5 January 2014 Peter Rice
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather has been poster and the new Wren fancies Leslie, who can’t take yes for an answer, Priceless.
Peter Rice comes windows, insulation soo I hope it so cold
Scrabbletoday I winjust pip her at the post, and gets just over300, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Martin Miller, who has died aged 67, was a charismatic entrepreneur and bon vivant, and after co-founding the bestselling antiques price guides that bear his name (and made his fortune) went on to become a successful hotelier.
Once described as “the Richard Branson of the antiques world”, Miller failed his 11-plus but developed a natural flair for business, spotting gaps in the market which took him into such diverse fields as publishing diaries, devising and marketing his own premium brand of gin, and running country hotels.
With his second wife, Judith, in 1979 he established Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, publishing it annually for nearly 20 years. It became an indispensable handbook for many a bargain hunter at car boot sales, and offered shrewd advice to the more sophisticated saleroom buyer, especially on the crucial question of the hammer price. Someone contemplating a bid of £50,000 for an Italian rococo chandelier, for example, might think again after consulting Miller’s and discovering that even £23,000
After his success in publishing, Miller began investing in property, and in 1985 opened the first of a string of successful hotels, Chilston Park, a 17th-century timbered house in Kent. In 1997, after his second marriage ended, he opened Miller’s Residence, a Victorian-style boutique hotel in Notting Hill, with his third wife, Ioana. Stuffed with antiques, baubles and curios, it was described by The Sunday Telegraph as leading guests into “a bygone age, and a different, richer, more exotic world than the one they’ve left outside”.
The centrepiece was a 40ft-long drawing room — an extravagantly theatrical space upholstered in red velvets and brocades, and crammed with books, pictures, candlesticks, clocks, small tables, sofas, stools and chairs. Miller decorated the eight en suite bedrooms on the two upper floors with equal flair, naming them after English romantic poets.
He went on to establish Glencot House Hotel at Wookey Hole in Somerset, selling it in 2011, and Great Brampton House in Herefordshire, where he refurbished the upper floors in a £1 million makeover and transformed the lower ground floor into a 6,000 square foot gallery space housing contemporary art works.
In 2006 the couple opened Miller’s Academy of Arts and Science in London, offering lectures and debates to feed what Miller identified as middle-class intellectual hunger caused by the dearth of intelligent programmes on television.
would be over the odds.
The son of an insurance salesman, Martin John Miller was born on November 24 1946 in Worthing, and educated at West Tarring Secondary Modern School, an experience he would later describe as “crap”. As a schoolboy his early business ventures included hamster breeding, publishing a magazine for local teenagers, and (when he was only 14 and never having had a girlfriend) a mail-order dating guide called Success with the Fairer Sex, instructing readers on points of etiquette such as remembering to wash their hands, and politely opening car doors. He advertised it in Exchange and Mart and for two years sold between 50 and 100 copies a week.
On leaving art school in Brighton, Miller spent three years as a freelance photographer, working mainly in the weddings and baby business, until a chance meeting with an antiques dealer in 1969 piqued his interest in old furniture.
Finding that no reliable guide to antiques prices existed, he put one together himself and, with his business partner, Tony Curtis, devised the first Lyle Antiques Review, naming it after Tate and Lyle sugar because “we wanted a familiar name with authority”.
This became a bestseller, and by the mid-1970s Miller was enjoying a period of semi-retirement before marrying his second wife, Judith Cairns, with whom he co-founded Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, and shared a Gothic mansion in Kensington, having sold the title for £2 million in 1994.
As a collector of antique furniture himself, Miller adopted a relaxed approach to the business of interior furnishing and design, rather than following a master plan. “I’ve just thrown everything together,” he insisted.
Twice in his career Miller opted out of the rat race in favour of the quiet life, each respite lasting four years before he returned to the business of making a living. “I got caught up in a lazy lifestyle, held lots of parties, had very long lunches, played masses of games of chess and led a very unstressful life,” he recalled. “But it can be very expensive.”
In 1999 he diversified once more into the project he considered the toughest of his career, launching Martin Miller’s Gin, partly to satisfy his wish to create a perfect martini — his favourite tipple — but mainly to buck the trend at a time when it was fashionable to drink vodka. “If the big boys are piling out of gin in favour of vodka,” Miller reasoned, “then maybe it’s time for me to do something with gin. That’s been our strategy ever since. When they zig, we zag.”
