25 August 2013 Rain

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble again with them testing a new fuel it make poor out Troutbride go at 60 mph and burns out the furl tanks. Priceless
We are both tired it rains off and on all day so no gardening.
Scrabble today I win Just by one point and we gets well-known under 400. perhaps she might win tomorrow.


Stephenie McMillan
Stephenie McMillan, who has died aged 71, was the set decorator on all eight of the Harry Potter films and won an Oscar for her work on The English Patient (1996).

Stephenie McMillan on a re-created set of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ Photo: GETTY
5:16PM BST 23 Aug 2013
The key to the set decorator’s art is in the detail, locating and presenting objects that accurately reflect character or a particular element in the story, and it was an art at which Stephenie McMillan excelled. “You learn through observation,” she once remarked. “Look around and see what’s in a person’s room. I always look to see what books people have sitting behind them in interviews.”
For the Harry Potter films, the fantasy element meant that it was no good simply going to the usual hire companies; rather, items had to be made according to the specifications laid down by her and the production designer Stuart Craig. Creating the Great Hall set for the Yule Ball scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), for example, involved three months’ work: “We covered the stone walls with silver lamé and made 17 sets of matching silver curtains with elaborate swags and tails, huge ice sculptures cast in resin and 250 silver cross-legged stools.”
For most films, Stephenie McMillan would first read through the script, making a note of any special props that are referred to: “Then we just start finding them. At the beginning of a film it is quite exciting — you have a list of all the sets you’ve got to do and an approximate price against them and then it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, really. Gradually, you fill everything in.”
Altogether she worked on 24 films, among them A Fish Called Wanda (1988), The Secret Garden (1993), Shadowlands (also 1993), Notting Hill (1999) and Chocolat (2000). For much of her career she collaborated with Stuart Craig, and she once told an interviewer: “The production designer has the vision, and as set decorator you have to bring this vision to life. Set decorating should never steal thunder from actors, nor should it ever be so showy that you’re looking at the furniture rather than the action.”
She was born Stephenie Lesley Gardner at Chigwell, Essex, on July 20 1942, the daughter of a toy wholesaler. After Woodford High School she trained as a secretary, and it was while working for a London architects’ practice that she first became interested in design. She became a photographic stylist for magazines, then a set decorator for television commercials. Her first film was Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984).
Stephenie McMillan was nominated for three Baftas, and shared (with Craig) the Oscar in 1996 for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration on The English Patient. She and Craig were nominated for four Academy Awards for their work on the Harry Potter films: for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005); and for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts I and II, 2010 and 2011).
At the Warner Bros Studios at Leavesden, Hertfordshire, she helped to re-create many of the Harry Potter series’ most iconic sets for the display that was opened to the public in early 2012.
Her last film was Gambit (2012), written by the Coen brothers and starring Colin Firth and Alan Rickman. “For one scene alone,” she said, “we needed 50 framed oil paintings. It was a big challenge on a small budget.”
Stephenie McMillan was twice married and divorced. Her first husband was the writer Russell Miller, her second was the commercials director Ian McMillan. She is survived by her partner of 20 years, the music writer Phil Hardy, and by the two daughters of her first marriage.
Stephenie McMillan, born July 20 1942, died August 19 2013


The reported decline of language teaching in higher education is very worrying (“Language teaching crisis as 40% of university departments face closure”, News). Universities need to think creatively about language provision in their institutions.
At Regent’s University London, although instruction in 10 languages is available to all, more than a third of our students must study a new foreign language interlaced in the subject material of their degree programmes. These students also spend two semesters studying or working in a country relevant to their language choice. Such immersion allows students to absorb new cultures and hone their language skills.
The few weeks’ study abroad offered by some universities are just a nod towards internationalism and are inadequate in preparation for work in a global environment. The sector needs to look beyond traditional language departments and consider establishing language institutes, which can provide tuition to students across all degree courses. Unless we tackle this urgently, our graduates will find it increasingly tough to compete with their multi-lingual counterparts overseas.
Professor Aldwyn Cooper
Vice chancellor and chief executive
Regent’s University London
The excessive emphasis on research and research income in recent years has led university managers to place academics under even more pressure. Many departments that suffer no lack of students and are well rated by them are simply deemed to be deficient in “research excellence” and are therefore “expendable”.
Universities are not in the least bothered that language provision could simply disappear in their area – maximising profit is the only concern.
Senior academics from research-excellent institutions could show a little more solidarity and sensitivity and not be quite so keen to collaborate with university managers in their quest to restructure language departments into oblivion. It’s not just the Ukip-voting public and teenagers choosing not to study languages who are causing this crisis: universities are doing a pretty good job of fuelling it, too, and no one should be offering to help them.
Dr Joy Charnley
The news that 40% of university language departments could close within a decade risks leaving us culturally marooned and linguistically lonely.
British Council research has looked at topics ranging from the languages UK employers say we need to stay competitive, to how Britons’ holiday habits betray a lack of language confidence and competence. The results send a clear message: English alone is not enough for our pleasure, leisure or business. Foreign-language skills aren’t just about making ourselves understood. They are the key to unlocking and understanding other cultures. English is a global language, but we’ll miss a world of opportunity if it is all we speak.
John Worne
Director of strategy, British Council
London SW1
Having read with concern your front-page story last week, I was relieved to read in David Willetts’s Comment article (“In the race for scientific prowess we mustn’t leave the arts behind”) that “thanks to the Ebacc, language learning at GCSE is now at its highest level for nine years. We must now wait for this to filter through to universities. And that is why the Higher Education Funding Council for England is working with institutions on safeguarding modern language provision across the country”.
Sounds as if it had better get a move on or there won’t be any university language departments for linguistically able school leavers to take their degrees in and train to be the language teachers, translators and interpreters of the future.
Harry D Watson

