24 December 2013 Hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. The have to pick up a British spy from Sicily but the get the wrong one a Russian with bombs in every pocket. Priceless.

Hospital no change back in two weeks selivery Shantis pressies

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




Rae Woodland, the soprano, who has died aged 91, overcame a hare lip to achieve operatic success, notably as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a role she took to Sadler’s Wells and Glyndebourne.

Benjamin Britten invited her to join the English Opera Group tour to Moscow in 1964, when she sang the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, and she remained associated with his music for the rest of her life.

She was thought to be the first English soprano to sing with Luciano Pavarotti, when she made her debut at Covent Garden in Bellini’s La sonnambula alongside Joan Sutherland in 1965; her performance, in the words of one critic, was “radiant”.

An earlier reviewer had noted how, as Queen of the Night at Glyndebourne in 1960 under Peter Gellhorn, Rae Woodland “launched herself into the vocal equivalent of outer space without apparent qualms, hitting the starry top Fs in the middle”.

Another role was as Elektra in Idomeneo, which she recorded with Peter Pears and Heather Harper under Britten in 1969 and sang at Rome Opera with Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda in 1971. But Glyndebourne was where she was happiest, as she once explained in a recording made for the British Library. It was a “home from home”, she said, describing with fondness the family atmosphere there.

Rae Woodland was born in Nottingham on April 9 1922. Her father had been a professional footballer with Norwich City and later managed a hotel. She was sent to a convent school at Southam, Warwickshire, before finishing her education at Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham.

Seeking to correct her daughter’s hare lip, Rae’s mother saved for many years to take Rae to see Sir Harold Gillies and Archibald McIndoe, pioneers of reconstructive surgery, in London. “I was terrified, of course,” Rae Woodland later recalled. “But not nearly as much as my mum – she spent the night of the operation in the Catholic church near the clinic.” Rae was eventually left with barely a mark.

Meanwhile, her family moved to run a hotel at Wickersley, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, where Rae and her sister, Christine, sang for guests accompanied by a piano trio. Meanwhile, an adjudicator at the Mexborough competitive music festival, where she won several classes, helped to put her in contact with Roy Henderson, Kathleen Ferrier’s teacher. However, their relationship nearly got off on the wrong note when Henderson told Rae Woodland — who had dressed in her smartest outfit for the audition — to visit Bond Street to observe how fashionable women were attired.

After understudying for Mattiwilda Dobbs at Glyndebourne in 1956, Rae Woodland sang for Lotte Lehmann in a masterclass at the Wigmore Hall (Grace Bumbry was also a participant). Joan Cross then invited her to join the National Opera School, which led to Sadler’s Wells, where she sang Queen of the Night in 1957 under Rudolf Schwarz. She sang in the premiere of Nicholas Maw’s The Rising of the Moon in 1970, Verdi’s Macbeth in 1972 and Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (1980 and 1982).

In 1963 she took part in the Proms premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 with Janet Baker under Leopold Stokowski, a recording of which has appeared on the BBC Legends label.

During the 1970s Rae Woodland moved towards lighter music, becoming a stalwart of Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2, though still appearing in Britten productions, including a well-received Albert Herring for Welsh National Opera in 1976. She bade farewell to the stage in 1984 and, after a period teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, retired to Snape, where she taught on the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme.

Her husband, Denis Stanley, whom she married in the 1950s, died in 2011. They had no children.

Rae Woodland, born April 9 1922, died December 12 2013





Jonathan Freedland’s piece regarding the embracing of Christmas by Britain’s other faiths and cultures is spot-on (My family used to ignore Christmas, but not this year, 21 December). The Hindu religion, he observes, has always had an all-embracing approach to the customs of other faiths. It is due to this catholic approach that persecuted faiths like Zoroastrians and Baha’is have found a safe home in India, as have Jewish people, who have lived in India for centuries. Hindus believe all paths to God are valid and this approach has meant that they have never persecuted or waged wars against those of other faiths. In the UK, here in Croydon we have been organising a Christmas lunch for the local community for the past 33 years. Peace in the world will only be achieved when we begin to respect and accept other paths to God. The truth Lord Buddha observed can be arrived at from different angles.
Nitin Mehta

•  As society fragments, it would seem positive for the spirit of Christmas to bind us all together. British society is becoming increasingly multi-faith, according to the census. Non-Christian households taking on some of the trappings of the day, such as the Christmas tree or turkey meal, does not do any harm. However, all this widespread festive cheer should not dilute the religious significance of Christmas. At its core, it is a religious festival marking the birth of Christ. We should be wary of the folly of stripping it down to a universal celebration and denuding it of its Christian content, in some well-meaning but misguided multiculturalism. In my experience, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs tend to enjoy the fact society “switches off” for a few days, and that our Christian friends celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. Each of the great faiths has its own festivals, and the goal of multiculturalism should be to respect the differences, as much as to accentuate our commonalities.
Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

•  On Sunday, after a traditional service of nine lessons and carols, Archbishop Sentamu announced that he was going to switch on his phone and send a tweet. How wonderful, I thought, he is going to tell his followers about the true state of Bethlehem today. Surrounded by a massive separation wall and high watch towers, the entrance to the Church of the Nativity pockmarked by Israeli bullets, the fields where the shepherds had sat now built on by illegal settlements. How the Roman occupation of Palestine over two thousand years ago was now mirrored by the Israeli occupation of today. Would he have enough characters? I had seen all two months ago. But my hopes were shattered: it was about auditions for his choir; how safe, how inward-looking, sadly, how predictable.

How wonderful it would be if tomorrow, in every Christian service across the world, congregations could be told what Bethlehem is really like today, instead of the saccharine songs about little towns lying still under silent stars.
Janice Gupta Gwilliam
Norton, North Yorkshire

•  On Christmas day, many people will be celebrating the birth of a healthy baby. It can be assumed that his mother had an adequate diet before she conceived and while she was pregnant because her baby did not suffer the catastrophic consequences of poor maternal nutrition. Her son grew up to call on society to see the misery of sickness, hunger, homelessness and thirst, and act to remove them.

There are intergenerational effects of malnutrition. Many researches show this, including those about the famine in the western Netherlands winter 1944/spring 1945. It took place in a modern, developed and literate country, albeit suffering under the privations of occupation. Subsequent studies have found that children of pregnant women who were exposed to famine were more susceptible to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Their children were smaller at birth and as adults. The changes were passed down to the next generation. Subsequent academic research on the children affected in the second trimester of a pregnancy found an increased incidence of schizophrenia.

