19 August 2013 Still Pottering
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark There is one too many Frigates in the Royal Navy, and Troutbridge is the one extra so Pertwee auctions her off. Priceless
We are both tired but I potter around and get some things done, sweeping the drive
We watch Dads Army quite good
Scrabble today Mary wins but she gets under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Lord Chitnis, who has died aged 77, was a modernising head of the Liberal Party organisation, then an innovative chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust; he is best remembered, however, as the 25-year-old agent who, at Orpington in 1962, helped pull off the most sensational by-election victory of the 20th century.
6:03PM BST 18 Aug 2013
Pratap Chitnis had run elections in only two constituencies when, early in 1962, Orpington’s Conservative MP was appointed a judge. His majority was 14,760 over Labour, with the Liberals third. In an era of firm political loyalties, this represented a mountainous task for the Liberals. Their candidate had stood down amid allegations of bigamy, and the Labour candidate presented his successor with a hot water bottle to stop him getting cold feet.
Yet seismic forces were at work. The Tories’ candidate did not strike a chord with the constituency, and the Liberals had been picking up seats on the local council. Their new candidate, Eric Lubbock, was a personable commuter who, with his attractive Austrian wife, campaigned outside Orpington station every morning and evening.
Furthermore Chitnis, dispatched from head office, proved a genius at grassroots organisation — though Lubbock (now Lord Avebury) remains convinced it was a stray cigarette butt from Chitnis that destroyed the Liberal committee rooms in mid-campaign.
On March 15 1962 Lubbock romped home by 7,855 votes. His shattering victory gave critical mass to the Liberals’ return from near extinction under Jo Grimond’s leadership. Though there were no more Orpingtons, the enduring emphasis on local campaigning pursued by Chitnis and successors like Trevor Jones and Chris Rennard led eventually to Liberals capturing cities such as Liverpool and Sheffield, and ultimately to the party gaining a share of power in 2010.
At the time Orpington severely dented Harold Macmillan’s government, leaving it vulnerable when the Profumo affair broke a year later. Yet Chitnis might have achieved even more for the Liberals but for the deep antipathy between himself and Jeremy Thorpe. Chitnis had joined the party in 1958 because of Grimond, and when Grimond retired after the 1966 election he failed to stop Thorpe being installed as leader within 24 hours. Strains between them grew, and two years later Chitnis resigned.
When Thorpe went on trial in 1979 for conspiracy to murder Norman Scott, who claimed to be Thorpe’s former lover, Chitnis persuaded the former Liberal MP Peter Bessell to return from the United States to testify for the prosecution. Bessell claimed to have heard discussions about the murder plot, but Thorpe was acquitted.
Despite sitting in the Lords as a cross-bencher after being created a life peer in 1977, Chitnis advised David Steel throughout his time as Liberal leader. He was influential in concluding the Lib-Lab pact of 1977-78, which secured the Callaghan government’s majority; accompanied Steel on three election campaigns as leader; and was a key player in creating the Liberal-SDP Alliance, which briefly looked set to “break the mould” of British politics.
When, after a disheartening showing at the 1987 election, Steel triggered the merger of the two parties, Chitnis cut off the Rowntree Trust’s £20,000-a-year contribution to the leader’s office, saying the new party would have to pay its own way.
Pratap Chidamber Chitnis was born in London on May 1 1936, the son of Dr Chidamber Chitnis and the former Lucia Mallik. His grandfather, MC Malik, was the Liberal parliamentary candidate for St James’s in 1906. Though his father was a Hindu, Pratap was educated by nuns, then sent to Stonyhurst College. He read English at Birmingham University and took an MA at the University of Kansas.
Chitnis joined the National Coal Board in 1958 as an administrator. He was election agent at North Kensington in 1959 and a librarian at the National Liberal Club before becoming head of the Liberal Party’s local government department in 1960. In Orpington he started from scratch, the party not even having a record of who its councillors were.
Afterwards, Chitnis produced the Liberals’ Local Government Handbook. Its message was twofold: that to the voters, a party was only as good as its councillors; and that Liberals would win locally not with better policies but with better organisation.
Chitnis was the Liberals’ press officer from 1964 to 1966, when he became head of the party organisation. That year’s election brought the Liberals 12 seats, a gain of two. Then Thorpe succeeded Grimond, just as Chitnis unveiled plans to expand the party.
Despite Chitnis’s organisational zeal and discipline and Thorpe’s novelty as leader, the hoped-for surge of support did not materialise. By 1969 the party was £93,000 in debt. Sackings were proposed, and Chitnis — who had just engineered a by-election victory at Birmingham Ladywood — resigned.
He was thrown a lifeline by Richard Wainwright MP, a director with Grimond of the Rowntree Trust (now the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust). As its secretary, Chitnis made the Trust more efficient, and while continuing to back Liberal causes made sure the funding bypassed Thorpe.
Chitnis rated this job, which he held with various titles for 19 years, “the best in the world”, having £350,000 a year to give to any organisation not registered as a charity. It was Chitnis who appointed the first “chocolate soldiers” — research assistants for senior Liberal MPs. He also offered Harold Wilson funding for a researcher handling Northern Ireland, and made grants to the Friends of the Earth, the Pennine Development Trust and the Tory Reform Group.
The Trust was the largest shareholder in Rowntree Mackintosh, and when in 1971 Chitnis approved a £30,000 grant to the Mozambique liberation movement Frelimo, backbench Tories boycotted After Eight mints in protest.
Chitnis observed elections in El Salvador (his special interest), Guyana, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe; he dismissed the poll called by Ian Smith in 1979 as a “gigantic confidence trick”, then advised Robert Mugabe during British-sponsored elections the next year.
He chaired Refugee Action from 1981 to 1986, then, until 1989, the British Refugee Council.
Pratap Chitnis married Anne Brand in 1964. Their only son died young.
Lord Chitnis, born May 1 1936, died July 12 2013
We’ve been following the debate on Oxford and the privately educated with interest (Letters, 17 August), hoping to understand how our son managed to secure a place at Oxford after what might be most kindly called a “distributed” education. We’ve dragged him round the world with us, so his schools included the British embassy playgroup in Moscow, state primary schools in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Yorkshire, Hampshire and Powys, fee-paying Canberra grammar school and Hereford sixth-form college. Perhaps three years of “intensive and committed tuition”, to quote Professor Matthew Leigh, will equip him to find the answer for us.
Mark and Kate Hainge
• How edifying to witness the government shamed into doing the decent thing (Coalition parties return £520,000 bequest, 15 August). Miss Edwards’ bequest to the nation may now be used as she would have wished. She seems to have been a remarkable woman. Cheers, then, to the Guardian for describing her as “late midwife and nit nurse”. There’s nothing like adding insult to injury.
