sir, Modern educationists’ primary concern is equality. Favourite phrases include mixed-ability, non-streamed, informal, education-through-play, group learning, child-centred, non-competitive, non-labelling. This system works because advantaged children stimulate and inspire others. Unfortunately, aspirational parents are ruining the nation’s education by buying houses together near better schools or, even worse, paying for private education. Their favourite words include work, selective, streamed, formal, spelling, competitive, discipline, times-tables.

The solution is clear to both sides. Educationists want equality enforced by reducing selective schooling. Aspirational parents want old-fashioned education. Whichever side you take, we can agree that modern education is delivering equality: neither my doctor nor plumber is British, and my bright daughter learnt little all year next to the most disruptive boy in her class.

The Rev Ulric Gerry

Glasgow

Sir, The main objection to private education as we know it is not that it removes children from the state system, but that it removes their parents. So, many people who possess influence and know how to use it have no immediate interest in improving state schools. As Bernard Levin pointed out, if their children went to the same schools as the majority we could expect a dramatic improvement in standards, which might then equal those of countries ahead of us in the league tables.

Jim Dukes

Oxford

Sir, As a working-class “kid” who, thanks to a grammar school education, read modern languages at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1948-1951, I was momentarily distracted from disagreeing violently with Sir Michael Wilshaw (Dec 16) by feeling fastidious about the lack of elegance in the expression of his views.

Kathleen Kummer

Stoke Gabriel, Devon

 

Sir, When the green belt was first put in place, just after the war, there was ample space for house building within towns and cities (letters, Dec 20). It is now an anachronism but is rather selfishly guarded, particularly by those who want the brownfield sites to be built upon. Why not allow the building of houses within green belt areas and green up those brownfield sites? This would go some way to satisfying both sides.

Dan Green

Ewell, Surrey

Sir, The battle over the green belt has already been won: it has been overrun by horses and their attendant paraphernalia. I would be happy to find some remnant scrub land locally, but it has mostly been cleared so as not to impede these galloping pets. I now actually believe that building houses with gardens in the green belt would improve it from a wildlife point of view. It is certainly no longer worth preserving in its present state as a refuge for our fauna and flora.

Andrew J. Bissitt

Romiley, Greater Manchester

Sir, Would it be too controversial to suggest that any planning application on a green-belt site be considered only if matched by an application for an equivalent number of households on a brownfield site somewhere, stimulating an element of co-operation and perhaps even cross subsidy between the development companies involved, one not being permitted to proceed without the other?

Bill Woodcock

Lytham St Annes, Lancs

Sir, It is a profligate use of a finite resource to continue to build so many one and two-storey properties. Flats represent a much better use of land and also cost less than houses. Well designed and well landscaped, they are a very attractive option.

Roger Stapleton

Poole, Dorset

Sir, The recent correspondence regarding the protection of green belt suggests the usual solution of using brownfield land for house building. This land is usually former industrial sites with contamination of heavy metals, arsenic, the remnants of town gas lagoons and sometimes worse. This can all be remedied but who is willing to pay a ten per cent premium to buy a house in these locations? The market dictates price and it is based on low development costs, and always will be. The “clean” brown land is mostly gone now — we need to formulate strategies for the future without it.

Keith Hayday

Attenborough, Nottingham

 

 

There are alternatives to surgery for those given a diagnosis of prostate cancer and there should be more discussion about these

Sir, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer about a year ago and I notice that your recent Christmas Appeal coverage of this disease seems to concentrate on men who have had the prostate removed.

When I was diagnosed, I was in despair for a while, until some friends put me right and said that the condition is not necessarily fatal. In addition, none of your articles mention what I am assured by my GP is the most common treatment.

I was given a course of tablets, then told I should have an injection in the stomach every three months for life. I had the most recent one last week.

I put weight back on, but will, I think, never need a diuretic. This, however I find controllable. It’s just a case of getting used to it. It is, of course, the hormone treatment, which I am informed is the most frequently used one. So far, it is working. May I suggest that you inform your readers of this possibility. Because there are those who dread an operation and may be discouraged, when none is necessary.

Mike Rooth

Loughborough, Leics

If a jury has not been able to return a unanimous verdict the judge will direct that a verdict with which at least ten jurors agree can be accepted

Sir, In reporting the acquittals in the case against the Grillo sisters (“Nigella: ‘This was a deliberate campaign to blacken my name’”, Dec 21), you assert that those acquittals were majority verdicts. In fact, a jury is never asked whether an acquittal is by a majority. If after a certain time a jury has not been able to return a unanimous verdict in respect of a charge the judge will direct that a verdict with which at least ten of 12 jurors agree can be accepted, but that the jury should nevertheless try to reach a verdict upon which all are agreed. After time for further consideration, the jurors will be asked whether they have reached a verdict on which at least ten are agreed. If the answer is “yes”, the next question is as to whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty. It is only if the answer is “guilty” that the voting figures are sought. If the answer is “not guilty” the verdict is accepted without further question, so the onlooker will not know whether that “not guilty” verdict was a unanimous verdict.

James Turner, QC

London EC4

 

 

There are some recipes where the amounts of ingredients recommended leave this reader suspicious, to say the least

Sir, Just four drops of Worcester sauce in a Bolognese recipe based on 500g mince, half a bottle of wine, a kg of beef stock and more besides (“Heston helps older patients get a healthy appetite back” Dec 23)? Methinks Heston attributes homeopathic powers to this piquant product.

Alan Dronsfield

Swanwick, Derbyshire

 

Telegraph:

SIR – Apropos Michael White’s joy of singing in a choir, BBC Radio 2 once listed the Top 100 Songs of the 20th Century. The most surprising entry was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was just one of a handful of songs that, no matter what your age or background, you would be able to sing along with.

A while later, I was watching a news item about a London primary school, where nearly all the pupils were filmed singing Daisy Bell. A teacher told me that they always taught the children Daisy Bell because, apart from the simple and catchy melody, the children love the silly words. I then asked at my local pub, and every one, regardless of their age, could sing it.

Apart from Happy Birthday, Daisy Bell and Rudolph are there other songs that everybody is able to sing along with?

Huw Beynon
Penybanc, Carmarthenshire

 

SIR – In 1994, I spent six months in Russe, Bulgaria, as part of a gap year. Organisation from the British side was poor; we made use of ourselves by traipsing around schools, offering our services to bewildered head teachers.

However, at the age of 17, I was amazed by the dynamism and passion of the students. Many people my own age, schooled by the state, spoke at least three European languages fluently; they also had many intellectual interests. They were leagues ahead of me and my fellow students from a private day school in Edinburgh. People were desperate, at that stage, to leave Bulgaria, and to find opportunities worthy of their skills and talents, but Europe would not let them in.

When I left Russe at the end of my placement, I feared I might be leaving a whole generation behind. It was awful. However, now that EU restrictions have been lifted, we should welcome people with the skills and the desire to do well, to grow and expand. We should stop railing against the citizens of other countries and focus on the failings of our own national community. It is important that British citizens reacquaint ourselves with our own proud, humane, liberal heritage and apply it intelligently to a changing world.

Madeleine Worrall
London SE22

Stained glass stories

SIR – Joanna Comer wrote of a gruesome story illustrated in a stained glass roundel at St Botolph’s Church at Lullingstone Castle. Another grisly event is illustrated in an adjacent window at the same church. The 16th-century glass depicts the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, who has been shackled to a platform while his executioner turns the handle of a windlass, upon which the saint’s intestines are being wound out of him.

St Botolph’s has many wonderful surprises. It is exceptional in having stained glass windows of every century from the 14th to 18th.

Keith Hill
Rochester, Kent

Elderly driving tests

SIR – Your report about a driver with dementia spending three weeks trying to remember where she had parked her car raises a wider question about the driving skills of elderly people.

If anyone with dementia took the current driving test they would surely fail, so why are people allowed to carry on driving past the age of 70 without taking regular tests?

Hugh Foster
Farnborough, Hampshire

Christmas fares

SIR – Public transport is alive and thriving in Keighley and the Worth Valley over the Christmas period.

On Christmas Day, free bus services are provided by the Keighley Bus Museum Trust. Furthermore, on Boxing Day and then every day until the New Year, a comprehensive rail service is provided by the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

What adds to the delight of these services is that they are provided by qualified volunteers using vintage buses and steam trains.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Having wrapped my presents, I am left with endless bits of paper that might just fit a present next year. Is there, perhaps, a better use for them?

Lintie Gibson
Melrose, Scottish Borders

A Bishop’s residence

SIR – The Rt Rev Peter Hancock, the next Bishop of Bath and Wells, believes that to live in the Palace at Wells is contrary to the Church’s view of being a servant of the diocese.

I am a nephew by marriage of John Bickersteth, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1975 to 1987, and as such enjoyed with my wife and family the great privilege of annual periods of occupancy of the Palace’s domestic quarters.

These quarters constitute a minor part of the Palace complex and they are by no means luxurious; there are also the costs, direct and indirect, of finding Bishop Hancock and his family new accommodation.

Neither Bishop Bickersteth nor any of his distinguished successors ever failed to be anything other than the most devoted servants of the diocese.

James Crowe
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – The Church of England is concerned that having its latest Bishop of Bath and Wells residing in the historic palace will give the impression of “power and privilege”. It is possible that the majority of people would prefer to know that the palace at Wells is the Bishop’s family home in the same way that Buckingham Palace is home to the Queen, as well as the working headquarters of the monarchy.

Julian Humphreys
Doneraile, Co Cork

The show must go on

SIR – The collapsed ceiling at the Apollo Theatre reminds me of a similar, less serious, episode in the Fifties, when some plaster fell from the ceiling at The London Palladium during a show, featuring Rosemary Clooney.

There was only slight disruption, and as no one was injured she appeared and started to sing the then popular This Ole House. When the audience roared with laughter she couldn’t understand why, but after a few seconds, when she realised the implications, she, too, joined in the joke.

P F Griffin
Topsham, Devon

Sounds of winter

SIR – On Friday morning, I was – for the first time this year – woken from my sleep by the dulcet tones of ice being scraped from a car windscreen. Does this mean that winter has finally arrived?

Roger C Bowerman
London W10

Community care will help to solve the NHS crisis

SIR – Doctors do need to improve access and continuity of care in general practice. However, the assertion by David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission, that our emergency system is overloaded because patients cannot access GPs omits to mention that general practice is also overloaded. His belief that this will be solved by hospitals taking over GP services is simplistic.

We fully support greater collaboration between all providers of care within the NHS, but part of the problem for general practice is that we are being asked increasingly to do more for less. Last Wednesday afternoon, as duty doctor, I answered more than 40 urgent telephone calls, saw 12 patients and did an urgent visit as well as routine visits and routine evening surgery. We are at full stretch.

Meanwhile our resources to meet all this extra work is less. General practice accounted for 10 per cent of the NHS budget 10 years ago, now it is less than 8 per cent. Our supporting primary care team has all but disappeared, with 40 per cent fewer district nurses than 10 years ago. We do the best we can but we all return home each evening wishing we had the time and resources to do better.

The Secretary of State for Health has recognised that personal care and continuity by GPs is the answer to the emergency service crisis and overuse of hospitals generally. We agree, and the NHS Alliance is driving a new integrated and collaborative, community-based model of care for an ageing population living with long-term conditions. Rather than see general practice subsumed by hospitals, we believe it is better to break down the historic boundaries and silos that get in the way of truly progressive and innovative community-based patient care. I believe this is a constructive way forward.

Dr Michael Dixon
Chairman, NHS Alliance
London SW12

 

SIR – While staying in Bristol, I read your report on fracking being planned for half of Britain. My home is in the most heavily drilled and fracked county in the eastern United States. For many residents, it has not been the boon that was expected.

For example, many families no longer have viable drinking water wells. While it may not be chemicals causing the problems, drilling disrupts rock layers and opens new pathways for methane migration. People don’t always know why, but when drilling takes place their water supply can be affected. Every gas well is experimental because no two spots of land or their geology are the same. Do some wells produce gas without a problem? Yes, but some cause huge problems right away. This is a messy technology.

Hopefully British planning and regulatory authorities will exercise due diligence in evaluating gas drilling in advance. I understand the need to produce energy in Britain but I hope that the use of gas drilling and fracking will be limited, and other alternatives that can be better controlled will also be explored.

Ruth B Tonachel
Towanda, Pennsylvania, America

SIR – Glossop, a gateway to the Peak District, is a marginal Tory constituency, and is part of England listed for fracking.

We can’t have any wind turbines here as they would be visible from the National Park, but apparently 50 lorries a day and a flaring gas rig or two is fine. I think we may soon be a very marginal constituency.

Martin Porter
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – The development of shale gas must be done in a way that does not harm the environment. Non-governmental organisations, as well as statutory environmental consultees, should have been consulted in the development of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). They have detailed knowledge on environmental impacts and helped identify evidence that would otherwise not have been included. Independent consultants Amec produced the report and decided on which evidence to take on board.

The SEA is now out for consultation, and industry and others will have the opportunity to provide evidence and feedback, which will be considered.

Edward Davey MP (Lib Dem)
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
London SW1

SIR – Fracking for shale gas could take place in every county in England, except for Cornwall. The distinction could be that there is no suitable shale in the Duchy, but I suspect it’s because there is no room to accommodate fracturing plants, as our beautiful county is already subsumed by wind turbines.

Nigel Milliner

Tregony, Cornwall

 

 

 

SIR – Steve England has found raspberries in fruit in December. One of our geese started laying in October and is still laying now.

Liz Lucy
Aylton, Herefordshire

SIR – As I watched my pond from my bedroom window this week, a mallard dropped into the water followed by eight newly hatched ducklings. Sadly, I think survival is unlikely without the insect life found on the water at the right time of year.

Jane Neame
Wittersham, Kent

SIR – The raspberries are more likely to be late than early. When I used to grow autumn bliss, it wasn’t unusual to find berries in December in a mild winter.

Mary Richards
Gunnislake, Cornwall

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – The real scandal at St Vincent’s University Hospital is the overwhelming increase in acutely unwell patient volume since the effective closure of St Colmcille’s Loughlinstown to out-of-hours admissions. The latter falls under the remit of HSE management, an oxymoron if ever there was one, and has led to a doubling of medical and surgical admissions to an already stretched but otherwise efficient and well-run public hospital.

Clinicians of all grades and disciplines are working flat out to cope with the increased demand. The end result is an unsustainable, overcrowded and unsafe mess with significant compromise in delivery of care. Patients are suffering and some will die. What public accounts committee will examine that? – Yours, etc,

Dr PAUL MacMULLAN,

Medical Registrar,

St Vincent’s University

Hospital,

Elm Park,

Sir, – Since transparency and accountability requires that the truth be told, I wish to contribute to the national debate regarding the so-called “top up” payments.

When the staffing of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children’s Hospital was being determined between 1996 and 1998, the question arose of how to achieve the very best leadership for the hospital and in particular attract and retain the services as chief executive officer of a medically qualified administrator with extensive experience and international recognition. We, the board of the hospital, were encouraged by the Department of Health at that time to aim high. The recruitment process produced one candidate with credentials matching all the requirements and it was decided to offer him the position.

In the negotiations which took place with the candidate, it quickly became apparent that the salary approved by the Department of Health for the position would not be sufficient to attract the candidate to accept the position. Conversations about the situation took place with the Department of Health in which it was made clear the department could not and would not sanction a salary higher than the approved scale permitted.

It was also made clear that the department would not interfere if a salary higher than the scale could be offered, as long as the additional amount did not come from the public purse. A package was put together within this parameter and the candidate was appointed. He resigned some time later. And it appeared to me that he did so because of the constraints of the procedures, protocols and processes then operating in the Irish health service at a number of levels. He is an Irishman who gained his experience abroad. He continues to operate and perform on the international stage. This was not the first time that such a package was constructed for the chief executive officer of an Irish health institution.

The lessons to be learned from this experience are legion and obvious. Central to them is the issue of both personal and corporate hypocrisy. Like all the rest of us, politicians and civil servants must take care lest their hands are not clean, their hearts are not pure and their souls are not lifted up unto vanity. In pursuing transparency and accountability, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be pursued by all parties and that requires great humility. – Yours, etc,

WILLIAM SALTERS

STERLING,

(Secretary to the AMNCH

 

 

Sir, – Donal McGrath (December 21st) criticises José Manuel Barosso’s recent comments on the grounds that German and French banks “fuelled the property bubble here by irresponsible lending to Irish banks”.

In fact, in its report last September, Profiling the Cross-Border Funding of the Irish Banking System, the Central Bank found just 1 per cent of foreign lending to our banks during the property bubble came from Germany. Institutions in France contributed just a fraction of a percent of the total lending to our banks during that period. Several other studies by the Central Bank and independent economists have shown likewise.

So Mr McGrath’s letter begs the question: why is it constantly repeated, as a matter of established fact, that enormous levels of German and French lending to our banks took place during the boom, when this claim has consistently been shown to be entirely false? And more to the point, why are so few commentators willing to challenge this falsehood when it is constantly repeated?

Five years on from the collapse a section of Irish society still seems to be trying to blame foreign bogeymen for a crash which was largely caused by foolish decisions made by Irish politicians and Irish voters. Deep down I think we all know this, and perhaps this is why Mr Barosso’s comments seem to have struck a nerve. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH

Brooklawn,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Occasionally a letter appears that makes one want to cheer the writer, clap him/her on the back and say “I wish I’d written that”. Such was Donal McGrath’s letter (December 21st) regarding European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.

That a man in his exalted position should hold such simplistic views is alarming. He adds insult to the injury done to the Irish economy through endorsing the scandalous manipulation which allowed European banks (mostly German) to get off scot-free after speculating on unguaranteed Irish bonds.

They gambled, lost and got their money back at the Irish taxpayers’ expense. I believe Barroso’s views make him unfit for the position he holds. – Yours, etc,

AIDEN TRAYNOR,

The Crescent,

Robswall,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I would have thought that Irish expatriates deserve the most credit. Balancing the government books is always that bit easier as long as emigrants continued to oblige. Nothing new here. – Yours, etc,

JOHN McGURK,

Heasman Close,

Newmarket,

Suffolk, England.

 

Sir, – As someone who grew up working with animals, mainly horses and dogs, I know there have been many times when the fairest, kindest thing to do is to put an animal to sleep after a long terminal illness where we all done everything we can to help.

Ask any good vet or animal trainer: very sick animals often tell us very clearly when they have given up wanting to live any longer.

If you or I didn’t help that terminally sick animal die peacefully, in a pain-free and dignified way, and forced that animal to live to the bitter end, regardless of the pain or mental suffering, then we would, quite rightly, be prosecuted.

Why, in this progressive land, do animals have more rights to a peaceful, pain free, dignified death than us mere humans do? – Yours, etc,

SAMMY LESLIE,

Glaslough,

Co Monaghan.

Sir, – If Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is anything more than a self-serving politician he will support his own rhetoric by enabling the drafting of legislation to address the issue of assisted suicide (Home News, December 21st).

Tom Curran (Marie Fleming’s partner) will need all the support he can muster to keep their campaign going. – Yours, etc,

ERIC C O’BRIEN,

Point Clear,

 

Sir, – On the basis that the extra salaries charity chiefs awarded to themselves were more than twice their HSE agreed rate of pay, could we please now change the term “top-up” to what it really is, “double-up”? – Yours, etc,

JOE O’ROURKE,

Woodpark,

Sir, – Eamonn Meehan of Trócaire (Opinion, December 20th) outlines the rethink about the wisdom of the EU having determined in 2009 that 10 per cent of transport fuel would effectively come from biofuels.

The Lithuanian presidency attached a high priority to getting agreement at the Council of Energy Ministers on December 12th to reduce the biofuels target to 7 per cent. Ireland supported this compromise, but the proposal was defeated. Trócaire wanted a reduction to 5 per cent, a proposal supported by only four member states.

Mr Meehan criticises the Irish vote and argues that “each percentage point reduction would amount to millions of acres being handed back to food production”.

I find it difficult to reconcile that statement with his criticism of the Irish vote. Surely it was better to reduce the target to 7 per cent than defeat that compromise and allow the original target of 10 per cent stand for the foreseeable future? The 10 per cent target will now remain in place, whereas if one of the member states advocating a 5 per cent target had voted for the 7 per cent compromise then “millions of acres would have been handed back to food production”. – Yours, etc,

PAT RABBITTE, TD,

Minister for

 

Sir, – Michael O’Regan writes that during a recent Dáil debate on the Constitutional Convention report there was “unanimous” support for a referendum on same-sex marriage, and that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had said that “the House had agreed there was a need for constitutional change and that a referendum should be held” (Dáil report, December 18th).

Both Michael O’Regan and Alan Shatter seem to have got a bit carried away. No vote was held in the Dáil on the issue, so it is simply untrue to say that the Dáil had agreed a referendum was required. Also, just 12 members of the Dáil spoke during the debate, meaning 153 TDs have yet to express an opinion on the matter. This was not because the other TDs had no interest in debating the matter but because, as is now the norm, the Government guillotined the debate to just 90 minutes.

Given that such a small number of people had a chance to express a view, it is ridiculous to suggest the Dáil holds a “unanimous” view on the issue. Furthermore, if Mr Shatter is so confident that a unanimous view exists, then I presume he would have no difficulty in allowing a free vote on the issue within his own party when the matter comes before the Dáil once again? – Yours, etc,

THOMAS RYAN,

Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross, Dublin 6W

 

 

Sir, – Following the “fake interpreter” debacle at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela in South Africa last week, two general observations can be made in relation to Ireland.

While the incident has heightened awareness among the public that interpretation is a profession with high standards to be upheld, especially between signed and spoken languages, many of us are keen to point out that such an incident is not solely confined to South Africa. These situations can, and do, arise frequently in this country. We have come to know about several Irish cases where the requirements for professional interpretation have been flouted with quite hazardous consequences. Non-qualified persons are often procured for interpreting tasks ranging from meetings with medical consultants to interpreting for defendants standing before the courts.

We hope policymakers take notice of this, and realise that the interpreting profession needs to be strictly regulated in order to protect the interests of all users of signed and spoken languages.

However, this hope seems to be somewhat dashed given the recent important “state of the nation” speech by the Taoiseach last Sunday. It was disheartening that there appeared to be no attempt to interpret his speech into Irish sign language. It gives one little hope that the legacy of Mandela will be respected, or that such exclusionary provision of service will not be tolerated anymore in this country.

Credit is due to the Irish Deaf Society for placing a translated version of the speech online for the benefit of Irish Sign Language users. Let us hope that we can learn from this episode, and that policymakers take heed. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN BOSCO,

Oldcourt Road, Dublin 24.

 

Sir, – The Society of Irish Foresters is strongly opposed to this proposed merger. We believe it has the potential to seriously damage the development of Ireland’s forestry industry.

Coillte and Bord na Móna are engaged in fundamentally different industries. Bord na Móna is involved in the industrial exploitation of peat resources and in developing a renewable energy portfolio. However, it is not in Ireland’s interest that this development should be underpinned by the exploitation of forests for low-priced fuel to generate electricity when the peat supply is exhausted. Coillte, on the other hand, produces timber from sustainably managed forests for use in manufacturing added value products, predominantly for export markets.

Coillte, together with private growers and the wider forestry industry, can create the economies of scale required to build a viable world-class forestry and forest products industry in Ireland which will provide sustainable employment in rural Ireland. The best way to achieve this is through a clearly focused Coillte which can optimise the multiple values of its forests for all our people. – Yours, etc,

PACELLI BREATHNACH,

President, Society of Irish

Foresters, Glenealy,

 

 

Sir, – I see that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny “rules out votes for all in Seanad elections” (Home News, December 19th). However, there is no doubt that all citizens should be allowed to vote in the Seanad elections, but not just for 10 per cent of the Senate (six out of 60 senators). The six should be changed to at least 20. For example, the Taoiseach’s nominees could change from 11 to zero (six plus 11 equals 17) and the number of nominees for the five panels could change from 43 to 40 (17 plus three equals 20) or some other combination.

It’s just an idea. But, behind this idea is an expanded enfranchisement to all citizens. I understand a referendum is needed for significant structural change, so why not use such a referendum to maximise the reformation so clearly desired by a large number of voters. The easy option is to expand the votes for the six seats to all third-level students and graduates, but that is not a sufficient sharing of the rule-resource properties of power. For the record, I am a graduate of UCG (now NUIG). – Yours, etc,

Dr JAMES FINNEGAN,

Woodland,

Sir, – In commenting on its “Big Bang in Pyongyang”, a spokesman for Paddy Power defended the move by suggesting it was hoping to “sidestep politics” (Home News, December 20th). Hopefully it can “sidestep” North Korea’s callous dictatorship, widespread famine, everyday brutality and the absence of political and religious freedom with equal sanguineness. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

 

Sir, – Christmas 2013: austerity? Sure it’s madmas out there! – Yours, etc,

OLIVER McGRANE,

Marley Avenue,

 

Sir, – No more Diarmaid Ó Muirithe columns (Home News, December 23rd)? Words fail me! – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* Christmas is a time when we celebrate simplicity and redemption. This year, two leading lights of the world were quenched. In the autumn we lost Seamus Heaney and in winter Nelson Mandela also moved on. Both men were exemplars and champions of truth, though the greatness of each was cloaked by modesty and integrity.

Also in this section

Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all

Letters: Support our own causes

A Christmas message

Each struggled with doubt and uncertainty and in the empty spaces found sustainable nuggets of wisdom that will shine long after their passing.

Unsurprisingly, their passing was marked more by a celebration of their accomplishments than by mourning. We lost something but because their sum was greater than their parts, they left us the richer for their being.

Seamus Heaney wrote that: “I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original centre.”

What a lovely thought, we all flow and are carried from and to a source. To him the world was a celebration of the processes of life, he spoke of purification in the grounds of our beseeching. Every battle for understanding and enlightenment was worth the fight and, like Nelson Mandela, he had many victories.

Like Madiba, he understood that insight knows no limits and he once noted that: “I credit poetry for making the space-walk possible.”

Also like South Africa’s most famous son, he did not set much store by boundaries or walls of confinement. Hope’s lantern always burned in his heart even though he accepted that “as writers and readers, as sinners and citizens, our realism and our aesthetic sense make us wary of crediting the positive note”.

Mandela, too, was indifferent to high praise. He scoffed at notions of sainthood, insisting he was an ordinary man who sinned.

Mr Mandela was adamant that: “It is amazing how many things are impossible until they are done.”

RACHAEL E CONNELLEY

CO GALWAY

FOLLOW YONDER STAR

* My niece rushed into the sittingroom the other day wild with excitement. In the eight-year-old’s trembling hand was a gold envelope with a broken seal, inside of which was a note from the North Pole.

Santa had written to her personally assuring her that she had got herself on the ‘nice list’. This was no mean achievement.

It required not missing a day at school, being nice to her two brothers — something that required more effort than a 100 years of homework — but it had all paid off now.

The nice list, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, it got me thinking about our belief in magic and enchantment. In particular, it reminded me of the great hopes we have all invested in the ‘Growth Fairy’.

According to Michael Noonan, growth, that great benevolent economic enchantress, will transform us from being bonded to austerity and retrenchment perpetually, to full prosperity in a matter of months. Bah humbug, to those of you non-believers who doubt the purveyors of the dismal science, the elves of the ESRI or the good burghers of IBEC, who are all singing off the same hymn-sheet.

The hymn in question is ‘Joy to the World’, and anyone who sounds a bum note will be kicked out of the gallery.

It is not that I have any problem in believing in growth; it is just that I feel the real heroes of the piece, the working man and woman, are somehow wiped out of this epiphany.

The extra hours put in, the increased workload borne by the few after the many have been made redundant; those who shoulder the levies and the taxes; those for whom there is no real room at the inn when it comes to celebrating the great miracle of the birth of growth; these are the ones I would like to see recognised and exalted.

Despite the slavish devotion, few reap the rewards. And those whose labours and exertions are responsible for producing growth are never invited on to the high altar.

