New Vac 20th April 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Pertwee is in trouble again, the little matter of several dozen navy blankets gone missing. Meanwhile Leslie is in trouble with Heather, she wants him to spend her leave with her but at home at her mothers Priceless.
I go out and buy a new vacuum a Bissell, the hole in the road is filled up I sell two books. Virgin media turn up to pick up their bits.
Upstairs Downstairs: Hudson has a very mild fling.
I win at Scrabble today and get just under 400, Mary might get her revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Johnny Hill
Johnny Hill, who has died aged 91, became a reluctant poster boy for Pears soap in the 1920s when billboards bearing his photograph were plastered on walls and hoardings all over Britain.

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Johnny Hill (left) with his brother Ron in the Pears soap photograph in 1924 Photo: NORTH NEWS/NNP
5:38PM BST 19 Apr 2013
Curly-haired and cherubic, he was barely three years old in 1924 when he and his brother, Ron, 16 months his senior, were spotted on the promenade at Blackpool by a photographer looking for child models, and invited to pose for Pears.
Chosen from hundreds of other contenders, the pair were taken to a photographic studio, stripped and clad in Roman-style togas before posing for the advertisement, which was displayed in shops and streets across Britain. Johnny said he hated the experience, thinking that dressing up for the camera was “cissy”; he was mortified when the original photograph took pride of place on their parents’ living room wall.
Such was the potency of the glowing, well-scrubbed image that Johnny and his brother were regularly recognised in the street, an occurrence that embarrassed both boys. Although Pears was part of the multi-million pound Lever soap empire, neither was paid for his services, the brothers’ only reward — apart from fleeting celebrity — being a year’s supply of soap.
The faces of the Hill brothers stood in a long, winsome tradition of Pears marketing, aggressively launched by Thomas J Barratt, a Victorian partner in the firm, who declared: “Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it.” In 1887 he paid 2,000 guineas to use Sir John Millais’s painting of a small boy blowing bubbles of Pears soap; the picture – still known as “Bubbles” – adorned advertising hoardings across Britain well into the 20th century.
The Hills brothers’ image was used to promote the brand throughout the mid-1920s, not only in the streets but also in shops and pharmacies across the country. Johnny’s shock of blond curls vanished in early adulthood — mainly through wearing wartime Army helmets and balaclavas — but although his hair was thin, his well-soaped skin (according to his son) remained “as soft as a baby’s bottom” into old age.
John Derrick Hill was born on October 18 1921 at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, one of five sons and four daughters of a coal miner. Leaving Nuneaton School at 14, he worked at a cardboard box factory then trained as a capstan bar lathe operator at the Coventry works of Alfred Herbert, Britain’s biggest manufacturer of machine tools.
When the plant was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the blitz of 1940, many of his workmates were killed, and Hill himself suffered a nervous breakdown. He rehabilitated himself by working as a painter and decorator, but in April 1941 enlisted and trained as a driver-mechanic in the Royal Army Service Corps, delivering ammunition to ack-ack units defending the coasts of Co Durham and North Yorkshire.
Transferred south in 1944, he took part in the Normandy landings, driving a tank-transporter up the beach at Arromanches on the day after D-Day and joining the Allied advance through northern France and Belgium, once being blown out of his cab by a rocket. The canvas door of his truck cushioned the impact, and he pushed on to Antwerp before crossing the German border, where his was among the first British units to enter the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. He and other drivers were issued with strong-smelling embrocation as they helped bury the dead in huge pits.
Demobbed in 1946, he spent two years as a driver for a quarry near Sedgefield, Co Durham, before joining Sedgefield Rural District Council as a painter and decorator. He took early retirement in 1983.
John Hill married, in 1943, Rachel Stubbs, who died in 2008. Their son and daughter survive him.
Johnny Hill, born October 18 1921, died March 18 2013


Laudable and crucial as Lord Stern’s and Carbon Tracker’s warnings are (Carbon bubble ‘creates global economic risk’, 19 April), their success will depend on the existence of a plausible, large-scale investment alternative that can provide secure returns. Without this, investors’ money will continue to fuel the overheating of the planet.
The role of pension funds is crucial here since they are heavily dependent on fossil-fuel investments to finance their present and future pensioners’ needs. Two areas that would provide the stable long-term income they require are energy efficiency in buildings and renewables. Investment in the former would be repaid out of the resulting lower fuel bills and would have the additional bonus of creating a huge range of jobs and a new career path in every town and city.
In terms of investing in renewables, repayments would be made via energy bills and government-backed payment mechanisms, as is the case today. These are lower risk and less volatile options than the stock market and, as such, pension funds should reduce their expected levels of returns from them and compensate for this by a huge increase in such low-carbon investments.
Following such a climate-friendly programme would enable pension funds to wean themselves off their eventually doomed fossil fuel portfolios. In addition, this approach will provide baby boomers with a safe refuge for their pensions, provide their children and grandchildren with much-needed jobs and future generations could be spared an inhospitable planet – a real example of intergenerational solidarity.
Colin Hines
Convenor, Green New Deal Group
• The report by Damian Carrington shows the perfidy of the big energy companies. They are over-valuing fossil-fuel reserves, searching for more (to the grave danger of the Arctic), and trying to increase sales at a time when scientists throughout the world are saying that to avoid the increasing dangers of climate change due to global warming, fossil fuels should be left underground undisturbed.
Couple that with Terry Macalister’s report (Big six energy firms accused of ‘cold-blooded profiteering’, 13 April) and it looks as though there is a case for the next Labour government to repeat the action of Attlee’s 1945 administration and take the energy companies into public ownership. And if, as Carrington’s report suggests, “the stock markets are betting on countries’ inaction on climate change”, there is a case for tough measures to stop financiers gambling with the lives of our grandchildren.
Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

