14 December 2013 Hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge is being refitted but Pertwee has substituted Nunky’s tug instead. . Priceless.

Potter around feeling under the weather Mary to the hospital back next year.

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




Professor John Albery, who has died aged 77, was a distinguished chemist and served as Master of University College, Oxford, from 1989 to 1997.

Respected for his scientific acumen and academic leadership, Albery was also greatly loved for his irrepressible joie de vivre and as the chief instigator of – and participant in – the sort of rumbustious student high jinks, full of irreverence, laughter and alcohol, that live on joyfully – and sometimes embarrassingly – in the memory.

Albery began his scientific career at Oxford in the early 1960s as a member of the group under the distinguished physical chemist Professor Ronald (RP) Bell. There he helped to develop an electrochemical technique for measuring the fast reactions of chemicals in solution using a rotating disk electrode. His early papers on this device laid the foundations for the extensive development of a powerful tool for electrochemical diagnostics.

Albery went on to write more than 150 scientific papers and made contributions to broader areas of physical chemistry, including the development of electrochemical sensors and enzyme kinetics (the study of the chemical reactions that are catalysed by enzymes). He was elected to the Royal Society in 1985.

But there was much more to Albery than formidable scientific brainpower, as any undergraduate reading his little book Electrode Kinetics (1975) was soon made aware. “Distaste and disgust are the predominant emotions that the normal student feels for electrochemistry,” Albery conceded in the book’s preface. “The Pogendorff potentiometer, the normal calomel electrode, liquid junction potentials, reversible and irreversible cells, all seem to him to have been invented by the Holy Office for the torturing of innocent students.

“As the train of old bearded electrochemists passes on its way, muttering of Galvani potentials and murmuring orisons for Guggenheim, the student escapes from cells without transference and relaxes with a little spin-orbit coupling.” With Albery, it was clear, electrochemistry could be fun.

A one-time scriptwriter for That Was The Week That Was and a member of the famous theatrical Albery family, he was a man around whom stories tended to accumulate.

Freshmen at University College during his time as Master recall the speech of welcome in which Albery would tackle the issue of how they should address him as they passed him in the Quad: “Some of you will feel most comfortable saying ‘Good Morning, Master’. Others will prefer ‘Good Morning, Professor Albery’. For my part I should like to be greeted with ‘Hello, Sailor’.”

In the 1970s Albery and Leslie Mitchell put on University College’s first College Revue, beginning a much-loved tradition, and he co-wrote two musicals, including On the Boil, which revealed “the lighter side of laboratory life” with a computer “love interest” and a professor who has had “no ideas for years and years”.

His first year chemistry tutorials usually (depending on the time of day) involved a glass of sherry which, by the end of the third year, had become a “White Lady” (gin, cointreau and lemon juice). Research students graduated to “dry martinis of ludicrous proportions” and, as a “coup de grace”, at chemists’ dinners were often served with a lethal concoction known as “Iron Duke punch”.

Members of Albery’s scientific group were also treated to coach trips to the theatre and to breweries (about which memories tended to be hazy), and entertained at parties featuring comedy sketches or games of charades at which students would attempt to act out such scientific terms as “backside attack” (a type of chemical reaction) or “weightless piston”.

One former student recalls when guests at an Albery party decided to gag and sit on their host while one of their number rang up the college Dean in his best Albery voice to complain about the deafening noise in the quad. By the time the Dean appeared the students had all gone into hiding and Albery was left to deny any knowledge of the phone call.

But underlying all the fun and laughter was exciting, high quality science and a flair for academic leadership which helped to propel University College to the top of the college league tables.

Wyndham John Albery was born on April 5 1936. His father was a barrister, but his family was better known for its interests in the theatre. The dramatist James Albery (1838-89) was a forebear and his wife, Mary Moore, a well-known actress of the day, went on to marry Sir Charles Wyndham, founder of Wyndham’s Theatre and the New Theatre (now the Albery).

John was raised with a love of the theatre, but at Winchester he developed a keen interest in science. He pursued both interests at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Chemistry but also found time to row and take part in dramatic productions.

He continued at Balliol to do his PhD. In 1962 he was appointed to a Weir Junior Research Fellowship at University College and in 1963 to a Fellowship and Praelectorship in Chemistry. This was the time of That Was the Week that Was. In later years he became a sought-after speaker at sports club dinners, and his flair for comedy enlivened not only the University College Revues but also Christmas cabarets put on for his own students.

Albery threw himself into college life serving, variously, as an energetic Junior Dean and Dean, but it was as Tutor for Admissions from 1968 to 1975 that he made his greatest impact.

He wanted the best for the college wherever it could be found and conceived the annual selection process in terms of a “battle” with rival colleges which required tactical skills of the highest order. On one occasion New College, being short of good scholarship candidates, approached Albery and asked to interview “the best exhibitioner” at University College to see if they would offer him a scholarship. Albery chose a suitable candidate, not (as he explained to the student later) on grounds of academic prowess, but because he thought the sight of the young man – very long hair, trilby hat and green flared trousers – would so horrify the stuffier New College establishment that it would put them off poaching from University College in the future.

It did the trick and his efforts culminated in University College coming top of the Norrington Table in 1975.

In 1977 Albery was appointed Professor of Physical Chemistry at Imperial College, University of London. In 1989, however, he returned to Oxford as Master of University College.

He took great pleasure in seeing the college’s First Eight go Head of the River in 1990 – the first time since 1914. Another highlight of his time as Master was the visit of President Bill Clinton (who had been a Rhodes Scholar at the college in the 1960s) and his wife Hillary in June 1994. Two years earlier the new President-elect had accepted an honorary fellowship at the college, and in 1993 Albery paid a visit to the Oval Office while on a tour of the United States, where he presented the President with a watercolour by Sir Hugh Casson of the Fellows’ garden.

Albery’s time as Master ended in sad circumstances in 1997 when he had to retire after a series of incidents, culminating in an after-dinner speech at the Hilary Bumps supper at which he was said to have made some ribald remarks about the Women’s VIII. In his case suggestions of sexism were wildly misplaced, as in previous years he had been in the vanguard of pressing the University to open its doors to women on an equal opportunity basis – to the extent of threatening to take his college out of the Oxbridge entry system into UCCA (which would have allowed men and women to apply for the college three months earlier than for the rest of Oxford) unless the University agreed. “I told them we’d clean up,” Albery told a colleague, “and they were forced to concede.”

