21 December 2013 Leaves

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to take part in making a film. They open fire on real Royal Navy ships instead of the dummy ones supplied by the film company. Priceless.

Potter around, under sweep some leaves

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.





Audrey Totter – obituary

Audrey Totter was a Hollywood actress whose cool, seductive good looks ranked her at the forefront of film noir’s femmes fatales


Audrey Totter, who has died aged 95, epitomised the tough, hard-boiled blonde femme fatale during the Hollywood heyday of film noir, dark crime dramas that proliferated in the 1940s and 50s.

She was a performer of great versatility, ranging from the murderous floozy Claire Quimby in Tension (1950), and the long-suffering wife of the ageing fighter (Robert Ryan) in The Set-Up (1949), to John Garfield’s saucy girlfriend in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), co-starring Lana Turner.

She was also adept at comedy, as in The Sailor Takes a Wife (1946); Westerns, such as Woman They Almost Lynched (1953); and family dramas like My Pal Gus (1952).

Audrey Mary Totter was born on December 20 1917 in Joliet, Illinois. Her father was Austrian, her mother Swedish. One of her first acting roles was as Violet in a touring version of My Sister Eileen.

On reaching New York she became a favourite of radio producers, one of whom dubbed her “The Girl of 1,000 Voices”. Although hoping to break into the Broadway scene, she was offered film contracts by both Twentieth Century-Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After a bidding war, she accepted MGM’s offer, and remained with them for six years. The studio trained her to sing, dance and act, she took tennis and riding lessons, and was taught to swim in the MGM pool used by Esther Williams. Audrey Totter made her film debut in Main Street After Dark (1944) .

Most of her early films were “programme pictures” — short second features about an hour long. “Lionel Barrymore once told me I would not become a big star because I was too versatile,” she recalled. “He was right. I never became a Hedy Lamarr or a Lana Turner. But then I never had their burning ambition either.”

After The Postman Always Rings Twice, Audrey Totter appeared in a screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake (1947), with Robert Montgomery as the private eye Philip Marlowe, a film shot entirely from his point of view.

She received top billing when she played the psychiatrist Dr Ann Lorrison in another film noir, The High Wall (1947) with Robert Taylor and Herbert Marshall, and in the same year her character was murdered by Claude Rains in The Unsuspected. She appeared in Beginning of the End (1947), about the development of the atom bomb, and played second fiddle to Ray Milland in another forgotten noir gem Alias Nick Beal (1949).

Towards the end of her MGM contract, Audrey Totter starred with Clark Gable in Any Number Can Play (1950), which she considered “just awful”.

“MGM were putting me in terrible films that damaged my star status,” she said. “Gable knew I was terribly unhappy and did all he could to get me off the picture. The studio threatened me with suspension so I stayed on and completed it. I found Gable a caring and sensitive man, not at all like the rough and tumble characters he so often played on screen.”

She subsequently signed with Columbia, but when she met her future husband, Fred Leo, a doctor, she agreed to reduce her working hours in order to start a family.

After the birth of her daughter, she confined herself to small cameo parts in television series such as Rawhide, with Clint Eastwood.

During the 1970s Audrey Totter appeared in the daytime television soap opera Medical Center, and soon afterwards disappeared from view. In the 1980s, following the death of her husband, she was occasionally seen at film galas, including the Academy Awards, often on the arm of the actor Turhan Bey.

Her daughter survives her.

Audrey Totter, born December 20 1917, died December 12 2013




The 1913 strike (In praise of… the Bliss Mill strikers, 19 December) was not the first time that Chipping Norton was at the centre of trade union struggles. In May 1873, 16 women from nearby Ascot, including two nursing mothers, were sentenced to between seven and 10 days with hard labour for “intimidating” blacklegs brought in to break a farmworkers’ strike. Two thousand people wearing blue ribbons (identifying them not as Tories but as supporters of Joseph Arch’s Agricultural Labourers’ Union) marched on Chipping Norton police station in an attempt to rescue the women. Police had to wait until midnight before they could transport them to prison. Given the importance of Chipping Norton to union history it would be appropriate for the TUC to organise a festival in the town along the lines of the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival – with or without blue ribbons.
Peter Strong
Caldicot, Monmouthshire


The failure of a few British Muslims openly to condemn the murder of Lee Rigby is unacceptable but that should not blind us to the reasons they give for the actions of his murderers. We have to realise that we do not see the media that many Muslims view. Even leaving aside Iraq, Afghanistan and the ongoing drone attacks on Muslims, the fact that there are still, over 10 years later, 160 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, held without trial or charge, is itself a provocation. Imagine how this can be portrayed day after day in the Islamic media. The crucial question in politics is not “how?” or “where?” but “why?”, and too few are asking that question. Tackling the issues caused by the west’s actions against Muslims and Muslim countries is not to excuse for a moment the murder of Lee Rigby, but the questions cannot be set aside if we are to avoid further atrocities.
Michael Meadowcroft

• I disagree with Seumas Milne’s conflating Islamic terrorism with western wars in Muslim lands (Comment, 20 December). I don’t much care for Saudi, Russian or Chinese foreign or domestic policy, but I have no wish to murder their citizens. In a democracy, an aggrieved minority does not have the right to aggressively undermine the parliamentary will of the majority. And this is why British involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan is an intellectually vacuous way to “explain” terrorism.
Stan Labovitch

• Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden blame a militant ideology for driving the Islamist pair to kill on a London street (Report, 21 December). Marxism-Leninism was a militant ideology, too, yet it did not inspire individuals to commit murders. Secular ideologies insist on mass movement. They rarely inspire adherents to commit murders. Religious ideologies with propensity to martyrdom, on the other hand, have no such compunctions. Witness how such an ideology inspired four Sikhs to kill a visiting Indian army general last May for his role in attacking the Golden Temple in 1984.

