19 December 2013 Books
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to locate, defuse and retrieve a lost American missile, Priceless.
Potter around go to the Post Office An upsurge in book sales, six!
Scrabbletoday Mary wins though we don’t finish, but both of us under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.
Jeanne Wayre – obituary
Jeanne Wayre was a conservationist who helped save the otter in Britain and reared Spade, who starred on screen as Tarka
Jeanne Wayre, who has died aged 86, co-founded the Otter Trust, a charity which pioneered the captive breeding of otters for release into the wild and has been credited with saving the otter from extinction in much of England.
Otters had been present throughout Britain in the early 1950s, but the following two decades saw a dramatic decline in numbers, both in Britain and across Europe, mainly due to the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides. Despite the banning of the chemicals, by the late 1970s the only healthy otter populations in Britain were in parts of Scotland, although small populations remained in Wales and northern and south-western England. A survey of nearly 3,000 one-time otter sites in the late 1970s found evidence of otters at only 170.
Jeanne and her second husband, Philip Wayre, a television naturalist and conservationist, established the Otter Trust in 1971 with four objectives: to promote otter conservation throughout the world; to maintain a collection of otters in semi-natural but controlled conditions for research, public interest and education; to carry out a captive breeding programme with the aim of releasing young otters back into the wild; and to promote and support scientific field studies of otters.
In 1976 the Wayres established their first reserve at Earsham, on the banks of the river Waveney on the Suffolk-Norfolk border. They went on to found four more reserves, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors a year. The first three otters bred in captivity were released in 1983 on to the river Blackwater in Suffolk, and by 1996 the trust had released a total of 130 animals on rivers in Suffolk, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Hampshire, Dorset, Bedfordshire, Essex, Wiltshire and Cambridgeshire, and on the Upper Thames. They also supplied otters to conservation programmes in France and the Netherlands.
Indeed, their breeding programme was so successful that it sparked an otter baby boom in the wild, putting the species on the road to recovery and obviating the need for a captive breeding programme.
In 2006 the Otter Trust closed its sanctuaries. A recent report on the 3,000 otter sites surveyed in the 1970s found otters at more than half. There are now believed to be more than 12,000 otters in Britain — about a half to two-thirds of levels seen in the 1950s.
In 1979 one of the Wayres’ otters, Spade, played the starring role in David Cobham’s film adaptation of Henry Williamson’s novel, Tarka the Otter. Jeanne Wayre and the film’s animal handler, Pete Talbot, hand-reared the baby animal so that it would “imprint” on Talbot, allowing him to handle the otter while filming in the open countryside.
The daughter of a teacher, Jeanne Helen Perkins was born on October 24 1927 at Hessle, near Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. From Malet Lambert School, Hull, she won a state scholarship to Leeds University, where she took a First in English at the age of 19.
She worked as a lecturer in English and linguistics at a polytechnic for foreign students, then taught at a Leeds school and eventually became a lecturer in English at Leeds University. At the age of 38 she was appointed headmistress of Garforth Comprehensive School, one of the first comprehensives in Yorkshire.
In 1949 she had married Peter Franklin, but the marriage was dissolved in 1971. In 1973 she married Philip Wayre.
As well as her work with the Otter Trust, Jeanne Wayre raised money for the RNLI and served as chairman of the south regional Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust.
She is survived by her husband and by two daughters of her first marriage. A son of her first marriage died in 2007.
Jeanne Wayre, born October 24 1927, died December 5 2013
Phil Daoust wrote that Peter O’Toole rarely carried money (Shortcuts, G2, 17 December). I had a drink with him and Dominic Behan in London in the mid-1960s and Peter kept his folding money in his sock! He objected to Dominic’s brother Brendan describing an Anglo-Irishman as “a Protestant on a horse” and said this didn’t apply to him. “No,” said I. “You’re a Catholic on a camel.” And I’m happy to say he thought this hilarious. We had quite a night.
• While I read with delight that Lloyd’s of London has appointed its first female chief executive in over three centuries (Report, 17 December), I was disappointed that you did not name the first female broker who stepped over the threshold. My mother, Maureen Swage, who worked for Willis, Faber and Dumas as a reinsurance broker, had that honour on 1 January 1972. It is disappointing to find that the Lloyd’s website contains no mention of her in its history.
Dr Thoreya Swage
• I notice in your article about David McAdam Freud (‘Lucian was hardly father material’, Family, 14 December) that David was “unfazed by his surname and has neither benefited from it nor used it for most of his life”. I also notice that in his latest art exhibition, “10 dresses for a 10-year-old girl”, he uses the name David Freud. Curious, no?
• Last week I visited Marie Taglioni’s grave in Montmartre cemetery (just behind Nijinsky’s) and saw that the custom of leaving ballet pumps on the grave continues (Sole power, G2, 17 December).
• At last: a telling use of Wales as a unit of measurement (Mortgage debt in parts of London is higher than for the whole of Wales, 18 December).
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• There were two lovely bumblebees sipping nectar from my cyclamen for nearly 10 minutes the other day. It was a delight; who cares if it isn’t a record.
Polly Toynbee’s recognition of the immense success of the teenage pregnancy strategy (The success story of our time, 13 December) is warmly welcome. It was indeed clear leadership and the campaigning contribution of many national bodies (including Brook and the Sex Education Forum), working alongside many local agencies, that provided the focus and impetus for change. However, at a time when research carried out in universities is being assessed for impact, it should not be overlooked how important a role this played. Both in the Social Exclusion Unit’s initial analysis of the issues involved, and during the 10-year period of the strategy under the (then) government, the evidence base developed through excellent multi-disciplinary social science research carried out in the UK and internationally played a massive role in guiding important strategic decisions, as well as serving to increase the confidence that enabled them to be implemented in the face of the shrill opposition.
The crucial role of good research in this success story is well worth stressing for at least three reasons. First, many policymakers’ views (and subsequent decisions) concerning young people and sexuality are based purely on personal opinion and/or simple rhetoric, rather than on evidence. Second, it forewarns us to the likely impact of the ongoing decimation of local young people’s services as well as of the current government’s abdication of responsibility regarding sex and relationships education in schools. Third, it provides an impressive rejoinder to those sceptics who were extremely vocal in opposition to the teenage pregnancy strategy during those early years. They have been strangely quiet in recent years.
Professor Roger Ingham
Centre for Sexual Health Research, University of Southampton
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht describes it as “laughable” to think that negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) haven’t been sufficiently open and transparent (Response, 18 December). As chair of the all-party parliamentary group scrutinising this deal, I’ve seen these negotiations unfold at close quarters, and while these might be the most transparent negotiations ever, previous deals have set the bar low. This isn’t just a European problem – UK ministers have allowed almost no scrutiny of our government’s position on an EU-US deal. The commissioner is also wrong that it is “extreme” to think the case for investor-state dispute settlement between countries with some of the most advanced legal systems in the world is very weak. I strongly support a fair, comprehensive deal but no agreement will be acceptable that does not command broad public confidence. On that score, both the EU commission and UK ministers have a lot more work to do.
