18 August 2013 Pottering
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark Troutbridge gets the duty of transporting the Admiral to France unfortunately they take him and leave him in the wrong port. Priceless
We are both tired but I potter around and get some things done,
We watch Dads Army quite good
Scrabble today Mary wins but she gets under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Jacques Vergès, who has died aged 88, was a controversial French barrister and one of the most secretive public figures in France, where he was known as “the Devil’s advocate” for his willingness to defend terrorists, war criminals and dictators.
Jacques Vergès Photo: PAUL COOPER
5:46PM BST 16 Aug 2013
For many years suspected by the French DST (counter-espionage service) of being involved in international terrorism, Maître Vergès always denied this allegation. But in 1995 East German secret police (Stasi) files were leaked in Paris, and they disclosed the lawyer’s long-standing links with the terrorist group led by “Carlos the Jackal”. His Stasi code name had apparently been “Paula”.
Long seen as a man of the extreme Left, Vergès became an international celebrity in 1987 when he defended the Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie in Lyon. His client, who had been commander of the Lyon Gestapo during the German occupation, received 23 life sentences for wartime crimes against humanity, but Vergès considered that his original method of defence, which essentially consisted of insulting the prosecution and the surviving victims, a notable success.
In fact, having decided that Barbie was clearly guilty, Vergès used the occasion to bait the Jewish lawyers opposing him and attack the trial as based on “victors’ justice”. He also spent many days attacking Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
Vergès had recently been representing his long-time friend Khieu Samphan, Cambodia’s former communist head of state, who faces charges of crimes against humanity for his role in the reign of terror presided over by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Vergès insisted bluntly: “There was no genocide in Cambodia.”
Vergès enjoyed his notoriety. In 2008 he told Der Spiegel magazine: “The interesting thing about my clients is discovering what brings them to do these horrific things. My ambition is to illuminate the path that led them to commit these acts. … One of my principles is to have no principles. That’s why I would not turn down anyone. I would have defended Hitler. I would also accept Osama bin Laden as a client, even George W Bush — as long as he pleads guilty.”
Verges’ criminal clients
16 Aug 2013
Jacques Vergès was born in Oubone in Thailand (then Siam) on March 5 1925, the twin son of a French colonial doctor, Raymond Vergès, and a Siamese mother, Pham Thi Khang. The boys’ mother died when they were three, and they grew up in the Indian island colony of La Réunion, both suffering, as they later recalled, from the racial prejudice of the white community.
Jacques considered that his father had been deliberately ruined by the French colonial administration to punish him for his marriage to a native woman, and the son’s subsequent career can partly be explained by a need to avenge his father. His twin brother, Pierre, became a founder of the Communist Party of La Réunion, and was for many years a communist deputy in the National Assembly. Following military service with the Free French, Jacques also joined the PCF (the Parti Communiste Français), in 1946. As a law student in Paris he was considered the best advocate of his year, being elected First Secretary of the Conference du Stage.
Jacques Vergès’s political engagement became more idiosyncratic in 1957, when he broke with the PCF during the Algerian war and allied himself with the Algerian armed independence movement, the FLN. This move — made at the height of a violent terrorist campaign — put him beyond the pale of French society.
One of his fellow lawyers working with the FLN was assassinated by the French secret service. Vergès himself quoted with approval the FLN tag “a bomb is a leaflet that goes bang”.
Among his clients was a young Algerian woman, Djamila Bouhired, who was sentenced to the guillotine for planting bombs. Vergès succeeded in winning her a reprieve, and in 1965, after she had been freed from prison, he married her and settled in Algiers.
Following national independence the government of Algeria retained him to travel to Israel to defend the first Palestinian fedayeen, but it was not long before Vergès was expelled by the Israeli government. He then managed to obtain a loan of several million francs from the Bank of Algeria and went underground, disappearing from Paris between 1970 and 1979. He himself referred to this period as “my nine-year sabbatical”, and always refused to say what he had been doing.
For a time it was thought that he had been working with Pol Pot, the insurgent leader and future dictator of Cambodia. In retrospect, it seems that he was living in Damascus and assisting the Palestinian terrorist leader Walid Haddad, who had founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It was at this time that Vergès first made the acquaintance of Illich Ramirez Sanchez, the Venezuelan terrorist popularly known as “Carlos the Jackal”, who had launched an undisciplined campaign of terrorism in Britain, France, Austria and West Germany, ostensibly in the Palestinian cause. Vergès’s role was to link Carlos with established terrorist groups in Europe.
When Vergès returned to Paris in 1979 to resume his legal practice his first prominent clients were two members of the Revolutionary Cells, a group of West German terrorists based in Frankfurt, two of whose members had been arrested in possession of explosives in France. One of his clients, Magdalena Kopp, received a four-year prison sentence. She happened to be the mistress of Carlos, who promptly started a bombing campaign solely to obtain her release.
The outrages, during which 14 people died, included the bombing of a Jewish restaurant in the Rue Marbeuf off the Champs Elysées, the bombing of the TGV express train from Marseille to Paris, and an attack on the French cultural centre in West Berlin.
While these attacks were going on Vergès offered his services to the French government as a mediator with the Cells, one of whose members was also a Stasi agent. As a result of his efforts the bombing campaign stopped and Magdalena Kopp was released from prison early. Vergès escorted her out of France and she was reunited with Carlos, gave birth to his daughter and retired to Venezuela to live with his wealthy family.
