No Caroline

14 August 2013 No Caroline

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark Troutbridge is ent off with the flad capped ambassador to Batawanaland where there is a volcano about to blow, and Troutbridge’s props are fouled Priceless
We are both tired but I take Mary to see Joan, no Caroline she has a bad back.
We watch Yes Prime Minister quite good
Scrabble today I win but I get under 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.


Larch Loyd
Larch Loyd, who has died aged 90, was a modernising landowner of his family’s estate in Oxfordshire and a well-known figure in hunting and racing circles; during the Second World War he won an MC.

Larch Loyd 
1:40PM BST 13 Aug 2013
Christopher Lewis Loyd (always known as “Larch”) was born at Lockinge, near Wantage, Oxfordshire, on June 1 1923 and educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, where he read Agriculture. Commissioned into the Coldstream Guards, he joined his unit in North Africa wearing shorts and a topee, which caused much merriment.
In October 1943 he was in Italy in command of a platoon of the 3rd Battalion which was holding a position facing the Germans on Monte Grande north of the river Volturno. On the night of October 15, while leading a reconnaissance patrol, he came under fire from four different Spandau posts. The next morning, with pressure on to break through the German position, he led his platoon in an attack on these positions, charging across open ground in the face of heavy fire from the enemy machine guns.
His small force suffered severe casualties and he was finally compelled to take cover some 30 yards from the Spandaus. He succeeded in holding this precarious position for two hours by sniping and throwing grenades until he was ordered by his company commander to withdraw.
He brought back the remains of his platoon by the most skilful use of the little cover available and was restrained from going forward again himself to recover his wounded only when directly forbidden to do so. He was awarded an Immediate MC.
After the war Loyd unexpectedly inherited the Lockinge Estate. He and his three sisters had already lost a brother in childhood through illness; his remaining, elder, brother then died of injuries sustained on active service; and his father died in 1944.
The estate, which included a significant art collection, had passed to the family through Harriet Loyd, the daughter of the 1st Lord Overstone, a banker and politician. Harriet married Robert Lindsay, 1st Lord Wantage, who won a VC in the Crimean War; she had no children.
Loyd qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1952. He pulled down the big house, which was unmanageable, and was among the first to realise that traditional farm buildings would have a limited role in agriculture in the future. After a long battle with the planning authorities, he converted his redundant barns for business use.
A man of strong Christian faith, he was the epitome of a benevolent landlord and was much loved. He established a trust in the villages of Lockinge and Ardington to provide affordable housing long before the need for such initiatives became widely recognised.
Hunting and horse racing were twin passions. In 1945, Loyd joined the committee of the Old Berkshire Hunt and was appointed chairman in 1951. He steered the hunt through some turbulent times in the 1950s and retired from the committee in 1996, after 51 years’ service.
Loyd established the Lockinge Stud on the estate . Notable winners were Coup, which won the Galtres Stakes at York and the Mornington Stakes at Ascot, and Gallic, which won the Errol Stakes at Ascot in the 1960s.
As a young man, Loyd had ridden at point-to-points and under National Hunt rules. He was a director of Newbury racecourse, and in 1952, with the help of its staff, he created at his own expense the point-to-point course at Lockinge. The Lockinge Stakes, a Group 1 Race first run at Newbury in 1958, continues to this day.
Loyd was a trustee of the Wallace Collection between 1973 and 1990, High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1961, and served for many years as a JP.
Larch Loyd married (dissolved), in 1957, Joanna Smith-Bingham, who survives him with their two sons and one daughter.
Larch Loyd, born June 1 1923, died on July 14 2013


The Labour party seems to be in search of an identity and a policy agenda (Report, 13 August). About time too. Here are some suggestions for a manifesto, all of which look like common sense.
Repeal all the coalition’s NHS legislation and start all over again. Impose effective regulation of privatised utilities, capping their profits and prices. Take the railways back into public ownership as the franchises end. Abandon PFI and find ways of terminating the existing contracts. Stop privatising. It is only “efficient” at maximising profit for private vested interests. Cap rents in the private sector and begin a substantial social housing programme. Make the living wage mandatory, thereby transferring costs from the public purse to the firms who are currently subsidised by the taxpayer. Stop persecuting the unemployed and disabled, and sack Atos.
Clean out the Augean stables of HMRC, start collecting taxes from the rich and shift taxation from basic income and everyday consumption towards property. Abandon Trident and new aircraft carriers, and convert shipyards and nuclear weapons facilities to producing green energy technologies. Stop fracking. Invest in home insulation, which will reduce demand for gas and electricity and create jobs. Mount a full investigation into the illicit activities of the police and special branch, especially as directed against innocent activists. Ban lobbying and remove private interests from direct influence on government. Implement Leveson.
These are modest proposals, and should win votes. But it would be good to see a political party proposing policies because they are the right thing to do.
John Walton

Doug Johnstone (The Scotsman always rings twice, G2, 12 August) says that William McIlvanney is responsible for tartan noir. That seems unduly harsh. McIlvanney is a fine writer in many genres and surely could never have imagined that he was laying out the blueprint for the monster that is Scottish crime fiction. The genre in its classic form is comprised of: drink, sex, violence, monosyllables, more drink, rain, football, antipathy to humanity in general, so-called gallows humour and a few bodies. Brigadoon through the wrong end of the telescope and just as accurate a portrayal of Scotland and Scottish life. Johnstone mentions that McIlvanney is being published by Canongate. I would suggest that some of your readers might seek out their classics imprint, with writers such as Neil Gunn, Robin Jenkins, James Kennaway and many more. I would especially recommend Gillespie, by J MacDougall Hay – a neglected classic if ever there was one and noir to its very soul.
Tom McFadyen

Aditya Chakrabortty (The great broadband scam, G2, 13 August), suggests that public funds intended to improve rural broadband are bankrolling BT’s attempt to widen choice in a pay-TV market dominated by Sky. The suggestion is untrue. We would not be allowed to divert the rural broadband subsidies and nor would we want to. In fact BT’s shareholders are supplementing them with hundreds of millions of additional investment – building on the £2.5bn BT is already investing in fibre broadband. The company is accepting a payback period in excess of 10 years for all of this investment – a crucial fact that helps to explain why BT is winning through in the competitive tenders for use of rural broadband subsidy.
As for claims of lack of transparency over BT’s costs, full account of these is available to central and local government partners who are subsidising improvements in rural broadband. And BT claims the money only after it’s been spent, on production of receipts for expenditure. Independent studies show the UK already second in the G8 for broadband speed and ahead of every major EU rival for availability and low prices. Claims that Jersey is the only place in the UK able to access broadband speeds of 1 gigabyte per second are also stunningly wrong. Your writer might wander around the City of London just for starters. When it comes to broadband rollout, Britain has an infrastructure programme that’s working – so much so that the Australian opposition wants to junk that country’s programme and copy ours. As for BT’s so-called monopoly: rivals like Sky and TalkTalk can, and do, use the network we’re building, paying the same prices we charge our own retail division.
Michael Prescott
Director of corporate affairs, BT Group
• You imply (Editorial, 13 August) that Thames Water should follow Welsh Water, which “prides itself on low price rises and high levels of investment”. I agree. At Thames Water we are investing a record £1bn a year from 2010-15 upgrading our old pipes, sewers and other facilities – more than any company ever has – and our customers’ bills are the second-lowest in England and Wales. A key factor in enabling us to carry out sustained high levels of work to improve our infrastructure is retaining our investment-grade credit rating, currently A3 from Moody’s – as good as the best in the sector and the same as Welsh Water.
Stuart Siddall
Chief finance officer, Thames Water