If the judges rule (Editorial, 19 April) that communications (eg WikiLeaks) emanating from diplomatic missions are protected by the Vienna convention, all such material held by their receiving governments will also be protected. The purpose of the convention was to protect diplomatic missions, not the archives of home governments which have more effective means of security protection. Do judges have the power to extend the scope of internationally negotiated UN conventions and would the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agree that this is desirable? Judges and government probably need more time to consider fully the implications of such a ruling than a complex judicial review on the legitimacy of the Chagos marine protected area allows.
David Snoxell
Former British high commissioner to Mauritius
• It’s your correspondent who is “wide of the mark”, not Jonathan Freedland (Letters, 19 April). The SDP/Liberal alliance was the umbrella under which both parties contested the 1983 and 1987 general elections. David Owen and David Steel were the respective leaders and therefore the “twin faces” of the alliance. Yes, it did fall apart when Steel proposed a formal merger following the second defeat, but that is irrelevant.
Mick Glassborow
East Knighton, Dorset
• Milton Cadman wonders if there are organisations more contemptuous of its customers than the FA (Letters, 19 April). The government, energy companies, all of the financial sector, for starters.
Brian Carroll
• Two cheers for Simon Jenkins’s column on disappearing nightingales (Comment, 19 April). He knows that Italians have a sexual connotation for the song. But it’s not just Italians – British folk songs are riddled with couples stopping to hear the nightingales sing, and quite often pregnancy ensues…
Dominic Sweetman
• Was I the only one to have their breakfast delayed, while I tried to distinguish between an artificially produced boy band and their waxwork doppelgängers (Gotta be you, 19 April)?
George Steel

It is encouraging that Granta should celebrate a fresh crop of British novelists (Report, 16 April), but for its editor, John Freeman, to say of Sunjeev Sahota that he “had never read a novel until he was 18 – until he bought Midnight’s Children at Heathrow. He studied maths, he works in marketing and finance; he lives in Leeds, completely out of the literary world” is, in part, an indictment of a city that has produced many great writers.
I am currently working on the development of a radio documentary which suggests quite the opposite. In fact, we are looking at possible reasons why the city has produced a disproportionate number of internationally acclaimed writers. Some of those born in Leeds, or with strong connections to the city, include Alan Bennett, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jack Higgins, Keith Waterhouse, Helen Fielding, Tony Harrison, Arthur Ransome, Alfred Austin, Caryl Phillips, Kay Mellor – and even JRR Tolkien conceived of The Hobbit during his five years lecturing at Leeds University, the same university where the great Wole Soyinka studied. Now Sahota looks to be the latest from Leeds to scale the great heights.
Our research has suggested the reasons for this are nuanced and the documentary will highlight that while looking forward, local arts and literary festivals and the imaginative work of chain and smaller bookstores in the city are helping to encourage a love of literature which will no doubt inspire a new generation.
I can see that John Freeman is saying that Sahota doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of a writer, but to suggest that Leeds is out of the literary world when it is a hotbed of literary talent is clearly unfair.
Hilary Robinson
South Milford, North Yorkshire

So Michael Gove intends to continue on his destructive path of evidence-free reform of our education system by extending the school day and cutting holidays (Report, 19 April)? All the evidence shows that increasing the hours pupils spend in school does nothing to improve educational outcomes across the board. As others in the media have already pointed out, Finland has some of the lowest hours of contact time and some of the best results in international tables. What matters most when it comes to quality of education is the quality of the teaching.
Having just retired from teaching after 38 years, I can testify to just how exhausting it is to work 55-60 hours a week, in a highly pressured environment, with little time for reflection on practice or acquisition of new skills and knowledge. The school holidays are used by teachers for those activities, a chance to catch up on paperwork and to recharge their batteries, so they can begin a new term with the enthusiasm and excitement that they want to convey to their pupils.
Gove’s policy will lower the quality of education in this country and should be resisted at all costs. Of course the real reason he wants it implemented has nothing to do with education and all to do with childminding. In his mind, schools are about keeping children out of the home so that their parents can spend more time at work. Now what was that David Cameron said back in 2011 about the government promoting quality of life?
Richard Stainer
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
• Michael Gove is so desperate to don the mantle of “hard man of the right” that he is willing to sacrifice the education of hundreds of thousands of school children on a policy that’s based on anecdote and whimsy. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that longer hours and shorter holidays mean higher standards. It is the quality of the teachers and the teaching that matters. It was interesting that one of the rightwing tabloids came up with the headline to this story as “Mr Gove warns of more strikes”. With irrational and thoughtless comments on policies like these, Mr Gove almost guarantees more industrial action which is, after all, what he really desires more than anything else, so he can be seen as challenging the “enemies of promise”.
Simon Gosden
Rayleigh, Essex
• We were disappointed to note that Michael Gove aligned Britain to east Asian countries for educational comparisons, rather than the European or North American countries which the government uses elsewhere as the most relevant models for comparison. One of us is a teacher who has worked in Japan and seen the psychological impact of high educational results expected of pupils. Having seen children appear visibly stressed, fall asleep in lessons or require counselling – and with occasional cases of suicide not unheard of within the teaching community – we feel that it would be unwise to replicate the model, or its associated ethic, in the UK.
We can only presume that Gove’s thorough research has recognised but discounted the positive models of European education we could learn from.
Hannah Murray and Samuel Miles
• One of the chief reasons students in Singapore and Hong Kong outperform western pupils is not a longer school day or shorter holidays, but private tutoring. According to a study published last year by the Asian Development Bank, the money parents spend on private tutoring in these countries is “staggering”. In Hong Kong in 2011, for example, tutoring for secondary-school pupils alone brought in $255m, while, in Japan, families paid out $12bn to ensure their children were ahead in the exam race. Private tutors have become stars – and millionaires. Perhaps Michael Gove has actually found a new career path for our own hard-done by teachers.
Lisa Freedman
• Would Gove also be in favour of extending the parliamentary day and cutting the length of all the parliamentary recesses? I’m sure there must be some parliaments in east Asia that work longer and perform better than ours.
Ron Brewer
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

