Pottering again

30 December 2013 pottering
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. It turns out that due to en error of navigation, they w were married at sea, Captain and Mrs Povey are not married. Priceless.
Potter around sort instagram and chrome
Scrabble today I win and get just under 400,  Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Márta Eggerth , who has died aged 101, was an actress and singer from the “silver age” of operetta. She sang the role of Adele in Max Reinhardt’s 1929 production of Die Fledermaus in Hamburg; starred with Judy Garland in Me and My Gal; and appeared in more than 2,000 performances of The Merry Widow on both sides of the Atlantic.
Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kálmán were among the composers who wrote for her, while the conductor Clemens Kraus pleaded with her to forsake operetta and instead dedicate five years to studying Mozart in Vienna — but to no avail.
Márta Eggerth and her husband, the Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, were one of the most glamorous musical duets in Europe, often referred to in the press as the liebespaar, or “love pair”. Their Broadway appearance in The Merry Widow choreographed by George Balanchine brought glamour to wartime New York, and for many years after the war they toured it around Europe in five languages.
Operetta was at its height in Old Europe. Although Gustav Mahler had described it somewhat dismissively as “simply a small and gay opera”, audiences flocked to see works that fell somewhere between opera and the modern musical. Many were turned into films by the burgeoning Berlin studios of the 1930s. In 1932, for example, Márta Eggerth appeared in seven films, including Lehár’s Es War Einmal ein Walzer (released in Britain the same year as Once There Was a Waltz) with a screenplay by Billy Wilder.
Asked on one occasion why she had chosen not to pursue a career in opera, Márta Eggerth — who was sometimes known as “the Callas of operetta” — replied: “Grand opera is very nice, but the light operetta is best for me because I have the temperament for it. Operetta can show love, but never murder.”
Márta Eggerth was born in Budapest on April 17 1912, the daughter of a banker who was a talented amateur pianist and of a dramatic soprano who gave up her singing career for her daughter. Márta was eight when she sang an aria from The Barber of Seville, and she made her stage debut at 11 in Pál Ábráham’s operetta Mannequins. The press declared her “Hungary’s national idol”, and by the age of 17 she had toured Europe several times.
Kálmán engaged her at the Vienna State Opera to understudy for Adele Kern, a well-known coloratura, in his operetta The Violet of Montmartre, and after six performances Márta Eggerth was called on to step in when Kern was indisposed. The critics declared her a sensation, and Reinhardt invited her to Hamburg for Die Fledermaus.
Now the German film directors came calling, and soon she was working in Berlin, where she made more than 40 movies. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Márta Eggerth had seen Kiepura, who was 10 years her senior, in Puccini’s Turandot and vowed that one day she would marry him.
But it was not until 1934, when they were both working on the set of My Heart is Calling You, with music by Robert Stolz, that they first met. At first she found him cold and distant, but they married in 1936.
With the rise of the Nazis the couple, both of whom had Jewish mothers, planned to settle in southern France; but at the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe they were in New York, where Kiepura was busy singing Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera.
Their respective careers now blossomed in the United States — his in high opera, hers in operetta. She went to Hollywood to make Me and My Gal (1942), but her big number, The Spell of the Waltz, ended up on the cutting room floor of a studio that felt there was room for only one star – Judy Garland. (Márta’s effort survives on a director’s cut album.)
She also appeared with Garland in Presenting Lily Mars (1943), but by now Tinseltown had lost its appeal. “I hated Hollywood – hated it,” she once told Anne Midgette from the New York Times. “I was used to playing the lead, and in Hollywood I was second.”
Back in New York with her husband, the couple embarked on their Merry Widow marathon, conducted by Stolz. Soon they had acquired an elegant house at Rye, north of New York City, where they entertained the likes of Vladimir Horowitz and Marian Anderson.
After Kiepura’s sudden death in 1966, Márta Eggerth withdrew from the stage. Other than occasional television appearances she was hardly seen until 1984, when she sang in Seattle with Diana Rigg in Colette, a musical based on the life of the French writer, though it failed to reach Broadway. She also appeared in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Pittsburgh.
In 1999, 70 years after her debut, Márta Eggerth returned to the Vienna State Opera, where she reprised a medley from The Merry Widow in four languages and was rewarded with a standing ovation. Afterwards she was accosted in the street by an elderly passer-by. “Excuse me,” he asked, “weren’t you once Márta Eggerth?”
There was also an interview-in-concert at the Wigmore Hall in London in 2001 and occasional Berlin-style cabaret appearances at the Sabarsky, a Viennese-style café in New York. A CD of her greatest moments was released in 2003.
In 1935 Márta Eggerth told an interviewer from the New York Times of how she abstained from alcohol, a practice she continued all her life. When her inquisitor challenged her about her predilection for Tokay, the Hungarian wine, she chortled, and scolded him with the words: “Tokay, this is medicine.”
With or without alcohol, her career had been so busy in the 1930s that Márta Eggerth did not always have time to enjoy the fruits of her labour. Victor Janson’s The Blue from the Sky (1932) was one such film; her mother had simply told her that it was “good”. Márta Eggerth finally saw it for the first time in 2010 when the Museum of Modern Art in New York included it as part of the Weimar Cinema: 1913-33 season, the announcement of her presence drawing gasps of amazement from the audience. Touchingly, she was still able to hum along to the music.
On another occasion she recalled how, while renting an apartment in pre-war Vienna, she had agreed to a neighbour using her piano while she was out. “I came back, the whole room was dark with cigar smoke and there were socks on my bed. He was a little crazy. It was the conductor [Otto] Klemperer.”
Asked at the time of her 100th birthday how it felt to reach her centenary, Márta Eggerth, ever sprightly, replied: “I don’t know. You must ask me when I am 200 what it was like to be 100, and then I will be able to tell you.”
Márta Eggerth is survived by her two sons.
Márta Eggerth, born April 17 1912, died December 26 2013


