Top to toe

Top to toe15th May 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Troutbridge is sent to Sicily to pick up a British spy. But they pick up the wrong one, a Russian with a bomb in every pocket. Not to mention his suitcase. Captain Povey’s office is blown up. Priceless.
Off to Harrogate Mark has her hair done, splendid and I get my feet done bye bye corns.
The Fosdyke saga: Kenneth More dies and the two love birds are still in love
Mary wins at Scrabble today, just and gets just under 400, I might get my revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Leila Tannous
Leila Tannous, who has died aged about 93, was for more than 30 years a stalwart of the BBC’s Arabic service, and an important figure in the capital’s Lebanese community.

Leila Tannous 
5:45PM BST 14 May 2013
She was born at Bishmizzine, near Tripoli in north Lebanon, on June 1, probably in 1919, though she never cared to be too precise about the date. The youngest among two brothers and five sisters, Leila graduated from the American University, Beirut, with honours in Philosophy and Political Science.
Although brought up as a Christian, in the Eastern Orthodox rite, Leila Tannous also knew the Koran by heart. Her mother and her grandmother, however, were strong campaigners against women being forced to wear the veil. She herself lobbied for women’s emancipation, founding and editing, from 1944 to 1947, a Beirut journal called Woman’s Voice.
The direction of her life changed when she met Bernard Dawton, a former British officer who was working for an oil company in Lebanon. On only their second encounter they decided to marry, although Leila was already plighted — to a man of some local standing.
She was now working for the BBC in Beirut, and managed to break her previous engagement by obtaining a transfer to London, where she lived with Bernard Dawton’s parents. When Bernard himself returned to England, they married — twice, in both Orthodox and Anglican churches.
Leila Tannous began as a newsreader in the BBC’s Arabic Service in 1947. Right up to her retirement in 1984, however, she was involved in various aspects of broadcasting, as a political commentator and as a producer of current affairs and arts programmes.
She broadcast translations of Shakespeare, and encouraged writers to create new plays in Arabic. Tom Stoppard, early in his career, was one of the writers she commissioned, his work duly translated into Arabic. As a newsreader she helped to develop a standard “BBC Arabic”, which could be readily understood from Iraq to Morocco.
After the Gulf of Sidra incident in 1981, when the Americans shot down two Libyan aircraft, Leila Tannous was one of about 200 journalists summoned by Colonel Gaddafi to hear his protest. Most of them were soon dismissed; with five others, though, she was invited to stay behind and work for him. The request being tantamount to a command, she had to use all her diplomatic skills to extricate herself.
From the moment that she arrived in London, Leila Tannous loved the capital. Her home in Warwick Gardens, and from 1958 her flat in Drayton Gardens, became the hubs of her matriarchal empire and permanent centres of hospitality. A continuous stream of visitors stayed with her, some of them for months, others merely passing through. “Don’t come to meet me if you are not staying,” she would tell potential guests. These included not just her family, but intellectuals, academics, politicians, prime ministers, potentates and business leaders, from many parts of the Arab world.
In 1984 she was a founder member of the British Lebanese Association, which aims to encourage understanding between the people of Britain and Lebanon, and to forward cultural exchanges. Furthermore, in order to prevent Lebanese children in London from losing contact with their own culture, she set up, and for 25 years ran, the Saturday Arabic School, which embraced all ages, from three to 18. English pupils also attended.
The most important strands in Leila Tannous’s life, however, were always her homeland and her family, all the more so after the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975. In 1982, aged 63, she put herself in some danger in order to visit her family in Beirut. It was difficult enough even to get there: she had to wait two weeks in Cyprus for a plane in which to complete her journey. Having finally reached Beirut, she evinced no fear in sharing the perils of bombardment with her family.
Like the professional she was, she did not fail to send live reports to the BBC. Then, in order to return to Cyprus, she hid for several days in the hold of a fishing vessel.
Leila Tannous’s energy remained undimmed to the end. Her husband died in 2002. They had two sons.
Leila Tannous, born June 1 c. 1919, died February 14 2013


Your editorial (In praise of… the village green, 14 May) is spot-on, but comes too late for many. On 25 April the Growth and Infrastructure Act won royal assent and the guillotine fell on any new applications for greens which are earmarked for planning – which may include the Southbank Centre’s undercroft. The measure is a nasty piece of government forelock-tugging to developers, with little evidence that greens stop development. Now English communities must get in their applications for greens before the land is threatened or it is too late.
Kate Ashbrook
General secretary, Open Spaces Society
•  Double, triple, quadruple negatives (Letters, 13 May)? Never mind the number, the linguistic form has rarely been used as eloquently as by Ian Dury in his 1977 song Clever Trevor: “Just cos I ain’t never said no nothing worth saying, never ever … Things ‘ave got read into what I never said, ’til me mouth becomes me ‘ead which ain’t not all that clever.”
Jeremy Miles
Bournemouth, Dorset
• I see that as a condition of his early release, Chris Huhne will have to wear an electronic tag (Report, 14 May). Is this one of the so-called “chav navs” I’ve been reading about, which tracks the offender’s movements in real time? If so, we should be able to monitor the former minister’s progress on the motorway.
Phil Woodford
Twickenham, Middlesex
• In the photograph accompanying Hugh Muir’s article (G2, 13 May), would the (unnamed) woman sitting with Cornel West, Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby be the redoubtable Angela Davis, by any chance?
Pauline Cole
• Murders always seem to happen in “close-knit communities” (Letters, 14 May). Are there no loose-knit communities, or is it that people forming such a community could never be arsed to murder anyone anyway?
Dr Paul Cassidy
Emley, West Yorkshire
• And now you report that a “team of armed officers swooped” on a “luxury villa in Spain” (British fugitive caught by armed police in Spain, 13 May).
Mick Morgan
Tharston, Norfolk

