20 August 2013 Hospital
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark Pertwee is in trouble and its serious he has fallen out with Nunky hocan he get back in his good books? Priceless
We are both tired its off to the hospital Mary’s blood count a little better.
Scrabble today I win but she gets under 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.
Mougouch Fielding, who has died aged 92, was a former debutante who became the wife, muse and, following his death, guardian of the legacy of the Armenian-born artist Arshile Gorky, a central figure in American art’s shift towards abstraction.
Mougouch on the beach with Arshile Gorky
6:35PM BST 19 Aug 2013
When she first met Gorky at a party in New York in February 1941, Agnes Magruder was a 19-year-old free spirit who had travelled halfway around the world, worked as a secretary for a Chinese communist organisation and decided to study art. Beautiful and mischievous, with long brown hair, a sensuous mouth and large eyes, her combination of boldness and femininity made her irresistible to men.
It was Gorky’s air of melancholy that attracted her: “This tall, dark man came and sat beside me, and said absolutely nothing,” she recalled. “Then, at the end of the evening, he asked me if I’d have coffee with him.” They went to a coffee shop, and Gorky plied her with so many questions that she emptied her handbag on to the table to give him a picture of who she was. Soon they were seeing each other daily, and he gave her the nickname “Mougouch” — meaning “mighty one” in Armenian, he explained. Before long she had moved into his studio on Union Square.
Towards the end of the year they scandalised her family by getting married in Nevada, on the way back from Gorky’s first solo exhibition in San Francisco, after buying a curtain ring from Woolworths. She was 20; Gorky, who always lied about his age, was probably about 41. After drinking champagne in a bar, they camped in a double sleeping bag in the Sierra Nevada.
They had two daughters, but throughout their seven year-marriage Gorky remained as mysterious to his wife as he had been when she first met him. She claimed that it was only some years after his death that she discovered that his real name was Vosdanik Adoian; that he had been born in an Armenian village in eastern Turkey; that as an adolescent he had witnessed the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, in which up to two million died, including his mother, who starved to death in his arms. In 1920 he and his older sister, Vartoosh, had escaped to the United States, where their father, who had abandoned the family in 1906, was working as a labourer and did not want to know them. Eventually they moved to New York, where Gorky slowly established himself as an artist.
Over the next 20 years he created an almost completely false persona that included an idyllic childhood in Russia (he sometimes claimed to be a Georgian prince); kinship to Maxim Gorky; study under Kandinsky in Paris (a city he had never visited); and a degree in Engineering from Brown University. Mougouch recalled that he never left her alone with his sister — “he didn’t want me to hear her stories” — and he never admitted that his father was still alive. The closest she got to the truth was through his paintings: “Gorky saw things differently from other people. For him, clouds and trees were full of threatening forces. As you walked around with him, you realised what you were seeing was completely different to what he was seeing.”
Their early life together was happy: they spent long periods in the country, mixed with the great artists of their time in New York, struggled to make ends meet and danced on the roof outside their apartment. Their relationship helped spark a new phase in Gorky’s artistic development. After years in which his work was regarded as derivative, he found his own path, capturing the shifting light of his parents-in-law’s farm in Virginia in lyrical semiabstract paintings.
In this he was deeply influenced by the wave of modernists who had arrived in New York to sit out the war, in particular by the Chilean-born Roberto Matta, who encouraged him to experiment with a more spontaneous style. With her contacts in American high society, Mougouch facilitated her husband’s career, charming potential dealers and cooking delicious meals for museum curators.
Yet things were never easy. There were constant worries about money, and Gorky was a possessive husband. Starting in 1946, a cascade of calamities brought him close to breaking point. First his studio burned down with much of his work in it. Then he had an operation for cancer which forced him to use a colostomy bag. He became severely depressed and there were violent episodes. Two years later, on June 17 1948, Mougouch, in desperation, decamped for a two-day fling with Matta, whose indiscretion quickly made the affair common knowledge. “It was perhaps the worst thing I ever did,” she recalled later. “The affair with Matta ruined my life in one zip.”
For a while Gorky said nothing — but another disaster swiftly followed. On June 26 his neck was broken in a car crash and his painting arm was temporarily paralysed. After leaving hospital he began to drink heavily, and one night — furious with Mougouch over her affair — he went on a drunken rampage, breaking up the furniture and flinging her down a flight of stairs. The next day, July 16, Mougouch fled with their daughters to her parents’ home. Five days later Gorky’s body was found in a shed hanging from a beam, on which he had written the words “Goodbye my loveds”. His fabrication of his own life had been so effective that the New York Times headed its report of his suicide “Gorky’s Cousin Ends Life”.
Mougouch remarried — twice (her third husband was the writer and Crete war hero Xan Fielding). Yet Gorky remained a dominant force in her life, and if she had never quite managed to be the ideal artist’s wife, she was his perfect widow. She worked hard to keep his memory (and myth) alive, finding dealers to handle his work and encouraging museums to show and buy it. When the Tate Modern held a spectacular retrospective of his work in 2010, she said: “When I think of Gorky, I think about my life beginning. I rarely think of my life before then. For me, it all began with Gorky.”
Agnes Magruder was born on June 1 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts, into an old Washington family. Her father was a naval attaché (later a commodore), and her mother was descended from the neoclassical sculptor Harriet Hosmer. As her father’s postings took the family around the world, Agnes attended schools in Washington, The Hague and Switzerland. Beautiful and rebellious, when her father was posted to Shanghai in 1940, she spent the night with a young diplomat and advertised her enthusiasm for Chinese communism, leading her parents to pack her off to college in Iowa. From there, she took a bus to Manhattan and enrolled at the Art Students League, only to quit for a typing job at a communist magazine called China Today.
After Gorky’s death she married, in 1949, the Bostonian painter Jack Phillips, with whom she had two daughters. They divorced in 1959, and she subsequently moved to London where, in 1978, she married Xan Fielding. They moved to Andalucia and later Paris, where he died in 1991. Afterwards she returned to London.