• Neither of your articles celebrating the centenary of the crossword (100 down, Review; Never a 5, 4: how the word cross was born 100 years ago today; both 21 December) mention the acrostic – surely, an ancestor of the crossword and arguably the origin of the cryptic clue. Ronald Knox published a book of acrostics in 1924 with an introduction tracing the history of these puzzles back to “the Latin poet Ennius (ob. 169BC)”. Some of Knox’s cryptic clues are quite hard!
Malcolm Thick
Harwell, Oxfordshire
• I was outraged to read the term “bosses” applied – twice – to trade union leaders in one article (Report, 27 December). Unions, unlike employing organisations, have democratic constitutions and their leaders are subject to election by the membership. Please ask your journalists not to use the hostile terminology of the Daily Mail.
Richard Hyman
Emeritus professor of industrial relations, St Albans
•  This year I ordered the Christmas fare online. Unfortunately, when it came to brussels sprouts I entered the figure 1 under items instead of kilograms. The groceries duly arrived and among them, in its own plastic bag, labelled and barcoded, was a solitary sprout – price 4p. Pretty expensive, I thought.
David Larner
Kelvedon, Essex
• Boxing Day, page 38, article by Priyamvada Gopal on the “cult of the super-rich”. Page 4, “Pick of the bargains”: shoes reduced to £535, a coat for £970.
M Jenkins
•  May I point out that, as good Guardian-reading socialists, we should all be in favour of the continued establishment of the Church of England (Letters, 27 December)? After all, it’s the only remaining nationalised industry.
Rev Christopher Griffiths

I can’t believe the statement by transport minister Stephen Hammond “that it was a matter for independent train companies to decide if it was in their commercial interest to run services today” (Report, 26 December). These “independent” companies are the ultimate welfare queens, trousering vast amounts of public money at no risk to themselves. They can and often do walk away from these contracts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill, after taking vast sums of free cash. They are reliant on public funds for their operation and should therefore be told by ministers that they will run services on Boxing Day and any other day that the funders say trains should run.
To blame Labour for this is ludicrous. It was the Tories who privatised the railways and turned them from being a public service into subsidised profit-making operation. It was said, at the time of privatisation, that these entrepreneurs would invest in the railways and wouldn’t need government subsidies. Perhaps we should let volunteers run the railways on public holidays in line with David Cameron’s “big society”.
John Stringer
• High winds and heavy rainfall led to widespread disruption to rail services due to trees on the line. After privatisation of the rail network, standards of routine lineside vegetation clearance were dramatically reduced as a cost saving. Trees were allowed to grow to maturity and sections of rail routes across the country quickly became “green tunnels”. The fallen tree count had already passed 200 by Christmas Eve.
Christopher Hughes
Street, Somerset
• Would the billions of pounds earmarked for HS2 not be better spent on weatherproofing our existing railways and other infrastructure?
Brian Moss
Tamworth, Staffordshire

I would like to thank the Guardian for continuing to give good coverage of Northern Ireland when most of the British-based media virtually ignore what goes on here. You expose the extent to which paramilitaries are still engaged in substantial levels of intimidation in the communities in which they are located in hard-hitting pieces by your correspondent, Henry McDonald (Report, 28 December), giving voice to the suspicion, widely held, that a blind eye is being turned to these activities to sustain the fiction that these groups are still on ceasefire.
What your readers will not know is that the lord chief justice of Northern Ireland has just struck down a decision made by the Sinn Féin minister for agriculture on distributing EU farm subsidies, at the behest of a case brought by the DUP minister for finance: one executive minister against the other. The Haass talks may yet succeed on the areas of flags, parades and how the atrocities of the troubles are dealt with, but there are plenty of other structural problems to resolve within the Belfast agreement institutions which increasingly do not provide for effective or good governance.
Professor Emeritus Bob Osborne
• It is not widely known that Tony Blair secured the political deal in Northern Ireland by saying all salaries to politicians would be stopped in the event of a failure to agree. You say (Editorial, 28 December): “The negotiators face a hard choice between tribal assertiveness and practical compromise.” Perhaps Dr Haass, currently battling with the same people on the display of national flags etc, should be aware that the hardest choice these negotiators ever faced was that of not being paid.
David Beake
Wymondham, Norfolk