I suggested in 2009 to ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions that poor maternal nutrition, low birthweight, and some consequent ill health in the UK might be due to inadequate incomes; they sent the evidence to ministers at the Department of Health, “to allow them the opportunity to respond to your detailed analysis of the effects of maternal nutrition on child physical and mental health”. The DoH passed it on to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, but economic questions were not in their remit. In 2010 the government changed, SACN was abolished, and a letter from the DoH told me that income levels are dealt with by the DWP. Now GPs report that malnutrition is reaching damaging levels.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

•  Gatwick airport, around 7am on Friday. A little four-year-old girl is happy and excited about her Christmas trip to Finland. At the security check area she is selected for a random search. She is embarrassed, frightened and wonders what she has done wrong. She doesn’t stop crying for five minutes, even when being comforted by her mother. Was this action really necessary in the interests of national safety – or was it another mission accomplished in the war on terror?
Brian Hartigan
Banstead, Surrey

•  Anyone still unclear about Ed Miliband’s distinction between “responsible” and “predatory” capitalism should tune in to It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve on Channel 4.
Ian Bullock

• OK, so according to your article (Weird ways we spend Christmas Day, 21 December) we have only 38% of women but 55% of men sneaking away during Christmas Day for lovemaking … meaning?
Ishbel Askew
Sampford Courtenay, Devon



It is disappointing that Vincent Nichols’ compassionate article (How our ‘pro-marriage’ government splits families, 16 December) hasn’t been more widely supported in the Guardian. He shows how it will be impossible for many citizens to meet the stringent new regulations to bring over their spouses, and this is likely to break up more than 17,000 families a year. This, together with the scaremongering over the predicted arrival of Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January 2014, makes our society hostile indeed for immigrants. I suspect it is too much to ask that, like Germany, we offer to take in some of the Syrian refugees hungry and cold in Lebanon?
Thelma Percy
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Nigel Farage complains that “this latest, remarkable foul-mouthed attack is utterly incredulous” (Minister apologises for quip about Farage, 23 December). Is it not a little surprising – incredible even – that Mr Farage, whose entire political career is based on pandering to the credulous, should fail to grasp the difference between the incredible and the incredulous?
Philip Hoy
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• David Conn is quite correct to lament the move by Hull City’s owner to rename the club Hull Tigers (Tigers and Tan show no one will speak out in age of the owner, 21 December). This will be anathema to traditionalists everywhere, not least hardened quiz fans who know that Hull City is unique among the names of the 92 league clubs in not containing any letters you can colour in.
Jem Whiteley


• Chris Elliott states (Open door, 23 December) that “Readers of the Guardian are 77% more likely to say the point of drinking is to get drunk; 82% are interested in the arts.” Am I to infer that most Guardian readers are piss-artists?
Waldo Gemio

• You left it until very late in the day, but congratulations on the punniest headline of 2013 (Elfin safety concerns prompt Iceland court to delay highway, 23 December).
David Collins
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Geoffrey Robertson (The vilification of Nigella: no way to treat a witness, 21 December) is of course right that “English law is in blatant breach of the European convention on human rights by providing no effective way for witnesses to protect their reputations”.

Spare a thought, then, for the recent Rochdale and Oxford sex-grooming trials, when defence barristers, on the basis of testing the credibility of the victims, tore these distressed young women to pieces. After the first day of the Operation Bullfinch trial at the Old Bailey one witness took an overdose, which she survived physically, but her emotional anguish won’t go away.

Subsequently Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has spearheaded a campaign to create more effective police powers (of prevention), and the judiciary is reviewing how witness “credibility” can and should be questioned. Too late for the Rochdale and Oxford victims, too late for Ms Lawson, and there the comparison ends.

As for the European convention, the government is keen to withdraw from this intrusive “foreign” concoction.
Bruce Ross-Smith

• Master and servant may be one root of the Lawson saga (The relationship between master and servant is at the heart of the Nigella case, 21 December) but is not another that some people just have too much money? Roll on a return to the days of high taxes, say 60p in the pound after £150,000 and 90p after £250,000, and more on capital gains. Then we might begin to reduce the appalling inequality that afflicts our national community, benefits would not need to be cut, a lot of families would have less debt and a happier Christmas, and food banks would be on the way out.
Revd David Haslam
Methodist Tax Justice Network

•  While the police waste their time wondering how they can prosecute a woman who might have taken a controlled drug a few times (Met police to review Nigella drug-taking claims, 23 December), how many others might they investigate? I wonder if HMRC will be investigating if the Grillo sisters paid tax on the £600,000 of bonus and benefits they legitimately received? And if not, will they be pursued for it?
Neil Burgess

•  Shame on the British judicial system, shame on the judge, shame on the jury, shame on the media. The whole focus was not on the accused but on destroying the reputation of a successful woman. Nigella Lawson was the real victim in all of this, and the trial should never have involved her children. There should be an injunction to stop the Grillo sisters from exploiting this charade by selling any stories to the media or signing any book deals.
Virginia O’Leary
Blarney, Co Cork, Ireland

•  You report that Francesca Grillo’s defence barrister, Anthony Metzer QC, in his summing up to the jury said “this is a case with no winners” (21 December). Not so. It was a bumper end-of-season beanfeast for lawyers and media alike. As usual, envy and tittle-tattle also played a blinder.
Chris Trude


In his article “Teaching Niall Ferguson a (Colombian) history lesson” (20 December), David Hill launches a bizarre attack against me. The accusation relates to the single paragraph in my book The Ascent of Money that refers to the Amazonian Nukak people. According to Hill, what I wrote was inaccurate because I did not refer to a book about the Nukak edited by two Colombian anthropologists, Dany Mahecha and Carlos Franky. Nor did I refer to Franky’s PhD thesis.

This would indeed have been negligent of me – but for the fact that my book was published in 2008 and their work was published three years later, in 2011.

Does the Guardian now expect clairvoyance of historians? The book by Mahecha and Franky sounds important and worthy of your readers’ attention. The same can hardly be said for the fact that I was unable to divine its findings before they had written it.