He also continued to develop new hotel businesses, mainly in the south-west. Miller’s at Tors, Lynmouth, on the north Devon coast, was followed by a bistro-style inn at Porlock; this month he had been due to open a second establishment at Lynmouth, Miller’s Arts Hotel. His other business interests included a pizza company and a travel website.
As well as Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, he published Miller’s Collectables Price Guide (with Judith Miller, annually, 1989–98); the Antiques Source Book (annually, 2000–06); The Complete Guide to Antiques (2003); and many other books on antique collecting, furniture and period style. He also published a volume of poems, Disjointed Noughts (2006).
He remained a maverick. “I’ve never had a job or wanted one,” he noted once, “and if I don’t like something I’m doing or it becomes boring I just dump it. I think it’s in the genes. I’m not a worrier and I never try too hard. I suppose I’m just lucky.”
Martin Miller’s first marriage, in 1966, to Elaine, was dissolved in 1975. His second, in 1978, ended in 1992. He married, thirdly, in 2001, Ioana Beju. She survives him with the three daughters of his first marriage and two of his second.
Martin Miller, born November 24 1946, died December 24 2013
I both give and buy from charity shops and consider everything I buy to be a bargain (“Charity shops under fire for prices beyond means of poor“, News).
On the day of the article, I went out wearing a complete outfit from charity shops and all good-quality high street or better names, totalling just £64. And, no, they weren’t tatty and, yes, I received admiring comments on how I looked, followed by amazement about where I’d bought them.
As for buying gold jewellery, why should you expect to get a lower price for something like that in one shop as against another? The right price is the right price. People want their donations to raise money for worthy causes, not to give others easy pickings, and charity shops have a duty to keep that in the forefront of their pricing policy.
It’s worth pointing out that many people still believe charity shops operate entirely for free, forgetting that although most shops receive a discount on local authority rates, their landlords and the electricity, water, gas and telephone companies all demand full payment. Shop fittings, bags, coat-hangers, tickets, etc have to be bought. Most charity shops pay for staff, too, a cost that covers itself in increased turnover.
Margaret E Hanlon
I have been a volunteer in a charity shop for over 10 years and in that time have seen a change from the possibility of a bin bag being full of dirty, smelly and damp donations that had to be sorted just in case there was something at the bottom of some value, to a state where we are given an apology if the clean, immaculate clothes have not been ironed.
We now receive goods that may have cost hundreds of pounds new and antiques also worth hundreds. We also have supermarket clothes and modern knick-knacks.
Should the prices for each be the same? As volunteers, donating our time, energy and occasionally washing machines, our satisfaction is counting the money at the end of the day and realising what good that can achieve.
Does that make us greedy or is that the customers who pick up an armful of designer clothes at knock-down prices and then sell them on eBay, or pay a pittance for a pot and then toddle off to Flog It! to sell it for a small fortune?
I am confused by last week’s article on charity shops. Its headline suggested that charity shops’ prices were too high for the poor, yet the quotes moaned that gold necklaces and Yves St Laurent jackets were no longer available for a pittance.
The poor are not interested in designer wear. They want cheap, clean, second-hand clothes and the charity shops still provide that.
For the rest of us, the hunt is not for a bargain (which would deprive the charity of much needed funds), but for oddities, cheap and delightful. Those who want the expensive items should pay the proper price for them. Stop being greedy.
Bargain-hunters complain that charity shops have lost their fun. That is surely not what they are for.
Even selling things cheaply to the poor may not be compatible with the charity’s aims and objects, if these are the welfare of (say) the blind, or animals, or starving children in Asia and Africa; in that case, the shops ought to charge as much as they can get for their goods, so as to have more they can spend on the beneficiaries.
We welcome the article “Domestic violence to carry jail term under US-style law“, (News). However, Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service and Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation are spearheading this new domestic violence campaign. We jointly drafted the new DV bill that will go through the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and harassment at the beginning of January. We have joined together to campaign for a new law that criminalises domestic abuse. We know some of the most dangerous cases happen when domestic abuse, stalking and coercive control co-occur. This is where women and children are more likely to be murdered and early identification and intervention are vital to saving lives.