• May I reassure Emine Saner (A recipe for change, 17 August) that Thame Women’s Institute – average age, er, knocking on a bit – sings Jerusalem before every meeting, and it always sounds great.
• Love the latest British Gas advert on the back page of Saturday’s Guardian. Shows a large, bluish, fat cat with a smile, sitting on the radiator.
Ian Birrell (Forget the nostalgia. Our trains are better than ever, 15 August) does not seem to travel much by train these days or to be very well informed about who runs them and how well or badly. The support for renationalisation comes not from nostalgia, but from straight comparison of services in the here and now, because the railways are already part-renationalised. Has he forgotten that there was a string of serious accidents after privatisation that led the government to renationalise Railtrack? It is a nationalised company that has given us the safety record he boasts about.
And then there is the government-owned company that took over the east coast mainline when the private company that had the franchise couldn’t do the job. The passengers who use that line have no nostalgia whatever for a privatised railway. We have excellent fast and frequent services, lots of innovative ideas – East Coast-pioneered cheap tickets, the best website for buying tickets, and the nicest train crews anywhere. We know what the alternative is – we experience it on other sections of the network, not at some vague time in the past, but in the here and now, and we do not want to go back to that.
Newcastle upon Tyne
• On comparative costs of UK rail travel with our European partners, perhaps Ian Birrell should find a more realistic website. A recent academic study shows that long-distance rail travel in the UK costs 0.49p per km. This compares with 0.28p per km in Germany, 0.22p per km in Italy and 0.15p per km in France. Birrell waxes lyrical about investment in new rolling stock. He should note that in the five years prior to privatisation, investment stood at £3,209m at 2012 prices. In the five years from 2008 to 2012 investment slumped to £1,955m. He should also be aware that the high speed trains placed in service by British Rail in 1976 still form the backbone of the non-electrified high-speed rail network – a real BR success story utilising British-built equipment.
If Ian Birrell were to be so unwise as to have his vision “clouded by misty-eyed nostalgia for lovely old trains”, he may reflect on the Metroland so beloved by John Betjeman. As he travels through the leafy glades of Buckinghamshire, he may not realise that he is being transported courtesy of Chiltern Rail, which, like other train operating companies in the UK, is a wholly owned subsidiary of a foreign state railway, in this case Germany’s. Our railways, heavily supported by a complex web of direct and indirect subsidies, are proving of great economic benefit to the state-owned operating companies of Germany, France and Holland.
What Birrell is trying to justify is just not supported by the facts. The taxpayer is being robbed every day of the year and the passenger is being robbed on every journey he or she makes. There is a crying need for a publicly owned and, above all, a publicly accountable railway system. Only then will the taxpayer and rail passenger receive the benefits of an effective, properly integrated and tax-efficient railway system.
Vernham Dean, Hampshire
• If all unnecessary costs that fragmentation and privatisation have imposed on the rail industry were eliminated, and the resultant savings were used to reduce fares, it would equate to an across-the-board cut in rail fares of 18%.
General secretary, TSSA
• I am delighted Ian Birrell gets to Liverpool 37 mins quicker to watch Everton. However, that’s thanks to a £9bn upgrade of the west coast mainline track paid for by taxpayers, £2bn in franchise subsidies to Virgin Trains paid in the past 15 years, new rolling stock bought as a result of these payments and the share of Network Rail’s annual direct subsidy of £3.5bn allocated to the west coast. So Mr Birrell is deluded if he thinks his faster journey is one of the fruits of privatisation, which are as sparse as cherries in January.
• So our trains are better than ever? Tell that to the woman with a toddler and a baby who had to breastfeed sitting on the floor by the door surrounded by five other passengers, including me, who, along with dozens of other passengers throughout the train, had to stand for an hour-long journey from Banbury to London. And it wasn’t even rush hour.
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire
• Might I suggest Ian Birrell samples the delights of Northern Rail’s rolling stock on its non-electrified lines before claiming “we hurtle along in slick modern trains”. I will admit that we often “hurtle”, but not in a reassuring way. Similarly, I challenge him to find an alternative provider to Virgin Trains for his regular London to Liverpool route, since he claims there are “more options available for travel”. Finally, his price comparison of rail fares with Europe does not take into account such anomalies which exist on local networks outside the areas subsidised by the metropolitan areas. To travel just one stop between Greenfield and Marsden on Northern Rail’s Manchester to Huddersfield service costs £5.60 – for a journey of six miles.
• “Ignore the groans of vested interests” blusters David Cameron’s ex-scribe Ian Birrell. And who are these vested interests? Oh, just the people who pay for, use and work on the railways. And there you have the Conservative ideology in its pure form.
• It is Ian Birrell’s wisdom, not conventional wisdom, that is wrong when it comes to our railways and their botched privatisation. For all his twists and turns, Mr Birrell cannot escape the fact that in its final year, the “deeply inefficient” (the inept John Major’s description) British Rail ran the national network for a subsidy amounting to less than £1bn – and that subsidy was falling as the economy improved.
Privatisation has seen the annual subsidy bill top £5bn during the many crises that followed the fragmentation of the system. And this was when the economy was booming. What might BR have achieved in the same favourable economic climate? Today the subsidy stands at around £3bn. This does not feel like a success story to me.
In British Rail days, “lovely old trains” did not “trundle round our tracks”. Instead, BR operated the most comprehensive system of high-speed rail services (defined as 125mph+) in Europe. It was also regularly rated the most efficient railway system in Europe using a set of common yardsticks to measure productivity and so on.
Mr Birrell’s claims on rail fares also stand little scrutiny. The only reason they appear so reasonable with a 4% increase in 15 years is that passengers have been compelled to trade price for flexibility. I am certain that Mr Birrell’s claim is correct – but only by buying tickets for specific trains and travelling at inconvenient times. Compare a flexible “anytime” ticket with a BR open return and the comparison would look very different. The private train operators have also redefined the terms of travel: peak time now starts earlier and finishes later, restricting choice still further.
His journey to Liverpool may be 37 minutes quicker. This is because the west coast mainline has recently been upgraded, something that British Rail was planning to do. He chooses to assume that BR would have stagnated. It was innovating, and would have carried on doing so.
It is true that rail travel has seen a boom over the past 10 years. But I have yet to see a jot of evidence that any significant part of this increase is down to anything that the train operating companies have done. The most likely cause is increasing road congestion and the fact that young people particularly appear to be turning away from motoring.
And lastly, why on earth did you choose an illustration in which BR was branded as a steam locomotive? Will we never escape the clutches of Thomas the Tank Engine when discussing a priceless national asset?
