17 November 2013 Stef and Sharland
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.
Our heroes are in trouble they are to have an inspection by the admirals. Priceless.
Quiet Stef and Sharland come to call
The Scrabble game collapsed half way through my fault
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor – Obituary
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor was a scholar who wrote a popular guide to the Holy Land and was not afraid to question the Gospels
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
5:51PM GMT 15 Nov 2013
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, who has died aged 78, was a Dominican priest, a leading authority on biblical archaeology and Professor of New Testament studies at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, the oldest Roman Catholic graduate school in the Holy Land.
A first cousin of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, “Father Jerry”, as he was always known, was the author of more than a dozen books and numerous papers on theology and archaeology, including the concise and witty The Holy Land: An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. First published in 1980 as part of the Oxford Archaeological Guide series, the book ran to five editions and became a bestseller.
Murphy-O’Connor also distinguished himself among foreigners living in Israel as someone who brought archaeological sites in the Holy Land to life, somehow managing to strengthen believers in their faith while challenging some of their most cherished assumptions about the life of Christ where they conflicted with the scholarly evidence.
Thus, for example, he poured cold water on the biblical account of the journey undertaken by Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, pointing out that although St Luke claims that they travelled to take part in a Roman census, Jesus was born in Herod the Great’s time, before the Romans took power, and probably about 11 years before the census.
Nor was news of the birth of Jesus spread by angels: “Angelos in Greek means messenger. It is much more likely that Joseph and Mary had friends in the area who were shepherds and they knew of the impending birth from kids shouting to their dads,” he explained. Such stories had survived because “people prefer good yarns to the truth”.
Murphy-O’Connor also claimed that the modern-day pilgrims who follow Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa” – Jesus’s journey to the Cross – are probably going the wrong way. The traditional route begins near the city’s eastern edge, where the Antonia Fortress once stood (according to tradition this was where Pilate condemned Jesus to death); it was more likely that Pilate judged Jesus from a platform in front of what had been Herod’s palace, near the Jaffa Gate on the western extremity of the Old City, which served at the time as the residence of the Roman procurators when they travelled to Jerusalem from their headquarters in Caesarea. As a result Jesus would have had to take a completely different route to the site of the Crucifixion.
Roman Catholic pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa (ALAMY)
Meanwhile, although there was nothing implausible about the general story of the Crucifixion, in Christian iconography some of the details had been “prettied up” to make it more palatable in a way which, Murphy-O’Connor felt, downplayed Jesus’s essential humanity.
In reality, the Way of the Cross would have led through cramped passages where it was “part of the game” for bystanders to strike at the prisoner’s kidneys and genitals, and where, since the prisoner could only struggle through sideways, he would have been unable to see potholes or steps in the route. With His arms strapped to the crossbeam, Jesus would not have been able to protect His face when He fell. Nor was Calvary the lonely hilltop that is so often depicted, but a stone outcrop at the corner of an abandoned rock quarry.
But the cave where Jesus is said to have been born, and which now lies beneath the main section of Bethlehem’s 1,600-year-old Church of the Nativity, was, Murphy-O’Connor believed, probably His true birthplace. Although the New Testament account of Jesus’s birth makes no mention of a cave, the fact that the site had none the less been revered since at least the second century gave the strongest indication that it was the actual spot. “It’s pre-Constantinian, which means a local tradition,’’ Murphy-O’Connor explained. “You’re not inventing stuff to make tourists happy, which is what happened in the Byzantine period when you had millions of pilgrims coming here.’’
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (ALAMY)
Murphy-O’Connor was sanguine about such commercialism, noting that it had uses for scholarship. For example, what is believed to have been the original tomb of Christ was destroyed by an Egyptian conqueror in 1009, and it is only because of early commercialism that it is known what that tomb looked like. Pilgrims of the 6th century brought back to Europe oil from the sacred lamps and water from the Jordan in little silver flasks which were etched with a tiny replica of the tomb. Some are still preserved.
The eldest of four children of a prosperous Irish wine merchant, Father Jerome was born James Murphy-O’Connor in Cork on April 10 1935, and educated at the Christian Brothers College in Cork, and at Castleknock College in Dublin, where he decided to train as a Dominican priest.
After graduating from a seminary in Ireland he chose scriptural studies, gaining a doctorate at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, under the Dominican biblical scholar Ceslas Spicq. His doctoral thesis was later published as Paul on Preaching (1964).
Murphy-O’Connor was ordained in 1964. After taking his doctorate he embarked on post-doctoral work on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the universities of Heidelberg and Tubingen. When he arrived at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem at the age of 28 he continued the work of interpreting the Dead Sea Scrolls and the theology and writings of St Paul. He was appointed Professor of New Testament in 1967.
Tall, heavily built and with a clipped white beard, Murphy-O’Connor had something of the Old Testament prophet about him, and during his 50 years in Jerusalem he built an international reputation as one of the world’s leading biblical scholars.