Wherever she went, Mougouch attracted friends and admirers. In London she was taken up by the last remaining members of the Bloomsbury Group, including “Bunny” Garnett, Duncan Grant and Frances Partridge, who described her as “the best ‘hostess’ I know”. Other admirers included the travel writers Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robin Fedden and Bruce Chatwin.
Mougouch’s four daughters survive her.
Mougouch Fielding, born June 1 1921, died June 2 2013
Your editorial (Egypt’s Tiananmen Square, 15 August) suggests parallels between the events in Cairo and those of 4 June 1989 in Beijing. Given the failure of the US to cut its military aid to Egypt’s military, should it now lift its arms embargo on China, still in place after 23 years, lest a wider public gets the idea its policies are hypocritical?
Dr Jenny Clegg
• I travelled to Cairo last May, after the revolution and before the elections. There was a very positive atmosphere and optimism with about the fact that they now had a choice about their future. Opinions were strong and varied, which showed up later in the election results. Polarisation in a democracy is not unusual (think of the strong division in the UK in the 80s, still evident at Thatcher’s funeral 30 years later), but military intervention can never be the answer.
The west’s response to recent events in Egypt is instructive. The US is a strong supporter of democracy as long as the people choose the US state department’s preferred candidate. Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Hamas in Palestine, Ahmedinejad in Iran and now Morsi in Egypt illustrate the consequences of making the wrong choice: pain delivered to the electorate through aid cuts or sanctions and military aid to the opposition.
The UK Foreign Office position is predictable, of course: a weak echo of whatever is said by Washington. Perhaps we see the need for their support with a taskforce to rescue Gibraltar.
It is depressing but unsurprising that students from private schools are more likely to be admitted to Oxford University than their peers in state schools with equivalent grades at A-level (Report, 15 August). Attempts at inclusivity by universities are undermined by the same universities’ almost routine representation on the governing bodies of private schools. Most major private schools have at least one professor from a Russell Group university on their governing body. Eton and Harrow each have three senior academics from Oxford and Cambridge. The constitutions of Eton college and Winchester college indeed enshrine this relationship, ensuring that senior academics are de facto appointed to the governing bodies of the schools (the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, is, it seems, automatically appointed to the governing body of Eton; the warden of New College, Oxford, is similarly appointed to Winchester). The universities each elect further representatives to these schools. This anachronistic system ensures that publicly funded universities maintain a close relationship with private schools that few state schools could dream of achieving. If the universities are serious about access, such constitutional links should be severed.
• The Rev EJ Penny is right to argue that current government policies will worsen the educational prospects of the children of the poor (Letters, 17 August) but wrong to assert that “Fifty years ago, Tory-backed grammar schools and grants gave hope to many of the least well off of my contemporaries. They went to university and found jobs worthy of their potential.” Even if this was true of Mr Penny’s contemporaries, it was certainly not true in general. In the early 1960s only 4% of school leavers went to university at all and the Robbins report found that, of this 4%, only 6% came from “the least well off”. This is not “many” – it is hardly any!
Campaign for State Education
• Are we sure that Rev EJ Penny is right about why parents send their children to expensive schools? I attended a well-known public school (a long time ago) and I was not conscious at all of what it was costing in fees. Nor did I feel any pressure at all to fulfil my parents’ hopes in any academic sense. I think I was sent to the school for two reasons. First, to get a really useful “old school tie”. Second, to maintain my parents’ social position. They were in a social circle where “everyone” sent their children to boarding schools. If they had failed to follow suit they would have been downgraded socially. Good teaching and academic results were mere spin-off – a bonus – and were, anyway, just assumed to go along with the school’s reputation.
• Your editorial (16 August) gives readers, and particularly prospective students, a rather misleading view of the UK’s leading universities. The latest National Student Survey shows 88% of students at Russell Group universities are satisfied with their experience, compared to 85% of students overall; 89% of students at Russell Group universities have been able to contact their world-leading lecturers when needed, compared to 86% of students overall. Our graduates earn more during their careers compared to graduates from modern universities and employers rank 10 Russell Group universities in the top 30 in the world. A degree from a leading university is worth it: to imply otherwise is especially unhelpful for those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are often the most in need of accurate information, advice and guidance.
Dr Wendy Piatt
Director general and chief executive, Russell Group
I do not wish to detract from the seriousness of Giles Fraser’s characteristically insightful take on the Egyptian catastrophe (Loose canon, 17 August) but I am intrigued by his use of the term “disporting lens” in his attempt to bring Nietzschean theory of tragedy to bear upon the matter. At first I assumed it was simply a typographical error, and “distorting” was intended. But a breakfast table conversation with my wife threw up the possibility that “disporting” does make a kind of sense in this semi-theatrical context. We felt, though, that a “disporting” lens would owe more to “Dionysian horror” (with all its implications of wild abandon) than the “Appollonian beauty” to which Fraser ascribes it. So perhaps it was a typo after all. Either way, this was a profoundly thought-provoking piece.
• I am amazed anyone feels describing Miss Edwards as “midwife and nit nurse” is insulting (Letters, 19 August). Midwifery is an honourable calling, and if a nit nurse (shorthand for schools health visitor) had come across Daniel Pelka (Report, 1 August), he might be alive today. When the “nit nurse” visited my school, she recognised various skin conditions and other health problems that were not being treated.
• Re David Bellos’s article (The solitary monoglots, 19 August), here’s a story I heard in teacher training more than 40 years ago. In a North Wales classroom, the teacher introduces the word “bilingual”. “That means, children, a person who can speak two languages. What do you think would be the word for someone who can speak only one language?” After some hesitation, a child replies: “English?”
• Randhir Singh Bains (Letters, 16 August) says that the success of liberal democracy “appears to be positively correlated with the decline or absence of religion”. What would he say about China?
• What does it take for Mo Farah to get a sporting knighthood (Farah grits his teeth to snatch the sweetest of ‘double-double’ golds, 17 August)? Maybe David Cameron can’t face the idea of Sir Mohamed.
