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15 January 2014 Premium bonds
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee has to smuggle a relative back to England from Tangiers, as a Naval officer.  Priceless.
Peter finishes bit of work and I sell my premium bonds
Scrabble today I wins     and gets  just   over   300,  Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

Peter Geach, who has died aged 97, was a formidable logician and happened to be married to one of the 20th century’s leading English-language philosophers, Elizabeth Anscombe.
In a way this meant he was overshadowed. He did, though, have a strong philosophical life of his own, and without the thousands of hours of discussion that Elizabeth Anscombe had with him, her philosophy would not have attained the eminence it did.
Peter Geach always had sharp teeth in an argument and, the harder the opposition, the harder he bit. His father was a philosopher who never took up a paid position, and, under his influence, Peter admired in his youth JME McTaggart, the Edwardian Hegelian who espoused most positions that Geach came to reject: atheism, reincarnation, determinism, the unreality of time.
Geach admired the “irresistible force of reasoning” that he found in McTaggart. “Under God, I owe my very self to McTaggart,” he once wrote, “for it was knowledge of his philosophy that kept alight in me a longing for the infinite and eternal that was not to be quenched by the noisy winds of the world.”
Even after decades, Geach still thought it important to publish an introduction to McTaggart’s philosophy, Truth, Love, and Immortality (1979). Geach found his own feet while arguing against his master. Thus, in response to McTaggart’s argument that it was impossible to believe in a solitary God, Geach showed how McTaggart’s demands for a deity were fulfilled only by the Holy Trinity of orthodox Christianity.
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In the philosophy of religion, Geach contributed to a better understanding of existence, or the act of being. An important distinction he made was between the ideas “there is a God” and “God is, or lives”. In the latter sense God is identical with his being. Geach’s thinking on this question is touched on in God and the Soul (1969) and Providence and Evil (1977).
In ethics, Elizabeth Anscombe made a celebrated rejection of a kind of utilitarianism that she named consequentialism. Since many modern ethicists rejected a divine system of laws, she proposed a system of morals based on virtues. Some of Geach’s own ideas on virtue ethics were given in The Virtues (1977), based on his Stanton Lectures of 1973.
There were some surprises. “We ought, I think, to judge about Cannabis indica much as we judge about alcohol,” he said in one lecture. “Cannabis indica appears to be less mentally disturbing than alcohol, less productive of damaging accidents like car crashes, and very much less addictive.”
In his paper “Good and Evil”, published in the journal Analysis in 1956, Geach had shown how the meaning of the word “good” depended on the substantive that it qualified: a good apple being very different from a good knife. It was an influential insight, taken up by Philippa Foot among others.
Unlike the dense, unsignposted prose of Anscombe, Geach’s style was a pleasure to read. In their joint volume Three Philosophers (1961), Anscombe contributed a penetrating analysis of Aristotle that was a hard slog for readers, and Geach two sections: one on Aquinas that was both clear and full of new insights, and one on Frege in which the chief obstacle for the general reader was the mathematical language of the philosopher’s logic. It was largely through Geach, whose lectures on Frege were encouraged by Wittgenstein in 1950, that the importance of Frege’s philosophy was realised in Britain.
Geach’s style was described by the philosopher Jenny Teichman as “deliberately outrageous”. Having sharpened his wits on philosophers as formidable as Hume or Russell, he could seem fiercer than an Old Testament prophet and did not fear to give hard knocks to living philosophers. Yet some of Geach’s phrases became the common coin of philosophers, such as a “Cambridge change”. This is the notion suggested by Bertrand Russell’s thought: that Socrates changes if something can be predicated of him that could not be predicated before. Thus if Socrates’s son grows bigger than him, it becomes true to say Socrates is shorter than his son, and so Socrates would have changed. But this is not a real change, only a “Cambridge change”.
Geach’s interest in the thought of both Wittgenstein and Aquinas made him an honorary founder of the philosophical school that called itself “analytical Thomism”. But while Geach was a philosopher and Catholic, his philosophy went wherever the force of logic demanded, rather than being tailored to a religious conclusion. “To me it appears blasphemous to say God is ‘above’ logic,” he wrote. “Logic is not partisan, and knows nothing but to strike straight; but the sword is invincible, bearing the Maker’s name.”
Peter Thomas Geach was born in London on March 29 1916, the son of George Hender Geach, the principal of a training college in India, and Eleonora Sgonina, the daughter of Polish emigrants. He went to live with his Polish grandparents in Cardiff, his mother having separated from his father when he was four.
He was sent to Llandaff Cathedral School, and then Clifton College, before going up to Balliol College, Oxford, gaining a first in Greats in 1938.
He was to spend the years 1945 to 1951 in philosophical research in Cambridge, and the next 15 years at Birmingham University, before being appointed Professor of Logic at Leeds in 1966, retiring in 1981. From 1971 to 1974 he gave the Stanton Lectures in the philosophy of religion at Cambridge.
The year 1938 had seen him received into the Catholic Church. It was also the year he met Elizabeth Anscombe, who had independently become a Catholic. Once she had taken her finals, they married, on Boxing Day 1941, and decided that she should keep her maiden name. With her, Geach had seven children, four of them girls.
Most of the apocryphal stories in academe about the children had some basis in reality: how they would at a tender age cook alarming meals for their parents and guests; how they would appear clothed strangely, or not at all, in the middle of some seminar; how one child, on being told that if her teddy was not in the drawing room it must be in her bedroom, retorted: “But that doesn’t follow.”
The “Geachcombes”, though each sometimes holding a post elsewhere, shuttled between Oxford and Cambridge, where Geach got to know Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein lodged with them (in Oxford) towards the end of his life.
Together, Geach and Anscombe translated Descartes’s Philosophical Writings (1954). In the Fifties, while Elizabeth Anscombe was doing the work that became her dense, short and influential book Intention (1957), Geach also turned his attention to the philosophy of mind in Mental Acts (1957).
Peter Geach listed his recreations as “reading stories of detection, mystery and horror; collecting and annotating old bad logic texts”.
Elizabeth Anscombe died in 2001; Peter Geach is survived by his children.
Peter Geach, born March 29 1916, died December 21 2013


Too often, the debate about “Europe” is based on emotional and ideological arguments, with all sides – from those who want more EU integration and those who want less – trading in hyperbole rather than engaging with substantive issues of policy.
Of course we need to co-operate across borders in Europe. The question, as ever, is how. How do we square the need for cross-border action with democratic accountability? How do we live up to the promise to make decisions as close as possible to citizens? How do we make Europe really work for growth and jobs at a time when global competition is stiffening?
Today, we are joining hundreds of parliamentarians and opinion-formers from across Europe at a unique conference in London organised by the thinktank Open Europe and the Fresh Start Project, dedicated to one question: how can we achieve EU reform? While our proposed solutions may differ, we agree on one thing: the status quo in Europe is not an option. If the EU is to thrive, it needs to embrace a series of bold reforms. Some of these will involve EU action, but where democratic and economic factors so dictate, this may also mean “less Europe”.
We want to replace the emotional point-scoring with a policy-based discussion about how to achieve a Europe that works better for both democracy and growth.
Gustav Blix Swedish MP (Moderate party); ranking member, committee on European Union affairs (Sweden)
Klaus Peter Willsch German MP (CDU); member, committee for economy and energy, Germany; Deputy head of the committtee on education, research and technology (Germany)
Angieszka Pomaska Polish MP (Civic Platform); Chair of the EU affairs committee in the Polish parliament (Poland)
Eva Kjer Hansen Chair of the European affairs committee (Liberal party), Danish parliament (Denmark)
Andrea Leadsom MP for South Northamptonshire (Con); co-founder, Fresh Start Project; member of No 10 policy board (UK)
Dr Reinhold Lopatka Spokesperson for foreign and European affairs, Austrian People’s party (OeVP); former secretary of state for European and international affairs (Austria)