Nine years ago , Mordechai Vanunu was released from Ashkelon prison in Israel. He had served the full 18 years of his sentence – including over 11 years in solitary confinement – for blowing the whistle on Israel’s secret possession and manufacture of nuclear weapons. But he is still not free: during these past nine years he has continued to be imprisoned in Israel by draconian restrictions which prevent him from leaving the country – restrictions which also limit his freedom of speech and movement within Israel. He has been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Israeli authorities, including a further period of imprisonment for breaching his restrictions by talking to foreigners. So Mordechai has now suffered 27 years’ loss of freedom for his service to the truth. These restrictions must be lifted so he can at last be free.
Tony Benn, Ben Birnberg, Julie Christie, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Kate Hudson, Bruce Kent, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Caroline Lucas MP


Once again we are forced to ask “What planet is Michael Gove on?”  Where is his evidence that simply forcing pupils to spend more time in schools will improve their education?
Finland is universally recognised as having one of the best education systems in the world, along with the least contact time for pupils and a very hands-off approach to the testing of students. In addition, although I have no first-hand experience, I have heard that independent schools in the UK have longer holidays than state schools.
David Felton, Crewe
The normal advice to those who find themselves in a hole is to stop digging. However, in the case of our current Education Secretary we find he merely wields his spade with greater vigour.  Teachers are already planning strikes to protest at pay and pension reforms and workloads. Michael Gove’s new call for a major overhaul of working practices is bound to inflame an already tense industrial situation. 
Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Middlesex
Michael Gove is so desperate to don the mantle of “hard man of the right” that he is willing to sacrifice the education of hundreds of thousands of school children on a policy based on anecdote and whimsy. There is no empirical evidence  that longer hours and shorter holidays mean higher standards. It is the quality of the teaching that matters.
With policies like these Mr Gove almost guarantees more industrial action, which is, after all, what he really desires more than anything else, so he can be seen as challenging the “enemies of promise”.
Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex
Thatcher,  saviour  of the OU
Insofar as comment has been passed on Margaret Thatcher’s time as Education Secretary in the Heath Government of 1970-74, this has usually related to her decisions to abandon free school milk and to shut down large numbers of grammar schools. What has been omitted is that Mrs Thatcher saved the Open University.
When Heath was elected Prime Minister in 1970, Ian Macleod, his Chancellor, was keen to rid the country of what he took to be Wilsonian financial albatrosses. Of all the decisions passed by his government, none was more associated with Harold Wilson than the Open University, and Macleod was keen to do away with it before it came into being, as were other Conservatives, who saw it as a further extension of state provision.
As a junior member of the Cabinet, ambitious and from the right, Thatcher might have been thought likely to support such a view. But after consultation, principally with the Open University’s first Vice-Chancellor, Walter Perry, she was persuaded that it was in fact an inexpensive and effective way of extending opportunity and creating new graduates. Much to Macleod’s chagrin, and with minimal support from her own department, she decided to move forward with the Open University.
John Campbell, in his much-acclaimed two-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher, argues that this was “her most remarkable feat” as Education Secretary, and that while Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee are usually credited with the conception of the OU “Margaret Thatcher deserves equal credit for single-handedly allowing it to be born when her senior colleagues were intent upon aborting it.”
Dr James Carleton Paget
Fellow and Tutor
Peterhouse, Cambridge
I couldn’t help but laugh at Benedict Le Vay’s rather fanciful list of supposedly good things we wouldn’t have without Thatcher (letter, 17 April).
Almost convincing, until you glance across at our Social Democratic neighbours – which is what we were prior to Thatcherism – in western Europe. They have practically all these listed advantages and they got them without having to butcher their manufacturing sector and put millions out of work for a decade or more.
With the help of foreign media ownership, Thatcher parachuted an alien American-style socio-economic model into our society. We are still struggling to get back our West European identity and reclaim its benefits.
Gavin Lewis
On the day of Thatcher’s funeral one of the legacies of her “Tell Sid” privatisation can be found in your story “Npower’s three years of zero corporation tax”.
Nigel Hunt
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
While you say that the ceremony for Mrs Thatcher showed that Britain still knows how to behave at a funeral (leading article, 18 April), the reaction of the crowd lining the streets has left me puzzled. 
When I was a lad I knew that one had to remove one’s cap and stand silently as a mark of respect when a cortege passed. But now there is applause. What does it signify? Support for the deceased or satisfaction that they are deceased?
Mervyn Bryn-Jones
Twickenham, Middlesex
I applaud The Independent’s balanced reporting of the life, death, legacy and funeral of Margaret Thatcher. In comparison, the BBC appears to be Broadcasting on Behalf of Conservatives
Terry Mahoney
Sidlesham, West Sussex
In the early 1980s I was working on a BA 747 shuttle service between Hong Kong and Beijing. One day, after we taxied in, immediately the doors opened, a gentleman from the British embassy boarded and asked if Mrs Thatcher might please have a copy of every British newspaper we had. The purser had to tell him that the newspapers were all on strike in the UK and we had none. Ah, the old days.
Robert Schwartz
Dorney, Buckinghamshire
Blair’s aggression against Iraq
I am surprised that John Strawson (letter, 16 April) claims there is no basis for prosecution of Tony Blair for waging an illegal war in Iraq.
The Rome Statute of 1998, which established the International Criminal Court, contains Article 8 bis (adopted at a review conference in Kampala in 2010) which defines the individual crime of aggression as “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution by a person in a leadership position of an act of aggression,” where aggression is defined as “the use of armed force by one State against another State without the justification of self-defence or authorisation by the Security Council”.
In the Iraq case, despite all the diplomatic efforts, there was no authorisation by the Security Council, which was why the dodgy dossier and all the other exaggerations of supposed weapons of mass destruction had to be  cooked up to try to justify the manifestly false claim of self-defence.
Richard Carter   
London SW15
Religion and good deeds
Of course religions inspire good deeds as well as evil ones (letter, 19 April) but it is at least debatable whether religious good deeds are any more than a means to an end.
The religious admit to being motivated by the need to obey the commands of a god or at least to avoid its displeasure. It would seem that religious good deeds are not so much moral as just prudent.
The non-religious do not have this ulterior motive and are simply motivated by fellow-feeling and the pleasure given and received from helping others. (Those cleverer than I can assess which is the more moral).
It seems that belief in gods is incidental to morality. It is not so much that the religious are especially good people but rather that good people can be religious.
David Hooley, Newmarket, Suffolk
Dangerous waters off coast of Gaza
Israel did not restrict Gazan fishermen’s access to the sea “in response” to rockets being fired into southern Israel during the recent visit of Barack Obama (Magazine, 13 April).
I have lived and worked in Gaza, and was back there in November last year, when the fishermen were already limited to fishing three miles out, unless they were prepared to risk being shot by the Israeli navy. Under the (1993) Oslo Peace Accords, Gazan fishermen are entitled to sail 20 nautical miles out, but this has never been honoured by Israel.
Journalists who report from Gaza need to investigate the complex, cruel realities of life under siege, not merely repeat Israel’s mantra that it only ever “responds” to rockets from Gaza.
Louisa Waugh, London SE1
Silly times in Liverpool
Like many other Liverpudlians of a certain age I read with fascination Derek Hatton’s attempt to rewrite history (Monday Interview, 15 April). His portrait of himself as a Robin Hood figure, championing the people, does not agree with  the memories we all have of the chaos that resulted from his brief spell in power.
He presumably has forgotten the howling rabble in the public gallery of council meetings, and  the rent-a-mob groups in every public meeting, waiting until the end when most people had left to overturn the decisions voted upon.
Or perhaps he has forgotten by now the council’s policy of not allowing any routine building – extensions, garages etc – by the “middle classes”? And of course, running out of money to pay the council workers – not his fault apparently.
The lesson to be learnt is that Derek Hatton and his like are what you get if one allows one’s justified abhorrence of Thatcherite policies to become silly.
Ian Poole, Liverpool
Jane Merrick (Voices, 17 April) revives the old tale about redundancy notices being handed out by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s. Her mother’s job was, she claims, put at risk. Not so. I was a local authority worker at that time, who knew that the threat of redundancy came only from central government, and that the council’s intention was to defend those jobs.
Natalie Seeve , Liverpool
Down the tunnel
You know you’re getting old when you settle down to watch what you hope is a serious programme on the TV (“Brushing up on British Tunnels”) only to become increasing irritated by the seemingly fatuous remarks of the presenter (Danny Baker) masking the informative content, and then the following day The Independent’s TV reviewer (Tom Sutcliffe) describes Baker’s manner as “very engaging”.
Oh well, time for some warm milk and an early night.
Alan Bennett, Loddiswell, Devon
Lobby fodder
In view of the latest failure in the US Congress to curb gun ownership, in which the wishes of ordinary people were ignored, should not American government be re-defined as “of the lobbies, by the lobbies, for the lobbies”?
Christopher Walker, London W14