In any case, nothing that Hill writes invalidates my point that traditional Nukak society had no use for money. The irony will not be lost on your readers that my source for the paragraph in question was Juan Forero, the Washington Post’s Colombian correspondent.
Niall Ferguson
Harvard University




Aber Falls make an excellent family winter walk. It’s two miles up a buggy-friendly track signposted from the bridge in Abergwyngregyn. The falls are a fine sight in spate or frozen. With older children you can return through the spooky forest, or cross the stream and follow the track on to the other side of the valley. Look out for wild horses as you climb high above the coast for views to Anglesey. Drop steeply to the village and the Old Mill Cafe for tea and Welsh cakes. Bendigedig (Welsh for brilliant)!

Hall Walk, Polruan, Cornwall

Take the ferry to Bodinnick from Fowey, then amble through the woods above the creeks towards Polruan. Through winter-bare trees you glimpse boats, herons, jetties and houses with lush gardens. At Polruan, enjoy the busy-ness of boats, eat a hot pasty, or warm up in the Lugger Inn , then take the ferry across the harbour, back to Fowey.






On Christmas Eve, as most of the population are preparing for Christmas, firefighters will be on picket lines up and down the country, with another strike planned for New Year’s Eve.

It might seem odd to the public that firefighters are striking on such significant dates, but the Coalition Government has been doggedly refusing to negotiate throughout the dispute. In contrast, the Scottish government has shown some willingness to compromise and meet the firefighters’ demands part-way.

Speaking with firefighters about their job, about their reluctant industrial action and about the feasibility of them working until 60, you can’t help but be struck by their sense of commitment to the community they serve. Firefighters need to be fit to do their job. In London, with the recent theatre collapse, we have seen how reliant we are on this commitment and physical fitness when we need it.

The Government knows this. Their own review found that two-thirds of firefighters would not be capable of doing the job at 60. They should acknowledge this and recognise that firefighters should not be forced to potentially lose a significant part of their pension if they are not fit enough to serve in their jobs after the age of 55.

With the Government failing to meet for substantive talks, at Monday’s London Fire Authority meeting we agreed to take a cross-party delegation to see the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, to discuss the resolution of the dispute and the financial cost to the London Fire Brigade. This dispute is being caused by national government, but the costs are being picked up by us at a local level.

It is time the Government listened and negotiated in good faith.

Fiona Twycross AM, Leader Labour Group , London Assembly London SE1

Will arms makers help the syrians?

In 1961, at the end of his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” Of all statesmen he was surely the best informed in this area.

After the disaster of Iraq, and indeed Libya, the US and UK have wisely resisted the temptation to pour arms into Syria. There are already far too many weapons in that country. I would like to suggest that the arms manufacturers donate some of their ill-gotten gains for the welfare of Syrian refugees.

As an unthinking young man I joined the RAF, where I learnt to fly and, as a V bomber captain, possibly drop a nuclear weapon on USSR. I am grateful that this military training helped me to get a good peaceful job flying as an airline pilot.

As an indirect beneficiary of the military industrial complex, I have asked that my Christmas present from my wife be a donation to Unicef’s appeal for Syria. I am glad the UK Government is currently doubling such individual donations.

Michael Melville, Northwich, Cheshire

Of course the NHS must be open all hours

Of course the NHS should operate uniformly 24/7 for unscheduled care, as Sir Bruce Keogh has proposed (report, 16 December). Scheduled care could usefully be distributed over seven days of normal daytime hours too, obviating the need for midnight out-patient appointments for day-time workers.

The clinical staff – all functions – need the full spread of support services to run continuously. That means sterile supplies, pharmacy, imaging, blood product supplies, catering, laboratories, transport, portering, laundry and management – even them.

We know it can be done because it used to be done. When I was a houseman  in the late 1970s, on a 104- hours-per-week contract, I had access to freshly cooked meals at any hour of the night and a decent quiet room in which to rest if the opportunity arose – as  did those providing the support services.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Belated justice for Stephen Ward

Whether Geoffrey Robertson QC’s book on Stephen Ward will enhance the fortunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical on the same subject, or vice versa, is intriguing but irrelevant. What matters  is that the combined  force of two high-powered takes on the disgraced osteopath, unveiled simultaneously, may lead  to a retrial of his case.

Geoffrey Robertson, no stranger to miscarriages of justice, makes an unassailable argument for a re-hearing, citing the “moral panic” induced by the Profumo affair, which focused on a viciously demonised Ward and led ultimately to his suicide.

The backstage pressure of the Macmillan government at the time, not to mention the hiding of evidence, police malpractice and the perjury of a witness, required a scapegoat to take the pressure off the establishment. Ward, publicly vilified in the lynch-mob hysteria, was the ideal candidate. His forlorn suicide note – “I’ve given up all hope” – received a stony silence from his accusers.

Showbusiness is not noted for its campaigning zeal, so it’s refreshing to see the worlds of entertainment and the law joined in the pursuit of justice. Too late for Ward. But not for putting right a blatant wrong.

Donald Zec, London W14

A game for the festive season

In the festive season, parlour games are popular.  I have a twist to an old favourite. Readers may recall the silly game played by employees to raise their spirits while having to listen to tedious cliché-filled management presentations. Points would be scored when the speaker repeated overused expressions such as those extolling teamwork and embracing change. “Our employees are our greatest asset”, was the most overused.

Recently, I have been playing the game by spotting the incidence of “the mess left by Labour” and “hard-working families”.  However, the game has stopped being fun, since every – and I do mean every – Tory speaker reprises these two themes on all occasions, whatever the topic being discussed. Are they all issued with the same repetitive material?

Readers should try it; they’ll soon get bored counting.

Tim Brook


Wrong-footed at the national theatre

If the safety curtain had safely made it (Letters, 20 December, “Unscripted drama at the NT”) the feet Andrew Jackson saw (though not in slippers) were not Sir Ralph’s. They were Sir John’s. It is not even as if the two theatrical knights were principally famous for the similarity of their ankles.

Peter Forster, London N4

Christmas lockdown

As Carol Wood (Letters, 23 December) wants a lockdown on Christmas day “to stop, think and enjoy life”, I presume she would be quite happy for electricity supply workers to take the day off in addition to those operating our public-transport services?

Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Christmas 1914 – a beacon in the darkness

As readers will be aware, 2014 will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

By the end of 1914 a number of battles had been fought with significant losses on all sides, and as the year’s end approached it slowly dawned on the various participants that this war would most probably not be over by Christmas after all. The set-piece battles of past conflicts were consigned to the history books and were replaced with the horrors of trench warfare. Though few could have guessed it at the time, the scene was set for a slaughter of Europe’s youth on an industrial scale that would shape the rest of the century.