Many will be surprised and alarmed by the warning from the Commons foreign affairs select committee that BBC World Service broadcasting is in danger of suffering creeping commercialisation (Report, 10 January). For more than 70 years, the World Service successfully fought for its credibility with sceptical or openly hostile international audiences by demonstrating its independence from any kind of governmental control. Now that hard-won independence is, it seems, being put at risk by a facile “rush to commercialism”. What is more disturbing is that this policy is being introduced without detailed proposals or any public discussion; that BBC management which undertook to protect World Service independence and integrity when it assumed full financial responsibility for the WS is walking away from that commitment; that what is left of independent World Service management connives at policies that threaten to undermine WS credibility; and that the BBC Trust stands idly by as a precious part of the institution for which it is responsible faces radical undermining. The select committee, having valuably identified the risks and dangers to a major British institution, should now press the case for detailed examination of the future of the BBC World Service before real and irretrievable damage is done.
John Tusa

Thanks to Julie Myerson for her article (Death in hospital need not be a medicalised trauma, 13 January). While one reason I buy the Guardian is for its coverage of the NHS, I have for a long time had a sense of disquiet that the stories are so biased towards the bad news (good news is no news?). While we need to shout loud about the problems of the NHS, we also need to continually celebrate its successes. Not doing so seems to me to be, ironically, preparing the country for letting the NHS, depicted as useless and malfunctioning, slip away to open private hands. As someone who works for the NHS, I would also point out that we need to see a reflection of the service we give as worthwhile, even excellent at times, to help us continue to strive to be the best that we can be, especially since our managers seem hellbent on thoroughly demoralising us at times. The NHS will survive only if the public can value what it does well alongside campaigning for better when it does not deliver.
Suzanne McCall
Luton, Bedfordshire
•  I was moved by Julie Myerson’s elegant article about her mother-in-law’s death. I know exactly what she means. In 2007, my mother suffered a cerebral haemorrhage which left her in a coma. The consultant at St Richard’s hospital, Chichester, suggested that we “let nature take its course”, to which we agreed. Unlike Julie’s mother-in-law, my mother was able to die at home, with the hospital arranging everything. She lasted two more weeks, with a team of nurses coming in three times a day and a person sitting with her through the night, allowing members of the family to visit her whenever they wished. My brother and I were with our mother at the moment of death. It was profoundly moving. Sad though it was, it felt like an extraordinary privilege to see someone slip from life to death. Seeing our mother die peacefully in her own home made her dying seem like the natural event it was. I thank the NHS for making that possible.
Emma Dally
•  Julie Myerson writes movingly of the natural death of her mother-in-law. The staff communication and decision-making sounded sensitive and experienced. However, non-medical intervention can be an umbrella to hide bad practice under, and that is the danger. My 94-year-old mother was in her local hospital in Scotland, after a fall. They found tumours in her chest and though she expected to get home after pain control, someone somewhere decided she wasn’t worth the bother when she got a bladder infection after three days. No treatment meant that we found her in agony, alone, with no nursing care. The doctor refused to attend as it was a bank holiday and when we begged for help he prescribed morphine by phone until, after hours of pain, the last dose killed her quickly. Apparently this is all acceptable for an old person because someone had decided it was time she was dispatched and she was denied the natural death that Julie’s mother-in-law had.
Allowing nature to take its course where enlightenment and knowledge prevail is the ideal. But where ignorance and callousness prevail it becomes a very distorted and harrowing experience that haunts loved ones evermore.
Andrene Messersmith
Innellan, Argyll
• It was the image used by Julie Myerson that drew my attention. Death is “oddly akin to a birth”. My father John Hughes (Obituary, 2 January) died on 1 November. Previously a principal at Ruskin College, he sadly developed dementia and spent years in an increasingly locked-in state. I had taken a break from his bedside when my sister called. He was on no drugs and the nurses at the nursing home were fine about leaving us alone. We both strangely – or maybe not – seemed to know exactly what to do. We talked gently, stroked his head and hands, told him we loved him but we were ready for him to go. We reminded him of his wonderful contribution to people’s lives and said he deserved a rest now. It came into my mind that I felt like some sort of midwife helping him on. He died so peacefully. It was amazing to be at a “normal” death. I have been at two deathbeds where drugs were quite rightly involved so this was very special. We should talk about death more and enable people to feel they can help people they love die so peacefully.
Katherine Hughes

Your superficial but abusive piece on me (Pass notes, G2, 16 December) accused me of likening Mandela to Hitler. I would never dream of comparing a white Austrian fascist with a black African communist. I merely pointed out that Mandela’s legacy (whether intended or not) is a murderous one. The article further accused me of being “extreme rightwing”, when my track record on exposing European fascism, antisemitism and EU corporatist imperialism is a matter of record – praised by, among others, east European socialists, British communists and leading Labour party figures.
Rodney Atkinson
Author, Fascist Europe Rising and Europe’s Full Circle
• If Michele Hanson “forgot the dandelions for Daughter’s tortoise which I had especially … picked” (Still here, G2, 14 Jnauary) I feel seriously concerned for the tortoise. First, surely the creature should be hibernating, and, second, there certainly are no dandelions growing in our garden in winter. Perhaps things are different in the balmy south.
Anne Liddon (@AnneLiddon)
• O happy days. Dartford station did not have a newsagent for five and a half months, but four short weeks after a letter to the Guardian (17 December 2013) it reopened and I can at last buy the paper on my way to work. More power to the letters page!
Carol Gould
Dartford, Kent
• I have to wonder how the Académie would translate the variety of fadge known as potato apple (Letters, 11 January). I’m sure they’d insist on a ridiculous “pommes de terre de pommes” when “pompom de terre” would be delicious.
Steve Illingworth
Haworth, West Yorkshire
• I see (photo, Page 1, and The sweet scent of success, page 7, 13 January) that Vivienne Westwood was wearing a “pinstripe head wrap”. Round our way we call it a “woolly hat”.
Sally Cheseldine
• Thank you for restoring sport to a daily pullout section. My wife is very happy. Therefore I am too.
Ron Page
Thursford, Norfolk
Chris Deerin (For us Scots the moral duty is clear: stay British, 14 January), newly repatriated to Scotland, has some way to go, I fear, before his metropolitan mindset is recalibrated. What he characterises as Better Together “identifying the risks associated with independence” is more readily recognised north of Berwick as the self-described “project fear” that has promised all but the killing of the firstborn in a new Scottish state.
I recommend as a primer Aditya Chakrabortty’s G2 column the same day, which explains in dispiriting detail how “Great” Britain squandered its oil bonanza while Norway prudently used its to build up reserves. As Chakrabortty muses, if Scotland had held on to these revenues “the question today would not be how it could manage solo, but how London would fare without its bankrollers north of Hadrian’s Wall”.
But for many of us the arguments for voting yes are not fiscal but moral. To reverse the mean-spirited, devastating impact of Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms”, to hold fast against the Govification of education, to protect the NHS. To build an economy based on sustainable growth and employment rather than another housing bubble.
And, not least, to protect our European credentials and reject racism thinly disguised as migration control.
As countless small nations have proved, internationalism and social justice are not the sole prerogative of large powers. Recent history would suggest rather the reverse.
Ruth Wishart
Kilcreggan, Argyll
•  If there is a case to be made for the union, Chris Deerin’s is not it. He says that in September we might “choose to leave to set up a separate country”. We are a separate country, it’s just that we have chosen to be in a union with another one. He delights in the number of Scots who have “senior positions” in England (I suspect he really means London) but I am unsure as to how this has ever benefited the people who actually work and live in Scotland. As for Scots having “a moral code conferred on them by history”, this seems to be some quasi-mythical notion that might explain much about the misdeeds of empire, not to mention recent catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq. A large part of the impetus for Scottish independence comes from a desire to break free from the nostalgic, top-down, grandiose vision of many unionists, north and south of the border. Many in the yes camp prefer to look forward to Scotland as a small, social-democratic, progressive north European nation free of any delusion about being a world power.
Tom McFadyen
Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire
•  Speaking as a Scot with a vote in the referendum, I do recognise that I have a “moral role” to play but not the one conferred by Chris Deerin’s magical-thinking tour of Britain’s history. My moral dilemma lies in the thought that voting for independence might leave progressive forces south of the Tweed stuck in the electoral mud. If I vote no, it won’t be to offer moral support to some fantasy retelling of history, it will be because I don’t feel good about deserting my pals south of the border.
Alistair Richardson

