Still clearing out

19 January 2014 Still clearing out
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Captain Povey ihas a bad cold and Commander Murray is put in charge.
Start to clear out attic for insulation
Scrabble today Mary wins   and gets  over   300,  Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

The Lord McAlpine of West Green, who has died aged 71, was an early supporter and confidant of Margaret Thatcher and as Conservative Party treasurer in the 1980s was probably the most successful fundraiser the party ever had; late in his life he was wrongly accused of paedophilia, in a scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of the BBC Director General, George Entwistle.
The false allegations of child abuse began to swirl around McAlpine in 2012, following an edition of Newsnight which claimed to expose “a senior Tory”. Lord McAlpine was swiftly “identified” on social media as the Tory in question, only for the whole story to be equally swiftly debunked.
Among those who mistakenly linked him to the scandal was Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, who wrote on her Twitter account: “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*”
McAlpine received significant damages, including from Mrs Bercow – which he gave to charity – though the self-inflicted damage at the BBC was far greater.
The affair had threatened to wreck the career of one of the great Conservative figures of the last generation. Yet this was a career in the world of politics rather a career as a politician. For, despite his undoubted influence and absolute loyalty to Mrs Thatcher, McAlpine – by nature a dilettante – did not become a significant political figure.
Indeed, the columnist Alan Watkins once described him as being “fundamentally anti-Conservative”. This seemed an eccentric judgment in the 1980s, when McAlpine placed his liver and waistline (and eventually his heart, which underwent two rounds of multiple bypass surgery) at the service of the party in a ceaseless round of lunches and champagne receptions designed to persuade corporate plutocrats to part with their cash. During the Thatcher years an invitation to his lavish parties at the annual Conservative Party conference was a sign of high political favour.
Yet though he served as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party from 1979 to 1983 and treasurer from 1975 to 1990, McAlpine was never really “into” politics. At heart he was an 18th-century amateur, a collector of art and of garden implements, of wooden statues, stuffed birds, old cushions, Turkish carpets, gossip — and people.
He enjoyed fund-raising for the Conservative party, and his personal devotion to the woman he called “the most magnificent” Margaret Thatcher was absolute. But politics per se never really engaged his attention. His personal credo, expressed in such works as Letters to a Young Politician from his Uncle (1995), seemed to be a mish-mash of ideas derived from the Right (the destruction of the EU), the Left (huge public subsidies for motor manufacturers to develop the electric engine), and soggy liberalism (the decriminalisation of all drugs).
He was mischievously fascinated by the mechanisms of power (among other things he penned a tongue-in-cheek updating of Machiavelli’s The Prince), and relished the gossip and intrigue of high politics. But he was impatient with the democratic arts of negotiation and compromise and a low boredom threshold coupled with a subversive streak made him disdainful of the sort of party loyalist on whom all political leaders must rely. One of his damning judgments was simply: “He causes no trouble.”
When Mrs Thatcher fell he remained loyal, continuing to address her as “Prime Minister” and scorning her assassins as a bunch of pygmies and worse. There was never any doubt that whoever succeeded her would fail to match up and he made no attempt to make the transition to John Major — whom he once described as “hanging around like a pair of curtains” — or to disguise his contempt for the new consensual political style. He once compared the Major cabinet to pig farmers on an Irish ferry: “One moves to the right-hand side of the boat, they all move, then fearing the ferry will capsize, they all move back again with much the same result.”
His animus against those who had “betrayed” his leader led him in the 1990s to turn on his old party and to campaign for its defeat, lobbing journalistic salvoes at Major and anyone else suspected of playing a part in his heroine’s downfall. The party, he declared, could do with a “good scrub with a hard brush” (a term in opposition). So there was no surprise when in 1996, six months before the Labour landslide of 1997, McAlpine announced his defection to Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party.
A third child and second of three sons of Lord McAlpine of Moffat, and a great-grandson of “Concrete Bob” McAlpine, who built the West Highland Railway and founded the family construction company, Robert Alistair McAlpine was born by caesarean section on May 14 1942 at the Dorchester Hotel, which his family built and owned; as a baby he received his first bottle via room service. His mother Molly was a powerful woman who smoked cigars and believed that the only real education was to be had in travel. This was just as well since, being dyslexic (a condition only diagnosed when he was in his twenties), young Alistair did badly at school, leaving Stowe aged 16 with just three O-levels.
Following family tradition he started work as a timekeeper on McAlpine’s South Bank site in London. Working long hours and being covered in dust meant that he was never invited to Society balls, but in any case he preferred the company of Irish navvies and the Bohemian friends he met in Soho pubs.
McAlpine started making serious money on his own account at 22 when he learned that the government of Western Australia was about to privatise road-building. He flew out immediately, concluded that road-building prospects were poor, but decided to go into hotels instead. After building various properties in Perth, he moved up to Broome, an old pearl-fishing station on the north-west coast, and started developing it as a holiday resort, complete with zoo, cinema and international airport.
As a child McAlpine had a cupboard of curiosities including a snake in a bottle, a wartime lemon and a piece of Zeppelin. In adulthood he indulged his collecting obsession by developing a taste in modern art and sculpture. Encouraged by a friend, the art dealer Leslie Waddington, he acquired a knack for spotting talented artists — for instance the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko — well before they became famous. He therefore was able to buy their works before they became prohibitively expensive. Apart from fine art, the objects of his desires included police truncheons, snowdrops, rare breeds of chicken, Renaissance tapestries, curiosities such as five-legged lambs in formaldehyde, shells and ties. In the 1980s staff at Central Office would recall one of his secretaries telephoning customs trying to get one of his acquisitions released: “No, it’s not Lord McAlpine’s penis. It’s a dinosaur penis.”
As a collector McAlpine seemed to buy more for the pleasure of having things pass through his hands than of owning them permanently. When his interests changed he gave things away or sold them; the Tate and other galleries were among the beneficiaries. In the late 1980s he had a shop in Cork Street where he sold everything from busts of Roman emperors to prehistoric artifacts.
In the 1970s McAlpine was a fervent believer in the Common Market and was treasurer of the “Britain in Europe” campaign for the 1975 referendum. But he was not then active politically and at one stage members of Harold Wilson’s kitchen cabinet even thought of offering him a job as a Labour Party fund-raiser.
Everything changed in 1975 after he met Margaret Thatcher, who had recently supplanted Ted Heath as leader of the Conservative Party, over dinner. They hit it off immediately. He admired her forceful radicalism; she appreciated his garrulous charm and air of business efficiency. “I told him he would have to give up his German Mercedes for a British Jaguar,” she wrote in her memoirs, “and he immediately complied.” He complied also with her request that he become the party’s (unpaid) treasurer.
The appointment of a 32-year old millionaire with unconventional tastes did not go down well with some of the more dignified members of the party’s treasurers’ department, who were soon shunted aside. Yet McAlpine did not spend much time at Central Office itself, being much more effective outside it. “I used to lurk,” he explained. “I lurked all over London where rich people went.”
At his office in London journalists were regaled with gossip and generous lashings of Chateau Latour, and he became a favourite of even such papers as the Independent and the Guardian. Rotund in loud but well-cut Savile Row suits and bilious pink and green Garrick Club ties, he would lunch prospective donors (and journalists) at the Club. Money was never discussed directly but the follow-up letters left recipients in little doubt about what was expected – and the funds poured in. In 1975, the year before McAlpine arrived, the Conservatives raised about £1.5m. By the time of the 1979 election, it was £4m, and by 1990 at least £9m. In between McAlpine was thought to have raised about £100m.
During the 1980s McAlpine’s country home, West Green, a handsome 18th-century house near Basingstoke, Hampshire, became the venue for lavish dinners (often cooked by the host himself) at which prominent Tories would rub shoulders with artists, dealers, writers, Bohemians and even stalwart socialists.
He was sometimes criticised for the secrecy of Conservative finances and his willingness to accept donations from rich foreign businessmen such as the Hong Kong millionaire Li Ka Shing, Mohamed Fayed and Asil Nadir. But there was never a serious whiff of scandal. In 1993, after Nadir had fled to northern Cyprus to escape prosecution for fraud, he claimed he would reveal favours promised by McAlpine in return for his cash. McAlpine challenged him to do so; he never did.
McAlpine was deputy chairman of the party from 1979 to 1983. His raffish, anarchic streak meant that he liked Cecil Parkinson but loathed Parkinson’s successor John Gummer, whom he considered sanctimonious and dull. Such was his influence with Margaret Thatcher that he was said to have engineered Gummer’s rapid replacement by Norman Tebbit.
In 1984, on Margaret Thatcher’s recommendation, he was created a life peer. That year, when the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Conservative conference, McAlpine was staying in the suite above the Prime Minister’s. Woken by the explosion but otherwise unhurt, he immediately set to work to address the practicalities of the situation and, as stunned survivors wandered around in their nightclothes, he called the top brass of Marks & Spencer and got them to open their Brighton store early so that people could be properly dressed for the conference that day. His Hampshire home became a refuge for several shell-shocked survivors.
In 1987 McAlpine had to have a major coronary bypass operation and in 1990 he gave up the treasurer’s job. His name was on IRA lists and, ostensibly for reasons of safety and tax, he decided to move to Monte Carlo and Venice. He took almost nothing with him from Britain, having put all his English possessions up for sale at Sotheby’s so as to start afresh.
Although McAlpine ascribed his decision to leave Britain as a matter of personal whim, there were also financial considerations. In 1989, after an Australian pilot’s strike lasting six months, his Australian tourism venture, in which he had invested £250 million, collapsed, costing him much of his personal fortune. In June 1990, shortly after he and his family had moved out, West Green was blown up by the IRA.
When Margaret Thatcher was challenged at the end of that year, he watched with horror as her leadership campaign unravelled. After her defeat he lent her a house on College Green where the atmosphere of Downing Street was for a while religiously preserved.
In the 1990s he turned to writing and was the author of some dozen books ranging from two volumes of memoirs to a guide to the world’s museums and a guide to happiness to mischievous political parodies. He also wrote a regular column in The World of Interiors and contributed widely to national newspapers.
Having defected to James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in 1996, following Goldsmith’s death in 1997 McAlpine became its leader. He sat as an Independent Conservative for some time in the House of Lords before rejoining the Conservatives.
McAlpine’s love for the arts was not limited to collecting: he was a member of the Arts Council, chairman of the Theatre Investment Fund, trustee of the Royal Opera House and a director of the Institute for Contemporary Arts.
Yet he himself admitted that there was truth in the accusation of dilettantism that was often levelled against him. This applied not only to possessions but to his relationships, as major changes in his life sometimes entailed equally dramatic changes in his domestic arrangements.
When his first marriage, to Sarah Baron, collapsed shortly after he became treasurer of the Conservative Party, his disabled mother hit him over the head with her walking stick. For years, his two daughters from the marriage never spoke to him.
In 1980 he married, secondly, his political secretary Romilly Hobbs, who became a glamorous and popular hostess during the Thatcher years, bore him another daughter and nursed him through two triple bypass operations.
The second of these, in 1999, nearly killed McAlpine and he spent a month in a coma on a life-support machine. He experienced a deathbed conversion to Roman Catholicism, emerged declaring that he felt “more casual about life” and, months later, left the family home. After an acrimonious divorce from Romilly on the grounds of his adultery, in 2002 he married Athena Malpas, a glamorous brunette three decades his junior.
McAlpine’s account of his marital inconstancy was chillingly casual: “I keep changing my life, houses and relationships. I reinvent myself every few years. My first marriage lasted 15 years and this one [to Romilly] 20. It’s hardly into bed and out the other side. There was a great deal of love. But there comes a point when life is just a habit, and I’m rather against habits. I just didn’t want to carry on.” To his credit, though, he never tried to square his behaviour with his new-found faith.
Lord McAlpine is survived by his third wife and by the three daughters of his earlier marriages.
* Lord McAlpine, born May 14 1942, died January 17 2014