A star was born in the east and it shall be known as ‘growth’. Follow yonder star. The meek may indeed inherit the Earth, but only after the profits have been extracted and the dividends paid to the big stake holders.

R D Ellis

BLACKROCK, CO DUBLIN

HEALTHCARE CRISIS

* The healthcare budget of the public acute system has been mauled over the last four years. This is set to continue into 2014. Nothing should be allowed to divert attention from this reality.

There are two consequences. The first is that service provision, especially for patients seeking access to the public system, has been cut to pieces. The second is that medical stress has increased across the public system, putting more pressure on staff. Notwithstanding new institutional structures, the dysfunctionality and the contradictions in policy are very evident.

What has been presided over — the cuts and the ‘savings’ — has depopulated the public system of medical and nursing staff.

We know from the international data that cuts of this nature and on this scale will ultimately cost far more to put right than the putative ‘savings’ to meet short-term budgetary ‘targets’. The departmental allocation to health, and therefore the allocation to the HSE, is wholly inadequate.

Government policy is, as a consequence, disingenuous. A fictional ‘overspend’ has been injected into the policy narrative, when the reality is that funding of the public acute system falls far short of what is required.

The Government appears to be in denial of the facts and the truth with which senior clinicians and management are having to contend; and it’s not for lack of being told. This is unworthy of the kind of dialogue to which patients and the public are entitled.

PROF RAY KINSELLA

ASHFORD, CO WICKLOW

TURKEY SHOPPING

* It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one.

In desperation, she called over a shop assistant and said: “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?”

“No,” he replied. “They’re all dead.”

J PENDRED

GREYSTONES, CO WICKLOW

A CHRISTMAS POEM

* Two girls wait for Santa’s Christmas smiles, while likewise their cousins wait across the miles

They spread girly joy where ever they go, but in their dreams they play with snow

Torn between the hot and the cold, still daydreaming of new versus old

Lots of festive lollies and candy to chew, they’d prefer granny’s baking and Irish stew

Seeing loved ones on Skype is not quite the same, between lifestyle and loans, who’s taking the blame?

Carols will be sung but not in Irish voices, I guess that’s what it’s like making life’s choices

A kookaburra sits squawking in his tree, while in my mind’s eye it’s where a robin should be

For us there’ll be no foggy Christmas Eve, but red hot beaches and sun to receive

Barbequed food can be great when you eat it, stuffed turkey and roast spuds surely could beat it

It’s not fair to be pondering as time goes on by, on all that we’ve lost, and gained and why

Christmas just seems so upside down, but a sleigh that goes worldwide must still serve all towns

‘Tis the season to be jolly but in WA there grows no holly

So merry Christmas to all and to all a good year — let’s hope the love grows between Eire and here.

OLIVIA BRENNAN TULLY

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

 

 

Sharland

December 23, 2013

23 December 2013 Sharland
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather puts her foot down and wants Lovable Leslie to name the date of their marriage.  Priceless.
Potter around, Sharland comes to call.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets  well over   400, near;ly 500! Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge – obituary
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge was a decorated observer with the Paras and later a trustee of Glastonbury Abbey
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge, who has died aged 94, was awarded an MC in 1943 in the invasion of Sicily and was subsequently ordained as a priest.
On the night of July 13/14, 1st Parachute Brigade dropped in the rear of the German lines on the Catania Plain. Hodge, serving with 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, landed at 10.30pm.
He was in command of a naval bombardment observation post (OP) on the high ground south of Catania, and the operation was to secure the Primasole Bridge, linking Catania with Syracuse. In the early hours of the morning the enemy launched a counter-attack in strength. None of the battalion’s heavy weapons was in place and the situation was critical.
Hodge moved his OP forward under heavy fire and so skilfully directed the fire of the cruiser Newfoundland’s six-inch guns that the attacking infantry took considerable losses and the assault was beaten off. The citation for the award to him of an Immediate MC stated that, throughout the operation, he had moved around under heavy shelling without regard for his own safety.
Francis Vere Hodge was born at Bere Regis, Dorset, on October 31 1919 and educated at Sherborne before going up to Worcester College, Oxford, to read English Literature and Theology. Enlisting in the Army in May 1940, he was commissioned in March the following year and posted to 458 Independent Light Battery RA, a unit that was later retitled 1st Air Landing Light Battery RA.
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Hodge qualified as a parachutist at Ringway (now Manchester Airport), and in 1943 was appointed to No 1 Combined Operations Bombardment Unit. This was a new formation to provide forward observation parties to direct Royal Navy gunfire onto shore targets during amphibious operations.
These small parties comprised gunner captains and signallers and Royal Navy telegraphists experienced in high-speed morse communication. Hodge had suggested that there should be airborne parties in addition to those being landed by sea. This initiative was successfully put to the test during the Sicily landings.
Back in England, Hodge joined 7 Para, in 5th Parachute Brigade, part of 6th Airborne Division, to prepare for D-Day. On the night of June 5 1944 his party took off from Fairford, Gloucestershire, for the Drop Zone at Ranville.
The bridge at Ranville was captured, and as the battle progressed Hodge used the lighthouse at Ouistreham as an OP. When the Germans knocked the top off, he made use of a church tower. One of his final shoots was with the battleship Ramillies, engaging targets 200 yards from Allied troops. He was mentioned in despatches.
After the war Hodge entered the Church and was ordained in 1948. A curacy at Battle was followed by his first living at Iping and Lynch, Sussex, and then a move to Kingswood, Surrey.
In 1965 he returned to his roots in Somerset, where he was appointed vicar to the Moorlinch and Greinton group of villages. In 1979 he became the first Bath and Wells Diocesan Rural Affairs chaplain. Primarily a country parson, Hodge saw his role as caring not only for his human parishioners, but also for the animals and land around him.
On his retirement in 1984 he maintained his active interest in ecclesiastical affairs and, as chairman of the trustees of Glastonbury Abbey, led the team which organised the financing and building of its visitor centre.
From 1984 to 1988 he was chaplain to the Yeovil and District branch of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. In 1979 he had been appointed Prebendary of Wells Cathedral, an honorary title awarded in recognition of his long and exemplary service to the diocese. He was for many years chaplain to the Bombardment Units Association.
Vere Hodge married, in 1942, Eleanor Connor. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their two sons and a daughter.
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge, born October 31 1919, died December 15 2013

Guardian:

How many Delphic pronouncements from members of the monetary policy committee (MPC) does it take to change expectations? Martin Weale is the latest soothsayer to claim that Mark Carney’s forward guidance will make little difference to the real economy (MPC member attacks Carney’s flagship policy, 12 December). True. But Carney’s view that the MPC is unlikely to raise interest rates at least until unemployment has fallen to 7% is a nudge in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, Carney’s message has been reinforced by another MPC member, Spencer Dale (No early end to low interest rates, says Bank economist, 14 December). Tiptoeing round this issue is not very helpful. We all know that uncertainties surrounding the future path of the real economy are huge – the old model (for what it was worth) is bust. All we can expect is that at the next MPC they will spin the wheel of fortune, make their decisions, and – like the rest of us – hope for the best. We wish them luck – but after the gigantic cock-up of 2008 and its aftermath, it will take a lot of MPC speeches to change the expectations of Christmas drinkers in the Dog and Duck.
Keith Cuthbertson Professor of finance
Dr Dirk Nitzsche Associate professor of finance
Cass Business School
• Your article (Bank warning over danger of interest rate rises, 20 December) highlights the logical flaw that runs through the current neoliberal settlement. In a casualised economy, with a pool of unemployed to replace unpliable employees and trade union action all but illegal, there is no mechanism beyond the altruism of employers to share the benefits of a growing economy more equally. With homes treated as assets and asset prices rising, while real wages have stagnated for over a decade, it is impossible for individual employees to maintain their level of disposable income – and this is ignoring ever-rising food, transport and energy prices.
So far, so neoliberal dream. However, the systemic effect of this is unsustainable in a democracy. A consumer capitalist model without consumers in a position to consume renders vast swaths of the economy unsustainable without ever-growing consumer debt, debt which is becoming ever harder to maintain – surely the underlying reason for Wonga et al.
These levels of inequality of opportunity have only previously been sustainable in societies, such as the Victorian or developing world, where the population is denied a political voice. This is surely one of the key drivers of political “apathy”. There is no political party which offers any solution to square this circle.
Andy Crump
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
• Not all that meets the eye, these jobs figures (Bank of England has a poor record of forecasts, 19 December). In the three months to October unemployment fell by “almost 100,000″, yet 250,000 entered employment in the same period. So where did the extra 150,000 jobtakers come from? Various explanations occur: migrants entering from abroad, returners to the labour market such as parents reducing childcare commitments, or maybe many people took more than one part-time job. But a discrepancy of 150,000 suggests a more disturbing explanation: the real unemployment total is much higher than that shown in government records. Before the Bank of England bases any interest rate and related decisions on such opaque statistics, it would be prudent to identify how many people are really unemployed.
Bryn Jones
University of Bath
• George Osborne would have us believe that controlling public debt is a matter of balancing the books. But it is facile to believe a government can be treated like a household, as can be seen from the ONS’s table “Long Run of Fiscal Indicators As a Percentage of GDP”. The data puts things in perspective and data reveals not only that governments rarely enjoy a budget surplus but also that having a deficit does not hold back growth and makes little difference to the national debt.
It is instructive to look at the period of the last Conservative governments (in case some might think of it as a golden age of unassailable fiscal probity that bears out Osborne’s claims). Between 1979 and 1997, the Thatcher and Major governments were in surplus only twice, and overall there was a net deficit: cumulatively some 35.3% of GDP – which is a lot. Nevertheless the economy grew by 57%.
Meanwhile the “national debt” (the outstanding amount of public sector debt) fell from 47.2% to 42.1% of GDP, and fluctuated widely in between.
Just fixating on debt figures and ignoring the real economy is foolish and highly misleading.
Professor Dennis Leech
University of Warwick

In deciding who are the middle class (Letters, 18 December), one crucial source of information is the Office for National Statistics data on household incomes. This shows that in 2011-12, the top 10th of households with the highest incomes received 27% of all income both gross and after tax. (The UK has for households what amounts to a flat tax system other than for the poorest tenth of households who pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other decile.) This was far more than the next 10th down, who received about 16% of all gross and net income. The decile below that, the eighth highest, received about 13% of gross and net income. From the lowest 10th to the ninth decile, the difference in income levels rises in a smooth line, but between the ninth and 10th deciles incomes rise by nearly 70%. It is precisely these very much higher incomes, post-tax as well as pre-tax, which fund most private education in the UK, the main route by which the privileged pass on privileges to their offspring.
So if we think about household incomes, then we have an upper class of plutocrats who do not really appear in the relevant data set and who by the way pay very little tax because of their systematic use of the tax avoidance industry, a middle class of those in the top decile of households we know about, although they also often legally avoid tax, and the rest of us below them.
This is very much a return to the way in which the 19th century thought about a middle class, not as a statistical average but as a group between the great owners of property and the rest of the population. These days the middle class understood as the 10th of households with the highest incomes we know about contains those who assist the plutocracy by managing the rest of us on lower pay and conditions in work, and pensions and benefits when out of work, across the whole of the public and private sectors.
Professor David Byrne Durham University
Dr Sally Ruane De Montfort University

As lead MEP negotiator, I am writing to clarify the outline EU agreement on e-cigarettes (Deal could lead to EU-wide ban on refillable e-cigarettes, 18 December). The agreement, backed yesterday by 27 of the EU’s 28 governments, plus the majority of MEP negotiators, does not mean that refillable e-cigarettes can simply be withdrawn from the market if three governments so decide. The law does contain a safeguard clause which says that if three governments withdraw a product from the market for safety reasons (which have to be demonstrated), then the European commission can look at proposing an EU-wide ban, but any action would again need to be signed off by all EU governments and MEPs. The draft law also rejects initial European commission proposals that all e-cigarettes need a medicines licence; instead they will be treated like tobacco products. The proposals on e-cigarettes are only a small part of a much wider law which will mean big changes in tobacco regulation, paving the way for standardised or “plain” packaging in Britain. It will mean 65% of cigarette packs will be covered by graphic health warnings and the kind of gimmick cigarettes – flavoured and lipstick packs designed to attract young smokers – will be taken off the market. British Conservative MEPs are criticising the agreement, but these are the same MEPs who have tried all along to block progress. The law has the backing of major UK healthcare organisations and doctors, and when the vote comes in February for a final signoff in the European parliament, Labour MEPs will be giving it strong backing.
Linda McAvan MEP (Labour)
Rapporteur, EU tobacco products directive, European parliament

Maybe ministers are not supporting food banks (Letters, 20 December) because they regret their existence. They regret their existence not because it shows up their victimisation of the poor (which includes poor children) as inexcusable but because if people are not hungry they will not have an incentive to search for work, however poor the wages or the working conditions.
Jane Quick
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
• A “dreary suburban courtroom” in Isleworth (Report, 21 December)? Hopefully, next time Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi’s pursuit of justice should merit no less than the Old Bailey.
Mary Hardy
London
• If “Cromwell’s revolution was a historical blip” (Master conjurers achieved little, 20 December), how is it we now have a parliamentary democracy and the monarchy has no political power?
Len Goldman
Brighton
• Those interested in the work of Eric Ravilious (Review, 21 December) will be pleased to know that his murals on Colwyn Bay’s Victoria pier have been rediscovered beneath wallpaper in the main pavilion. The sad news is that Conwy county borough council wants to de-list the pier and demolish it.
Lorraine Cook
Penrhyn Bay, Conwy
• I recall The SDP’s success in “hitting 50% in the polls” by 1982 (Letters, 21 December). What I don’t remember is the Tories crashing to defeat in the general election in 1983 as a result.
Alistair Richardson
Stirling

Independent:

It was refreshing to read Owen Jones’s thoughts on grammar schools (“Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system”, 19 December). Having attended a grammar school I have serious doubts about the fairness of this system.
I failed the 11-plus but I had parents who knew the system’s weaknesses, so they appealed and I was permitted to attend grammar school on the basis that my parents suspected I was a late developer and my performance in the 11-plus was not a true reflection of my potential. They turned out to be right; I went on to do well at GCSE, even better at A-level and I graduated from a Russell Group university. Other late developers may not have been as fortunate as I was.
Should we not be focusing on better education for all and not just those who are able to display their talents by the age of 11?
Rebecca Valentine
Edinburgh
As an ex-grammar school pupil of working-class origins, I question Owen Jones’s article. If we take the 1944 Butler Education Act as a start point and 1976 as an end point for grammar and secondary modern schools, why is the only statistic relating to the success or failure of grammar school pupils of working-class origin a 1954 government report?
By 1954 only four school years starting their education in 1944 would have done A-levels and six years would have done O-levels. That’s on the assumption that the impact of the Butler Act was effective immediately. Is four years or less a sufficiently large sample to make judgements on the impact on the working class when grammar/secondary modern education ran for over 30 years? Surely we need to know what happened after 1954.
If grammar schools failed the working class from as early as 1954 why did so many working- class parents want their children to attend them? From my father’s perspective, and probably that of many other parents, it was so I wouldn’t end up in the same kind of job as him.
Michael Serginson
Milton Keynes
Owen Jones attacks school selection by ability, which exists only in a few small corners of this country,  as “anachronistic and iniquitous”. Yet he says nothing about the selection by wealth and cunning (as described by a recent Sutton Trust report) which exists throughout the comprehensive system he so admires, almost everywhere in Great Britain.
Why does an egalitarian radical oppose school selection by the ability of the pupil, while defending school selection through the bank account and postcode of the parent? I genuinely do not understand.
Peter Hitchens
London W8
It is very sad that even Owen Jones, while recognising that the real issue is social inequality, prefers to follow Sir Michael Wilshaw in venting his wrath on the relatively few remaining grammar schools, rather than the so-called public schools, with their absurd charitable status, that are the much more powerful obstacles to social mobility.
Keith Aspley
Edinburgh

Nigella sets out to rescue her brand
The jury accepted the Grillo sisters’ side of the story. That is where we are. Nigella Lawson now begins a PR campaign to salvage the value of her brand. This is the same as salvaging her reputation.
The campaign has already started: Ms Lawson tells us the legal system is in need of reform. That she was unprotected in the witness box. In fact, she had the conventional protection of a court of law: the trial judge decided if questions could be put to her or not.
The stakes were high for the Grillo sisters: liberty or otherwise. They based their case on the private behaviour of Ms Lawson. The trial judge clearly saw some relevant and probative value in questions being put to Ms Lawson about this private behaviour.
The British people accept that we are all equal before the law. Money and fame do not change the rules.
Ms Lawson talks about being isolated and vilified in the witness box. In fact, she had access to top legal and PR advisers, not to mention the public support of the Prime Minister. The Grillo sisters had only their force of character.
David beat Goliath; we should rejoice that our legal system allows that to happen.
Anthony McCarthy
Kirkby, Merseyside
Now that the trial of the Grillo sisters has been concluded, I trust that, in these straitened times, HMRC will vigorously pursue the matter of unpaid income tax on the £685,000 worth of “benefits in kind” provided by their employers.
Trevor Downer
Swanmore, Hampshire
Regulators cannot please everyone
As one of my predecessors said, you don’t do this job to become popular, so the criticism in Chris Blackhurst’s Midweek View (18 December) comes with the territory. We take such criticism seriously but the article made a very partial interpretation of some recent cases and unfortunately accepted some very contentious claims.
If we are to do our job properly, it involves making tough decisions, and at some point you’re going to displease companies or other parties.
In all of the cases mentioned, we’d have certainly had a quieter life if we’d taken a different decision. But one theme throughout the history of the Competition Commission and its predecessor, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, is that people have trusted us to make our decisions independently and objectively – even if they don’t always agree with the outcome. The current regime was designed to enshrine the independence of the competition authorities. It’s for the Government to set the framework, not us, but this Government and its predecessors have recognised the importance of ensuring that such decisions are made objectively. The danger of greater external involvement or even interference is that these decisions start getting influenced by special interests.
That certainly doesn’t mean we are above scrutiny. Anyone who has witnessed one of our decisions being challenged line by line in the Competition Appeal Tribunal would know that their scrutiny is very thorough. The tribunal has ruled against us on one or two points in recent cases; we’re far from untouchable.
Our most recent survey of our stakeholders has shown that they continue to retain faith in our decision-making process. I have no doubt that this will continue when we join with the Office of Fair Trading to become the new Competition and Markets Authority next year.
Roger Witcomb
Chairman, Competition Commission,  London WC1
Chris Blackhurst suggests that UK regulators have failed to make consumers’ bills cheaper. While I can’t speak for other sectors, in the 10 years that Ofcom has regulated the industry the price of core telecoms services for fixed and mobile have consistently fallen to levels which stand up well in comparison to anywhere else in the world.
And while consumers have enjoyed new and better services such as faster broadband, average expenditure is actually lower than it was 10  years ago.
Blackhurst also recalls a conversation with a grumpy executive from a mobile phone company, bemoaning the regulation which has contributed to these outcomes. He doesn’t recount precisely what the anonymous exec was complaining about. Perhaps it was our decision to make calling freephone numbers actually free from mobile phones. Perhaps it was the clampdown on mis-selling mobile contracts. Perhaps it was reducing hidden mobile phone charges or tackling in-contract price rises. Or it might have been our insistence on near-universal 4G UK coverage.
If so, I think it merely demonstrates that we are doing our job.
Ed Richards
Chief Executive, Ofcom
London SE1
One day of the year to stop and think
The self-serving attitude of Gudrun Parasie’s letter stunned me. Because she couldn’t get to St Paul’s on Christmas Day, she would like buses, trains and even Eurostar to run for the convenience of foreigners who were “incredulous” that they would be stuck for 48 hours.
We have 24-hour supermarkets, and shops open on Sundays, in fact a 24-hour society. Please can we preserve Christmas as a day to stop, think and enjoy life. Lockdown? Bring it on.
Carol Wood
Bristol
Vulnerable to silly jargon
I think last Saturday might have been the hundredth time I have come across the phrase “most vulnerable” in my Independent. The impression is almost always that this ill-defined group are subject to a constant barrage of financial attacks from politicians desperate to win over “hardworking families”. Any chance of a moratorium on such silly slogans?
And why do we still have a definition of “poverty” that would allow the rate to remain unchanged even if every single income were to be quadrupled overnight?
Keith Gilmour
Glasgow

Times:

Sir, Would Professor Bogdanor be as dismissive of his own field of “government” as he is of my field of “management”(letter, Dec 19)? Both these fields can be characterised by, on the one hand, a domain of intellectual inquiry and, on the other, a domain of practice. Whether the latter is undertaken effectively or not — and there is no shortage of evidence from the organisations to which he refers (BBC, universities, NHS, Civil Service) and elsewhere to show that this is not always the case — does not give valid grounds to condemn the former, or to suppose that the principles of good management are lacking in desired qualities of professionalism.
One might reasonably ask to what extent those who are employed to manage are adequately prepared for this challenge (in an equivalent way to that in which, say, surgeons, lawyers and other professionals are prepared to practise). If not, why not?
Emeritus Professor Richard M. S. Wilson
Loughborough University
Sir, I entirely accept Professor Bogdanor’s thesis about managerialism and the myth of “management”. Planning is probably the only activity in which managers have something to teach professionals. That apart, healthcare professionals are well able to manage without interference.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the NHS has become steadily more politicised since the early 1980s. Politicians are not themselves professionals and appear daunted by those who are and feel the need to subordinate them (the professionals) to their (the politicians’) will. In the NHS, this subordination has been achieved through managers who have accepted the need to improve the output of professionals and who are rewarded well for so doing. The “doing” has involved a range of behaviours, some of which are at the persuasive end and some of which are at the bullying end of a spectrum of motivation.
It is no wonder that patients are confused, not least because it is their money which is paying for all this.
Tim Battle
Tisbury, Wilts
Sir, Vernon Bogdanor perpetuates the myth that the BBC, and a raft of other organisations that might be termed “failing”, would be more competently managed if management and control were taken away from “managerialists” (a pejorative term that he does not define) and returned to “professionals” (a positive term that he does not define). The reality is rather more complex, not least because many “failing” organisations, within the public sector and within professional services in the private sector, have been managed and controlled by “professionals” who moved into management. Equally, there are many successful public sector and professional service organisations which operate on the basis that both “professionals” and “managers” can and do contribute to the organisation’s success, because they each have different — but necessary and complementary — roles to play.
What Professor Bogdanor has actually highlighted is that “professionals”, in a laudable effort to maintain and safeguard professional standards that stem from what the organisation exists to do, can blind themselves to the benefits of allowing competent managers — who should not be managers, if they do not accept those professional standards — to manage.
Bob Wells
London E4

Unless entire hospitals go to fully staffed seven-day working there will be a diminution of elective activity by consultants
Sir, Your correspondents Roy Selwyn and Alice Charlwood (letters, Dec 20 & 21) have not grasped the full picture. In most UK hospitals the individuals providing acute care for emergency admissions are the same ones providing an elective service in their specialties. If they are required to be in at night and on more weekends than they already do, working as the registrars they once were, they cannot provide the same number of outpatient clinics, theatre and endoscopy lists as they currently do. So unless the entire hospital goes to seven-day working, with outpatient departments and operating theatres fully staffed every day, and unless there is an expansion in the consultant grade, there will be a diminution of elective activity.
Tim Reilly, MD, FRCP
Glasgow
Sir, I believe the public are unaware of the costs in salary terms alone of providing 24-hour medical consultant care in many of our specialties in hospital or the equivalent in general practice. To provide cover of this type in hospital requires the equivalent of five doctors to cover one post. Taking the average salary of a consultant to be £88,000, ignoring clinical excellence awards, I calculate that the Trust has to find approximately £440,000 to fund each 24-hour post.
Anthony J. Carr
Solihull

Money and class may have counted then, as undoubtedly they still do. However, lack of them was not an insuperable barrier
Sir, Margaret Moor’s recollections of grammar schools in the 1950s (letter, Dec 20) are very different from my own experience. My brother and I both attended a grammar school in that decade, and stayed on in the sixth form — he then went to Cambridge and I to Oxford.
Our father had died when my brother was 13 and I was 10. Our mother was unable to work, so we lived on almost nothing. I don’t remember ever being very hungry or very cold, but we didn’t have many of the possessions and opportunities that would be regarded as essential today.
Money and class may have counted then, as undoubtedly they still do. However, lack of them was not an insuperable barrier.
Professor Michael Balls
Norwich

Regardless of how many student barristers are called to the Bar, many will fail to obtain training contracts in England and Wales
Sir, Mr Brown (letter, Dec 18) draws attention to the large number of student barristers being called to the Bar. While a fair number of those called will return to practise in their countries of origin, as noted (letter, Dec 20), a very large number will fail to obtain training contracts (pupillage) in England and Wales.
The number of pupillages available per year is about 400, and demand exceeds supply by a large margin. As the Criminal Bar and the Family Bar are under severe financial pressure, pupillages in these areas of law in particular are scarce. There are simply too many commercial providers of the Bar Practical Training Course and too many aspirant and able barristers who will never be able to enter practice for want of pupillage.
Andrew Francis
Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2

Telegraph:

SIR – Reading Michael Simkins’s article (Opinion, December 15) about the stage manager’s nightly show report at the National Theatre reminded me of working at the Royal Festival Hall as assistant house manager.
In September 1970, when the Kirov Ballet was performing a season there, the duty manager’s report for one night went along the lines of: “Received phone call from the Daily Mirror asking about the defection of a dancer called Marakova [sic]. Said had no knowledge”.
The next day we found out that Natalia Makarova had defected to the West. There were more phone calls from newspapers wanting to photograph her abandoned dressing room.
Christopher Sharp
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

SIR – I have come up with a way to ease the overload in our A & E departments. Anyone attempting to enter A & E under the influence of intoxicating beverages or drugs should be automatically banned from entering, no matter how serious their problem.
Any abuse of medical staff should result in an immediate custodial sentence. Attendees making frivolous requests should be charged in full for wasting medical staff time.
There will be some knock-on benefits. Students will run up fewer debts from drinking. There will be less litter and vomit to be cleared up in town and city centres and less police time wasted, allowing police to deal with real criminal activity. The pressure on the ambulance service would also be relieved.
To aid this, all day and night licensing, one of Tony Blair’s legacies, should be repealed. I can hear the thud of Liberal Democrats fainting all over England as they read this.
Simon Sanders
Metheringham, Lincolnshire
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SIR – As a retired GP, I read your report with interest. In August this year I sustained a head injury with resultant heavy bleeding from my scalp, which required an operation at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
During the week of post-operative care, the consultant under whose care I was admitted never came to my bedside at any time before I was discharged.
Fat chance, then, of that surgeon doing a round on a Saturday or Sunday.
Dr Anthony Platts
Watford, Hertfordshire
SIR – In Scotland and Wales, standards are set for hospital food, but in England there are none. The incarcerated are fed better than the indisposed.
A good-quality meal suited to patients’ needs would at least put a smile on people’s faces.
Robert Ballantine
Chevington, Suffolk
Tory election hopes
SIR – If Matthew d’Ancona is correct about why the Tory Party can’t win elections, can he explain why some robustly Right-wing Conservative candidates do so well in constituencies that aren’t naturally Conservative?
Take Monmouth’s excellent MP, David Davies, who won the seat from Labour in 2005 with a 4,500 majority, and then more than doubled it in 2010.
If the party leadership can bring itself to forget about the so-called modernising agenda and get on with some real-world policies to transform people’s lives for the better (cancelling HS2 would be a useful start), then the party can yet go on to win a thumping majority in 2015.
Capture the centre ground certainly, but don’t sit on it like a rabbit in the headlights.
Tom Lowes
Llanvapley, Monmouthshire
SIR – To hope that Conservative defectors to Ukip can be persuaded to return to the fold at the last minute is wishful thinking. Such is the extent of their disillusionment with Conservative policies, especially on the EU, they are blinded to the dangers of electoral suicide for the Right.
A Conservative/Ukip pact is the only solution. It would be repugnant to the few remaining pro-EU Conservatives, but could well result in a Conservative majority government or a Conservative/Ukip coalition.
Above all, it would prevent Labour from returning to power.
Ron Forrest
Lower Milton, Somerset
Support for Marine A
SIR – I am sure that there are many thousands of us who feel disgust at the treatment handed out to a very brave soldier and contempt for his so-called judges. As a practical first step we should try at least to assist his family, who must be in considerable distress, as indeed he must be at their plight.
If The Sunday Telegraph would sponsor a collection, I would post my cheque straight away.
David Brown
Lillington, Warwickshire
SIR – The voices in support of Sgt Blackman are too often drowned out by the opinions of human rights industry spokespersons, lower echelon judges and fearful politicians. In 1965, Admiral Sir Michael le Fanu said “The best ambassador that Britain has ever had is the British soldier.”
Applying the modern interpretation of human rights to the rules of war in retrospect in trials of loyal British soldiers is undermining our best ambassadors.
Alan Stenner
Penallt, Monmouthshire
Scouting for adults
SIR – Many children are on waiting lists for scouting because there is a shortage of adults willing to volunteer their time to be group leaders. Some groups are also closing down for the same reason.
Why could not every college and university be partnered with the local scouting association? What an experience that would be for any student, young or mature – helping to run activities for children in the community. Good experience and a useful addition to a CV. The unemployed could also spare an hour or two a week, or the active retired.
Val Holland
Malvern, Worcestershire
SIR – Upon declaration of war with Germany in 1939, the Bedhampton scout troop, which had been raised by Fred T Jane, founding editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships and All the World’s Aircraft, undertook the overtly military act of manning a checkpoint at Hilsea, controlling the only road approach to Portsmouth.
Jane, who described himself as a “scoutmaster under military orders at Portsmouth” – a prototype Captain Mainwaring – also received complaints from members of the public who had been followed and spied upon by scouts after their behaviour in proximity to a major naval base was judged, by the boys, to be suspicious.
Paul Jackson
Pulham Market, Norfolk