As the College Record said on his retirement, Albery had served University College “with energy, enthusiasm and élan”. With his departure Oxford became a less colourful place.

Albery was elected an Honorary Fellow on his retirement, and he took up a senior research fellowship at Imperial College, London. To celebrate his 75th birthday in 2011 a conference was held in Oxford, attended by some 120 people, with lectures given by friends and former students.

Professor John Albery, born April 5 1936, died December 3 2013




The National Campaign for the Arts index (Arts funding down by 20%, 5 December) makes chilling reading. Investment, particularly in theatres, from central and local government and businesses is plummeting and the coalition’s claimed commitment to the arts looks increasingly hollow. The popularity of the My Theatre Matters! campaign – launched by Equity, the Theatrical Management Association and The Stage – shows UK citizens of all political allegiances value theatre and want and expect their elected representative to do the same.
Christine Payne
General secretary, Equity

• I’m not sure The History Boys is the nation’s favourite play (Comment, 12 December), rather perhaps that Alan Bennett is the nation’s favourite national treasure. I found the play overrated and rather depressing. The only thing memorable from the production I saw is that after the performance the cast seemed to be able to get to the nearby pub before the audience did.
Ken Hall
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

• In view of his latest announcement (Osborne to cut billions more from welfare, 13 December), I’m guessing that it might be time for a visit to the chancellor by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
Michael Thompson
Cheadle, Cheshire

• Worcester High Street, 5pm, 12 December; 12 shopping days to Christmas. Shops like Debenhams and H&M open until 9pm and over two-thirds of all 47 shops have cut-price offers, many up to 50% and more off. Little sign of Worcester woman or man shopping. Recession? What recession?
Martin Willis
Malvern, Worcestershire

Stephen Decker’s letter on the Lawson-Saatchi court case and higher taxation for the rich (13 December) recalled the 1990s saying, “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you have too much money”.
Chris Trotter

• So now “Peaches” Cameron has been rebuked for talking out of turn about a court case. Every day the statesman shrinks.
Brian Goodale
Holt, Norfolk

Although András Schiff is commendable for his piano playing and his passion (Hungarians must face their Nazi past, not venerate it, 11 December), he does not seem to know much about the last 20 years in Europe. Criticising the christening of a new statue of Admiral Horthy in Budapest, he writes: “There are no Hitler statues in Germany, and in Austria they are constitutionally forbidden. The same is true of Mussolini in Italy, Pétain in France, Ion Antonescu in Romania or Josef [sic] Tiso in Slovakia. None of them is being commemorated and extolled.”

These assertions are all wrong, whether mildly or wildly, except with regard to France. There are countless Hitler statues left in Germany and Austria – just not in public. Austria bans glorifications of Hitler, but not neutral or negative statues; the same law’s punishments were weakened in 1992, amid a neo-Nazi revival, by President Kurt Waldheim, who won the Iron Cross in Russia and of whom the late Austrian politician Fred Sinowatz said: “Let us acknowledge that Waldheim did not serve in the SA, only his horse did.”

There are countless Mussolinis in Italy, whether in cellars, in enclosed villa gardens, or at Termini station in Rome, where a 2011 statue of Pope John Paul II was so widely described as Mussolini in pontifical dress that the face was replaced. As for Jozef Tiso in Slovakia, the Archbishop of Trnava celebrated a memorial mass for him in 2008, and many have urged Tiso’s sainthood.

In Romania, Marshall Antonescu was celebrated throughout the 1990s, enjoying a minute of silence in Romanian parliament, alongside numerous new statues and street names. Antonescu went from strength to strength until 2002, when the US said celebrating the Marshall was an obstacle to Romania’s admission to Nato; the US Helsinki Commission, in a letter signed by Hillary Clinton and others, complained in tandem. The result was an emergency order requiring the removal of public monuments to Antonescu and the un-renaming of streets. At least 10 of Romania’s 25 Antonescu streets are reported to no longer bear the Marshall’s name, some statues have been covered up or removed, and a painting of Antonescu was installed in the prime minister’s office, supposedly for completeness in the collection of portraits of heads of state. And Romania got into Nato.

Of the countries named by Schiff, nearly every one has, publicly or privately, legally or illegally, in the offices of the government or the opposition, extolled and commemorated the fascist past. The one exception is France, which renamed its last rue Pétain in 2011. Hungary has come late to the renewed appreciation for fascism and racism that followed the destruction of the Soviet Union and András Schiff can be proud of that.
Benjamin Letzler


Illustration: Mitch Blunt Illustration: Mitch Blunt

Whenever I hear of a suggestion from the chief inspector of schools in England regarding young children my heart sinks. His latest, a return to testing for seven-year-old pupils, is a prime example (Ofsted chief calls for formal tests at ages seven and 14, 12 December).

The trouble with our education system is that decisions are made by politicians and inspectors who have no experience or qualifications in how very young children learn and develop. The child psychologist Marie Clay (she of the much admired “reading recovery” programme) writes that it takes the average child four years to become a fluent reader. As a retired teacher with 32 years of experience (19 as a headteacher), I agree with this.

At present we move children from Key Stage 1 to the next stage at the age of seven and call them failures when they simply have not finished this vital stage of learning. No amount of testing will solve this problem. Teachers are not failing children, the system is to blame.
Vanessa Seal
Faversham, Kent

• I note with horror that Michael Wilshaw wants to re-invent the past of SATs testing as a new idea. Five years ago I presented research evidence to a Commons select committee gathered over 10 years of national curriculum assessment (1997-2007) which proved beyond doubt the massive skewing of the primary curriculum to “teach to the test”. Teachers and school leaders knew that was what they were being forced to do to survive Ofsted‘s bean counting. Is there any chance of teachers being supported to do what they do best – supporting learners to progress meaningfully through challenge but at differentiated pace?
Professor Bill Boyle
Manchester Institute of Education 

• Has there really been a significant improvement in the proportion of schools judged as good or outstanding in 2012/13 or is it merely a product of a change in grade criteria?