The laws used to prosecute domestic abuse, including breach of a restraining order, damaging property, assault, burglary, rape, kidnapping and murder, do not describe its essence. They miss the fact that domestic abuse is about fear and a pattern of continuing acts. The Crown Prosecution Service only prosecutes for a single event and tends to focus on the injury level. Put simply, the criminal law does not conceive many women in abusive relationships as victims of ongoing abuse.
More information about the new DV Campaign is available on Paladin’s website paladinservice.co.uk/
Director, Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service
And on behalf of Rhea Gargour
Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation
Be fair to Fathers4Justice
Last week’s piece by Barbara Ellen “What a crummy strategy from Fathers4Justice“, said more about her prejudices than it accurately reflected the content of our Kate Winslet advert: “Kate, every child deserves their father this Christmas.” For the record, Fathers4Justice never condemned Kate Winslet for her parenting arrangements. We produced a proportionate, balanced advert that addressed Winslet’s unprecedented attack on 50/50 shared parenting in Vogue magazine.
Winslet has refused to retract her comments, which were distressing to many fathers at a time of year when they would not see their children. Fathers4Justice didn’t run the advert because we are anti-mother, we ran it because we are anti-inequality.
Sadly, Ellen was more concerned with the sensitivities of a Hollywood star than addressing the serious social justice issue of mass fatherlessness. She also airbrushed out the on-the-record support for Fathers4Justice by Winslet’s ex-husband Jim Threapleton and omits to mention that the ad campaign was run by a mother of two children, not misogynists.
Just compare her vilification of Fathers4Justice with the deification of Femen and Pussy Riot in the media.
Mother of two and campaign director,
Be realistic about immigration
It may serve the Observer‘s rhetorical goals to put all concerns about immigration (“Beware this populism sweeping across Europe“, leader) under the catch-all of “populism” (because of its negative moral connotations), and it is certainly valid to point out the economic benefits of well-intentioned immigrants to the UK, but you fail to address the real concerns of many.
You make an assumption that we must maintain an economic growth model and so we must grow our population to support that. Many of us recognise the unsustainable consequences of that expansionist model and understand that we need to begin to wean ourselves off that fatalistic conception and produce and act on a plan for immigration (not to mention population) growth that is not ideological but pragmatic.
Osborne’s phony claims
Addressing the CBI as recently as May last year, George Osborne repeated one of his numerous obfuscations: “Monetary activism and using the government’s balance sheet to support private investment are only possible because of the credibility and low market interest rates that our deficit reduction plan has earned.” Yet, according to Daniel Boffey: “The markets believe the base rate will increase to 3% by 2018, with what the Resolution Foundation describes as ‘huge social and human cost’,” (“Mortgage rise will plunge a million into ‘perilous debt’“, News). As interest rates look set to rise, likely after Mark Carney‘s intervention, perhaps the chancellor will stop claiming that his policy has kept interest rates low.
So very wrong about Brazil
Will Hutton (“Which will be the big economies in 15 years? It’s not a done deal“, Comment) refers to Brazil and Mexico as “Latin-American autocracies”, vulnerable – according to Acemoglu and Robinson’s questionable analysis – to national “failure”. Brazil and Mexico are pluralist democracies. They’re imperfect. But they are in no sense “autocracies”. Grand cross-national comparisons can’t be built on such gross misconceptions.
Professor of the history of Latin America,
St Antony’s College, Oxford
How I agree with Michael Desborough’s and John Hannett’s comments (22 December), regarding showing respect to shopworkers, especially at Christmas, but also to realise just what it means for them and their families when they are required to work on Boxing Day. Exactly what can anyone possibly want or need that can’t wait another day?
I watched the news in which a family was being interviewed. The mother just kept shrugging when asked what she or her children might want, apart from spending their Christmas money, when the day before they’d been loaded with gifts. Others thought it was fun to stand in the cold for hours until the shops opened in the middle of the night. What a crazy world. I’m sure it was much more fun when sales started on 1 January, but 27 December would be better than Boxing Day, then all shopworkers could have a bit more of a break. Can’t someone make a new law?
What is never discussed are the statistics on retail income for this particular day. Many of those “shopping” are actually bringing back all the carefully-chosen gifts they’ve received to get a refund, and they will stand in a queue for hours to get it.
I was so pleased to find that Tesco was closed on Boxing Day, along with Waitrose and John Lewis. They have made a stand. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody else did as well and give all our hard-working shop staff the decent break they all deserve?
DJ Taylor may have a point that 1973 was the most significant year in recent British history but the reasons remain open to debate (29 December).
