12 October 2013 Quiet day
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are chosen to test a navigational aide, can it do better than Mr Phillips? Priceless.
Books tuidy up the garage, so tired
We watch the Glums
Scrabble today Mary wins, but only by four points, and gets under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Earl Grey, who has died aged 74, was the great-great-grandson of the reforming Whig Prime Minister of the 1830s who gave his name to the distinctive blend of tea.
Earl Grey Photo: TONY BUCKINGHAM
3:00PM BST 11 Oct 2013
Grey’s lineage was a colourful one. His prime ministerial forebear, the 2nd Earl Grey, notoriously fathered an illegitimate daughter by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, as well as lending his name to the fragrant tea imported from China, playing a leading role in the abolition of the slave trade, and introducing the Reform Act of 1832.
The 6th Earl became an energetic and popular Liberal (later Lib Dem) member of the House of Lords — cutting a dash in hacking jacket and brightly-coloured cords and waistcoats, and once entering the voting lobby on a three-line whip dressed in T-shirt and shorts, having not had time to change after a charity row on the Thames.
But in 1999 he was a victim of the Labour government’s reform of the House of Lords; despite his 75-word testimonial appealing to be allowed to sit as an elected member, and citing his “GSOH” (good sense of humour), he was among the 665 hereditary peers who lost their seats.
Pondering his need for gainful employment, Grey had the idea of manufacturing Earl Grey Biscuits — small, dainty and round, expensively packaged and each one stamped with the Earl’s coat of arms and signature . They were made by his own company in seven different flavours, including a simple shortbread, almond and honey, and — a nod to the flavour of the famous eponymous tea — lemon with bergamot. The biscuits are still sold today in upmarket food outlets.
He also had plans to sell casual leisure wear, including combat trousers with drawstrings, T-shirts and cagoules also bearing his coat of arms and the St George flag. He wanted to market the range under the brand name Earl Grey — Westminster.
Twitted by one newspaper for looking like an “unusually portly Freemans model d’un certain age”, Grey plunged into his new venture with the enthusiasm of the gentleman amateur. “I may not be 6ft tall or have model looks,” he observed. “But I think I have an idea what other people would wear.” When the business failed to take off, however, Grey accepted the chairmanship of the London Cremation Company, a post he held for more than 20 years.
Richard Fleming George Charles Grey was born on March 5 1939 at Slough . His father was serving as a trooper in the Canadian Armoured Corps when he was killed in action in 1942. From Hounslow College, Richard went on to study at Hammersmith College of Building.
He began his working life as a quantity surveyor, but never settled. He moved into hotel management, frozen food and public relations, succeeding his elderly second cousin to the earldom in 1963 when he was 24.
Grey became the Liberal spokesman on social services, paying particular attention to disability policies. In 1979 he hosted the visit to London of 350 indigenous Canadians to help them lobby Parliament for the return of their land rights and for political recognition. Among his other appointments, Grey was an official observer at the 1980 election in Rhodesia . From 1980 to 1984 he served as secretary to the House of Lords small business group.
He became chairman of the London Cremation Company in 1992, and shortly afterwards took on the role of president of the Cremation Society of Great Britain.
Grey was modest about his links with his famous forebear, but admitted to being partial to the tea — which he took with milk. One regret was the failure of the 2nd Earl to profit from its popularity. “My famous ancestor took no financial interest in the tea at all,” he explained. “They didn’t in those days. It was commercialism, a dirty word, so my family didn’t reap the millions. He might have been a brilliant politician but he wasn’t much of a businessman.”
In 2011, with Grey’s approval, Twinings launched The Earl Grey, a new tea blend the company claimed to be an improvement on the one created in 1831 for the 2nd Earl .
Lord Grey’s first marriage, in 1966, to Margaret Bradford, was dissolved in 1974. His second wife, Stephanie, survives him. His younger brother, Philip Kent Grey (born in 1940), succeeds to the earldom.
The 6th Earl Grey, born March 5 1939, died September 10 2013
Your headline More than 60,000 now in civil partnerships (Report, 9 October) rather misses the point. The happy consequence of there being 60,000 civil partnerships – as you report – is that there are now 120,000 people, rather than 60,000, within them. One of its pleasures is that, like the tango, it takes two.
Chief executive, Stonewall
• Duncan Exley, director of the Equality Trust (Letters, 10 October), says that “increasing the pupil premium for poorer children may help a little” [to give them a better chance in life]. This might be the case if that “additional” funding wasn’t coupled with an overall reduction in budgets and a requirement that schools meet the first £6,000 of additional funding for each pupil with special educational needs.
• Could someone please explain why if Miliband wants to fix energy prices it is Marxist (Simon Hoggart’s Sketch, 10 October), whereas Cameron’s curbing of rail fares is to help hardworking people and reduce the cost of living?
• Malcolm Bower (Letters, 10 October) expresses concern that French, Latin and Italian are being taught to pupils with no knowledge of Latin. That’s not all. English is regularly taught worldwide to pupils with no knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, Norman French or Old Norse. One wonders how they manage.
• I was very disappointed not to see my new cartoon favourite in today’s G2. I hope we’ll be able to enjoy the wacky adventures of Paul Dacre and His Chums again soon. It’s a Steve Bell classic.
• Is Stuart Heritage (G2, 10 October) essentially saying that sharks have finally jumped the shark?
• My elderly next door neighbour (Letters, 10 October) used to say, “I love Dave Allen. He tells such lovely antedotes.”
The present pilot badger cull has spent £2m to kill 800 badgers (‘Badgers to blame’ for cull failing to hit target, 10 October). That is more than £2,000 per killed badger. I am a vet, trained and licensed to go out to trap and vaccinate badgers. A badger needs to be vaccinated only once in its life. I microchip the badgers after vaccination, so in the following years I don’t spend expensive vaccine (at £17 per badger dose) unnecessarily. My role is to place the traps, set them and vaccinate the trapped badgers. Once I have placed the trap, volunteers or landowners can place bait (peanuts) in the traps at night and check the next morning if bait is being taken. Once the bait is being taken, I come and set the trap at night, check them the next morning, and vaccinate the trapped badgers.