A significant change to school inspections took place when the judgments were changed so that “good” became the new “satisfactory” and satisfactory was replaced with “requiring improvement”. In the year before this was introduced 2% of primary schools were judged to be inadequate, 29% satisfactory, 51% good and 18% outstanding. After the change the figures were 2% inadequate, 19% requiring improvement, 61% good and 17% outstanding. A similar pattern occurs for secondary schools, with 3% inadequate, 30% satisfactory, 40% good and 26% outstanding before the change; and 5% inadequate, 24% requiring improvement, 48% good and 27% outstanding afterwards.

In both sectors the percentage judged as outstanding rose by just one percentage point. The proportion of primary schools judged as good increased by 10 percentage points – exactly the same amount by which the proportion of schools requiring improvement fell. The proportion of secondary schools judged to be good increased by 8 percentage points, while those requiring improvement fell by 6 percentage points, with the proportion judged inadequate increasing by 2 percentage points. This pattern in primary and secondary is what one would expect when inspectors have to reassign schools previously judged as satisfactory to good or inadequate and does not represent, as claimed, any significant improvement.
John Gaskin

• What Michael Wilshaw fails to understand is more testing will merely cause children to learn to do tests. More testing will not enable children to become better mathematicians who to learn how to use and apply mathematics, problem-solve, work with others or develop the necessary thinking skills required by employers. More testing has nothing to do with children’s education; it has everything to do with politics.
Mike Ollerton
Kendal, Cumbria

• I’m not sure what the latest league tables tell us about the current state of primary education in this country, but I think that the following, heard last week, speaks volumes: “My child brought home a Christmas card he’d made for me at school. On the back was a typed message. It set out the learning objectives covered in the task.”
Mike Hine

We welcome the government’s plans to tackle modern-day slavery through new legislation to be introduced next week (Report, 12 December). This is an important opportunity to make sure that child victims of trafficking get the full protection they need to be kept safe from further abuse. A recent report by the Refugee Council and the Children‘s Society, commissioned by the Home Office, found that far too many trafficked children are not getting the protection they need from the professionals and agencies that are supposed to be supporting them. This must change.

incredibly These vulnerable children have been subjected to a range of horrific abuse, including domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. The fact that they are children who are alone in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, means that they are inherently vulnerable. Despite their need, they don’t have one person who is legally responsible for all aspects of their life. There is no one to speak up for them or to make sure their best interests are at the heart of decisions made about them. As a result, they are put at risk of going missing from care, of abuse and exploitation.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium – a coalition of over 40 organisations – has long been calling for guardians to be appointed to all separated children, including victims of trafficking. A wide range of international and domestic bodies support this approach, including the UN committee on the rights of the child and the UK parliament’s joint committee on human rights.

The government can make a real difference to these children. By making sure guardians are provided under the modern slavery bill, these children can have a voice in decisions made about them, are kept safe and can recover from the trauma they have suffered.
Matthew Reed Chief executive, Children’s Society
Peter Wanless Chief executive Officer, NSPCC
Puja Darbari UK director of strategy, Barnardo’s
Professor Carolyn Hamilton Director, Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Bridget Robb Chief executive, British Association of Social Workers
Paola Uccellari Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England
Maurice Wren CEO, Refugee Council
Dr Edie Friedman Executive director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality
Bharti Patel CEO, ECPAT UK
Celia Clarke Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
Emma Williams Chief executive, Student Action for Refugees
Andrew Radford Managing director, Coram Voice
Catherine Gladwell Director, Refugee Support Network
Vaughan Jones Chief executive, Praxis Community Projects
Baljeet Sandhu Director, Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, Islington Law Centre
Adrian Berry Chair, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association






I am writing with reference to Downing Street’s belated intervention on the subject of university segregation. The emerging scourge of gender apartheid within British institutions of higher learning must be eradicated.

This supposedly traditional sexual segregation within Muslim society has no foundation in Islam. Indeed, the Qur’an explicitly sanctions the concept of legitimate social intermingling in Chapter 24:61. The distorted dogma of sexual segregation is an archaic pre-Islamic patriarchal throwback that is now in vogue in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. This non-Qur’anic custom is currently gaining traction in the UK because of uncontested Wahhabi-Salafi propaganda. Religious zealots are imposing their contagious sexist doctrines upon ill-informed British Muslims to promote the belief that the tribal separation of the sexes is intrinsic to Islam.

This trendy gender apartheid is peddled by ideological militants who are financed by Saudi petrodollars to recreate a mythical 7th century Utopia. But this anachronistic male chauvinism is not what pristine Islam teaches. Indeed, Qur’anic Islam actively champions an erudite, enlightened and egalitarian way of life that embraces dignity, justice and parity for everyone.

Liberal and progressive Muslims must campaign to restore gender equality on our campuses and to rid Britain of this primitive blight. Right-thinking Muslims must not allow a foreign-inspired ideology and local fundamentalists to poison the content and character of British Islam.

Dr T Hargey, Director and Imam, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford


What Mandela  was up against

During my Merchant Navy career with Cunard between 1966 and 1979 my ships called at numerous ports in South Africa, where apartheid seemed as permanently embedded as Table Mountain itself.

The proud, friendly, downtrodden black majority had few rights in their own country. I recall visiting a popular whites-only hotel bar in Durban with fellow officers. It was general election time and both the main local candidates and their supporters were shouting at each other across the bar. President Botha’s Nationalist candidate repeatedly used the same derogatory term (“black b*****s”) in front of the black bar staff, who showed no reaction at all.

As purser I was required to prepare documents for customs and immigration officials. At one port, four of these officials going through my paperwork were conversing in Afrikaans and there was much laughter. I asked them what was amusing them. One spoke in English and told me about a news item regarding two youths playing about on a makeshift raft on a river when one of them was taken by a crocodile. I must have looked puzzled because he said, “It’s all right, he was black,” and they all laughed again.

I do not possess the ability to forgive the South African political class who inflicted apartheid on a whole race, in the incredible way Nelson Mandela was able to do, so his country could move on. He once wrote: “I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. I sought always to defeat my opponents without dishonouring them.”

I feel deep shame that our own political leaders, especially Prime Minister Thatcher, lifted hardly a finger to shorten the 27 long years of incarceration this unique man tolerated with such dignity. Unlike her, he has truly earned the state farewell he is receiving, and his rightful place in history.

Ken Callanan, Godalming, Surrey


Congratulations to Godfrey N Holmes on finding a sentence to crowbar “lachrymation” into (letter, 11 December). But, c’mon, comparing Mandela to the Queen Mother is almost akin to finding tearful comparisons between Aung San Suu Kyi and Imelda Marcos. Get a grip. I nearly micturated myself laughing.