The economic crisis caused largely by the end of cheap oil after the Arab-Israeli war in the autumn of 1973, led the subsequent Labour government to call in the International Monetary Fund and begin an era of cuts in public spending which we remain stuck in.
The energy crisis was surely the key though. Tory Minister John Davies told his family it might be their last Christmas. While this has been supposed to refer to the influence of trade unions that Taylor refers to, it may be that Davies had appreciated, as indeed had the shadow Energy Minister Tony Benn, that more expensive energy would challenge the economic model that British society was built on. Forty years on this still seems to be very much the case.
If smoking doubles the risk of dying from a stroke (“Cigarettes damage your brain” 29 December), isn’t it time we protected the majority of the population who don’t smoke? Since this unsavoury habit was banned from public places in 2007, non-smokers have had to run the daily gauntlet of exiled addicts belching smoke from every doorway. If ever there was an example of the law of unintended consequences, this is it.
“The way we… drove” and “the way we… travelled” (29 December) don’t mention either buses or trains, the modes of transport used by millions like myself who don’t have a driving licence. Yet I thought you were committed to public transport?
So, according to Dom Joly, for “two weeks after the holiday… nobody is back to work” (29 December). Well, for those of us who are back to work on 27 December (and sometimes work through Christmas, too) that is insultingly dismissive. Without the “nobodies” manning the airlines, he wouldn’t be in Hong Kong at all.
It would be a big mistake for Labour to do early deals on the possibility of a Lab/Lib Dem coalition in 2015 (“Balls no longer sticking point in Lib-Lab coalition”, 29 December). The Lib Dems are finished, and to flag up this possibility will encourage Lib Dem voters to stay loyal to their principle-free party, so harming Labour’s chances. Ed Miliband should rule out any form of coalition and go for the outright win that is entirely on the cards.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
The Scottish no campaign must stand up and fight
I AGREE with the no campaign that there is a real danger of Scotland becoming independent, not by argument but by inertia (“Tories fear Scots will break away”, News, last week). Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, makes promises that will cost an arm and a leg to implement, yet his statements go largely unchallenged.
The no campaign is run by figureheads, not leaders, and there is little sign of someone who will inject some impetus into the fight to preserve the union. Perhaps David Cameron should forget about foreign affairs for a while and concentrate on this burning issue.
Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirlingshire
Votes for all
Lord Forsyth declares that the Scottish independence referendum “has implications for the whole of the United Kingdom”. He is right and everyone in the UK should be allowed to vote on whether Scotland remains a part of our country.
Stanley Hooper, Pissouri, Cyprus
Divided at heart
When will Cameron introduce a referendum asking the English if they would like to break away from Scotland? I suspect a majority would vote to say goodbye. They could also be asked if they want to break away from Northern Ireland and Wales.
Melvin Haskins, Barnet, London EN5
We’re alienated too
While the economic structure of the European Union is balancing on the head of a pin and Cameron is making feeble gestures to protect UK sovereignty, he seems to be ignoring his own back yard.
The centralising power grab of Tory, then Labour, politicians from the 1980s has rendered local people impotent to affect their lives. It isn’t just the Scots who feel alienated from the London-centric seat of power and finance.
Bill Newham, Worsley, Manchester
Is panic now setting in at the Better Together campaign? All Salmond needs to do is keep quiet between now and September and let Michael Forsyth carry on being the best recruiting sergeant for a yes vote for independence.
James Noel, Aberdeen
Small fish, big pond
Most rational Scots, like us Welsh, know that we are a small island in a large global bowl and that it would be madness to break the union.
It is time that the Better Together campaign led by Alistair Darling makes the case. The Scots are far too wise to break away, but they have to know that if they did they would be on their own. It is time some of the nationalists entered the real world.
Ray Jones, By email
He who shouts loudest
The majority of thinking Scots are opposed to independence, having thought through the economic and social arguments, but there are some things that should worry us.
While using the lavatory in Edinburgh Waverley railway station last week, I overheard some men bemoaning the fact that it cost 30p to access the lavatory, blaming David Cameron for this (despite the fact that these entry fees were introduced during the previous Labour administration, and the current Scottish government has done nothing about them) and saying this would surely be one of the first things to go after independence. We’ll sort these English bastards out was their war cry.
