24 January 2014 Tip again
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. A customs office has come aboard, will he find any smuggle? Priceless.
Go to the Tip, Co op, Post Office no boxes no Thermabloc
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.
Avril James, who has died aged 86, was a leading London fashion model in the 1950s, working for many of the famous haute couture designers of the post-war era, including Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell; she once earned a tabloid headline as “The girl who said No to Dior”.
Unlike most models of the day, Avril Humphries (as she was then) was a provincial working-class girl who had hauled herself out of the drudgery of a typing pool by sheer perseverance, dreaming of a career on the catwalk and bombarding London fashion houses with letters pleading for work.
She was 5ft 9in tall, slim but not skinny, with pale skin, green eyes and a 34-24-34 figure. This proved to be an ideal look, and though she had no experience, she was seized on by “Mr Michael” (the Irish designer Michael Donellan) of Lachasse in Mayfair. He styled Avril with short hair and big doe eyes, and passed on the essential tips of the modelling trade, one of which was: “Shoulders back and ‘fanny forward’” — a modelling term, she explained. “You have to makes clothes follow a line properly.” Soon she was one of the best-known faces in British fashion.
The daughter of a London fireman, Avril Humphries was born on January 7 1927 in Kilburn, north-west London, but when she was 12 the family moved to the village of Roxton in Bedfordshire.
Leaving the village school at 14, she did war work on the land with the local women, cutting sugar beet with a machete, and a year later moved to Bedford, eight miles away, to work as a shop assistant selling ribbons. At 16 she took a job in the booking office at Sandy railway station and, when she was 17, applied to join the Wrens – only to be told that she was already doing important war work.
After the war she worked in the typing pool at British Rail headquarters opposite Marylebone station, from where she wrote to Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell asking for work. A firm in Grosvenor Square gave her a trial, but her big chance came when Lachasse in Mayfair advertised for a “house model”.
She modelled for the Queen Mother, Princess Elizabeth (as she then was), and an unsmiling Princess Margaret (“don’t talk — keep five feet away” was the instruction), who chose a white fox fur (“it did not suit her, I thought”) . The film star Zsa Zsa Gabor struggled to squeeze into a tailored suit that Avril had modelled for her, dismissing her with a filthy look.
When Donellan opened his own salon, Michael of Carlos Place, in 1952, Avril James went with him, by then being generally recognised as “his muse”. But at the age of 27 she decided to go freelance, modelling also for John Cavanagh and London Dior. At a show for Elizabeth Taylor, a diamond-draped Avril wore a dress of sparkling blue silk with a long train and an ostrich plume in her hair.
Avril Humphries often modelled for Dior in London and Dublin, and after one big show was asked to work for the fashion house in Paris. Although honoured, she was unable to go because of prior commitments. When the papers got hold of the story, her photograph appeared in one tabloid under the headline: “The girl who said ‘No’ to Dior”.
In her early 40s, she gave up modelling and took a job at G Ricordi and Co, an Italian company with an office in Chesham, which owned the copyright to the works of Verdi, Puccini, Bellini and other composers.
She eventually became assistant to the head of the firm, David Halliday, and remained for 22 years. One of her abiding memories was of visiting Ricordi’s underground vaults in Milan, touching Verdi’s death mask and handling Puccini’s autographed score of La Bohème on which, in the final passage when Mimi is dying, the composer had drawn a human skull and in the margin written the single word “tranquillo” (peace).
She retired in 1995. Reflecting on her time as a haute couture model, she remembered how she would make the best of any garment. Skinny modern models, she said, made her cringe — “bones everywhere”.
Having batted away many invitations from men, Avril Humphries married, in 1954, Anthony James, a chemist whom she supported through her modelling while he studied for his PhD. They divorced in 1984. Their son and daughter survive her.