John Healey MP
Labour, Wentworth and Dearne
Ed Miliband’s proposals to prevent the hoarding of land by developers and unhelpful neighbouring councils (Report, 16 December) marks the return of the land value question to the mainstream political agenda, which was once taken up by the issue and its proposed solution, the land value tax, with pro-LVT arguments from the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, the Mills, father and son, and, most spectacularly, Henry George. Significantly, though it was once thought more important in an agricultural economy, the big pushes for LVT were in the People’s Budget of 1909 (Lloyd George and Churchill) and the 1931 Finance Act (Philip Snowden) as it became obvious that cheap money from the banks does not stimulate consumption and production in an industrial economy but just sets off land price inflation, leading to house price bubbles which actually reduce spending on manufactured goods by heavily mortgaged households and those paying high inflated rents. Ed Miliband should not underestimate the strength of the opposition in the UK: the entire political system, including some in his own party, is based on the practice of homeownerism, which means being voted in and staying in power by keeping up house prices to offer a working majority of voters huge unearned capital gains in their house prices as a something-for-nothing reward for their quiescence over falling real wages.
• Both government and opposition are majoring on building more new houses to tackle the housing affordability crisis. However, there are some tricky questions to which neither seems to have answers: Why would builders build so many houses that prices fall? With increasing income disparities, how many people will be able to sustain purchases even at current prices? If more houses are to be built for social rent or subsidised purchase, where will the money come from?
More imaginative approaches to the problem might come from recognising that 90% of annual housing transactions are within the existing stock. Urban regeneration has the potential to expand the real supply much faster, with more impact on prices at the entry level (where it matters most) and with less collateral damage. It would be good to see this given at least equal prominence.
Philip Hammond deals almost wholly with drones operated by British forces, whose use may perhaps be somewhat restrained (In defence of drones, 18 December). However, the worldwide outcry is against US drones, which have an altogether different track record. I give below a few instances where a large number of innocent people were killed by US drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas: 13 January 2006 – Five women, five children and six men killed in Damadola, Bajaur tribal region; 30 October 2006 – 80 children killed in drone strike on a seminary in Chingai village; 23 June 2009 – 60 people killed in a drone strike on a funeral; 17 March 2011 – 41 innocent civilians killed in drone strikes on a tribal jirga called to settle a chromite mine dispute.
There have been countless other fatalities and serious injuries associated with nearly all drone strikes. One can easily judge how many new converts to militancy would have resulted from among people whose relatives got killed, as well as from among those who saw all this devastation. All the Taliban leaders killed through drone strikes got easily replaced by new and more brutal ones. Also, seeking safety from drone strikes, many Taliban leaders have now moved from tribal areas to cities, thus increasing law and order problems and increasing US-haters among a Pakistani population which was US-friendly a few decades back.
As for al-Qaida, many have moved to new war theatres around the world. America and its allies came to the region to eliminate al-Qaida’s leadership and to punish the Taliban for supporting/protecting it, but now al-Qaida has spread to, and is deeply entrenched in, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and other countries. Does that help? Also, the drop in fighting in Afghanistan could be more due to the fact that the Taliban and al-Qaida may not like to waste their energy and resources fighting a force the bulk of which will depart in about a year’s time anyway.
So what have the US and its allies achieved other than causing death and destruction? People may be fascinated by the sophistication and efficiency of drones but, looked at from a wider angle, the system is counterproductive as it just spreads the disease.Obviously, one can’t hope to cure the disease just by treating the symptoms.
• It is somehow fitting that the newspaper that courageously printed the Snowden revelations is also the newspaper printing the minister of defence in praise of Britain’s drones: these are the two sides of the Orwellian coin, both reflected in a great newspaper. Since the minister claims to be writing “in defence of drones”, it may be suitable to recall George Orwell’s 1947 Politics and the English Language:
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification … Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them … The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”
Whether Philip Hammond is soft snow or a spurting cuttlefish is difficult to say.
• Defence secretary Philip Hammond’s claim that British drones have killed only four civilians to date is meaningless, since his government has repeatedly stated that it does not keep any count of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. His assertion that drone strikes against Taliban fighters are somehow designed to protect British civilians stretches credibility even further.
Most worrying of all is Hammond’s suggestion (Distant battles: the pilots bombing Helmand from a hut in Lincolnshire, 18 December) that ministers could also sanction future British drone strikes in countries such as Yemen. The prospect of British drones being used in the targeted killing of individuals outside conflict zones is a wholly unacceptable extension of the “war on terror”.
Hammond rightly recognises that the British public has not fallen for his attempt to “demystify” drones. The campaign against remote-controlled warfare will escalate throughout 2014.
Executive director, War on Want
As a former civil servant I support Chris Huhne’s wish for a comprehensive review of the civil service (Comment, 16 December). However, many of the issues he describes lie at the interface between ministers and officials. Huhne says that civil servants should tell ministers when problems arise over new policies. To me that is part of their professional responsibility. But do ministers pay attention? Some do, others do not wish to know.
Evaluation is a powerful tool in improving policy. However, it is undervalued by both civil servants and ministers. Rapid change of jobs by civil servants is often unnecessary and inefficient. But over-rapid movement of ministers or, worse still, shuffling responsibilities between Whitehall departments, can also be a serious drag on performance of the civil service; changing structure is rarely a better solution than improving management. Better co-ordination across Whitehall is needed. It’s unfortunate that the government office structure in the English regions has been dismantled as this provided useful experience in departmental co-operation.
Risk in introducing new policies can be reduced by deeper research, fuller consultation and a programme of pilots, including evaluation. But the accompanying delay compared to go-for-broke is rarely acceptable to ministers. And dealing with underperforming outsourced contracts is another issue which is likely to lead to differences between ministers and officials. So I hope any review will also look at the government’s engagement with the civil service, and how this affects its culture, leading to change for both.
Dr Bob Dobbie
• Why does Chris Huhne concentrate on the need for civil service reform rather than on the politicians who he identifies as appointing special advisers with dubious expertise, lacking clear vision, and then trying to offload blame on their servants when their plans go awry? Being forced to place contracts with private contractors rather than do the work in-house, and then having to take the blame when they go wrong, is particularly annoying to those in the public service who have risen up through the ranks on the basis of their track record of success.
The real problem is our electoral system, which gives individual ministers enormous power to overturn institutions which have been carefully built up over many years in an instant, as happened to the coalmining industry, British Rail’s manufacturing capability and the Central Electricity Generating Board, not to mention the NHS. Evolution rather than revolution should be the watchword, but it is hard to see how ministers, often with no experience at all in the areas they are responsible for, can regularly be successful in the incredibly short time they have before either being moved on by the PM or having to stand for re-election.
