10 October 2013 Busy

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat but coconuts. Priceless.
No Meg and Ben off to Bath
We watch the Glums
Scrabble today I win and get under 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.


Patrice Chéreau
Patrice Chéreau, who has died aged 68, was a theatre and film director whose centenary production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle conducted by Pierre Boulez was controversial, but proved to be instrumental in revitalising the reputation of Bayreuth.

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Patrice Chereau’s production of ‘Das Rheingold’ at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976 Photo: LEBRECHT
5:58PM BST 08 Oct 2013
In his early years Chéreau was regarded by some as the enfant terrible of French theatre, with productions that were highly charged, highly sexual and highly controversial. Against this backdrop he was invited to the Bavarian opera house by Wolfgang Wagner in 1976. Instead of the traditional Alpine trappings, the bourgeois followers of Wolfgang’s grandfather were subjected to an operatic treatise on the tendency for power to corrupt set against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution.
To its critics, Chéreau’s Ring was no less than a “Marxist sabotage” — the inevitable outcome, as Roger Scruton once wrote, of allowing a Frenchman to achieve his country’s dream of storming the citadel of Bayreuth and to inject irony and self-doubt where once Teutonic self-confidence had reigned.
Yet to its supporters, this was the production — later transformed into a 10-part television series directed by Humphrey Burton — that exposed the reality of Wagner, a watershed moment in the history of opera.
Chéreau was no less controversial in film. Intimacy (2001), based on Hanif Kureishi’s novel, apparently depicted Kerry Fox actually fellating Mark Rylance. It stars only British actors (among them Timothy Spall and Marianne Faithfull) and charts the possessiveness of a musician from London who regularly meets a woman for sexual encounters.
To Chéreau there was no difference between theatre, opera and film. “For me they are exactly the same — telling stories with actors,” he once told the journalist Stephen Moss. After La Reine Margot (1994), which won the main jury prize at Cannes, he was swamped with offers to direct more blood-drenched tales of 16th-century French life (“I even had an offer from the UK to do a film about Guy Fawkes”), but always refused: “It’s useless to repeat something you already did,” he said.
Patrice Chéreau was born on November 2 1944 in Lézigné, western France, to parents who were both painters. Shortly after liberation the family moved to an apartment in Paris that was “full of canvases and colours”, and Patrice became known as an actor, director and manager at his school theatre. While at the Sorbonne, Chéreau directed his first professional play, Victor Hugo’s L’Intervention, and promptly abandoned his studies. Soon he was working with the Italian director Giorgio Strehler.
He drew critical acclaim at the 1968 Festival of Youth Theatre in Nancy with a production of Lenz’s The Soldiers, an 18th-century study of military celibacy in civilian society that was described as “like Cyrano de Bergerac turned inside out”. In 1970 he directed a provocative account of Richard II at the Théâtre de France.
Chéreau’s staging of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman at the Paris Opéra in 1974 drew boos and cheers in equal measure as he did away with the work’s traditional romantic ideals; instead of depicting Hoffman (Nicolai Gedda) as a sensitive poet for whom love is beyond reach, Chéreau cast him as a drunken loser. He returned to English drama in 1975 with a macabre production of Edward Bond’s rewriting of King Lear at the Théâtre National Populaire in Villeurbanne. Explaining his dark outlook, he said: “Just as some people feed on hope, I feed on despair. For me it is a spur to action.”
After his Bayreuth succès de scandale Chéreau received many overtures from opera houses, but with the exception of Berg’s Lulu in Paris in 1979 and Janácek’s From the House of the Dead in Aix-en-Provence in 2007 (both again with Boulez), he rarely returned to the medium.
It was not until two years ago that he directed in Britain, when the Young Vic staged I am the Wind by Jon Fosse, a bleak tale of the sexual and emotional tension between two unnamed characters of unspecified gender on a boat.
His later films included Son frère (2003), about the fraught relationship between two brothers; Gabrielle (2005), which depicts a marriage that is fraying; and Persécution (2009), the story of a man who is haunted by a love-hate relationship with his girlfriend. In 2003 he served as president of the jury at Cannes.
Asked where his ideas came from, Chéreau replied simply: “It’s like love. If you are looking desperately for a partner, you will never find someone. But suddenly, if you say, ‘I don’t need anybody’, you will find one.”
For many years he lived with the French actor Pascal Greggory , but he did not believe that his homosexuality influenced his work. “Everywhere love stories are the same,” he said. “The game of desire, and how you live with desire, are the same.”
Patrice Chéreau, born November 2 1944, died October 7 2013


The health secretary is reported as challenging the payment of “automatic increments” (Hunt on collision course as he says no to NHS pay rises, 5 October). The increment system has been practised for so long (19th century, I believe) that its original raison d’etre is forgotten by many. This is that the top of the pay scale is the rate for the job, but it takes an employee time to reach full competence and so during these years is paid less. Thus, far from being an extravagance, the system was intended as a method of cost-saving. Furthermore, the effect on annual cost is claimed to be neutral, as people leaving the grade at the top of the scale are replaced by newcomers entering at the bottom, thus compensating for those rising through the scale. The power to stop increments was also a useful management tool. George Osborne criticised progression pay some time ago but has not kept up his attack: likely the advantages of the system, as sketched above, have been explained to him, so it is no longer seen as an easy target. Whether Jeremy Hunt will also see the light we await to see.
Donald Bradley

I was amused to see Jo Swinson advising women to help themselves to achieve equal pay with male colleagues by asking them what they earn (Report, 5 October). The Equality Act 2010 was intended to have a provision making it unlawful for companies to enforce a contractual term prohibiting employees from disclosing their salaries, but this was watered down in the act to making such a clause instead just “unenforceable”. In any event, the employee can be asked the question, but that does not mean he has to answer it.
This government, of which Ms Swinson is a member, also kicked the act’s provision for compulsory equal pay audits into the long grass and is now introducing legislation to abolish the longstanding practice of submitting pre-action questionnaires to the employer seeking information about what possible comparators are paid and the reasons for any pay differential.
In other words, instead of the law making it easier for women to find out whether they earn less than men doing equal work in breach of the sex equality clause implied into their contracts of employment, Ms Swinson seems to be emulating Norman Tebbit in advising women to get on their bikes and do it themselves.
Daphne Romney QC
• Your article (9 October) shows just how damaging the effects of economic inequality are on children’s life chances. But what it doesn’t show is how effective the wealthy have been in using education to lock poorer children out of opportunities. Just 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of CEOs of FTSE 100 companies.
Increasing the pupil premium for poorer children may help a little. But if the government is really serious about giving poorer children a better chance in life, it needs to be far more ambitious and look at ways to reduce the UK’s excessive and widening levels of economic inequality.
Duncan Exley
Director, The Equality Trust