SIR – It should come as no surprise that the Scottish National Party behaves thuggishly towards business people who air pro-Union views..
Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, rules his party with a rod of iron and probably wishes he could do the same with the Scottish electorate.
Hardly a week goes by without further flaws being exposed in the case for independence, giving the impression that the SNP’s plans for Scotland going it alone were written on the back of an envelope.
Peter Myers
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
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SIR – If business leaders fear to comment on the possibility of Scottish independence because of bullying from the SNP, perhaps it is time for the rest of us to stand up to Members of the Scottish Parliament. Mr Salmond would do well to remember that he is serving us and that the childish bullying of those with different views only undermines any arguments he may have.
I would challenge him to persuade me that he has a solid basis for Scotland leaving the UK. What will it cost? What will happen to pensions, health and security? Will I have to retake my driving test? So far we have only had wish lists, lies and aggression, which show that the facts and reasons are thin.
I am ready to cast my vote for whoever can convince me. Will Mr Salmond take the challenge or will he continue to hide behind the skirts of Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, and bully the electorate?
Sue Hood
Inverness
SIR – While his government intimidates people, Alex Salmond seems from his 650-page tome on independence to be far too timid to seek any real independence for Scotland.
He wishes to keep the pound sterling and the Bank of England as the central bank and lender of last resort. He wants to control spending, but without responsibility for balancing against income. His idea of change is tinkering with the edges of the welfare state.
His policies appeal to the emotions, but with a great deficit in economic logic.
Doug Knox
Sunderland, Co Durham
SIR – I understood that only in countries such as Russia, China and North Korea did people receive threatening phone calls from government officials daring them to speak out against their policies. If this is to be our future with a Scottish National Party at the helm, surely even their most stalwart supporters must give pause for thought.
Anne C Ferguson
Dunbar, East Lothian
SIR – The best result for the SNP would be to lose a close-run campaign. If that were the outcome, Mr Salmond may gain credibility as a genuine statesman, rather than a small-town bully, by putting nationalism behind him as an out-of-date concept. He could then move Scotland forward with the support of the entire United Kingdom and European Union.
The alternative, independence, would result in a small fledgling state negotiating an economic deal with a bigger brother who will no longer be making concessions. The taxpayers in the UK will expect a ruthless attitude from their politicians. These taxpayers will have played no part in this process and no one enjoys rejection after a 300-year relationship.
John Hanson
Canterbury, Kent
SIR – Alex Salmond advocates joining the EU directly after leaving the UK, thereby removing the need to do any governing. I am at a loss to understand when exactly it would be that Scotland would be independent. If not governed from Westminster, we would find ourselves being dictated to from Brussels.
Perhaps if the SNP were to promise that, upon leaving the UK, Scotland would definitely not attempt to join the EU, it would stand a greater chance of success.
Stuart Kelly
Innellan, Argyllshire

SIR – Steve England has found raspberries in fruit in December. One of our geese started laying in October and is still laying now.
Liz Lucy
Aylton, Herefordshire
SIR – As I watched my pond from my bedroom window this week, a mallard dropped into the water followed by eight newly hatched ducklings. Sadly, I think survival is unlikely without the insect life found on the water at the right time of year.
Jane Neame
Wittersham, Kent
SIR – The raspberries are more likely to be late than early. When I used to grow autumn bliss, it wasn’t unusual to find berries in December in a mild winter.
Mary Richards
Gunnislake, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Sir, – The inquiry by Róisín O’Shea into the workings of the Irish family law system (John Waters, Opinion, December 13th) seems to be the first major piece of hard evidence of a very unjust system which has been going on for decades.
Attempts by Waters and certain fathers’ groups over many years to shine a light on blatant discrimination which affected both men and their children, met with obstruction, denial and a wall of silence. Of course the secrecy which surrounded the proceedings of these courts afforded a very convenient shelter behind which to hide – which suited politicians, policy makers, and various interest groups from the health, welfare and justice sectors.
That all of these basic human rights abuses, not only the denial of access of fathers to their children but the denial of children of the right to know their fathers, have been going on at a time when we were recognising the abuses of former eras in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, shows that we have learnt very little.
Indeed we were trumpeting our adherence to principles of equality for all and had even set up an Equality Authority to demonstrate our good faith. Sadly it was an illusion.
It is hard to resist the conclusion that apart from the official neglect mentioned, powerful lobby groups had no interest in delving into this matter. A National Council for Men was wanting in this regard. A report to follow those of Ryan, Murphy, the Magdalene laundries is warranted. – Yours, etc,
DAVID WALSH,
Rockfield,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I have closely followed the debates into the top-up payments and governance structures in our voluntary agencies. I note that many, including the Taoiseach, quoted the Hiqa report into Tallaght hospital, which originally highlighted questions surrounding these practices.
As a patient advocacy group, we daily track the trolley numbers produced on the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. But I am puzzled. Beaumont Hospital has had in excess of 30 patients daily on trolleys since November 11th. A lot of days it had in excess of 40 patients and on December 12th it had 50 patients on trolleys.
The Hiqa report, as quoted by Ministers and the Taoiseach, published in May 2012, stated quite clearly that it was not acceptable that patients should be cared for on a trolley.
One would have to wonder is there any point to Hiqa reports; as when issues are highlighted, they can be ignored.
The debate in the media and in Leinster House has focused on the long-delayed publication of the service plan from the HSE for 2014. I would wish some would focus on the issues surrounding the patients left on trolleys in Beaumont and the hard-pressed staff attempting to look after them today. – Yours, etc,
TRIONA MURPHY,
Chairperson,
Tallaght Hospital Action

Sir, – With so many people feeling offended by the flying, or not, of flags in the North, it appears to have escaped the notice of the decision-makers that it is perfectly legal to carry UVF banners anywhere in the North even though this blood-lusting organisation has murdered hundreds of people over the last 40 years.
In my naivety about flags I asked the PSNI to check out the carrying of a UVF banner at the front of an Apprentice Boys parade through Coleraine on December 18th, only to be told it was legal.
With so much time and effort going into flags during the Haass talks, I wonder if the DUP and the Ulster Unionists had anything to say about the effrontery of organisations such as the Apprentice Boys parading through mixed neighbourhoods with UVF banners.
Surely we don’t want to add further confusion to an already confused state by constantly referring to the UDA and UVF as if there was something normal about such organisations. To do so could mean that in the future these terms could be described as “legal” just as the flag carried by the Apprentice Boys in Coleraine apparently appears to be!
JOHN DALLAT MLA
(SDLP), Bridge Street,

Sir, – Sheila Nunan, general secretary INTO states (December 19th) that “class sizes in primary schools with one to four teachers were increased in 2012 and 2013 and will increase again next year”. Pamela Durcan (“Large class sizes a ‘black mark’ on Ireland’s education record – INTO”, September 5th) stated that “the average class size increased slightly from 24.4 in the 2011/12 school year to 24.7 in 2012/13”. So on average, class sizes in primary schools in Ireland rose by 1.2 per cent from 2012 to 2013.
I am a parent of three children attending national school, with fantastic teachers working hard under more difficult circumstances than previously, so I understand why Ms Nunan would want to make her point. But I think it’s also relevant to state the percentage increase. In a country whose government finances are in such a diabolical state with huge economic issues still unresolved, a 1.2 per cent year on year increase in the average primary class size to me is actually a pretty good result. – Yours, etc,
PAUL DEVER,
Ridgewood Park,

Sir, – Hospitals in Ireland request that visitors adhere to strict visiting times and especially to vacate the premises at mealtimes. However, with an elderly mother in hospital and front line staff so hard-pressed (given new working arrangements), often her feeding needs are unmet.
I believe it is time for the Irish health care system to admit it cannot cope and adopt the Greek model which required family members to fulfil feeding and other auxiliary nursing roles. – Yours, etc,
EILEEN O’SULLIVAN,
Vevay Road,

Sir, – With the end of 2013 almost upon us “The Gathering 2013” also comes to a close, making it high time to question such an initiative.
As an Irish citizen studying abroad, I feel tied to my home country, but the more I talk to other ex-pats from other countries, the more I realise the Irish are particularly apathetic about those who live or study outside its borders.
Ireland is one of the few countries in which its citizens may not cast a vote in general or presidential elections if they are not in the country at the time of the election.
Furthermore, at least at my bank, you cannot get a student bank account if you are not a student at an Irish university, despite being a student, Irish and with a permanent residence in Ireland.
These may appear small details, but ones which I feel are examples of a greater problem – if Ireland wishes to encourage those who have gone abroad to come back or to maintain closer ties with their homeland, perhaps it is time for some more permanent, structural changes rather than a mass media campaign to encourage expat-tourism. – Yours, etc,
STEPHANIE BRUCE-SMITH,
Rue Gambetta,

Sir, – Richard Pine (December 20th) is unduly flustered over the title of the Association of Irish Composers’ new series of concerts, The Irish Canon. He writes, “By exercising a prescribed standard of judgment, a canon excludes more than it includes”.
All concert series, just like all art exhibitions or poetry anthologies, are limited by what they can include. Selections have to be made somehow. The use of the word canon may be unwise, but the initiative is one that should be applauded.
Mr Pine, it has to said, is missing the wood for the trees. This is the first concert series I am aware of that is entirely made up of Irish works; and value selections are made by highly-acclaimed musicians such as Kate Ellis, Cora Venus Lunny and Bill Dowdall, rather than by committee, as some other organisations do – with predictably banal results.
The Association of Irish Composers in my view is doing an unprecedented amount of work on a very slim budget (made up of mainly members’ fees). They certainly would not have the luxury of programming Irish orchestral works. That responsibility lies firmly with RTÉ, which, in comparison with the AIC, has failed in recent years to programme new Irish music in any meaningful way. – Yours, etc,
SIOBHÁN CLEARY,
Warren Road,

Sir, – David Jameson (December 19th) seems to be unaware that in 1785, Pius VI confirmed that mixed marriages here were exempt from the general canon law. In the months before Ne Temere was implemented in 1908 all opinion inside and outside Ireland was in agreement that it would not apply here. John Harty was the only one to disagree. Pius X made a personal decision that it would come into force. As often happened in such cases, Harty was promoted a few years later. He became Archbishop of Cashel.
In 1910, the parish priest of the Falls Road was urging all those married since 1908 to rectify their marriages by repeating the ceremony before a Roman Catholic priest. Mrs Alexander McCann refused to do so. Her husband then abandoned her and took their two children, one of whom she was breastfeeding. When this became public knowledge there was an explosion of Protestant fury, the extent of which it is hard to appreciate today.
Before that there was strong support for Home Rule among the Presbyterians but after the McCann case it evaporated almost completely.
In 2010, the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) held a ceremony of repentance and reconciliation to mark this event. It took place in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church, where Agnes McCann worshipped. Immediately outside the door was the massive iron gate which was the “peace line”, still closed on weekends at the time.
The event was reported on prime news time by BBC NI the following morning. The station later broadcast a half hour programme presenting the ceremony. Strangely RTÉ refused to repeat it. – Yours, etc,
Revd EOIN de
BHALDRAITHE,

Sir, – Regarding the item on regulating antibacterial hand soaps (World News, December 17th). All soaps are antibacterial by their very nature. When water and oil are emulsified with the use of a caustic substance, the result is saponification: soap and soap is alkaline. Bacteria thrive in an acid environment, but alkalinity is deadly to them.
The addition of further alkaline substances is unnecessary and only succeeds in selling soap because the average person is ignorant of the nature of soap. – Yours, etc,
JUDITH HOAD,

Sir, – There are few instances this year of the office-party pavement vomit which traditionally heralds Christmas. Contrary to official warblings, are we still in recession? – Yours, etc,
BRENDAN LYNCH,
Mid Mountjoy Street,
Dublin 7.

Sir, – What a corker celebration of the Everyman Theatre (Mary Leland, An Irishwoman’s Diary, December 17th). For 50 years the Everyman has consistently kept quality drama alive in Cork via its three venues, expertly negotiating the trick of staging fine popular as well as less popular drama.
I still relish the memory of the atmosphere in the packed houses when the Fr Mathew Hall was its venue. I even worked as sound manager in the crow’s nest above the stage for a production of the popular comedy Hobson’s Choice in the mid-1970s. On a recent trip to Cork, I enjoyed Eamon Morrissey preforming The Brother in the Palace Theatre, the grand Victorian venue where the Everyman is now based.
WB Yeats, in a letter to Lady Gregory, wrote, “I have always wished however to live in Cork & start some kind of movement or theatre there”. ‘
The founders of the theatre, John O’Shea, Rachel Burrows, Dan Donovan and Seán Ó Tuama managed that, and it is a joy that it still continues, surviving hard financial trials, and with little help.
The Everyman, as Mary Leland points out, has nurtured such talents as Donall Farmer, Dermot Crowley, Kieran Ahern, Fiona Shaw and the designer Bob Crowley, and thankfully it continues to thrive and add to the artistic life of Cork City. Another curtain call please, and another. – Yours, etc,
GREG DELANTY,
Burlington, Vermont, US.

Irish Independent:

I love the symmetry of the new light being born after the winter solstice, and the birth of the baby Jesus and the luminous spirit he brought us.
You don’t have to be Christian or pagan to enjoy these sentiments. They are just another part of the season’s rich tapestry.
I know the end of the year makes some feel a little sad — they cannot help themselves from looking backwards at other times when their family circle was a warm comfort blanket.
As the years pass, this becomes thin and worn and many are left to feel the cold of loneliness.
It is then that the embers of memory are relied upon to offer warmth.
They say that Christmas is for the children, and this is true; but it is also a chance for all of us to look at the world with the magic of childhood in our hearts.
I was in a big city centre store many years ago and I watched with wonder as an arthritic Santa stooped and jollied along an endless procession of little ones, all starry-eyed with visions of gifts and untold blessings.
He handled each delicate wish like it was the most precious thing in the universe.
I had wandered down to the Gresham for an Irish coffee, which was a seasonal treat. It, too, had a special atmosphere, as if the city of Dublin had been put under a goodwill charm.
Later that evening, I made my way back down O’Connell Street and, passing a bus-stop, one old fellow stood out. He was wearing a heavy winter topcoat, but the baggy red trousers were a dead giveaway. It was my old pal from the shop. He was clapping his big hands together trying to keep the chill out of his bones. I took the opportunity to tell him what a masterful job he had done.
I remember the quizzical look he gave me, in return.
“No, sir,” he corrected me, “the privilege is all mine, the years roll off me in the company of such innocent happiness, for a few days a year I get to be young again, and sure you could never giftwrap that.”
No, you probably couldn’t.
B B TOAL
MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

TWO MORE SLEEPS. . .
* As a little fella, a friend of my father used to bring us into town every Christmas. The Santa in Clerys was something to see. There were all kinds of mechanical elves and nodding reindeers as we queued up to see the man himself.
Later, we would walk down Grafton Street, and the window displays in Switzers and Brown Thomas were out of this world. Fairies and princesses, goblins and pixies were all busy. The adults seemed like armies of giants marching up and down the street. Us kids huddled together with our eyes fixed on the brilliant displays.
We always stopped somewhere and got fish and chips. Nothing ever tasted or felt as good. For a little while, we felt like were kings, the city was ours — and if that wasn’t enough, Santa would be coming soon.
E R FULLAM
CO WICKLOW
WOMEN FOR BISHOPS
* I was talking to my Protestant neighbour yesterday. It is his opinion that the biggest problem for the Pope is the Curia; would they let him make changes that affected them? I said I thought Francis was well able for the Curia; his biggest problem was the power of the papacy itself. After he has tamed the Curia, will he deliberately lessen the papacy?
The Papal Office makes the church unbalanced. As Christ set up the church at the beginning, Peter was the chairman of the board. Genuine collegiality is the answer. The idea of collegiality was mooted by Vatican II, but got nowhere.
Here is my idea for real collegiality. If women cannot be priests, there is nothing to prevent them from becoming bishops. Bishops are overseers by definition; they need not be ordained priests.
Cardinals need not be priests; the church managed for a thousand years without cardinals. It is about time women got real recognition; the record shows they are better managers than men.
Change the titles, if necessary. To put it bluntly, the organisational exclusion of women from a full Christian life has been a long-standing heresy in practice, deliberately ignored by the men.
SEAN MCELGUNN
CO FERMANAGH
DAIL ARITHMETIC
* While reading the “14 reasons to be cheerful in 2014″ in the ‘Weekend Review’, I found myself nodding in agreement at the favourable thoughts for Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny.
This caused me to think how many of the other 164 TDs will give us reasons to be cheerful in 2014 and I came up with another 12 TDs.
But this raised another question for me. What will the other 152 TDs be doing in 2014, apart from preparing to get re-elected in the next election?
One hundred and sixty-six into 158 doesn’t go.
RJ HANLY
SCREEN, CO WEXFORD
SEASON OF GOODWILL
* This Christmas, be kind to your family, friends and neighbours.
Give what you can, whether it be time, money or conversation. We can’t count on the Government to help.
KEVIN DEVITTE
WESTPORT, CO MAYO
FAT OF THE LAND
* In the past, agriculture in Ireland was considered to be the backbone of our economy. It now appears that, once again, it may be our best asset.
The recent price war on vegetables could have a detrimental effect on that prospect if the present promotional gimmick by supermarkets to get extra footfall is extended to include other agricultural products.
We all welcome goods at bargain prices but the present practice is obscene. Naturally, profit is their main aim but supermarkets ought to have a moral duty to their customers and suppliers alike. The supermarkets are also damaging, farmer markets, smaller shops and greengrocers as they try to compete to attract customers.
Customers ought to get their goods at a reasonable and realistic price but the vegetable growers ought to get a realistic price for their produce.
The present process being engaged in by supermarkets may be short-term gain for consumers but could result in long-term pain. It could lead to vegetable growers going out of business, which would inevitably lead to a shortage in home-grown produce.
CHRISTY KELLY
TEMPLEGLANTINE, CO LIMERICK
CHALLENGE FOR LEO
* Reading about Transport Minister Leo Varadkar’s idea of increasing car tax, I felt I just had to write.
In fact, I would almost go as far as to invite Mr Varadkar to come down and spend a week in Achill, so he can see just how the public transport system works.
But If I’m being good and following his recommendations, I’m sorry but I won’t be at home for the visit; because for me to take public transport to work — a journey of 14.5 miles — I must walk three-plus miles, board the bus at Polranny, Achill Sound, on a Sunday evening at about 11pm to be at work on Monday morning for 9am.
The earliest that public transport will allow me home from work is almost one week later — Saturday morning on the 10am bus.
I won’t delude myself any further by thinking this visit might be considered — just in case I lose concentration and put the car off the road.
ANN FORRY
ACHILL, CO MAYO
Irish Independent

Pottering

December 22, 2013

22 December 2013 Pottering

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to take part in a Navy exercise, can she avoid hitting anything? Priceless.

Potter around, post a book

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

David Coleman – obituary

David Coleman was a journalist who became the face and voice of BBC Sport as the anchorman of Grandstand and the affable host of A Question Of Sport

David Coleman, who has died aged 87, was the face and voice of BBC Television sport for 40 years, the anchorman for the flagship Grandstand programme on Saturday afternoons and later the affable host of the popular quiz A Question Of Sport.

Until retiring in 2000 he had also covered every football World Cup since Sweden hosted it in 1958, and all 11 Olympic Games since 1960, as well as presenting Grandstand and Sportsnight With Coleman for a total of 14 years.

With his prodigious memory, no-nonsense manner, total command of his brief and infectious and unfailing enthusiasm, Coleman came to define BBC sport as a world-class brand. Ever the critical observer, he was always more than a detached bystander and never flinched from barking out blunt and often controversial opinions about the sporting — and occasionally unsporting — spectacle unfolding before him.

In the brawling 1962 football World Cup encounter between Chile and Italy, for example, which became known as the Battle of Santiago, the first foul was 12 seconds in, and the first sending off came after only eight minutes. “The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game,” was Coleman’s indignant on-air verdict.

But it was as a commentator on spectacular sporting endeavours that he made his mark, his “garrulous gurgle” (as The Daily Telegraph once put it) adding presence to the big occasion. He seized the commentator’s art from the deferential, plummy-voiced, moustachioed phrase-makers of old on behalf of the modern Everyman in the crowd, flat northern vowels and all. “He is the cloth-cap supporter standing on the terrace,” said his long-time producer, Alec Weeks.

Then there was his incredible eye for the action itself. In athletics, that meant separating out a squad of sprinters and calling the result in less time than it takes to read this paragraph. “His race-reading of successive Olympic 100 metres finals — identifying eight men tearing straight at him in a 10 second blur — was,” agreed The Guardian’s Frank Keating, “a party-piece of splendour”.

When Ann Packer won the 800 metre final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Coleman’s voice characteristically cracked with emotion as she crossed the line. In the supercharged excitement of David Hemery’s 400 metres hurdle race at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Coleman was said to achieved the remarkable machine-gun delivery rate of 200 words per minute.

As Hemery himself put it: “His voice actually engenders some of the adrenaline that people identify with, and he can create such a spirit of excitement that it helps people to live in the moment.”

To Coleman’s displeasure, his faintly adenoidal tones, chirpy studio presence (which failed to mask an air of tension as he tried to concentrate on what his producer was shouting in his earpiece) and sometimes manically banal observations were so much imitated that he became something of a figure of fun. He was mercilessly sent up in Spitting Image where the puppet Coleman fidgets in his chair, fiddles with his earpiece and keeps saying: “Er… er… ” and “…quite remarkable!”

The satirical magazine Private Eye coined the neologism “Colemanballs” as a generic term for his and other commentators’ gaffes and unfortunate on air turns of phrase.

The most celebrated slip ascribed to Coleman was the observation that [the Cuban runner] “Juanjareno opens his legs and shows his class” — although in fact this was uttered by the athletics commentator Ron Pickering. When Britain’s David Hemery won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics it was Coleman who yelled into the microphone “…and who cares who’s third?” In fact it was another Briton, John Sherwood, who had won the bronze. Sherwood was not happy, but forgave him.

Another gaffe that haunted Coleman was calling the hole-in-the-heart footballer Asa Hartford “a whole-hearted player”. Yet another was his comment: “Forest are having a bad run — they’ve lost six matches without winning.”

Although Coleman spread his talents and sporting knowledge thinly — many found his profound ignorance of racing exposed annually at the Grand National especially irritating — he was, for all the sneers, a highly professional broadcaster. Renowned for his impatience and explosive temper with people less fastidious than himself, Coleman always managed to remain calm — and even bland — on screen.

He made his name on Grandstand where his ad libs and mastery of football trivia standing alongside the teleprinter as the football results came in revealed remarkably acute and detailed research. But he became frustrated by being always studio-bound and yearned for a new challenge. In 1967, however, after repeated wooing by ITV, he signed a new seven-year BBC contract at £10,000 a year, making him the highest-paid broadcaster in television sport.

Coleman’s epic hour in journalism came in 1972 with his prolonged and sombre vigil, working off just one distant fixed camera, during the unfolding of the Munich Olympics atrocity. He had gone to bed at 5am after a drink or two and was woken four hours later to be told that Black September terrorists had taken Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic village.

For the next two days, as nine Israeli hostages were murdered, Coleman continued to broadcast single-handedly and live from the Munich studio in a 30-hour tour de force — at one stage he interviewed an Israeli weightlifter who, still in his pyjamas, had escaped through a downstairs window.

Drawing on his early journalistic training, Coleman demonstrated a grasp of drama and detail that could turn in a moment into impeccable, measured, sensitive reportage.

The episode took its toll on him. “I didn’t find it very easy to get restarted,” he reflected. “The thought of shouting about a race as if it mattered at all so soon after this was too much.” The following year he left the BBC and moved with his family to Barbados to consider offers from several American broadcast networks, but was back five months later, saying he had decided to stay.

On his return he found that Frank Bough — with whom his relations were never cordial — had replaced him in the Grandstand presenter’s chair; Sportsnight, meanwhile, had been taken over by Harry Carpenter. Coleman sued the BBC, saying he was not being given enough top sports to cover, and once the dispute had been “amicably” settled became a specialist commentator in the field on track events in athletics and on football.

After a couple of years in the doldrums, Coleman bounced back to mainstream popularity as presenter the relentlessly good-humoured A Question of Sport, the quiz programme that first ran for a record 18 years from 1979 .

David Robert Coleman was born on April 26 1926 at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, and educated at Stockport Grammar School. Having heard a radio commentary from the 1936 Berlin Olympics when he was 10, the young man was determined to be a 1500m gold medallist and in 1949 became the only non-international to win the famous Manchester Mile. But when a hamstring injury put an end to his athletic ambitions, he turned to journalism as a career.

During his National Service as a PE instructor with the Royal Corps of Signals, Coleman worked on the Army newspaper Union Jack, and on his discharge joined Kemsley Newspapers. He worked as a cub reporter on the Stockport Express, earning 15 shillings a week. Covering Stockport County reserves for the paper, he was once recruited to make up the numbers when they were a man short. Later he admitted that the Fourth Division club’s result was always the first he looked for on the chattering Grandstand teleprinter every Saturday.

At 22 he became editor of the Cheshire County Press — one of the youngest in the country. On one occasion in the editor’s chair he was assaulted by an irate councillor, stories of whose professional malpractice he had run in the paper.

In 1953 he started freelance radio work in Manchester and the following year joined the BBC in Birmingham as a news assistant. Having made his first television broadcast on Sportsview in May 1954 on the day Roger Bannister became the first runner to break the four-minute mile, Coleman was appointed sports editor, Midland Region, in November 1955.

After the editor of Sportsview, Paul Fox, had seen him interview the footballer Danny Blanchflower on regional television, Coleman transferred to London. In 1958 the BBC’s Head of Sport, Peter Dimmock, offered Coleman the frontman’s job on the new sports magazine programme, Grandstand.

“It was Grandstand that showed how skilled and flexible he was on screen,” Fox recalled. “He was able to listen to the producer’s talkback in his ear, walk across the studio talking sense and then either lead into the next event or sight-read the football results. It was the master at work and it was a joy to watch him.”