Yet as Christmas Day in 1914 approached, the guns increasingly fell silent. In many sectors, troops from opposing sides offered one another a hand  of friendship. Soldiers erected makeshift Christmas trees, sang carols together, and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate and other gifts. Some played football.

I find it heartening and yet heart-breaking that such a spontaneous truce was possible. Heartening in that for this short time the youth of Europe could put aside their artificially imposed enmity and join together in the celebration of a common custom, and heart-breaking in that a short time later these young men who had been happily socialising with one another would be killing each other on a colossal scale once again.

I regard the Christmas Truce of 1914 as a beacon of humanity among the unimaginable pain and suffering of the Great War and think that this is a story worth reflecting on as we celebrate the festive season and see in a new year which will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of this tragic conflict.

I wish all your staff and readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Chris Beverley, Wakefield, West Yorkshire




Sir, Demitri Coryton, the editor of Education Journal (letter, Dec 21), is correct that I and others are nostalgic for the age of the grammar schools, with good reason.

Take Derby. There were four excellent grammar schools in the town in the 1970s, all of them taking in more working-class children than middle class. I attended Bemrose, an excellent grammar school securing places by attainment alone at Oxford and Cambridge. It is now comprehensive and in June 2003 was placed in “Special Measures”. Of the other three schools, Derby Grammar School for Boys, founded in 1160, was rated as highly as Bemrose. It was re-created in 1994 as a fee-paying school for the middle classes. So I ask Demitri Coryton, what price social mobility now in the city of Derby?

Don Shaw

(Retired Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Derby)

Sir, Until reading the letter from Demitri Coryton I had not realised that I and my fellow 6th-form students in a local authority grammar school in Leeds in the late 1950s were middle class. Most of us lived in back-to-back terrace houses and council houses. Two of us, of whom I was one, lived in prefabs.

Our fathers engaged in such “middle class” employments as butcher, baker, tram driver, British Rail electrician and prison officer.

Bernard Ackroyd

Great Alne, Warks

Sir, Modern educationists’ primary concern is equality. Favourite phrases include mixed-ability, non-streamed, informal, education-through-play, group learning, child-centred, non-competitive, non-labelling. This system works because advantaged children stimulate and inspire others. Unfortunately, aspirational parents are ruining the nation’s education by buying houses together near better schools or, even worse, paying for private education. Their favourite words include work, selective, streamed, formal, spelling, competitive, discipline, times-tables.

The solution is clear to both sides. Educationists want equality enforced by reducing selective schooling. Aspirational parents want old-fashioned education. Whichever side you take, we can agree that modern education is delivering equality: neither my doctor nor plumber is British, and my bright daughter learnt little all year next to the most disruptive boy in her class.

The Rev Ulric Gerry


Sir, The main objection to private education as we know it is not that it removes children from the state system, but that it removes their parents. So, many people who possess influence and know how to use it have no immediate interest in improving state schools. As Bernard Levin pointed out, if their children went to the same schools as the majority we could expect a dramatic improvement in standards, which might then equal those of countries ahead of us in the league tables.

Jim Dukes


Sir, As a working-class “kid” who, thanks to a grammar school education, read modern languages at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1948-1951, I was momentarily distracted from disagreeing violently with Sir Michael Wilshaw (Dec 16) by feeling fastidious about the lack of elegance in the expression of his views.

Kathleen Kummer

Stoke Gabriel, Devon


Sir, When the green belt was first put in place, just after the war, there was ample space for house building within towns and cities (letters, Dec 20). It is now an anachronism but is rather selfishly guarded, particularly by those who want the brownfield sites to be built upon. Why not allow the building of houses within green belt areas and green up those brownfield sites? This would go some way to satisfying both sides.

Dan Green

Ewell, Surrey

Sir, The battle over the green belt has already been won: it has been overrun by horses and their attendant paraphernalia. I would be happy to find some remnant scrub land locally, but it has mostly been cleared so as not to impede these galloping pets. I now actually believe that building houses with gardens in the green belt would improve it from a wildlife point of view. It is certainly no longer worth preserving in its present state as a refuge for our fauna and flora.

Andrew J. Bissitt

Romiley, Greater Manchester

Sir, Would it be too controversial to suggest that any planning application on a green-belt site be considered only if matched by an application for an equivalent number of households on a brownfield site somewhere, stimulating an element of co-operation and perhaps even cross subsidy between the development companies involved, one not being permitted to proceed without the other?

Bill Woodcock

Lytham St Annes, Lancs

Sir, It is a profligate use of a finite resource to continue to build so many one and two-storey properties. Flats represent a much better use of land and also cost less than houses. Well designed and well landscaped, they are a very attractive option.

Roger Stapleton

Poole, Dorset

Sir, The recent correspondence regarding the protection of green belt suggests the usual solution of using brownfield land for house building. This land is usually former industrial sites with contamination of heavy metals, arsenic, the remnants of town gas lagoons and sometimes worse. This can all be remedied but who is willing to pay a ten per cent premium to buy a house in these locations? The market dictates price and it is based on low development costs, and always will be. The “clean” brown land is mostly gone now — we need to formulate strategies for the future without it.

Keith Hayday

Attenborough, Nottingham



There are alternatives to surgery for those given a diagnosis of prostate cancer and there should be more discussion about these

Sir, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer about a year ago and I notice that your recent Christmas Appeal coverage of this disease seems to concentrate on men who have had the prostate removed.

When I was diagnosed, I was in despair for a while, until some friends put me right and said that the condition is not necessarily fatal. In addition, none of your articles mention what I am assured by my GP is the most common treatment.

I was given a course of tablets, then told I should have an injection in the stomach every three months for life. I had the most recent one last week.

I put weight back on, but will, I think, never need a diuretic. This, however I find controllable. It’s just a case of getting used to it. It is, of course, the hormone treatment, which I am informed is the most frequently used one. So far, it is working. May I suggest that you inform your readers of this possibility. Because there are those who dread an operation and may be discouraged, when none is necessary.

