13 November 2013 Feet

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.
Our heroes are in trouble Troutbridge has to take pzrt in the fleet exercises, will she sing the rest of the Navy? Priceless.
Quiet day Caroline, cement bricks, roofer comes
Scrabble today Mary wins though just over 300 Perhaps I’ll win tomorrow

Sir John Tavener – obituary
Sir John Tavener was a composer admired by the Beatles who turned from playboy to icon of contemplative music

Sir John Tavener Photo: REX
6:28PM GMT 12 Nov 2013
Sir John Tavener, who has died aged 69, was one of the leading British composers of the day; his predominantly religious and contemplative music — dubbed “holy minimalism” by some critics — was as passionately admired by large numbers of listeners as it was derided by others.
A short work by Tavener was performed in the Millennium Dome at Greenwich on New Year’s Eve 2000; and his larger-scale oratorio Fall and Resurrection, composed in 1997 and dedicated to the Prince of Wales, had its first performance in St Paul’s Cathedral on January 4 2000, with the Prince in the audience. In the summer of 1997, his haunting Song for Athene had been sung at the Westminster Abbey funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and brought his music to a much wider audience.

On the occasion of Tavener’s 50th birthday in 1994, the BBC honoured him with a four-day festival of his works on Radio 3, with broadcasts from Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and the Barbican.
A striking figure, 6ft 6in tall, with long, flowing hair and the ascetic face of a monk, Tavener was received into the Orthodox faith in 1977. Mother Thekla, an Orthodox nun, was not only his spiritual guide but also the librettist of several of his works.
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But there had been a different Tavener in earlier years, the carousing playboy-about-town, escort of beautiful women (including the actress Mia Farrow) and the protégé of Rhoda Birley, widow of the portrait painter Sir Oswald Birley. His first outstanding success, the cantata The Whale, was admired by the Beatles, who financed a recording on the Apple label. He was also a lover of cars, and at various times owned an Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a Jaguar XJ6 and a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo.
John Kenneth Tavener was born at Wembley Park, London, on January 28 1944. It was once thought that he was descended from the Tudor composer John Taverner (with a middle “r”), but this is now doubted. His father trained as a surveyor but soon joined the successful and fashionable family business restoring stately homes, and was also organist at the local Congregational church.
At the age of three John listened for hours on end to the famous recording of Nymphs and Shepherds sung by a Manchester schoolchildren’s choir — he ordered his nanny to keep putting it on the gramophone. He also learned the piano without formal tuition, and at his preparatory school was noted for improvisations in the styles of the great composers.
When he was 12 he spent his summer holidays at Lady Birley’s Sussex house, Charleston Manor (restored by the Tavener firm), where the grand piano was at his disposal. She took him to Glyndebourne to hear Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. He fell lastingly under its spell and also, in the same year, was bewitched by Stravinsky’s newest work, the Canticum Sacrum written for St Mark’s, Venice. This, he said, was “the piece that woke me up and made me want to be a composer”; he regarded it as “the pinnacle of 20th-century music ”.
In 1957 Tavener won a scholarship to Highgate School, where the choir was regularly called on by the BBC for works requiring boys’ voices. He was soon singing in Mahler’s Third Symphony and Orff’s Carmina Burana. Among his fellow pupils were the composers Brian Chapple and John Rutter, the pianist Howard Shelley and the future founder of the London Sinfonietta, Nicholas Snowman.

While at Highgate, Tavener began to compose and also played the solo part in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In 1961 he was invited to join the summer course of the National Youth Orchestra at Canterbury as soloist in Shostakovich’s Second Concerto. Later that year he became organist and choirmaster at St John’s Presbyterian church, Kensington, a post he held for 14 years.
At the start of 1962 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied composition with Lennox Berkeley. At this time, too, he often visited the pianist Solomon, whose career had been ended by a stroke in 1956, and went to theatres with him. Tavener dedicated a piano concerto to him which was performed at the Academy in 1963, with the composer as soloist.
Tavener now decided to give up piano lessons and to concentrate on composition. A choral work, Genesis, had been performed in 1962 (after which he collapsed with severe chest pains for which no medical cause was then discovered). His next work, The Cappemakers, a setting of texts from the Chester Mystery Plays, was first performed at a festival organised by Lady Birley at Charleston in June 1964. It earned a favourable notice in The Daily Telegraph, whose critic remarked on “novel ingenuities of sound and rhythm”.
The first fully professional performance of a Tavener work, however, was that of his Three Holy Sonnets by the London Bach Society, conducted by Paul Steinitz in St-Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, in July 1964. A performance six months later was broadcast. This was three weeks before Tavener’s 21st birthday.

Sir John Tavener with the Prince of Wales in 1998 (REUTERS)
He was by then having lessons from the Australian composer David Lumsdaine, 12 years his senior, who was curator of the Academy’s library of contemporary music. Lumsdaine introduced him to the music of Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Messiaen, but could not share Tavener’s passion for the film of The Sound of Music, which he saw many times.
Under Lumsdaine’s influence Tavener wrote a cantata, Cain and Abel, which won the Prince Rainier of Monaco international award for composition. Its first performance was acclaimed by the critics, and the composer Malcolm Arnold told Tavener that he considered it “a work of genius”.
The Whale was composed during 1967. It was first performed in January 1968, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall during the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta . A work was needed which would achieve maximum publicity, and The Whale was precisely that . Eight percussion players were needed for the battery of drums, bells and gongs in addition to a football rattle, amplified metronomes and an amplified sheet of glass. For five minutes the instrumentalists and singers were invited to make it up as they went along, the choir was called on to grunt, snort and yawn and a choir on tape sang permutations on the word “swastika”.
“A thoroughly enjoyable work of immense skill and exuberance” was the verdict of Robert Henderson in The Sunday Telegraph, while another critic hailed it as “a great victory for those who recognise that modern music is not simply a matter of solemn incantations in the sacred name of tedium” — ironically a phrase that many might apply to Tavener’s later, religious, works.
The Beatles’ interest was aroused because Tavener’s brother Roger won contracts for renovation work by the family firm at the group’s offices and homes. Ringo Starr was the first to listen to a tape of The Whale, and John Lennon authorised the Apple recording, which was produced by Nicholas Snowman because the Apple management had no idea how to set up an orchestral recording session.
Tavener was now “news”, and was even featured in Vogue. William Glock, the BBC’s Controller of Music, commissioned a work from him for the 1968 Proms and put it with two other commissioned works in the first half of a concert, inviting the audience to vote for the one they wanted to hear again after the interval. Tavener wrote In Alium, which included tapes of children playing games and saying their prayers and of amplified kissing and heavy breathing. Norman Del Mar refused to conduct it, but it won the audience’s ballot. Later in the same year Tavener was the subject of the first of John Drummond’s monthly Music Now magazine programmes on BBC television.
Another London Sinfonietta commission was the Celtic Requiem, first performed in 1969. This mixed children’s games about death with settings of Henry Vaughan and Cardinal Newman. Several of Tavener’s works of this period reflected an interest in Roman Catholicism, fuelled by a love affair with a girl who eventually entered a convent. The most ambitious of them was Ultimos Ritos, inspired by the writings of St John of the Cross. Its first performance, at the Holland Festival in 1974, was wrecked by tape failures.