Dr Richard Turner
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
• Of course the civil service can be improved, as can any organisation, but let’s not forget that is often only civil servants who keep this government on the right side of the law: eg by preventing Michael Gove from funding his pet King James Bible distribution project form the public purse.
Manfred Rommel was in Westminster Abbey on 14 October 1992 for a special service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein, and read from Romans 12: 9-18 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour …” A few minutes before, the 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein had read from Micah.
Afterwards, the Dean of Westminster, Michael Mayne, wrote: “I couldn’t help thinking how strange it was, remembering how as a schoolboy in 1942 I had stuck flags in a map of North Africa as the desert campaign unfolded, that Montgomery and Rommel were now drinking coffee together in my drawing room.”
Twenty years ago my husband and I had the privilege of visiting the Dzanga Sangha reserve in the south-west corner of Central African Republic. We camped under a shelter and in the evening listened to the songs of the BaAka Pygmies which floated through the dusk from the scattered huts where they lived. Next day our Pygmy guide led us through the rainforest to the huge clearing where the forest elephants come to seek mineral salts. We clambered up on to a viewing platform and watched entranced as a big group of elephants, adults and babies, rooted contentedly, emitting low rumbles.
Leaving this peaceful spot we continued our journey along the rutted dirt roads to the capital, Bangui. Life in CAR was hard. In the villages outside Bangui people just scraped a living.
Now horror has descended on the country – terrible killings are taking place and the people who had so little now have nothing. And at Dzanga Sangha there has been horror too. In May this year armed men came and from the same platform from which we had watched such unforgettable scenes, they massacred the elephants, both the adults and the babies, and then hacked off their tusks.
Last Christmas we were delighted to be able to donate to The Independent Christmas charity appeal supporting former child soldiers in CAR. This year we are again happy to support The Independent appeal, this time to help stop the appalling massacres of elephants. I very much hope it does well.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
Long-ago visits to stonehenge
Having read Simon Calder’s article “No more going round in circles” (18 December), I realise how extremely fortunate I am to have experienced the delights of visiting Stonehenge long before anyone even considered turning it into a “tourist experience”.
There was no “Nordic airport terminal” of a visitor centre, nor a sightseeing shuttle to tow me to the periphery when, as a 10-year-old, after freewheeling down the long hill into Amesbury, I could prop my bike against a conveniently fallen lintel and wander at will amongst the gigantic stones.
I loved stroking their rough surfaces and wondering about the people who so long ago had built this vast temple. I can still recall the mysterious thrill in the atmosphere that always surrounded what was, for me, a very special place, where an added attraction was the sense of isolation.
The only people I ever encountered when I went to Stonehenge were those who had cycled there with me.
Target-setting in the finance industry
Target-setting in the financial industry goes back at least as far as the Big Bang of 1986 (Letters, 14 December). The big difference then was that staff contracts didn’t include penalties for so-called failure, as they appear to have in the latest Lloyds fiasco. Indeed, around about 1990 I took a phone call at the branch where I then worked from a minion of the area director. He actually threatened that staff would be fired if targets were not met, but he must have known that it was a crude bluff.
Now, it seems, staff had signed up to contracts which were pernicious. The customers quite rightly get an apology, and the bank gets a fine. Surely the staff should also receive an apology for having had to work under ridiculous pressure – one thing inevitably leads to another. Targets are dangerous in any line of work when set by people who have no understanding of the workplace itself.
R P Wallen
‘Labour costs’ to you means ‘wages’ to me
The surprisingly frank call by Domino’s Pizza chief executive Lance Batchelor for immigration laws to be loosened further to help the firm to fill thousands of jobs has caused quite a stir.
These comments demonstrate the fundamental economic principle of supply and demand. When the supply of something is increased (in this case, labour), its price decreases. What chief executives call “labour costs”, the rest of us know as “wages”, and nothing helps to keep wages down better than an ever-expanding supply of labour, ideally from poorer countries.
As consumers we all have a choice where we spend our money. Perhaps it is time to reward those companies which recruit local staff and pay them a reasonable wage, and to stay away from those which do not.
Tweets that show the BBC is still great
All is not lost. After David Attenborough had informed us on this morning’s Tweet of the Day that the ptarmigan’s plumage becomes white in the winter snow, and grey among the grey rocks after the snow melts, the continuity announcer’s gentle irony as he followed with… “and for those of you who are not entirely sure what a ptarmigan looks like, there is a charming picture of one posed on a rock on our website…” encouraged me no end. Thanks, BBC – after all the blunders in high places, the bit that matters is still functioning as a broadcaster without peer.
What’s so great about food banks?
So Nick Clegg is proud that the Coalition government has made it easier for people to use foodbanks. That says it all, really.
Am I the only one who really enjoys receiving Christmas newsletters – personalised or not?
Upminster, Greater London
Lives blighted by airport uncertainty
If the London Mayor wishes to expand the definition of “London airport” to cover the whole top part of Kent and put the flightpath over my house in Essex, does that mean that I should be included in the voting area for his job?
I deserve at least that, but I am not holding my breath.
The Davies Commission’s interim report released this week (report, 17 December) has put the Isle of Grain and the wider Medway community in the position of having a further year of blight placed upon it.
The creation of the status of “not on the shortlist today but potentially on the shortlist on another day” means that residents in this area are left with no clear direction as to what their future holds.
Another year without clarity will hinder the council, businesses and residents from planning ahead. I will continue to argue that any estuary airport option is bad for the environment, bad for Medway and bad for UK plc.
Leader, Medway Labour Group, Chatham, Kent
I wonder about the desire to build another airport in an already built-up and congested area. I would say that more than half of all passengers arriving in London are going on somewhere else, so perhaps the answer to reducing the pressure on the existing airports is to build one in the middle of nowhere, where the noise and the pollution will rile only a few cows – and direct all transfer passengers through there.
The land transportation could be kept to a minimum and it certainly would be cheaper (and less intrusive) than some “island” in the middle of the Thames.
I propose Gatwick for the new runway with a high-speed rail link to Heathrow with separate air-side and land-side trains. This would follow the M25 and take 15 minutes. Thus connecting flights could be easily accommodated and give a service that would be similar or better than changing terminals at Heathrow. The capital cost would be better value than an additional runway at Heathrow with no increase in the noise level on west London nor the compulsory purchase of many houses.
I was interested to read Sir Howard Davies’ Airport Commission – or should I call it Sir Howard Davies’ Airport Omission?
What was this worthy doing almost ignoring the potential of Skype and video-conferencing? As early as the disasters of 9/11 and the volcanic ash cloud, remote-control business meetings came into their own, thus saving all the wear and tear of flying hither and thither.
Davies needs lateral thinking: not to ask for runway H, runway G, or runway Boris; but to opt for a green revolution.
Godfrey H Holmes
As someone who has been living under one of the recently recommended Heathrow flight paths I breathed a sigh of relief on learning that “my” (south-west) option is no longer in the frame.
However, local friends, neighbours and I myself have always felt, and will continue to feel, solidarity with all the other Heathrow villages under threat. We will petition, march and write letters alongside them as we did when Labour were pressing their version of a third runway.