Charging for an average of five visits per vaccinated badger (which is very generous, often two is enough) the cost of a vaccinated badger comes to a maximum of £200. For this cost you create an area of a vaccinated, stable badger population around farms. The microchipping also gives you yearly information about the number of badgers present, where to find them and where they go.
One of my observations, for example, is that in places where people told me “there were dozens of badgers everywhere”, there were actually the same five badgers turning up all over the place. I honestly hope that these pilot culls will help to determine that we need a proper badger vaccination campaign, with farmers, vets and the Badger Trust working together to help to resolve the bovine TB problem in cattle and wildlife.
• The endangered species of Guardian-reading country dwellers are finding the sentimental clap-trap and images (Cover photo, 10 October) surrounding the highly destructive badger a bit nauseating. Has Brian May ever experienced a badger in his hen run or maize crop? Badgers are also big devourers of wild bee and wasp nests. Having neighbours whose farms are TB infected, we see the despair of sending good stock to slaughter and the strain on man and animal from the six-weekly TB testing regime.
While having no desire to return to the era of badger-baiting, sensible control of numbers has in the past kept the TB problem at bay. I think the fact that both the badger and the fox are attractive creatures has a lot to do with the outrage over both culling and hunting.
It would be interesting to be able to see the level of hysteria if, by dint of evolution, these species were instead, say, grey and scaly in appearance. (But we did enjoy Steve Bell’s cartoon that day.)
The willingness of Ofqual, the exam regulator, to engage with the modern foreign languages community is most welcome, and it is to be hoped that other institutions concerned with language provision in the UK will follow suit. Andrew Smith, the Labour MP for Oxford East, has put down parliamentary questions for 14 October, pressing the government to strengthen modern language provision and uptake at secondary and tertiary level, and asking how it will ensure that any gains in modern language learning in primary schools translate into enhanced uptake in secondaries. Schoolteachers and university teachers of modern languages are invited to get involved in the initiative, Joining up MFL Teaching in the UK, by sending an email to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Katrin Kohl
Vice-chair, modern languages, University of Oxford
Simon Jenkins (Comment, 9 October) is right to rubbish Help to Buy and to state that Britain’s housing finance is a mess. But he is wrong about social housing. It is not “misallocated”: for many years local authorities can only prioritise those who are homeless or in severe housing need. And social housing is much less under-occupied than the owner-occupied sector. The bedroom tax is not merely “hamfisted”, it is counter-productive, since it penalises many people whose social landlords have no smaller vacancies available, and it is actually increasing voids in larger homes, because the tax makes tenants reluctant to take them.
Illustration by Gary Kempston
Empty homes are always trotted out as a solution, but the statistics show most of them are short-term and many of the remainder are unavoidably empty for various reasons. Jenkins repeats his claim that it is easy finance that has created Britain’s housing bubbles; few serious commentators would dispute that, while finance has short-term impacts, it is the long–run lack of supply, over a 30-year-plus period, that has determined rising prices and rents. It is facile to state that “new-build will always be a pinprick” each year, if you go on building half the required number of homes for that length of time.
A government seeking to help first-time buyers would tax, not subsidise, buy-to-let; the mass investment in landlordism is an example of the flight from industrial investment in Britain’s economy which Jenkins emphasises. And the tax incentives for buy-to-let are further underwritten by the explosion in totally unproductive private-sector housing benefit payments, in a context of unregulated rents.
The real, longstanding mess lies also in the lack of finance for truly affordable housing to rent. Councils no longer build because the clueless dead hand of the Treasury prevents them from borrowing because of our stupid definition of the public-sector borrowing requirement: this counts borrowing to purchase weapons or pay benefits as exactly the same as borrowing to fund new housing stock, which would, as in the past, repay itself with a stream of rental income.
Even the so-called independent housing association sector has, under the coalition, seen its homebuilding subsidies first slashed, and now largely restricted to building for 80% of market rent, which many regard as unaffordable for those in housing need. I’ll vote for any party that will tackle all of this mess (and face down the Treasury).
• The shallow root of Britain’s chaotic housing market can be traced back to the 1979 government deregulating lending, abolishing rent controls and allowing the free flow of money in and out of the UK. The 1997 government let it rip until the banks collapsed in 2008. Meanwhile, the late Professor Peter Ambrose had reported in the Z2K memorandum to the prime minister on unaffordable housing in 2005 that “the deregulation of financial markets in the 1980s sparked off a flood of house purchase lending that has underpinned massive house price rises and consumed £600bn of investment that could have found a better use renewing our infrastructure or in research and development to make Britain more competitive in a global market rather than in bolstering house and land prices”.
Now the IMF urges George Osborne to invest in infrastructure, but he prefers to continue with political bribery, which favours owners and landlords with tax-free capital gains, with money saved from low-income renters by capping housing benefit.
Dr Stephen Battersby Pro-Housing Alliance, Peter Archer Care and Repair England, Stephen Hill C2O futureplanners, Joanna Kennedy Zacchaeus 2000, Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
• Alistair Bingle’s letter (9 October) is an example of exactly what is wrong with the housing market in England. Most things we buy (food, cars, white goods, home electronics) are produced by a number of competing companies. If they set the price too high they lose market share to others, so prices remain competitive. The price of houses is governed by two factors only: what the buyer is willing and able to pay and what the vendor is prepared to accept. If houses are made easier to buy, the prices simply rise (as they did when Harold Wilson introduced a similar scheme). A boom in house buying benefits estate agents and removal companies. It just means higher prices for buyers, and the only vendors it benefits are those who are scaling down or not buying another house.
Our tiny island of Grenada, with not many more than 100,000 inhabitants, is saddled with a debt that cannot be sustained. We have been hard hit by the global financial crisis because it affected our cruise ship clientele in the US. A slow recovery from hurricanes in the last decade as well as the reduction in development assistance have also played a part. We are committed to bearing our share of the cost while finding a way out that is both equitable and sustainable.