Mike Rooth

Loughborough, Leics

If a jury has not been able to return a unanimous verdict the judge will direct that a verdict with which at least ten jurors agree can be accepted

Sir, In reporting the acquittals in the case against the Grillo sisters (“Nigella: ‘This was a deliberate campaign to blacken my name’”, Dec 21), you assert that those acquittals were majority verdicts. In fact, a jury is never asked whether an acquittal is by a majority. If after a certain time a jury has not been able to return a unanimous verdict in respect of a charge the judge will direct that a verdict with which at least ten of 12 jurors agree can be accepted, but that the jury should nevertheless try to reach a verdict upon which all are agreed. After time for further consideration, the jurors will be asked whether they have reached a verdict on which at least ten are agreed. If the answer is “yes”, the next question is as to whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty. It is only if the answer is “guilty” that the voting figures are sought. If the answer is “not guilty” the verdict is accepted without further question, so the onlooker will not know whether that “not guilty” verdict was a unanimous verdict.

James Turner, QC

London EC4



There are some recipes where the amounts of ingredients recommended leave this reader suspicious, to say the least

Sir, Just four drops of Worcester sauce in a Bolognese recipe based on 500g mince, half a bottle of wine, a kg of beef stock and more besides (“Heston helps older patients get a healthy appetite back” Dec 23)? Methinks Heston attributes homeopathic powers to this piquant product.

Alan Dronsfield

Swanwick, Derbyshire



SIR – Apropos Michael White’s joy of singing in a choir, BBC Radio 2 once listed the Top 100 Songs of the 20th Century. The most surprising entry was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was just one of a handful of songs that, no matter what your age or background, you would be able to sing along with.

A while later, I was watching a news item about a London primary school, where nearly all the pupils were filmed singing Daisy Bell. A teacher told me that they always taught the children Daisy Bell because, apart from the simple and catchy melody, the children love the silly words. I then asked at my local pub, and every one, regardless of their age, could sing it.

Apart from Happy Birthday, Daisy Bell and Rudolph are there other songs that everybody is able to sing along with?

Huw Beynon
Penybanc, Carmarthenshire


SIR – In 1994, I spent six months in Russe, Bulgaria, as part of a gap year. Organisation from the British side was poor; we made use of ourselves by traipsing around schools, offering our services to bewildered head teachers.

However, at the age of 17, I was amazed by the dynamism and passion of the students. Many people my own age, schooled by the state, spoke at least three European languages fluently; they also had many intellectual interests. They were leagues ahead of me and my fellow students from a private day school in Edinburgh. People were desperate, at that stage, to leave Bulgaria, and to find opportunities worthy of their skills and talents, but Europe would not let them in.

When I left Russe at the end of my placement, I feared I might be leaving a whole generation behind. It was awful. However, now that EU restrictions have been lifted, we should welcome people with the skills and the desire to do well, to grow and expand. We should stop railing against the citizens of other countries and focus on the failings of our own national community. It is important that British citizens reacquaint ourselves with our own proud, humane, liberal heritage and apply it intelligently to a changing world.

Madeleine Worrall
London SE22

Stained glass stories

SIR – Joanna Comer wrote of a gruesome story illustrated in a stained glass roundel at St Botolph’s Church at Lullingstone Castle. Another grisly event is illustrated in an adjacent window at the same church. The 16th-century glass depicts the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, who has been shackled to a platform while his executioner turns the handle of a windlass, upon which the saint’s intestines are being wound out of him.

St Botolph’s has many wonderful surprises. It is exceptional in having stained glass windows of every century from the 14th to 18th.

Keith Hill
Rochester, Kent

Elderly driving tests

SIR – Your report about a driver with dementia spending three weeks trying to remember where she had parked her car raises a wider question about the driving skills of elderly people.

If anyone with dementia took the current driving test they would surely fail, so why are people allowed to carry on driving past the age of 70 without taking regular tests?

Hugh Foster
Farnborough, Hampshire

Christmas fares

SIR – Public transport is alive and thriving in Keighley and the Worth Valley over the Christmas period.

On Christmas Day, free bus services are provided by the Keighley Bus Museum Trust. Furthermore, on Boxing Day and then every day until the New Year, a comprehensive rail service is provided by the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

What adds to the delight of these services is that they are provided by qualified volunteers using vintage buses and steam trains.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Having wrapped my presents, I am left with endless bits of paper that might just fit a present next year. Is there, perhaps, a better use for them?

Lintie Gibson
Melrose, Scottish Borders

A Bishop’s residence

SIR – The Rt Rev Peter Hancock, the next Bishop of Bath and Wells, believes that to live in the Palace at Wells is contrary to the Church’s view of being a servant of the diocese.

I am a nephew by marriage of John Bickersteth, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1975 to 1987, and as such enjoyed with my wife and family the great privilege of annual periods of occupancy of the Palace’s domestic quarters.

These quarters constitute a minor part of the Palace complex and they are by no means luxurious; there are also the costs, direct and indirect, of finding Bishop Hancock and his family new accommodation.

Neither Bishop Bickersteth nor any of his distinguished successors ever failed to be anything other than the most devoted servants of the diocese.

James Crowe
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – The Church of England is concerned that having its latest Bishop of Bath and Wells residing in the historic palace will give the impression of “power and privilege”. It is possible that the majority of people would prefer to know that the palace at Wells is the Bishop’s family home in the same way that Buckingham Palace is home to the Queen, as well as the working headquarters of the monarchy.

Julian Humphreys
Doneraile, Co Cork

The show must go on

SIR – The collapsed ceiling at the Apollo Theatre reminds me of a similar, less serious, episode in the Fifties, when some plaster fell from the ceiling at The London Palladium during a show, featuring Rosemary Clooney.

There was only slight disruption, and as no one was injured she appeared and started to sing the then popular This Ole House. When the audience roared with laughter she couldn’t understand why, but after a few seconds, when she realised the implications, she, too, joined in the joke.

P F Griffin
Topsham, Devon

Sounds of winter

SIR – On Friday morning, I was – for the first time this year – woken from my sleep by the dulcet tones of ice being scraped from a car windscreen. Does this mean that winter has finally arrived?

Roger C Bowerman
London W10

Community care will help to solve the NHS crisis

SIR – Doctors do need to improve access and continuity of care in general practice. However, the assertion by David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission, that our emergency system is overloaded because patients cannot access GPs omits to mention that general practice is also overloaded. His belief that this will be solved by hospitals taking over GP services is simplistic.

We fully support greater collaboration between all providers of care within the NHS, but part of the problem for general practice is that we are being asked increasingly to do more for less. Last Wednesday afternoon, as duty doctor, I answered more than 40 urgent telephone calls, saw 12 patients and did an urgent visit as well as routine visits and routine evening surgery. We are at full stretch.