When questioned about the true extent of his involvement with the Cells, Vergès always put up an elegant performance. He insisted that he had been acting on behalf of the French government, and suggested that the Stasi had very little knowledge of what was really going on. But his cover was blown when Carlos was arrested by the French secret service in the Sudan in 1994. Facing charges of murdering 83 people in France alone, Carlos at first retained Vergès as his lawyer but fell out with him after telling the French authorities that “Maître Vergès is a bigger terrorist than me”.
In semi-retirement Vergès continued to relish his role as an enfant terrible. He was frequently seen about town in smart restaurants or at the Drouot auction rooms. He never faced criminal charges, and he survived a series of attempts by the Paris Bar’s disciplinary committee to suspend him — once for advising Magdalena Kopp on ways of escaping from prison. Vergès airily described this as “all part of his after-sales service”.
Vergès died in Paris, in the house once inhabited by Voltaire.
His marriage to Djamila Bouhired was quickly dissolved, and he never remarried. He had two sons and a daughter.
Jacques Vergès, born March 5 1925, died August 15 2013
Nick Cohen takes Pope Francis to task for prejudice in referring to the problem of masonic lobbies. (“Don’t be fooled. Pope by name, pope by nature”, Comment). But the pope’s remarks would have resonated with Italian listeners, sadly familiar with the role of masonic lodges in Italian political corruption.
And the older among what Nick calls “Anglo-Saxon readers” will remember the case of Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker and member of illegal masonic lodge P2, found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in June 1982. As the P2 lodge also operated in Argentina, it would have been familiar to Pope Francis. The pope was not prejudiced, just better informed than Nick Cohen. But then he is the pope.
Nick Cohen fails to mention the fact that the Catholic church gives shelter and support to HIV/Aids victims, lepers, the sick and the old in the developing world more than any other religion or government.
Thanks to Nick Cohen for his brilliant demolition of some Roman Catholics’ depiction of the new pope as some kind of liberal. The Vatican has been in league with far-right reaction almost since its inception. In our time, it has conspired with fascists, Nazis and rightwing European conservatives in Britain, Italy and Spain against ordinary working people. The Vatican backed the fascist insurgency of Franco against the democratic Spanish republic and during the Hitler war, Pius XII could have saved the lives of Jews in deadliest peril. “Crush the vile thing,” said Voltaire of the Catholic church of his time: today, his injunction seems even more irresistible.
As an Anglican who has spent decades dithering about “swimming the Tiber”, I was delighted to read Nick Cohen’s attack on Pope Francis.
My delight has nothing to do with the quality of the piece. Cohen doesn’t know what he’s writing about. He evidently believes that a pope can get up in the morning and decide over breakfast to reverse a dogma or two. He is clueless about Christian (not just Catholic) objection to freemasonry in general, and the issues around the Italian P2 lodge in particular. And he’s incoherent about the “breathless Italian press”.
The allegation against Monsignor Ricca was in fact made by Sandro Magister, “vaticanista” of L’Espresso and almost certainly the world’s most knowledgeable journalist about the Vatican, who was laying his career on the line by doing so.
No, I rejoice at Cohen’s spittle-flecked snarl of hatred against the pontiff because it shows that the honeymoon is over: the Observer has at last realised that the pope is Catholic. Didn’t someone say something like: “Blessed are you when men revile you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely”?
Alan T Harrison
I have been an Observer reader for more than 40 years. I cannot be the only practising socialist Catholic who despises fascism, communism and all forms of religious bigotry who reads the best paper in the country. However, I, along with many other readers, I’m sure, find Nick Cohen’s regular attacks on the faith I have attempted to practise for over 60 years highly offensive.
Nick Cohen blames the pope for the Magdalen laundries in Ireland, for not singlehandedly changing the whole doctrine on homosexuality, for referring to freemasonry and, above all, for being a Catholic!
Catholics know that the church is a huge and lumberingly slow organisation. This man has been in office for a few months. Give him a chance; he doesn’t seem to have made a bad start.
Dr Tom Woodman
It is a sign of the times when the nation’s progressive Sunday newspaper publishes such a reactionary editorial (“Topple these barriers to our best universities”, Comment). Behind the thin veil of (re-) balancing the relative “mobility” for the few in a zero-sum game of finite places in the “top” universities, the main argument seeks to reverse the policy of expanding higher education.
This would place a ceiling on aspiration at the level of secondary school. This would create a new tertiary tripartite sector: modern apprenticeships, technical training and a small elite university penthouse. The principal task facing public policy is not to diminish education to fit the new proletarianisation of labour but to develop policies for expanding and sharing fulfilling employment.
The flaw in all such elitist thinking is that the sole purpose of education is to stratify young people for the unequal layers of the labour market, thereby socialising “realistic” aspirations for “the mass”, when its principal purpose is to develop the capabilities of all young people to participate as equal citizens in a just democracy.
Emeritus professor of education
The true Scottish land debate
To state categorically that Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the west is a gross distortion of the true picture (Focus).
Once again, the statistic of 432 people owning half of Scotland was trotted out. What this should say is that 432 people or legal entities own approximately half of privately owned rural land in Scotland. And the other half? Rural Scotland is owned and managed by many thousands of people owning anything from one acre to 1,000 acres. .
The sporting estate activity that the Observer seeks to ridicule is worth £350m to the Scottish economy and forms part of a sector that generates well in excess of £1bn worth of business each year. Land owned by communities and NGOs has more than doubled from 1995 to 2012. The real debate on land reform is about the use of land and not who owns it.