Avril James, born January 7 1927, died December 3 2013
So, “Facebook could die out” (Report, 23 January). Many of us might welcome this but it’s unlikely. Two engineers, John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, predict this on the basis of declining searches for “Facebook” in Google and link this to a disease model of how innovations spread. For Facebook, a key question relates to “network advantage” – the attractions of the service given that so many others use it. Facebook has a lot going for it here. The disease model can be questioned; it’s been popular ever since the father of research on word of mouth, Gabriel Tarde, wrote of “contagion sociale” in the 19th century. More recently, Malcolm Gladwell (in The Tipping Point) related shifts in fashion to epidemics. This inadequate account covers the way in which one convert conscripts new buyers (passes on the disease) but doesn’t deal with the way in which conversation begets more conversation among existing users and thus increases conscription. I do not think social scientists have made great progress in this field but, if engineers want to help us, they need a better model than disease.
Kingston Business School
I’m delighted to know that David Cameron enjoyed our film (Shortcuts, G2, 21 January). However, I was surprised that Stuart Heritage completely missed the most likely reason. He lists a great many funny bits leading to the film’s climax, but he omits the penultimate revelation that Fiona’s father, the king (John Cleese), has been living in denial of his true identity – namely, that of a frog (turned prince). It is, in fact, the king’s fear of being exposed that has set in motion all the difficulties of the major characters. The cathartic moment, in which the king realises he’s OK and lovable just as he is, was wonderful for the film-makers to discover, and has been wonderful for worldwide audiences ever since (and the king doesn’t die… he merely “croaks”). Perhaps, like most of us, Mr Cameron just wishes he could be loved like that – warts and all?
By the way, I was equally surprised (and saddened) that in your “details” page regarding the film, you don’t mention any screenwriters. I would expect that an organisation so largely composed of journalists might more greatly value the contributions of fellow scribes.
David N Weiss
A Shrek 2 co-writer, Los Angeles
Jonathan Jones (A pastiche that begged to be misunderstood, G2, 22 January) mentions Allen Jones’s 1960s sculptures of women in leather bondage gear upended to represent chairs. He says that “Jones’s art … reflects the attitudes of the time”. No. It reflects the attitudes of some men at the time. Plenty of female artists were making different kinds of art then. Plenty of women thought Jones’s art dramatised deep anxiety about female power.
• Has Sir Nicholas invented the Serota, the triple mixed metaphor? “It marks a new chapter for Tate but is also a great springboard from which other things will grow” (Report, 21 January).
• Jeremy Hunt’s reorganisation of care for hospital patients (Report, 23 January) – aimed at having a named consultant with an overview of the whole case, accountable for the entire in-patient care and someone who makes sure there is a proper handover to a specific GP on discharge – is just what we had when I qualified as a doctor in 1971.
Dr John Doherty
• Your article (The beautiful delusion, 24 January) has one big error. As any real United fan knows, the Premier League was won a few days earlier, May Day Monday, without kicking a ball, when their only possible challengers, Aston Villa, lost to Oldham. Alex Ferguson was not watching the game. He was playing golf and was on the 18th green when a man came over and said “Excuse me, Mr Ferguson. You are the champions.”
Michael Adams (A fan since 1945)
• Keith Graham (Letters, 24 January) would appear to have had an encounter with the ghost of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.
• With apologies to Roy Arnold (Letters, 22 January) I am delighted to report seeing a single yellow crocus in my, east-facing, front garden this lunchtime.
You do my heart good, Seumas Milne (70 years of foreign troops? We should close the bases, 23 January). Someone has noticed they are still here, and so are we who live beyond the fences. The people of East Anglia have grown used to their neighbours, living amiably enough with them and tolerating the inconveniences that pervade daily life. The great majority of East Anglians claim to understand the need for the presence of the visiting forces, a view that perhaps fails to take into account the major changes the world has seen. The myth persists that the local economies depend on the bases despite the fact that this has not been the case for many a long year.