David Quinn, Glasgow


Small steps in the right direction

Two steps, painfully slow and small, but significant, have been taken recently which give encouragement to UK supporters of Palestine.

One is the new report from the UK government on Israeli settlements. This reiterates the government position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan and East Jerusalem, which is that they are unlawful.

The report also advises that there may be legal and financial risks involved in doing business in the settlements, also risk to the good name of British business, including association with abuse of the rights of Palestinians.

The other is that the Israeli government has announced that it is going to shelve the Prawer plan, which involved demolishing about 40 “unrecognised” Palestinian Bedouin villages and driving over 50,000 people off their land and putting them into townships. This was described as “concentrating the Bedouin” by the Israeli government.

These developments deserve far wider coverage than they have so far received in the mainstream British media.

Brendan O’Brien, London N21


Flood warning ignored

It is encouraging that there is now a widespread knowledge of the causes of storm and tidal surges, such as the recent event on the east coast of England. Had such awareness existed in 1953, a timely warning could have been given to the population of Canvey Island and the loss of life prevented.

While a member of the Thames Barge Sailing Club I was told that there had been a barge alongside, at or near Canvey Island, on the day before the flooding. The crew noticed that the afternoon ebb tide had failed to run, and that there was effectively a tidal stand. They reported this to the local police station, where sadly the implications were not understood and the crew were sent about their business.

Overnight, the flood tide came in on top of the tide that had failed to ebb and the disastrous flooding ensued.

Frank Donald, Edinburgh


Fear and anger on the streets

Discussions on cycling are concentrating too much on the recent deaths. It was not the (statistically low) chance of fatality that made me finally give up, but the realisation that I got to work every day in a state of anger or fear – depending on just what the motor traffic had been up to that morning.

When, in a single week, I literally picked up three cyclists who had been forced off the road by drivers (each time I saw the incident, and each time the cyclist was not infringing the rules of the road), I decided that I’d be calmer taking the bus.

So please, don’t focus on the extremes, but consider the everyday experience of what it’s like to cycle on our roads – even in Oxford, a bike-aware city.

Lesley Smith, Oxford


This writer was  no ‘silly myth’

“Don’t create silly myths about yourself,” writes Terence Blacker of Colin Wilson (“Eternal Outsider”, 10 December). He declares himself unimpressed by the photograph of the writer with “swotty polo-neck and specs” which appeared on the back cover of Wilson’s book The Outsider.

Yet the “silly myth” of a provincial taking a sleeping bag to Hampstead Heath and reading Kafka and Nietzsche in the reading room of the British Museum proved to be an inspirational one. The nobody from nowhere who had attended a technical school showed he had something original to say, and – even to this day – many members of the Oxbridge-educated literary establishment have never forgiven him for that.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln


Not much competition in the energy market

It is no wonder people are not switching their energy suppliers (report, 13 December) if my recent experience is typical.

A direct comparison with my current supplier’s charges for dual fuel, online billing, monthly direct debit payments, fixed price etc, showed a possible saving of £25 a year. By the time I have paid my current supplier’s cancellation charge, savings would be minimal. Competition? What competition?

Colin Attwood, Lingfield, Surrey


A choice of  divinities

It is a suitably mad world. Christmas Day is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, so why are our party leaders sending out selfie Christmas cards? Is this a coded message about their divine status? I feel better now that, thanks to the Supreme Court, I can turn to the Church of Scientology for some uplifting religious sustenance.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent


Royal rebuke  to the hungry

If the Queen was “irritated” by police officers at Buckingham Palace eating the nuts left out, would she have let them eat cake?

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln





Sir, I disagree with nothing in your leading article’s condemnation of Scientology (“Pulp Fictions”, Dec 12), but when you end by saying, “The Church is an affront to critical thinking whose doctrines deserve derision”, I cannot help wondering whether any adult and intelligent person would not say the same about any Church if he or she were introduced to its tenets for the first time.

Religions are not judged according to their plausibility or rationality and they survive, not because of these qualities, but because they become familiar through being passed from one generation to the next.

Richard Oerton

Bridgwater, Somerset

Sir, Their lordships are simply wrong in asserting, in their judgment on marriage in the Church of Scientology (“Scientology wedding may bring fortune as judges open door for charity-status bid”, Dec 12), that before the Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 “the Church [of England] permitted extreme informality. A valid marriage could be contracted by simple words of consent in a church or elsewhere.”

Legal historians now agree that this mistaken but tenacious belief took hold in the early 19th century in the wake of a misunderstanding over the validity of a marriage in New York State. It is regrettable that their lordships are so poorly informed as to the current state of legal scholarship.

Liam D’Arcy-Brown

Kenilworth, Warks

Sir, You say the Supreme Court has decreed that Scientology is indeed a religion and that it is therefore entitled to the same tax breaks as all other religions. Surely the question is not whether this is a just decision, but, in these more secular days, why the majority who have nothing to do with the Church should find themselves paying for the Church’s privilege in the first place.

Peter Frost



Sir, The decision of the Indian Supreme Court to re-criminalise homosexuality is extraordinary (report, Dec 12). It is devastating for the many millions of gay men in India. Once again, their identity is shrouded with illegality and all that flows from this. For most of the world, laws criminalising homosexuality are a relic of British colonial rule. Over 80 per cent of the Commonwealth still criminalises. So, ironically, the Indian Supreme Court has just upheld one of the last vestiges of colonialism. The decision will send ripples around the world — criminalisation is not the only indicator of persecution for the purposes of gay and lesbian asylum claims, but it is weighty evidence of such oppression.

Jonathan Cooper

Human Dignity Trust, London, EC1


Sir, I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Warren (letter, Dec 12); in particular for his experience with Equitable Life. There is also, I would agree, a huge “minefield” to navigate through the complex world of annuities. However, while the rules are complex, Mr Warren will not be forced to buy an annuity at 75. If he already is invested via a self-invested personal pension (as he suggests) then he can simply draw an income from that invested fund. Where his other income is less than £20,000 then yes there are restrictions on the level of income that may be drawn but on death some of the invested capital can be directed towards a surviving spouse or indeed they may continue to receive a pension income in their own right.

