23 December 2013 Sharland
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather puts her foot down and wants Lovable Leslie to name the date of their marriage.  Priceless.
Potter around, Sharland comes to call.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets  well over   400, near;ly 500! Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge – obituary
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge was a decorated observer with the Paras and later a trustee of Glastonbury Abbey
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge, who has died aged 94, was awarded an MC in 1943 in the invasion of Sicily and was subsequently ordained as a priest.
On the night of July 13/14, 1st Parachute Brigade dropped in the rear of the German lines on the Catania Plain. Hodge, serving with 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, landed at 10.30pm.
He was in command of a naval bombardment observation post (OP) on the high ground south of Catania, and the operation was to secure the Primasole Bridge, linking Catania with Syracuse. In the early hours of the morning the enemy launched a counter-attack in strength. None of the battalion’s heavy weapons was in place and the situation was critical.
Hodge moved his OP forward under heavy fire and so skilfully directed the fire of the cruiser Newfoundland’s six-inch guns that the attacking infantry took considerable losses and the assault was beaten off. The citation for the award to him of an Immediate MC stated that, throughout the operation, he had moved around under heavy shelling without regard for his own safety.
Francis Vere Hodge was born at Bere Regis, Dorset, on October 31 1919 and educated at Sherborne before going up to Worcester College, Oxford, to read English Literature and Theology. Enlisting in the Army in May 1940, he was commissioned in March the following year and posted to 458 Independent Light Battery RA, a unit that was later retitled 1st Air Landing Light Battery RA.
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Hodge qualified as a parachutist at Ringway (now Manchester Airport), and in 1943 was appointed to No 1 Combined Operations Bombardment Unit. This was a new formation to provide forward observation parties to direct Royal Navy gunfire onto shore targets during amphibious operations.
These small parties comprised gunner captains and signallers and Royal Navy telegraphists experienced in high-speed morse communication. Hodge had suggested that there should be airborne parties in addition to those being landed by sea. This initiative was successfully put to the test during the Sicily landings.
Back in England, Hodge joined 7 Para, in 5th Parachute Brigade, part of 6th Airborne Division, to prepare for D-Day. On the night of June 5 1944 his party took off from Fairford, Gloucestershire, for the Drop Zone at Ranville.
The bridge at Ranville was captured, and as the battle progressed Hodge used the lighthouse at Ouistreham as an OP. When the Germans knocked the top off, he made use of a church tower. One of his final shoots was with the battleship Ramillies, engaging targets 200 yards from Allied troops. He was mentioned in despatches.
After the war Hodge entered the Church and was ordained in 1948. A curacy at Battle was followed by his first living at Iping and Lynch, Sussex, and then a move to Kingswood, Surrey.
In 1965 he returned to his roots in Somerset, where he was appointed vicar to the Moorlinch and Greinton group of villages. In 1979 he became the first Bath and Wells Diocesan Rural Affairs chaplain. Primarily a country parson, Hodge saw his role as caring not only for his human parishioners, but also for the animals and land around him.
On his retirement in 1984 he maintained his active interest in ecclesiastical affairs and, as chairman of the trustees of Glastonbury Abbey, led the team which organised the financing and building of its visitor centre.
From 1984 to 1988 he was chaplain to the Yeovil and District branch of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. In 1979 he had been appointed Prebendary of Wells Cathedral, an honorary title awarded in recognition of his long and exemplary service to the diocese. He was for many years chaplain to the Bombardment Units Association.
Vere Hodge married, in 1942, Eleanor Connor. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their two sons and a daughter.
The Rev Prebendary Vere Hodge, born October 31 1919, died December 15 2013


How many Delphic pronouncements from members of the monetary policy committee (MPC) does it take to change expectations? Martin Weale is the latest soothsayer to claim that Mark Carney’s forward guidance will make little difference to the real economy (MPC member attacks Carney’s flagship policy, 12 December). True. But Carney’s view that the MPC is unlikely to raise interest rates at least until unemployment has fallen to 7% is a nudge in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, Carney’s message has been reinforced by another MPC member, Spencer Dale (No early end to low interest rates, says Bank economist, 14 December). Tiptoeing round this issue is not very helpful. We all know that uncertainties surrounding the future path of the real economy are huge – the old model (for what it was worth) is bust. All we can expect is that at the next MPC they will spin the wheel of fortune, make their decisions, and – like the rest of us – hope for the best. We wish them luck – but after the gigantic cock-up of 2008 and its aftermath, it will take a lot of MPC speeches to change the expectations of Christmas drinkers in the Dog and Duck.
Keith Cuthbertson Professor of finance
Dr Dirk Nitzsche Associate professor of finance
Cass Business School
• Your article (Bank warning over danger of interest rate rises, 20 December) highlights the logical flaw that runs through the current neoliberal settlement. In a casualised economy, with a pool of unemployed to replace unpliable employees and trade union action all but illegal, there is no mechanism beyond the altruism of employers to share the benefits of a growing economy more equally. With homes treated as assets and asset prices rising, while real wages have stagnated for over a decade, it is impossible for individual employees to maintain their level of disposable income – and this is ignoring ever-rising food, transport and energy prices.
So far, so neoliberal dream. However, the systemic effect of this is unsustainable in a democracy. A consumer capitalist model without consumers in a position to consume renders vast swaths of the economy unsustainable without ever-growing consumer debt, debt which is becoming ever harder to maintain – surely the underlying reason for Wonga et al.
These levels of inequality of opportunity have only previously been sustainable in societies, such as the Victorian or developing world, where the population is denied a political voice. This is surely one of the key drivers of political “apathy”. There is no political party which offers any solution to square this circle.
Andy Crump
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
• Not all that meets the eye, these jobs figures (Bank of England has a poor record of forecasts, 19 December). In the three months to October unemployment fell by “almost 100,000”, yet 250,000 entered employment in the same period. So where did the extra 150,000 jobtakers come from? Various explanations occur: migrants entering from abroad, returners to the labour market such as parents reducing childcare commitments, or maybe many people took more than one part-time job. But a discrepancy of 150,000 suggests a more disturbing explanation: the real unemployment total is much higher than that shown in government records. Before the Bank of England bases any interest rate and related decisions on such opaque statistics, it would be prudent to identify how many people are really unemployed.
Bryn Jones
University of Bath
• George Osborne would have us believe that controlling public debt is a matter of balancing the books. But it is facile to believe a government can be treated like a household, as can be seen from the ONS’s table “Long Run of Fiscal Indicators As a Percentage of GDP”. The data puts things in perspective and data reveals not only that governments rarely enjoy a budget surplus but also that having a deficit does not hold back growth and makes little difference to the national debt.
It is instructive to look at the period of the last Conservative governments (in case some might think of it as a golden age of unassailable fiscal probity that bears out Osborne’s claims). Between 1979 and 1997, the Thatcher and Major governments were in surplus only twice, and overall there was a net deficit: cumulatively some 35.3% of GDP – which is a lot. Nevertheless the economy grew by 57%.
Meanwhile the “national debt” (the outstanding amount of public sector debt) fell from 47.2% to 42.1% of GDP, and fluctuated widely in between.
Just fixating on debt figures and ignoring the real economy is foolish and highly misleading.
Professor Dennis Leech
University of Warwick