Outdoor and adventurous education has a long and honourable history in the UK. The most exciting time of expansion was in the often-maligned 1960s, when many visionary chief education officers (Longland in Derbyshire, Clegg in the West Riding, Bessey in Cumberland, among others) set up a wide network of local authority outdoor education centres. These allowed tens of thousands of young people, who would otherwise never have had such publicly funded opportunities, to spend action-filled residential weeks in open country and engage for the first time in practical environmental and adventurous activities.
Children who were constrained by the academic focus of classroom work were liberated to find new ways of learning and new avenues for discovery. They also learned wider lessons about living and working together effectively, sharing resources, solving practical problems and managing risks, in a way that is increasingly difficult in the formal setting of the school itself.
Our present secretary of state for education seems unaware of the importance of such experiences. The increasing narrow emphasis on academic achievement and repeated testing, when less formal extracurricular experience can contribute so beneficially for so many children, is deeply damaging to many talented youngsters. I sometimes wonder whether Mr Gove is aware of the fact that there are many different ways of learning and multiple aspects of intelligence.
We now see local authority centres losing their funding and in many cases closing. Many of those that remain have to introduce charging, thus excluding many for whom such experiences may be most beneficial. Instead of an expansion of such powerful learning opportunities, they are being reduced. This is one underpublicised but damaging aspect of the current ferment of change in education in England.
Roger Putnam
Former chair, English Outdoor Council
•  George Monbiot rightly reminds us of the importance of children’s experience of playing and exploring outdoors. One of the most shocking findings in the National Children’s Bureau’s report Greater Expectations (2013), which compared children of the 60s with children today, is that whereas in the 1960s disadvantaged children had the same level of access as their more advantaged peers to outdoor leisure activities – eg parks, fields and recreation grounds – and used them as frequently, today’s least deprived children are nine times more likely than those living in the most deprived areas to have access to green spaces. Inequality measured only in money terms misses this important dimension of children’s wellbeing.
Hilary Land
Emeritus professor of family policy, University of Bristol
•  That children’s education benefits from closeness to nature was something EAG Lamborn knew many years ago. HAL Fisher, author of a classic history of Europe and the progressive 1918 Education Act (which stipulated class sizes below 30), called Lamborn “the greatest elementary teacher in the United Kingdom”. He crops up in TA Crossley’s very dry Sense and Structure (1934) with the stand-out comment “the full beauty of ‘Birds in the High Hall Garden’ is only revealed to one who has heard the rooks say ‘Maud, Maud, Maud, Maud’, and the thrushes answer ‘He-re, He-re, he-re’ , and seen the sleeping daisies rosy. Unless poetry, like so much else in schools is to be ‘words! words! words!’ it must be an out-of-door study and must go hand in hand with observation of nature.”
DBC Reed
The UK government will not have a diplomatic presence in Iran until it is “confident our staff will be safe” (Report, 9 October). Fair enough. Perhaps Iranians have been thinking they will not have UK diplomatic staff in their country until they are confident their government is safe, bearing in mind the fact that the UK initiated the violent overthrow of their democratic government in 1953.
Brendan O’Brien
• I read Chris Elliott (The readers’ editor on… the editor’s response to critics of our line on the Lib Dems , 7 October) with some amusement. I am a Guardian “Super Loyalist” and ex-member of the Lib Dems; most of my friends still in the party view my continued reading of the paper as a huge betrayal. I understand that at some party meetings mention of the Guardian is greeted with hisses! It is not only the writers you mention but articles by Amelia Gentleman exposing the truth about the welfare cuts that really cause them concern, as they should.
Janice Gupta Gwilliam
Malton, North Yorkshire
• Further to Hugh Grant’s thoughts on the Daily Mail and Paul Dacre (In defence of a free press, 8 October), does he wonder, like me, whether the editor of the Daily Mail might not be a closet Millwall fan – down at The Den every other Saturday leading the chant of “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.
John Mapplebeck
Bamburgh, Northumberland
• In the early 1950s my piano teacher regularly used “eksetera” (Letters, 9 October). Better still, and my favourite, was “sistificates” instead of certificates. I never had the courage to correct her.
Mike Milford
Erith, Kent
• A rhyme I read somewhere helps one to remember the correct pronunciation: Mary bought a pair of skates / Upon the ice to frisk / But all her friends thought she was mad / Her little *
Alan Byrne
• Did their empire fall because the Ottomans failed to think outside the box (No Ottoman solutions, 7 October)?
Mary Fletcher
St Ives, Cornwall