I welcomed Jackie Ashley’s article (24/7 care: here’s one NHS reform we should all agree on, 12 August) and believe that Medical Royal Colleges are in the position she calls for to “step forward and surprise you”. All doctors are not opposed to the requirement for seven-day services. Indeed, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ report on the benefits of consultant delivered care (January 2012) stated that it is ethically unjustifiable to provide a lesser standard of care to patients at weekends. This was followed by our seven-day consultant-present care report (December 2012) which set out the standards required to ensure that the benefits of consultant-delivered care can be available to all patients regardless of the day of the week. That report also made clear that to deliver this level of care it is likely that service reconfiguration onto fewer sites will be needed. That message was clearly reinforced in the academy’s joint publication with the NHS confederation and national voices in May this year: changing care, improving quality.
There will undoubtedly be arguments about the costs of seven-day working and about the implications of service reconfiguration. However, I believe that the Medical Royal Colleges, as the professional voice of doctors, have clearly set out what is the right thing to do for patient safety and improved quality of care.
Professor Terence Stephenson
Chairman, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
• Although death rates are higher at weekends, it is not clear how much this is due to different standards of care. There are fewer admissions at weekends and these patients tend to be sicker. Statistical analysis can be used to adjust for differences in the risk of death but current methods do not take illness severity into account. So a patient with pneumonia who is breathing comfortably has the same predicted risk of death as a patient with the same age and illness who is gasping for breath. The prediction that 4,400 lives could be saved each year by 24/7 care is therefore likely to be an overestimate.
Unless we know how much difference 24/7 working will make, it’s difficult to know how much it is worth spending (or sacrificing) to achieve it. Healthcare workers, like any other workers, expect to be paid more for working out of normal weekday hours. Unattractive pay and conditions will mean unfilled posts, as currently seen in emergency medicine. Centralisation of services may help, but if patients have to travel further deaths may increase. There may be more deaths overall, but spread more evenly over the week.
Steve Goodacre
Professor of emergency medicine, University of Sheffield
• It is often grassroots doctors and nurses who want to make the necessary changes. No one in the NHS goes to work to deliver poor care, but we are sometimes constrained from making the changes we need to make. The problem is that the NHS has become a political battleground, with unions striving to score points in the battle for salaries and terms and conditions of service. Because of this, we have for too long had a climate in which it is not acceptable to tell bad news. The signs are that this is changing and we must seize this opportunity, or lose it to yet another top-down reorganisation. We can’t provide 24/7 healthcare without concentrating key services in fewer hospitals.
Dr Marilyn Plant
Better Services Better Value
• The reason we resent being asked to provide non-emergency care overnight and at weekends is because we are supposed to have “family friendly” employment policies – not least because most of our clinical staff are women. Funnily enough, staff want to spend time with their spouses and children. We provide the services required to deal with emergencies, but like to give staff the opportunities to have some personal life.
In respect of hospital closures, the focus of care in the NHS is not Guardian journalists, but the very elderly. Many of these do not have access to a car. Closing their local hospital may add an hour or more to their journey to see a family member in hospital, or reliance on a neighbour for help. Using an ambulance in a non-emergency situation can mean taking three hours in travel in each direction to attend outpatients, at a so-called centre of excellence. During my time in the NHS every aspect of care has improved. The standardised hospital mortality continues to fall year on year. Each year we are presented as a basket case of appalling incompetence, because it suits headline writers and politicians to extrapolate from exceptions to imagine they prove the rule.
Dr Paul Godwin
Keighley, West Yorkshire

Jonathan Freedland makes some important points (Men are the problem, which is why feminists need them, 10 August), the most salient being that gender equality is human equality – no more, no less, and I would advise any man who believes in this principle to speak out whenever and wherever they are able without fear of “getting it wrong”. If your intention is good, that will shine through.
Lisa Holcroft
Solihull, West Midlands
• I can clearly see four people in the photograph on page 9 of G2 accompanying John Harris’s article (The trouble with Labour, 12 August). The woman is Margaret Beckett, the only woman leader that the Labour party has yet had. Is she invisible to anyone else or only to the caption writer?
Penny McPhillips
Garstang, Lancashire
• According to Lloyds-TSB banking charges brochure, an unplanned overdraft of £25 for eight days may incur charges of £86, making the £7.95 charged by Wonga for the same loan seem quite reasonable (Report, 13 August).
Dr Sarah Harding
Naphill, Buckinghamshire
• I am a bit concerned about the Rubicon (Historians cross swords over the real Rubicon, 8 August). If we lose the Rubicon, will we also lose the ablative absolute (as far as I – dimly – remember it): “The Rubicon having been crossed, Caesar advanced on Rome.”?
Mike Turner
Teddington, Middlesex
• What a great year for cabbage white butterflies… looks like it’s snowing over our brassica patch here in Lincoln. Great year for the pesky flea beetle, too, although they remain hidden – just leaving lacy leaves as evidence of their visits. Climate change? Good for some pests, obviously.
David Cordingley
• RTPT, letters page, ICB HMA Roland White feels he is expected to remember (Letters, 13 August). Don’t worry, none: they are all initialisms, as they don’t form a pronounceable word. TTFN/LOL.
Jo Corban
Bridport, Dorset

It’s no surprise that Israel has given the go-ahead for 800 new homes in the West Bank just as the peace talks are about to start (Israel raises temperature in run-up to Palestinian talks, 12 August). It must be suspected that the motive for Israel to participate in these talks is as a delaying tactic and to be seen to be responding to criticism from the US and EU. It’s hard to believe that they approach the talks in good faith.
Neither can the US be regarded as an honest broker. While John Kerry is no doubt sincere in trying to broker peace, it is peace on Israel’s terms. Successive presidents have repeatedly stated that the US will always be Israel’s ally. President Obama claims to be in favour of a two-state solution, but opposed the Palestinian moves to attain statehood, saying that statehood must be a result of negotiation with Israel, the latter thus effectively having a veto.
The fundamental problem with these negotiations is that they are between a strong Israel and weak Palestinians and are thus unlikely to lead to justice for the latter. As part of any so-called compromise they will be asked to give away part of what has already been illegally taken by force. The Palestinians would be better advised to pursue all the legal and diplomatic avenues open to them now that the UN general assembly vote has given them limited statehood. At the least, they should strongly pursue these avenues in parallel with any talks, and not forgo their legal rights.
Doug Simpson
Todmorden, West Yorkshire
• Most of your report explains how the Israeli release of 26 Palestinian prisoners is perceived by Israeli “victims of their crimes”, along with victim statements. There is no reference to the fact that the biggest crimes are the myriad committed daily by Israel under their illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
The building of more “settler” homes is not contextualised as ethnic cleansing and there are no victim statements. Surely there are enough Palestinian victims of ethnic cleaning from the thousands of home dispossessions whose harrowing human stories of suffering could have been sought? Instead we get anodyne statements about “the peace process” by Palestinian politicians. There is no attempt to state the obvious fact that these “settler homes” seek to steal more land. This reporting follows a pattern in the media which seeks to minimise enormous Palestinian suffering to the mere abstract, and magnify and conflate far fewer Israeli victims to preserve the illusion of an equal struggle.
Khalid Mahmood Chohan
Watford, Hertfordshire
• “Peace” negotiations are due to start but Israel announces more settlements in the occupied territories. Is that the way to show they are serious? Stealing more land can only lead to the impossibility of a two-state solution, to which the US and Israel say they are committed. The EU has to be the key to force the Israelis to behave with integrity. Netenyahu’s reaction to the insistence of the EU that any contracts require a declaration that there is no involvement by that company in the West Bank shows pressure works. The EU should follow this up with the threat to withdraw the associate status that gives Israel beneficial access to our markets unless they withdraw the latest plan for more illegal settlements.
Peter Downey