Commander Neil Basu refers to the “intolerable” delay, for the family and his officers, before the inquest jury reached its conclusion on the death of Mark Duggan (Officer who shot Duggan can return to armed duties, 13 January). There were many reasons for this – not least the complexity of this case, two associated criminal trials and our own finite resources. We agree that such delays add to the stress and anxiety for all concerned.
But a key feature of this investigation was the fact that the firearms officers refused to answer questions at interview. Following a protracted exchange of written questions and answers, it was nearly a year before we were able to get answers to all our questions, and even then we were not able to probe those answers verbally.
The law has now changed and we can compel officers to come in for interview. However, they can and still do refuse to answer questions verbally at interview.
Families and friends of those who die during police contact find it inexplicable that officers present at someone’s death do not fully co-operate with subsequent investigations – so do we. It means that the inquest is the first time they have to account properly for their actions and have their evidence probed and tested.
Following the comments made recently by the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, I hope that Commander Basu’s officers will now not only attend interviews, but also answer questions, if required, in our continuing investigation into Mark Duggan’s death, and any future tragic deaths.
Anne Owers
Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission
• Officer V53 made a catastrophic mistake that resulted in the untimely and unnecessary death of an unarmed man. That mistake must destroy confidence in V53’s competence to carry out armed police duties. Commander Basu’s suggestion that he would welcome V53 back to armed duties is not just an insult to the Duggan family but shows contempt for all Londoners. It elevates strict principle above good management and public safety, and is symptomatic of the Metropolitan police senior management’s inward-looking approach.
Alan Twite

One of Simon Hoggart’s typically idiosyncratic comments, when chairing the Guardian’s fringe meeting at Liberal Democratic conferences, was to tell the audience, “Do not switch off your mobile phone – it might be someone important!” It had, of course, the desired effect.

In the late 1960s, the serious media couldn’t get enough of news from the fledgling Child Poverty Action Group – even if it came from branch level. So, if we volunteers in CPAG’s Manchester branch issued a press release of what a visiting speaker was going to say, come Friday evening in a city-centre pub, we’d be disappointed not to see a couple of paragraphs in Saturday’s Guardian.
One evening, though, a cub reporter turned up to hear the speaker, introduced himself as Simon Hoggart, stayed on for a drink and accepted a lift home from me. I doubtless continued to bombard him, en route to south Didsbury, with more details of CPAG’s message, while not passing up the chance to enthuse about The Uses of Literacy and what a fan I was of his dad. But I became a fan for life, that evening, of the son who’d bothered to come to the pub, even though he had our release.
And not just a fan of his Guardian columns. My copy of his America: A User’s Guide is heavily annotated, picking out aphorisms such as the two I’ve so often repeated to US students – his observation that British English has become “a dialect of the principal tongue, American English” and his description of American football as “random violence interrupted by committee meetings”.

Why voters are apathetic
I am now 89 and in my youth I worked first for the Liberals as agent and then as constituency organiser for my local Labour party. I have also been a county council Labour candidate in a very Conservative constituency. I have voted whenever my vote was called for, but I do not think I will vote again.
I am not surprised that Britain’s young are “apathetic and disaffected”; I certainly am (3 January). Our electoral system is so manifestly unfair. In most constituencies more votes are cast against the winning candidate than for. Over the whole country, more votes are cast against the winning party than for it. You don’t have to be a genius to work that out. The second choice, the Alternative Vote, is the next worst option. To say that various forms of proportional representation are too complicated for the average voter would be laughable were it not so insulting.
I also find that many people do not “use” their MPs. If you, want an answer to your burning question or complaint, it is no good writing to the PM or the papers or demonstrating in the streets: you have to write directly to your constituency representative, who has to answer personally. Your MP’s name can easily be found on the internet. I just wish that members of Parliament were swamped by letters complaining about the present state of affairs.
Katherine Du Plat-Taylor
Mold, UK
• In your story about young voters’ apathy, the environment is dismissed as a single issue to substitute for real politics. But the environment is where we live and to ignore its importance is to have no view of the future. This is not just about polar bear preservation or what’s happening to the climate and why. It’s about using things up faster than they can be replaced. Try looking round your house at all the things made of plastic, looking at your fossil-fuel use in the car and at home, looking at how much of your food is bought on international markets, and picture life when these things are unavailable. With a limited supply and growing demand we can’t reasonably expect business as usual.
Until there are commercially viable, renewable substitutes for everything from aluminium to drinking water, or we’ve colonised a couple more planets, our natural resources are surely our priority. Of course other issues matter, but what use is an economic or political plan that ignores our physical environment?
Short-termism is fine for politicians seeking a final term in office or for the Deck Chair Rearranging Committee of the Titanic. For the rest of us, I think it’s reasonable to keep an eye on where we are heading.
David Roman
Newport, UK
Fighting climate change
The feature Tax on meat “will cut methane buildup” (3 January) raises a number of issues, not least the increasing environmental and health consequences of our worldwide dependence on pasture-fed animals.
Australia is a unique position to provide a partial solution: effective kangaroo harvesting. The various species of kangaroo provide a source of protein that is largely ignored. Combined kangaroo populations are estimated as between 15 million and 50 million in currently harvested areas alone. Surely we can learn from the Aboriginal population to manage the almost inexhaustible population of these producers of both meat and a range of other valuable by-products, provided we can overcome our white-fella mindset of exclusive ownership and fencing of pasture.
Kangaroo meat for human consumption, managed and harvested under Federal rather than, as at present, State regulation, can provide us at the very least with a healthy temporary buffer against further global clearance of forests and land degradation, until that happy day arrives, if it ever does, when the majority of the world becomes largely or totally vegetarian.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
• Sadly, vegetarian advocacy is not encouraged by the data on the greenhouse gas impacts of cattle and sheep burps. Cheese, milk and yoghurt would surely also be guilty, while eggs, pork, fowl and fish are exonerated.
What would an effective and acceptable anti-greenhouse emissions diet look like? Perhaps:
a) Egg and bacon for breakfast instead of beef sausages.
b) Chicken schnitzel or ham sandwich instead of lamb chops for lunch.
c) Roast turkey instead of roast lamb for dinner.
We could keep roast beef as a special treat for Christmas.
Perhaps this is a case for a technical fix. Preliminary research suggests adding garlic to cattle feed can help. In Argentina they are seeking ways to capture the burped methane to use for fuel.
Constance Lever-Tracy
Eden Hills, South Australia
• Colin Horgan’s column (3 January) on the parallels between Steven Harper’s government in Canada and Tony Abbott’s in Australia increases my alarm for the future of our warming world. However, when Horgan writes that “Abbott’s government killed the Australian carbon tax” he is perhaps not aware that although this was a major item in his policy platform in the recent federal election, Abbott has been unable to implement it because he does not have the numbers in the senate to repeal the legislation at least until July, and possibly not even then.
Abbott is an obscurantist who heads a Jesuit-trained mafia. He has no use for science, and failed to appoint a minister for science. He clearly thinks that God will look after us without our help.
Ted Webber
Buderim, Queensland, Australia
Can we be too clever?
Julian Baggini (3 January) suggests that being too intelligent, or too clever, can be a disadvantage. He gives as examples that of being unable to benefit from cognitive therapy and the suffering resultant on the consequences of a preference for complex rather than simple explanations. Baggini’s hypothesis seems to be but another aspect of Oliver Burkeman’s discussion later in the same paper.
Burkeman argues that such personality characteristics as laziness and lack of willpower are possibly not the fault of the individual possessing them but rather should be seen as analogous to physical limitations such as being born with, or somehow acquiring, poor eyesight.
If this is right, does it mean that any consistently performed behaviour that may lead to the impoverishment of the individual concerned, ought also to be regarded as a form of social or psychological malfunction? Could it be that such traits as honesty, generosity, sympathy and altruism, which frequently have the effect of reducing that individual’s survival resources (and that could be described as irrational behaviours, or even forms of self-harm), should be seen in a different light? Perhaps a case could be made for anyone suffering from these unfortunate tendencies to be acknowledged, shown understanding and kindness and compensated by the society.
David Drury
Driffield, UK
Banning sexism for children
Three cheers: they are taking down the boys and girls signs in some toy departments (Banning toy sexism won’t end stereotypes, 3 January). Now can we please address the majority of children’s books that have male protagonists? I used to change he to she when reading to my sons, sometimes drawing long hair on truck drivers so that they would believe me. Now I have to do it with my granddaughters, but it gets harder when they can read: “That says he, not she”.
Why should boys have all the adventures? It is obvious that male is still the default preferred position. Isn’t this too just acculturation?
I Strewe
Bronte, NSW, Australia
The Bob Geldof of her day
Your report Jenny Lind sings for Royal Infirmary, dated 20th December 1848 (reprinted 20 December) was fulsome about the quality of Miss Lind’s singing and mentioned that about 1,000 people attended, with all the guinea tickets “purchased with marvellous avidity”.
However, the report, or perhaps the excerpt you reprinted, failed to connect with the headline about the Royal Infirmary. Your readers may be interested in a few of the facts about the Schwabes, old friends of Miss Lind, who promoted the concert.
Julia Schwabe, my great-greatgrandmother, could be seen as a precursor of Bob Geldof, mobilising the most popular musicians of the day to raise money for philanthropic causes. It was she, backed by her husband Salis, founder of English Calico and a friend of radicals Richard Cobden and John Bright, who led a major programme of charitable fund-raising for the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
The successful Jenny Lind concert of 20 December is a good example, but perhaps even better known is their concert on 29 August the same year, where Frederick Chopin was the star attraction in a medley of singing and instrumental music. Over 1,200 people attended it, by far the largest concert Chopin ever played for, and the Royal Infirmary was the beneficiary.
Chopin stayed with the Schwabes for around a week at their home just outside Manchester. Their only regret was that they could not persuade him to remain a week longer, since they were expecting the arrival of Jenny Lind, for whom Chopin had great respect.
Nicolas Maclean
London, UK
King William’s Quiz annoys
The annual King William’s College Quiz (20 December) annoys me more with each episode – and the most recent is definitely the worst. The quiz is mostly an obsequious homage to arcane literature and now irrelevant historical events. It comes from the days when cryptic crosswords were full of clues with obscure references to Shakespeare or classical Greek quotations. The Times and Guardian crosswords no longer assume that almost their readers took a first in Greats at Oxford, but the King William’s Quiz remains steadfastly, and ridiculously, embedded in the cigars-and-port world of the English upper class.
The worst feature of the KWQ is that it asks barely a single question whose answer would be important for the modern world. It is a parody of the world of the 19th-century academic, who has no interest in the future of humanity and is only concerned with the trivialities of the past. The KWQ no longer sits comfortably in the Guardian.
Charles Watson
Fremantle, Western Australia
So Nelson Mandela was Never a revolutionary (13 December). I doubt that I’m alone in allocating that one to my rewriting history file.
Howard Millbank
Bristol, UK