Coleman became the BBC’s lead commentator on Match of the Day, which had become a Saturday night institution since its first broadcast in 1964. Because the role took him all over the country, the BBC laid on a four-seater aircraft to fly him to and from his home in Buckinghamshire to the various fixtures, a weekly regime that instilled in him a fear of flying. By 1968 the BBC had started to build its sports programmes around him, making him the star of the midweek Sportsnight With Coleman magazine show.

At the Mexico Olympics of that year, Coleman caused a stir when a tape was leaked of his intemperate outburst against his hapless director during a camera rehearsal. “Jonathan, Jonathan, keep it simple,” Coleman was heard to exclaim. “You’ve got a bloody zoom there, and a camera that’s racing all over the bloody studio. I mean, Christ Almighty, you’d do better on one camera, for God’s sake.

“Get into your original position… I mean, don’t try and be bloody clever… Keep your camera still now… bloody chattering all the way through it. Get your bloody finger out… I’ve never seen such a bloody carnival in my life. Right.” [Cues jaunty music].

In 1971, when Kenneth Wolstenholme left the BBC after failing to agree the terms of a new contract, Coleman took over as chief football commentator. After being replaced by Des Lynam as Grandstand presenter in 1984, Coleman concentrated on his speciality of televised athletics.

As a leading member of the BBC team, Coleman shared the International Olympic Committee’s Golden Rings Award for the best television broadcaster at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He was appointed OBE in 1992 for services to broadcasting and was the recipient of the judges’ award for sport at the 1996 Royal Television Society awards.

In 2000, the year he retired, Coleman was invested into the Olympic Order, the highest honour of the Olympic movement, the first broadcaster or journalist to be so honoured.

“Without doubt, the finest broadcaster the world of sport will ever know,” was the verdict of his producer, Alec Weeks. In a poll for The Daily Telegraph in 1996, readers named Coleman as sport’s greatest commentator. “In the end,” Coleman himself modestly noted, “I’m just a journalist. That’s what it says on my passport.”

David Coleman is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their six children.

David Coleman, born April 26 1926, died December 21 2013

 

 

Guardian:

 

 

Henry Porter is absolutely correct that creativity in the workplace is being stifled by conformity, but the roots of this malaise are long and deep (“Deadly conformity is killing our ingenuity. Let’s mess about more“, Comment). Since the 1980s, rampant “managerialism” has become entrenched in many organisations, especially in the public sector. Constant politically driven attempts at improving accountability, efficiency or value for money have resulted in the erosion of employee autonomy and professional creativity, subordinating staff to relentless business plans, corporate strategies, centrally imposed targets and preparation for repeated audits or inspections.

In this regime, replete with layers of middle managers and strategic co-ordinators, individual creativity and imagination are eviscerated. If an activity or idea cannot be measured or monitored by administrators or bean-counters, or ascribed a monetary value, then it is discouraged or ignored.

Pete Dorey

Bath

Heartfelt hurrah for the state

Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s article (“Let’s rethink the idea of the state: it must be a catalyst for big, bold ideas“, Comment) demolishes the all too widely held view that private is always good, public is always bad, which has resulted from decades of rightwing propaganda. Is it too much to hope that before the next election the Labour party and perhaps even the Liberal Democrats will take up her ideas for a programme of forward-thinking public spending?

Dr Peter Slade

Guildford

Saatchi tweets explained

In his article about the Saatchi and Lawson bust-up (“What does a chap have to do to be ostracised?”, Comment), Nick Cohen writes that my reactions to the publication of the photographs of Charles Saatchi grabbing Nigella Lawson by the throat added up to jaunty acceptance of domestic violence and that I viewed the case as “a shameful invasion of Saatchi’s privacy which Lord Justice Leveson should investigate”. As a result of my reaction, “champagne corks were popping” for me in Cork St.

None of this is true. I did tweet the view that the taking of photographs by paparazzi was a form of violence, which is something I still believe. But that opinion was expressed on Twitter before I saw the pictures of Saatchi with his hand around Nigella’s throat, not after, as Cohen implies. Had I seen the photographs, I would not have tweeted what I did.

Just to be clear, I do not think domestic violence is a minor issue. Nor do I believe the photographs showed acceptable behaviour between a man and a woman. To suggest otherwise is to mislead the public about my views and to imply motives in my tweets that were never there.

Waldemar Januszczak

London N6

Our art’s in the right place

I fail to understand why our ambition to see Scotland as one of the world’s most creative nations should be deemed a problem (“Why Creative Scotland needs a kick up the arts“, Kevin McKenna). There is an artistic vibrancy in this country. born out of inherent respect for intrinsic cultural worth.

We have not declared, as Mr McKenna states, that we want to “spend significantly more on film and television”. We will develop our approach to film funding once we have agreed our film strategy in response to a review scheduled for publication early next year. It’s clear that Mr McKenna did not enjoy either Sunshine on Leith or Filth, but we hope he will find something more to his liking among the huge range of creative work that we support. Last year, we funded 1,500 different organisations, individuals and projects.

For clarity: the Creativity Portal provides support for teachers – the feedback that we have received from them has been highly positive; an application for funding from Previously…, Scotland’s history festival, was rejected because it was among 109 that we had to consider, with requests totalling £3.9m. Our funding budget was £1.4m and consequently we had to make some difficult decisions.

Janet Archer

CEO, Creative Scotland

This shameful gender bigotry

Universities UK should hang its collective head in abject shame (“Segregation by gender has no place in the public realm“, Comment). Religious belief systems routinely encourage hatred, fear and ignorance, but towering above all this medieval scaffold is Misogyny, yes, with a capital M – the loathing of women. The idea that universities in a secular, democratic society should comply with the inhuman demands of bigots is beyond belief.

Max Fishel

Bromley

No need to take notes

It seems anything on film these days has to have music to accompany it (“Synthesisers are killing movie and TV music, say composers“, News). Documentary-makers are particularly guilty of assaulting our ears with highly intrusive, monotonous and repetitive “music”. What’s wrong with a bit of silence now and then?

Roger Lennard

Aston Clinton

Bucks

Back proposals on toxic waste

The staggeringly rapid growth of the dangerous and often poisonous e-waste mountain should be a wake-up call to manufacturers and the governments whose job it is to regulate them (“‘Huge surge’ in dumping of toxic ‘e-waste‘”, News).

Your editorial “We must design gadgets that don’t poison the planet” rightly highlights the need for companies to be challenged to rethink how they make their products, in order to use precious natural resources more efficiently. That means ensuring they source metals in ways that protect people and the environment, and designing gadgets so they can be easily repaired and upgraded, to give them a longer shelf-life. The life of a typical phone is just 18 months.

The EU is currently debating plans to make companies report on the huge social and environmental impacts of making new electronic products, from mines to factories to disposal. A strong law would give electronics companies an incentive to redesign products and business models, drastically reducing e-waste. MEPs must persuade the UK government to back these proposals, instead of UK ministers attempting to water them down.

Andy Atkins

Executive director

Friends of the Earth

London N1

 

Whether or not we reintroduce grammar schools, all children should have the chance to benefit from a grammar school curriculum (“Ofsted chief declares war on grammar schools“, News).

A school that does not offer GCSEs in German and physics (for example) is limiting the career potential of its pupils. Although these subjects can be studied ab initio at A-level, or even at university, by then it is far too late to achieve an internationally competitive standard. Many such “specialist” subjects have become the preserve of fee-paying schools.

Language or science academies are not the solution, because they are not geographically fairly distributed and presuppose career choice at the age of 11. Equally, it is unrealistic to expect all schools to maintain specialist staff in subjects such as geology or Mandarin. Every local authority should establish one centrally sited school that offers a spectrum of subjects and is open to all. There would be no additional funding and no entrance exam. But the underlying ethos would be the strong expectation that students aim for academic excellence.

Dr Mark Ellis

Huddersfield

Sir Michael Wilshaw states that it is a nonsense that only 3% of children who receive free school meals attend grammar schools when 16% of all children are eligible for free school meals.

Sir Michael is clearly not aware of the evidence of research. Most children who enter grammar schools achieve level 5 in national key stage 2 tests taken in the final year of primary school, but free school meal children are two-and-a-half times less likely to attain that level than other children in their age group. It is this underachievement that is the biggest factor in the numbers of FSM children attending grammar schools.

Of those who do achieve level 5, about 40% gain a grammar school place compared with 67% for other children with similar attainment. The Grammar School Heads’ Association has been working with DfE on this issue. It would take just one more FSM child in each year 7 group entering each of the 164 grammar schools to close the access gap between FSM children and other level 5 children.

Barry Sindall

Chief executive

Grammar School Heads’ Association

Cheltenham

If 25% of an age group in an area go to selective schools, 75% of that age group, as a matter of arithmetic, must become the secondary modern element in other schools, whatever names may be used to describe those schools. For example, there are seven grammar schools in Trafford, including several excellent ones. At a time when 59% of pupils in England achieve five “good”, A-C, GCSEs, eight of the other 11 “high” schools in Trafford fail to achieve that level, with six of them only managing 50% or below. In criticising Sir Michael’s remarks, Graham Brady MP is quoted as describing this performance as “incredibly good”.

What is incredible is that Mr Brady should believe this to be true and fail to understand why these “high” schools, despite the best efforts of their teachers, have such difficulty in achieving levels reached by schools in places such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth.

Sir Peter Newsam

Pickering, N Yorkshire

The colonisation of the UK’s grammar schools by middle-class children is not down to the fact that selection by ability is a flawed concept, but, rather, because of the poverty of aspiration in the vast majority of state primaries.

My children’s state primary made no attempt to prepare the children for the entrance examination for the local grammar school. Consequently, the only children to win places were those whose parents had invested hundreds of pounds in private tutoring or who had managed to secure a music scholarship after years of expensive violin or piano lessons. These children were probably no more able than their less wealthy peers. Their parents were simply able to buy advantage and the school happily sat by and let it happen.

Lindsay Rogers

North London

 

 

 

Independent:

 

 

 

 

 

There is substantial evidence that the arts can enhance the effectiveness of conventional medical treatments and aid patient recovery (“Cash-poor NHS spends millions on art”, 15 December). Research has shown that the integration of the visual and performing arts in healthcare reduces drug consumption, shortens stays in hospital, improves patient management, and increases job satisfaction and staff retention. The medical literature on arts and health provides evidence of reduced anxiety and depression during chemotherapy, improved blood pressure among heart patients, improved clinical states in intensive care, diminished stress before surgery and less need for pain relief after it.

This is why so many hospitals, mental health units, care homes and hospices enlist the arts to help alleviate pain and distress. Much of the money does not come from NHS budgets but from charitable, grant-giving and other external sources.

Ian Lawley

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Hamish McRae is correct that we are second only to the United States in being busy shoppers (15 December). The downside is that we have become the victims of Scrooges of the first order. Many shop staff must work late on Christmas Eve to prepare the Christmas unwantables as sale items for Boxing Day. The same staff need to be in store at some ungodly hour on Boxing Day. Consequently, thousands of workers will count themselves lucky to be able to steal a few hours on Christmas Day with their beloved, but too tired to have a real break. For those living away from home it will be a miserable time. Merry Christmas indeed and I pray you all have time to celebrate this year.

Michael Desborough

via email

A recent survey showed that every minute of the working day a shopworker is being verbally abused, threatened with violence or physically attacked. Shopworkers report that incidents are more frequent in the run-up to Christmas. Verbal abuse cuts deep. Many staff will go home upset about an unpleasant incident and worried it will happen again. That is why Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union, is running a Respect for Shopworkers campaign, asking customers to “Keep your Cool at Christmas”.

John Hannett

General Secretary Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw)

My old friend and colleague Tom Mangold has criticised me for the “Postscript” to my book The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward, written with Stephen Dorril and republished this month (8 December). This reports the allegation made to us by a former MI6 operative, Lee Tracey, that Ward’s death was effectively a murder committed by a man working for MI5.

Mangold’s article states that I failed to make “two simple ‘check your facts’ phone calls”, to him and to Ward’s host on the night he died, Noel Howard-Jones. Not true. Mangold was a key witness, so I did speak with him – and so reported in the text both when the book first appeared in 1987 and this year. Howard-Jones declined to comment on Ward’s last hours for the first edition of our book – as was reported in the text.

We also note an account of the evening’s events by a then colleague of Mangold, photographer Bryan Wharton. Wharton’s recollection includes events that Mangold’s does not. Two other Ward associates, the entertainer Michael Bentine and Paul Mann, a key figure in the Profumo case, told us they had information indicating that Ward’s death was not suicide. Another witness, a friend of the alleged murderer, refused to comment.

Would Mangold have wanted us simply to omit all of the above from our account of Ward’s death? Would that have been good reporting? I don’t think so.

Anthony Summers

Co Waterford, Ireland

Hamish McRae says that a pound invested in someone’s twenties will probably be worth four times as much as a pound invested in their fifties (15 December). But interest rates have been around zero for years and may even be significantly negative when investment charges are allowed for. Compound interest does not help in these circumstances!

Paul Main

Fleet, Hampshire

 

 

Times:

 

THANK you, Camilla Cavendish, for the article “This sexual apartheid shames the universities that let Islamism thrive” (Comment, last week). Last week a very educated woman who had something to do with universities said on BBC radio that sexual apartheid in lectures was acceptable. I almost choked on my Weetabix.

I am fully supportive of immigration but immigrants must accept our ways and not try to turn the clock back. We must fight this new apartheid in every way possible. I am one of millions of men who believe in total equality. Keep up the good fight.
Trevor Massey JP 65-year-old retired teacher, Congleton, Cheshire
Fighting Islamism
Congratulations on an excellent column. It articulates issues that the British people and government need to take very seriously — and quickly. Some Muslims are trying, cleverly and subtly, to exploit and abuse freedom of speech and the timidity of the public. David Cameron was correct to intervene in the case of UK universities that are publicly funded. Enough is enough.
Mohsen Zikri Isleworth, London
Splitting headache
Bias and segregation can be frighteningly easy to institute. We should be vigilant of this when we allow alien beliefs to take root in our democratic country. We should politely refuse to entertain such apartheid, or the struggles of those such as Nelson Mandela would be for nought.
Elizabeth Davies Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire
Zero tolerance
Universities have a duty to promote freedom, debate and equal access to ideas, not to appease single-interest groups. Tolerating the intolerant is a liberal folly that will see our precious and hard-won rights eroded. I do not always agree with Cameron but his condemnation of segregation between men and women is timely and authoritative.
Susan Dudley Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

Safe seven-day care will spread NHS more thinly

I AGREE with your campaign for making NHS investigations and consultant assessment more available at weekends (“Victory for Sunday Times on weekend NHS care”and “If he could, he’d be cheering now”, News, and “Sunday Times wins campaign for 7-day NHS”, Editorial, last week).

However, even if there is money to finance extra staff, where are these skilled persons to be found? Doctors in NHS hospitals are becoming more and more specialised and it is becoming increasingly unacceptable to step outside that sphere of expertise.

Either these specialists will have to be spread more thinly during the week or there will need to be fewer but larger hospitals. Some much-loved health facilities may have to be scaled down or closed. The public cannot have their cake and eat it on their doorstep, and the media must not raise unrealistic expectations.
Dr John Calvert Newmarket, Suffolk
Positive thinking
Many congratulations on the vital part you played in achieving safe NHS hospital care seven days a week. After what seems like years of print-bashing, it’s very good to see what a positive effect a campaigning newspaper can have on a vital structure such as the NHS. Well done.
Stephen Espley Canterbury, Kent
Comprehensive cover
It should not have been necessary to point out to our government that NHS cover should not start at 9am on a Monday and terminate at 5pm on a Friday, or that hospital buildings and sophisticated diagnostic equipment that have had billions of pounds invested in them should lie idle outside those hours.
Don Roberts Birkenhead, Merseyside
Million-pound question
You tell us hospitals will face multimillion-pound penalties for non-compliance regarding weekend working. Where will they find this money? Will the taxpayer have to top up their budgets, or will the money be found through them spending even less on care?
George Knight Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Private concerns
Should there not be a similar look at private hospitals, where weekend surgery is very popular? Who is left in charge once the surgeons have gone home and what prompt ancillary services are available in an emergency?
John Martin Manchester
Combination therapy
The combination of seven-day care, Ofsted-style hospital inspections, the routine publication of staff levels against targets and patient feedback gives me faith that a government is taking the NHS reform seriously.
Denis Harding Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Duty of care
Throughout the festive season I will be on my hospital’s wards or in its admission unit for the whole or part of each day, save for Christmas Day, and December 28 and 29. So will many of my colleagues.
Dr Roger Gabriel Senior Consultant Physician, Croydon University Hospital

Farm subsidies vital for a level EU playing field

AS A so-called lazy farmer I rarely put pen to paper, but I was so exasperated at the portrayal of our industry by Charles Clover I felt compelled to respond (“Greedy farmers a-milking it, no turtle doves and no partridge either”, Comment, last week).

Subsidies to any industry are always going to be contentious but for many of my age who have never farmed without them, they have been the difference between a small profit and a large loss. They have, however, also helped enable the public to buy cheaper food.

With an increase in farm profitability many have used the surplus not in the “Range Rover showroom” but to invest in infrastructure to ensure increased quality. Farming without subsidy is a goal we all aspire to but it can only become reality if all our competitors are treated in the same way.
Mark Ireland Sleaford, Lincolnshire
Call of nature
Clover is right to urge the government and farmers to do more to help our struggling wildlife. Redistributing subsidies to those farmers who really need them would help, as would making a positive contribution to wildlife on farms a part of the annual independently conducted “farm assurance” audit.

We are making a difference to species under threat such as tree sparrows. Food production and nature conservation can go hand in hand.
Michael Clarke Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire
Growing greens
When the French and our other EU neighbours are only placing 3% of their common agricultural policy subsidy payment into environmental schemes (the UK pays 9%), why do we look to handicap an industry that not only feeds the nation but supports rural communities, by increasing the UK’s payment to 15%?

Our nation’s self-sufficiency in food falls each year so imagine where we would be if Clover had his way of paying farmers not to farm the land.
Andrew Wilson Lincolnshire
Fallow ground
Subsidies remain an imperfect system but UK agriculture would be outsourced abroad if forced to compete against countries with lower costs of production and troublingly lower standards of quality control and animal welfare. The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, of which I am a trustee, has never been busier helping farmers who live below the poverty line.

The lion’s share of the blame for the reduction in global biodiversity might be attributed to the urbanisation of our planet as a result of breakneck population growth.
Pat Stanley Coalville, Leicestershire

Still no answers to dementia mystery

THE article “The Famous Five take on dementia” (News Review, last week) by Bryan Appleyard might have given the impression that there is some increased knowledge of the disease causing dementia. This is not the case and a new thrust is required.

My wife developed Alzheimer’s six years ago and died 18 months ago. During our 50 years of marriage she ate fruit and vegetables nearly every day. For 15 years after retirement she would swim 20 lengths of the pool and walked regularly, read thousands of books (non-fiction and fiction), demolished a book of crosswords most months and her memory recall was twice mine, right up to when she started to show signs of Alzheimer’s.

The medical profession has recently said that signs on the brain that it thought were the cause of Alzheimer’s are actually caused by the condition. So drinking more coffee, doing puzzles and following a healthy diet is good advice but just fluff when it relates to dementia. The real message is to give more money for research into the disease.
Tom Cullen Ardfern, Argyll and Bute

Points

Rabbit revulsion
I was shocked to read last week’s front-page story “Horror video sparks angora ban”. What disturbed me more, however, was the accompanying picture published on page five and online, of which there was no warning. I found its use superfluous; one’s imagination is quite capable, sadly, of imagining the horror of a rabbit being skinned alive.
William Wright Waltham Abbey, Essex
Angora exposed
Thank you for covering Peta Asia’s exposé of factory-farmed rabbits who are plucked alive for angora in China — where 90% of the world’s angora originates. As long as animals continue to be treated as commodities rather than the living, feeling individuals they are, Peta will be busy drawing attention to their suffering.
Ingrid E Newkirk Managing Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation
Beggaring belief
The Supreme Court ruling that Scientology should be treated as a religion foolishly failed to differentiate between the application of a strict legal definition and common sense (“Hubbard love”, News Review, last week). Millions of children believe in Father Christmas until their eyes are opened, and dozens of brainwashed adults lived as cult members in Waco, Texas, until the myth was exploded.
Julian Whybra Billericay, Essex
The history woman
Patricia Nicol asks why men tend not to read historical fiction written by women (“Historical fiction is in rude health”, Culture, last week ), then later observes that “gender politics [is] so often its subject”. Perhaps she has answered her own question.
Paul Quinton Wolverhampton
Pillar talk
Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s chief designer, says the windscreen wiper is “one of the last bastions of design to overcome” (“Car maker waves goodbye to wipers”, News, last week). Of equal importance is the abolition of the pillars that block a large percentage of the driver’s visibility.
Leon Bennett Netanya, Israel
Border protection
The vast majority of us do not want to stop immigration but we do want robust controls (“May goes to war over EU migrants,” News, last week). Other European countries are also growing tired of having immigrants from less well-off nations taking advantage of welfare systems that it has taken generations to develop.
Malcolm Roberts Fressingfield, Suffolk
Big round of applause
Hugh Canning’s observation that large female singers were unwelcome at Covent Garden (“Tenor-tubbies sing on”, Culture, last week) does not seem to apply to the Met in New York. A live transmission last week of Falstaff had two ladies of ample proportions, Angela Meade and Stephanie Blythe. Big they may be, but their voices were glorious.
Tony Israel London NW8
No defence
Barristers have defended Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby. Do they have any qualms about receiving fees for defending the indefensible?
Wally Berry Saint-Barthélemy-d’Agenais, France

Birthdays

Dame Mary Archer, scientist, 69; Noel Edmonds, television presenter, 65; Ralph Fiennes, actor, 51; Gerald Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, 62; Leigh Halfpenny, Welsh rugby international, 25; Barry Jenkins, drummer with the Animals, 69; Chris Old, cricketer, 65; Vanessa Paradis, singer and actress, 41; Ricky Ross, singer with Deacon Blue, 56; Richard Whitmore, newsreader, 80

Anniversaries

1858 Giacomo Puccini, composer, born; 1943 Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator, dies; 1972 Chilean air force finds 14 survivors 10 weeks after their plane crashes in the Andes; 1989 Brandenburg Gate is opened for the first time in 28 years, symbolically ending the division between East and West Germany; 1989 overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu; 1989 Samuel Beckett, playwright, dies

Corrections and clarifications
Further to the interview with Boyzone (“It’s too easy on X Factor”, News Review, December 8), we are happy to point out that the Press Complaints Commission did not uphold a complaint over Jan Moir’s article about the death of Stephen Gately published in the Daily Mail in 2009. We note that Ms Moir did in fact apologise for the timing of her article. We are also happy to clarify that Ronan Keating and Shane Lynch had not read her article and that their comments were based on the interviewer’s personal interpretation of what it meant, which is disputed by Ms Moir and the Daily Mail.
Our article about the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“The naked and the dead”, Magazine, October 20) stated incorrectly that the father of Ingrid Newkirk (Peta’s founder) served in the US air force, that Peta runs more than one animal shelter and that Diana, Princess of Wales, agreed to give up wearing fur at the request of Peta. We apologise for these errors.
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

 

 

Telegraph:

 

 

SIR – I was about seven when I first heard the story of St Nicholas and the pickled boys, among many saints’ stories. I always remembered why St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is the patron saint of children. When we started worshipping at St Botolph’s Church, at Lullingstone Castle, I was delighted to find the story depicted in one of the 16th-century stained glass windows (pictured).

I think children like gruesome stories, especially if they have a happy ending.

Joanna Comer
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – A German museum has applied for Father Christmas to be added to the Unesco list of cultural heritage, arguing that he has German origins. Good King Wenceslaus, the German-speaking Duke of Bohemia, who lived from 907-935, had as profound an effect on the traditions of Christmas as the fourth-century Turkish bishop Saint Nicholas. Wenceslaus cherished the peace and safety of his subjects and the importance of performing good deeds, clothing the naked, giving shelter to pilgrims and bringing freedom to those born into slavery.

Gerald J Smith
Northampton

 

 

SIR – The work of the Bath Preservation Trust is widely respected for defending the interests of the past. However, the Bath Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative in Bath and North East Somerset, of which I am executive director, are focused on ensuring that the city and its surrounds have a sustainable economic future.

Bath has one of the highest ratios of house prices to earnings in the country, which means that many of our young people are forced out of the area because they cannot afford to buy or rent a property. It is true there are brownfield development sites available, but if all those were given over to the building of homes, there would be nothing left for needed modern employment space to provide jobs.

The Council has found a sensible balance by suggesting a modest use of green belt land for development. This shows that Bath is an ambitious city, ready to face the modern world while ensuring that its historic character is maintained.

Ian Bell
Chew Stoke, Somerset

SIR – Ed Miliband’s attack on developersdemonstrates the political posturing which has blighted the sector for decades, and is the primary reason why we have a such a chronic shortage of homes in this country.

The way to increase housebuilding is by simplifying the planning process. We can only grow and generate employment if we are allowed to build the houses our country so desperately needs.

Bob Weston
Takeley, Essex

Christmas travel

SIR – In an age when we are exhorted to use public transport, there is no bus or train service over Christmas and the New Year. There are those who would prefer not to drive, and those who are unable to do so, particularly people who need to visit someone in hospital. Taxi fares are high at this time of year, so that is not an option for many. When I was a child there was always a regular, if reduced, service every day of the year.

Paul Monahan
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Prioritising goulash

SIR – I note that 24 MPs signed an early day motion registering “sadness” at the decision to sell the Gay Hussar, a Soho restaurant they consider “an important national institution”.

I always considered the Royal Navy, Westminster, historical regiments, the City, our manufacturing industry, energy sector, and old counties were our “important national institutions”. It would appear that our MPs have different priorities, which would explainour national decline.

John Dunkin
London W11

Greens for animals

SIR – Linda Scannell could try visiting her local Morrison’s, where yesterday I bought a splendid bunch of kale for far less than the price of the chopped up, pre-packaged offerings available elsewhere.

Delicious for me and the rabbit.

Marion Allison
Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire

SIR – I was interested to read that Bridget Garvin’s labrador eats unwanted parts of vegetables with relish. Seems a bit of a waste of condiments.

Peter Fineman
Barrow Street, Wiltshire

Foreign operation

SIR – The core of the problem with the Foreign Office must be traced to the incompetence of the officials, as indicated by their inability to speak the language relevant to their posting. The FCO must appoint many more staff who were born or grew up in the relevant country who can not just speak the local language but also fully grasp the idioms. We cannot continue to use a British way of life and upbringing as the template for other cultures who think and behave entirely differently.

David S King
Liverpool

SIR – Peter Oborne criticises me for promoting ethnic diversity and gender equality when permanent secretary of the Foreign Office.

He is right. I did. I am proud of it and would do it again. The idea that this adversely affects the FCO’s ability to do its job strikes me as perverse and insulting to the many exceptionally able women and ethnic minority diplomats who were and are working night and day to promote British interests around the world.

The FCO’s language centre, incidentally, was closed after my time at the FCO. I am delighted that William Hague has reopened it.

Lord Jay of Ewelme
London SW1

Retirement age

SIR – One wonders how the world might now be, had two of the greatest fighters for freedom in modern times stepped aside at the normal retiring age of 65.

Winston Churchill was rising 66 when he first became prime minister in May 1940, and was aged 70 at the war’s end in 1945. Nelson Mandela was 71 when he was released from prison in South Africa in February 1990, and nearly 76 when first elected president in 1994.

Perhaps there is still virtue in age and experience in politics.

Julian Peel Yates
Andover, Hampshire

Recycling rites

SIR – Upon divorce (with no children involved) what is the correct way to deal with the wedding album? Should it be kept, in hopes of reconciliation? Should it be kept, to be sighed over, following a later (unsuccessful) marriage? Should it be sent for recycling, or should there be a ritual burning of it?

Sandy Pratt
Dormansland, Surrey

Without legal aid we abandon our public duty

SIR – I have been a pupil supervisor in my chambers for a number of years. Every one of my pupils has worked throughout his or her years of university and professional training, frequently in low-paid jobs with anti-social hours. They and their colleagues almost universally still enter into practice with crippling debt.