It is essential for our understanding of all Middle Eastern conflict that a clear distinction be made between the Sunni and the Shia, these quite different persuasions of the Muslim faith (A wall of difficulties, 26 July). When you refer to “rebels in Syria” you should make clear that these are Sunni, supported by al-Qaida. Because of this, the various Shia tribes rally around President Bashar al-Assad, augmented by Hezbollah of Lebanon.
The conflict between Sunni and Shia is part of a 1,400-year conflict. I am sure that your readers are aware of this but whenever Muslims are referred to in your pages, we would be interested to know which type of Muslim religion they support. For instance, I do not know which persuasion the Muslim Brotherhood support. I would be grateful if the Guardian could make this clear.
Dennis R Poole
Bath, UK
Negotiations going nowhere
It seems the Palestinian–Israeli negotiations will be no more than pro-forma. They are more to fulfil the need for every US secretary of state to have an initiative like this to his or her name. There is no intention to do anything constructive.
To the contrary, the current situation suits the US and Israel only too well. They continue to promote a divide-and-rule Palestine policy. The fact that one year of negotiations has been planned for indicates a clear no-confidence in the outcome.
The 104 Palestinian prisoners being released is a cynical joke and used too often to have any serious meaning. With still well over 4,500 such prisoners in Israeli jails, Israel can continue releasing these prisoners at this number 45 more times.
By that time all of the illegally occupied Palestinian land will have been built up, and returning it to its legal owners will have become non-negotiable.
And where is Tony Blair, the appointed Middle East mediator in all of this? His contribution is a scandal. The only time I saw him in action was shortly after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Obama sounded as if he might be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, so Blair had better visit the West Bank quickly before being asked some embarrassing questions.
Why are these embarrassing questions not being asked?
Leo Haks
Nelson, New Zealand
Something lost in translation
The overbearing power of the military in Egyptian politics is well-founded and deplorable (Time to back down, 2 August). But your editorial exhibits indignation at the expense of deductive reason when it makes the argument that General Fattah al-Sisi telling President Morsi “that his project was not working” is the same thing as the “soldier” telling the president what to do.
Leaving aside for a moment the possibility that the translation from Arabic to English may be a little more nuanced than the GW allows, in English telling someone that something is happening (giving information or offering an opinion) is quite different from telling someone what to do (giving an order).
The editorial goes on to draw a distinction between “tell”, “suggest” and “advise”, offering that using either of the latter two words would have been less cheeky. But if we suppose that this conversation between the general and the president was conducted not in English but in Arabic, can we be sure that the GW has checked that the Arabic word used for “tell” in this particular case does not have a similarly nuanced difference of meaning as our words “advise” or “suggest”?
Whatever the linguistic case may be, the leader has used tremendous imagination in its allegations about the general’s intention.
Harry Audus
Arana Hills, Queensland, Australia
Yemen was ignored
I note with dismay that your piece Passions draw Tunisia into unravelling of the Arab spring (9 August) provides some (albeit brief) useful discussion of the fate of the Arab springs in most other countries, but completely ignores Yemen, the one country where the transition process is still ongoing, with big progress on restructuring the military/security apparatus as well as the ongoing comprehensive National Dialogue, inclusive of the vast majority of political forces, including the young and women. While its future is still most uncertain, at this point, it appears to be doing a lot better than other countries. Instead a separate article only focuses on the US counter-insurgency approach (Leave Yemen, US tells citizens, 9 August), and the so-called security scare for which little evidence has been produced. It might be worth noting that the increasing killings of people by US drones are among the main factors that might lead to failure of this transition and that certainly contribute to increasing the attraction of Islamist insurgents.
Most people involved with Yemen who care about its future would appreciate some correction of this very biased presentation.
Helen Lackner
Oxford, UK
Bell cartoon unfair to prince
What a happy coincidence to find Christina Patterson’s column Dorothy Parker will show you the way (2 August) just across the page from another of Steve Bell’s tasteless cartoons (now there’s a pleonasm). As Patterson rightly observed: “You can only be absolutely clear about what’s good, and right … if you’re very stupid or very young”. It may be that Bell suffers from youthful exuberance but, if not, we might be inclined to accept the alternative suggestion.
I am not especially attached to the monarchy (as befits an expat), but I find it sad that Bell ascribes such arrogant imaginary gestures to a baby only a few days old. We may find that the education and experience that this child receives will equip him better for his eventual role of head of state than that enjoyed by many of those who acquire that status by other means, judging by many of the examples that the world has to offer.
I suggest that Bell might wait a few weeks, months or even years, before deciding that Prince George is a bad lot.
David Stieber
Coppet, Switzerland
When you have had enough
When do you give up on a book? (2 August). A fascinating question, and one that has been exercising my mind of late. I have recently read The Hydrogen Sonata by the late Iain M Banks. In retrospect, I regret my persistence in finishing the book: my respect for an acclaimed and recently deceased author won against my growing feeling that it was lacking in plot development, characterisation and innovation. I might have enjoyed it more as a novella or short story.
I’ve also just finished reading The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, to which the same reservations apply. As a Pratchett fan, in particular of the Discworld series, I found the book sadly short of his habitual insight and wit.
Perhaps I should have applied the same standards of judgment to them that I do to relatively unknown authors: if I’m unsure if it’s worth going beyond the first chapter, I sneak a look at the ending. If that comes as a complete surprise, read on. Otherwise, put it away, or wait for the Reader’s Digest Kindle edition.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
• This obsession with completing a read must be an umbilical legacy of Puritan perfectionism. After all, this is what “perfect” meant in the 17th century: “finished”. Better yet than Ulysses, Peter Wild should have pictured Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the ne plus ultra of “writerly” novels with its myriad allusions and matrices of multilingual puns. It’s lethal; such inspissation certainly finished off Joyce himself through “an enormous expense of spirit”.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
Artificial boundaries
Mali did not need rushed elections any more than the at least seven different peoples living in that area needed the Berlin conference of 1884-85 (2 August). Fourteen European countries met then to divide Africa among themselves without having to fight each other for “possession”. Totally ignoring the thousand or so indigenous kingdoms, chiefdoms, traditions, languages, existing boundaries etc, they drew geometric boundaries and established their colonies by pointing guns and manipulating local rulers and peoples. Sadly, on obtaining independence most of the new leaders decided to retain their Europe-imposed boundaries and now, not surprisingly, have to deal with “insurgencies”.
Marika Sherwood
London, UK
When is a cock not a cock?
In regard to your article about the newly erected blue cock in Trafalgar Square (2 August): I quite enjoyed the photo of the giant blue cock, especially the online version, which included Boris Johnson in the picture, which I admittedly reposted online including a rather uninspired “spot-the-giant-cock” headline. But I was very surprised to learn from the accompanying article that “hahn”, the name of the artwork and German for cock, would also carry a double meaning in German.
As a native speaker, I am not aware of Germans using the word in any way that would come even close to the wonderful variety of ambiguities that cock carries in English. A hahn is essentially just a hahn, and that’s about it.
But I am certainly open to new linguistic input and will try to use hahn as an insult in future encounters with ignorant Germanfolk, which of course would have the added benefit that the so-addressed wouldn’t even realise that their honour had been questioned.
Matthis Hille
Stuttgart, Germany
• Randye Soref referring to investors who buy city bonds as “folks” is a politicised statement that should not be included in a serious article. The vast majority of those bond holders are banks (Detroit files for bankruptcy, 26 July).
Michael Ages
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Your front-page story and second leader (13 August) deal with the problem of attracting (and keeping?) teachers in key subjects: pay is the issue, you say. Nowhere do you suggest that conditions might be part if not all of the issue.
I have many friends in the teaching profession, at all levels and in all sectors. Do they complain about pay? No. Their difficulties lie with the bureaucracy and the many “new initiatives” that they are required to implement.
Imagine spending hours reading new guidelines and preparing new curricula, only to discover shortly afterwards that these are all wrong, because there is yet another “new initiative”. No wonder they become either incandescent with rage or so totally dispirited that they decide to give up.
Twenty years ago, further education colleges brought in new contracts with unlimited teaching hours. I refused to sign; so I was denied any pay increases, and when I retired 10 years later my pension was consequently much less than it should have been. However, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my teaching was never compromised and my students never short-changed.
Some colleagues did compromise; some buckled under the strain and had to give up; some resigned, including one outstanding teacher (yes, of a key subject) who left after a year, saying that it wasn’t possible to teach properly.
If teaching is your vocation, pay is not as important as having the right conditions in which to teach.
Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire
For as long as I can remember, successive governments only ever seem to mention teachers in terms of how many of them are useless and should be sacked forthwith, how they are to blame for most of society’s ills and how overpaid they are, with too many holidays for such a cushy job.
I just can’t work out why there could possibly be any shortage of aspirants for teaching as a career.
Paul Clein, Liverpool
Muslim world struggles with democracy
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seeks answers to Islam’s failings (10 August). The problems of the Muslim world seem quite explicable to me.
The western world has a religion whose founding figure was a peace-loving, anti-authoritarian ascetic; it landed in a world steeped in scholasticism and went through a rigorous intellectual massaging by the Church Fathers, also a group of peaceable intellectuals. By the time it was taken over by politicians within its DNA were the seeds of its own redundancy, as seen first in the Reformation and then the Enlightenment, which was largely about removing religion and superstition from law, politics and science.
Islam on the other hand began life as a state religion and has as its central figure a warlord; it grew from a society of Arab tribesmen which had been culturally isolated. You feel it has no self-effacing DNA and will keep its grip to the bitter end.
To blame the West for the problems of Islamic societies is to give our politicians far more credibility for effective action than they deserve.
Silas Sutcliffe, London NW3
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is as naive as the rest of us concerning the horribly miscalled “Arab Spring”. How can a newly elected government succeed in an impoverished situation in which it is unable to deliver employment, education and health care, especially where there is no strong tradition of state delivery of such services?
How can democracy work when you are beholden either to family or to a local strongman for employment?
Without a substantial wealth-creating class, and concomitant civil society institutions, which do not happen in tyrannies, how do you make the leap to functioning democracy? How is it done when an unhappy unintentional side-effect of Islam has been the preservation of patriarchal society which largely excludes women from public space? How is it done when an outsider like the US bankrolls armies for its own profoundly anti-democratic Middle East agenda?
Alibhai-Brown should not be so disillusioned with Turkey. Authoritarian government (as opposed to dictatorship) may be an unavoidable transitional stage, and however much we may dislike its current behaviour, Turkey’s present government is a lot less terrifying than its fundamentalist-secularist predecessors. Its signal achievement has been to reduce the power of the army and state bureaucracy. No one in Turkey wants to go back to the 1990s.
Democracy will only come painfully and incrementally in lands where it has never previously been known.
David McDowall, Richmond, Surrey
Gibraltar wants to stay semi-British
When residents of British overseas territories such as Gibraltar are asked if they wish to remain British, they understandably say “Yes please!” That is because over decades Parliament has crafted uniquely indulgent legislation to govern them. We would all like to live without VAT but only places like the Channel Islands and Gibraltar can afford to dispense with it.
The question they should really be asked is this: Do you want to live under United Kingdom legislation? Do you want to pay UK taxes, accept UK regulation of your financial services, get your local government money from Eric Pickles, and so on. To which the answer would be, “No Way! Only the little people do that!”
Trevor Pateman, Brighton
I thought our government liked border checks, such as multiple passport checks needed to come home from Brussels on Eurostar, so why complain about the Spanish border checks at Gibraltar? For my money I’d rather we joined Schengen (if they will have us) and didn’t have border checks within Europe, either on Eurostar or at Gibraltar. Even the independent-minded non-EU Swiss are in Schengen.
H Trevor Jones, Guildford
If the Royal Navy is going to send a message to the Spanish government, surely its forthcoming exercise should be conducted off Cape Trafalgar.
Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire
Honours  for doctors
Recently I heard on the radio a medical dame talking about the current accident and emergency problems within the NHS. The conversation was stilted, uninformed and full of the political platitude that made me quite ashamed of my profession. This led me to think: what have our honoured medical colleagues contributed to patient care other than acquiesce to their political masters? If ever there was a reason for abandoning the honours system this must be it. The award of honours to these people ensures the continuation of the political narrative as set down by their political masters.
Abandonment of this system of reward will allow those with vision, altruism and independent thought a chance to improve things for the common good. I believe that the honours system, in relation to medicine, has had a negative effect upon the improvement of healthcare. Let’s abandon this archaic system of awarding those who toe the party line and involve those genuinely wishing to improve the NHS, without personal reward, before it is too late.
Ian Bone, Retired Consultant Neurologist
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
Exploited by zero hours
If David Prosser (“Zero hours contracts? Key for growth”, 5 August) thinks workers are protected by the rules governing zero-hours contracts, he has never worked on one and lacks the imagination to empathise with those of us who have.
Workers may be allowed to decline work, but never do so, because their livelihoods are entirely at the mercy of the employer.
For the same reason, care workers feel discouraged from challenging the bad practices that put vulnerable people at risk: to cause any problem for your employer is to make yourself redundant.
Make an economic case for zero-hours contracts if you wish, but do not ignore that they are exploitative.
Robert Guzder, Baddesley Ensor, Atherstone, Warwickshire
Trouble on the railway
Chris Blackhurst’s proposal (9 August) to revive the Great Central Railway instead of building HS2 sounds easy, but there are serious snags. Marylebone is a small station with only one Tube connection; the first 40 miles through the suburbs and across the Chilterns are still in use by half-hourly stopping trains; further on, the route goes through the centres of Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield; and it would be an indirect route to Manchester, let alone Liverpool.
Adam Sowan, Reading
Teenage errors
During 25 years as a probation officer I witnessed many confused and disaffected teenagers making misguided and ill-considered moral judgements as they sought friendship, status and a sense of self-worth. I have always believed the role of adults was to protect them at moments of such vulnerability rather than take advantage of them. Do you think Eddy Shah would agree?
David Strowbridge, Peterborough
Endless growth
Economists are welcoming the latest baby boom. The argument that we need more young people and more immigrants to support an ageing population seems credible. Somehow though it reminds me of pyramid selling, and I wonder what is supposed to happen when the new babies and young immigrants get old. Get more? Surely we should be aiming to achieve a stable population.
Ron Watts, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Happy times
“We just need to have a Jubilee and Olympics every summer” (headline, 31 July). May I point out that the Royal Family have been doing their bit for British happiness for the past three years (a wedding, jubilee and baby), seconded by the Tour de France (two winners). It is up to the rest of us to get our act together.
The Rev Peter Mott, Keighley, West Yorkshire
Fit for the French
When a Frenchwoman looks chic (report, 13 August), it is simply because her clothes actually fit. They neither strain over every bulge (or fail to cover some), nor flap loosely giving that lost-in-space look. It may also be a matter of anatomy. I have garments labelled “medium” for UK and US sizes but deemed  “large” for the French.
S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Not surprisingly, Bruce Anderson (12 August) turns an interesting argument into a clumsy tirade about the obsolescence of socialism: “If the 20th century has one lesson to teach us… it is the need to curb the power of the state.”
That may well have been a lesson from the mid-20th century but at the beginning of the 21st the lesson is clearly the desperate need to curb the power of the Trans-National Oligarchy (TNO).
It is this loose but all-pervasive alliance of tax-avoiding corporatist dominance and obscene individual wealth that poses by far the greatest threat to our freedoms and even our survival.
Through the power of the TNO and the sycophancy of the new servile states, capitalism has found itself “not guilty” of trashing the economies of the Western world. It is therefore evidencing a renewed confidence to continue its strategy of greed and growth. However, there is absolutely no way that our planet can sustain this.
Looking to the future the world needs a new paradigm which somehow enables us to be both civilised and technologically advanced without raping and despoiling the environment on which we all depend.
Such a paradigm will have to jettison the myth of an ever-growing cake which we are all (laughably) supposed to share and feast on forever. Once this lie is consigned to its proper place among the fairies and pixies, it follows that we shall need massive redistribution of wealth for steady-state economics to succeed.
So socialism, in some form, will be crucially relevant once more. In the future we shall need environmentalism to survive, and environmentalism will need socialism in order to work.
Steve Edwards, Haywards Heath
Andy Burnham’s recent outburst might seem to have held out the hope of a break from the same ideas holding sway over all our politicians – but it does no such thing. Where the country needs the strident declaration of a new direction, he merely indicates the presence of someone else who wants our vote.
It has more to do with Andy Burnham getting on than with changing the direction of his party of mediocrities.
Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent
Len McCluskey (“Union boss demands more say in Labour policy making”, 25 July) says that he wants to stop Labour in government being a “pinkish shadow”.
He might find, on a second application of his litmus paper, that members of this forlorn group are a shade of pale blue.
Why vote for them when you can have true blue Tory?
The rest of us will remain unrepresented at the next general election, since there is no sign of serious opposition.
K Ahier, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire
Good to see Norway’s Prime Minister doing a spell as a taxi driver (“You’ll never guess who I had in the front of my cab… the PM”, 12 August).
But I would be rather apprehensive if I discovered that  Ed Miliband was driving my cab.
One wouldn’t have the faintest idea in what direction he was going.
Ivor Yeloff, Hethersett, Norfolk
CCG has already improved people’s health
Your report “Health reforms take their toll as GP commissioners resign” (10 August) claimed that my “resignation” as chair of Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) threw into doubt Government health reforms.
While I may agree that more could be done to support GPs to continue to combine both clinical and administrative roles, I cannot agree with this statement.
My experience of clinical commissioning is that it is the first form of commissioning I have experienced in 23 years of working as a GP that has inspired confidence, developed partnerships, changed practice and already produced significant improvements in health outcomes.
I did not resign, I rather did not offer myself for re-election. My decision was a personal one, not a comment on clinical commissioning, made after not just four months, but effectively eight years of developing our local organisation and three years of intensive activity forming the successful organisation that is now Lewisham CCG.
My personal situation made it difficult to give my full attention to the job as chair as well as to continue to develop my own practice, and I felt both deserved more.
My successor has this time to give and will, with our excellent board (including six other dedicated GPs), continue to build on our early successes and see further improvement in both the health of our population and the sustainability of the local health economy.
It is not time to hand this task back to managers who, however skilled, do not have the clinical experience and knowledge of the population or engagement of GPs to make this possible.
Dr Helen Tattersfield, Chair, Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group
How we should teach engineering
Regarding Richard Garner’s article “Give skills qualifications the prestige of A-level brand, urges head of CBI”, 12 August), I would point out that engineering education includes training in vocational subjects such as structural analysis, dynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, acoustics, magnetostatics, electrostatics, electronics, heat transfer, combustion, etc, and not much in machine-minding; but the British press seems to think otherwise.
A machine-minder could be taught in a few days, but you can’t teach a chartered engineer how to do their job in a few days.  Moreover, to teach these subjects at A-level you will need chartered engineers in schools.
How are you going to encourage chartered engineers to work in schools when they can earn about twice as much or more in industry than they can earn in teaching in school?
Encouraging physics and mathematics teachers to train, under the guidance of chartered engineers in industry for about a year, will be a good move; but I have been saying this for over five decades and no one seemed to be interested.
The average teacher goes from school to university, and straight back to school again. This cycle is not suitable for all science and mathematics teachers, and it could be profitable to our country if these teachers spent a year in industry working alongside chartered engineers.
Professor Carl T F Ross, School of Engineering, University of Portsmouth
It’s the grades, not the interview
Students considering applying to Cambridge should not rely on Richard Humble’s advice “It’s the interview not the grades” (letter, 10 August). In fact, it is the grades, and not the interviews.
Interviews are only one small part of the information we use to assess our applicants in order to find the most academically able students from all backgrounds with the potential to thrive at Cambridge.
In all subjects, interviewers are looking for applicants who have read widely beyond the sixth-form curriculum, and show informed enthusiasm, an ability to think for themselves about the subject, and an appetite for tackling subject-related problems.
We are interested in how applicants think and how they respond to subject-focused problems. We are not interested in  firm handshakes, body language, over-rehearsed speeches or  sharp suits.
The best way to be a strong candidate for a place at Cambridge is to work hard, read widely and critically, and present us with excellent marks in your AS exams.
Dr Mike Sewell, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, Cambridge Admissions Office
Blackpool still number one
The photo used with “Shift that will keep Tories out of northern cities for years” (12 August) in the context of housing benefit cuts showed a row of “chalets” in a former Pontins holiday camp on the edge of Blackpool (outside the town itself). These were never intended for permanent residential accommodation and are in disrepair because they are out of use.
It is not fair to a town heavily reliant on tourism to imply this is a representation of its housing stock. In the interests of balance, let me say that Blackpool is still the number-one UK seaside resort, has undergone massive regeneration and is an amazingly tolerant and colourful place.
Steven Bassett, Birmingham
Where’s he from?
Can’t someone persuade Gregory Lauder-Frost to provide a DNA report. I’m sure many of us would be interested to know the provenance of his ancestors. It might be illuminating for him too.
Christine Di Mascio, Harden, West Yorkshire
Right on target
 “The real cost of benefits squeeze: £1,600 per family” (12 August) confirms what many thought on first hearing of the “reforms”. The cuts weren’t “meant to get the jobless back to work”. They are fulfilling their actual purpose: cutting the cost of welfare regardless of the consequences to those who don’t matter to the Coalition.
Eddie Dougall, Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk
It could be us
In the debate on overseas aid, we should remember it is the responsibility of countries that do not suffer hardships to help those that do. Perhaps one day the British Isles will need aid – especially with its expanding population – and we can only hope that there will be some countries willing to help us.
Anne Arundel, Ackworth, West Yorkshire
Wrong country
The new “Muppets” (10 August) include an Austrian science expert called Dr Strabismus. But surely Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve) came from Utrecht?
Ian Craine, London N15
Well, Mr Putin…
What would happen if Edward Snowden came out?
Lin Hawkins, Ashcott, Somerset