Are your readers aware that from 1 April this year their GP records will be automatically uplifted by NHS England to be made available to agencies such as care planners, drug companies, and private health care providers?
This is under the programme, and while much of the information will be anonymised, significant levels of it will be “pseudonymised”: data such as sex, date of birth and NHS number will be available, thus rendering that person fairly easily identifiable. Patients have a right to opt out of this, but the default position will see their GP records shared around by NHS England. How much do you trust them with your data?
They have belatedly and begrudgingly set up an information campaign to inform the public. Anybody seen it? Thought not.
GPs have been instructed that they face prosecution if they put a blanket block on their computer systems to deny this access and, bizarrely, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office, also face legal action should a patient complain that they were unaware of the scheme.
While much of this data is extremely valuable in healthcare planning – and the excellent work of Professor Hippisley-Cox and her team in Nottingham illustrates this – I fail to see why the data needs such a high level of identifiability. I have already had a few patients expressing concern and fully sympathise with them.
I would urge patients to make themselves aware of this unauthorised use of their personal data, and GPs to continue to ensure their patients’ confidentiality is suitably protected.
Dr Kevan Tucker, Barrowford, Lancashire

The ‘stony-hearted beast’ is right
Fergus Wilson, referred to by you as a “stony-hearted beast” (11 January), is doing the right thing by terminating the tenancies of tenants in arrears.
As the proportion of his tenants in arrears has increased from 8 per cent to 50 per cent since the Department for Work and Pensions opted to pay benefits to tenants rather than direct to landlords, why should Mr Wilson take the pain from this change? He is completely right not to accept the council’s offer to pay extra to cover the arrears. Whether one agrees or not with the DWP change to Universal Credit, council managers have no right to allocate funds, presumably without consulting ratepayers, to cover a problem arising from a change in government policy.
Also, it’s a pity your reporter did not challenge the statement from the DWP spokesman that “landlords always complain about direct payments”. Really? I’d be a lot happier if all my debtors were backed by an organisation with the resources of the Government.
Michael Garrett, Gringley-on-the-Hill, Nottinghamshire
Howard Pilott (letter, 13 January) is incorrect in blaming landlord Fergus Wilson and “the unacceptable face of capitalism” for the plight of the 200 tenants at risk of losing their homes. As ever the fault lies with the Government (or possibly even the EU).
Until recently housing benefit could be paid directly to the landlord, thus ensuring security for both parties. Now, unless there are exceptional circumstances, it must be given to the tenants. Inevitably, as many warned, giving large sums of money to people who do not have very much means that sometimes not all of it will reach its intended destination.
If it’s not broken. . . .
Mary Lees, Littlehampton, West Sussex
Fences can save wildlife
It is important to make the distinction between mountain forest fences and those in open wooded savannah when discussing the effectiveness of wildlife fences and protected areas in Kenya (Dr Bill Adams, 11 January).
The place where fences are undoubtedly effective is around mountain forests such as the Aberdares, which is protected by a 400km electrified fence built by Rhino Ark with the support of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and the local communities. There are approximately 2,000 elephants in the Aberdares. The fence has all but eliminated wildlife crop destruction, provided safer living conditions for local communities and greater security for wildlife, increased farmer land values by up to 300 per cent and improved forest cover, as highlighted in an independent study commissioned by Rhino Ark together with the United Nations Environment Programme and others.
This fence, like the two that Rhino Ark is currently building around Mount Kenya and Mau Eburu, is aligned on the border between dense forests and highly populated settlements. Most of the wildlife corridors around the mountain forests were closed long ago by these densely populated areas. The fences do not interfere with wildlife corridors but prevent elephants from marauding in the surrounding farmlands to access crops.
When used properly electrified fences are a vital tool in protecting Kenya’s natural ecosystem and wildlife, including elephants, as well as reducing human-wildlife conflict.
Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director, Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Nairobi, Blackadder and the futility of war
David Cameron and Boris Johnson both feel they have to come to the rescue of Michael Gove following his pronouncements about Blackadder being used in schools to create a biased view of the First World War. Have any of them actually taught? All excellent teachers will naturally expose their pupils to many different points of view, and by doing this will be giving them a base for unbiased opinion.
By exposing young people to all interpretations you are engaging them to examine all the evidence, search for the truth and make considered judgements.
Blackadder is a parody of what happened and can be likened to the poetry of Sassoon and Owen. The final episode of the programme is very powerful in depicting the futility of the battles, as are the rows and rows of graves in France and Belgium, to which many schools take their pupils to feel the empathy about the losses of the time.
We no longer have a British Empire and should no longer be teaching as if we did. It is about time teachers were allowed to get on with teaching without unfounded criticisms.
Alison Sherratt, President, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, London W14
Only a week into its centenary year, it seems the First World War is “the hottest political issue of the day” (“Who was to blame  for the First World War?” 8 January). Sean O’Grady’s article gives food for thought, and that is what we need, rather than anyone’s propaganda.
The best way to honour the war’s many victims is surely to understand better why and how it happened, with a view to driving future wars off the political agenda.
The last thing we need is left- and right-wing academics, firmly entrenched in their positions, firing destructive salvoes at each other across a barren intellectual no-man’s-land.
Sue Gilmurray, Ely, Cambridgeshire
Prosecuting rape cases
There is no evidence to suggest that the reduction in offices co-located by police and CPS is the reason for the drop in referrals of cases of rape, child abuse and domestic violence (“Closure of joint law offices ‘letting down victims’ ”, 13 January). CPS lawyers still work very closely with police colleagues on these and other serious and complex cases, including face-to-face meetings where these are appropriate.
Dedicated specialist units handling rape and other serious sexual offences have recently been rolled out across all CPS areas in England and Wales, and the specially trained prosecutors within them are able to provide a better service than ever before to the police in terms of expertise and advice.
Peter Lewis, Chief Executive, Crown Prosecution Service, London SE1
President in bike leathers
So Grace Dent (14 January) believes that the crash helmet and biker leathers François Hollande wore when visiting the actress Julie Gayet constitute a “well-established mid-life crisis uniform”?
As a 58-year-old biker I’d like to know what “uniform” Ms Dent suggests I and other male motorcyclists of my generation should wear in order to protect ourselves when dodging motorists?
Oh and crash helmets are compulsory, Grace, regardless of a motorcyclist’s age.