In deciding who are the middle class (Letters, 18 December), one crucial source of information is the Office for National Statistics data on household incomes. This shows that in 2011-12, the top 10th of households with the highest incomes received 27% of all income both gross and after tax. (The UK has for households what amounts to a flat tax system other than for the poorest tenth of households who pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other decile.) This was far more than the next 10th down, who received about 16% of all gross and net income. The decile below that, the eighth highest, received about 13% of gross and net income. From the lowest 10th to the ninth decile, the difference in income levels rises in a smooth line, but between the ninth and 10th deciles incomes rise by nearly 70%. It is precisely these very much higher incomes, post-tax as well as pre-tax, which fund most private education in the UK, the main route by which the privileged pass on privileges to their offspring.
So if we think about household incomes, then we have an upper class of plutocrats who do not really appear in the relevant data set and who by the way pay very little tax because of their systematic use of the tax avoidance industry, a middle class of those in the top decile of households we know about, although they also often legally avoid tax, and the rest of us below them.
This is very much a return to the way in which the 19th century thought about a middle class, not as a statistical average but as a group between the great owners of property and the rest of the population. These days the middle class understood as the 10th of households with the highest incomes we know about contains those who assist the plutocracy by managing the rest of us on lower pay and conditions in work, and pensions and benefits when out of work, across the whole of the public and private sectors.
Professor David Byrne Durham University
Dr Sally Ruane De Montfort University

As lead MEP negotiator, I am writing to clarify the outline EU agreement on e-cigarettes (Deal could lead to EU-wide ban on refillable e-cigarettes, 18 December). The agreement, backed yesterday by 27 of the EU’s 28 governments, plus the majority of MEP negotiators, does not mean that refillable e-cigarettes can simply be withdrawn from the market if three governments so decide. The law does contain a safeguard clause which says that if three governments withdraw a product from the market for safety reasons (which have to be demonstrated), then the European commission can look at proposing an EU-wide ban, but any action would again need to be signed off by all EU governments and MEPs. The draft law also rejects initial European commission proposals that all e-cigarettes need a medicines licence; instead they will be treated like tobacco products. The proposals on e-cigarettes are only a small part of a much wider law which will mean big changes in tobacco regulation, paving the way for standardised or “plain” packaging in Britain. It will mean 65% of cigarette packs will be covered by graphic health warnings and the kind of gimmick cigarettes – flavoured and lipstick packs designed to attract young smokers – will be taken off the market. British Conservative MEPs are criticising the agreement, but these are the same MEPs who have tried all along to block progress. The law has the backing of major UK healthcare organisations and doctors, and when the vote comes in February for a final signoff in the European parliament, Labour MEPs will be giving it strong backing.
Linda McAvan MEP (Labour)
Rapporteur, EU tobacco products directive, European parliament

Maybe ministers are not supporting food banks (Letters, 20 December) because they regret their existence. They regret their existence not because it shows up their victimisation of the poor (which includes poor children) as inexcusable but because if people are not hungry they will not have an incentive to search for work, however poor the wages or the working conditions.
Jane Quick
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
• A “dreary suburban courtroom” in Isleworth (Report, 21 December)? Hopefully, next time Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi’s pursuit of justice should merit no less than the Old Bailey.
Mary Hardy
• If “Cromwell’s revolution was a historical blip” (Master conjurers achieved little, 20 December), how is it we now have a parliamentary democracy and the monarchy has no political power?
Len Goldman
• Those interested in the work of Eric Ravilious (Review, 21 December) will be pleased to know that his murals on Colwyn Bay’s Victoria pier have been rediscovered beneath wallpaper in the main pavilion. The sad news is that Conwy county borough council wants to de-list the pier and demolish it.
Lorraine Cook
Penrhyn Bay, Conwy
• I recall The SDP’s success in “hitting 50% in the polls” by 1982 (Letters, 21 December). What I don’t remember is the Tories crashing to defeat in the general election in 1983 as a result.
Alistair Richardson