First, we are seeking social consensus by listening to our people. The government has consulted the churches and other civil society organisations. The International Monetary Fund has just completed a two-week visit. We have also become aware of new approaches:
1) We are committed to reducing costs and waste and to enhancing revenue;
2) We would explore options for a comprehensive solution: an independent debt sustainability assessment, external mediation and a creditor’s conference;
3) We seek a substantial financial haircut to prevent getting involved in the kind of piecemeal process that has failed over the past two years;
4) We will try to balance the legitimate interests of all our creditors with the interest of our country.
At this week’s meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in Washington, we have been discussing with stakeholders fairer and more efficient ways of dealing with sovereign debt crises. We are prepared to become pioneers of a new debt-restructuring model that would spare countries from protracted entanglement in the debt trap. Grenada urgently needs debt relief from all its creditors.
Minister of economic development, Grenada
The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University did not say that we need to be able to charge undergraduate tuition fees of £16,000. There is no suggestion that Oxford graduates should pay the whole cost of their education (report, 9 October).
Professor Hamilton did repeat the idea that over time higher charges should play a part in helping to meet the true cost of a world-class education, one from which no student would be excluded for financial reasons. He made it very clear that generous financial-support packages would remain firmly in place. Oxford currently has the most generous financial support for the lowest-income students of any university in the country.
Professor Hamilton said that £16,000 is the cost of an undergraduate education at Oxford, but the University has always been clear that this shortfall in funding needs to be addressed in a range of ways – including philanthropy, which has a big role to play. It is right that the University contributes towards the cost of teaching as it always has done.
Dr Sally Mapstone, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Oxford
While I was higher education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons, the Labour government legislated for an increase in annual student tuition fees from £1,000 to £3,000. At the time I tried to persuade the University Vice-Chancellors to oppose this move.
Sadly they (and particularly those from the Russell Group, led by the then Vice-Chancellor of Oxford) argued that they needed more funding and that the only way they could get it was directly from the students. I warned them that their cause was futile, and that any extra money from students would immediately be matched by a reduction in grants from the government. I pointed out that what government first has to decide is how much of the national GDP is to be spent on higher education. Once that decision has been made what proportion then comes from general taxation, and what proportion from students makes no difference to the income of the universities.
You have quoted Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor arguing for yet another rise in tuition fees, because “most of the income from higher fees had to be spent offsetting government cutbacks”. Is it too much to hope that people of such eminence in academia would be intelligent enough, if not to get it right first time, at least to learn from their mistakes?
David Rendel, Reading, Berkshire
But of course! Now that UK Vice-Chancellors are earning salaries as large as American university presidents, British undergraduates must, clearly, be charged America-sized tuition fees! The average fees at US elite colleges are $24,000 – pretty well exactly the £16,000 figure Professor Hamilton floated – an interesting coincidence.
How I wish we could ask John Ruskin, Christ Church 1842, what he thinks about this step taken by the current leader of his alma mater.
Peter Smith, York
Badger-cull numbers just don’t add up
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson shamelessly states that “the badgers have moved the goalposts”. (Report, 10 October). This bizarre statement follows the news that far fewer badgers have been slaughtered in the Somerset cull than would have satisfied Mr Paterson and his friends in the NFU.
Mr Paterson claims that the explanation for the lower kill rate is that there are far fewer badgers in the cull zone than they had previously… well, randomly guessed at.
Anyway, Mr Paterson now says that because there are fewer badgers than they thought, they will need another three weeks to get the slaughter number up to what they originally wanted when… um… they thought there were more badgers.
I hope at the next election the electorate will avenge the badgers by culling the Coalition.
Penny Little, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
The numbers being put forward about the badger cull don’t make any sense. Previously the target was 5,000 badgers (70 per cent of the population). That would leave 2,143 badgers alive. The new target is 2,670 badgers. Assuming that’s the same percentage rate, that would leave 1,144 badgers alive. Even Owen Paterson isn’t accusing dead badgers of spreading TB, so surely it’s the live ones that matter. And the new target is almost twice as stringent as the old one, in terms of badgers left alive at the end of the cull.
What scientific justification is there for this?
Mark Walford, London N12
Badgers have always caused problems for UK politicians. Back in the early 1960s the late Earl of Arran (“Boofy” to his chums) introduced in the Lords at the same time legislation relaxing laws on homosexuality and curbs on badger baiting. The first bill succeeded, the second didn’t. Asked to account for this, he observed that there were plenty of buggers on the red benches, but – alas – not that many badgers.
David Walsh, Skelton, Cleveland
Walking won’t cure this diabetes
I wish that the “answer” to the death and misery caused by diabetes were as simple and straightforward as your report “Walking just 2.5 hours a week could prevent 37,000 deaths” (7 October) suggests.
As Diabetes UK’s own website confirms, Type 1 diabetes (which accounts for between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of all cases in this country) cannot be prevented. The body’s immune system destroys the body’s insulin-producing cells, and nobody – not even the scientists who have been engaged in research into this issue for years – understands why.
My daughter Stephanie developed Type 1 diabetes at the age of 11. She died suddenly from complications of the disease when she was 17. She was not averse to walking or “a bit of gentle exercise”. She was, however, very upset by the ignorance of those who felt qualified to tell her that developing this pernicious illness was her own fault.
Sue Marks, Manchester
Whatever the miracle breakthrough reported – salt reduction, walking 2.5 hours a week – The Independent does indeed seem to offer immortality in assuring us that large numbers of deaths can be prevented. I know of nothing that actually prevents death (that would be front page news indeed) and at best these procedures can only be said to delay the inevitable.
Bernard Smith, Hailsham, East Sussex
What did Snowden really reveal?