We know that you will agree that one of the hallmarks of free and open democracies is a vivid public debate addressing all fundamental aspects of society, including the balance and possible conflict between the legitimate security concerns of governments and the protection of privacy and the free press. We all understand both the imperative to uphold domestic security and the equally important imperative to protect our open public debate about the limits to and legal implications of these efforts. The debate is not a sign of weakness of our democracies. It is the basis of our strength.
Against this backdrop, events in Great Britain over the past week give rise to deep concern. We may differ on where to draw the line and strike the right balance, but we should not differ in our determination to protect an open debate about these essential questions. Also, we should stand united to protect individuals engaging in such debates within the parameters of democracy and the rule of law.
The free press plays a crucial role in this regard, also in situations where information revealed by the press is most inconvenient to governments and the intelligence community. We are surprised by the recent acts by officials of your government against our colleagues at the Guardian and deeply concerned that a stout defender of democracy and free debate such as the United Kingdom uses antiterror legislation in order to legalise what amounts to harassment of both the paper and individuals associated with it. Moreover, it is deeply disturbing that the police have now announced a criminal investigation. We hope this is not to be seen as a step against journalists doing journalism.
The implication of these acts may have ramifications far beyond the borders of the UK, undermining the position of the free press throughout the world.
Mr Prime Minister, we hope that you will soon act to rectify this and reinstall your government among the leading defenders of the free press and an open debate in accordance with the proud tradition of your country.
Bo Lidegaard
Executive editor-in-chief
Politiken, Denmark
Peter Wolodarski
Executive editor-in-chief
Dagens Nyheter, Sweden
Hilde Haugsgjerd
Executive editor-in-chief
Aftenposten, Norway
Riikka Venäläinen
Helsingin Sanomat, Finland
The forgotten cost of coal
Why am I not surprised at the reaction of West Sussex nimbys over the prospect of fracking? We face a future of expensive power. Surely we should utilise all the forms of fuel? West Sussex has lived for more than a century on power produced by the coal mining in areas such as south Wales, a process that has caused massive environmental damage. I don’t remember them protesting against that. The ex-mining areas of south Wales and the untouched sylvan areas of mid Wales are threatened with wind farms to provide electricity that will go to power the towns and cities of England, including West Sussex. I don’t remember them protesting against that.
John Owen
Widening access to Oxford
Carole Cadwalladr selectively quotes numbers in order to lament “the problem of Oxbridge” (“I went to Oxford. So why am I so angry about it?”, Comment). She notes that “just over 7% of children are privately educated, yet 40% of those at Oxford and Cambridge have been”, but fails to note that 15% of all those taking A-levels, and 33% of those with AAA or higher at A-level, are in the independent sector.
Attainment in schools is the greatest limiting factor to Oxford’s ability to recruit widely, but we are working extremely hard on access. Every year, we hold more than 2,400 outreach events. We also offer the most generous financial support for the poorest students of any university in the country; 10% of students accepted come from a family with a household income of less than £16,000 a year, and last year one-third of all places went to applicants who are a target of our access activities. We are determined to make an Oxford education open to the most able students, whatever their background.
Mike Nicholson
Director of undergraduate admissions
University of Oxford
Smart meters and security
I take concerns related to the security of smart meters very seriously, and in referring to John Naughton’s article (Discover) sadly these concerns are misinformed. I would like to be very clear: security is a key priority for me and my department. We are working closely with leading security experts to ensure the smart metering system is safe and that robust security controls are in place.
Baroness Verma
Energy and climate change minister
London SW1
Help is at hand
I am surprised that Peter Beaumont bothered to decant his pee into a watering can (“My war of attrition with the urban fox”, News). My husband uses the handy spout nature gave him.
Lucy Abercrombie