It was refreshing to read Owen Jones’s thoughts on grammar schools (“Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system”, 19 December). Having attended a grammar school I have serious doubts about the fairness of this system.
I failed the 11-plus but I had parents who knew the system’s weaknesses, so they appealed and I was permitted to attend grammar school on the basis that my parents suspected I was a late developer and my performance in the 11-plus was not a true reflection of my potential. They turned out to be right; I went on to do well at GCSE, even better at A-level and I graduated from a Russell Group university. Other late developers may not have been as fortunate as I was.
Should we not be focusing on better education for all and not just those who are able to display their talents by the age of 11?
Rebecca Valentine
As an ex-grammar school pupil of working-class origins, I question Owen Jones’s article. If we take the 1944 Butler Education Act as a start point and 1976 as an end point for grammar and secondary modern schools, why is the only statistic relating to the success or failure of grammar school pupils of working-class origin a 1954 government report?
By 1954 only four school years starting their education in 1944 would have done A-levels and six years would have done O-levels. That’s on the assumption that the impact of the Butler Act was effective immediately. Is four years or less a sufficiently large sample to make judgements on the impact on the working class when grammar/secondary modern education ran for over 30 years? Surely we need to know what happened after 1954.
If grammar schools failed the working class from as early as 1954 why did so many working- class parents want their children to attend them? From my father’s perspective, and probably that of many other parents, it was so I wouldn’t end up in the same kind of job as him.
Michael Serginson
Milton Keynes
Owen Jones attacks school selection by ability, which exists only in a few small corners of this country,  as “anachronistic and iniquitous”. Yet he says nothing about the selection by wealth and cunning (as described by a recent Sutton Trust report) which exists throughout the comprehensive system he so admires, almost everywhere in Great Britain.
Why does an egalitarian radical oppose school selection by the ability of the pupil, while defending school selection through the bank account and postcode of the parent? I genuinely do not understand.
Peter Hitchens
London W8
It is very sad that even Owen Jones, while recognising that the real issue is social inequality, prefers to follow Sir Michael Wilshaw in venting his wrath on the relatively few remaining grammar schools, rather than the so-called public schools, with their absurd charitable status, that are the much more powerful obstacles to social mobility.
Keith Aspley

Nigella sets out to rescue her brand
The jury accepted the Grillo sisters’ side of the story. That is where we are. Nigella Lawson now begins a PR campaign to salvage the value of her brand. This is the same as salvaging her reputation.
The campaign has already started: Ms Lawson tells us the legal system is in need of reform. That she was unprotected in the witness box. In fact, she had the conventional protection of a court of law: the trial judge decided if questions could be put to her or not.
The stakes were high for the Grillo sisters: liberty or otherwise. They based their case on the private behaviour of Ms Lawson. The trial judge clearly saw some relevant and probative value in questions being put to Ms Lawson about this private behaviour.
The British people accept that we are all equal before the law. Money and fame do not change the rules.
Ms Lawson talks about being isolated and vilified in the witness box. In fact, she had access to top legal and PR advisers, not to mention the public support of the Prime Minister. The Grillo sisters had only their force of character.
David beat Goliath; we should rejoice that our legal system allows that to happen.
Anthony McCarthy
Kirkby, Merseyside
Now that the trial of the Grillo sisters has been concluded, I trust that, in these straitened times, HMRC will vigorously pursue the matter of unpaid income tax on the £685,000 worth of “benefits in kind” provided by their employers.
Trevor Downer
Swanmore, Hampshire
Regulators cannot please everyone
As one of my predecessors said, you don’t do this job to become popular, so the criticism in Chris Blackhurst’s Midweek View (18 December) comes with the territory. We take such criticism seriously but the article made a very partial interpretation of some recent cases and unfortunately accepted some very contentious claims.
If we are to do our job properly, it involves making tough decisions, and at some point you’re going to displease companies or other parties.
In all of the cases mentioned, we’d have certainly had a quieter life if we’d taken a different decision. But one theme throughout the history of the Competition Commission and its predecessor, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, is that people have trusted us to make our decisions independently and objectively – even if they don’t always agree with the outcome. The current regime was designed to enshrine the independence of the competition authorities. It’s for the Government to set the framework, not us, but this Government and its predecessors have recognised the importance of ensuring that such decisions are made objectively. The danger of greater external involvement or even interference is that these decisions start getting influenced by special interests.
That certainly doesn’t mean we are above scrutiny. Anyone who has witnessed one of our decisions being challenged line by line in the Competition Appeal Tribunal would know that their scrutiny is very thorough. The tribunal has ruled against us on one or two points in recent cases; we’re far from untouchable.
Our most recent survey of our stakeholders has shown that they continue to retain faith in our decision-making process. I have no doubt that this will continue when we join with the Office of Fair Trading to become the new Competition and Markets Authority next year.
Roger Witcomb
Chairman, Competition Commission,  London WC1
Chris Blackhurst suggests that UK regulators have failed to make consumers’ bills cheaper. While I can’t speak for other sectors, in the 10 years that Ofcom has regulated the industry the price of core telecoms services for fixed and mobile have consistently fallen to levels which stand up well in comparison to anywhere else in the world.
And while consumers have enjoyed new and better services such as faster broadband, average expenditure is actually lower than it was 10  years ago.
Blackhurst also recalls a conversation with a grumpy executive from a mobile phone company, bemoaning the regulation which has contributed to these outcomes. He doesn’t recount precisely what the anonymous exec was complaining about. Perhaps it was our decision to make calling freephone numbers actually free from mobile phones. Perhaps it was the clampdown on mis-selling mobile contracts. Perhaps it was reducing hidden mobile phone charges or tackling in-contract price rises. Or it might have been our insistence on near-universal 4G UK coverage.
If so, I think it merely demonstrates that we are doing our job.
Ed Richards
Chief Executive, Ofcom
London SE1
One day of the year to stop and think
The self-serving attitude of Gudrun Parasie’s letter stunned me. Because she couldn’t get to St Paul’s on Christmas Day, she would like buses, trains and even Eurostar to run for the convenience of foreigners who were “incredulous” that they would be stuck for 48 hours.
We have 24-hour supermarkets, and shops open on Sundays, in fact a 24-hour society. Please can we preserve Christmas as a day to stop, think and enjoy life. Lockdown? Bring it on.
Carol Wood
Vulnerable to silly jargon
I think last Saturday might have been the hundredth time I have come across the phrase “most vulnerable” in my Independent. The impression is almost always that this ill-defined group are subject to a constant barrage of financial attacks from politicians desperate to win over “hardworking families”. Any chance of a moratorium on such silly slogans?
And why do we still have a definition of “poverty” that would allow the rate to remain unchanged even if every single income were to be quadrupled overnight?
Keith Gilmour