Does new MI5 boss Andrew Parker (report, 8 October) really imagine that the rest of the world had not already strongly suspected the level of surveillance, or that those suffering drone bombing had not connected their use of communications with knowledge of their location? What Snowden revealed was already known, but his crime was to disturb the vanity of the “intelligence industry” and oblige it to justify its intrusions.
In the league table of threats to the UK, I would place Snowden right at the bottom, far below that from the actions of British intelligence agencies themselves and the insane policies of the US State Department.
Those insanities are themselves highlighted in Libya, where as a result of idiotic “anti-terrorist” intrusion into that sovereign state still in anarchy because of Western intervention, the marginally legitimate leader was incarcerated by an armed group protesting at such “intelligence-founded” intrusions.
M J Benning , Wellington, Somerset
GCHQ is deemed to be our jewel in the crown that enables Britain to punch above its weigh. But worship of the Cheltenham-based panopticon is too high a price to pay given the attendant loss of liberty. Better to trade our place at the top negotiating table for a restoration of national integrity.
Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
Tom Simpson asks (10 October) “We are told that the security services are preventing … plots almost daily – but how do we really know?” One easy way to find out would be to tell them to stop doing it for, say, a year and see how many atrocities occurred in that time. I hope Mr Simpson would head the queue of volunteers clearing up the mess!
Geoff S Harris, Warwick
The risk of a housing bubble would be reduced and the right people helped if the Government scheme was targeted regionally
Sir, As a farming family letting housing in a village for more than 30 years, we’ve done what we can to provide a proportion of affordable homes for rent to maintain a viable community and enable local families to stay (letter, Oct 9).
In the event of a severe shortage of housing, as now, pushing up all values, central governments find it financially convenient and politically popular to fund affordable housing by obliging the private developer through planning agreements to build them out of the profit they make through selling general-needs housing.
As Tim Montgomerie (Sept 30) rightly points out, if government didn’t require private builders to fund a large slice of affordable housing in each development they would build more homes. When developers see that development is uneconomic they cease to invest. This creates a shortage and prices rise even faster.
The risk of a housing bubble would be reduced and the right people helped if the Government scheme to help buyers was targeted regionally to areas of particular housing shortage and the price of a house qualifying for support was capped at a much lower level, say £250,000, rather than the current £600,000. This would not cause a bubble because the cost of homes above this level would be pinned back. There would then be a more active market for smaller, more affordable houses.
Sir, Unaffordable housing is perhaps a greater problem in towns where there are large numbers of students. The affordable housing stock seems to be being bought up by outside bodies, and as they are let to students no council tax is paid. By the very lifestyle of these young tenants a considerable burden is being placed on local government resources.
This example of buy-to-let, mainly by absentee landlords, is pricing first-time buyers out of the market.
Streets of once affordable housing are now becoming unaffordable and little more than overcrowded student dormitories.
Sir, Despite the Government’s efforts to enable more people to buy their own homes, one of the key issues remains the lack of supply, affecting price in many parts of the country. At the same time, too many of our town centres are suffering, often as the result of what looks likely to be a permanent change in our shopping habits. With busy families wanting to make efficient use of their leisure time, the growth of out-of-town shopping centres and an estimated 30 per cent of shopping now online, that’s unlikely to change. We will never return to the town centre model.
Yet this offers an unrivalled opportunity. Town centres are still communication hubs — that’s where bus and railway stations usually are as well as post offices, banks and libraries. Restrictive planning rules make it difficult to change the use classes in town centres, to allow for more flexible planning. If local authorities were allowed the freedom to redefine the core of towns and reduce them in size, that could offer opportunities to develop housing, particularly starter homes and homes for older people within walking distance of the facilities that they need.
St Mabyn, Cornwall
Recent interventions by the FCO illustrate the continuation of our tradition of protecting human rights throughout the world
Sir, Lord Pannick invites politicians to take their hands off our human rights and judicial independence ( Law, Oct 10). He concludes his article by asking the rhetorical question: “Is the protection of human rights important abroad but not at home?”
We have a proud tradition of protecting human rights throughout the world as he acknowledges. Recent interventions by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office illustrate the continuation of this tradition.
Lord Pannick is right to say that the European Court of Human Rights has often pointed the way in the development of the law. However, to suggest that the repeal of the Human Rights Act or a “divorce . . . from the jurisdiction of the European Court” would somehow mean a curtailment of the protection of human rights at home is misleading.
Repeal would neither lead to an alteration of our foreign policy nor would it result in our courts ignoring the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights or of any other supra-national or foreign national court if wisdom is to be found in their decisions.
What it would mean is that we would no longer be bound by the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court, some of which is of distinctly variable quality. We would, for example, have been able to deport Abu Qatada without spending £1.7 million before finally persuading him to board a plane.
Parliament would be able to legislate in a more nuanced way rather than being constrained by decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Our Supreme Court would have the final word. I am confident that the combination of Parliament and the Supreme Court would be perfectly capable of protecting human rights at home while we continue to do our best to ensure their protection abroad.
Lord Faulks, QC
House of Lords
If asteroids and comets delivered water to Earth, then they could equally have brought microbial life to the prebiotic Earth
Sir, Yet more evidence comes to light about the presence of “lost worlds” which could support life (report, Oct 11). The experts you quote, while pointing out that asteroids and comets delivered water to Earth, will only go as far as to say they brought the “building blocks of life”. However, if they brought these, then they could equally have brought microbial life to the prebiotic Earth, while comets may continue to do so today.
Professor Milton Wainwright
The Leeds Millennium Tapestry, the 16 panels of which hang in the Leeds Museum, depicts every facet of activity in the city
Sir, Ben Macintyre’s admirable suggestion of a National Tapestry (Oct 11) has already started in Leeds where Kate Russell masterminded the Leeds Millennium Tapestry, the 16 panels of which hang in the Leeds Museum. Not only does it depict every facet of activity in the city but every stitch of it was done by volunteers from every ethnic group and occupation who “stitched together” in more ways than one.
Apart from creating a masterpiece, this project bonded a community at a time of dire social unrest.