Sir John Tavener (REX)
In 1972 Tavener was asked by Braham Murray, a director of Manchester’s 69 Theatre Company, to write incidental music for a new production of JM Barrie’s play Mary Rose, with Mia Farrow in the title-role. This led to a lifelong friendship with the actress. Another Tavener admirer was the organist and choirmaster Martin Neary, then at Winchester Cathedral, who in 1972 conducted the first performance of the Little Requiem for Father Malachy Lynch.
Meanwhile, advised by Benjamin Britten, Covent Garden had commissioned an opera from Tavener. He chose the subject of St Thérèse of Lisieux, who was cured of St Vitus’s Dance by a vision of the Virgin but later died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. A long search for a librettist delayed progress, and although completed in 1976 the opera was not staged until October 1979. Tavener had wanted the American soprano Elise Ross, who had already sung in several of his works, as Thérèse, but during rehearsals he decided that her voice was too small and had her sacked.
He had also wanted Simon Rattle (who later married Miss Ross) to conduct, but Covent Garden said he was too young and engaged Edward Downes, who later said he could remember nothing about either the composer or the opera. Neither the public nor the critics liked the work — “repetitive to the point of tedium”, one wrote — and it was not heard again until a Trinity College of Music performance in 1991.
Tavener’s principal female escort at this time was the sister of Arianna Stassinopoulos, with whom he had appeared in a television film. Through her he met a 22-year-old Greek, Victoria Maragopoulou, who was training at the Royal Ballet School. She took him to Greece, which he hated in every respect. They married in November 1974.
Although Tavener’s father bought and furnished a house at Wembley Park for the couple, Tavener refused to leave his mother, had no honeymoon and went to his desk to compose on the first morning of his marriage. Depressed by her husband’s drinking, among other trials, Victoria left him after eight months. They continued to meet, but were divorced some years later.
In spite of his unfavourable first impressions of Greece, Tavener grew to love the country and in 1977 was received into the Orthodox Church. Two months later his Liturgy of St John Chrysostom was performed in the Russian Cathedral in London.
After the failure of his opera, Tavener wrote a song-cycle for Peter Pears. Driving his Rolls-Royce home to London from Aldeburgh after the first performance in June 1980, he had a stroke which affected his left arm and hand. He recovered the ability to play the piano, but his vocal cords were permanently impaired.
His decision in 1981 to set the 8th-century liturgical poem The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete meant that he had to obtain permission from one of the translators, Mother Thekla, abbess of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption in North Yorkshire. They did not meet until 1986, after which she provided or helped with the libretti of several of his works, including Akathist of Thanksgiving (which many regard as his finest work) and We Shall See Him As He Is.
One of Tavener’s key works, composed in 1980, was Akhmatova: Requiem, a setting of Anna Akhmatova’s poems about Stalin’s victims. John Drummond agreed to its premiere at the 1981 Edinburgh Festival, with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky conducting. It proved to be the most unsuccessful concert during Drummond’s five years as festival director: only about 250 people attended in the Usher Hall. A week later, at the London Proms, there was a steady stream of people making for the exits. Rozhdestvensky was threatened by the KGB for conducting a dissident work. Eight years later, during the Gorbachev regime, he conducted it in Moscow, with Tavener present, to triumphant acclaim.
In the 1980s Tavener works, including Doxa, were performed by the Tallis Scholars, and his Blake carol The Lamb was included in the King’s College, Cambridge, service broadcast on Christmas Eve 1982.
His mother’s death in 1985 caused Tavener a creative block which was resolved by a further succession of religious works. But it was an instrumental work that was to bring him his greatest success since The Whale.

Sir John Tavener (REX)
Early in 1987 the cellist Steven Isserlis asked Tavener for a work. As a subject Mother Thekla suggested the Orthodox Feast of the Protecting Veil. Eight months later Tavener completed a 45-minute soliloquy in eight sections for cello and strings, calling it The Protecting Veil and dedicating it to a mistress of long standing. After its first performance, at the Proms in 1989, it was recorded; but it was not released until 1992. It became the bestselling classical disc for several weeks, as a similar work (Gorecki’s Third Symphony) had been, and won Gramophone’s “best contemporary recording” award.
In 1991 Tavener was operated on at Harefield by Magdi Yacoub to repair a leaking aorta, a condition known as Marfan’s syndrome from which his brother Roger had also suffered. On recovery he completed a large-scale choral work, The Apocalypse, for the 100th season of Henry Wood Proms, and attended the Aldeburgh Festival premiere of his opera Mary of Egypt in 1992.
A year later he became the first non-Greek to receive the Apollo Award for services to Greek culture. His speech of acceptance in Greek was prepared with the help of his divorced wife, whom he had remarried.
His Innocence was performed in Westminster Abbey in October 1995 conducted by one of his most ardent champions, Martin Neary.
The South Bank Centre presented a major festival of Tavener’s music in 2000. This was followed by several overseas commissions, including Lamentations and Praises for the San Francisco ensemble Chanticleer. Its recording won Tavener the 2003 Grammy award for best classical contemporary composition. For the Minnesota Orchestra he wrote Ikon of Eros (2001).
He then became interested in the universalist philosophy of the Swiss metaphysician, Fritjhof Schuon, and composed The Veil of the Temple, Lament for Jerusalem (using Christian and Islamic texts) and Hymn of Dawn, which is based on Hindu, Sufi, Christian and Jewish texts and the music of the American Indians.
Other recent works include the song-cycle Schuon Lieder, Pratirupa for piano and strings and several choral works, including Elizabeth Full of Grace, a commission from the Prince of Wales. He formed a collaboration with the choreographer Wayne McGregor’s company Random Dance and wrote a big choral work, The Beautiful Names, celebrating the 99 names of Allah.
In 2007 Tavener was in the Festival Hall for Lalishri, the concerto for violin and strings which he had written for the violinist Nicola Benedetti, but he was too ill to attend the premiere in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in February 2008 of his Requiem for Peace, having just endured heart bypass surgery in Zurich. He was moved to hospital in Southampton and then to intensive care in London.
He recovered sufficiently to continue composing, in 2009 writing Towards Silence (for four string quartets and a Tibetan temple bowl). In April this year his pieces Tolstoy’s Creed and Three Hymns of George Herbert were premiered at the Washington National Cathedral. The first of the three hymns, Heaven, was described by a critic in The Washington Post as “simply ravishing”.
Tavener’s music found many admirers among contemporary performers. After the typical “Sixties” extravagance of The Whale, which has hardly ever been revived, the minimalist simplicity of his music appealed to a section of the public alienated by the complexities and lack of melody of the Boulez avant-garde. In spite of his eclectic style, Tavener had a recognisable individuality. What his critics found lacking was intellectual rigour and the capacity to develop themes rather than relying on reflective repetition.
He was knighted in the New Year Honours List in 2000.
In 1991 John Tavener married Maryanna Schaefer, whom he had first met in 1985 when she was 20. Their first engagement was broken off. She was received into the Orthodox Church in 1990 after instruction by Mother Thekla. He had one son and two daughters.
Sir John Tavener, born January 28 1944, died November 12 2013

Please tell me where I can live to avoid sharing a country with bankers who demand £4m a year, 40 times as much as the surgeon who might remove their brain tumour, 160 times as much as the teacher who gets their children through A-level, and 320 times as much as the woman who cleans their toilet? (It’s so unfair: why £4m a year just isn’t enough for a banker, 12 November).
Professor Charles Warlow
• One banker gets £6m, another has to make do with £4m. British aid to the Philippines £10m (Some towns still cut off from help in the ‘state of national calamity’, 12 November). Have we no shame?
Stephen Davies
Sandbach, Cheshire
•  Surely now is the time for those pensioners who don’t really need their winter fuel allowances, to donate their bonuses to the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan appeal?
John Saunders
• May I correct one assertion in your editorial (In praise of… Belfast’s Armistice Day, 12 November)? I am not a “nationalist” historian. Criticism of the headlong rush to embrace the slaughter of the first world war as some form of unifying force in Ireland is not confined to nationalists. For the record, my colour is red, not green.
Dr Brian Hanley
• Your article about “Europe’s first ‘nutrient recovery reactor'” (Slough harvests ‘plant Viagra’ from sewage, 6 November) is somewhat behind the times. Human waste – or night soil, to use the Victorian term – is reclaimed for fertiliser in many countries. In Bolton, Lancashire, the local authority used to sell it as a fertiliser under the name Boltonite in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Peter Williams
Surbiton, Surrey
• Why do you repeatedly publish letters from readers who have seen hot cross buns on sale some months in advance of Easter (Letters, 9 November)? If they are so interested in these matters they might have noticed that all the major supermarkets sell hot cross buns all year round, and have done for years.
Helen Simpson
Epping, Essex

When George Monbiot asked the question “And where beyond the Green party, Plaid Cymru, a few ageing Labour backbenchers, is the political resistance?” (Comment, 12 November), I took it he was referring to me and my comrades Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner, on the Labour backbenches. He’s got a point. With 16 months to go before the next election, we should be entering a period of intensive debate about the state of the country and the politics we want for the future. This hasn’t taken off yet and usually the last place to look for this is in parliament itself, with its often sterile knockabout politics. However, the meeting rooms are there and we should use them to bring some real politics to parliament. It might even infect the Commons chamber itself.
So the idea is to host a multitude of discussion groups, presentations, lectures, meetings and debates over the next 12 months on as wide a range of topics as people want to discuss. Make the place a People’s Parliament. If anyone knows a specialist in particular policy field with something useful to say, let me know and we’ll book the room, invite MPs, activists, academics, students and anyone else who wants to come and kick off a discussion. I’ve written off to invite George to speak already.
John McDonnell MP
Labour, Hayes and Harlington
• The military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us of has indeed taken over (Letters, 11 November). Corporations rule the world. All of us who share Russell Brand’s belief about voting should turn up at polling stations and write “None of the above” on our ballots.
Audrey Urry
Bridport, Dorset