Your report on the latest spat within the Conservative party over the EU referendum (Cabinet crisis for Cameron as ministers break ranks over EU, 13 May) raises an interesting question about what the Tories’ real agenda is. Big business and the City, the latter now largely owned by US investment banks which view the UK as an important bridgehead into Europe, clearly want to retain access to the single market – but without the employment, health and safety and welfare protections negotiated by the labour movement. This suggests that much of the Tory dissension is disingenuous posturing, designed to negotiate repatriation of powers in these areas and take the sting out of the Ukip threat, or represents “Little Englander” attempts to replace control of our economy by international monopoly capital with that of British monopoly capital, wedded to a continuation of austerity and deepening inequality.
But this shouldn’t obscure the progressive argument for leaving the EU. The EU stability and growth pact outlaws Keynesian-style reflationary policies. Competition policy prevents state aid to strategic industries. The EU services directive forces privatisation of what remains of the public sector. And European court of justice rulings undermine collective bargaining and wage levels. Social Europe is a con. The left needs to make the case for an alternative, progressive future outside the EU – where we have the right to self-determination, can rebalance the economy away from finance towards manufacturing and can construct a society on democratic, socialist terms.
Chris Guiton
Crowborough, East Sussex
•  I wonder if Messrs [(sorry, French word) Gove, Hammond et al [(that’s better, Latin) have considered the possible effects on the “British” motor industry of a withdrawal from the EU by UK plc.
In France, Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën have declining home sales and therefore overcapacity, and are closing lines and currently shedding many jobs; Citroen’s Rennes plant ceased production earlier this year. Since 1999, Renault has had a 44% share in Nissan and already assembles its vans in France. According to the Renault CEO, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is “beginning to bear fruit” and the French press reported a couple of weeks ago that, from 2016, the Renault plant at Flins, outside Paris, would use spare capacity to build the next generation of Nissan Micra cars. The current model is produced in India and the one before that in … Sunderland.
The Conservative party plans a referendum on leaving the EU – should they win the election – sometime after 2015. What might strategists at Nissan and the other Japanese carmakers who have their European operations based in the UK be thinking about that?
Adrian Lloyd Hughes
Welshpool, Powys
•  There has always been a whiff of de haut en bas elitism around those who are happy to allow a referendum to settle the constitutional relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK but who oppose a referendum to settle the constitutional relationship between the UK and the EU. Polly Toynbee’s article (Labour must stand firm: no to a referendum on Europe, 10 May) rather proves the point.
It was Labour that gave the British people the first UK-wide referendum on EEC membership after the Tories had voted to take Britain in without a referendum (just as it was the Tories who took us into the EU without a referendum). Since then there have been nine further national and regional referendums, eight on devolution issues and one on the alternative vote (AV), and there have been dozens of local referendums on local governance issues (elected mayors etc). With the exception of the AV referendum, which was part of the coalition agreement, all of those referendums have been initiated by Labour governments.
Labour has a proud tradition of consulting the people on constitutional issues and it beggars belief that it will allow candidates to go into the next election opposing a referendum on the most important constitutional issue of all. Apart from anything else, it is surely in Labour’s interest to fight the next election on the issues that really matter to people like jobs, housing, healthcare and welfare rather than get bogged down on the European issue.
Richard Cotton
•  The current political squabble about the UK’s membership of the EU is being conducted with far too narrow a focus on economic costs and benefits. The European project was initiated after the second world war to try to ensure that no more land wars would devastate our lives and communities. The period since 1945 has seen the longest interval without military conflict between France and Germany since the mid-1630s. Given that the UK found itself unable to keep out of most European land wars between 1635 and 1945, it would be a serious mistake to discount the consequences of narrow nationalism, especially when combined with hostility towards those deemed “foreign”. Figures on the Guardian website suggest that EU membership, on average, costs UK citizens about £150 per year, of which about half comes back into the UK economy. Even if it cost us each £1,000 per year, in exchange for long-term security in a war-free zone, it would be a bargain. Increasing trade without pooling sovereignty cannot guarantee peace.
Erik Millstone
• I was shocked to read of yet another European intrusion into our lives (What does the Queen’s speech mean for me?, Money, 11 May). The EU consumer rights directive is going to force hard-working British businessmen to give consumers yet more rights! This is precisely the kind of constraint on commercial activity that Ukip promises to free us from. Might I suggest that you have a symbol printed at the top of every article where such meddling is featured, to highlight how much the EU is interfering in our liberties?
Stephen McNair
Coltishall, Norfolk
•  Why a referendum on the EU, but not on reform of the the NHS, privatisation of Royal Mail, or much else that is just as influential on everyday life? When there are many such issues where public opinion is hazy, ill-informed and overemotional, why is it only the one which has the favour of the political right that get pushed by press hysteria into being the subject of a referendum?
Matthew Huntbach
•  I always understood that in this so-called parliamentary democracy no parliament could pass legislation binding its successor, so what is this bill promising a referendum in 2017 all about?
Roland White
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Macmillan Cancer Support welcomes the government’s announcement that it will implement plans to improve co-ordination between health and social care (Plans unveiled for ‘joined-up’ health and social care, 14 May). People with cancer and their carers are often being let down by the current system, particularly at the end of life. Although the vast majority of people with cancer want to die at home surrounded by their loved ones, most will die in hospital simply because joined-up care services are not available in their local communities.
The current process for accessing state-funded social care is complicated, lengthy and frequently operates separately from the healthcare system. Too often this leads to delays which stop people being able to receive the care they desperately need to die in the place of their choice. Integration between health and social care services would help make it easier for people to access social care at the end of life, allowing more people to get the support they need to die at home.
But the benefits of integration will not be fully realised so long as people are still unable to access social care because of the complex system of means-testing. That’s why the government must introduce, before the end of this parliament, free social care for people in the last weeks of life to help more people to die at home if they so wish.
Gus Baldwin
Macmillan Cancer Support
• Further to the Royal College of GPs report about the mental health of carers (Carers should be monitored for mental health problems, warn doctors, 11 May), how many carers suffer bouts of anorexia and bulimia? If a teenager or young person in their 20s suffers from anorexia or bulimia, a relative or friend soon becomes aware of it and becomes alarmed; if a middle-aged carer suffers a bout of either or both it’s odds-on nobody will notice, particularly the carer herself (or himself).
When, during caring, I suffered such bouts, I was not aware of it until one day, accidentally, I saw a reflection of myself in a shop window and was shocked to see that my legs were like sticks. Fortunately, I managed to shake myself out of it. I know I used to have thoughts of suicide, but did nothing about it because I knew that if I was gone there would be no one to take over the care of my loved ones. Could anorexia in a carer longing for peace be a way of committing suicide subconsciously?
Caring for loved ones can cause at least three problems: mental health through fatigue and stress, physical problems such as back problems caused by heavy lifting of elderly relatives or a disabled child, financial problems caused by giving up one’s employment because caring becomes a 24/7 job.
Barbara MacArthur
• All credit to the Royal College of GPs for raising the issue of carer stress. But the coverage was largely focused on the call for family carers to be screened for depression. Is this not the medicalisation of an essentially social problem? Surely a more obvious solution would be for carers to be given more breaks from caring. The investment should be in social care, not a screening programme.
Professor Jonathan Scourfield
Cardiff University

The conference to which Stephen Hawking was invited, along with Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and hundreds of others, is not an academic meeting and his decision to decline the invitation does not constitute an academic boycott of Israel (Chomsky told Hawking to boycott conference in Israel, activists reveal, 11 May). A scientist of Hawking’s eminence will certainly know that the international code that governs the conduct of all scientists requires them to refrain from discrimination “based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age” (statute 5 of the International Council for Science). This professional code forbids academic boycotts on grounds of nationality.
Michael Yudkin
Denis Noble
• I suggest that a boycott by UK academics of an official meeting in Israel be avoided. It would only worsen the isolation of the Israeli government, which already borders on insanity. Instead, a meeting should be arranged in Israel of UK academics opposed to Israel’s policies, inviting similarly thinking Israeli and Arab academics. A resolution could then be drawn up and published, suggesting alternative policies.
Dr Robert Dourmashkin
• You comment (Business analysis, 8 May) that the drop in G4S profit level to 6.5% is “the worst outcome since 2006 and has arrived out of the blue”. Might not part of the explanation be, as the Financial Times recently noted, that G4S is the subject of increasing levels of protest, divestment activity and “reputational damage” across Europe and the Middle East as a result of its continuing involvement in the security apparatus of Israel’s illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank?
Michael French