Islam and Sikh are wonderful religions. They become prone to violence and totalitarianism only when they are reborn as Islamism and Sikhism.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

• Let us never forget that Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick who, following the conviction of the killers of Lee Rigby, spoke movingly of “this horrific attack and murder” on the streets of London which shocked the nation, was the officer in charge of the operation that led to the horrific killing by police of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Benedict Birnberg

Whether the deaths of Nelson Mandela and Ronnie Biggs being so close to the release of film/TV productions about them (Hugh Muir’s diary, 19 December) is a sign of luck or genius on the part of schedulers, I don’t know. But is anyone else looking forward to the commissioning of the George Osborne biopic?
Ric Blackshaw

• Roy Jenkins more than emulated Birgitte Nyborg’s achievement (Letters, 18 December). Within a year of setting up a new party in 1981, the SDP had an organisation in virtually every constituency in the land and were hitting 50% in the polls. It can be done.
David Pace

• I am sure we all want relief from the most incompetent and mean-spirited government ever, but Tony Ambrose is offering a dangerous template in Birgitte Nyborg. An ex-PM, deemed to have a talent for presentation, who made lots of money abroad after leaving office, wanting to get back into office? Please, please don’t go there!
Clyde Hunter

• I am curious as to the Guardian’s definition of who is “English”. Paul Torday’s obituary (20 December) reports that he was born in County Durham, educated in Newcastle and Oxford, and worked in London. Yet further on it states “the very fact that he was not English…”. What would he have had to do to qualify?
Joe Locker

• Recent number spotting in the Guardian includes your correspondent’s claim that “5 August this year [was] unique as it is the only date in the Fibonacci sequence” (Letters, 16 December). Surely the most perfect possible Fibonacci date passed us almost 700 years ago, at 11:23 on 5/8/1321?
Steven Thomson

• I also failed to receive my Guardian last Tuesday (Corrections and clarifications, 19 December). Apart from being a unit of measurement, is Wales now part of the north of England or Scotland?
Stephen Hughes
Bangor, Gwynedd


Karel De Gucht, EU trade commissioner, makes an astounding claim when he says there is nothing secretive about negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP (Response, 18 December). Yes, in a recent bid to appear more transparent the European commission has released more press briefings and held meetings with civil society organisations, but secrecy over the substance of the treaty remains. There is, for instance, no access to the text of the TTIP itself. Even British MPs are not privy to this. This is evident in the only House of Commons debate so far on the economic implications of the TTIP. Records of the debate reveal that MPs were unable to establish the mandate for the treaty or what was happening in the negotiations. This suggests not only secrecy but something deeply undemocratic about these negotiations.
Jan Savage

• Perhaps Karel De Gucht could tell us how many of the 350 participants at the recent civil society meeting on the EU-US trade deal were from business? This deal favours corporate interests over public services, democracy and the environment.
Polly Jones
World Development Movement

• Mr De Gucht tells us not to worry that transnational companies will get even greater power over our affairs, because there could be £100bn growth in Europe, which of course means jobs. We’re always promised lots of jobs when such deals are being steamrollered though. This rather reminds me of Donald Trump’s deal with the Scottish government to build a golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast, promising billions in investment and lots of jobs in exchange for the destruction of a site of special scientific importance (SSSI). The SSSI has indeed been destroyed but the promised investment and jobs, to my knowledge, have never materialised.

Maybe this negotiation is not secret but, so far as most of the British media are concerned, it might as well be. Perhaps, if De Gucht’s assurances are to be believed, the TTIP will not turn out to be quite so malign as George Monbiot (Comment, 3 December) suspects. But I remain sceptical. I can’t imagine that our present neoliberal coalition government will do other than welcome the TTIP and hence make no great effort to inform or consult with the British public. It hasn’t so far.

In a few months’ time, assuming the imminent “gagging law” comes into effect without substantive amendment, any further debate or opposition will be effectively stifled. De Gucht concludes by saying that we should focus on the facts; unfortunately one man’s facts are another man’s poison and it may turn out that the British public – not to mention our European fellows – will have been well and truly fracked.
Peter Wilkinson

• Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner, says “the arbitrators who decide on EU cases must be above suspicion”. Where is he going to find these sea-green incorruptibles? They will almost certainly be establishment figures who tend to side with the big vested interests keeping them in employment.

The bribery and corruption scandals at Fifa and the Olympics show how easy it is for multinationals to offer inducements to friends and family of these arbiters; such as fully funded free scholarships, fact-finding missions plus all expenses to exotic destinations.

If I had my druthers, all international trade agreements would be Fairtrade, with all products traded to be produced ethically and sustainably, with all labour free to join trade unions to protect working conditions, preferably produced by co-operatives. Ah well, no harm in dreaming!
Richard Saddington
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• Martin Kettle rehashes that old chestnut about welfare reform being the key solution to Europe’s woes (We can’t rely on Merkel to sort out Europe’s problems, Comment, 19 December). He quotes Angela Merkel as saying Europe has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its income and 50% of its welfare spending. The reason Europe has such a high welfare budget is that it is a social democracy and that is what the people want; unlike the rest of the world in which few countries have any welfare scheme at all. Do Kettle and Merkel want a Europe in which old age means poverty and in which healthcare bills can impoverish even the best paid? In other words the abysmal welfare scheme of the US. Last week I had an electrician working at my house who was complaining about the pension changes. He will have to work to 66 to get his pension and, he asked, how will the roofers cope with having to work to 70?
Derrick Joad



Politicians will doubtless be swift to heap praise on emergency service workers, not least firefighters for their quick and effective response in the wake of a potentially deadly incident at London’s Apollo theatre (Dozens hurt after theatre ceiling falls on audience, 20 December). Few, however, will acknowledge that in little more than a fortnight at least three of the eight stations that provided engines and crews at the Shaftesbury Avenue venue – Knightsbridge, Southwark and Westminster – will have ceased to operate as the direct result of a cuts programme avidly pursued by London mayor Boris Johnson. All told, 10 stations across inner London are slated for closure, with over 550 frontline fire service jobs set to be axed.