The whole concept of saying something often enough and loud enough may indeed work if it is not challenged. That is why the Better Together campaign has to take its gloves off.
Harry Barker, North Berwick, East Lothian
No way to win
I wondered how long it would take the no campaign to wake up to the fact that its negativity is off-putting to voters.
I know a few undecided who have been so scunnered by the doom and gloom and “it willnae work” that they’ve decided to vote yes on the basis that at least it’s showing some guts and positivity. I’ve seen nothing that would tempt me to change my mind and vote no. I’d like to hear no campaigners try to convince us of the positives.
Nicola Kerr, By email
Blood goes begging
THE problem is that there is no facility for people to donate blood on impulse (“Needle fear leaves shortage of young blood donors”, News, last week). I have seen people turned away because the quota for walk-in donors has been attained. Many are happy to have tattoos or body piercings, so they can’t be scared of a needle.
Colin Underhill, By email
As a teacher, I have never understood why donor sessions aren’t held more often in colleges and schools with sixth forms, so students (and staff) can be encouraged to donate.
David Wirth, London SE21
Young and willing
I am 26 and have given blood 17 times since my first year of university. My nearest session is still at a nearby university building and last time there was a 30-minute wait — even with an appointment. In my experience there is no lack of willing young donors.
John Kipling, Sheffield
Defence against flood of criticism
WE ISSUED advance warnings to more than 90,000 homes and businesses at risk of coastal and river flooding, including those along the Medway and at the Iford caravan park, Christchurch, Dorset (“Agency in deep water for unleashing flood”, News, last week). River flows in the Medway and its tributaries were some of the highest ever recorded. Sadly, some properties were flooded and I have great sympathy for those affected.
However, the Leigh barrier held back 5.5m cubic metres of water and significantly reduced the flows in the River Medway at Tonbridge and downstream. Had it not been in operation, communities along the river would have experienced more serious flooding. The Environment Agency flood defences protected more than 80,000 properties and hundreds of our staff continue to work around the clock to reduce the risk of further flooding during this spell of unsettled weather.
David Jordan, Executive Director of Operations, Environment Agency
Having sat through the New Year’s Eve screening of Mamma Mia! with my wife and mother-in-law, I can understand why this is the marital break-up season (“The new year itch”, Focus, last week).
John Barton, Milan, Italy
How can television over Christmas be so bad — mostly repeats — considering the salaries paid to those responsible for programming?
George Muir, Poole, Dorset
The anonymous correspondent who suffered humiliation and ridicule in a trial may be comforted by the fact that things have changed (“Putting court witnesses on trial is indefensible”, Letters, last week). Witnesses may be protected by the use of screens or videolink. Lawyers have to act on behalf of their client by asking difficult questions, but if they are not relevant, or inappropriate, the judge should intervene. I think recent legislation prevents defendants cross-examining victims in such cases.
Anthony Prescott, Scarisbrick, Lancashire
Here’s the catch
Jeremy Clarkson, in his migration from petrolhead to weapons expert in his article about Mikhail Kalashnikov’s iconic AK-47 assault rifle (“The AK-47 says you don’t rule the world, Ronald McDonald”, News Review, last week) has muddled his left and right. The last time I handled an AK-47 (I used the weapon extensively while training Mozambican Liberation Front soldiers for the British government), the safety catch was on the right-hand side, not the left.
Milos Stankovic, Farnham, Surrey
John Martin (“Private concerns”, Letters, December 22) asks whether we should look at weekend arrangements at private hospitals as well as the NHS, and at who will provide cover in the event of emergencies. Why? So that when the lucrative procedures the private sector creams off go wrong, the (invariably) nearby NHS hospital can be left to pick up the pieces.
Alexander Fraser, City of York Council
AA Gill’s article “Yet another one for the road” (Magazine, last week) moved me to tears. It was sad, depressing and so very true. The reality of the lives of these young people is indeed heartbreaking.
Mary Lynas, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire
I am pleased that AA Gill finds our twin towns of Grimsby and Cleethorpes not to his liking. I would have been most upset if he had liked the place.