On Saturday you ran a report and a letter on the events of Kristallnacht, which took place on that day 75 years ago. As a German national, I would be the first to agree that these events merit commemoration. However, 9 November also marks the date on which the German monarchy was abolished (1918), Hitler was defeated in his first attempt to take over power in Germany (1923), and on which the wall separating East Germany from the west came down (1989). All of these are major events in history, all of them are positive, but the one thing which appears to be associated with Germany is, yet again, the Nazis. Unlike other sections of the media, the Guardian has not been particularly guilty of Germanophobe tendencies. Please keep that up. Do report on Kristallnacht, but please put it in context. The large numbers of us expat Huns living in the UK are very tired of being constantly associated with events which occurred long before we were born.
Anke Neibig
Newcastle upon Tyne

The fallacy in John Harris’s argument (Comment, 11 November) is that the best higher education is chiefly sought by caring parents, commonly educated ones, recognising an all-round good when they see it. Modern public schools strive for, and largely achieve, academic excellence. That came about when, between the Butler and Crosland acts, they ran hard against the single-minded academic bent of the best grammars. Such parents rightly see comprehensives and post-comprehensives as a watering of education. This was demonstrated negatively across the Blair years in a regime of soft exams, softly marked, masking inadequate teaching and apathetic study. The public schools teach the languages, science, maths and better English which any half-good intelligence needs. Their deservedly better paid teachers stimulate intelligence and can talk to it. Accordingly, not-rich people will second-mortgage themselves to enrol a youngster. The rich do what they always did, the most advantageous thing. Attempting to turn education into a People’s Republic was a folly ignoring parental good sense, which doctrinaires resent and which those doctrinaires cannot abolish.
Edward Pearce
• John Harris’s article hits the nail on the head, but it’s important to remember that the overall record of grammar schools, even in the so-called golden age, of 1950s to the mid-60s was not good. In 1959 (see the Crowther Report), although they selected the brightest fifth at 11-plus, 40% of their pupils failed to pass more than three O-levels. Their positive role in facilitating the social mobility of pupils from working-class backgrounds was extremely limited. Among the brightest third of grammar school pupils, 33% from the poorest backgrounds (mostly children from the semi-skilled and unskilled working class) left school without a single O-level pass, and fewer than 0.3% of this group obtained two A-levels. Only a third of grammar school pupils stayed on into the sixth form; and even many of these were repeating O-levels rather than doing A-levels. Nowadays, pupils in the top streams of comprehensive schools would nearly all go into the sixth form or FE college, leave school/college with high grades at A-level and probably go on to university.
John Quicke

Janet Brindley’s letter on the unprotected title of “engineer” (6 November) was astute and I have personal experience of consequences. As an engineering student I am often asked by people why I want to become a mechanic. Although a brief explanation usually sets the record straight, it’s still perplexing to consider that even at 17 or 18 these people have not been made aware of the role an engineer in today’s increasingly STEM-centred world. There are limited options for those who strive to increase the intake of women into engineering while the people they are trying to inspire are subject to blatant misuse of the title by the likes of BT, which still insists on calling its technicians engineers. A thriving economy is a technological one. But before the British economy can thrive, we must follow the majority of Europe and pass legislation to protect engineers’ titles and allow the public to have a true appreciation and understanding of what it means to be an engineer.
George Anderson
Holt, Norfolk
• Janet Brindley gets right to the heart of the issue. Even the men who read the meters in England often claim to be engineers. I once addressed an Italian engineer as dottore, the title given to a university graduate. He bristled and glared at me. “Ingegnere,” he said. In Italy engineers are top of the tree, way above medical doctors, architects and lawyers, and certainly far superior to simple university graduates.
David Lane
• The same frustrated letter appears every few months or so in the papers from the engineer seeking to make a distinction between the design and management functions of the engineering profession, and the implementation effected by the constructors, plumbers and electricians, whom she would possibly prefer to have called “technicians”.
Of far more importance than making semantic distinctions between activity types is for young people entering at various levels to realise that they are part of the broader inclusive engineering profession. Progression from apprentice to incorporated or graduate engineer roles should be encouraged from the beginning of an individual’s career as an “engineer”.
Mark Spry
Luton, Bedfordshire
• Janet Brindley’s observation on the public perception of engineering is well illustrated by the fact that the Guardian has yet to mention the recent death of chemical process safety expert Trevor Kletz. Renowned around the world as a pioneer in his field, there is no doubt that many people working in the global chemical industry, producing the products that we take for granted in our daily life, have been kept safe in their workplace by the application of the principles that he established and tirelessly promoted.
John Attridge
• Perhaps Janet Brindley’s mechanic, electrician and jobbing builder might care to adopt the useful all-purpose designation of “schemer”, much like her illustrious 18th-century namesake, James Brindley, the Duke of Bridgewater’s engineer.
Victoria Owens

As a former soldier who served in Afghanistan, Joe Glenton speaks with some authority (Humans, not heroes, 9 November). In Glenton’s opinion, to understand why Marine A callously “executed” the wounded Afghan, consideration must be given to the “overarching political context” as well as the traumatising horrors encountered by frontline soldiers. Marine A had completed six tours of duty in Afghanistan. Laudably, Glenton prefers rational understanding to condemnation.
An understanding of a less rational kind for the marine’s predicament is already to be discerned in sections of the media. This will grow, inevitably evolving into mitigation, ending with a plea for leniency. Not an unfamiliar trajectory.
Understanding, however, is not being extended to the murdered Afghan, to the insurgent or terrorist as he is referred to, the bad guy in this narrative. To understand him, consideration must be given to the overarching context of his and of his community’s existence; the traumas of invasion and occupation; of military repression and collateral damage; of disruption and poverty. A continuing context that guarantees resistance and perhaps further callous killings.
John Lloyd
•  Those of us who remember the execution of three unarmed IRA members in Gibraltar will realise that double standards are being applied in the current court martial (Marine faces life for murder, 9 November). Sean Savage was shot 16 times at close quarters, in the back and in the head, but there was never any question of even bringing charges against those responsible.
In addition to unarmed combatants, multiple non-combatants have been killed by the British army and the RAF, from Derry to Basra, and from Aleksinac to Sirte. The conviction of this singular marine sergeant appears to be a politically driven set-piece, staged to persuade people that he is, as General Mike Jackson points out, one in 100,000.
It is also another indicator that the British establishment, along with its allies, has again made its “peace” with Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism in Afghanistan.
Peter McKenna
•  Joe Glenton’s article was a welcome alternative to the endless “hero worship” of soldiers he describes. As he says, “when a political decision is taken that puts men primed for violence into a war, bad things will happen”. Arguably it should have been on your front page rather than the more predictable comments from General Mike Jackson and his claim that “whoever we are, we are subject to the law”. Captain Mike Jackson, as he was then, was with the paratroopers when they shot dead 14 demonstrators in Derry in January 1972. It took him over 30 years to finally admit the victims were innocent and; I hope it doesn’t take him a similar amount of time to reach a “sense of perspective” on Afghanistan.
Declan O’Neill
•  The shooting dead of a badly wounded Afghan enemy soldier by a British one seemed horribly callous; but when men are trained and employed to kill on a nation’s behalf and brutalised and traumatised by doing so, we cannot be surprised that sometimes the brutality of killing wounded and unwounded men loses its distinction. The dynamic of violence is hard to break, and incarcerating one man won’t break it. If we stop trying to compartmentalise slaughter, we can face up to the fact that war itself is a crime against humanity.
Diana Francis
•  While not condoning for a moment the actions of Marine A, at least that was an action against an actual enemy combatant on the field of battle. I am struggling to understand the moral difference between this and a targeted drone-strike murder of a potential enemy combatant sitting quietly at home with his family. Is it the size of the missile used that makes all the difference?
Mark Wilson
Elmgate, Cornwall
•  Just imagine, in remembrance, if that marine had killed the same man a little earlier, in battle, we would have called him a hero and perhaps have given him a medal! Rest in peace.
John Pottinger