Thornton le Dale, North Yorkshire
• Ian Birrell rightly highlights the obscene profits of the largely unscrutinised rolling stock companies and the grotesque level and inappropriate structure of the Network Rail executive bonus arrangements. The article, however, fails to recognise some of the underlying factors in the rail network of today. The rail network remains blighted by the unnecessary complexities of the framework established under the privatisation he rightly criticises. The vast majority of the infrastructure and train investment since privatisation has come from public funding. According to the rail regulator, investment by private rail companies has reduced from £750m a year shortly after privatisation to some £500m now. The point he makes about average fare price per passenger mile having risen by only 4% in real terms over the past 15 years fails to take into account the pegging of fare increases to RPI minus 1% in the first five years of the privatised system and the 49% increase in passenger numbers since.
Network Rail is currently investing £5bn annually in Britain’s still-largely Victorian rail network, leading to enhancements and improvements to the benefit of the travelling public. However, its not-for-dividend governance model which has led to this following the disaster of Railtrack has received little public debate. The model provides the longer time horizon essential for long-term infrastructure investment decisions, unbedevilled by quarterly or biannual stock market reporting with short-term share-price volatility of a conventional private sector plc on the one hand and the annual governmental public spending vagaries of a traditional nationalised public industry on the other. It is questionable whether this level of investment would be possible if the company were set up either as a conventional private-sector plc or a government-owned organisation. Look no further than the tunnel tax now being sought by the privately owned Thames Water.
Ultimately the success of Britain’s railways will be publicly judged in terms of punctuality, affordability, reliability and, most importantly, safety. Much has been done, as the article acknowledged, but there is still a very long way to travel.
Public member, Network Rail
• I leave it to other readers better equipped than I am to address some of the hugely contentious claims made by Ian Birrell. What cannot go unchallenged, however, is his assertion that “Margaret Thatcher saw the sale of the railways as a step too far”. I am surprised that his close association with the Conservative party failed to make him aware of the fact that she nursed a deeply rooted antipathy towards trade unions generally and is on record as supporting the privatisation of the railways principally because this would significantly weaken both the NUM and Aslef, two of the largest and most powerful unions in the country. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
• I read Mr Birrell’s article the day after returning from a holiday in Germany, where we paid €156 for return tickets for four adults and three children to travel from Berlin to Stralsund on trains that were clean, spacious and comfortable. Moreover, we paid for these tickets on the day and not two months in advance. Compare this with our experience of travelling by rail from Manchester to Edinburgh, where for two adults the cost is £94 (with a senior citizens’ railcard) booked two months in advance. For this we have to travel on a train of a mere three coaches in length and which is full on leaving Manchester airport.
Mr Birrell also compares freight travel in the UK and the continent but omits to mention the huge amount of freight that is carried by river and canal traffic on the continent. I suppose such reasoning is to be expected from someone who used to write speeches for David Cameron.
Salford, Greater Manchester
• As someone who lives in north London and Cardiff, I use First Great Western trains on a regular basis. Birrell apparently thinks the modern trains (built in the 1980s and often breaking down) hurtle along (journey times considerably slower than pre-privatisation) while we use the Wi-Fi (hardly exists on FGW services). Good luck with winning the next election using those kinds of arguments, Mr Birrell.
• Ian Birrell makes some interesting points about rail travel. However, he needs to get out more or at least sample journeys away from his whizzy west coast mainline. I regularly travel from Nottingham (station currently closed) to Leeds on an ancient, cramped, dirty and slow two-carriage service that costs £46 for a return journey. Although more people are travelling by train, this is not necessarily because of faster, cleaner and more reliable services. Ever escalating ticket prices linked with a lack of development will only fuel the belief that the money is going straight into the hands of bosses and shareholders. The east coast line has proved it is quite possible to operate a nationalised service at lower costs than the private companies. Would that have something to do with profit?
Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire
In suggesting that some people need to “grow up” before talking about the persecution of Christians in the UK or US (Report, 16 August), I had in mind those who offer what I think unduly sensationalised accounts of the situation – and, to a lesser extent, those in the public eye who have to put up with a certain amount of routine attack. I realise in retrospect how offensive the words might sound to those who suffer bullying for their convictions or whose faith presents them with real and painful dilemmas in their professional lives. I want to make it clear that I’d regard urging such people to “grow up” as insulting and insensitive to a degree, and apologise for giving any impression to that effect.
Magdalene College, Cambridge
• I abhor the boorish positivism and the facile ethical/political limitations of Dawkins-type secularism. I acknowledge that secularists like myself can benefit from a bit of theological literacy and a nuanced awareness of the complexities of cultural history. But just at the moment secularism articulates some blindingly obvious truths about the injustices perpetuated by Christianity and most other dominant faiths in matters of sexuality and the related ordering of interpersonal and social relationships. Those faiths overwhelmingly collude with and provide a metaphysical underpinning for the growing persecution of gay people. Those faiths deny and undermine the reasonable aspirations of the increasing numbers of decent people who seek to move away from the manifest inequalities, injustices and dishonesties perpetuated by the faith traditions and create a greater sense of integrity and honest community in the ways they live their lives and relationships.
Secularism may well share all sorts of post-Enlightenment flaws and weaknesses. But in this area it is the only voice of authentic prophecy crying in the wilderness, and it behoves the Christian and other faiths to open their ears to that voice and acknowledge the errors and injustices of their ways.
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
The report from the Institute for Economic Affairs says that infrastructure around HS2 could inflate the cost of the new transport system to nearer £80bn.
Initially, I was for this scheme, but the cost keeps ballooning. We have several problems related to transport here in the UK – people cannot afford high rail fares, and this will now inflate those. We also have an obesity epidemic with even the British Medical Association suggesting that more is spent on walking and cycling.
Imagine if even the original £30bn were spent instead on cycling or on fixing potholed roads. This country would be transformed.
As it stands, with the Government’s recent announcement, only £0.159bn (as road planning is measured in billions, governments tend to use millions to make things seem bigger than they are) is being invested in cycling, and that is over three years.
Scrap HS2 and give the money over to active travel.
D J Cook, Southampton
Have any of those who complain of cyclists not using cycle lanes, and using pavements instead, ever tried to ride in a cycle lane on a main road?
It’s about a yard wide, with drains to avoid, and it’s damned difficult to stay in. Then there are cars parked in the cycle lane forcing the cyclist into the traffic. And the cycle lane disappears at bus stops and road junctions, so it is not a really a dedicated cycle track but a symbolic one.
Until someone really stamps authority on providing proper cycle tracks, there will be deaths galore, and cyclists will, quite properly, use the pavement for safety.