He lectured around the world and made numerous television appearances, most recently in Britain on Channel 4’s eight-part Christianity: A History (2009). For many years he led parties of diplomats, UN staff, journalists, priests and sundry expats on weekend hikes around such sites as Qumram, Masada, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Caesarea — the only stipulations being that participants should not hold Israeli or Arab passports and that they should keep their tour guide supplied with gin and tonic.
Regular attendees became known as the “Sunday Group”, and it was as a result of their adventures that Oxford University Press asked Murphy-O’Connor to write his archaeological guidebook to the Holy Land. He donated all the royalties from this and other books (mainly about the life, letters and theology of St Paul) to his Dominican institute.
While he lived in Jerusalem until his death, Murphy-O’Connor returned to Cork most summers and kept closely in touch with his extended family.
He never lost his zest for theological controversy. In his last book, The Keys to Jerusalem, published last year, he addressed several problems to which he felt there had been no satisfactory answers, including what really happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, where, according to all four Gospels, immediately after the Last Supper Jesus took a walk to pray. “How do we know the words of Jesus’s prayer?” he asked. “If the disciples were asleep and they had no time with Jesus after he was arrested and before he was put to death, how does anyone know what Jesus prayed? Where is the source for the content?”
The Garden of Gethsemane (ALAMY)
His answer was: “They made it up!”
Father Jerry Murphy-O’Connor tended to dismiss criticism that such questioning might undermine belief, arguing that those whose faith is shaky would lose it anyway, whereas those looking for spiritual refreshment rather than crude proof would come away strengthened.
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, born April 10 1935, died November 11 2013
Rory Stewart is right to note that we fail as a society to value and use the skills, knowledge and experience of older people (“Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute”, Comment).
One of the best ways for older people to contribute is through volunteering and working for charities, nationally and locally in their community. The voluntary sector needs to mobilise all these potential contributions to meet the growing needs in Britain and abroad.
But we also need to tackle the ageism that fuels suspicions and stereotyping across generations. Everyone would benefit if we created a Britain that is truly for all ages.
United for All Ages, Childcare Champions and Good Care Guide
Rory Stewart rightly highlights our society’s wasteful neglect of the talents and energies of older retired people but suggesting only that elders are given more power and responsibility unwittingly risks reinforcing the divisions between the generations.
With effective national and local government backing, community groups could be encouraged and formed, giving people of all ages an opportunity to mix socially and give mutual support for their various needs.
Loneliness, for example, is not restricted to the elderly. Many people who complain about loneliness are from the growing group of divorcees.
Many older people would willingly play a significant part in setting up and running community groups – with a little money and some practical advice and help from local authority community support workers. This “empowerment” of communities would enhance the lives of older people while fostering contact and understanding between the generations.
We cannot transfer the inter-generational culture of Kabul that Rory Stewart mentions to Britain, but we could make a start by reviving the spirit of community.
Breath of fresh air, that young Rory Stewart. Little green shoots of one nation Conservatism possibly, except for the remarks about youth. I recently asked a 19-year-old why he wasn’t wearing a poppy and he said because he didn’t know what it was all about. But he has his “statutory” three A-levels and his driving licence.
We seem to have established a rift between the old and the young. Schools are responsible for youth, the NHS for the aged. What seems a bit out of kilter is that we seemingly now rely on the state for imbuing what used to a natural family responsibility – respect for the wisdom of age and the joy of broadening the minds of the young.
Recently, in the week of my 80th birthday, I was bemused to receive from Age Concern: “Had I thought of arrangements my funeral?”, an inquiry about prostate cancer, an inquiry for Alzheimer’s and an invitation to an end-of-life seminar at my local hospital. Best of all, the state pension folk wrote saying that on my 80th birthday my pension would be increased by 25p a week. Are they all trying to tell me something?
Thank you, Rory Stewart, for your just tribute to the elderly. There is just one problem: we (I am 76) are living off the young in the form of unsustainable pensions funded by, among other things, taxation. I suggest that people draw a full pension for (say) 10 years, and it then decreases proportionately to what society can afford over the generations. To compensate, we could adopt the Confucian model in which offspring must look after any parent unable to look after themselves.
ecember 1975 Photograph: Tony Mcgrath
In the many generous tributes paid to John Cole, it was perhaps inevitable that his period as deputy editor of the Observer from 1975 to 1981 should have been overshadowed by his previous two decades at the Guardian and, more especially, by his subsequent fame as political editor of the BBC, where he became a national figure.
It is worth recording, however, that John played an important role at a critical time in the Observer’s history. He helped me and the paper’s other journalists to resist the embrace of Rupert Murdoch in 1976 and, having failed in our efforts five years later to persuade the Monopolies & Mergers Commission that Lonrho was an equally unsuitable owner, John helped to create the conditions of sale that made it harder for Tiny Rowland to interfere with the paper and impossible for him to dismiss the editor without the approval of a group of genuinely independent directors (a condition that was to prove crucial in stopping Rowland sacking me in 1984).
I have other reasons to be grateful to Cole. I was a young editor, only 37, and a rather naive and inexperienced replacement for the legendary figure of David Astor. John became my political mentor and although we had our disagreements we remained good friends.