This has been a depressing month for those who care about the UK’s record on human rights and justice.
Despite mounting evidence of the involvement of UK officials in the rendition and torture of detainees overseas (MI6 ‘turned blind eye’ to torture of rendered detainees, finds Gibson report, 20 December), we’ve seen a likely U-turn over there being a judge-led inquiry, as well as an important civil court case on rendition struck out by the high court.
The Libyan national Abdel Hakim Belhaj’s civil action against the UK over his rendition to Libya has been described by the presiding judge as “well-founded” (Report, 21 December). So it’s deeply disappointing that the court has accepted the government’s argument that UK officials should benefit from immunity for acts committed by agents of foreign states and that it would somehow harm our relations with other countries or even our own “national security” to allow the claim to proceed.
Ministers from Mr Cameron down are willing to talk about human rights and justice in the context of selected foreign visits, but at home “national security” seems to trump human rights every single time.
Allan Hogarth
Head of policy and government affairs, Amnesty International UK
•  Previously we were encouraged by the coalition’s commitment to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into the UK’s post 9/11 complicity in torture. Yet Sir Peter Gibson’s detainee inquiry failed to meet human rights standards from the start. Now the government has passed the buck to the secretive intelligence and security committee, hinting that this will obviate the need for a judge-led process. We do not see how a less transparent and independent process can expose the truth and restore the UK’s reputation as a promoter of the rule of law.
We work with 1,500 torture survivors a year. We know from experience that redress is essential for them to move on and rebuild their lives; but the government’s actions thrusts them to the sidelines. They and the UK public deserve accountability. Unless the prime minister delivers a proper human rights-compliant inquiry he will lose the moral high ground he sought to assert when he came to power. Instead he will face accusations that he has slowly but surely become part of the whitewash.
Keith Best
Chief executive, Freedom from Torture
• Is this really what centuries fighting for the rule of law have come to – that the CIA would not like it?
Julian Le Vay
•  Given the profoundly unsatisfactory outcome to Belhaj’s “well-founded rendition claim”, it seems appropriate to this rank and file Labour party member of 35 years that our party should show how it feels about Jack Straw’s role in this sordid chapter in our country’s history by petitioning the leadership to deny him a peerage on his retirement from the Commons in 2015.
David Helliwell
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
•  The British state has increasingly used its powers to inflict punishment without trial or any burden of evidence. The latest target has been the former Guantánamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg, now deprived of his passport on grounds that it is “not in the public interest” for him to travel abroad (Home Office confiscates Moazzam Begg’s passport, 23 December). He had been exposing the UK’s crimes in outsourcing kidnapping and torture, as well as publicising these crimes globally; apparently the home secretary equates a cover-up with the public interest.
This year Theresa May also has deprived at least 20 people of their UK citizenship, on grounds that they endanger the “public good”; they have no legal redress because they were abroad at the time. On similarly vague grounds she attempted to deport the Australian Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield, though fortunately her attempt has been rejected by the immigration appeals tribunal (Report, 24 December). These arbitrary, unaccountable powers should be opposed as a threat to us all.
Les Levidow
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
• While the government and MI6 dodge and weave around the issue of the abduction and torture of Belhaj, Alexander Blackman [the marine recently convicted of murdering a Taliban insurgent in 2011], one of our many heroes, languishes in a British jail. We have to decide, once and for all, whether we will protect our people or pursue all injustices. If we choose to protect, as we seem to be doing in the case of Belhaj, Blackman must be released immediately.
Neville Woods
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire


It is a tragic irony that the billionaire entrepreneurs behind the Seasteading Institute (“A tax haven on the high seas that could soon be a reality”, 27 December) should squander wealth amassed through businesses dependent on the rest of society on seaborne communities designed to avoid reciprocating the relationship.
The world view of these “libertarian free-thinkers” intent on removing themselves from “the restrictions of nations, welfare systems and punitive taxes” does not extend, it seems, to recognising the role played by the global community in creating the financial means by which they plan to cast themselves adrift – other than helicopter “access to land-based hospital facilities” or for imported labour to do the “dirty work in exchange for a wage and a place to stay”.
The hubris on which such technocratic visions are based is evident in every expression of their DNA: lacking even the most superficial understanding of the wider social and environmental implications of the word “green”, their solar-panel tokenism simply underscores the extent of their disconnect with the real imperatives of our planetary predicament and their indifference to the challenges humanity faces.
Anyone who has seen the film Elysium will have been mortified by its dystopian vision of extreme inequality, where a hyper-privileged minority retreats to a vast satellite community but one which, poignantly, is still dependent on the subjugated masses remaining on a ravaged Earth for its continued existence. Life, indeed, imitates art.
Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire

The super-rich may be able to avoid taxes by living at sea in floating cities and therefore free from any national tax regime.
However, there may be a drawback to this splendid idea. Queen Elizabeth I authorised privateers to plunder foreign vessels  at sea. Perhaps in the Second Elizabethan Age we ought to follow this example where “seasteads” are concerned.
John Naylor, Ascot, Berkshire