Chris Harding, Poole, Dorset
George Meikle (letter, 16 August) says what a lovely city Bristol is for cycling. It isn’t for me as a pedestrian. Cyclists ride silently and ruthlessly on pavements, and recently at a pedestrian crossing the light said go, but a cyclist rode straight at me as I tried to cross, and I’m 70 years old with a walking stick.
It isn’t lovely for me as a motorist, either. I turned right in my car at a green traffic light and a cyclist ran straight at me, against the lights, and tore off my car number plate.
Victoria Thomas, Bristol
Muslim Brotherhood ‘victims’ are the aggressors
As a British citizen of Egyptian origin, I read with interest Mary Dejevsky’s article “The West must finally see Egypt as it is, not as we would like it to be” (16 August).
The situation in Egypt has been instigated to a great extent by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) through their failure as a government and by inciting violence and hate among their supporters.
Sadly, the Western press in general, and The Independent in particular, have naively presented them as innocent victims against a brutal regime.
The MB protesters for the past six weeks committed many illegal activities, including damaging public properties, intimidating citizens, inciting sectarian violence, blocking major roads and using firearms. It is the duty of any sovereign government to terminate such illegal activities.
Then there is the tragedy of Mohamed ElBaradei; unfortunately, this honourable man has failed Egypt twice.
The first time was when he withdrew his candidacy for the presidency. He could have unified the liberal and pro-democracy movements and he would have become the first elected president and a real representation of the aspirations of the 25 January revolution.
The second time was his recent resignation as vice president of the interim government at such a critical time. He has excluded himself from further contribution to the political life of Egypt, which is a big loss.
At desperate times, brave men take a clear position and accept the consequences. The choice that faced many was between standing for Egypt’s security and safety against a group willing to damage the entire state to achieve their narrow political objectives or let them control the country’s future.
Unfortunately, a price has to be paid. The sad loss of lives is distressing, but the survival of Egypt is not for compromise.
Sameh K Morcos, Emeritus Professor of Diagnostic Imaging, University of Sheffield
The final cut for cinema?
I am a celluloid junkie and I go often to the cinema. It is amusing that an American social media executive has proposed more distractions in cinemas so that people can further engage in social media (“The texters vs the shushers”, 15 August).
Many cinema enthusiasts believe that the best way to see a film is in a good cinema with a big screen, decent sound and competent projection.
They also recognise, nevertheless, that there are downsides to the cinema experience, and these certainly include people eating, rustling sweet bags and talking, not to mention advertisements and trailers – unless one goes to the few specialist cinemas that discourage eating, have fewer ads and trailers, and are often cheaper.
Many of us have at home a large screen and good sound, and DVDs are now very cheap. Cinemas are becoming quite expensive, making a trip to the cinema less easy to justify. We may be near to the time when many of us who take film seriously give up on cinemas altogether.
Dennis Leachman, Reading
Science and the single-sex school
Dr Kevin Stannard (letter, 17 August) says that in all-girls schools there are more girls who study maths and physics at A-levels than in mixed schools.
One possible explanation is that the number of pupils who can be taught each subject is limited.
If schools can only teach the top 30 pupils in each subject, and boys are slightly better at this subject than girls, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this subject will be dominated by boys in a mixed school. In an all-girls school the top 30 students in physics will all be girls, while in an all-boys school the top 30 students in English will all be boys.
Thus, single-gender schools create the illusion that each gender is being repressed in mixed schools, when all that mixed schools are doing is trying to help their best pupils study the subjects they excel in.
The only way to change this would be to introduce gender quotas in all subjects, but this would result in boys who are good at physics and girls who are good at English being denied their right to study these subjects simply to appease a misguided notion of political correctness.
Thomas Wiggins, Wokingham, Berkshire
While I was a grammar school pupil in the early 1960s, my headmaster announced: “In the light of the findings of the Crowther Report, the teaching of general science has been discontinued.”
Over 40 years later, and while I was seeking a secondary school for my daughter, I was astonished to discover that, far from having been discontinued, so-called “combined science” has become practically ubiquitous.
I dragged the old report from a mouldering library stack. Published in 1959, it concerned the proposed raising of the school-leaving age from 15 to 16 and reported that the uptake of science in the sixth-form was limited almost exclusively to pupils who had studied the full science option, with physics and chemistry as separate subjects, in the lower school.
It so happened that the only state school within commuting range offering this option was a girls grammar, and I found it in the process of expanding its sixth-form because “the girls all want to do physics” – something Crowther would not have predicted.
My daughter went on to read mathematical physics at a Russell Group university. It may be that girls do better in single-sex schools but, particularly for more able students, it is the teaching of general or “combined” science that should be challenged.
Iain Salisbury, Edgbaston, Birmingham
Let the boat take the strain
You report (“Girl, you’ve gotta carry that weight”, 16 August) that Google is extending Street View to canals and you picture a volunteer carrying a 40lb backpack containing 15 cameras which will take photographs along the towpaths – with each volunteer walking 100 miles a month.
Google drove around every street with a similar setup on top of a car. Since most canals are navigable, wouldn’t it save a lot of backache to mount the cameras on a boat?
Phil Wood, Westhoughton, Greater Manchester
Getting into bed with Cameron
David Cameron is to allow big companies and lobbying firms to leave their message on the beds of Tories staying at the “official hotel” during their conference.
The Liberal Democrats are offering to sell “poster spots” to lobbyists in their conference washrooms (lavatories).
Why stop there? Toilet rolls carrying all the details of these companies could be installed in the lavatories of all the Tories at the official hotel, and in the Lib Dem washrooms. This would get their message to a captive audience who would be sitting quietly on their own.
Derek Hanlin, Gilfach Goch, Rhondda Cynon Taf
With reference to your article “£1,750 for access to the Prime Minister’s bed”, 17 August), having looked up “bribery” and “corruption” in the Oxford English Dictionary, I have come to the conclusion that it takes both for such lobbying to exist. Am I correct?
Fiona McIlwain, Holcombe Rogus, Devon
My husband wants to know if, were he to pay, say, £2,000, he might have access to Sam Cam’s bed.
Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Men in the Royal Navy who are pogonophilic may wear full beards.
Sailors call soldiers “pongos”, members of the RAF “crabs” and Royal Marines “bootnecks”.
Pongos (except the drum major in the Argylls) may not become pogonic; neither can crabs nor bootnecks. They may wear moustaches; sailors may not.
I hope this aspect of pogonology is now as clear as Howard Jacobson’s view (Voices, 17 August).
Mick Humphreys, Commander RN, Creech St Michael, Somerse
There is a pressing need for a sane discussion of the fracking issue, but Matt Ridley’s article is over-reaching to get an effect
Sir, Matt Ridley has corrected much of the misinformation touted by the anti-fracking activists, but he has missed a couple of points (Opinion, Aug 15).