A proposal to tax those graduates who received their higher education free seems unfair to those who are of an age to be the ones paying it
Sir, As a 52-year-old higher-rate taxpayer who went to university and “benefited from free education and graduate scarcity” (Opinion, Aug 13), I was never likely to be the most enthusiastic supporter of Jenni Russell’s proposal for a retrospective graduate tax. Her plan is clearly unfair.
Today’s school-leavers crucially have a choice as to whether they take on the tuition and maintenance loans required for further education. And they are all in a position to understand fully the consequences of that decision before they make it, due to the vast amount of literature and free advice available. The loans are also written off after 30 years, when many of them will be the age I am now.
Those of us who went into further education during the 1970s and 1980s, however, did so with a clear promise that it would be free and grant-supported. How many of my age group would have made a different decision then had they known that a 5 per cent tax would have been levied on their income as they approached retirement, for which many of us have diligently planned?
And when would the retrospective tax end? Would we be expected to continue paying it until our retirement, by which time many younger graduates would have already finished repaying their loans?
Nick Reed
Essendon, Herts
Sir, Jenni Russell rightly points out the issues of debt for people going through university but ignores the question nobody is asking — do we need all the graduates we create? Earlier this year it was revealed that an estimated 10 per cent of new graduates were unemployed six months after graduating and it is safe to assume some of those who have got jobs will be over-qualified for the work they do. If we reduced the number of universities so that the number of graduates created roughly equalled the number of jobs available the money saved could be used to reduce the fees of those in the graduate system.
Gareth Tarr
Chertsey, Surrey
Sir, Jenni Russell is misguided in proposing a 5 per cent additional tax on higher rate taxpaying graduates such as myself from fee-free times. Above the higher rate threshold this group already contributes at various levels of income, at 40 per cent, 45 per cent and 60 per cent deduction rates. These higher earners benefiting from their degrees already far out-contribute the majority of taxpayers. Consider also that these high earners are also most likely to be providing substantial parental contributions to their offspring in university maintenence support, and you will see that we are putting something back.
In reality we should not seek to fund the unsustainable status quo but should let natural selection take its course, with the institutions and courses that fail the “would I pay for this?” test falling by the wayside.
Nick Hortin
Houston, Renfrewshire