You highlight valid concerns about language learning but portray a rather limited sense of what a modern languages degree embraces (Plunge in language degrees blamed on A-level marking, 8 October). The decline of those taking languages at A-level and subsequently university level compels Professor Kohl of Oxford to to declare, rather prematurely, that languages might soon be the “prerogative of the privately educated elite, and language degrees are restricted to Russell Group universities”. This is not the case.
Perhaps what we should question is the assumption that a languages degree focuses solely on linguistic competence. The study of languages is almost always accompanied by contextual studies which locate them in their cultural, social or business contexts. These areas of study are not the exclusive preserve of the Russell Group. For example, as European culture offers such a rich heritage, encompassing literature, film, visual art and more, at Royal Holloway we are encouraging the takeup of language degrees which offer a minor in film studies or the visual arts, or which allow the student to study the language as a complete beginner. Others place an emphasis on the business dimension of modern Europe. Indeed, our own European studies degree saw a rise in admissions this year: the course includes the study of a language alongside politics, economics and history.
Languages as they have been traditionally delivered at schools and universities are going through a critical period, and the perception of difficulty or harsh marking needs to be addressed. Yet rather than pointing to the potential death of languages outside of elite universities, we should also explore how the study of languages can be offered in a non-elitist fashion by focusing on the wider influence and skills offered through the study of modern languages.
Professor Katie Normington Dean of arts and social science, Dr Jon Hughes Head of the school of modern languages
Royal Holloway, University of London
• Ofqual recognises concerns that fewer A* grades are awarded in modern foreign languages (MFL) subjects at A-level than in many other subjects. We are committed to looking into why this may be and are already talking to the languages community. There are many different factors involved, such as the design of the qualifications, the nature of the student group taking the subjects, as well as complex issues around comparability between subjects. We want to make sure that standards are as comparable and consistent as possible, and make sure everyone can have confidence in the results. We look forward to more engagement with the MFL community as we carry on with this work.
Cath Jadhav
Acting director of research and evaluation, Ofqual
• The academics voicing their concern that potential linguists will continue to be put off their study are quite right. In fact the situation may be worse than it appears since some of those achieving top grades will be native speakers.
I retired just over a year ago after 20 years of headship at a high-performing comprehensive school in the West Midlands where the study of at least one modern foreign language was compulsory to GCSE level and where the number of students taking a language at A-level was consistently above the national average. I regularly taught languages to GCSE level and, as a result of staff illness, to AS and A2 levels in my last two years in post.
Severe grading in modern foreign languages has been an issue for as long as I can remember at A-level and has become particularly noticeable at GCSE since the compulsory requirement to study at key stage 4 was removed in 2004. As a result good linguists are indeed wary of choosing languages at A-level.
The current government’s claim that it is addressing the issue seems optimistic. An increase in the number of students taking languages at GCSE as a result of the EBacc does nothing to address the grading issue, and changes to AS and A2 could possibly lead to a further decline in post-16 language study. I fear that there will be no significant cultural shift unless a post-16 baccalaureate with a compulsory languages element is introduced in this country. As this is unlikely, we need urgent action to bring an end to the disadvantaging of modern languages candidates by grading. In addition, there is also a need to refine the teaching of modern languages in at least two key areas: by more effective use of the target language during lessons so as not to alienate less motivated students at an early stage; and by placing a much greater emphasis on teaching pupils to ask questions so that they have the confidence to initiate conversations.
Bernard Roberts
• The GCSE is the source of the crisis in modern language learning in this country: the statistical trends have pointed to it for years. Its introduction with effect from 1988 meant that coaching in the assimilation of rudimentary expressions all but excluded an understanding of how grammatical and syntactical structures work. The easy new GCSE produced large numbers of candidates with high grades who opted to go forward to A-level. But the transition to A-level had not been thought out or provided for, and as a result the same cohorts that had achieved the first successes at GCSE produced high numbers of failures at A-level over the following two years. The demoralising news fed back to succeeding year groups, who were put off, and that was where the language decline started, in a vicious circle that has not been remedied. The figures for young people studying languages to A-level in the UK immediately began to fall, and have continued downhill ever since the early 1990s. The syllabus for GCSE is dull and demotivating, as the Nuffield inquiry pointed out over a decade ago, and simply does not prepare pupils for a reasonably demanding A-level syllabus.
Professor David Walker
Department of French, University of Sheffield
• A-level language students must have considerable linguistic skills combined with a high level of competence in English, but also have to cope with foreign works of literature and specific periods of European history. At GCSE level French, Spanish and Italian are being taught to pupils with no knowledge of Latin and usually a poor grasp of English grammar. German presents even more problems with the necessity to master three genders, four cases and the complexities of word order. It is therefore not surprising that now a foreign language is no longer compulsory to 16, the majority of pupils, encouraged by headteachers with an anxious eye on league tables, are dropping languages in favour of easier options. Add to all that the fact that England is not renowned for its openness to European culture. Our entertainment is exclusively Anglo-American. Our youngsters hear no pop music or songs except in English and have little chance to see European films in our Hollywood-dominated cinema chains or on our TV channels. Studying languages in a cultural vacuum is not for wimps!
Malcolm Bower
Gunnislake, Cornwall
• It is crazy to have school students reluctant to take language A-levels for fear of low grades and no university place, while university language departments are closing down due to lack of demand from school students. The problem is deeper than harsh marking of language A-levels. It stems from the attempt to have fixed exchange rates between qualifications through the Ucas points system. The result is that students will go for the overvalued qualifications and shun those which are undervalued.
When I was an admissions tutor some years ago, in my subject (computer science), a good rule of thumb was that a Ucas point in A-level maths was worth twice a Ucas point in many other subjects. However, the freedom I had to make offers on that basis has been reduced, with universities pressuring admissions staff to make offers based just on high Ucas points values, as this is so influential in their league table positions.
It would be better to let the exchange rate float by giving university admissions tutors more flexibility on offers. Perhaps a system for judging the real value of qualifications based on what value those who use them place on them could be devised. So if a low grade in one subject opens more university doors than a high grade in another, due to it being more useful or a better assessment of skills, it should be valued more.
Matthew Huntbach
• Three points on languages. First, after protests from both within and outside the university, the decision to abandon language degree courses at Salford has been reversed.
Second, the notion that student reluctance to study languages is the fault of A-level marking is probably misguided. The real problem is that GCSE language courses provide no proper preparation for language work, concentrating as they do on rote learning and minimal understanding of grammar. The fact that teachers are able to encourage anyone to continue with language learning is a miracle.
Finally, Tony Blair’s decision to allow schools to withdraw from GCSE language learning did not help matters, but one should not forget that in Alistair Darling’s 2010 budget the decision was taken to treat languages as one of the Stem subjects. If the coalition had continued with this policy, the “freefall” would probably have been prevented.
Andy Hollis
Lecturer in German, University of Salford
• Further to your article, there remains within the system a further deterrent alongside the grade boundary issues which have always been a source of concern both at GCSE and A-level over a number of years. It is right in my opinion that testing for competence in language skills should be mainly in the target language and that the examination regime should and does foster this. However, examinations in this country can also be sat by students who are native speakers or bilingual. With the A* grade at GCSE and now also at A-level, I would expect it to be the case that it is these students who have obvious advantages by and large in terms of mopping up the highest grades. This makes it even more of an uphill struggle for the competent linguist who might be otherwise enjoying the challenges of language learning.
I am not aware of any statistical information available as to what percentage of students fit into the above categories and it goes without saying that they are great to have in a classroom because they provide help and cultural interest to non-native speakers, but I am struggling to think of any other school subject whereby this kind of situation might pertain.
Keith Fradgley
(Retired head of modern languages) Bridgnorth, Shropshire
• Let’s face it, learning a new language in your typical state school for, at best, a couple of hours a week is hardly going to make you fluent overnight. The introduction of “survival” French/German/Spanish etc, which was the cornerstone of GCSE, was an acknowledgment that many more students could achieve more success by gaining a basic grasp of a language without bothering too much with the grammar. However, to make real further progress above the level of asking for directions or ordering food and drink, to give just two examples, requires an aptitude, flair and determination that unfortunately not all students possess.
Really learning languages is hard. There is no wonder that the majority of students, when contemplating A-level choices, prefer easier options, which, I would speculate, is what many school administrations also encourage with an eye on the league tables.
There must always be a place for pure language learning in universities, albeit a diminished one. The future for language leaning in general lies with employers keen on exports and international services, remembering the oft-quoted remarks allegedly made by a former German ambassador to the UK about whether not we should learn German.
We Brits suffer from the fact that much of the world, for economic and cultural reasons, is keen to speak our language. Unfortunately the reverse is not the case.
John Marriott
• I disagree fundamentally with the implication that the marking of A-level language papers is too severe. I have just completed 52 years as a teacher of French and German to A-level, 30 of them as an examiner for A-level German. I would maintain that marking has become more lenient.
If the uptake at A-level is falling, the reason must lie with the GCSE courses. They are uninspiring, do not challenge able students and certainly do not prepare students for an A-level course. The system of controlled assessment is seriously flawed and cannot be adequately policed. Students are starting A-level courses with minimal knowledge of grammar and massive gaps in their knowledge of basic vocabulary. Able and motivated students are not being stretched and are being let down by the system.
Forcing students against their will to study a language to the age of 16 would simply make the situation worse. Teachers would have to entertain the unwilling learners and have less time for those who want to learn.
Eddie Ross
Colchester, Essex