After the well has been drilled, the drill rig is replaced with a wellhead that is low and unobtrusive once a modest natural screen is planted. There is no large industrial plant and only occasional visits for servicing and inspection. To all intents it is almost invisible, unlike a turbine.
Second, shale gas will provide fuel for electricity generation at a fraction of the cost of electricity from wind turbines.
Burgh St Peter, Suffolk
Sir, Two other “myths” that Matt Ridley failed to address: fracking for gas is not an economic pursuit, and the treatment of the “flowback” waste water is the worst problem.
BHP Billiton and BP together lost more than $6 billion fracking for gas in the US, because the energy return on energy invested is poor. It takes a lot of diesel to get energy-poorer gas.
In the US the contaminated waste water is stored in lagoons before injection into boreholes. As this is not permitted in the UK, Cuadrilla had to transport its waste water in a road tanker from the Lancashire trial site to Davyhulme works for treatment before discharge into the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey.
Fracking in the UK is more expensive than in the US, so Cuadrilla must have been disturbed to learn that Shell has written off $2.1 billion fracking for “tight” oil while following the US trend of moving the drilling to oil-bearing plays in Dakota and Texas.
In fracking for gas and oil initial production falls off rapidly, so to maintain overall production there has to be constant drilling in new locations. The UK countryside is unable to bear this intense industrial activity.
Sir, Matt Ridley’s selective citation of null results ignores two separate studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in fact found methane, propane and ethane in wells within a kilometre of fracking operations.
Ridley argues that the chemical additives in fracking solutions can be found in our kitchens. So why are the fracking companies not willing to release their data on what these additives actually are? Failure to do so makes one suspicious as to whether there is something we don’t know about on this matter.
Ridley’s dismissal of windmills ignores a recent Times article pointing out that about 4 GW of energy in the UK is now produced by renewables — enough to power the homes of 3 million people. In fact, as you report (“RWE npower threatens more price rises are in the pipeline”, Aug 15) there is a continuing trend of “further power station closures, blaming an expansion of renewable energy that has pushed many gas and coal-fired plants into the red”.
There is a pressing need for a sane discussion of the fracking issue, but Matt Ridley’s article is not it. By over-reaching to get an effect, he is just muddying the waters.
East Linton, East Lothian
Sir, The figures for chemicals used in fracking in the US appear small. Taking Matt Ridley’s figures, the total volume of chemicals used in the US in one year is 22 billion gallons. I suggest this is quite a large quantity.
East Dean, W Sussex
The system of redistributing profits and losses around the system results in areas of higher demand subsidising areas of lower demand
Sir, Southern passengers are not being cheated by the rail funding system (Aug 14). The system of redistributing profits and losses around the system does indeed result in areas of higher demand subsidising areas of lower demand. However, this does not illustrate the full financial picture.
Our analysis of Treasury data on transport infrastructure spending reveals that London and the South East are disproportionate beneficiaries of public investment. On rail spending, the data shows that projects over the next decade where public funding is involved will spend £1,215 per capita for London and the South East, to the three Northern regions’ £12. Scotland, the subject of particular attention in your article, will receive only £30 per head.
Institute for Public Policy Research North
Sir, The South West Trains network is one of Europe’s busiest. Passengers have doubled since 1996 to around 210 million and generate hundreds of millions of pounds for the taxpayer. More than £100 million is being invested in extra carriages and around £360 million is being spent on infrastructure improvements this year.
South West Trains and Network Rail have formed an alliance which is helping to deliver a more integrated and more efficient railway.
Fares will help to fund more than £1 billion of investment in signalling, power supply and improvements on our network over the next five years.
Between 2006-07 and 2011-12 the taxpayer contribution to funding the UK rail network fell by nearly 40 per cent. This policy is what has driven the cost of rail travel for passengers. The operating margins of train companies have remained modest at an average of around 3 per cent of turnover.
South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance
The Chuch Commissioners’ registering of mineral interests, in line with Land Registry requirements, has nothing to do with fracking
Sir, Further to your report “Church wants share of fracking bounty” (Aug 16), the Church Commissioners have been working since 2004 to register their mineral interests, in line with Land Registry requirements, as any responsible landowner is doing, before the end of October deadline. This does not create new interests or rights and is confined to properly registering what the Commissioners have in most cases owned for many years, and in some cases for centuries. There is no link with fracking.
Chief Surveyor, Church Commissioners
Whichever American whiskey the new US Ambassador likes to drink, it should only be called bourbon if it is made in the state of Kentucky
Sir, The new American Ambassador (Aug 16) may well like “his bourbon straight up” but then he won’t be sipping Jack Daniel’s, which is Tennessee whiskey. By law bourbon can be made only in my native Kentucky.
Long Hanborough, Oxon
Increasing magistrates’ sentencing powers would lower the number of expensive cases in the Crown Courts and reduce delays in the system
Sir, Once again the Government is using suspect statistics to devalue the magistracy. The failure to increase magistrates’ sentencing powers as promised (“Jails too full to pass tough new sentences”, Aug 15) is another unwelcome step in the process of the dumbing-down of this essential (and unappreciated) component of the British judicial system.
Increasing our sentencing powers would have reduced the expensive burden of cases in the Crown Courts, would use magistrates’ proven capabilities more effectively and efficiently and would reduce delays in the system. Is Damian Green, the Justice Minister, really claiming that judges won’t send people to prison where magistrates would?
Given that magistrates tend to be more lenient than judges, his reason for not granting the promised increase in our powers is thin, and the figure of an extra 3,400 prison places that our increased powers would require is spurious and unjustifiable.
Clearly there’s something else afoot in the MoJ. Is it too much to ask that the Government should honour its promises?
Peter Ullathorne, JP
SIR – Again I am reduced to a state of rage by this Government. The Sunday Telegraph reports the loss of half a million pounds in aid to terrorist groups (August 11). Of course we should be giving aid, both material and practical, to poorer countries and their peoples. After all, we are a comparatively rich nation, and with a sound reputation for international aid and justice.
But what is this defective Department for International Development up to? Why do we not channel our aid through well-run and honest aid channels like Christian Aid, Oxfam and Cafod? Then we would know the money is not siphoned off into Swiss bank accounts or spent on swanky German cars or military hardware designed to bite the hand that feeds it.
SIR – Seeking to commit 0.7 per cent of GDP to the foreign aid budget is all well and good if it is spent in countries and on projects that genuinely need it.