A new Bill also includes provision to restrict compensation for miscarriages of justice cases, and may not comply with our obligations
Sir, Tucked away in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 is a provision to restrict compensation for miscarriages of justice to cases in which “if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence” (s143). There is no mention of this in the preamble to the Bill and only a brief reference from Theresa May at the Second Reading.
Eligibility is already very restrictive since the previous government ended the ex gratia scheme. Very few successful appellants are able to establish their innocence (which is why the Court of Appeal considers the “safety” of a conviction). Under this test the Guildford Four, notwithstanding an apology from the Prime Minister for the grievous wrong they had suffered, would not have been entitled to compensation.
It is not clear that this provision complies with our international obligations. When the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was drafted, every proposal that compensation should be restricted to the innocent was rejected. The European Court of Human Rights has said that the existing provisions do not infringe Article 6 (Allen v UK,) noting specifically that the appellant was not obligated to demonstrate her innocence.
Finally, a small but significant number of successful appellants do not know on what basis their convictions have been quashed. These could be cases relating to undercover policing or collusion — areas in which the state may have directly contributed to or caused the miscarriage of justice. It is hard to see how the decision-making process regarding compensation in these cases could possibly be regarded as fair.
Hannah Quirk
School of Law, University of Manchester

Opening a prison is a difficult process and all new prisons suffer from teething problems — but apportioning blame on to staff does not help
Sir, I have some sympathy for the director and staff at Oakwood prison (“Private prison opened with unfinished cells and no toilet paper”, Aug 12). When I was deputy governor of HMP Stocken in the 1980s we experienced significant problems in opening that new prison. It had been built to a very poor standard with serious design problems and construction difficulties which carried on for many years. We had no work for many prisoners, and it was more than 18 months before all the workshops were opened. Prisoner clothing was sent in the wrong sizes, and we experienced shortages of many items.
Opening a new prison is already a difficult process. Blaming inexperienced staff is an easy option but all prisons will have to manage with a group of new and inexperienced staff when they first open. By all means blame a contractor when they get it wrong but ensure that the blame is fair. It has nothing to do with private versus public prisons as suggested by Francis Crook — all new prisons have their teething problems, some more than others.
John Berry
Countesthorpe, Leics

Reducing, rather than increasing, the cost of rail travel would encourage more people to use it and ease pressure on the roads
Sir, I was disheartened to have to drive to Manchester for my son’s recent graduation because the cost of a rail return ticket was more than my partner had paid to travel by train all the way to Maastricht for her son’s graduation (“Cost of single rail fares may be halved”, Aug 12).
It is no wonder that rail travel is so underused as it does not make economic sense. Perhaps a reduction in the cost would encourage drivers off the roads and on to the railways which would benefit the environment and make cycling a safer experience.
Gareth Price