Very occasionally the temperature is raised, an example being in the aftermath of the Libyan bombings in 1986. The bombers that took part in that raid flew from Lakenheath, which as well as being a USAF base is an English village. The village quite reasonably felt reprisals were likely and reacted vociferously. The Americans retreated; it is now rare to find them involved in community activities. All shops in three towns and all the villages traded in both UK and US currencies. This has now stopped. The forces rely entirely on their own resources for all goods and services. Little America (or Instant Sunshine as it is known to US forces) is as distant from the locals as the US mainland. But they are digging in. Housing outside the base has been abandoned in favour of new homes safe inside. From where I stand, just this side of the border, I see no sign of a retreat.
So many people, including my late husband, Cyril, and the legendary John Bugg, spent many years trying to show how futile this presence had become. I suppose we must believe that the weapons have gone, and that RAF (one lone squadron leader) Lakenheath is now a training facility. This must be a very expensive way to fund training and the noise is not abated. I have a dream for that vast space: what a perfect place for a wind farm and a new incinerator. Now, that would benefit the local economy and allow us to listen to the Archers.
• The freeing of brownfield land on this scale and with good communications and utility services should be the catalyst for at least six new towns, with some of the social housing our people need so much. One assumes that the MoD still owns these areas – that they have not been sold to foreign owners and leased back – so development should be for the public good in many ways. So what are we waiting for? The idea could be sold to the US as a cash saving for them and might even appeal to the Republicans.
• Seumas Milne mentions the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement, which facilitates the co-operation on which the UK’s nuclear weapons programme depends and was last renewed for 10 years in 2004. Co-operation is not merely one-way: the US military outsources work to the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, currently operated by a consortium of Serco, Jacobs Engineering and Lockheed Martin, the latter two being US companies. There is a strong legal argument that the MDA breaches the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which prohibits exchanges of nuclear weapons technology between states. It would be interesting to know what plans the government have to debate, announce or even celebrate the renewal of the MDA this year.
• Seumas Milne’s well-reasoned piece raises the issue of the sovereign base areas on Cyprus. All his arguments apply with equal force to this remnant of British imperialism in the Mediterranean. The precise role of the SBAs has long been public knowledge and the fact that they are largely concerned with gathering signals intelligence can no longer justify their retention in the 21st century, particularly in the light of recent revelations about the mass eavesdropping activities of the NSA and GCHQ. It is surely time for a public debate that could lead to their closure, a prospect that would have wide support in Cyprus.
• There also needs to be a hard look at the Nato, that is US, nuclear armed bases across Europe, which are also part of the US global military empire. There are five nuclear armed bases in non-nuclear countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The host countries, in times of conflict, can take control of the nuclear armed planes; their pilots are trained to do this. Further, the states, including the UK, are tied into Nato’s nuclear policies which still, unbelievably, include the first use of nuclear weapons. So, effectively, not only the UK but the whole of Europe is part of the US offensive posture. As if there was not enough killing power stationed in Europe, the US is developing new, faster aircraft which could be configured for Europe – part of the Pentagon’s prompt global strike programme.
Maybe getting rid of Nato bases is “political science fiction”, as Seumas says in the Ecuadorian context. But to achieve any moves towards a more stable world, there should be questions asked in the UK and Europe on Nato: its domination by the Pentagon, its global reach and its dangerous nuclear policies.
• The total subservience of the UK to the US is reflected in the confidential cost-sharing agreement, signed in the 70s, that applies to all US bases and provides a multi-million pound subsidy. The bases are run as dollar economies with goods flown in that are free of customs and excise duty and VAT. US armed forces personnel pay no UK income tax, a privilege that extends to US employees of private contractors, some on six-figure salaries. There would be a concerted campaign to keep the bases open on the grounds that they generate jobs in their local areas, but the evidence is that alternative uses subsequent to base closures provide a broader range of skilled manufacturing and service jobs that more than compensates.