John added muscle to the Observer’s political and economic coverage. The respect in which he was held by politicians of all parties gave the paper an access and trust that was immensely valuable. There was one occasion, on the eve of the 1979 general election, when the printers refused to publish the paper because they objected to what we had said about trade union reform. I was arguing with them in my office when John came in and passed over the telephone. He had rung his old friend Len Murray, then general secretary of the TUC, and pointed out that the Observer was about the only paper supporting Labour and it was ridiculous that the electorate should be denied its views by Labour supporters. Murray told the men in fairly fruity tones to get back to work, which they did.
Primarily, though, John Cole should be remembered as a fine human being who brought honour and distinction to the somewhat tarnished trade of journalism.
Editor of the Observer, 1975-93
Blackadder showed the facts
I agree with Barbara Ellen (“Blackadder has a cunning plan to tell us about war”, Comment) that the series is actually a good place to start in teaching children about the First World War.
But I would go further. Being satirical, Blackadder is based on fact: there were indeed generals such as Melchett who ordered repeated and pointless attacks; there were naive junior officers such as George; there were pen-pushers such as Darling; and there were working-class Tommies such as Baldrick who joined up just because everybody else did. It was only professional soldiers, represented by Captain Blackadder, who knew that war was anything other than dulce et decorum. Much of the humour derives from the fact that the First World War was such a shock to the system (the military system, the class system, you name it).
Muzzled dogs don’t bite
Catherine Bennett is right to question why dogs are subject to very little control in this country (“Oh don’t worry, he really doesn’t mean you any harm”). One simple way partly to resolve the problem is to make it compulsory for all dogs to wear muzzles in public. This would no doubt provoke waves of hostility from dog owners and prompt court cases to test the notion of “in public”. Above all, it would be an election issue. An easy answer to a serious problem but which party would support it?
Let the debates be televised
If, as Andrew Rawnsley says, the Tories are seeking to stall negotiations for TV debates in the run-up to the 2015 election on the basis of imagined partisan interests (“Miliband’s momentum confronts Cameron with a sharp dilemma”), we should be asking whether this opportunity for the electorate to evaluate the positions of the main contenders to lead a government should be left to politicians to determine. After all, no democracy could accept a situation in which elections were only ever held if and when politicians felt confident enough to compete in them. I propose that televised debates, which proved so valuable during the last election, should now be embedded in the system.
Professor of political communication
University of Leeds
Martha Lane Fox and prisoners
Bravo to Martha Lane Fox, who talks passionately of “these 100,000 people in prison in this country costing us so much and destroying lives” (Observer Tech Monthly). She gave what to us was a sizable sum at a crucial stage in our development. The Prison Video Trust has, for nearly 20 years, been making educational films for distribution in our prisons. We are now on the cusp of a radical transformation: the creation of Prisons Learning TV (PLTV), which aims to tackle the deplorable literacy and numeracy deficiencies of so many prisoners. We will be soon be appealing for donations.
Prisons Video Trust
The fact that “An end to ageing?” made it on to the front page (10 November) emphasises the anxiety people have about growing old. Dr Richard Walker pointed out that “biological immortality is in my mind possible, but improbable.”
Overcoming the fear of ageing might be something that we can tackle. At the moment older people are being shunned and finding themselves isolated, lonely and depressed, or placed in ghetto-like settings where their only companions are other older people. We are not respecting older people, and are wasting the experience and desire to help others that many of them possess. Our fear of ageing is so pervasive that even older people themselves are becoming ageist, feeling that they do not deserve help, have no meaningful rights and do not complain about poor care.
We may be able to delay ageing and improve quality of life, but fear of ageing we should try to conquer. It would produce a better society for us all.
Dr Chris Allen
Consultant clinical psychologist
Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
So some churches wants to stop 16-year-olds from joining the Army do they? Why would a disaffected and utterly unqualified youth with no interest in education want to join? What would he do?
At 15, I left the useless job I had, sawing planks on a machine for eight hours a day, and found myself driving trucks, map reading, walking all over Snowdonia, experiencing the discipline that stopped me from carrying on down the borderline criminal path I had been treading, firing machine guns and canoeing.
It taught me the basic maths and English that school had failed to, and gave me the confidence to think that I could, as I did, go to a university and gain a degree. Why on earth would anyone want young people to go down that road?
Janet Street-Porter seems to have suffered a touch of metropolitan parochialism in asking “when is Zaha Hadid going to build a landmark building in a UK city?”(10 November). Glasgow, a biggish sort of place not far north of the M25, is proud host to Hadid’s amazing Riverside Museum. A tourist magnet. And, so far, still in the UK.
While I think that cynicism towards voting in elections is understandable I agree with John Rentoul (10 November) that to take scepticism as far as not voting hardly helps any kind of democratic process.
There are specific occasions when it may be appropriate to boycott a particular election of course, but that is a rather different matter.
At the same time voting is not enough. Voting and taking to the streets in protest is the ideal democratic combination.