Meanwhile our resources to meet all this extra work is less. General practice accounted for 10 per cent of the NHS budget 10 years ago, now it is less than 8 per cent. Our supporting primary care team has all but disappeared, with 40 per cent fewer district nurses than 10 years ago. We do the best we can but we all return home each evening wishing we had the time and resources to do better.

The Secretary of State for Health has recognised that personal care and continuity by GPs is the answer to the emergency service crisis and overuse of hospitals generally. We agree, and the NHS Alliance is driving a new integrated and collaborative, community-based model of care for an ageing population living with long-term conditions. Rather than see general practice subsumed by hospitals, we believe it is better to break down the historic boundaries and silos that get in the way of truly progressive and innovative community-based patient care. I believe this is a constructive way forward.

Dr Michael Dixon
Chairman, NHS Alliance
London SW12


SIR – While staying in Bristol, I read your report on fracking being planned for half of Britain. My home is in the most heavily drilled and fracked county in the eastern United States. For many residents, it has not been the boon that was expected.

For example, many families no longer have viable drinking water wells. While it may not be chemicals causing the problems, drilling disrupts rock layers and opens new pathways for methane migration. People don’t always know why, but when drilling takes place their water supply can be affected. Every gas well is experimental because no two spots of land or their geology are the same. Do some wells produce gas without a problem? Yes, but some cause huge problems right away. This is a messy technology.

Hopefully British planning and regulatory authorities will exercise due diligence in evaluating gas drilling in advance. I understand the need to produce energy in Britain but I hope that the use of gas drilling and fracking will be limited, and other alternatives that can be better controlled will also be explored.

Ruth B Tonachel
Towanda, Pennsylvania, America

SIR – Glossop, a gateway to the Peak District, is a marginal Tory constituency, and is part of England listed for fracking.

We can’t have any wind turbines here as they would be visible from the National Park, but apparently 50 lorries a day and a flaring gas rig or two is fine. I think we may soon be a very marginal constituency.

Martin Porter
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – The development of shale gas must be done in a way that does not harm the environment. Non-governmental organisations, as well as statutory environmental consultees, should have been consulted in the development of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). They have detailed knowledge on environmental impacts and helped identify evidence that would otherwise not have been included. Independent consultants Amec produced the report and decided on which evidence to take on board.

The SEA is now out for consultation, and industry and others will have the opportunity to provide evidence and feedback, which will be considered.

Edward Davey MP (Lib Dem)
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
London SW1

SIR – Fracking for shale gas could take place in every county in England, except for Cornwall. The distinction could be that there is no suitable shale in the Duchy, but I suspect it’s because there is no room to accommodate fracturing plants, as our beautiful county is already subsumed by wind turbines.

Nigel Milliner

Tregony, Cornwall




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 real scandal at St Vincent’s University Hospital is the overwhelming increase in acutely unwell patient volume since the effective closure of St Colmcille’s Loughlinstown to out-of-hours admissions. The latter falls under the remit of HSE management, an oxymoron if ever there was one, and has led to a doubling of medical and surgical admissions to an already stretched but otherwise efficient and well-run public hospital.

Clinicians of all grades and disciplines are working flat out to cope with the increased demand. The end result is an unsustainable, overcrowded and unsafe mess with significant compromise in delivery of care. Patients are suffering and some will die. What public accounts committee will examine that? – Yours, etc,


Medical Registrar,

St Vincent’s University


Elm Park,

Sir, – Since transparency and accountability requires that the truth be told, I wish to contribute to the national debate regarding the so-called “top up” payments.

When the staffing of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children’s Hospital was being determined between 1996 and 1998, the question arose of how to achieve the very best leadership for the hospital and in particular attract and retain the services as chief executive officer of a medically qualified administrator with extensive experience and international recognition. We, the board of the hospital, were encouraged by the Department of Health at that time to aim high. The recruitment process produced one candidate with credentials matching all the requirements and it was decided to offer him the position.

In the negotiations which took place with the candidate, it quickly became apparent that the salary approved by the Department of Health for the position would not be sufficient to attract the candidate to accept the position. Conversations about the situation took place with the Department of Health in which it was made clear the department could not and would not sanction a salary higher than the approved scale permitted.

It was also made clear that the department would not interfere if a salary higher than the scale could be offered, as long as the additional amount did not come from the public purse. A package was put together within this parameter and the candidate was appointed. He resigned some time later. And it appeared to me that he did so because of the constraints of the procedures, protocols and processes then operating in the Irish health service at a number of levels. He is an Irishman who gained his experience abroad. He continues to operate and perform on the international stage. This was not the first time that such a package was constructed for the chief executive officer of an Irish health institution.

The lessons to be learned from this experience are legion and obvious. Central to them is the issue of both personal and corporate hypocrisy. Like all the rest of us, politicians and civil servants must take care lest their hands are not clean, their hearts are not pure and their souls are not lifted up unto vanity. In pursuing transparency and accountability, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be pursued by all parties and that requires great humility. – Yours, etc,



(Secretary to the AMNCH



Sir, – Donal McGrath (December 21st) criticises José Manuel Barosso’s recent comments on the grounds that German and French banks “fuelled the property bubble here by irresponsible lending to Irish banks”.

In fact, in its report last September, Profiling the Cross-Border Funding of the Irish Banking System, the Central Bank found just 1 per cent of foreign lending to our banks during the property bubble came from Germany. Institutions in France contributed just a fraction of a percent of the total lending to our banks during that period. Several other studies by the Central Bank and independent economists have shown likewise.

So Mr McGrath’s letter begs the question: why is it constantly repeated, as a matter of established fact, that enormous levels of German and French lending to our banks took place during the boom, when this claim has consistently been shown to be entirely false? And more to the point, why are so few commentators willing to challenge this falsehood when it is constantly repeated?

Five years on from the collapse a section of Irish society still seems to be trying to blame foreign bogeymen for a crash which was largely caused by foolish decisions made by Irish politicians and Irish voters. Deep down I think we all know this, and perhaps this is why Mr Barosso’s comments seem to have struck a nerve. – Yours, etc,



Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Occasionally a letter appears that makes one want to cheer the writer, clap him/her on the back and say “I wish I’d written that”. Such was Donal McGrath’s letter (December 21st) regarding European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.