Sir, Would Professor Bogdanor be as dismissive of his own field of “government” as he is of my field of “management”(letter, Dec 19)? Both these fields can be characterised by, on the one hand, a domain of intellectual inquiry and, on the other, a domain of practice. Whether the latter is undertaken effectively or not — and there is no shortage of evidence from the organisations to which he refers (BBC, universities, NHS, Civil Service) and elsewhere to show that this is not always the case — does not give valid grounds to condemn the former, or to suppose that the principles of good management are lacking in desired qualities of professionalism.
One might reasonably ask to what extent those who are employed to manage are adequately prepared for this challenge (in an equivalent way to that in which, say, surgeons, lawyers and other professionals are prepared to practise). If not, why not?
Emeritus Professor Richard M. S. Wilson
Loughborough University
Sir, I entirely accept Professor Bogdanor’s thesis about managerialism and the myth of “management”. Planning is probably the only activity in which managers have something to teach professionals. That apart, healthcare professionals are well able to manage without interference.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the NHS has become steadily more politicised since the early 1980s. Politicians are not themselves professionals and appear daunted by those who are and feel the need to subordinate them (the professionals) to their (the politicians’) will. In the NHS, this subordination has been achieved through managers who have accepted the need to improve the output of professionals and who are rewarded well for so doing. The “doing” has involved a range of behaviours, some of which are at the persuasive end and some of which are at the bullying end of a spectrum of motivation.
It is no wonder that patients are confused, not least because it is their money which is paying for all this.
Tim Battle
Tisbury, Wilts
Sir, Vernon Bogdanor perpetuates the myth that the BBC, and a raft of other organisations that might be termed “failing”, would be more competently managed if management and control were taken away from “managerialists” (a pejorative term that he does not define) and returned to “professionals” (a positive term that he does not define). The reality is rather more complex, not least because many “failing” organisations, within the public sector and within professional services in the private sector, have been managed and controlled by “professionals” who moved into management. Equally, there are many successful public sector and professional service organisations which operate on the basis that both “professionals” and “managers” can and do contribute to the organisation’s success, because they each have different — but necessary and complementary — roles to play.
What Professor Bogdanor has actually highlighted is that “professionals”, in a laudable effort to maintain and safeguard professional standards that stem from what the organisation exists to do, can blind themselves to the benefits of allowing competent managers — who should not be managers, if they do not accept those professional standards — to manage.
Bob Wells
London E4

Unless entire hospitals go to fully staffed seven-day working there will be a diminution of elective activity by consultants
Sir, Your correspondents Roy Selwyn and Alice Charlwood (letters, Dec 20 & 21) have not grasped the full picture. In most UK hospitals the individuals providing acute care for emergency admissions are the same ones providing an elective service in their specialties. If they are required to be in at night and on more weekends than they already do, working as the registrars they once were, they cannot provide the same number of outpatient clinics, theatre and endoscopy lists as they currently do. So unless the entire hospital goes to seven-day working, with outpatient departments and operating theatres fully staffed every day, and unless there is an expansion in the consultant grade, there will be a diminution of elective activity.
Tim Reilly, MD, FRCP
Sir, I believe the public are unaware of the costs in salary terms alone of providing 24-hour medical consultant care in many of our specialties in hospital or the equivalent in general practice. To provide cover of this type in hospital requires the equivalent of five doctors to cover one post. Taking the average salary of a consultant to be £88,000, ignoring clinical excellence awards, I calculate that the Trust has to find approximately £440,000 to fund each 24-hour post.
Anthony J. Carr

Money and class may have counted then, as undoubtedly they still do. However, lack of them was not an insuperable barrier
Sir, Margaret Moor’s recollections of grammar schools in the 1950s (letter, Dec 20) are very different from my own experience. My brother and I both attended a grammar school in that decade, and stayed on in the sixth form — he then went to Cambridge and I to Oxford.
Our father had died when my brother was 13 and I was 10. Our mother was unable to work, so we lived on almost nothing. I don’t remember ever being very hungry or very cold, but we didn’t have many of the possessions and opportunities that would be regarded as essential today.
Money and class may have counted then, as undoubtedly they still do. However, lack of them was not an insuperable barrier.
Professor Michael Balls

Regardless of how many student barristers are called to the Bar, many will fail to obtain training contracts in England and Wales
Sir, Mr Brown (letter, Dec 18) draws attention to the large number of student barristers being called to the Bar. While a fair number of those called will return to practise in their countries of origin, as noted (letter, Dec 20), a very large number will fail to obtain training contracts (pupillage) in England and Wales.
The number of pupillages available per year is about 400, and demand exceeds supply by a large margin. As the Criminal Bar and the Family Bar are under severe financial pressure, pupillages in these areas of law in particular are scarce. There are simply too many commercial providers of the Bar Practical Training Course and too many aspirant and able barristers who will never be able to enter practice for want of pupillage.
Andrew Francis
Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2