Thirty years ago I asked a teenage friend what she was going to do when she grew up. “I want to be a manager,” she replied. “But in which field?” I naively inquired. She answered that managers didn’t need any specialist knowledge of trades or professions. Today Serco holds its AGM. Doctors, prison officers, social workers and anyone working alongside/despite Serco must wonder how all this came about (Private jail ‘has most restricted regime seen’, 14 May). We are sleepwalking into letting private companies make profits and run our services with little regard for the real experts and with cost as their main concern. Shamefully Serco also co-manages our nuclear weapons factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, a frightening thought given Serco’s record in running out-of-hours doctors’ services. We should give our public services back to the experts and fund the NHS with the cancellation of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme.
Ailsa Johnson
Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign

The 47-year-old indebted and dispossessed Spanish woman whom Katherine Ainger describes as setting herself alight on the premises of her bank hadn’t even been born when George Orwell recorded his experience of an economically depressed and war-torn Spain in 1936-37 (Spain has become an indignation nation, 3 May). And yet the dire economic circumstances that forced this poor woman to harm herself in this way seem alarmingly similar to those in the late 1930s when Orwell was there to fight in the Spanish civil war.
History repeating itself? If so it is history we are yet to learn from.
Orwell was correct in his analysis of what that war was all about in his autobiographical Homage to Catalonia: “In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real issue; all else was froth on its surface.”
It is clear from Ainger’s account that the parallel between the Spanish economic and wider social tragedy now without civil war, and that country during the Great Depression of those years with one, is depressingly strong, at least in terms of the economic hardship being experienced by the populace and the class tension involved.
Let’s hope this time round the forces of reason, compassion and fairness can unite properly to defeat the forces of darkness on a durable basis – in Spain – and in the rest of the world. Orwell published the book in 1938. But we can all benefit from a look at it for what it can tell us about Spain – and the world – in our present dire and dangerous circumstances.
Terry Hewton
Adelaide, South Australia
Chomsky was redemptive
When one has an insufficient grasp of the facts and is embarrassingly ignorant of the breadth of Chomsky’s writings, why is it journalists like Aida Edemariam resort to shallow ad hominem comments (A life built on protest, 3 May)?
Too much of the article is taken up with Edemariam’s petty personality and deprives the reader of the numerous profound insights Chomsky invariably offers to his audience to assist them in critically challenging conventional, elite-serving beliefs.
Heaven forbid Edemariam actually provide Chomsky, free from ridicule, an opportunity to develop a case for significant dissenting opposition to the various doctrines of powerful elites and their servants. To paraphrase Chomsky’s coda: Unless the journalist of privilege who serves the powerful is capable of learning to respect the dignity of their less privileged readership, impassable barriers will remain along with the dangers of unexamined, unregulated monopoly power. In the face of violence and bitter suffering, the right reaction is not passive acquiescence.
Dan Maitland
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
• The Guardian has redeemed its many lacklustre weekly editions with this excellent review of Noam Chomsky. Thank you.
Bohdan Zaputovich
Toronto, Canada
The panacea of growth
The G8 seems to be taking a relaxed view of the need for increased aid allocations to eradicate global poverty and hunger on the basis that economic growth in key countries and regions is on the right track (Why G8 must tackle inequality, 3 May).
It is frequently pointed out that achieving economic growth through consumption of natural resources is an unsustainable strategy in a situation of finite supply. And yet we maintain the myth. China’s phenomenal growth rate is fuelled by burning coal at a time when we know that the planet must make a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 just to contain global temperature rise to within 2C. Insistence on striving for economic growth as a panacea is the road to perdition.
Apart from the glaringly clear requirements to control population, reduce fossil fuel burning, eliminate corruption and put an end to land-grabbing, there is a desperate need to focus on achieving sustainable intensification of global food crop production. Improved technology allowed us to double our food production over the last 50 years, but what we now need (as the outgoing chief scientific adviser to the UK government, John Beddington, put it) is a greener revolution.
Technology will continue to play a large part in this revolution as we apply crop production practices that protect our natural capital (especially our soils and water) through less damaging cultivation and improve ecosystem services, while reaping the improved crop yields available from a rehabilitated environment.
And, yes, genetic engineering will play a part as we modify crops to adapt to a changed world climate.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK
• Economic growth has mostly benefited the richest 10% in sub-Saharan Africa, you say. Also in the UK the richest 10% benefit from a disproportional share of wealth.
Adrian Betham
London, UK
The meaning of marriage
Graham Andrews (Reply, 3 May) misses the point of the so-called gay marriage campaign, misled by the phrase “gay marriage” itself. What gay people are seeking is not a word to describe their relationships but rather the ability to share the same right to marry as straight people.
Continuing the long history of this ever-changing, ever-adapting civil contract, the rights of gays to marry would require the most minor of adjustments to its definition, replacing the words “between a man and a woman” with the words “between two persons”.
Marriage has already lost – if it ever had – what Andrews calls the “main function of the production of [children]” as many couples do not or cannot have children for reasons of choice, age or inability, and, so far as I know, the intention to have children is not among the criteria required of straight people seeking to get married. Even a loving relationship has not been consistently present among the criteria for marriage.
One can only hold Andrews’s position on equal marriage if one clings, against all the evidence, to a hopelessly romantic view of the history and current practice of marriage.
Peter Roberts
Huddersfield, UK
• I agree with Graham Andrews, when he says “marriage” means “committed, long-term, loving relationships between people of the opposite sex. Its main function is the production and nurturing of the next generation”). So, let’s get it all cleared up: people who are past child-bearing age or are unable to have children should not be allowed to get married. Let them get their own word for official commitment to each other; “oldies union” or “barren union”? People who were born one sex but are now transgender should also find their own term, perhaps “nearly-opposite sex union”? Marriage isn’t just about two people in a committed, loving relationship, you know!
Anna Hare
Cardiff, UK
• Graham Andrews is certainly not alone in objecting to the change of meaning of “marriage” and he puts the issue clearly. It is misuse that endangers English, not the incorporation of foreign words (26 April). We should strive to make language totally comprehensible, not muddy the water with infinite variation in meaning.
Peter Copestake
Colne, UK
• Surely, if, as Andrews mentions, “gay” meant something else when he was growing up, then the word “marriage” can change its meaning in the next decades to mean a union between loving people, irrespective of their sex.
The meaning of words is not fixed in stone, and many change over the years. “Let” is just one example. In Shakespeare’s time it meant “hinder” or “impede”, the complete opposite of what it means today.