Recently, I learnt that I could hire the yacht RV Pegaso for a week at a cost of £441,000, rent an island off Grenada for £300,000 a week, or spend seven nights in a bulletproof chalet in the Austrian Alps for just £231,088.
There is just one small problem: I have insufficient funds for any of the above.
Bearing in mind that there is a limited number of pop stars, Lottery winners and footballers, I find myself wondering who is able to afford such luxury and what do they do to earn enough money to pay for such expensive holiday breaks.
This letter is not written out of envy, as I have no desire to go on a yacht, live on an island or spend a week in a bulletproof chalet.
There must be many in the fortunate position to be able to afford these activities, otherwise the owners would have to offer their services for considerably less. But  just what do they do for a living?
In an age in which there is so much poverty, the need for food banks, and hundreds having to sleep rough, we really are faced with the old social divide of them and us.
Colin Bower, Sherwood, Nottingham
British aid makes a difference to Africa
Peter Popham (World View, 27 December) is right that we are a major supporter of South Sudan, but he has misunderstood how British aid works. Recognising the results we are delivering does not mean that we view the country through rose-tinted glasses.
We know that there is no easy route out of poverty and conflict. Britain’s targeted aid projects are measured against specific objectives and realistic goals to ensure that aid money is spent well.
It is right that we do not leave countries like South Sudan to descend further into crisis and failure. Funding provided this year is already allowing agencies to scale up their response to the current crisis, including medical supplies and surgical staff. While we are under no illusion about the challenges still facing the country, this is making a real difference to the lives of people in South Sudan.
That is why, alongside our emergency humanitarian funding, we have a long-term development programme to build a brighter future for the people of South Sudan.
Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, London SW1
The proposed “temporary transfer” of UN peacekeeping troops from other trouble spots in Africa to South Sudan is the clearest indication that the crises in Africa are stretching the UN to breaking point (“More peacekeepers for South Sudan”, 26 December).
With Africa hosting eight out of 16 UN peacekeeping missions in the world, and with concurrent violence in Egypt, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, the UN is likely to be overwhelmed, unless urgent measures are taken to have a standby pool of peacekeeping troops from Africa. The only alternative is to deploy Nato troops if Rwanda-like genocide is to be avoided.
Sam Akaki, London W3
Another view of Kate Losinska
Your obituary of Kate Losinska (26 December) smacked more of hagiography than a balanced assessment – starting the piece with “Heroism was in the very soul of the woman who fought a 20-year battle for the future of trades unionism in Britain”. Goodness, what modesty.
In fact, she was a virulent right-winger who used the right-wing press to attack the left in the Civil and Public Services Association. For example, Bernard Levin in The Times could always be relied upon to “expose” the names of left-wingers standing for election and to support the right wing.
One “fact” seems to have evolved over time. Your obituary notes that “Reform of the block-voting system led by branch meetings of activists was a cardinal aspect of her campaign”. In fact, the successful campaign for the individual vote for union members was launched by the left. She opposed the campaign initially, seeing it as another plot to attack the right. Only when her adviser Charlie Elliott realised that the right could take advantage of such a reform did she swing to supporting the campaign.
Mike McGrath, Leeds
Real hunt supporters are few in number
This year’s claim by the hunting fraternity of “a quarter of a million supporters at more than 250 Boxing Day hunts” averages out at 1,000 supporters per hunt, but just how viable is that figure?
For every high-profile venue, there are dozens attracting just a couple of hundred at the most. And these people, who drift back to the pub as the hounds move off, can’t be counted as “supporters of the repeal of the Hunting Act” any more than the 30,000 who packed Lewes’s High Street for bonfire celebrations can be used as justification for the reintroduction of burning traitorous Catholics at the stake.
I would admire the hunters if they were open in their defiance, but instead they sneak about in isolated corners, hunting foxes in the old way and intimidating monitors who get in their way.
The only way you usually see them is when they’re galloping in pursuit of hounds as they rampage after a fox through your back garden.
Dave Wetton, Tonbridge, Kent
Parents know where to draw the line
I am an 80-year-old grandparent and have had two girls of my own. How Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson (“Children’s tsar wants smacking to be illegal”, 28 December) can talk about the morals of smacking children in the way she does bewilders me, in particular her conclusion: “I have never understood where you can draw the line between one [physical chastisement] and the other [physical abuse].” If a parent cannot make that distinction, heaven help us.
The idea of bringing yet another piece of criminal legislation to bear on the home is horrifying. There are already ample laws to protect children: the problem is that they are not enforced – as with the virtually non-existent prosecution of female genital mutilation.
Ralph Copnall, Barnet, London
kalashnikov’s debt to the Germans
The big omission from reports on Mikhail Kalashnikov and the  AK47 is the debt the Russians owe to German arms manufacturing. The AK47 owes an enormous amount to the Wehrmacht’s MP44, the world’s first “assault rifle”, introduced in 1944. The designs, on the outside, are close to identical.
David Boggis, Matignon, France
A word of agreement
Do I agree with Terence Blacker’s list of words and expressions that ought to  be banned (26 December)? Oh, absolutely.


Sir, There should be an immediate public inquiry into the reasons for the disastrous failures of electricity, rail and air services over Christmas (reports, Dec 27, Dec 28). In essence the engineering work required is straightforward. Provide alternative electricity inputs to vulnerable distribution systems; improve railway permanent way maintenance to remove trees and other potential hazards; improve surface drainage to prevent localised flooding and land slips; where necessary, build new flood defences; and ensure that immediate and accurate information is provided if failures do occur.
However, this requires investment. Essential infrastructure must have sufficient investment to provide the back-up necessary to withstand reasonably foreseeable events. Are weather extremes really so much worse than before, or are private operators failing to deliver where their nationalised predecessors succeeded?
David Newland Freng
Emeritus Professor of Engineering,
Cambridge University
Sir, We have just emerged from nearly three days without electricity which meant, no water (borehole supply) no heat (oil-fired boiler) and obviously no light. All were overcome to a degree by recourse to camping gear and the use of the ample supply of rainwater. In 18 years of living in rural Hampshire we have never previously been cut off for more than half a day. All credit to the hard work and hours put in by the repair crews, however, gazing into the flames of the log fire and listening by torchlight to the radio telling us how difficult it has been to get to sites of damage two thoughts cross my mind.
First, why can’t the Army help in these situations? Overcoming physical obstacles quickly with machines, men and ingenuity is what they are trained to do. Second, in recent years very many fields that were previously open have been securely gated and padlocked, presumably to guard against travellers. If this has been a cause of some of these extended delays (and five minutes with an angle-grinder would open any field gate) then perhaps some rules and regulations need looking at?
Three days, in midwinter, is too long.
Peter Blair
St Mary Bourne, Hants
Sir, The Government is spending more than £2.3 billion tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion which is more money than ever before (report, December 27). With any new scheme the priority is always to protect homes and we are on course to protect 165,000 by 2015 — 20,000 more than our target.
Funding will increase further from 2015 when the Government will be spending £370 million each year on new flood defences, rising to more than £400 million in 2021.
This will help better protect a further 300,000 homes.
George Eustice
Environment Minister
Sir, Charles Humphries (“Dickensian season”, letter, Dec 28) neglected to mention whether he wrote by pen and ink or by more modern means such as email.
Of course, for the truly authentic Victorian Christmas experience,he could have posted a hand-written letter on Christmas Day andit would have arrived at The Times before the sun set.
Peter Sergeant
Loughborough, Leics