Ian Birrell states that “countries such as Britain and the United States have a duty to stand firm with those seeking democracy” (“Syria’s shadow now looms over Egypt…”, 18 August). He implies that we should not “ignore the lessons of history”. But what does history tell us?
Let us suppose that, as Hitler imposed Nazism on 1930s Germany, that country’s army mounted a coup and deposed him. Which side should Britain and the US have supported? Given that Hitler came to power democratically and that some in the West saw him as a bulwark against communism, they might have been ambivalent or even backed his regime.
Military government is rarely benign, but democracies can also beget evil. It all depends on a nation’s psyche, its constitutional arrangements and who is around at the time.
Mike Timms
Iver, Buckinghamshire
So a majority of Britons are now in favour of “British jobs for British workers” (“Public mood hardens over migrant workers”, 18 August). Is this the same majority that buys goods made overseas? At times of international events such as the Olympic Games I see the Union flag flying from the windows of Renault, Volkswagen and Kia cars. I am left wondering precisely what it is that the occupants are supporting. If it is an expression of national pride, then it is a very shallow expression. Hypocrites, every one!
Paul Driscoll
Caldicot, Monmouthshire
John Banham writes that “the national housing crisis has been a long time in the making: a lack of housing that can be afforded by young working families, while rents soar” (“Affordable homes to rent… will rebalance the property market”, 18 August). That’s the same John Banham who in April told the Western Morning News that he had “nothing but admiration” for what Margaret Thatcher achieved for Britain”. As I remember, one of Mrs Thatcher’s lasting “achievements” was the sell-off of council housing.
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Our Skills & Demand in Industry Report 2013 shows that 42 per cent of employers have expressed disappointment with the skills of new employees. GCSEs in the Stem subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] are the first crucial stepping stone into not only the engineering and technology sector but also a wide range of careers. However, GCSEs do not always provide the level of practical experience that employers need. Apprenticeships offer school-leavers a route to industry that enables them to earn while they learn with progress to other professional qualifications. The UK needs more higher-level apprenticeships to tackle the skills gap and to meet industry demand. Students need to know that an apprenticeship is an alternative to university.
Stephanie Fernandes
Institution of Engineering and Technology
London WC2
DJ Taylor describes opponents of fee-paying education as “flat-earthers”, in the mistaken belief that our objection to private schools is based on the excellent results they attain (18 August).
A strong case can be made against independent schools based on the kind of social apartheid they create. A child who attends an expensive school will never meet a child in receipt of free school meals, but when she or he becomes a government minister will still feel qualified to denigrate “scroungers” and hold forth on benefits reform.
Joe Smith
Halewood, Liverpool
Irish leader Eamon de Valera justified signing the book of condolence for Hitler as not to do so would have been an “unpardonable” discourtesy (“The Top Ten: Unsung Villains”, 18 August). Such conscienceless formalism makes him a prime exemplar of Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil. I’d put De Valera ahead of Churchill in your list.
David Crawford
Bromley, Kent
You say the new musical The Light Princess is “loosely based on an old Scots fairy tale” (Heads Up, 18 August). The Scottish author George MacDonald wrote the fairy tale in 1864. Although little read now, he was thought to have influenced both C S Lewis and W H Auden.
Paul Dormer
Have your say

Swipe at fracking protest fails to hit the real target
I AM not completely opposed to fracking — it is undoubtedly buying us time — but I do wonder about the continuing tactic of highly intelligent opinion formers such as Dominic Lawson in focusing on the denigration of protesters, and thereby diverting attention away from the true heart of the matter (“No cracks in the granite ignorance of the ‘frack and ruin’ brigade”, Comment, last week).
It is becoming increasingly obvious that in financial and ecological terms the world is in serious trouble. As more people start to demand real action to provide a sustainable future, political, business and journalistic spin will become futile. Why not just get on with the transition to a better world, involving all the people, right now before it’s too late?
Phil Davis, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Foot off the gas
One thing that Lawson didn’t mention, and which I think has large political ramifications, is that fracked gas has a greenhouse gas potential higher than natural gas extracted using traditional methods. This is because methane is released during the extraction of fracked gas.
Alex Scott, Hughenden Valley, Buckinghamshire
Limited appeal
There is as yet a wholly undiscussed aspect of this issue. If countries around the world are now going to utilise this enormous power resource, then even if we carry out minimal fracking, the planet will soon be awash with fuel. As a result global prices will plummet, which in turn means that all countries will benefit from much lower fuel prices regardless of their involvement in fracking.
So let’s just frack in a few suitable areas — which obviously does not include the area where I happen to live.
Vic Lewis, Newport, Isle of Wight
Ground report
I am a 19-year-old resident of Balcombe who’s fed up with the emotional propaganda and blind “fact”-following on fracking that seems rife in the area. Lawson’s article gave a good counter to pretty much the only conversation you hear round the local hotspots.
Name withheld, Balcombe, West Sussex
Waste line
Lawson’s article states that the anti-fracking brigade opposes “the cheapest known fuel for heating people’s homes”. He has ignored, or simply doesn’t know about, the “cheapest known fuel” for heating homes produced by anaerobic digestion. Here the material utilised to produce gas is a waste product generated in enormous quantities in our country — food waste.
Collecting it and converting it into manure and methane gas has a twofold reward. Methane can be piped into the domestic gas supply and manure can supply farmers with a supplement to enhance food production and reduce the dependence on chemical fertiliser.
Charlie Brandt Frome, Somerset
Charity case
I was astonished to see a letter signed by a number of charities complaining about fracking (“Falling for false hopes of fracking”, Letters, last week). They seem to think that we shall be able eventually to rely upon wind, wave and solar power.
How naive. As I support one of these organisations, I feel obliged to withdraw any further support as it is politicking in areas where it has absolutely no expertise.
Hugh Chaplin, By email
Unnatural selection
The letter calling for the government to back “our greatest natural assets” is utter nonsense. Imagine the uproar from the supporters of these groups if the countryside were covered with sufficient wind and solar farms, and our coastline with wind turbines and wave power devices, to provide enough energy — intermittently — for our future needs.
John Rogers, Camberley, Surrey
Close to the wind
The RSPB’s opposition to fracking in Lancashire sits rather uncomfortably with its tacit support for wind turbines, some of which are on its own property and do actually kill birds and bats.
David E Simmons, Cambridge
Death blow
Wind farms in Europe have caused the death of millions of birds, including a rare eagle that only this year was cut to pieces in Scotland.
Albert Rose, Hexham, Northumberland