After 21 years of practice, the public funding for my work remains at the same rate or has dropped from that at which my efforts were rewarded 10 years ago. For my colleagues at the criminal bar, it is worse.

The budget for legal aid diminishes year upon year. I fear that the reason for this lies in an electorate devoted to the idea of equality of opportunity. They no longer believe in the principle of a public duty to assist the dispossessed and disadvantaged.

Melissa Barlow
Queen Square Chambers, Bristol

 

 

SIR – The provision of extra runway capacity at Heathrow as shortlisted in the Airport Commission’s report means a continuation of the present arrangement whereby, with the prevailing westerly wind, approaching aircraft pass over central London and its western suburbs.

How long before an aircraft comes down short of the runway? There was a narrow escape in 2008, when a Boeing 777 suffered double engine failure due to fuel icing in low temperatures and landed just inside the airport fence. Had the engine failure occurred a few miles further out, nothing could have prevented the aircraft hitting the ground in a highly populated, built-up area with loss of life to passengers, crew and people on the ground.

Brian Bickers
Leatherhead, Surrey

SIR – Having worked at Heathrow for years, I can say that, just a couple of years ago, 25 per cent of traffic at LHR was interline business – people who go through between flights in, at the most, two hours. Much of this time is spent queuing at security, so there is little time to spend any money in the shops.

So why are we even considering inflicting yet more noise and disruption on the area? Just to get more transient bodies through the hub?

G E Priest
Shepperton, Middlesex

SIR – One of the reasons that the main London airports are at capacity is that a massive proportion of the flights into the region are from feeder airlines flying in daily from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and other regional airports.

If the airlines were to utilise these major provincial airports to launch international flights, much of the congestion, currently being used as an excuse to build yet another south-eastern airport, would disappear, and businesses and tourism in other parts of the country would benefit hugely from improved access to international flights.

Sqn Ldr R E Vincent RAF (retd)
Beaumaris, Anglesey

SIR – It seems pretty obvious that more capacity is needed soon at London’s airports. But it certainly is not obvious to me that HS2 is needed. We cannot afford both with our massive national debt.

So, scrap HS2 and put the money into the airports. There should be plenty left over for improving the existing rail network, which would be cheaper and quicker.

Rodney Tate
Swineshead, Bedfordshire

SIR – George Orwell predicted many horrors which, to a greater or lesser extent, have come to pass when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Among them was the renaming of Great Britain as “Airstrip one”.

Henry Coates
Rugeley, Staffordshire

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

A recent hoarding declared that a local commercial complex offered 100,000 square feet of heavenly shopping. Not far from that, I observed the promise of salvation for those willing to imbibe a particular drink. The lottery is advertised as if winnings were dispensed by God. Lotions and potions promise everlasting youth.

Everybody seeks salvation in some form, fired by the hope that things could be better.

The symbolism of Christmas touches our deepest sensibilities and, understandably, is acknowledged and exploited by the advertising world.

However, lamenting the secularisation of Christmas is misguided; Christmas is, inescapably, a mixture of the sacred and the secular.

The human imagination breaks free at Christmas, urged on by the desire to see our world as it isn’t.

We express inspiring truth in music, art and stories, particularly the story of the Nativity.

What is extraordinary is the way some of the most profound stories ever told are dismissed by those who purport to have had the benefit of a liberal education.

The gospel stories are treated as a botched historical narrative, revealing a failure to understand how these texts functioned in the lives of those for whom they were written.

History as we know it is a relatively recent invention.

The story of the birth of Christ cannot be construed as a collection of facts but as a narrative embodying a range of profound truths.

The account of the angels, shepherds and kings and the birth of a baby is intensely expressive of all that is best in our world.

The story of Bethlehem has touched the hearts and minds of people for over 2,000 years.

The truth is not about the history of Bethlehem but about compassion, generosity, self-giving and expectation.

Happy Christmas to all.

PHILIP O’NEILL

EDITH ROAD, OXFORD

FEW FRIENDS IN EUROPE

* Early in the week, Ajai Chopra, former IMF reviewer for Ireland, said it was unfair for Irish taxpayers to suffer the cost of bailing out the banks when senior bondholders got their money back.

We know this to be true, particularly in the case of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, both of which ultimately proved not to be of systemic importance to the Irish banking system. Yet their creditors were paid in full.

Then we had EC President Jose Manuel Barroso addressing a news conference by saying it was our own entire fault. It didn’t take long for our masters in the EU to begin rewriting history; well, I suppose that is what the victors do, for there can be little doubt that Ireland are the losers.

In Mr Barroso’s mostly vitriolic speech he lambasted Ireland (there was minute praise for Ireland’s progress) and blamed much of the EU’s woes on us. Not once, though, did he mention that most of the so-called ‘bailout’ went towards paying reckless banks on the Continent and in the US. Behind all the smiles and handshakes, we have very few friends in the EU.

JOHN BELLEW

PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

* European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s assertion that the euro was the victim, not the cause, of Ireland’s financial catastrophe is like claiming that potato blight was the victim of the Famine.

DR JOHN DOHERTY

CNOC AN STOLLAIRE, GAOTH DOBHAIR, CO DONEGAL

* It’s a bit worrying that someone like Mr Barroso still doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the eurozone financial crisis and the resulting sovereign debt crisis it caused. The sovereign debt crisis arose because, instead of banks’ investors having to face the fact they made a bad investment and lost, the ECB decreed that as a state could not access normal lending, the only way it would be allowed access ECB funding was if it took on the entire debt of its banking system.

Ireland’s misfortune was to be the first country in that position to have such a craven government.

It seems, like most of the politicians and civil servants who chose austerity but were not affected by it, Mr Barroso prefers to wallow in denial and perpetuate the dangerous myth, so close to elections to the European Parliament too, that it wasn’t the ECB that forced the Irish taxpayer to take on the private-sector debts of the banking industry, instead of the Irish taxpayer just having to deal with the debts we would have had to take on anyway as we adjusted to a fall in tax revenue and increases in welfare spending, as lending was withdrawn from the domestic economy.

Mr Barroso would have us believe that there was no alternative at the time, but we know from Iceland that there was an alternative and while neither option was ever going to be pain free, the point remains that there was a choice at that time.

Mr Barroso and his Commission made the wrong choice and he failed to stand up to the ECB on behalf of EU taxpayers.

Mr Barroso should be careful with the ‘facts’ he throws about in that glasshouse he lives in.

DESMOND FITZGERALD

CANARY WHARF, LONDON

DRIVEN TO USING CARS

* Conor Faughnan (Irish Independent, December 19) is right to be sceptical about the Government’s consultation document for setting out a low-carbon roadmap for the transport sector.

We already pay more than enough carbon tax (in addition to the usual taxes) on our vehicles and at the filling stations.

Any attempt to increase taxes and toll charges with a view to encouraging public transport use is both flawed and disingenuous.

I would not be surprised if this document is yet another means of increasing the State’s coffers.

The Government knows (or should know) that, with a few exceptions, our egregious public transport system is inadequate to cater for the masses.

Consequently, in most cases, people have little choice other than to continue using their cars.

If the Government decides to go ahead and impose increased road/transport taxes on its civilians, then they will be punishing motorists for nothing other than their own failure to deliver a properly functioning public transport system.

JOHN BELLEW

PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

* The Irish motorist is heavily burdened by vehicular taxation and anything to do with owning a vehicle, from the expensive initial cost, including VAT and VRT, to excessively high road taxation, followed by road tolls, annual testing, taxation on fuel, insurance, parking and training and licensing of the driver.

For Leo Varadkar to suggest even more motoring tax is utter nonsense, bordering on lunacy.

The idea, especially in rural Ireland, of taking the bus or train to work is another silly notion.

There is insufficient frequency and joined-up planning for anyone in rural areas to take public transport to work with any hope of either getting there on time or getting home in time to get to bed and be up again for the next bus or train.

If I were to take the bus to my place of work, I would first have to walk two miles, catch the bus and then walk another two miles, to get to work at 8am.

I would need to begin my day at 6am and would not get home again until 8pm, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Is this what Mr Varadkar wants for us?

MICHAEL HIGGINS

ORANMORE, GALWAY

Irish Independent

 

Leaves

December 21, 2013

21 December 2013 Leaves

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to take part in making a film. They open fire on real Royal Navy ships instead of the dummy ones supplied by the film company. Priceless.

Potter around, under sweep some leaves

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

 

Audrey Totter – obituary

Audrey Totter was a Hollywood actress whose cool, seductive good looks ranked her at the forefront of film noir’s femmes fatales

 

Audrey Totter, who has died aged 95, epitomised the tough, hard-boiled blonde femme fatale during the Hollywood heyday of film noir, dark crime dramas that proliferated in the 1940s and 50s.

She was a performer of great versatility, ranging from the murderous floozy Claire Quimby in Tension (1950), and the long-suffering wife of the ageing fighter (Robert Ryan) in The Set-Up (1949), to John Garfield’s saucy girlfriend in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), co-starring Lana Turner.

She was also adept at comedy, as in The Sailor Takes a Wife (1946); Westerns, such as Woman They Almost Lynched (1953); and family dramas like My Pal Gus (1952).

Audrey Mary Totter was born on December 20 1917 in Joliet, Illinois. Her father was Austrian, her mother Swedish. One of her first acting roles was as Violet in a touring version of My Sister Eileen.

On reaching New York she became a favourite of radio producers, one of whom dubbed her “The Girl of 1,000 Voices”. Although hoping to break into the Broadway scene, she was offered film contracts by both Twentieth Century-Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After a bidding war, she accepted MGM’s offer, and remained with them for six years. The studio trained her to sing, dance and act, she took tennis and riding lessons, and was taught to swim in the MGM pool used by Esther Williams. Audrey Totter made her film debut in Main Street After Dark (1944) .

Most of her early films were “programme pictures” — short second features about an hour long. “Lionel Barrymore once told me I would not become a big star because I was too versatile,” she recalled. “He was right. I never became a Hedy Lamarr or a Lana Turner. But then I never had their burning ambition either.”

After The Postman Always Rings Twice, Audrey Totter appeared in a screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake (1947), with Robert Montgomery as the private eye Philip Marlowe, a film shot entirely from his point of view.

She received top billing when she played the psychiatrist Dr Ann Lorrison in another film noir, The High Wall (1947) with Robert Taylor and Herbert Marshall, and in the same year her character was murdered by Claude Rains in The Unsuspected. She appeared in Beginning of the End (1947), about the development of the atom bomb, and played second fiddle to Ray Milland in another forgotten noir gem Alias Nick Beal (1949).

Towards the end of her MGM contract, Audrey Totter starred with Clark Gable in Any Number Can Play (1950), which she considered “just awful”.

“MGM were putting me in terrible films that damaged my star status,” she said. “Gable knew I was terribly unhappy and did all he could to get me off the picture. The studio threatened me with suspension so I stayed on and completed it. I found Gable a caring and sensitive man, not at all like the rough and tumble characters he so often played on screen.”

She subsequently signed with Columbia, but when she met her future husband, Fred Leo, a doctor, she agreed to reduce her working hours in order to start a family.

After the birth of her daughter, she confined herself to small cameo parts in television series such as Rawhide, with Clint Eastwood.

During the 1970s Audrey Totter appeared in the daytime television soap opera Medical Center, and soon afterwards disappeared from view. In the 1980s, following the death of her husband, she was occasionally seen at film galas, including the Academy Awards, often on the arm of the actor Turhan Bey.

Her daughter survives her.

Audrey Totter, born December 20 1917, died December 12 2013

 

Guardian:

 

The 1913 strike (In praise of… the Bliss Mill strikers, 19 December) was not the first time that Chipping Norton was at the centre of trade union struggles. In May 1873, 16 women from nearby Ascot, including two nursing mothers, were sentenced to between seven and 10 days with hard labour for “intimidating” blacklegs brought in to break a farmworkers’ strike. Two thousand people wearing blue ribbons (identifying them not as Tories but as supporters of Joseph Arch’s Agricultural Labourers’ Union) marched on Chipping Norton police station in an attempt to rescue the women. Police had to wait until midnight before they could transport them to prison. Given the importance of Chipping Norton to union history it would be appropriate for the TUC to organise a festival in the town along the lines of the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival – with or without blue ribbons.
Peter Strong
Caldicot, Monmouthshire

 

The failure of a few British Muslims openly to condemn the murder of Lee Rigby is unacceptable but that should not blind us to the reasons they give for the actions of his murderers. We have to realise that we do not see the media that many Muslims view. Even leaving aside Iraq, Afghanistan and the ongoing drone attacks on Muslims, the fact that there are still, over 10 years later, 160 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, held without trial or charge, is itself a provocation. Imagine how this can be portrayed day after day in the Islamic media. The crucial question in politics is not “how?” or “where?” but “why?”, and too few are asking that question. Tackling the issues caused by the west’s actions against Muslims and Muslim countries is not to excuse for a moment the murder of Lee Rigby, but the questions cannot be set aside if we are to avoid further atrocities.
Michael Meadowcroft
Leeds

• I disagree with Seumas Milne’s conflating Islamic terrorism with western wars in Muslim lands (Comment, 20 December). I don’t much care for Saudi, Russian or Chinese foreign or domestic policy, but I have no wish to murder their citizens. In a democracy, an aggrieved minority does not have the right to aggressively undermine the parliamentary will of the majority. And this is why British involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan is an intellectually vacuous way to “explain” terrorism.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor

• Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden blame a militant ideology for driving the Islamist pair to kill on a London street (Report, 21 December). Marxism-Leninism was a militant ideology, too, yet it did not inspire individuals to commit murders. Secular ideologies insist on mass movement. They rarely inspire adherents to commit murders. Religious ideologies with propensity to martyrdom, on the other hand, have no such compunctions. Witness how such an ideology inspired four Sikhs to kill a visiting Indian army general last May for his role in attacking the Golden Temple in 1984.

Islam and Sikh are wonderful religions. They become prone to violence and totalitarianism only when they are reborn as Islamism and Sikhism.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

• Let us never forget that Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick who, following the conviction of the killers of Lee Rigby, spoke movingly of “this horrific attack and murder” on the streets of London which shocked the nation, was the officer in charge of the operation that led to the horrific killing by police of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Benedict Birnberg
London

Whether the deaths of Nelson Mandela and Ronnie Biggs being so close to the release of film/TV productions about them (Hugh Muir’s diary, 19 December) is a sign of luck or genius on the part of schedulers, I don’t know. But is anyone else looking forward to the commissioning of the George Osborne biopic?
Ric Blackshaw
London

• Roy Jenkins more than emulated Birgitte Nyborg’s achievement (Letters, 18 December). Within a year of setting up a new party in 1981, the SDP had an organisation in virtually every constituency in the land and were hitting 50% in the polls. It can be done.
David Pace
Dover

• I am sure we all want relief from the most incompetent and mean-spirited government ever, but Tony Ambrose is offering a dangerous template in Birgitte Nyborg. An ex-PM, deemed to have a talent for presentation, who made lots of money abroad after leaving office, wanting to get back into office? Please, please don’t go there!
Clyde Hunter
Bath

• I am curious as to the Guardian’s definition of who is “English”. Paul Torday’s obituary (20 December) reports that he was born in County Durham, educated in Newcastle and Oxford, and worked in London. Yet further on it states “the very fact that he was not English…”. What would he have had to do to qualify?
Joe Locker
London

• Recent number spotting in the Guardian includes your correspondent’s claim that “5 August this year [was] unique as it is the only date in the Fibonacci sequence” (Letters, 16 December). Surely the most perfect possible Fibonacci date passed us almost 700 years ago, at 11:23 on 5/8/1321?
Steven Thomson
London

• I also failed to receive my Guardian last Tuesday (Corrections and clarifications, 19 December). Apart from being a unit of measurement, is Wales now part of the north of England or Scotland?
Stephen Hughes
Bangor, Gwynedd

 

Karel De Gucht, EU trade commissioner, makes an astounding claim when he says there is nothing secretive about negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP (Response, 18 December). Yes, in a recent bid to appear more transparent the European commission has released more press briefings and held meetings with civil society organisations, but secrecy over the substance of the treaty remains. There is, for instance, no access to the text of the TTIP itself. Even British MPs are not privy to this. This is evident in the only House of Commons debate so far on the economic implications of the TTIP. Records of the debate reveal that MPs were unable to establish the mandate for the treaty or what was happening in the negotiations. This suggests not only secrecy but something deeply undemocratic about these negotiations.
Jan Savage
London

• Perhaps Karel De Gucht could tell us how many of the 350 participants at the recent civil society meeting on the EU-US trade deal were from business? This deal favours corporate interests over public services, democracy and the environment.
Polly Jones
World Development Movement

• Mr De Gucht tells us not to worry that transnational companies will get even greater power over our affairs, because there could be £100bn growth in Europe, which of course means jobs. We’re always promised lots of jobs when such deals are being steamrollered though. This rather reminds me of Donald Trump’s deal with the Scottish government to build a golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast, promising billions in investment and lots of jobs in exchange for the destruction of a site of special scientific importance (SSSI). The SSSI has indeed been destroyed but the promised investment and jobs, to my knowledge, have never materialised.

Maybe this negotiation is not secret but, so far as most of the British media are concerned, it might as well be. Perhaps, if De Gucht’s assurances are to be believed, the TTIP will not turn out to be quite so malign as George Monbiot (Comment, 3 December) suspects. But I remain sceptical. I can’t imagine that our present neoliberal coalition government will do other than welcome the TTIP and hence make no great effort to inform or consult with the British public. It hasn’t so far.

In a few months’ time, assuming the imminent “gagging law” comes into effect without substantive amendment, any further debate or opposition will be effectively stifled. De Gucht concludes by saying that we should focus on the facts; unfortunately one man’s facts are another man’s poison and it may turn out that the British public – not to mention our European fellows – will have been well and truly fracked.
Peter Wilkinson
London

• Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner, says “the arbitrators who decide on EU cases must be above suspicion”. Where is he going to find these sea-green incorruptibles? They will almost certainly be establishment figures who tend to side with the big vested interests keeping them in employment.

The bribery and corruption scandals at Fifa and the Olympics show how easy it is for multinationals to offer inducements to friends and family of these arbiters; such as fully funded free scholarships, fact-finding missions plus all expenses to exotic destinations.

If I had my druthers, all international trade agreements would be Fairtrade, with all products traded to be produced ethically and sustainably, with all labour free to join trade unions to protect working conditions, preferably produced by co-operatives. Ah well, no harm in dreaming!
Richard Saddington
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• Martin Kettle rehashes that old chestnut about welfare reform being the key solution to Europe’s woes (We can’t rely on Merkel to sort out Europe’s problems, Comment, 19 December). He quotes Angela Merkel as saying Europe has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its income and 50% of its welfare spending. The reason Europe has such a high welfare budget is that it is a social democracy and that is what the people want; unlike the rest of the world in which few countries have any welfare scheme at all. Do Kettle and Merkel want a Europe in which old age means poverty and in which healthcare bills can impoverish even the best paid? In other words the abysmal welfare scheme of the US. Last week I had an electrician working at my house who was complaining about the pension changes. He will have to work to 66 to get his pension and, he asked, how will the roofers cope with having to work to 70?
Derrick Joad
Leeds

 

 

Politicians will doubtless be swift to heap praise on emergency service workers, not least firefighters for their quick and effective response in the wake of a potentially deadly incident at London’s Apollo theatre (Dozens hurt after theatre ceiling falls on audience, 20 December). Few, however, will acknowledge that in little more than a fortnight at least three of the eight stations that provided engines and crews at the Shaftesbury Avenue venue – Knightsbridge, Southwark and Westminster – will have ceased to operate as the direct result of a cuts programme avidly pursued by London mayor Boris Johnson. All told, 10 stations across inner London are slated for closure, with over 550 frontline fire service jobs set to be axed.

Within hours of the ceiling collapse at the Apollo, a high court judge issued his rejection of a judicial review application by seven London councils, all but sealing the fate of a campaign of opposition that had won the backing of nearly 95% of those participating in a supposed consultation exercise last spring. Doubtless, some of the same politicians, backed by sections of the media, will pause from seasonal festivities to issue the usual ritual denunciations when FBU members strike on Christmas Eve to defend a pension scheme that already sees them contribute 13% of their salaries towards a financially secure retirement at the same time that the coalition is seeking to raise to 60 the retirement age for frontline firefighters, who must pass rigorous fitness tests to remain in the job.

Surely, the time has come to halt the erosion of a vital public service and the cynical denigration of the conditions of those who provide it.
George Binette
Camden Unison branch secretary

 

Independent:

 

 

 

 

 

The Ipsa proposals on MPs’ pay need sober consideration, not the posturing coming from all sides of Parliament. These proposals are vital to move the pay of our representatives away from the world where people pay themselves as little as possible, to reduce their tax liabilities, to the world where most of us live, where you are taxed as per the tax codes on your true earnings.

The country has become increasingly characterised by two large blocs within the working population. One is the traditional paid worker, who throughout their working life, enjoys a simple if unspectacular remuneration, sometimes with the occasional bonus, but in essence paying taxes on all earnings. Typically, this group is the butt of attacks from the right, enjoying as they do (or did), cushy pensions and easy, undemanding jobs, often in the public sector.

Then there are the wealth-creators of right-wing mythology, of the self-employed variety. This group, albeit when established and relatively successful, are able to “expense” through their businesses many of the essentials of life that the rest of us have to pay fo0r through taxed income: travel, hotels, children’s iPads and mobile phones, and home running costs of every kind. They divide their income with a spouse, who may play no part in the business in reality, again to reduce the tax they pay.

Our parliamentary representatives have lived in this latter world, often their MP’s salary is not their primary source of income, and the lower it is, and the higher the expenses, the better off they have been.

It’s high time something was finally done to address this, and Ipsa’s proposals are a step in the right direction.

Peter Morris

Liverpool

At the time of the Falklands War, an MP earned exactly the same as a mid-seniority army major. The major had served at least a decade before reaching that level of pay, the MP had it from day one. Since then, any equality has disappeared as successive parliaments have given themselves rises that the rest of us can only dream of.

This latest 11 per cent increase will push an MP’s salary £20,000 higher than that of today’s army major. Is there a single MP who believes he can justify this difference?

David Rae

Melksham, Wiltshire

In the recent discussion on the MPs’ proposed salary increase, much has been made (by Ipsa) of the point that it is part of a package which includes reduced pension benefits.

However, the reduced pensions proposed are still six times more generous than the annuity rates on offer to citizens working in private enterprise. I would strongly urge MPs to spend a little time pursuing the appalling annuity rates on offer in the private sector as highlighted (again recently) by the Financial Services Consumer Panel before they sort their own pay and conditions out.

Paul Crossley

Chelmsford, Essex

Filleted Shakespeare

My Year Ten son came home from school the other day raging about the English assessment he had been set. It was on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and he was furiously disappointed with his school, which is an Academy with a very good Ofsted report.

Having watched Baz Luhrman’s film of the play for a week, yesterday he was handed a photocopied booklet with short extracts from four scenes from the play. He put his hand up and asked, “When are we going to read the play?” The answer was, “We aren’t. There’s not time.”

In Year Eight, my son studied Shakespeare in the same school. The play? Romeo and Juliet. “Well, we skimmed parts of it,”  he says.

So when he finishes his GCSEs he will have studied less than an eighth of one Shakespeare play. “How will I be ready for A-level or university?” he asked.  How could I reassure  him? He won’t.

The saddest part is that in many ways I understand his teachers’ actions. I’m sure they didn’t train to be English teachers to short-change their students and to fillet English literature to a meaningless pile of bones, but the combined pressure of school league tables and appraisal procedures makes them desperate to take the straightest route to exam success.

On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed that they succumb to those pressures. But whether I should be most angry at Ofsted and the Department of Education or his teachers and his school is in a way irrelevant – between them they have failed my son, his classmates, and Shakespeare too.

Name and address not supplied

Christmas lockdown amazes foreigners

We wanted to attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Day, but when we googled Transport for London we discovered that there is no public transport on the day. No tube, bus, tram; not even a Eurostar train out of the country. It will be too far for us to walk into town and taxis are too expensive

When I informed my niece in Germany about this, she emailed me back asking: “Are they crazy? How do they get from A to B at Christmas?” Answer: without cars, they don’t.

Neighbouring European countries put on extra services at this time, recognising that many people need to travel across town or farther afield during this public holiday. Britain just forces its population on to the roads, or to stay at home.

Further internet search uncovered many panicked or incredulous messages from foreign visitors who had no idea that they would be stuck for 48 hours. I wonder how badly tourism is affected by this lockdown.

Gudrun Parasie

London N22

Looking forward to the newsletters

Among the more recent seasonal traditions, the one I most look forward to is the annual slagging-off of the Christmas family newsletter. How good to see it adhered to in your letters column once again this year. I enjoy the tradition almost as much as I do receiving the letters. To all their detractors I would simply offer a sincere and hearty “Up Yule!”

Chris Simmons

Hexham Northumberland

Pickles’ bid to censor local councils

My response to Eric Pickles’ proposed code of conduct for councils’ publications is “How dare he?” This is an outrageous interference with local democracy. Local government has been undermined since the Thatcher era, but this proposal is unbelievable for its barefaced cheek.

John Dakin

Toddington, Bedfordshire

End of the war to end war

If we really have to find something to celebrate as a centenary of the First World War, would it not be more appropriate to wait until 2018 and celebrate the end of the war instead of its beginning?

Ted Ring

Rotherham

Dire results of fundamentalism

No explanation of the actions of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby, is complete without mentioning that Islam prioritises war more than any other worldwide faith (if we except Marxism).

Unfortunately this was not an invention of al-Qa’ida. What the Quran actually says, among other things, is: “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. . . But if they repent. . . let them go their way” (9:5) and “Fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not” (2: 186). The Bible also has God giving the Israelites “the land of all the peoples that I have wiped out” (Joshua 23:4).

The emphasis on holy war in traditional Islam can be explained by saying it had to contend with two military empires (and the Byzantine-Roman empire was more persecuting than the pagan Roman empire had been). Such texts are now, not unreasonably, usually taken to mean no more than reasonable self-defence. These problems are peculiar to text-based revealed religions, in particular the Abrahamics.

However, we should not fail to notice that it is easier for a Muslim fanatic to claim, however spuriously, scriptural justification for violent acts than it is for a Christian fanatic.

Antony Black

Emeritus Pofessor

School of Humanities

University of Dundee

Your item “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ ” (19 December) appeared on the same day that two Muslims were found guilty of the barbaric and savage murder of Lee Rigby.

Fundamentalism in the forms seen in these cases is nothing more than a blind adherence to a narrow, ignorant and anti-intellectual reading of their respective holy books, which is not shared by the main stream of either faith. How right it was of the leaders of Islam in this country to express themselves so forcefully against the action of these two men, and of the Bishop of Chichester to denounce the Christian evangelist and her reported support for anti-gay laws in Jamaica.

Such opinions and actions serve only to increase the number of atheists and cause Christian and Muslim leaders further headaches.

Dr Michael B Johnson

Brighton

 

 

Times:

 

Sir, Your correspondence on grammar schools after the criticism of them by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Education in England and head of Ofsted (letters, Dec 18), is depressingly predictable, being nostalgia for a bygone age.

For the vast majority of people in a selective area, the only time they see a grammar school is when they walk past one on the way to a secondary modern. Grammar schools have always catered disproportionately for the middle class. A few working-class children passed the 11+, but a disproportionate number of these later dropped out with few if any qualifications as soon as the law allowed them to leave school.

Sir Michael’s comments were informed by the latest research, both from his own organisation, Ofsted, and from the OECD’s three-yearly Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), whose latest report had been published only a week before Sir Michael’s own annual report.

Every Pisa report since the first one in 2000 has shown that selective systems of secondary education perform less well than comprehensive ones, and this is increasingly the case. All the countries right at the top of Pisa have comprehensive systems, as do the small number of nations that have achieved the holy grail of high school standards and high levels of equity so necessary for economic success.