Patricia Countess of Harewood
Harewood House, Leeds
North Yorkshire County Council’s proposed cuts to bus services will make life in some villages unsustainable without a car
Sir, Will Straw ( Thunderer, Oct 9) suggested that bus fares are too expensive and should be cheaper. I agree, but far more important is that bus services are retained. North Yorkshire County Council is proposing drastic cuts to the bus services in this very rural county, which will make life in some villages unsustainable without access to a car.
The council pleads that it has to make significant budget cuts, but it is penalising those who are too young or too old to drive, those who cannot afford a car, or whose health does not allow them to drive. By far the most bus users are holders of concessionary passes, and, instead of cutting services, their free journeys should be changed to half-fare journeys, and instead of cutting services, they should be improved so that journeys can be made in the evenings.
Richmond, N Yorks
SIR – One of my earliest childhood memories is of making the family’s porridge on Sundays.
My father instructed me to put in salt, and when I ate my portion I was never allowed to put anything sweet on it.
SIR – As a child, my mother and I prepared what we called “Swissed apple” – oats soaked overnight and mixed on the day with grated apple and top of the milk.
Only on recent visits to Switzerland have I become acquainted with Bircher Muesli, and on returning home learnt to make my own: oats soaked in milk, or even better in apple juice, and then with added grated apple and yoghurt or crème fraîche, to which can be added berries or currants.
A batch will last for several days and cooking is not required.
SIR – The addition of a small handful of blueberries and a spoonful of manuka honey to oats cannot be beaten. With winter ills looming, it will help to boost the immune system, and it tastes good, too.
SIR – Ten years ago I became a teacher of business studies and economics at a state school in Oxford. I was shocked by the poor level of literacy and numeracy that I came across, including that among sixth-form students.
Over those 10 years, I discovered the huge effort the school put into these disciplines, through book clubs for literacy, for example, and a cross-curricular focus on both. But the problem was that young people do not practise either discipline in their day-to-day lives. I encountered sixth-formers who had not read a book since they were 12, other than at school, and others who firmly believed they did not need numeracy skills as “that is what calculators are for”. Any judgment on our education system should therefore be tempered by these realities of modern young lives.
SIR – Strange that for years we’ve been informed that exam pass rates have been improving, and yet Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph carried the headline: “English school leavers ‘among least literate and numerate in the developed world’.”
Who’s been putting things in my porridge?
11 Oct 2013
SIR – In a newsletter three years ago, Kent county council (not atypical in its policies) announced that “The days of traditional, stand at the front and give ’em the knowledge teaching are now long gone.”
No doubt, in the light of the OECD report, the irony is still lost on “educators” who believe that it is of value, for example, to have pupils spend an entire lesson lying on the floor lining up centimetre cubes against a metre rule to “prove” that 100 centimetres make one metre. Or devoting an entire history lesson to making a Viking shield (with the suggestion that the design on its front be “relevant” to pupils’ interests – football or pop music) without any intention, then or later, to explain to them who the Vikings were or the huge influence they had on this country. (Alfred the Great? Who he?)
I witnessed this in the two years I spent as a supply teacher in the state sector after retiring as a full-time schoolmaster.
It is no surprise to me that pupils are behind virtually all others in the developed world. You can be sure that children in South Korea are enjoying the benefits of “give ’em the knowledge teaching”.
SIR – We have created a society in which being fat, lazy, selfish or ignorant, in any combination, is acceptable if not downright admirable, or at the very least somebody else’s fault. Benefits are a right; knowledge is suspect; fame is better than graft; money is art; art is money; and getting drunk is high culture.
I’d say that our education system is entirely fit for purpose.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
Mr Miliband’s poodle
SIR – I was enjoying watching Watchdog on Wednesday night, when suddenly – whooosh – I was now watching a party political broadcast by Ed Miliband about cutting energy prices.
It’s disgraceful that such a programme should allow him that platform.
SIR – The questioning by Ann Robinson was hardly penetrating, and the smirk on Ed Miliband’s face made me feel ill.
SIR – What was Ed Miliband doing on Watchdog, a programme investigating “rogues letting viewers down”.
On second thoughts…
Eastbourne, East Sussex
First among peers
SIR – I was recently taken on a tour of Parliament. The guide told us that Lord (Alan) Sugar was the most famous member of the House of Lords. Was there ever a better reason for abolishing it?
MI5 at No 10
SIR – In your obituary of Geoffrey Goodman, you say that he found his experience as head of the Government’s counter-inflation unit “uncomfortable, not least because of obstruction from Joe Haines”; repeating, in essence, a passage from Tony Benn’s diaries. Allow me to set the record straight.
The appointment of Goodman came after discussions between Sydney Jacobson, editorial director of the Daily Mirror, Harold Wilson and myself. I saw Goodman in my office at No 10 and offered him the job.
The “obstruction” came from an enraged Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Hunt, who came into No 10 waving Goodman’s MI5 file and demanding that the appointment be cancelled. I told him that was impossible but, at his insistence, the Prime Minister instructed that Goodman should not see papers marked “confidential”, and left me to tell Goodman without saying why, though I did tell him many years later.
Far from obstructing Geoffrey in his work, I gave him my deputy, Charles Birdsall, to work as his assistant.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
SIR – I see that the Scottish Government is bringing Prestwick Airport into public ownership. As a regular business traveller I dread using Prestwick.
Not only is it very tired-looking, but visitors are greeted with the tag line “Pure dead Brilliant.” This is incomprehensible to most people other than those familiar with the Krankies. The use of dead in connection with an airport is unfortunate.
Perhaps now Prestwick Airport will be renamed Alex Salmond Airport, with the tag line: “It’s Scotland’s oil!”
Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire
Selling the Royal Mail
SIR – Simon Northwood wonders why we were asked to buy shares in a company we already own. An exchange is taking place. The assets of the Royal Mail, in the form of shares, will be exchanged for money from institutions and individuals. The Government will accept this money and use it on behalf of the people.