Within hours of the ceiling collapse at the Apollo, a high court judge issued his rejection of a judicial review application by seven London councils, all but sealing the fate of a campaign of opposition that had won the backing of nearly 95% of those participating in a supposed consultation exercise last spring. Doubtless, some of the same politicians, backed by sections of the media, will pause from seasonal festivities to issue the usual ritual denunciations when FBU members strike on Christmas Eve to defend a pension scheme that already sees them contribute 13% of their salaries towards a financially secure retirement at the same time that the coalition is seeking to raise to 60 the retirement age for frontline firefighters, who must pass rigorous fitness tests to remain in the job.

Surely, the time has come to halt the erosion of a vital public service and the cynical denigration of the conditions of those who provide it.
George Binette
Camden Unison branch secretary








The Ipsa proposals on MPs’ pay need sober consideration, not the posturing coming from all sides of Parliament. These proposals are vital to move the pay of our representatives away from the world where people pay themselves as little as possible, to reduce their tax liabilities, to the world where most of us live, where you are taxed as per the tax codes on your true earnings.

The country has become increasingly characterised by two large blocs within the working population. One is the traditional paid worker, who throughout their working life, enjoys a simple if unspectacular remuneration, sometimes with the occasional bonus, but in essence paying taxes on all earnings. Typically, this group is the butt of attacks from the right, enjoying as they do (or did), cushy pensions and easy, undemanding jobs, often in the public sector.

Then there are the wealth-creators of right-wing mythology, of the self-employed variety. This group, albeit when established and relatively successful, are able to “expense” through their businesses many of the essentials of life that the rest of us have to pay fo0r through taxed income: travel, hotels, children’s iPads and mobile phones, and home running costs of every kind. They divide their income with a spouse, who may play no part in the business in reality, again to reduce the tax they pay.

Our parliamentary representatives have lived in this latter world, often their MP’s salary is not their primary source of income, and the lower it is, and the higher the expenses, the better off they have been.

It’s high time something was finally done to address this, and Ipsa’s proposals are a step in the right direction.

Peter Morris


At the time of the Falklands War, an MP earned exactly the same as a mid-seniority army major. The major had served at least a decade before reaching that level of pay, the MP had it from day one. Since then, any equality has disappeared as successive parliaments have given themselves rises that the rest of us can only dream of.

This latest 11 per cent increase will push an MP’s salary £20,000 higher than that of today’s army major. Is there a single MP who believes he can justify this difference?

David Rae

Melksham, Wiltshire

In the recent discussion on the MPs’ proposed salary increase, much has been made (by Ipsa) of the point that it is part of a package which includes reduced pension benefits.

However, the reduced pensions proposed are still six times more generous than the annuity rates on offer to citizens working in private enterprise. I would strongly urge MPs to spend a little time pursuing the appalling annuity rates on offer in the private sector as highlighted (again recently) by the Financial Services Consumer Panel before they sort their own pay and conditions out.

Paul Crossley

Chelmsford, Essex

Filleted Shakespeare

My Year Ten son came home from school the other day raging about the English assessment he had been set. It was on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and he was furiously disappointed with his school, which is an Academy with a very good Ofsted report.

Having watched Baz Luhrman’s film of the play for a week, yesterday he was handed a photocopied booklet with short extracts from four scenes from the play. He put his hand up and asked, “When are we going to read the play?” The answer was, “We aren’t. There’s not time.”

In Year Eight, my son studied Shakespeare in the same school. The play? Romeo and Juliet. “Well, we skimmed parts of it,”  he says.

So when he finishes his GCSEs he will have studied less than an eighth of one Shakespeare play. “How will I be ready for A-level or university?” he asked.  How could I reassure  him? He won’t.

The saddest part is that in many ways I understand his teachers’ actions. I’m sure they didn’t train to be English teachers to short-change their students and to fillet English literature to a meaningless pile of bones, but the combined pressure of school league tables and appraisal procedures makes them desperate to take the straightest route to exam success.

On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed that they succumb to those pressures. But whether I should be most angry at Ofsted and the Department of Education or his teachers and his school is in a way irrelevant – between them they have failed my son, his classmates, and Shakespeare too.

Name and address not supplied

Christmas lockdown amazes foreigners

We wanted to attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Day, but when we googled Transport for London we discovered that there is no public transport on the day. No tube, bus, tram; not even a Eurostar train out of the country. It will be too far for us to walk into town and taxis are too expensive

When I informed my niece in Germany about this, she emailed me back asking: “Are they crazy? How do they get from A to B at Christmas?” Answer: without cars, they don’t.

Neighbouring European countries put on extra services at this time, recognising that many people need to travel across town or farther afield during this public holiday. Britain just forces its population on to the roads, or to stay at home.

Further internet search uncovered many panicked or incredulous messages from foreign visitors who had no idea that they would be stuck for 48 hours. I wonder how badly tourism is affected by this lockdown.

Gudrun Parasie

London N22

Looking forward to the newsletters

Among the more recent seasonal traditions, the one I most look forward to is the annual slagging-off of the Christmas family newsletter. How good to see it adhered to in your letters column once again this year. I enjoy the tradition almost as much as I do receiving the letters. To all their detractors I would simply offer a sincere and hearty “Up Yule!”

Chris Simmons

Hexham Northumberland

Pickles’ bid to censor local councils

My response to Eric Pickles’ proposed code of conduct for councils’ publications is “How dare he?” This is an outrageous interference with local democracy. Local government has been undermined since the Thatcher era, but this proposal is unbelievable for its barefaced cheek.

John Dakin

Toddington, Bedfordshire

End of the war to end war

If we really have to find something to celebrate as a centenary of the First World War, would it not be more appropriate to wait until 2018 and celebrate the end of the war instead of its beginning?

Ted Ring


Dire results of fundamentalism

No explanation of the actions of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby, is complete without mentioning that Islam prioritises war more than any other worldwide faith (if we except Marxism).