It is a new low for British “democracy” when those who seek to defend us against excessive surveillance are targeted by “anti-terrorist” powers (Greenwald’s partner detained at Heathrow, 18 August). The problem is not who “really” is a terror suspect; rather, that these powers permit detention and questioning of individuals without any defined threshold of suspicion or need to give a reason. It is the only power in British law that gives police carte blanche to go fishing for information about political or religious activities or – as in this case – journalistic sources, in a way that gives the victim no right to silence or legal support. In fact, as your coverage correctly points out, it is an arrestable offence to refuse to answer any question, however unreasonable.
The proposals in the antisocial behaviour, crime and policing bill, to reduce the nine hours to six and allow access to a solicitor only after search and questioning has taken place, fail to address the Big Brother quality of these powers. There also seem to be no safeguards against unreasonable seizure of phones, computers or other property. This outrageous incident underlines the need to amend the bill drastically before it becomes law.
• I have attended on several occasions to advise persons detained under schedules 7 and 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000. In my experience schedule 7 interviews are often conducted in a “no man’s land” where the airport authority can override police and deny a lawyer access to their client if the lawyer does not happen to be carrying their passport with them (even if the lawyer can satisfy the police as to their identity). The lawyer has to attend in person since it is an imprisonable offence for the lawyer even to generally advise not to answer questions: ie the lawyer has to decide on a question-by-question basis what to advise. Not many experienced lawyers are able to attend at such short notice. Police are not bound to wait for the lawyer and on the outward leg of a journey a person detained is likely to be more anxious about missing their flight than waiting for legal advice or the implications of a carelessly worded reply. The police can and do use these factors to ask irrelevant questions.
Name and address supplied
• While the detention of David Miranda is scandalous, it is certainly not the first time this “anti-terrorism” legislation has been used for intimidation and investigation of political dissent. I have been detained twice when re-entering the UK. The first time was in early 2008, when I returned from a holiday in Germany with my then boyfriend. We were detained by the Met’s anti-terrorism unit at St Pancras station. They questioned us about military bases, Nato and other related issues, as I was then working at War Resisters’ International and involved in the preparation of an anti-Nato action in Brussels (organised publicly, with nonviolence guidelines). The second time was in 2011, on my way back from an anti-Nato meeting in Brussels. I was detained together with a fellow campaigner at Holyhead, this time by Welsh anti-terrorism police. While the detention must have been scary for David Miranda, I hope his case raises awareness about the wide-ranging abuse of anti-terrorism powers by police.
• David Miranda’s detention was an extreme case of a large-scale harassment, especially of Muslims and political activists monitored by MI5. Although rarely held for nine hours, many detainees have been asked questions about their political associations, religious beliefs or mundane details in MI5’s files. Tom Watson MP expressed doubt that Miranda is “a terrorist suspect” but the political problem is the opposite: anyone detained under such powers becomes (or already was) a “terror suspect” by definition. Parliament shamefully legislated a broad statutory definition of terrorism and authorised powers well designed for politically motivated harassment. Increasingly, we are all terror suspects. How will we stop this large-scale injustice?
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (Campacc)
• I was stunned by the harassment of Glenn Greenwald’s partner. The UK is not to be outdone by the US authorities, it seems – or is to do their bidding, as if moved by the dictates of a single political brain. This seems as good a time as any to say thank you for the tremendous work, both in breadth and timeliness, done by the Guardian in reporting on the NSA surveillance revelations. Poitras, Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill are an inspiration (as is Snowden, of course), and the paper’s support of their work has opened the door for citizens like me to ask pointed and informed questions of their congressional representatives. I hope the entire Guardian staff will remain firm in its purpose to continue reporting on this story. It is one of the reasons I subscribed to your paper.
• Please publish in full every detail of this episode at Heathrow airport, including as precisely as possible all the questions David Miranda was asked during his detention and how much officers’ time and other resources were spent. As a London council-tax-payer I want to know precisely how my Metropolitan police precept is being wasted on irrelevant and possibly unlawful activities.
• Brazilians travelling from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro don’t have to come through London. They have a choice of Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid. After David Miranda’s treatment at Heathrow, more of them may choose one of the alternatives. And they may be “high-value” travellers, carrying sensitive commercial, scientific or artistic information which they see no reason to hand over to the British security services. David Miranda’s detention may prove to be an own goal for the UK.
I bought a hat from Tilley Endurables 17 years ago. It was sold with a lifetime guarantee. It was a great hat, had a lot of hard wear over the years and was a treasured possession. Last winter the fabric split. I contacted Tilley at its UK head office in Cornwall and spoke to a very helpful person. I sent the hat back and received another within the week. Fantastic service.
This is not the first letter we have received about Tilley, who do indeed guarantee their hats for life. At around £60 each they are not cheap but, as you say, that is fantastic service. Long live Tilley, which is a Canadian company. It’s good to know that some companies still treat customers in this way.
We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at email@example.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number
The silence of western leaders in the face of the Egyptian massacres is deafening. It is proof, if any were needed, that western foreign policy uses “democracy” as a figleaf for the control of resources and other states.
If it were China or Zimbabwe under Mugabe which had murdered 2,000 unarmed demonstrators, firing machine guns to disperse protesters, Obama and his poodle Cameron would have been the first to wax lyrical about the benefits of western democracy. Instead Obama can’t decide whether or not a military overthrow of an elected government constitutes a coup!
Absurdly, General Sisi considers himself another Gamal Abdel Nasser, forgetting that Nasser took on British and French imperialism by nationalising the Suez Canal. Sisi’s regime murders its own citizens instead.
None of this is to exonerate the government of Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood is a backward, reactionary party, which is opposed to freedom for women or workers. It sought to make Sharia law the law governing Egypt and Morsi an unaccountable dictator. However it was for the Egyptian people to remove the Brotherhood’s government, not the army.
Tony Greenstein, Brighton
Everyone knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would win the popular vote. The election was internationally accepted as fair enough.
The Independent and others tell us subsequently that the Brotherhood have been incompetent managers of the economy and disrespectful of the rights of the large minority that did not support them; factors of course not unique to the Brotherhood or Egypt.