We should focus more on the time we have already, to look at how effectively it is being used and on working smarter
Sir, The call by the Education Secretary to increase the length of the school day and shorten holidays (report, Apr 19) may resonate with some members of the public, if not necessarily with teachers and children, but it does nothing to guarantee that results would improve or even that the quality of children’s learning would benefit. Rather, we need to focus more on the time we have already, to look at how effectively it is being used and on working smarter. Of course, children need to learn the importance of working hard, but lengthening school days and shortening holidays, thereby turning education into an endurance test (and expecting pupils and teachers to maintain their enthusiasm for learning), is a clumsy approach.
Better by far is to look at the quality of engagement between teacher and pupils and look at how we can increase the effectiveness of our lessons. Working harder is one part of the equation, but on its own is not enough — surely Boxer’s demise in Animal Farm teaches us that.
Peter Tait
Sherborne Prep School, Dorset
Sir, As a privately educated father with children who have been at state primaries, and who are currently in private education, I am painfully aware that private schools are able to marry better results with longer days and longer school holidays. My children work hard and play hard, as I did myself, with parental ethos and support; underprivileged but intelligent children will benefit from the support given by lengthening their time in an academic environment, developing and enriching them as people.
I can understand why teachers are against shorter holidays, but the only drawback I can see to Mr Gove’s proposals will be the commensurate increase in road traffic during the shortened holidays.
Rabbi Zvi Solomons
Reading, Berks
Sir, The school year and school day are indeed essentially stuck in the 19th century, as Michael Gove says. So is the school curriculum, which has a profound effect on what and how children learn. Matthew Arnold, the great 19th-century educator, would be as comfortable with the structure of the current curriculum as he would with the timings of the day and year. Yet Mr Gove seems determined not to acknowledge that it is the continuation of the 19th-century curriculum that is preventing our children from learning the intellectual disciplines and effective behaviours required for personal and national success and satisfaction. He would do better to stimulate a discussion based on modern curriculum thinking as proposed by people such as Howard Gardner, who understands how a 21st-century curriculum can combine the learning of intellectual discipline with the synthesis of understanding and knowledge with respectful and ethical behaviour.
John Gaskin
Escrick, N Yorks
Sir, Mr Gove’s idea has some merit but he must consider the impact of shorter summer breaks. The shoehorning of the same number of passengers into a four-week period would mean that the cost of airline seats would rocket. There is one thing he could do, though, to prevent the price-hike that occurs during school holidays: the four-week summer break could simply start on different dates in different areas, spreading the air travel window of opportunity over eight weeks rather than four.
Anita Menzies