SIR – What happens to the proceeds of the sale of Royal Mail? They should not go into the general national Exchequer, but be distributed equally among the present owners – man, woman and child.
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
SIR – You report that a compromise with authenticity was made in the television drama Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, in the early 19th century, outdoor bathing was generally nude. Later in the century, Matthew Arnold responded to a clergyman who remonstrated with him for bathing nude, saying: “Is it possible you see anything indelicate in the human form divine?”
Brasenose College, Oxford
Office on wheels
SIR – Executives increasingly carry office files on their computers and have conference calls when travelling from the provinces to a hot desk in London.
If a small number of sound-proofed office cubicles could be installed in trains, their working day could start on entering the train, and confidential calls could be made with security and without irritating other passengers. There would be no need for the half-hour saved by HS2.
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
SIR – Your report extols the virtues of Sprite as a hangover cure. When I was serving in Germany as a Royal Engineer in the Eighties, this fizzy wonder was universally known as “anti-gag”, and no self-respecting Sapper was without a bottle by his bed.
A better way to increase the supply of houses
SIR – The supply of housing to potential owner-occupiers could be increased immediately by removing tax relief on buy-to-let mortgage payments – a relief denied to owner-occupiers since 1989.
Not only would this reduce the attractiveness of buy-to-let, and thus constrain house prices, but it would also yield billions to the Exchequer to set against the cost of the Help to Buy scheme.
Chichester, West Sussex
SIR – I have grave concerns about the Help to Buy scheme, which will enable first-time buyers to be offered up to 95 per cent mortgages by state-owned banks.
As a former conveyancer, I am well aware that borrowers who cannot meet their payments will not be able simply to “return the keys”.
Their financial cards will be marked and future loans will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come by. Lenders will, at least in theory, be able to pursue them for their losses for years to come.
SIR – The only thing Paul Harrison (Letters, October 8) forgets to mention about house buying in the Seventies is the enormous government subsidy through tax relief, at a basic rate of around 35 per cent. By borrowing to buy, you were effectively paying an interest rate way below inflation.
G P Brown
Sir, – In the setting of the current budget discussions, (Arthur Beesley, Home News Analysis, October 10th) the expectation of further reductions in health care spending is ill- conceived and if executed raises the probability of health care rationing.
Health care rationing means that doctors will be forced to restrict treatments for patients based on financial constraints. With a €3 billion reduction in health care spending over the last few budgets, the emergence of health care rationing has not been recognised or acknowledged by the Irish public.
At this point Ireland spends less on health care per GDP than Greece, Portugal, UK and Germany. The Minister of Health, HSE and Department of Health are in an impossible position.
A tipping point will be reached and to further reduce health care funding can only lead to rationing. Furthermore, a blinkered focus on reducing expenditure also fails to recognise the need to invest in order to secure future cost efficiencies. For example, €3 million is required this year to support organ donation, which in turn will save the lives of Cystic Fibrosis patients and lead to savings of €61 million by reducing the dependence on kidney dialysis.
As a frontline worker, the optimal delivery of care in the current fiscal environment is challenging, and frustrating. Up to 10,000 staff members have left the HSE, yet the troika require a further drop in the numbers working in the organisation. To replace or reposition frontline staff is a major logistical challenge, frustrating efforts to bring about efficiencies.
Unlike the troika, health care workers are professionally and legally accountable. Health care efficiencies indeed are welcome and should be supported but the troika cannot expect us to extract Irish blood from a stone!
Prof JIM EGAN,
Hospital, Dublin 7.
Sir, – The IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor Report (Business + Technology, October 10th) has implied that Ireland’s top marginal tax rate (55 per cent) could be raised to almost 70 per cent while still maximising the potential return for the exchequer.
This appears to blow a hole in the argument constantly being made by some lobby groups for lower taxes for high earners.
The real problem in Ireland is that top rates kick in at extraordinarily low income levels, This should be addressed without increasing the overall tax take and, if the IMF is correct, without encountering the law of diminishing returns by raising marginal rates for high earners.
Giving more discretionary income to mid-income taxpayers would be far more beneficial to national morale and the domestic economy than lowering marginal tax rates for very high earners who, as it stands, benefit from much more moderate effective tax rates on the totality of their incomes. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Early in the week, Siptu leader Jack O’Connor was calling for pay increases across the economy, should the Government reduce the budget deficit by less than 5.1 per cent. Lo and behold, soon afterwards the Government announced it would be making a budget adjustment of €2.5 billion rather than the anticipated €3.1 billion.
This got me thinking. Had the Siptu leader that much influence? My more cynical side thought: perhaps he has a line of communication to the Economic Management Council that Government Ministers could only wish for? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your Editorial on supporting enterprise is right on target (October 9th). The Irish banking market is characterised by an absence of competition, lenders with impaired balance sheets and a weak economy. There is an imbalance in the system that does not support recovery.
The new venture capital structures part-funded by the National Pension Fund have a very narrow target market. They will not solve the problem. We have a handful of banks operating in the local market and no finance companies. Where Ireland is now is no different to where the UK found itself before the second World War, with a lack of funding for SMEs. The financial entity they set up to address the problem interestingly owned in the main by the UK banks became the largest provider of growth capital for SMEs in the UK by the 1960s. We need a financing vehicle with an ethos similar to the Irish company, the Industrial Credit Corporation with a mandate that covers enterprises operating in the domestic as well as overseas markets.
Pressurising our banks to lend more money to companies that are struggling to survive is not the solution. They need support but not necessarily, as the Central Banks suggests, with more bank borrowing. – Yours, etc,
Sir,– Tony O’Sullivan (October 11th) rightly queries how best medical cards can be issued for those most in need. A related issue which Minister for Health James Reilly or the HSE might clarify is how many medical cards have been issued to business executives, often highly remunerated, from European multinationals for themselves and their families. It seems scandalous that executives earning over €100,000 per annum can be beneficiaries of medical cards. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The findings published by Neuropsychopharmacology magazine, (Mark Hennessy, Home News, October 8th), that links smoking to smaller brain size in new born babies, are startling, not least because the size difference is still apparent after eight years. Considering also the very limited success in obtaining better tobacco controls in the European Parliament on the same day, is it not time for Ireland to act to protect our most vulnerable?