Tom Coleman, Harrow, Middlesex
François Hollande left his partner of more than 30 years, the mother of his children, for Trierweiler. If she had even half a brain you’d think she’d have realised that loyalty is not one of Hollande’s strong points. I have no sympathy for the stupid woman.
Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Sir, Changes in smoking behaviour came about more as a result of legislation against it and its promotion and education of children than by pictures of diseased lungs. The sectors of the food industry that produce and promote high-fat and high-sugar foods should be treated in much the same way as the tobacco companies. Both, after all, deal in substances that have very deleterious effects on health. Making these foods very expensive or unavailable, along with education, will have an effect though it will probably take as long as it has taken to reduce smoking. What is needed is an effective strategy not more useless tactics.
John Gaskin
Sir, There are no fat children in my school photographs from the 1950s. Everyone in the class has a pinched expression and knobbly knees, though I was never underfed and recall eating plenty of the stodgy foods that these days we are told to avoid: streaky bacon on doorsteps of white bread, pies, fried potatoes and treacle puddings.
Visiting my home village recently, I noticed that the streets no longer echoed to the sound of children walking or cycling to and from school, nor did I hear them playing in the yard at morning and afternoon breaks; the tracks on the common land have returned to grass through lack of use.
Perhaps it needs the cold eye of an actuary to compare the fatalities that would ensue from greater numbers of children walking or cycling to school with those caused by obesity; to set the grazed knees and broken collar bones that would doubtless result from playing British Bulldog and other boisterous, playground games with the long term effects of sitting in classrooms at break times, grazing on crisps and sugary foods.
John Anslow
Walton le Dale, Lancs
Sir, Food producers’ claims that some breakfast goods are beneficial are disingenuous. My supermarket has “healthy cereals” in one aisle and “children’s cereals” in another.
Alison Blenkinsop
Aldershot, Hants
Sir, Once again the food industry is being blamed for obesity. Rarely in the debate is there mention of restaurants or the many televised cooking programmes where copious quantities of “unhealthy” ingredients are used. The media almost ignores the increasingly transparent labelling which helps consumers to make their choices or the simple contribution to reducing overweight — exercise. Everyone wants to reduce obesity so let there be a balanced debate which recognises that everyone has a role to play — manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, schools and parents.
Jeremy Preston
Croughton, Northants
Sir, In order to avoid the deadly impasse that occurred in the battle over smoking, it would be sensible to focus support, governmental and consumer-led, on fresh locally sourced food sold in local markets. As in France, these should be more widespread and frequent than “farmer’s markets” tend to be.
It will be a quicker, more effective way of improving the nation’s health than waiting for governments to dither over legislation in the face of lobbying from the multinational food industry.
Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent

A community pharmacy can be a dispenser of health and a gateway for managing good health. It is part of the solution to our A&E crisis
Sir, The notion of an NHS mutual is gaining momentum (letters, Jan 3, 10). If the NHS is to remain accessible to everyone, everyone must play their part in addressing the unsustainable demand on general practice and A&E departments. We must think and act differently.
A campaign, Dispensing Health, launches today to challenge traditional views of community pharmacy as simply dispensers of medicine. Pharmacy is the third largest health profession after medicine and nursing. 13,000 community pharmacies act as a health hubs on UK high streets, providing rapid access to a health professional. Yet less than half of us know that pharmacists can advise on treating common ailments which costs the NHS £2 billion every year.
We want people, politicians and health professionals to understand that community pharmacy can be a dispenser of health, as well as of medicines; that it is a gateway for managing good health, that it is part of the solution to our A&E crisis, and that it should be actively promoted as the first place of advice and treatment for common ailments. The NHS depends on community pharmacy, and it depends on people changing their behaviours for its very survival.
Professor Rob Darracott, Pharmacy Voice; Dr Charles Alessi, NAPC; Dr Michael Dixon, NHS Alliance; Sue Sharpe, PSNC; Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP; Dr David Branford, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Let us not be backward thinking. Instead, let 2014 mark the beginning of a creative British involvement in a revivified EU
Sir, Have the disconcerted Conservative MPs (report, Jan 13) grasped, I wonder, that the year 2013 has been a turning point in Britain’s relations with its EU partners?
As a consequence of the stance of the British government, and of the immense width and depth of constructive public discussion in this country, the UK has become de facto the EU’s principal think tank. The mutual benefit which patience and a ready ear can yield in this transformed situation needs no emphasis.
Forget about backward-looking, unilateral withdrawal in a huff. Let 2014 mark the beginning of a creative British involvement in a revivified EU, grounded in the realities of 21st century global interdependence.
Sir Peter Marshall
London W11

Theories that are put forward to explain the death of many historical figures can almost never be validated
Sir, Not another vain attempt to diagnose the cause of death of an historical figure (“Alexander the drunk was just too much of a seasoned campaigner”, Jan 13). Alexander’s symptoms, as reported, would equally fit a death from malaria or septicaemia, and perhaps be more plausible than an obscure form of poisoning. Whatever theories are put forward to explain his death — or indeed any other figure from the past — can almost never be validated; this may explain why Mozart has around 150 causes of death attributed to him.
Such theorising is futile and best avoided.
Professor Tony Waldron
University College London

When talking about living on welfare, it is useful to look at the facts about payments and standards of living
Sir, Philip Collins is right (“Living on benefits has no drama just crisis”, Jan 13). Benefits Street fails to be a programme about welfare. It shows the consequent crises but not the underlying arithmetic. A 55-year-old in Tottenham is receiving £71.70 a week JSA and is looking for work. Haringey Council demanded £24 a week rent for his spare bedroom, and then threatened him with eviction. It then imposed £5 council tax a week, . He is left with £42.70 a week while the Rowntree research tells us he needs £50 a week for a healthy diet. Increases in that meagre JSA are frozen at 1 per cent while the prices of necessities escalate. His position is unsustainable; real scrounging does a lot better than that.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty


SIR – Dalbor Sudwell wonders whether the week is being de-Christianised because Sunday is not being recognised as the first day of the week.
The etymology of the English names of the days of the week shows that they are named after the moon, the Norse god Tyr, the Germanic god Woden, the Norse gods Thor and Freya, the Roman god Saturn and finally the Sun.
In France, Italy and Spain, the days of the week are named after the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the Sun. Only in Spanish is there a reference to the Sabbath with sabado for Saturday, the Jewish holy day.
Therefore, it is specious to suggest that the week is Christian.
Andrew Holgate
Woodley, Cheshire