I was astonished to find, in “Quinoa” (10 November), the sort of opprobrium normally reserved for dictators and despots directed towards a harmless cereal (or “pseudo-cereal”).
If people who choose to eat well are “tossers”, as the anti-quinoa wag seems to assert, we must assume that the keys to continual and repeated sexual satisfaction lie in consuming vast amounts of pies, a fiction which is no doubt perpetuated by butchers and validated by the England squad in its previous incarnation.
Veggies always attract criticism, but we will have the last laugh – when the production of meat becomes unsustainable, we will be more than happy to share our recipes with the pie-eating tossers.
What excellent advice to M&S from Katy Guest (Comment, 10 November). Some years ago I was invited to a preview of the Classic Range where we gave our opinions of the designs shown. To a woman, we told them that their designs were old-fashioned, ageing, and would not tempt any of us. When we said we did not like elasticated waist-bands, the young man seeking our advice told us that his grandmother always chose them. And he was supposed to be a fashion adviser!
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Have your say
Cyclists are a law unto themselves
I AM a car driver, a cyclist and a pedestrian (“1 cyclist in 10 jumps rush-hour red lights”, News, last week). As a driver, I am regularly infuriated by those on bicycles who spurn the dedicated lanes provided, preferring to hold up the traffic on a road where safe overtaking is difficult. As a pedestrian, I have narrowly avoided injury from cyclists riding aggressively on pavements or over crossings.
Most recently, at a lights-controlled crossing I waited for the green light to walk across, only to have to leap back to avoid a woman cyclist going through on red. When I protested, she left me in no doubt as to what I could do with myself.
Thomas Bewley, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
We live on a one-way street that is in daily use as a wrong-way rat run by lazy cyclists who refuse to ride the extra 150 yards to go the correct way.
On the occasions I try to ask the cyclists why they choose to break the law I get sworn at and, worse still, one once bellowed back, “Why are you being so old?”
Mary Clark, Victoria, London
Back to school
London mayor Boris Johnson announced plans to allocate spending to improve road safety in a week that saw the fifth cyclist killed on the capital’s streets in nine days. It is clear that action is long overdue, but it is very disappointing that none of the allocated £35m is going to be put towards cycle training programmes.
The playgrounds of most London schools lie idle at weekends, so it wouldn’t take much effort to make them available for cyclists for that period. Adding training to in-school activities is a no-brainer and it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some basic bicycle maintenance advice.
Douglas Ponsford, Woking, Surrey
Only 10% of cyclists “shoot” the red lights? Taking my life in my hands trying to cross the road in deepest London N16, I would say it’s at least 30%.
Barry Borman, Edgware, London
Excess new builds may slam door on Tory votes
IT IS not a Nimby revolt that threatens the government’s electoral prospects: towns and villages throughout the country are prepared to accept housing of the type and in the numbers proposed, provided that they are actually needed by the local community (“Nimby revolt hits PM in his own back yard”, News, last week).
Our own council resolved in 2011 to pursue a prudent and sustainable housing target, but since then its planning officers have used consultants to prepare a succession of overcomplex demographic reports to justify a target for new homes that is between 50% and 100% higher.
Our local councillors are acutely aware that if residents believe that the authority’s plan is clearly not sustainable, their anger could overturn many Conservative seats at the next elections.
Mike Turner, Chairman, on behalf of the Villages Action Group for Aldingbourne, Eastergate and Barnham, West Sussex
It is widely recognised from scholarly studies as well as from everyday experience that green spaces and contact with nature make a significant contribution to human wellbeing.
If authorities take the National Planning Policy Framework seriously they will pay attention to arguments in favour of the preservation of the green environment wherever it is of particular value to local people — now and in the future.
Henry Haslam, Taunton, Somerset
UK’s military veterans not damaged or broken
IF Jonathan Foreman (“America cares for its veterans; we betray ours”, Comment, last week) had looked at data from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research it would have been evident that while operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken their toll, there is not an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder or suicide affecting our service personnel and veterans.
Foreman’s portrait suggests the majority of UK veterans are psychologically and socially broken. This is not the case. In fact, most service-leavers who were deployed in high-threat roles do well in civilian life.
Set against the poorly painted picture of UK veterans is a rosy image of their US counterparts. This is just not the case. American research has repeatedly shown that the prevalence of social, medical and psychological problems in US veterans is not at all good.
In contrast to this, the proportion of UK veterans who do poorly is small.
Professor Neil Greenberg, Royal College of Psychiatrists’ lead on military and veteran mental health
In the line of fire
A few years ago I joined a tour of Windsor barracks. This included a talk by a veteran of several tours of Iraq and Afghanistan (“Marine A: now officers face inquiry”, News, last week). Our guide explained that all troops who had seen active service were affected emotionally by their experiences, and we should bear this in mind during the talk.
The soldier spoke of his time on patrol, being sniped at from all directions. Such details have to be taken into account when one is judging the actions of the Royal Marine who was found guilty of the murder of a Taliban prisoner.