Nigel V. Stratton

Stoke Mandeville, Bucks

Sir, Further to your report “A happy retirement — yours for only £11,000”, (Dec 12) could you please tell us where the holiday destination costing £752 for 21 days is because we would like to go there next year.

Angela Jackaman

Folkestone, Kent



Re Deborah Haynes’s very good piece (“Pirate patrol calming Gulf waters has woman at the helm”) — cradles rock, ships roll

Sir, Re Deborah Haynes’s very good piece (“Pirate patrol calming the Gulf waters has woman at the helm”, Dec 12) — cradles rock, ships roll.

David Hider

(Master Mariner), Bristol


Nelson Mandela was nearly 76 when first elected President in 1994. Perhaps there is still virtue in age and experience in politics

Sir, One wonders how the world might now be had two of the greatest men of modern times stepped aside at the normal retiring age of 65. Winston Churchill was rising 66 when he first became Prime Minister in May 1940, and was 70 at the war’s end in 1945. Nelson Mandela was 71 when he was released from prison in South Africa in February 1990, and nearly 76 when first elected President in 1994. Perhaps there is still virtue in age and experience in politics.

Julian Peel Yates

Andover, Hants




SIR – The suggestion that Tesco might pile the misshapen and less attractive produce at a lower price (“Supermarket aims to win over public to wonky fruit”, report, December 11) will cause confusion. They already have such produce: labelled organic and selling at a higher price.

Michael Smedley
Radford Semele, Warwickshire

SIR – In the market in Revel, a small town deep in rural south-west France, all the produce is locally grown, is of all shapes and sizes, and could certainly not be called good-looking. But it has never seen a herbicide, insecticide, pesticide or artificial fertiliser, and it tastes wonderful.

Dr Peter Islip
Sanderstead, Surrey

SIR – As a young housewife in Oldham in the Sixties, I once bought a one-legged Christmas turkey. This was great value, as it was half price, the ratio of breast to leg meat was much better than on a fully-limbed turkey and, best of all, it caused much merriment at the Christmas dinner table.


SIR – Con Coughlin gives warning of the perils of losing friends in the Gulf region.

When I was Commander-in-Chief Fleet (2005-2007), I increased the number of Royal Navy vessels routinely deployed east of Suez from one to 14, something that neither Denis Healey (defence secretary from 1964-1970), or John Nott (defence secretary from 1981-1983) could imagine. The essence of this Fleet disposition survived the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review but will be challenged again in the SDSR in 2015 – on which officials have already started work in spite of none of us knowing the hue or aspirations of the next government.

Deployment to the Gulf region brings clear advantage to one of our major strategic dependencies, is a quick dash from the eastern Mediterranean and halfway to the Far East. It also places us at the forefront of inter-operability with US forces, a vital characteristic in any crisis anywhere in the world.

The Royal Navy has moved on from “train where we expect to fight” to “deploy where we make the most difference”.

Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent (retd)
Modbury, Devon

A fair pay rise for MPs

SIR – The basic annual state pension in 1963 was £175.50 and is now £5,727.80, which is 32.6 times greater. The basic salary of an MP in 1963 was £1,500 and is now £65,738, which is 43.8 times greater.

If MPs receive an 11 per cent increase, this will be 48.6 times greater than the 1963 figure. The same multiplier applied to the state pension would result in an annual payout of £8,529.30, nearly £3,000 a year more than it is now.

Instead of the pension “triple lock”, could we not have a “quadruple lock” which would include index-linked rises in MPs’ salaries?

I would like to nominate myself for membership of IPSA: the Independent Pensioners’ Standards Authority.

Alexander Grant
Lenzie, Dunbartonshire

Danger path for birds

SIR – Shetland’s whimbrels are not threatened only by wind turbines being built there. One spring migration stream follows the English channel, where a big turbine array is proposed off the Dorset coast.

Together with other waders, they fly at rotor height through the danger zone, day and night. What are their chances?

Treleven Haysom
Langton Matravers, Dorset

Funeral protocol

SIR – Genuine mourners must have been disgusted by the puerile disrespect shown by our so-called world leaders when they took a “selfie” at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Fine words from President Obama were not matched by his actions, and David Cameron squeezing in made me cringe.

Pam Stark
Hadleigh, Essex

Progressive husband

SIR – I’m with Allison Pearson when it comes to stores providing a man crèche. I only go shopping in department stores with my wife if she agrees to start on the top floor and work her way down. That way, I always feel that we are heading towards the exit.

John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire

Care home victims

SIR – We, the families of the victims of Winterbourne View care home, families of victims in similar care units, and supporting organisations, are concerned at the lack of progress made by the Government. Some of our brothers, sisters and children remain in units hundreds of miles away from home, where they could be at significant risk.

Last year we met Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support. He agreed that no one should live in an assessment and treatment unit far away from their family. We are deeply saddened that our voices seem to have made little difference to the lives of those who remain in places such as Winterbourne View.

We hoped that the exposé of Winterbourne View would provide an opportunity to end the horror that people with a learning disability face when they are shut away, out of sight and mind. We seek assurances that our loved ones will be moved closer to home as soon as possible where they can get the support they need.

Lorna and Sid Blake
Ann Earley
Wendy Fiander
Loretta Pearcey
Emma and Claire Garrod
Jenny and Michael Finch
Steve and Faye Sollars
Catie and Shirley Bennett
Dr Caroline Oliver
Sue Battin
Jane Alcock
David and Jill Jack
Helen Cherry
Jan Tregellas
Chief executive, Mencap
Vivien Cooper
Chief executive, Challenging Behaviour Foundation
Jo Hough
Coordinator of the National Valuing Families Forum
Anne Chivers
Chief executive, British Institute of Learning Disabilities
Mark Lever
Chief executive, National Autistic Society
Dr Noelle Blackman
Chief executive, Respond
Craig Hart and Karen Flood
Co-Chairs, National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities

Mega-truck threat

SIR – On motorways, more than half of fatal accidents involve Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), despite them making up only 10 per cent of the traffic, and on minor roads HGVs are five times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions.

The road haulage industry is pushing for double-articulated mega-trucks to be allowed on British roads. These will worsen road safety, congestion and pollution. The Government should make clear that it will oppose European plans for them to be allowed to cross national borders.