John Warner, Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Alfred Brendel, pianist, 83; Bradley Cooper, actor, 39; Robert Duvall, actor, 83; Umberto Eco, novelist, 82; January Jones, actress, 36; Vinnie Jones, footballer and actor, 49; King Juan Carlos of Spain, 76; Diane Keaton, actress, 68; Jan Leeming, newsreader, 72; Chris Stein, guitarist, 64
1895 Alfred Dreyfus, Jewish French army officer, is sentenced to life for treason but later exonerated; 1941 Amy Johnson, aviator, drowns after her plane crashes in the Thames estuary; 1993 the tanker Braer runs aground off Shetland, spilling 85,000 tons of crude oil
Corrections and clarifications
A report “Hedge fund top brass pocket £317m” (Business, last week) incorrectly stated that Marathon Asset Management is in a legal dispute with American investment manager Vanguard. In fact, there is no such dispute between Marathon and Vanguard, which remains one of Marathon’s most important clients. The two firms are co-defendants in litigation being brought by a third party. The article also described Marathon as a “hedge fund”; in fact, less than 2% of its assets are under management in hedge funds. We are happy to clarify the position.
SIR – Mary Creagh, the shadow transport secretary, is mistaken if she thinks that the Rev W Awdry had any bias against lady engine drivers when writing his Thomas the Tank Engine series.
The inspiration for the Thomas stories is the Talyllyn railway in mid-Wales. This steam railway has a number of regular women drivers, numerous lady firemen and features an all-female track-laying gang.
SIR – As my second job in the late Fifties, I worked as a technical assistant at British Railways’ research department in Derby.
My first position had been in the aero-engine division of Rolls-Royce. In the Sixties, I went on to English Electric in Whetstone, Leicestershire, where they were designing nuclear power stations.
I didn’t consider working in science and engineering at all strange at the time because I received my secondary education at a girls’ grammar school.
Rolleston on Dove, Staffordshire
SIR – The Children’s Railway, in the scenic Budapest hills, is run almost entirely by young people aged 10-14. It operates six days a week on the seven-mile track, and we found it to be on time and spotlessly clean. At each halt, a smart station manager saluted the train on departure.
Maybe a combination of British female staff supplemented by Hungarian children would put a bit of spark back into our trains?
John S F Grindlay
SIR – Annie and Clarabel (two of the Railway Children) are the names of carriages pulled by Thomas.
SIR – NHS England claims there is nothing wrong with NHS dentistry, and objects to dentists suggesting it is inferior to private dental treatment. Yet private patients generally have more time spent with them on preventive and restorative care, along with access to better-quality materials.
It is hard to understand how the NHS can provide a comprehensive dental service to all at standards that even start to compete with those of the private sector, given continual annual real-terms funding cuts for NHS dentistry.
SIR – For telling me a tooth had to come out a dentist charged me £35. For taking it out a further £90.
What deprivations must pensioners suffer if they have to find £125 to have a tooth removed? Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, recently gave me a new knee – for nothing.
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
SIR – NHS England’s chief dental officer suggests we should be proud of the nation’s teeth. He should watch American cartoon series such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. He will see that any appearance by a Briton comes complete with awful, dirty, mangled teeth. British teeth are considered a joke in America.
Brent Knoll, Somerset
SIR – I am glad to see that there were several comments about the Today programme, its guest editor, and her invited guests, all of whom were very Left-wing and anti-West. They are also fortunate that they are able to air their views freely in our country; they certainly would not be permitted to do so in many other countries.
Who is PJ Harvey anyway? I’ve never heard of her.
Art of dining
SIR – Picasso was idly sketching on a napkin in a Paris restaurant when he was recognised by an American, who gushingly offered to purchase the doodle. Taken aback when he asked for 40,000 francs, she protested that it took only a few seconds to complete. “You are mistaken, Madam,” he replied. “It took 40 years.”
Vilassar de Mar, Barcelona, Spain
Not just Picasso: a napkin message from Andy Warhol
SIR – Our French lawyer says that, in that country, as long as a will is written by the testator in their own hand, all at one time, with the same pen for validation, then it can be written, signed and dated on anything, before filing with a notary. No witness is needed.
She has dealt with wills written on napkins, and startles her students by saying she has validated a will written on underpants.
Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire
Deaf to avalanches
SIR – I have lived in the Alps for the past 20 winters. The accident that happened to Michael Schumacher, an experienced skier, shows how quickly fun can turn to disaster.
I often explain to skiers the danger of headphones. They plug in, turn the volume up, and become oblivious to people and the dangers of the mountain. Yearly I hear of deaths in avalanches, some due to the victim hearing neither a warning shout nor the mountain on the move.