Chairman, Scottish Land & Estates,
Beware a housing bubble
In “Families priced out of London homes”, (News), you identify a social problem for the capital. What also needs to be highlighted is the certainty of a future crisis from a housing price bubble inflated by the government’s Help to Buy scheme and the flood of foreign cash into London. We have a government that’s pumping cash into house prices and cultivating debt-fuelled consumer spending – all to get an economy in which one in five workers is on less than the living wage, in which one in 10 workers is getting fewer hours than they want, and that is not seeing the important restructuring of the economy that should bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, and develop renewable energy and energy conservation.
With half a million depending on food banks and half of British households struggling with bills and debts, we cannot afford another crash.
Green party leader
Federation is the way forward
Henry Porter is right to denounce the complacency of the English political classes as we face the real possibility of the disintegration of the UK in barely a year’s time with the Scottish independence referendum (“England needs to start thinking about itself before it is too late”, Comment). The unionist parties need to give a lead by offering the Scots a practical alternative to independence, further devolution being the obvious option.
The virtual certainty that the English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) would demand similar status should be seen as a plus, since it would pave the way to a full federation. Here’s an opportunity for Labour to give a radical lead with a commitment to federation, including eventually a separate parliament and government for England.
Is this honey from a hive?
Lucy Siegle’s suggestion that honey from bees kept by “natural beekeepers” is in some way superior just does not stand scrutiny (“The honey trap”, Magazine). “Natural beekeeping” is a contradiction in terms; once you put honeybees in a container the situation is no longer a natural one. Even so, it is impossible to detect from the honey produced whether the bees that collected it were living in a hive, a hollow tree or a post box.
Peter W Tomkins
Taken to task
Barbara Ellen says it is “fundamentally unjust for women to take on the bulk of the household chores” (“Let’s come clean about who does the chores”). It follows that it must be also unjust for men to take on the bulk of car maintenance and lawn mowing. Would she like to see all such menial but necessary activities strictly divided without reference to differences in strength, experience or inclination?
After the death of a schoolgirl bullied online, Ask.fm founders Mark and Ilja Terebin have indicated they would in future identify anonymous abusers via their IP addresses and “ensure this information is accessible to the legal authorities”. Twitter and other social network sites could do this too. Far simpler, having identified the abusers, would be to post their identities online.
If these people feel so strongly and passionately about their opinions, surely they wouldn’t mind others knowing who they were? We are the country of Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, which for many years has given citizens an opportunity to speak their minds. I don’t remember too many of them doing that while wearing a mask.
Alternatively, social networking sites could simply promote this message online: “Would you be happy if your grandmother read this?”
Your report “Revealed: the violent men cleared by police” (11 August) included concern about authorities’ awareness of the “pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour” associated with domestic violence.
I am a retired police officer and an authority on the crime of stalking. I regularly encounter a terrible lack of awareness by police in their ability to recognise stalking behaviour, and the appalling consequences it can have especially on domestic violence victims. The typical response by those in police authority is that the crime is taken seriously but the clear anecdotal evidence from victims is to the contrary. It is time action is seen to be taken against those police at fault.
In “Fall in wages puts Britain in Europe’s bottom four” (11 August), you presented the horrifying fact that in Europe only workers in Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands have seen larger falls in real wages in the past three years than in Britain.
We need to bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, develop our renewable energy and energy conservation industries, and share the resulting wealth fairly throughout the economy, not concentrate it at the top. That means a focus on small and medium businesses and co-operatives, and a reining-in of the excesses of the low-paying, often tax-avoiding, multinationals.
The Green Party is calling for the minimum wage to be a living wage and for a ban on zero-hours contracts, to rebuild our economy around jobs that you can build a life on. This means restructuring the economy away from debt-driven consumer consumption and housing bubbles – the two factors that have enabled the Treasury Secretary Sajid Javid to claim our economy has “regained momentum”.
Leader, Green Party
In believing that incentives to parents would discriminate against him as a single, childless person, Tim Mickleburgh fails to accept the basic principles of the welfare state (Letters, 11 August). Not each and every element is intended to help everyone. Each component part is structured to help those who need it. I am sure Mr Mickleburgh will benefit in some ways unavailable to young mothers.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I enjoyed your article “Man able to live for two years with artificial heart” (28 July). However SynCardia does not warn against using the device for longer than two years. Many patients have had it for longer. As heart disease and failure increase, there is a shortage of donor hearts, and the waiting lists have grown from weeks and months to years.
Michael P Garippa
CEO and president, SynCardia
Tucson, Arizona, USA
Well done, Janet Street-Porter, for having a go at “fine dining” with its “showing-off, oneup-manship on a plate” (11 August). Many of us prefer more homely fare to food we see at restaurants and have to ask what it is.
I am female, but I can’t imagine a dish I would “stack in precipitous layers” because of my gender.
Long arm of law must not fall short of Mr Bigs
CONGRATULATIONS on your tenacity in unmasking the crime boss David Hunt (“This man was too big for the police to investigate but The Sunday Times exposed his brutal reign as a gangland boss . . .”, News Review, last week). Many of a more nervous disposition would have baled out long ago.
However, one comment worries me: “So serious was his reputation that the Metropolitan police believed he was ‘too big’ to take on.” What does that tell us about the police? How many more are too big to tackle? There should be no one too big to take on if they are breaking the law.