Court is not the problem
I was shocked that the African Union would ask for something so contrary to the rule of law and the proper functioning of a democracy (Africa asks: don’t target sitting leaders, 18 October). While I agree that there is something wrong in the fact the International Criminal Court (ICC) is only prosecuting Africans, it is not clear that the fault lies with the court itself.
It is astounding that the AU would seek to protect sitting leaders from ICC prosecution, a protection that is in direct conflict with the foundation of civil societies. Surely there must be some ability to prosecute sitting leaders where the evidence is strong and the crime serious or else government will be seen as the sanctuary for criminals.
Cynics would say the only corrupt leaders at risk of imprisonment are the ones who weren’t fully committed to undermining all civil and judicial norms. If they were more tenacious, they might embroil former colonial powers in their conflict or begin a civil war. This would raise the financial stakes and begin a humanitarian crisis, precipitating a comfortable exile or eventual front-page praise when they are forced to limit the scope of their slaughter. However, the ICC is working against this perception and the AU’s recent request undermines the ICC and the hopes of many Africans.
To prevent sitting leaders from rigging elections, embezzling, taking bribes, and more importantly torturing and murdering opposition leaders to maintain power, I suggest that one doesn’t tell them they are immune from prosecution so long as they remain in office. The AU’s attempt to protect sitting leaders only promotes the idea that a troubled incumbent should simply commit more crimes to stave off election defeat and prosecution.
To change the status quo, I suggest that the AU propose stronger civil protections rather than become an apologist for the crimes of sitting leaders.
Dave Scott
Toronto, Canada
Feigned ignorance is exposed
Some politicians have strenuously denied causal links between climate change and extreme weather when it suits them to do so. The current Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, denied such a connection in the case of the recent New South Wales bushfires (Bushfires “not down to climate change”, 1 November).
Increasingly, however, such feigned ignorance is being exposed. What is it about probability that these people do not understand? Professor Will Steffen, of the Australian National University, explained on ABC national radio recently that climate change “loads the dice” in favour of more frequent and more intense fires and cyclones.
Others point out that global reinsurers, whose business depends on accurately assessing risk, don’t doubt the link between climate change and catastrophic weather events. They increase their premiums accordingly.
The way to reduce climate change risk is to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And, as reports on the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut have shown, the sooner we do this, the less it will cost and the greater will be our chance of success.
David Teather
Canberra, Australia
• Two articles in the 1 November Guardian Weekly deserve further comment: World Roundup, Bushfires not down to climate change, and Environment, Stark warning on need for new targets in Australia.
Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, is hostile to warming science. Infamously on record as saying that “climate change is a load of crap”, he has criticised as “hogwash”, scientific opinion that temperature records throughout winter and spring are responsible for an early fire season. His disrespect for science is now policy. Without explanation, for the first time in 70 years, Australia is without a minister for science. He axed the position. Similarly, he is winding up the Australian Climate Change Authority.
These are not the actions of a prime minister with an inquiring mind. For Australians who wish to avert the worst effects of climate change, Abbott’s election and scientific illiteracy could not have come at a worse time. History’s naysayers have a new champion. Galileo and Darwin knew their kind.
Warren Tindall
Bellingen, NSW, Australia
A deadly chess game
John Pilger’s article, China’s role in Africa is Obama’s obsession (18 October) makes for scary reading: China’s bid for world hegemony is part of a deadly chess game in which the southern hemisphere land masses of Africa and Australia are exploited by China for their raw materials, and are simultaneously targeted by the US as sites for military bases – with China as their chief focus. Throw in a re-militarised Japan and a massive US build-up on Guam, and the world sits poised for Armageddon, for once without Israel in the mix.
Pilger needs to realise that it’s just the world’s two super powers jockeying for position. Nobody wants a war that cannot be won, especially “the son of Africa in the White House”, as Pilger disparagingly refers to Obama, who cares more about welfare reform at home than foreign adventures.
Dave Hughes
Lerala, Botswana
Offering an open forum
Two features in the 8 November Guardian Weekly have led me to the same conclusion: Spain’s communist model village and the item on the poll about the BBC’s alleged bias under News in brief. The first piece, an extract from the book The Village Against the World, by Dan Hancox, is unlikely to have been published by the popular media, with their emphasis on making the failed market system more acceptable to the public.
The second illustrates why I, and many like me, are consciously blind to the supposed leftwing bias of the BBC, the Guardian and, here in Australia, the ABC. It comes back to how we define intelligence. If we define it as the willingness and the capacity to take into account all the relevant data and to adapt our behaviour accordingly, then one fact becomes quite clear – all three institutions are simply fulfilling their charter: to offer an open forum for informed and informal debate on the key issues of today. In other words, to demonstrate the manifestation of collective intelligence.
If being unbiased must ultimately be reduced to offering equal exposure to all possible views on a topic, then perhaps the same sanction should be applied to the Murdoch media, with their universal manifesto, which is to support the status quo, regardless of the cost and long-term consequences. Which would of course mean expanding the current media almost exponentially.
Oh well, we would still have the Guardian Weekly, I suppose.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland Australia
Catton is a Canadian
The reference to “her native New Zealand” in Charlotte Higgins’ interview with Eleanor Catton (25 October) is incorrect. The Man Booker prize winner is not a native New Zealander. To turn a commonplace New Zealand patriotic description on its head, she is “Canadian-born”. Nevertheless, having read The Luminaries and despite having some reservations about its conceits, style and structure, I congratulate Catton on her skill, learning and effort in writing such an absorbing and monumental book. She fully deserves the critical acclaim, and the personal study she is looking forward to having.
Philip Evans
Eastleigh, UK
The admission by US secretary of state John Kerry that neither he nor the president were aware of some of the country’s surveillance activities must have come as a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration (8 November). Nevertheless, were it not for the revelations by Edward Snowden, both Kerry and his boss would still be in the dark on this matter. Isn’t it reasonable, therefore, to forgive Snowden for his action?
Shmaiel Nona
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
• The Beatles piece (1 November) will just nudge our memories. My first live concert at the Luton Odeon in September 1963: I heard nothing but saw all. Then the year after, I had a chance meeting at the airport with John, Cynthia, George and Pattie. Every LP was a mega-jump musically at that time. This band moved a generation as nothing will ever do.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France
• Regarding your story Arctic activists denied bail (25 October), an old Native American prophecy says: “There will come a time when the earth grows sick, and when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it … they will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow”.
Irmgard Clay
Berlin, Germany
• As Suzanne Moore says (1 November), and we who ride buses can confirm, parents with “buggies as big as cars” not only crowd the pavements but the aisles too. Many of the children reclining in them, looking blissfully contented like pashas, are actually old enough to walk. We must assume that either they don’t want to, or their parents have conveniently opted for the cart over the slower hand-in-hand.
Richard Orlando
Montreal, Canada
• While I enjoy your World roundup map on pages 2 and 3, I am disappointed that the paper, with its liberal world outlook, chooses to use the colonial-era Mercator projection. Africa is shrunk to the size of North America, and India is depicted scarcely larger than the British Isles. Wouldn’t the Peters world map be more appropriate for the paper?
David Cotter
Woodbridge, UK



It was, in the postwar decades, possible to start work at 16 and take further study to become an accountant, lawyer or doctor
Sir, Many of your readers would agree with Professor Turner (letters, Nov 12) that our political and administrative system seems unable to put “the right people in place to make sound decisions”. We need to be more like the Germans, he says.
He thinks greater equality would help, but equality is the consequence, not the creator, of a fair society. The greatest contribution to equality would be to reverse the foolish idea that almost half the population should be graduates before they are fit for intelligent work.
In the past we had a better (and, incidentally, more Germanic) approach. It was, in the postwar decades, possible to start work at 16 and, starting with the equivalent of GCSE-level education, take further study to become an accountant, lawyer, doctor, engineer or even, like Sir John Major, a banker.
The advantages of this system are obvious: the professions accepted young people from a wider social base and even the disadvantaged could get a foot on the ladder. There was no debt to worry about, the student was working for a modest (but viable) living wage. And young people were mixing and learning from colleagues of all ages and backgrounds.
Why not encourage the professions (including education) to take the initiative to re-establish this system? Society would be “fairer” because the doors to the professions would still be open to all. We might even provide politicians with more experience of working life.
David Boorer
Llandovery, Carmarthenshire
Sir, The problems facing modern Britain and wider Europe are not purely a matter of social inequality, but also a reflection of profound regional differences.
Postwar Britain has struggled with the decline of its industrial regions of Wales, Scotland and the North, in contrast to the prosperous service sector of the South East, which is geographically closer to Europe. Hence the appeal of HS2, which will bring the periphery, in effect, closer to the core.
France’s economy is still heavily agricultural and dependent on EU subsidies while Germany is literally the technocratic core of Europe with prosperous industrial and service sectors. Location matters hugely in the EU, as do the structural problems associated with the decline of traditional agricultural and industrial sectors. These fundamental geographical differences are far more significant than elitism or social inequality, and also help to explain why the peripherally located states of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and the peripheral regions of Italy and the UK, continue to experience economic hardship with higher rates of unemployment.
Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent
Sir, Professor Turner, a distinguished engineer, makes an unwitting second point when he cites the excellence of decision-taking in Germany. In that country many of those with the highest ambition take a degree in engineering — not necessarily because they want to pursue a career in the profession but because it is highly regarded as a unique combination of creative problem-solving and numerical tough-mindedness. In Britain those who seek power and influence choose an arts degree. Too simplistic a factor?
Dr David Brancher
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire


Responding to violence against women and girls is not optional in conflicts, crises and natural disasters of the type now unfolding in the Philippines
Sir, Today the UK is hosting a summit at Lancaster House seeking international action to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in emergency situations.
Responding to violence against women and girls is not optional in conflicts, crises and natural disasters of the type now unfolding in the Philippines — it is lifesaving. As NGOs which support projects on the ground, we see how assisting women and girls in the immediate and longer term is vital. Within the first 48-72 hours, the very first needs assessment by field workers trained in gender issues should focus on risk of and response to violence against women and girls. Over the longer term, we should invest in action to stop all forms of violence against women and girls before crises happen.
We must work together to ensure that women emerge stronger, not weaker, from a crisis.
Geoffrey dennis, Chief Executive, CARE International UK; Carolyn Makinson, Executive Director, International Rescue Committee UK; Tanya Barron, Chief Executive, Plan UK; Nuria Molina, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, ActionAid UK
Sir, This morning, when our screens were full of the Philippines disaster, I received two international number-withheld calls inviting me to contribute to a market research survey into my investment habits and interests. After much prompting, the inquiring young woman eventually revealed that she was speaking from the Philippines after which we engaged in a mutual exchange about the disaster, her family, and my own reminiscences from business visits to Manila more than 30 years ago. It is encouraging to find that the world of international finance has got its priorities right no matter what the environment may throw at us.
Martin Knowles
Colchester, Essex

Successive governments have, rightly or wrongly, promised patients the right to be seen when, where and by whom they desire
Sir, As a GP I am one of the NHS assets which your leading article (“Winter Crisis”, Nov 11) is advocating sweating to solve the A&E crisis. I am afraid that no matter how much the assets are sweated the genie of demand is well and truly out of the bottle, liberated by successive governments which have, rightly or wrongly, promised patients the right to be seen when, where and by whom they desire.
This has been actively encouraged by the establishment of walk-in centres. Most are run by private companies which have a vested interest in encouraging demand for the treatment of minor illness since most are paid a set fee per consultation whether the problem is a sore throat or a chronic illness.
A culture has arisen whereby many patients do not wish to make an appointment, no matter how “convenient”. They want to walk in and be seen immediately — whether this is at a walk-in centre or A&E.
Dr Mike Betterton

This reader ran into real problems trying to identify herself when her husband died, because everything had been in his name
Sir, Richard Young’s difficulty proving his identity following his mother’s death (letter, Nov 13) reminds me of the problems I encountered when my husband died.
As I am elderly I no longer had a current driving licence, and my passport had expired. All my utility bills were in my husband’s name. Nothing else seemed to be sufficient. And to crown everything, I had to give up my credit card, which had been in joint names, with the husband’s name first. As I had never had any debts in my name during my 84 years I was not eligible to apply for credit in my own right.Loraine Brown Weymouth

The worries about children cheating in primary school tests could be eliminated if all exams were moved to a fully online system
Sir, Secondary school teachers watching over primary school tests to stamp out suspicions of cheating (report, Nov 11) could well be a solution to an obsolete problem, should all exams be moved online. The concerns about the reliability of “high stakes” assessment could be solved by online adaptive tests which could be used to benchmark and monitor pupils throughout their education.
We are approaching an age in which technology will be embraced by a generation of teachers who grew up with it, and we must welcome this as an answer to the crises of confidence in our exams system.
David HansonChief Executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools Leamington Spa, Warks


SIR – The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, speaks common sense. In our household, we do £20 stockings. That’s the budget, and it all has to come from charity shops. You’d be surprised what you can find, such as a Jaeger cashmere sweater for £4.
With a bit of imagination, Christmas morning can be as loving and affectionate as the Archbishop would like, without breaking the bank.
Tim Palmer
Poole, Dorset
SIR – Many families feel obliged to buy a Christmas present for every other member of the family – often buying unwanted goods in the process. A few years ago my daughter thought up “a cunning plan”: a month before Christmas, we all meet together, and the name of each family member is put in a hat. You then buy a present for whichever relative’s name you draw. The scheme does not, of course, apply to presents for the children.
Don Roberts
Prenton, Wirral

SIR – The birth of Jesus is certainly a cause for happy celebration, but it is hardly an excuse for gross overindulgence and a huge shopping spree.
Donations to good causes would be a better use of Christmas spending money. Let children’s Christmas gifts be the “get up and do” type rather than “sit and watch”. Let Christmas cards depict the Bethlehem story. Above all, let the over-riding message be peace on earth and goodwill to all men.
Robert Smith
Llangadog, Carmarthenshire