Youth vote last hope of desperate Labour
IT IS not really surprising to read that Labour is proposing to give the vote to children of 16 and 17 (“Labour will drop voting age to 16”, News, last week). It is clear that the party recognises the only way to regain power in the UK is by appealing to the hearts and minds of impressionable youngsters, as it has clearly lost the fight to convince mature people that it has anything to offer Britain by way of constructive policies for the future.
Jeffrey Stevenson, Plymouth, Devon
Classroom politics
Before Labour considers reducing the voting age to 16, it needs to ensure politics is on the curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Allowing children from primary school onwards to study the topic ensures their involvement, and it is cross-curricular — history, literacy, geography and maths (try explaining proportional representation with sweets).
Health, education and welfare are lifelong issues, not party political short-term vote winners. If our young adults understand this we will benefit enormously from their contribution.
Sally Litherland, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Ballot point
I am delighted that Ed Miliband says he is committed to lowering the voting age to 16. Now that the principle of votes at 16 has been conceded for the referendum on Scottish independence, it would plainly be absurd to leave 16 and 17-year-olds disenfranchised at other elections.
Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs Spokesman, House of Lords
Age of reason
Sadiq Khan, a leading Miliband lieutenant and the architect of Labour’s voting reform, needs to read Sian Griffiths’s article “Boy wonders” (Focus, last week): “While girls reach intellectual maturity at the age of 21, for boys the comparable levels are reached at the age of 28”. Should we not consider raising rather than lowering the voting age?
Hugh Brammer, Hove, East Sussex

Head boys
It seems entirely obvious that boys are once again ahead of the game and the only social problem is that girls, while more bright, mature and academically successful, are dismally behind in spotting career opportunities and are left scurrying at the back of the jobs-for-the-boys bandwagon.
Having realised that hefty university debt coupled with a pointless degree very often results in little more than shelf-stacking opportunities, boys are fast-tracking their way to the boardroom at an earlier point than ever — by cutting out the wasted years at second-rate universities in favour of a more structured, supported, guaranteed and definitely cost-effective route to career success.
Lisa Oakes, Cornwall
Different for girls
The suggestion that girls’ A-level grades are suffering as a result of a government-backed switch away from “soft”, supposedly female-friendly subjects towards “hard” sciences is far too simplistic. Girls in girls’ schools do more “hard” subjects and perform better at them too.
Girls’ schools are leading the way because they provide an environment that minimises stereotypical expectation and have teachers who understand the subtle differences in how girls learn.
Hilary French, President, Girls’ Schools Association

Class divide defines Egypt’s turmoil
THE religiously devout supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi are the downtrodden of society (“Egypt fears ‘open war’ with Islamists”, World News, last week). In contrast, the Tahrir Square demonstrators that saw Morsi out were the secular-minded and consumerist middle class. It is ironic that Ronald Reagan criticised the Soviet Union for its atheistic materialism, and Washington went on to support Afghanistan’s mujaheddin in their fight against “the evil empire”.
Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
The way forward
The following extract from last week’s editorial “Courage: the fight for Egypt is not over” needs to be highlighted. “The best way for the West to foster change is to back democracy quietly, knowing that the appeal of radical Islam is fading in countries that have had a surfeit of it and the information revolution is providing young people with a world vision very different from the closed societies of older generations.”
Fred Jones, Billingham, Co Durham
Enemies of democracy
The problem with achieving a democratic solution in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood is religiously inspired and inherently undemocratic.
Stan Labovitch, Windsor, Berkshire
Holiday heat
What were three Irish sisters doing on “holiday” at the heart of the trouble, namely the al-Fateh mosque in the centre of Cairo? Is there some tourist agency in Dublin that does tours of dangerous hotspots?
Sandy Baxter, Portstewart, Londonderry

Long history of ministerial interference has had ill effect on NHS
Governments since 1990 have reorganised the NHS relentlessly, imposing untested operating systems and a scheme of targets (“Reform or die: the only NHS prescription”, Editorial, and “Hunt: NHS must reform or it will fail”, News, August 11). This has diverted clinical staff from patient care to the needs of bureaucracy. By the time the effects of the changes become apparent, the ministers responsible are long gone. As a former GP, I know there are a minority of patients whose use of the NHS is out of all proportion to their needs. This issue can no longer be avoided. However, the many thousands who are treated to a high standard are never mentioned.
Dr Chris Nancollas, Lydney, Gloucestershire
Fast risers
The health secretary Jeremy Hunt says the best people to run failing hospitals are senior doctors and nurses. What a contrast to the approach taken to running our police service. Here individuals who have never made an arrest or faced public disorder will be fast-tracked into senior positions.
Mark Payne, Guildford, Surrey