The geomagnetic storm which caused a blackout in Québec was in 1989, not 1999 (“Met Office looks out for damaging storms — in space”, Dec 26)
Requests for corrections or clarifications should be sent by email to feedback@thetimes.co.uk or by post to Feedback, The Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1TY

Sir, Philip Collins (“Will Welby ever make the case for God?”, Opinion, Dec 27) rightly reminds the Church of England that the Christian faith has no monopoly on compassion, but he adopts a lofty, under-informed critique about the factual basis on which the faith is contingent.
Not only is the historical narrative more compelling than he allows, but so is the experience of those who have put the faith into practice. We live in an empirical age, and so we might have expected critics of Christianity to have tried it and then critiqued it. Those of us who approached it as a working hypothesis to be tested have grown ever more deeply committed as it delivers what it promises — even to intellectuals.
Perhaps G. K. Chesterton was right when he wrote that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.”
The Rev Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden
Chaplain to the Queen, and Canon Theologian, Chichester Cathedral
Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church should do more to make the case for the Christian faith. However, to dismiss the Christian narrative as unable to withstand “the probing questioning of an inquisitive seven-year-old” is altogether too casual. Yes, the miraculous events described in the Bible may test our credulity but a God who is unable to do the miraculous would be no God at all.
Serious questions have been asked of the Christian faith by many intelligent people who have found answers that satisfied them. Mr Collins mentions some books but there are others that make the case better. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison are two of many. Strobel was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and an atheist when he began to investigate the evidence for Jesus. Frank Morison was a journalist who began his book with the intention of disproving the Christian narrative. Both men became convinced Christians.
I would encourage all who have questions about the Christian faith to look into it with an open mind. They will find a much stronger case for Christ than that generally presented in the media.
Mark Franklin
Bromyard, Herefordshire
Sir, Philip Collins cannot be correct when he asserts that the Church of England must find better arguments for the survival and continuance of its belief. Empirical analyses would invalidate the Immaculate Conception and transubstantiation as implausible, but what is wrong with such innocent and popular beliefs? I am a secular expatriate but I love the idea of Christianity as a unique expression of love and compassion, charity and a great source of moral support at times of anguish and hopelessness.
Sam Banik
London N10
Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church of England “should concentrate on devising retorts that didn’t collapse under the weight of their own evasions”. However, when he tells us that the theological basis for the Church’s political involvement is found “notably in the Gospel of James” one begins to wonder if he has read the documents he does not believe in.
Marcus Paul
West Monkton, Somerset

Sir, Further to your report “Millions for wind farms to switch off” (News, Dec 27), it is true that wind farms are paid money not to produce electricity when the grid is stretched — but so are most other electricity generators. As your report indicates in the penultimate paragraph, “constraints payments” are used by the National Grid to regulate the system. Anyone not reading that far, however, would miss the key fact that puts the issue into context: wind accounts for only about 10 per cent of constraints payments, which means that 90 per cent of payments go to gas, coal and oil, etc.
Wind is more flexible than most generators and is therefore easier to take off the system at short notice when the grid is at capacity. Constraints payments are necessary due to the current inflexibility of the grid — the issue would exist even if there were no wind turbines. However, once a reliable interconnector with the Continent is in place there should no longer be a need for constraints payments, and we will be able to sell the excess electricity we produce to other countries.
John Mills
Partnerships for Renewables

Cromwell’s challenge to unjustified authoritarianism demonstrates his continuing relevance — including in Putin’s Russia
Sir, In the preface to the 2008 edition of her seminal biography of Oliver Cromwell, Antonia Fraser writes that the 18th-century Russian radical Alexander Radischev regarded Cromwell (letters, Dec 26 & 23, and leading article, Dec 20) and the Parliamentarians as a “standing challenge to political systems like the Russian autocracy of the Tsars”. This telling reference demonstrates not only the continuing relevance of Cromwell, but the need to ensure that his achievements (accepting that not all were positive) remain widely known and understood — including in Putin’s Russia.
Now it seems that the Cromwell Museum at Cromwell’s birthplace in Huntingdon is threatened with closure as a result of planned budget cuts by Cambridgeshire County Council, so it is to be hoped that all those who acknowledge Cromwell’s significance as a standing challenge to unjustified authoritarianism will add their voices and their resources to the campaign to keep the museum open.
Stephen Hockman, QC
London EC4