SIR – Your correspondents are outraged by the potential life sentencing of Marine A. If we accept his actions as reasonable, what separates us from terrorists? It was not a “moment of madness” in the heat of battle. There were six minutes of relaxed conversation between the participants before Marine A murdered the victim and informed his comrades that he had broken the Geneva Convention.
Our Armed Forces display the highest standards of conduct, and that is why we are so proud of them. Marine A must be punished severely.
John Roberts
SIR – As the only member of the general public to attend the trial of Marines A, B and C, I can offer a view not open to Boris Johnson and General Sir Nick Houghton.
While it may be legally correct for them to comment on the sentence to be awarded to Marine A, it is, nevertheless, objectionable that they should do so. The judge is perfectly capable of determining sentence without field marshals, politicians and public officials queuing up to add their “judicial” weight. Hearing the evidence is the only true way of assessing guilt, and having a view on the sentence.
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12 Nov 2013
I saw the video at least 10 times, and each time I learnt something more. Without seeing it and hearing the rest of the evidence in context, it is all too easy to add to the noise. Inside the court, the video added light, but outside the court it adds only heat. You must hear what the marines themselves say, as well as what the prosecution, defence and Judge Advocate say, before you can form a view.
Colonel John Wilson
Editor, British Army Review (2002-2011)
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – During the Second World War the commanding officer of the submarine Torbay ordered the machine-gunning of German troops in the water after their boat had been sunk. Also, the commanding officer of submarine Stubborn ordered Japanese troops to be shot after their boat sank. Neither was censured.
Irregular combatants have always been liable to summary justice.
Ian Thompson
Corsham, Wiltshire
SIR – I am a little puzzled. The President of the United States sends in a force unannounced to kill bin Laden in a foreign country and throws the body into the ocean; this is accepted as legal, and the troops return as heroes. A soldier kills a member of the Taliban, whom we are fighting because they do unspeakable things to the Afghan population and our troops, and he faces a life in jail.
G M Oldroyd
St Martins, Guernsey
Politics and privilege
SIR – Sir John Major objects to the dominance of the privately educated elite in public life.
I am more concerned that so few of our political leaders have any practical business experience.
Arthur Ord-Hume
Guildford, Surrey
SIR – Sir John Major’s comments about the advantages in adult life of a private education are not an attack on those who choose to share their good fortune, whether inherited or earned, with their children. They are a condemnation of a society that today tolerates under-performance in the state system.
Tony Pay
Bridge of Cally, Perthshire
SIR – For the record, Sir John Major was educated at Rutlish grammar school, not at a comprehensive. His own upward mobility was, as with many others, a result of the grammar school system.
Ian Robson
Foxcote, Gloucestershire
SIR – It doesn’t matter one jot whether the people who run this country were educated privately or at the local comprehensive.
The public expects its MPs, irrespective of their party, to be capable, to have complete integrity and to be prepared to listen seriously to the views of the people who elect them. Unfortunately, these expectations are rarely met.
Keith Moore
Yoxford, Suffolk
SIR – It seems a bit rich for Sir John Major to complain about the educational divide. I don’t recall that he did very much about it when he had the opportunity.
Andrew Dyke
London N2
Aid to the Philippines
SIR – Yesterday, on the Today programme, a minister was asked: “What are we doing to provide aid to the Philippines?” Does the BBC not realise we have no bases left east of Suez from which we can despatch task forces? We no longer have substantial naval forces anywhere in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. We cannot even send an aircraft carrier with essential helicopters, medical supplies, food and fresh water.
Bill Woodhouse
Mappowder, Dorset
Surface-to-air mail
SIR – We routinely post our overseas Christmas cards by surface mail before the deadline date. It is a cause of annual amusement to our friends in America that our card often arrives before Thanksgiving in late November.
We have since learnt that surface mail rarely, if ever, goes by a slow boat but is classed as non-priority air freight. So, depending on cargo demand, it might be flown out within only a few days.
Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire
Speedy snail’s pace
SIR – I was in the fast lane on the M1 when I noticed a snail on the top of my right wing-mirror, the wind of passage almost sucking the shell from his body. He slowly descended to the most sheltered corner at the bottom of the mirror, pulled in his head and glued himself down. He was still there when I returned from my engagement so I was able to chauffeur him safely home. He was gone the next morning.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Northwoord, Middlesex
Failing midwives
SIR – As a paediatrician specialising in children with disabilities, I am often asked to examine forensically the medical records of children who have died or have severe disability possibly related to events around birth. Often the baby’s heart rate showed obvious signs of worsening distress in labour, yet nothing was done by the midwives to alert the obstetrician until it was too late. The midwives seem to take it as a personal failure if they cannot deliver the baby without medical help. When they are called, junior obstetricians seem to fear they will be accused of medical interference if they intervene.
Numerous parents, junior doctors and medical students have told me that they have heard midwives make derogatory, unprofessional comments about doctors and seen them bully junior obstetricians.
It is often recommended that staff are given more training in the interpretation of fetal heart rate monitoring. But this is to miss the point. We need to start saying the unsayable. Just as we have heard of many recent cases of poor nursing care related to poor attitudes, the same is true on the labour ward. It is the parents who have to bear for the rest of their lives the consequences of having a permanently handicapped child.
Dr Charles Essex
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
BT’s goal average
SIR – BT wants to spend nearly £1 billion to become the “king of sport” broadcasting. It’s a shame it still can’t provide a comprehensive broadband service throughout Britain – a goal that is supposedly at the heart of making us a leading digital nation.
My village sits between Canterbury and Dover (hardly the rural wilds) and yet BT’s broadband service is barely better than the old dial-up speed.
Duncan Lamb
Barham, Kent
Uneaten cat food
SIR – I also struggle to puzzle out what my three cats will deign to eat each week. But nothing’s ever wasted really.
The hedgehogs will eat meaty cat food, and I can put any unopened tins or packets in the supermarket container for donations to our local cats charity.
Maureen Covey
Farnham, Surrey
Fee reductions have resulted in a more elitist Bar
SIR – The junior Bar has traditionally learnt the skills needed to practise by gaining experience in straightforward criminal cases and low-value civil actions. But the criminal Bar has been decimated by fee reductions, and the recent changes to civil fees, mainly in personal injury claims, have reduced fees to such a level that solicitors will not be able to instruct barristers but will employ in-house advocates.
The changes, introduced at the behest of the insurance industry, will result in the Bar not being instructed for low-value civil claims. Hence, the junior Bar has virtually no work available to it. Only those privileged few with unearned income will be able to come to the Bar.
It is desperately sad to see young people emerging from university and seeking to join chambers only for those of us in practice to have to warn them that there will soon be no work to do and that they should use their talents elsewhere.
Tim White

Irish Times:

Sir, – There are more than 200,000 vacant houses /apartments (which are not holiday homes) in Ireland, according to the 2011 Census.
Surely it must be possible for our Government to find a way of offering accommodation in a large number of dwellings to victims of the Philippines disaster, and seek funding from the rest of Europe or the world to support these poor unfortunate people, until such a time as they have been able to get their feet back on the ground.
Irish people are now very familiar with people from the Philippines working and living here, and their track record of being hard-working, gentle and caring people. Hopefully we could try to repay some of that caring to them and their families. – Yours, etc,
Woodland Park,
Letterkenny, Co Donegal.
Sir, – Full credit to the Americans when due. Now let’s see Chinese supply ships and maybe even a tanker from Iran to fuel them all? We can all work together. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am incensed by the news that the emergency department at St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown is to close at the end of the month (Home News, November 7th).
My family live in a rural area of Co Wicklow and in 2005 we suffered a tragic loss when the ambulance could not find our address in time to save my father’s life.
Last year, a member of An Garda Síochána called to our house to inquire about the exact details of our address in a bid to update the GPS systems of emergency vehicles so that such services might function more effectively. The question was an unexpected reminder of our loss, but I was heartened to learn that technology was finally catching up with our rural community’s needs.
However, we now understand that the closure of St Columcille’s emergency department will mean that an ambulance will have to travel a further 11.5km, from St Vincent’s University Hospital to the sick or injured; adding at least an extra 14 minutes to the travel time. In addition to this, citizens of south Dublin will have to wait longer for ambulances to return from distant parts of Wicklow, culminating in increased pressure on the service.
We do not need help to join the dots; a loss of this emergency department will amount to one thing, a loss of lives. I do not want another family to suffer the same lesson we experienced; but unless Wicklow residents take matters into their own hands, I fear that a potentially tragic and devastating future awaits. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Mark Coen (November 9th), supports the redefinition of same-sex marriage with a flourish of high optimism: “A referendum is therefore necessary if equality is to be achieved”.
However, marriage has always, at least implicitly, included the procreative goal of the union of a man and a woman in mutual support and companionship, so that even if a referendum result favours your correspondent’s position – and this is by no means a foregone conclusion – this merely yields a situation where we will have two mutually exclusive definitions of “marriage”.
Granted the passing of a referendum may produce a new legal definition, but it will not confer a genuine equality. How could it ever accomplish what is beyond its remit? – Yours, etc,
A chara, – William F Doyle (November 11th) reiterates Joe Foyle’s estimate ( October 21st) that about 75 per cent of current school leavers must emigrate “soon after leaving school”.
Figures recently released by the Department of Education and Science (May 2013) show that 44 per cent of school leavers enrol directly in HEA-funded higher education courses in Ireland; 7 per cent go on to private higher education courses in Ireland and abroad; 20 per cent go on to post-Leaving Certificate courses; 8 per cent attend Fás courses or other further education or training courses; 10 per cent go directly into employment; and 7 per cent are in receipt of social welfare. Less than 5 per cent of school-leavers emigrate or are involved in seasonal employment abroad, “soon after leaving school”. – Yours, etc,
Mapas Road,

Sir, – The Department of Transport (Breaking News, November 8th) has asked the National Road Authority to trial run newly designed road signs to give the Irish language parity with English on the country’s roads. It would appear this costly exercise will be rolled out on the recommendation of the Irish language pressure group, Conradh na Gaeilge, which would have us believe that at least 50 per cent of our population are Irish speakers.
In the interest of safety on our roads, signs should have a minimum of essential information and should not be used to progress the learning of a language. – Yours, etc,
Braemor Road,

Sir, – Sligo County Council is being criticised by many for defending the court case taken by the owners of Lissadell regarding public rights of way, because of the massive costs involved.
It did this only after the owners had refused mediation and negotiation. In those circumstances, should the council merely have rolled over to the demands of a wealthy, powerful couple? Surely then, many would have criticised it for lack of regulation – which has been the accusation levelled at many institutions in this country.
We cannot have it both ways.
I would hold that this case highlights lack of legal clarity on this issue, and that it has made obvious the urgent need for further legislation before public rights of way throughout Ireland disappear. – Yours, etc,
Ballinful, Co Sligo.