That a man in his exalted position should hold such simplistic views is alarming. He adds insult to the injury done to the Irish economy through endorsing the scandalous manipulation which allowed European banks (mostly German) to get off scot-free after speculating on unguaranteed Irish bonds.

They gambled, lost and got their money back at the Irish taxpayers’ expense. I believe Barroso’s views make him unfit for the position he holds. – Yours, etc,


The Crescent,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I would have thought that Irish expatriates deserve the most credit. Balancing the government books is always that bit easier as long as emigrants continued to oblige. Nothing new here. – Yours, etc,


Heasman Close,


Suffolk, England.


Sir, – As someone who grew up working with animals, mainly horses and dogs, I know there have been many times when the fairest, kindest thing to do is to put an animal to sleep after a long terminal illness where we all done everything we can to help.

Ask any good vet or animal trainer: very sick animals often tell us very clearly when they have given up wanting to live any longer.

If you or I didn’t help that terminally sick animal die peacefully, in a pain-free and dignified way, and forced that animal to live to the bitter end, regardless of the pain or mental suffering, then we would, quite rightly, be prosecuted.

Why, in this progressive land, do animals have more rights to a peaceful, pain free, dignified death than us mere humans do? – Yours, etc,



Co Monaghan.

Sir, – If Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is anything more than a self-serving politician he will support his own rhetoric by enabling the drafting of legislation to address the issue of assisted suicide (Home News, December 21st).

Tom Curran (Marie Fleming’s partner) will need all the support he can muster to keep their campaign going. – Yours, etc,


Point Clear,


Sir, – On the basis that the extra salaries charity chiefs awarded to themselves were more than twice their HSE agreed rate of pay, could we please now change the term “top-up” to what it really is, “double-up”? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Eamonn Meehan of Trócaire (Opinion, December 20th) outlines the rethink about the wisdom of the EU having determined in 2009 that 10 per cent of transport fuel would effectively come from biofuels.

The Lithuanian presidency attached a high priority to getting agreement at the Council of Energy Ministers on December 12th to reduce the biofuels target to 7 per cent. Ireland supported this compromise, but the proposal was defeated. Trócaire wanted a reduction to 5 per cent, a proposal supported by only four member states.

Mr Meehan criticises the Irish vote and argues that “each percentage point reduction would amount to millions of acres being handed back to food production”.

I find it difficult to reconcile that statement with his criticism of the Irish vote. Surely it was better to reduce the target to 7 per cent than defeat that compromise and allow the original target of 10 per cent stand for the foreseeable future? The 10 per cent target will now remain in place, whereas if one of the member states advocating a 5 per cent target had voted for the 7 per cent compromise then “millions of acres would have been handed back to food production”. – Yours, etc,


Minister for


Sir, – Michael O’Regan writes that during a recent Dáil debate on the Constitutional Convention report there was “unanimous” support for a referendum on same-sex marriage, and that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had said that “the House had agreed there was a need for constitutional change and that a referendum should be held” (Dáil report, December 18th).

Both Michael O’Regan and Alan Shatter seem to have got a bit carried away. No vote was held in the Dáil on the issue, so it is simply untrue to say that the Dáil had agreed a referendum was required. Also, just 12 members of the Dáil spoke during the debate, meaning 153 TDs have yet to express an opinion on the matter. This was not because the other TDs had no interest in debating the matter but because, as is now the norm, the Government guillotined the debate to just 90 minutes.

Given that such a small number of people had a chance to express a view, it is ridiculous to suggest the Dáil holds a “unanimous” view on the issue. Furthermore, if Mr Shatter is so confident that a unanimous view exists, then I presume he would have no difficulty in allowing a free vote on the issue within his own party when the matter comes before the Dáil once again? – Yours, etc,


Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross, Dublin 6W



Sir, – Following the “fake interpreter” debacle at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela in South Africa last week, two general observations can be made in relation to Ireland.

While the incident has heightened awareness among the public that interpretation is a profession with high standards to be upheld, especially between signed and spoken languages, many of us are keen to point out that such an incident is not solely confined to South Africa. These situations can, and do, arise frequently in this country. We have come to know about several Irish cases where the requirements for professional interpretation have been flouted with quite hazardous consequences. Non-qualified persons are often procured for interpreting tasks ranging from meetings with medical consultants to interpreting for defendants standing before the courts.

We hope policymakers take notice of this, and realise that the interpreting profession needs to be strictly regulated in order to protect the interests of all users of signed and spoken languages.

However, this hope seems to be somewhat dashed given the recent important “state of the nation” speech by the Taoiseach last Sunday. It was disheartening that there appeared to be no attempt to interpret his speech into Irish sign language. It gives one little hope that the legacy of Mandela will be respected, or that such exclusionary provision of service will not be tolerated anymore in this country.

Credit is due to the Irish Deaf Society for placing a translated version of the speech online for the benefit of Irish Sign Language users. Let us hope that we can learn from this episode, and that policymakers take heed. – Yours, etc,


Oldcourt Road, Dublin 24.


Sir, – The Society of Irish Foresters is strongly opposed to this proposed merger. We believe it has the potential to seriously damage the development of Ireland’s forestry industry.

Coillte and Bord na Móna are engaged in fundamentally different industries. Bord na Móna is involved in the industrial exploitation of peat resources and in developing a renewable energy portfolio. However, it is not in Ireland’s interest that this development should be underpinned by the exploitation of forests for low-priced fuel to generate electricity when the peat supply is exhausted. Coillte, on the other hand, produces timber from sustainably managed forests for use in manufacturing added value products, predominantly for export markets.

Coillte, together with private growers and the wider forestry industry, can create the economies of scale required to build a viable world-class forestry and forest products industry in Ireland which will provide sustainable employment in rural Ireland. The best way to achieve this is through a clearly focused Coillte which can optimise the multiple values of its forests for all our people. – Yours, etc,


President, Society of Irish

Foresters, Glenealy,



Sir, – I see that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny “rules out votes for all in Seanad elections” (Home News, December 19th). However, there is no doubt that all citizens should be allowed to vote in the Seanad elections, but not just for 10 per cent of the Senate (six out of 60 senators). The six should be changed to at least 20. For example, the Taoiseach’s nominees could change from 11 to zero (six plus 11 equals 17) and the number of nominees for the five panels could change from 43 to 40 (17 plus three equals 20) or some other combination.