Unfortunately this was not an invention of al-Qa’ida. What the Quran actually says, among other things, is: “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. . . But if they repent. . . let them go their way” (9:5) and “Fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not” (2: 186). The Bible also has God giving the Israelites “the land of all the peoples that I have wiped out” (Joshua 23:4).

The emphasis on holy war in traditional Islam can be explained by saying it had to contend with two military empires (and the Byzantine-Roman empire was more persecuting than the pagan Roman empire had been). Such texts are now, not unreasonably, usually taken to mean no more than reasonable self-defence. These problems are peculiar to text-based revealed religions, in particular the Abrahamics.

However, we should not fail to notice that it is easier for a Muslim fanatic to claim, however spuriously, scriptural justification for violent acts than it is for a Christian fanatic.

Antony Black

Emeritus Pofessor

School of Humanities

University of Dundee

Your item “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ ” (19 December) appeared on the same day that two Muslims were found guilty of the barbaric and savage murder of Lee Rigby.

Fundamentalism in the forms seen in these cases is nothing more than a blind adherence to a narrow, ignorant and anti-intellectual reading of their respective holy books, which is not shared by the main stream of either faith. How right it was of the leaders of Islam in this country to express themselves so forcefully against the action of these two men, and of the Bishop of Chichester to denounce the Christian evangelist and her reported support for anti-gay laws in Jamaica.

Such opinions and actions serve only to increase the number of atheists and cause Christian and Muslim leaders further headaches.

Dr Michael B Johnson






Sir, Your correspondence on grammar schools after the criticism of them by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Education in England and head of Ofsted (letters, Dec 18), is depressingly predictable, being nostalgia for a bygone age.

For the vast majority of people in a selective area, the only time they see a grammar school is when they walk past one on the way to a secondary modern. Grammar schools have always catered disproportionately for the middle class. A few working-class children passed the 11+, but a disproportionate number of these later dropped out with few if any qualifications as soon as the law allowed them to leave school.

Sir Michael’s comments were informed by the latest research, both from his own organisation, Ofsted, and from the OECD’s three-yearly Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), whose latest report had been published only a week before Sir Michael’s own annual report.

Every Pisa report since the first one in 2000 has shown that selective systems of secondary education perform less well than comprehensive ones, and this is increasingly the case. All the countries right at the top of Pisa have comprehensive systems, as do the small number of nations that have achieved the holy grail of high school standards and high levels of equity so necessary for economic success.

Sir Michael’s comments were based on knowledge and the latest research, as well as his experience as a teacher. He should be congratulated for being prepared to speak truth to power, and listened to.

Demitri Coryton
Editor, Education Journal

Sir, Philip Collins (“A History Boys education is not for everyone”, Dec 20) is quite right about the initial attraction of the new comprehensive schools to those — very numerous — middle-class parents whose children were not in the top 15 per cent IQ range at the age of 11. The alternatives to grammar schools were anathema to them.

As headmaster of a grammar school which changed from selective to non-selective in 1971, I was surprised, pleased and flattered at the number of heads and senior dons of Oxford colleges who bussed their children 15 miles out each day to the quiet market town of Thame. They said they were in search of a good all-round education; despite being non-selective, we still offered a grammar school curriculum (including Ovid) as well as full technical courses for those who wished. We also retained good academic teachers, and used “setting by ability” in nearly all subjects from Year 10 onwards. This enabled those pupils with the ability to gain admission at Russell Group universities, including a modest stream to Oxbridge. However, by 1978 applications from good maths and physics graduates for junior posts began to dry up.

Today more than two thirds of maintained secondary schools, which educate 93 per cent of the pupil population, do not have a physics graduate on the staff. The lion’s share of the best graduate teachers in “shortage subjects” is found in the independent schools, and especially in the former direct grant schools, which before 1976 had educated half their intake free.

Geoffrey Goodall


Sir, Further to the multi-signatory letter “Leading arts venue is ‘under threat’ ” (Letters, Dec 19), I have run the Riverside Studios for the past 20 years through some extremely difficult times, when the interest of this eminent group of grandees and arts luminaries was not evident; not when I started, when the organisation was deeply in debt, not when we lost our entire Hammersmith and Fulham Council grant of £320,000 in 1995, nor when we further lost our entire Arts Council grant of £500,000 in 2012 (something we had spent years building up). Suddenly when there is very real potential for the Riverside Trust to improve its position this negative letter has appeared.

I have nothing but respect for the people concerned, but I would urge them all to engage with us to make Riverside Studios a vital centre for the arts in future. Planning has been approved for the development and this will see a new building with vastly improved facilities and additional space with an open aspect on the river for a much larger café bar and restaurant. It has the potential to make the building a destination, rather than one lost down a back road. But the amount of art we are able to support will depend entirely on a fundraising campaign, whether we are able to regain Arts Council funding support and how successful we are at generating our own income. The future of Riverside Studios is just beginning and we would ask these major names for their support and active participation.

William Burdett-Coutts
Artistic Director, Riverside Studios

Sir, Terence Handley MacMath (letter, Dec 18) writes that, to avoid illness caused by stress and overwork, consultant physicians need to “heal themselves by not working at weekends”. In that case, what damage is being done to all the NHS junior doctors, nurses and midwives whose duty rotas ignore such consideration?

The notion that our most experienced medics should be expected to work nights and weekends on top of their current weekday “office hours” is clearly absurd. However, they must surely recognise that some unsocial hours must go with the territory, irrespective of their seniority. Patient safety requires greater involvement from them in 24/7 cover and it is for hospital managers to implement the necessary reorganisation of their workload as intelligently and humanely as possible.

Alice Charlwood
Ramsbury, Wilts




Your leading article advocating the erosion of the green belt to meet housing need ignores the alternative

Sir, Your leading article (Dec 19) advocating the erosion of the green belt to meet housing need ignores the alternative — which is to build more densely. Denser cities make for more cohesive communities and promote walking and cycling rather than car journeys and commuting. As for the “scrub land” disfiguring some green belt that you suggest could readily be sacrificed, this tends everywhere to afflict the no man’s land around cities, but is also deliberately promoted by those who would build on it.