For democracy to work, even in some minimal sense, a country needs both majoritarian rule and individual and minority rights. Having just majority rule won’t do. But were the violations of the minorities in Egypt so great or the incompetence so unusual for us to give up so soon on majority rule?
Unless you are confronting a humanitarian meltdown, bet on democracy whether you like the government or not, and call a coup a coup. Otherwise, where’s the hope?
Andrew Shacknove, Oxford
I am disappointed by the media’s coverage of the military crackdown in Egypt. Most Egyptian people I have spoken to say this is a fight for freedom of speech and of religious assembly and for human rights.
It is a fight to stop the Muslim Brotherhood turning Egypt into yet another backward Islamist state instead of the secular state where Muslims and Christians (and others) live together in peace as they have for decades.
They are bitterly disappointed that this aspect is being ignored by the West. The majority of Egyptians support their military’s position.
Paul Harper, London E15
I read with astonishment Bruce Anderson’s comment (19 August) that it was right for Salvador Allende to be overthrown in Chile in 1973, as it was right to overthrow Morsi in Egypt.
General Pinochet killed thousands of his own people afterwards. Bruce Anderson’s association with his friend Margaret Thatcher has clearly blinded him to this history.
Leighton McKibbin, Bebington, Wirral
Bring lobbying out from the shadows
The test for British citizenship gives the correct answers to the question “Which two of the following do pressure and lobby groups do?” as “Influence government policy” and “Represent the views of British businesses”. This might be true, but should it be? The Government should encourage lobbyists to inform government policy, but should never be influenced by them.
There is no need for a register of lobbyists (“Lobbying: Cameron condemned over ‘ridiculous’ reforms”. 19 August). All lobbying should be done in writing and all of it should be made public. All the information available to the Government in formulating policy should be subject to public scrutiny. The only influence should be at the ballot box.
Jon Hawksley, London EC1
Your front page story was interesting, but by page 7 we were informed that David Cameron had met Stephen Fry in an East End London pub. Is this pints for questions?
Martin Sandaver, Hay-On-Wye
Drama at scene of the crime
Thanks to Andrew Belsey (letter, 29 July) for pointing out that Faversham, where the forthcoming television series Southcliffe is set, has real-life homicide form.
There still survives in Abbey Street the house where in 1551 Thomas Arden was murdered at the instigation of his wife Alice and her lover Thomas Mosby. And as it has a big garden, outdoor performances of the 1592 play Arden of Faversham have taken place there.
There must be few other places where an Elizabethan drama can be performed where the actual events took place. It may be the first example of what we now call “docudramas”, as it follows the real story closely. It is accessible to modern audiences, includes comedy elements, and even features detective work.
As an actor Shakespeare visited the town often, so if he was involved in the writing of the play, as has been suggested, one can picture him getting together with other leading members of his company in an inn after a performance, hearing the Arden story, and reckoning it might make a good play. It could have been the Phoenix in Abbey Street, which goes back well before his day.
One of the many beauties of Faversham is that if Shakespeare, or Arden, were to return today, they would recognise many of its buildings. Around 500 are listed, and many go back to the 15th and early 16th centuries.
Arthur Percival, Faversham, Kent
Discipline better than Ritalin
I agree with Frank Furedi regarding Ritalin for children (14 August). I worked as a special needs teaching assistant in two small village primary schools. I was amazed at some parents’ lack of discipline and control over their children. Children need routine and boundaries that are clear and fair.
ADHD symptoms are the same for children who react badly to additives. We proved this by getting several parents to try sensible additive-free food and drink. The change was remarkable. Unfortunately, you could tell immediately when they had not stuck to the diet.
In my15 years experience, I only came across one boy who had severe ADHD, due to abuse as a baby and toddler, for which Ritalin was needed, and he became a happy, productive child.
Hazel Burton, Broadstairs, Kent
T-shirt and jeans at Oxford
While interviews form an important part of the admissions process to Oxford, Richard Humble is wrong to say that the way you dress or talk matters in the interview (letter, 10 August).
Perhaps in decades gone by it might have mattered, but I can confirm that an applicant who occasionally drops “like” into sentences and wears a T-shirt, jeans and trainers can pass an interview – because I was such an applicant. It’s about what you say, not the way you talk or what you wear.
Similarly, the point of the Oxford interview is that you can’t be prepped or coached for it – although a dress rehearsal in school might calm nerves.
Interview myths discourage applicants like myself from state schools who see Oxford as an exclusive finishing school for the wealthy, when really it’s a modern university dedicated to improving access through programmes like the UNIQ Summer School, which brings sixth-form students at state schools to the university to experience what Oxford is really like.
Tom Rutland, President, Oxford University Student Union
Charles meddles: who cares?
The influence of big business in taking us for a ride through PFI contracts; large American conglomerates using their power to avoid paying tax: these matters worry me a great deal. Any influence Prince Charles has (“MPs demand inquiry into revelation that Prince sent staff to work in Whitehall”, 19 August) is of no concern.
If Labour MPs want to be part of the next government they need to concentrate on issues that the electorate care about.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
Stop off in Hazel grove
John Ramsay of Stoke-on-Trent (letter, 17 August) is unwise to suggest that 10 sets of traffic lights on a 1.4 mile stretch of the A34 is a national record.
If he cares to travel 30 miles north he will find a 0.9 mile stretch of the A6 that runs (or crawls ) through Hazel Grove. It offers the prospect of stopping at 11 sets of lights – seven junctions and three pedestrian crossings. The boredom of so many stops may be relieved by counting the number of pubs lining that stretch of road. By coincidence, they also number 11.
Peter Rolfe, Stockport, Greater Manchester
Early one winter morning 60 odd years ago a platoon of recruits received this order from an NCO: “In the Army every man shaves every day, bumfluff wallahs and cotton wool merchants included.” Could it be that some of those moaning about beards are in the bumfluff brigade and feel jealous?
David Hinmarsh, Cambridge
Frank McLynn describes the Duke of Wellington as “an unimaginative plodder who got lucky” (book review, 17 August). If that is the case, Wellington must have been the luckiest plodder in all of history. Among many other occasions, he “got lucky” at Assaye, Argaon, Rolica, Vimeiro, Talavera, Busaco, Salamanca, Vitoria, Nivelle, Toulouse and Waterloo.