Gerald Gilbert, Weybridge, Surrey
The leader article on the disturbing Marine A affair stated that “our armed forces must set a standard even when their opponents do not. Otherwise we descend to their level” (“A tale of two soldiers for Remembrance Day”, Comment, last week).
How twee. When we stuck our noses into Afghanistan we blew away the concept of “standards”. And now we are contorting ourselves to prove what sporting warmongers we are.
Michael Blair, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
Hailing taxi heroes
We should like to comment on the marvellous door-to-door free transportation service extended to veterans on Remembrance Sunday. London black cab drivers deserve a huge thank-you for making themselves available for no monetary reward, from an early hour, for a large part of the day.
Dr S and Mrs J E Vasan, Sprotbrough, South Yorkshire
Unions are still stuck in the past
LEN McCLUSKEY and his colleagues seem to belong to some horrible theme park based on the 1960s and 1970s (“Union boss ‘elected by phantoms’”, News, last week).
Times have changed: most employees now have mortgages and cannot strike and claim benefits as they did in earlier days. McCluskey and his cronies need to represent their members — not Marx, Lenin and Stalin.
Ken Cameron, Vienna, Austria
Vote of no confidence
My involvement with trade unionism ended when it was announced at a branch committee that the candidate (favoured by the national leadership) who had “won” in an election had actually come fourth. We were asked not to tell the members of this.
Gordon Clarkson, Edinburgh
Out of interest
I admire The Sunday Times for pursuing this dreadful shower — McCluskey, Stevie Deans et al — but ask the average voter about Falkirk and Ed Miliband sailing along with no true inquiry, or the Chilcot report on the Iraq War, or Andrew Mitchell and Plebgate, and you will be greeted with a dead-eyed stare that combines a lack of interest with an absence of knowledge about any of them.
Brian Watson, Verwood, Dorset
I was interested to read about Harry Williams, the co-writer of It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary (“A big, big cheque from Tipperary”, News, last week). Harry was a resident of Temple Balsall in the West Midlands where his grave is to be found close to the parish church of St Mary. I am sure he would be amazed to see this popular song transformed into a poignant reminder of the young men who marched off to the unimaginable slaughter of the Great War.
Steve Hill (St Mary’s churchwarden), Solihull, West Midlands
Credit where it’s due
Jack Judge was the real composer of the song. He wrote it in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, and is a local legend — he has a statue there to prove it.
Barbara Boardwell, Dukinfield, Greater Manchester
Reality check on quality of teachers
THE education secretary’s attempt at improving academic standards with free schools was analysed in “Glad you’re listening, Mr Gove” (Focus, last week). A key factor cited in such discussions is the quality of teaching; in an ideal world all in the profession would be educational high-flyers, be gifted at dealing with young people and have a vocational dedication.
However, in the real world can we expect to find half a million such people to fill all the country’s teaching posts?
David Cooper-Smith, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire
Gove’s view that teacher training is the problem rather than the solution is one with which I totally agree. How can we possibly have a first-class teaching force when we ask for only GCSE grade C for mathematics and English?
Tony Hutchings, Pontypridd
No second chances
The quote in the article that “children get only one chance at their education” rings true, and yet the UK is trailing among developed countries. There are plenty of state schools failing the one chance children get at education, but what is being done about this?
Perhaps the teachers’ unions could comment on how to raise educational standards instead of criticising every step towards improving the system.
Sarah Turner, Horsham, West Sussex
Equal pay claim
Now Gove regards the best teachers as being on a par with doctors and barristers, presumably he will ensure their salaries are commensurate.
E Fogg, Chessington, London
I am appalled at the suggestion by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director for England, that GPs can look after “minor injuries such as fractures and burns” (“Reforms to end myth of A&E care”, News, last week). Fractures and burns are not minor. It takes a wealth of experience to assess and treat these conditions. I plead with the Royal College of Surgeons to resist this.
Hugh Evans, Retired consultant surgeon, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire
Loud and unclear
David Conway seems unaware that incoming flights are not locked onto a specific path until they are within a certain distance of Heathrow (“Noises off”, Letters, last week). Until this point their routes vary, meaning they sweep across most parts of central London. It is therefore possible to predict flight noise only within a certain radius of the airport. Further afield, where planes are still incredibly loud, it is impossible to ascertain the extent to which properties will suffer from noise blight.
Tony Jackson, Southwest London
We have flown with Ryanair a few times and have never experienced any horror stories (“Too late, O’Leary — ‘mugs’ like me have clipped your wings”, Rod Liddle, last week). The flights have always been on time, the cabin crews very friendly and professional, and the planes clean and tidy. Are we alone in this?
Kevin Dunne, Tyne and Wear
China’s continuing movement of people from the land to the city is the largest wave of urbanisation in human history, yet rather late in the day the nation fumbles to reform its agriculture (“China sows seeds of new revolution”, News, last week). The catastrophic increase in food prices that may result has the potential to bring the rest of the world to its knees.
Hugh Morgan, Wimbledon, London
India Knight (Comment, last week) is so wise — there’s nothing I like more than saving for months to have a slap-up meal in a posh restaurant and then being guided through all the good-looking people before being seated by the toilets.
David Prothero, Harpenden, Hertfordshire
Corrections and clarifications
Information about working hours in a graphic with the article “Relax, Boomers, the kids won’t be bust” (News, last week) should have read “typical working year” instead of “typical working week”.
The advert for Philippines tourism in Travel last week went to press before the extent of the humanitarian disaster became clear.
■ Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to email@example.com or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)
Eunice Barber, heptathlete, 39; Danny DeVito, actor and director, 69; Fenella Fielding, actress, 86; Sarah Harding, pop singer, 32; Lauren Hutton, model and actress, 70; Roland Joffé, film director, 68; Rem Koolhaas, architect, 69; Rachel McAdams, actress, 35; Sophie Marceau, actress, 47; Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, actress, 55; Nani, footballer, 27; RuPaul, drag queen, 53; Martin Scorsese, film director, 71
1558 Elizabeth I accedes to the throne; 1800 US Congress holds its first session in Washington; 1855 David Livingstone becomes the first European to see the Victoria Falls; 1869 Suez Canal opens; 1970 the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 1 becomes the first roving remote-controlled robot to land on the moon; 1997 62 people are killed by Islamist militants outside the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt
SIR – I live down a series of narrow lanes with passing places. You get used to them, and learn to drive with care because in places the banks are high, there are trees, blind bends, gateways, tractors, joggers, cyclists, horse riders and dog walkers.
The other day, I came round a bend to find a neighbour in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Because he’s a young man with quick reflexes, he had time to break and slam into reverse as the other vehicle, skidding out of control, ploughed into him. The other driver defended his high speed, saying: “I wasn’t breaking any law: you can drive at 60mph down here.”
Why is it that on straight, wide, well-lit suburban roads, where the surface is well maintained, strict speed limits of 30 or 40mph are enforced, while on muddy, poorly maintained, narrow lanes we allow vehicles to travel at 60mph? In the past 40 years, the number of cars on the road has increased exponentially. Satnav has encouraged people to seek out “short cuts” through rural areas. It is time that speed limits on all rural roads were changed.
SIR – I resigned from general practice in 2004, in protest at the “new contract”. I believed it to be wrong and dangerous to patient care.
Now I see that the billions of taxpayers’ money wasted over this past nine years in the NHS are finally accepted as a failure. We will now move back to a system where the shortcomings of A&E departments and providers of out-of-hours care can be laid at the feet of GPs with 24-hour responsibility.
The NHS, led by career politicians, is in a shambles, with a massive and inefficient management structure. The years since the previous, 1990, contract should have proved that a long-term structure like the NHS is unsafe in the hands of short-term politicians, to whom a vote is more important than a life.
I feel that the NHS should be removed from politicians’ hands, since they have proved so disastrous in its control, and put in the care of those who are primarily responsible for its provision.
Dr David Hanraty
Hankham, East Sussex
Curling country lanes need lower speed limits
16 Nov 2013
SIR – The GPs of St Helens declined to “opt out” of out-of-hours provision for the most recent version of the GP contract. We are one of the few boroughs in England to continue 24-hour, seven-day responsibility.
We are one of the most deprived boroughs, with a high prevalence of chronic diseases and high morbidity in the frail elderly. We work closely with local-authority colleagues to support our frail elderly population.
A big concern about the new GP contract from 2015 might be the shift towards per capita funding without appropriate allowances for deprivation and morbidity.
Dr Stephen J Cox
St Helens, Lancashire
SIR – In 2004 the Labour government renegotiated the GP contract and enabled GPs to stop offering out-of-hours care for the loss of around £6,000 income. For the front-line out-of-hours service, NHS Direct was introduced. This was essentially a call-centre system using protocols to decide if a doctor needed to visit or the patient should be taken to hospital.
Since general practice is all about managing uncertainty (which protocols cannot deal with), there has been an increased number of hospital admissions.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, is quick to blame the present Government, but curiously quiet about the role played in this mess by the previous government of which he was a member.
Mr Burnham also complains that, once admitted, the elderly are hard to discharge. Again, the government of which he was a part was instrumental in adding to NHS chaos by requiring hospitals to abide by the European Working Time Directive.
Clearly this has damaged continuity of patient care in hospital as well as having other deleterious effects on the training of doctors, as the Royal College of Surgeons has frequently indicated. Mr Burnham is notoriously quiet on this aspect too.
J P G Bolton
Model human rights
SIR – A British Prime Minister is in Sri Lanka lecturing the country on its human rights record.
Yet he has thrown himself from the moral high ground just days before by his Government’s trampling all over historic democratic principles by forcing Her Majesty to sign a document that lets politicians regulate our press with chilling consequences for free speech throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.
I respectfully suggest that he jumps on the first flight home.
Professor Richard Shannon
Dimming street lights
SIR – It is very interesting that two thirds of councils are dimming their street lights or switching them off. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has long attempted to persuade councils of the case for reducing street lighting and ensuring that the right lights are used.
A great deal of street lighting is unnecessary, excessive or poorly targeted. Councils spend a collective £592 million on street lighting each year and the lights can account for around 5 to 10 per cent of a council’s carbon emissions.
A survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England in 2010 revealed that 89 per cent of respondents named road lighting as a source of light pollution, 79 per cent named domestic security lighting and 77 per cent street lights that are more than five years old.
It is difficult to strike a balance between councils wanting to save money and energy, the perceived safety implications, and light pollution. The range of lighting technology available now means that lighting can be tailored to the requirement of the location, so that the right type of lighting is used, where and when needed.
Campaign to Protect Rural England
Cost in translation
SIR – Southwark Council is not freely translating service information into anyone’s language of choice. Even if we thought it would help us communicate messages about health, fire safety or other important issues, we couldn’t afford it, thanks to the crippling funding cuts we’ve experienced.
We support residents in learning English and I’m pleased that the Government is following councils’ lead in offering English lessons to those who need them. But let’s be pragmatic about this. The majority of our translation costs go on social services, particularly in relation to safeguarding vulnerable people. If a social worker needs to communicate with a mother over the safety of her child, that social worker can’t say: “Go away and learn English and I’ll come back in six months.” The issue needs to be dealt with immediately, and I make no apology for finding a way to communicate with that parent, regardless of what Eric Pickles might think.
Cllr Richard Livingstone
Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, Southwark Council
Cushioned to sleep
SIR – Cushions left on hotel beds do have a useful function. Placed along the bottom of the door they block out the pervasive corridor light, thus coming to the aid of a light sleeper.
SIR – The Governor of the Bank of England has said that Britain is enjoying “one of the strongest recoveries in the advanced world”.
Given his optimism for the future of this country’s finances, should the decision of Moody’s to downgrade Britain’s credit rating in February cast doubt on the agency’s competence? This downgrade was used by the Labour Party to give weight to its criticism of the Government’s ability to deal with the country’s financial problems.
Did the Moody’s announcement harm Britain’s standing with the rest of the world?
SIR – As Jeremy Warner points out, there is a clear link between quantitative easing and an increase in the cost of living. Both Eds have been banging on about this cost-of-living crisis. Will either Ed commit Labour to ending quantitative easing in the (unlikely) event that Labour wins the next election?
Where were you?
SIR – I heard on the radio this week a letter from the Queen to President John F Kennedy, at the height of the Cold War, in which she helped cement the bonds between Britain and America by referring to the love of horses that she shared with Jacqueline Kennedy. It jogged my memory that the Kennedys’ visit to London had coincided with the sun coming out after a chilly spell.
My memory of Kennedy’s assassination needed no jogging, though the associations are again mundane. I was washing up, and listening to a transistor radio. When the grave-voiced news report of the president’s death came on, I leant over to adjust the volume and the radio fell from the window sill into the sink full of suddy water. Silence ensued. The absurdity didn’t make the news any less serious.
Are other readers’ memories of the occasion similarly characterised by the solemn and the trivial?
SIR – The Princess Royal rightly supports eating horses. Which royal will be the first to announce dogs are pretty yummy too?
West Woodhay, Berkshire
Cameron’s alienation of the white working class
SIR – David Cameron’s late embrace of Sir John Major’s call for greater social mobility seems hollow. The Prime Minister’s policies have consistently reinforced the social divide.
A list of candidates for parliamentary elections ensured that well-promoted disadvantaged groups were preferred, whereas a white male candidate with no old-school-tie contacts was effectively ostracised, relegated to unwinnable seats.
Mr Cameron has moved the party conferences from cheap seaside resorts in the off-season to places where accommodation is relatively expensive, making attendance difficult for all but those with deep pockets.
Mr Cameron’s much trumpeted attempts at diversity, such as promoting women in the party, have had a predictable result: he and his privately educated, middle-class male colleagues have championed privately educated, middle-class women.
Mr Cameron is, I believe, well-meaning, but he needs to rethink his views and his actions before the Conservative Party cuts those vital but now tenuous links to the non-privately educated, non-middle-class that it relies on to be in power. It is no surprise that it is precisely this group that is increasingly moving to Ukip.
SIR – David Cameron should follow Michael Portillo’s initiative and spend two weeks with an unemployed family in Liverpool or Wigan, preferably with one of the many that has experienced three generations of unemployment.
* The ‘Good Book’ tells us that there is a time and season for all things. Cycles come and go: boom bust, broke, flush, imposed austerity, and then a return to financial autonomy. All in the blink of a biblical eye.
Also in this section
It’s about time for reconciliation
Anyone for a debate?
Conor shows help is at hand
You might be inclined to wonder what all the hue and cry was about. Especially if you have the mindset of one of the highly paid mandarins in either Brussels or Frankfurt – who with a grandiose ho hum, decree that a serious round of economic hardship is just the tonic to soften our coughs. Or maybe not. For it seems that this will no longer do.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has secured her next term in office, which will keep her in power until 2017, so the fashion for belt-tightening of the lederhosen has flashed by faster than you can say fiscal rectitude. All the same, the alacrity with which our Government dispensed with the masochistic fetish of economic flagellation was startling.
No doubt it will keep a switch or two in the closet – along with the handcuffs, PVC hair shirts, and the other paraphernalia that its ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ economics has depended on – to keep us all subservient and compliant, should the need arise.
For those of us who cannot look forward to the cosy comfort blanket of a state pension, it severs the link with ‘public service’, so the scars may take a little longer to heal. The European project was once a noble alliance that fostered solidarity.
It did not serve the ends of the big players to beggar the little guys, forcing them to surrender sovereignty to casino-capitalists who traded their futures on a roulette wheel.
And yet, we have lived to roll the dice again; and Mr Noonan is betting everything on black.
MEDICAL CARD FAIRNESS
* Dear Mr Howlin: I am writing this open letter to you in reply to what you said on the RTE news recently regarding children with Down syndrome. You said that not all children with the disability needed medical cards because they may come from wealthy families.
Well, what about all the healthy, wealthy under-fives?
My son, aged eight, is on 16 meds daily and six other PRN meds. He is peg-tube-fed 24 hours a day; wears nappies, a hearing aid, Afos and eye patches; he needs oxygen therapy from time to time; he has a heart condition and chronic lung disease; and he has recently been diagnosed with scoliosis and hip dysplasia.
He has spent more than three years in Crumlin, and has had to go to Great Ormond Street hospital in London on two occasions.
He cannot walk and is non-verbal. He attends a special school, and we need nursing for him if we are to go anywhere. He uses a wheelchair, a special cot, special seating, and a special standing frame.
One of his drugs costs €1,500 per week. His feed costs €160 per day. He attends 12 different consultants in Crumlin for his various conditions.
So, Mr Howlin, can you now understand why he would need a medical card? All children with Down syndrome need a medical card. Indeed, all children with disabilities need medical cards.
Straffan, Co Kildare
OUR WILY MINISTER
* Now and then Michael Noonan pulls a stroke that illustrates just what a wily old fox he really is. His consignment of the promissory note to the indefinite future, where all impossible debt should be dispatched, was masterful and his exit strategy from the bailout shows a touch of similar genius.
His guarantee that he will have a back-up line of support is by not arranging one in advance. Mr Noonan knows the EU desperately needs an economic success story; this country is the shining light at the moment.
Ireland’s weakness and danger of slipping back into bailout mode is its great strength – such a catastrophe could herald the twilight zone for the euro within a year. Mr Noonan will brandish that possibility to ensure the ECB follows through on the retrospective recapitalisation of our banks. The Irish debt will drop from the impossible to the improbable and bring much needed relief.
When it comes to outsmarting the dour bureaucrats of Brussels, Mr Noonan is still the maestro.
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
* Two articles in the Irish Independent (November 11) deserve to be considered together. One dealt with our high level of pay inequality relative to our EU partners. The second was based on a Today FM survey which showed, again unsurprisingly, that only one in eight people trusted the Government.
When you look at comparisons across the EU you find that Portugal, Spain and Greece have similar statistics to Ireland. It is hardly coincidental that these are the bailout countries. This highlights that inequality fuels mistrust of government and that together they contribute to a negative effect on economic and political performance.
John F Jordan
Killiney, Co Dublin
PADDLES FOR THE CREEK
* So, Angela has cut us free to float on the high seas. Let’s hope Enda has managed to hold on to a few paddles… just in case.
TROIKA NOT GONE AWAY
* The self-congratulatory tone in Enda Kenny’s announcement regarding Ireland’s decision to exit the bailout without precautionary funding was disconcerting and, perhaps, a little premature.
Whether the decision is foolhardy or not, time will tell. I am glad to hear, though, that Angela Merkel approves. I would dread to think of the consequences if she didn’t.
Sometimes when our Government looks towards Germany for approval, I often get the impression it mistakenly thinks we have become Germany’s 17th federal state.
Yes, we may have secured the last tranche of our bailout loans, but the troika will never be far in the background as long as there are repayments to be made.
Dunleer, Co Louth
FOI FEE WOES
* I agree with your correspondent who says it would be better if politicians cut their expenses to save money rather than raising Freedom of Information (FOI) fees.
However, our citizens are no longer allowed under FOI to get the documentation relating to money spent by politicians under the Public Representation Allowance.
The ‘justification’ for this, I understand, is that 10pc of politicians are asked each year to produce their paperwork to an independent auditor. It is shocking that citizens, even if prepared to pay a huge fee, cannot get this information concerning their local TDs.
Malahide, Co Dublin
* The Department of Transport is planning to erect new motorway road signs. Perfectly good, fairly new signs are to get a fresh design.
We are being told that our country is broke and vital services have to be cut back. Lately, I’ve noticed tiny signs every 500 metres on the motorways showing the distance to the next intersection.
I counted 400 of these signs between Kilkenny and Waterford in both directions – but at what cost?
The word ‘toll’ on the new signs is also smaller – another ‘gathering’ on foreign motorists? Have we learnt nothing? Is waste going to be a constant factor within government?