Dog days
At the pet charity Blue Cross we know only too well that many dogs whose owners are out all day can be extremely stressed (“Modern life leaves home-alone dogs feeling down”, News, last week). Every year we take in hundreds of dogs whose owners didn’t have enough time for them. We would urge anyone thinking of getting a dog to consider their lifestyle before choosing a pet.
Ryan Neile, Blue Cross animal behaviourist, Burford, Oxfordshire
Early knight
Mo Farah is a fantastic athlete who deserves the admiration of the British public (“PM wants knighthood for Mo”, News, last week). I do, however, believe that a knighthood should be awarded at the end of a career in recognition of not only a long period of excellence in a particular field but also for hard work away from the limelight supporting, in this instance, athletics in local communities and promoting sport among children.
David Fairbairn, Sevenoaks, Kent
Sporting chance
What has Stephen Fry got against athletes? I understand his stance against Russia’s leaders and their neolithic views on homosexuality, but why is his sole focus on the Winter Olympics (“PM meets Fry for gay rights summit in East End pub”, News, last week)? If he wants to protest, maybe he could stop selling his books in Russia as a first step. Why are only young sportsmen and women meant to give up their dreams and years of dedicated training?
Neil Hardwick, Moscow
Reel hero
Sad as it was to read about the death of Mick Deane of Sky News, it was pleasing to have the cameraman featured for once (“A lion among men, felled by a coward’s rifle”, Comment, last week). They do such an amazing job and are always anonymous, which seems unfair, given how much prominence the presenter is given.
Penelope Woolfitt, London N10
Out of season
Marks & Spencer customers want to be able to buy clothes in their size that fit, are well made in decent fabric and are available (“Dame Helen leads M&S out of its comfort zone”, News, last week). To find M&S full of dark brown and black autumn clothes in the middle of a heatwave demonstrates how out of touch it is.
Carole Burleigh, Nottingham

Corrections and clarifications
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Martin Amis, novelist, 64; Alexandra Burke, singer, 25; Tim Burton, director, 55; Sir Sean Connery, actor, 83; Elvis Costello, singer-songwriter, 59; Frederick Forsyth, author, 75; Tom Hollander, actor, 46; Howard Jacobson, novelist, 71; Simon McBurney, actor and director, 56; Tracy-Ann Oberman, actress, 47; Regis Philbin, American television host, 82; Jeff Tweedy, musician, 46; Joanne Whalley, actress, 49

1771 James Cook sets sail from Plymouth on his first voyage of the Pacific; 1867 death of the chemist and physicist Michael Faraday; 1875 Matthew Webb becomes the first person to swim the English Channel; 1919 the first daily international aeroplane service begins, from Hounslow Heath to Le Bourget, Paris; 1944 liberation of Paris; 1989 Voyager 2 makes its closest encounter with Neptune, passing within 3,000 miles


SIR – What a pity we do not show more appreciation of our wonderful natural resource – fish – and those who risk their lives to supply it.
My husband and I have just enjoyed a Cornish herring each – total cost £1.74. They were filling, nutritious and delicious.
Only very occasionally do we hear political support for our fishing industry.
Catherine Castree
Fetcham, Surrey
SIR – I sometimes buy lambs’ kidneys from my local butcher. They are cheap and tasty.
But in the rival big supermarkets none are available. What happens to them all? Are they exported?
In these pinched times, I’d have thought shoppers would go for economical and easily cooked items.
Jennifer Thompson
Richmond, Surrey