It may be that the lack of visitor numbers in the sparsely populated Peak District contributes to the spread of bracken across the land
Sir, Bracken control is an expensive operation (letter, Aug 13). Higher visitor numbers in the New Forest may have justified its control — whether by rolling and cutting or use of a specific herbicide — to allow access and enable other plants to thrive.
These high costs might not apply to the sparsely populated Peak District, where upland farmers traditionally controlled bracken as part of their farming practices through grazing and use for stock bedding. However, stock numbers on the hills, along with farm holdings, are declining and so bracken, a prehistoric native plant, is reclaiming the land.
Rob Yorke
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire


SIR – Perhaps Anne Wheaton (Letters, August 9) would be reassured to know that some electrical items do last. I am still using my late mother-in-law’s sewing machine (1969), a coffee grinder received as a wedding present (1974) and a food processor (1982) with new bowl (2013).
I also drive an 18-year-old car purchased for £300 in 2010, which passed the MOT this week needing only a new bulb (£1.02).
Alyson Herbert
Braintree, Essex
SIR – Carol Parkin (Letters, August 9) is wrong in saying that charities do not accept unwanted electrical items. There is at least one local charity in her area that does. There is also a British Heart Foundation shop – one of many nationwide – which accepts both electrical items and furniture.
Staff will even drive out to homes to check that the items are in working order and that furniture is fire-safe, and will take the items away without charge if they can expect to sell them in their shop.

Susanne Fletcher
Wimborne, Dorset
SIR – Jemima Lewis (Comment, August 9) notes the benefits of inheriting clothes. But may I commend the undoubted advantages of “hand-me-ups”?
My wife now wears fashionable sweatshirts and a smart baseball cap abandoned by my daughter. Similarly, I wear designer polo shirts that I would not normally afford and I cut a dash at the gym sporting the fine sleeveless cricket sweater no longer required by my son.
I have also been encouraging him to invest in some red trousers – for my use in years to come.
Colin Henderson
Cranleigh, Surrey

SIR – The difficulty that we face here in Balcombe is that, despite what the results of the Mugabe-style poll undertaken by anti-frackers may have suggested, the majority of folk don’t know or understand enough to form a sensible opinion.
If it is Government policy to encourage fracking, when will it disseminate good, factual, scientifically peer-reviewed information gleaned from the million fracking wells already in existence so that we can be properly informed?
So far Cuadrilla’s and the Government’s PR has been lamentable.
Peter Cockburn
Balcombe, West Sussex
SIR – David Cameron advises us to ignore the “myths”, and to lie back and be fracked (Comment, August 12).
Related Articles
Not all electrical items require a quick disposal
13 Aug 2013
But it is he who is spinning the myths.Slashed energy bills? No. Experts (Ofgem among them) agree that gas prices will not change. Jobs for hard-working Brits? No. Fracking sites will employ a few specialised workers, many of them foreign; but yes, jobs for the army of tanker drivers who will infest our country roads, and the road-menders who will have to repair the damage. Welcome windfalls for communities? Cash bribes will not work if property values plummet and houses become uninsurable. Vast volumes of gas? Even if true, extracting this gas will mean wells every mile or so across our landscape.
Kathryn McWhirter
Balcombe, West Sussex
SIR – In all the arguments about fracking, I haven’t seen any comment about the preparedness of the water supply companies to provide the volumes of water necessary for this process. Could the drought-stricken South East really cope with such an extra strain on resources?
Anthony Leaver
Maidstone, Kent
SIR – The Prime Minister is right to stress the huge economic advantage of shale gas extraction. The minimal environmental impact of shale gas drilling is in stark contrast to the possibility of a second runway at Gatwick, which would shatter the rural peace across large swathes of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Environmental campaigners must learn which battles are worth fighting and which can be won.
Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey
SIR – The good folk of Balcombe who are opposed to fracking should perhaps reflect on the fact that the Weald was once our industrial heartland. Its abundant iron and timber provided the ships and cannon that conferred mastery of the seas, laying the foundations of today’s liberty and prosperity. As with the industry of yore, fracking offers hope for jobs and security.
The environment withstood the first disruptions well enough and doubtless it will the second.
L A Fielding
Lamberhurst, Kent
The price of a shower
SIR – I live with three women (my wife and two teenage daughters) and we had a meter fitted out of choice three years ago.
Our house has a standard gravity-fed hot water system supplying two non-pumped showers and two medium-sized baths. The three toilet cisterns are the modern dual flush type. We don’t water the garden or wash the cars.
Our annual bill fell from around £600 on rates to a metered £400. Is it the word “compulsory” that’s the problem?
David Chamberlain
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire
SIR – The answer to Donald Knapman’s question (Letters, August 12) – “Why we are not building more reservoirs?” – is that we have been told by Brussels not to. The official EU line is concentrate on conservation.
With the ability to capture fresh water in the quantities that we and similar northern countries have, and with the land area available, it is absurd to ban the building of reservoirs.
James Waugh
Ballachulish, Inverness-shire
SIR – Instead of building the HS2 line between North and South, we should install pipework to transfer the abundance of water in the North to the water-starved reservoirs in the South.
Tony Newport
Stowting, Kent
Charitable donations
SIR – Lord Vinson (Letters, August 12) confuses tax-exempt donations with subsidies. If I give some of my income to a charity, charity law is there to ensure that I derive no personal benefit, and it is entirely reasonable that I should not be taxed on it. The gift never belonged to the government, and doesn’t represent a government subsidy.
Whatever next? If a mother drops her hours of work in order to care for a child, accepts a reduced income, and pays less tax, will she be told that because she is “eroding the tax base” the government is in fact “subsidising” her?
David J Critchley
Winslow, Buckinghamshire
Combat jets
SIR – It is good news that Bahrain is interested in purchasing 12 Typhoon combat jets from us (Comment, August 9).
The RAF has just over 100 Typhoons in its fleet and only four are overseas — in the Falkland Islands, with none in Afghanistan. Most Typhoons are in Britain, where there is no air threat, so plenty are available to impress the British public at air displays this summer.
More than 50 of the total order of 160 Typhoons, each costing over £126 million, are yet to be delivered and I trust that it is 12 of those aircraft that will be sold to Bahrain. The British military does not need 160 Typhoons any more than it needs the 200 combat jets currently in the RAF fleet of (so it claims) 900 aircraft in total. What are all these aircraft for?
Lester May
London NW1
Staying alive
SIR – I am concerned that the EU flag could replace the Royal arms on all official documents within three years under new Brussels regulations, including death certificates (report, August 10).
If this comes about, I will not die.
Frank Pedley
Richmond, North Yorkshire
Surgery while awake
SIR – I was very interested to read the article on the lady undergoing surgery with a local anaesthetic and an iPad to pass away the time (report, August 10).
A few years ago I had a total hip replacement under a local anaesthetic. I took a small portable radio with me for distraction but did not require it as the anaesthetist made good conversation and the surgeon gave a running commentary on all that he was doing, accompanied by the sounds of the operation.
It was an interesting experience; the recovery time was much quicker and easier and that welcome cup of tea was enjoyed a lot earlier.
Eileen M Hughes
Wimborne, Dorset
SIR – Knee surgery without general anaesthetic has been a usual procedure for some time in Devon. In 2012 my husband had a partial knee replacement with a spinal anaesthetic and a mild sedative. Loud music was played in the theatre.
In February this year I had a total knee replacement with a spinal block and femoral injection but (at my request) no sedation at all. I was given headphones through which Baroque music was played (again, my request). I could hear operation noises, but it was no problem.
Norma Duncan
Harberton, Devon
Petrol fill and runs
SIR – The problem of “fill and runs” is not unique to this country (report, August 5). It was a significant problem in the Canadian province of British Columbia until 2005, when a young petrol station attendant, in attempting to stop a “fill and runner”, was run over and killed, being dragged under the car for five miles, all for $12. Public outrage was such that as of February 5 2008, motorists in the province have been required by law to pay first, then pump.
This is surely a measure to consider.
Douglas Armitage
Christchurch, Dorset
Drama Queens
SIR – The White Queen and its implausible theses prompts an idea for the televising of historical dramas. A coloured button should appear on the screen: red for scenes that have no documentary evidence whatsoever, orange for those that do, and green for dialogue that is taken directly from authentic sources.
Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford
Music should not be sidelined in the curriculum
SIR – While in agreement with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, regarding the lack of rigour in music and other creative arts subjects, I strongly disagree that they should simply be sidelined within an academic curriculum.
That which is currently required of pupils may well be inadequate, but the quest must be to ensure that these subjects are academically substantial, otherwise pupils and parents will decide only to pursue music as a co-curricular option.
Plato considered that all scholars should study music. It is a discipline perfectly suited to developing mental agility, inquisitiveness, independence of thought, creativity and analytical skills.
The Cambridge Pre-U qualification demonstrates that creative subjects can be academically stretching. We must reverse the mindset that while academic subjects can be “creative”, creative subjects cannot be “academic”.
Charles Janz
Head of Music, Ibstock Place School
London SW15