We have got what we deserved for our total failure to read the signs and complacent acceptance of what we were being fed by two previous governments about “raising standards” (“Today’s 16- to 24-year olds are less literate and numerate than their grandparents”, 9 October).
I was an expert witness on the House of Commons select committee on curriculum and assessment (2008) and spoke about the malpractices revealed by 10 years’ research into “teaching to the test” (national research funded by QCA/DfE). Teaching had been reduced to “coaching” for limited-domain testing and school inspection data so that arbitrary government “standards” were hit.
Perhaps now we will place the learners’ needs at the centre of teaching and use assessment to support those needs through teaching with differentiated pace and focus.
Professor Bill Boyle, University of Manchester
So at last the curtain has been pulled aside! After 20-odd years of various Ministers of Education bellowing at us from behind it and rumbling their tin sheet, education is seen for what it is – rubbish!
How sad that generations of school teachers, like myself, have been ignored while ministers’ ears were filled with the words of the trendy theorists. Any form of discipline was seen as offensive to the pupil’s individual freedoms, and any attempt at hard work was frowned upon as it was not “enjoyable”.
My own subject of physics was a mathematically based subject providing a solid understanding of the world and enabling the pupils to make informed decisions in later life. Now one can “pass” GCSE physics without multiplying two numbers together, and following a curriculum which includes such waffle as “the use and abuse of CCTV”. In the pointless attempt to make a subject “accessible” to everyone the bored are still bored and the hopes and aspirations of the interested are betrayed.
It is time someone (not Gove!) grabbed this thistle. Scrap academies, free schools and Ofsted’s meaningless tables, and get back to a nationwide school curriculum taught by teachers whose pride, professionalism and expertise does not need the constant interference of an army of non-teaching “experts”.  
Dr Ian Poole, Liverpool
There are two additional hurdles UK pupils must deal with when trying to attain good levels of literacy and numeracy: non-phonetic spelling in the English language and parallel imperial and metric measuring systems (because the UK cannot decide if it is American or European). Spelling reform and abandonment of imperial measurement would be steps in the right direction.
Julien Evans, Chesham, Buckinghamshire
“National Curriculum”; “Education, Education, Education”; “Education is our top priority.” Strange that ever since politicians have taken responsibility for the curriculum, standards have fallen. Perhaps, after all, the teachers did know best.
Unfortunately, as politicians also think they know best in every sphere of life we can look forward to more poor comparisons with the rest of the world.
Stephen Ryan, Draycott in the Clay, Staffordshire
Terrorism: how do we know what to believe?
We hear constantly from spokespersons for our various security services about how they are forever saving us from terrorist plots emanating from the “thousands” of UK homegrown jihadists, not to mention the countless elsewhere in the world plotting our destruction (“Snowden leaks ‘put UK at grave risk of al-Qa’ida attack’ ”, 9 October). They may be right, but the problem is we only have their word for it.
And let’s be honest, this is the same bunch that brought us Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the dirty dossier and Colin Powell’s comic show with rusty tankers and chicken sheds masquerading as terrorist training camps.
People like Snowden could be considered to be acting in the public interest (this could be called the Daily Mail defence) when they try to shine some light on the murky dealings of the security apparatus.
So we have a real problem: who and what do we believe? The odd case which actually reaches the courts mostly involves self-deluded and generally incompetent barmpots – not that I am underestimating the damage that might have occurred if they had been successful.
We are told that the security services are preventing similar plots almost daily – but how do we really know? Why do we take their word when a generally sceptical public usually regard any politicians or similar establishment figures as inveterate liars?
Tom Simpson, Bristol
Dilemma over malaria drug
I was initially horrified, as I suspect were many other readers, by the report (27 September) that British troops serving in malarial regions are being routinely treated with the anti-malarial drug Lariam (generic name mefloquine) as a prophylactic, despite the known risk of side-effects, including psychological disturbances leading to hallucinations and even suicide.
Review of the current medical literature, however, while confirming these risks, also reveals that mefloquine is currently the most reliable means of protection against malaria, a potentially lethal infection, and the dangers of mefloquine are still widely considered by medical experts to be outweighed by this fact.
It seems reasonable therefore that this situation be explained to servicemen bound for malarial regions, and they be given the option of treatment by either mefloquine or another less reliable but safer prophylactic drug. Meanwhile high priority should be given to developing a drug equally or more effective than mefloquine but without its dangerous side-effects.
Dr Robert Heys, Ripponden, West Yorkshire
Back to the 1970s as lights go out
The risk of power rationing is greater now than for years. I remember 1974; it seemed, at the time, quite fun to sit in a pub by candlelight (although the lack of beer pumps was a problem to some) – the novelty was quite exciting, at least to the young. This time, however, the potential shortages have a significant difference: an ending cannot be negotiated.
 How is it, then, that the powers that be haven’t introduced a planning requirement for every new building to have a mandatory south-facing roof, covered in solar panels? Why are we not installing (in some places, reinstating) turbines at every possible opportunity in our rivers? 
Successive governments pay lip service in their commitments to green energy; they do almost nothing. And then they worry about the fall in voter turnout. Why should we care?  Apparently they don’t.
Alison Page, Lancaster
Facebook can be made to pay tax
So Facebook paid no corporation tax in Britain last year, despite reporting UK advertising revenues of £223m? This shouldn’t be getting the prominence that it is, for Facebook has – albeit frustratingly – done absolutely nothing wrong.
Businesses will look at ways to legally reduce their costs, including tax bills, and Facebook is no different to any other business.
That said, it flies in the face of logic and is frustrating for any UK taxpayer that businesses which earn their income in the UK don’t pay tax on all of that income.
The UK is one of the most advanced economies in terms of online advertising, and it’s unlikely that businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others would pull out if they were made to pay tax in the UK. That is a missed opportunity for the UK Government, which needs all the help it can to balance the books.
It is said that only two things are certain in life, tax and mortality; and while few can deny the value these internet businesses bring to everyone in the UK, it seems they have worked out how to avoid at least one of those certainties of life, for the time being at least.
Jason Woodford, Chief Executive, SiteVisibility, London, EC1
Modest giants  of science
Nobel prize winners seem to be a modest breed (“Professor who identified most elusive particle wins Nobel – then goes missing”, 9 October). Some years ago I was in charge of issuing tickets to the Ashmolean Library in Oxford, when an elderly lady appeared in front of me.
After appropriate questioning, she appeared not to have the required identification, but she eventually said: “I did win a Nobel prize. Will that do?”
“Very nicely,” I said.
It was Dorothy Hodgkin.
Jane Jakeman, Oxford
Even experts  can be right
Climate change denial is a bit like the creationist movement, in that those who expound it have no interest in the evidence: they don’t want to be confused by facts.
If 800 electricians examined the electrics in Mike Park’s house (letter, 8 October), and they all said that the installation was clapped out, would he not even consider the possibility that they were right? After all, they all make their livelihoods from the clapped-out installation concept.
Roger Plenty, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Dire prophecies
When Andreas Whittam Smith says he is becoming more pessimistic about whether or not the US will default on its debt (9 October), we should take note. In his column in The Independent of 16 July 2007, a year before the financial crisis hit, he wrote: “A financial storm is heading our way . . .  It could lose momentum or change direction. Or it could hit us full on.”
D Stewart, London N2
Worldwide hit
Recent experience confirms, at least in part, your article (8 October) on British TV exports. Seated at a cafe in eastern Europe with a Mexican lady and a Czech student, I found that the topic of conversation was Downton Abbey.
Laurie Shields, Wingerworth, Derbyshire
Just a potter
Your Tuesday article refers to Grayson Perry as a “transvestite potter,” when only the latter word was necessary. When will sexual and gender identities become irrelevant in the media? Not soon enough.
A Butler, Lincoln


We suffer from a long trail of educational failure related to changes in the economy – including high unemployment
Sir, The OECD report on educational failure (“Quarter of adults in England are no better at maths than a 10-year-old”, Oct 9) was depressing and familiar, and I don’t doubt the anecdotal evidence of remedial work for school leavers.
The OECD published another report in 2011 with a similar conclusion. England was 25th in the world in literacy; 28th in maths.
This is questioned, however, by Pearson’s study for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). For school leavers between 2006 and 2010 this placed Britain, including Scotland and Wales, sixth in numeracy, literacy and science. Finland and Korea were top, followed by three Asian countries. Britain was ahead of France, Germany and the US.
The EIU found few correlations between educational success and money or type of school, while a culture which gave priority to education was probably the most important factor. Unlike the OECD studies based on a single test, Pearson and The Economist collated a number of international tests to make their comparisons. They noted disparities between countries in sampling and tests given to children.
That said, we clearly have suffered educational failures related to changes in the economy and to factors such as unemployment, the expansion of badly paid service jobs and low investment in skills.
Anthony Piepe
Southsea, Hants

Sir, The fact that there are 5.8 million adults in Britain with the literacy levels of a 10-year-old is a damning indictment of the UK’s labour market. Poor writing and reading skills in the workplace are nowhere more acute than in finance departments. Almost nine out of ten chief financial officers claim that their teams do not have the right balance of these abilities.
Regarding higher education, there is far too great an emphasis on “functional expertise”, such as accountancy qualifications, rather than a basic command of language and the ability to communicate. Finance qualifications are not the holy grail for getting into the boardroom. Ultimately, an accountant who doesn’t know where a comma goes is hardly going to instil confidence when giving complex financial advice.
Paul Dennis
London WC1
Sir, International comparisons are fraught with difficulties. Unlike, for example, South Korea, we still aim to provide our young people with a rounded education. We expect them, and their teachers, to turn out not just literate, numerate and technically able; but also good citizens, culturally and socially competent.
We are not predestined to types of work — yet. All this is never going to satisfy every critic’s judgment. Some will find skills lacking which others might think unnecessary. Of course, basic competences are needed, but the finer nuances should perhaps be the responsibility of those employing the young people, in whatever context.
Wendy Cousins
Orpington, Kent