Kathryn Bonds, London SE19
Credit where it is due
The outing of Hunt has all the hallmarks of a psychological thriller or a Hollywood blockbuster. Michael Gillard’s dogged 11-year investigation should be recognised by the powers that be.
Geordie Campbell, Bognor Regis, West Sussex
A job well done
This is outstanding work by the paper and its investigative reporters, and I am impressed by the courage shown — it restores one’s faith in journalism. It’s incredible that it has taken so long to get this far, and the worry for us law-abiding citizens is that he is still free.
Melanie Foley, South Cave, East Yorkshire
Repaid with interest
Brilliant. This article is worth my subscription many times over. Will there be a follow-up?
David Howells, by email
Holland leads pack on cycling safety
LEARNER drivers in Holland can fail their test for not looking out for cyclists in side mirrors (“Cyclists is it time to go Dutch?”, Focus, last week). I grew up there, and children under 10 had to pass a cycling exam. Drivers should note that people riding bicycles are the weaker party and behave accordingly.
E Chaplain, by email
Your advice on avoiding danger when cycling is always to know what is behind you and watch out for what is in front. This is impossible to do, however, without the use of a mirror. I’ve never seen them mentioned in cycling columns, but I look in mine as much as, or even more than, I do my car’s rear-view mirror.
Marion Godliman, Sandhurst, Kent
Cyclists can avoid danger by obeying traffic lights at road junctions and pedestrian crossings. It is amazing how many of them appear to be colour-blind at traffic lights.
Tony Knifton, Formby, Liverpool
David Cameron is to allocate millions for new cycle tracks but the money will be wasted unless cyclists who use roads where designated paths are available are fined (“PM to pump record £80m into cycling”, News, last week).
Cameron held up Holland as a good example of cycle segregation. Having lived there I feel the law works in favour of cyclists. It’s near-impossible to cross the road in Amsterdam as bike riders ignore crossings.
David Work, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Life or death
I agree we need to invest more in cycling facilities, but with 122 deaths last year the trend in cycling fatalities in terms of accidents per mile cycled is generally down. The number killed in 1980 was 302 when there were fewer cyclists. I am a retired transport engineer and was one of the first to press for cycle lanes.
Philip Sulley, Maidstone, Kent
Chronic case of public entitlement hurts NHS
ALTHOUGH I am an advocate of NHS reform, including properly resourced 24/7 working, there is an omission from your campaign and from health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s comments (“Hunt: NHS must reform or it will fail”, News, and “Reform or die: the only NHS prescription”, Editorial, last week).
Every week I do an ultrasound list that is mainly for patients referred by their GP — I call it my “worried well” list. The vast majority on the list are there for trivial complaints — minor lumps and bumps of no significance. Patients say: “My doctor told me it was nothing to worry about but I wanted a scan to be on the safe side.”
Each scan costs about £45, plus my time when I could be doing something more useful. We get multiple varieties of “banged finger/knee/toe four weeks ago, still sore, please x-ray”, which clog up radiology and A&E departments.
Millions of such pointless examinations are performed every year. The public has a sense of entitlement and needs to be educated that “free at the point of delivery” does not mean they are entitled to whatever they demand.
Dr Tom Goodfellow, Consultant Clinical Radiologist, Pailton, Warwickshire
Laser test still leaves us in the dark
The research reported in your article “Laser test to tell us when we will die” (News, last week) is interesting from the fundamental science point of view but cannot possibly yet warrant such striking optimism. When — and if — it becomes a clinical test, it may not work reliably even in predicting cardiovascular deaths (for which it may be best suited), let alone in predicting death from any cause. In any case, it would take years to demonstrate that such predictions are accurate. Speculative claims for it at such an early point may be a disservice to patients and the public.
Newspapers should publish articles that lay out new scientific developments in proper perspective, including a sense of how many key steps are still to go before it may be relevant to patients, and to make clear how few new advancements get that far. (Oncologists such as myself never have a clinic go by without a patient wishing to abandon reasonably effective treatments for something in yesterday’s papers that has not yet even been tested in a human.)
This continuing problem tends to both mislead the public and, even more importantly, reinforce the science illiteracy that renders it a vicious cycle.
Professor Richard Kaplan, Senior clinical scientist, Medical Research Council clinical trials unit, University College London
Falling for false hopes of fracking
THE fracking protest in Balcombe, West Sussex, is not an isolated case of dissent. A government that came to power with aspirations of being the “greenest ever” is now recklessly pursuing new sources of fossil fuels by fast-tracking environmental permits to encourage shale gas extraction, and promising “the most generous tax regime in the world” for the industry.
Fracking to the degree proposed by the coalition would leave the UK with a gas- dependent energy system for decades to come, significantly compromising our ability to meet legally binding targets on cutting carbon emissions. There is also no evidence that shale gas would reduce household energy bills, and the clean technologies that can improve energy efficiency and deliver cheaper energy over time are being sidelined.
The coalition needs to put the brakes on fracking now and place the focus back onto our greatest natural assets — wind, wave and solar power.