One of the bastions of democracy – the right to protest – weakened (Chief constables to ask May to approve use of water cannon, 23 January). Police state grows. But there is much to protest: Commons approves gagging orders to restrict charities and unions; still 7% unemployed; government wobbly on renewable energy but keen on fracking; 10,000 US military in bases masquerading as British air bases; extreme poverty needing food banks; bedroom tax; NHS being slowly privatised; schools bedevilled by aberrant Secretary of State and bullying chief inspector; little curb on greedy CEOs and bankers; signs of negative campaigning and dirty tricks by Tories at next election; racism in some police forces over stop and search. Guardian letters are too mild a protest. It is street marches (hopefully non-violent) that catch the media and, if strong enough, could inhibit the policies of a government dominated by the rich and obsessed with free-market forces that make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Professor Michael Bassey
• The Acpo briefing paper for water cannon confirms two things: first, that water cannon would be useless in situations like the riots; second, that if the police do get hold of this weapon it is likely to be used against large political protests. Both are strong arguments against buying them.
The mayor has promised water cannon would only be deployed in limited circumstances, but it will be an operational matter for the Met police to decide whether to use them. But this is an indiscriminate weapon that risks injuring innocent protesters and bystanders, and ratcheting up tense situations rather than containing them. People in this country have a legal right to protest and should be able to do so without the fear that such weaponry could be used against them. The mayor must drop this idea and focus on policing by consent.
Green party group, London Assembly
I am astonished at your ecstatic response to the school league tables and Michael Gove’s “reforms” (editorial, 24 January). Surely you are aware of the cost of these results?
Borderline English and maths pupils are targeted and subjected to intensive tutoring to obtain the desired C grade, often withdrawn from other subjects. Weaker candidates pursue easier options to achieve the desired 5 “C” grades. It is known for these subjects to be taught by teachers’ assistants in small groups.
In your bog-standard comprehensive the C grade is the focus for everyone, regardless of ability. The real meaning of education is lost. There is no time for it.
Carole Lewis, Solihull, West Midlands
It is unfortunate that in your editorial you placed such a strong emphasis on comparing the improvement in the number of students who achieved the English Baccalaureate in 2013 as against 2012.
It was not until September 2010 that the current Secretary of State introduced, as a measure of a school’s success, the notion of the English Baccalaureate. He did this with little or no prior warning and at a point when curriculum planning, staffing decisions and option choices for the 2012 examination cohort had already been made. Indeed, the 2012 GCSE cohort had already started their courses.
It is therefore no surprise that more students achieved the English Baccalaureate in 2013. For the 2013 GCSE examination cohort schools knew this was one of the minister’s chosen measures and they had the time to adjust their curriculum, option choices and staffing structures to reflect this. As a result more students, totally unsurprisingly, achieved this new measure.
Pete Crockett , Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Your editorial praising Michael Gove left me highly bemused. I notice nothing in my daughter’s school of his work.
However, could recent success be due to the long hard work of the last Labour government on “education, education, education”? The pupils who took GCSEs in 2013 were born in 1997 and started school in 2001, two Labour landslide years. Concentration on early years, literacy and class sizes may now be paying off.
The fantastic equipment I see in my daughter’s school and investment in school buildings all came from the Labour government. My own school career coincided with Thatcher’s reign, during which my schools were never refurbished.
Success must be welcomed, but your analysis is unfortunately shallow. The reasons may be more complex.
James Dawson, London N11
Before your adulation of Michael Gove reaches ridiculous heights, there are some serious concerns, not the least of which is his profligacy with public money.
In 2011 he announced with due modesty his “Troops for Teachers” scheme. After much probing by me, and nefarious evasive tactics by the DfE, I have at last managed to find out the true cost of this venture. In all 135 service personnel are in training to become teachers at an expense of some £10m, an average of £75,000 per trainee.
In addition, a Wolverhampton free school with 20 pupils – yes, that’s right, 20 – is in line for a £1.6m extension.
Doubtless Mr Gove would label me as a “Marxist enemy of promise” but there are real concerns that ordinary schools are losing out in his ideological crusade for the few and damn the rest.
Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex
After Rennard, bring in some rules
Of course any woman with any gumption, when faced with sexual harassment, can cope by bringing a “shoe heel smartly down on a male foot” (letter, 22 January). But why should a woman need to?
The Lib Dem lords have much better things to argue about than sexual behaviour. However a short search through the annals of political history will show that sexual behaviour has led to more political scandals and downfalls than any more useful behaviour.
So hasn’t the time come for all politicians of all parties to co-operate in developing a code of behaviour, backed by a punitive system that does not tolerate any abuse of positions of power?
April Beynon , Mumbles, Swansea
I was delighted to read my cousin Andrew Sturgis’ letter (24 January). It demonstrates that the pros and cons of the Rennard saga are not necessarily a generational problem, as some people think. Andrew is 96.
I hope he will get his grandson, Danny Alexander, to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to “get round a table” and heed his grandad’s sound, solid sense.
Robin Grey QC, London EC4
Steve Richards (22 January) seems to think that an “outdated” attitude on Chris Rennard’s part is, to some extent, the reason for his downfall. Is this an outdated attitude to women or is it to sexual harassment in the workplace?
He writes as if Chris Rennard is in his late eighties and came through the Second World War, and is now a confused old man, but he is 53 years old, plenty young enough to have learned during the 1980s and 90s that you don’t treat women in the workplace as fantasy fodder.
Lin Hawkins, Ashcott, Somerset
Contrived furore over girl abortions
Your report “The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters” (15 January) purports to show a higher male to female sex ratio in some ethnic groups in the UK.
However it is an assumption that this results from illegal abortion, as the census figures do not address abortion statistics. In my 25 years of medical practice in Tower Hamlets, where latterly 50 per cent of births were to women from Bangladesh and about 10 per cent from India, I only had one request for a termination of pregnancy on grounds of foetal gender. The woman was white and did not want a boy.
It is perverse to say that there is a debate about whether a woman should be given the results of a test on her own body. GMC guidance emphasises the importance of full communication with patients. The whole furore is a contrived situation by those who disapprove of abortion in general.
We accept that globally there is a problem, but the way to tackle this is to improve the status of women in society, not restrict women’s access to abortion or test results.
Wendy Savage, London N1
There is a bigger picture behind the controversy over abortion of female foetuses. Why, apart from rare cases of serious inherited illness affecting only one sex, should anyone want or need to know the sex of their unborn child?
When I was pregnant some years ago, there seemed to be no need to know the sex of the baby inside me. The unborn infant knew perfectly well who and what it was. Why should I intrude?
I wonder why we are so eager to know the sex? Is it our desire for knowledge and control in life, our unwillingness to accept uncertainties? Knowing the baby’s sex before birth means that we are constructing a gendered image of who the baby will be: at the extreme, future England footballer versus pretty little girl to buy clothes for.
Knowing the baby’s sex means you know what colour to paint the nursery – but isn’t the whole blue/pink thing a bit weird and stereotyped?
Shayne Mitchell, Cambridge
Plenty of sources for omega-3
It seems ridiculous to genetically engineer plants in order to produce omega-3 oil (report, 24 January) when plants already exist that produce it naturally.
Flax, or linseed, contains high levels of omega-3, as does rapeseed oil, hemp, walnuts and a range of other edible plants. People like me who eat a plant-based diet manage to obtain enough of this important nutrient from these sources, so why the need to grow potentially dangerous GM crops or, for that matter, eat fish which suffer and die in huge numbers?
Ben Martin, Maidstone, Kent
Poor timing by the chancellor
For many years I ran a small export-oriented knitwear manufacturing business. During this time, we saw bank base rate rise to 18 per cent and the exchange rate to $2.30 to the pound. But we survived.
As I near retirement and look to generate an income from my hard-earned savings, we are told the economy will grind to a halt if base rates rise above 0.5 per cent. Am I missing something?