‘If the case is made for further significant airport capacity, then the delaying tactics by politicians that inevitably lead to a short-term solution should not be tolerated’
Sir, Your leading article (“Go East”, Dec 18) gives an accurate picture of why further expansion of Heathrow is futile. In my view Sir Howard Davies’s Airports Commission should make further investigations into who actually benefits from hub airports. Being a stepping stone for flights is certainly beneficial for the multinationally owned airports and also the ex-nationalised airlines, whose legacy of dominance at their relevant hubs means that their complex short-haul networks act as feeder services for their long-haul flights, but it is not what the “A to B” traveller wants.
Even as a point-to-point destination airport, Heathrow is hopelessly inadequate when compared with its European counterparts. It can never achieve their potential capacity — a huge part of any expansion would simply allow it to reduce its current operating level of 98 per cent capacity to that of its competition.
If the case is made for further significant airport capacity, then the delaying tactics by politicians that inevitably lead to a short-term solution should not be tolerated. The UK should get behind the Mayor of London to support the concept of developing a state-of-the-art, future-proof airport that is as environmentally friendly as possible.
Sir, If we are to have a new international airline hub, it should be somewhere near the proposed HS2 railway line, perhaps near Luton. This would bring it within 20 minutes of St Pancras and an hour of Manchester Piccadilly, while also removing it to a safe distance from Central London. Moreover, all our runways do not need to be located at the same airport in order to act as a hub. If we could provide a dedicated high-speed link between Heathrow and Gatwick (or better, Luton), reducing the journey time to 20 minutes including waiting time, then changing airports would be no worse than changing terminals.
Sir, In 1969 I was a civil engineering undergraduate at Imperial College. My tutor’s office was small, so our meetings were held in Professor Sir Colin Buchanan’s vacant office — he was busy as a member of the Roskill Commission on the Third London Airport. The commission recommended Cublington in Buckinghamshire.
Buchanan issued a dissenting report, recommending Maplin Sands/Foulness in the Thames estuary, and rejecting Cublington, stating that “it would be nothing less than an environmental disaster if the airport were to be built at any of the inland sites, but nowhere more serious than at Cublington where it would lie athwart the critically important belt of open country between London and Birmingham”.
The incoming Conservative Government ditched Cublington and opted for Maplin. Time dragged on and the next Labour Government dumped Maplin and Stansted became the de facto airport policy.
Forty-odd years on and where are we now? In a holding pattern, with the extension of Heathrow and Gatwick, and with Boris Island/the Isle of Grain — the new Maplin — as a possible outsider. Meanwhile, we have HS2. Blazing north, well, to Birmingham — through Buckinghamshire. And making connections to what — and to where?
This is not a recipe for integrated transport planning.
Professor Paul W. Jowitt
Past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Edinburgh
Sir, At a hastily organised planning meeting tonight in Hammersmith, West London, the fate will be decided of one of London’s most important arts centres: Riverside Studios.
More than 30 years ago Riverside Studios was set up on public land with public funding as a multidisciplinary arts centre for the benefit of local people and Londoners. It has experienced the funding difficulties shared across the arts, and its future now rests on the solution being decided on this evening: a proposed development of luxury housing and TV studios, with minimal and as yet unspecified arts facilities.
We believe that there has been insufficient consultation for such an important site, next to the Grade II listed Hammersmith Bridge, and on this rare riverside location, in a development in which arts facilities look likely to play a secondary role to privately-run TV studios.
As people who care about the history and future of Riverside Studios, we urge Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Riverside Trust to allow an extension of the consultation period to enable a more informed and constructive discussion about the future of this important arts centre.
Will Alsop; Francesca Annis; Sir Peter Blake; Sir Richard Eyre; Peter Gill; David Gothard; Dame Harriet Walter; Ben Johnson; Stephen Poliakoff; Penelope Wilton; Lord Rogers of Riverside
Sir, Colin Butcher (letter, Dec 17) has confused two types of annuities. An annuity bought from a pension pot is taxed on the basis that the investor has had the benefit of tax relief on the contributions and the fund. However, outside a pension a purchase of what is called a purchased life annuity is taxed very favourably, as it is seen as a return of mostly your own capital.
So rather than receiving only £4,000pa on £100,000, as quoted in his letter, this person would obtain about £5,100 gross. The result is a much better deal and with nothing like £20,000 going in tax, as Mr Butcher thought. Whether an annuity is the best choice is another matter.
Head of Research, Hargreaves Lansdown
Sir, Matthew Parris’s excellent proposal (Dec 14), that all independent schools take 25 per cent of their students on a means-tested basis funded by the State, is not a new idea. Frank Fletcher, the head of Charterhouse, proposed a similar plan in 1919. The Fleming Committee in 1944 advocated 25 per cent of places be state-funded at independent schools, while the Public Schools Commission in 1968 suggested the figure be up to 50 per cent. The problem with Parris’s proposal is that such places will be taken, as occurred under the Assisted Places Scheme from 1980-97, by middle-class children.
I propose that independent schools all take a minimum of a quarter of their students from the most socially deprived 25 per cent of young people in the UK, which includes many bright young people who deserve the best opportunities. There is no bigger issue in education than social disadvantage.
Master, Wellington College
Sir, Sir Michael Wilshaw criticises grammar schools for being “stuffed full of middle-class kids” (Dec 16, and letters, Dec 18). I recently met up with some past fellow pupils from Tottenham Grammar School, where I was fortunate enough to be educated from 1957 to 1963. We were able to count some 14 PhDs out of our class of 40-odd pupils, taken from a totally working-class environment. If that is not social mobility I wonder what is.
Sir, Your suggestion for a new Swiss national anthem inadvertently panders to the dangerous sentiment of centralisation which seems to animate Lukas Niederberger (report and leading article, Dec 14). In a confederation like Switzerland, such sentiments draw allegiances away from their proper focus — the canton — towards a dangerous nationalism. May I suggest a different approach? Most, if not all, of the cantons have their own cantonal anthems. On Swiss national day, everyone should sing their cantonal anthem with as much enthusiasm as possible. The result would certainly not be boring and would reflect Swiss diversity.
Hugh P. Mascetti
Bishop’s Stortford, Herts
Sir, Unexciting as the Swiss anthem may be, spare a thought for the Dutch. The first stanza of Het Wilhelmus starts with “William of Nassau, I am of German blood” and ends with “the king of Spain I have always honoured”.
Baron van Lynden
Otter Ferry, Argyll
SIR – The Stone of Scone was stolen from the abbey there by Edward I or his minions, making the king at best a receiver of stolen property, if not a thief. He had no right to bequeath it to the abbey at Westminster, as it was not his to give.
The “battered stone”, as Christopher Howse describes it, may, however, have no significance, religious or otherwise. Legend has it that the stone was brought to Scone by monks from Iona for the coronation of Scottish kings. The bedrock of Iona is volcanic, while that of Scone is sedimentary. Stone quarried on Iona would have been granite or basalt, not sandstone, which is local to Scone.