Sir Michael’s comments were based on knowledge and the latest research, as well as his experience as a teacher. He should be congratulated for being prepared to speak truth to power, and listened to.

Demitri Coryton
Editor, Education Journal

Sir, Philip Collins (“A History Boys education is not for everyone”, Dec 20) is quite right about the initial attraction of the new comprehensive schools to those — very numerous — middle-class parents whose children were not in the top 15 per cent IQ range at the age of 11. The alternatives to grammar schools were anathema to them.

As headmaster of a grammar school which changed from selective to non-selective in 1971, I was surprised, pleased and flattered at the number of heads and senior dons of Oxford colleges who bussed their children 15 miles out each day to the quiet market town of Thame. They said they were in search of a good all-round education; despite being non-selective, we still offered a grammar school curriculum (including Ovid) as well as full technical courses for those who wished. We also retained good academic teachers, and used “setting by ability” in nearly all subjects from Year 10 onwards. This enabled those pupils with the ability to gain admission at Russell Group universities, including a modest stream to Oxbridge. However, by 1978 applications from good maths and physics graduates for junior posts began to dry up.

Today more than two thirds of maintained secondary schools, which educate 93 per cent of the pupil population, do not have a physics graduate on the staff. The lion’s share of the best graduate teachers in “shortage subjects” is found in the independent schools, and especially in the former direct grant schools, which before 1976 had educated half their intake free.

Geoffrey Goodall
Oxford

 

Sir, Further to the multi-signatory letter “Leading arts venue is ‘under threat’ ” (Letters, Dec 19), I have run the Riverside Studios for the past 20 years through some extremely difficult times, when the interest of this eminent group of grandees and arts luminaries was not evident; not when I started, when the organisation was deeply in debt, not when we lost our entire Hammersmith and Fulham Council grant of £320,000 in 1995, nor when we further lost our entire Arts Council grant of £500,000 in 2012 (something we had spent years building up). Suddenly when there is very real potential for the Riverside Trust to improve its position this negative letter has appeared.

I have nothing but respect for the people concerned, but I would urge them all to engage with us to make Riverside Studios a vital centre for the arts in future. Planning has been approved for the development and this will see a new building with vastly improved facilities and additional space with an open aspect on the river for a much larger café bar and restaurant. It has the potential to make the building a destination, rather than one lost down a back road. But the amount of art we are able to support will depend entirely on a fundraising campaign, whether we are able to regain Arts Council funding support and how successful we are at generating our own income. The future of Riverside Studios is just beginning and we would ask these major names for their support and active participation.

William Burdett-Coutts
Artistic Director, Riverside Studios
London

Sir, Terence Handley MacMath (letter, Dec 18) writes that, to avoid illness caused by stress and overwork, consultant physicians need to “heal themselves by not working at weekends”. In that case, what damage is being done to all the NHS junior doctors, nurses and midwives whose duty rotas ignore such consideration?

The notion that our most experienced medics should be expected to work nights and weekends on top of their current weekday “office hours” is clearly absurd. However, they must surely recognise that some unsocial hours must go with the territory, irrespective of their seniority. Patient safety requires greater involvement from them in 24/7 cover and it is for hospital managers to implement the necessary reorganisation of their workload as intelligently and humanely as possible.

Alice Charlwood
Ramsbury, Wilts

W6

 

 

Your leading article advocating the erosion of the green belt to meet housing need ignores the alternative

Sir, Your leading article (Dec 19) advocating the erosion of the green belt to meet housing need ignores the alternative — which is to build more densely. Denser cities make for more cohesive communities and promote walking and cycling rather than car journeys and commuting. As for the “scrub land” disfiguring some green belt that you suggest could readily be sacrificed, this tends everywhere to afflict the no man’s land around cities, but is also deliberately promoted by those who would build on it.

The remedy is a Green Belt Authority to transform it through removing eyesores and planting trees. Any loss of the territory of such an authority should require a separate Act of Parliament, as with property of the National Trust. Your case for the sacrifice of 2 per cent of countryside now will apply equally to the next 2 per cent and the next. Such irrevocable loss is not the way to meet the housing need.

Edmund Gray
IIffley, Oxford

Sir, Before we concede that our housing needs are only surmountable by building extensively in the open countryside, we must make use of the brownfield land that can accommodate 1.5 million homes in England. While it is clear that our country is suffering a housing crisis and that we need to build more homes, it would be madness to sacrifice our green belts. These have safeguarded the countryside and helped to secure urban renewal for more than half a century. We need to make every effort to revitalise brownfield land as well as buildings that have been left unoccupied.

Neil Sinden
Campaign to Protect Rural England

Sir, The problem with building new “houses at the periphery of existing cities and towns”, as Sam Banik advises (letter, Dec 20), is that these settlements will inexorably expand to become conurbations. Ultimately the conurbations tend to link up to form a megalopolis as has happened in New York and London.

It is precisely to avoid this that the green belt was introduced, and why it has been enforced with considerable success. It is also a potent reason to assess the optimal limits of demographic growth, and whether further urbanisation is desirable in this relatively small island.

Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent

 

 

Sir, Like Stefanie Marsh (Times2, Dec 18) I accidentally acquired a Staffie. To improve our image when walking him, I allowed him to carry his stick. This resulted in warm smiles and “what a good dog” comments. Unfortunately, when anyone then went to stroke him he assumed that they were trying to steal his stick and growled at them, instantly destroying our joint credibility. He was the most loving and clever animal that I have ever had. Sadly he died this summer and, gosh, how I miss him.

Sue Guest
Hapsford, Cheshire

Sir, A friend of mine had a Staffie bitch years before the breed acquired any sort of reputation. People frequently asked him what sort of dog she was, and he would reply, with an innocent air, “Well the man who sold it to me said she was a whippet.”

David Robinson
Braishfield, Hants

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – The National Trust’s timely warning draws attention to the fact that, however much ministers wish to believe that their policies protect the green belt, this is not the case.

In the city of Bath, a World Heritage Site whose inscription specifically mentions its countryside setting, two areas of green belt are being put forward for housing development. They are also situated in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, have various wildlife protections, and one site abuts the Wansdyke, a scheduled ancient monument.

With all its designations, Bath’s green belt is nevertheless threatened by commercial-market housing development, at a level in excess of the objectively assessed need, because developers will not build sufficient affordable housing at other sites. Is this how, as Nick Boles suggests, the Coalition has safeguarded national green belt protection?

Caroline Kay
Chief executive, Bath Preservation Trust
Bath

Mile-high text

SIR – Using mobile phones incessantly is now such a compulsive habit that people are texting while oblivious to their surroundings, such as when driving.

Remember how, when smoking was first banned on planes, many people went to great lengths to have a secret drag, leading to the placing of smoke detectors in toilets? If BA and other airlines are now to allow the use of phones during flights, how will they ensure that all phones are in “airplane mode”? What happens when people start hogging the toilets to make calls?

Geoff Milburn
Glossop, Derbyshire

War’s legacy

SIR – When I introduced the German history GCSE module to my class, I played a word association game: happiness (response: chocolate), and so on. The final word was always Germany and the response, without fail, was war.

I fear the Prime Minister’s programme of events to commemorate the First World War will serve to further inculcate in the minds of young people the association of Germany with war. The tabloids will compete to heap opprobrium on Germany, climaxing inevitably on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

David Cameron should consider the German embassy’s appeal for a less declamatory approach. Spending that £50 million on taking our young people to Beethoven concerts would be a good start.

Nicholas Nelson
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Christmas message

SIR – Elisabeth Armstrong-Rosserwould like to receive merrier seasonal greetings with her Christmas cards. Last week we received one with news of the sender’s husband passing away scribbled on the card.

Praful Soneji
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

SIR – At 7.30pm on Tuesday, my doorbell rang. I opened the door to find two unsmiling children, aged about six and 12. They give me two tuneless lines of We wish you a Merry Christmas and then held out a Hallowe’en bucket for a gratuity.

I told them to come back when they had learnt a proper carol. Am I Scrooge?

Anne Stone
Maidstone, Kent

Syrian solution

SIR – Peter Oborne may be right that there have been serious blunders in the West’s policies towards the Syrian tragedy, but the key issue is what can and should be done now, amid growing doubts that regime change is the best answer.

There has been so much appalling killing and destruction inflicted by both sides, as well as by the increasing numbers of insurgents, that it seems likely that only a partition of the country could bring peace and enable refugees to return to their country, if not to their own homes, many of which are now destroyed. Perhaps that is where Western strategy and help should now be focused.

Mike Tyler
Worthing, West Sussex

SIR – We are being asked to contribute to the Syrian Refugee Appeal. What efforts have the Russians and Chinese made towards this? It is their joint intransigence that has protracted this conflict and produced its consequences.

John Jukes
Bosherston, Pembrokeshire

Gender differences

SIR – Who does Elizabeth Truss suggest is responsible for the discrepancy between the number of girls and boys who progress to study science subjects?

The sexes are different. Females differ from males by 5 per cent of their genes. As a result, the physical and psychological make-up of the two sexes is different, and this includes the hard-wiring and certain operations of the brain. It also includes rates of metabolism, susceptibility to disease and response to medication. These differences have been acquired over the millennia; they are real and irrefutable. The continued attempt to deny or talk away these biological facts does us and our youngsters a great disservice.

Dr Richard Walden
Limpsfield, Surrey

Offally expensive

SIR – I would advise Les Sharp and Chris Harding not to talk too loudly about the scrag end cut of lamb, lest some famous chef should put it on his menu and raise its price tenfold, as happened with lamb shanks and various types of what used to be called offal.

Ginny Martin
Bishops Waltham, Hampshire

The broccoli shoppers that cut before they buy

SIR – Wily pensioners in my local supermarkets have the perfect answer to the problem of broccoli stalks. They come armed with penknives and cut them off before buying.

The cardboard boxes holding broccoli always have an ample supply of stalks, if any readers need them for cooking.

Philip Moger
East Preston, West Sussex

SIR – I have been told that the broccoli stalk has more fibre and as much nutritional value as the floret.

Dini Thorne
Smannell, Hampshire

SIR – If Ken Anderson does not like eating the stalk alongside the florets, he could chop and freeze them. After a few weeks, he will have enough to make a very tasty broccoli and stilton soup.

Chris Reynolds
Newbury, Berkshire

SIR – Supermarkets only sell curly kale in bags containing the chopped-up leaf and the inedible woody stalk mixed up together. This requires much picking over prior to cooking. Many a time have I sifted through this mess and sent the pile of offending stalks back to Sainsbury’s, asking for suggestions on how to cook it.

So far, no recipes have been forthcoming. Their reasons for not selling whole kale leaves have been: the farmer prefers to harvest it this way; they don’t have bags large enough to sell it whole; customers demand it this way; and mine is the first and only complaint they have received. All poor excuses in my view.

Linda Scannell
Maidstone, Kent

SIR – In our household, all unwanted parts of vegetables are given to the labrador, who eats them with relish.

Bridget Garvin
London SW8

 

 

SIR – The laudations at the BBC over the violent criminal Ronnie Biggs prove the point that in our debauched culture there is no difference between fame and notoriety: there is now only celebrity.

Revd Dr Peter Mullen
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – While in the Royal Navy, I served as the communications officer of the cruiser HMS Tiger. Among my responsibilities was that for my staff and their accommodation, which I visited at least once every day.

When the ship was alongside, it was common for her to be open to visitors, as indeed she was when we visited Rio de Janeiro. There, I paid my usual daily visit to the communications mess, where I found Ronnie Biggs being entertained.

A diplomatic incident was on the cards, so I suggested that the men quietly escort him to the gangway and get rid of him.

Lieutenant-Commander J M Gawley (retd)
Havant, Hampshire

SIR – The unlamented death of Ronnie Biggs serves as a reminder as to the inequalities of our welfare system. Biggs was a criminal who spent most of his life as a fugitive living overseas. Only when his health failed did he seek to return to this country to avail himself of the necessary medical treatment for his survival. His subsequent term in prison was remitted on the grounds of his imminent death, although he lived for another four years in a care home.

One can only imagine the reaction of someone who has had to sell their home in order to meet residential care costs, when they discover that a non-contributor such as Biggs could so easily be granted the same facilities without having paid a penny into the system.

Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire

SIR – Those who romanticise Ronnie Biggs may like to reflect that had the driver or crew member died from his injuries, both Biggs and his co-defendants would have been arraigned on capital charges on the basis of being an “accessory to the fact”. In 1963, capital punishment was the law for homicide “in pursuance of theft”.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – My late brother was a post office sorter on the robbed train, which he joined five days after the crime. Many people felt that the prison sentences handed to the robbers were too harsh, but he did not.

He said that the driver, a top link man, did no more main-line driving and ended up shunting in Crewe Yard, dying not long after; the sorters working in the high value coach when it was robbed travelled no more (one tried, but upon approaching the site of the robbery felt ill, and subsequently had to give up work); another was promoted to a London office supervisor’s job but died within six months.

V R Dabin
Lympstone, Devon

 

SIR – Steve England has found raspberries in fruit in December. One of our geese started laying in October and is still laying now.

Liz Lucy
Aylton, Herefordshire

SIR – As I watched my pond from my bedroom window this week, a mallard dropped into the water followed by eight newly hatched ducklings. Sadly, I think survival is unlikely without the insect life found on the water at the right time of year.

Jane Neame
Wittersham, Kent

SIR – The raspberries are more likely to be late than early. When I used to grow autumn bliss, it wasn’t unusual to find berries in December in a mild winter.

Mary Richards
Gunnislake, Cornwall

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has ruled out retroactive recapitalisation of the Irish banking system at least via Europe’s forthcoming banking union. Justifying this stance, which will probably also be applied to the ESM, Mr Barroso said it was the Irish banking sector that caused one of the biggest problems in the world and that responsibility at that time lay with Irish authorities; also it would be wrong to give the impression that Europe has created a problem for Ireland and that therefore Europe now has to help.

However Mr Barroso failed to mention that German, French and British banks fuelled the property bubble here by irresponsible (and for years profitable) lending to Irish banks, yet their loans – including several billion euro in unguaranteed bonds – have been repaid by the Irish taxpayer. Applying Mr Barroso’s own logic – that institutions and authorities should pay for their own mistakes – these European banks should have carried their own losses. Mr Barroso should be representing all of Europe not just Germany, France and other big countries.

The Government should call for Mr Barroso’s immediate removal over this hypocrisy. However, at the time of writing no Irish Government spokesman has objected to this double speak, and Enda Kenny is more likely to whine that “shure we all went mad borrowing” at the next European meeting than stand up for the people who elected him. – Yours, etc,

DONAL McGRATH,

Heathervue,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – European Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that the euro was the victim not the cause of Ireland’s financial meltdown is like claiming that potato blight was the victim of the Famine. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN DOHERTY,

Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal.

Sir, – European Commission president José Manuel Barroso now blames Ireland for his euro problems. Big bad Ireland should now discard the currency and save the poor little old euro! – Yours, etc,

KEITH NOLAN,

Caldragh,

Carrick-on-Shannon,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – Now José Manuel Barroso has left us in no doubt about a possible write-down of our bank debt, perhaps it’s time to open bilateral talks with Mr Putin regarding a discounted deal on our oil supply.

If nothing else, it would set the cat amongst the pigeons. – Yours, etc,

NIALL GINTY,

The Demesne,

Killester, Dublin 5.

 

Sir, – Dr Eddie O’Connor (Opinion, December 19th) touches on a number of important points. He rightly asserts that key to reducing climate impact is not simply promoting green energy in the West but crucially moving China and South-East Asia in this direction also.

As a student and resident of Shanghai, I can state with near certainty that such a move will unfortunately not occur. At least, it will not occur with enough haste. China’s economic boom has been built on unsustainable foundations, and although the country adopts green energy at a rapid rate, it will likely not be enough.

Beijing is frequently criticised for high levels of pollution, but just recently Shanghai suffered from an Air Quality Index score of above 500 (this is the point beyond which the scale no longer measures, and beyond this it is not updated). The pictures were widely available in the West at the time, but this raises a startling conclusion. Shanghai’s air had never gone above 400 on the AQI, indicating the level of pollution is getting worse, in an effort to address the needs and wants of an increasingly affluent population along with meeting export goals.

Environmental scientist Dr James Hansen points out in Storms of our Grandchildren that the business as usual approach has us closing on the line of disaster already. All of the signs show that even if Europe and, far less likely, the US, were able to curtail emissions to acceptable levels, the amount of time required for rapidly developing countries to do the same would be too great. At that point, geo-engineering may be the only solution in a list of very undesirable solutions. – Yours, etc,

BYRON MURPHY,

Fudan University

International Student

Dormitory, Yangpu,

 

 

Sir, – The most fitting way to remember Marie Fleming (Breaking News, December 20th) would be to change the law – the Marie Fleming Amendment. – Yours, etc,

HARRY McCAULEY,

Maynooth Park,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

 

Sir, – I find it perverse that Luke “Ming” Flanagan’s placement of a glass of dirty water in front of the Minister of State for the Environment is focused on as an “act of vandalism” and “outrageous and unacceptable” behaviour by the Ceann Comhairle (Oireachtas Report, December 20th).

It is a simple and innocuous representation of a problem people in Mr Flanagan’s constituency face. I do not always agree with Mr Flanagan’s approach but at least he is getting his constituents’ problems noticed.

The Ceann Comhairle’s role is to facilitate discussion and debate. If he is going to detract from serious issues with petty and overstated charges of bad behaviour, is he fit for purpose? – Yours, etc,

Dr DAVID MURPHY,

Langdon Park Road,

London, England.

 

Sir, – In the wake of An Taoiseach’s visit to the grave of Maj Willie Redmond MP, late of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, it has been suggested that his grave lies where it is at his own request. It has also been stated that this was in protest at the executions that followed the 1916 Rising. Both of these statements are myths with no basis in fact.

Maj Redmond was buried in the convent garden at Locre on the day after he was killed, June 8th, 1917. At his own request, soldiers from both the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division provided his guard of honour. In October 1919 his widow Eleanor visited his grave and was very pleased with how it had been kept by the sisters. When the CWGC started to concentrate burials in the area they wrote to her asking for her permission to move him. Eleanor requested that his body be left where it lay in the care of the nuns at Locre. No political statement was being made.

I have spent many years bringing groups to visit the western front to learn from our shared history and this hoary old chestnut arises again and again. To anyone who wants an accurate account of the story behind this episode I would refer them to Terence Denman’s excellent biography, A Lonely Grave, The Life and Death of Willie Redmond. – Yours, etc,

FEARGHAL O BOYLE,

Sir, – It happens occasionally, albeit rarely: one feature article is worth the price of the daily newspaper; thus it was with Eoin Burke-Kennedy’s “Shedding light on winter solstice at Newgrange” (Science, December 19th). It was informative, beautifully written, and made me want to learn more. Thank you. – Yours, etc,

JEANETTE F HUBER,

Scilly,

Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – On December 21st, precisely at dawn, the sun peeps over the Co Meath horizon through a tiny gap in the branches outside our kitchen window, creeps across the breakfast table, and for several magical moments fully illuminates the interior of our Bosch microwave oven. How were supposedly primitive Stone Age people able to figure out this kind of stuff? – Yours, etc,

WILLIE DILLON,

Coast Road,

Bettystown, Co Meath.

 

Sir, – In recent weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced from the Kalamoun area of west Syria across the border into the town of Arsal in northern Lebanon. Refugees are being housed within the local community in an extraordinary act of bravery and generosity. While they now outnumber the local population, they are still welcomed.

Across Lebanon, more than one million refugees are depending on this solidarity.

Stables are being converted into makeshift accommodation as snow continues to fall in the Bekaa Valley. Within Syria, the most recent attack on Aleppo adds to a growing catalogue of killings and horror. As we approach Christmas, marking the time when the Holy Family sought shelter in a stable, we should look at our world leaders’ collective inaction and shameful acceptance of the conflict in Syria. What will the legacy of the international community be in relation to Syria? UN chief Ban Ki-moon has stated that the situation has “deteriorated beyond all imagination”. It is also beyond belief that the international community watches passively.

In 2014 we will remember the Rwandan genocide 20 years on and wonder why no one did anything to prevent the slaughter of innocents. Twenty years from now we will ask the same about Syria. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN MEEHAN,

Executive Director

 

Sir, – Miriam Lord brings to our attention the following quote from the Government’s just published Medium Term Economic Strategy 2014-2020 (Home News, December 18th).

“This strategy provides an overarching, high-level, integrated whole-of-Government framework to drive and facilitate the development of appropriate sectoral and horizontal policies which will be refined over the next few months to take account of this strategy.”

That’s going forward, presumably. – Yours, etc,

PD DOYLE,

Clontarf Road,

Dublin 3.

 

 

 

Sir, – Can post-bailout Ireland now afford a coat for An Taoiseach, or did he merely want to give the impression that we are Irish are “hardy men”? (“Paying Tribute: Irish and British first World War dad remembered”), photograph, Front page, December 20th). – Yours, etc,

MICHELE SAVAGE,

Glendale Park, Dublin 12.

A chara, – Your report (Lorna Siggins, Home News, December 9th) featuring the old photograph which recently came to light in a Dublin attic was thought-provoking. Taken in Galway of a Gaelic League group in 1913, the photograph included half the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation and three future presidents of the new State.

What a gem this photograph is and what a reminder it is, 100 years on, of how much our State owes to the Gaelic League. And how ironic its reappearance now when our current administration seems intent on dismantling whatever supports there have been up to this for the use of Irish in the public life of our country. – Is mise,

JOHN GLENNON,

Bannagroe,

Hollywood, Co Wicklow.

 

 

Sir, – Angela Merkel’s pledge to German voters that, at the end of this coalition government’s four-year term they’ll be “better off than today” (Derek Scally, World News, December 18th) is as vacuous a statement as anything our lot might utter considering the person at the helm for the past eight years and therefore the person responsible for the state in which German citizens find themselves today, was none other than Dr Merkel! – Yours, etc,

JD MANGAN,

Stillorgan Road,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

 

Irish Independent:

* Colette Browne’s piece, ‘Urging gays to ‘pray it away’ is silly — and dangerous’ (Irish Independent, Wednesday, December 18), is a very thought-provoking one.

Also in this section

A Christmas message

Letters to the editor

Letters: The reality of being alone at Christmas

Articles/columns such as these in mainstream newspapers signal the great change that has occurred in Irish society since the late 20th Century. It is a change from one form of fundamentalism (Catholicism in Ireland) to another; of a liberal kind. Freedom of speech is the injured party when up against either ideology.

Ms Browne congratulates the suspension of the Legion of Mary society in NUI Galway. NUI has a “pluralist ethos” and so it is right to suspend funding to the society in question, implies Ms Browne.

She does not see the inherent contradiction that lies in the belief that a pluralist ethos somehow means banning the views of some in favour of others.

Pluralism implies diverse, multifarious opinions and views be tolerated. Apparently for Ms Browne and the NUI, however, this means a diverse range of opinion within an overarching liberal context. In other words: “Say what you like as long as it conforms to our ideology.”

The idea that censoring the views of the Legion of Mary somehow curtails free speech is “unfounded” according to Ms Browne. This is simply incorrect. If you cease funding for one particular body of opinion, not only are you delegitimising it but you halt its ability to get its message disseminated — effectively censoring it.

The end of the column decrees “the right to practise one’s religion does not confer a right to force its orthodoxies on others”. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Let us now ask who it is that seeks to confer their orthodoxies on others? Is it the Legion of Mary who produce heterodox literature, which attempts to change one’s mind on a certain topic through the use of persuasion? Or is it the people who feel any deviation from their ideology — liberalism, the one true religion — is “dangerous”, and so should be censored?

JAMES MCGOVERN

DRUMCONDRA, DUBLIN 9

BAILOUT BACKSLAPPING

* As we exit the bailout, it can possibly be an opportunity rather than a conclusion. But, I also believe there is far too much backslapping for our top politicians as to the part they played in the exit.

The troika wouldn’t even have been needed here had politicians been disciplined enough to face reality, ignore the mythical Celtic Tiger and act accordingly towards the banks, the developers and the public. Prudent leadership at that time would have been accepted nationwide. Yes, it seems the last government may have to carry the buck. Being honest, however, parties, politicians and governments differ little when in power — other than faulting the previous ones.

This Government acted as tabby cats to the troika over the past three years, genuflecting to their every whim. In its recent secret meeting with the troika, what concessions were the Government promised before their departure — apart from the reminder, “We’ll be back”?

What a buffer for the future welfare of our banks if the troika had offered some practical help in sorting out their tracker mortgage burden. This advice might ward off the possibility of another bailout, get the banks lending more freely and let the economy move on.

JAMES GLEESON

THURLES, CO TIPPERARY

MILEAGE IN COOPER JOKE

* This season of giving reminds me of a line from the late, great Tommy Cooper: “I got a BMW for my wife last Christmas — good swop.”

TOM GILSENAN

BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9

PROSECUTING SEX BUYERS

* In reference to a column by James Downey (Irish Independent, December 14) where he writes about prostitution and sex-trafficking, I take issue with his comments that proposals put to the Justice Minister Alan Shatter by the Oireachtas Justice Committee to criminalise the user are just gesture politics.

A vast amount of work has gone into consulting with women in prostitution and organisations who provide vital support services to these women, to determine how we can tackle the serious issue of prostitution and sex trafficking in this country. The Oireachtas Justice Committee heard that criminalising the user, as the Swedish have done, is a critical first step we must take to tackle this problem. This approach has resulted in the number of street prostitutes working in Sweden falling by two-thirds since the law was introduced in 1998. Norway has followed suit, as has France.

Some of the evidence we heard at the Oireachtas hearings was truly shocking, with one woman’s account of how she was more in demand at 16 than at 21. We need to have a mature conversation about why there is such a demand for young girls and boys.

For Mr Downey to describe this as “gesture politics” and say that “anyone who thinks they can eradicate prostitution is like looking for a pie in the sky” is not only insulting to the thousands of women who are trapped in this horrific situation, but it is typical of someone who refuses to recognise that selling one’s body is not a career choice, but born out of necessity and is usually rooted in poverty and addiction.

Prostitution and sex-trafficking in this country are at an all-time high. There are women from at least 32 countries working in prostitution here, most of who have been trafficked here and live in appalling conditions. A record 258 women contacted Ruhama’s support services last year, as well as receiving 13,000 phone calls and 5,200 text messages by women in prostitution who needed support.

For Mr Downey to dismiss the proposal to criminalise the user and say that it is impossible for prostitution to be eradicated because it has been around for centuries, but instead we should regulate “the industry”, shows his ignorance and unwillingness to step up and tackle this matter head-on.

The facts are that the Swedish model works. By taking the first step towards tackling this serious issue, we will be in a position to prosecute the purchaser of sex which is an illegal activity and hold these people to account.

There is no equality in the transaction, as the person who holds the money holds the power.

MARCELLA CORCORAN KENNEDY TD

LAOIS/OFFALY

DONOR MOVE WELCOMED

* There was at least one chink of light in an otherwise fairly dispiriting HSE Service Plan for 2014.

The allocation of almost €3m by the Health Minister for 19 additional posts to support the heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas programmes is to be commended.

While we await details, these posts will include the appointment of donor co-ordinators in major hospitals. These will be specially trained medical staff who can guide next of kin through the process of organ donation by their loved ones, at what is clearly a very traumatic time.

Such co-ordinators have proven very effective in high-performing transplant countries such as Spain and Croatia. Thanks must be given to the surgeons and their teams in the Beaumont and St Vincent’s Hospital transplant centres and this year we particularly wish to highlight the outstanding success of the lung transplant centre in the Mater Hospital. The rate of lung transplantation more than doubled in 2013 compared with 2012 in Ireland. There were 34 lung transplants in total for 2013, compared with 14 in 2012 .