Irish Times:
Sir – Gordon Linney (Thinking Anew, August 10th) reminds us of Henry Kissinger’s defination of a great leader as applied to Nelson Mandela.
That is “someone who can lead his people to a place where they they have not been”.
Yet while the flag and marching debacle continues to spin out of control, Messers Robinson and McGuinness fiddle (and march to their own respective tunes) while Belfast burns.
Like the vast majority of my compatriots in Northern Ireland, I ask the First and Deputy First minister – where’s your leadership ? – Yours, etc,
Harberton Park, Belfast.
Sir, – First, full disclosure: I have no personal interest in, or existential need for parading. Although I have been almost 41 years in the United States, I’ve never marched in the New York or Washington St Patrick’s Day parades. (Although in 1973 and 1974 I led the 45-mile Irish Freedom March from Baltimore to Washington, to the White House and British embassy respectively).
That being confessed, here is my suggestion: stop the stupid marching in Northern Ireland. I say stupid with all due respect, because if one keeps doing the same thing over and over again, with bad and sad results, then surely it is stupid. Why should grown ups – indeed, middle-aged men and women keep doing this? Does this issue really need to waste the time of the excellent Richard Haass? Does it need a professional diplomat to resolve it?
All parties should suspend parading indefinitely, or accept parades being banned. Stop being stupid! – Yours, etc,
Irish National Caucus,
PO Box 15128,
Capitol Hill,
Washington, DC, US.
A chara, – One of your letter writers (August 13th), takes issue with Sinn Féin involvement in the Castlederg parade last weekend. It is hard not to wonder why such an event prompts a letter when the summer of orchestrated loyalist violence doesn’t.
Castlederg and its hinterland of Aghyaran is overwhelmingly nationalist. Yet to drive through Castlederg town and see the preponderance of Union Jacks and to be there on the 20 days the Orange Order and Apprentice boys have their marches, often with associated loyalist paramilitary regalia, you would think you were in East Belfast. This is the atmosphere in which people have, and always had, to go about their daily lives. There is a fundamental lack of respect to the nationalist tradition, yet I don’t see too many letters to The Irish Times on the subject.
Along with the above there is Remembrance Day, when the dead of the British security forces (including the UDR) are honoured. These are the same security forces whose role in the murder of Paddy Shanaghan, not far from where this parade took place, has yet to be fully brought to light. Yet, there are no protests when they are remembered.
Why should the dead of one community have primacy over the rest? Is it really beyond the wit of people to try to understand where people are coming from?
The latest MacGill summer school has demonstrated our self-loathing is alive and well, but are we gone so bad that we are motivated to raise our pens against one dignified parade and let the entire summer of unionist / loyalist violence go without comment? If ignorance is bliss, there are some very happy people out there. – Is mise,
Chapel Road,
Dromiskin, Co Louth.
Sir, – If the organisers of various marches in the north eastern portion of this island had to pay for the security each march requires I would suspect we would have a lot less of same. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – It is quite wrong to hold up the UK government as an example to other countries when it comes to dealing with alcohol misuse (Kathryn D’Arcy, August 12th). The central plank of the UK government’s alcohol strategy published in March 2012 was minimum unit pricing for alcohol and it recently fell victim to a well-organised and heavily financed counter-campaign by the alcohol industry.
However, even despite this lobbying from the industry, the UK government has not rejected minimum pricing outright, but it is “under active consideration” while legal cases are resolved in Scotland. The public health community in the UK continues with our campaign to persuade Westminster of the need for minimum unit pricing as there is strong evidence that this is a policy that will save lives.
We urge the Irish and Northern Ireland governments to follow the lead of colleagues in the Scottish parliament by holding fast against industry pressure and taking action to protect the health of their most vulnerable by introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol. – Yours, etc,
Alcohol Health Alliance,

Sir, – The Minister for Agriculture tells us that “a cut to the State Pension is something that as a Cabinet Minister I have heard nothing of”.
But as a mere Cabinet Minister who is not a member of the Economic Management Council, he wouldn’t have, would he? – Yours, etc,
Rathgar Avenue,

Sir, – Minister for Justice Alan Shatter accuses me of talking “nonsense” about the selection process for the position of chief commissioner of the new merged Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission at the Parnell Summer School. (Home News, August 13th). Maybe I am, but my remarks were based on the speech by Emily O’Reilly to the MacGill Summer School and on my own experience. I also made clear I have no personal interest in the position.
Ms O’Reilly, it will be recalled, recently chaired an expert committee of selection for members of the new body and for its chief commissioner. Ms O’Reilly and her colleagues did a first-class job as far as the new interim body is concerned but did not find a candidate they could recommend as chief commissioner. She also made clear that Michael Farrell had been on the original list but that the Department of Justice had felt there could be legal difficulties and the O’Reilly committee accepted this, albeit with reluctance.
This is what she had to say at MacGill: “We then requested that the department-imposed ban on recruiting as chief commissioner anyone who had previously served on either of the two bodies be removed so that no-one of calibre could be excluded from the search. The ban, supposedly justified by the sensitivity of the merger, appears nowhere in the proposed legislation. It meant again that Michael Farrell would be excluded from the process of selection and indeed someone of the calibre and standing of Senator Katherine Zappone. Once again the department refused our request but this time it pulled the plug.We were immediately stood down. Our work we were told is over. The department would regain complete control of the process. ”
I stand by what I said at the Parnell School. Without any legal right, the department told the committee that no member of the outgoing bodies could be chief commissioner of the new merged body, and before there could be any questioning of this diktat closed the committee down before it had completed the full remit it had been given.
I believe Ms O’Reilly’s version and I look forward to her appearance before the Oireachtas Committee later this year. I suppose my main concern is one of bemusement . . . why is the department so determined to exclude people from even getting into the selection process ? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Ashling Daly Bouktila (August 10th) will be happy to know that those not wishing to take a religious oath when serving on a jury can instead choose the solemn affirmation; which is entirely secular.
Had she taken the time to ask, rather than stewing in indignation, she would have been informed of this by Courts Service staff. – Yours, etc,
Alexander Reid,

Sir, – Funeral eulogies are tricky affairs.
Over the years I have been at funerals and witnessed eulogies where: family members divulged intimate family details, told improper jokes, made party political statements, represented only one side of a divided family, gave a comedy performance, criticised the medical care of the departed, broke down uncontrollably and turned the funeral into an embarrassing emotional roller-coaster, etc.
On the other hand, I have also witnessed very dignified and Christ-centred words about the deceased.
We must remember that the family member giving the eulogy is often nervous, emotional and unused to speaking in public. To give such a person free rein is unwise. (On live radio there is a time delay mechanism so that radio staff can censor what is broadcast).
Furthermore, we can ask if a eulogy puts extra pressure on the grieving families? The point of a Catholic Christian funeral is to present the departed back to God through the sacrifice of the Mass and give hope to those who mourn. It is not essentially a celebration of the life of the deceased. A funeral which concentrates wholly on the deceased provides no hope, since it looks to the past.
A beautifully celebrated liturgy which concentrates on the hope for the deceased through the Resurrection of Christ uplifts the grieving heart. Bishop Smith has opened up a discussion well worth having. – Yours, etc,
Lower Main Street,
Rathkeale, Limerick.
Sir, – The Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, has banned families from giving eulogies during funeral Masses (Home News, August 13th). Poems or playing of secular songs are also banned under a directive from the bishop.
It seems the bishop does not fully understand how people grieve; that in today’s world families share with others their loved one’s life, and where better than at the funeral Mass? The long path of loss begins after that Mass and knowing you have honoured your loved one well, before the community, helps you begin to live without them.
What is so wrong with a secular poem or secular song? It does not offend God; it seems this offends the Bishop of Meath. Is his God so narrow-minded? So un-open to the hearts and minds of grieving relatives? If so, do we want to have that last moment with our loved one in his house?
The bishop needs to do some thinking. – Yours, etc,
Redford Park,
Co Wicklow.
Sir, – I write as one with limited experience of providing music at funeral and wedding Masses (Home News, August 13th). I have no experience of services in reformed churches .
In my view, the music has two functions: to reflect the liturgy in the form of service required and to reflect the emotional needs of the close families and friends.
So, from the time the Mass commences until its end at the final blessing, the task should be to recommend music that suits liturgically the relevant part of the Mass. That said, while the words of Ave Maria are a religious prayer in the Latin church, it should never be played at the Offertory as it is totally non-liturgical at that point.
However, before the start of Mass and after its end, music does not have to be liturgical nor does it have to be religious even. Take for instance the introductory and closing wedding marches which at best have only the vaguest religious context but fall outside the Mass proper. Likewise, the removal of the coffin could be the time for a favourite song.
In passing, my wife has requested When the Saints go Marching in accompanied by a trad jazz band when she is carried out. I am all in favour, but trust she leaves sufficient funds in her will to meet the costs. – Yours, etc,
Marley Avenue,