Given the reality, however –that an arbitrary commitment has led to the profligate spending of taxpayers’ money in places that are not poor, for the sake of trying to achieve a target – we need an immediate, comprehensive audit of the foreign aid budget and a full transparent review on all items of spending. The Government has an obligation to help poor countries that are in need, but it also has a moral duty to spend the taxes of the British people prudently and effectively.
James Adam Paton
SIR – The big charities supported by the Government and the EU spend far too much on soliciting and lobbying and on their own staff welfare. They are almost wholly ineffective in reducing Third World poverty. There are many better ways that government could spend the money.
Godfrey Bloom’s language has caused controversy and has been duly denounced by his own party. However, had he spoken less colourfully, the BBC and others keen to expand our aid budget would simply have ignored him and this aspect of Government waste would have remained unchallenged.Mr Bloom is perhaps a little more astute than we take him for.
SIR – I find it strange that Matthew d’Ancona (Opinion, August 11) thinks it more important to debate political language than international aid. He also bemoans the “debauched” misuse of the term “politically correct”. I and perhaps lots of people know what Godfrey Bloom meant when he said: “I don’t do PC.”
Political correctness is an unwinnable game in which “offensive” terminology is replaced by new terms, which in time also become “offensive” or out of date. People who don’t keep up with this merry-go-round and use “inappropriate” language find their political arguments disqualified, as those in the know recoil in horror.
Mr Bloom’s use of “Bongo Bongo Land” means that his real point about the misuse of foreign aid can be dismissed in an orgy of harrumphing. But wasting money is more important than political language. And encouraging debate is better than stifling or sidestepping it.
Mr d’Ancona asserts that “many floating voters…are wary of any politician who presents bigotry as plain talking”. I would be wary of any journalist who presents plain talking as bigotry.
SIR – David Cameron should not get too smug over Matthew d’Ancona’s excoriation of Godfrey Bloom. While it is true that politicians should not resort to the non-PC language of the past, Messrs Cameron and d’Ancona can rest assured that many ordinary people are not averse to its usage. More to the point, it is grossly unfair of a government to increase immigration when the housing situation for the present population is totally inadequate. If this isn’t a recipe for racism, I don’t know what is.
Britain can’t support EU immigration
SIR – The data released this week recording the near 30,000 Romanian and Bulgarians who took up jobs in Britain from April to June this year is alarming, not least because full border restrictions are yet to be lifted. These numbers are equivalent to the establishment of a town such as Rugby or Carlisle every year.
It is the speed at which this is happening that is most damaging. New hospitals, schools, houses, power stations, utility services, sewage works and transport systems have to be built to support EU immigration, and this takes many years.
Even today, after decades of immigration, successive governments haven’t learnt a thing. When the EU went from an economic bloc to a pan-political extravaganza (something that the people of Europe never signed up to), it should have allowed trade to flourish equally between nations but not allowed unrestricted immigration.
The most popular destinations such as Britain, with its free NHS, cannot cope with such a sudden and unsupportable population boom.
Dr David Hill
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
SIR – I feel increasingly as though I am living in a fantasy land. Successive governments have supported the open-border policy of the European Union allowing unrestricted movement of labour. Indeed, the last Labour government accused of racism anyone who questioned this policy.
We have repeatedly been told that immigrants from the EU are “good for our economy”, and they must receive the same benefits entitlements.
It is clear that people coming from a low-wage economy elsewhere in the EU will be willing to work for a lower wage than their British counterparts.
But now Chris Bryant, the Shadow Minister for Borders and Immigration, has criticised some British companies for having the temerity to employ immigrants on lower wages.
If our politicians really want employers to employ only British workers, then they must introduce the appropriate legislation. Of course, this is impossible under EU rules, and so the fantasy goes on and on.
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire
SIR – Chris Bryant alleged, apparently incorrectly, that Next and Tesco had dumped British workers for lower-paid immigrants.
It would have been far better if instead he had apologised for the Labour government’s part in bringing in several million immigrants to take lower-skilled jobs, leaving large numbers of Britons to live permanently on benefits and dumbing down education so much that many young people are now virtually unemployable.
SIR – We now have a European Union in which millions have been forced into penury, with many fleeing to the more affluent countries like Britain to seek work, causing the present demographic imbalances.
With so many egos to protect, faces to save and wealth to be gained from generous pay packets, perks and pensions, what hope is there for sanity and sense ever to prevail in Brussels?
Hopefully we will see the demise of this incompetently governed enterprise that hinders trade, is so costly to our welfare bill and puts strain on our already overstretched infrastructure and public services. Britain has been caught up in a market free-for-all which our present Government knows it cannot control without co-operation from Brussels. The EU evidently benefits no one except its political elite and their multitude of bureaucrats.
D R Taylor
Radio 2 won’t turn pop, says Controller
SIR – Far from abandoning older listeners (report, August 4), Radio 2 has just posted the largest listenership in its history (15.44 million) and the highest figures ever among over-55s. The growth is even more significant among the over-65s.
However, Radio 2 has to find ways of saving 20 per cent of its cost base. Sunday evenings do not perform well and single hours are an expensive format for weekly shows.
But our commitment to the broadest musical repertoire remains robust. Sundays will certainly not become a “pop” zone and Russell Davies will be doing a new series of 26 shows starting in December.
Great, timeless, melodic music is the bedrock of Radio 2’s success, and will continue to be.
Controller, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Asian Network
Huhne’s fine time
SIR – What was the point of sending Chris Huhne to jail? The taxpayer has picked up the cost of his incarceration, he does not give the impression of being very contrite for his transgressions, he has been released early and now has been headhunted by an energy company and will be paid a substantial salary for his services.
Surely a hefty fine would have been much more beneficial to the community.
SIR – Robert M Berry (Letters, August 11) notes that HS2 is a waste of money, advising those who really need to save 10-15 minutes to “charter a helicopter”.
This might be the future. The billions spent on HS2 will have to be recouped with higher fares – meaning Boeing or Bell might be able to produce Chinook-type helicopters able to compete on speed, price and environmental friendliness.
St Helens, Lancashire
Stick to the plan to hang on to your votes
SIR – Tories who promise to give local communities the power to veto planning applications and then fail to deliver on such promises will undoubtedly suffer the consequences at the general election. Beware Eric Pickles, Nick Boles, Owen Paterson and David Cameron – and others, too, should they persist in speaking with forked tongues.
Sutton St Edmund, Lincolnshire
SIR – Judith Evans (Letters, August 11) takes exception to the use of the word “celebrate” in connection with events to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. But the word can mean “to mark by solemn ceremonies”, and “observe, honour, with rites”. Both of these meanings seem appropriate.
T G Jones
Moving in the dark
SIR – On the subject of moving house (Letters, August 11), my wife’s family once moved into a house late one evening, all natural light gone, only to find that the light fittings had all been snipped off where the wire entered the ceiling rose.