Years of inequality means that there is a shortage of those senior roles to continue the promotion of women to boards
Sir, Sheryl Sandberg’s call for more women to hold positions of power in government and business could not be more timely (report, Apr 17). Despite a recent upsurge in female board appointments, years of sustained inequality in the number of women in senior management positions means that there is a shortage of those in sufficiently senior roles to continue the promotion of women to boards. Without direct action it may take years to meet even the very modest targets to which the Government aspires.
There are simple and straightforward measures companies can introduce to address the gender imbalance in senior positions: identification of mentors for women; heralding female role models; more sophisticated management and interview training for those at senior levels; and a new way of valuing the quality rather than simply the quantity of input (acknowledging that women often bear the brunt of childcare).
Rachel Harfield
Senior solicitor, Slater & Gordon LLP

A caption on a photograph of Rich Ricci wearing a particular hat has sparked some consternation among those in the know
Sir, Your report about Rich Ricci (Apr 19) refers to his favourite style of hat as a homburg. If that’s not a trilby he’s wearing in the accompanying photograph, I’ll eat my hat.
Richard Cumberland
Radcliffe on Trent, Notts

Pointing out the causes of premature deaths wasn’t always welcomed by other medical practitioners, as seen in the past
Sir, I knew Dr Dick van Steenis (obituary, Apr 16) for over a decade and was surprised at the lack of support he had from other medical practitioners until I discovered how whistleblowers have been treated in the NHS. Pointing out the causes of premature deaths wasn’t always welcomed by other medical practitioners, as seen in past centuries by Dr Alexander Gordon (1752-99), Dr Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-65) and Dr John Snow (1813-58). Perhaps Dr van Steenis’s legacy will be that future doctors will fear being silent more than speaking out on pollution matters.
All medical students sit through a lecture about Dr John Snow and mapping cholera deaths. I can still remember learning about Dr Snow as a final-year civil engineering undergraduate in 1971, but never suspected that Dr van Steenis and I would be using mapped ONS data at electoral ward level more than three decades later to demonstrate that those who claim incinerator emissions don’t harm health are mistaken.
Michael Ryan, CEng
Bicton Heath, Shropshire

Cheers at Westminster Abbey set off a conflagration; and a chance to listen to an anarchist at Speakers’ Corner
Sir, Almost all those in St Paul’s for Lady Thatcher’s funeral have commented on the impact of the roar of applause from outside as her coffin emerged at the end of the service for her final journey. The City of London Corporation will have been relieved that this acclamation did not have the same result as occurred on Christmas Day 1066, when the soldiers outside William the Conqueror’s coronation mistook the cheers in Westminster Abbey for an assassination plot and promptly burned all the surrounding buildings.
Anthony Fry
London W11
Sir, My father remembered a prewar Speakers’ Corner, when the hovering policeman decided that an anarchist was waxing a bit too persuasive, and broke up the audience with the words: “Now then, move along there. All those in favour of burning down Buckingham Palace this way, all those against, that way.”
Like your correspondent (letter, Apr 18), he impressed on me that that was what it meant to live in a free country.
Jane Whiter
Old Basing, Hants


SIR – The BBC’s attempt to show life in The Village has been described as too gritty, but I wonder if it is gritty enough.
How, for example, did schoolboys afford to throw sixpences into a sweepstake pot? More than 30 years later my village schoolteacher collected sixpence (two and a half new pence) a week from us for a whole term to pay for a school outing.
Philip Styles
Cheddar, Somerset
SIR – To add to the blunders in The Village, what was that chapel preacher doing in an Anglican cassock and surplice?
Graham Jones
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – Jerusalem was composed by Parry in 1916, so it could not have been used for recruits marching off to the Great War.
E Davies
Everard, Cambridgeshire