Philip Ashe, Leeds
Because of a production error, the signature was omitted from a letter, published yesterday, about girls studying science at school. The writer was Iain Salisbury, of Edgbaston, West Midlands.
‘The truth is that three lessons a week for five years in secondary school of French, German or Spanish produced almost no lasting impact’
Sir, Agnès Poirier is right (Thunderer, Aug 17) that the decision in 2004 to end compulsory study of foreign languages to 16 has led to a fall in further language study and a worrying trend in monolingualism among a generation.
However, the qualification system for 14-16 year olds means that implementing a policy of compulsory GCSE level would not solve the problem. I was recently a student at a school with language specialism where all students were required, pre-2004 style, to study either French, German or Spanish until we left at 16.
This was good for those who wanted to study these to GCSE level as there was dedicated time in the curriculum for studying, the option to study two languages, and resources and teaching were excellent.
However those who did not want to study the GCSE were placed onto the NVQ, which although billed as “equivalent to a B at GCSE” if passed was anything but. Numerous schoolmates doing the NVQ described an over-simplistic course based on continuous assessment, which was not at all rigorous, and allowed for infinite retakes and even cheating. Needless to say, friends who did the NVQ now remember little if nothing of the language they “studied” just a couple of years ago.
If we want language uptake to increase, these Mickey Mouse qualifications need to disappear and the rigorous GCSE be installed as the default for all candidates.
Only then will compulsory language study at 14-16 years have any credibility.
Huw W. Davies
Sir, I was shocked that of the 1,701 males taking German, only 0.4 per cent achieved an A* (Results by Subject, Aug 16). This is one of the smallest percentages of A* results in any subject — in the whole country only 7 male students achieved this grade.
This raises some serious questions. Is the marking erratic or too harsh? Is the teaching not good enough? Or are the students simply not good enough?
Even more worrying, how are we to encourage students to take modern languages at A level when the chances of an A* are so small? If we are to succeed in a European and global marketplace, it is imperative that our young people are equipped to take part, and these results will do nothing to encourage them to do so.
Sir, Modern foreign languages were compulsory to 16 from 1988 to 2004. There is no evidence that those aged 22 to 36 have any greater aptitude in languages than the rest of the population whose communication skills when abroad are roughly equivalent to that of a 2-year-old.
The truth is that three lessons a week for five years in secondary school of French, German or Spanish produced almost no lasting impact on most of the school population forced to endure it. This was always “gardening in a gale” for all but the most able.
We should accept that only the top 20 per cent have any realistic chance of lasting benefit from modern language teaching and structure the curriculum accordingly. Do we really need to reintroduce the nightmare of truculent 15 and 16-year-olds being repeatedly taught the same few basic phrases they have been refusing to remember since they were 11?
Deeping St James, Lincs
Screening healthy people for disease or risk factors is justified only if there is strong evidence that the benefits outweigh the harms
Sir, In October 2012 we published a systematic review of general health checks. We found 14 trials with a total of 182,880 participants. We could not find any beneficial effects of health checks, whereas they likely lead to unnecessary diagnoses and treatments.
In response to our review, the NHS Diabetes and Kidney Care in conjunction with the Department of Health published an eBulletin on the website of the NHS Health Check, which criticised our review and conclusions.
We replied rebutting the criticism and asked to have it published beside the criticism. This was denied with the argument that the website of the NHS Health Check “is not a forum for debate or discussion on the merits of conducting NHS health checks”.
Why do the leaders of the NHS Health Check choose to publish their criticism on this website rather than in a scientific journal?
We find it questionable when public authorities use their platforms to attack unwelcome results, rather than engage in a scientific debate.
Instead of defending the existing programme, the leaders of the NHS Health Check should have opened a debate with government about closing the NHS Health Check, which currently operates in direct conflict with the best available evidence, and against the criteria of the UK National Screening Committee.
Screening healthy people for disease or risk factors is justified only if there is strong evidence from randomised trials that the benefits outweigh the harms. Inference of benefit from improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels is not an acceptable motivation for screening.
Our detailed rebuttal of the criticism and a description of our experience are available on the website of the BMJ as a response to a recent editorial that discusses uncertainties in evidence underpinning the NHS Health Check programme.
Lasse T. Krogsbøll
Karsten Juhl Jørgensen
Peter C. Gøtzsche
The Nordic Cochrane Centre, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen
This is an opportunity for further reconciliation and understanding with Germany, not for divisive debate with an emphasis on British victory
Sir, Are we really not going to consider German sensitivities in the plans for the centenary of the First World War next year (Aug 19)? Professor Sir Hew Strachan, who is advising the Government, sees “controversy as the best educational tool we have” and wants to avoid “Remembrance Sunday repeated”.
Given that nearly a million lives were lost by those fighting for the British side alone and almost twice that number of Germans, surely this is an opportunity for further reconciliation and understanding, not for divisive debate with an emphasis on British victory. The Government’s advisers should have a more conciliatory perspective, particularly in view of our position within the European Union.
Some cyclists appear to have a good and helpful attitude to announcing their presence to horseriders on the road — can The Times claim credit?
Sir, As a postscript to correspondence about cyclists and horse riders (letters, July passim), I was riding my horse last week. Three cyclists came up behind us and all called a cheery greeting from a proper distance. I can only conclude from this civilised behaviour that they were either Italians or readers of The Times letters page.
Anyone waiting to see Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” at the Royal National Theatre in 1955 would have waited for rather a long time
Sir, It is true that the Royal National Theatre has staged many difficult works over the past 50 years but it did not stage the first English-language production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (leading article, Aug 17). The English version of Godot was first directed by Sir Peter Hall at the Arts Theatre, London, in 1955, eight years before the National Theatre launched at the Old Vic. Hall was only 24 when he introduced Beckett to London audiences. The production made his reputation and led eventually to his appointment at the National Theatre in the 1970s.