SIR – Reading Michael Simkins’s article (Opinion, December 15) about the stage manager’s nightly show report at the National Theatre reminded me of working at the Royal Festival Hall as assistant house manager.
In September 1970, when the Kirov Ballet was performing a season there, the duty manager’s report for one night went along the lines of: “Received phone call from the Daily Mirror asking about the defection of a dancer called Marakova [sic]. Said had no knowledge”.
The next day we found out that Natalia Makarova had defected to the West. There were more phone calls from newspapers wanting to photograph her abandoned dressing room.
Christopher Sharp
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

SIR – I have come up with a way to ease the overload in our A & E departments. Anyone attempting to enter A & E under the influence of intoxicating beverages or drugs should be automatically banned from entering, no matter how serious their problem.
Any abuse of medical staff should result in an immediate custodial sentence. Attendees making frivolous requests should be charged in full for wasting medical staff time.
There will be some knock-on benefits. Students will run up fewer debts from drinking. There will be less litter and vomit to be cleared up in town and city centres and less police time wasted, allowing police to deal with real criminal activity. The pressure on the ambulance service would also be relieved.
To aid this, all day and night licensing, one of Tony Blair’s legacies, should be repealed. I can hear the thud of Liberal Democrats fainting all over England as they read this.
Simon Sanders
Metheringham, Lincolnshire
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SIR – As a retired GP, I read your report with interest. In August this year I sustained a head injury with resultant heavy bleeding from my scalp, which required an operation at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
During the week of post-operative care, the consultant under whose care I was admitted never came to my bedside at any time before I was discharged.
Fat chance, then, of that surgeon doing a round on a Saturday or Sunday.
Dr Anthony Platts
Watford, Hertfordshire
SIR – In Scotland and Wales, standards are set for hospital food, but in England there are none. The incarcerated are fed better than the indisposed.
A good-quality meal suited to patients’ needs would at least put a smile on people’s faces.
Robert Ballantine
Chevington, Suffolk
Tory election hopes
SIR – If Matthew d’Ancona is correct about why the Tory Party can’t win elections, can he explain why some robustly Right-wing Conservative candidates do so well in constituencies that aren’t naturally Conservative?
Take Monmouth’s excellent MP, David Davies, who won the seat from Labour in 2005 with a 4,500 majority, and then more than doubled it in 2010.
If the party leadership can bring itself to forget about the so-called modernising agenda and get on with some real-world policies to transform people’s lives for the better (cancelling HS2 would be a useful start), then the party can yet go on to win a thumping majority in 2015.
Capture the centre ground certainly, but don’t sit on it like a rabbit in the headlights.
Tom Lowes
Llanvapley, Monmouthshire
SIR – To hope that Conservative defectors to Ukip can be persuaded to return to the fold at the last minute is wishful thinking. Such is the extent of their disillusionment with Conservative policies, especially on the EU, they are blinded to the dangers of electoral suicide for the Right.
A Conservative/Ukip pact is the only solution. It would be repugnant to the few remaining pro-EU Conservatives, but could well result in a Conservative majority government or a Conservative/Ukip coalition.
Above all, it would prevent Labour from returning to power.
Ron Forrest
Lower Milton, Somerset
Support for Marine A
SIR – I am sure that there are many thousands of us who feel disgust at the treatment handed out to a very brave soldier and contempt for his so-called judges. As a practical first step we should try at least to assist his family, who must be in considerable distress, as indeed he must be at their plight.
If The Sunday Telegraph would sponsor a collection, I would post my cheque straight away.
David Brown
Lillington, Warwickshire
SIR – The voices in support of Sgt Blackman are too often drowned out by the opinions of human rights industry spokespersons, lower echelon judges and fearful politicians. In 1965, Admiral Sir Michael le Fanu said “The best ambassador that Britain has ever had is the British soldier.”
Applying the modern interpretation of human rights to the rules of war in retrospect in trials of loyal British soldiers is undermining our best ambassadors.
Alan Stenner
Penallt, Monmouthshire
Scouting for adults
SIR – Many children are on waiting lists for scouting because there is a shortage of adults willing to volunteer their time to be group leaders. Some groups are also closing down for the same reason.
Why could not every college and university be partnered with the local scouting association? What an experience that would be for any student, young or mature – helping to run activities for children in the community. Good experience and a useful addition to a CV. The unemployed could also spare an hour or two a week, or the active retired.
Val Holland
Malvern, Worcestershire
SIR – Upon declaration of war with Germany in 1939, the Bedhampton scout troop, which had been raised by Fred T Jane, founding editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships and All the World’s Aircraft, undertook the overtly military act of manning a checkpoint at Hilsea, controlling the only road approach to Portsmouth.
Jane, who described himself as a “scoutmaster under military orders at Portsmouth” – a prototype Captain Mainwaring – also received complaints from members of the public who had been followed and spied upon by scouts after their behaviour in proximity to a major naval base was judged, by the boys, to be suspicious.
Paul Jackson
Pulham Market, Norfolk