PHILIP WATT, CHAIRPERSON IRISH DONOR NETWORK AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER CYSTIC FIBROSIS IRELAND

24 LOWER RATHMINES ROAD, DUBLIN 6

 

 

 

Solar charger

December 20, 2013

20 December 2013 Solar

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to take the Todd Hunter Browns to Isle of Wight, naturally they end up in Shanghai not Shanklin. Priceless.

Potter around, undser the weather, solar charger arrives I hope it works

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets over 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

 

 

Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma – obituary

Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma was an Indian royal and custodian of a temple whose ‘cursed’ vaults are filled with treasure worth tens of billions

 

 

Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma , who has died aged 91, was head of the family that once ruled the south Indian kingdom of Travancore and remained largely unknown to the wider world until 2011, when it was revealed that a temple of which he was hereditary custodian contained untold treasures.

Marthanda Varma was generally referred to by the title of Maharaja, even though the maharajas of Travancore have been commoners ever since they acceded to the Indian Union in 1949. He was greatly revered for his asceticism; it was said that he would carefully cut out the blank sides of envelopes to provide himself with notepaper, and that when staying in Delhi he preferred to lodge at an ashram rather than a hotel.

Such frugality was in stark contrast to the fabulous wealth that was revealed when the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the vaults of the ancient Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, in Trivandrum, which had been sealed for 140 years, should be opened.

It had always been known that there was treasure in the temple, although no one knew how much. According to locals Travancore maharajas who oversaw the building of the temple more than four centuries ago had secreted immense riches within its underground stone vaults.

After Independence, all the major temples under the control and management of the erstwhile princely states came under the control of local boards but, under a special covenant, the custodianship of the Padmanabhaswamy temple continued to rest with the last ruler of Travancore, Marthanda Varma’s brother Maharaja Chitra Thirunal Rama Varma.

After his death in 1991, however, a constitutional court ruled that any treaties or covenants entered into by the former rulers of the princely states and the government of India were void.

Although Marthanda Varma assumed his role as custodian, some questioned his family’s status and reliability as the controlling trustees of the temple. A lawsuit filed in 2007 by a group of devotees demanded that a new custodian be appointed as, they claimed, treasure was going missing from vaults beneath the temple. A former chief minister of Kerala even claimed that the Maharaja had been stealing gold coins from the temple during his morning prayers. The petitioners also called for the vaults to be opened for examination.

In January 2011 the Kerala High Court ordered that management of the temple be transferred to the state government. However, the Travancore royal family challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which commissioned an independent report into the temple’s management, and directed that “the existing practices, procedures and rituals” of the temple should be followed. But, to the chagrin of the Maharaja, it appointed a seven-member panel to draw up an inventory of the contents of the vaults.

On June 27 2011 the first of six vaults was opened, revealing a staggering hoard of antique gold ornaments, crowns, weapons, statues of Hindu deities, vessels made of gold, coins minted when the East India Company dominated trade with the subcontinent, as well as bagfuls of diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. To date five of the six vaults have been explored, revealing treasures worth an estimated £26 billion.

But the inventory-taking ran into difficulty when, within a week of the opening of the first vault, the original petitioner whose court action led to the Supreme Court ruling was found dead. There were dark mutterings about a temple curse, and Hindu priests warned that the families of those who tried to open one particular vault — known as “Vault B” — would face the “fatal ire of snakes”. A decision on the vault was deferred after the royal family consulted astrologers and warned that opening it would cause Divine displeasure and lead to calamities. Although a committee appointed by the Supreme Court approved its opening earlier this year, Vault B guards its secrets to this day.

Meanwhile the custodianship of the temple remains unresolved, though in November 2012 the independent report commissioned by the court found no evidence of theft by the Maharaja or members of his family and warned against allowing the government a role, observing that “Increasingly in this country, political parties and certain members of the political class look for priceless treasures in temples.”

Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma was born on March 22 1922, the younger son of Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi of Travancore and Ravi Varma, Koil Thamapuran of Kilimanoor. The royal house of Travancore is unusual in that succession is by matrilineal descent, whereby wealth and title pass from the incumbent Maharaja to the first-born male child of one of his sisters. His mother was not the then Maharaja’s sister, but was distantly related to the house of Travancore in the direct female line. In 1900, due to an absence of heirs, she had been adopted by her maternal great-aunt, the mother of the ruling Maharaja. Two years after Marthanda Varma’s birth, in 1924, on the death of his adoptive maternal uncle, his brother Rama Varma succeeded to the throne of Travancore under the regency of his maternal aunt.

After private education by tutors, Marthanda Varma read Economics, Politics and History at Travancore University, where he won a medal for Classical Sanskrit. He then joined the Plymouth Motoring Company in Bangalore for work-experience and later ran a spice-trading company.

A keen sportsman in his youth, Marthanda Varma played polo, tennis, hockey and golf and won trophies for horse racing. Like many Indian royals he loved cars and, as a result of driving more than 4,000,000 miles in his Mercedes Benz 180 D through the crowded roads of India, won several medals from the manufacturers. A keen photographer, he treasured the 1934 Roliflex camera given to him as a present by his brother. He had a collection of some 5,000 negatives and, last year, opened a gallery of his photographs in the Rangavilasom Palace, Trivandrum.

Many of these photographs featured guests who had visited Travancore over the years as well as world leaders and heads of state he had met on his travels. These included the seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth, whom he met in England in 1933 and then again as Queen in 1954 when she visited Bangalore. Other guests included the French President Georges Pompidou, the American First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy, and the novelists Somerset Maugham and Dame Agatha Christie. Marthanda Varma succeeded as head of his family on his brother’s death in 1991.

While he steered clear of politics, the Maharaja served as patron of numerous charities and continued to carry out a range of public and religious duties. In November 2013 he paid a visit to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at their hotel in Cochin, during their four-day visit to the state of Kerala.

In recent years the Maharaja had published a book of memoirs and a translation of The Thousand Names of Vishnu, a sacred Sanskrit text. Until his final illness, he continued to perform a daily act of worship at the Padmanabhaswamy temple: “It is a great, elating feeling,” he told an interviewer. “My hair stands on end with joy, each and every time.”

The Maharaja’s wife, Radha Devi, a jewellery and furniture designer, died in 1993. He is survived by their son and daughter.

Under the Travancore rules of succession, his nephew, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, succeeds as head of the Travancore royal family.

Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, born March 22 1922, died December 16 2013

 

 

Guardian:

 

Congratulations to James Arbuthnot (Trident replacement a ‘booby trap’ says influential Tory MP, 16 December). How much better it would be to say to the Iranians “We don’t want nuclear weapons either”, than our current position of “they are necessary for our defence, but you can’t have them”.
Jenny Maxwell
Craven Arms, Shropshire

• Slavoj Žižek (Comment, 17 December) posits the idea: “… are sign language translators for the deaf really meant for us … it makes us (who can hear) feel good to see the interpreter, giving us a satisfaction that we are doing the right thing, taking care of the underprivileged and hindered.” No, sign language interpreters are there to enable those unable to use sign language (a majority of non-deaf people) to be understood by those who do use sign language, many of whom are bilingual, trilingual or quadrilingual in both sign and other languages. From this perspective, who is truly “hindered”?
Sarah Playforth
Seaford, East Sussex

• Your report from Kiev (Report, 16 December) refers to “aggressive policing” against the demonstrators. On page 22 (US energy boss defends fracking) you show three policemen in West Sussex holding the heads of two demonstrators and pressing their knuckles against their faces. How would you describe this policing?
Philip Simpson
Richmond, Surrey

• The Great Train Robbers got 30 years for stealing £2.6m from the Royal Mail (Report, 19 December). Bankers steal billions from every one of us and continue to get their bonuses. Funny old world.
Jeff Wells
Sudbury, Suffolk

• John Wilson (Letters, 18 December) seems to think it worthy of note that shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt should not have experienced a state school. Clement Attlee didn’t either. He seemed to do alright, despite being educated at Haileybury.
Audrey Butler
Cheadle, Cheshire

• Our latest grandchild was born at 13.12 on 11.12.13, a nicely palindromic date (Letters, 17 December).
Richard Carter
London

Your report (Councils preparing to allocate greenbelt land for development, 19 December) is a reminder of the mismatch between ministerial rhetoric and practice. In Bath, two parcels of land which are in the greenbelt and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and form part of the world heritage site setting, are being put forward for development. This is not because Bath and North East Somerset council cannot find land for their housing requirement, but because developers will not build the proportion of affordable homes needed to meet the target. So North East Somerset is having to accept more than 3,000 extra market houses than the objectively assessed need. For this they are proposing to release land in the greenbelt rather than incentivising brownfield sites with higher affordable percentages. Perverse financial incentives exist for release of greenbelt land which can only be solved by national and local government finding ways to meet the need for affordable homes – a need which organisations like the Bath Preservation Trust fully recognise.
Caroline Kay
Chief executive, Bath Preservation Trust

 

My children attended a Steiner school (Zoe Williams, 14 December). It was our choice as parents, having researched the benefits, and along with thousands of other parents worldwide, over the last 80 years, we are fully supportive of the underlying educational philosophy. To clarify, racism is not a part of Steiner’s philosophy. In fact the Steiner movement was outlawed by the Nazis and many members were sent to concentration camps or escaped as refugees to the UK and the US. On the question of immunisation, it is up to parents to decide the best course of action for their children and not school policy.

True, children are not formally taught to read and write until they are six to seven years old, but this gives many important benefits to the child’s development, as well as allowing an unpressured freedom to exist within the pre-school kindergarten.

As for Steiner schools being anti-intellectual and anti-science, in my younger son’s class there were four students who went on to medical school and are now doctors, and he is now a marine engineer working in Hong Kong.
David Tasker
York

• Zoe Williams draws attention to the growth in Steiner free schools, based on the pseudo-scientific and racist theories of Rudolf Steiner. Here in Stroud we are fighting plans to launch a new Steiner school for up to 600, despite a surplus of 600 school places in the area. The likely consequence were this bid to succeed would be the closure of existing primary schools and a secondary school. This bid is not about meeting local needs. It is an attempt by a cult to hijack state funding for its own purposes. Stroud already has some 30-plus Steiner institutions, including a fee-paying school only a few miles away. Such is their growing influence that some are nervous of speaking out too openly. It is surely inconceivable that such a damaging project should be allowed to proceed.
Jim Watson
Stroud, Gloucestershire

 

It is with consternation that we have learnt of the government’s decision to block EU funds for food banks and homeless shelters (Report, 18 December), based on the principle of subsidiarity. As churches which are at the forefront of delivering food aid to growing numbers of people across the UK, we believe it is inconsistent for the government to point to our work as a prime example of the “big society” at work, while opposing EU funding to support this vital service. In our view, subsidiarity must always be balanced with the Gospel value of solidarity.

At this Christmas time, as we once more reflect on God’s loving solidarity with suffering humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that as members of the one human family, we have mutual obligations to promote the rights and development of peoples across communities and nations. Solidarity is the fundamental bond of unity with our fellow human beings and the resulting interdependence. All are responsible for all; and in particular the rich have responsibilities towards the poor. National and international structures must reflect this!’1We therefore call upon the government to rethink its decision to reject funding, to ensure that not only are people helped into sustainable work (which we agree is the best long-term solution for human flourishing), but that as a caring society we are able to continue providing food aid and other essential services to those who find themselves in extremity in the midst of abundance this Christmas and throughout the coming year.
Rev Michael Heaney Moderator, Free Churches Group and general secretary, Congregational Federation, Rev Lynn Green General secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain, Rev Peter Thomas General secretary, Baptist Union of Wales, Rev Trevor Howard General secretary, Churches in Community International, Rev Christopher Whiteley General secretary, Old Baptist Union, Rev Dr Geraint Tudur General secretary, Union of Welsh Independents

• This news comes in the same week we found out the government has sought to block EU regulations aimed at ending food speculation by the banking sector – a practice that prices food beyond the reach of many low-income households. In London alone, 42,000 people relied on a food bank to feed themselves during the last financial year (2012-13), compared with 408 in 2009-10. This should be an embarrassment for the government of one of the world’s wealthiest countries, yet instead they have remained wilfully ignorant of the crisis of food poverty. The prime minister and his Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, have both refused to visit food banks.

There is a serious danger that without immediate action to address poverty in the UK, we could sleepwalk into a system similar to the US, where food banks are seen as a formal part of the welfare state. This would represent a catastrophic failure of government policy.
Fiona Twycross AM
Labour, London assembly; author, A Zero Hunger City: Tackling food poverty in London

• Richard Howitt MEP suggests the government has wilfully rejected EU money. This is simply untrue. What both the government and Conservative MEPs have opposed is an attempt by Mr Howitt and his Labour colleagues to let the EU dictate to Britain how we spend £22m of our own money. Any EU cash handed over for this scheme would have been deducted from other so-called structural funds already earmarked for the UK. We rejected this because we believe Britain should decide how it spends its own money – not Brussels.
Anthea McIntyre MEP
Conservative, West Midlands

 

 

In view of the information provided in Simon Jenkins’s article, it’s clear the whole idea of spending billions of taxpayers’ money on a new runway in London is ludicrous (Airport expansion is just a glamorous project for the rich, 18 December). The Heathrow lobby, as he says, “has played a blinder”; who knew that “80% of London’s air passengers” are non-business? Who knew that, while Heathrow is heavily committed to “the UK and European short-haul market”, Stansted “is standing half empty”? The solution must be to divert the short-haul traffic to Gatwick, and free up space for Heathrow to concentrate on expanding business flights to Asian and South American destinations – although why businessmen cannot use technology like the rest of us is beyond me. Have they not tried Skyping their counterparts in Brazil, or video conferencing potential customers in India?

The only thing going for that new north-west runway at Heathrow is that it would “render Eton almost uninhabitable”. But sadly, for that very reason, it has no chance of ever being built.
Bernie Evans
Liverpool

• The Davies commission’s interim report has put the Isle of Grain and the wider north Kent community in the position of having a further year of blight placed upon them (Report, 18 December). The creation of the status of “not on the shortlist today but potentially on the shortlist on another day” is a direct result of Boris Johnson’s lobbying with his dual viewpoint of creating a legacy as mayor and a line of copy on any future Conservative leadership campaign material.

Meanwhile residents of the Medway community are still left with no clear direction on what their future holds. Another year without clarity will hinder the council, businesses and residents from planning ahead. I will continue to argue that any estuary airport option is bad for the environment, bad for Medway and bad for UK PLC.
Vince Maple
Leader, Labour Group, Medway Council

• Can we decide not on where to build more airport runways but on how to stop feeding the monster that demands them. As we hear that the need for expansion is being largely driven by so called “low cost” short-haul airlines, should we not curtail travel demand to fit the available airport capacity. If the government is genuinely committed to reducing carbon emissions, why does it need policies which supply the infrastructure to feed the current frenzy of totally unnecessary air travel. Does anyone’s human right to travel 600 miles for £9.99 for a drunken stag party in Prague really outweigh the rights of those whose homes, peace and environment will be destroyed by further unwarranted airport expansion?
Roger Norwich
Sark, Channel Islands

• So, to expand airport capacity the government has been advised to go for the relatively cheap but environmentally very unfriendly solution of expansion of either Heathrow or Gatwick. Given the general recognition that the explosive growth of London and the south-east is causing an increasing and damaging economic and social imbalance (mitigation of which, incidentally, is invoked as the main justification for HS2), a better solution would be to build a new airport in the Midlands.

Just such a scheme was considered by a government inquiry only 10 years ago (Department for Transport, 2002, The Future of Air Transport in the UK). It suggested a new airport could be built near Rugby which would not only ease congestion at Heathrow and Gatwick but would avoid the need for expansion of Birmingham and Coventry airports in the future.

For the benefit of southerners who are hazy as to what lies north of Watford, Rugby is exactly one hour from Marble Arch by public transport. It is a major rail junction with excellent links to the north. It is also close to both the M1 and M6. An airport here would be a major practical and psychological contribution to rebalancing the economy and society.
Geoffrey Renshaw
University of Warwick

• The expansion necessary for a second runway at Gatwick would close the strategic gap between the airport and Crawley (the runway would be built on it). The gap currently mitigates the impacts on residents of aircraft noise, particularly ground noise from reverse thrust and take off. In addition to the direct effects of the runway, the necessary increased workforce would either have to commute in or require local housing. With Crawley struggling to accommodate its existing population, the result would be unacceptable urban sprawl, which to some extent has so far been curtailed. Crawley, one of the original New Towns, designed with the aim of having a self-contained and balanced community, would become instead a large noisy conurbation whose residents would be isolated from the countryside by additional transport routes and housing in neighbouring authorities.

Moreover, Ifield Village conservation area, with its old houses, ancient church, pub and green, would have aircraft taking off within 300 metres of its boundary.
Jenny Frost
Secretary, Ifield Village Association, Crawley, West Sussex

• Apart from those around London having numerous alternative airports – City, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Southend – inter-airport rail connections could easily be improved to make these a combined super-hub. Also, Heathrow could easily be expanded with minimum disruption to homeowners – by building over (piggybacking) the M25 or M4 or A3044, around which there are numerous reservoirs.

There is also the question of whether we actually want all this extra traffic – so much for Cameron’s environmental concerns. The demand is kept artificially high by minimal taxation on air traffic; a spurious argument by the chancellor for not increasing air passenger duty (effectively a wealth tax) was that it would undercut the UK’s competitiveness. An extra £20 is not going to make much difference to those coming to the UK for business trips or a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
Mark Bill
Liverpool

• Why not make Heathrow/Gatwick one airport? Build the second runway at Gatwick (easiest of the options) then install a magnetic levitation train between the two (after all, we did invent this technology). The transit time could be 15 to 20 minutes. Not much difference to getting to most outlying terminals at either airport. The only difficulty would be choosing between Gatrow or Heathwick?
David Williams
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

The Government wants half of inhabited Britain opened up to possible fracking. The cash registers at the Treasury are deafening. Protesters are to be bought off. The visual and environmental impact of fracking wells and their essential ancillary installations and access roads will be far greater than that of onshore wind turbines which so upset many local communities.

What we are not being told is that fugitive methane gas, 86 times more dangerous a greenhouse gas than CO2, leaks from fracking wells. The Pennsylvania Department for Environmental Protection found that, of the 3,391 fracking wells drilled in the state as recently as 2010-2011, 6.2 per cent have already failed methane migration rules. Failure rates increase as wells age. Seven eastern US States are so concerned at this development that they are initiating court action to require the US Environmental Protection Agency to remedy its failure under the Clean Air Act.

We are repeatedly reminded by MPs that the UK is the only nation to enshrine in law its obligations in the Climate Change Act.

Canon Christopher Hall, Banbury, Oxfordshire

 

I am writing to ensure the correct facts are known following recent coverage of research by the University of Missouri into fluids used in fracking in the United States. There has been some criticism in the US of the methodology used by the study’s author. However, I would like to highlight how companies in the UK using hydraulic fracturing will act to prevent any problems arising from chemical usage and flowback water.

In the UK, any fracturing fluid composition has to be reviewed and approved by the Environment Agency, and the shale gas exploration companies will publish details of fluids used and their composition. For instance, mains water and sand make up 99.95 per cent of the fracturing fluid for Cuadrilla’s proposed tests in the Bowland Basin. Around 0.04 per cent is a friction reducer called polyacrylamide, commonly used in facial cream and contact lenses. This fluid is non-hazardous to groundwater.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of the water used during fracking flows back to the surface within the first few weeks of production. All the water recovered following hydraulic fracturing will be stored in fully enclosed steel tanks until disposal, when an Environment Agency-approved disposal company will remove all water for testing and treatment at a licensed waste water plant. Flowback water is classified as a non-hazardous waste.

The UK onshore oil and gas industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the world; our operators have to comply with 14 European Union directives and require up to nine permits to operate. What happens in other countries is not always applicable in the UK, and we have to be exceptionally careful when trying to make those comparisons.

Ken Cronin, CEO, UK Onshore Operators Group,  London EC2

 

As I read your report on possible fracking in Britain (18 December), I remembered the comments made at a recent reading by the Canadian poet Karen Solie, a farmer’s daughter. She remarked that fracking had ensured a guaranteed income for some Canadian farmers. It had also guaranteed that they could no longer drink their local water.

Alison Brackenbury, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

 

Not too generous with information

I want to congratulate Chris Atkins (“How I turned into the comedy establishment’s most hated man”, 14 December). But I’m not in the least surprised that he hit a brick wall.

I wrote several letters to Comic Relief in an attempt to dig out the facts about the distribution of the funds that the public donate – but more importantly, how much of this cash is actually given out. My main points were never answered.

Just as celebrities are happy to use the BBC as a conduit for no-cost advertising – underwritten by the licence-fee payers – they are also happy to use any charity for exactly the same purpose.

Ray J Howes, Weymouth, Dorset

 

All credit to film-maker Chris Atkins in exposing the questionable investment decisions of Children in Need. Members of the public who donate to this and other charities have a right to know where their money is being invested.

Children in Need has not shown itself in a good light in the way it has over-reacted to these revelations or its non-cooperation with Panorama prior to the making of the programme about their investments.

Charities should not be above criticism and scrutiny if they are to maintain the public’s trust and support.

Liam McParland, Huddersfield

 

Victims of the  season of excess

This year the Government vetoed raising the cost of alcohol by either imposing a minimum price or by increasing the tax. In the 18th century, when gin was tuppence a pint, thousands of people drank themselves to oblivion, causing great harm to themselves and others. The problem almost disappeared when the price of gin was raised.

Last December I was admitted with pneumonia, as an emergency, to a central London hospital. Christmas day was on a Tuesday, and most people’s last working day was Friday 21 December.

I was in the women’s acute medical admissions ward. On that Friday the entire ward was cleared by moving patients elsewhere, to make space for the people who had drunk themselves seriously ill. I was to be sent to a gynaecology ward. I didn’t want to be moved and said so. The nurses told me I could stay if I wanted, but advised me that I wouldn’t like it. I took their advice.

Many of the drunks probably thought, afterwards, that it was a bit of a lark. It wasn’t. It cost the NHS a huge amount of money. It meant that doctors in accident and emergency departments had precious little time to devote to seriously ill people with unavoidable conditions. It also meant that people with acute illnesses had long waits where they were deprived of the attention they should have had.

Caroline Richmond, London N12

 

No, Jenny Sykes (letter, 19 December), you are not the only one who really enjoys receiving Christmas newsletters. If someone has taken the time to send you a card, why not read their letter too and see what is going on in their life? Happy Christmas, everyone.

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset

 

Sainsbury’s Christmas gift guide includes, “For Her”, a pudding bowl. Any husband tempted to follow their suggestion should be warned that coroners can still return a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Martin Stallion, Braintree, Essex

 

A policy to keep families apart

Once again the Government wishes families to spend as little time together as possible. Liz Truss, the minister for education and childcare, announced her desire for schools to open 8am-6pm for the convenience of both working parents.

The modern living arrangements that she speaks of do not take into account the never-changing requirement of children for consistent loving care during their early years. Nor does it consider the desire for some families to work less or for one parent not to work at all for a short time while their children are young.

Mrs Truss expects children to have a longer working day than their parents, and as little opportunity for interaction with them as possible. Children are expected to cope with a reduced chance of chatting about their day’s joys and achievements or for parents to notice and nip in the bud a worry the child is developing.

The childcare required has not only a financial cost but also a social cost to the next generation. Reform taxation to reflect dependants, and let people make their own choices regarding work, home life and childcare with their own money. Family life is too precious to meddle with in this way.

Imogen Thompson, Stockport

 

Unscripted drama at the National Theatre

I read your article on mishaps at the National Theatre (12 December) hoping to find mention of an aborted performance of Pinter’s No Man’s Land in February 1977 at the Lyttelton.

It was my last evening in London before heading off to a new job abroad. The first half of the play had me intrigued if slightly baffled, though in awe of the presence on stage of Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud.

After the interval the lights went down and the safety curtain started to open. It rapidly became apparent that there was a problem with the curtain. It stuck firmly, only slightly open. All we could see were Sir Ralph’s slippers as he sat waiting to resume.

After a few jerky curtain movements over several minutes the lights went up and a red-faced manager appeared. He announced that despite spending many millions on the new theatre there was no way to open the jammed curtain.

We had to go home, but were promised tickets for another performance. As I was off to start my new role overseas I never got to see the rest of this famous production.

Andrew Jackson, Hertford

 

 

Times:

 

For too long the Nimbys have jealously sat in their suburban sprawls, calling the shots. We should allow the next generation to breathe

Sir, Sir Simon Jenkins should get down out of his ivory tower and sample the real world (“Thousands of homes to be built on the green belt”, report, Dec 19).

I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy the freedom of open air and easy access to the countryside — not be condemned to some urban scrum where houses are squashed together in some decaying part of town, with cars parked up on the pavements, no green spaces or freedom to roam safely. For too long the Nimbys have jealously sat in their suburban sprawls, calling the shots, forgetting that their castles are built on what was once the equivalent of green belt land.

Is it not time to let the green belt out a few notches, and allow the next generation to breath a bit?

Richard M. Bosworth

Harrogate, N Yorks

Sir, It was inevitable that the green belt would come under fresh attack given the urgent need for more homes. We cannot, however, simply cannot allow our protected green spaces to be built upon, and it is a lazy analysis that supports this. Planning authorities must look to brownfield sites and revisit the many applications granted but not built.

Our countryside faces a pincer movement of ill-judged housebuilding and windfarms that should be resisted by national and local governments.

We hold our green spaces in trust for future generations. Once gone, they are gone for ever.

Steve O’Connell

GLA member for Croydon and Sutton

Sir, It is impossible to strike a perfect balance between the preservation of the natural beauty of our countryside and development needed to accommodate the expanding population (“Future Building”, leading article, Dec 19).

One of the worst aspects of human civilisation has been the widespread destruction of nature, which still continues on a large scale in developing countries. In a small island such as ours the problem is compounded by the increasing longevity of the population and the influx of people across our national borders. It would be far better to build houses at the periphery of existing cities and towns, rather than satellite townships in our beautiful countryside.

Sam Banik

London N10

Sir, Your leading article repeats the mantra that “only 10 per cent of the land is developed”. For hundreds of thousands of years, no more than a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of the landscape was affected by human development. All the rest has happened in just a few generations.

At what percentage do we stop? When “only 10 per cent” has become “only 15 per cent”? Or “only 25 per cent”?

Anthony Jennings

London WC1

Sir, I have on my office wall a large Ordnance Survey map of the metropolitan area which shows a huge sprawl of urban development from Milton Keynes to Crawley, and from Reading to Southend. It is not obvious where the green belt is.

A controlled expansion around the edge of London, filling in bits of land particularly around railway and Tube stations, would be barely noticeable and might deliver the additional housing needed to check rocketing house prices.

john t. pounder

London SE5

 

 

There are still 300 cases of babies and toddlers dying suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the UK. This equates to five babies a week

Sir, The stillbirth rate in this country is shockingly high (“Many midwives ‘miss stillbirth risk signs’ ”, and leading article, Dec 18). More research and better support to pregnant women is needed. You point that cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is now at an all-time low, thanks largely to successful public health campaigning.

However, SIDS has not gone away. There are still 300 cases of babies and toddlers dying suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the UK. This equates to five babies a week. Although we have a much better understanding of the risks, it is still not possible to explain why some babies stop breathing and never wake up. We work closely with our colleagues in the baby care sector to highlight the tragedy of infant death at whatever stage in their short lives — stillbirth is one aspect of this, as is neonatal death.

The real scandal is that, taking the numbers of infant deaths together, we have the worst rates of infant mortality in Western Europe.

Francine Bates

Chief executive, The Lullaby Trust

 

Many pupils who attended grammar schools could only afford to do so until they were 16. The better-off ones went to university

Sir, Kenneth Sanders (letter, Dec 19) was fortunate that in the Fifties his parents could afford to keep him at grammar school until he was 18. With no grants available until 18, like most of my classmates I had no choice but to get a job at 16 after our O-level exams to contribute to the family finances. Only our classmates from better-off families made it to university. Then, as now, money and class did count.