Although it is illegal to sell tobacco products to children under 18 years of age, many of these same children are already well and truly hooked before then. Perhaps we should be protecting them on an ongoing basis. Perhaps it would work if a rolling ban were brought in, ie a nicotine ban that would carry on with them throughout their lives. Ten-year-olds and younger could be protected for life if strict penalties were brought in now and rolled out for them as they get older. It would take some time, but Ireland could be almost totally cleansed of the habit in about 40 years. Other countries might follow if it is seen to be as much a success as was the workplace smoking ban.
All that might be required here is a little bit of vision and determination. Is it worth it for our children’s health? I believe so. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Given the referendum maintaining the Seanad, your Political News Editor is ungracious, if not unwise, to describe it as an “elitist bastion with a tiny franchise” (Front page, October 7th). The voters rejected such dismissive assessments last week.
Perhaps they were more conscious than Arthur Beesley gives them credit for, that those who elect most of the Seanad, namely the local councillors, are themselves elected for that task by the great franchise of the electorate at large. This use of indirect voting through an electoral college is in perfect accord with our system of democracy.
Even the Taoiseach’s constitutional entitlement to nominate 11 senators also has democratic legitimacy – through the TDs from the general electorate. Think of him as a one-man electoral college! The only pity is that successive taoisigh have not used this entitlement to bring in many distinguished independents, rather than party loyalists, into the house. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Gearoid Kilgallen (October 11th) asks what legal authority the US has for its actions in Libya and Somalia.
The only accepted basis for the use of force against the territorial sovereignty of another state is authorisation by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter.
Unfortunately, international law is more political than principled, and deadlocks between rival powers on the Security Council mean that countries often bypass it as an ineffective forum.
This does not mean that the illegal actions of some states are justified but it does show us that we need to reform the Security Council and remove the veto of the permanent members. – Yours, etc,
LLB (Dub), LLM Candidate,
A chara, – The poor state of physical health of mental health service users is largely ignored in the media. To give some context, the OECD Better Life Index reports a life expectancy of 78 years for men and 83 years for women in Ireland. Research suggests that mental health service users have a life expectancy of 20 per cent less than the general population. In Ireland this could suggest a life expectancy of around 62 years for male mental health service users and 66 years for females. This is considerably lower than the life expectancy of 73 and a half years for men and 80 years for women in the poorest areas reported by TASC.
Why is physical health so poor? A range of reasons. Lifestyle factors present in the general population are more pronounced in mental health service users, eg there are higher rates of smoking, lower rates of physical activity and poorer diet. Mental health service users also face cardio-metabolic side-effects from medication, making this a unique risk factor. This combination contributes to higher rates of obesity and diabetes, which in turn increases the risk of illnesses such as heart disease.
Yet other factors are also important – lower rates of access to health education and health promotion, low uptake/offering of smoking cessation, lower rates of screening for conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol (despite the increased prevalence of risk factors), lower rates of treatment for a range of conditions and unco-ordinated physical healthcare. Stigma is also present in the form of diagnostic overshadowing, where reports of physical symptoms are attributed to the mental illness and not seen as valid.
Furthermore, mental health professionals may lack confidence and knowledge in physical assessment and conditions. These factors contribute to mental health service users having poorer prognosis and health outcomes, for example, having higher death rates from cardiovascular and respiratory disease than the general population.
This is an urgent clinical practice and policy issue that should be of immense concern to healthcare professionals, educationalists and policy-makers alike. – Is mise,
Sir, – Arthur Beesley and Suzanne Lynch (“Irish debt linked to Angela Merkel talks on Coalition”, Business This Week, October 11th) present a somewhat misleading analysis of the Social Democratic (SPD) position in Germany.
What the SPD is calling for is a co-ordinated European financial transaction tax to fund a common European banking resolution scheme. This is because it wants the financial sector rather than the taxpayer to cover the cost of failed banks.
The Irish Government has adopted a beggar-thy-neighbour position in European policymaking. It supports a European-wide resolution scheme to pay the costs of failed banks, but opposes a co-ordinated financial transaction tax to fund this.
It is the Irish Government which wants the taxpayer to pay for the financial crisis, not the SPD. The German position will benefit all European taxpayers whereas the Irish position only benefits the Irish financial sector.
I am pretty confident that most Irish people, if given a choice, would prefer corporate creditors rather taxpaying citizens to pay for the crisis. In this sense they are closer to the German Social Democrats than their own Government. – Yours, etc,
Dr AIDAN REGAN
Max Planck Institute
for the Study of Societies,
Sir,– Keith Harris (“Social protection in action”, October 4th) states his rent allowance to be discontinued because his rent is above the limit.
Surely the Department of Social Protection should allow the maximum allowance to be paid and the tenant could pay the rent from their own pocket to make up the difference? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I found it somewhat ironic to read of Bill Clinton being sponsored by Denis O’Brien (Home News, October 13th) to come here and tell us that the rich should contribute more to Ireland’s economy: could he not have just had a quiet word with Denis? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Times are not so tough after all. I see the Government is going to spend €16 million on a postal code system that will be the world’s first to uniquely identify every single address in Ireland (Home News, October 9th).
They will use seven digits – better than Canada which gets by with six, or the miserly US which usually uses six.
I guess they were so busy they forgot to read the recent Canadian study that showed with the advent of hand-writing recognition programmes the only use for postal codes was for recognising areas suitable for mass mailings (ie junk mail).
But I guess this is what you get when you rely on postal code promoters as your sole source of advice.
Also, I will never again be able to explain that the Irish postmen didn’t need a postal code as they know where the addresses are. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A cat is supposedly shot in a sickeningly realistic drama that people “love” to watch, Love/Hate, and the country is “shocked”.