SIR – It should come as no surprise that the Scottish National Party behaves thuggishly towards business people who air pro-Union views..
Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, rules his party with a rod of iron and probably wishes he could do the same with the Scottish electorate.
Hardly a week goes by without further flaws being exposed in the case for independence, giving the impression that the SNP’s plans for Scotland going it alone were written on the back of an envelope.
Peter Myers
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
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SIR – If business leaders fear to comment on the possibility of Scottish independence because of bullying from the SNP, perhaps it is time for the rest of us to stand up to Members of the Scottish Parliament. Mr Salmond would do well to remember that he is serving us and that the childish bullying of those with different views only undermines any arguments he may have.
I would challenge him to persuade me that he has a solid basis for Scotland leaving the UK. What will it cost? What will happen to pensions, health and security? Will I have to retake my driving test? So far we have only had wish lists, lies and aggression, which show that the facts and reasons are thin.
I am ready to cast my vote for whoever can convince me. Will Mr Salmond take the challenge or will he continue to hide behind the skirts of Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, and bully the electorate?
Sue Hood
SIR – While his government intimidates people, Alex Salmond seems from his 650-page tome on independence to be far too timid to seek any real independence for Scotland.
He wishes to keep the pound sterling and the Bank of England as the central bank and lender of last resort. He wants to control spending, but without responsibility for balancing against income. His idea of change is tinkering with the edges of the welfare state.
His policies appeal to the emotions, but with a great deficit in economic logic.
Doug Knox
Sunderland, Co Durham
SIR – I understood that only in countries such as Russia, China and North Korea did people receive threatening phone calls from government officials daring them to speak out against their policies. If this is to be our future with a Scottish National Party at the helm, surely even their most stalwart supporters must give pause for thought.
Anne C Ferguson
Dunbar, East Lothian
SIR – The best result for the SNP would be to lose a close-run campaign. If that were the outcome, Mr Salmond may gain credibility as a genuine statesman, rather than a small-town bully, by putting nationalism behind him as an out-of-date concept. He could then move Scotland forward with the support of the entire United Kingdom and European Union.
The alternative, independence, would result in a small fledgling state negotiating an economic deal with a bigger brother who will no longer be making concessions. The taxpayers in the UK will expect a ruthless attitude from their politicians. These taxpayers will have played no part in this process and no one enjoys rejection after a 300-year relationship.
John Hanson
Canterbury, Kent
SIR – Alex Salmond advocates joining the EU directly after leaving the UK, thereby removing the need to do any governing. I am at a loss to understand when exactly it would be that Scotland would be independent. If not governed from Westminster, we would find ourselves being dictated to from Brussels.
Perhaps if the SNP were to promise that, upon leaving the UK, Scotland would definitely not attempt to join the EU, it would stand a greater chance of success.
Stuart Kelly
Innellan, Argyllshire

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, – The inquiry by Róisín O’Shea into the workings of the Irish family law system (John Waters, Opinion, December 13th) seems to be the first major piece of hard evidence of a very unjust system which has been going on for decades.
Attempts by Waters and certain fathers’ groups over many years to shine a light on blatant discrimination which affected both men and their children, met with obstruction, denial and a wall of silence. Of course the secrecy which surrounded the proceedings of these courts afforded a very convenient shelter behind which to hide – which suited politicians, policy makers, and various interest groups from the health, welfare and justice sectors.
That all of these basic human rights abuses, not only the denial of access of fathers to their children but the denial of children of the right to know their fathers, have been going on at a time when we were recognising the abuses of former eras in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, shows that we have learnt very little.
Indeed we were trumpeting our adherence to principles of equality for all and had even set up an Equality Authority to demonstrate our good faith. Sadly it was an illusion.
It is hard to resist the conclusion that apart from the official neglect mentioned, powerful lobby groups had no interest in delving into this matter. A National Council for Men was wanting in this regard. A report to follow those of Ryan, Murphy, the Magdalene laundries is warranted. – Yours, etc,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I have closely followed the debates into the top-up payments and governance structures in our voluntary agencies. I note that many, including the Taoiseach, quoted the Hiqa report into Tallaght hospital, which originally highlighted questions surrounding these practices.
As a patient advocacy group, we daily track the trolley numbers produced on the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. But I am puzzled. Beaumont Hospital has had in excess of 30 patients daily on trolleys since November 11th. A lot of days it had in excess of 40 patients and on December 12th it had 50 patients on trolleys.
The Hiqa report, as quoted by Ministers and the Taoiseach, published in May 2012, stated quite clearly that it was not acceptable that patients should be cared for on a trolley.
One would have to wonder is there any point to Hiqa reports; as when issues are highlighted, they can be ignored.
The debate in the media and in Leinster House has focused on the long-delayed publication of the service plan from the HSE for 2014. I would wish some would focus on the issues surrounding the patients left on trolleys in Beaumont and the hard-pressed staff attempting to look after them today. – Yours, etc,
Tallaght Hospital Action

Sir, – With so many people feeling offended by the flying, or not, of flags in the North, it appears to have escaped the notice of the decision-makers that it is perfectly legal to carry UVF banners anywhere in the North even though this blood-lusting organisation has murdered hundreds of people over the last 40 years.
In my naivety about flags I asked the PSNI to check out the carrying of a UVF banner at the front of an Apprentice Boys parade through Coleraine on December 18th, only to be told it was legal.
With so much time and effort going into flags during the Haass talks, I wonder if the DUP and the Ulster Unionists had anything to say about the effrontery of organisations such as the Apprentice Boys parading through mixed neighbourhoods with UVF banners.
Surely we don’t want to add further confusion to an already confused state by constantly referring to the UDA and UVF as if there was something normal about such organisations. To do so could mean that in the future these terms could be described as “legal” just as the flag carried by the Apprentice Boys in Coleraine apparently appears to be!
(SDLP), Bridge Street,