Professor Stuart Hampton-Reeves
British Shakespeare Association, University of Central Lancashire
Sir, The National Theatre has had many triumphs, but it did not stage the English premiere of Waiting for Godot. I had the immense pleasure of seeing the brilliant production of Waiting for Godot by the 24-year-old Peter Hall at the Arts Theatre in 1955 — only slightly marred by the steady flow of people walking out.
Dr Anthony Abrahams
SIR – There are genuine worries over fracking, and the residents of areas affected are right to be concerned. However, they must not let their legal and honest objections be taken over by extremists who will misrepresent their cause. The abject surrender of the police to the threats of Left-wing protesters against fracking in West Sussex sets a frightening precedent.
The Government must take action to prevent the damage and disruption caused to the country by unwanted, often violent, demonstrators.
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire
SIR – Don’t call me part of “the mob”. I’m a 64-year-old retired teacher. I’ve been to Balcombe and cooked lunch for the protesters there. They know, as I do, that poisoning the ground beneath us is a travesty in the name of corporate profit.
Forest Row, East Sussex
SIR – I assume that the protesters camping in the field near Balcombe are paying the farmer for the privilege, for they weaken the morality of their stand if they are not.
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
SIR – Are the protesters in Balcombe legally or morally justified, under the Human Rights Act 1998, in obstructing the lawful activities of others?
Are Sussex Police entitled to spend up to £100,000 per day policing what is essentially a civil dispute between the protesters and the landowners/Cuadrilla?
Is Lush entitled to donate £20,000 in charitable funds, to support the protesters? Are the protesters potentially rendering themselves liable for damages?
It is high time that there was a serious debate about the limits of protest and the manner in which protesting can be carried out and funded, particularly when this involves the expenditure of large amounts of public and charitable money.
SIR – On what grounds do the RSPB object to fracking, which takes place a mile or two below the earth’s surface? Its Arne Nature Reserve in Poole Harbour has happily
coexisted for more than 40 years with the 191 oil wells at the adjacent Wytch Farm site with no effect on wildlife.
If the RSPB wishes to reduce CO2 emissions to limit global warming, the fastest way to achieve this is to switch electricity generation from coal to gas, which is three times less carbon intensive.
SIR – The anti-drilling brigade must be totally ignored. Are they unaware that the National Grid is forecasting a shortfall in energy capacity as early as 2014, necessitating blackouts and power cuts?
Do they not know, either, that Britain imports coal, gas and oil from overseas, leaving us vulnerable to the whims of unpredictable – even potentially hostile – governments who dictate the supply and price of our energy?
J C Allcock
Gibraltar should be incorporated into the UK
SIR – Gibraltar has been British for considerably longer than Spain has existed as a nation. If abutting mainland Spain conferred automatic right of ownership then Portugal would be but a Spanish province. The Government should incorporate Gibraltar, the Falklands and other overseas territories into the United Kingdom. Our French cousins would have done it years ago.
SIR – Alex Orr (Letters, August 14) appears to miss the point in describing the Government’s reaction to the imposition by Spain of border checks on Gibraltar as “scaremongering”. The mechanics of the Schengen treaty clearly allow border checks to be employed, but the current checks are being imposed in an over-zealous and disproportionate way by Spain. That is what the Government is rightly opposing.
SIR – There is historical precedent for Gibraltar being represented in the House of Commons (Letters, August 14). MPs represented Calais at Westminster from 1347 until English control ended in 1558.
SIR – In answer to David Whitaker (Letters, August 17) there are two reasons why middle-lane hoggers should be fined.
First, by driving in the middle lane at 70mph they reduce a triple carriageway to a dual one. Secondly, it is contrary to the Highway Code. In any case, driving at 70mph as indicated, they are actually driving at about 65mph because all speedometers are manufactured to “over-read”.
SIR – Let’s hope that the police find the resources to end middle-lane hogging. Excuses that lane-changing is risky and that America allows overtaking on both sides really don’t hold water. There is a big difference between a well-signalled and properly executed lane-change and the “lane-hopping” which happens a lot on America’s multi-lane freeways.
SIR – Soon only the inside and outside lanes will be available to motorists who want to avoid the constant threat of over-zealous police officers giving them a fine.
Brian M Cave
SIR – Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, is promising to tackle the “ghastly gauntlet” of bins and recycling boxes on pavements (report, August 16).
The prevalence of these bins is due to councils being forced to meet recycling targets emanating from the EU, which the Government has to implement due to the EU Waste Framework Directive and the Landfill Directive. These oblige councils to develop ever more complex multi-bin collections rather than allowing them to design schemes that suit local needs while retaining a recycling option.
Cllr Jonathan Bullock (Ukip)
Richard’s burial rite
SIR – I share Mr Justice Haddon-Cave’s hope that his judgment allowing the Plantagenet Alliance to mount a High Court challenge against the Justice Secretary and the University of Leicester over the obsequies and burial of King Richard III will not result in a “Wars of the Roses Part Two” (report, August 17).
Where the King is buried is important, but the nature of the ceremony is more so. He was, as far as we can tell, not accorded a proper liturgical burial, therefore it is incumbent upon the present generation to right that wrong. As the king was a Catholic monarch of a Catholic country, his funeral rites ought to be the rites that he would have been familiar with. If the ceremony is to be in York Minster, then the requiem mass should be that of the medieval Use of York, or if in Leicester, then the Sarum Rite would be appropriate.
The worst outcome would be a multi-denominational, inclusive 21st-century mish-mash. We need to say, properly, Requiescat in pace.
J T Middleton
Rowlands Gill, Co Durham
SIR – I was very interested to read the article about Barbara Cartland’s hitherto unpublished manuscripts (report, August 14). I have just discovered two letters she wrote to my late cousin in 1959, talking about her then new book Vitamins for Vitality and how she used Meltonian black shoe cream for her eyelashes.
N F McArdle
SIR – Peter Chalke (Letters, August 17) asks why the Government doesn’t incentivise rainwater harvesting.
At my care home in Torquay I installed rainwater harvesting systems 15 years ago amid strong opposition from our water company and environmental health officials. I eventually won the day and saved my company more than 50 per cent on water bills.