Guardian:

It wasn’t only the gracious mansions that were built on the profits of slavery (“How gracious mansions hide a dark history of Britain’s links to slavery”, In Focus).
In 1984, Peter Fryer published Staying Power, a ground-breaking history of the black presence in Britain. This book analysed the way in which those with interests in slavery contributed to the developments of banking and to the demands out of which the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century grew. Ships needed financing. The British leg of the trade to Africa carried textiles, iron rings, chains, muskets, tobacco, beer. And this was not a shrinking market.
Judy Palfreman
Coventry
In Bristol, the defeat of the reform bill in 1831 led to riots in Queen Square. The square is not far from Welsh Back, where slate and coal was unloaded.
Shareholders in these industries would have followed the example of the plantation owners and bought an elegant Georgian house in Queen Square.
The fusion of income streams from exploitation at home and abroad kept the capitalist show on the road.
Ivor Morgan
Lincoln
Jamie Doward’s excellent article on slavery’s absence in the public understanding of the history of Britain called to mind a visit some 20 years ago to the University of Louisiana.
A large exhibition on the subject of Louisiana’s economic development featured a section devoted to agriculture, including the extensive cotton crop, which it managed to cover without any reference to the fact that the workers were slaves.
There was, as I recollect, no reference to slavery at all in the exhibition. It had been airbrushed out.
If it was possible to do that in the US, in a former slave state, how much easier has it been here where slaves existed only in faraway colonies?
My education in the 50s, both at school and at home, told me much about the empire and its glories. It told me nothing of the shameful trade upon which it was built.
Dick Russell
Beenham
Berkshire
As Jamie Doward notes, Britain is self-servingly one-eyed in focusing largely on its role in the abolition of the slave trade. Our country’s long history of profiting from it is conveniently swept under the carpet.
A key objective of the 2007 bicentenary should have been the erection of prominent monuments to the Unknown Slave, at least in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, which all made enormous profits from slavery.
It was an opportunity missed. Perhaps the education secretary, Michael Gove, could take the initiative to help remedy the omission.
Graham Thomas
St Albans
Hertfordshire
Being from Bristol and maybe being presumptuous enough to speak for fellow Bristolians, I think most are acutely aware of the city’s link to the slave trade. It is not a proud history, clearly.
I do however resent the implication that the subject is actively avoided or that people are apathetic to it. The choice to focus on slavery in the US is one of mass appeal, required to make a Hollywood movie.
M Konig
Posted online