Sue Holder, Aberaeron, Ceredigion
Economic crisis? Blame Canada
Canada has banned Marmite, Irn Bru and Penguin biscuits from sale. Yet in Britain, the Bank of England is run by a Canadian and our National Lottery’s profits go to fund Canadian teachers’ pensions. Perhaps we could have our revenge by banning maple syrup?
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
Successful MP mothers should explain how they have surmounted the difficulties involved when they are working many miles from home
Sir, I don’t know why four female Conservative MPs are leaving at the next election but if I was one of their constituents who had voted for them, I would feel sorely short changed (“Situations Vacant”, leader, Jan 22).
I attended the Women to Win meetings in 2005 to elect more Conservative women to Parliament and would love to have had the opportunity to be considered, but I stood aside for more experienced women. Lorraine Fullbrook MP was one of the motivational speakers, and it saddens me that with the other three female MPs, she is quitting at the next election.
I regret that I didn’t put myself forward and had I been elected would have felt honour bound to serve my constituents until or whenever they voted me out. I would not have walked away.
It does a disservice to women who may consider applying in the future by questioning their staying power and it plays into the hands of some selection committees which still believe men are a safer bet.
Sir, The steady loss of good women MPs is not surprising. Because men can have both children and a full-time career it is now accepted that women too can have children and a career. But this equation disregards the children, who fall into a vacuum between their parents’ careers.
The only solution is to provide a mother substitute, either a grandmother or a first-class nanny. Otherwise the children will suffer. Prospective parents must face this situation; if not, the children they voluntarily bring into the world will be neglected.
Perhaps successful MP mothers would explain how they have surmounted the difficulties involved when they are working many miles from their own homes.
Sir, Regarding Lucy Fisher’s report (“Cameron to lose another female MP”, Jan 21), I would simply like to express my approval of David Cameron’s statement that there are “not nearly enough” female Tory MPs.
Being a female 15-year-old with a particular interest in politics and supporting the Conservative Party, certainly puts me in a minority in my age group. I believe there are not enough young people (especially women) interested in politics. The government should do more to make politics more appealing and understandable to younger generations.
The Conservative Party has only 49 women out of a total of 303 MPs — which is only 16 per cent. This is a shocking statistic. Although I don’t believe that any direct gender discrimination still exists, I think women should not be put off pursuing careers in politics because of the traditional view that it is a “man’s game”.
There are qualifications and qualifications, and some are favoured more than others in an ever more competitive job market
Sir, Rosemary Bennett’s article on “men still living with parents” (Jan 22) falls just short of highlighting the main reason to why my demographic struggles in the job market: bachelors’ degrees. Those with “postgraduate qualifications” are seen as clever and more qualified than graduates with bachelors, obviously, and are, thus, more employable; “internships” focus on a vocational job or specific skills for a job and so are more employable.
I was one of the last in the bracket of Blair’s approach to education, being 18 in 2008. I am sure he was worried about the waning job market 10-15 years down the line and shoved us all into a university.
Why should I put more money into a postgrad to become employable? I need a job to fund it.
Healthy women going into hospital with or without their partners need to be listened to and supported in how they want their baby to be born
Sir, Many women who choose to give birth at home do so because they wish to avoid the over-medicalisation of childbirth common in our NHS hospitals today where obstetrics is still a male-dominated profession.
The headline of your report (Jan 23) — “Home births are ethical equivalent of driving without seatbelts” — reeks of scaremongering, and the article itself reveals that research into the safety or otherwise of home births is in fact inconclusive.
While the comments by Elizabeth Duff, from the NCT, in the same report are correct, Professor Savulescu and Dr de Crespigny are also right to suggest that childbirth in hospital should be more “appealing”.
There needs to be more flexibility in the medical approach to childbirth in hospitals; healthy labouring women going into hospital with or without their partners need to be listened to and supported in how they want their baby to be born. This will require a considerable injection of cash from the government for more midwives.
Our first grandchild was born at home with two midwives in attendance throughout and without any medical intervention or drugs in a very safe relaxed and loving atmosphere. Our daughter is now pregnant again and she and her husband are being well supported by their midwifery team in planning a second home birth.