SIR – I wonder if anyone else has noticed that it is now cheaper to send small packets abroad by post than in this country.
Under the Royal Mail’s new parcel-pricing, a packet classed as a “medium parcel” for domestic deliveries (over 8cm thick) but weighing under 250g will cost £5.65 (first class) or £5.20 (second class) in this country but will only cost £3.50 to send anywhere in Europe – and only £4.50 or £4.70 to send anywhere else in the world.
It is therefore more expensive for me to send a small packet like this from Hampshire to Surrey than to Australia.
If the packet weighs under 500g it is still cheaper to send to Europe (£4.95) than to anywhere in Britain. This is completely bizarre!
Brandon Ashton
Yateley, Hampshire
Related Articles
Wrong kind of grit in BBC portrayal of village life
19 Apr 2013
SIR – I now pay bills by debit card at my bank and conduct business affairs and most correspondence by email.
I only use Royal Mail to send hard copy to solicitors or to write to dinosaur friends who are not online. It wouldn’t bother me if those letters took a week.
Provide a cheap third-class service and I’d happily use it.
Geoffrey Adams
Cirencester, Gloucestershire
SIR – The Countryside Alliance is not interested in blocking privatisation of the Royal Mail (Leading article, April 8) but in ensuring that rural communities and businesses continue to have a level of service which meets their needs.
The universal service – Royal Mail’s promise of a six-day-a-week postal service, to all parts of the United Kingdom for a uniform tariff – is enshrined in legislation, and it would be remiss of us not to remind the Government of how important that is to rural Britain.
The temptation to restrict delivery to areas of high-density population will only become greater, whoever owns Royal Mail, and stopping daily delivery in the countryside would have a significant impact on rural people and businesses.
Barney White-Spunner
Executive chairman, Countryside Alliance
London SE11
SIR – No mail delivery service in the Western world has been privatised and produced a cheaper, better service.
Mail delivery is labour-intensive. Why do you think there were no takers from the private sector for this area of Royal Mail?
It is a national scandal that the private sector has been allowed to cherry-pick the only section of Royal Mail’s business that made a profit, while leaving Royal Mail to maintain the universal service.
Bob Wydell
Oswestry, Shropshire
SIR – If Scotland chooses independence, the burden of delivering letters to the most remote parts will go away.
Ian Macpherson
Guildford, Surrey
Comet Thatcher
SIR – The Earth is very appropriately entering a meteor shower known as the Lyrids, which is the remnant of the tail of Comet Thatcher, discovered in 1861.
Passing through the Lyrids every April will remind us of her passing. Sadly, we’ll all be gone when Comet Thatcher returns on its 450-year orbit.
Peter McPherson
Merriott, Somerset
SIR – It was lovely that the BBC let us hear the half-muffled Stedman Cinques rung from St Paul’s on Wednesday. One of the ringers, Alan Frost, was ringing the second bell just as he had done for the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.
By Wednesday night he was back here coaxing us through Stedman Doubles.
Geoffrey Aldridge
Wingrave, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Having watched the funeral of Lady Thatcher I wondered why Tony Blair thought it appropriate to stand at the door of St Paul’s shaking hands with members of the congregation as they left.
Diana Goetz
Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire
SIR – I admired your front-page photograph of the funeral cortege, but couldn’t help noticing the extraordinary number of “To Let” boards on City offices.
Joanna Hackett
London SE1
SIR – I think Lady Thatcher was mistaken when she told the Bishop of London to avoid the duck pâté because of the fat.
When she was working as a chemist, scientists the world over were starting to demonise saturated fats, and replacing them with hydrogenated vegetable oils containing the dreaded trans-fats. The harm these can do only started to come to light later.
I understand that, in Gascony, duck fat is widely used, and the health of the population should be evidence enough that duck fat is good.
Robert H Olley
Reading, Berkshire
X marks the spot
SIR – If I buried my valuables in the garden (Letters, April 17), I wouldn’t be worried about not remembering in old age where to find them. I would just wonder what I had gone into the garden for.
Michael Aldworth
Brackley, Northamptonshire
SIR – My late husband and I always went to the Isles of Scilly for our annual holiday. We used to wrap a few coins in a plastic bag, place them in a stone wall and take a photograph, just for the fun of finding them the following year. Only once could we not find them, due to growth in vegetation.
Anne Collin
Hockley, Essex
SIR – How can a cautious saver now be sure that his overambitious neighbour will not build a conservatory over his buried savings?
Dr Andrew W Taylor
Oldham, Lancashire
Ed on his mettle
SIR – Mary Riddell (Comment, April 17) appears to be trying to brand Ed Miliband as “Titanium Ed”. Perhaps she has a point. Titanium is lightweight and very expensive.
Paul Weston
Chelmsford, Essex
SIR – “Titanium Ed” is very apposite, given that the metal is inert and non-magnetic.
Bill Giles
Newhaven, East Sussex
North Korea covert ops
SIR – There is nothing new in journalists going undercover to get into North Korea (Leading article, April 17) – it was always so.
I once joined a package tour to Pyongyang and was amused to find that more than half the “tourists” in my group were in fact journalists. Watching them discreetly get their soundbites and covert photos was very entertaining. But I always felt our government minders knew what was going on.
I was surprised to see Andy Kershaw, a well-known BBC radio presenter, doing pieces to camera in his distinctive northern accent while trying to appear to be taking typical tourist pictures. He was obviously shooting a documentary undercover. When I saw it, it was actually very good.
Some time later I was invited to North Korea as a bona-fide journalist to report on economic reform. And when I mentioned that I had always wanted to visit, my host smiled and asked if I had enjoyed my previous visit as a “tourist”.
I must say that North Korea reminds me of my first visit to “Red” China in 1978 as a “tourist” from Hong Kong. And look where China is now.
Ian Whiteley
Bournemouth, Dorset
Born conductor
SIR – Sir Colin Davis (Obituaries, April 16) was autographing our programme after a concert at Birmingham Symphony Hall when I mentioned that he and my wife shared the same birth date – September 25.
With great poise and presence, he handed the programme back to my wife, looked her straight in the eye and said: “I suppose you realise we were both conceived on Christmas Day.”
Graham Matthews
Madeley, Staffordshire
Soggy toast
SIR – The BBC toast saga (report, April 17) has a long history.
When I reported for the Today programme in the Sixties, we used to be given free toast – but served flat on a plate so that it was always soggy.
Johnners complained so loudly and frequently that a silver toast-rack eventually appeared. It became known as the Brian Johnston Memorial Toast Rack.
I wonder what became of it.
Tim Matthews
Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk
Somebody has to pay the price of health tourism
SIR – Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA (Letters, April 8) says that “the first role of doctors is to treat patients, not to act as policemen for the state”.
Unfortunately, the National Health Service is losing money over unpaid bills – and any figures of money lost only refer to those patients who have been identified as chargeable.
No one is asking GPs to “police” this. Clear and transparent rules on access must come from the Department of Health.
In order for the NHS to be “free”, someone has to pay – in this case it is the hard-pressed taxpayer.
Liz Edmunds
Lindfield, West Sussex
SIR – Someone should point out to Dr Nathanson that, in every country in Europe and the United States and elsewhere, patients have to show the ability to pay before they receive treatment.
This does not create an administrative nightmare, and is regarded as just as normal as paying for a newspaper or buying groceries.
Peter Wareham
Coventry, Warwickshire
SIR – In New Zealand last year I became unwell and was taken to the local hospital. After completing a simple form at reception with my name, nationality, home address and age I paid $75 and was seen by a doctor. It isn’t rocket science.
John Weight
Orpington, Kent