SIR – I have experienced many episodes of poor touchline behaviour from parents, and occasionally I have seen coaches try to bully their players into doing what they want them to do.
As a referee and prep school teacher, I used to hold lessons to explain the laws of rugby for parents. It was nearly always mothers who attended. One Saturday, there was a visiting parent who was giving me quite a lot of abuse from the touchline. After half time he went quiet. One of the mothers had explained to him that the law he was yelling about had been changed at the start of the season.
On another occasion, as the team were leaving the field, I overheard a father remark to his son: “Why didn’t you get stuck in and tackle properly?” His son’s reply was: “You can play next week and see if you can do better.”
Young children only need praise and encouragement, and they will achieve.
Tony Carroll
Giggleswick, North Yorkshire
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Doctors saying sorry
SIR – Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to be congratulated for his desire for the NHS to say sorry when things go wrong. Perhaps he can show leadership by apologising for his Government’s pointless and expensive management reorganisation of the service.
Dr Robert Walker
Great Clifton, Cumberland
SIR – The Health Secretary wants doctors and nurses to say sorry when things go wrong. He might also encourage the health professionals by saying thank you for the occasions when things go right.
Revd Peter Phillips
Swansea, Glamorgan
Stable relationship
SIR – How very lucky we are in this country to live in a monarchy where our head of state is quite happy to have a string of racehorses, whereas France’s equivalent allegedly has a string of mistresses.
David Scott
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Mouse damage
SIR – Once Penny Elles has had her mouse-gnawed dishwasher repaired, she might consider buying an ultrasonic rodent repeller. They plug into any socket and cost next nothing to run.
Finally, I have no more mice.
Nick Edge
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
SIR – We bought a Zanussi dishwasher in 1977 and after one year a mouse chewed a large hole in the bifurcated hose at the base of the wash chamber.
With the imminent arrival of a German family for a two-week stay, I went to the local garage and bought a motorcycle puncture repair kit, and made what I thought would be a temporary repair. The machine has been trouble-free ever since.
Laurie Walpole
Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire
Potty parents
SIR – The extent of entitlement exercised by parents of toddlers reached a new low yesterday. As I had breakfast in a local cafe, a mother at the next table put her child on a potty – right next to me. Am I alone in thinking that this was really a step too far?
Jacqueline Heywood
Oxted, Surrey
Living on benefits
SIR – At Channel Four, we take criticism seriously, especially from those helping vulnerable and minority communities. However, the letter from various charities criticising Benefits Street is based on one programme, when it is a five-part series made over 12 months.
Different types of claimants live on the street: people suffering drug or alcohol addiction, victims of domestic abuse and people struggling to find work. All are represented in the series. Last night’s episode, focusing on Romanian immigrants, has already attracted sympathetic comments. The series has also already introduced the “50p man”, an entrepreneur who was offered two jobs following transmission, among other locals committed to doing public good.
The series honestly reflects what happened over 12 months. While much is inspiring, some bits are uncomfortable to watch. I dispute that those featured represent “harmful stereotypes”. Living in an area of sustained unemployment, they need “support from benefits” as much as anyone. By watching the whole series, a complex portrait emerges of a community feeling the effects of benefit cuts, but one where neighbourliness and family are key, and where the frustrated appetite for work is as evident as a dependency on benefits.
Nick Mirsky
Head of Documentaries, Channel Four
London SW1
Opening the flood gates
SIR – At the upper reaches of the River Ray, the sluice gates have for once not been closed, reducing flooding and allowing water to flow freely down to the Thames towards Oxford at a much greater rate.
Developers who are appealing against a refusal to build on the marshes and flood plain at the edge of our village must be delighted; those further down the Thames, in Oxford, Reading and Marlow, less so.
Mark Longworth
Ambrosden, Oxfordshire
Password plea
SIR – We need passwords for everything. They are becoming more and more complex, requiring up to eight characters, alphanumeric combinations, or answers to “secret questions” such as the name of one’s primary school (I attended four).
We are told not to use the same password twice, or to write them down. How are we supposed to remember them?
Ann Ball
Lingfield, Surrey
Housing shortage dictates rural planning policy
SIR – I was dismayed to read “not in my back yard” letters about planning in rural areas. House prices have risen out of reach of most young people because of the shortage of houses being built – driven by our invitation to millions of people to migrate to this country.
Not everyone can live on a redeveloped factory site or redundant railway siding. Wokingham, where I live, is doing more than its share. The countryside has to shoulder some of the burden too.
Elizabeth Spooner
Wokingham, Berkshire
SIR – The Liberal Democrats have been criticising the Tories for suppressing a plan to build two new garden cities because it would alienate their supporters.
At least the Tories have finally woken up to the danger. They have already done an immense amount of damage to their mainstay supporters in the “shire” counties with the National Planning Policy Framework and the way it is being interpreted. The offending phrase “the assumption of sustainability” seems to mean that Defra can do what it likes.
Doug Pennifold
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
SIR – There seems to be a tendency in some Government circles to view the countryside as one vast potential building site, rather than as the precious and diminishing resource that it is.
We need to stop the pursuit of endless growth and realise that a rapidly increasing population on an overcrowded island will lead to the destruction of the countryside if allowed to continue unchecked.
The Government should drop its promotion of grandiose schemes such as HS2, another London airport, and the building of new towns and cities, and instead work towards a sustainable economy based on a steady or reducing population.
Peter Graystone
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