SIR – David Cameron’s programme of commemoration for the First World War does not mention soldiers from the Empire who were drawn into the conflict.
There is great ignorance of the fact that thousands of Canadians, Australians, Indians, Africans, West Indians and New Zealanders were in Britain and France. In the case of New Zealanders, there were 131,000 in hospitals here, out of a population of less than a million. At Ewshot, Hampshire, where 5,000 New Zealanders were based, there is nothing to mark their presence.
Mr Cameron’s outline also neglects the suffering of the civilian population. The Defence of the Realm Act turned military towns like Aldershot into armed centres with such limited civil liberties that they resembled later towns in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Murray Rowlands
Camberley, Surrey
SIR – My father-in-law, Jim Purfield, joined the newly created 8th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent, in September 1914. After a year of training in southern England, the battalion, untried in battle, was pitched into the Battle of Loos on its second day. After a disciplined march across open ground, the battalion was decimated by fire from three sides.
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I remain, Sir, disgusted after all these years…
27 Dec 2013
Cpl Jim Purfield’s diary records: “Ultimately got caught in a proper trap in front of barbed wire from L and R flanks. Stuck it for a time, losing heavily… Awful time, but boys stuck it grandly and behaved splendidly. Lost the battalion myself and wandered around for the rest of day in reserve trenches trying to find them again. Spent night in dugout in evacuated trench.”
Jim survived and, like many others, kept his memories and experiences to himself.
Alistair Riach
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Dr Brendan Crowley (December 27th) writes of the case of an 84-year-old lady with Alzheimer’s disease whose medical card was cancelled as the HSE received no reply to its validation exercise. For this he personally blames the Minister for Health and insults him by suggesting Dr Reilly cares more about cars than people.
Advocacy on behalf of one’s patients, an integral part of the duty of a general practitioner, is demeaned by such low-ball attacks. Blaming the Minister for every action of the HSE is as illogical as expecting the HSE to know the personal circumstances of the particular patient involved.
GPs have a history of not telling the HSE when their patients have died and it is therefore not unreasonable to frequently check on those whose longevity has surpassed the statistical life expectancy.
Better behaviour by all concerned would be helpful. – Yours, etc,
General Practitioner,

Sir, – Dr David McConnell makes a compelling case (Opinion, December 24th) for the acceptance of GM technology in the context of good science and the possible benefits that could accrue for the less fortunate. He is correct in thinking there can be a degree of hysteria in the arguments put forward with regard to the potential doomsday impact of exposing the natural environment to GM crops. Nature is in a continuous process of genetic mutation albeit in at a more sedate pace.
The real concern, which Dr McConnell seems to brush over without significant comment, is both economic and thus political.
The generation of intellectual property through the GM effort is seen as a lucrative source of income for many corporations, including Monsanto, and thus the prospect of the food chain becoming increasingly controlled by private unelected entities is real.
Where will that leave struggling farmers in the third world, who could benefit most from the science of GM but could then also become trapped by its implementation? This is the real debate that is needed on GM. – Yours, etc,
Linden Avenue,

Sir, – Barry Walsh’s letter (December 24th) misrepresents the Central Bank’s Economic Letter Profiling the Cross-Border Funding of the Irish Banking System by Dermot Coates and Mary Everett. First, it is not a Central Bank report; the paper notes the “views expressed are solely the views of the authors, and are not necessarily those held by the Central Bank of Ireland or the European System of Central Banks”.
More importantly, the document specifies two important caveats to the analysis. The first concerns a compositional shift in the statistical reporting population. A number of banks active in the Pfandbrief (German covered bonds) market were considered as Irish headquartered banks for statistical reporting purposes, and formed part of the Irish data between 2002 and 2011. Many of these banks were European and their activities would not now be included in Irish data; however they were regarded as Irish banks for the purposes of this study.
The second caveat concerns the location of ultimate asset ownership, the so-called City of London effect. International data limitations prevent looking through the veil of transactions via off-shore centres and intra-group funding, and thereby partially distort the geographical profile of foreign borrowers. It means the study does not reflect the extent to which finance sourced by Irish banks in London, New York and from off-shore financial services centres may have originated elsewhere.
Mr Walsh also states the “Central Bank found just 1 per cent of foreign lending to our banks during the property bubble came from Germany”. The document states: “Germany was the source of approximately 11 billion or 25 per cent of total foreign funding at end-2002. Thereafter, absolute German funding fell quite quickly to . . . 1 per cent by end-2007”, a rather different thing. It also finds “Pfandbrief banks headquartered in Ireland accounted for nearly 80 per cent of this funding” and as noted earlier, the real nationality of these banks cannot be determined.
Also, while Mr Walsh mentions only lending by German and French banks, I (December 21st) explicitly cited lending by British banks as well. The document he quotes found the “interbank market in the UK was the primary source of wholesale funding for the Irish banking system”. Moreover, Mr Walsh’s letter missed the central point of my criticism of Mr Barroso’s refusal to consider retrospective funding for Irish banks. Mr Barroso’s justification for this position is that Ireland must pay the cost for the failure of its own regulatory authorities and the Irish banking system; the failed institution/country bears the costs of its failures. However, applying this logic to lenders who recklessly fuelled the property bubble here and therefore ended up with exposed loans would force these institutions and bondholders to carry the cost of these failed loans. Instead, Europe insisted all bondholders, including unsecured, unguaranteed bondholders, would be repaid by the Irish taxpayer. The Irish government gave in to these European demands, saddling the country with huge debt into the future.
The consequences of “foolish decisions made by Irish politicians and Irish voters” as Mr Walsh describes them, have indeed been imposed on the Irish taxpayer, but the usual outcome of reckless speculative lending has been spared the bondholders and banks who made them, regardless of their country of origin. – Yours, etc,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Of all the masses of verbiage about our precipitous fall from the heights of the boom to the lows of the bailout, Natasha Abdul Aziz’s article stands out as a gem (“It was great while it lasted, Ireland, but it’s time to say goodbye”, Opinion, December 23rd).
She captures magnificently the atmosphere of the boom. The “showy” offices and houses, the “flash suits and fancy cars”, the “reckless abandon” were all so “intoxicating”.
But then “the bottom fell out of our world” and we became “mean”, “petty” and “selfish”. We started to say that it was all the fault of the mostly foreign, other fella.
However, at the end of it all, she thinks that a “glimmer of hope is still there”.
It takes an outsider to see what the rest of us, who are involved in the grim day-to-day details, cannot see.
What puzzles me is why enough of those, who were in a position to know about the dangers of what was happening during the boom and not be intoxicated by it, did not become mean, petty and selfish on behalf of us all and blow the whistle on the reckless abandon. – Yours, etc,
Shielmartin Drive,

