Dentist, and heating

11 December 2013 Dentist, Heating

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. An old flames of Heather’s has arrived on the island: Hank. Priceless.

Dentist we are both okay for 6 months Andy for central heating new thermostat and he sets the timer.

Scrabbletoday but the battery runs out before we finish the game Mary winning at last move,perhapsI will win tomorrow.


Eleanor Parker, who has died aged 91, was an American screen and stage actress, best-remembered for her role as the haughty Baroness Elsa Schraeder, co-star to Julie Andrews in the Oscar-winning 1965 film, The Sound of Music.

Clad in beaded gowns and ash-blonde wigs (she was naturally brunette), Eleanor Parker cut a mature, icily elegant figure next to Andrews, who was then a newcomer. Charmian Carr, playing the eldest Von Trapp daughter, remembered her as “the bona fide movie star in the cast” .

With her rich, husky voice and striking good looks, she had proven herself equally adept in both high drama and lighter fare. At the Venice Film Festival in 1950 she had won an international award for Caged, as a first-time offender who is brutally mistreated by the prison matron. Her performance in Scaramouche (1952), as the strong-willed theatre player Lenore, had showed her at her most alluring and entertaining. Yet, though nominated for an Oscar three times, she never triumphed at the award ceremony. At Warner Brothers, however, her versatility won her great acclaim, and saw her publicised to cinema audiences as “The Woman of a Thousand Faces”.

Eleanor Parker (right) with Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews in A Sound of Music (ALLSTAR/20TH CENTURY FOX)

Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26 1922 in Cedarville, Ohio, the youngest of three children. Her father, Lester Parker, was a mathematics teacher . She aspired to be an actress from a young age, scripting her own parts and appearing in plays at Shaw High School. After two summers at the Rice School of Expression in Massachusetts she headed in 1940 for the Pasadena Playhouse, where she caught the attention of a Warner Bros talent scout. She was signed on to the company just three days after her nineteenth birthday.

Her career had an unpromising start. She was cut entirely from They Died With Their Boots On (1941), and her next films (both 1942) were ignored. Meanwhile The Mysterious Doctor (1943), less than an hour long, featured a mad Nazi physician who concocts a grisly ghost story in order to cover up his nefarious activities. Eleanor’s role was limited to screams and suitably terrified expressions, but Warner Bros seemed to feel that she had acquitted herself well: her next part was in Mission to Moscow, chronicling the life of former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies.

Gradually she was acquiring the reputation of a serious actress . A 1945 article in Life magazine ran a two-page photo spread displaying her emotional range, from smouldering resentment to teary-eyed anguish. That same year, director Edmund Goulding approached her for the role of Mildred, the conniving Cockney waitress of Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage. A 1934 adaptation had starred Bette Davis in her breakthrough role, and it took Goulding months to win Eleanor round to the idea of a remake. In the end, however, it proved a bad decision: following a disastrous preview screening, it was only released after several drastic cuts.

Her fortunes revived with the wartime comedy The Voice of the Turtle (1947), and by the 1950s her career had hit its first peak. Caged provided her with the kind of complex role that most appealed; at 27, she played a 19 year-old widowed during – and subsequently imprisoned for – an attempted robbery. The plot contained several uncompromising scenes. In one sequence, Eleanor was gagged and had her head shaved. Her character witnesses the suicide of a fellow inmate, and the shock causes her to go into premature labour. The part won her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards .

In 1951 she left Warner Bros and had her next big commercial success with Scaramouche, a swashbuckling MGM adventure set in 18th-century France. Detective Story (1951) won her another Oscar nomination. Her third and last came three years later, for Interrupted Melody (1955). Based on a bestselling biography, the film told the story of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence, who overcame poliomyelitis to take audiences by storm. Eleanor’s singing was dubbed by Eileen Farrell, a leading American soprano, who was deeply impressed by the actress’s commitment to the part. “In a lot of old Hollywood movies, the lip-synching was pretty sloppy,” she wrote in her memoirs, Can’t Help Singing. “Eleanor wanted hers to be completely convincing.”

From the early 1960s Eleanor Parker began to appear on television . Her performance in The Eleventh Hour (1963), a medical drama for NBC, received an Emmy nomination. From 1969-70 she was the principal star of Bracken’s World, but walked out after 16 episodes citing a “lack of creative satisfaction”.

She continued in regular big-screen appearances throughout this period, of which her best-known was The Sound of Music – though it was an unflattering role. “I was the so-called ‘heavy’,” she recalled, while emphasising that she was “very proud to have been in the film. If anyone asks me what I’ve done, I look to see how young they are and say: ‘There’s one film you will know…’”

At 42, however, the best of her career was behind her. Her last big-screen appearance, Sunburn, (1979), was a box-office failure. She continued to make infrequent television appearances up until 1991, but otherwise lived quietly in Palm Springs, California.

Eleanor Parker married, in 1943, Lieutenant Fred Losee, a Navy dentist. The marriage was dissolved the following year. She married, secondly, Bert Friedlob, with whom she had three children. Her third marriage, in 1954, was to the American portrait painter Paul Clemens; they divorced in 1965. In 1966 she married Raymond Hirsch, a Chicago theatre executive. He predeceased her in 2001.

Eleanor Parker, born June 26 1922, died December 9 2013


I enjoyed your article on Christmas dinners (Xmas war zone, G2, 5 December), but consider our family – one vegetarian, one coeliac, one no peppers or chilli, one no dairy, one no unpasteurised cheese, one (on immunosuppressants) no grapefruit, two no seafood, one no raw tomatoes, one no alcohol in the food – but is happy to drink alcohol with the meal – and I am sure I’ve forgotten someone. Last year they mostly stayed for a week; I don’t know for how long this year. Luckily we all enjoy cooking and our varied diets!
Eleanor Yates

• When, more than 60 years ago, I was a child in Amsterdam, there were no racial connotations in respect of Zwarte Piet (Dutch relic of Christmas past prompts racism row, 6 December). The legend was that he came from Spain and was “black” purely because of the soot on his face as a result of his having to go down and up chimneys to deliver presents.
Elisabeth Moore
Darlington, Co Durham

• David Cockayne (Letters, 10 December is mistaken in thinking that Bob Dylan “went electric” in Manchester. He played a solo concert with acoustic guitar at the Free Trade Hall on 7 May 1965. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back covers this tour. The “Judas” concert took place on 17 May 1966, nearly a year after Newport.
Peter Mackie

• I’m sorry Rebecca Atkinson’s little girl won’t be opening a Barbie doll present this Christmas (What’s happened to Barbie?, Family, 7 December). My Barbie doll gave hours of pleasure. We couldn’t, afford all the fancy outfits so I made my own for her, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Isabel Tipple
Stiffkey, Norfolk

• In the popular Dutch version of My Fair Lady in 1960 (Letters, 10 December), the “rain in Spain” became “Het Spaanse graan heeft de orkaan doorstaan”.
Clea Cook
Bicknoller, Somerset

•  Stockholm (working-class) dialect doesn’t differentiate between ä and e, so the Swedish version works very well, too. Poor Eliza had to struggle with: “Den spanska räven rev en annan räv.”
Birgitta Edelman

Today G8 health ministers meet in London for the “dementia summit” (Report, 9 December), but they are likely to rehearse the usual story of drug research based on hypotheses that have failed in several recent clinical trials, at a cost of $40bn to date. It’s time we stopped being obsessed with amyloid-related drugs and the search for genes, and moved on to research and action on preventive strategies. Only 1% of Alzheimer’s cases are directly caused by genes. Not one penny of the £20m pledged by the government last year has been spent on prevention research. At least half of the remarkable 70% decline in heart disease deaths over the past 50 years is due to tackling the risk factors. The same should be possible for Alzheimer’s disease, since about half of all cases are likely to be due to modifiable risk factors. But this approach needs large-scale funding. I am a member of a group of 112 leading dementia researchers from 36 countries who are calling on health ministers to increase spending on dementia research in this new direction and put what is already known about prevention – including the need for B vitamins, essential fats and keeping physically, mentally and socially active – into action. If we move rapidly in this direction, there is every hope that we can dramatically reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease over the next 10 years.
Professor A David Smith
University of Oxford

Michele Hanson (G2, 10 December) moans about the downsides of being old. Staying young, like my mum in her 90s or a local lady with good posture, high heels and subtle makeup who is 101, comes partly from having a positive attitude.
Marion Ashton
Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

Why did Philip Hoare’s wide-ranging survey of dragon myths and beliefs (Enter the dragon, G2, 10 December) not mention any of the many native British dragon myths? One of the 11th-century Welsh Mabinigion tales relates how Llud rids Britain of two squabbling dragons, removing them from the centre of Britain at present-day Oxford and locking them up securely in an underground pool below Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia. Nennius’s Historia Brittonium has the prophet Merddyn Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius) identifying the two dragons as symbols of the native Welsh and the Saxon invaders; and Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae refers to the role of these dragons in the defeat of the British leader Vortigern by the Saxons. One of the dragons somehow ended up on the Welsh flag, known as Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon). Tolkien would certainly have known these rich myths and they may have influenced the creation of Smaug.
Paul Thomas
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

We believe that women remain at the sharp end of the government’s economic and social austerity policies (Comment, 10 December). As women’s unemployment rises, wages fall, the pay gap widens, benefits are cut and household and living costs rise, women face a daily struggle to keep themselves and their families from slipping deeper into poverty. It is a travesty that 45 years after the Dagenham women workers fought for equal pay, we see increasing parts of our economy fuelled on cheap labour, with more than one in five earning less than a living wage and two-thirds of these women.

In the workplace and in the day-to-day battles against poverty, discrimination, racism, attacks on disabled people, the blight of war and the destruction of the environment, women are fighting back. Women are playing a leading role in the movement against austerity, evidenced by the huge number of women on the 50,000-strong NHS demonstration outside the Tory party conference in Manchester in October.

Political leaders should be using the nation’s resources in the interests of the majority of the people and prioritising the abolition of poverty, insecurity and the threat of war. Our society is moving in a dangerous direction and now is the time for us to decide how our wealth is used and what values underpin our society. In recognition of the leading role of women in the campaign against austerity and in articulating a new vision for our society, the signatories of this letter support the call for a Women’s Assembly Against Austerity to take place on Saturday 22 February 2014 at Conway Hall, London. This event will build on the success of the People’s Assembly launched in June.
Diane Abbott MP
Sarah Veale Head of equalities & employment, TUC
Vera Baird QC Labour police & crime commissioner for Northumbria
Natalie Bennett Leader, Green party
Michelle Stanistreet General secretary, NUJ
Carolyn Simpson Chair, Sertuc Women’s Rights Committee
Maxine Peake Actress and dramatist
Francesca Martinez Ccomedian
Jane Stewart Chair, Unite Women’s committee
Dr Finn Mackay Founder, London Feminist Network and revived London Reclaim the Night
Anita Wright/Dona Feltham National Assembly of Women
Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition
Kate Hudson CND
Ann Henderson/Kerry Abel Abortion Rights
Rachel Newton People’s Charter
Clare Solomon National People’s Assembly
Feyzi Ismail East London People’s Assembly
Siobhan Endean National officer for equalities, Unite
Rafeef Ziadah Poet
Kate Smurthwaite Comedian
Anita Halpin NUJ NEC and former chair, TUC women’s committee
Anne Scargill/Betty Cook Women Against Pit Closures
Barbara Switzer EC Institute of Employment Rights
Carolyn Jones Vice-chair, Morning Star
Rachel Yates Coordinator and commissioning editor, Class: Centre for Labour and Social Studies
Professor Mary Davis/Sharon Allen Charter for Women
Jude Woodward Adviser to mayor of London 2000-08
Pilgrim Tucker Communities organiser, Unite
Liz Payne Vice-chair, Communist Party of Britain
Hilary Wainwright Red Pepper
Professor Naila Kabeer LSE
Professor Nadje Al-Ali President, SOAS UCU
Nina Power Senior lecturer, Roehampton University
Anne Scott UK Secretary, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Barbara White Musician’s Union executive committee
Professor Susan Michie UCU executive committee
Alpa Shah Reader, LSE
Denise Carlo/Lucy Galvin/Jo Henderson Green party councillors, City of Norwich
Ellen Nierop UNISON, Norfolk People’s Assembly treasurer
Jo Rust King’s Lynn & District Trades Council, Fenland People’s Assembly, NW Norfolk Labour party
Marion Fallon Disabled People Against the Cuts, Norfolk
Jessica Goldfinch Former Green party Norwich councillor
Helen Hall Unison
Nerea Rosa Barros NUS community organiser, University of East Anglia
Brenna Bhandar Senior lecturer, Soas
Julia Charlton NEC member, Northumbria University UCU

Allowing 60,000 potential undergraduates access to our public universities would be a great thing, if it could be done on a sensible, sustainable basis (Editorial, 9 December). George Osborne’s proposal to finance the costs – an estimated £720m a year by 2018-19 – by selling off the old student loan book seems a typically risky and short-termist gamble with public money; which makes it even more surprising that he’s piling on extra risk by lifting the restrictions on recruitment to private higher education providers.

If recent reports have taught us anything, it’s that allowing for-profit higher education companies unrestricted access to public subsidies is a policy disaster in the making. The UCU has repeatedly warned that without effective regulation, private universities will swoop on public funding, but students won’t necessarily get what they’ve paid for.

The more privatised US higher education system has been racked by mis-selling, recruitment and fraud scandals perpetrated by for-profit companies geared toward a fast buck at the public’s expense. Investor Steve Eisman famously described these companies as “marketing machines masquerading as universities”.

“Until recently,” he said, “I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the sub-prime mortgage industry. I was wrong. The for-profit education industry has proven equal to the task.”

There are signs the UK’s fledgling private higher education sector is heading down the same path. Last month the government had to suspend student recruitment at 22 higher education private colleges and chains in the face of an £80m overspend after their student numbers rocketed. The most disadvantaged students in our public universities will end up paying the price for that.
Sally Hunt
General secretary, University and College Union

• Your article (Headteachers left confused over SEN funding rules, 10 December) misrepresents our funding reforms for children with special educational needs. Our reforms retain all the existing legal protections and extend them to those with SEN from birth to 25. There is no reason that children with SEN who are thriving in mainstream education will need to move schools and there is absolutely no reason for headteachers to be turning away pupils with SEN on spurious funding grounds.

Our school funding changes are simply designed to distribute funds more fairly. We are being careful to ensure that schools do not see a large drop in the amount per pupil they get and that local authorities can continue to provide sufficient funds to schools in proportion to their pupils with SEN. Schools which excel in SEN provision and are popular with parents can get extra funding to support that work.

Most pupils with SEN statements are educated inclusively in mainstream schools. And most schools identify pupils with SEN, work well with them and their parents, actively monitor progress against outcomes and make adjustments to ensure that these pupils continue to achieve their full potential. There is no reason that this should change when education, health and care plans are introduced. Children with existing statements will transfer over time to the new plans, in line with the normal review of their needs. The SEN code of practice has to be approved by parliament, which is why it will not be final until spring, but schools can start to prepare for September 2014. The draft Code reflects best practice and provides a good basis for schools to start to prepare. The best schools are already doing so.
Edward Timpson MP
Minister for children and families

Though it is understandable why party leaders feel they have to oppose MP salary increases on the ground that it is at odds with the austerity many voters are feeling (Join forces to prevent your pay rise or else lose trust of public, Miliband warns MPs, 10 December), we should face the fact that our MPs have been severely underpaid for many years because past leaders did not want to risk media unpopularity. The UK politician’s divided life of parliament, committees, travel and other duties, plus the way in which most MPs remain close to the grassroots of their communities, demands energy and devotion that is disgracefully undervalued.

The so-called expenses scandal arose mainly because MPs were actually told it was part of the system to make up for their low pay by topping up their claims. Politicians sacrifice time, families, social lives and long-term careers in order to represent us. I’d argue that they deserve the kind of pay – in six figures, for example, as enjoyed by politicians in Japan, the US, Norway and Australia – which would be more commensurate with their hard, dedicated and demanding work.
Ian Flintoff

• It is never politically expedient to increase MPs’ pay, especially if the increase is large (Ministers condemn 11% rise in MPs’ pay, 9 December). My view is that a catch-up pay rise is OK provided that: 1) pensions are reduced (as proposed); 2) there is strict control over second jobs; 3) payments to MPs by organisations for “advice” (aka lobbying) are banned; 4) future pay rises are linked to public sector pay rise levels. This should help to clean up parliament and make their pay levels seem fair. Meanwhile top executive pay soars by around 15% per year – is this not an even bigger ripoff that needs curbing?
Michael Miller

• It’s a bit late for ministers to complain about this rise: they set up the comparison body, and told it, or allowed it, to use “equivalent posts” – ie people with big desks, big offices and big egos, but not necessarily doing anything useful. A comparison with the constituents they represent would be more appropriate. I have suggested to my last three MPs that their changes in pay should be linked to the bottom octile of incomes in the UK. Not one replied. But then, given the innumeracy of many in parliament, perhaps they simply didn’t understand the concept.
Ian Wells
Hesketh Bank, Lancashire

• Is it inconceivable that many people would be very suitable as MPs without requiring more than a salary typical of the general population? Maybe they would in fact be more suitable, if unmotivated by money and more aware of life on average wages. Let’s go further. Suppose good footballers delivered their footballing without demanding millions of pounds in pay. Suppose entrepreneurs gained satisfaction from their flourishing businesses without nipping abroad to avoid tax. Is that all idealistic nonsense or might it just be possible to have a society where success and doing a good job are valued without always seeking more money, leading to greater inequalities of wealth?
Peter Cave

• MPs should receive a salary of perhaps £80,000 a year, plus modest expenses, but all other earned and unearned income should be deducted from that sum. Any MP already earning a taxable income greater than this amount would receive only the modest expenses. This would put them on a par with their poorest constituents, whose income is similarly balanced against receipt of benefits.
B Mitchell
Tregroes, Ceredigion

• If MPs are to be given an 11% pay rise, let them be paid on an hourly basis with a zero-hours contract. If their timesheet shows they were working on constituency business, at home or in the House, they will be paid. The only question is: should they be paid for travelling time?
George Thomson
Rotherfield, East Sussex

• Trying to renege on a promise of 1% for health workers while trousering 11% “because it has been recommended”? If this goes ahead, nothing more needs saying about the values of our MPs.
Mike Fox
Richmond, Surrey

Richard Norton-Taylor and Simon Hattenstone write: Barry Jackson‘s best-known role may have been the pathologist George Bullard in Midsomer Murders, but his favourite was the title role of Horace, the hero with learning difficulties of a BBC Play for Today (1972) and a series for ITV (1982), written for him by Roy Minton.

He was quietly determined and ludicrously brave. One night when he was making the film The Bofors Gun (1968) he was out with its fiery star Nicol Williamson – not a man to mess with. Williamson challenged him to a game of darts with a difference: while one placed his hand on the dart board, the other would throw round it. Barry went first, and duly threw round Williamson. Then Williamson went and threw the dart straight through Barry’s hand. Barry smiled and didn’t utter a world. You didn’t dare show weakness in front of Nicol, he later told us.

Barry was a wonderful friend and renaissance man to us and to many others. There was Barry the bee keeper, Barry the bread-maker, Barry the bird whistler, the allotment vegetable grower, the red van driver, the martial arts champion, the healer, the wood sculptor, the poet. His tremendous cross-court tennis passes earned him the nickname “Bangle” – short for Barry the Angle. Every time you thought you’d got to grips with him, a new side of Barry would reveal itself. Yet in all he did he was consistent: loving, optimistic and bursting with humanity.

Jack Gold writes: I had the privilege of working with Barry Jackson several times over the decades since The Bofors Gun. His unaffected humanity and quiet humour made him the least demonstrative of actors: he inhabited his characters. He was always surprising with his casual revelations of his multitasking – building a house, turning wood and green fingering. At tennis, his sudden, incisive angled winners were followed not by fist-pumping, but just an inward smile. He was a great and good companion.

While political global warming sceptics such as Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper, the prime ministers of Australia and Canada, respectively, apparently continue to dispute the link between global warming and human activities (22 November), they and other sceptics cannot doubt these same activities have resulted in a contamination of our rivers and oceans, the air we breathe and even the food we eat. When their own governments and their agencies warn pregnant women to restrict their intake of large predator fish because of contamination with industry-generated heavy metals; when the Chinese government issues warnings to the citizens of Shanghai to remain indoors because of the threat of atmospheric pollutants, pesticides, plastic residues, fluorocarbons; and when flame-retardant chemicals are found in breast milk, even the global warming sceptics would have to agree that these pollutants are the result of human activities. But, then again, I suppose these same sceptics can always deny that pollutants in the air, water, food and breast milk are potentially harmful to our health.
Alfred Poulos
Adelaide, South Australia

• Margaret Wilkes (Reply, 29 November) can take heart from the actions of her neighbour, New Zealand, where climate change “deniers” have also persuaded the government that carbon has no price.

In a repetition of the 1973 flotilla that heralded the end of atmospheric testing by the French in Muroroa, five yachts set out to forestall the deep sea drilling intentions of oil company Anadarko off the North Island’s west coast. They returned on 1 December, having prevented nothing but their message is clear. New Zealand might be peaceful politically but it is not a pushover.

The permits granted by the government for oil exploration in much of the deep ocean that surrounds our beautiful coastline are not to every New Zealander’s liking and will be met by similar actions. Thousands lined the country’s beaches recently to express their support for those few who spent 10 days 160km off shore, surrounding Anadarko’s ship.

In the 1980s the actions of an initial few led to the passing of our nuclear-free legislation. The nuclear threat remains but that posed by climate change is even more certain. Citizens everywhere must do what they can to persuade governments to reprioritise their energy agendas.
Pat Baskett
Auckland, New Zealand

• In response to Margaret Wilkes’s letter asking for suggestions on how to convince Australians that global warming is real: imagine heating your home with coal or wood but not venting the smoke and gases to the outside through a chimney. You’d overheat and suffocate yourself in short order.

It’s the same principle with the planet. Since we can’t vent our fossil-fuel production of heat and gases into outer space, it stays under our roof, our atmosphere. It’s a bigger home, of course. But the area is finite. Eventually we overheat the room and poison ourselves.
Bill Hanson
Leavenworth, Washington, US

• Wow, who knew? This is no common revelation to find that there is a link between fast food and success in the world of international power diplomacy (29 November). Might I suggest we send out for a curry, some wonton and a bucket of fried chicken to support the climate talks in Paris in 2015? Global warming will be stopped in its tracks. It really is too bad we can’t book the band from the Titanic.
Jacques Samuel
Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada

Pope brings hope to Catholics

Being a Catholic can be as mortifying as living in Tony Abbott’s Australia; you find yourself constantly subsumed into blanket pronouncements from popes and prime ministers, on behalf of Catholics and Australians, that outrage your sense of what it means to be either. Since it’s particularly difficult to hold your head up high when the church is so often – and rightly – pilloried in the media, I was delighted to read Jonathan Freedland’s celebratory article: “The pope may have no army, no battalions or divisions, but he has a pulpit – and right now he is using it to be the world’s loudest and clearest voice against the status quo” (22 November).

Catholicism is as deep in me as race or gender; I can’t simply extirpate it when it gets uncomfortable, any more than I can renounce being Australian. What’s more, I’m a convert, for hidden at the heart of the deeply flawed institution is a pearl of great price, living water I’ve found nowhere else despite a lifetime of searching. And now, under the current papacy, there’s a real possibility of composting some of the worst aspects of the monolith: a hierarchy that can abuse power as corruptly as any of the juntas whose redemption we pray for, body-hatred and damning of sexuality, and above all patriarchy that blights its structures, liturgy, language, morality and doctrine.

Might Pope Francis be midwife to the rebirth of a church congruent with its founding vision, with Christ as iconoclast, prophet, mystery, and exemplar of justice, mercy, compassion and truth? Alleluia.
Annie March
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Nuclear price is too high

In warning about the consequences of the likely catastrophe resulting from a nuclear reactor accident, Naomi Hirose from Tepco introduces a new concept into risk analysis – the prospect that the price of any serious accident would be too great to pay (29 November).

Risk analysis indicates that the risk of a nuclear accident is extremely small. However, if that remote chance occurred, could we afford to pay for the consequences? If you take case of Hinkley Point: a serious meltdown accompanied by a large release of radioactivity into a westerly wind would probably render much of southern England uninhabitable. The costs, both economic and social, would be totally unsustainable.

Any such event is extremely unlikely, but the awareness of the possibility of a meltdown did not deter the flawed “safety” test at Chernobyl, which rendered a huge area of the Ukraine uninhabitable, nor prevent the construction of a reactor close to the sea in an earthquake/tsunami zone at Fukushima.

Thus to normal risk analysis, should we perhaps not add the further criterion: can you afford to pay the price if the extremely unlikely actually happens?
Peter Borrell
Newcastle, UK

Cities are not that cool

Simon Jenkins (15 November) may consider cities to be cool, but they are rapidly becoming passé; digital technology means the rationale for capital and labour concentration is over. Cities may persist as theme parks, offering nostalgia and sensation for tourists and “hipsters”, but the city as we know it is doomed. This is evidenced by desperate attempts at civic boosterism and mega-projects, all intended to prop up what is, in fact, an expiring entity.

As for elected mayors, we have one here in Toronto; no doubt many readers have read of his exploits. He was elected with 47% of the vote, out of a total turnout of 53%. Just be advised that if you want elected mayors, be sure that councils can get rid of them easily should they prove to be unstable – another election can sometimes be a long time off.
Peter R Saunders
Toronto, Canada

Who is Lady Gaga?

OK, I admit I had heard of Lady Gaga, in a vague sort of way, although I really didn’t know who she was or what she did exactly in the entertainment world. But after reading Queen of Artpop makes an entrance (29 November), I can’t really say I know any more than before about this young woman, apart from the clothes she doesn’t wear to interviews (knickers, shoes). It is quite a strange feeling, to have read a whole detailed article in the Guardian Weekly that makes you less informed about a person than you were before you started reading it. Did any other readers feel the same way as I did? Is this a new genre?
Léa Yauner
Pessac, France

Greatest batsman ever

With Sachin Tendulkar having finally retired, isn’t it time the world of cricket finally acknowledges him as the best batsman ever (22 November)? Certainly Don Bradman was great – but in very different times when, certainly after the second world war, players were out of shape and skill levels and pitches were not of the quality of today. Also, Bradman was not subjected to long periods of travel – and when he did tour, it was in great comfort – nor to the constantly high level of opposition, not to mention the numerous forms of the game played today.

Tendulkar has displayed remarkable consistency over his 25 years plus career. His stats reflect that: 200 Tests, 329 innings, 15,921 runs, 51 centuries. Time for the Bradman cult to fade into memory.
Grahame Woods
Cobourg, Ontario, Canada


• By splitting away from the Communist party of England (Marxist-Leninist) in order to form the deliciously Pythonesque-sounding Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Aravindan Balakrishnan seemed determined to cover all the bases (29 November).
Dave Robinson
Newstead, Tasmania, Australia

• “Stephen Harper’s government” and “Canada” are not necessarily identical – so please, make it not “Canada”, but “Canada’s Harper government has dropped any remaining pretence of supporting global action on climate change, etc” (22 November).
Julia Fortin
Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada


The National Housing Federation once again highlights the ever-mounting crisis of an entire generation locked out of home ownership (“A whole generation ‘won’t be able to buy or rent a home’ ”, 10 December).

While warnings abound of an over-supply of luxury apartments, the intermediate market – working singles and couples who earn too much to qualify for social housing but cannot afford to get on the property ladder – remains largely ignored.

The stark truth is that as long as demand continues to outstrip new housing starts, house prices will continue to rise at a frightening pace. The only way to meet this demand is for local authorities to work with private developers to identify and release more public land for appropriate housing development. Without such an effort, an entire generation will remain stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

Marc Vlessing, CEO, Pocket, London WC2

A major factor in the housing market is the rapidly changing demographic profile of the UK – the population is ageing. This is creating the housing equivalent of bed-blocking in the NHS.

According to the recent study by Reading University only 1 per cent of UK seniors reside in specially adapted housing, compared with 17 per cent in the USA. A high proportion of seniors moving into such accommodation would free larger, family properties, taking some pressure off that important sector. Projections that this demographic group will increase by 50 per cent by 2030 will make this bad situation far worse.

So-called “last time” buyers should be a key element in housing market strategy, but, regrettably, did not even get a mention in your leading article on this issue (10 December).

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Why Mandela was jailed

Since Nelson Mandela died, in all the furore that has followed, I have not seen any media outlet quote why Mandela was sent to jail, nor why, each time he was offered his freedom by PW Botha, he refused it.

Maybe that was something to do with Botha asking Mandela to renounce terrorism in exchange for his freedom.

The media seem to have forgotten Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for terrorist offences. Nelson Mandela was the head of UmKhonto we Sizwe, (MK), the terrorist wing of the ANC and South African Communist Party.

Since “the Troubles” in Northern Island have finished, how long will it be before we start celebrating the leaders of the IRA?

Eric Oliver

Hayling Island, Hampshire

In paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, David Cameron said that “a great light has gone out in the world”. He was echoing the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, who said of the death of Mahatma Gandhi that “a light has gone out of our lives”.

This resonance draws attention to the connection between the three great peaceful liberators of the 20th century. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela acknowledged the influence of Gandhi’s thinking and actions on their own mass movements, and these three men offered a hitherto unimaginable but effective alternative to violence.

I beg to differ from both Cameron and Nehru. The light has not gone out. It is up to us to honour and embrace it.

Raj Kothari, Bridport, Dorset

Further to your extensive coverage of Nelson Mandela’s passing, rather churlishly I notice a trend: Mandela Inflation.

Barely had the great man gone cold than Radio 4’s World Tonight expanded to one hour. Then, after a whole Saturday’s wallowing, Radio 4 was back again in Mandela-land for its hour of Sunday Worship.

Now, I was in the Congregation on 7 July, to record 4 August’s Sunday Worship. The celebrant dutifully added two sentences of commiseration in case Nelson Mandela passed away in the meantime! Two sentences.

So is it now time to publish a weekly Mandela Inflation Index?  Even Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother didn’t leave a legacy of lachrymation like this.

Godfrey H Holmes, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Energy companies’ baffling accounts

As an accountant I am appalled at the way International Financial Reporting Standards are used to hoodwink the public, who simply do not realise that the Income Statement these days is made up of imaginary costs in the form of share-based payments and unrealised profits and losses, which results in fantasy accounting.

The only way to judge what the real profit was in any accounting period is to look at “cash inflow from operating activities” in the Cash Flow Statement. This shows the amount of cash that can be invested without increasing debt. If you examine the energy companies’ accounts you will find that the cash generated is roughly double the alleged net profit. What this means is that all the energy companies could easily reduce their prices by 5 per cent and still generate enough cash to pay a reasonable dividend and invest for the future.

Again, if you examine the accounts you will see that companies are reducing investment in exploration and this will lead to a shortage of supply and increased wholesale prices.

Then it must be noted that privatisation was set up to maximise prices as before we get gas or electricity customers must finance three lots of profit: exploration, distribution and retail.

The general public are being conned out of sight; running an energy company is money for old rope. We need a mechanism to get these companies to act responsibly; only the threat of nationalisation might achieve that aim.

Malcolm Howard FCMA, Banstead, Surrey

Gender segregation is not Islamic

I agree with the views expressed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (“It is shameful that our universities have accepted gender segregation under pressure from religious fanatics”, 9 December). She should have also mentioned that at the time of the Haj pilgrimage some 3 million Muslims are in Saudi Arabia. Men, women and children intermingle.

Haj is an important pillar of Islam; every Muslim is required to perform it at least once, if they can afford the expense. When there is no segregation at the time of Haj why should these Wahhabi retrograde Muslims  be pressing for gender segregation in the universities? They do not have a leg to stand on. Segregation is not mentioned in the Quran.

Dr Mustafa Haqqani, Lymm, Cheshire

It should be remembered  that the rise of the universities in the Middle Ages proved a regressive step for women by excluding them from learned discourse.

After taking eight centuries to redress this perverse discrimination, I hope that universities will not now be the means whereby obscurantist Islamists are allowed to drag us all back to the misogynistic medievalism of their dreams.

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

On yer bike to  jobs in Europe

If you begin with the idea that migration in the EU is all about “them” coming to “us”, then it is all too easy to think of the free movement of people within the single market in terms of busloads of Poles, Romanians or Bulgarians “invading” Britain.

But the free movement of people is also about opportunities for British people to find  work elsewhere in the EU. Thousands have and thousands more will. They are simply taking Norman Tebbit’s much-quoted advice about getting “on yer bike” and looking for work.

British people turn up at jobs fairs all over Europe, and though they sometimes have a shortage of language skills there are plenty of jobs which include language training.

Is there really no hope of the UK being able to see the positive side of the EU, the way in which it gives them opportunities as well as providing them with challenges? No wonder the Scots are thinking of getting out of Britain – better that than being forced out of the EU in four years’ time by the English!

Dr Mark Corner, Brussels

An expensive Christmas

Thanks for the Christmas Gift Guide (9 December). For her: a scarf costing £315, or a pair of slippers, a mere £480. For him: a £130 bobble hat, or a candle, a snip at £75. Have just read the same day’s headline: “The poorest pay the price for austerity”. Currently lost for words.

Prue Bray, Wokingham

Seventy-five pounds for a candle. What have things come to?

Andrew Maxwell-Hyslop, London SW15

Chinese pupils pay a high price

Regarding the recent Pisa tables, five years ago I taught English conversation at a middle school in a large city in Central China. I was asked, by a 16-year-old: “How many students in the UK commit suicide due to the pressure of work?” Be careful, Mr Gove, what you wish for.

Adrienne Fitzwilliam, Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi offered a hitherto unimaginable but effective alternative to violence

Sir, You refer (leading article, Dec 9) to Nelson Mandela’s hope that one day a statue of a black man might stand in Parliament Square.

The statues of two South African leaders now stand in that square: Jan Christian Smuts and Nelson Mandela, one white, the other black. Both opposed the governments of their time: Smuts against the British, Mandela against apartheid. For both, in the words of your obituary of Mandela (Dec 7), the idea of revenge on the old order for the iniquities of the past was no part of his make-up. It is fitting that both gaze across Parliament Square to the Mother of Parliaments.

Neil Petersen


Sir, In paying tribute to Mandela, David Cameron said that “a great light has gone out in the world”. In doing so, he was echoing the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, who said of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, that “a light has gone out of our lives”.

This resonance rightly draws attention to the connection between the three great peaceful liberators of the 20th century. Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela both acknowledged the influence of Gandhi’s thinking and actions on their own mass movements, and these three men offered a hitherto unimaginable but effective alternative to violence.

Raj Kothari

Bridport, Dorset

Sir, There is one man who will probably not be remembered this week as we honour Mandela’s extraordinary life, but without him we might have little to celebrate. Nearly 50 years ago Judge Quartus de Wet in exercising his discretion to condemn Mandela to life imprisonment rather than to death unknowingly helped to pave the way to a future democratic dispensation. It was not an easy decision. Mandela acknowledged that if he had been executed most people would have regarded de Wet as his killer and yet de Wet was a white Afrikaner, a creature of the South African system under even greater pressure from his own people.

That de Wet resisted the pressure from the government and from many whites was a brave and wise act for which South Africa and the world can be grateful.

Michael Henderson

Westward Ho!, Devon

Sir, Libby Purves (Dec 9) recounts how when her mother told her black servant Elizabeth that the singer on the radio, Paul Robeson, was black, Elizabeth said, “Oh, but madam he sings as good as a white man.” Mandela himself once fell into the same trap. He recounts in Long Walk to Freedom how when boarding a plane in Khartoum he saw that the pilot was black. “I had to quell my panic. How could a black man fly a plane? But a moment later I caught myself. I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set thinking that Africans were inferior and that flying was a white man’s job”

his hon leonard krikler

London NW2

Sir, Concerning the scale of Nelson Mandela’s funeral (Ben Macintyre, Dec 7), Francis Witts (letter, Dec 9) is correct that five million attended the burial of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970; but even that was exceeded in 1975 by the funeral of Oum Kalthoum, in Cairo, when ten million were present. She was, and still is, acclaimed all over the Middle East as the greatest of singers.

Canon Seamus Cunnane


Our historic environment creates both our sense of national identity and the context in which we, as citizens, can live meaningful lives

Sir, The Heritage Alliance welcomes the debate on the future of English Heritage. The proposal, outlined with the summer Spending Review, is to create a new charity to manage the National Heritage Collection (some 420 sites of architectural, historical or archaeological importance) and a separate body to oversee the statutory heritage services that protect our historic environment — which is a source of national pride, an engine of economic growth, an inspiration to all and the envy of the world.

There are ironies in the timing and intent of the Government’s actions. This year, in which we celebrated the centenary of the Ancient Monuments Act, seems to close a century of beneficial state intervention in the historic environment, and now we need to build a different model that will work for the next century.

Our historic environment, whether in the hands of the state, charities or private individuals, creates both our sense of national identity and the context in which we, as citizens, can live meaningful lives. So it is disturbing that this consultation has been delayed by over two months.

I fear that the dilatory handling of this consultation thus far indicates a shocking lack of understanding of the importantance of our historic environment. It is in the interests of all of us that both halves of the new English Heritage should be robust and sustainable.

Spending cuts have already removed £700 million worth of investment from the historic environment. The Chancellor’s autumn statement implied that more cuts were necessary to fund vital infrastructure projects. The historic environment is also infrastructure. It is time that we plan for it in generational terms rather than pandering to the short-termism of the electoral cycle.

Loyd Grossman

Chairman, The Heritage Alliance

‘There is a contradiction in asking people to donate to a charity that helps landmine victims if it is also investing in defence activities’

Sir, Comic Relief is a fine institution, but its investments in tobacco and arms should be investigated.

For too long we have deployed capital with worrying about its ethics, as long as we deploy some of its returns as philanthropy. However, what investors value does, by definition, become financially valuable. There is a contradiction in asking people to donate to a charity that helps landmine victims if it is also investing in defence activities — this isn’t just about investing in the right things to benefit society, but is betraying the good faith of donors. If we want global financial markets to benefit society, instead of harming it, we must view investments through a long-term lens that includes impact — both positive and negative. With the growth of the social impact investment market in the UK (predicted to be worth £1bn by 2016) and with institutions such as Goldman Sachs creating a $250m fund focused on social impact, there is an increasing opportunity to have a genuine positive social impact.

Dominic Llewellyn

London SW1

Sir, Paul Vallely (Opinion, Dec 9) says that ethical investment funds have higher charges, worse performance and are more risky. While that may have been true in the 1990s, fortunately we now live in a more enlightened age when dozens of major charities have recognised it is possible to invest their charitable trust funds in a way that does not conflict with their charitable objects, acting as exemplars for others to follow. Comic Relief’s failure to acknowledge this is no laughing matter.

Robin Keyte

Taunton, Somerset

Far from being a German carol, Silent Night is actually the product of lyrics by an Austrian priest, set to music by an Austrian organist

Sir, I was disappointed that your leading article (Dec 9) ascribed the composition of Stille Nacht to Germany. The words were written by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian priest, and the tune was composed by the Austrian organist Franz Xaver Gruber, and the song was played for the first time at Christmas in 1818 in the little church of St Nikola in Oberndorf in Salzburg.

Bettina Prendergast

ORF Austrian Broadcasting Corp

The grammar test in The Times today has prompted a large postbag, with varying degrees of agreement about the answers

Sir, Of the answers to the “I or me” section in your grammar test (Dec 10) three out of five contained the same error. Popular usage notwithstanding, the copular verb “to be” (including progressive forms such as “is doing”) takes a predicate nominative, so in your examples (eg “The last person to be picked for the team was —”) the answer should have been “I”, not “me”.

Dr John Burscough

Hibaldstow, Lincs


SIR – With over 50 years’ experience as a professional pantomime dame, at both the Oldham Coliseum and Nottingham Playhouse, I was saddened to read that according to the National Database of Panto Performance, traditional pantomime is in decline.

Nearly 4,000 children have come through the doors of Nottingham Playhouse in the first week of Jack and the Beanstalk, in which I am playing Dame Daisy. We are on target for this to be the highest-selling panto in our 30-year history.

In panto, for a couple of hours, the trials and tribulations of modern life vanish and the audience, regardless of age, can be childlike and innocent again.

I am certain I speak on behalf of many who feel that traditional pantomime still has a place in British culture.

Kenneth Alan Taylor

SIR – Sixty-five years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we ask political leaders to acknowledge the continued relevance of human rights globally and here at home. As leaders of civil society groups, we see the vital role of human rights in ensuring a fair and healthy democracy, helping us all to live with dignity and respect. Yet while human rights are so often the inspiration for domestic law across the world, they rarely feature in current Westminster rhetoric.

This Human Rights Day, we ask political leaders to ensure that Britain’s recent commitments at the United Nations Human Rights Council to “work tirelessly for the promotion and protection of human rights, both domestically and abroad” are made a reality. We hope that Britain will stand firm on the European Convention on Human Rights and our Human Rights Act. Both of these were inspired by the UDHR and provide vital protection.

Stephen Bowen

Director, British Institute of Human Rights

Professor Francesca Klug

Chair, British Institute of Human Rights

Asif Afridi

Co-Chair, English Regions Equality and Human Rights Network

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK

Amanda Ariss

Chief Executive, Equality and Diversity Forum

Tom Baillie

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People

Rob Berkeley

Director, Runnymede Trust

Adrian Berry

Chair, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

Keith Best

Chief Executive Officer, Freedom From Torture

Julie Bishop

Director, Law Centres Network

Carol Boys

Chief Executive, Down’s Syndrome Association

Zrinka Bralo

Executive Director, Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum

Paul Breckell

Chief Executive, Action on Hearing Loss

Susan Bryant

Director, Rights Watch UK

Linda Burnip

Co-Founder, Disabled People Against Cuts

Jabeer Butt

Deputy Chief Executive, Race Equality Foundation

Annie Campbell

Director, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland

Neil Campbell

CEO, Alternative Futures Group

Dr Peter Carter

Chief Executive & General Secretary, the Royal College of Nursing

Rita Chadha

Chief Executive Officer, Refugee & Migrant Forum of East London

Shami Chakrabarti

Director, Liberty

Professor Sara Chandler

Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Law Society

Ann Chivers

Chief Executive, BILD (British Institute of Learning Disabilities)

Karen Chouhan

Chair, Equanomics

Barbara Cohen

Chair Discrimination Law Association

Andrew Copson

Chief Executive British Humanist Association

Martin Coyle

Director, Trust Voice

Sister Colette Cronin

Congregational Leader, Institute of Our Lady of Mercy Sisters of Mercy

Frances Crook

Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform

Lynda Dearlove

Chief Executive, Officer women@thewell

Helen Shaw and Deborah Coles

Co-Directors INQUEST

Tom Doyle

Chief Executive, Yorkshire MESMAC Group of Services

Holly Dustin

Director, End Violence Against Women (EVAW)

Dr Mark Ellis

Executive Director International Bar Association

Pat Elsmie

Director, Migrants’ Rights Scotland,

Sir Stuart Etherington

Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Voluntary Organisations

Ceri Goddard

Chief Executive Officer, Fawcett

Paul Farmer

Chief Executive, Mind

Gary Fitzgerald

Chief Executive, Action on Elder Abuse

Don Flynn

Director, Migrants Rights Network

Alison Gelder

Chief Executive, Housing Justice

Penelope Gibbs

Director, Transform Justice

Brian Gormally

Director, CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice)

Carolina Gottardo

Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Services

Professor Martin Green

Chief Executive Officer, English Community Care Association

Andy Gregg

Chief Executive, ROTA (Race on the Agenda)

Rob Greig

Chief Executive, National Development Team for Inclusion

Paula Hardy

Chief Executive, Welsh Women’s Aid

Richard Hawkes

Chief Executive, Scope

Jeff Hawkins

Chief Executive, Age Connect Wales

Vivienne Hayes

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Resource Centre

Helena Herklots

Chief Executive, Carers UK

Steve Hynes

Director, Legal Action Group (LAG)

Deborah Jack

Chief Executive, NAT (National Aids Trust)

Vaughan Jones

Chief Executive, Praxis

Joyce Kallevik

National Director, Wish

Des Kelly

Executive Director, National Care Forum

Faiza Khan

Deputy Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Abdul Khan

Chief Executive Officer, BECON

Maia Kruger

Coordinator, Songololo Feet

Ratna Lachman

Director, JUST West Yorkshire

Shauneen Lambe

Director, Just for Kids Law

Marai Larasi

Executive Director, Imkaan

Annette Lawson

Chair, NAWO

Annette Lawson

Chair, Judith Trust

Shauna Leven

Director, Rene Cassin

David Mepham

UK Director, Human Rights Watch

Wayne Myslik

Chief Executive, Asylum Aid

Polly Neate

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Aid

Peter Newell

Coordinator, Children are unbeatable! Alliance

Priscilla Nkwenti

Chief Executive BHA for Equality

Kunle Olulode

Chief Executive Voice4Change England

Naana Otoo-Oyortey

Executive Director, FORWARD

Simon Parkinson

Director for External Relations & Communities Royal Mencap Society

Kath Parson

Chief Executive, Older Peoples Advocacy Alliance

Elizabeth Prochask

Founder, Birthrights

Dr Dimitrina Petrova

Executive Director The Equal Rights Trust

Dave Prentis

General Secretary, UNISON

Habib Rahma

Chief Executive JCWI

Mohammed Razaq

Executive Director West of Scotland Regional Equality Council Ltd

Bridget Robb

Chief Executive Officer British Association of Social Workers

Ewan Roberts

Manager Asylum Link

Paul Roberts

Chief Executive Officer, LGBT Consortium

Sarah Rochira

The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales

Revd Roberta Rominger

General Secretary The United Reformed Church

Alexandra Runswick

Director Unlock Democracy

Jago Russell

Chief Executive, Fair Trials International

Eithne Rynne

Chief Executive Officer, London Voluntary Services Council

Caroline Sagar

Chief Executive, n-compass NorthWest

Natalie Samarasinghe

Executive Director, United Nations Association – UK

Liz Sayce

Chief Executive Officer Disability Rights UK

Emma Scott

Director Rights of Women

Damien Short

Director Human Rights Consortium, University of London

Hannana Siddiqui

Coordinator Southall Black Sisters

Samantha Smethers

Chief Executive Grandparents Plus

Carol Storer

Director Legal Aid Practitioners Group

Robert Sutherland

Convener SCOLAG

Andy Thornton

Chief Executive Citizenship Foundation

Paola Uccellari

Director Children’s Rights Alliance for England

Aneeta Prem and Vineeta Thorhill

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Charity

Debbie Walker

Chief Executive Age UK East London

Paul Ward

Acting Chief Executive Terrance Higgins Trust

Phillip Watson

Chief Executive Manor Gardens Welfare Trust

Chris Whitwell

Director Friends, Families and Travellers

Maurice Wren

Chief Executive, Refugee Council

Patrick Yu

Executive Director Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities

Prof Katja Ziegler

Director, Centre for European Law and Internationalism

SIR – Liz Truss, the minister for education, is right when she says that children’s attainment in this country is more directly affected by confidence than competence. We do not need to look as far afield as Singapore or Shanghai, as she suggests, to find out how to tackle this national gender gap.

We only need to look as far as our own best schools, where it is not cool to be a fool, and girls do not think they can be made more attractive by hiding their intelligence. Girls do not need to be encouraged into maths and science more than boys, they just need to be educated in an environment that constantly gives them the message that they can do anything they wish if they put their minds to it.

David Hanson
Chief Executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

SIR – Maths education is failing because teaching methods have not evolved. The emphasis on scraping a C grade in GCSE maths is distracting from the real job to be done: equipping young people with the skills and confidence to help them throughout their lives.

The Government must embrace new technologies and teaching methods – such as flipped learning, which emphasises problem-solving practical work – to make learning more fun and therefore more effective. Classroom-based learning alone, where one teacher stands in front of 30 students, does not meet individual needs.

At home, parents should provide supplementary education for their children that feels like an extension of their entertainment. These children have grown up with the internet; a technological blackout is not the answer.

By using media that they are familiar with, children become much more receptive to learning; this is something that should be encouraged.

Simon Walsh
London N1

SIR – My son gained 12 A* and one A in his GCSEs last summer through hard work. However, he also found time to be a volunteer at our local library, followed his favourite football team all over the country and had a hectic social life. Academic achievement, while also broadening one’s life skills, is possible if the child is committed to hard work and doesn’t sit playing on PlayStation all day long.

Maybe it isn’t the standard of the teaching we should be questioning, but the work ethic of the pupil?

Alan Reynolds
Sudbury, Suffolk

SIR – We may not perform as well as Asian countries in maths and science tests, but how many of the “top” countries are producing more than brilliant bean-counters? Will these well-drilled children ever write plays, compose music or paint pictures?

Doraine Potts
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

MPs’ pay rise

SIR – Any attempt to justify an increase in MPs’ pay by comparing it with similar disciplines is a flawed concept.

We live in a capitalist market economy. The correct level for an MP’s salary is that which is necessary to continue to encourage people both to become and remain MPs. To date, there has been a surfeit of British subjects queuing up to get elected to the job; this suggests that they are already being paid too much.

If one indulges in the comparative value game, we must remind ourselves that most MPs act as mere “lobby fodder”, kowtowing to the whips rather than standing up for the collective interests of their constituents. As soon as they make any meaningful attempt to legislate in the interests of Britain, the EU steps in to remind us that it is Brussels that decides what laws we can make, amend or repeal, not the British Parliament.

David Gray
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

SIR – Perhaps one reason that the opinion of the public carries no weight where MPs’ salary increases are concerned is the make-up of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority board. Two lawyers, two members of NHS boards and two civil servants within the education profession.

Not a single member with a business background.

Roy Deal

SIR – The notion that the rise in MPs’ salaries will attract high-calibre candidates is fatuous.

Look how much bankers are paid.

James Fane-Gladwin
Ston Easton, Somerset

Migrants’ wages

SIR – Sir Stuart Rose, the former chief executive of Marks & Spencer, tries to justify immigrants working for lower wages. No doubt Sir Stuart worked hard to reach the top, but most of the captains of industry over the past couple of decades have seen their remuneration rise from a few multiples of their average worker’s wage to between 100 and 150 times. This disconnects them from the financial worries of the majority of the working population.

Perhaps Sir Stuart might be concerned if a suitably qualified applicant from Bulgaria or Romania were to compete for his job for half the salary.

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

Cross purposes

SIR – Many expensive crossings with pedestrian lights could be eliminated if we were to follow the example of the Swiss, where yellow zebra crossings are used extensively.

Rather than speeding up to beat the pedestrian, it’s normal for a driver to slow down well in advance when seeing a walker about to reach a crossing.

Consequently, traffic flow is much better.

Robert C Hale
Evesham, Worcestershire

Swallowing needles

SIR – I doubt that even the most committed vegan or adventurous cook needs the warning attached to my Tesco Nordman Fir Christmas tree: “Not fit for human consumption.”

What kind of human does Tesco think needs this curious advice?

A G Whitehead
St Leonard’s on Sea, East Sussex

Diagnosing cancer

SIR – Following a blood test showing very low levels of iron, I was referred by my doctor to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for tests; eight weeks later I had an operation for colon cancer.

The service I received from both my GP and the hospital was second to none – the NHS at its very best. I am eternally grateful.

Elizabeth Wilson
East Tuddenham, Norfolk

Shadow player

SIR – Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has shown great courage performing Schumann in public. The fact that he is also working towards Grade 3 (normally the domain of school-age musicians) shows that his public performance was not just a publicity stunt.

Perhaps George Osborne, the Chancellor, should refrain from poking fun unless he is prepared to show the same courage?

Nick Perry

A passenger’s nightmare day with BA at Heathrow

SIR – On Saturday, I was flying from Chicago to Heathrow, from where I planned to transfer to Amsterdam. Upon landing and taxiing to the gate at Heathrow, we were informed that planes would not be able to leave. We were told this was due to uncommon weather conditions, but there were rumours that it was caused by a faulty software update.

Having disembarked and queued up for transfer with a couple of hundred others, a woman walked past, stating that all flights were cancelled until 5pm. No further information was provided. We had to go to the British Airways service desk to rebook. The queue was perhaps 1,500 people long, but two-thirds of the 26 BA service department desks were unmanned. By 5pm, all except two staff on the desks had gone home while the queue was still several hundred yards long. At 7pm, two more employees showed up and opened a desk. But this turned out it to be dedicated to BA promotions only.

When I finally managed to rebook my flight at 8pm, I had been queuing for over seven hours. I was then told that I could not get another flight until the morning. The employee gave me a piece of paper stating where I could claim a refund for hotel expenses “up to a certain amount” and pointing out where to book a room.

At the booking office, there was another one-and-a-half-hour queue due to “technical problems”. All of the computers had stopped working, so the staff were using their own laptops and mobile phones, trying to help people out. They were the heroes of the day. But what BA should have done was pre-book all available hotel rooms within 15 miles, and offer a free room to passengers who had to stay overnight.

Clearly, British Airways is not prepared at all for this kind of incident, and has very little interest in its customers’ welfare.

S J Willig
Beinsdorp, Noord-Holland, Netherlands

Irish Times:


Sir, – Nelson Mandela was very impressed with the Irish people who travelled to South Africa and volunteered with the Niall Mellon housing project. He recognised the sacrifice these people made in travelling thousands of miles to help people they didn’t know. At Tuesday’s memorial service, attended by 90 world leaders, President Obama spoke about Mandela’s understanding of the ties that bind the human spirit; “His recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us”. These characteristics of empathy and willingness to give have traditionally been strong points in us Irish.

In the World Giving Index 2012 Ireland was named the most charitable country in Europe for the second year running and the second most charitable in the world, after Australia. Nelson Mandela recognised these traits in Irish people; and something that was central to his own philosophy – the vital thread each of us plays in the tapestry of another person’s life. Or, as John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,/ Entire of itself,/ Every man is a piece of the continent,/A part of the main . . .” Nelson Mandela has left many legacies. Surely this must be one of his greatest. – Yours, etc,


Lower Salthill,


Sir, – I note a letter suggesting renaming the Spire “Nelson Mandela Pillar”. This is a bit of a mouthful. Could we not rename it “Nelson’s Pillar”? – Yours, etc,


The Rise,

Mount Merrion, Co Dublin.

Sir, – As a memorial, “Nelson Mandela Street” is a fine and timely proposition! But, wherever it might be located, surely “Nelson Mandela Way” would add an exhortative layer of meaning? – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – As a South African living in Ireland, I am deeply touched by the world and Ireland’s reaction to the passing of Nelson Mandela. As often remarked, South Africa’s Madiba epitomises freedom, yet I wonder how this reference to freedom is interpreted.

For many, it is most likely closely associated with Mandela’s incarceration under apartheid rule and South Africa’s subsequent transition to democracy.

What is possibly less thought of is the breadth of meaning associated with freedom: freedom of thought, choice and expression in its broadest sense. Nelson Mandela demonstrated an unshakeable belief in every person’s human right to live a life of their choosing, albeit within a moral framework. This belief served as the catalyst for a new South African constitution that would encompass numerous human rights previously impinged upon. Mandela taught us that there is no need to fear “the other” – those who are, live or do differently from ourselves.

Instead he advocated, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. This is a challenge that is applicable to the world as a whole, and also to Ireland as it strives to reshape its Constitution and stance towards human rights issues, including the debate on legalising same-sex marriage. Nelson Mandela’s teachings have the potential to encourage all people to reconsider how we might live with compassion and “for the other”, rather than allowing fear to guide our decision-making and treatment of others. – Yours, etc,


Clanbrassil Street,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – It is with much sadness that we, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM), mourn the death of our icon Nelson Mandela, but it is with much joy that we celebrate his glorious life. Oceans of print will undoubtedly be generated about this great man, arguably the greatest man of the 20th century, so any words of ours may be either superfluous or inadequate.

His incorruptible integrity, his dignified humanity, and his generosity of mind and spirit were always the lodestar by the light of which we strove to run the movement.

We feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to contribute in some little measure to Madiba’s brave and inspirational struggle for freedom and democracy for all the people of South Africa. He has left a legacy of tolerance, respect for all men, and forgiveness of enemies which aggressive nations and their leaders would do well to emulate. This is the best tribute that the world could pay to the memory of Nelson Mandela. Hamba Kahle, Madiba (Go well, Madiba). – Yours, etc,




(Last president, chairman

and vice-chair, respectively

of the IAAM),

C/o Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Since Nelson Mandela’s death, we have all heard, seen and read so much more about this great and complex man’s life, his great achievements and even failures, yes, failures of judgement, in his chosen successor Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma since, and how they have tarnished somewhat some of his achievements and legacy.

However, possibly his greatest achievement was to give black Africa hope and offer a sense of justice to come, to that continent. Seamus Heaney’s words in his great poem, The Cure at Troy, are very fitting:

“History says, Don’t hope/ on this side of the grave,/ But then, once in a lifetime, /The longed-for tidal wave, /Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme”.

He epitomises the powerful and attractive image captured in those words and hopefully that image of him will endure, despite the slide downwards that has beset South Africa and his ANC party from those lofty ideals since he retired from his presidency in 1999. There has been rampant corruption, infighting for power, tribal and religious prejudices and discrimination, huge unemployment, huge criminality throughout the country and one-party rule. We should worry for the future of this beautiful country. – Yours, etc,


Glenart Avenue,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Among the many reasons to salute Nelson Mandela’s memory is his refusal, when visiting Ireland, to join the chorus of Pharisees condemning Republicans.

That refusal clearly still rankles, as witness Bob Geldof’s article in your Nelson Mandela supplement, December 6th.


Palmers Green,

London, England.

Sir, – Nelson Mandela was a great man and he did much for the human race.

But, I am surprised at all the pomp and ceremony that was planned for his funeral. Surprised especially that Mr Mandela hadn’t made plans that this would not happen. The expense involving the security of bringing 70-90 world leaders to South Africa must be obscene.

If I was in his place, I would have left strict instructions that those heads of state would stay at home and put the money instead into a trust fund for the poor of South Africa. Each country could still hold a memorial ceremony where its head of state and interested people could attend. – Yours, etc,


Castle Park,


Co Meath.

Sir, – Regarding the Dunnes Stores strike, you stated, “The strike lasted two years and nine months and led to Ireland being the first country to ban goods from South Africa in 1987” (Home News, December 9th).

In fact, Jamaica imposed a ban in 1959. The country’s parliament had attempted to do so in 1951 but was stymied by its British colonial constitution. When the constitution was changed the ban was made effective. – Yours, etc,


Allerdyce Drive,



Sir, – He spent a long time in prison but his spirit never descended to the malevolence of his captors. As a young man, he believed armed struggle was the way to solve political problems; as an older man he rejected this path for the hard slog of the speech, non-violent resistance and the ballot box. He rejected imperialism and became a voice for the oppressed far outside his native country. Nelson Mandela? Most definitely, but also our own Michael Davitt, the “greatest Irishman of the 19th century” as one of his biographers called him. Official Ireland has been full of praise in its assessment of Mandela’s contribution to humanity and rightly so; when will it give full recognition to Davitt’s contribution? – Yours, etc,


Athleague, Co Roscommon.

Sir, – Has anyone asked Dunnes Stores management how they feel about ending up “on the wrong side of history”? – Yours, etc,


Park Lane,


Dublin 4.

Sir,  – Your report (Home News, December 9th) states that Fianna Fáil is expected to resist attempts by former senior members to return to elected office. Apparently, party sources believe they need candidates “without baggage” and that “running people associated with the previous government could see public anger towards us reignited”. For these reasons, it seems that the party leader, Micheál Martin, is declining to support his former ministerial colleague, Mary Hanafin, in her desire to run on behalf of Fianna Fáil in the next European election.

  Could I point out to the Fianna Fáil party faithful that Micheál Martin was a member of the three governments formed by Bertie Ahern between 1997 and 2007? As a consequence of the appalling attitude displayed by those who held power during the period in question, this country was brought to the very brink of economic collapse.

  If members of Fianna Fáil are genuinely worried about the risks associated with carrying “baggage” from the past, they should address that problem by subjecting Mr Martin’s time in government to the scrutiny it deserves. I doubt very much that the party will address the relevant issues for the simple reason that, in the weird and wonderful world inhabited by Fianna Fáil, reality scarcely ever troubles the repose of that organisation’s members. – Yours, etc,


St Lawrence’s Road,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Beyond the political fallout, and recriminations between charities and the HSE, the impact of the top-up controversy, is probably deeper than thus far reported, and likely to have a longer lasting impact than can be imagined.

  As a past volunteer at the CRC, and regular supporter of its fundraising efforts, the recent revelations leave more than just a bitter after taste. It has shattered a psychological contract that depended on goodwill and decency to provide credibility and indeed financial credit. Personally I feel it is akin to being mugged by your own family. –   Yours, etc,


Kincora Drive,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – Quite how did The Irish Times manage to give the impression (“Journalist ‘absolutely vindicated’ by Smithwick findings”, Home News, December 7th) that Toby Harnden had been “vindicated” in the Smithwick report when his evidence was in fact summarily dismissed? Judge Peter Smithwick is very clear that he was not just “disappointed” at Harnden’s failure to appear at the tribunal but, to quote Smithwick, “His non-attendance at the tribunal means that it would not be appropriate to attach weight to the allegations contained in his book.”

Can the judge be any clearer than this? Why was this not stated in an article which quotes Harnden at length? – Yours, etc,


An Charraig,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Dún na nGall.

Sir, – Reluctantly I must defend myself from the personal attack (CDC Armstrong, November 19th), which I am surprised you allowed into print. Your correspondent was commenting on my reported interview regarding Asperger syndrome. In my comments (Health + Family, November 5th) I was attempting to explain the difficulties which a person with the syndrome may have in understanding other people. I was using the “theory of mind” explanation developed by Prof Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge in that many find it difficult to “put themselves into the shoes of other people”. At no stage did I mention the question of empathy in my comments.

I have a son with Asperger syndrome and was a founder member of the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland in 1995 and have met with many children, adolescents and adults affected by the syndrome. I have worked for the association for 18 years on a voluntary basis and striven to raise awareness of the syndrome and develop services to assist those affected by the condition and their families. A person with the syndrome has difficulties in the area of socialisation, communication and often has restricted interest. I did point out the huge benefit to society of having people with such single-mindedness and the suggestion that Albert Einstein, for example, may have been affected by Asperger syndrome.

Rather than attacking me, your correspondent perhaps should address a much more serious problem: the dropping by the American Psychiatric Association of “Asperger’s disorder” from its latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-5. Asperger syndrome is still retained by the World Health Organisation ICD-10, but this is due to be reviewed in 2015. We need everyone interested in retaining the diagnosis to make representation to that organisation by visiting its website and making their views know. — Yours, etc,


Honorary Secretary,

Asperger Syndrome

Association of Ireland,

Coleraine Street, Dublin 7.

Sir, – Judging by his comments to Bloomberg, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (Business, December 7th) appears to be claiming credit for the tough unpalatable decisions that have led to Ireland exiting the bailout programme.

It is worth remembering that many of these tough decisions were made by the late Brian Lenihan.

It is was these decisions, that were heavily criticised by commentators and opposition politicians at the time, that have been merely continued by the present Government.

It is disingenuous of Mr Noonan to attempt to claim all credit. Due acknowledgement should now be given to the difficult decisions made by the late Mr Lenihan. – Yours, etc,


Luttrellstown Avenue,


Sir, – I am shocked to read that Peter Mathews has been given a month to decide if he will run for Fianna Fáil in next year’s European elections (Home News, December 10th). It’s clear that Fianna Fáil is out and about gobbling up sundry disaffected TDs like there’s no tomorrow. We now urgently need the introduction of a Protection of Voters’ Will To Live During Elections Bill. – Yours, etc,


Shandon Crescent,


Sir, – Today, the following time and date numerical sequence will occur at eight seconds past 10.09am: seconds 8; minutes 9, hours 10, day 11, month 12, year ’13. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 24.

Irish Independent:

* Boris Johnson, the London mayor, recently made a proclamation that would suggest that modern unfettered capitalism turns traditional morality on its head. The traits that really matter are greed and envy. A politician, if intending to survive, is condemned to the ambiguous life of proclaiming the significance of certain virtues whilst living by their opposites.

Also in this section

Letters: Mandela’s legacy of caring for others

Leaving the poor out in the cold

Colm is some man

In seeking to take on the mantle of Margaret Thatcher, Johnson has declared war on the traditional virtues. His recent speech, reported in your newspaper, drew the predictable ritual outrage from politicians of all denominations. All Johnson was doing was bringing to conscious awareness the role of the new morality of greed and envy in furthering economic success.

What he is urging is that we face up to the fact that a modern economy is fuelled not by declarations of humility and bonhomie, but by the raw passions of envy and greed. He sees these primal forces as key motivators in the creation of wealth.

In Ireland we are no strangers to Johnson’s cardinal virtues, here their practice has been honed to perfection. The Celtic Tiger years were characterised by persistent celebrations of a riot of greed and envy. Ordinary human decency was for the naive and tender minded. Every principle was traded for the sake of a deal.

The life and death of Nelson Mandela has cut through the philosophy of greed and avarice with more gentle and redeeming sentiments. Politicians are now queueing up to praise the principles that Mandela was prepared to live, suffer and die for.

The real challenge for them and for us, however, is to put these principles into practice.

How is it that we have failed, in Ireland, to produce a single leader who came within a mile of matching the moral integrity and commitment to others of Nelson Mandela?




* Brace yourselves for an orgy of self-congratulation from Kenny, Noonan and company when the troika ‘leaves’ next week despite the departure being totally illusory.

We as a nation will continue to be humiliated and under the cosh of the EC/ECB/IMF sharks until at least 2050 when our great-grandchildren will, foolishly, have paid off the private debt of bankers and developers.

That is the legacy of our corrupt and dysfunctional political party system, dominated by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour in collusion with senior civil servants and insiders.

The tragedy is that a lot of us believed the pre-election promises and thought that Enda Kenny with his massive majority would make a serious difference. The reality is that we got more of the same: preservation of their own salaries and pensions; jobs for cronies; and complete capitulation to the troika and bondholders.

If in 2011 Mr Kenny had the courage, leadership qualities and the vision — on the basis of Ireland being a bankrupt country unable to pay — to cap all public salaries including his own at €100,000 and slashed all the grotesque public golden handshakes and pensions of politicians, bankers, advisers and senior civil servants, he would have brought the majority of the Irish people with him.

Such actions would have ensured national cohesion and an acceptance of austerity rather than the chaotic, divisive and unequal society we are experiencing today.




* The recent spate of severe weather has again focused attention on the injustice and medieval barbarity of hare coursing, reminding us that it is unlike other sports in more ways than one.

Apart from the fact that its players are forced to participate, and that they routinely suffer painful injury or death as they dodge hyped-up greyhounds, there is another factor that differentiates this “sport” from those that accord some measure of respect to their participants.

I refer to the callous disregard shown by coursing clubs to the added stress and trauma inflicted on the hares when they are made run on hard frosty ground, in heavy rain, hailstorms, snowfall, or on venues swept by strong winds.

There is no legal requirement on clubs to call off events affected by adverse weather conditions. This season, as in previous ones, hares have performed for the fans of this oddball sport in circumstances that would surely have led to a cancellation of any other sporting event.

With even worse weather predicted for future winters it is surely past time for a clampdown, if not on the entire practice of hare coursing, which is banned in many jurisdictions, including Britain and Northern Ireland, then at least on the holding of fixtures in the appalling conditions that hares were compelled to endure over the past seven weeks.

There is no valid excuse for this annual five-month attack on our hare population, a treasured centrepiece of our wildlife heritage. A switch to drag coursing, in which no live hares are used, would allow coursing clubs to hold events in the spring and summer as well as the autumn and winter.




* Former Labour Party TD Colm Keaveney made a crucial decision by joining Fianna Fail and was fully aware of the criticism he was courting. His reign in Labour was a tempestuous one, causing few tears to be shed on his departure.

Since first becoming a member of Labour he wallowed in vocally highlighting the faults of Bertie Ahern and former Fianna Fail government wrongdoings.

The former SIPTU leader’s tactics may take time before potential Fianna Fail supporters are impressed as to his future loyalty and integrity.

But remember, Keaveney is a clever man and may follow in the footsteps of noted political defectors of the past that went on to be big successes: Dr Noel Brown; Pat Cox; Martin Cullen; and Mary Lou McDonald to mention just a few.

Of course, on the international scene we saw Democrat Ronald Reagan switch to the Republicans and go on to become US president.




* Further to Ian O’Doherty’s column yesterday where he refers to the Irish language as a hobby in the context of Sean O Cuirreain’s resignation as language commissioner, I would like to speak for Irish speakers.

Mr O’Doherty has grown up in a world where all the services that he deals with to conduct his life are offered in his first language. Not so the thousands and thousands of people who have grown up with Irish as their first language. Imagine going to the doctor, to the bank, to a garda, to a counsellor and they don’t speak your first language.

Not only do they not speak your language, but if you try to obtain the service in your own language you’re labelled as awkward, a ‘Gaeilgeoiri Grenadier’ to quote Mr O’Doherty.

We are not from another country, we are from Ireland, believe it or not, and the fact that we are being marginalised does not change the fact that we have a right to be here.

Mr O’Doherty forgets that millions upon millions in state money is being invested in supporting the infrastructure of the English language — every government service in the country. Because it’s for the majority it’s okay.

He forgets that we have a right to exist as well. It isn’t a hobby. It isn’t a cash cow. It’s who we are and we have a right to be here.



Irish Independent


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