Irish Times:
A chara, – Billy Gleeson (April 18th) suggests “comparing the costs of the public service with its European counterparts might be interesting”.
It is, but perhaps not in the way that he expected. According to the IMF, Irish public service pay was 11.2 per cent of GDP in 2011. This compares to an OECD average of 10.8 per cent, and 11.1 per cent for OECD countries which are members of the EU.
This shows that when compared to GDP, Ireland’s public service pay bill is in line with comparable EU countries and these figures are before the public sector levy (an average 7 per cent deduction) is taken into account.
Similar conclusions were reached by the OECD study, Government at a Glance (2011), which concluded the relative purchasing power of the vast majority of Irish public servants is about average, showing that the relative living standard of public servants in Ireland is on a par (or lower) with counterparts across the OECD countries. – Is mise,
Killarney, Co Kerry.
Sir, – Most of the Government’s problems in reducing public service pay, waste and over-staffing could be solved with three simple words: Privatise, privatise, privatise – Yours, etc,
Lower Kimmage Road,
Dublin 6W.
Sir, – The current supervision and substitution scheme for schools costs €300 million a year (Education, January 29th). If this scheme is to be scrapped by Croke Park II or, indeed Croke Park 2.1, thereby delivering the full amount of annual payroll savings required by the Government, why the need for further cuts? Or is there something I’m missing? – Yours, etc,
Naas, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter stated he had been going to recruit more gardaí but is now unable to do so because the public service unions voted against Croke Park II.
If the troika is demanding a €300 million reduction in the public service pay bill this year, and if Croke Park II was supposed to deliver a €300 million reduction in the public service pay bill this year, how was Mr Shatter going to use this money to increase the public service pay bill by recruiting more gardaí?
People will have different opinions on who is right and who is wrong regarding Croke Park II, but I would imagine most people would think it wrong for a Government Minister to mislead the public for propaganda reasons. – Yours, etc,
Griffeen Glen Green,
Co Dublin.
A chara, – Now that public sector workers have reaffirmed their commitment to the Croke Park deal, it is time for the Government to do the same. The Croke Park deal is the mechanism to achieve a greater reduction in the cost of public services and to enable a more efficient delivery of them. Why the Government does not want to use it, but instead set about (with the active collusion of some trade union leaders) to try to break the agreement requires explanation. – Is mise,
Fathain, Leifer,
Co Dún na nGall.

Sir, – Many generations of medical doctors have attempted to follow the basic principles as outlined in the Hippocratic Oath. In 1948 the Declaration of Geneva, which was adopted by the general assembly of the World Medical Association, was intended as a revision of the Hippocratic oath to a formulation of that oath’s moral truths that could be comprehended and acknowledged in the modern world, especially following the atrocities of the second World War.
The Declaration of Geneva has since been modified several times to keep up with modern views. Two of the 11 pledges made in the present version state “the health of my patient will be my first consideration”, and “I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed or religion, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient”.
For more than 30 years I was a consultant general surgeon to one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals, working with six different masters and their colleagues. Most of our joint patients were pregnant. Many were in the first half of their pregnancy. There were many difficult decisions to be made, in women with bowel obstructions, tumours, ruptured spleens, malignant tumours, appendicitis and so forth. Often two lives had to be considered. Decisions were made at consultant level.
However, if the obstetrician said that the foetus or baby was dead, or judged for some reason to be incapable of surviving, then our decision-making became a lot easier. Then our sole consideration was the well-being of only one patient, the mother, and she would get what was judged to be the best and most expeditious treatment for her condition.
I sincerely hope that all our politicians, as well as all our doctors, are familiar with the Declaration of Geneva. When legislators meddle in things that they don’t understand, sometimes all hell can be let loose. They need to be well advised. – Yours, etc,
Sandycove Avenue East,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – If marriage is arbitrarily exclusive in its current form, as Fintan O’Toole suggests (Opinion, April 16th), and merely an official recognition of a “personal relationship,” I would go further and say “to hell with it” as an institution. However, such a premise is patently false. It is an impoverished view of its purpose and dignity and ignores its value in human history. – Is mise,
An Ghallbhuaile Leifear,
Tír Chonaill.
Sir, – It’s a funny old world. When I was a youngster, the popular catchphrase was that “Marriage is meaningless. Marriage is just a bit of paper. What difference does it make?” I grew up and thankfully ignored the prevailing “wisdom”. Instead I met, and married, the world’s most wonderful woman. Now it seems that the “popular voice” has decided marriage is no longer “just a meaningless bit of paper”. In fact, marriage has become so important, the popular voice is now saying it’s a human right and everyone simply must have it. The same voice can’t be right on both counts, so it must either have been wrong back then or it must be wrong now. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in the popular voice. But like I said, it’s a funny old world. – Yours, etc,
Co Cork.