My grandson was cycling with me and was in collision with a 4×4 vehicle. His head hit the windscreen and he was thrown on to the road. He was wearing his cycle helmet. The result was a broken wrist, and no head injury whatsoever. My blood runs cold at the outcome had he not had the good sense to wear a helmet.
Bangor, Co Down
Brian in the box
SIR – Our bird box, with camera wired to the television, shows that our personal blue tit (Brian) has been sleeping there every night, from about 4pm, for the last month or so. Early spring, or just long, chilly nights? He seems content with the arrangement, and we are delighted.
SIR – Nearly 40 years ago my chemistry teacher offered a prize for the best mnemonic for the first two rows of the periodic table. I won the prize – a little book about atoms – with: “Happy Little Blue Budgies Crack Nuts On Friday Nights, Naughty Magpies Always Steal Precious Stones, Clocks And Keys.” (Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine, Neon, Sodium [Na], Magnesium, Aluminium, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Chlorine, Argon, Potassium [K].)
South Godstone, Surrey
SIR – My English teacher used mnemonics for difficult spellings. His best was: “Dash in a rush, run hard or expect accident.”
What next for the flecks of flecked flex?
SIR – At least the rubber bands dropped by postmen can be picked up and re-used. I have yet to discover a use for the off-cuts of blue and yellow wire dropped by BT technicians.
SIR – We are now bound by regulations issued by Royal Mail regarding what items we can send through the post. After Christmas I ordered online some batteries to install in a Christmas present. I was informed these would be delivered by carrier, as they are on the list of objects we are not now allowed to post. The batteries arrived on Hogmanay, delivered by the postman. I even had to sign for them.
What’s going on?
Carbost, Isle of Skye
SIR – People shouldn’t be too quick to blame farmers for not clearing rivers that flood. It is the farmers who are always there to help in bad weather – clearing roads in snow and removing cars from flooded roads.
We walk along the lesser Teise, a tributary of the Medway near Yalding in Kent, and we are continually phoning the Environment Agency, informing them of trees or rubbish in the river, but we are mainly ignored. The rivers are no longer dredged because of wildlife.
Collier Street, Kent
SIR – We live on the outskirts of Yalding, and were cut off during the floods. In 2000 we moved into our 400-year-old house, and have experienced two major floods.
This time, I witnessed wonderful community spirit and heard much praise for voluntary organisations. The response of the Environment Agency was little better than in 2000, and worse in some respects. It gave the rivers Beult and Teise “flood warning” status; the Medway was given the same status the next morning. At no time was it raised to the highest “severe flood warning”. It gave residents the impression that the flooding would be less than in 2000. In fact, it was far worse.
Fortunately, we were told what to expect by a neighbour in contact with operators of the Leigh flood barrier. Those that relied on the Floodline information service were not so fortunate.
The water far exceeded the capacity of the Leigh flood barrier. It may buy time for Tonbridge residents to be evacuated but seems to do little to limit flooding. Its capacity needs to be increased. Inaction comes at a heavy cost to householders and businesses in the Medway valley.
SIR – Yalding has flooded from time immemorial, but less frequently in the past 60 years, thanks to the work of the Medway Conservancy. In the Fifties, the Beult flooded Yalding most years. My father’s farm flooded, but not the house. He would canoe across the river and up the high street delivering milk and bread to those who had decided to live upstairs.
No one thought of phoning the council. The village used self-help, with the WRVS providing food and blankets in the village hall. It appears that this fine tradition has been forgotten or lapsed – a great pity.
SIR – I am appalled at the state of the ditches around us in Hampshire causing floods. We keep our own ditches very clean, with no lying water round us, and we are in a valley. We have also dug out a pond and elsewhere a winter pond.
It’s common sense: the water has to go somewhere and will behave quite well if guided.
* Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has said “penalty points have been hugely successful” and “the new Road Traffic Bill will make a big difference to safety on the roads”.
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An examination of this success shows that since the Road Safety Authority (RSA) was established in 2006, 30pc of deaths were of people aged under 24, a million speeding penalty points were issued, and 1,971 road users died.
In 2009, An Garda Siochana set up a hi-tech unit to discover the cause of accidents and a special Government task force was also set up in response to rising road deaths in 2013.
Both these units have yet to report their findings, while the RSA has repeated the same message, “Safer Roads: only you can get us there.”