Nick Cohen (“Osborne says there are no easy answers”, Comment) highlights major injustices arising from George Osborne’s economic policies. But pitching “the old” against “the young” is unhelpful. “Triple-locked” pensions look cheap set besides declining income from annuities and savings, increased energy bills and the rising cost of personal health and social care. Not all of “the old” are protected by gains in property values: around 40% of those 60 and over have no or minimal housing wealth; a quarter of the houses occupied by older people actually fail the decent homes standard. And the “weight of austerity” to which Cohen refers remains especially important for the estimated two million people who are 60 and over and living on or below the poverty line. Social and economic inequalities influence the old as much as the young and young middle aged. Indeed, from the trends that Cohen describes, this pattern looks set to increase as a result of the divisions created by coalition policies.
Professor Chris Phillipson
School of Social Sciences
University of Manchester
Yes to a free and just Scotland
I’m surprised that Alistair Darling didn’t take the opportunity to spell out what he believes are the benefits of being “better together” in his interview (New Review). Instead, he reverted to attacking the tactics of the yes campaign and the Scottish government’s white paper. As as English expat of nearly 25 years standing, I will be voting yes in September with my head much more than my heart. In an independent Scotland, there will be no more demonising of the poor, the vulnerable and immigrants. There will be no nuclear weapons and billions wasted upon their replacement. There will be no unelected second chamber. There will be the promotion of social responsibility and social justice.
I wonder if Darling has read the white paper. It acknowledges from the start that there will have to be negotiations with the Westminster government, the EU and others in the 18 months following a yes vote. The paper is also full of figures, if he cares to look.
Hugh Jones
Dunblane
A warning you can’t sweeten
As the GP member of the committee on medical aspects of food and nutrition policy that in 1994 recommended, as you say, reduction in salt intake, I remember the disbelief at government rejection of this important step (“Sugar: the lobbying menace that is making us ill”, leader).
You also refer to the protracted battle with the tobacco industry and there is an interesting analogy in the relationship between food and smoking and their relevance to health. Although, as you say, it took about 30 years to convince government of the scientific evidence of harm, the tasks of tackling the tobacco industry and persuading government were a bit easier. With food, the relationship is much more complex. But as a GP for many years, now retired, I am only too aware of the harm to health and wellbeing of an unhealthy diet.
Professor Godfrey Fowler
Emeritus professor of general practice
University of Oxford
Ipso fails independence test
Peter Preston defends the Ipso self-regulation system proposed by the big newspaper companies to replace the failed Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and disputes my suggestion that its appointments procedures are unsatisfactory (“There’s no hope if Hacked Off can only harangue us”, Media). There is a simple way of resolving this disagreement, because a test exists to determine whether a press self-regulator meets adequate standards of independence and effectiveness: does it satisfy the criteria set out by Lord Justice Leveson after his painstaking public inquiry?
These criteria, which are incorporated in the royal charter on press self-regulation granted last year, carefully safeguard freedom of expression while also ensuring that for the first time the public should have impartial and accessible means of redress when things go wrong. If Mr Preston believes Ipso would be independent and effective, and if he wants the public to be satisfied of this, then he should encourage the big newspaper companies to ensure that it meets the criteria.
Sadly, at present, not only does Ipso fall far short of passing this test, but those behind it have no intention of even submitting it to the scrupulously independent body now being set up under the charter to administer the test.
Brian Cathcart
Executive director, Hacked Off,
London SW1
On borrowed time
I would like to endorse every word of Catherine Bennett’s article (“Need advice at your local library? Look under A for amateur”, Comment). I do not write for any of my fellow volunteers. All of us are aware that the work we have committed to was previously done by those who had trained for that profession. Equally, we are aware that we will not provide as good a service as before. We also know that to do nothing will mean the loss of a valuable local resource. So we do not see ourselves as replacements but as a necessary interim measure until normal service can be resumed.
John Poucher
Stonesfield, Oxon

Independent:

I was saddened to read about Joan Smith’s recent experience and that she feels the needs of NHS healthcare professionals are put above patients’ needs (“It’s not difficult. Sick people need doctors”, 12 January).
Even though NHS doctors are confronted with an increasingly challenging and high-pressured environment, our priority is to provide the best possible care. A key blocker is the funding problems that the NHS is facing.
GPs are seeing more people than ever – an estimated  340 million consultations a year. All NHS services are under enormous pressure from a combination of rising demand, falling resources and staff shortages in key specialties. There is little evidence to suggest that problems with GP access are increasing pressure on emergency care.
Joan Smith is right that the government must implement a more robust out-of-hours system. Although four out of 10 GPs continue to work in out-of-hours care, the resources available to the service have remained static for many years despite increases in demand. A system-wide approach is needed, looking at everything from NHS 111 to community care services.
The BMA shares Joan Smith’s concerns that when she called NHS 111 she “got an ‘adviser’… who appeared to be reading from a script.” We have repeatedly warned that removing doctors and nurses from the frontline risked turning the service into nothing more than a call centre. The Government needs to improve the service by making it more clinician-led.
Joan Smith’s aunt’s care was not good enough. We should do better, but we need the Government to stop cutting and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that we really can provide the best care for our patients.
Dr Mark Porter
Chairman, British Medical Association
London WC1
Brian Paddick (“We mustn’t forget what plebgate is really about”, 12 January) suggests that the false claims made by PC Keith Wallis were politically motivated; but that our trust in the police should not be unduly shaken. How can it not be?
We regarded the policeman as likely to be more honest and honourable than the politician. How wrong we were! By playing down the importance of  “plebgate”, Brian Paddick – an ex-Met officer himself – illustrates just how oblivious the police sometimes are to the high standards of conduct expected of them; and how the spectacle of fellow officers closing ranks to protect their own, further damages their standing in our eyes.
John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire
It is extraordinary that in the coverage of the death of Ariel Sharon (Special report,  12 January) there was no reference to the wars of 1967 and 1973 when Sharon’s military leadership contributed to the salvation of Israel.
Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
I’m sure many of us can agree with the thrust of Sarah Hughes’ piece (“Finally, television dramas that know when to stop”, Arts & Books, 12 January) that too many TV dramas overstay their welcome. But when she says that we, the viewers, should “stop demanding” that every series has a sequel, I feel she should be directing her remarks to those who commission and buy programmes. No, this is all about ratings, marketing and advertising space. Downton Abbey action figure anyone?
Geoff Hulme
Altrincham, Cheshire
I agree with your editorial (“A small triumph for democracy”, 12 January). But I feel select committees need to go further. If they brought in members of the public, who worked within the field the committee was discussing, it is more likely they would get a realistic picture of what is happening on the ground. This would allow select committees to hear the voice of the people.
Kartar Uppal
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Katy Guest (“I’m no toff, but I’d prefer a pro-Oxbridge bias”, 12 January) is right to argue that there’s nothing wrong with a pro-Oxbridge bias when it comes to recruitment. However, it is objectionable to see so many from the top public schools being favoured – it is this that concerns we meritocrats.
Tim Mickleburgh
Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Have your say