Peter Pamment
Las Palmas, Spain
Simon Jenkins (3 May) could also have pointed out that putting money into the hands of ordinary people is more likely to stimulate growth than letting the rich to accumulate it. A thousand dollars deducted from a rich man’s taxes will probably be invested in a way far removed from supplying capital for new industrial capacity or housing, especially in a flat economy. The same sum, distributed among a hundred poor families, would certainly enter the general economy. Policies to reduce inequality should be good for economic growth in present circumstances as well as having their well-documented beneficial effect on health.
Edmund Dunstan
Birmingham, UK
• John Pilger’s Australia’s boom won’t help all its people (3 May) should also remind us all of the bad treatment of aboriginal people by Canadians. The glaring parallels between Canada and Australia’s humiliation of their native inhabitants must for ever be noted and remembered, including one of the most shocking parallels of all – the continued and increasing rates of suicide among aboriginal youth in both countries.
These suicide rates point with shame to the long-term effects of cultural bullying and, as Pilger says, of “profound despair”.
Richard Orlando
Montreal, Canada
• Any reasonable person would accept that it is immoral and inhumane for Russia and China to veto an attempt by the UN to investigate the claim that chemical weapons are being used in Syria (3 May).
Sadly, it just goes to show that to the major players in the world, their own interests take precedence over anything else.
In any case, why should one bow to America’s pressure? Its poor judgment in relation to the Middle East – including its invasion of Iraq and its failure to deliver much-promised hope to the Palestinians – makes one wonder if Washington really understands Syria any better.
Shmaiel Nona
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
• I was shocked and appalled to read of the shooting of Caroline Sparks by her five-year-old brother, (10 May). Would the NRA really have us believe that young children need rifles for self-defence?
Matthew Cattanach
Mullumbimby, NSW, Australia


I note that Michael Gove has some problems with sources and evidence in his chaotic attempts to meddle with our education system (“Guess where Michael Gove’s been getting his educational facts from”, 14 May); I discovered his tendency to bluster and obfuscate some years ago.
Just before the last election, at a fundraising dinner, I asked him a question regarding his evidence for the ability to teach being in any way related to the level of degree gained, following David Cameron’s announcement that those with lower-second degrees would be barred from receiving state funding to train as teachers. After five minutes of classical political evasion, and failing to answer the substance of the question, the audience were none the wiser.
A subsequent inquiry to his office resulted in a researcher sending me a document that I was told formed the basis of Mr Gove’s plans to improve our schools. I was slightly surprised to receive a report by McKinsey and Company; a company not noted for their educational expertise but whose alumni include William Hague, Howard Davies and many other political and business figures. More worryingly, “How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top” (2007) was co-authored by (now Sir) Michael Barber, educational adviser to a certain Tony Blair.
What have we done to deserve these people who are clearly “all in it together” in more convoluted ways than we can imagine?
Dr Clive Nuttman, Department of Zoology, Cambridge University
I think the Education Secretary’s recent remarks about wishing a child of his to read George Eliot’s Middle-march shows clearly how out of touch with reality he is.
I am a retired English teacher and have taught set texts (including Chaucer and Shakespeare) up to Advanced level for many years, and it is clear to me that Middlemarch would prove too difficult for most teenagers. First, the width of reference is a stumbling block: a glance through the first five chapters gave these: St Theresa, Peel on the Catholic question, Bossuet, Milton’s “affable archangel”, Southey, Chloe and Strephon, Pascal, Loudon and others. Most of these would be lost to many adult readers.
The erudite language used would bewilder many young readers: promiscuous (meaning wide), labyrinthine, neophyte, nullifidian and pilulous can be found in the opening chapters.
Finally, the concept of her main character (Dorothea) embodying the idealism of St Theresa would prove difficult for younger readers to grasp.
Yes, it is a wonderful novel but it is not to be recommended as enjoyable reading for teenagers generally,
Dane Young, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
So teenagers believe Delia Smith was one of Henry VIII’s wives? Have the pollsters – or Mr Gove, for that matter– never encountered  adolescent irony?
Jen Parry, Didcot, Oxfordshire
Europhobes love a country that doesn’t exist
First Ukip and now an EU in/out referendum. When will Little Englanders realise that Little England doesn’t exist?
Harrods and Canary Wharf are Qatari; the London Stock Exchange is American;  Rolls Royce is German; Thames Water is Australian; Chelsea FC is Russian; and the Church of England will soon be run from Nigeria, judging by the last Lambeth Conference. I could go on.
The point is that the independent nation state is dead. “Britishness” is a feeling, not an economic or political reality. We are all supra-national now, and it really is about time we started embracing it a bit more positively.
Bob Gilmurray, Ely, Cambridgeshire
Has the Tory party gone collectively mad or does it just have a death wish to lose the next election? Most people I know are not concerned with EU membership but with unemployment, job insecurity and job prospects for students with large debts, and care of the very elderly and infirm.
I think the euro needs reforming, but if we leave the EU, we shall have no input into EU decisions, at the same time as having to abide by EU rules in many respects, as do Norway and Switzerland. More significantly, America has signalled they wish us to remain EU members to facilitate their relations with Europe. 
Valerie Crews, Beckenham, Kent
The rise of “fortress Britain” via Ukip and the backbenches of the Tory party demands a vigorous challenge based on facts that resonate widely with the experience and understanding of voters. Thus far, this challenge is conspicuous by its absence, while the European naysayers continue a barrage which is more propaganda than fact. 
Almost three quarters of a century without a major European war is a signal achievement of the European Union which we forget at our peril. In a complex world, threats of all kinds – including economic threats – cannot be addressed in isolation. Isolation breeds ignorance, paranoia  and ultimate decline, with all manner of hardship and conflict along the way.
Ukip and those who pander to it would set us on a course where the strength, vibrancy and security of a diverse, outward-looking society would slowly but surely be lost. “Johnny foreigner” would be back, to be avoided, excluded and feared by the isolated people of Britain. Ukip’s agenda is a xenophobes’ charter.
Paula Jones, London SW20
Let us imagine that a UK Parliament conducts a referendum on EU membership. Let us imagine that the vote is “Out” and that after several years of tricky negotiation (which will cost a lot of government time and money) we leave.
When the UK continues to roll down the post-empire hill and does not bounce back to the 1930s, who will they blame then?
Simon Allen, London NW2
Music can have  a morality
It seems rather odd to argue, as does Dominic Lawson (14 May), that music is never intrinsically moral, either in intent or effect. It’s even odder to cite performances of Beethoven in support of that argument.
That composer was intensely idealistic, and his instrumental music often conveys a moral intent – the third and ninth symphonies and the fifteenth string quartet explicitly so (it’s strange indeed of Lawson to cite the ninth symphony, with its setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, as evidence for his argument).
As for opera, the whole of Fidelio is a matchless paean to freedom and marital fidelity. And what better conveys the essence of evil intent than Iago’s credo in Verdi’s Otello? 
Max Gauna, Sheffield
I think that Dominic Lawson fails to take account of the fact that opera consists of words as well as music, and it is as possible for an opera to be anti-Semitic as it is for a play or a novel, and in a way that a piece of instrumental music cannot be.
Paul Lawrence Rose argued in his book Wagner: Race and Revolution that Wagner’s mature operas, including Tristan und Isolde, had an anti-Semitic message; this view, of course, is controversial, but his book represents a challenge to everyone who loves Wagner’s music.
John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire
Ancient women on the seashore
You report that academics are gathering to discuss the possibility of an aquatics ancestry for humans.
Inspired by the works of Sir Alistair Hardy and as a response to Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, Elaine Morgan wrote The Descent of Woman in 1972, which was a well-researched and reasoned thesis in favour of an aquatic origin for humans.
In it she argues that the main driving force for human evolution was not the male-centred Tarzanist model but that females adapted to a littoral lifestyle and that male evolution responded accordingly. So reasonable were her arguments that I incorporated her ideas into my lectures on possible human origins to my students.
Patrick Cleary, Honiton, Devon
Why we tekkies dislike Windows
Frederick Stansfield (letter, 9 May) thinks that Windows “has symptoms of a product developed  with excessive influence from  ‘tekkies’ ”.
I agree with his points about usability testing. User interface designs should, of course, be exhaustively tested before being put before users.  Any “tekkie” like me will tell you that. However, I don’t know why he would think that greater input from marketing would help. 
The problem is that user interfaces, and Windows user interfaces in particular, are developed not by “tekkies”, but by graphic designers and the very marketing department he thinks would do a better job. Windows has always been more about marketing than good technology, which is why, as an operating system and from a technical point of view, it is so badly structured and insecure.
Tekkies avoid Windows like the plague, given the choice.
Peter Bradley, Cardiff
No cash to spare for the cathedral
Before anyone jumps in with a comment about the supposed “riches” of the Church of England and the problems of financing repairs to Canterbury Cathedral, can I make three observations?
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris: maintenance funded, as with every other cathedral and parish church in France, by the (supposedly secular) French State. Cologne Cathedral: maintenance funded by the German taxpayer through the Church Tax. Canterbury Cathedral, and every other cathedral and parish church in England: maintenance funded by vigorous and arduous fund-raising, mostly by unpaid but enthusiastic volunteers.
John Williams, Chichester
Stay out of jail
I very much look forward to reading Vicky Pryce’s “hard-hitting” book on the costs of keeping women in prison. Of course one way of reducing these costs is for women not to be convicted of perverting the course of justice. Or am I being too simplistic?
William Roberts, Bristol
New country
Derek Chapman (letter, 14 May) asks what the remainder of the UK will be known as if Scotland leaves the fold. Any advance on Ruritania (offshore)?
John Wess, Malvern, Worcestershire