Perhaps the possibility of a substitution should be reconsidered – not in the 1950s, but in the late 13th century.
SIR – As a former grammar school pupil, a teacher for 12 years, a head teacher of 27 years’ standing, and finally an Ofsted inspector, I am amazed by the comments made by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, on grammar schools.
In my experience, many grammar schools gave working-class pupils an opportunity to receive an excellent education suited to their abilities. Many MPs received just such an opportunity.
How shocking that Sir Michael refers to pupils who do not gain access to a grammar school as failures. Some pupils are not academically suited to such an education, but in my day there were excellent secondary schools that met the needs of such pupils admirably.
Perhaps Sir Michael should concentrate on supporting the provision of schools that cater for the needs of all pupils by providing a tailor-made environment for their particular needs. I do not mean in one gigantic education factory.
SIR – Those seeking the creation of new grammar school places should bear in mind the words of David Walmsley, Conservative chairman of the Northampton Education Committee, in the Seventies and Eighties. He pointed out that selection for some also meant rejection for a greater number of pupils, and that in an age of increasing parental aspiration, with its recognition of the importance of education, this would be an act of electoral foolishness.
If you want proof, ask the parents of pupils in Northamptonshire whether they want 20 per cent of their children to go to the highest status schools in the county and 80 per cent to other schools, and then watch the electoral outcome.
Santa of Arabia
He was a great friend of the headmaster at my son’s nursery in Belsize Park, north London. Each Christmas he would come to the nursery and dress up as Father Christmas, and have all the children sit on his knee while he gave them their presents. Little did they know they were sitting on the lap of an acting legend.
SIR – During the summer of 1963, the film Lawrence of Arabia was shown for six weeks at a cinema in Margate, Kent.
My father was chief projectionist and, as I had a teenage crush on Peter O’Toole, I used his complimentary tickets to see the film six times. I could quote chunks of the script and fell in love with the desert scenery. The stacked cans of film, all of which had to be rewound on to their spools by hand, stood higher than my father.
Now I have the film, plus extras, on a DVD that I play on my computer.
SIR – I was a young university student, taking a girl I rather fancied on a first date, when I saw Peter O’Toole play Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at the Bristol Old Vic in 1957.
His performance was so physically and emotionally shattering that I walked my date home afterwards without saying a single word to her the entire way.
Not surprisingly, she never came out with me again, but I was hooked on the theatre for life.
Tory party tactics
The Tories remain well ahead of Labour on the economy, immigration and welfare, the issues most likely to be the key campaign themes. Since the Conservatives are the only major party capable of delivering an EU referendum, it is highly unlikely that large numbers of people, currently identified as Ukip supporters, will vote to ensure this is cancelled by a Labour-led government. Furthermore, David Cameron leads Ed Miliband by an average 10 per cent as preferred prime minister and, unlike the latter, remains an electoral asset to his party.
The Conservatives’ task in winning an overall majority is simultaneously to squeeze the Liberal Democrat vote down to single figures, to gain 20 Lib Dem seats and to appeal to working-class Labour supporters on tax, welfare and jobs in order to win the 20 most marginal Labour seats. This is a challenging task, but by no means an impossible one.
SIR – Mr Martin offers a plausible analysis of the Conservatives’ chances in the 2015 general election. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine the result being a majority Conservative government.
However, he implies that those Tories who have become increasingly unhappy with the party’s policy direction ought to put their concerns behind them, and get stuck in to the canvassing, leaflet delivery and everything else involved in fighting a successful campaign. But why do the grassroots supporters have to compromise, while our leaders continue to pursue the policies that cause us concern?
Loyalty is a two-way street, and David Cameron should consider our views. “Pulling together” is not merely the voters giving unconditional support to the political leaders at the top; it means returning the Conservative Party to being the “broad church” that it was for most of the 40 years that I have been a member.
SIR – Our supermarkets seem to be selling an ever-increasing ratio of broccoli stalk to crown. On my latest purchase, the stalk outweighed the floret.
Last step to save us from digital radio madness
SIR – The statement by Ed Vaizey, the minister responsible, on the delaying of the enforcement of DAB radio on a mostly unwilling audience makes good sense. What is more, I think I can even see further evidence of common sense prevailing.
The minister made comments on “improving coverage”. This, together with the wording of his statement, leads me to believe that the digital lobby may be beginning to realise that it is best to leave DAB radio on Band III — where it is at the moment. This would leave the much easier to receive analogue FM services on Band II.
The government in the Irish Republic has already made the wise decision not to force digital radio on to their Band II listeners. I ask our Government to do the same — act in a democratic fashion and leave listeners to make their choice about what type of receiver they would prefer.
Nor should a DAB radio that has been sold to someone be considered a radio actually being used. Many aren’t in use because they are expensive to power and reception is unreliable.
Consultant editor, Practical Wireless
SIR – With FM, our voice-signal, which is essentially analogue, is transmitted on a carrier wave. When it is received by the radio, the carrier is taken away and the original signal comes from the loudspeaker.
With digital, the original has to be translated into digital, transmitted, then translated back for the loudspeakers. At each translation inaccuracies creep in, spoiling the quality.
The translation takes a lot of power compared with the reception of the signal. Therefore there will be many problems with batteries on portable digital radios because of the extra power required for reception.
SIR – Graham Bond asks whether he should at present set his clock by the FM or the digital radio pips.
The answer has to be FM, as digital radios vary in the speed at which they process the signal to audible sound. When the FM signal is switched off, we will no longer have an easy but accurate way of setting our clocks.
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire
SIR – During 15 years travelling to South Korea on business, from 1990 to 2005, I saw the building of a new international hub airport on an island and reclaimed land in an estuary. I also saw the building of a new highway from that airport to the middle of Seoul and the building of a new high-speed railway linking Seoul and Busan. The old international hub airport at Seoul was transformed into a national airport. I have used all of these transport facilities.
During the time that Korea took to build these new facilities from scratch, England has simply continued to argue about its airport and high-speed rail options.
Captain John Maioha Stewart (rtd)
Breisach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
We have an ideal opportunity for some joined-up, strategic thinking to improve things in the regions. With an HS2 plan promising economic regeneration for some areas of the North, why can we not have a national transport infrastructure plan that integrates these concurrent yet wholly separate projects into a national strategy? As things stand, the South East will grow stronger at the expense of the North.
HS2 has potential to take people from Birmingham Airport to London Euston faster than the Underground from Heathrow. It is connected to the M42, M5, M6, M40 and is in open countryside – so why not extend Birmingham Airport?
East Midland airport, by the M1 in open countryside, is located at the centre of three East Midland cities and HS2 is to be tunnelled below it, but with no station provided. Instead, a new station is proposed miles from the motorway and in a Nottingham suburb. Surely we want to integrate trains, planes and automobiles.