Times:

CAMILLA CAVENDISH’S column “After a terrible week for the police, it’s time for a drastic solution” (Comment last week) starts by saying: “If we can’t trust the police, who can we trust?”
I would say: “If we can’t trust our elected politicians, who can we trust?” Our police need no lessons from those who govern this country, with their expenses scandals, lies and cover-ups over the years.
Andrew Mitchell behaved inappropriately towards the officers on the gate and has admitted to swearing. We will probably never get to the bottom of this incident but it is not as clear-cut as Cavendish describes it. She should not jump on the anti-police bandwagon — the service remains the finest in the world, with the highest standards of professionalism, training and integrity.
Nigel Cross, Westbury, Wiltshire
New York attitude
Cavendish sings the praises of Bill Bratton, New York’s recently appointed police commissioner. Let’s get things into perspective: New York is an extremely violent city compared with London, with police carrying weapons at all times.
A friend of mine — a retired officer — worked in Spanish Harlem and had a gun in a shoulder holster, one on the rear of his belt and another strapped to his ankle. Would Cavendish really prefer to live in this environment?
The column suggests the Metropolitan police should be taken over by Bratton, who has no knowledge of the workings of the British police. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met commissioner, is one of our most respected officers and is well capable of surpassing Bratton. Let him get on with the job.
Bruce Duncan, Glasgow
Searching questions
I find it disappointing that Cavendish has repeated the ill-informed notion that police officers can stop and search people “without justification”. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 requires me as a serving officer to have reasonable grounds to suspect that I will find stolen or prohibited articles before I can search anyone.
I also have to explain to every person I search who I am, why I am searching them and what I am looking for. If individuals and communities feel alienated by stop-and- search, that suggests issues with the way officers are conducting and explaining the searches as opposed to issues with stop-and-search legislation itself.
Chris Millar, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
Hooked on classics
Mitchell has strongly rejected the claim made by PC Toby Rowland that he had called him a pleb. There are many terms of abuse commonly used today but pleb is certainly not one of them and would probably only be employed by someone who has studied the classics. If Mitchell’s denial is correct, this would presumably be Rowland or one of his colleagues.
John MacGillivray, Dundee

Unworkable benefits ban on migrants
IT WOULD not be practicable to deny benefits to EU migrants for the length of time proposed by the work and pensions secretary (“Ban migrant welfare for two years — Duncan Smith”, News, last week).
This could increase poverty, deprivation and homelessness in those cases where migrants come to Britain in good faith but find, possibly through no fault of their own, that the job they came for did not work out. After all, employers can fire a new member of staff within a probationary period.
We would face considerable social problems in such cases. Not being able to claim benefits for two years would leave the migrant impoverished until another job came along, or UK taxpayers would have to pay the repatriation costs to send them back to their own country.
Elizabeth Oakley, Dursley, Gloucestershire
Give and take
As recent research has shown, immigrants put 34% more into this country in taxes than they take out in benefits, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has announced that if all immigrants left the country, over the next five years public sector debt would increase by £18bn.
It is a disgrace that in the past three years under Iain Duncan Smith the number of people having to go to food banks just to survive has risen from 61,000 to more than 346,000, that homelessness is increasing hugely, that the disabled are being forced from their homes and that in many circumstances the poor will no longer receive legal aid.
We are supposedly a First World country in the 21st century, and yet the poverty and starvation is like something you might see in the Third World. I’m ashamed we are letting this happen.
Bethany Tye, Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Welfare states
I would recommend a central EU benefit fund managed by the existing EU purse holders. From its allocation each country would pay benefits to those who emigrate from it. The level of benefit would be commensurate with the nation from which the migrant originates, thereby reducing the temptation to move because of welfare alone.
Douglas Vallgren, Norwich, Norfolk
Same old song
This issue may not be as modern as everyone assumes. My father has a record by Billy Williams from the early 1900s called Wake Up, John Bull!. The song includes phrases such as, “Close your open door, the same as they do on the foreign shore.”
Elaine Grainger, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Plan of attack
I presume if Labour retains a comfortable opinion poll lead over the Conservatives, we can expect more attacks on migrants from Tory cabinet ministers all faithfully and prominently reported.
David Middlemiss, Beverley, East Yorkshire
False picture
I was disappointed with the photograph (from the TV series Benefits Street) accompanying Eleanor Mills’s article “Slowly driving a nation back to work” (News Review, last week) and its caption: “Ministers want to change the lives of dependants…” The Romanians pictured were living in squalid conditions and working 12 hours a day. They were virtually slaves who had to give up their pay to their “contact”. After complaining to the police — whose hands were tied — they had to flee for fear of reprisals. Not one of them was claiming benefits.
Linda Davidson, Leominster, Herefordshire

United nations of caring nurses
SOME head nurses have remarked that Portuguese, Spanish and Filipino nurses who are working in the NHS because of a shortage of their British counterparts are more caring, especially to elderly patients (“NHS’s foreign nurses ‘best at caring’”, News, last week). In my experience, nurses from all countries are caring, though no profession is perfect.
I am a graduate nurse and love my job and I love looking after patients. I am definitely not one of those graduates who you report are “too posh to wash”. I consider it a privilege to be able to use my knowledge and skills to help people at difficult times in their lives, whether I am having difficult conversations about how and where they will die, and what they wish for their loved ones, or helping them onto the commode if this is what they need. This variety is what caring is all about. No one goes into the profession for the money or the status; we enter it to help people and to make a difference.
I am fed up with being called lazy and uncaring. Nurses who are trying as hard as they can are being systematically demoralised. We need to be telling people what is being done to our NHS by this government, because we want the best care for our patients. Nurses need to fight back against the dismantling of the NHS.
Karen Chilver, Palliative care community nurse specialist