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
Birdmen of Worthing
SIR – Your brilliant photographs of “birdmen” launching themselves off Worthing Pier (report, August 11) brought a smile to my face, as they proved that British eccentricity is still alive. Equally cheering was the thought that the health and safety jobsworths had taken at least one day off this summer.
Remembering Eric Morecambe, as funny in person as on the TV
SIR – Dominic Cavendish’s review (News, August 11) of ‘Eric and Little Ern’ at the Edinburgh Festival reminded me of an event I was involved in with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in the North of England.
Part of it included Eric and Ernie visiting a production department to meet the staff. We met one chap who regaled us with stories of the times he and Eric were Bevin Boys, working in a coal mine during the Second World War. He recalled all kinds of things from those days, while Eric smiled a lot and kept saying: “Ah, yes….ah, yes.”
After we had walked away I asked Eric: “Who was that?”
“I haven’t a blinking clue,” he replied.
He was just as funny in real life as he was on television.
Sir, – Am I alone in thinking the secondary school holidays are excessively long? As my teenagers count down the last of the 90 days or so they have been off, I am considering who this system benefits most.
I don’t believe is beneficial for my children; or for working parents who have to try to find things for their children to do. Can it really be for the farmers who need their children to help with the harvest? It is great if your children can get out and do some work, but we all know that’s very difficult these days.
Please could we have longer Christmas and Easter holidays and shorter summer holidays? It seems more balanced and natural to have longer holidays in the darker part of the year, when everyone is tired and needs time to recuperate. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Aidan Cavey (August 16th) rightly points out that the Leaving Certificate art course is in dire need of reform; both in terms of teaching and examination.
The curriculum has not been updated since the 1970s. It entirely neglects the emergence of digital media and the advances in modern technology generally, as well as the leaps and bounds which have been made in pedagogical practice.
In 2005, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment presented a fully-worked proposal to update and restructure the course, but this was stymied by the Department of Finance which – even in those halcyon days – said that the funds were not available. Instead, we were to have money pumped into the “priority” subjects – for which, read “commercially useful”. This was to the detriment of the development of creativity and an appreciation for the non-material side of our culture.
If ever there were a time when Ireland was in need of iconoclasts and creative thinkers, it is today. It is a pity that our education system is not reflective of this reality. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Page 3 of your Business + Innovation section (August 12th) is quite unusual in stating a problem and referencing the solution on the same page without connecting the two.
The first article bemoans the lack of “entrepreneurship” in Ireland. If this is seen merely as some sort of individual superhero putting his underpants over his costume in a telephone box and then flying off to save the planet, then yes, there is a lack of entrepreneurship.
However, if it is seen as groups of people coming together to reach solutions to the economic problems they face then there is much more of it about than the article acknowledges. The lower article refers to Cork Taxi Co-operative.
This is only one of thousands of co-operatives in Ireland. From tenants managing their own housing, to workers managing their own employment; from credit unions to farmers’ co-ops, to ourselves, consumers managing their own retailer, there is a strong and vibrant co-operative sector in Ireland. Most of these owner-members would not see themselves as entrepreneurs, nevertheless they are making a significant contribution to economic activity.
Unlike entrepreneurship models there is little incentive for co-operative owners to sell out to a faceless multi-national. Co-operatives in Ireland are almost entirely owned and managed by Irish residents, for fairly obvious reasons. Profits are returned to members and not sent overseas. Jobs and wealth are normally diffused through the local economy and not sent out as part of a global supply chain.
Rather than try to attract footloose global capital and seek mythical entrepreneurs, Ireland would do better to invest in its indigenous co-operative enterprises through improved legislation, simpler models of financial investment, and the development of expert support networks to enable diffusion of knowledge in the way other countries have managed. – Is mise,
Sir, – Every now and again, this issue is raised (Opinion, August 16th) by complaints from the proponents and beneficiaries of subsidised, exclusive education; and every time the answer is the same. There is no rationality to, or validity for, special treatment for “Protestant” secondary schools when a very significant proportion of both pupils and teachers in them are now non-Protestant.
The colonisation of these schools has been going on apace since the 1990s, as Catholic middle-class parents seek People Like Us for their children to mix with. This has been enthusiastically supported by the schools themselves, as they’ve run out of Protestant customers.
How, then, can one usefully speak of a “Protestant ethos” in most of these schools, that still requires special treatment? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Seán Lemass, speaking in 1928 in support of a motion that the Senate should be elected solely by the Dáil, explained the purpose was to ensure that if there had to be a Senate it would be entirely subordinate to the lower house, “held tight in the grip of this body and unable to wriggle unless this body so permits it”.
He added, “We are in favour, of course, of the abolition of the Senate, but if there is to be a Second House let it be a Second House under our thumb. Let it be a group of individuals who dare not let a squeak out of them except when we lift our fingers to give them breath to do it.” – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Surely the purported solution offered by two Dutch orthopaedic specialists, to avoid the damage of “Gameboy back”, is at variance with their own findings and comments (Front page, August 12th). It certainly is at variance with what FM Alexander discovered over 100 years ago, and with what Alexander Technique teachers the world over, have been teaching ever since.
In describing the damage done to children’s bones by prolonged periods of hunching over Gameboys, phones and iPods, your report quotes Dr Van Loon as saying, “Essentially it’s like growing bonsai trees: bone responds in the same way as wood. If you force it (bone) in a certain direction over a prolonged period, that’s how it ends up growing.”
In my professional experience, the same problems arise from prolonged periods spent in poorly designed school chairs and desks.
If you instruct parents to have their children lie on their front and prop themselves up on their elbows, are you not simply forcing their bones in another direction over a prolonged period, with similar damages and problems? You also further complicate the problem by forcing the child to pull his or her head back onto their spine, which now distorts their necks. You also force their lower back into the floor, putting excessive pressure on the lumbar spine. Please, just picture the shape you are now forcing your child into by imagining him or her in a vertical position while propped up on their elbows!
Given all the body-distorting elements in a child’s environment, the correct answer is to teach children (which they readily adopt) how to sit so that they do not inflict any damage on their growing bones, either from Gameboys, or from poorly designed chairs and desks at school.
Incidentally, this advice also applies to adults who exhibit the exact same, and similar damages caused by sitting at a computer desk and driving a car for prolonged periods. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Anthony O’Halloran, in his strange defence of politicians looking after the parish pump (Opinion, August 10th), seems to miss at least two very important points.