It is not in the economic interest of the water companies for us to reduce our supplies. As for the Government, if it is not headline-grabbing then they are not interested.
SIR – Does Peter Chalke realise that by harvesting rainwater for flushing lavatories and running the washing machine, his reduced water and sewerage bill is being subsidised by others who are paying for the water that they flush down the sewer?
If everyone did the same, the water companies would find another way of metering sewerage.
SIR – I feel I must speak up for Hemel Hempstead, which has been voted the ugliest town in Britain (report, August 14).
The river Gade runs through the middle of the town and traffic has been known to come to a halt to allow a family of swans or ducks to cross the road safely. A canal also goes through the town and there are several canal-side pubs where one can watch the world go by.
I defy anyone who has also visited other new towns such as Crawley or Stevenage to rate them higher than Hemel.
Helen Fletcher Rogers
Police have been issuing cautions to save time
SIR – Because the Police and Criminal Evidence Act seriously hampered police investigations, cautions have been used to save valuable police time (“Victims of crime to be given a voice and challenge police”, report, August 14). This has resulted in sloppy investigations.
The reluctance of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute many cases, combined with police performance being measured in “sanctioned detections”, has also resulted in the increased use of cautions.
It is time to accept that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has failed and is long overdue reform or repeal and that the Crown Prosecution Service is no longer fit for purpose.
SIR – Your article implies that the police issue cautions with little regard to due process. This is not the case. Cautions can be a highly effective sanction, often used either on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service or because a victim is unwilling to pursue any kind of prosecution. The alternative would often be no sanction at all against an offender.
There is comprehensive guidance for officers and rules that govern the use of cautions. These are to keep the process accountable, ensuring that policing continues to be done by consent.
Vice Chairman, Police Federation of England and Wales
SIR – Police cautions are not only a “slap on the wrist”. Conditions can be attached to them, for example, making the offender meet the victim of his crime. This can have a bigger impact on the offender than punishment: it brings home to him what he has done to another person.
The offender often promises to take steps to keep out of trouble in future. It won’t work in every case, of course – but neither does punishment.
Sir, – Thank you for a welcome and thought provoking editorial (August 19th). As a citizen over the age of 65 I am grateful that I belong to the “lucky generation”.
I believe those of us who are reasonably healthy, able and comfortable ought to consider the fact that we are living in changed and changing times. These are financially difficult times and the State, read taxpayers, simply cannot continue to offer various subsidies to those of us who are more than comfortable. Yes, I have heard time and again same old mantra “We worked hard all our lives, we are entitled to this, that and the other”. The truth is that most of us, irrespective of age, work hard all our lives, but I am not convinced we are entitled to a number of these subsidies.
Let us leave behind the rights and wrongs of banks, politicians, governments, builders, developers and so on, exercise basic principles of humanity, and if possible Christianity, and think about our young people and their future in our country laden with debt.
Maybe those of us who wisely made a lot of sacrifices, looked after the needs of our children, came through redundancies, recession of the 1980s, and yet managed to save for the evening of our lives will be magnanimous enough to help the nation pay back its huge debt.
Means test is the only way to decide on who gets the subsidies and who doesn’t. All truly deserving older people also will benefit a great deal when those who are better off part with some of the subsidies such as free travel, TV licence and telephone and electricity or gas allowance.
It is also time for our young people to understand that they cannot have it all: they must do without certain instant material comforts – luxuries in the eyes of many older people – and endeavour to save something for their rainy days.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – Peadar Grant (August 17th) criticises Project Maths for excluding topics that had been covered in the old syllabus. To do so is to miss the point of this new approach to mathematics.
Project Maths represents a change in how we teach and learn – this has consequences on what topics are covered. The previous syllabus’s reliance on rote learning allowed more topics to be covered. It also saw students gaining A1 grades in mathematics who, when entering university, showed very poor aptitude for using maths as a tool.
Imagine thinking that all forms of literature needed to covered in the English syllabus, at the expense of crushing lateral and creative thought, for a student to be deemed able in that subject.
We live in a society where people see maths as ugly, abstract, and not for them. Given time, Project Maths will help to change that perception. – Yours, etc,
Prof SHANE BERGIN,
A chara, – While I would agree broadly with the points made by your correspondents about the need for a new approach to Leaving Cert art, I must take issue with Aidan Cavey’s assertion (August 16th) that the appalling dearth of A grades in the subject is “a damning indictment of how art is taught” in Ireland.
The Junior Cert art project offers students scope for their creativity and produces exciting and highly skilled work year after year. The extremely high standards achieved at this level is testament to the excellent teaching going on in art rooms all over the country and is reflected in the high percentage of A grades achieved at this level.
The problem with the Leaving Cert lies with a curriculum that has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. This outdated course tends to stymie students’ creativity; and the mix of a full academic subject combined with three practical exams make it virtually impossible to achieve an A1 grade in the final exam. In spite of some excellent teaching and some vibrant and creative work, both students and teachers are invariably disappointed by the lack of top grades in the subject. – Is mise,
Sir, – With respect to Julie Carr’s worries concerning the increasing expense of Protestant education (Opinion, August 16th), the real solution lies in the removal of a specific religious ethos from all schools. The continued encouragement of this type of thinking is costly and divisive where ever found on this island.
The apparent religious apathy among the young hardly endorses the system. Religion is a private commitment, no longer a tribal initiation. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – To point to the hypocrisy of the United States – as champions of democracy – in welcoming the removal of Mohamed Morsi, as Hugh O’ Donnell (August 17th) does, is based on a flawed conception of democracy.
Democratic elections are a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a democratic government. A democracy requires the proper representation of minority groups and the protection of their fundamental rights. In Egypt, there was little to suggest that this was the case with the boycott of the constitutional referendum, in which less than a third of the electorate voted.
Supporters of democracy should all welcome the end of Morsi’s theocracy, but we should be very worried about what has replaced it – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Joe Phelan (August 17th) seems a little worked up regarding the People’s Republic of Cork T-shirts at Croke Park.