It is ironic and understandable that animal rights groups (plus many others) are up in arms over this scene, yet if it had been a human being murdered the civil rights groups (and many others) would have been silent.
Pretentious dramas are not real, but what is terrifyingly obvious is our wounded perception of the value of life. – Yours, etc,
JOHN J MAY,
* Now that the votes have been counted and the dust has settled on the referendum, it’s time to take stock of the situation.
Also in this section
Cat furore raises questions about our morals
Animal lovers should watch how we kill hares
Political system screams for reform
The country has decided to keep the Seanad, whose only function is to act as some sort of House of Honours for deserving people who win a limited popularity contest among politicians and certain academics.
Senators’ main legislative power is to delay bills for 90 days but not vote them down. So meaningful reform means Dail Eireann sharing some of its power with them.
Well, good luck with that. Turkeys don’t usually vote for Christmas. And just look at what’s happening in the US, where there are two equally powerful legislative chambers.
This country voted for a Court of Appeal. This means another tier of courts, which in turn means more expense for the country at a time when it’s broke.
The new Court of Appeal will serve as the Supreme Court’s strainer, as it will take on most of the Supreme Court’s work, if the referendum booklet is to believed.
The Supreme Court will deign to hear appeals from the High Court and the new Court of Appeal as it sees fit. Anybody see any additional efficiency or time saving in all that? Good luck if you can. I can’t.
Let’s hope that in about five years’ time the Supreme Court has cleared its backlog and that the justice system is working faster and more efficiently.
If it’s not, then Friday, October 4, 2013 will be regarded as just one of the many false dawns visited by our politicians on the Irish people.
Greencastle Avenue, Coolock, Dublin 17
* The Taoiseach now thinks he is about to reform the ‘unreformable’ Seanad and personally command the credit for accomplishing an unachievable act. Rubbish!
Seanad reform is a very viable and positive proposition, provided it is a forerunner to a radical Dail refurbishment, all of which would need to be ready to be fully implemented by the next General Election.
Had the referendum asked enough of the right questions on possible constitutional issues, it would have saved a lot in time and further expense to taxpayers in the future.
Here is a layman’s unbiased proto-type for Seanad reform.
The legal refinery and political professionalism can be added to make it a finished product. Into the bargain, it will save over €2m annually.
Membership of the Seanad must initially be reduced from 60 to 50. This will be comprised of competent professionals and business people directly elected by the general public from a panel in each constituency on the same day as the General Election.
At least one senator must be appointed to each county. One week’s salary will be deducted for every day missed from the chamber without a justifiable explanation.
Apart from its general responsibility, the new Seanad will keep a discreet eye on Dail activities and part of its portfolio of responsibilities will be job creation.
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* Listening to Shane Ross being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan on Wednesday morning on radio about his choices in music, I cheered up when his last choice was referred to as being from the musical ‘Oliver’.
With thoughts of Seanad reform foremost on my mind, I was certain the piece would be ‘I’d Do Anything For You’ from that lively musical.
Imagine my disappointment when, instead, the strains of ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ came over airwaves.
No change in Seanad thinking any time soon, I fear.
Edenderry, Co Offaly
* In memoriam, Seamus Heaney:
The blackbird’s on the lawn again
But the car’s not coming back
To disturb the bird’s sweet singing
The driver is no more, alas!
But both have sung their songs,
No need of scaffolding now –
They both have built their love-walls.
Time did no more allow.
So, if you hear a sweet note
Way, way up there on the air
O’er Clifden, Mossbawn, Glanmore
Tune in – they’re both still singing there.
Some songs have wild long echoes
In human hearts and soul,
For when the singers sang them
They pierced right to our core.
Cootehill, Co Cavan
AN UNNECESSARY DEATH
* I feel immense regret and sadness for the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar.
We should look inward at the values which have been preached to us over our lifetimes – then ask the question whether those values are compatible with any Christian humanity.
Millbrook Road, Dublin
STATE SHOULD BUY IRISH
* David McWilliams (Irish Independent, October 9) correctly points out that the State is the country’s biggest consumer and could offer a boost to the Irish economy by choosing to purchase local goods.
Not so long ago this was highlighted on George Lee’s ‘The Business’ programme.
Here, a perfect example was shown; an Irish meat producer lost out to a British company for a €2.5m contract by a mere €6,000. This was to supply meat to the State’s prisons.
This contract would have created extra jobs (thereby taking people off social welfare) and increased tax revenue for the State.
The Government in its procurement procedures needs to look at the big picture before rushing to offer contracts to businesses outside the State.
Dunleer, Co Louth
PHEASANT IS FAIR GAME
* I read with interest the letter from John Fitzgerald (Irish Independent, October 9) about animal cruelty.
I take his point about ‘Love/Hate’.
No one wants to see cruelty towards animals, except for seriously disturbed individuals.
However, his reference to hare and pheasant is what draws my interest. The man is in serious need of education on the subject, especially in relation to the subject of pheasant shooting.
Firstly to hare coursing. Yes, hares are killed at these events but very few indeed.
Secondly, to pheasant shooting, with which I am much more familiar. Pheasants, even reared up and released birds, do not walk up to be shot. Driven shoots are organised so that birds fly over waiting guns.
Birds are generally high and in full flight and offer a sporting and fair shot. In other words, they have some chance.
They are also not wasted. They are eaten and make a very good casserole indeed.
In addition to this, the game-shooting fraternity does much in this country to promote conservation. All clubs have game sanctuaries and actively rear and release pheasant.
Some clubs also release grey partridge to try and bring the bird back to the country. These birds are not shot.
I wonder is Mr Fitzgerald a vegetarian? If not, then his letter borders on hypocritical.
Let me ask him which is more cruel: eating a pheasant, which has a life in the wild and a true chance of survival, or going to your local supermarket and picking up some steak?
The cow has no chance. It is reared in captivity and is destined for slaughter from birth.