Margaret Moor

Bolton

It is not the be-all-and-end-all having time off at the weekend — time off during the week can be just as, if not more, beneficial

Sir, If NHS consultants need a weekend break so that they remain stress-free and healthy (letter, Dec 18), why don’t they agree upon an alternate roster that will give them midweek two-day breaks? A work schedule along these lines would ensure seven-day coverage for all patients, especially those arriving at A&E who at present, are more likely to die if admitted at weekends. Also, to the consultants’ benefit, midweek breaks can be shown to contribute to an enhanced lifestyle.

Roy Selwyn

Selborne, Hants

 

Expressing firm views about the law should not be a quality that we discourage in our judges — quite the opposite

Sir, Sir Paul Coleridge has been disciplined for having the temerity to express firm views in public about marriage (report, Dec 18). What a shame that a public figure with so much relevant information to provide should be gagged in this way. I do not agree with all his views, but I believe that his right to express them must be defended. Judges should not be forced to remain silent when they can make a contribution to public interest debates.

Roger Mccarthy, QC

London WC1

 

 

 

Telegraph:

 

 

SIR – The findings of the Airports Commission are compelling, in particular that all of London’s main airports will be full by the end of the next decade unless action is taken soon after the next election.

It is now essential that Britain’s political parties back Sir Howard Davies’s analysis. As an important first step, we urge the three main party leaders publicly to acknowledge the need to build new runways and commit in principle to allowing the modernisation of our airports infrastructure on a cross-party basis.

Any party that is serious about governing Britain must go into the 2015 election expressing a clear commitment to airport expansion and must agree to be guided by the Airports Commission’s final report.

As the Airports Commission has acknowledged clearly in its interim report, doing nothing is no longer an option.

Sir Adrian Montague
Chairman, 3i Group

Sir Martin Gilbert
Chief Executive, Aberdeen Asset Management

Chris Grigg
Chief Executive, British Land

Kevin Murphy
Chairman, ExCeL London

Tamara Ingram
Group CEO, Grey Group

Michael Ward
Managing Director, Harrods

Nicola Shaw
Chief Executive Officer, HS1 Ltd

Sir Winfried Bischoff
Chairman, Lloyds Banking Group

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise
Chief Executive, Next

David Sleath
Chief Executive, Segro

Paul Kelly
Managing Director, Selfridges Group

Sir Martin Sorrell
Chief Executive, WPP

Surinder Arora
Founder & CEO, Arora Holdings Ltd

Harold Paisner
Senior Partner, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP

Bob Rothenberg
Senior Partner, Blick Rothenberg LLP

Ian Durant
Chairman, Capital & Counties Properties

Iain Anderson
Director and Chief Corporate Counsel, Cicero Group

Inderneel Singh
Group Corporate Development Manager, Edwardian Group London

Mike Turner
Chairman, GKN & Babcock International Group

Gordon Clark
Country Manager, Global Blue

Jonathan Scott
Senior Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Calum Forsyth
Chief Executive Officer, IAC Acoustics

John Lehal
Managing Director, Insight Public Affairs

Andrew Murphy
Retail Director, John Lewis Partnership

George Kessler
Group Deputy Chairman, Kesslers International

Mark Reynolds
Chief Executive, Mace

James Fennell
Managing Director, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners

Richard Dickinson
Chief Executive, New West End Company

James Rook
Managing Director, Nimlok

Sir Andrew Cahn
Former CEO of UK Trade and Investment, Nomura International

Ray Auvray
Executive Chairman, Prospects

Ian Reeves
Senior Partner, Synaps Partners LLP

Michael Tobin
Chief Executive, TelecityGroup

Bill Moore
Chief Executive, The Portman Estate

Gary Forster
Executive Director, Turley Associates

Andrew Ridley-Barker
Managing Director, VINCI Construction UK

SIR – I regret that the Davies Commission has not taken the opportunity to rule out any expansion of Heathrow. My hope is that the further investigation carried out by the commission will recognise that expansion cannot happen at Heathrow.

In order to become the hub airport that London needs, Heathrow would require two additional runways and the capacity to expand further. Expansion would involve moving sections of the M25 and the M4, destroying many homes, and building the public transport infrastructure to carry millions more passengers to and from the airport. Heathrow is not an option.

The silver lining of the report is that the commission will continue to look at the case for building a new airport on the Isle of Grain. This airport could operate 24 hours a day, could start with four runways with room for expansion, and would affect a relatively small number of people.

Richard Tracey
Transport spokesman, GLA Conservatives
London SE1

SIR – If you want to grow a business, you ask the customers what they want, not the suppliers.

The airlines, the customers of the airports, want to fly to a hub, not to a small airport. They want to fly to the centre of business and tourism, and they want easy access for their passengers. Only Heathrow or an estuary airport can be such a hub. Gatwick needs to cut tunnels through hills to have four runways, and the runways would be miles apart.

Why is it that when government gets involved in anything, logic and common sense seem to fly out of the window?

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

 

SIR – Benji Wilson admits that he is not the target audience for The Great British Sewing Bee. But he calls it “hideously twee” and bemoans the fact that, in his opinion, it was not a patch on The Great British Bake Off.

I would like to assure him that, as a sewer, I found it refreshing, creative and took encouragement that I, too, could make something that would be treasured.

Judith Manners
Bridport, Dorset

 

SIR – People born in the Sixties and Seventies may well find it harder to save money for a flat or house than their parents; they may – but I have my doubts – be worse off than their parents’ generation.

However, as a member of the baby boom generation, which seems to get so much flak from those younger than us, I would like to point out that we rarely took family holidays; buying a television was a major investment; few ate out at anything grander than fish and chip shops; clubbing wasn’t really invented yet; most households restricted phone calls because of their cost; and credit – including mortgages – was hard to come by, especially if you were a woman. Does the younger generation still think it’s hard done by?

Marcia MacLeod
London NW6

SIR – The future is bleak for all age groups due to the parlous state of the nation’s finances. The last government started the rot, with its overspending, destruction of private pensions, green taxes and mass immigration.

The Coalition has carried on with these flawed policies. David Cameron could put an end to the rot by saying “no” to Nick Clegg and the EU bureaucrats.

Stefan Reszczynski
Margate, Kent

Luring foreign students

SIR – Unlike Britain, most countries do not include student numbers within their immigration targets, so it’s easy to see why Australia, America and mainland Europe (where courses are often offered in English) are now becoming preferred study destinations for international students.

At both further education and school level, the loss of income to the British economy is almost incalculable.

Neil Roskilly
CEO, Independent Schools Association
Saffron Walden, Essex

O’Toole’s cohort

SIR – The media seem agreed that Peter O’Toole was the last of a quartet of actors and “honorary British” hellraisers, along with Richard Burton, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris.

Nowhere has the great Trevor Howard been mentioned. It is said that, though 20 years older, Howard always drank Oliver Reed under the table. The long-suffering Mrs Trevor Howard, Helen Cherry, described her husband as “a carouser of Olympian fortitude”.

Alasdair Ogilvy
Stedham, West Sussex

Now you’re stalking

SIR – Ken Anderson complains about the increasing ratio of broccoli stalk to crown. But this can provide him with a delicacy: if the tough outer part of the stalk is removed, he will find a white interior that is the equal to asparagus.

Anne Peck
Newick, East Sussex

SIR – The broccoli stalk, peeled and sliced into bite-sized rings and popped into the pan is, to my palate, every bit as tasty as its admittedly more elegant florets.

Richard Tomblin
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Peeled and sliced, like a cucumber, a broccoli stalk makes a very pleasant addition to a salad.

Jean Brailey
Petersfield, Hampshire

Immigration laws

SIR – The Immigration Act 1971 (as amended) sets out powers for British immigration officers to control the arrival of all passengers seeking leave to enter Britain (“ ’15,000 migrants a year’ sneak over from Calais).

The IA 1971 sets out the immigration officer’s authority to refuse entry to anyone whose presence in Britain is considered non-conducive to the public good. The rules specifically state that the immigration officer must be satisfied that the arriving passenger is not likely to become a charge on public funds. The problem is that border officers are instructed at present only to swipe passports. If the passport is not a forgery and the bearer’s name does not appear on a warning list, an EU national is waved through without further question.

We need to return to a robust interpretation of the provisions already set out in the Immigration Act 1971.

Robert M Smith
Bere Ferrers, Devon

Stephen Ward’s death

SIR – Was Stephen Ward “bumped off” by the Secret Service? No. I worked in both MI5 and MI6 years ago and, though of junior rank, I knew roughly what was going on – neither service had a “licence to kill”. Often many of us wished there was; I would not have shed a tear to watch the feet of the arch-traitor Kim Philby, who caused the deaths of many, sticking out of a stretcher.

I got to know Jack Profumo well, and respected him. The claim that he lied because of security fears seems quite spurious. It is improbable that he had any nuclear secrets of value to Ivanov that the Russian couldn’t read in The Daily Telegraph. Could Profumo’s lying not have been a case of a man anxious not to be embarrassed in his marriage, which was then going through a difficult period?

Maybe Ward’s story is better left to the music hall than to conspiracy fantasists?

Sir Alistair Horne
Turville, Oxfordshire

White Christmas lie

SIR – Tom Chivers’s article (“Lie and lie again: a parent’s guide to a child’s happiness at Christmas”) brought to mind my daughter’s anger on overhearing my wife and me discussing the placement of £1 from the tooth fairy.

“You lied to me,” she hissed. “Next you’ll be telling me there’s no Father Christmas.”

Ian Walker
Addingham, West Yorkshire

Right-to-die campaigners are exceptional cases

SIR – Right-to-die campaigners such as Tony Nicklinson or Paul Lamb face quite extraordinary physical incapacity as a result of serious illness and accident respectively. This is not ordinary dying, for example from cancer, heart or lung disease. People dying of these illnesses seldom have the energy, time, or even the foreknowledge of their prognosis to front any campaign.

Campaigning duties are thus passed to certain severely disabled individuals who have sufficient time left, but whose cases are exceptional. While appealing to people’s sympathies, their image distorts public understanding about the ordinary dying people who might make use of any euthanasia law. As the Dutch statistics reveal, the majority of people (78 per cent in 2012) who die through some form of euthanasia have cancer, and most are likely to be very close to their “natural” death.

The extraordinary “right-to-die” cases which come before our courts are, therefore, not representative of the type of dying that might be hastened should any law be enacted by Parliament.

Dr Naomi Richards
University of Sheffield

SIR – Lord Davies of Stamford, the former Labour minister (“Doctors accused of ‘helping patients on way’ with lethal drug doses”, report, December 13), claims that some doctors are routinely helping patients to die by giving them lethal drugs, and that killing by dehydration amounts to much the same thing.

If such doctors, while publicly professing the highest standards of honesty, were thieves in private, would Lord Davies support the legalisation of theft?

Of course, the 1993 Bland judgment, by allowing doctors, through acts of omission, to kill patients to whom they owe a duty of care, has left the law “morally and intellectually misshapen” and patients at risk. The issue is not the means by which doctors should kill patients, but whether they ought do so at all.

The recent Liverpool Care Pathway scandal, involving the premature deaths of many patients through combinations of dehydration and drugs, should give pause to even the most ardent supporters of health professionals killing patients because it is in their “best interests”.

Dr R J Clearkin
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

 

 

Irish Times:

Sir, – Dr Eddie O’Connor makes a strong case for urgent and radical rethinking of Ireland’s current reckless drive for economic growth at all costs (Opinion, December 19th).

Unthinking growth in material consumption is now directly causing many serious problems, but Dr O’Connor rightly highlights climate change as the single most potentially catastrophic.

In order to limit global average surface temperature rise to no more than +2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels (the current internationally agreed target) he advocates acting now to create “. . . a low carbon economy by 2050, matched by a low carbon lifestyle”. I absolutely share his concerns and his sense that radical action is now urgent.

Unfortunately there are two serious difficulties with his analysis. First, there is clear scientific advice that, because of inaction to date, to have even a passable chance of limiting temperature rise to +2 degrees C (on a basis of global justice and equity) high emitting countries such as Ireland would need to achieve virtually the full transition to a “low carbon” economy and lifestyle by no later than 2030 rather than 2050 (ie, within only about the next 16 years).

Second, there is growing scientific concern than the politically negotiated target of +2 degrees C is physically far too high – that it already presents very real risks of devastating impacts on human life and welfare (not to mention the rest of the biosphere) on a global basis.

Despite all this, I do absolutely agree with Dr O’Connor that meaningful action to mitigate and manage these risks is possible: but the vision needs to be probably twice as ambitious and twice as urgent. We face an extraordinary challenge, literally unprecedented in human history; but the only thing lacking is political honesty, will, and leadership. Even at this late stage, it would be a noble ambition for Ireland to model such leadership for the world. – Yours, etc,

Prof BARRY McMULLIN,

Executive Dean,

Faculty of Engineering and

Computing,

Dublin City University,

 

 

Sir, – I read with interest the HSE’s new “National Service Plan” for 2014. In the area of primary care, our noble administrators have effectively decided to take full medical cards from tens of thousands of older citizens. Many of these patients will be on multiple medications and as a consequence will suffer significant financial hardship. Others will be unable to afford their prescriptions and thus will be more likely to develop serious illness with consequent hospital admission. This will result in a far greater cost to the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, perfectly healthy and wealthy five-year-old children are to be given an automatic medical card as part of an elaborate strategy to win votes from middle-class parents and save Labour Party seats in south county Dublin.

Worse still, in a move worthy of a banana republic, the Government continues to squander millions of euro on unnecessary, unwanted and unviable “primary care centres” across the land. These political vanity projects, which most GPs are wisely avoiding, are nothing more than a mini-bailout for the construction industry and a photo opportunity for county councillors.

To deploy scarce resources in such a cynical, wasteful fashion is nothing short of contemptible. Shame on those responsible. – Yours, etc,

Dr RUAIRI HANLEY

MICGP,

 

 

Sir, – The estimated Government debt at the end of 2013 is €206,000,000,000 (Business, December 13th). The population of the Republic is 4,800,000. If my arithmetic is right that amounts to €42,917 for each citizen.

Would somebody please explain to me who is exiting the bailout? – Yours, etc,

NEIL V BUCKLEY,

Gainsborough Crescent,

Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Your Editorial (December 19th) on the reform of legal services appears to confuse two distinct concepts, namely legal partnerships, and multi-disciplinary practices.

The former involves solicitors and barristers adopting new business structures such as chambers or solicitor/barrister partnerships; the latter involves the introduction of other professionals, such as accountants. Both would necessitate the removal of the current rule that barristers may only operate as sole traders.

Your Editorial appears to suggest there is universal disapproval of both legal partnerships and multi-disciplinary practices, and, by implication, that there is universal support for the “sole trader” requirement. This is not so. The Irish model, with its strict demarcation between barristers and solicitors and its insistence on the “sole trader” requirement, is very much at odds with the English system and with civil law jurisdictions.

Whatever the pros and cons of multi-disciplinary practices, the proposal that barristers be allowed form chambers is a very modest one, and was recommended by the Competition Authority as long ago as December 2006. It would be a shame if possible concerns about multi-disciplinary practices were to delay further the implementation of the Competition Authority’s report, as endorsed by the troika’s Memorandum of Understanding. – Yours, etc,

GARRETT SIMONS, SC,

Law Library Buildings,

 

 

Sir, – At last a chapter is over. Those who died in the first World War are being honoured (Home News, December 19th).

We should reassess where we see morality in Irish people. There has been huge immorality and betrayal of Irish by Irish in the financial and child abuse scandals. Henceforth we can honour all who died for freedom in whatever uniform. The poppy should be worn alongside the Tricolour from 2014. – Yours, etc,

FERGUS JORDAN,

The Maltings,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – As part of the ongoing consolidation of the nascent, and sometimes volatile, peace process and the furthering of good relations between Ireland and Britain, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron are together visiting first World War graves, including a visit the Irish Peace Park at Messines, the memorial to the 50,000 Irish dead of the Great War (Home News, December 19th).

May I suggest that if Mr Cameron is sincere about the furtherance of good relationships on these islands, this can best be served by his government releasing the files and documentation withheld from the Baron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

 

Sir, – University of Ulster lecturers from the University and Colleges Union (UCU) want to voice our full support for our students in their occupation of the Coleraine university Senior Common Room, which is threatened with closure.

We are a learning community, not a business community. The SCR is the perfect illustration of that, and its closure is yet another landmark on the journey of university management’s cuts. The SCR is a shared space where every member of our learning community has the opportunity to meet, relax and work, sharing ideas and knowledge. University management plans to convert it from a shared space into an exclusive executive dining room.

Students are saying “enough is enough” after class sizes have increased, student support services have decreased, and the university canteens have been privatised.

We lecturers welcomed that the student occupation was started in solidarity with our strike on December 3rd, when all groups of staff, technical, support and academic, across higher education in the UK, took action in an ongoing call for fair pay. We have been offered a pay “rise” of just 1 per cent in the context of pay having fallen 13 per cent in real terms over the past four years.

Far from the stereotypical images we often see represented of students criticising their lecturers for going on strike and seeing it as detrimental to their studies, the students’ union’s support of our strike, the large numbers of students joining us on picket lines, and the SCR occupation tell us clearly that what students see as detrimental to their studies is not staff striking, but staff and students suffering cut after cut to pay and services. That is why on December 11th UCU held a rally to support the student occupation: staff standing in solidarity with the students who have stood in solidarity with us.

The SCR occupation is peaceful and is vibrantly reclaiming the space for its rightful purpose. Students are asking for meaningful dialogue with university management, but thus far it is not forthcoming. This is a great shame, because meaningful dialogue is what a learning community is all about. – Yours, etc,

GORETTI HORGAN (UCU

Ulster President) and

Dr LINDA MOORE

(UCU Ulster Vice President)

on behalf of UCU

Committee,

University of Ulster,

Cromore Road,

 

Sir, – You have quite correctly highlighted the concern about sport-related concussion and particularly the steps taken in rugby in its prevention and management both by medics and lay persons (Sport, December 18th).

The medical community within the IRB has fully embraced the recommendations as propounded by an expert group of scientists and clinicians who met for two days in Zurich, resulting in the Concussion in Sport Consensus Statement (2013).

Of particular importance, this document again confirms that the clinical presentation and assessment of concussions are multifactorial, and that signs and symptoms evolve and resolve over very variable periods of time and thus require constant and repeated expert assessments. Furthermore, children and young adults require a much more conservative approach in managing suspected concussion.

The decision to allow a rugby player to return to play is best made by doctors who are themselves familiar with this consensus protocol.

Concern has been expressed about rugby’s introduction of the Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) whereby a player can be taken off the field for five minutes, allowing doctors to make a call as to whether he/she has indeed suffered a suspected concussion and if so, be removed permanently.

It is important to understand that the PSCA is only a supporting tool in our concussion management strategy and was only designed to be used by doctors working at the elite level of the game to assist with the assessment of a player with a head injury, and only where the diagnosis is not immediately obvious.

Medicine is not an exact science and no more so in concussion management. Nor is the PSCA an exact or perfect tool; but no perfect tool exists at present.

As with other sports, it is not the protocols that are at fault, perhaps, but their implementation; and doctors with an understanding of the available knowledge of concussion must continue to be guided by one of the principal precepts in medicine, Primum non nocere (first do no harm). – Yours, etc,

W ARTHUR TANNER,

Sir, – The news in Michael Dervan’s column (Arts, December 11th) is very disturbing. It is extremely inadvisable for any organisation, especially a representative body such as the Association of Irish Composers (AIC), to talk of establishing a “canon” of work.

By exercising a prescribed standard of judgment, a canon excludes more than it includes. This should not be the purpose of such an association. As an initiative to create an identity for the spectrum of Irish composition this is so misguided as to beggar belief. Or could it be that the AIC doesn’t understand what it is doing in using the term “canon”?

As there is no existing “canon”, it is difficult to see how the AIC can, in its own words, establish “a new canon of Irish works”. Since the concerts presenting Irish works under this rubric are chamber works, the “new canon” by definition excludes orchestral music. What is the rationale in that?  To speak of making Irish compositions “repertoire standard” is unrealistic. Apart from prioritising specific works (according to the performers’ own preferences) it seems to turn its back on orchestral music.

Admittedly, the opportunities for getting such work performed, either by the RTÉ orchestras or by other groups, are slim, but it should be noted that, in the decade 1979-88, the RTÉ orchestras gave 133 performances of 96 works by 31 Irish composers; in the decade 1989-98 (the latest for which I have information to hand), 134 performances of 101 works by 42 Irish composers. Are these works not to be included in an “Irish canon”?

On what grounds will specific works by Irish composers be included, or excluded? And which Irish composers will not figure at all?

Ireland, and in particular Irish music, has struggled to establish and understand its identity and to articulate its presence on the world stage. This project can only be a retrograde step. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD PINE,

Perithia,

 

 

Sir, – With the nomination of Eddie Downey to the IFA presidency (Home News, December 18th), Slane can now boast a lord, a president and a bishop.

Perhaps it’s now time for it also to be able to boast a bypass. – Yours , etc,

SARAH McGEE,

Sundrive Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

 

 

Sir, – Brian McSharry reminisces (December 6th) about the Lafayette building, on the corner of Westmoreland Street/D’Olier Street, otherwise known as Purcell’s Corner, in the 1950s.

He mentions the nearby Ballast Office, McBirney’s, Bewleys, the blue clock, Purcell’s tobacco shop, and Kennedy McSharrys.

He asks “Does anyone else remember ?”

Well, let’s see now. On the Lafayette building, the magnificent Donnelly Sausage sign with its flying neon sausages, the flowing multi-coloured neon Gold Flake sign, and the very attractive Tayto sign, illuminated the dreary Dublin evening sky of the 1950s.

An afternoon treat in the Metropole, Capital, or Regent cinemas, an ice-cream cone in Caffola’s, the 12 bus home past Pims and Cassidy’s, and the great De-Luxe Cinema with its posters of Burt Lancaster and Kim Novak. What a life!

And then the homework. – Yours, etc,

NIALL COLEMAN,

Salthill,

Monkstown, Co Dublin.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* Colette Browne’s piece, ‘Urging gays to ‘pray it away’ is silly — and dangerous’ (Irish Independent, Wednesday, December 18), is a very thought-provoking one.

Also in this section

Letters: The reality of being alone at Christmas

Letters: Twerkers of the world — get lost

Letters: Pope’s criticisms emphasise church’s value

Articles/columns such as these in mainstream newspapers signal the great change that has occurred in Irish society since the late 20th Century. It is a change from one form of fundamentalism (Catholicism in Ireland) to another; of a liberal kind. Freedom of speech is the injured party when up against either ideology.

Ms Browne congratulates the suspension of the Legion of Mary society in NUI Galway. NUI has a “pluralist ethos” and so it is right to suspend funding to the society in question, implies Ms Browne.

She does not see the inherent contradiction that lies in the belief that a pluralist ethos somehow means banning the views of some in favour of others.

Pluralism implies diverse, multifarious opinions and views be tolerated. Apparently for Ms Browne and the NUI, however, this means a diverse range of opinion within an overarching liberal context. In other words: “Say what you like as long as it conforms to our ideology.”

The idea that censoring the views of the Legion of Mary somehow curtails free speech is “unfounded” according to Ms Browne. This is simply incorrect. If you cease funding for one particular body of opinion, not only are you delegitimising it but you halt its ability to get its message disseminated — effectively censoring it.

The end of the column decrees “the right to practise one’s religion does not confer a right to force its orthodoxies on others”. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Let us now ask who it is that seeks to confer their orthodoxies on others? Is it the Legion of Mary who produce heterodox literature, which attempts to change one’s mind on a certain topic through the use of persuasion? Or is it the people who feel any deviation from their ideology — liberalism, the one true religion — is “dangerous”, and so should be censored?

JAMES MCGOVERN

DRUMCONDRA, DUBLIN 9

BAILOUT BACKSLAPPING

* As we exit the bailout, it can possibly be an opportunity rather than a conclusion. But, I also believe there is far too much backslapping for our top politicians as to the part they played in the exit.

The troika wouldn’t even have been needed here had politicians been disciplined enough to face reality, ignore the mythical Celtic Tiger and act accordingly towards the banks, the developers and the public. Prudent leadership at that time would have been accepted nationwide. Yes, it seems the last government may have to carry the buck. Being honest, however, parties, politicians and governments differ little when in power — other than faulting the previous ones.

This Government acted as tabby cats to the troika over the past three years, genuflecting to their every whim. In its recent secret meeting with the troika, what concessions were the Government promised before their departure — apart from the reminder, “We’ll be back”?

What a buffer for the future welfare of our banks if the troika had offered some practical help in sorting out their tracker mortgage burden. This advice might ward off the possibility of another bailout, get the banks lending more freely and let the economy move on.

JAMES GLEESON

THURLES, CO TIPPERARY

MILEAGE IN COOPER JOKE

* This season of giving reminds me of a line from the late, great Tommy Cooper: “I got a BMW for my wife last Christmas — good swop.”

TOM GILSENAN

BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9

PROSECUTING SEX BUYERS

* In reference to a column by James Downey (Irish Independent, December 14) where he writes about prostitution and sex-trafficking, I take issue with his comments that proposals put to the Justice Minister Alan Shatter by the Oireachtas Justice Committee to criminalise the user are just gesture politics.

A vast amount of work has gone into consulting with women in prostitution and organisations who provide vital support services to these women, to determine how we can tackle the serious issue of prostitution and sex trafficking in this country. The Oireachtas Justice Committee heard that criminalising the user, as the Swedish have done, is a critical first step we must take to tackle this problem. This approach has resulted in the number of street prostitutes working in Sweden falling by two-thirds since the law was introduced in 1998. Norway has followed suit, as has France.

Some of the evidence we heard at the Oireachtas hearings was truly shocking, with one woman’s account of how she was more in demand at 16 than at 21. We need to have a mature conversation about why there is such a demand for young girls and boys.

For Mr Downey to describe this as “gesture politics” and say that “anyone who thinks they can eradicate prostitution is like looking for a pie in the sky” is not only insulting to the thousands of women who are trapped in this horrific situation, but it is typical of someone who refuses to recognise that selling one’s body is not a career choice, but born out of necessity and is usually rooted in poverty and addiction.

Prostitution and sex-trafficking in this country are at an all-time high. There are women from at least 32 countries working in prostitution here, most of who have been trafficked here and live in appalling conditions. A record 258 women contacted Ruhama’s support services last year, as well as receiving 13,000 phone calls and 5,200 text messages by women in prostitution who needed support.

For Mr Downey to dismiss the proposal to criminalise the user and say that it is impossible for prostitution to be eradicated because it has been around for centuries, but instead we should regulate “the industry”, shows his ignorance and unwillingness to step up and tackle this matter head-on.

The facts are that the Swedish model works. By taking the first step towards tackling this serious issue, we will be in a position to prosecute the purchaser of sex which is an illegal activity and hold these people to account.

There is no equality in the transaction, as the person who holds the money holds the power.

MARCELLA CORCORAN KENNEDY TD

LAOIS/OFFALY

DONOR MOVE WELCOMED

* There was at least one chink of light in an otherwise fairly dispiriting HSE Service Plan for 2014.

The allocation of almost €3m by the Health Minister for 19 additional posts to support the heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas programmes is to be commended.

While we await details, these posts will include the appointment of donor co-ordinators in major hospitals. These will be specially trained medical staff who can guide next of kin through the process of organ donation by their loved ones, at what is clearly a very traumatic time.

Such co-ordinators have proven very effective in high-performing transplant countries such as Spain and Croatia. Thanks must be given to the surgeons and their teams in the Beaumont and St Vincent’s Hospital transplant centres and this year we particularly wish to highlight the outstanding success of the lung transplant centre in the Mater Hospital. The rate of lung transplantation more than doubled in 2013 compared with 2012 in Ireland. There were 34 lung transplants in total for 2013, compared with 14 in 2012 .

PHILIP WATT, CHAIRPERSON IRISH DONOR NETWORK AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER CYSTIC FIBROSIS IRELAND

24 LOWER RATHMINES ROAD, DUBLIN 6

 

 

 


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