Perhaps the lack of communication with the mainland was another cause for the eventual evacuation of St Kilda
Sir, Your correspondent (letter, Oct 9), correctly identifies rising infant mortality as one of the reasons for the evacuation of St Kilda in 1930. This was only one of several prime causes.
In 1916 a German U-boat surfaced in Village Bay, St Kilda, and although no islanders were harmed, the crew took several sheep to supplement their supplies. In swift response a Royal Naval wireless station was established on the island, manned by two RN ratings. The station’s facilities were made available to the islanders, who were for the first time able to contact the mainland in medical emergencies or for news of relatives.
At the war’s end and the swift dismantling of the station, the islanders became incommunicado once more. But the lesson had been learnt, and I believe it was this lack of communication that was yet another cause for the eventual evacuation.
Bruce Howard

Sir, Mr Pope rues the fact that the broadband speed in rural Romania is faster than that in his part of Devon (letter, Oct 9). I have no idea how many Mb/s we enjoy in our isolated part of the West Coast of Scotland but I do know that whatever its alacrity it will far outpace the ability of my mental powers to wrestle with the consequences of its benefits.
John Dove
Acharacle, Argyll

Electronically coupled trucks could work in the Australian Outback, but not here – our motorways are crowded enough
Sir, The item on electronically coupled sets of trucks (Oct 7) prompts the thought that while the idea could work in places such as the Australian Outback, it is unsuited to Britain. Our motorways are already overcrowded. Entering or leaving via a motorway slip road with one or more of these convoys in the nearside lane would almost certainly provoke frequent accidents. We already have a system of convoys of up to 100 trucks here which use far less fuel, can travel faster where appropriate, carrying far more, and don’t conflict with other traffic. They’re called freight trains.
Nigel Eames
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Calculus may or may not be easy for certain readers, one in particular benefited from the advice in the flyleaf of his textbook
Sir, I, too, have a copy of Silvanus P. Thompson’s Calculus Made Easy (letter, Oct 8), given to me by my father many years ago, and given to him by his father. There is an inscription on the flyleaf of an ancient simian proverb which runs “What one fool can do, another can”. Grandfather added his own admonition, “Remember this when you feel clever”.
H. Rigg
Porlock, Somerset

Certain pubs in Somerset traditionally provided pickled snails as bar snacks or served them as a tasty hors d’oeuvre
Sir, British snails were probably pioneered by the pubs in Priddy, Somerset, which traditionally provided them pickled as bar snacks (“British snails head for France”, Oct 5). Paul Henry Peyton, who ran the local Miners Arms in the early 1960s, included as an hors d’oeuvre in his restaurant menu, “Mendip snails”. They were delicious, fresh, succulent and braised in butter with rosemary.
He ran the restaurant as a patrician. If you turned up without booking, he would politely wave you away, saying the restaurant was full even if it was half empty. He reared the snails in his emptied swimming pool and fed them on cabbage.
Peter Tarrant-Willis
London NW6

It seems that in the world of ladies barbershop singing the one thing you dread a judge saying is, “nice dresses”
Sir, How well I understand the phrases mentioned by Malcolm Wilkins (“Bowls etiquette”, letter, ­Oct 9) and their hidden meanings. In the world of ladies barbershop singing the one thing you dread a judge saying is, “nice dresses”. However lovely they were, it means that your singing had nothing to commend it. I wonder if all sports and societies have their own codes of backhanded insults.
Susan Taylor
(Abbey Belles Chorus)
Sherburn in Elmet, N Yorks


SIR – Britain’s young people are living at home longer than ever, with the average age of leaving home now over 24.
Yet many children in foster care – arguably among the most vulnerable in society – are required to leave their foster home aged just 17. Those who get to stay past their 18th birthday are either the lucky few funded by their local authority or fortunate enough to have foster carers who can afford to offer them a home without charge, and support them out of their own pockets.
This makes no sense. Care leavers are sadly more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users, homeless or in prison than those who grew up within their own families. Research shows that the longer young people can stay with a foster family, the more successful they are in later life. It is an own goal to force them out at 17: savings now are outweighed by state spending on these young adults in the future.
However, an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, currently in the House of Lords, would ensure that all young people in England can stay with their foster carers until 21, if both parties agree. At an estimated national cost of £2.6 million, this makes financial and moral sense.
We urge peers to support this once-a-generation opportunity.
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09 Oct 2013
Robert Tapsfield
Chief Executive, The Fostering Network
Peter Wanless
Chief Executive, NSPCC
Peter Brook
Chief Executive, Barnardo’s
Matthew Downie
Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs, Action for Children
Matthew Reed
Chief Executive, the Children’s Society
Dr Hilary Emery
Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau
Dr Carol Homden
Chief Executive, Coram
Cathy Ashley
Chief Executive, FRG
Andrew Radford
Chief Executive, Voice
Harvey Gallagher
Chief Executive, Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers
Sue Kent
Professional Officer, BASW
Dez Holmes
Director, Research in Practice
Hugh Thornbery
Chief Executive, Adoption UK
Chris Wright
Chief Executive, Catch22
Janet Rich
Trustee, The Care Leavers’ Foundation.
Christine Renouf
Chief Executive Officer, National Youth Advocacy Service.
David Graham
National Director, The Care Leavers’ Association
Delma Hughes
Director, Siblings Together
John Simmonds
Director of Policy, Research and Development, British Association for Adoption and Fostering
Christine Renouf
Chief Executive, NYAS
Deborah Cowley
Director, Action for Prisoners’ Families
Jon Fayle
Chair, National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
Sally Bartolo
Founder, the Tope Project
Lynn Chesterman
Chief Executive, Grandparents’ Association
Tor Docherty
Director, New Family Social
Natasha Finlayson
Chief Executive, The Who Cares? Trust
David Bradley
Interim CEO, TACT
Dr Samantha Callan
Associate Director for Families and Mental Health, Centre for Social Justice
John Hemming MP
Executive, Care Leavers Voice
Marion Layberry
Managing Director, Safehouses
Linda Croft
Managing Director, Moments Fostering Agency
Debi Atkin
Registered Manager, Ethelbert Fostering Services
Gregory Nicholls
Managing Director & Responsible Individual, Credo Care Ltd
Alan Fisher
Chair, Fostering Through Social Enterprise
Mark Lee
Chief Executive, Together Trust
Professor Ian Sinclair
Social Work Research and Development Unit, York University
Professor Judy Sebba
Director Rees Centre for Research on Fostering and Education University of Oxford Department of Education.
Professor Harriet Ward
Director of Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University
Lisa Holmes
Assistant Director of Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University
Professor Brigid Featherstone
Professor in Social Care Faculty of Health & Social Care Research, The Open University