Philippa Edmunds
Campaign for Better Transport
London N1

Piling it on

SIR – If Trevor Shepherd is concerned about making a round trip of 10 miles to drop off his garden waste due to lack of collections, I suggest that he starts a compost pile in his garden.

This would be more environmentally friendly as he would be recycling and not using his car.

Sally Jaspars

The variety of Christmas cards is a festive treat

SIR – Although a practising Christian, I do not share the concern over whether or not a Christmas card depicts a religious theme. Cards are a pleasant addition to the celebrations, and are no more connected to the real meaning of Christmas than fir trees, fairy lights or scenes of shepherds knee-deep in snow.

I welcome the variety of cards, and enjoy sending my own designs, ranging from nativity scenes to three French hens doing the can-can.

Susan Gow
Overcombe, Dorset

SIR – Now I have reached an age when my Christmas card list is getting smaller every year because my friends are passing away, I always put a sticker with my name and contact details on my Christmas cards.

This is not to ensure I get one in return, but so that executors of those who I do not see from year to year can let me know when yet another friend or acquaintance has passed on.

Diana Spencer
Wigton, Cumberland

SIR – Tesco’s advice against consumption of its Christmas tree is less curious than it seems. Many parts of a natural fir tree are edible. The needles are full of vitamins A and C and make a flavoursome tea or, with honey and lemon, a nutritious syrup.

I expect it is the use of pesticide on commercial trees that makes them unfit for culinary use.

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire



SIR – I read with some wonder that one in three GPs’ surgeries was failing to meet basic standards.

We have a small family-run business in the construction industry and, in order for us to receive inquiries for work from contractors, we must be affiliated to several different health and safety organisations.

Each year we have to update our records, which will then be sent to an independent auditor, who will then, we hope, pass us for accreditation. This is a lengthy and time-consuming process, which ideally should be overseen by a single government-run organisation.

Can it really be possible that some surgeries are putting patients’ lives at risk with unhygienic practices, when our business has to carry a separate, site-specific risk assessment for every single work process involved in the execution of our day-to-day business, together with a method statement of how each contract shall be carried out?

Sarah Allen
North Newton, Somerset

SIR – The time has come to bring all GPs’ surgeries under the control of the NHS and make all GPs salaried members of the NHS, rather than the independent self-employed contractors that they are.

GPs could then concentrate on looking after patients, with the removal of the need to manage a small business and generate profits for their income. In addition, more clinical time would be made available, as the administrative burden is shifted to appropriately qualified NHS managers.

David Parker
Leyland, Lancashire

SIR – Until March 2013, local primary care trusts were responsible for commissioning health services and disciplining doctors in their areas. When local GP-controlled clinical commissioning groups were introduced in April 2013, responsibility for policing GPs passed to NHS England. Thus, local accountability was lost, and we now have the ridiculous situation of a group of GPs who are responsible for allocating budgets yet unable to discipline GPs for squandering resources.

Tony Ellis
Northwood, Middlesex

SIR – Many of this year’s Care Quality Commission inspections were at “high risk” GPs’ surgeries, yet fewer than 1 per cent of those inspected were subject to enforcement action. Either the situation is not as bad as Prof Steve Field (the chief inspector of GPs) makes out in his headline-grabbing comments, or the CQC is failing to protect patients. Which is it?

Jonathan Patrick

SIR – The most dangerous aspect of visiting the doctor’s surgery is having to sit in a fug of germs, for ages, with people coughing and sneezing all round and little ventilation. If you’re not ill when you go in, you are by the time you emerge.

Sarah Gall
Rochdale, Lancashire



SIR – Before retiring, the final signatory of this letter was a surgeon and general manager of a large university hospital. The after-care of a hip operation failed him catastrophically, the NHS repaying a lifetime of service with negligence and long-term disability.

We, the other signatories, are experienced consultants who share his analysis of how the system failed him and why it fails so many others.

Any surgeon who performs an operation needs to be part of a team that shares an understanding of the possible complications. Surgery is too large and technical for a shift system of junior staff. Similarly, a consultant gastro-intestinal surgeon is not competent to tackle an orthopaedic emergency.

There is no effective substitute for the team or firm system, with a named head with whom the buck stops. No “working time directive” can absolve surgeons of their responsibility to the patient on whom they have operated, and this can only be shouldered if shared with their trainees.

Many surgeons yearn to put ethics before directives and to practise these old-fashioned, fundamental values. Sadly, the NHS has taken away their teams and split up partnerships. Now a good measure of the quality of a surgical unit is to observe senior surgeons on the wards at weekends.

Shift work must be replaced by surgical firms again. Patients need to know the name and face of the consultant responsible for their care, so they can learn how the operation went, its outcome, what follows and when they can go home.

Julian Elkington, FRCS
Prof R J Heald FRCS
John S Kirkham FRCS
Prof Khursheed Moos FRCS
Anthony B Richards FRCS
Robert Walters FRCS
Michael H Young, FRCS
Russell Hopkins, MRCS, FDSRCS

Signing off

SIR – The “fake” interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service reminded me of a vicar acquaintance who was asked to give the address at a service for the deaf. After a few minutes he decided to pause so that the person signing could catch up.

Though no one there realised it, he knew sign language and was amused to note that the interpretation of his wise words was: “As soon as he says something interesting, I’ll let you know.”

Valerie Currie
Brockworth, Gloucestershire

Vegetable manipulation

SIR – I was amazed to read that Matt Simister of Tesco said that the public needed to be educated to buy misshapen fruit and veg.

This used to be the norm, until Mr Simister’s company forced suppliers to grow their products to a set size and shape to fit into 12 x 12 crates, in order to save space and transport costs.

I recall watching a television programme in which a Tesco buyer in South Africa actually told a supplier that all crops of mangetout must be 3.5 inches long; anything over that wouldn’t be accepted.

Leslie Alexander
Finchampstead, Berkshire

SIR – As a former owner of a company supplying supermarkets with prepacked potatoes, I was educated by Tesco and others on what their customers wanted.

I suppose their suppliers will have to be re-educated once they have educated their customers on what they really want.

Michael Black
Gullane, East Lothian

Benefit tourism

SIR – An anonymous EU diplomat asks: “Would Britain be happy if pensioners in Spain or expatriates in France were asked to complete a language test before accessing the services to which they are entitled?” (“Speak English or lose benefits).