The remedy is a Green Belt Authority to transform it through removing eyesores and planting trees. Any loss of the territory of such an authority should require a separate Act of Parliament, as with property of the National Trust. Your case for the sacrifice of 2 per cent of countryside now will apply equally to the next 2 per cent and the next. Such irrevocable loss is not the way to meet the housing need.

Edmund Gray
IIffley, Oxford

Sir, Before we concede that our housing needs are only surmountable by building extensively in the open countryside, we must make use of the brownfield land that can accommodate 1.5 million homes in England. While it is clear that our country is suffering a housing crisis and that we need to build more homes, it would be madness to sacrifice our green belts. These have safeguarded the countryside and helped to secure urban renewal for more than half a century. We need to make every effort to revitalise brownfield land as well as buildings that have been left unoccupied.

Neil Sinden
Campaign to Protect Rural England

Sir, The problem with building new “houses at the periphery of existing cities and towns”, as Sam Banik advises (letter, Dec 20), is that these settlements will inexorably expand to become conurbations. Ultimately the conurbations tend to link up to form a megalopolis as has happened in New York and London.

It is precisely to avoid this that the green belt was introduced, and why it has been enforced with considerable success. It is also a potent reason to assess the optimal limits of demographic growth, and whether further urbanisation is desirable in this relatively small island.

Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent



Sir, Like Stefanie Marsh (Times2, Dec 18) I accidentally acquired a Staffie. To improve our image when walking him, I allowed him to carry his stick. This resulted in warm smiles and “what a good dog” comments. Unfortunately, when anyone then went to stroke him he assumed that they were trying to steal his stick and growled at them, instantly destroying our joint credibility. He was the most loving and clever animal that I have ever had. Sadly he died this summer and, gosh, how I miss him.

Sue Guest
Hapsford, Cheshire

Sir, A friend of mine had a Staffie bitch years before the breed acquired any sort of reputation. People frequently asked him what sort of dog she was, and he would reply, with an innocent air, “Well the man who sold it to me said she was a whippet.”

David Robinson
Braishfield, Hants




SIR – The National Trust’s timely warning draws attention to the fact that, however much ministers wish to believe that their policies protect the green belt, this is not the case.

In the city of Bath, a World Heritage Site whose inscription specifically mentions its countryside setting, two areas of green belt are being put forward for housing development. They are also situated in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, have various wildlife protections, and one site abuts the Wansdyke, a scheduled ancient monument.

With all its designations, Bath’s green belt is nevertheless threatened by commercial-market housing development, at a level in excess of the objectively assessed need, because developers will not build sufficient affordable housing at other sites. Is this how, as Nick Boles suggests, the Coalition has safeguarded national green belt protection?

Caroline Kay
Chief executive, Bath Preservation Trust

Mile-high text

SIR – Using mobile phones incessantly is now such a compulsive habit that people are texting while oblivious to their surroundings, such as when driving.

Remember how, when smoking was first banned on planes, many people went to great lengths to have a secret drag, leading to the placing of smoke detectors in toilets? If BA and other airlines are now to allow the use of phones during flights, how will they ensure that all phones are in “airplane mode”? What happens when people start hogging the toilets to make calls?

Geoff Milburn
Glossop, Derbyshire

War’s legacy

SIR – When I introduced the German history GCSE module to my class, I played a word association game: happiness (response: chocolate), and so on. The final word was always Germany and the response, without fail, was war.

I fear the Prime Minister’s programme of events to commemorate the First World War will serve to further inculcate in the minds of young people the association of Germany with war. The tabloids will compete to heap opprobrium on Germany, climaxing inevitably on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

David Cameron should consider the German embassy’s appeal for a less declamatory approach. Spending that £50 million on taking our young people to Beethoven concerts would be a good start.

Nicholas Nelson
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Christmas message

SIR – Elisabeth Armstrong-Rosserwould like to receive merrier seasonal greetings with her Christmas cards. Last week we received one with news of the sender’s husband passing away scribbled on the card.

Praful Soneji
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

SIR – At 7.30pm on Tuesday, my doorbell rang. I opened the door to find two unsmiling children, aged about six and 12. They give me two tuneless lines of We wish you a Merry Christmas and then held out a Hallowe’en bucket for a gratuity.

I told them to come back when they had learnt a proper carol. Am I Scrooge?

Anne Stone
Maidstone, Kent

Syrian solution

SIR – Peter Oborne may be right that there have been serious blunders in the West’s policies towards the Syrian tragedy, but the key issue is what can and should be done now, amid growing doubts that regime change is the best answer.

There has been so much appalling killing and destruction inflicted by both sides, as well as by the increasing numbers of insurgents, that it seems likely that only a partition of the country could bring peace and enable refugees to return to their country, if not to their own homes, many of which are now destroyed. Perhaps that is where Western strategy and help should now be focused.

Mike Tyler
Worthing, West Sussex

SIR – We are being asked to contribute to the Syrian Refugee Appeal. What efforts have the Russians and Chinese made towards this? It is their joint intransigence that has protracted this conflict and produced its consequences.

John Jukes
Bosherston, Pembrokeshire

Gender differences

SIR – Who does Elizabeth Truss suggest is responsible for the discrepancy between the number of girls and boys who progress to study science subjects?

The sexes are different. Females differ from males by 5 per cent of their genes. As a result, the physical and psychological make-up of the two sexes is different, and this includes the hard-wiring and certain operations of the brain. It also includes rates of metabolism, susceptibility to disease and response to medication. These differences have been acquired over the millennia; they are real and irrefutable. The continued attempt to deny or talk away these biological facts does us and our youngsters a great disservice.

Dr Richard Walden
Limpsfield, Surrey

Offally expensive

SIR – I would advise Les Sharp and Chris Harding not to talk too loudly about the scrag end cut of lamb, lest some famous chef should put it on his menu and raise its price tenfold, as happened with lamb shanks and various types of what used to be called offal.

Ginny Martin
Bishops Waltham, Hampshire

The broccoli shoppers that cut before they buy

SIR – Wily pensioners in my local supermarkets have the perfect answer to the problem of broccoli stalks. They come armed with penknives and cut them off before buying.

The cardboard boxes holding broccoli always have an ample supply of stalks, if any readers need them for cooking.

Philip Moger
East Preston, West Sussex

SIR – I have been told that the broccoli stalk has more fibre and as much nutritional value as the floret.

Dini Thorne
Smannell, Hampshire

SIR – If Ken Anderson does not like eating the stalk alongside the florets, he could chop and freeze them. After a few weeks, he will have enough to make a very tasty broccoli and stilton soup.

Chris Reynolds
Newbury, Berkshire

SIR – Supermarkets only sell curly kale in bags containing the chopped-up leaf and the inedible woody stalk mixed up together. This requires much picking over prior to cooking. Many a time have I sifted through this mess and sent the pile of offending stalks back to Sainsbury’s, asking for suggestions on how to cook it.

So far, no recipes have been forthcoming. Their reasons for not selling whole kale leaves have been: the farmer prefers to harvest it this way; they don’t have bags large enough to sell it whole; customers demand it this way; and mine is the first and only complaint they have received. All poor excuses in my view.

Linda Scannell
Maidstone, Kent

SIR – In our household, all unwanted parts of vegetables are given to the labrador, who eats them with relish.

Bridget Garvin
London SW8



SIR – The laudations at the BBC over the violent criminal Ronnie Biggs prove the point that in our debauched culture there is no difference between fame and notoriety: there is now only celebrity.

Revd Dr Peter Mullen
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – While in the Royal Navy, I served as the communications officer of the cruiser HMS Tiger. Among my responsibilities was that for my staff and their accommodation, which I visited at least once every day.

When the ship was alongside, it was common for her to be open to visitors, as indeed she was when we visited Rio de Janeiro. There, I paid my usual daily visit to the communications mess, where I found Ronnie Biggs being entertained.

A diplomatic incident was on the cards, so I suggested that the men quietly escort him to the gangway and get rid of him.

Lieutenant-Commander J M Gawley (retd)
Havant, Hampshire

SIR – The unlamented death of Ronnie Biggs serves as a reminder as to the inequalities of our welfare system. Biggs was a criminal who spent most of his life as a fugitive living overseas. Only when his health failed did he seek to return to this country to avail himself of the necessary medical treatment for his survival. His subsequent term in prison was remitted on the grounds of his imminent death, although he lived for another four years in a care home.

One can only imagine the reaction of someone who has had to sell their home in order to meet residential care costs, when they discover that a non-contributor such as Biggs could so easily be granted the same facilities without having paid a penny into the system.

Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire

SIR – Those who romanticise Ronnie Biggs may like to reflect that had the driver or crew member died from his injuries, both Biggs and his co-defendants would have been arraigned on capital charges on the basis of being an “accessory to the fact”. In 1963, capital punishment was the law for homicide “in pursuance of theft”.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – My late brother was a post office sorter on the robbed train, which he joined five days after the crime. Many people felt that the prison sentences handed to the robbers were too harsh, but he did not.

He said that the driver, a top link man, did no more main-line driving and ended up shunting in Crewe Yard, dying not long after; the sorters working in the high value coach when it was robbed travelled no more (one tried, but upon approaching the site of the robbery felt ill, and subsequently had to give up work); another was promoted to a London office supervisor’s job but died within six months.

V R Dabin
Lympstone, Devon


SIR – Steve England has found raspberries in fruit in December. One of our geese started laying in October and is still laying now.

Liz Lucy
Aylton, Herefordshire

SIR – As I watched my pond from my bedroom window this week, a mallard dropped into the water followed by eight newly hatched ducklings. Sadly, I think survival is unlikely without the insect life found on the water at the right time of year.

Jane Neame
Wittersham, Kent

SIR – The raspberries are more likely to be late than early. When I used to grow autumn bliss, it wasn’t unusual to find berries in December in a mild winter.

Mary Richards
Gunnislake, Cornwall


Irish Times:


Sir, – European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has ruled out retroactive recapitalisation of the Irish banking system at least via Europe’s forthcoming banking union. Justifying this stance, which will probably also be applied to the ESM, Mr Barroso said it was the Irish banking sector that caused one of the biggest problems in the world and that responsibility at that time lay with Irish authorities; also it would be wrong to give the impression that Europe has created a problem for Ireland and that therefore Europe now has to help.

However Mr Barroso failed to mention that German, French and British banks fuelled the property bubble here by irresponsible (and for years profitable) lending to Irish banks, yet their loans – including several billion euro in unguaranteed bonds – have been repaid by the Irish taxpayer. Applying Mr Barroso’s own logic – that institutions and authorities should pay for their own mistakes – these European banks should have carried their own losses. Mr Barroso should be representing all of Europe not just Germany, France and other big countries.

The Government should call for Mr Barroso’s immediate removal over this hypocrisy. However, at the time of writing no Irish Government spokesman has objected to this double speak, and Enda Kenny is more likely to whine that “shure we all went mad borrowing” at the next European meeting than stand up for the people who elected him. – Yours, etc,



Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – European Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that the euro was the victim not the cause of Ireland’s financial meltdown is like claiming that potato blight was the victim of the Famine. – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal.

Sir, – European Commission president José Manuel Barroso now blames Ireland for his euro problems. Big bad Ireland should now discard the currency and save the poor little old euro! – Yours, etc,




Co Leitrim.

Sir, – Now José Manuel Barroso has left us in no doubt about a possible write-down of our bank debt, perhaps it’s time to open bilateral talks with Mr Putin regarding a discounted deal on our oil supply.

If nothing else, it would set the cat amongst the pigeons. – Yours, etc,


The Demesne,

Killester, Dublin 5.


Sir, – Dr Eddie O’Connor (Opinion, December 19th) touches on a number of important points. He rightly asserts that key to reducing climate impact is not simply promoting green energy in the West but crucially moving China and South-East Asia in this direction also.

As a student and resident of Shanghai, I can state with near certainty that such a move will unfortunately not occur. At least, it will not occur with enough haste. China’s economic boom has been built on unsustainable foundations, and although the country adopts green energy at a rapid rate, it will likely not be enough.

Beijing is frequently criticised for high levels of pollution, but just recently Shanghai suffered from an Air Quality Index score of above 500 (this is the point beyond which the scale no longer measures, and beyond this it is not updated). The pictures were widely available in the West at the time, but this raises a startling conclusion. Shanghai’s air had never gone above 400 on the AQI, indicating the level of pollution is getting worse, in an effort to address the needs and wants of an increasingly affluent population along with meeting export goals.

Environmental scientist Dr James Hansen points out in Storms of our Grandchildren that the business as usual approach has us closing on the line of disaster already. All of the signs show that even if Europe and, far less likely, the US, were able to curtail emissions to acceptable levels, the amount of time required for rapidly developing countries to do the same would be too great. At that point, geo-engineering may be the only solution in a list of very undesirable solutions. – Yours, etc,


Fudan University

International Student

Dormitory, Yangpu,



Sir, – The most fitting way to remember Marie Fleming (Breaking News, December 20th) would be to change the law – the Marie Fleming Amendment. – Yours, etc,


Maynooth Park,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.


Sir, – I find it perverse that Luke “Ming” Flanagan’s placement of a glass of dirty water in front of the Minister of State for the Environment is focused on as an “act of vandalism” and “outrageous and unacceptable” behaviour by the Ceann Comhairle (Oireachtas Report, December 20th).

It is a simple and innocuous representation of a problem people in Mr Flanagan’s constituency face. I do not always agree with Mr Flanagan’s approach but at least he is getting his constituents’ problems noticed.

The Ceann Comhairle’s role is to facilitate discussion and debate. If he is going to detract from serious issues with petty and overstated charges of bad behaviour, is he fit for purpose? – Yours, etc,


Langdon Park Road,

London, England.


Sir, – In the wake of An Taoiseach’s visit to the grave of Maj Willie Redmond MP, late of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, it has been suggested that his grave lies where it is at his own request. It has also been stated that this was in protest at the executions that followed the 1916 Rising. Both of these statements are myths with no basis in fact.

Maj Redmond was buried in the convent garden at Locre on the day after he was killed, June 8th, 1917. At his own request, soldiers from both the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division provided his guard of honour. In October 1919 his widow Eleanor visited his grave and was very pleased with how it had been kept by the sisters. When the CWGC started to concentrate burials in the area they wrote to her asking for her permission to move him. Eleanor requested that his body be left where it lay in the care of the nuns at Locre. No political statement was being made.

I have spent many years bringing groups to visit the western front to learn from our shared history and this hoary old chestnut arises again and again. To anyone who wants an accurate account of the story behind this episode I would refer them to Terence Denman’s excellent biography, A Lonely Grave, The Life and Death of Willie Redmond. – Yours, etc,


Sir, – It happens occasionally, albeit rarely: one feature article is worth the price of the daily newspaper; thus it was with Eoin Burke-Kennedy’s “Shedding light on winter solstice at Newgrange” (Science, December 19th). It was informative, beautifully written, and made me want to learn more. Thank you. – Yours, etc,



Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – On December 21st, precisely at dawn, the sun peeps over the Co Meath horizon through a tiny gap in the branches outside our kitchen window, creeps across the breakfast table, and for several magical moments fully illuminates the interior of our Bosch microwave oven. How were supposedly primitive Stone Age people able to figure out this kind of stuff? – Yours, etc,


Coast Road,

Bettystown, Co Meath.


Sir, – In recent weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced from the Kalamoun area of west Syria across the border into the town of Arsal in northern Lebanon. Refugees are being housed within the local community in an extraordinary act of bravery and generosity. While they now outnumber the local population, they are still welcomed.

Across Lebanon, more than one million refugees are depending on this solidarity.

Stables are being converted into makeshift accommodation as snow continues to fall in the Bekaa Valley. Within Syria, the most recent attack on Aleppo adds to a growing catalogue of killings and horror. As we approach Christmas, marking the time when the Holy Family sought shelter in a stable, we should look at our world leaders’ collective inaction and shameful acceptance of the conflict in Syria. What will the legacy of the international community be in relation to Syria? UN chief Ban Ki-moon has stated that the situation has “deteriorated beyond all imagination”. It is also beyond belief that the international community watches passively.

In 2014 we will remember the Rwandan genocide 20 years on and wonder why no one did anything to prevent the slaughter of innocents. Twenty years from now we will ask the same about Syria. – Yours, etc,


Executive Director


Sir, – Miriam Lord brings to our attention the following quote from the Government’s just published Medium Term Economic Strategy 2014-2020 (Home News, December 18th).

“This strategy provides an overarching, high-level, integrated whole-of-Government framework to drive and facilitate the development of appropriate sectoral and horizontal policies which will be refined over the next few months to take account of this strategy.”

That’s going forward, presumably. – Yours, etc,


Clontarf Road,

Dublin 3.




Sir, – Can post-bailout Ireland now afford a coat for An Taoiseach, or did he merely want to give the impression that we are Irish are “hardy men”? (“Paying Tribute: Irish and British first World War dad remembered”), photograph, Front page, December 20th). – Yours, etc,


Glendale Park, Dublin 12.

A chara, – Your report (Lorna Siggins, Home News, December 9th) featuring the old photograph which recently came to light in a Dublin attic was thought-provoking. Taken in Galway of a Gaelic League group in 1913, the photograph included half the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation and three future presidents of the new State.

What a gem this photograph is and what a reminder it is, 100 years on, of how much our State owes to the Gaelic League. And how ironic its reappearance now when our current administration seems intent on dismantling whatever supports there have been up to this for the use of Irish in the public life of our country. – Is mise,



Hollywood, Co Wicklow.



Sir, – Angela Merkel’s pledge to German voters that, at the end of this coalition government’s four-year term they’ll be “better off than today” (Derek Scally, World News, December 18th) is as vacuous a statement as anything our lot might utter considering the person at the helm for the past eight years and therefore the person responsible for the state in which German citizens find themselves today, was none other than Dr Merkel! – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan Road,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.


Irish Independent:

* Colette Browne’s piece, ‘Urging gays to ‘pray it away’ is silly — and dangerous’ (Irish Independent, Wednesday, December 18), is a very thought-provoking one.

Also in this section

A Christmas message

Letters to the editor

Letters: The reality of being alone at Christmas

Articles/columns such as these in mainstream newspapers signal the great change that has occurred in Irish society since the late 20th Century. It is a change from one form of fundamentalism (Catholicism in Ireland) to another; of a liberal kind. Freedom of speech is the injured party when up against either ideology.

Ms Browne congratulates the suspension of the Legion of Mary society in NUI Galway. NUI has a “pluralist ethos” and so it is right to suspend funding to the society in question, implies Ms Browne.

She does not see the inherent contradiction that lies in the belief that a pluralist ethos somehow means banning the views of some in favour of others.

Pluralism implies diverse, multifarious opinions and views be tolerated. Apparently for Ms Browne and the NUI, however, this means a diverse range of opinion within an overarching liberal context. In other words: “Say what you like as long as it conforms to our ideology.”

The idea that censoring the views of the Legion of Mary somehow curtails free speech is “unfounded” according to Ms Browne. This is simply incorrect. If you cease funding for one particular body of opinion, not only are you delegitimising it but you halt its ability to get its message disseminated — effectively censoring it.

The end of the column decrees “the right to practise one’s religion does not confer a right to force its orthodoxies on others”. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Let us now ask who it is that seeks to confer their orthodoxies on others? Is it the Legion of Mary who produce heterodox literature, which attempts to change one’s mind on a certain topic through the use of persuasion? Or is it the people who feel any deviation from their ideology — liberalism, the one true religion — is “dangerous”, and so should be censored?




* As we exit the bailout, it can possibly be an opportunity rather than a conclusion. But, I also believe there is far too much backslapping for our top politicians as to the part they played in the exit.

The troika wouldn’t even have been needed here had politicians been disciplined enough to face reality, ignore the mythical Celtic Tiger and act accordingly towards the banks, the developers and the public. Prudent leadership at that time would have been accepted nationwide. Yes, it seems the last government may have to carry the buck. Being honest, however, parties, politicians and governments differ little when in power — other than faulting the previous ones.

This Government acted as tabby cats to the troika over the past three years, genuflecting to their every whim. In its recent secret meeting with the troika, what concessions were the Government promised before their departure — apart from the reminder, “We’ll be back”?

What a buffer for the future welfare of our banks if the troika had offered some practical help in sorting out their tracker mortgage burden. This advice might ward off the possibility of another bailout, get the banks lending more freely and let the economy move on.




* This season of giving reminds me of a line from the late, great Tommy Cooper: “I got a BMW for my wife last Christmas — good swop.”




* In reference to a column by James Downey (Irish Independent, December 14) where he writes about prostitution and sex-trafficking, I take issue with his comments that proposals put to the Justice Minister Alan Shatter by the Oireachtas Justice Committee to criminalise the user are just gesture politics.

A vast amount of work has gone into consulting with women in prostitution and organisations who provide vital support services to these women, to determine how we can tackle the serious issue of prostitution and sex trafficking in this country. The Oireachtas Justice Committee heard that criminalising the user, as the Swedish have done, is a critical first step we must take to tackle this problem. This approach has resulted in the number of street prostitutes working in Sweden falling by two-thirds since the law was introduced in 1998. Norway has followed suit, as has France.

Some of the evidence we heard at the Oireachtas hearings was truly shocking, with one woman’s account of how she was more in demand at 16 than at 21. We need to have a mature conversation about why there is such a demand for young girls and boys.

For Mr Downey to describe this as “gesture politics” and say that “anyone who thinks they can eradicate prostitution is like looking for a pie in the sky” is not only insulting to the thousands of women who are trapped in this horrific situation, but it is typical of someone who refuses to recognise that selling one’s body is not a career choice, but born out of necessity and is usually rooted in poverty and addiction.

Prostitution and sex-trafficking in this country are at an all-time high. There are women from at least 32 countries working in prostitution here, most of who have been trafficked here and live in appalling conditions. A record 258 women contacted Ruhama’s support services last year, as well as receiving 13,000 phone calls and 5,200 text messages by women in prostitution who needed support.

For Mr Downey to dismiss the proposal to criminalise the user and say that it is impossible for prostitution to be eradicated because it has been around for centuries, but instead we should regulate “the industry”, shows his ignorance and unwillingness to step up and tackle this matter head-on.

The facts are that the Swedish model works. By taking the first step towards tackling this serious issue, we will be in a position to prosecute the purchaser of sex which is an illegal activity and hold these people to account.

There is no equality in the transaction, as the person who holds the money holds the power.




* There was at least one chink of light in an otherwise fairly dispiriting HSE Service Plan for 2014.

The allocation of almost €3m by the Health Minister for 19 additional posts to support the heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas programmes is to be commended.

While we await details, these posts will include the appointment of donor co-ordinators in major hospitals. These will be specially trained medical staff who can guide next of kin through the process of organ donation by their loved ones, at what is clearly a very traumatic time.

Such co-ordinators have proven very effective in high-performing transplant countries such as Spain and Croatia. Thanks must be given to the surgeons and their teams in the Beaumont and St Vincent’s Hospital transplant centres and this year we particularly wish to highlight the outstanding success of the lung transplant centre in the Mater Hospital. The rate of lung transplantation more than doubled in 2013 compared with 2012 in Ireland. There were 34 lung transplants in total for 2013, compared with 14 in 2012 .







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