Points

Happy flyer
We regular Ryanair travellers know the service on offer (“Cabin pressure”, Magazine, last week). The airline provides cheap travel to places we’d never visit if it didn’t exist. I stand in queues with people of every shape, size, nationality and IQ level you could imagine. We’ve all managed to print off our boarding passes. We’ve all turned up with the correct-sized hand luggage. So we spend a couple of hours in a seat with a rake you can’t adjust? Gosh, my house is full of those. There’s too much noise to sleep? You’d have to have really pushed the boat out the night before to be that desperate for a nap on a two-hour flight. And we’re sold overpriced food and drink? Well, only if we buy it. Lynn Barber is lucky she can afford to sneer at this kind of travel. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to visiting a friend in France on Ryanair.
Juliet Bothams, Alton, Hampshire
Dickensian childhood
Like the former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson I had a troubled childhood and found David Copperfield a source of comfort and inspiration (“David Copperfield saved me as a boy, says Alan Johnson”, News, last week). In the early 1960s, aged nine, I was in the care of a Birmingham city council children’s home. At times I found the environment lonely and intimidating and the regime frightening. One of the female members of staff — Mrs Turner — became my Clara Peggotty. Mrs Turner exuded warmth and would read David Copperfield to me, which left me spellbound. I have loved the works of Dickens ever since.
Peter Henrick, Birmingham
Vital lesson
I was astonished and shocked by Camilla Long’s review of 12 Years a Slave (“Nasty, brutish, for far too long”, Culture, last week). Films are not just about entertainment; very often they inform and educate, and this movie totally exposes us to the realities of human bondage. It is the Schindler’s List of slavery and should be sent to every educational establishment across the land.
David Weale, London
Korea opportunity
With more than 200,000 people incarcerated in its gulags, North Korea is no laughing matter (“Teletubbies on stand-by to soften up hardline North Korea”, News, last week). Instead of trying to sell programmes such as Teletubbies to Pyongyang, the foreign secretary, William Hague, would be much better advised to support an extension of BBC World Service programming to the Korean peninsula. We should be promoting Britain’s cherished belief in democracy and human rights, and never miss an opportunity to underline the gravity of the suffering inflicted by this regime on its own people.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on North Korea, House of Lords
Open country
Eleanor Mills is to be applauded for her bold and insightful article defending free access to the countryside for ordinary people (“We’re not all poachers, Mr Darcy”, News Review, January 5). We believe the government needs to promote outdoor recreation and the many benefits associated with it, be they social, economic or in relation to wellbeing. A healthy, accessible countryside means healthy people.
Nick Kurth CBE, British Mountaineering Council
Hit the bottle
Sugar is the latest item we take into our bodies that has become a scapegoat because of possible ill effects on health (“‘Five-a-day’ foods packed with sugar”, News, last week). But one commonly used liquid seems to have little opposition — alcohol. Consider some of the negatives: it causes liver disease, has well-recognised short-term effects on the brain that might well turn into long- term degradation, is linked to obesity and is a big contributor to road accidents. With such a record it would seem to merit some firm action, but the state cannot even commit itself to price control.
Roy Burrell, Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Birthdays
Julian Barnes, novelist, 68; Martin Bashir, journalist, 51; Jenson Button, Formula One driver, 34; Larry Clark, film director, 71; Michael Crawford, actor, 72; Stefan Edberg, tennis player, 48; Richard Lester, film director, 82; Dolly Parton, singer, 68; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor, 59; Cindy Sherman, photographer, 60; Steve Staunton, footballer, 45; Dennis Taylor, snooker player, 65; Caron Wheeler, singer, 51

Anniversaries
1661 rebel Thomas Venner hanged, drawn and quartered; 1813 birth of Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of a process for turning molten pig iron into steel; 1839 birth of Paul Cézanne, painter; 1915 first Zeppelin raid on Britain during First World War kills four in Norfolk; 1966 Indira Gandhi becomes first female prime minister of India; 1983 Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie arrested in Bolivia

Telegraph:

SIR – You express annoyance with people who “begin every explanation with the word so”.
Be thankful that you don’t understand Danish. In recent years, everyone in Denmark has acquired the verbal tic of starting every answer with Ja, men… which translates as Yes, but… This drives me up the wall when I watch Danish television news: “So what’s the outlook for the weather then, Yvonne?” “Yes, but it’s going to be warm and sunny.” Everywhere, it’s the same thing: “How old is this building?” “Yes, but it’s 200 years old.”
Like all such mannerisms, it will die out eventually. In the meantime, holidaying in Denmark takes on a slightly surreal quality if you understand the language.
Nils Erik Grande
Oslo, Norway