How many British pensioners go to Spain to get jobseekers’ allowance? How many don’t have a residence there already? How many British pensioners go to Paris to get a job?

As for younger British expats wishing to make a new life, most learn or already speak the lingo. If they don’t, I, for one, would be delighted to see their benefits restricted until they do.

Unless one has a sense of the host country’s history and language, there can be no sense of intent to settle.

Michael Rook
Marefield, Leicestershire

School discipline

SIR – Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, has criticised schools for accepting poor behaviour and lack of willingness to learn.

Since schools, the courts and the Government will not support teachers and other school staff in demanding good behaviour, what do they expect?

Obviously, it does not require a return to punishments such as caning, but often the parents of unruly children are threatening and aggressive, and teachers are unable to defend themselves.

Michael West
Eastleigh, Hampshire

Husbands’ crèche

SIR – A few years ago, my husband and I went on a weekend trip to Milan. I managed to negotiate two hours of shopping and dragged my (very reluctant) husband into the first expensive-looking boutique I could find.

Inside, a gorgeous Italian shop assistant approached us and said to my husband: “Perhaps you would like to take a seat at our bar?” She then escorted him to a large bar, close to the changing rooms, where half a dozen men were drinking Peronis and reading newspapers, looking up only to give a collective view on whoever’s wife emerged from the changing room.

It remains the only shopping trip where I had to persuade my husband that it was time to leave.

Amanda Brown
Headley, Hampshire

Virtual Christmas cards: cost or convenience?

SIR – At the time of decimalisation in 1971, a first-class stamp was 3p and a second-class stamp was 2½p. Since then, average earnings have gone up 20 times, with first-class and second-class stamps keeping pace at 60p and 50p. It may seem that the price of postage is the reason people are cutting back on their Christmas card lists, but perhaps the convenience of email is a more important factor.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – Christmas letters are not so different from personal missives: they happen occasionally and impart news. It may not always be earth-shattering news, but the recipients of a letter-less card know only that the sender is alive, that his signature hasn’t changed and that his preferred genre of card is still robins and snow.

Richard Stevens
Boars Hill, Oxfordshire

SIR – We mourn the passing of the circular letter. Traditionally, we would read them out after Christmas lunch and fall about laughing at the inanities. A particularly fine example recorded the fact that the sender’s husband nearly dropped his pliers while mending the bath.

Fred Ford
Salford, Lancashire


Irish Times:


Sir, – Government politicians, including Enda Kenny, are thanking us for our cooperation in getting our economy to where it is today.

I must tell them all, please don’t thank me, I did not, and do not agree with what was done on my behalf. What happened in this country, and in many others, was the greatest transfer of wealth from the ordinary citizen to a small number of already extremely wealthy individuals and institutions.

When examined properly one finds that we have been left with a society that is on the verge of collapse, and future generations are condemned to pay unjustified debts for years to come. I utterly condemn both the present and the previous government for getting us into this sorry mess.

This all happened because the leadership of this country had not got the courage to confront the vested interests of both our EU masters and the markets, instead agreeing to repay their gambling debts. If Ireland had behaved like poor little Iceland, and stood up to the bullies, I would have acquiesced with your policies, and then you could thank me for my co-operation. – Yours, etc,


Killerig, Carlow.

Sir, – Given that he was IMF mission chief for Ireland at the time of the bailout I find Ashoka Mody’s assertion that “bondholders should have been burnt” and that Ireland should have been “more pushy” with the European Commission a bit hypocritical (Simon Carswell, Home News, December 13th).

This is especially so when he is failing to spell out the consequences of a partial default.

All who think that the laws of the market should have applied to our banks then have to answer the question as to what level of chaos would have ensued.

If we think that the damage to the most vulnerable in society has been high in present circumstances it could have been much higher in the event of a partial default. Ashoka Mody has failed to go into that.

The issue of large financial institutions being “too big to fail” has to be addressed in future if we want to prevent something similar happening again. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Now that the time is almost upon us – and I refer to December 15th rather than the 25th – I want to remark on one particularly cloying cliche which has done the rounds in the media generally in the last couple of months and that is the phrase, “waving goodbye to the troika”.

For me anyway, this turn of phrase almost implies some sort of fond farewell on the part of the Irish people, crowds thronging the streets and airport with tears welling in their dewy eyes and hankies at the ready, as if bidding a reluctant, bittersweet adieu to some kindly benefactor rather than a group of people who socialised private debt, slashed the wages and conditions of ordinary workers and who, without electoral mandate, inflicted austerity on, if hardly all, then the vast majority of Irish citizens.

There is, simply, in this choice of wording, a suggestion of friendly disposition which is entirely misplaced given the circumstances but perhaps speaks volumes about our national character. I somehow doubt whether the media of our fellow PIIGS countries will be quite so benign in their analysis when their time comes to part company with the forces that inflicted hardship on many for the benefit of an elite few.

Furthermore, the so-called “waving goodbye” may be, in a sense, somewhat premature as from all media reports since the announcement of the December 15th date their malignant legacy of will persist, in the form of regular “check- ups” on the State’s finances, long after they have discontinued having a direct hand in the affairs of our State. – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan Road,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.


Sir, – I am very concerned at the reported sale of Bord Gáis Energy to a foreign company, namely the UK company Centrica (Home News, December 13th). This seems to have been done with unseemly haste and certainly with some prompting from Europe, but equally not part of a considered, published and agreed strategic plan for the future of this country’s energy policy.

Ceding control of a strategic energy asset outside the State’s control should be the subject of extreme concern to all of us and perhaps be the subject of a referendum.

It is a vital issue that affects every citizen of this country and all are entitled to a say in the outcome. We don’t have a coherent energy policy published and agreed despite ample opportunity over the past 10 years.

We are uniquely positioned to be leading supplier of renewable energy to ourselves and the rest of Europe, but somehow we always manage to allow political expediency and ineptitude to get in the way.

I challenge this Government to tell me, my children and their children what our energy policy for the future is once and for all, so that I and they can have some confidence in a thriving eco-friendly environment and economy. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – Patrick Guinness (December 9th) would appear to believe that Ronald Reagan was instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa. On the contrary, his policies almost certainly extended it.