First, the constituency work he refers to ad nauseam is merely somebody without any productive work to complete trying to ensure re-election to their very well-paid life. Second, do we not elect TDs to run the country in our best interests? If not, why do we elect them? We already have thousands of well-paid councillors that are supposed to be running the parish pumps. However, if this is so, then let them really concentrate on running the country and do all their re-election crawling in their spare time, not when they should be busy preventing economic, environmental, health, agricultural and transport disasters such as the ones now slowly crushing our country. – Yours, etc,
RICHARD D BARTON,
Sir, – It has been noted there is a disproportionate risk of fatal injury for motorcyclists. One simple step the Government could take immediately is to allow motorbikes access to bus lanes.
As a motorcyclist I have requested that this be allowed on the grounds of safety. The request was bluntly refused because this was not done in the UK! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Thirty years ago the writer Hugh Carr, then clerk to the justices in Tullamore, told me of an incident in a Midlands court where a witness chose to affirm rather than to swear an oath.
The official proffering the Bible said, “What?”. The judge said, “He will affirm. He won’t swear, he will affirm.” The official again proffered the Bible with the words: “Say after me: I affirm by Almighty God.” – Yours, etc,
A chara, – In addition to Una Mullally’s very inspiring list of 100 of the most creative people in Ireland (Creative catalysts, Culture, August 10th), a number of other creative people and collectives are equally deserving of recognition for their untiring efforts to provide alcohol-free spaces for the arts and entertainment around the country.
The Milk and Cookie Stories crew has provided a cosy evening of storytelling, tea and home-baked biscuits, all free of charge, to an audience of 100–180 people in Dublin every month since 2009.
Exchange Dublin has been offering an affordable space for emerging artists and performers in Temple Bar for as long.
The Funky Seomra has provided an alcohol-free nightclub in Dublin since 2007, with events in Cork and Galway more recently. And the Earthsong camps have created an alcohol-free alternative to the “Stumbleville” of the mainstream festival scene since the same year.
These creative social and cultural initiatives deserve special recognition in a society where more than half of alcohol-drinkers engage in harmful drinking, where 40 per cent of teenagers aged 15 or 16 years engage in binge drinking, where alcohol contributes to 16 per cent of child abuse and neglect cases, and where alcohol-related illness, accidents and crime cost the taxpayer €3,000 per person per year. )
It is often difficult for event organisers to find good venues for alcohol-free entertainment, and many of our major music, film and arts festivals seem to be dependent on sponsorship from alcohol manufacturers.
This collective alcohol-dependence presents performing artists with a particularly tricky paradox, because, while alcohol makes people want to talk or to fall asleep, the performer generally needs an audience that is alert and listening.
The multi-talented movers and shakers listed above deserve special recognition as innovators who are breaking new ground to provide hubs for creative people to have the craic while keeping their wits about them. – Is mise,
Dr COILÍN ÓhAISEADHA,
Specialist Registrar in Public
Madam – Most people, however begrudgingly, have respect for the Revenue Commissioners.
Also in this section
Evolution explains roles
Pay protected by cut to pensions
Another day of republican infamy
We realise that they have a hard job to do, particularly in these difficult times and presumably that is the reason that the Government gave them the responsibility of collecting the Local Property Tax.
However, having seen some of the communications from them in relation to the LPT, this was a big mistake .
I have read letters from the Commissioners that effectively said something like the following: ‘We believe that you are the owner of the above property, if so… pay up … if not tell us who the owner is…’ or: ‘We are about to take some money from your bank account, if you disagree, tell us why we shouldn’t.’
This sort of communication is like discharging a blunderbuss in a dark room … no idea what you are aiming at but with luck you might hit something worthwhile.
In my opinion, this is a desperate effort to frighten people into paying up, will upset more compliant taxpayers than non-compliant ones and is demeaning for the Revenue Commissioners.
Madam – Do the staff in the Revenue Commissioners ever wonder how they have such good salaries? I will tell you how.
Also in this section
Evolution explains roles
Another day of republican infamy
In the 1950s the Fine Gael /Labour Government told the civil servants, and the local authorities, they were to take a pay cut. The Government were told in no uncertain manner, that if they went ahead with the cuts, all the workers would go on strike. So the Government backed down and the old age pension was cut instead.
In the 1980s another Fine Gael/Labour Government wanted to stop a two per cent pay rise that had been agreed by the previous Fianna Fail Government. Again they were told they risked strike action. So again the salaries were left alone.
Now they are in pursuit of vulnerable people again and pensioners again seem to be in the sights of the Revenue Commissioners.
So you go ahead and take the last drop of blood off the old folks, you who were willing to strike rather than see your own income reduced. Remember what your parents and grandparents did for you and answer this question: have you nothing between your neck and arse that is called a backbone? Show a bit of respect for your elders and tell Noonan and Co what to do with themselves.
WE ARE BROKEN, JUST LIKE PROMISES
Madam – Once again we are being warned of the impending “hairshirt” to come in the October budget. Those affected, will be the most vulnerable. The cowardly soft option once again. The list of targets include older people, parents, children, widows and those with special needs. Joan Burton will make all the right noises and protests but when it comes right down to it, Eamonn Gilmore will slide in behind Enda Kenny and all will be well in their little world. Meanwhile, in the real world, the rest of us are broken, just like the promises. But there will be no hardship for any minister or TD.
What is wrong with us as a people that we allow our senior citizens and our children face such a dismal and uncertain future. Austerity for the vulnerable and prosperity for the incompetent. But sure what the hell, Germany applauds us and Enda smiles.
Josephine Moore, Chairperson,
Maynooth Senior Citizens Committee
CUTTING OAPS IS SURELY LAST STRAW
Madam – The proposal to cut the old-age pension (Sunday Independent, Aug 11, 2013), must surely be the last straw in this Government’s efforts to reduce the budget deficit. This is the same Government that so often tells the Irish people of the great deals they have achieved for this country in Europe and how we have turned the corner – all nonsensical waffle. How could anyone ever believe any utterances from these Coalition partners? I think the time has come for the Irish people to call “time” on the present Government and let them know that we will no longer be bullied by Europe.
Senior citizens built up this country, paid their taxes only to have the country ravaged by bankers and developers like a group of marauding dogs. The reckless spending by this Government on foreign trips also helped to put us in the position we are now in. They seem to forget that cutting the pension will impact on the economy; people’s spending power will be reduced, retail will suffer, jobs will be lost.
Clonmel, Co Tipperary
SENIOR CITIZENS SUPPORTED STATE
Madam – What planet are these gombeens in Leinster House living on to support taking money off old age pensioners? These are the people that have kept this country together during recessions in the 80’s, who held this country together when armed gangs such as the IRA, the UVF and others were trying to take over. These are the people who had to work abroad and send money home.
If this shower wants trouble, they will get it.