SIR – “Reforming the EU will always be a case of working within the limits of the possible” (leading article, January 13).Indeed. Furthermore, no reasonable person expects that it will be easy. However, the Prime Minister’s credibility on the matter is not helped by two facts.
First, his only firm pledge – to renegotiate and then hold a referendum before the end of 2017– is dependent on his being in office after May 2015. How might the game change if, once again, he is forced into coalition with Nick Clegg (or, worse, Vince Cable) as the price for staying in No 10?
Secondly, such negotiations will not happen overnight. The EU doesn’t work that way. So, if Mr Cameron really is sincere, why hasn’t he started the process now? No wonder so many of his own backbenchers, reflecting the mood of many core Tory voters, feel the need to keep the pressure on him.
John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire
SIR – Boris Johnson is correct: other members of the EU will do nothing for Britain until faced with some gunboat diplomacy. Tony Blair thought that with lots of charm he could regain something by giving back part of Britain’s rebate, but got little in return.
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That is why we need an early referendum before the next general election: so that the British government can speak from a position of strength, with the will of the British electorate behind it.
L A Lawrence
Devizes, Wiltshire
SIR – The brouhaha over Europe and sovereignty seems to be gathering pace, yet both commissioners and governments seem less and less inclined to listen to and trust the people. In Britain, the question is not so much “Why trust the people?” but “Why trust the politicians?”
I voted “No” in the 1975 referendum, the result of which has seen four decades of EU federalism. If there is a referendum in 2017, many, like me, will have already voted with their feet.
Chris Watson
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia
SIR – It is not just Ed Miliband, but all our so-called leaders who are terrified of giving the public their say. Everyone knows that renegotiation is impossible without withdrawal; and will a Tory victory actually give us a referendum? Fat chance.
J D Mortimer
Great Harwood, Lancashire
SIR – David Cameron shot himself in the foot by declaring his support for remaining in the EU. He will have no chance of obtaining any favourable concessions unless there is a clear demonstration that the country really is prepared to consider withdrawal if our national sovereignty is not reinstated. A huge Ukip majority in the European elections would achieve this.
Michael Austin
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Is Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, January 14th) not being rather churlish when he mentions the previous form, displayed by executives in Irish Water, on consultant spending? About €100 million was spent by some of these executives on an incinerator which never materialised, while only €50 million was spent on consultants for water that continues to be delivered. While the incinerator burnt €100 million with no outcome, it is yet to be ascertained if Irish Water allowed €50 million to run down the plug hole. We should live in hope! – Yours, etc,
Letterkenny, Co Donegal.
Sir, – One of the sadder aspects of the controversy about consultancy inputs to the fledgling Irish Water is that, apart from anything that Bord Gáis was to bring to the table, the water sector is one area where there is virtually unlimited indigenous professional experience and skill over several generations. The depth of knowledge and experience among central and local authority civil engineers and technicians is impressive enough, but Ireland also has an unequalled international reputation in water engineering through firms like Mahon & McPhillips and Harper & Fay from the 1960s onwards and their successor operations today, as well as control and instrumentation contractors such as Kentz, and metering system suppliers such as CSL. Much of that international effort was pioneered from Kilkenny, Minister for Environment Phil Hogan’s base, and where John Tierney once served in a senior local authority position. Water therefore is one area where you would imagine the creation of a national operating entity would be relatively easy and inexpensive to do. – Yours, etc,
Schoolhouse Road,
Mount Pleasant,
South Carolina, US.
Sir, – The recent revelations concerning consultants’ fees paid by Irish Water of €50 million is an interesting one. On the one hand we have local property tax which initially was to go towards funding local authorities, now going almost entirely to capitalise Irish Water. No doubt this will allow this essential public resource then to be sold off to a private consortium in the short term. On the other hand we have local authorities who will now be strapped for cash to do essential repairs and maintenance of the infrastructure to which they are responsible.
The cost of a proper independent building inspectorate for the average house in the UK is €370 per dwelling (£300). This cost is almost self-funding and comes at minimal extra cost to the UK taxpayer. Given the recent figures for house completions in Ireland for 2013 at 7,500 this would suggest that the €50 million spent on consultants by Irish Water would fund 18 years’ worth of inspections by local authorities in a new comprehensive building control regime. That’s 100 per cent independent building control inspections for every house in Ireland for free for nearly two decades. I wonder which is better value?
The recent calls by construction industry stakeholders for postponement and amendment of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations SI80 appear to be badly timed. Major stakeholder and consumer groups have stressed the industry is not ready and have called for a comprehensive system of local authority (or licensed inspectors) similar to that in the UK. One hundred per cent independent inspections for all buildings completed in the State would give complete consumer protection and finally independently regulate the construction sector.
The Government response has been lack of funds – we don’t have them and we must do more with less. This would not appear to be the case however. – Yours, etc,
Sandycove Road,
Sandycove, Co Dublin.
Sir,  – I’m delighted that the press, radio and TV are on to exposing the outrageous behaviour at Irish Water. In media terms, it’s one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever had.  – Yours, etc,
Pine Valley Avenue,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – On the one hand it is staggering to think that Ministers of the calibre of Phil Hogan and Fergus O’Dowd, could be so vague and poorly informed about the consultancy costs involved in Irish Water. On the other hand it is not in the least bit surprising. The pressure on Ministers to be present at events, clinics, funerals and local meetings in their constituencies, means that even with competent advisers and staff, they cannot humanly master their briefs. Until there is a distinct separation between the roles and responsibilities of Ministers and TDs, I fear Ireland will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. Political reform matters and every effort needs to be made to persuade voters and political movements to earnestly usher in a new era of politics.
I am a grassroots priest, who works with, meets and admires the energy, efforts and commitment of politicians. I am pro-politician, but frustrated with our antiquated political structures that foster repeated cycles of mistakes, discourage some excellent people from running for office, exclude impressive talent, and place heavy hurdles in the way of non-typical candidates, diminishing their electoral chances. Political reform is an imperative now. – Yours, etc,
Elmdale Park,
Cherry Orchard,
Dublin 10.
Sir, – Will Irish Water now hire a consultant to consult on consultants’ consultations? – Yours, etc,
Mill Street,
Westport, Co Mayo.
Sir, – What I utterly fail to understand is how it comes about that presumably competent people are appointed to various positions in public and semi-public organisations, such as Irish Water, at comfortable salaries, but then, when any decision has to be made or anything specific has to be done, consultants have to be called in, at enormous salaries, to tell them what to do and how to do it. But then what do I know? I am only a professor of Greek. – Yours, etc,
Thormanby Road,
Howth, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Perhaps they’re installing a system that will turn it into wine? –
Yours, etc,
St Agnes Park,

Sir, – We welcome the news and that work on the new Immigration Residence and Protection Bill is at an advanced stage (Home News, January 7th) and the earlier announcement (November 15th, 2013) that new procedures have been introduced to speed up the processing of applications for asylum. The situation up to now, whereby asylum seekers have had to wait for years to have a decision on their applications, has been totally unacceptable.
The direct provision system, originally intended to accommodate asylum-seekers for a maximum of six months, has become in effect an inhumane imprisonment. This, coupled with the fact asylum-seekers may not work or receive training, has been soul- destroying, and there is good evidence that their mental and physical health has suffered. The forced inactivity, together with the complete uncertainty about their future, is cruel, completely undermining and disheartening .
We urge that asylum-seekers, whose waiting period for a decision on their application is longer than six months, should be given the right to work and to receive training, and that provision to this effect should be included in the new Bill. – Yours, etc,
On behalf of the Faith in
Action Group,
Dennehys Cross Parish,
Model Farm Road,
Sir, – David Power (January 14th) mentions the question of non-Irish men and women serving in Irish regiments in the first World War.  I wonder if I can mention the other side of the coin, and that is the question of Irishmen and women serving in non-Irish forces?
My father and his brother (my uncle) grew up in Rathmullen, Co Donegal, the sons of the then Church of Ireland Rector, Rev William Battersby Lloyd of Co Roscommon. They both emigrated to Canada as teenagers, and later enlisted with Canadian Regiments.  My uncle was killed near Vimy Ridge in February 1917.  I am not sure how far the digitisation of Ireland’s Memorial Records reflects this. There must be many others in a similar position.
Thanks to Paddy Harte, one time TD in Donegal, my uncle’s name is recorded in a memorial book in that part of the world, and I hope Mr Harte’s good work will be reflected in the latest digitisation.
My father went on to serve in the Home Guard during the second World War. At least 100,000 of his fellow countrymen and women served (and many died) in non-Irish forces in the cause of the freedoms of the governments and people of our two islands. But that’s another story. – Yours, etc,
Merton Road,

Sir, – I applaud Mary McAleese (Front page, January 8th) in campaigning for gay rights generally and within the Catholic Church. Like her predecessor Mary Robinson, she is using her post-presidency influence for the good of humanity by trying to influence international human rights towards more evolved human ethical positions, including gay rights. She is uniquely positioned to do so, with her academic legal career preceding her presidency, and also in terms of influencing the church, her continuing attachment to the church while working for change.
The Catholic Church has a huge demographic spread, and is an influential ethical presence for members of the church in many societies that are rampantly homophobic in both policy and in practice. Therefore, the church can be, if it so chooses, an enormous power for good, in the change towards full human rights, including marriage equality and the resulting societal change for gay people around the world.
To her critics, including Breda O’Brien (Opinion, January 11th), I ask, how could this possibly be a bad thing? When government, or faith institutions, lead the way with evolved humane policies, and enforce these policies properly, then societies start to become better places for all members of society to live. Pope Francis has stunned the world with his new approach and concerns for the poor. Those of us who wish him well hope that he will also lead change in these other important areas of human growth. – Yours, etc,
Co Tipperary.
Sir, – Both Thomas Finegan (January 10th) and Breda O’Brien (Opinion, January 11th) have brought clarity to the issues arising from Mary McAleese’s remarks in Edinburgh, about homosexuality and church teaching.
The church unequivocally proclaims the message of the Gospel to every human being who, though wounded by and infected with sin, is infinitely loved by God. The primary call of the Gospel is to repent, to turn away from the disorder of sin: “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We must, therefore, reorder our lives, with the help of Divine Grace, towards the true origin and end of our existence – God our Creator, Who loves and saves us.
The church does not and never will follow the world in defining people as “gay” or “straight”: “Do not copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Human beings, all of us, have an inclination towards selfishness (the essence of sin) and all without exception have the obligation, helped by God, to overcome this disordered inclination and so be brought to Eternal Salvation. When we fail, as everyone does, there is the medicine of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where God’s patience and compassion is inexhaustible.
Mary McAleese, for whom I have the greatest admiration, is very unjust to our Holy Father Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI. She should know better than to take such cheap shots at him.
Furthermore, the scandal given by Cardinal Keith O’Brien was not on account of his perceived sexuality but sexual misconduct, ie abuse of power and position, on his part, with junior clergy including a seminarian (seminarians being young adults, non-ordained, vulnerable in the ecclesiastical system as it was and, hopefully, is no longer). Cardinal O’Brien has admitted that his behaviour “fell far short’ of what is expected of him and subsequently resigned. – Yours, etc,
Chaplaincy Team, Ulster
Glen Road, ]