Sir, – What a strikingly beautiful photograph on your Front page (“Wanderer above a sea of green: Clear skies at the Sugarloaf” by Eric Luke, November 9th),
I imagine it was enough to encourage many into the great outdoors over the past weekend to enjoy the fine weather that prevailed. I sincerely hope, however, that neither your photographer nor the hillwalker pictured, suffered the same fate that befell myself and a number of other visitors to the exact same spot on the previous Sunday. When we returned to the car park we found our vehicles had been broken into, windows smashed and items of varying value had been stolen.
I understand from speaking to the gardaí who arrived soon afterwards that this is a particularly vulnerable spot for this type of theft. I would like to warn other intending visitors to this particular location of the potential risk to their vehicles and property because judging by the lack of response to my queries to Wicklow County Council to date, it is clear it has no intention of doing so. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – As an enthusiast for North-South co-operation and a lifelong soccer fan, can I welcome the Taoiseach’s brilliant suggestion for an all-Ireland team to come together every two years to play against England and raise funds for children’s hospitals in Belfast and Dublin (Breaking News, November 8th). That’s what I call smart thinking. Just one suggestion: in the interest of “parity of esteem”, shouldn’t a third of the money go to a children’s hospital in London? – Yours, etc,
Palmerston Road,
Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The report on plagiarism at GMIT may or may not be published this week.
Any discussion or analysis of cheating at third level must be considered in the wider context of our society, government policy, and the choices we all make.
The high-profile cases that have come to light in recent years do not represent failures of the systems in place to prevent plagiarism, but rather failures of the elaborate mechanisms in place to keep it hidden. Data protection, privacy, and confidentiality are routinely invoked to protect students who cheat and those who turn a blind eye to them. Staff that attempt to address plagiarism risk sanctions and bullying.
Acceptance of cheating is an integral part of the corporate cultures and business models of many higher education institutions. Every year thousands of students enter third level lacking either the basic skills or work ethic required to succeed legitimately. An acceptance of cheating is the only way to ensure that they stay in education.
That so many of our young people go on to third level makes us all feel good. But if we want a higher education sector that produces competent, hard working, honest graduates, we may have to face reality, and find viable alternatives for those other people who have no business there. Until then, we can be genuinely shocked by cheating scandals, but not genuinely surprised. – Yours, etc,
Department of Computing,

Sir, – The city of Galway is gearing up to make a bid for the title of City of Culture in 2020. It is difficult to consider how, at least at present, the city can reconcile such a bid with the atrocious behaviour of Galway City Council concerning grant allocations for the arts.
Macnas, following a very successful Halloween parade, saw its grant slashed from €32,000 to €24,000. Other arts groups saw a similar degradation in funding, with the 12-year-old Western Writers’ Centre receiving the grand sum of €300. No, that is not a typo. The city fathers seem to be betting hard on the new €7 million-plus art-house cinema to carry them successfully over the line. Galway City Council has no defined arts policy. The result was what was described as ‘horse-trading’ in the council chamber over grant allocations. I was there as a member of the public and witnessed depressing, embarrassing scenes.
Before any bid is made for the City of Culture title, perhaps Galway City Council could explain how it manages to give a writers’ centre €300 after 12 years of operation; while pouring millions into an art-house cinema, when an art-house facility can already be found in Galway’s The Eye cinema (which has been there for some years). – Yours, etc,
Circular Road, Galway.

A chara, – Ciarán Connolly (November 11th) claims, “The red poppy is unambiguously about remembrance of the war dead and there is nothing to suggest that it advocates war.”
This is untrue. The decision to use a red poppy to raise funds for the Earl Haig Fund – named in honour of General “The Butcher” Haig, whose contempt for the ordinary soldier can be gauged from the zeal with which he sent hordes of them to their deaths for no discernible gain in the prosecution of a war fought for imperial ambitions – was inspired by the pro-war poem In Flanders Fields, which emphasises the need for vengeance and exhorts soldiers to continue to kill people.
Although the term “Earl Haig Fund” is no longer used, the poppy continues to be associated with the Royal British Legion, which never misses an opportunity to utilise it as a propaganda tool for recruiting new cannon fodder and for promoting continued British military aggression abroad.
By way of contrast, the white poppy seeks to commemorate all victims of war, and to promote an end to all wars. To dismiss this alternative symbol as “liberal PC claptrap . . . denigrating all that is venerable” strikes me as rather irrational. – Yours, etc,
Lower Rathmines Road,
Dublin 6.
Sir, –  An example of a delusive prejudice that has shown remarkable staying power is the one Brian Hanley (Opinion, November 9th) cites against the wearing of the poppy on Remembrance Day.  The poppy is a symbol of those who died in first World War.  Among those were the tens of thousands of Irishmen, our relatives who loved and were loved and now lie in some cemetery in France, Belgium, Gallipoli and the Middle East.  These men were not sent, as Mr Hanley states; they joined up.  John Redmond didn’t send them out to die; they volunteered.
“I joined the British Army”, the poet Francis Ledwidge explained, “because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation.  I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but passed resolutions.”  
One of the aims of our association  is to expose the tragedy of war and contribute to its prevention.  To write as Mr Hanley does that the wearing of the poppy only encourages those “who want to justify that war” is contemptible and an insult to those Irishmen who gave their lives in defence of freedom.
“Many of those who promote the memory of the first World War are critics of Irish republicanism”, states Mr Hanley.  Where is the objectivity here?  There is no empirical evidence to support this and it is unworthy of a historian.  Even the great republic of the United States could not stand aside when the conviction dawned that the first World War could make the world safer for democracy. – Yours, etc,
(Connaught Rangers
Co Roscommon.

Sir, – John Robinson (November 12th) suggests burying cables as an alternative to overground pylons. However, underground cables are not the panacea that many think.
First, EirGrid does not posses any Channel Tunnel-style undergrounds boring plant. Therefore, laying cables involves the very destructive process of excavating a route before they can be laid. Second, once the cables are laid it’s not just back to life as normal. For maintenance and safety reasons there needs to be a substantial sterilised corridor maintained above ground and effectively renders the area above the cables useless.
This is in addition to the vastly increased cost and maintenance difficulties that attend laying underground power cables. – Yours, etc,
Christ’s College,

Sir, – According to recent reports we are about to exit the bail out. But I question if this is so. Some years ago, Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, stated: “The economic and social crisis, and the consequent increase in poverty, has its causes in policies inspired by those forms of neoliberalism that consider profits and the laws of the market as absolute parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of people and nations”.
Unfortunately, this kind of analysis has not been mentioned in recent times in Ireland. We would benefit if this would be taken seriously. Let us not be deceived by the illusion that everything will be okay when it is business as usual. – Yours, etc,
Calle Sagrado Corazón de

Sir, – At a time of natural and man-made disasters, what a joy it is to read Lara Marlowe’s review of the Braque exhibition (Arts&Ideas, November 11th), vividly recalling his response to two terrible wars. How wonderful that The Irish Times can help us rise above the daily angst. – Yours, etc,
West 77 Street,
New York, US.

Sir, – Parents are to be balloted about what children (presumably up to age 18/19) are to wear at school (Home News, November 11th). In recent times architects have won awards for designing school buildings without considering the people who inhabit them, their parents or the staff who work in them.
As usual, the people at the centre of this debate, children, are not to be asked their opinion. That would require respect, empowerment of children and democracy. We’d then have to consider them citizens. How awful! – Yours, etc,

The framing of Justin Timberlake for a crime he didn’t commit should be a warning to all about the dangers of ever rushing to judgment.
You couldn’t listen to a radio programme in recent days without hearing the American singer accused of murdering The Auld Triangle, Dominic Behan’s classic jail ballad. In the ears of some purists, he might as well have killed Luke Kelly too while he was at it: so inextricably linked is the latter with Behan’s song.
Not even Timberlake’s own protestations of innocence – to his 28 million Twitter followers – cowed the lynch mob, although of course that’s often the case with persons wrongly accused. His fingerprints were at the scene of the crime. That was enough for some.
But I for one believed his story that, as featured in a new movie about the folk scene in 1960s New York, the main singing role on The Auld Triangle was performed by a band called the Punch Brothers. In the course of my subsequent inquiries, I found a YouTube video from 2012 of the same band, performing the song in London, with a voice identical to the one I’d heard on radio.
The Punch Brothers are an American group who play “Progressive Bluegrass” (which, by the way, sounds like something Teagasc should be trying to eradicate). And in fairness to the singer, a certain Chris Thile, he apologises in advance to the London audience for his “fake Irish accent” on the song, which he said he’d learned for a forthcoming movie.
His apology was probably unnecessary in the context. The London audience had clearly never heard The Auld Triangle before. They listened in awkward silence at first, before an outbreak of relieved laughter at the last verse – the one where the singer wishes he was in the women’s prison – as if they’ve just worked out what this is: a funny song.
But on behalf of its country of origin, where the ballad is considered anything but funny, I accept Mr Thile’s plea of mitigation on the fake brogue charge. In a spirit of clemency, I hereby apply the Probation Act, with the proviso that he doesn’t attempt anything else in an Irish accent, or otherwise attract the attention of the court again, in the near future.
As for the musical element of his version, it’s not at all bad. In fact, I think the harmonised chorus, which does involve Timberlake, as well as Marcus Mumford, is at least as good as the Dubliners’ version. So shoot me.