Sir, – Sheila Nunan, general secretary INTO states (December 19th) that “class sizes in primary schools with one to four teachers were increased in 2012 and 2013 and will increase again next year”. Pamela Durcan (“Large class sizes a ‘black mark’ on Ireland’s education record – INTO”, September 5th) stated that “the average class size increased slightly from 24.4 in the 2011/12 school year to 24.7 in 2012/13”. So on average, class sizes in primary schools in Ireland rose by 1.2 per cent from 2012 to 2013.
I am a parent of three children attending national school, with fantastic teachers working hard under more difficult circumstances than previously, so I understand why Ms Nunan would want to make her point. But I think it’s also relevant to state the percentage increase. In a country whose government finances are in such a diabolical state with huge economic issues still unresolved, a 1.2 per cent year on year increase in the average primary class size to me is actually a pretty good result. – Yours, etc,
Ridgewood Park,

Sir, – Hospitals in Ireland request that visitors adhere to strict visiting times and especially to vacate the premises at mealtimes. However, with an elderly mother in hospital and front line staff so hard-pressed (given new working arrangements), often her feeding needs are unmet.
I believe it is time for the Irish health care system to admit it cannot cope and adopt the Greek model which required family members to fulfil feeding and other auxiliary nursing roles. – Yours, etc,
Vevay Road,

Sir, – With the end of 2013 almost upon us “The Gathering 2013” also comes to a close, making it high time to question such an initiative.
As an Irish citizen studying abroad, I feel tied to my home country, but the more I talk to other ex-pats from other countries, the more I realise the Irish are particularly apathetic about those who live or study outside its borders.
Ireland is one of the few countries in which its citizens may not cast a vote in general or presidential elections if they are not in the country at the time of the election.
Furthermore, at least at my bank, you cannot get a student bank account if you are not a student at an Irish university, despite being a student, Irish and with a permanent residence in Ireland.
These may appear small details, but ones which I feel are examples of a greater problem – if Ireland wishes to encourage those who have gone abroad to come back or to maintain closer ties with their homeland, perhaps it is time for some more permanent, structural changes rather than a mass media campaign to encourage expat-tourism. – Yours, etc,
Rue Gambetta,

Sir, – Richard Pine (December 20th) is unduly flustered over the title of the Association of Irish Composers’ new series of concerts, The Irish Canon. He writes, “By exercising a prescribed standard of judgment, a canon excludes more than it includes”.
All concert series, just like all art exhibitions or poetry anthologies, are limited by what they can include. Selections have to be made somehow. The use of the word canon may be unwise, but the initiative is one that should be applauded.
Mr Pine, it has to said, is missing the wood for the trees. This is the first concert series I am aware of that is entirely made up of Irish works; and value selections are made by highly-acclaimed musicians such as Kate Ellis, Cora Venus Lunny and Bill Dowdall, rather than by committee, as some other organisations do – with predictably banal results.
The Association of Irish Composers in my view is doing an unprecedented amount of work on a very slim budget (made up of mainly members’ fees). They certainly would not have the luxury of programming Irish orchestral works. That responsibility lies firmly with RTÉ, which, in comparison with the AIC, has failed in recent years to programme new Irish music in any meaningful way. – Yours, etc,
Warren Road,

Sir, – David Jameson (December 19th) seems to be unaware that in 1785, Pius VI confirmed that mixed marriages here were exempt from the general canon law. In the months before Ne Temere was implemented in 1908 all opinion inside and outside Ireland was in agreement that it would not apply here. John Harty was the only one to disagree. Pius X made a personal decision that it would come into force. As often happened in such cases, Harty was promoted a few years later. He became Archbishop of Cashel.
In 1910, the parish priest of the Falls Road was urging all those married since 1908 to rectify their marriages by repeating the ceremony before a Roman Catholic priest. Mrs Alexander McCann refused to do so. Her husband then abandoned her and took their two children, one of whom she was breastfeeding. When this became public knowledge there was an explosion of Protestant fury, the extent of which it is hard to appreciate today.
Before that there was strong support for Home Rule among the Presbyterians but after the McCann case it evaporated almost completely.
In 2010, the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) held a ceremony of repentance and reconciliation to mark this event. It took place in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church, where Agnes McCann worshipped. Immediately outside the door was the massive iron gate which was the “peace line”, still closed on weekends at the time.
The event was reported on prime news time by BBC NI the following morning. The station later broadcast a half hour programme presenting the ceremony. Strangely RTÉ refused to repeat it. – Yours, etc,
Revd EOIN de

Sir, – Regarding the item on regulating antibacterial hand soaps (World News, December 17th). All soaps are antibacterial by their very nature. When water and oil are emulsified with the use of a caustic substance, the result is saponification: soap and soap is alkaline. Bacteria thrive in an acid environment, but alkalinity is deadly to them.
The addition of further alkaline substances is unnecessary and only succeeds in selling soap because the average person is ignorant of the nature of soap. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – There are few instances this year of the office-party pavement vomit which traditionally heralds Christmas. Contrary to official warblings, are we still in recession? – Yours, etc,
Mid Mountjoy Street,
Dublin 7.

Sir, – What a corker celebration of the Everyman Theatre (Mary Leland, An Irishwoman’s Diary, December 17th). For 50 years the Everyman has consistently kept quality drama alive in Cork via its three venues, expertly negotiating the trick of staging fine popular as well as less popular drama.
I still relish the memory of the atmosphere in the packed houses when the Fr Mathew Hall was its venue. I even worked as sound manager in the crow’s nest above the stage for a production of the popular comedy Hobson’s Choice in the mid-1970s. On a recent trip to Cork, I enjoyed Eamon Morrissey preforming The Brother in the Palace Theatre, the grand Victorian venue where the Everyman is now based.
WB Yeats, in a letter to Lady Gregory, wrote, “I have always wished however to live in Cork & start some kind of movement or theatre there”. ‘
The founders of the theatre, John O’Shea, Rachel Burrows, Dan Donovan and Seán Ó Tuama managed that, and it is a joy that it still continues, surviving hard financial trials, and with little help.
The Everyman, as Mary Leland points out, has nurtured such talents as Donall Farmer, Dermot Crowley, Kieran Ahern, Fiona Shaw and the designer Bob Crowley, and thankfully it continues to thrive and add to the artistic life of Cork City. Another curtain call please, and another. – Yours, etc,
Burlington, Vermont, US.