SIR – There is much talk of the risk of creating a property bubble as a result of George Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme. Property prices are indeed rising, partly as a result of this artificial stimulus, but what might cause the bubble to burst?
In August 1988, the Government scrapped double Miras tax relief for joint property purchases. Leading up to that date in August, property prices escalated as buyers sought to purchase ahead of the deadline. At the time, I had three buyers fighting to purchase my flat in Highgate and they pushed the price well over the guide. Once the deadline passed the market stagnated. First-time buyers disappeared, and values dropped by approximately 20 per cent across the board; the market remained in the doldrums for about five years.
Help To Buy has a lifespan of three years, and will come to an end coinciding with a broadly predicted rise in interest rates. The effect of the removal of this scheme will be similar to that experienced in 1988. Five years after the launch of the Help to Buy scheme there will be a number of home owners unable to keep up with their mortgage payments and who will have negative equity in the property.
Sean Harvey
Guildford, Surrey
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09 Oct 2013
SIR – Help to Buy is designed to help those who wish to buy a property and only have a small deposit. What is required is a scheme to help would-be purchasers save for deposits. This would necessitate a shift away from a culture of spending to one of saving.
Ian Briscoe
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
SIR – The average mortgage for a first-time buyer in the Eighties and Nineties was around 95 per cent. A Treasury official said: “These figures show that these mortgages got a generation of people onto the housing ladder”. What is forgotten is that when I bought my first house in 1981 the interest rate was 16.5 per cent; I could only borrow two and a half times my own salary, plus one of my wife’s.
I cannot see that this proposal will turn back years of reckless lending by the banks. Banks have created false prices in property that will take years to turn round, and people already on the ladder may find that their property values will at best stagnate, and at worst lose money.
Chris Collins
St Austell, Cornwall
SIR – Having just found a buyer for my house, after over three years on the market and a 20 per cent reduction in price, I am amazed at the pessimism of financial pundits over Help to Buy. There is a housing shortage only because no builder will build homes he cannot sell. Until buyers are able to buy with affordable deposits, no more houses will be built and the shortage will increase.
Dave Parker
Redruth, Cornwall
Dishonesty on abortion
SIR – One of the least attractive aspects of being a member of the medical profession was the tacit acceptance that many gynaecologists and psychiatrists misused the legal requirements of the Abortion Act. The mother’s health being at risk was regularly advanced as a justification for abortion, but the manner in which this judgment was made was routinely flawed and dishonest.
This latest acceptance by the Director of Public Prosecutions that abortion can be justified if the sex of the child is inconvenient is despicable, and the reason put forward is seriously disturbing.
The DPP apparently consulted the British Medical Association for advice about the legality and acceptability of such a practice. He might just as well have asked the Trades Union Congress. The BMA is a medico-political body. It is not the arbiter of medical standards, which function is properly that of the General Medical Council. Your leading article is robust in expressing concern that the Act is being seriously abused and demands that Parliament review its operation in practice.
Tony Harrison FRCS (retd)
Child Okeford, Dorset
Terror-free charity
SIR – The Charity Commission has no evidence that huge amounts of charitable donations are going to terror groups.
Many excellent charities are doing remarkable work to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in war-torn areas like Syria. It is vital that the British public keeps giving generously to such established charities.
Diversion of funds is always a danger for charities working in disaster zones. The commission recognises the particular dangers they face in areas in which terrorist groups operate.
With the help of the Disasters Emergency Committee, we have produced guidance for trustees on minimising those dangers and protecting their funds from diversion to terrorists. Our advice to donors is to give to well-established charities that are known to be addressing all such risks.
The commission works closely with the Government’s Extremism Task Force and we vigorously pursue any allegations of charitable funds being abused by terrorists.
William Shawcross
Chairman, Charity Commission
London SW1
Cautioning criminals
SIR – Alan Bissell JP expresses his dismay that the police are cautioning so many more criminals rather than bringing them before the courts (report, October 2). You published a letter of mine in January 2006 on exactly the same subject. Nothing changes, it seems: the Government and the police are intent on decriminalising offences so that recorded crime statistics will show them both to be reducing crime.
But, as the man in the street knows, criminal offences are increasing all the time. The cover-up is just much worse now than it was in 2006.
Henry P Bee JP (retd)
Thornton, Lancashire
Who’s a pretty pie?
SIR – My husband’s grandfather’s 1906 edition of Mrs Beeton certainly contains a recipe for parrot pie.
Was it political correctness that caused this recipe not to appear in my 1960 edition, or simply a shortage of
Christine Knights-Whittome
Goodworth Clatford, Hampshire
Successful take-off
SIR – I sympathise with the young lad who is petrified of flying. I was also scared of flying and would have several strong drinks before boarding a plane. I conquered my fear by learning to fly and obtained my pilot’s licence. Upon obtaining my “night rating”, I flew solo from Manchester to Liverpool airport and back. The memory of that white-knuckle flight stays with me.
Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire
Turn off, tune in
SIR – I have made a breakthrough in family relations: to command a teenager’s full attention, one only needs to disconnect the power lead to the house’s Wi-Fi router.
Michael Powell
Tealby, Lincolnshire
Rebuilding of Crystal Palace is a sign of growth
SIR – Crystal Palace being rebuilt represents a big win for Britain. Not only does it signal growth and jobs for this part of London but it’s a global vote of confidence for the country as a whole.
Ni Zhaoxing, like many investors world-wide, saw in the London Olympic Games that we have the ability to deliver big projects at the highest level.
We must continue the legacy of 2012, and keep Britain building.
James Cleverly
London Assembly Member (Con)
London SE1
SIR – Over six million people visited the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, including an 84-year-old lady who walked from Cornwall to Hyde Park to see it.
Not only was a full set of false teeth exhibited, inspiring hope for the “dentally deficient”, but also a basic Braille typing-machine for the blind, in addition to about 15,000 other exhibits, half of which were British and the rest from at least 40 other countries. Prince Albert’s main aim in his opening speech was to promote peace and prosperity for everybody on this planet. This was to be accomplished, he said, “by goodwill and cordial co-operation among nations aided by the means that modern science has placed at our command”.
It is therefore especially moving that the Chinese are to remind us of this aim.
Gerald J Smith
SIR – I wonder if there is any likelihood of a replica of Osler’s magnificent Crystal Fountain being rebuilt as well. The fountain was designed by my ancestor Follett Osler. It dominated the exhibition from its central position where the transept intersected the nave and it was where Queen Victoria stood when she opened the Exhibition.
It was described in an art journal of the day as being the most striking object there.
Catherine Wood
Plymouth, Devon

Irish Times:

Sir, – While further hardship is in store for many people there still seems to be no will to tackle costs of the 800-plus quangos – although they are estimated to be in the region of €13 billion a year. Despite the Coalition promises to reduce the number by 145, very little has happened.
A simple web search reveals the entire list. Many of these bodies simply duplicate the functions which the civil service is already paid to do. There are also a large number of organisations which appear unnecessary. The entire budget adjustment could be achieved from this source, with plenty of fat still left.
When asked about the drop in support for his party, the Tánaiste constantly blames it on the hard decisions it has to make. Picking on the most vulnerable groups when it comes to cost cutting can hardly be described as hard decisions.
What we need is a government with the courage to radically reform the way we do business. Substantially reducing the number of quangos would seem a good place to start. As Sir Humphrey so eloquently put it “There are too many snouts in the trough”. – Yours, etc,
Forest Walk,

Sir, – In the run-up to the budget, with most of the internal deals done between the politicians themselves, one piece of irony still remains to be ironed out.
The Fine Gael Minister for Health is looking at an estimated cost overrun of €400 million in his estimates and the Labour Minister for Social Welfare is under pressure to cut her costs by €440 million. Coincidence?
The health overrun is due in large part to the fact that 70 per cent of that budget goes on high medical salaries, whereas 100 per cent of the social welfare budget prevents hundreds of thousand of people from falling further into the poverty trap.
The betting man would back Minister for Health James Reilly and the wealthy medics to get their way on this one and the riffraff can simply get on with it any way they like. After all, what other decision could our wealthy lords and masters make ? The junior doctors are already on strike today (Tuesday) and we can’t be having any more of that. – Yours, etc,
Mayfield, Cork.
Sir, – Regarding the upcoming budget: are we all out of multi-billion euro clerical errors? – Yours, etc,
Porterstown Road,