SIR – We in the Syrian Opposition Coalition are grateful that Daniel Hannan and other conservative parliamentarians visited a refugee camp in Turkey, and that they are shining a light on the continuing suffering of Syrian civilians due to the barbarity of the Assad regime.
However, we disagree with Mr Hannan’s conclusion that “there are things beyond our control, problems without solutions”.
In the last few weeks, the Free Syrian Army has been clearing the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from northern Syrian towns.
We are establishing governmental structures in the areas we control, including a ministry of defence, which aims to professionalise our armed forces under a sustainable structure.
Assad’s preferred narrative that it is a choice between him and the extremists is as untrue as it is devious. It is important that it does not take root in the West. We regret that the West chose not to punish militarily Assad’s use of weapons of mass destruction and has, until now, refrained from providing our armed forces with the arms necessary to challenge the regime. Had a no-fly zone been imposed, Assad would not be able to bomb civilians with barrel bombs, killing more than 500 people in the last few weeks alone.
Related Articles
Rotten speech in the state of modern Denmark
18 Jan 2014
Our growing unity and success on the ground necessitates greater outside military, practical and diplomatic support, in order to continue our fight to uphold the legitimate rights of Syrians to enjoy peace, democracy and religious tolerance.
Monzer Akbik
Chief of Staff to Ahmad Jarba, President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition
Playing like a girl
SIR – Elizabeth Truss, the education minister, has warned that girls could be put off careers in science and maths by gender-specific toys. Does she not realise that children have the ability to make choices themselves?
I have four daughters. As young people they wanted and had (as far as finances would allow) the toys they asked for. There were things that some would say were aimed at boys, and some at girls. My daughters didn’t see gender specificity attached to these toys. Incidentally, one of them now drives double-decker buses.
Colin Jamieson
Horncastle, Lincolnshire
Belly-dancing tax
SIR – Having read of the belly dancer’s twists and turns with HMRC, I observe that the taxman continues to dance in mysterious ways.
The disputed tax of £50,000 is small beer compared with what major corporations repeatedly avoid paying.
HMRC needs to stop picking over the bones of small businesses and concentrate where there are truly rich pickings to be had. We will all benefit and be better able to afford Audrey Cheruvier’s entertainment, be it sport or dance.
Graham R Brown
Ampthill, Bedfordshire
For the record
SIR – I would be happy to share NHS data as long as it is correct.
By chance I came into possession of a list of my “problems” (fortunately few) held on my doctor’s database and found that my daughter wasn’t born on the day I actually had her and that I had had a forceps delivery 12 years later, when I know I was on the beach.
Sally Browne
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
Lord Rennard
SIR – The internal review conducted by the Liberal Democrats did not “clear” or “exonerate” Lord Rennard in any sense; indeed the statement cites “evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants”.
We deeply Lord Rennard’s failure to issue an apology at the earliest opportunity following the publication of an internal party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
We believe that until he apologises and acknowledges the distress that his actions have caused, regardless of intent, he should never have had the Liberal Democrat whip restored and should be barred from any party body or involvement in any party activity that might facilitate a repeat of this situation. No apology; no whip.
We note also with deep regret the failure of senior members of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party to denounce in the strongest possible terms Lord Rennard’s behaviour.
We will not rest until our party is a safe space for all free from sexual harassment and assault, without exception. With this in mind we as members will continue to put pressure on the whips office in the House of Lords with a view to reversing the inappropriate decision to restore Lord Rennard to the Liberal Democrat group.
We invite the leadership to meet with action the needs identified in this letter.
Katherine Bavage, Leeds North West, Member of Lib Dem Women
Iain Donaldson, Chair, Manchester Gorton Liberal Democrats
Stephen Glenn, Northern Ireland, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Executive
Elizabeth Jewkes, City of Chester, member of Lib Dem Women
Timothy J. Oliver, Hull & Hessle
Angharad B.Jones, Rhondda Cynon Taff, RCT Lib Dems Membership Officer
Kurt Jewkes, City of Chester
Craig O’Donnell ,Chair of London Liberal Youth
Hywel Morgan, Calderdale
Chris Nelson, Kettering & Wellingborough (2010 parliamentary candidate, Kettering)
Liam Pennington, Preston
Cllr Lloyd Harris, Regional Treasurer East of England, Deputy Leader Dacorum Council Group
Cllr Gareth Aubrey, Cardiff and Vale
James King, Southport, Liberal Youth Co-Finance Officer
Robin McGhee, Bristol, Liberal Youth Co-Finance Officer
Cllr Mark Mills, Oxford East
Allan Heron, Paisley and Renfrewshire
Callum Leslie, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Edinburgh Liberal Youth Treasurer, Scottish conference committee
George Potter, Guildford, Guildford Secretary
Linden Parker, South Norfolk, Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer
Hannah Bettsworth, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh Liberal Youth President, Scottish Women Lib Dems Executive Member
Jack Carr, Aberdeenshire West, President, St Andrews University Liberal Democrats
David Evans, Aberdeenshire East
Andrew Page, Inverclyde
Zoe O’Connell, Cambridge, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Executive
Ruaraidh Dobson, Glasgow North (2010 Candidate Paisley & Renfrewshire North)
Euan Davidson, President Aberdeen University Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conference Committee, Aberdeen Central, South and North Kincardine
Jonathan Wharrad, Congleton, Chair University of Birmingham Liberal Democrats
Samuel Rees (East Dunbartonshire, former IR Cymru Officer)
Hywel Owen Davies, Preseli-Pembrokeshire
Jezz Palmer, Winchester
Jennie Rigg: chair, Calderdale Liberal Democrats; member LGBT+ Liberal Democrats
Euan Cameron, Islington Borough
Siobhan Mathers, Edinburgh North & Leith
Richard Symonds, Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats
Michael Wilson, Stirling Liberal Democrats
James Harrison, Edinburgh North and Leith
Callum Morton, Sutton Liberal Democrats
Tommy Long, Maidstone Lib Dems Data Officer, Liberal Reform Board Member
Amy Dalrymple, Edinburgh North and Leith
Natalie Jester, Bristol South
Maria Pretzler, Swansea and Gower, Member of the Welsh Policy Committee.
Sophie Bridger, Chair of Glasgow North Lib Dems
Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera, Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair, Liberal Democrat South Central Region Executive – Diversity Officer, Newbury Town Council – Councillor for Victoria Ward & Deputy Leader, Newbury Constituency – Executive, Newbury Branch – Chair
Geoff Payne, Hackney LP
Ben Lloyd, Cardiff Central (resident in Belfast)
Paul Pettinger, Westminster Borough and Liberal Youth Vice President
Paul Halliday, Newport Party Chair
Amanda Durley, Dartford and Gravesham
Daniel Jones, Northampton, former Chair Northamptonshire Liberal Youth, East Midlands executive member
Natasha Chapman, Lincoln, Chair of Lincoln Liberal Youth,Social Liberal Forum Council Member
Alisdair Calder McGregor, Prospective Parliamentary Candidatefor the Constituency of Calder Valley (Calderdale Local Party)
Robbie Simpson, North Glasgow, Liberal Youth Scotland Treasurer
Cllr Robin Popley, Chair of Loughborough Liberal Democrats and Shepshed TC.
Cllr Henry Vann, Bedford Borough, Secretary North Bedfordshire Liberal Democrats
Andrew Crofts, Vice Chair of Liberal Youth Saint Albans
Naomi Smith, Co Chair, Social Liberal Forum.
Daniel Gale, Nottingham
Jonathan Brown, Chichester, Member of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, Lib Dem Women & Social Liberal Forum.
James Blanchard, Huddersfield, GLD Exec
Chris Keating, Streatham
Grace Goodlad, Bromley Borough
Norman Fraser, Glasgow North, Organiser, Social Liberal Forum (Scotland)
Morgan Griffith-David, Cardiff and the Vale, Liberal Youth Policy Officer.
Peter Brooks, Islington
Jessica Rees, Swansea
Sanjay Samani, Angus North & Mearns
Dr Mohsin Khan, Oxford East (Secretary, Oxford East. Policy Chair, South Central Region)
Holly Matthies, Manchester Gorton, (Secretary LGBT+ Lib Dems)
Andrew Hickey, Manchester Gorton, (Member of Social Liberal Forum, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, Humanist & Secular Liberal Democrats)
Duncan Stott, Oxford East
Benjamin Krishna, Cambridge
Lee Thacker, Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff
Sebastian Bench, General Secretary University of Nottingham Liberal Youth
Michael Carchrie Campbell, Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats (Member of LGBT+, Social LIberal Forum, Lib Dem Lawyers Association, Liberal Youth)
Neil Monnery, Southend, Data Officer
Matthew Wilkes, North Bristol Liberal Democrats
David Freeborn, Oxford East
Adam Bernard, Harrow West
Andrew Hinton, Data Officer, Shrewsbury & Atcham
Joshua Dixon, Chair of Hillingdon Liberal Democrats (Social Liberal Forum Membership Development Officer)
Sandra Taylor, Altrincham and Sale West
James Brough. Calderdale Liberal Democrats. Member LGBT+
Harry Matthews, Sheffield
Rob Blackie, Former London Assembly candidate, member of London Region Executive, Dulwich & West Norwood
Alex Wasyliw, Party member, South Cambs
Daisy Benson, local councillor and former parliamentary candidate, Reading.
Richard Morgan-Ash, Hackney
Ryan Cullen, Lincoln
Peter Bancroft, Westminster
Linda Jack, Chair Liberal Left
James Shaddock, Portsmouth, Rock The Boat founder
Steven Haynes, South West Birmingham, Liberal Youth Vice Chair
David Franklin, Leeds North East, University of Birmingham Liberal Democrats
Jon Neal, former Parliamentary Candidate, Haltemprice & Howden, party trainer and mentor
Cllr. Harry Hayfield, Lib Dem representative on Llansantffraed Community Council, Ceredigion, Wales
Mag. Andrew A. Kierig, Lib Dems in Brussels and Europe, ALDE Associate
Jennifer Warren, Romsey and Southampton North
Duncan Borrowman, Bromley Borough. Former member Federal Executive, former National Campaigns Officer, former Parliamentary
candidate Old Bexley and Sidcup, former London Assembly candidate.
Penny Goodman, Leeds North West, Secretary of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform
Caron lindsay, Member, Federal Executive and Treasurer, Scottish Party
Laura Gordon, Tonbridge and Malling Alix Mortimer, Lewisham
Jon Massey, Bristol North
Laurence Cox, Member of Harrow LB local party
Kat Dadswell, Member of Liverpool LP
Louise Shaw, Member of Hazel Grove Local Party, Liberal Reform Board Member
George Carpenter, Nottingham Liberal Democrats
William Hobhouse, Heywood and Middleton, Liberal Reform Board Member
Alexis McGeadie (East Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute)
Cath Smith, member Newcastle
Mark Blackburn, Westminster Borough, Exec Director Social Liberal Forum
Rochelle Harris, Member of Maidstone LD Party
Richard Gadsden, Manchester Central, former Parliamentary candidate, Worsley and Eccles South, Secretary Manchester City Party.
Tom Lister, Birmingham Yardley
Layla Moran, Parliamentary Candidate, Oxford West and Abingdon
Stephen Morgan, Birmingham Yardley
Michael Wilson, Twickenham & Richmond
Mary Reid, Kingston Borough, Social Liberal
Marie Jenkins, Newton Abbot, Lib Dem Women member, Leadership Programme member (plus former Campaigns Officer)
and 118 other Liberal Democrat party members; see telegraph.co.uk/letters
Labrador shampoo
SIR – Our dog, Bailey, is a cross between a rottweiler and a doberman, but looks like a labrador. She often returns home from a wet country walk caked in mud but, within an hour or two of simply lying in her bed doing nothing, her coat appears to be clean. Apparently labradors produce a self‑cleaning substance for their fur. Is this true? What is it? We have christened it labrolin, and there is a fortune to be made if someone can find a way to bottle it.
Bob Ellis
Worthing, West Sussex
Lingering romance
SIR – To remember passwords I simply use nicknames for old girlfriends, plus where or when I met them. Perhaps I am the “Last Romantic”.
Richard Froggatt
Belfast
Cyclists should not transfer risk to pedestrians
SIR – A transport minister has urged police not to fine cyclists riding on pavements to “escape dangerous sections of road”.
Why can cyclists not wheel their machines on the pavements, and so avoid transferring risk to pedestrians?
C K Robinson
London SE10
SIR – While the transport minister is in an asking mood, perhaps he could please ask motorists to stop parking on pavements.
Mike Nichols
Earls Barton, Northamptonshire
SIR – Were cycling invented today, it would not be allowed on the roads for health and safety reasons. It would make sense for cycling on the pavements – either shared paths or separate paths – to become more mainstream and regulated. It happens in cities all over the world, particularly where there are footpaths on both sides. Pavement paths work in Bristol, if they are properly signposted, because pedestrians are now aware that the paths are shared.
Richard Owsley
Bristol
SIR – Rather than fine cyclists for riding on the pavement, the police should be given the power to fine them for riding on the road where a cycle path has been provided. Cyclists clog up Surrey roads daily, while the council-built cycle paths remain empty.
Anthony Merryweather
Old Woking, Surrey
SIR – Reverse running was obviously meant to be a joke. More seriously, sideways walking should be promoted. This would make it easier to pass other pedestrians, and to jump into the road to avoid mobility scooters and the ever-increasing number of cyclists.
Wallace Bowden
Denmead, Hampshire