New speed detectors to stop drivers ‘slowing’ for cameras will be introduced by Mr Varadkar, but digital speedometers, cruise control and alcolysers in cars do not appear to be included.
In 2011, the RSA claimed the speed limits throughout the country were incorrect, but this is the responsibility of local councillors.
The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies questions the motivation and financial implications behind South Australia‘s speed camera policy, which issues 50pc of speeding tickets to drivers caught travelling less than 5mph over the speed limit.
In 2011, a Garda chief said that, “some speed vans are operating in areas that are not accident black spots”, so drivers receive penalty points on roads with incorrect speed limits.
In 2011, the local authorities were ordered by the Department of Transport to take down high speed-limit signs on dangerous stretches of road, but this cannot happen as councillors have full responsibility.
The order to review the speed limits and the location of the signs displaying them is contained in a circular sent to every city and county manager by the Department of Transport.
* It is time for the Government to regulate insurance premiums. At the consumer level, health insurance, home insurance, and motor insurance have all increased by double digits each year.
Insurance in the commercial sector has also risen, adding to the cost of goods and services that consumers purchase.
The straw that broke this camel’s back was this: “The Irish insurance industry said it had been anticipating premium hikes of around 10pc but they could soar to as much as 30pc because of the level of storm-related claims” (Irish Independent, December 31).
Insurance premiums are fundamentally calculated on the basis of the probability of claims from a broad pool of policy holders and these risks are further spread across the international insurance community through reinsurance and other instruments.
How, then, can it be that a spell of stormy weather over a two-week period, which has been (in global terms) geographically isolated, result in an increase in premiums? In fact, every time there is a spell of bad weather (think of the “deep freeze” a few years ago) we see an increase in the cost of premiums.
I have significant concerns when the insurance industry apparently fails to take into account the chance of “bad things happening” and use such bad things as an excuse to hike premiums.
Premiums will naturally increase with cost increases, and insurers are entitled to a profit incentive.
But it seems to me that the Financial Regulator shows a far greater concern towards protecting the investors in insurance companies than the customers.
ENNIS, CO CLARE
OPEN UP FOR CHRISTMAS
* I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in Dublin over Christmas. No doubt Transport Minister Leo Varadkar‘s ‘Gathering’ had lured them here, although none of them seemed to have a clue about any ‘Gathering’ — they’d just come for the Guinness and the decorations.
It was a pity then that a lot of shops and public places were not open to welcome the extra few euro these tourists wanted to spend.
Instead, many believe it’s still Dev’s Ireland, where the priest would read your name from the pulpit if you opened over Christmas time.
Most of the ‘New Irish’ businesses were open for our visitors, while the ‘Real Irish’ drank and ate themselves so legless they won’t be able to face work until Monday, January 6, the Epiphany.
It’s about time Ireland Inc realised that Christmas/St Stephen’s Day is just a two-day holiday, and New Year’s Day is just one day — not a 16-day ‘holiday’ of laziness.
BRAY, CO WICKLOW
STEERING A WRONG PATH
* The Road Safety Authority is promising a consultation process to consider allowing driverless cars to be tested on our roads (Irish Independent, December 3).
First, we built housing estates that nobody lives in, now we have the possibility of cars driving around with nobody at the wheel. What next?
DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
NO FOOD AT THE INNS
* Strolling around Dublin on Thursday, January 2, I was surprised on ‘putting my head around the door’ of four different pubs to be informed that they would not be doing food, even the humble sandwich, until Monday, January 6.
As I eventually settled for a sandwichless pint, I pondered from the pub viewpoint, was it a case of not using one’s loaf to make some fairly handy dough, given how hard it can be to make a crust in these times?
* For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding. Initially, we were told that this was due to abnormal weather, but the abnormal is now the norm and the State has not dealt with it.
When is it going to do so? It seems not too difficult with the engineering ingenuity we have, so that people in Cork and elsewhere can live at this time of year without fear.
CLONDALKIN, DUBLIN 22
CRASH BLAME ALL WRONG
* Simon O’Connor and John Bellew make a valid case for defaulting on our bank debts instead of having Irish taxpayers paying them, but they fail to say what the consequences of default might have been for our citizens (Letters, January 2).
Similarly, they make a good case for blaming the big bad foreigner for what happened to this country.
But if our financial decision-makers are so innocent, why is it that the decision-makers in most eurozone countries did not cause their countries to go broke?