Mike Clarke, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Stephanie Hilborne, The Wildlife Trusts; John Sauven, Greenpeace UK; David Nussbaum, World Wildlife Fund; Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth; Phoebe Cullingworth, People & Planet; Simon Howlett, UK Youth Climate Coalition; David Babbs, 38 Degrees
Extra helpings of jam and Jerusalem
THANK you, India Knight, for the enlightened piece about the Women’s Institute, which is having a resurgence (Comment, August 4). I started one in Camberley last year with 166 members aged 27-77. We have been visited by Rock Choir, and by B&Q, which showed us how to unblock a sink and is now running free courses for us, the first one on tiling. Some WI are on Twitter.
Liz Hughes, Camberley, Surrey
Women of substance
I worked for the WI (yes, men can) covering someone on maternity leave and not only enjoyed myself but learnt so much. I also hope that it remains a women-only organisation, as I felt that this difference makes it what it is. Its campaign to improve stroke care was extremely important for getting units fast-tracked across the country.
Eoin Redahan, London SW18
Knight extols the virtues of the all-female WI, but as a member of an all-male golf club in St Andrews with two women-only clubs in adjacent premises, I am confused as to why columnists are pouring vitriol on all-male golf clubs and not the WI, let alone women-only golf clubs. I’m also a member of a club with both genders.
Roy Mathieson, Crail, Fife
Making exams harder was not a political move
A-LEVELS and GCSEs this summer have not been made tougher as a result of political pressure. (“Fall in science and maths GCSE grades after Gove gets tough”, News, last week). We set standards independently of any political influence or agenda, and we expect headline GCSE results to look different this year because of changes in entry patterns. More students are being entered a year early, more are sitting the same GCSE with at least two boards and increasing numbers are taking similar but different qualifications (IGCSEs). But, crucially, standards will have been maintained.
We have made just one change this year. In 2011 new GCSEs were introduced in the sciences, after a 2009 report that concluded that previous versions did not properly test the full course of study. These new science GCSEs will be awarded for the first time this year and they may have been more challenging for some students.
Amanda Spielman, Chairwoman, Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation
Degrees of separation
Is an art degree or a drama degree worth £30,000 of debt? Maybe someone needs to quantify the value of different academic qualifications (“Universities woo elite students with cash and iPads”, News, last week).
Paul Brazier, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire
Fight your own battles
The government’s failure to recruit sufficient volunteers to replace redundant army personnel should come as no surprise (“Army recruitment crisis”, News, last week). When looking at the recent deployment of Britain’s military forces, might potential recruits be forgiven for asking themselves why they should get involved in quarrels in faraway countries of which we know little?
Professor John Hilbourne, Birmingham
Kathryn Cooper and David Smith’s assessment of the state of the British economy (“Osborne’s starting to get lucky”, Focus, last week) is wildly optimistic. Soon they’ll be telling us: “We have never had it so good.” In excess of 1m workers are on zero-hour contracts, real wages have fallen more than 5% since mid- 2010 and there have been sharp increases in the cost of living.
Michael Hardman, Utrecht, Holland
In “A front-page scoop for the nutty professor” (Profile, last week) Jeff Bezos explains Amazon’s business philosophy thus: “We start with the customer and work backwards.” So obvious, one might think, yet few businesses subscribe to this model, most notably the big four high street banks, which is why they continue to be in a mess. Even Ryanair, that much-maligned company, puts the desires of its customers — cheap flights to tourist destinations — top of its agenda and then works backwards, albeit a bit too much sometimes.
Bharat Jashanmal, Fairford, Gloucestershire
AA Gill’s critique of Make Me a German was spot-on (Culture, last week). In common with many others, I ache for a return to the values demonstrated by the delightful Germans in this television programme and largely lost by the British in recent years. Germany’s powerhouse success — despite the huge costs of reunification — gives the lie to those who think that the British me-me-me culture of smug satisfaction is superior. Our ruling elites — all champagne liberal-left metropolitans — should listen and learn. My husband and I wanted to emigrate immediately.
Linda Hughes, Newton Abbot, Devon
What big texts, Grandma
I am a grandmother of six and after the first grandchild was born I bought a mobile phone and took to texting like Boris Johnson has taken to his bikes (“Phubbing is nothing new”, Letters, last week). At one family meal with all the grandchildren present, I was merrily texting away when my phone was confiscated by my irate family because of my sin of phubbing.
Mavis Goldberg, Manchester
Brian Aldiss, author, 88; Nicola Bayley, children’s writer and illustrator, 64; Neil Durden-Smith, sports commentator, 80; Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, musician, 42; Judith Keppel, first million-pound winner of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, 71; Mika, pop singer, 30; Edward Norton, actor, 44; Roman Polanski, film director, 80; Robert Redford, actor, 77; Christian Slater, actor, 44
1227 death of Genghis Khan, ruler of the Mongol empire; 1948 jockey Lester Piggott rides his first winner, at Haydock, aged 12; 1964 South Africa is banned from the Tokyo Olympics over its apartheid system; 1969 end of three-day Woodstock festival in America, attended by 400,000 music fans; 1977 anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko arrested, less than a month before his death in custody
Corrections and clarifications
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SIR – I was surprised to see that Bury St Edmunds has been nominated for the title of the dullest town in Britain (telegraph.co.uk, August 13).
A generation ago it was one of Alec Clifton-Taylor’s choices for his television series Another Six English Towns. He was singling them out for praise, not condemnation.
Bury has a cinema, theatre, art gallery and modern music venue. This is not enough to protect people who generate their own dullness, but those who enjoy living here find that the town’s historic buildings on a human scale give us a head start in struggling free from the slough of despond.