Irish Times:

IrishMadam –If I didn’t know that my poor Mam is dead and gone I would have thought it was her sending in that letter. (Sunday Independent, Jan 12, 2014). It must be like that in a lot of Irish homes, forgetting about your elderly loved ones who were once young, beautiful and full of life, just like the selfish people who are ignoring them now.
Also in this section
Cheap drink comes at a cost
Letters: Disagreeing with Donal on suicide
Letters: Hurtful writing
My heart goes out to that lady. She really must be feeling low to try and reach out to someone who will perhaps just read what she’s going through.
I believe we all should stop for a moment, pick up the phone and just ask: ‘Mam or Dad, how are you?’
Is that too much to ask?
We have all lost our way, given the enormous stress we are under trying to survive, but at the end of the day, what really matters is your family ok: end of story! Do not forget where you came from.
That lady and all other ageing folk who toiled for years trying to rear us and guide us on the straight and narrow deserve better. And lady, I hope you take comfort that even though I don’t know you, you remind me of my poor Mam, who felt the exact same about some of her family. I miss her so much.
Name and address with Editor
DISGRACEFUL WAY ELDERLY ARE TREATED
Madam — Having read the letter of the week (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014), it distressed me so much it compelled me to write. The poor lady who wrote it, how absolutely and utterly miserable her life must be, and what a disgraceful way for her seven children to treat her. She mentions her husband’s jealous streak, so I can only assume that this poor lady is completely isolated as she was not allowed to have any sort of life outside her home.
It unfortunately is not the only case I have heard of whereby people just get on with their own lives and are not only able to conveniently forget about elderly parents and relations but to cut off their contact with grandchildren, who should be allowed to bring such joy and happiness into their lives.
How anyone can turn their back on the mother who gave birth to them, who looked after them, reared them, nursed them when sick and in some cases went without so that their children could have something, is just beyond comprehension. How these same children can call themselves human beings is a mystery to me. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
The Irish nation has always been known for their hospitality, the ‘Land of a Thousand Welcomes’. Have we evolved from this to such an extent that we now neglect our own, that we discard our elderly parents like last week’s rubbish once they are no longer of use to us or when the cash flow has dried up?
We would do well to remember that we owe these people our lives — without them we wouldn’t be here — and treat them accordingly.
Edel Cregan,
Longwood, Co Meath
STAR LETTER JUST A BIG LONG MOAN
Madam — Your letter of the week (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014), is nothing short of one big moan.
It is said, ‘when you are right and everybody else is wrong, chances are it’s you who is wrong’. Also ‘to have a friend you must be a friend’.
Anna Lyons,
Dublin 14
LEVEL OF DESPAIR WAS PALPABLE
Madam — What an incredibly distressing Letter of the Week, “Life is sheer hell at 80” (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014). The level of hurt and despair was very upsetting to read. It seems unbelievable in this day and age that someone who has lived that long has literally no one to turn to — and the sad thing is that I’m sure she is not the only one out there with that horrendous sense of isolation.
I would also wonder how many people out there are reading it and a tiny part of their mind is wondering could it be their mother writing it.
In today’s hectic world it is so easy to keep putting on the long finger that phone call or visit home which can mean a huge amount.
Likewise it is too easy for the grandchildren to accept the yearly birthday card with cash as their due and not make the thank you call or visit.
I think that with the recession and with longer working hours and more financial worries we have probably all become more complacent about the things that matter most and have let family responsibilities slide. I personally think it is a lot more important to spend even a small amount of time with the living and not just turn out in great numbers at the funeral of a family member.
To the lady who wrote the letter I would say it is never too late to change your life. If your health permits it, use the free travel to go out and make some day trips, watch out for coffee mornings in your local church hall or whatever. Make it a point to go out of the house every day even if it is only going to buy milk. The change of scene and fresh air really will help. Make it a point to speak to the shopkeeper and to the person you are standing beside at the bus stop. In a lot of cases, they are probably lonely too.
I would also let your family know how isolated and lonely you are… for in today’s busy world they may not be aware of it. I sincerely hope 2014 will be a better one for you.
Mary Quinn,
Dun Laoghaire
REAL VICTIMS DON’T WRITE LIKE THIS
Madam — I am saddened you gave “Life is sheer hell at 80” the ‘Letter of the Week’ award (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014). The tone of the letter was that of a person who acts the victim. This lady is also steeped in anger.
I would bet her husband and children are the real victims. Is it any wonder they avoid her? No doubt she has hurt them all so much they have no choice but to stay away.
What upsets me is that she has fooled you with her ‘poor me’ talk. How many other people does she fool with her sob stories? I would love to hear from her children and husband what she is really like to be around.
Real victims do not write letters like that.
Dr Annette Hunter,
Letterkenny, Co Donegal
GRIMY MEMORIES OF DUBLIN 1941
Madam — This year there is a lot of remembrance concerning World War I. This revived my memory of the 1941 bombing of Dublin. Living in Henrietta Street, I remember sheltering with my grandparents in the top flat during the bombing of North Circular Road.
It was also wonderful to see the same building (untouched since we left in 1941) used in a recent episode of Ripper Street. The nearby Kings Inn has also been used and we had many happy days with our picnic (bread, maybe jam) in there collecting caterpillars on the rough grass area. I stood outside the building in May last year wishing to look inside so it was good fortune to be watching that episode. I also visited the Kings Inn and walked around the parkland at the back. Nobody ever bothered us in there and we roamed around the outside grounds and considered it as part of our playground.
James Joyce, in Dubliners — A Little Cloud, refers to Henrietta Street and the horde of grimy children that populated that street. In 1941 I am sure we were less grimy. Maybe not.
Tom Cullen,
Argyll, Scotland
HARRIS STILL HAS ONE EYE ON LENS
Madam –In your letters page (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014) I referred to Eoghan Harris as a “former documentary-maker”. In the same paper Eoghan referred to himself as a “sometimes documentary producer”. Perhaps I was presumptuous, as I discern this to mean the warhorse hasn’t hung up his camera lens just yet.
John Bellew,
Dunleer, Co Louth
SAVE PYLON COST BY BURYING CABLES
Madam — Brendan O’Connor’s front-page article (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014), mentions Enda Kenny’s comment that if we want jobs we need to have pylons.
The Taoiseach comes from Mayo and I doubt very much if there is any chance of any of the new pylons going through Mayo territory.
We have come a long way from overhead power cables in this country and the use of pylons would be a huge backward step, not to mention a huge blot on the landscape.
And, by the way, where are the jobs that go with the manufacture of 750 pylons going to be created?
Not in Ireland surely.
Pylons have traditionally been imported from Italy and Spain in the past. Are we going to break ranks and put all the engineering workshops and steelworkers back into meaningful manufacturing jobs?
If the cables go underground, as they should, the money saved on the pylons would stay in the country to generate more jobs.
Is there any joined up thinking in this country?
Walter McCutcheon,
Limerick
LYRIC IS THERE TO SOOTHE LISTENERS
Madam — With regard to Michael Dryhurst’s letter, concerning Lyric FM, (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014), I couldn’t agree more about Motor Mouth M…y in the morning. He just doesn’t know when to stop. It’s the same when he does the Eurovision Song Contest. I must admit I do find Gay interesting, but the whole point of listening to Lyric FM is to be soothed and transported to another world. The presenter I like is Aedin Gormley. She has a lovely tone, and knows that people usually tune in to hear the beautiful music. Less talk please.
Roisin Steed,
Galway
ENCYCLICALS MAKE FOR GOOD READING
Madam — I read Barry Egan (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014) and it reminded me of the question in the Catechism: ‘What is Presumption?’
Answer: ‘It is the foolish expectation of salvation, without making the necessary and proper use of the means to obtain it.’
I am reading the Encyclical ‘Lumen Fidei’ of the Supreme Pontiff Francis. We should also read the other encyclical letters of the previous Popes.
Myra Smith (Mrs), Longford
Disagreeing with Donal on suicide
Madam — For too long the points the late Donal Walsh made in relation to suicide have gone unchallenged. It is not appropriate to speak ill of the dead but it is equally not inappropriate to disagree with the views that they had expressed. The views that Donal Walsh expressed and in particular his views on those who commit suicide should not be seen as acceptable. There was an inference that those who battle depression and succumb to suicide do so out of an element of choice; this cannot be further from the truth, and sadly was never opposed.
I know many who fight against depression and the last thing I would like to see is that devalued by allowing such an inference. I do not believe that anybody who succumbs to suicide does so without enduring a great level of pain or consideration for the pain that it will cause. The battle against depression is a silent one and is often hidden, unlike a physical illness, but that should not devalue the veracity of mental illness, which this debate and media coverage has done. The effect that Donal Walsh had was to galvanise the issue and make it relevant, but elements of his views towards blame should not be accepted. Those who suffer from this illness should not be subject to critical judgment just because the battle and the scars that come with their fight cannot be seen.
Sean Cassidy,
Dublin 20
Brendan O’Connor: In fairness to Donal Walsh he was always at pains to say that he was not referring to people who suffered from mental illness.
IT’S GOOD TO READ ANTONIA AGAIN
Madam — Great to see the photogenic Antonia Leslie writing again. Hope she will do so regularly from now on.
Eddie Walsh,
Nottingham, England
HURTFUL WRITING
Madam — I was personally delighted with our former president’s comments on the church’s attitude to gay people.
I was encouraged, hopeful and glad to hear from such a respected person, words that might lighten the burden of our many young gay people.
Having, as a retired school principal, witnessed first hand the bullying that most young gay teenagers have to endure in our schools, I said to my heterosexual self, “Well done Mary”.
Then, Madam, on reading Emer O’Kelly’s ‘You’re still on a ticket to hell if you have gay sex’ (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014), I was so taken aback that I must have read it 10 times before putting pen to paper to your good self.
Writing of the sin and the sinner, Ms Kelly uses the dreadful and highly emotive sin of child rape to further her sin/sinner argument.
How devious and dangerous that is. She may as well have stood outside a gay pub and pointed out the gay patrons to the gay bashers.
This was a piece of very hurtful and potentially life-threatening journalism.
Pat Burke Walsh,
Wexford
HAD ENOUGH OF THIS ‘GOOD NEWS’
Madam — Colm McCarthy is right when he points out that in a country in which government spending outpaced government revenue by almost €1bn per month last year, “the sale of yet more government debt is a funny kind of good news story” (Sunday Independent, January 12, 2014).
Since the consequence of all the unwarranted good news in the recent past was a bankrupt country, one would have thought that the people heard far too much good news during the boom.
Judging from their public pronouncements lately, I am not sure anyone in politics, media or academia is listening to the warnings of Mr McCarthy and his likes.
A Leavy,
Sutton, Dublin 13
Independent:

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