SIR – There is a simple way to deal with non-payment of the television licence – abolish it, as was done with the radio licence in 1971, and has been done by many countries around the world.
Use of fixed and mobile internet-enabled devices to watch television makes identification of legitimate use increasingly difficult, and the task of TV Licensing almost impossible.
Money would be saved by abolishing the TV Licensing organisation. The balance of revenue could be collected more efficiently through the normal tax system.
Gordon Sigston
Sevenoaks, Kent
Related Articles
The natural attractions of a Cornish herring
24 Aug 2013
SIR – Those who fail to pay for television licences are liable to criminal prosecution. BBC managers who squandered money overpaying their redundant colleagues have escaped prosecution. Seems odd to me.
John Curran
East Leake, Nottinghamshire
SIR – The universality of the licence system allows a fantastic range of broadcasting to be available to the viewer or listener for less than the price of a pint of milk a day. Sky subscribers, on the most basic package, with no sport or movies, pay more than twice as much.
Shouldn’t the BBC seek to recover money owing to it, like any other organisation?
Geoffrey Smith
Portsmouth, Hampshire
SIR – Don Edwards (Letters, August 23) suggests attaching the licence fee to the council tax. An excellent idea: the French do it. If you haven’t got a television you make a simple declaration.
Peter Robins
Leek Wootton, Warwickshire
SIR – In France the television licence fee is collected automatically via the tax system, even if you only watch BBC World on your television. We do watch BBC World in our flat in France and its coverage has improved significantly recently.
French television, though it has its moments, has far too many game shows, chat shows and imported thrillers. The diet offered by the BBC is definitely preferable, though it is true that it should avoid routinely making the same sort of demotic programmes as its rivals.
Timothy Hornsby
London SE21
SIR – The Rev Jamie Taylor (Letters, August 23), living in the television-reception shadow of his own church, need not pay Sky for a signal. FreeSat is an excellent non-subscription service that supplies a huge selection of television and radio stations.
Given adequate broadband, television and radio can also be accessed on an iPad. However, a television licence is still required – though goodness knows how this can be enforced in the case of online viewing.
Michael Powell
Tealby, Lincolnshire
Pointless GCSEs
SIR – There are no reasons at all to maintain examining, and certainly not GCSE exams, at 16.
With the raising of the participation age beyond 16, any sense that a final set of exams at 16 is required will soon be removed. The essential problem is our inability to reconcile criterion-referenced assessment, related to competency (like a driving test), with differentiating assessment (exams that say one person is better than another), required for selection to higher education.
A bold Secretary of State could solve this at a stroke by introducing competency-based assessments at 14, then leaving differentiating assessment until 18.
This would also allow different pathways to be chosen at 14, in time to avoid the disaffection that occurs by 16 in some schools. The success of the university technical college model, starting at 14, is witness to that.
It would also allow four years to study academic subjects in many schools, enabling excellence to emerge from the current undergrowth of assessments.
The Dearing and Tomlinson reports both pointed to 14, not 16, and both were shelved. Part of the reason is the need to change the infrastructure of schools and colleges currently focused on 16.
Bold leadership may allow a paradigm shift in the familiar education narrative.
Philip Britton
Headmaster, Bolton School
SIR – These eco-friendly anti-fracking people don’t seem to realise they are just helping Gazprom, the Russian oil and gas suppliers, who at this moment make us Europeans pay four times more than the United States does for gas, and cause untold damage to the world environment.
Chris Bindon
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
No loving God, girls
SIR – I was horrified, but unsurprised, to learn that the Guides would rather lose a pack than allow them to promise to “love their God” (report, August 22).
Girlguiding is no longer inclusive, it is now only for those who wish to follow their particular, narrow doctrine.
Bridget Stevenson
London W12
SIR – I am somewhat perplexed by the meaning behind the change to the wording of the Guides’ oath. It seems to me that “being true to myself” could equally be used, with pride, by a career criminal.
Terry Maidens
Traffic from the Right
SIR – A better location in Grantham for the statue of Margaret Thatcher (report, August 23) would be on the roundabout on the A52 next to Asda, facing her father’s shop. It would be harder to “approach casually” for nefarious purposes.
Steve Cattell
Grantham, Lincolnshire
Woman awaits proverb
SIR – I was at a wedding last week, and on the back page of the service sheet was a Xhosa proverb that when translated was: “A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers”.
I am wondering what a “woman without a husband” might be.
Juliet Dettmer
Hambledon, Hampshire
Action over Syria
SIR – Problems in Syria are out of hand and Western intervention is now essential, for the sake of the Syrian people, our allies in the region and the West.
We need to do more than spend on aid or supply arms. We need a mission, with a no-fly zone and ground troops to secure chemical and biological weapons.
President Obama is unwilling, so the British and the French need to take a lead, with Nato allies, and intervene. The Americans will then most likely join in.
Kieran Bailey
SIR – Given the self-proclaimed diplomatic importance of the EU External Action Service, and the central role of the High Representative, Baroness Ashton, why do we hear nothing of the EU policy on Syria?
Britain and France have made their position clear. Baroness Ashton? Nothing beyond a comment on the EUEAS website that was so anodyne it made none of the serious British papers.
The EUEAS should provide leadership if it is to achieve its aspirations and justify its cost. Is this how the EU intends to deal with potential crimes against humanity?
Richard Brickwood
Ware, Hertfordshire
Whose what?
SIR – Luisa Zissman (report, August 22) is in good company by omitting the apostrophe in her Bakers Toolkit company name – just as in Lloyds Bank, Kings Cross, the Champions League or even her home town, St Albans.
John Hayward
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Flag days
SIR – I am one of the few who do have a flagpole in the garden (Leading article, August 23). I fly the flag of St George, save when it is the national day of one of the 84 countries I have visited, when I fly their national flag.
I do not fly the Saltire or Welsh Dragon. What takes precedence is the Union flag, flown on the Queen’s official birthday. I never shall fly the European flag.
Mark Hambrey
Chard, Somerset
SIR – Many know which way up to fly the Union flag, but thousands don’t. Might the answer be a small red arrow, pointing upwards, on the binding on the hoist side?
Keith Chadbourn
Over Compton, Dorset
Last convenient stop before the Great Wall
SIR – Sadly, McDonald’s once failed us on the loo front (Letters, August 23). We made a comfort stop between Beijing and the Great Wall, expecting modern Western fittings, only to be faced with a very French-style hole in the floor.
Helen Roberts
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Desperate early one morning, I made use of McDonald’s Fleet Street premises where the cleaner, having just finished her chores, innocently locked me in the gents.
But for a mobile phone and directory inquiries, I might still be there.
Richard Floyd
Chilworth, Surrey
SIR – With regard to the lack of public lavatories, I would commend the excellent Community Toilet Scheme, run by Ribble Valley borough council here, and many other local councils across the country.
On a voluntary basis, shops and businesses have made their facilities available to the public without the need to make a purchase.
Participating businesses use a window sticker to show that members of the public can use these facilities. Perhaps the scheme should be more widely publicised.
Helen Gee
Burnley, Lancashire
SIR – In Kirkby Lonsdale, the town council was encouraged by the local authority to take on two public lavatories and have them refurbished.
One of them was considered over-large, so was split into two.
One half is now fully converted into
up-to-date unisex/disabled toilets with baby-changing facilities.
The other is about to open as an art gallery. The name of this new enterprise? The Loovre.
Mike Marczynski
Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland

Irish Times:
Sir, – The reporting by the so-called paper of record of the recent first “abortion” under new legislation (Front page, August 23rd) is a superb example of the groupthink and ideological dumbing down evoked by John Waters (Opinion) in the same issue. This plagues any real discussion of complex problems in an honest and open manner. The tragic loss of these twin babies was inevitable and the intervention performed entirely compliant with the ethical guidelines of the Irish Medical Council. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the truth. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock Manor,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – I agree fully with the clinical director of Holles Street hospital and sympathise with his anger on Morning Ireland (August 23rd). Revealing private details of a patient’s treatment in order to sell a story is profoundly immoral and violates her constitutional right to privacy. Does the media understand that behind headlines is a real human being, particularly in this case where the person has lost her twin children? Is this appropriate and newsworthy material for publication?
The medical process and choice of treatment was the right one, and finally we have legal clarity on the appropriate treatment of expectant mothers in perilous circumstances.
Why can’t the media wait until the HSE reports on hospital procedures as required by the recent legislation? What is the need and rush to report and intrude on people’s private affairs so you can spin off a story?
Journalism at its very worst and unworthy of The Irish Times! – Yours,etc,
Tulla, Co Clare.

Sir, – Prof Ray Kinsella’s observations on the absence of political reform in this country is timely and apposite (Opinion, August 21st).
His description of the political system as “dinosaurs operating a cartel” would be most amusing were it not for the fact that it truly reflects the anomie bedevilling Irish political life. Bravo , Professor ! – Yours, etc,
The Grange,

A chara, – Dan O’Brien’s suggestion that our blighted economy is a good reason to legalise and tax prostitution (Business Opinion, August 23rd) gives a whole new meaning to the notion “ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country”. I hope the women of Ireland are ready for his brave, new Ireland. Oh wait: that’s a little bit sexist of me – equality legislation would no doubt ensure that everyone had the opportunity to play their part.
I suppose there’d be a Bord Fáilte campaign to highlight Ireland’s new status as a sex-tourist destination? The logo could be a shamrock with a red light in the centre. Or maybe just a red shamrock? And there would probably need to be some kind of a national campaign to persuade the “prudes” that it is OK for the rest of us to live off what used to be called “immoral earnings”.
I’m still not clear though why Dan O’Brien thinks it would reduce trafficking. I’d have thought it would have the opposite effect as pimps struggled to meet demand. And wouldn’t a whole lot of licensed “knocking shops” be the ideal thing to help traffickers hide what they were up to? It would surely be tough for the punter to know the difference between a legal and a “black market” brothel. Still, it would be in a good cause. After all, what’s more important than the economy? – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I note that 14 Senators were not in attendance for the recall of the Seanad for last Tuesday’s debate (Home News, August 21st). This represents an absenteeism level of approximately 25 per cent. If such a level of absenteeism was recorded in any other public institution or agency (for example, among teachers, gardaí, nurses and civil servants), there would quite rightly be a public outcry and banner headlines in our national media.
What it seems to further indicate is that this public institution, despite many reports on its reform, is simply not fit for purpose. Thankfully, the people of Ireland who are eligible to vote are being given an opportunity to abolish this fundamentally undemocratic, elitist and outdated institution.
The membership of the Seanad is elected on a restricted and exclusive voting and appointment system redolent of the corporate state ideas of the 1930s. Already other modern democracies have taken this step of reform and do not require two chambers of government to govern broadly similar-sized populations. We should vote to abolish the Seanad in the referendum on October 4th. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – This week’s scandalous humiliation of a young girl on social media (Home News & Opinion, August 21st) demonstrates yet again how society has utterly failed to come to grips with this relatively new form of communication.
The existing libel laws are wholly inadequate for dealing with an incident such as this and seem almost antediluvian in the face of social media.
We use modern terms such as, tweet, retweet, share and like but essentially it all amounts to the same thing: publication. The ability to instantly publish photos, videos and text and make them available to millions of people worldwide is a great power and brings with it a great responsibility. Who decided that it was perfectly okay for children and teenagers to have this power?
We have laws protecting our children against inappropriate traditional media content, yet we allow them to walk around with smartphones. Children and teenagers do not have the knowledge, life experience or emotional intelligence to make decisions about publishing photos and videos.
We need to have a national debate on the use of social media, perhaps resulting in a code of conduct or ethics that adults would have to sign up to before being allowed to join these websites. Our children need to be protected, as much from themselves and their peers as anything else. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty are far too diplomatic in their diagnosis of the discontent among the unionist working class (Opinion August 20th).
Fear of cultural erosion for the unionist working class may be part of their worries, but the real cause of their discontent is the loss of their political dominance. The days of marching through Catholic enclaves shouting anti-Catholic obscenities appears to be passing. It was significant that the recent trouble stemmed from the barring of a parade through a Catholic district. The unionists/ Orange Order seem to think that sticking it to the Catholics every July 12 is a God-given inalienable right: it’s not.
We should all applaud the Parades Commission decision to stand up to the bullying of the Orange Order. Northern Ireland is growing up and the entire unionist community, including the working class, will have to grow up with it. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:

* It was the electrician who made me realise I had been playing Russian roulette with my family and home. Holding a fistful of charred wires and scorched bakelite, he said, “you’re lucky, normally it’s the fire brigade that finds this . . . along with the burned bodies”.
Also in this section
We can’t afford these absurd NTMA salaries
Recall illustrates impotence of the Seanad
Victims’ trial trauma favours the offenders
We laughed. As I threw the evidence of my new impoverishment into the bin, I gave a sigh of relief and despair. How many more decisions like this will I have to make? My youngest son lives nearest to that offending shower but it was my oldest son who last night smelled burning wire. This time I could no longer shove my problem into the chamber of chance and spin it to decide who gets paid and what the priority was.
A little about me first: I am a mortgage holder with three kids at home; I have a pension, having worked since I was 18. My wife works three days a week and my son has just lost his job. Depending on your own situation, I could be described as lucky or unlucky.
Around the time of the shower displaying signs of fatigue, the car was due its NCT. But as luck would have it, the entire engine blew. Education funds were raided to get it back on the road and there was no change from two grand.
Meanwhile, a dilapidated dishwasher limps on. The microwave blew and I had to buy a new one right away.
Naturally we have ring-fenced the gas and electricity bills, along with the mortgage and house insurance. Don’t remind me about the car insurance due soon. I do get p****d off when I see Bord Gais sponsor a theatre but still look for a 7pc increase in September. I will never be in a position to attend the arts so maybe they might consider selling their gas cheaper?
Braces, teeth, kids, cats, dogs come first in our domain. Throw in education, along with a supporting role for the kid who lost a job, and you can see how a squeeze can arise. The house tax bill arrived. Meanwhile, the three fillings that fell out two years ago remain that way. . . out.
So too the medication I was prescribed as necessary three years ago. I last bought it a year-and-a-half ago. You see, in the game of Russian roulette that we play, missing fillings and medication never make it from the barrel because we never load them in the first case as a priority.
The Taoiseach Mr Kenny and the Government just call it austerity.
John Cuffe
Co Meath
* I would suggest that there is a very good reason for the rise in property prices in Dublin and the shortage of family homes, even if it has taken some in Government and local councils by surprise.
The reason is, in their respective development plans, the Government and local authorities demanded high-density section 23 housing – shoebox apartments.
Thousands were built and we have seen to our cost that in some instances these came with the minimum of standards, with no proper storage or proper washing facilities and hardly room to swing a cat.
Huge profits for government and local authorities resulted, plus even bigger profits for developers. The banks threw money at them like confetti during the Celtic Tiger property boom, and this in turn inflated property prices.
Now these poor unfortunate couples who were childless then but have children now are stuck in negative equity and stuck in a shoebox apartment, with no escape in prospect.
The reason now the Government and local authorities are left scratching their heads is because they did not listen to those of us in local communities who at the time strongly objected to the plans.
There is only one reasonable thing to do now, and that is face up to the fact they made a mistake and knock these unoccupied, half-finished apartment blocks and build family homes.
Kathleen Ryan
* With the events of the past few days and weeks, the old idea that history repeats itself has never seemed more appropriate or meaningful. Many famous thinkers and writers have commented on the historic recurrence of events. These include St Luke, Machiavelli and even Mark Twain, who said “a favourite theory of mine – to wit, that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often”.
With that in mind, history seems to be repeating itself, or at least the effects of an historic event, throughout the world at the moment.
For our part, we have renewed sectarian violence in the North over the past few months. A long period of relative peace was abruptly shattered first by the flags controversy and most recently over parades by unionists and nationalists. Couple with this the renewed interest in unsolved murders from as far back as 1973 and, certainly, history is coming back with a vengeance.
The issue and position of Hosni Mubarak has reared its head again with the former Egyptian president being released from prison. When seen alongside the renewed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the domineering Egyptian military, it certainly seems as though the pre-revolution government is very much intact and in control.
However, by far the most troubling event has been the opening up of old border wounds between Pakistan and India, with the latter being accused of the murder of a Pakistani officer. Recent attacks have resulted in the deaths of eight Indian and six Pakistani soldiers, as well as one Indian and six Pakistani civilians.
One can only wish there is no further escalation of violence in this area, especially given that both countries are nuclear powers with a history of warring.
Colin Smith
Clara, Co Offaly
* I have a good deal of sympathy with Eleanor Petrie’s views as articulated in her article (Irish Independent, August 22) regarding the difficulty our Protestant minority have in educating their children in their own ethos. I myself would have difficulty in sending children to schools with an RC ethos.
However, we are collectively in a difficult place and there are great demands on the education and national budget. Does support for an ethos come before assistance for handicapped or special needs children? That’s one question but there are many others.
Unlike in the past, there are many other sections of our population that would have an equal claim for support for education in their own ethos. The Muslim section of our society is perhaps the first to come to mind, but there are several others.
The time has come to ensure that our education system can welcome and respect all of the population. That may demand a change of heart from the controllers of the majority of our schools.
The fact that it was a Labour Education Minister who abolished third-level fees is mindboggling. I have asked individuals within Labour to explain the logic of this without ever getting an answer – of any sort. That they are now struggling to find some way to make the rich – or perceived rich – not qualify for grants only serves to emphasise the ridiculousness of the original decision.
Andrew Duffy
* “Emma Byrne has become used to the patronising comments,” wrote John Meagher in the first line of his article on female football fans (Irish Independent, August 22). Presumably the accompanying headline – “The women getting their kit on” – was intended as patronising in a purely ironic sense?
Lorraine O’Hanlon
Irish Independent

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