Sometimes I make a day trip to a London suburb just to come back and enjoy the difference again.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
SIR – With drilling being suspended at the Balcombe site because of an intended protest event, why are the Government and the police not using the same vigour they used against the miners’ picket-lines during the coal strike, in order to keep the site open and allow drilling to continue?
After all, the coal strike was about future energy supplies just as drilling for oil and gas is.
SIR – If David Cameron, the Prime Minister, really wants fracking to happen, he should take a leaf out of Margaret Thatcher’s book and start the fightback now.
He would certainly have the support of the many voters who believe that the lawful exploration process should not be derailed by a small group who have nothing better to do than disrupt other people’s lives.
Historic Bury St Edmunds is anything but dull
17 Aug 2013
SIR – Would the protesters at Balcombe (which has been an oilfield for more than 40 years) kindly tell us if the transport they use to get there is powered by diesel, petrol, LPG or fairy dust ?
SIR – I would far rather have fracking in my village than anti-fracking protesters.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
SIR – Why is it that opponents of fracking, generally of the Left, are more vociferous in their protestations than opponents of wind farms, generally of the Right?
SIR – Since 2004 the Church Commissioners have been working to register their mineral interests (report, August 16), in line with the Government’s Land Registry requirements, as any responsible landowner is doing before the end of October deadline.
This does not create any new interests or rights and is confined to registering properly what the commissioners have in most cases owned for many years, and in some cases for centuries. There is absolutely no link with fracking.
Head of Rural Asset Management
SIR – Whatever the rights or wrongs of fracking, let me pass on a cautionary tale.
Some years ago I granted permission to a company to carry out a test drilling for coal half a mile from where I lived at that time. It came to nothing. However, for the four months when drilling was taking place, we suffered the foul smell of diesel fumes from the drill machinery when the wind blew from the prevailing direction.
The real road-hogs
SIR – I am at a loss to understand the recent demonisation of “middle-lane hoggers”, which has now led to a law that effectively makes it illegal to drive at the motorway speed limit.
The third of drivers who regularly cruise in the centre lane – an AA figure quoted in your report (August 16) – do so, with rare exceptions, in convoys at precisely 70mph and inconvenience nobody except motorists driving above this speed – the real law-breakers.
Police should ignore these safe drivers (safe because they rarely change lanes, often a hazardous move), and concentrate on the many speeding motorists who hog the outside lane to the danger of us all.
SIR – Is it possible that as motorists become aware of receiving £100 fines for “hogging” the middle lane on motorways, there will be more accidents due to an increased number of lane changes, in compliance with the new regulations?
Perhaps overtaking on both sides, as in America, would be a more sensible approach to this situation.
SIR – Colonel Mike Dewar’s bleak assessment of the situation in Northern Ireland (Comment, August 13) shows that no progress is being made towards resolving acute issues such as education and housing, which sustain sectarian divisions.
The Province’s power-sharing devolved government ought to be taking determined action to break down barriers. But it stands idly by, confining itself to vague strategy documents on better community relations, which lead to no practical improvement.
The Coalition Government at Westminster neglects its duties. Recently I asked it to tell Parliament why the Northern Ireland Executive had flatly rejected the new libel law which will shortly be implemented in Britain with all-party support. I was told that it was “not in a position to comment or speculate as to why that was”.
By standing aloof from the affairs of Ulster, the Government will allow Sinn Fein and the DUP, which control the Executive, to draw fat salaries and do nothing effectual in return.
SIR – Dogs Trust, Britain’s largest dog welfare charity, is horrified by the latest trend for “pooch pouches”, as depicted in your paper (report, August 15), which sees bewildered dogs uncomfortably suspended in handbag-style harnesses, in the name of vanity.
Such contraptions prevent a dog from socialising and exercising, which could induce a number of health problems.
We urge dog owners to steer clear of this alarming trend, which sees dogs callously paraded as fashion accessories. We also urge pet retailers not to stock this cruel device.
Veterinary Director, Dogs Trust
SIR – Tragedies such as Syria and Egypt always provoke the comment that violence does not solve anything, a statement that is demonstrably untrue. I am sure that the Romans felt that force was successful against Carthage, while the violence of the American Civil War ensured that the nation did not continue half slave and half free.
In our own time, the British tendency to compromise was ignored when it came to the Axis powers, which were defeated by extreme, and justified, violence.
Some disputes are between irreconcilable positions and are only brought to an end by force.
SIR – Fundamentalist Islam and democracy cannot coexist. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt won a democratic election by superior organisation, but once in power democracy became secondary to their Islamic agenda. The same thing seems to be happening in Turkey.
Once fundamentalists achieve power, only superior power will get it back from them. It is not our place to interfere.
Bognor Regis, Sussex
SIR – My experience of surgery under local anaesthetic was different to Eileen M Hughes’s (Letters, August 13). My surgeon described in graphic detail what was going on and was going to happen. I asked her to refrain on the basis that the small amount of courage I had was seeping away.
SIR – I too had a hip replacement with only the spinal injection, and it was a fantastic experience. I listened to The Harmonious Blacksmith and The Anvil Chorus during the surgery, finishing with The Ode to Joy when they stapled me up.
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Travelling by beard
SIR – Why do so many caravan owners sport beards? A short period spent driving on any popular holiday route will demonstrate that a significant proportion of them – particularly those in 4x4s – are bearded. A large caravan behind an aggressive tow-car is in itself fearsome, let alone with a beard at the wheel.