The Reagan administration provided the South African government with diplomatic support, plus economic and military aid, as it engaged in increasingly oppressive actions domestically, alongside attacks against neighbouring Mozambique and Angola that contributed to approximately one and half million deaths and over $60 billion worth of damage, during Reagan’s tenure as president. When Congress finally imposed US sanctions against South Africa, Reagan attempted unsuccessfully to veto the bill. One could hardly blame Bishop Desmond Tutu for describing the former US president’s policy of “constructive engagement” as “immoral, evil and totally unChristian”. Mandela himself chose not to attend Reagan’s funeral. – Yours, etc,


Lower Rathmines Road,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien is correct (Opinion, December 13th) to call for the speedy appointment of a regulator to the charitable sector.

However, the sector needs a regulator with a reforming zeal rather than an administrative mindset. A recent experience may illustrate the point. A few months ago my wife and I were asked to participate in a fundraising event for a small charity. As is my practice I requested a copy of the audited accounts. The office administrator replied that she had never received such a request and would have to consult with the chief executive. He duly telephoned me and refused to send me the accounts adding that I could obtain a copy from the Companies Office.

This I did, only to find that the company had claimed the small company exemption and filed only a balance sheet without an accompanying income and expenditure account. It was impossible to learn anything about its financial affairs other than it had over €2 million on deposit in the bank. Whether this represented one, two or 12 months’ expenditure was impossible to assess. Yes the charity complied with the law, but the law is deficient when dealing with charities seeking financial support from the public. The public should also be aware that auditors specifically address their reports to the members, ie, shareholders or guarantors; and auditors have no obligation to third parties including creditors and donors.

That is why we need a reforming regulator who will insist on full information being provided by all charities availing of a CHY (a charity reference number for tax purposes) and that this information will then be made available to the public via the regulator’s website. – Yours, etc,


Waltham Terrace,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.



Sir, – Some of the public comment on the Pisa 2012 scores, both here and elsewhere, shows a basic misunderstanding of what Pisa can tell us. The “league tables” show where we stand, on average, relative to other participating countries – no more and no less. So if Ireland moves up the league tables it means we are doing better than others. What it does not mean is that Irish students are performing better in absolute terms. The Pisa data is constructed so that the overall average is 500 every year so it cannot show absolute performance. Hence we have no way of knowing whether our current crop of 15-year-olds know more or less than the previous one.

Some commentators, who should know better, have sought to link our improved ranking to developments here such as changes in the syllabus or education spending. Leaving aside the obvious benefits of hindsight, this implicitly assumes that the rest of the world has, magically, stood still.

Pisa contains a huge amount of information that can help inform debate and change in Irish education but the fetish over our international ranking does little to enable this and diverts us from the important but hard questions. So while it is mildly interesting to know where our average 15-year-old stands relative to the average 15-year-old Belgian or Australian, it is much more important to understand the variation in performance within Ireland and to know what social and educational forces explain this. – Yours, etc,


School of Economics &

Geary Institute,

University College Dublin,

Dublin 4.


Sir, – Fr Paddy Banville and Pádraig McCarthy (Letters, December 13th) make essentially the same point – that if a child does not miss out on a school place due to the “ethos” of the school, some other criteria must be applied. This may be the case – and I share the sentiment that it is the Minister for Education who needs to address the issue of high demand – but that doesn’t mean that it is therefore acceptable to retain overtly discriminatory, sectarian admission policies.

If they had any integrity, the religious institutions would, of their own volition, be introducing fairer policies rather than padding their numbers through the status quo.

It is a pretty damning indictment of both church and State that otherwise non-religious citizens – taxpayers – feel obliged to mime their way through a baptismal ceremony out of fear for their child’s education. – Yours, etc,


Mountain Park,


Dublin 24.


Sir, – Alison Healy recommends parents pull the plug on video-games and smart-phones in order to get children active (Home News, November 30th); I agree entirely.

However, parents (especially mothers) should put a stop to their own antisocial and anti-family behaviour by constantly having their noses stuck in their phones.

On many occasions I have witnessed parents ignoring their children as they idle the time away phone fiddling. In the UK they have recognised the psychological damage this form of child neglect is having on children’s emotional development.

Last year the UK government launched a “Talk to your children campaign” to highlight this problem.

In Ireland we need to follow the UK’s example to urge parents to set a good example, to cut down on the amount of time they spend glued to their phones and to stop neglecting their children. – Yours, etc,


Erne Terrace,



Sir, – It was with incredulity that I read the recent comments of Minister of State Alan Kelly (Home News, December 12th). His opinion that the biggest impediment to the growth of public transport in Ireland is the snobbery of the middle-classes is without basis.

Perhaps the Minister could more credibly blame the numeracy skills of the Irish public.

A return journey on Dublin Bus to Dundrum Town Centre, the bastion of middle-classness, from the Northside of the city for two adults and two children costs an exorbitant €31.20 in exact change, no notes please. The Leap card negates the requirement to have a bag of change and is slightly cheaper coming in at €26.20. Car-parking for three hours in Dundrum Town Centre car park is €2.

The sums don’t add up and perhaps Mr Kelly should instead blame the Minister for Education for teaching us all so well. – Yours, etc,


Annamoe Park,




Sir, – Recent top-up scandals provide reassuring evidence that, no matter how impoverished we become here in Ireland, we need never go hungry as, even after we’ve eaten all the pigeons (Home News, December 13th), there will still be plenty of fat cats. – Yours, etc,


Claude Road,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.



Sir, – Warm greetings from the North Pole to you and to all your dear readers.

Santa has asked if you would please remind all the boys and girls that haven’t already done so to post their Christmas letters to him today. All the elves are busy in the workshop making and packing toys and gifts. Mrs Claus is checking lists of names on her computer and planning the route for Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve!

Santa loves reading the letters from children in Ireland, particularly when they have taken the time to write the letter themselves. So all they need do is: Put their letter in an envelope; Write their own name and address (in very clear writing) on the top left-hand corner of the front of the envelope; Stick a 60c stamp on the top right-hand corner and Post it in any An Post post box to: Santa Claus, The North Pole.

It’s as simple as that!

Once again this year, An Post is helping Santa to reply to as many letters as possible before Christmas. So it’s important that the girls and boys get writing and posting straight away – it’s such a busy time for us all. I hope you have a very magical Christmas. PS Don’t forget to leave some carrots out for Rudolph and his friends! – Yours, etc,


Chief Elf,

The North Pole.



Irish Independent:


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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