SIR – The Airports Commission’s report is now looking like a triumph for vested interests, with the dismissal of a visionary future for London’s air-transport links.
Heathrow is a nightmare for passengers and staff. London, like Hong Kong, is over-congested and needs every square inch. During the Heathrow expansion there will be massive disruption for years.
Importation of materials for an island airport, from sea-linked sources, would cause no disruption, only economic activity profitable for the rest of the country.
SIR – The vast majority of home-owners affected by Heathrow and Gatwick have bought their properties in full knowledge of aircraft noise.
Why should unreasonable pressure from some residents frustrate the national requirement for an additional runway?
Forest Row, East Sussex
SIR – The findings of the Airports Commission are compelling, in particular that all of London’s main airports will be full by the end of the next decade unless action is taken soon after the next election.
It is now essential that Britain’s political parties back Sir Howard Davies’s analysis. As an important first step, we urge the three main party leaders publicly to acknowledge the need to build new runways and commit in principle to allowing the modernisation of our airports infrastructure on a cross-party basis.
Any party that is serious about governing Britain must go into the 2015 election expressing a clear commitment to airport expansion and must agree to be guided by the Airports Commission’s final report.
As the Airports Commission has acknowledged clearly in its interim report, doing nothing is no longer an option.
Sir Adrian Montague
Chairman, 3i Group
Sir Martin Gilbert
Chief Executive, Aberdeen Asset Management
Chief Executive, British Land
Chairman, ExCeL London
Group CEO, Grey Group
Managing Director, Harrods
Chief Executive Officer, HS1 Ltd
Sir Winfried Bischoff
Chairman, Lloyds Banking Group
Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise
Chief Executive, Next
Chief Executive, Segro
Managing Director, Selfridges Group
Sir Martin Sorrell
Chief Executive, WPP
Founder & CEO, Arora Holdings Ltd
Senior Partner, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP
Senior Partner, Blick Rothenberg LLP
Chairman, Capital & Counties Properties
Director and Chief Corporate Counsel, Cicero Group
Group Corporate Development Manager, Edwardian Group London
Chairman, GKN & Babcock International Group
Country Manager, Global Blue
Senior Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP
Chief Executive Officer, IAC Acoustics
Managing Director, Insight Public Affairs
Retail Director, John Lewis Partnership
Group Deputy Chairman, Kesslers International
Chief Executive, Mace
Managing Director, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners
Chief Executive, New West End Company
Managing Director, Nimlok
Sir Andrew Cahn
Former CEO of UK Trade and Investment, Nomura International
Executive Chairman, Prospects
Senior Partner, Synaps Partners LLP
Chief Executive, TelecityGroup
Chief Executive, The Portman Estate
Executive Director, Turley Associates
Managing Director, VINCI Construction UK
SIR – I regret that the Davies Commission has not taken the opportunity to rule out any expansion of Heathrow. My hope is that the further investigation carried out by the commission will recognise that expansion cannot happen at Heathrow.
In order to become the hub airport that London needs, Heathrow would require two additional runways and the capacity to expand further. Expansion would involve moving sections of the M25 and the M4, destroying many homes, and building the public transport infrastructure to carry millions more passengers to and from the airport. Heathrow is not an option.
The silver lining of the report is that the commission will continue to look at the case for building a new airport on the Isle of Grain. This airport could operate 24 hours a day, could start with four runways with room for expansion, and would affect a relatively small number of people.
Transport spokesman, GLA Conservatives
SIR – If you want to grow a business, you ask the customers what they want, not the suppliers.
The airlines, the customers of the airports, want to fly to a hub, not to a small airport. They want to fly to the centre of business and tourism, and they want easy access for their passengers. Only Heathrow or an estuary airport can be such a hub. Gatwick needs to cut tunnels through hills to have four runways, and the runways would be miles apart.
Why is it that when government gets involved in anything, logic and common sense seem to fly out of the window?
A T Brookes
Sir, – The publication of the Government’s medium-term economic strategy is a depressing reminder that when it comes to long-term strategic planning this country appears to be sleepwalking to the next crisis (Front page, December 18th).
Instead of a clear and considered direction that gives the necessary leadership and guidance, we get the usual empty rhetoric that is more akin to a party political broadcast. Without a real debate on Irish economic development are we running the risk of being known as serial underperformers. – Yours, etc,
Dr EOIN O’LEARY,
Senior Lecturer in
Programme Director, MA
Department of Economics,
University College Cork.
Sir, – So, having used GDP as a key economic index throughout the boom, the ESRI appears to have switched to GNP because multinational profits are faltering (Home News, December 18th).
Does that mean that, to be consistent, we should also use debt/GNP (currently 151 per cent) rather than than Debt/GDP (124 per cent) as a key index and do we start measuring per capita prosperity using GNP (€29,600) rather than GDP (€36,900) . –Yours, etc,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Does our Taoiseach not see how unfair he is to himself in lining up 2020 full employment as the economic achievement on which his competence will be judged?
To so see, he has only to focus on the tiny economic microcosm that is his own Castlebar area. After serving as a TD for close on 40 years he has failed to so achieve for it. With elementary economic insight his focusing would tell him that the batch of factors that caused that result for Castlebar will continue to do so, and to do likewise for our economy overall.
Similar unfairness was displayed recently by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin when he faulted the Government for not providing jobs for all our young people. He has only to look at the Ballyfermot or Drumcondra area, say, to see the same batch of factors at work. – Yours, etc,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
Sir, – The period of the recession and bailout in Ireland has been notable for the setting of new records in unemployment, emigration, homelessness and suicide. This will continue to be the case after the bailout, simply because the economic crisis has been and continues to be poorly managed by all of our politicians.
Now, having watched the Taoiseach’s “state of the nation” address on Sunday and then remembering the “fake” signer for the deaf at the Nelson Mandela memorial last week, I can’t help wondering; who was spoofing the most? Was it the signer in South Africa or our own Taoiseach, Enda Kenny? – Yours, etc,
White Street, Cork.
Sir, – Religious Affairs Correspondent Patsy McGarry wrote of 1969: “at that time, to be Protestant in the Republic was, as with Patrick Kavanagh’s swan, a case of carrying one’s ‘head low with many apologies’,” (Home News, December 14th).
As a generalisation that is quite untrue. My experience as a Presbyterian in the Republic was never so. On the contrary, my family was respected and our retail business was almost exclusively supported by our Roman Catholic neighbours. We worked together, farmed together – yes and worshipped together at funeral services. At another level there was discrimination – there still is, but at community level we always had – and thank God for it – genuine healthy relationships and there was no need for anyone to keep his/her head down. – Yours, etc,
ROBERT A SHARPE,
Cootehill, Co Cavan.
A chara, – David Kitching (December 18th) is laudably accurate in all respects save one.