Sir, – Stephen Collins is an excellent journalist. However, he seems have joined the lotus-eating at the summer schools when he says, “Far from being a failed state, we are a highly successful modern country with a standard of living that would be envied by most people on the planet. That doesn’t mean there are grounds for complacency” (Opinion, August 10th).
This false dichotomy is straight from the cult of mindless optimism. It reminded me of a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. One dungeon prisoner rebukes another with “He spat in your face – you lucky bast**d”. – Yours, etc,
Carrigart, Co Donegal.
Sir, – Stephen Collins (August 10th) quotes Abraham Lincoln “If they [the electorate] decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters”, and says that the Irish electorate’s blisters “arose as a direct result of its weakness for populist politicians and their easy solutions”. An election is a blunt instrument, offering limited choices to the electorate (as demonstrated by the forthcoming referendum to abolish – not reform – the Senate). The electorate never voted for ineffective regulation, risk-taking by management in institutions of systemic importance, nor the infamous guarantee.
Stephen Collins writes, “One way of trying to minimise the danger of a return to irresponsibility would be a genuine programme of political reform”. Our problems have not been caused by an irresponsible electorate, and political reform must be proposed to the electorate (unfortunately, as simple choices) not by it.
The electorate is now sitting on blisters from a fire lit behind it by others. – Yours, etc,
Spa, Tralee, Co Kerr

Irish Independent:

* As an NUI graduate, I wish to express my agreement with Maurice O’Connell (Letters, August 10) in his criticism of Richard Bruton’s views on the Seanad as expressed in the latter’s article of August 8.
Also in this section
Reflections on an eternal summer
Censure the deserving
Our right to day in court
As Mr O’Connell has illustrated, the two university panels make up the most democratic part of the Seanad, being the equivalent of two Dail constituencies in terms of the size of their electorates and the number of senators representing them.
Far from providing a justification for abolishing the Seanad, the university panels provide a model for what the Seanad could be if properly reformed. Incidentally, the university panels are the only panels genuinely independent of party political control, which may well explain the antagonism of certain politicians towards them.
Regarding Seanad reform, the main problem is that, under the Constitution, the Seanad has no power to reform itself. Only the Government and the Dail can implement such reform, something the Government seems to prefer to ignore. Over the years, there have been more than a dozen reports on Seanad reform, all supported and passed by the Seanad itself, but none has been acted upon by successive governments. One possible reason for this is that a reformed Seanad, truly representative of the people as a whole, and including a strong group of independent senators who could not be whipped into line to suit the Government’s agenda, would be a very different and more formidable beast than the Seanad as it is at present.
In his article, Mr Bruton refers to the scrutiny of Dail legislation by outside experts. Well, in recent weeks we’ve had a glaring example of how little regard the Government has for the opinions of outside experts when those opinions don’t suit its own agenda. This situation won’t be changed by abolishing the Seanad.
For those interested in the future of the Seanad and who wish to be more fully informed of the issues involved, I strongly recommend they read Joe O’Toole’s excellent article which was published in your newspaper on July 18. The article is headlined ‘Life for Government is easy with a limp Seanad and better still with none at all’.
Hugh Gibney
Castletown, Athboy, Co Meath
* Liam Fay’s article (‘Weekend Review’, August 10) is mind-boggling in its breadth of arrogance, intolerance and inaccuracy.
Mr Fay thinks he can write without fear of accountability. To call all the religious sisters “sadistic nuns” who, according to him, “enslaved” young women in Magdalene laundries is a gross generalisation of many fine religious people who worked tirelessly to help and respond to the downtrodden in an impoverished Ireland of the 1940s and 1950s and long before that.
It is a fact that only a very small proportion of religious were involved in the horrendous abuse that all right-minded people condemn, not just smug and self-righteous Mr Fay. Church-bashing is very fashionable and politically correct in modern Ireland today. It certainly seems to take one to the top of the greasy pole.
What Ireland so badly needs is men and women of integrity who are prepared to do the hard work that brings the scurrilous bankers to account, not more political posturing from all sections of society. This calls for true patriotism from politicians, media, church and State.
Eileen Davey
Laytown, Co Meath
* Desmond FitzGerald (Letters, August 10) sees nothing wrong with the idea of the amalgamation of the two most powerful of our political parties as put forward recently by a former powerful and still influential politician. He sees it as giving them an opportunity to “let rip with their financially conservative agenda”.
I do not know where Desmond FitzGerald was when a totally non-conservative financial agenda was let rip during the Celtic Tiger era and eventually bankrupted the country.
The amalgamation of the two dominant political parties should not be rejected because of their supposed financially conservative agenda. It should be rejected because such an amalgamation would have serious implications for the health of our democracy.
One party was in power for the best part of a quarter-century since the late 1980s. Being human, power went to their heads, with the dire results that we see around us.
Amalgamating the two parties that have dominated Irish politics since independence would be even more likely to make for long periods in power. It would not be good for either the politics or the economics of this country.
A Leavy
Sutton, Dublin
* So the fear floggers are after the grannies and grandads again.
Too weak to work anymore after maybe 40 years of hard slog has left many struggling to stay alive on a €230 contributory state pension already (sneakily) eroded by a variety of cuts and new taxes.
But even though too aged and too weak to work any more, many pensioners still struggle to provide a murderous 24/7 day and night caring service for beloved sick spouses, thus saving the State hundreds of millions every year. But many old people are now beginning to wonder if the threat of being battered in their homes by cowardly burglars is any worse than the certainty of further financial battering by callous, compassionless, bureaucratic bean counters.
They also fear that they may start dying again from cold and hunger if the fuel allowance, essential to keeping them alive in winter, is taken away. They wonder if the travel pass and TV licence will go and leave them to simply sit and stiffen, mentally as well as physically, in their unlit freezing homes. Some, perhaps paranoid, are even beginning to suspect that official austerity-based hardship is being stealthily introduced.
But most worrying of all is the fact that increasing numbers of old people are convinced that life itself is fast becoming an unbearable burden.
George Mac Donald
Gorey, Co Wexford
* Anne Cunningham (‘Weekend’ magazine) bemoaned the fact that, after taking a tumble courtesy of her dog, no one rushed to her assistance. She also opined that Dublin people may have become as unhelpful as those in New York, where “one could have a heart attack and nobody would even call an ambulance”.
I had a similar happenstance recently, and a bittersweet experience it turned out to be.
Dublin Bus decided to locate a bus stop directly outside my residence. This necessitated the erection of an ugly yellow pole and the raising of the footpath by a few inches. Unfortunately, my stopcock is located underneath the raised section of pavement, as I discovered when I wanted to access it in order to repair a leaking garden tap. Had Dublin Bus bothered to raise the water main as well? Had they heck!
Luckily, I found that by lying prostrate on the path and extending my arm to practically its full length down the hole I was able to operate the key to turn off the water. While I was thus engaged, no less than three car drivers stopped, and two persons came running to see if I was in need of assistance, having presumed I had fallen.
So, I can reassure Mrs Cunningham that, yes, there are still those who care in our city; but, unfortunately, that also became my moment of revelation, when I realised that not only do I sound like an old fogey, but time has finally dictated that I now look like one too.
DK Henderson
Clontarf, Dublin
Irish Independent


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