Even though it would only be used in the worst kind of emergency, there are still drawbacks to employing water cannon in crowd control
Sir, So the Metropolitan Police has asked the Home Office to authorise it to purchase water cannon from Germany. In 1981, after serious riots in many English cities, the Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, instructed the Home Office, working with the Police Service, to review whether water cannon should be deployed in future. Then as now, types of water cannon were available in Northern Ireland, and were manufactured and deployed in Germany. The review found that circumstances in those two jurisdictions differed markedly from those in England and Wales. In the review two prototype water cannon designed to police specifications in light of operational lessons learnt from the riots were therefore built, tested and evaluated in England.
The full results of this exhaustive process were announced on March 18, 1987, in a written answer by Douglas Hogg, MP, a Home Office minister at the time. Insuperable operational drawbacks had been found. Notwithstanding a commitment by Mr Hogg that “the Department will, however, continue to monitor developments”, those drawbacks appear to remain today.
The force of the water that may be required to disperse violent groups can be lethal. For example, people knocked off their feet by it in public spaces may be hit against lamp-posts. But using water simply to drench people may be ineffective.
The vehicles must be large if they are to carry sufficient water for sustained deployment. But such vehicles could not navigate narrow urban streets. Again, the vehicles may themselves be the target of rioters. Fire — from Molotov cocktails — was widely used by the rioters in 1981. The vehicles might therefore need to be guarded by teams of police officers. The speed of travel of the water cannon could thus be dictated by the pace of those officers — who might have to walk.
One of the prototype water cannon was fitted with external sprinklers intended to extinguish fire on the machine. But their use could deplete the water carried by the vehicle, thereby compromising its operational purpose.
If the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police cannot demonstrate to the Home Secretary how these drawbacks have now been overcome, we must hope that the latter looks to more effective measures to prevent public disorder.
Peter Honour
Secretary, The Working Group on Protective Clothing and Equipment for the Police 1981
Sutton, Surrey
Sir, As your article (May 13) rightly states, the Metropolitan Police Service made it clear more than 15 months ago that we could see a role for water cannon to protect Londoners if we were to experience the most extreme disorder and violence. Four Days in August — our report examining the disorder of 2011 — showed us that we needed to better protect the public from such events, and this was one of a range of tactics that could be used. Only the Home Office can authorise the use of water cannon, and since last year we have been in discussion with it about the issue. In recent weeks MPS officers have trained with colleagues from the Police Service of Northern Ireland — the only UK force permitted to use water cannon — before joining them in policing the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland later this year.
I would not want Londoners to be left with the impression that we are doing this because we are planning for exceptional disorder this summer, because that is not the case.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley
New Scotland Yard

‘To be running riot with a wooden sword in my hand and learning at the same time in my first week was heaven!’
Sir, Perhaps Michael Gove would like to read an excerpt from a thank-you letter from one of my GCSE leavers last year: “To be running riot with a wooden sword in my hand and learning at the same time in my first week was heaven!”. We were fighting the Battle of Hastings on the school stairs.
King John and Magna Carta are (let’s face it) rather boring for 11-year-olds. However, if you preface it with Disney’s interpretation of John, you then have the goodwill of the pupils to look at other interpretations from the Middle Ages and the 19th century and real and thoughtful learning can take place.
The riotous student gained an A* at GCSE and her leaving present to me was a Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee copy of Punch as a souvenir of our year spent studying Britain 1815-51. I am happy knowing that not only did I gain her the highest grade but gave her a lifelong love of my subject.
Deborah Mansour
Ince Blundell, Merseyside
Sir, As the parent of a son at risk of drowning in trash literature, lightweight films and frothy video games, I believe there is a good case for teaching parents to manage the intellectual diet of their offspring. In the midst of an obesity epidemic, surely we should exert ourselves equally to avoid raising a generation of fatheads?
Rabbi Zvi Solomons
Reading, Berks
Sir, I was interested to read Frank Danes’s opinion (letter, May 14) that his teenage pupils would be “bored and mystified” by Middlemarch, hooked as they are on “such modern twaddle as Twilight” — if, as he says, they read at all.
Does he not see trying to expand his pupils’ (seemingly rather limited) literary horizons as part of his remit as Head of English at King’s Ely Senior School? And I wonder if his students agree with his unflattering assessment of their rather dull intellectual and imaginative abilities.
Emily Fergus
London SW10

The Post Office network is at its most stable for 25 years, with more than 11,500 branches across the UK and that should not change
Sir, These are challenging times for all retailers, but the National Federation of SubPostmasters’ suggestion that “mass closures” could be on the way in the Post Office network is misleading (“Post Office network faces ‘mass closures’ as costs soar”, May 11) The Post Office network is at its most stable for 25 years, with more than 11,500 branches across the UK. The Post Office is committed to maintaining this size of network and the unique nationwide accessibility it offers. While we are under no illusions about the challenges faced by some subpostmasters, the prospects for the network are encouraging.
We are working hard to support subpostmasters in the current climate. We know how hard they work to support customers and communities. Talking down their own prospects can serve only to damage public confidence in a business which has good cause to be positive about the future.
Kevin Gilliland
Network and Sales Director, Post Office