Sir, – With reference to Joe Humphreys’s column (Arts & Ideas, January 10th) on the unthinkable great idea that “the mind arises solely from the activity of the brain”, may I suggest this “great” idea is “unthinkable” because it is wrong.
Dr Kevin Mitchell, the interviewee who promotes this great idea, suffers from the narrow vision that seems typical of many brain scientists.
He reminds me of the unfortunate scientist, Dr Hfuhruhurr, played by Steve Martin in the film The Man with Two Brains, who falls in love with a female brain kept “alive” in a jar. The film is labelled as a science fiction comedy, for of course we all appreciate that a brain cannot function in isolation from a living body. Yet Dr Mitchell says “mental states arise from brain states” and that “we don’t actually need anything else in our overall theory of how they emerge except brain states”.
He cites the reality that when the brain dies or is damaged the mind dies or is damaged. This is incontrovertible, but what it tells us is that the brain is necessary to the functioning of the mind, or the processes we call the mind. The brain is necessary but it is not sufficient, many more factors come into play. The mind, and its qualities such as the sense of self and consciousness, emerges from complex interactions of the brain with the body, the material world and the socio-cultural world of relationships and meanings.
Until neuroscientists such as Dr Mitchell realise this and broaden their perspective they will make no progress whatsoever in understanding the mind and they will soon come to a full stop in their understanding of the brain. Much remains to be discovered. The alternative to Dr Mitchell’s brand of neuroscience is not religion or poetry, as the article suggests, but better science. – Yours, etc,
Professor Emeritus,
School of Psychology,

Sir, – “A job of work” and “A raft of measures”. – Yours, etc,
Viewmount Park,
Sir, – Even more irritating than “phrases we can live without” are well-known phrases which seem to have a new meaning. For example? It is almost de rigueur for guests on a TV or radio programme to begin with the phrase “Thank you for having me on”; to which I am tempted to reply, “I’m not having you on, I’m quite serious!” Or Kathryn Thomas urging the audience to “give it up” for Finbarr Furey. The only time I ever gave it up was for Lent. – Yours, etc,
Waterfall, Nr Cork.

Sir, – How disheartening it is to see that a teacher of 37 years (Der Fitzgibbon, January 14th) would expect that teachers performing their job should be the subject of editorial comment. Surely it’s not so uncommon that it needs national recognition? – Yours, etc,
Ardmore Park,
Co Wicklow.

Sir, – What a lovely photograph of Pope Francis addressing the ambassadors about war and peace (World News, January 14th). But sadly there is only one woman in the front row. War is obviously men’s talk. – Yours, etc,
Avoca Avenue,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fionola Meredith’s merry little romp through some of the wilder shores of New Ageism (Opinion, January 13th) only serves to show one thing: any belief system, reduced to its mechanics, can be made to sound ridiculous. Christianity would be no exception. – Yours, etc,
Shamrock Avenue,
Douglas, Cork.

Irish Independent:

Congratulations on your recent award for being the best finance minister in Europe and for exiting the bailout. I wonder did you manage to celebrate somehow? Did you go out for a meal, even a couple of drinks, did your people give you cards and gifts perhaps? Did you as a work team toast yourselves for such huge success?
I wonder because all of the above are the things that are very difficult for me and my family right now. I am a working person with a young family, and I really want to tell you how it is for those of us who have managed to maintain employment throughout the downturn.
Both my husband and I have worked continuously throughout the recession, religiously paying our bills and striving to keep on top of our financial affairs, constantly aware that there was no job security anymore and it could be us on the dole queue just the same as the other unfortunate workers whose jobs were there one minute and gone the next.
And here we are, the recession is apparently officially over, we own our own house, we are both still in employment and we should be comfortable now, shouldn’t we?
We are constantly hearing about the most vulnerable in society, the most disadvantaged and how we all need to take a hit to protect the most vulnerable. However, what your government is not managing to comprehend is that we, the working people, have become the people who find it incredibly difficult to put food on the table, who are being bombarded by bills, taxes, charges, reminders and final reminders, who cannot manage a night out once in a while, who have had to explain to our families that we are having difficulties stretching to buy Christmas presents, who panic when a wedding invitation arrives through the letterbox, and lie that we cannot get out of work commitments on that day rather than admit that attending would mean we could not stretch to feed our young families for the month.
Bills come in expecting immediate payment but with monthly paydays come delays in what you can pay, and when. We simply cannot pay bills with no money.
Minister Noonan, your government expects us to pay water charges for this year, you also expect us to pay double the amount of property tax.
What exactly do you expect us to pay that with?
* This morning (January 14) I was able to start the day with an enormous laugh after hearing one of the presenters on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme announce that President Hollande would be giving a press conference later in the afternoon on the state of the French economy, where — according to the presenter — “there is growth, but it is tiny”.
Mon dieu — I just wonder if the women in his life also think the same way. I mean about the economy of course.
* Tony Flannery (Irish Independent, January 11) would suggest that in the Catholic community there are two ways of interpreting the Bible, the traditional “word of God” way and interpretation “within the social and cultural milieu of its time . . . and understood through the very different circumstances of each age”.
This latter view, however, suggests that truth is relative. That truth for one age need not be truth for another age.
It must be difficult indeed for people of faith to come to terms with this. One example in particular is that of the condoning of slavery in the Bible. We now accept the enslavement of one human by another to be morally repugnant, yet it is condoned in the Bible, both in the old and new testaments.
Exodus 20:20-21 says: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”
Ephesians 6:5 adds: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”
And Peter 2:18 says: “Slaves, in reverent fear of God, submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”
Since we know and accept that slavery is immoral now, then slavery was also immoral in the past. There can be no justification for slavery and no matter how the “communities of faith” look at Bible passages condoning slavery — either as the immutable word of God or as a “cultural milieu of its time” — it is wrong.
If their holy book got something as simple as human slavery wrong then that discounts their holy book as a source of truth whichever way you interpret it.
* Graham Clifford (Irish Independent January 11) believes the 200,000 Irishmen, of whom 49,000 “died so brutally in the squalor and filth of a most senseless war, deserve to be remembered”.
Dublin Memorials to World War I exceed 200, which includes the 60- acre war memorial gardens at Islandbridge, the scale of which dwarfs any memorial dedicated to the struggle for independence. There are 19 World War I memorials in Cork city and county. In Kerry there are six memorials and there are also now memorials in France and Belgium.
The graves of over 3,000 war dead from World Wars I and II are tended to by the Office of Public Works.
Officially, Britain’s war aims included securing the freedom of small nations. Egged on by certain Irish political leaders, some people foolishly believed this British imperialist war propaganda. But in 1919, Ireland got, not freedom, but the Black and Tans.
The Irish who joined the British army in order to serve their country were cruelly duped by this deliberate imperialist lie, for which no apology has ever been given.
For Ireland, the “Great War” was a great fraud.
* As European Central Bank member Yves Mersch unveiled the new €10 bank note he said: “The single currency has helped to bring millions of Europeans together, in all our diversity.”
I would make the case that the single currency has actually driven a wedge between fellow Europeans. Cheap credit that resulted from the introduction of the euro led many countries, like lemmings, over an economic cliff. The resulting solidarity could be seen nightly on our TV screens as Greek and Spanish protesters burned effigies of Angela Merkel, while after a quick perusal of the comments section of almost any German broadsheet you will find less than flattering remarks about the bailout countries.
I would go so far as to say the euro has caused the most divisions in Europe since World War II.
* A total €50m in one year is €1m per week in round figures. This is €200,000 per working day. With this amount one could employ over 100 top-flight consultants, working full time, flat out, every minute of each working day for a year.
Where did Irish Water unearth so many top consultants?
* Will Irish Water now hire a consultant to consult on consultants’ consultations?
Irish Independent


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