I wholeheartedly share Mr Kitching’s contention that mainstream parties must “engage honestly with their citizens” on contentious issues such as immigration. However, when he refers to Europe’s increasingly successful populist right-wing parties as “harbingers of undemocratic chaos,” he inadvertently hands them an electoral advantage. Such political movements thrive on the ineloquent disdain of the political establishment.
Whatever negative opinions we may espouse vis-a-vis lazy populists, we must not patronise them so, for in most cases they have been fairly elected, and as such must at the very least be respected as valid components of the democratic superstructure. – Is mise,
AMHAOIBH Mac GIOLLA,
Co Mhaigh Eo.
Sir, – In his review of education in 2013 (“Winners and Losers: Education Review 2013”, December 17th) Peter McGuire repeats the Government line that “class sizes were not increased”. This is not true.
Class sizes in primary schools with one to four teachers were increased in 2012 and 2013 and will increase again next year. In this way, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has targeted one-third of all schools for increases in class sizes. – Yours, etc,
Irish National Teachers’
Sir, – Last Sunday, having had a lovely evening out at the Christmas Market at George’s Dock in Dublin, my husband, my three children and I, all Hindus, all Indian and all very brown-skinned indeed, were subject to the most distressful, continuous 20-minute racial haranguing on the Luas by a group of young teenage boys. “Osama! Go back to China!” they spat out as a final parting.
Never mind the teaching of maths in Irish schools, we really need to worry about geography lessons too. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The proposal to cut taxes in the near future is an injustice and an insult to those at the bottom of the ladder whose income is below the taxable level. Far better to reduce energy costs, the highest in Europe , which would benefit every household and business in the country. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a global worker, commuting regularly, I was delighted to see the announcement of the reintroduction of Aer Lingus direct flights between Dublin and San Francisco, among the activation of other routes, in 2014.
What did not delight me was when I heard how cabin crew in Aer Lingus are now “promising” friends and family “buddy pass” flights to San Francisco. This practice is not new, of course.
Why should I in a personal capacity, or my company, have to pay a full fare for flights to and from San Francisco when others, such as cronies of Aer Lingus staff, do not? One wonders when this shabby and outdated practice will be discontinued, or indeed, if it merits a closer look by the Revenue.
Notwithstanding, in these times, perhaps Aer Lingus could centralise its “buddy pass” perks and make flights available, on a lottery or hardship basis, to Irish immigrants who are abroad legally, so they might be able to return to see their families in the summer, or at Christmas next year. – Yours, etc,
ULTAN Ó BROIN,
South Circular Road,
Sir, – It was rather distressing to read the headline “Marley records shredded . . .” in the Business + Your Money supplement (December 17th). But quite a relief to discover that it referred to Philip and not Bob. – Yours, etc,
MICHAEL T FINNEGAN,
A chara, – Theresa Heaney (December 14th) wonders “why have parents not been told that Hiqa says the vaccine does not guarantee protection against cervical cancer with this vaccine?”
As any medic will confirm, no vaccine is guaranteed to protect completely against disease. Vaccines are administered because they reduce the infection rate or the virulence of a disease or both.
In the case of the HPV vaccines, the Hiqa report makes it clear that the HPV vaccines substantially reduce the precursors of several common varieties of cervical cancer, and separately that lowering the incidence of these precursors is known to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.
However, because cervical cancers often have an incubation period of many years longer than the two HPV vaccines have been available on the market, Hiqa cannot claim that they directly protect against invasive cancer, even if the circumstantial evidence is strong enough for the HSE to use their report as the basis of a national vaccination program at a time of harsh cutbacks in other areas of the health service.
Coupled with the cervical cancer screening and treatment programmes, the HSE’s efforts to deal with this devastating condition should be applauded. – Is mise,
De Courcey Square,
Sir, – Fr Pat O’Hagan (December 13th) says a Gaelscoil and a multi-denominational school, by declining to accept Kitty Holland’s son, may be guilty of “discrimination”. While I cannot speak for the Gaelscoil, as chair of the board of management of Wicklow Educate Together NS may I enlighten him on Educate Together schools admission policies?
Educate Together schools operate a numbered pre-enrolment system where the first child to pre-enrol is given the first choice of actually enrolling. And so on down the list. They do not add extra hurdles (like religion) that you have to pass to even get on to the waiting list. Religious-run schools often fill their spaces with those who pass the religious test before they even attempt to address other (non-religious) applicants. Thus a parent may have been the first to apply for a place yet not get into a school because all those who applied later pass the religious test and thus get preferential treatment.
Our school has to refuse places to children every year because we do not have the space. And perhaps a lottery system would be fairer to newcomers to the area. But there are no children from “special” backgrounds who queue jump the list. All our children are special regardless of their faith or lack of faith. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The assertion in Patsy McGarry’s article on Dean Victor Griffin (Home News, December 14th) that “the Catholic Church’s Ne temere decree meant that a couple in a mixed marriage had to undertake in writing to raise all their children Catholic” is incorrect.
While Ne temere has endured as a lightning rod for Protestant anger over the past century, that anger has been largely misdirected. Allow me to set the record straight.
The Catholic Ne temere decree of 1908 was about the validity of all marriages involving Catholics and there was no reference in it to the religious upbringing of children. The demand that children of mixed marriages should be raised as Catholics was a separate issue. It was a requirement under the terms of a dispensation granted by the Catholic Church to overcome the impediments to a valid marriage of either disparitatis cultus (where the non-Catholic is not a Christian) or mixtae religionis (where the non-Catholic is a baptised Christian). Further, the demand to raise children as Catholics significantly predated Ne temere. For instance, Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Magnae Nobis promulgated in 1748 stated clearly that “children of both sexes born of the union [the mixed marriage] should be educated in the sanctity of the Catholic religion”. Moreover, Pope Pius VI in his encyclical Exsequendo Nunc of 1782 stipulated that children of mixed marriages should be raised as Catholics.
All that said, Ne temere was something of a blunt instrument in that it insisted that all marriages involving Catholics (which would obviously include a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant) should be before a Catholic priest and two witnesses. If historically, Protestant anger at the decree has been directed towards the issue of the religious upbringing of children, it was this edict that should have caused most concern as it could be interpreted as the Catholic Church, inadvertently or otherwise, legislating for Protestants. – Yours, etc,
Dr DAVID JAMESON PhD,
Sir, – I would like to reassure Seán McDonagh (December 18th) that I am familiar with the economics literature to which he refers and the specific correlations reported therein.
Unlike him, I understand them. As anyone with the slightest knowledge of statistics knows, correlation is not causation. – Yours, etc,
School of Economics &
University College Dublin,
Sir, – It is somewhat bemusing that Ian Glen (December 16th) regards a 4 point gain as statistically insignificant when talking about Fine Gael’s rise in the Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll to a formidable 30 per cent level.
He invokes a basis of a 95 per cent confidence level and a margin of error of 3 per cent for his assertion. However, if a party were to go from 4 per cent to 0 per cent in such a poll, some might regard that as statistically insignificant, using the above logic, but obviously in common sense terms that would be a totally disastrous result that would lead commentators to herald the imminent demise of that given party.
Essentially, Fine Gael has gone up in the poll to an extent equivalent to what the Progressive Democrats or Green Party would have been typically satisfied with as its entire poll result. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – An Taoiseach’s promise “to fight with might and mane to finish the job” (Miriam Lord, December 16th) doesn’t augur well for the “Baldies” in his Government. Watch out Messrs Hogan, Noonan, Quinn! Joan Burton should be grand, however. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Brian McSharry (December 6th) seems to have omitted O’Mara’s pub beside Ballast Office on Aston Quay (where we used to get cream crackers and cheese for six old pence) and Irish Shipping (where I worked for many happy years) both before reaching McBirneys.
Incidentally, the crackers and cheese were to eat with our morning tea served by Mrs Bermingham. Anybody else remember? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I object to Margaret Butler’s assertion that those who use the word Chrimbo are “trying to demean the core of Christian belief”.
While I share her distaste with the word (I find it irritating in the extreme), I am of the opinion that by and large the users of the word Chrimbo are merely ignoring the mystical significance of the word Christmas as attributed by believers in Christ. Is that a sin? – Yours, etc,
*The world is a strange place, and getting even stranger. I am old enough to remember the excitement “colour television” brought to us.
Also in this section
But I’m young enough to know that life without an iPhone is becoming increasingly difficult. I seldom Tweet, and Facebook to me is just a backwater in the ocean of electronic self-indulgence that the internet has become.
Don’t get me wrong, Skype and the joys of email are indispensible, it has brought people closer together on many levels, but on others, I suspect it may have driven them apart.
I am thinking of the bogus intimacy. One doesn’t send someone a bothersome message, one “shares” it, thus elevating some piece of spam to a level of importance. However, what prompted me to write was the latest survey on what people get up to when they are “online”.
Even that expression suggests that you are missing out on something elemental if your eyes are not fastened to a screen. You can barely be registered as being alive if you are — God forbid — “offline”.
What sparked this rant was the report on what Irish people have been getting up to using the great power of Google.
Apparently, we have almost exhausted the search engine looking for news about Miley Cyrus and Phil Hogan. An odd pairing you’ll agree.
We also apparently have an unhealthy appetite for twerking.
The foremost question on the minds of the Irish populace was not: “What is the stars?” Nor was it about the contents of the Third Secret of Fatima or how Jim Figgerty got that sweet fruit into the Fig Roll. No. The burning topic was “what is twerking?” This being the case, it was hardly surprising that the top trending “artist” was Miley Cyrus.
I didn’t expect it to be Beethoven or even the Beatles, but Miley Cyrus?
I notice that this paragon of good taste, this uber-classy delicate diva, has taken to performing with a midget in her live shows.
One wonders will her new release be: “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to twerk we go.”
T G Gavin
GREYSTONES, CO WICKLOW
Ye know, ye see, if ye like
* Pope Francis tells us that politics is a vocation; serving the people is a worthy calling. He has never lived in Ireland. Here, politics is a horse of a very different colour.
In my opinion, too much of politics here is play-acting. It’s a word-game, the art of talking endlessly and saying nothing, Yeats’s description of “polite meaningless words” lives on. If you choose a career in Irish politics, you must first learn the trade, starting preferably before the use of reason. Traditionally, the Irish politician imbibes the knack with the mother’s milk. Latecomers who don’t know the rules and blunder in and start blathering the blatant truth can be an embarrassment. Such a one will shape up sharp, or soon come a cropper.
The first lesson has to do with non-breathing, the knack of talking non-stop without drawing breath.
Some latecomer trainees have been known to go blue in the face, or even lose consciousness before mastering the technique. The prices people pay for the noble cause of talking endlessly and saying nothing!
The next lesson involves learning the proper words off by heart, like learning your lines for a play, which indeed it is, complete with prompter. You must have your ammunition on the tip of your tongue.
Some learn fast; with slow learners there’s many a slip before they get the hang of it. Here is a short list of the standard cliches in use today. Endless repetition is standard practice. Besides, repetition has the side-effect of churning out new cliches.
You can make up your cliches on the spot. Anything goes, as long as you keep talking; the unforgiveable sin is stopping. The silent politician is a dead duck. Evidence the party whip
Here is a short list of cliches in constant use today.
The possibilities are endless: let’s be clear, in terms of, in relation to, moving forward, in the near future, in recent months, yeh know, yeh see, if you like, in accordance with, policies and procedures, and on and on.
The list is endless.
Address with editor
Aiding and abetting?
* Henry Samuel reports in the World News section of the Irish Independent that the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo spent almost €1.2m on suits and shirts in Paris; that he changes his shirt three or four times a day and, according to an aide, boasts that he never washes them.
Last month, the Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, announced €3.8m in funding for this country under the Irish Aid programme, money derived from government debt borrowed on behalf of very heavily taxed Irish citizens. This is on top of over €10m in aid funding provided to Congo from the annual €600m Irish Aid programme in 2012.
We have already seen €4m defrauded by Ugandan officials from Irish Aid resources, despite the presence of an Irish embassy in that country for many years.
Irish taxpayers cannot afford to spend hundreds of millions of euro on Irish Aid, especially in jurisdictions where outrageous levels of state-sanctioned corruption and incompetence is rife.
Should Mr Costello have demanded that the president of Congo washes his expensive Parisian shirts and diverts a substantial component of the fortune he spends on himself to the welfare of his own people before telling Irish voters how their money is spent in that country?
Our foreign policy urgently needs a radical overhaul to coherently reflect the strategic needs and limited resources of the Irish people.
Glenageary, Co Dublin
Not a bailout, it’s a loan
* It seems that the current Government — who were in opposition during the building and banking crash — absolve themselves from all responsibility for the financial crash.
Surely, their job while in opposition was to stand up and query any and every decision made or which they thought was unwise.
Thus they are just as responsible as those in charge of the outcome and eventually the so-called “bailout”.
Finally, the description “bailout” should be replaced by the description “expensive loan”.
Some European citizens think wrongly that the loan is a bailout and does not have to be paid back.
Those of us who were careful and cautious in our everyday dealings are paying a high price for the madness of the privileged few and this is most unjust.
At the pearly gates
* With regard to Eamon Reilly’s letter in which he referred to my comparing Nelson Mandela with Gandhi (Letters, December 7) as both “ludicrous and nonsense”, I would just like to make a few comments.
Firstly, writing in the ‘Sunday Times’, Donald Woods, quotes with regard to Mandela’s book, ‘Long walk to Freedom’: “Mandela emulates the few great political leaders, such as Lincoln and Gandhi.”
Secondly, I would in no way claim to know the full history of these two wonderful men, but no one could argue that they were not both exceptionally good human beings.
And last but not least, regarding the remark that only God will judge Mandela now — if either of these two men had any problems entering the pearly gates, then God help the rest of us.
Brian Mc Devitt
Glenties, Co Donegal