Irish Independent:

I love the symmetry of the new light being born after the winter solstice, and the birth of the baby Jesus and the luminous spirit he brought us.
You don’t have to be Christian or pagan to enjoy these sentiments. They are just another part of the season’s rich tapestry.
I know the end of the year makes some feel a little sad — they cannot help themselves from looking backwards at other times when their family circle was a warm comfort blanket.
As the years pass, this becomes thin and worn and many are left to feel the cold of loneliness.
It is then that the embers of memory are relied upon to offer warmth.
They say that Christmas is for the children, and this is true; but it is also a chance for all of us to look at the world with the magic of childhood in our hearts.
I was in a big city centre store many years ago and I watched with wonder as an arthritic Santa stooped and jollied along an endless procession of little ones, all starry-eyed with visions of gifts and untold blessings.
He handled each delicate wish like it was the most precious thing in the universe.
I had wandered down to the Gresham for an Irish coffee, which was a seasonal treat. It, too, had a special atmosphere, as if the city of Dublin had been put under a goodwill charm.
Later that evening, I made my way back down O’Connell Street and, passing a bus-stop, one old fellow stood out. He was wearing a heavy winter topcoat, but the baggy red trousers were a dead giveaway. It was my old pal from the shop. He was clapping his big hands together trying to keep the chill out of his bones. I took the opportunity to tell him what a masterful job he had done.
I remember the quizzical look he gave me, in return.
“No, sir,” he corrected me, “the privilege is all mine, the years roll off me in the company of such innocent happiness, for a few days a year I get to be young again, and sure you could never giftwrap that.”
No, you probably couldn’t.

* As a little fella, a friend of my father used to bring us into town every Christmas. The Santa in Clerys was something to see. There were all kinds of mechanical elves and nodding reindeers as we queued up to see the man himself.
Later, we would walk down Grafton Street, and the window displays in Switzers and Brown Thomas were out of this world. Fairies and princesses, goblins and pixies were all busy. The adults seemed like armies of giants marching up and down the street. Us kids huddled together with our eyes fixed on the brilliant displays.
We always stopped somewhere and got fish and chips. Nothing ever tasted or felt as good. For a little while, we felt like were kings, the city was ours — and if that wasn’t enough, Santa would be coming soon.
* I was talking to my Protestant neighbour yesterday. It is his opinion that the biggest problem for the Pope is the Curia; would they let him make changes that affected them? I said I thought Francis was well able for the Curia; his biggest problem was the power of the papacy itself. After he has tamed the Curia, will he deliberately lessen the papacy?
The Papal Office makes the church unbalanced. As Christ set up the church at the beginning, Peter was the chairman of the board. Genuine collegiality is the answer. The idea of collegiality was mooted by Vatican II, but got nowhere.
Here is my idea for real collegiality. If women cannot be priests, there is nothing to prevent them from becoming bishops. Bishops are overseers by definition; they need not be ordained priests.
Cardinals need not be priests; the church managed for a thousand years without cardinals. It is about time women got real recognition; the record shows they are better managers than men.
Change the titles, if necessary. To put it bluntly, the organisational exclusion of women from a full Christian life has been a long-standing heresy in practice, deliberately ignored by the men.
* While reading the “14 reasons to be cheerful in 2014” in the ‘Weekend Review’, I found myself nodding in agreement at the favourable thoughts for Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny.
This caused me to think how many of the other 164 TDs will give us reasons to be cheerful in 2014 and I came up with another 12 TDs.
But this raised another question for me. What will the other 152 TDs be doing in 2014, apart from preparing to get re-elected in the next election?
One hundred and sixty-six into 158 doesn’t go.
* This Christmas, be kind to your family, friends and neighbours.
Give what you can, whether it be time, money or conversation. We can’t count on the Government to help.
* In the past, agriculture in Ireland was considered to be the backbone of our economy. It now appears that, once again, it may be our best asset.
The recent price war on vegetables could have a detrimental effect on that prospect if the present promotional gimmick by supermarkets to get extra footfall is extended to include other agricultural products.
We all welcome goods at bargain prices but the present practice is obscene. Naturally, profit is their main aim but supermarkets ought to have a moral duty to their customers and suppliers alike. The supermarkets are also damaging, farmer markets, smaller shops and greengrocers as they try to compete to attract customers.
Customers ought to get their goods at a reasonable and realistic price but the vegetable growers ought to get a realistic price for their produce.
The present process being engaged in by supermarkets may be short-term gain for consumers but could result in long-term pain. It could lead to vegetable growers going out of business, which would inevitably lead to a shortage in home-grown produce.
* Reading about Transport Minister Leo Varadkar’s idea of increasing car tax, I felt I just had to write.
In fact, I would almost go as far as to invite Mr Varadkar to come down and spend a week in Achill, so he can see just how the public transport system works.
But If I’m being good and following his recommendations, I’m sorry but I won’t be at home for the visit; because for me to take public transport to work — a journey of 14.5 miles — I must walk three-plus miles, board the bus at Polranny, Achill Sound, on a Sunday evening at about 11pm to be at work on Monday morning for 9am.
The earliest that public transport will allow me home from work is almost one week later — Saturday morning on the 10am bus.
I won’t delude myself any further by thinking this visit might be considered — just in case I lose concentration and put the car off the road.
Irish Independent


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