While there is much social good that can come out of US evangelicalism, the facts must be reported accurately
Sir, I welcome Tim Montgomerie’s Opinion article (May 13) that helpfully shows that evangelicalism in the US is indeed a force for much social good.
He cites Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, as advocating the legalisation of same-sex marriage while personally seeing the practice of homosexuality as a sin. However, Dr Keller has made clear that in his comments to the Huffington Post he was reporting what some pastors advocate but that he is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Kenneth Brownell
Minister, East London Tabernacle Baptist Church, London E3

There are perhaps some words that have become overused in contemporary language, and ‘iconic’ has been nominated as one of them
Sir, I have recently seen the following referred to as “iconic”: Harris Tweed, the Bradford Odeon, Mrs Thatcher, H&M clothes, The Rite of Spring, the roof of the Sage concert hall in Gateshead, Fawlty Towers, Top of the Pops, Amy Winehouse, and the front door of Paul McCartney’s childhood home. What does the word mean?
Ken Smith
by email


SIR – There is concern in my own and neighbouring cricket leagues about declining participation among the young. This year, out of 14 clubs in the league, half are unable to field an under-13 team.
I believe the game’s biggest opponent is football. Junior football clubs are increasingly run as round-the-year operations, maintaining training throughout the summer and regularly organising tournaments. It has replaced cricket as the summer game for the athletic, ball-playing youngster.
Football receives massive television and media coverage. Unless cricket’s niche in the sporting life of this country is given active priority in its all too brief season, then I see very little chance of it surviving.
Gordon Whitehead
Oldham, Lancashire

SIR – Boris Johnson’s EU in/out shopping list (Comment, May 13) fails to address a fundamental issue voters have with the present EU set up – the democratic deficit.
A great proportion of our legislation originates in Brussels and is rubber stamped at Westminster. We can change the colour of our government at a general election, but it doesn’t matter, as ultimately we are governed by the EU, which is deeply undemocratic. And based on its failure to get its accounts past the auditors, also corrupt or incompetent. The question is: “Do we want to have our lives organised by this unaccountable monster?”
Getting out of the EU might, at last, make it possible for the electorate to influence the way it is governed. This issue underlies the growth of EU scepticism in Britain.
Dr A E Hanwell
SIR – Boris Johnson says that British workers are lazy. Perhaps he would like to tell that to the staff of the large processing plant where I work, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of the staff are casuals, desperate for work, on
Related Articles
Cricket needs to be given priority in sporting life
14 May 2013
short-term contracts and earning little more than the minimum wage.
Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – This country’s workers are supposedly plagued by sloth, and do not perform well when compared with our foreign rivals. Which foreign rivals might these be? Greece, France, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, or, perhaps, Portugal?
Robin Peters
Bath, Somerset
SIR – As a business manager and owner, I have found that most employees work long and hard. However, a raft of EU legislation protects the slothful minority who can and do use employment protection such as unfair dismissal, sex discrimination or race discrimination as barriers against being disciplined or sacked.
Employers have to spend too much time dealing with this, rather than growing their businesses. Most of our overseas competitors do not have this to contend with.
Jonathan Carr
Baschurch, Shropshire
SIR – If we exited from the EU we would no longer have to pay for the EU budget, but we would not receive any subsidies.
Most Britons seem unaware of the benefits of being a member state. We need to know about these before we can make an informed decision.
Fran Foxon
Upminster, Essex
SIR – Yesterday, my friend visited Bath and promised to bring me back a Bath bun. At the bakery counter of a city-centre supermarket, she was told: “We don’t do Bath buns”, and was offered Belgian buns instead. Is this another EU directive?
Derek Gregory
Castle Cary, Somerset
Outdated aristocracy
SIR – How can the families that carry Britain’s hereditary titles expect to be taken seriously in their pleas for gender equality (Letters, May 13)?
The very existence of hereditary titles is an insult to any concept of equality, and abolition would be a far more acceptable campaign for most of the people of this country.
Clive Pilley
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
SIR – As an hereditary peer, with three sons and four daughters, perhaps it would only be fair, to my own and other families, to extinguish hereditary titles.
The Hon Patrick Fisher
Thetford, Norfolk
SIR – While I understand the desire to address the implied unfairness with the current laws of succession, I wonder whether those who advocate a change have looked beyond the primary title itself.
Currently those who marry a titled man receive a courtesy title of lady, duchess, countess and the like. If the law is reformed, should men who marry titled women receive a similar courtesy title, such as sir, duke or earl? Should a future husband of the Queen be called King?
Currently the system is not fair, but it is simple. I can see it getting complicated if fairness is the primary objective.
Andrew Wickham
Pluckley, Kent
Newsroom with a view
SIR – BBC staff are growing resentful about guidelines of behaviour when they are likely to be on view during a news broadcast (report, May 8). ITV has also opted for presenting the news against the backdrop of the newsroom.
A message to both companies: we know where news bulletins are compiled, but have no wish to see all the untidy clutter of mainly unoccupied desks and monitors of all shapes and sizes. Just keep to a plain background and thereby enable the viewer to concentrate better on the subject being read, assisted by relevant visual reports.
Stephen Derek
Reading, Berkshire
Proud to be grey
SIR – Please, will someone tell me why grey hair is to be avoided (Letters, May 13)? Proverbs Chapter 16, Verse 31 tells us: “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life”.
Anne Osborne
Ringwood, Hampshire
Communal telephone
SIR – Our iconic red telephone boxes (Letters, May 10) were purchased by our parish council for £5 each. One houses the village defibrillator, the other contains leaflets helpful for walkers. Both are well maintained, and serve a useful purpose.
Paul Harrison
Terling, Essex
SIR – As I don’t have a mobile telephone, I am one of the few people that actually uses telephone boxes. Finding one that is in a decent state of repair is as rare as finding one that accepts coins.
Angela Elliott
Hundleby, Lincolnshire
SIR – It is not only rural telephone boxes that could do with a lick of paint; urban pillar boxes often look very drab. Royal Mail’s image would be greatly improved if the boxes were restored to their original bright red; it wouldn’t cost much either.
Kenneth Wood
Proms booking fiasco
SIR – Those of us fortunate enough to reach the end of the Proms online booking process (report, May 13) were met with an unpleasant surprise: a substantial booking fee (£15.20 in my case). According to the website this was to cover box-office costs.
Leaving aside the irony of being charged to use such a frustrating and time-consuming booking process, one might have thought that the costs of the box office were an essential part of running any theatre – just as much as paying the performers and maintaining the building.
It is a sad day when a great institution such as the Royal Albert Hall starts behaving like a budget airline.
Nigel Spencer Ley
SIR – For the third year running, I have tried to purchase proms tickets online. I got into the queue after three hours of waiting, only to be number 5,778. There has to be a better way than this.
Gill Williams
Hampton, Middlesex
SIR – I must put forward an opposing view of the Proms booking process. At 10.35am I attempted to retrieve my Proms planner on the Royal Albert Hall website and initially got a message that the “waiting room” was full. At 10.45am I was able to join the queue at number 7,668, and by midday, I was able to log on, retrieve my planner and purchase my tickets.
As the website advised, I used a computer with a continuous connection. During that time, I did some ironing and shortened a pair of trousers, while keeping an eye on the rapidly diminishing size of the online booking queue.
Karen Mayhew
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Reading matters
SIR – I read with interest Isabel Hardman’s article (Comment, May 11) on the Education Secretary’s decision to meddle in children’s reading choices.
Our daughter, Kate, went from reading Asterix and Garfield in strip cartoon format when she was 12, to Stephen King novels. Later, at boarding school, her headmistress commented on the fact that Kate was always reading. “But look what she reads,” I said. “It’s not what she reads, but the fact that she reads so much”, was the response.
She soon ploughed her way through the BBC’s 100 best reads, obtained a distinction in an MSc and is now a very successful geologist.
Carol Parkin
Poole, Dorset
Closing even more A&E beds is not the answer
SIR – It is difficult to follow the logic of David Prior, head of the NHS Care Quality Commission, when he says: “If we don’t start closing acute beds, the system is going to fall over” (report, May 9).
The NHS has been closing beds every year since its inception in 1948, when it inherited 11 beds per thousand of the population. This figure has now fallen to 2.6. In comparison, France has six beds per thousand and Germany has eight.
General and acute hospital bed occupancy rates have averaged 85 per cent, despite the National Audit Office Report recommendation that maximum bed occupancy should not exceed 82 per cent.
Such high occupancy rates not only prevent thorough cleaning but also lead to demoralisation of staff due to the intense pressure of “assembly-line” work.
The loss of increasing numbers of accident and emergency departments is of particular concern as this is depriving many newly qualified doctors of a vital part of their clinical training in acute medicine and surgery. This will, in time, degrade the competence of doctors in all branches of the profession.
Dr Max Gammon
London SE16
SIR – My 91-year-old mother was admitted to hospital via the A&E department. She spent time waiting in the corridor on the trolley belonging to the ambulance crew who had taken her there. Five other admissions were in a similar situation.
Sheila Richardson
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire
SIR – Dr Sarah Wollaston (Comment, May 10) says that doctors will never do out-of-hours home visits. This is not necessary.
What is needed is a local surgery-based service, manned by a doctor or nurse, with access to patients’ medical records, every day until 2am. They could give advice, thus avoiding unnecessary visits to A&E.
Robert Johnson
Scothern, Lincolnshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – As one who has been on both sides on the divide, having once been suicidal and seen how suicide tears family apart, I was disturbed by reading Olivia Leary’s article (Opinion, May 14th) about a brave young man and a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to Donal Walsh and his family.
However, I think the reporting around this issue has served to further stigmatise suicide. It may have even possibly pushed those who are suicidal even further away from help. Let’s make it clear, feeling depressed or suicidal is not a choice. You cannot help it more than you can getting a cold or flu. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how well your life looks from the outside. In fact, the more people who tell you how much you should cherish your life, the worse you feel. Somebody implying in a national newspaper that you are “devaluing” life by feeling suicidal will certainly not help either.
I constantly fear my own battle being exposed as I live in a society that would judge me differently for it, as Olivia Leary’s article demonstrated. However it’s time those of us who have been suicidal in the past, and lived through it, spoke up.
If there is one piece of advice I could give to a relative, partner or friend who is worried about their loved one, it is this: tell them what your life would be like without them. My mother told me our family would fall apart. My parents would most likely get divorced after the strain of their loss. It would destroy my little sister, who I was told became too afraid to sleep in case something happened to me. This may sound like I was guilt-tripped into staying alive, and maybe I was. It was the truth though, I’ve seen suicide tear families apart. These words kept me going through my darkest days, if I couldn’t be alive for myself then I would stay alive for my family and friends until things got better.
This may not work for everyone, but imagining the hole I would leave in the world helped. No matter how much I believed it, their lives would not be better-off without me. From my own experience, I can empathise with the mindset of teenagers who have taken their own lives, but it breaks my heart.
If you have never been in that situation, it might be hard to imagine the sense of loneliness and utter desperation. It’s time we started talking about this as a nation, not admonishing people for feeling down or suicidal. We need to listen to them and not tell them what to feel. The road is tough but with the help of others they can find a path out of it.
This is how you truly cherish life, by acknowledging how horrible it can be, but also making whatever way you can in the world. – Yours, etc,
Brighton Square,