Rainwater harvesting can cut usage and bills
SIR – When we built our new house, we installed rainwater harvesting with a
6,500-litre tank under the drive. For every 7mm of rain, we get 1,000 litres of water in the tank. This water is used to flush the lavatories, run the washing machine, water the garden and wash the cars.
Why do we use expensively treated and precious water for these tasks? Even with this dry summer, we have not run out of water. Our combined metered water and sewerage bill is now £10 per month.
Why doesn’t the Government incentivise rainwater harvesting on all new-builds? We would not need to build more reservoirs if everyone used a freely available natural resource.
SIR – When water meters are located within houses, Ofwat statistics show little difference between average consumption in houses with meters, and in unmetered houses. However, if meters are located at the property boundary, leakage on private underground supply pipes from the property boundary to the house (responsible for a quarter of the leakage attributed to water companies) is reduced by around 60 per cent.
Regular meter readings at the property line quickly identify the relatively small percentage of underground supply pipes with significant leaks, leading to faster repairs.
SIR – Water meters have to be supplied, installed and maintained. Then, they have to be read by personnel who require transport; the readings they take have to be translated into individual bills which have to be sent out, and all at considerable cost.
It hardly seems cost-effective.
Dr Robert J Leeming
Balsall Common, Warwickshire
Sir, – We wish to express our disappointment at your coverage of the CSO’s Survey on Income and Living Conditions in Ireland. In particular we were disappointed Economics Editor Dan O’Brien (Analysis, August 16th) failed to look at the full picture.
He did not mention that the 48 per cent rise in income for older people between 2004 and 2011 was in the context that pensioners were coming from a very low income level. The State Contributory Pension rose from €167.30 in 2004 to €230.30 in 2009 (and has not increased since). The over-65s had an average income of €289 in 2004, compared to €503 for 18-64 year olds and €433 for under-17s. Seven years later the increases meant that gap had closed, but older people still had the lowest average income (€150 a week less than 18-64 year olds and €88 behind under-17s).
In his news report he states the average incomes of over-65s fell by 5 per cent between 2009 and 2011 “less than the rest of the adult population”. Those who did not read the CSO document would not have realised this was marginally less, with incomes for the 18- to 64-year-olds falling 6 per cent, the income for the entire population down 5.2 per cent and under-17s down 2.1 per cent.
But our greatest point of contention is that while the CSO report looks at income, we believe Dan O’Brien’s article should have looked at the increasing demands on older people’s dwindling incomes as part of his article before reaching his conclusion about older people’s incomes.
As a charity that works with older people, we were shocked when we consulted members earlier this year, while preparing our pre-budget submission, and asked about the impact which austerity measures were having on them.
People spoke of struggling from the impact of multiple cuts to supports, new taxes and charges, and soaring prices for essential items such as energy and medication. It was not the impact of any one cut, but the cumulative effect of a succession of austerity budgets that was causing so much difficulty.
Many people on low (and falling) incomes are struggling to pay their property tax (which equates to two or three weeks pension in some cases), the trebling of the prescription charge and soaring energy prices. Meanwhile there have been cuts to the household benefits package, the loss of bin waivers, respite care grant, loss of the Christmas bonus, and an increase in Fair Deal take for a nursing home bed from 15 per cent to 22.5 per cent.
Dan O’Brien states, “Lobbyists for the elderly will, no doubt, do what they are paid to and take to the airwaves claiming this mitigating circumstance and that exceptional issue.” This flippant dismissal of the serious impact that austerity measures are having on older people is hurtful to those who are struggling.
Finally, the headline on the analysis piece, “Young carry the can for the elderly in recessionary squeeze” suggests an inter-generational tension which we have not detected. As a generation which has lived through a number of previous recessions and paid their taxes during their working life for the pensions of previous generations of pensioners, they understand what others are going through.
Despite the tough economic times, older people are continuing to play their role in society as parents and grandparents, supporting their families where they can. They are volunteers in their community. They are doing their bit to ensure we all get through the current economic crisis. – Yours, etc,
Head of Advocacy and
Sir, – The proposed accommodation closure at Wexford Women’s Refuge drives home a simple truth, which is to our collective shame in this country and globally: women who suffer violence at home must just put up with it, because we are not willing to protect them.
I am just back from Uganda, where 60 per cent of women experience physical and sexual violence, most often from their partners at home. There are virtually no services for women in abusive relationships in Uganda. They are often sent back home to live or be killed in an abusive environment. This is in a country which is recovering from war and where the average person lives on an income of just over €1 per day.
Leaving Ugandan women without the protection of a refuge from violence is morally wrong. In Ireland, it is simply inexcusable. It highlights how we choose to share the resources we have and who we are prepared to leave out.
Let’s stop making the economy an excuse for denying women and children protection from the most appalling of abuses, at home or abroad. – Yours, etc,
CAOIMHE de BARRA,
Sir, – It is a testament to the healthy diversity of our media that you find space for John Waters (Opinion, August 16th) to rail against ideological uniformity in Irish journalism.
The truth is that John Waters (and others regularly in your columns) provide much to annoy those of your readers with a “feminist, left-wing, liberal, secular etc” viewpoint – and long may it be so. – Yours, etc,
School of Communications,
Dublin City University,
* I have recently read reports, listened to various radio programmes and have heard rumours that the Government is once again considering cutting some of the entitlements to our elderly – for example, home help, deducting money from their pension, etc. In my own family, we have just suffered a 40pc cut in our home-help arrangements for one of our parents.