He should just admire the courage, skill and determination of our young hurlers from Cork and those of Dublin who put on one of the finest exhibitions of hurling it has been my great pleasure to witness.
If Corkonians are charged only with a love for our city and county, and for our young sportspeople such as these hurlers and Robert and Marion Heffernan, who represent their native place on the sporting fields, then I will plead guilty as charged. – Yours, etc,
* I would like to congratulate Marie Murray (Irish Independent, August 15) for reminding us that we are far too censorious and dismissive when it comes to our youth.
Also in this section
Evolution explains roles
Pay protected by cut to pensions
Just because they are young, we feel free to visit all kinds of value judgments upon them.
For the first time in so many years we have had a summer, and even though the small chestnuts begin to fall, the blue skies have stayed with us.
After all that freedom to run about and enjoy the limitless possibilities that the long day affords our youth, we will soon be putting them in their uniforms and strapping heavy schoolbags to their young backs, weighing them down with responsibility.
The older ones will be given laptops and sent on to college. Today, national CAO day, when futures are delineated and destinies doled out, our thoughts should be with them.
We have been preparing them for “the world”. Well and good, I won’t argue; we tether kid goats, pen sheep, and fence horses, all to put a halt to their gallop, so they can be “managed”.
Sure, our children need to be taught and prepared to take their part in the world, but I would contend that their spirits as well as their minds need to be nourished and stocked.
What they do not need is to be judged and stereotyped. They are put into slipstreams so that ultimately they will fit the model of the “professional”.
They are being measured to play a role in a “one size fits all” society.
Individuality, character and all the idiosyncrasies that make each of us unique are ground away as they are run through the mill.
As our little ones – and not so little – return to their classrooms, I would like to wish them and their teachers well.
But learning is an engagement with life and all its delightful forms. A smile or an old man’s face can tell as great a story as any text book.
We are all students in the mysteries of the world.
We should not pretend to know all the answers.
We are all children in our hearts, even if we are chained to the wheel.
HISTORY FOR THE PEOPLE
* I refer to David Quinn’s article (Irish Independent, August 16) entitled ‘Keep history as a core subject – but let’s be honest about it’. It raises salient issues – the cavalier reference in the Junior Certificate course to Daniel O’Connell and The Land League is most unfortunate. A greater choice at Junior Certificate level would promote greater engagement.
However, I take issue with the point that students are taught “a particular version” of history. A variety of perspectives and approaches are also presented.
History should not become the sole preserve of historians or left in some dusty archive, because it belongs to the people of Ireland to take ownership of their past.
History is not a shaky knowledge subject, nor is it just about heritage. The study of history strengthens critical thinking, independent thought, highlights toleration and the fostering of an imagination as those in the past lived their lives very differently to our own.
Is history any more “subjective” than journalism?
Wexford, Co Wexford
A WORTHY MAN
* You report Sean Donlon (Irish Independent, August 17) from the Parnell Summer School as calling people like O’Connell, Parnell and Redmond worthy of recognition during this decade of commemorations alongside Pearse and Connolly.
May I suggest that Arthur Griffith transcends both groups? An admirer of Parnell, he was content to give Redmond an opportunity to achieve Home Rule. As an ardent separatist, he then favoured passive resistance to British rule by taking local power within Ireland.
He opposed the Easter Rising, fearing that the British would lay waste the country as they had done in South Africa, with which he was very familiar. When the Rising began, he backed it wholeheartedly, writing: “I am not hot-blooded or emotional but something of the primeval man woke in me. I clenched my fist and ground my teeth and longed for vengeance on the murders.”
Griffith’s vision came to fruition in the first Dail and he subsequently played a major role as president of Dail Eireann in the evolution of the Irish Free State before his untimely death.
Anthony J Jordan
Sandymount, Dublin 4
* While enjoying Gerard O’Regan’s article about what might have been had Parnell not died so young and appreciating his reference to the Parnell Summer School (Comment, August 17), I must object to his use of ‘Kitty’ in relation to Mrs O’Shea.
While conceding that she preferred to be called Katherine, Mr O’Regan nevertheless employs this derogatory appellation repeatedly throughout his article. In fact, she was generally known as ‘Katie’. ‘Kitty’ was Victorian slang for a prostitute, and it was first applied to Mrs O’Shea by the execrable Tim Healy – and it stuck.
It is disappointing to see it appear in the newspaper that Parnell himself founded.
Felix M Larkin
Academic director, Parnell Summer School, Cabinteely
Reasons to co-operate
* Recently, Mary O’Rourke made an interesting suggestion about co-operation between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. This would mean a real end to the Civil War.
The late John Kelly, a member of Fine Gael and Attorney General, suggested the same thing many years ago. He said that unless such co-operation took place, Labour would play one against the other and in that way would impose a godless agenda on our country. This prophetic warning has sadly been proved true.
Address with editor
LEAVING CERT SUCCESS
* The statement that “continual assessment is a much better approach” than the Leaving Cert exam as a reflection of a student’s potential is open to challenge (Letters, August 17).
To label success in the Leaving, which requires application and discipline, as “merely a rough snapshot” is wrong.
The Leaving Cert exam is independent and as near immune to corruption as is possible. Continuous assessment, in contrast, puts enormous pressure on teachers. The arrogant and the self-assertive among parents will wade in on behalf of their offspring to put pressure on teachers.
The results would be a measure of arrogance and indiscipline – and the state of the country is proof positive that we have had enough of those.
A JOB FOR PENSIONERS
* As a ‘young’ pensioner (forcibly ‘retired’ due to the recession), I’d like to throw a small spanner in the works, if I may. We hear that those on unemployment assistance should work for their dole, and I say, why not the pensioners as well?
We have experience, skills, and we have a great deal to contribute. I, for one, will be happy to sit in the Dail or Seanad for free, be an adviser to the Government, run a state-owned bank for free (how hard can that be?) or undertake any of the myriad other duties costing this State obscene sums of money.
After all, I and other retirees could hardly do any worse, could we?
William F (Liam) O’Mahony
GraigueNAMAnagh, Co Kilkenny