It’s just an idea. But, behind this idea is an expanded enfranchisement to all citizens. I understand a referendum is needed for significant structural change, so why not use such a referendum to maximise the reformation so clearly desired by a large number of voters. The easy option is to expand the votes for the six seats to all third-level students and graduates, but that is not a sufficient sharing of the rule-resource properties of power. For the record, I am a graduate of UCG (now NUIG). – Yours, etc,



Sir, – In commenting on its “Big Bang in Pyongyang”, a spokesman for Paddy Power defended the move by suggesting it was hoping to “sidestep politics” (Home News, December 20th). Hopefully it can “sidestep” North Korea’s callous dictatorship, widespread famine, everyday brutality and the absence of political and religious freedom with equal sanguineness. – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow.


Sir, – Christmas 2013: austerity? Sure it’s madmas out there! – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,


Sir, – No more Diarmaid Ó Muirithe columns (Home News, December 23rd)? Words fail me! – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.



Irish Independent:


* Christmas is a time when we celebrate simplicity and redemption. This year, two leading lights of the world were quenched. In the autumn we lost Seamus Heaney and in winter Nelson Mandela also moved on. Both men were exemplars and champions of truth, though the greatness of each was cloaked by modesty and integrity.

Also in this section

Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all

Letters: Support our own causes

A Christmas message

Each struggled with doubt and uncertainty and in the empty spaces found sustainable nuggets of wisdom that will shine long after their passing.

Unsurprisingly, their passing was marked more by a celebration of their accomplishments than by mourning. We lost something but because their sum was greater than their parts, they left us the richer for their being.

Seamus Heaney wrote that: “I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original centre.”

What a lovely thought, we all flow and are carried from and to a source. To him the world was a celebration of the processes of life, he spoke of purification in the grounds of our beseeching. Every battle for understanding and enlightenment was worth the fight and, like Nelson Mandela, he had many victories.

Like Madiba, he understood that insight knows no limits and he once noted that: “I credit poetry for making the space-walk possible.”

Also like South Africa’s most famous son, he did not set much store by boundaries or walls of confinement. Hope’s lantern always burned in his heart even though he accepted that “as writers and readers, as sinners and citizens, our realism and our aesthetic sense make us wary of crediting the positive note”.

Mandela, too, was indifferent to high praise. He scoffed at notions of sainthood, insisting he was an ordinary man who sinned.

Mr Mandela was adamant that: “It is amazing how many things are impossible until they are done.”




* My niece rushed into the sittingroom the other day wild with excitement. In the eight-year-old’s trembling hand was a gold envelope with a broken seal, inside of which was a note from the North Pole.

Santa had written to her personally assuring her that she had got herself on the ‘nice list’. This was no mean achievement.

It required not missing a day at school, being nice to her two brothers — something that required more effort than a 100 years of homework — but it had all paid off now.

The nice list, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, it got me thinking about our belief in magic and enchantment. In particular, it reminded me of the great hopes we have all invested in the ‘Growth Fairy’.

According to Michael Noonan, growth, that great benevolent economic enchantress, will transform us from being bonded to austerity and retrenchment perpetually, to full prosperity in a matter of months. Bah humbug, to those of you non-believers who doubt the purveyors of the dismal science, the elves of the ESRI or the good burghers of IBEC, who are all singing off the same hymn-sheet.

The hymn in question is ‘Joy to the World’, and anyone who sounds a bum note will be kicked out of the gallery.

It is not that I have any problem in believing in growth; it is just that I feel the real heroes of the piece, the working man and woman, are somehow wiped out of this epiphany.

The extra hours put in, the increased workload borne by the few after the many have been made redundant; those who shoulder the levies and the taxes; those for whom there is no real room at the inn when it comes to celebrating the great miracle of the birth of growth; these are the ones I would like to see recognised and exalted.

Despite the slavish devotion, few reap the rewards. And those whose labours and exertions are responsible for producing growth are never invited on to the high altar.

A star was born in the east and it shall be known as ‘growth’. Follow yonder star. The meek may indeed inherit the Earth, but only after the profits have been extracted and the dividends paid to the big stake holders.

R D Ellis



* The healthcare budget of the public acute system has been mauled over the last four years. This is set to continue into 2014. Nothing should be allowed to divert attention from this reality.

There are two consequences. The first is that service provision, especially for patients seeking access to the public system, has been cut to pieces. The second is that medical stress has increased across the public system, putting more pressure on staff. Notwithstanding new institutional structures, the dysfunctionality and the contradictions in policy are very evident.

What has been presided over — the cuts and the ‘savings’ — has depopulated the public system of medical and nursing staff.

We know from the international data that cuts of this nature and on this scale will ultimately cost far more to put right than the putative ‘savings’ to meet short-term budgetary ‘targets’. The departmental allocation to health, and therefore the allocation to the HSE, is wholly inadequate.

Government policy is, as a consequence, disingenuous. A fictional ‘overspend’ has been injected into the policy narrative, when the reality is that funding of the public acute system falls far short of what is required.

The Government appears to be in denial of the facts and the truth with which senior clinicians and management are having to contend; and it’s not for lack of being told. This is unworthy of the kind of dialogue to which patients and the public are entitled.




* It was Christmas Eve in a supermarket and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one.

In desperation, she called over a shop assistant and said: “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?”

“No,” he replied. “They’re all dead.”




* Two girls wait for Santa’s Christmas smiles, while likewise their cousins wait across the miles

They spread girly joy where ever they go, but in their dreams they play with snow

Torn between the hot and the cold, still daydreaming of new versus old

Lots of festive lollies and candy to chew, they’d prefer granny’s baking and Irish stew

Seeing loved ones on Skype is not quite the same, between lifestyle and loans, who’s taking the blame?

Carols will be sung but not in Irish voices, I guess that’s what it’s like making life’s choices

A kookaburra sits squawking in his tree, while in my mind’s eye it’s where a robin should be

For us there’ll be no foggy Christmas Eve, but red hot beaches and sun to receive

Barbequed food can be great when you eat it, stuffed turkey and roast spuds surely could beat it

It’s not fair to be pondering as time goes on by, on all that we’ve lost, and gained and why

Christmas just seems so upside down, but a sleigh that goes worldwide must still serve all towns

‘Tis the season to be jolly but in WA there grows no holly

So merry Christmas to all and to all a good year — let’s hope the love grows between Eire and here.






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