Also in this section
Exams do not measure a person’s potential
We must address male-on-male violence
Remember, today’s results will not define you
One thing that I have noticed from my many years living in Africa and Asia is that in tribal cultures the elderly play an important role. They are the keepers of that culture’s memories and the holders of wisdom. As such, the elderly are honoured and respected members of those societies and cultures because they have paved the way for the future for their young. And, indeed, we have seen many cases of that here in our own country.
But in many modern cultures and lately over the years in our own culture, this has not been the case, especially when we see and read of how some of our elderly have been treated so appallingly. Many elderly people that I know say they feel ignored, left out, undervalued and disrespected. This has led to many of them suffering from depression.
We should all take stock of our relationship with the elderly.
May I leave you with this reflection:
‘Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and palsied hand. Blessed are they who know that my ears today must strain to catch the things they say. Blessed are they who seem to know that my eyes are dim and my wits are slow. Blessed are they who looked away when coffee spilled at table today. Blessed are they with cheery smiles that stop to chat for a little while. Blessed are they who never say, ‘You’ve told that story twice today’. Blessed are they who know the ways to bring back memories of yesterdays. Blessed are they who make it known that I’m loved, respected and not alone. Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss to find strength to carry the cross. Blessed are they who ease the days on my journey home in loving ways and who make each of my days a gift.’
Clara, Co Offaly
PROJECT MATHS A FAILURE
* Project Maths has been heralded as a linchpin for our so-called hi-tech economy as it aims to encourage a greater uptake in higher-level maths. Should the Leaving Certificate mathematics exam be reduced to a mere popularity contest?
Imagine how strange it would be if we taught students how to multiply, but decided that division wasn’t worth pursuing? Project Maths has done something similar, as the amount of calculus in the course has been significantly reduced in the pursuit of greater relevance. This decision is ironic considering that calculus directly explains many common science and engineering problems.
The mathematics course should aim to make students proficient in the mathematical concepts they need in a clear and precise form. Project Maths has failed in this regard.
Engineer and Lecturer,
Dundalk, Co Louth
TEEN SUICIDE TRAGEDY
* I refer to the article by Ian O’Doherty in the August 16 issue of the Irish Independent. In his four-column comment on the teenagers who were recently driven to take their own lives, Mr O’Doherty wrote: “So how have we suddenly produced an entire generation of people so fragile, so psychologically vulnerable and, frankly, so weak that some unpleasant sentiments on a message board can make them kill themselves?”
The remaining contents of the same article make it plain to the reader that Mr O’Doherty knows as well as anyone else that the teenagers implied in the above statement did not take their own lives simply because they received one or two insults over the internet, but that their deaths were the result of ongoing campaigns of harassment and cruelty. No one takes their own life on a whim.
Rathmines, Dublin 6
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
* At last we have curbs within the Catholic Church on giving eulogies at funeral Masses. It is a great relief that people no longer have to suffer over-the- top and time-consuming orations from people who like listening to the sound of their own voice. Eulogies tend to detract from the religious aspect of a funeral.
This is not the only problem with activities at funerals. We also have inappropriate music, impromptu occurrences that disrupt proceedings and long debates about coffin-shouldering. The Catholic Church has made a good decision in stopping eulogies at funeral masses and it is not before time. Now the church needs to review all the other stunts and carry-ons seen at funerals and other religious services in this country and ban them, too.
Shanbally, Co Cork
RTE’S WALK OF SHAME
* The lack of live television coverage by our national broadcaster of Rob Heffernan’s heroic walk to victory was extremely disappointing. It’s not as if Rob’s victory came out of the blue. He’s been knocking at the door for a number of years now with some great performances, including his fourth place at the Olympics in London last year. It’s red faces all round at Montrose – not so much a retreat from Moscow as a case of not even getting there.
At least we were spared the borefest in Cardiff.
Kilmainham, Dublin 8
PUT CYCLIST SAFETY FIRST
* I agree entirely with Brendan Chapman’s suggestion (Letters, August 15) that motorcyclists should be permitted to use bus lanes. Motorcyclists represent less than 2pc of road users and are vulnerable due to their two-wheel status.
As a motorcyclist, I can testify that bus lanes are empty of buses the majority of the time and letting motorbikes use them would be a quick-fix in reducing bike accidents.
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
A MODEL AUSSIE MAYOR
* It was quite humbling to listen to Oscar Yildiz, the mayor of Moreland, Melbourne, on his recent visit to Drogheda where he met the family of Jill Meagher, whose life was cruelly taken from her.
Mr Yildiz is a man with true compassion. Not only did he travel on his own time, he also paid for the trip with his own money. Surely our politicians can learn from this?
Dunleer, Co Louth
SAVE OUR HISTORY
* “There is nothing that is politically right that is morally wrong,” said one Daniel O’Connell.
The current Education Minister proposes to remove history as a core subject – I wonder why. Then again Irish people have, for years, been educated in a legal vacuum since the foundation of the State.
While ignorance of the law is no excuse in a court case, one equally wonders what Ireland’s soon-to-be-erased heroes such as O’Connell or indeed a man called Michael Collins would think of ignorance by the law being perpetrated upon a public whose traditions are so well protected in first article of the very foundation of the Irish legal system.
I would contact the Department of Education for some answers, but history has taught me that, as King Alfred contended, nothing is worthwhile without wisdom.
Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway