Still Pottering

13 December 2013 Still Pottering

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They is a new Wren but is she a spy for Captain Povey?. Priceless.

Potter around feeling under the weather try and sort website out very difficult.

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but both of us under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Ida Pollock, who has died aged 105, was the world’s oldest working romantic novelist and — as the author of 123 sagas, typically about virginal heroines exchanging chaste kisses with dashing, manly heroes — one of the most prolific. While her stories were largely untainted by sex, she was dismayed to be cast as the “other woman” in Enid Blyton’s divorce petition.

Over nine decades Ida Pollock sold millions of books with titles such as Indian Love (1935), The Sweet Surrender (1959) and Master of Melincourt (1966). Her 70 books for Mills and Boon were penned under the names Pamela Kent, Mary Whistler and Rose Burghley. As Burghley, in The Garden of Don Jose (1965), she allowed herself free rein in the use of horticultural metaphors:

“… that night in Madrid when you were talking about women as flowers in a garden…”

“My sweet one, it is always the pale flower in the garden that is nearest to a man’s heart!”

Tapping out more books than the half dozen a year that Mills and Boon were commissioning, Ida Pollock also wrote for Wright & Brown under the pen-name Anita Charles, and for Ward Lock as Averil Ives and Barbara Rowan; while for Collins she produced five novels as Jane Beaufort, beginning with Nightingale in the Sycamore (1957), which had been rejected by Mills and Boon as too risqué.

In five years she had no fewer than 40 books published — eight in 1956 alone, published under five pen names — each around 70,000 words long.

During the 1960s Ida Pollock finally gave up on contemporary romance, mainly because it was no longer something she wanted to write (contrary to some accounts, she never ventured into “erotica”); and as she turned to the Regency genre, Mills and Boon agreed to try a sample, in the event issuing five titles.

With these, for the first time, Ida Pollock used her own name; and, encouraged by the success of The Gentle Masquerade (1964), the firm launched a new division, to be known as Masquerade. As Marguerite Bell, she wrote two books for the series, but as the bodice-ripper style began to invade the genre, she gradually drew back.

“A romance is never just a romance; there’s adventure, mystery and movement,” Ida Pollock explained. “You need a grand, dramatic setting — the Swiss Alps were always a personal favourite of mine — and a chance meeting, on a train, a cruise, or perhaps the hero and heroine find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island.

“The men are normally rich, well-to-do — but never vulgar with their money. Young men lack the maturity to take control, so an older man is essential to provide the reassurance the heroine needs. There’s always a fair amount of turbulence before he sweeps in to save the day.”

As a young woman Ida had herself experienced a coup de foudre with an older, married, man, Lt-Col Hugh Pollock, DSO, a publisher and First World War hero 20 years her senior, who in the 1920s had edited Winston Churchill’s six-volume narrative history The World Crisis. Pollock’s wife was the children’s author Enid Blyton.

In her memoir, Starlight (2009), Ida Pollock revealed the untold story of her part in Blyton’s wartime divorce, describing Blyton’s stormy marriage, her multiple affairs (including a lesbian encounter with one of her children’s nannies), blazing rows with her husband, and all-day parties featuring tennis matches with naked participants — including Blyton herself.

According to Ida Pollock, Blyton had been present at a dinner in the late 1930s at Cliveden, Lord Astor’s country house, where the conversation had turned to appeasing Hitler. While Ida’s future husband Hugh Pollock walked out in disgust, Blyton was happy to remain.

Ida Pollock went on to describe how, after his divorce and her marriage to Pollock, he was forced out of his publishing job because Blyton (a Newnes author) threatened to take her books elsewhere; Blyton was deemed more important to the company than he was.

Into her second century, Ida Pollock continued to be published under the last of her alter egos, Marguerite Bell. A Distant Drum, her last novel, came out in 2005. “My books are full of hope and romance rather than sex,” she declared. “They are a form of escapism — you can escape the parts of the world that you don’t like. A happy ending is an absolute must,” she added.

She was born Ida Julia Crowe on April 12 1908 at Lewisham, south-east London, the only child of Arthur Crowe, who came from an old Norfolk family, a “race of lawyers and clergymen” distantly connected to Nelson. There were those who suspected that Ida’s biological father might have been a Russian duke, who was said to have been among her beautiful, bookish mother’s admirers, but this was never established.

Her parents’ marriage disintegrated shortly after she was born, obliging her mother to seek employment, keeping house for relations at Lee Green in south-east London, where Ida enrolled at Manor Lane School and won a prize for composition.

An early short story appeared in the Christian Herald, earning her five guineas. In her teens she began writing thrillers, completing her first, The Towers of Ravenshaunt, at 14. Eventually she drifted into romance “because my mother would always ask me to write ‘something pretty’. [She] would put a typewriter on the dining room table and say ‘there you go’.”

Ida wrote fast and with fierce determination. Having completed her novel Palanquins and Coloured Lanterns, she took it to Newnes, and was assured it would receive careful consideration. Six months later, having heard nothing further, she sent the firm a diffident letter, receiving a reply from Hugh Pollock, a Newnes editor, who eventually discovered the missing typescript in a safe.

Despite the age gap of 20 years, Ida was charmed by Pollock, who told her he was married. To put him from her mind, Ida immersed herself in her writing, working so hard that she suffered a mental breakdown. Yearning to see the desert, she travelled alone to Morocco, and after touring souks and glimpsing the Atlas Mountains, returned to England cured, and took a job as a Harley Street receptionist.

During the war Ida Crowe worked at the War Office and at a girls’ hostel in London. In September 1941 she again encountered Pollock who, having joined the Army, offered her a job as a civilian secretary at the Army Training Centre for Home Guard officers at Lord Ashcombe’s Surrey home, Denbies, near Dorking. She learned that Pollock’s marriage to Enid Blyton was in trouble and that his wife was unfaithful.

During a bungled firearms training session on a firing range, Pollock was hit by shrapnel. But when Ida Crowe telephoned Blyton, she refused to visit her injured husband, saying that she was busy and hated hospitals.

Shortly after this Ida was staying with her mother at Hastings, Sussex, when the house was destroyed by a German bomber, she and her family escaping with cuts and bruises. The next day she met Pollock in London to be told that he had decided to divorce Enid.

Although Pollock had recently learned of yet another infidelity on the part of his wife, it was Enid Blyton who persuaded him to admit to adultery — in order to protect her own reputation. Before embarking on a trip to the United States to advise on internal defence, Pollock installed Ida Crowe at Claridge’s, and the couple married on his return in October 1943.

After the war Pollock left the Army and, finding his way back to publishing blocked, accepted a post at the Cabinet Office. But by then his complicated life (there had been two previous marriages) had led to money worries, and he declared bankruptcy, at the same time struggling with depression and alcoholism.

Ida Pollock sold her first contemporary romance to Mills and Boon in 1952, and was soon turning out eight or nine a year. An agent promised to make her a “big name” if she would scale down the romance and turn to something more substantial, but she fretted about the financial implications.

She and her family moved continually, living in Switzerland (where her daughter was treated for chronic asthma), Italy, France, Ireland and Malta, where her husband died in 1971. Ida Pollock returned with her daughter to England and lived in Wiltshire before settling in Cornwall in 1986.

Aged 97 she published, under the name Marguerite Bell, A Distant Drum (2005), a historical romance set during the Battle of Waterloo. Her 124th and 125th novels, both Regency romances, are due to be published next year.

In 1960 she helped to found the Romantic Novelists’ Association and became its oldest member. To celebrate her 105th birthday last spring the Association appointed her an honorary vice-president.

She was an accomplished oil painter, and her work was shown in a national exhibition in 2004, when she was 96.

Ida Pollock’s daughter, Rosemary Pollock, a romantic novelist herself, survives her.

Ida Pollock, born April 12 1908, died December 3 2013


Lloyds has been fined £28m and may have to pay customers £100m because staff were set targets to sell products clients didn’t need. The Department for Work and Pensions (Letters, 12 December) set targets for staff to get people off benefits they do need (and may well be entitled to). So what penalties will DWP ministers and managers face?
Brian Donohoe MP
Lab, Central Ayrshire

• If evidence of the need for higher taxation of the rich is required, then the Lawson-Saatchi court case undoubtedly provides it (Report, 11 December).
Stephen Decker
Chelmsford, Essex

• The 1968 My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib torture stories were broken by Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. Hersh has just published an article in the London Review of Books arguing the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad”. Not that anyone would know, because all the media have ignored Hersh’s report.
Ian Sinclair

• I thought there was clear research that the booming deer population was destroying the wood warbler’s nesting habitat -I believe it nests in grasses on the forest floor (In praise of…, 10 December). I have taken to ordering wild venison to eat from the internet – and very good it is.
Jill Moss

• Early free wrapping paper? Stephen Simpson’s Richmond Park photo of deer (Eyewitness, 10 December).
Bob Corkey
Wicklow Town, Co Wicklow

• How appropriate (A Bonjour with your cafe, 12 December) that politeness should be encouraged in Nice.
Richard Lamming
Teignmouth, Devon

• I was touched by the inclusion of what I presume was Steve Bell’s departed pet in If… (G2, 12 December).
Jake Fagg

• Your headline (MPs’ body may be axed after call for £8k pay rise, 12 December) had me worried for a moment. Fortunately, perhaps, you had the apostrophe in the right place.
Chris Hickey
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Given that this year’s Care Quality Commission inspections were mainly targeted at “high risk” GP practices (Report, 12 December), what are we to make of the fact that less than 1% of those practices inspected were subject to enforcement action? We have just published a report showing that, of the 860 inspection reports released as of this week, only seven practices were sufficiently “dangerous” to require intervention. Either the situation is not as bad as Professor Steve Field (CQC chief inspector) makes out in his headline-grabbing comments, or the CQC is failing to protect patients. Which is it?
Jonathan Patrick, Scott Welpton, Greg Jackson
Esupplies Limited

• You report that the CQC intends to make “inquisitive and robust inspections of surgeries, which will include a CQC inspector, a GP, trainee GP and practice nurse or practice manager”. What about the service “user”, the “expert patient”? Inspection teams should involve patients, suitably prepared and supported.
Anthony Lawton
Market Harborough

Our education system may indeed be unfair but where on Earth is Martin Kettle’s evidence that this is in any way due to the ability of private schools to employ “the most memorable teachers” (Comment, 12 December)? If Kettle bothered to do some research, instead of making lazy assumptions, he would discover that (a) the proportion of state-educated pupils obtaining places at Oxbridge is the highest it has ever been and is far higher than when he was at school; (b) according to research by the Sutton Trust, the students who obtain the best degrees at Russell Group universities are the ones who went to comprehensive schools; (c) according to research by the OECD, pupils at UK state schools are better taught than their counterparts in the private sector.

The unfairness of the system lies not in the quality of teaching available in private schools but in the overwhelming superiority of the resources that such schools are able to provide to already highly motivated and, in most cases, carefully selected children. These resources include privileged access to professions such as TV and broadsheet journalism, which explains why Kettle is in a small minority of regular Guardian columnists who have not been to private school. If he really thinks his privately educated colleagues are there because of “memorable teachers”, it can only be that he has internalised a set of unpleasant social class prejudices.
Michael Pyke
Campaign for State Education

• I was educated in a highly reputable Midlands grammar school that was independent at the time. My experience of the majority of teachers was that the only way in which they were “memorable” was their inability to actually teach. I have memories of endless copying from the blackboard and learning by rote. There was one inspirational teacher but the rest were dull or incompetent. All would resort to corporal punishment to maintain discipline. I went on to become a teacher in Somerset comprehensives. It was there, and among the many state school teachers I learned from as a student, that I encountered “memorable” teachers. Not memorable for their idiosyncrasies, violence or dull lessons but for their commitment, professionalism and personalities. These are teachers that the country should extol and have articles written highlighting their enthusiasm and egalitarianism, not the dubious characters that so many middle-class commentators recall with such rose-tinted memories.
Lee Porter
Bridport, Dorset

• On two or three occasions recently it has been stated in letters and columns (for example, John Quicke, Letters, 13 November) that grammar schools failed 40% of their pupils because the examination results were so poor. It is a fact that only 60-70% of candidates could pass, as a pass/fail system existed; this was not a fault of the schools. It is equally true that only a certain number of grades could be awarded at each grade range at A-level. Let the case be argued by all means, but please do not play games and use false information. As for comments about staying on and going to university, the main purpose of the examinations was to act as a filter and only about 7% of the population went to university. Socially, they may have been divisive. However, as the son of a railwayman, I did not find it so. I was given an opportunity for which I am very grateful.
Roger Rowe
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

Peter Hetherington was right to point out the unfair spending of public money in London on transport (Society, 11 December). But he was wrong to assume that buses are used by many to get to work. Only in inner London is this still the case. In the rest of the country, cars dominate. Poor workers share cars, or taxis. Free pass holders are the biggest bus users outside London. For most poor people getting access to affordable fresh food is more important than better bus services. If the public sector intervenes, getting food stores into poor areas would improve health and make household money go further, as people can walk to shop. Reinventing the 1930s, when the bus was the king of urban travel, would waste scarce public funds. In Liverpool the mayor has abandoned bus lanes. The politics is easy: Labour voters make more journeys by car than bus. Money spent on safe and direct cycle routes would provide a real and affordable way of travel for many people who presently drive to work.
Professor Lewis Lesley

• Copying London’s bus networks wouldn’t deliver better services, as Peter Hetherington implies. For a start, London’s unique levels of population density, car ownership and public transport provision, make any comparison with other cities moot. More importantly, regulation certainly isn’t the only way to deliver improvements.

For instance, in South Yorkshire, the transport authority covering Sheffield has worked with FirstGroup and other operators to create an award-winning partnership that delivers much of what advocates of greater regulation seek – more stable fare levels and routes, multi-operator ticketing, improved journey times, better customer information and smart ticketing.

Moreover, in the region we are seeing more people on buses, which is good for operators, councils and local businesses alike. Best of all, this is being delivered now, with little additional cost to the public purse. Indeed, the partnership was rewarded by being designated by the government as the first Better Bus Area in February, which came with an additional 20% of the bus operators’ grant, to invest in bus services. For too long, it has suited all sides to paint the bus sector outside London as one of perpetual conflict but partnership between councils and operators is truly the best way to get more people out of their cars and on to buses.
Giles Fearnley
Managing director, UK Bus, FirstGroup

Europe will need to do more than tighten capital controls on big business to improve the lot of the majority (Ed can only create a fairer Britain with Europe’s help, 12 December). It will also be crucial to do the same for the flow of goods and people. “Site here to sell here” policies in every EU country, allied with “invest here to prosper here” constraints on cross-border money movements, would allow nation states to see off big business’s most potent threat – relocation. Governments also need to be able to take back control of immigration in order to meet the democratic wishes of their people, to lessen pressure on social provision and to prevent the permanent loss of the brightest and the best from poorer EU countries.

Peter Wilby is right that no one country can protect its inhabitants from the ravages of open borders and that changes have to come at a European level. However, it is unreasonable to expect such courage from politicians alone. The politically active must get out of their issue-specific comfort zones – be they social policy, environmental protection or reducing inequality – and realise that their campaigns are rendered more difficult with open borders. The protection and rebuilding of local economies and hence the re-establishment of local political control is the goal Europe must demand.
Colin Hines
Twickenham, Middlesex

• Is the news that “pro-EU protesters” have taken to the streets of Kiev in their thousands (Report, 10 December) an indication that the EU is neither a dead duck nor universally unpopular?
Michael McGowan
Former Labour MEP for Leeds

I applaud the Alzheimer’s Society’s call for a seven-fold increase in research funding into dementia (‘Put dementia on same footing as cancer, says charity’, 11 December). I’ve heard carers describe living with the dementia of their loved ones as akin to a living bereavement. More funding for research that might delay the onset of the disease – or, in some cases, stop its onset at all – would be wonderful.

But what about other mental illnesses? David Cameron has laid down his excellent Dementia Challenge – but where is the aspiration among politicians for a Mental Health Challenge?

It is an unpalatable truth that in so-called “civilised” societies people with mental illness may not live long enough to develop dementia. Chronic underfunding of mental healthcare has led to lower treatment rates, and people with severe mental illness have a reduced life expectancy of 15-20 years.

Mental illness is responsible for the largest proportion of the disease burden in the UK. Yet a recent review found that mental health research received just 6.5% of total funding – compared with 25% for cancer. I urge governments, leaders and decisionmakers to ensure that increased funding reaches all areas of mental health – and puts it on an equal footing with physical health.
Professor Sue Bailey
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

•  The case for a more effective response to dementia is unanswerable. However, there are worrying signs that the debate is dominated by biomedical perspectives on the one hand and palliative care on the other. While dementia may well turn out to have biochemical or genetic causes, it is at least possible that it also has social or environmental causes. The search for a magic bullet led by clinicians and supported for obvious reasons by big pharma repeatedly directs attention away from the need to devise holistic approaches to what are almost invariably wicked problems.

A significant proportion of the global burden of disease, communicable and non-communicable would be avoidable if only political solutions could be found to, for instance poverty, hunger, pollution and unemployment. Without denying a role for drugs or other medical interventions, part of an effective response to dementia may also lie in a society where people are enabled to attain their full capabilities.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

• Your coverage of the G8 dementia summit has been welcome. However, as with many others, you have failed to consider the experience of black and minority ethnic older people, whose numbers are on the increase in the UK.

A recent Race Equality Foundation briefing paper suggests that while Caribbean and South Asian communities are at higher risk of developing dementia, access to care and support for these older people and their families has been hampered by poor understanding of services within these communities, and by a lack of appropriate and accessible services.

The Race Equality Foundation, with others, has called for action, such as use of “community dementia navigators” to improve the experiences of these people and ease the burden of care; for increased dementia training for health practitioners; co-operation with the voluntary and community sector to spread information relating to diagnosis and treatment; and better engagement of black and minority ethnic communities to overcome the information deficit.
Jabeer Butt
Deputy chief executive, Race Equality Foundation

• Professor A David Smith (Letters, 11 December) gave a great account of the many ways, some already proven, that people could live better and avoid dementia. The following day’s editorial (Dementia: Taking Care, 12 December)seemed to go down the same old road as has been taken with cancer despite Otto Warburg’s research into the causes of cancer, for which he won a Nobel prize in 1931. That same old road being millions of pounds poured into research for a cure with drugs (with their attendant side-effects) rather than prevention (the new paradigm), by educating and empowering people to change their lifestyles and diets to avoid getting diseases they expect to get when older. Prevention being better than cure, this is not only a safer, more dignified option. It is, by all accounts, a much cheaper one.
Annie Watts
Kingston on Thames, Surrey


The report from King’s College London has put the cat amongst the pigeons (“GCSE results are ‘mainly detertmined by genes’ ”, 12 December). You say that it is a case of left versus right. Nobody in education is more left-wing than I am, but I still think that what it says about the effects of our genes is correct. Nature has far more effect that nurture.

During my career, nothing angered me more than the refusal, on the part of parents, to allow their children to go to grammar school, on the grounds that the children might grow up to be too “posh” for their parents, and who can say how much talent was wasted by such attitudes?

We need all the talent we can get if we are to face a future full of almost unbelievable possibilities. Educate all, but do not forget the clever ones; give them every chance to stretch their wings. They are going to make the discoveries which will make life more bearable for everyone.

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

It was interesting that your article on genes in education (12 December) was juxtaposed with a report of the demand for increased testing.

The main issue here is the imposition of the National Curriculum for all pupils. If not all children are socially, genetically or personally equipped to deal with all aspects of the National Curriculum at the same stage, what value is there in having such a National Curriculum?

One example proves the point. We remain obsessed with the desire to improve achievement in modern languages, and so force all pupils to jump through these hoops, when it is obvious that most of them will never need to use that language (whether Mandarin or French), and will never reach a satisfactory standard.

Serious questions need to be asked as to who is taught what and when. Individual tailoring is the thing that matters, rather than assuming that everybody can do everything to the same level. Very little serious discussion goes on in this regard, and it is the children and students who suffer, above all the brightest and the weakest. If education is a lifelong experience, why do we have to cram everything into these tender years?

The National Curriculum was originally imposed for a political, not educational, reason – to control aberrant teachers and LEAs. It has outlived its purpose.

Stephen Smith, Forum of Independent Day Schools, Colmworth, Bedfordshire

Before the Mayor of London and his pals jump on the latest research on the influence of genes on intelligence and infer that this a validation of some kind of master race who send their kids to places like Eton, they should note that within families there is genetic variance and innate differences of disposition. So the average difference in IQ (whatever that is) between siblings is about the same as the average difference in IQ between two random people off the street: one standard deviation, or 15 points.

I’m sure we all know families with children having different aptitudes, with academically bright kids alongside less bright.

This new research is valuable as a contribution to pedagogy but cannot be interpreted as a justification for oligarchy.

Colin Burke, Manchester

Why Netanyahu stayed away

I greatly enjoyed Matthew Norman’s analysis of the reasons for Benjamin Netanyahu’s absence from Mandela’s memorial service (11 December).

How magnanimous of the man to wish to save the Israeli taxpayers the cost of his flight to Johannesburg, but what a shame for the rest of us to have been denied his reception from the crowd; it might have trumped that for Jacob Zuma and, who knows, finally the scales might have fallen from the collective Israeli eyes.

Israel was the apartheid regime’s last friend in the developed world. There are, of course, similarities between the mistreatment of black South Africans and the subjugation of Palestinians – “Jewish only” roads on which Palestinians are banned from travelling, and the destruction of Palestinian homes to make way for Jewish homes.

Netanyahu is the  P W Botha figure in this pantomime, but there is also a Nelson Mandela figure. Marwan Bargouti is probably the only person with the integrity and support to be able to represent a single, coherent, moderate Palestinian bloc in talks with the Israelis. Consequently, Bargouti continues to languish in Israel’s prison system.

Should he be freed as Mandela was, we might dare to believe that Israel is serious about negotiating an end to its own apartheid policies.

John Dickson, Wells, Somerset

Peter Downey obviously did not fully know Mandela’s “vision and commitment” to a solution for the Arab-Israel conflict (letter 9 December). Mandela himself said in his visit to Israel in October 1999: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing from [the territories] if Arab states do not recognise Israel within secure borders.”

Unfortunately, most Arab and Muslim states do not recognise Israel at all, regardless of borders. Even the Palestinians, who have most to gain by the peace and recognition they could gain by making compromises equivalent to those offered by Israel, have rejected every single proposal of former Israeli prime ministers and responded with murderous intifadas. Above all, their leaders have made no attempt to stop the constant incitement against Israel in their media, schools and mosques.

What hope can there be that the next generation of Palestinians will normalise relations with Israel, after decades of anti-Israel indoctrination?

Alan Halibard, Bet Shemesh, Israel

Homes bought to remain empty

Your correspondents (11 December) are only partly right about the housing shortage. We are now seeing the results of a generation of people inheriting money and using it to buy even more property.

If all the empty housing were utilised, we would not have a housing problem. In the North the number of second homes, often used for only a few weeks a year, has rocketed. For example, in a row of six small terraced cottages nearby, the sort of affordable accommodation that Marc Vlessing would like to see, only two are let to tenants full-time. The remainder lie empty, some with heating left on, to serve as weekend retreats, holiday homes or simply investments.

We now see buy-to-let portfolios where high rents subsidise remaining unoccupied lets; second-home buyers force up prices to unaffordable levels to keep under-used housing, which in turn affects local services; countryside is built on so that more lucky investors can purchase more than one house leaving “a generation locked out of home ownership”. We can continue building more houses on green land ad infinitum and demand will never be satisfied.

Janet Pound, Calow,  Derbyshire

Musical break at Stratford

I very much enjoyed Daniel Rosenthal’s article on mishaps in theatre productions (12 December), which brought back a memory of when my late husband, David, was a member of the Wind Band at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon in the early 1960s.

In one production he had to catch a recorder, thrown in anger by Hamlet, played by David Warner. On one occasion he failed to catch it and it hit the stage floor, causing the foot of the recorder to fly off onto the lap of a lady sitting in the front row. It was never seen again.

Gillian Munrow, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

The rewards of being a religion

If my local hotel can be registered as a venue for weddings, is there any reason Scientology couldn’t have applied for a similar licence , without recourse to the Supreme Court? Or is this just the stalking horse to allow Scientology to use its newfound status as a “religion” to gouge money out of the state?

Andrew Whyte, Shrewsbury

Grade A students at Harvard

One day, at Harvard in the late 1960s, the topic of grades came up (“Too many A grades means an epic fail for Harvard”, 6 December.)  One senior academic said he always gave As because the previous director of the unit had said that the students wouldn’t be at Harvard if they did not deserve an A.

Brian Hopkins, Chichester, West Sussex

Culture of targets spreads to the banks

Lloyds bank has incurred a record fine for a toxic culture that penalised staff for missing targets. Their management was obviously following the example of the NHS reforms enforced with such fervour by the Blair and Brown governments.

Peter Baird, Retired Orthopaedic Consultant,  Chelsea and Westminster Hospita


Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect every aspect of life for sufferers and carers — the eventual loss of self is devastating for all concerned

Sir, As the full-time carer for my partner who was diagnosed several years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease I welcome your coverage of the crisis regarding dementia and the G8 conference (“Cameron to double cash for dementia”, Dec 11). However, there is also frustration as this crisis has been looming for years and funding for research is still way behind that for cancer, many forms of which can now be effectively treated or cured.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect every aspect of life for sufferers and carers — the eventual loss of self is devastating for all concerned. Raising awareness of this is essential, but adequate funding must be in place to back this up and to support the excellent work done by the charities involved. The effect on families, particularly where early onset is diagnosed, in terms of work, finance and retirement plans, is often underestimated. Early diagnosis is improving and really helps but knowing that there is no cure or new effective treatments as yet can be hard to live with.

Jacki Shorley

Kibworth, Leics

Sir, While the G8 summit puts dementia care in the news for all the right reasons, there is still an overwhelming tendency for the media to seek out the deeply disturbing poor-care stories in the UK. As Sir Terry Pratchett put it, on Newsnight this week, “Every time I read a newspaper or look at a screen, some bad care has been found somewhere in Britain.”

At a time when dementia care is being given the attention it desperately needs, it would be remiss of those of us campaigning for higher standards not to make the point that the vast majority of the UK’s more than 21,000 care homes are staffed by compassionate, caring individuals who work incredibly hard in very demanding circumstances. There is bad practice in all industries and all sectors but we cannot allow the bad news to define dementia care as it currently does. It is painfully demoralising for a sector that needs our support much more than our scorn.

As more medical breakthroughs are made and greater financial commitment is provided, it will be the UK’s committed and dedicated care homes and dementia care workers who will drive up standards and it is they who should take centre stage in the news coverage.

Leon Smith

Nightingale Care Home

London SW12

Sir, It is not widely known that dementia is also a cruel illness for young people. Research by the Alzheimer’s Society in 2011 estimated that some 600 people are affected with young-onset dementia in Oxfordshire, and around 157 of them require specialist home care. At the moment, as elsewhere, they are likely to be in care homes which mainly care for people in their eighties and nineties. Younger people are likely to be physically active and require different forms of stimulation and activity. We fervently hope to begin breaking down the stigma associated with what many still regard as an illness of older people.

Geoffrey Shepherd

Young Dementia UK Homes, Oxon

Sir, I lead the King’s College London research group that generated the estimates of the current and future numbers of people with dementia worldwide (36 million now, nearly doubling every 20 years) and societal cost ($604 billion, or 1 per cent of global GDP) cited in the G8 Dementia Summit declaration.

The declaration commits to seeking “a cure or a disease modifying therapy” by 2025.

Twelve years is both a cruelly long time to wait, and a very short time in which to achieve this ambition. The outcome is uncertain. The UK’s planned uplift in research spending (£66m) represents less than half a per cent of the annual societal cost of dementia in the UK. In the meantime we estimate that 28 million of the world’s 36 million people with dementia go without a diagnosis, let alone access to structured care and support.

If a disease-modifying therapy is identified, we will lack a culture of help-seeking, and an effective health and social care system for diagnosing and delivering treatment as part of a holistic package of care. These limitations will be all the more apparent in low and middle-income countries where nearly two thirds of the world’s older people with dementia live.

Equity and justice are critical issues here. If the WHO is to identify dementia as “an increasing threat to global health”, does that mean that a Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) exemption would be invoked for least developed countries, as was the case with antiretroviral treatment for HIV?

Would the treatment be affordable in middle-income countries such as India and China, many of whose older people may participate in “global trials” to provide evidence of therapeutic efficacy and safety to US and European regulatory authorities?

Living well with dementia is possible, and all the more likely with support, education, recognition and adequate remuneration for carers, and integrated, person-centred health and social care.

I suspect that this will be as true in 2025 as it is now. Two and a half cheers then for David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, and the G8 leaders for their magnificent initiative. I hope, fervently for a cure. However, let no one be in any doubt that the critical issue here is investment in care, and it is on this issue that we should hold governments to account.

Professor Martin Prince

Global Observatory for Ageing and Dementia Care

King’s College London

Sir, While appreciating your excellent coverage of the dementia issue and agreeing that we all should do as much as we can to look after ourselves, I offer a caveat.

I think coverage of such issues should show compassion for those who do look after their health and have moderate lifestyles yet still get caught by awful disease.

My first wife died at 56 from a very aggressive breast cancer. But in her case she had obeyed all the rules. She was an avid hill walker and proficient horsewoman. She pioneered healthy eating, she did not smoke and drank very little. She breastfed her four children and found her life fulfilling.

I have a repeating frisson of grief every time I read that the above behaviours can prevent cancer. And in the case of dementia I feel compassion for anyone who does all that is asked and still by unlucky chance succumbs.

Mike Gibbons

Cartmel, Cumbria

Sir, The G8 dementia summit this week was an unprecedented opportunity to co-ordinate international efforts in dementia research. The level of public interest in the summit illustrates the enormous impact dementia has on lives around the globe and the desperate need for progress.

The declaration released from the summit is ambitious. It talks of increasing investment, data sharing, innovation and collaboration — key themes already being pioneered by Alzheimer’s Research UK. We are pleased to see that a co-ordinated research action plan will be developed to look strategically at the challenges that lie ahead and how they can be overcome.

But now the talking is over, we must not rest on our laurels. The summit has delivered a road map to progress, but governments, charities and industry must work harder than ever before to make sure we succeed. We must maintain the momentum gathered this week and keep dementia research an international priority.

Rebecca Wood

Alzheimer’s Research UK

Quick action is required to save the archive of the Judgments of the Employment Tribunals of England & Wales from the shredder

Sir, It is not widely known but the archive of the Judgments of the Employment Tribunals of England & Wales is due to be shredded in the early new year. This is a potentially serious loss of heritage.

The growth of individual rights such as the right to a redundancy payment (1968), not to be unfairly dismissed (1971), sex discrimination (1975), race discrimination (1976) disability discrimination (1995) and latterly whistleblowing, religious, transgender and other protections is a significant part of the story of UK life of the past 50 years.

If we are now scouring the world for lost episodes of Dr Who and Dad’s Army, what are we doing by irretrievably destroying this precious archive? Surely there are a few feet of shelving available in the vaults of the National Archives for, at the very least, a selection of these records?

Quick action is required as the records are due to pass into oblivion in the early new year.

Robin White

London WC1


“In Shakespeare’s day,” he opined, “English followed the Norman-French model. Everyone would have said ‘it’s me’.”

Sir, “It’s me,” I said to my housemaster, confessing a misdemeanour. I remember the incident clearly, because it marked a turning-point in my career.

“Correction,” he replied, “it is I.”

I took the matter to my English master, who said that the “I” usage was favoured by the 18th-century grammarians who wanted English grammar to be based on the Latin model. “In Shakespeare’s day,” he opined, “English followed the Norman-French model. Everyone would have said ‘it’s me’.” After a pause for thought he added, “Except Hamlet, the Dane.”

So that settles the matter, doesn’t it?

Peter Pooley

Alresford, Hants

Sir, All I can say in response to those who would take issue with my comments anent the predicate nominative (letters, yesterday and today) is, it’s not me who makes the rules.

Dr John Burscough

Hibaldstow, Lincs

The word ‘love’ was lightly used between both sexes at the time and didn’t necessarily denote a sexual relationship

Sir, In “Royal Lover? No smoke without fire” (Dec 7) the Prince of Wales is said to have been the lover of Pinna Cryer on the slim evidence of a cigarette case inscribed “love EP”. This four-letter word was lightly used between both sexes at the time and didn’t necessarily denote a sexual relationship.

I have a tightly written, four-page letter the Prince sent my father from the General Headquarters, British Forces in Italy, on June 8, 1918. It opens: “My dear James” and closes “love from yours ever E”, before bemoaning Dad’s return to the Western Front: “I miss you a lot and that’s the truth”. There are intimate insights into Rome’s “divine women tho [sic] of course I was doing the heavy [royal duty] most of the time”, plus some more explicit observations and entertaining commentary on the fighting and his fellow officers.

When he married in 1924, Dad received Garrard gold cufflinks from the Prince but, sadly, they are only engraved with his fleur de lys insignia and an E. No love.

Juliette Gammon


Online ordering is a boon to many, but it can bring some surprises, especially in terms of the quantities delivered

Sir, Ross Clark (Dec 11) asserts that supermarkets manage to take millions of online orders every week “without sending us bean sprouts when we want a Bakewell tart”.

I beg to disagree. I ordered online a packet of Brussels sprouts and received one solitary Brussels sprout tastefully wrapped up in a polythene bag. Last week I ordered four chocolate mousses and received four packets of six chocolate mousses. At the time of writing I only have another 15 to eat.

Alan Porter

Camberley, Surrey


SIR – I agree with Ivan Hewett. There is nothing more irritating than hearing somebody describe the slow movement of Mahler’s 5th Symphony as “the theme from Death in Venice”. It is not. It is one part of a great symphonic work, just as the waltz that was used in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut was lifted from Shostakovich’s beautiful second jazz suite.

Francis Hussey
Pease Pottage, West Sussex

SIR – Why does Classic FM think that classical music is a drug to “relax” you when it should inspire and energise?

Nick Haines
Butterwick, Lincolnshire

SIR – It is unsurprising that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acclaimed musical Stephen Ward should have renewed speculation that the controversial osteopath at the centre of the Profumo affair was murdered by MI5.

Between 1961 and his death, Ward was contacted several times by MI5, which regarded him as “a difficult sort of person, inclined to be against the government”.

However, he was not seen as “a security risk in the sense that he would be intentionally disloyal”, though “his peculiar political beliefs combined with his admiration for Ivanov [the Soviet naval attaché] might lead him to be indiscreet unintentionally”, according to reports quoted in The Defence of the Realm, Christopher Andrew’s masterly history of MI5.

Apparently, there is nothing in the MI5 files that substantiates the view that his trial was the result of a deliberate Establishment plot to discredit him, let alone that he was murdered.

Fifty years on, all the relevant surviving documents should be thrown open. In July, Lord Lloyd Webber and I raised the issue in the Lords. We were told that files exist which contain “some sensational personal items which would be embarrassing if released”.

That cannot justify continuing blanket secrecy. It is widely believed that Stephen Ward was wrongly convicted, and the truth needs finally to be established.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Hi-tech MPs

SIR – Can’t technology be employed to make efficient use of our MPs? They could either live in their constituencies and use video conferencing for debating and an online system for voting, negating the need for the Houses of Parliament, or they could live in London and perform constituency business using email and Skype, which would be more expensive.

Steve Cattell
Hougham, Lincolnshire

SIR – As well as making laws (or rubber-stamping edicts from Brussels), MPs also serve their constituents. Reducing their number to 250 would increase the size of each constituency to more than 200,000.

So, by all means, lower the cost of Parliament by reducing their number to about 450, but then compound the savings by doing away with the EU tier of government altogether.

Roger Smith
Meppershall, Bedfordshire

Gardening holiday

SIR – The council garden waste collection service traditionally has a break over the Christmas and New Year period. Last year’s break was from December 17 until January 25, which was fine. However, this year there will be no garden waste collections from November 18 until March 14.

Looking out of my window now, I can see a considerable number of leaves on the ground. Adding these to the debris from seasonal pruning, I will have to make a number of visits to the local council tip, which involves a round trip of 10 miles.

Most of the leaves covering my garden are from council-owned oak and sycamore trees located in the nearby park.

Is this progress?

Trevor Shepherd
Goostrey, Cheshire

Reason for the season

SIR – While I agree with Joan Parrott that the best Christmas cards depict the nativity scene, it is interesting to note that “the world’s first Christmas card”, illustrated on this page yesterday, shows no reference to the birth of Jesus.

Owen Hay
Stanway, Essex

SIR – The joy of sending greetings at Christmas is somewhat muted by the cost of postage, and many people are cutting back on their lists. I wonder whether the Royal Mail would consider bringing out a special stamp at, say, 20p, which could only be used for a couple of weeks during December, thereby encouraging us to use real mail, rather than email?

Caroline Petch
London SW20

SIR – Epistles inserted into Christmas cardsare even worse when you discover you’ve starred in them. Not only don’t I care that Uncle Birtwhistle has completed his matchstick creation, I am certain nobody is enlightened by the “news” that I had lunch with second cousin Ondine.

Anne Jappie
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

That’s the spirit

SIR – Mr Peter Hallam received a letter from an insurance company, addressed to his executors, stating that he had died in late November, and asked how he should react.

I think he should haunt them.

Philip E Robinson
Ashby, Lincolnshire


SIR – Could it be that in appearing to be flirting with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the glamorous Danish prime minister, at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, David Cameron was actually lobbying for a cameo role in Borgen?

Gerald Fisher
Kettering, Northamptonshire

A new aviation hub

SIR – It is surprising to see the Mayor of London’s aviation adviser losing confidence in one of his own recommendations to the Davies Commission (report, December 11), as the Mayor’s office has always promoted three locations: Stansted, the Isle of Grain and the outer estuary.

It is essential that the Commission allows for proper consideration of the Thames Estuary as a location for a new hub airport. The Isle of Grain scheme is largely a land-based scheme, rather than an estuary proposition. To build an airport on the Isle of Grain would require demolition of houses, compulsory acquisition and destruction of agricultural land, removal of one of Britain’s strategic liquefied gas facilities (which will cost £3 billion to replace), destruction of protected bird feeding grounds and 30,000 new people affected by aviation noise. The island is also not big enough to optimise the runway layout or provide for future expansion.

The Mayor’s original vision of a new airport on an island in the estuary would avoid all these problems. Even with 24-hour flying, no people will be affected by noise, no houses will be demolished, no industrial facilities removed and there will be a minimal impact on birds.

London Britannia Airport provides the fastest, most cost-effective and efficient solution to Britain’s aviation crisis and can be built, with the necessary infrastructure connections, for £47 billion in seven years.

If Davies rules out the consideration of a “genuine” estuary option, rather than the unconvincing land-based options, this would be a monumental failure for the Commission and would make it impossible to develop any consensus around this polarised debate.

Bridget Rosewell
Chairman, The Thames Estuary Research and Development Company
Ian Mulcahey
Project Director, London Britannia Airport

Fit for a king

SIR – One imagines that the late King George Tupou V was of modest weight when a fit cadet at Sandhurst.

I remember squeezing the splendid figure of his father, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, through the forward torpedo loading hatch when he visited us in HM Submarine Anchorite during our “flag showing” call on his mother, Queen Salote, in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, in 1960.

Michael Hutchinson
Meonstoke, Hampshire

SIR – My family is currently suffering the consequences of ignoring the signs of my mother’s increasing dementia for too long. Hers is a proud and independent generation, which survived war and economic hardship in the Thirties and Forties; she didn’t want to be a burden on the state, so we did not want her to be diagnosed.

But now her dementia has grown worse, and the lack of diagnosis means that she is not getting proper care. Without a diagnosis, only the physical side-effects of her recent fall have been treated. But her mental distress is impeding a full recovery. It has been left to family members to give her the compassion and emotional support she needs, and to fight her corner in an overwhelmed system. Lacking a dementia diagnosis, hospitals resort to calming methods, such as morphine and antipsychotic drugs, neither of which is the answer.

How will we want to be treated in our old age? It’s a question none of us should ignore, hoping it will go away like those who are suffering now.

C J Wilson
Malvern, Worcestershire

SIR – Irrespective of the costs, the reason that more has been spent on cancer research over dementia research is that cancer is perceived as a death sentence whereas dementia is not.

As anyone with a relative or friend suffering from it will tell you, in its advanced stages, dementia is worse than death; it is a living death.

Geoff Riley
Sewards End, Essex

SIR – We should applaud Jeremy Hunt’s initiative if it means that dementia will be ranked with physical failings.

My husband was assessed for continuing care within two months of his death in a nursing home, but as he was deemed to have a mental rather than a medical problem, no funding was forthcoming.

I was told that if he’d had cancer, the NHS would definitely have paid for his final care.

Instead, we were self-funding, since our savings amounted to more than £23,000. I met the costs by going without for two and a half years. Some help would have been most welcome.

Celia Moreton-Prichard
London SE13

SIR – The recent high-profile media and political attention to dementia is long overdue and welcomed.

Sadly, there is no mention of the less common but perhaps more important subgroup of young patients with dementia and their carers.

Dementia does not only affect the elderly. And the social and financial impact on a younger patient and his or her carer can be more significant.

Tony Moss
Kingston, Surrey

Irish Times:


Sir, – Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan TD (Opinion, December 11th) explains that he “inherited an appalling mess of shoddily built homes like Priory Hall”. He says new building regulations “provide the consumer with better protection”, but that “a campaign led by several past presidents of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has recently sought to postpone and prevent implementation of the new regulations”. He does not explain why we have so sought.

At a meeting last October, the largest-ever gathering of architects in Ireland resolved (by 550 votes to eight) that the new law “will not achieve the objective for which it has been introduced, and that the consumer will be no better protected than was the case in the recent past because of shortcomings in the said regulations”.

Why will the consumer be no better off under these new regulations?

The reason is to be found in the public statements last year of Graham Usher, spokesman for the Priory Hall residents, who wrote: “The proposed amendments still place the focus for local authorities almost entirely on the acceptance and filing of certificates of compliance. Under the 1990 Act, local authorities have the power to inspect works in progress. They clearly have not availed of this power. Legislation should be changed to turn that power into a statutory duty.”

Several consumer protection bodies have explained why independent inspections under local authority control are vital for proper consumer protection. The Minister’s regulations do not provide this; instead, they provide the “ultimate in self-certification”. Furthermore, the developer should pay for mandatory insurance for home buyers: the regulations do not require this.

These regulations are a huge missed opportunity. The Minister and his Department should consult with all relevant stakeholders, not just the construction industry as hitherto, and rethink his approach.

There is no time to waste. The Irish people need better building regulations now, not after the next round of building disasters. – Yours, etc,

Royal Institute of Architects

of Ireland Past Presidents:


(1974-1975), MICHAEL

COLLINS (1986-1987),


(1992-1993), JOAN

O’CONNOR (1994-1995),


(1998-1999), ARTHUR

HICKEY (2000-2001),



C/o Upper Mount Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – US President Barack Obama’s eulogy in Johannesburg demonstrated all the skills and gifts of oratory that we have come to expect from the man.

However by daring to publicly shake hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama did more than simply honour Madiba with words, but showed he truly understood the significance of the great man’s approach to life.

Mandela himself insisted, and showed by his own example, that the most effective way to overcome your enemy is by extending to him the hand of friendship. Could there have been a more fitting place for this historic handshake to have happened than at his memorial send-off? – Yours, etc,


College View,

Midleton, Co Cork.

A chara, – Vincent Browne (Opinion, December 11th) correctly quotes static inequality figures to illustrate some of South Africa’s persistent problems. However, he need only look at the neighbouring catastrophes, from Angola to Zimbabwe, to see the scale of Mandela’s achievement. – Is mise,


Willbrook Park,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – “Mandela’s legacy a challenge for leaders, says Gilmore” (Home News, December 10th). We still have apartheid in Ireland where traveller citizens are segregated and denied the rights of other citizens. Mandela in the Dáil in 1990 cautioned those in attendance and the general citizenship by his words: “We should not mistake the promise of change for change itself”. We have not heard or listened or reflected on these words. The changes required in our State will take real courage and risk for all to face the challenge and create a society with values in which all citizens have equal access and rights. –Yours, etc,


The Rise,


Dublin 9.

A chara, – Minister of State Alan Kelly states, “Class perceptions are holding back public transport” (Home News, December 12th). Korea has an ingenious solution to this, namely subsidisation.

Although South Korean salaries are on par with Ireland, whether one travels one kilometre or 160km, the charge on Seoul metro is fixed and less than a euro. Population density is an obvious factor, but an economic argument will get the attention of all. – Is mise,


Departamento de Fisica,

Universidad de Oviedo,

Oviedo, Spain.

Sir, – Alan Kelly will have to wake up and figure out the real impediment to growth in the public transport (Home News, December 12th). Had he read the national newspapers this week, he could not have failed to notice the issue of overcrowded trains. Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar’s reported response to a parliamentary question is to arrange for increased safety inspections of those trains.

Given a choice between a guaranteed seat in a car or being inspected for my safety while standing on overcrowded public transport, I will take the car. On the other hand, if given a choice between taking a car and using a clean and not overcrowded bus, train or Luas, I will use the public option, all other things being equal. My Leap card makes that option even more attractive.

Indeed, public representatives have in the past been happy to point out how popular public transport usage has been on the 46A bus corridor and Green Luas line, which serve areas the Minister might expect to find “middle class snobbishness”.

The real reason there is an impediment to using public transport is that what is offered is not meeting the needs of potential users. That assumes there are sufficient potential users in the first place. There is no point in haranguing those same potential users for failings elsewhere. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Rev Dr Norman E Gamble (December 11th), will be pleased to learn that people will continue to enjoy the benefits of the Free Travel Pass scheme after new tendered bus contracts are operational in 2016.

On these tendered services, as with all subsidised services, the National Transport Authority will set the routes, frequencies, schedules, fares and other terms and conditions, which the operator will implement, so that everyone continues to enjoy the same level of service, no matter who is operating their route. – Yours, etc,


National Transport


Harcourt Lane,

Sir, – I read Kitty Holland’s article “Unbaptised children find no room at the inn” (Opinion, December 13th) with interest. The “problem” she faces is not fundamentally one of religion but the failure of Government to provide an adequate number of classroom spaces in densely populated areas such as Dublin 6.

In her case, the schools in question are using their particular ethos to determine enrolment. If religion wasn’t part of enrolment policy, the schools in question would be required to find alternative “filters” resulting in a different set of parents and children on waiting lists. – Yours, etc,


Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Sir, – When are we going to separate religion and education (Opinion, December 12th)? Our two unbaptised children may have to travel to a school further away (if they get in) simply because we did not subscribe them to a religion.

Faith has a place in the world, but it should not have a place in deciding where our children are educated. More people need to stand up and have their voices heard, instead of keeping quiet and baptising their children for the wrong reasons; otherwise nothing will change. I hope we won’t be having this debate when my grandchildren are starting school. – Yours, etc,



Straffan, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Kitty Holland (Opinion, December 12th) goes to great lengths to outline the reasons given for the refusal of her local Church of Ireland school to enrol her son; a little less so in the case of her local Catholic school. She says that “denominational or faith schools’ enrolment criteria impact in a gross and disproportionate way . . .” on unbaptised children. She omits, however, to state why two other schools, one a Gaelscoil and the other a multi-denominational school have similarly declined to accept her son. Sounds to me like discrimination in the writing! – Yours, etc,


Moville, Co Donegal.

A chara, – Kitty Holland writes about the difficulty in finding a school place for her son in Dublin 6 (Opinion, December 12th). She is right to complain. However, in apparently putting responsibility for this on the arrangement whereby the religious schools – Church of Ireland and Catholic – give preference to baptised children, her indignation is misdirected.

It seems from the information she gives that the problem lies with the overall lack of school places. If her son is admitted, another child will be displaced. As she writes, “There is clearly huge demand for school places in Dublin 6.” The responsibility lies with the Minister for Education to provide sufficient places in schools.

Ms Holland is not correct in writing: “Denominational or faith schools’ enrolment criteria impact in a gross and disproportionate way on children such as my son, by excluding them simply because they have not been baptised.” Any of the four schools she mentions would be happy to accept her son if there were sufficient capacity.

She finishes her article: “Mr Quinn is legally obliged to vindicate the right, possessed by every child, to their education.” There lies the source of the problem. There let her direct her ire. – Is mise,


Blackthorn Court,


As the Minister acknowledges, these results were achieved despite severe cutbacks in our schools. In looking towards future improvements, he identifies the need for curriculum change, support for teachers in implementing change and the careful monitoring of students’ learning.

The TUI fully respects and acknowledges that the curriculum should always evolve, but we would remind the Minister that this requires appropriate and often significant resourcing. The system’s capacity for change has been largely removed by austerity cuts and schools are considerably less well equipped now than five years ago to deal with new initiatives including the proposed reform of the Junior cycle.

The Pisa comparisons follow other recent positive international and national findings for Irish teachers and their schools. Last month’s OECD Government at a Glance 2013 report shows that of 34 countries surveyed, Ireland enjoys the highest level of public satisfaction with the education system and schools – 82 per cent compared to the OECD average of 66 per cent. These findings are echoed by the recent chief inspector’s report which shows that 87 per cent of parents are happy with the teaching standards in second-level schools. Such trust and confidence is the cornerstone of effective public education.

If the Minister wishes to fully realise the vast potential of our education system, the commitment and trust of students, parents and teachers must be complemented by the appropriate investment and clear planning that will ensure further progress. – Yours, etc,



Teachers’ Union of Ireland,

Orwell Road,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – May I correct an inaccuracy which I discovered in the first paragraph of my article (Opinion, December 10th) about Machiavelli? Whereas I wrote Edward Muir had described the relevant letter as the “most important”, what he actually said was “probably the most famous”. – Yours, etc,


Danesfort, Dublin 3.

Sir, – The Budget introduced a huge levy increase on medical-card holders from €19.50 per month to a new high of €25 (prescription charges are €1.50 per item, up to the new maximum of €25 a month).

However, together with that increase, nobody appears to have noticed the impoverishment of the 13th payment.

I suffer from many complaints and so my daily intake of various medications in tablet form averages some 2,000 milligrams per day, not to mention the use of a number of inhalers, creams/ointments, etc. However, each prescription provided to me caters for only 28 tablets per month rather than a proper average of 30 and therefore there is a serious shortfall in my annual supply by some 26 tablets, a full month’s supply of same, and in consequence I am forced to pay an extra month’s levy (€25) to cover this shortfall. – Yours, etc,


Griffith Parade,

Finglas East, Dublin 11.

Sir, – While in no way downgrading the gravity of the abuses committed by sections of the Catholic Church, surely someone genuinely concerned with human rights should be applauding the fact that the church is at long last attempting to deal with this appalling legacy. Instead, John A Kehoe (December 12th) uses the occasion of the audits to have a gratuitous “pop” at the church.

Given that it was recently announced that 60 children had died in the “care” of the Irish State in the last couple of years, and approximately 200 in the previous decade, surely it is better to bolt the stable door than leave it wide open, as seems to be the case in the State sector. – Yours, etc,


Balreask Village,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – Regarding the recent letters about proposed developments, it should be remembered that the two issues are linked – literally. Nationwide, the pylons connect dispersed wind farms to the grid, and grid upgrades in turn accommodate the intermittent power that wind turbines produce, compared to conventional power generation. – Yours, etc,


Pearse Street, Dublin 2.


Sir, – The rational side of my brain concurs with the sentiments expressed by Jennifer O’Connell (Life, December 11th). However, if the selfie is good enough for the powerful triumvirate of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, David Cameron and Barack Obama (World News, December 11th), it is good enough for me. – Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Irish Independent:

* It was fascinating perusing all the news agency photographs of the Mandela memorial service.

The South African political elite looked very well, including an expensively manicured Winnie Mandela just oozing with self-satisfaction from the VIP seating area, while other images of the populace below were showing the disdain for President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa has a long way to go to achieve true equality and there are just too many old scores to settle — now the great nation has lost its referee!




* In light of the CRC controversy, it is now easier for us not to give our hard-earned money to charity.

In particular, I find it extraordinarily difficult to justify supporting other large charitable organisations who continue to pay exorbitant salaries to their CEOs.

Your journalist Gerard O’ Regan (Saturday, December 7) quite rightly put it that what is effectively an administrative job does not justify a €200,000 salary.

Don’t turn away from charity — there is one thing we can give to make a difference and one thing that can’t be taken from us, and that’s to give our time.

Drop into the CRC or any other other organisation and ask the hard-working staff if they are looking for volunteers.

It might just be an hour or two a month, but at least you will get to see the work being done there and your time could make all the difference to the people who need it most.




* It is a huge and heartbreaking tragedy that the very people working at the highest levels in various charities have been diverting a portion of these donations towards the topping up of salaries.

Crucially, however, one can only hope that potential donors will understand that the vulnerable people in our society should not be made to suffer because of the ill-practices of a few, and accordingly will need their donations more than ever.




* It is depressing to read reports detailing salary top-ups made to senior staff in the voluntary sector.

To work for a small, struggling charity and to encounter people who have become suspicious about where possible donations may be spent is demoralising in the extreme (but who could blame them?).

As the only charitable organisation serving Polio survivors on this island, the Post Polio Support Group wishes to state categorically that neither the CEO nor any staff member has been subject to a top-up. In fact, our salaries have been subject to ‘top downs’ — there have been no salary increases within the group for the past three years and staff have been subject to statutory cuts.

Our CEO is paid €50,000 per year and receives no other benefits. Our entire payroll costs are under €200,000. This figure supports four full-time and two part-time staff.

We survive with funding from the HSE and our own attempts at fundraising. We have just completed our Christmas appeal and would like to assure those who have supported us in the past and those who are considering supporting us in the future, that all donations go directly towards assisting Polio survivors to live a better, more independent life in their own homes.




* Brendan Ogle tells us it would be outrageous if additional costs for the ESB Pension Fund were imposed on the taxpayer rather than on the ESB itself. He implies the citizen will be less offended by paying higher electricity bills rather than higher taxes.

This is as pathetic as the efforts of some of those in the voluntary hospitals to draw a distinction between whether their top-ups were from public funds or from charitable donations. The only distinction is that the latter requires real chutzpah.

Both efforts show that the public is now considered at worst totally gullible or at best totally apathetic.




* It was fascinating perusing all the news agency photographs of the Mandela memorial service.

The South African political elite looked very well, including an expensively manicured Winnie Mandela just oozing with self-satisfaction from the VIP seating area, while other images of the populace below were showing the disdain for President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa has a long way to go to achieve true equality and there are just too many old scores to settle — now the great nation has lost its referee!




* Ian O’Doherty’s column in the Irish Independent on Monday, December 9, describing the Irish language as a hobby is grossly insulting to every person in Ireland and around the world who hold the Irish language dear to their hearts.

Ian O’Doherty has the right not to want to speak Irish or even to preserve our/his language. But to refer to An Gaeilge as a hobby just shows how little he knows about Gaeilgeorí.

Hobbies come and go, ach beigh ár dTéaga ann go deo.




* I remember my dad used to get the ‘Dublin Opinion’ — a weekly satirical magazine — when I was attending national school in the late 1940s/early 1950s. I clearly recall one particular copy depicting on its front cover a sketch of a square wooden board fitted to an upright stake driven firmly into the ground on top of the Hill of Tara. On this board was written: ‘Ireland For Sale/Ideal Views, Political And Otherwise’.

It seemed funny at the time, but now 65 years later seeing that it has become a reality, and obviously no longer a joke, it doesn’t appear that funny at all.




* I’d advise the Pope not to do cartwheels on learning he has been selected as ‘Time’ magazine Man of the Year.

Because in 1939 ‘Time’ named Joseph Stalin as their Man of the Year, a man who by this time had the USSR dotted with gulags. In 1938, ‘Time’ did it again, this time the award went to ‘Adolf Hitler‘.

Then in 1979, the award was given to that great Iranian ‘holyman’ Ayatollah Khomeini — and we know where he led his country.

In 2012, our own dear Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a close shave when he featured on the front cover instead of Man of the Year. That near miss was probably down to the luck of the Irish.



* I’ll start to believe the times they are a-changing when either Enda Kenny or Pope Francis make the front cover of ‘The Big Issue’, rather than ‘Time’ magazine.




* Shopping in my usual business-like efficient manner (ahem) in my local supermarket, I was reminded of a story from the late Hal Roach.

Hal was looking somewhat lost and was approached by a helpful assistant who asked: “Do you have a list, sir?”

“No, I always walk like this,” replied Hal.



Irish Independent


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