People can be very proprietorial about what they see as definitive versions of classic songs. But I was watching that TV documentary on Tuesday night about Danny Boy – the mother and father of all Irish ballads, 100 years old now in the lyrical version – and what struck me most was the astonishing variety of styles to which it lends itself.
Danny Boy has probably been murdered more often than any other song in history. But the murders were usually domestic – and in fact, that’s part of the tradition. If you’re Irish, the right to sing Danny Boy badly is a birthright.
It’s hard to believe that a song ritually slaughtered by countless uncles at innumerable Irish weddings and funerals could have been made his own by the US soul singer Jackie Wilson and turned into a sexy, slinky dance number. Yet there it was, with footage of smooching couples from 1960s Black America to prove it.
Sometimes the accent on the song was changed in more ways than one. Johnny Cash, for example, used to explain that it was about a young man “fighting in the Irish rebellion”. Which would have been news to Fred Weatherly.
In Weatherly’s original, it was so impeccably neutral – or just vague – about where the pipes were calling that it could serve as an anthem for both Falls and Shankill, as it did in the 1980s, when Barry McGuigan fought for Ireland, cheered on by both sides of the sectarian divide.
Getting back to the Auld Triangle, however, and to people having feelings of ownership about it, I gather that the Americans who have covered it include in inevitable Bob Dylan. He performed it during the Basement Tapes sessions of 1967, although it didn’t make the cut when a selection of that much-bootlegged material was officially released in 1975.
Which is perhaps just as well, because he did record a version of another song he picked up from Dominic Behan, The Patriot Game. And even though the air was traditional, and Dylan rewrote the lyrics, Behan still felt very proprietorial. He was convinced that the remodelled ballad was his. And according to Liam Clancy, “he plagued Dylan about it for the rest of his days”.

Irish Independent:

* I was very disappointed to see the usually insightful Robert Fisk descending to the most base populism in order to back up his specious – perhaps fatuous is a better word – argument concerning the wearing of the poppy (Irish Independent, November 9).
Also in this section
Unbearable pressure on country’s youth
Now put real power in Seanad’s hands
Adams, apologise to West Belfast
Using peremptory phrases like “crime against humanity” to describe the Great War and “obscene fashion appendage” for the poppy, Mr Fisk believes that just because World War I may have been “devoid of meaning” that means we shouldn’t remember the men who died in it through the wearing of the poppy.
He wonders why the dead of Agincourt or Waterloo are not remembered to the same extent. Quite obviously this is because of the proximity of the First World War to ourselves and the fact that the scale of suffering endured was far greater.
Also he seems to have an irrational hatred of the “butcher” Earl Haig – a man responsible for strategic blunders which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, no doubt, but a man also responsible more than anyone else for aiding the British veterans of the war.
Every respected historian knows the ‘lions led by donkeys’ argument is nonsense – more officers died in relation to their numbers than did ordinary soldiers – but this is underlying Fisk’s whole column.
There is essentially no good reason not to wear the poppy. The poppy remembers the men who gave their lives, not the glory of war.
James McGovern
Drumcondra, Dublin 9
* This Christmas, thousands of people will sit down and watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on television, Frank Capra’s gem about the little man finding hope when things are bleak.
In this little masterpiece, George Bailey runs the Business and Loan institution which helps people to buy a home or fund a business without having to use the town bank, which is run by the profit-driven Mr Potter.
The Building and Loan finds itself in trouble and Mr Potter sees a way of getting his hands on it, thus getting his greedy fingers on the money and needs of the town’s people. But luckily, the people bond together and save the Building and Loan from Potter and his wish to bleed them dry just for his own profit.
When you are watching this piece of fiction this Christmas, siding with George Bailey and the townspeople of Bedford Falls against Mr Potter, think of your local credit union and what it will become if it just becomes another bank: solely existing to make profits for shareholders and investors.
Frank Capra wasn’t just a filmmaker, he was a philosopher.
Darren Williams
Sandyford, Dublin
* Reading the article by Deirdre Conroy (Irish Independent, November 9) with regard to the culture of intolerance the banks have towards customers, I knew I could not have written it better.
As a personal elderly customer, I will answer Deirdre’s question as to how bewildering the situation is for elderly people who need personal attention. Very scary and bewildering indeed, as the care and personal touch for all customers in these so-called pillar institutions is completely a thing of the past.
So, as Deirdre says, we must try and preserve what’s best about the local credit unions for as long as we can, where old basic good manners and personal attention to customers still prevail for the moment.
Brian McDevitt
Ardconnaill, Glenties, Co Donegal
* Imagine 10,000 people drowned in Dublin. Meditate on what it would be like if the homes of 100,000 were devastated. Think of the tens of thousands lucky to survive but with no food, clothes, sanitary facilities or drinking water.
That is my reflected picture just to bring home the true devastation following Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 10,000 people in the city of Tacloban in the Philippines. A catastrophe beyond comprehension.
I deliberately compared Dublin to emphasise the stark reality, having met some very fine Filipinos in my time. They are a friendly people, popular in Ireland and parts of their culture and customs resemble ours.
Compliments to our Government for their speed in delegating €1m aid and for joining with the many other voluntary charities in providing what help was possible.
I suggest the churches now specify a national day of prayer – with the possibility of having in place provision for all Christians to make a donation, however small, to show their solidarity with the stricken people of the Philippines.
Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocity helps all of us reflect on our good luck and why we should be ever grateful to the Lord for our balanced climate.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* I take issue with the article regarding Martin O’Neill’s appointment as the national soccer coach (Irish Independent Review, Saturday, November 9) and its headline ‘From Derry council house to Ireland manager’. The clumsy point is at best irrelevant and at worst both insulting and patronising.
Soccer is a working-class game and therefore most people who rise to prominence in the sport, as either a player or a manager (or both, as in the case of Mr O’Neill), come from such a background.
It might be pointed out that Mr O’Neill’s No 2, Roy Keane, who has garnered just as much publicity as a result of his appointment, grew up in Cork’s Mayfield and not in Montenotte. Likewise some of Mr O’Neill’s predecessors – Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton – were hardly reared in palaces.
The article said Mr O’Neill had acquired a law degree before he entered the world of professional sport, so his upbringing was obviously not a hindrance. As someone who comes from a council estate, do I deserve a pat on the head for the achievement of writing a letter?
Paul McCabe
Navan, Co Meath
* I’ve just met a friend who I hadn’t seen for a long time. He and his partner have endured years of hell and brimstone, 22 years of the kind of love only God could instil in human beings. You see, Karl met Jeff after Jeff had been infected by HIV but he loved him anyway.
He took on all the risks of being with someone who not only had a death sentence, but who also would put him in danger of the same sentence.
The moment Jeff would become too sick to make his own decisions, Jeff’s mother would bar Karl from the hospital as was her right as his next of kin. But Jeff got better and went home to Karl. But the devastation was terrible; how can someone choose between their mother and partner?
If he was heterosexual, he could have married Karl. As it was, there was no legal way of protecting Karl from being left waiting outside a hospital room, wondering what was happening inside, with the staff legally constrained from telling him anything.
For a while, Jeff got sicker more often, and eventually it took too much of a toll. Jeff didn’t have the energy to fight his mother any more and this fight was taking its toll on his fragile health. Karl and Jeff broke up. Karl went into a spiral of alcohol addiction.
Jeff got better and over a number of years, he and Karl drifted slowly back into the relationship they always had, a marriage. Something neither you nor his mother could ever break. They’re now reaching their 22nd year, an old couple, happy and together.
A true marriage is sanctioned by God and can never be broken by man or his laws. What God has joined together, let no man tear apart. It just doesn’t have to be between a man and a woman.
Pauline Bleach
Wolli Creek, NSW 2205 Australia
Irish Independent

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