Sir, – As one of the 3,000 or so NCHDs who took part in industrial action on Tuesday, I deduce that any solution involving sanctions for the HSE would lead to three possible outcomes: 1. The HSE resolves to pay the sanctions at a local level where the 24-hour rule is broken and business continues as usual with penalties for the offending hospitals. 2. The HSE implements the 24-hour rule successfully and is compliant by virtue of newly increased staffing numbers and improved rosters. 3. The HSE implements the 24-hour rule without increasing the number of doctors. This in turn leads to a decrease in the number of frontline services a given hospital budget can provide and further consolidation of specialties to one or only a few centres.
Ideally the second outcome would prevail. However, it is difficult to see how new staff could be provided. The current domestic brain-drain and lack of new doctors from abroad relates to the lack of any realistic incentive to train in Ireland. I’m referring in part to the new consultant contract and this broadens the discussion to a wider malaise within the health service.
This leaves us with options 1 and 3 then, and no long-term solution. – Yours, etc,
(Senior House Officer,
TCD GP training scheme,
Tallaght Hospital),
Home Villas,
Dublin 4.
Sir, – If I needed my brakes repaired by a mechanic and on collecting my car I was informed that the mechanic had just completed a 24-hour shift, would I trust the brakes? – Yours, etc,
Co Cavan.
Sir, – I would like to send my sincere thanks to all the NCHDs on strike on Tuesday. They have made the future working conditions of my two children who are currently medical students potentially less bleak, and given me some hope! – Yours, etc,
Garden Grove,
Kilsheelan, Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The Archdiocese of Freiburg is to be congratulated for officially issuing inclusive guidelines that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church. (World News, October 9th).
It fits in with the vision of Pope Francis who wants an inclusive church where there is room for all the baptised, no matter what their circumstances. After all, such a vision is but following the example of Jesus of Nazareth who in his lifetime offered the friendship of God to all who were then marginalised by religion and state. – Yours, etc,
The Moorings,

Sir, – Given the apparent confusion between the two ballot papers, we should be at least thankful that we didn’t end up abolishing the Supreme Court and gaining a third chamber? – Yours, etc,
Strand Road,
Termonfeckin, Co Louth.

Sir, – The composition of the Seanad is undemocratic and the Dáil executive has long since appropriated the power of our elected TDs. Both houses, but especially the Dáil, need deep reform. It cannot be done overnight but it must be done to restore our democracy.
To this end I suggest October 4th be designated Democracy Day when government give an annual account to the Dáil of their progress in this regard. – Yours, etc,
Redford Park,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – The people have spoken. The Seanad lives on. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, however, has no moral authority to instigate its reform. His personal position on the upper house precludes him from any involvement whatsoever in this necessary endeavour. Spearheading reform must rest with those who supported retention.
The Quinn-Zappone Bill offers reform within the tight parameters of what’s permitted by the Constitution. This does not go far enough to address the deep-seated feeling of the people of Ireland, who clearly require radical and fundamental change in all aspects of the functioning of the house.
An all-inclusive Seanad reform commission should be established, with Fianna Fáil, as the only party who fought for retention, nominating the chair. Serious and balanced reform will win favour with the electorate. Keep in mind, they pick up the tab. Carpe diem! – Yours, etc,
Caherciveen, Co Kerry.
Sir, – SPQH (Senatus Populusque Hibernicus = The Senate and People of Ireland). The above initials, based on the Ancient Roman initialism SPQR, are on Dublin City Hall, having been placed there when it was built in the 18th century. Those of us who voted No last Friday can take satisfaction from having confounded predictions with our success. Let us hope this will lead in due course to a far-reaching reform of the Seanad which will give those proud initials a significance that was probably not on the minds of the builders of City Hall. – Yours, etc,
Athboy, Co Meath.
Sir, – Surely the essential point about the recent referendum results is that the essential and non-controversial amendment to establish a court of appeal attracted a No vote of a third.
Evidently, there is a substantial minority of citizens who perceives a referendum as a capital opportunity to give the Government a bloody nose, without having to find an alternative politician to support. Surely any future government will draw the conclusion that, absent referendums forced on them by external forces like the EU, constitutional reforms offer a hiding to nothing. – Yours, etc,
Law Department,
University College, Cork.

Sir, – I was a little surprised that the Convention on the Constitution has approved a proposal to “extend voting rights to Irish emigrants” (Home News, September 30th), because Article 16 of Bunreacht na hÉireann already grants the right to vote to “all citizens”.
“All citizens . . . without distinction of sex who have reached the age of 18 years who are not disqualified by law and comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann”.
The limitation on non-resident citizens actually voting in Irish elections is a legislative limitation, not a constitutional one. What is being proposed is actually a reduction in the existing rights of Irish citizens, not an extension. Article 12 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states “Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann shall have the right to vote at an election for President”, so the only reason for a referendum would be to remove the right of all citizens to vote in Dáil elections, so that they could implement a mechanism for non-resident citizens to exercise their right to vote in only oresidential elections.
Given that six of the 13 presidential terms since 1938, and four of the last seven have been filled without an election, it’s a fairly meaningless gesture anyway. – Yours, etc,
Capitol Road East,
Pennsylvania, US.

Sir, – Eddie O’Connor (October 7th) takes issue with the contention that “wind energy will mean more expensive electricity for business and householders” . In 2010, Eirgrid commissioned the consultants Pöyry to report on “Low carbon generation options for the all-island market”. This study estimated the costs and impacts in the year 2035 of six different mixtures of power generation technology using a complex model of the power market. In figure 37, page 48, it is clearly shown that the residential retail price for a high renewables (ie wind) portfolio was 15 per cent more expensive than just fossil fuel (ie gas), even though the wholesale price was lower.
Furthermore, in 2009, the European Wind Energy Association released a report called The Economics of Wind Energy, in which the authors find that for wind to be cost competitive with coal for electricity generation in Europe, a carbon tax of €35/t CO2­ would be necessary (the current price is around €5). Different market assumptions would give different predictions in both cases.
There are many good reasons for us to embrace wind power, some of which will be particular to Ireland, but whether price at point of use is one of them, depends on who you ask.
School of Engineering,
Trinity College, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Now that we seem to be getting all excited about rising residential property prices again, it would be appropriate to consider the way the published average price for houses is arrived at. This is particularly the case since the recent advent of the Residential Property Price Register, where real selling prices, as opposed to mortgage application figures, are recorded.
Up to now we have used the method for arriving at the average that ensures, for example, that the sale of just one mansion in Dublin 4 will skew the figure for the capital, and indeed for the country as a whole. The same can happen in reverse, where 20 houses going for social and affordable purposes in rural Ireland will result in seriously understating the reality for typical buyers.
All this happens because we use the arithmetic mean to define the average, instead of the median price. A change would eliminate, at a stroke, the potential for distortion by outlying sale transactions. This is the method in use in the US. Many commentators claim the arithmetic mean would be disaster in Manhattan because of the disparity between the upper and lower end. Dublin at least, in its own way, suffers from the same problem. – Yours, etc,
Farrenboley Park,
Windy Arbour, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Allow me to dispel the misconception that Dublin City Council somehow played a part in “Silencing of the bells” at St Bartholomew’s Church (Damien Owens, October 4th).This is not the case.
In the past, Dublin City Council received complaints that the bells were chiming every 15 minutes on a 24-hour basis from the church carillon. St Bartholomew’s subsequently undertook that the bells would not operate from 11 pm to 7am. This arrangement was universally accepted and the city council was satisfied that a resolution had been found. In 2012, complaints were received that the bells had once again begun chiming at night. We investigated these complaints.
St Bartholomew’s advised us this was caused by technical problems and that its UK-based horology expert would examine the carillon later this month. We await the expert’s report. I must emphasise that we never ordered St Bartholomew’s to stop their clock or their bells from chiming in the interim. Neither have we threatened to, nor have we the power to impose fines on St Bartholomew’s.
We continue to enjoy good rapport with the church and look forward to a solution being found. Furthermore, we have offered to assist with noise monitoring when any such solutions are being tested, increasing the likelihood of finding a solution that satisfies all concerned. – Yours, etc,
Press Officer,
Dublin City Council,