Sir, – I’m waiting with baited breath for John McGuinness to call a number of our Ministers to the Public Accounts Committee to give an account of themselves regarding “top-ups” they gave to their advisers. What chance? – Yours, etc,
Castle Park,

Sir, – Christmas Day is the only day in Dublin when there are no trains or planes whatsoever, an absolute silence which makes it easier than ever to hear the never-ending burglar alarms of those who’ve gone away until New Year. – Yours, etc,
Claremont Road,

Sir, – Memo to all those motorists still driving around with silly red noses and reindeers’ antlers on their cars; the New Year beckons, for goodness sake get a grip. – Yours, etc,
Glendasan Drive,
Harbour View,

Sir, – Your photograph (Barry Cronin, Front page, December 27th) projects the picture postcard image of foxhunting, the alluring pomp and pageantry of this traditional English pastime that England has banned.
What nifty blood red or shining black jackets the hunters wear as they set off on their festive pursuit of Reynard. And what lovely white breeches and well polished gleaming jodhpurs they wear. Not to mention all those impeccably behaved hounds scampering past cheery sightseers. Almost any one of the hunt images that surface in the newspapers at this time of year wouldn’t look out of place on a Christmas card.
Unfortunately they present a misleading picture of foxhunting. We never see a photograph of a fox at the end of a hunt, on the point of exhaustion, its lungs spent and the dogs closing for the kill. No pictures either of this much-maligned wild dog of the countryside having the skin ripped off its bones in a melee of orchastrated savagery.
Instead we have again the feel-good colour pieces and happy-clappy snapshots.
I accept photographers and journalists have to make a living, but no amount of whitewashing can alter the truth about this blood sport. I have witnessed the cruelty firsthand and I can assure your readers that the agonised death of a hunted fox by disembowelling is not a pretty picture. – Yours, etc,
(Campaign for the Abolition
of Cruel Sports),
Sir, – Alan Barrett of the ESRI overlooks a key fact (“Emigration to fall as economy improves”, Front page, December 25th, 26th & 27th) that your “The picture improves” Editorial (same date) also overlooks.
Your Editorial states, “employment has increased significantly, with 58,000 more at work, a 3.2 per cent annual increase”. Besides the fact that the 58,000 figure was based on a limited survey and may be out of line, a significant thing about it is: two-thirds of the work was of the low-income sort that is more attractive to immigrants than to our “highly educated” natives. Such work is like asking our highly-skilled young jockeys to settle permanently for being point-to-point riders instead of going abroad permanently to get money to afford expensive US lifestyles when married. Mr Barrett ignores that lifestyles factor.
We’ll continue to have some high-income work. But most of the new work that will arise as/if our economy improves enough, to offset the further shrinkage that is still necessary in some public and private sectors, will be of the low-income sort. At best most of our “highly-educated” will use them as temporary stop-gaps.
We should cheerfully think and plan in terms of 75 per cent of our current generation cheerfully emigrating permanently by the age of 30. – Yours, etc,
Sandford Road

A chara, – I was at a most joyful “Gospel” Mass in Cabinteely, where the priest announced the collection taken up at all Masses recently in the Archdiocese of Dublin for Syria and the Philippines totalled the staggering sum of €1.3 million.
Over a couple of hours in one weekend in November, at the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses, the faithful contributed this amazing amount of money for people in an other country of many religions and none – in their time of hardship.
The Catholic Church in Ireland does wonderful things from time to time and shows that the spirit of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” has real meaning for ordinary Catholics in their every day lives. This is the Catholic Church leadership and their laity at their best.
May the people of these two countries adversely affected by the calamities which befell them enjoy the fruits of this aid and hopefully 2014 will be a better year for them. – Yours, etc,
Willow Road,

Irish Independent:

Eamon Delaney’s balanced article on Charles Haughey’s position in Irish politics gave a different perspective from the generally held view of him. In fact, as Mr Delaney states, Mr Haughey did not invent ‘cute hoorism’ in Irish political life.
Also in this section
Letter of the week: Dole out soup, Enda
Letters: Light of Marie’s flame will shine
Letters: Sirens break peace
That term dates back to the enactment of the Local Government Act 1898. Gerald Balfour, responsible for its passage, introduced democracy into the Irish countryside.
At one stroke, Mr Balfour had destroyed the political and economic power of the old Protestant ascendancy.
Their successors — the plain people of Ireland — carried the tradition of ‘jobs for the boys’ inherited from their ‘masters’ over the previous hundreds of years.
This was not unique to Ireland as one has only to look at the governance in the former colonies of Africa where the now ruling classes there learnt their trade from their former colonial masters.
On another matter, that Mr Haughey destroyed Anglo-Irish relations similar to how Jose Manuel Barroso seems to believe that our last government destroyed the eurozone.
However, it now seems from the state papers that Garret FitzGerald spent his energy trying to make Margaret Thatcher happy.
People should read her autobiography in which she states that she found Mr Haughey easy to get on with — “less talkative and more realistic than Garret FitzGerald.
“Charles Haughey was tough, able and politically astute with few illusions and, I am sure, not much affection for the British.”
She also states as a matter of interest that she explained the question of the hunger strike to the Pope when she met him in Rome and, as a result, the Vatican brought pressure on the Irish hierarchy to call on the prisoners to end their strike which they did, although it did not please her that the hierarchy urged the government to show flexibility.
Finally, she states that Mr FitzGerald had “little time for the myths of Irish republicanism and would like to secularise the Irish Constitution and State, not least — but just — as a way of drawing the North into a united Ireland”.
“He was a man of as many words as Charles Haughey was few,” Mrs Thatcher wrote. And he was inclined to exaggerate — much more than Mr Haughey — the importance of essentially trivial issues, she added.
* Clearly the writer of the letter ‘No men allowed here’, (Irish Independent, December 28), doesn’t know how well off he is. He decries the sexism of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA).
Would he consider for a moment that the female-only members of this organisation may have male partners at home — happily, I opine — bereft of their spouses on the occasions of local guild meetings and their ancillary keep fit classes, Zumba dancing, and other events too numerous to mention?
Does the above writer wish to deprive the multitude of males left behind on the above occasions their freedom to enjoy the peace and serenity of home and the meals prepared and labelled in advance with microwave instructions for such absences? Let’s have a bit of brotherhood here.
* Referring to Saturday’s letter on Bethlehem, yes it is beautiful — I spent nine days there a few years ago and really enjoyed the experience.
I visited the manger at 6.30am one morning and the atmosphere was magical but, later on in the day, it was ruined by the Israeli army corralling the Palestinians into pens as they got on to buses.
It was harrowing for them and they have to put up with it every time they wish to leave or re-enter their town. Surely the PLO are not responsible for that as Len Bennett seems to think? Anybody who has visited the area will be aware of the continuous harassment the Palestinians have to endure as a daily consequence of the Israeli land grab.
It is unfortunate that so many Christians have left the area but, perhaps if pilgrims stayed in the West Bank rather than Jerusalem, it would provide a livelihood for some Christians.
1014 MUST EQUAL 1916
* The millennium of the Battle of Clontarf occurs next year. The year 1014 was a momentous one in our history, and should be comparable to 1916 and its proposed commemoration in 2016.
Yet, apart from my letter — which you published in your newspaper on December 1, 2010 — I have seen nothing about it since. How about it Bord Failte? Tom May
* My new year resolution is not to make a new year resolution.
Tom Gilsenan
* Colette Browne’s review of the year (Irish Independent, December 27) was both witty and insightful. However, I was surprised that she attributed blame to the IMFs Ajai Chopra for Ireland not burning the bondholders as part of our bailout deal.
The reality is that, from the very beginning, the IMF was in favour of the bondholders taking a hit. It was our good friends in the ECB who insisted upon us taking on the burden of debt by paying the bondholders.
Now that any chance of a retrospective deal on our bank debt looks increasingly unlikely, is it not time for the Government to ask the Attorney General to examine the letter from former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet, which forced us into these payments in the first place?
John Bellew

* I got through two of three books during the Christmas festivities. The first tome, ‘I am Malala’ concerns the story of a young girl living in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
Malala (12) dreamt of being able to educate herself and have a life rather than follow the traditional route of an arranged marriage at the age of 14.
She tried to make her dream a reality and attended school until she was shot in the head by the Taliban.
Education for women was shunned by the Taliban who were imposing a strict version of Islamic law that forbade the education of women. They started a campaign of bombing schools and beheading teachers.
Another tactic was to throw acid in the girls’ faces for attending school, so they had given the 50,000 girls being educated in the Swat Valley an ultimatum, or suffer the consequences.
Malala survived the assassination attempt despite being shot in the head at close range. She has met world leaders, appeared on television screens worldwide and continues her aim of trying to convince factions in her home country of the benefit of educating their daughters.
Words of wisdom that jumped out from the pages uttered by this girl were: ignorance allows politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be elected.
The second book, ‘The Escape’, by Gerry Kelly MLA, pieces together the story of one of the most audacious prison breakouts in modern history.
He played a lead role in the meticulous planning and organisation of the escape from Long Kesh prison in 1983.
According to sources in the British government, it was escape-proof. The words that stuck in my mind after reading it were: it always seems impossible until it is done.
J Woods
Irish Independent


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