Sir, – I refer to a letter from AG Rogers (May 14th). The “rather strange ATM-style machine” the letter-writer saw at Dublin Airport is one of more than 250 Omnivend machines which we, a private company, have installed at high footfall retail hubs and other key locations across the country at no cost to the taxpayer.
Paying via Omnivend is the cheapest way for our growing clientele to pay their Local Property Tax (LPT) in instalments and in a way that suits individual budget or spending pattern. It is unfortunate that in this instance the author seems not to have been in a position to take the time to browse the many features offered in our multi-vend kiosks which also offer payment options for phone and toll tag top-ups, international calling cards and private refuse company yearly charges.
While Omnivend has been approved to take the payments by the Revenue Commissioners, we are not State-funded or commissioned by the Government. Many people have already begun to pay their LPT in instalments via our self-service kiosk and we anticipate this will continue to grow throughout the rest of the year. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Norman Henry’s letter (May 14th) is at best selective in what he says and in his interpretation of Adrian Oughton’s remarks at Synod.
Trinity College authorities may indeed be willing to accept “the Protestant young people who wish to train as primary teachers”, however this would not be as part of any Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE) course. CICE has engaged with Trinity and the outcome of these negotiations can be summarised in part of the statement from the Provost of Trinity and Archbishop of Dublin who said, “Despite the best efforts of both sides, agreement was not reached”.
Mr Henry should also note that the motion passed by the General Synod of the Church of Ireland only has an impact on the synod board of education and not CICE, as the college exists independently of the Church of Ireland and General Synod and its governors are not answerable to synod or the board of education or any review it will carry out.
There has been substantial work done by CICE in negotiating the next phase in the life of the college. In outlining this work to Synod it is clear that these negotiations have not been easy or taken lightly, and the current direction is being taken to preserve the ethos of CICE and provide for those Protestant young people who wish to train as primary teachers within the ethos of CICE. It would, I feel, be best for those who oppose the changes to place a little more trust in the authorities of CICE. – Yours, etc,
The Rectory,
Monaghan, Co Monaghan.