Sir, – Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004) received a Nobel prize in 1962 with James Watson and Francis Crick for the 1953 discovery of the DNA double helix. Sixty years of the DNA double helix will be celebrated in Dublin when James Watson will unveil a sculpture What is Life by Charles Jencks.
I would like to trace Wilkins’s relatives in Ireland. He was born in New Zealand a few years after his Irish parents, Edgar and Eveline, arrived there. His father, a Trinity medical graduate, came from a well-known academic family; two uncles, his grandfather and two great uncles (one a Hebrew scholar) were also graduates of Trinity. His paternal grandmother’s family was connected with the great Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. His father became headmaster of the High School, and his uncle, the head of Bangor Grammar School. His mother’s father was Richard Whittaker, a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
It would also be of interest to know of relatives of JD Bernal (1901-1971) born in Tipperary, whose work contributed to methods used in the discovery of the double helix. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:

• Though the recent constitutional convention has voted in favour of providing the same protection to homosexual and heterosexual partnerships, redefining Christian marriage to accommodate same-sex unions will not come easily.
Also in this section
New TV charging scheme will provoke ‘Big Brother’ debate
Boston atrocity is an attack on liberty
Violence against women is being ignored
We sometimes forget that the understanding of marriage has changed over time. Traditionally, marriage was managed to ensure that the wealth of a group or family was not diluted by a partner who lacked power, possessions, money or influence. Even the notion that partners gave their consent to the union is a relatively new one, as is the association of marriage with romantic love.
From the 12th Century onwards there was a steady strengthening of the view that marriage was a sacrament; it was essentially the business of the church and not of the secular world of contracts and property rights.
Its key religious function was to acknowledge the place of God in the procreation of children and to direct all sexual activity to this divine purpose.
The consideration of same-sex marriage gets off to a bad start with the Christian churches’ conception of homosexuality as an aberration from the proper order of things.
Homosexual sex, though it may be an expression of genuine love, not being directed towards the procreation of children, does not have the blessing of the church; though heterosexual couples may sometimes marry, either deciding not to have children or knowing they are unable to do so.
We remain at the point where discussion of same-sex marriage tends to release divisive passions, confusing prejudice with principle. The concept of what is natural is often loosely invoked, forgetting that the way the world is does not in itself determine how it ought to be.
The real issue is about the nature of sex not about marriage. In a recent discussion one participant stated: “I don’t have a problem about homosexuals but I don’t like what they get up to.”
My mother regularly gave us what she took to be the comforting assurance that: “There was none of that in our family.”
Philip O’Neill
Oxford, OX1 4QB
Labour’s blind spot
• Many in the Labour Party cannot see the writing on the wall. Worse still, Messrs Gilmore and Howlin & Co cannot even see the wall.
Gerry O’Donnell
Dublin 15
Desperate measures
• So, in spite of warnings from well-heeled government ministers and their trade union leadership, the members of the trade unions have rejected the Croke Park II deal.
Almost immediately the Government is all for pay cuts to make up the €300m in savings, which it will have no hesitation in giving to the bankers and greedy financiers who have torn the heart out of our country.
I have some suggestions that may allow the Government to make a substantial contribution to the slush fund for the bankers, etc.
Firstly, reduce the membership of the Dail to 100 or fewer sitting TDs. Secondly, scrap the Seanad, as promised by Enda Kenny in his election manifesto.
Thirdly, scrap all unelected quangos and so-called ministerial advisory bodies. And fourthly, ensure all political expenses are vouched for to the last penny.
If these measures were to be coupled with a wealth tax and a property tax that would take into account the sweeping expanses of lawns and woodlands in which the wealthy sit, we might exceed the sums owed by Ireland without placing further hardships on the already overburdened people of this country .
Tom Mangan
Ennis, Co Clare
Croke Park rejection
• The rejection of Croke Park II by trade union members has severely damaged the trade union movement by mimicking the rejection of their predecessors a century ago, when the 20,000 participants in the 1913 Dublin Lockout disowned the trade union leadership of that era and began to return to work in January 1914, the fifth month of their strike.
The process, hosted by the Labour Relations Commission, also disenfranchised the tens of thousands of public sector workers who are not trade union members, but whose employment contracts were threatened in a fundamental and adverse manner without their voice being heard.
It also completely ignored the perspective of the hundreds of thousands of public sector pensioners who have no representational voice whatsoever.
But the result will have cathartic significance if it restores primary responsibility and accountability for economic and political leadership to the venue where it rightfully belongs – the floor of the Oireachtas.
Each member of the Oireachtas, stripped of surrogates, third-party processes and props, will now be obliged to heavily invest his, or her, political capital in the economic destiny and vitality of our nation. Each will have to execute this profound responsibility with considered, informed and astute judgment.
Each will have to live with the political consequences because the reaction of the electorate will be clear, unequivocal and ruthless.
Myles Duffy
Glenageary, Co Dublin
‘Skipping on bottom’
• I support the views of Professor Ashoka Mody and Stephen Donnelly TD over how we should proceed in relation to Ireland’s economy. Our Government must consider the implications of what it is doing. It cannot point back to the short-sighted policies of the Fianna Fail government any longer.
The blame for this continued doldrums rests with Fine Gael and Labour and their perfidious unwillingness or incompetence to address the state of the nation, despite international recognition of the facts that you cannot cut your way out of a recession or tax your way to prosperity.
Pandering to the banks has failed utterly, and the debt writedowns must begin, otherwise the wider economy cannot begin to recover. We are still “skipping along the bottom” as Michael Noonan’s incisive analysis of our economic situation two years ago suggested.
How could it be otherwise, with endless austerity before us? That has to change, and you will all be held accountable by the electorate if it does not.
Michael O’Neill
Killiney, Co Dublin
Beam me up . . .
• Whatever one thinks of all those religiously inspired creation myths, they are a lot more plausible than a supposedly scientific theory that the ‘Big Bang’ created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, half of which then magically, mysteriously or miraculously – take your pick – disappears.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, then another unexplained event happens: superinflation. When the smoke clears and the mirrors appear, we are left with a universe in which 94pc of everything is unaccounted for. Statistically speaking (how we love those stats), that’s pretty much a theory that explains nothing.
In homage to Hollywood, the ultimate creator of fantasies, we might consider re-naming it: ‘The Greatest Con Job Ever Sold.’
Maybe we should take an expression from Leonard Cohen’s songbook: ‘Start again, I heard them say.’
Can’t stop to chat – here comes my UFO now . . .
Liam Power
San Pawl Il-Bahar SPB 3572, Malta


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