Sir, – Visitors to Israel might be puzzled by Eamonn McCann’s characterisation (Opinion, October 3rd) of the country as one where Jews routinely bully Arabs off the streets – especially since Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are not that easy to distinguish by appearance. More to the point, poll after poll has shown that a majority of Israeli Arabs would rather retain their Israeli nationality than become citizens of a future Palestinian state. – Yours, etc,
College Street,
Sir, – The shooting of the cat on Love/Hate is perhaps an accurate portrayal of an amoral youth, born with the same potential as us all but due to his broken upbringing on the fringes of society has already become a vicious thug, a murder-in-waiting (Breaking News, October 7th).
There are numerous studies that demonstrate a very strong correlation between animal cruelty in early life and criminality/ familial abuse (to spouses, children) in later life. Our shock should be at society’s production of such a youth, not at this production’s portrayal of that youth, and our resolve as a society should be to identify and repair these youngsters before it is too late.
A separate but related point was that apparently this cat was anaesthetised to aid the filming of the scene. While modern veterinary anaesthesia in a clinic setting is incredibly safe, it does carry a risk. For a procedure to be ethical such a risk to the animal needs to be outweighed by the risk of doing nothing and/or the benefit of what needs to be done under anaesthetic. As there was clearly no benefit to the animal deriving from this anaesthetic – it being done merely to aid in the filming process – it would appear unethical for it to have been anaesthetised just for the sake of aiding filming.
I would hope that such practice will be discontinued and that in future any veterinary surgeon will refuse to administer an anaesthetic under such circumstances. – Yours, etc,
Blacklion Pet Hospital,
Kindlestown Road,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

* The killing of a cat by a jeering youth with a sub-machine gun in the opening episode of the new ‘Love/Hate’ TV series has understandably shocked animal lovers nationwide.
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The children of Syria desperately need help
Dear Leader is the invisible man
I believe this heartfelt outpouring of revulsion is somewhat misplaced. I found the scene objectionable too, but I would place it in the context of a drama that focuses on gangland thugs who, in real life, would be far too busy peddling drugs and killing each other to be bothered shooting cats.
What concerns me a lot more is that we are into the opening weeks of a new hare-coursing season and animals are being horribly ill-treated for fun by gangs of so-called sportspeople . . . people who enjoy watching hares being hounded within the confines of a park or wired enclosure.
There will be no guards to trouble them as this barbarism is perfectly legal in Ireland.
And soon the driven pheasant shoots will commence. Ladies and gentlemen of leisure will walk almost shoulder to shoulder along arranged venues, blasting away at semi-tame birds that in many instances will obligingly waddle up to them to be shot. The field sport aficionados will sip brandy, whiskey or liqueurs as the beautiful creatures fall from the sky or are picked off at point blank range, their proud crests and multi-coloured plumage reduced to mutilated, bleeding clumps of feathers.
Despite the terror and the cruelty they unleash, both the driven shooters and the hare coursers claim to care deeply for the creatures they prey upon.
This, in my opinion, is a love/hate relationship if ever there was one.
John Fitzgerald (Campaign for the Abolition Of Cruel Sports)
Callan, Co Kilkenny
* I would like to take this opportunity to contribute to the discussion around mental health, which features this week in the Irish Independent.
It was Plato who gave the first model of mental health: it happens when the three parts of the soul, or personality, are in order or harmony.
Centuries later, Dr Viktor Frankl, the Viennese founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, likewise argued that there were three dimensions to the human person: soma (body), psyche (mind) and noos (spirit – the specifically human dimension).
I gave a paper on depression last year to an audience in St Patrick’s Psychiatric Hospital in which I argued that we need to distinguish between three types of depression (of course they overlap), a distinction that is largely ignored by the medical model that dominates discourse on depression in Ireland.
There is somatogenic, or endogenous depression, which is biologically caused and best treated by pharmacological intervention together with supplemental and supportive therapy; psychogenic, or reactive depression, which occurs usually as a result of some trauma suffered or love lost; and a noogenic depression (known only to Dr Viktor Frankl’s school of logotherapy and existential analysis), which is a philosophico-spiritual suffering, where questions about life’s purpose and meaning come to the forefront. Sometimes Plato is better than Prozac.
Illnesses come from nature but their cure stems only from the spirit.
Dr Stephen J Costello, director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland/School of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
l Here’s a real life maths problem – project maths – for Education Minster Ruairi Quinn and his colleagues.
Q. How do you:
(a) save a large sum of money for the public purse in line with international statistics on levels of parliamentary representation and payments? (b) What are the probabilities of these measures being implemented ? (c) What are the probabilities of these measures being accepted in a referendum on Oireachtas reform ?
A. (a) In line with European statistics on parliamentary representation Ireland should have a Dail of 60 members, thus we save pay, pensions and tax-free expenses of 106 TDs. Reduce ministerial salaries in line with European averages.
Reform the Seanad, so that it is weekend voluntary work with vouched-for travel expenses for those interested in public affairs.
Unelected advisers to be scrapped unless prepared to work for the average industrial wage.
(b) Zero (never happens).
(c) 1 ( A certainty).
Deirdre MacDonald
Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
* Following the riveting excitement of the Seanad referendum campaign, I regret to report that the Irish people will still have to pay the ‘second-house tax’!
Sean Kelly
Tramore, Co Waterford
* Well, whaddya know? The Seanad can be reformed after all!
Killian Foley-Walsh
Kilkenny City
* I was absolutely in favour of the abolition of the Seanad, basically because it was being abused by failed general election candidates and would-be Dail candidates.
That said, I was enormously impressed by the line taken by Feargal Quinn and David Norris who could, understandably, have been triumphalist at the result of the referendum yet both said this could be a new beginning for a reformed and better Seanad.
Pat Rabbitte has just said he does not see what can be done within the Constitution. I disagree. The abuse by failed Dail candidates and would-be TDs can be stopped by holding the general election and Seanad elections on the same day. Is there any reason why this cannot be done?
Brendan Casserly
Waterfall, Cork
* Enda’s crowd told us over the past couple of weeks that the recession was over and we are boom-ier than we have been in a long while.
All this because they wanted the Seanad abolished. Now that three political parties have had their asses whacked in the referendum, will it follow that we are now to be told things have never been so bad?
Fianna Fail need not take credit for the victory of the people, either. The games these people play – like Michael Noonan saying last week we are in a position to exceed the troika demands for our money. What a shower of grovelling, pathetic Irishmen. The Taoiseach was first to declare we should give more than demanded and it has now become government policy. Did I mention the Labour Party?
Now, why would I want to do that, when they are a complete irrelevance? I’m going to start a bring-back-Bertie campaign, purely in the hope there’ll be a handsome Seanad seat for me as a reward down the line.
Robert Sullivan
Bantry, Co Cork
l Regarding Frank Coughlan’s article ‘A funny old game when we need pat on back from Brits for Croker cracker’, having spent two years researching the GAA’s ‘Gaelic Invasion’ tour of the USA in 1888, I was fascinated to read about the ‘Guardian’ correspondent’s positive take on hurling in last Friday’s Irish Independent.
The Gaelic Invasion tour was a bold and ambitious move by the fledgling GAA to capitalise on the recent waves of emigration to the US and Canada.
The public and media reaction to the game of hurling was overwhelmingly positive and, but for insufficient financial resources, our exhilarating national game could well have higher live crowds and television audiences today. One is indeed left with a sense of what might have been.
Paul O’Mahony
Belgrave Square, Dublin 6
Irish Independent


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