Sir, – There are only seven months to go before the first of the employees born in 1949 will have to retire from their employment and face into a year of signing on the dole.
As things stand after the last budget, these people will be forced into claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance until they reach their 66th birthday as the transition pension is being discontinued from December 2013.This will represent a drop of €42 per week.
I feel this is grossly unfair to people who paid income tax and PRSI all their lives, with the expectation of a pension at retirement age.
This ill-thought-out decision gives no consideration to the short timeline for these retirees (myself included) to sort themselves out financially.
I would urge all forty-niners to lobby their politicians and county councillors in this regard, reminding them that if there isn’t a rethink on this decision, the consequences will be felt when the European and county council elections come around in 2014. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – The Seanad, as it stands, is broken. It is undemocratic, hamstrung and irrelevant to the majority of voters. However, when things are broken, it’s usually best to try fix them first before you bin them – especially in these tight times.
The proposals put forward by Senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone (Home News, May 13th) show that there is a real alternative to abolishing the Seanad. Their proposals, in one fell swoop, would allow everyone a vote in Seanad elections and a greater place for women in Irish politics, among other positive reforms.
As the referendum on Seanad abolition comes into the focus, I hope the debate will consider not just how the Seanad has failed in many regards, but also the potential a reformed Seanad offers our democracy. – Yours, etc,
Custom House Square,

Irish Independent:

• I was delighted to read about the Government’s intention to develop a Celtic Tiger memorial theme park, to be known as Chancer’s World (‘The Irish Fantasist’, April 32).
Also in this section
Bruton had his shot at politics
Church’s weapon is a blunt one
Protect partners who are pregnant
The centrepiece will be ‘The Bertie Ride to Oblivion’, the world’s longest rollercoaster.
A large bouncy castle, ‘The Seanad’, will enliven those who have difficulty finding a productive outlet for their lives, other than jumping up and down. Here the judiciary can recover from their Shattered hopes of endless idle days.
A terrifying experience will be offered by the Priory House of Horrors. You will be taken into a world where health and safety inhibitions are out the window; though it might cost you an arm and a leg.
The Squanderer will offer an imaginative adventure through a series of bank loans and mortgages where you will experience the thrill of saying goodbye to your life’s savings.
The Developer, sponsored by the DBA (Dodgy Builders’ Association), will send you hurtling through a collection of unfinished properties, incorporating a water feature created by the imaginative use of faulty plumbing.
The Ciara Cake, sponsored by Sean Quinn, will be the largest wedding cake ever baked. Participants in this attraction will be taken on a miniature railway through this obscenely large confection and allowed to eat as much as they wish as they travel through.
The politics experience, The Junket, will take you on a meaningless long trip with all the family. A special prize will be given to the participant who returns with a single useful idea.
The Run Away Gravy Train is expected to be the most popular attraction, especially in government circles, for whom it is a most enriching experience.
The Guess the Weight of the Banker’s Bonus competition will provide a light-hearted ending to the day.
The attraction will be opened by Cardinal Sean Brady as the church is sponsoring the death-defying Leap of Faith.
Philip O’Neill
Edith Road, Oxford
Rubbish food
• Why is it that the food in many of our restaurants is still so poor?
Like many other people these days, my partner and I rarely go out to dinner any more – we just can’t afford it. So when we do, it’s a pretty big deal and we go with high hopes, yet invariably we’re disappointed.
Last Wednesday evening, we decided to try a recently opened restaurant. Firstly, we had to wait at least 45 minutes for our meals to arrive – despite the fact that the restaurant wasn’t overly busy.
Secondly, by the time our food arrived we were starving, but the portions were mean to say the least.
My partner’s salmon and mash was only slightly more generous than mine, but my vegetarian lasagne was a sad sight on the plate with some green leaves and, somewhat bizarrely, miniature slices of brown bread.
It took me all of six mouthfuls to finish the lasagne. After complaining about the portion, I was offered more – which arrived 15 minutes later, and could not be finished because, having apparently been reheated from frozen, it was still freezing cold in the middle.
Thirdly, the meals themselves were edible but a long way from delicious.
I just can’t understand it – why does this keep happening? And why, in particular, is the quality of the vegetarian meals on menus always so poor? Is it too much to expect to get value for money and enjoyable food?
We both left feeling really hard done by. We want to support local restaurants but don’t serve us rubbish and don’t make us feel like we have just thrown away our hard-earned, ever-scarce money.
G Williamson
School of terror
• Kathleen Ryan writes that many people today in their 50s and 60s can’t read or write because they were labelled dunces and left at the back of the class (Letters, May 10).
This is partly true – the reason that most of these people are illiterate is because of the terror they faced on a daily basis. In those days school masters/mistresses/brothers assaulted children who weren’t able to keep up with lessons by slapping them on the hands with a cane, supplied by the State. They would get smacked without warning in the face, they’d have their hair pulled and ears twisted, and some had their heads banged against the wall panelling.
This savagery was allowed take place right up until 1982, but why the parents of Ireland allowed their kids to suffer at the hands of these brutes remains a mystery. There were some good teachers who never laid a finger on a child, but some of those savages who were let loose on the kids in those days were sadists.
Paddy O’Brien
Balbriggan, Co Dublin
Nature’s choice
• Surely David Quinn’s defence of fee-paying schools is contradictory to the constitutional ethic, demanding that the children of the nation be treated equally. Surely also it is plain common sense that nature does not, of itself breed intelligence according to economic circumstances. A potential talented doctor, engineer or artist can issue from any womb, regardless of address or parents’ salary.
One must ask what, therefore, is Mr Quinn’s underlying intent? The status quo is helping the would-be economy to stagnate, through a lack of creative genius. In the end, nature decides who the Flemings, Stephensons, Mozarts, and Einsteins will come from. Not your parents’ salary.
Victor Feldman
Ringsend, Dublin 4
Clouded memories
• A very nice letter from Mark Lawler on Monday – lots of nostalgia. However, Mark’s memory must have become a little clouded, because the 1999 European Cup final didn’t go to extra-time (injury time, maybe) and Peter Schmeichel remained on his goalline. I wonder did Mark forget that Peter saved a penalty?
What a game. What a manager. And a supporter from Kilmainham.
RJ Hanly
Screen, Co Wexford
Suicide prevention
• The recent runs and walks all over Ireland on Saturday for Pieta House to raise awareness of suicide and self-harm are touching, but the Government is still failing to act on one of the biggest issues facing this country.
So many people are taking their own lives – and these are just the ones we know about, so many others are not recorded. It is time for the State to take this issue more seriously and to create an authority that will work to prevent suicide. I would suggest a statutory body based along the lines of the Road Safety Authority.
Actions and not words are called for NOW.
Paul Doran
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Failed experiment
• I would like to compliment your journalists, Fergus Black and Fionnan Sheahan, on their pieces in the newspaper (May 13) regarding Roscommon TD Luke Flanagan.
Mr Sheahan makes the very valid point that Mr Flanagan considers himself, and indeed promoted himself to be ‘Anti-Establishment’, making what we know now to be false promises that he would “not do this . . . nor that . . .” but that he would change politics completely! I would like to add that Mr Flanagan was an ‘experiment’ by the people of Roscommon, and this experiment has failed, miserably.
The honest people of Roscommon deserve much better than this.
James Campbell
Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Roscommon
Irish Independent

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