Muntjac deer are not native to the UK. They breed at all times and eat English bluebells, as well as being dangerous to dogs
Sir, Muntjac (letter, Jan 23) are the only deer species that eat our native English bluebells, which are difficult to protect. Muntjac breed at all times and are not a native species. Despite their small size they are dangerous to dogs, and I have known them rip open a dog’s underside. They are wary, and if you see one there are probably many more about. They do, however, make good eating and are best trapped in fox wires and then shot. I realise that will offend some people but I believe that we need to keep a balance so that one species does not overcome another, flora or fauna.
Sir, If the Independent Panel on Forestry’s recommendation to plant more trees is to succeed, the culling of muntjac and other deer is a
matter that cannot be ignored (letter Jan 23).
The effect of grazing by deer on the understory of existing trees also damages habitat vital to birds such as warblers, and the Environmental Audit Committee has recently undertaken an inquiry into preventing the spread of invasive alien species.
Some measures, ie, culling, may be unpalatable to some, but if we wish to plant more trees and prevent damage to other wildlife, some tough choices lie ahead.
The high-pitched song of the goldcrest gets harder to hear as one gets older — although goldfinches and blackbirds are still audible
Sir, John Brehcist is lucky to have heard a goldcrest singing (letter, Jan 23) — its high-pitched song is hard to detect as one gets older. Last year I found that although I could see the tiny bird singing I couldn’t hear its song, which has a frequency of 7KHz and above.
Checking my hearing with an online hearing test I was alarmed to find that I couldn’t even hear 1KHz, before observing that the speakers were not switched on. However, I have heard blackbirds, song thrushes, coal tits and goldfinches this week.
SIR – Hugh Bebb suffers when the seams of his socks “saw away” at his feet. He can have the most comfortable socks in the world if he knits them himself. All he needs are 100 grams of wool and a set of four double-ended needles.
Using an auto heel and kitchener stitch for the toe graft will make smooth and warm winter socks.
Silky smooth bamboo yarn will make delightful summer socks.
SIR – Never mind seamless socks, how about larger socks for ladies? Men can choose their sock size, but we get just one size, which is hopeless if you take larger than a size 7 shoe.
SIR – Over the past several years, whenever my GP has said that I needed to see a specialist, I have not immediately been given an appointment. Instead, at some stage several weeks down the line, I have received a phone call informing me that a clinic appointment has been “arranged” on the following day. I had the choice of attending at that time or losing the appointment.
I presume that an enormous tranche of well-paid managers is required to produce the waiting-time figures.
SIR – My father recently had to cancel and rebook a hospital appointment.
Instead of sending him a single letter confirming the cancellation and new date, he received from the NHS two identical letters confirming cancellation, and two identical letters confirming the date of the new appointment. All four letters were sent separately, using first class post.
The same thing happened to my mother last week.
SIR – We often hear about rights, but what about responsibilities?
Patients, have a responsibility to the surgeries, clinics, hospitals and all associated medical and admin staff to attend their appointments.
Failure to attend should be added to records and used when looking at priorities for future bookings.
SIR – The EU is currently looking at legislation, part of which will formalise an existing agreement between some Scandinavian countries to operate “mega trucks” between their borders, as they have done for years. These kinds of trucks may be suitable for Sweden and Finland’s roads, but they are not for ours. That is why the Government has absolutely no intention of allowing HGVs of these lengths on Britain’s roads.
SIR – My local supermarket proudly proclaims that it compares its prices with other traders in the area. This doesn’t help me if they all put their prices up by the same amount. I thought price fixing was illegal in this country.
SIR – Many years ago I submitted a report about a local dignitary who, in protest against the unauthorised addition of fluoride to the local water supply, “turned off her taps and opened a borehole in her garden”.
A possible libel action was avoided when I corrected the spell-checked version, which had given her garden a brothel.
Icy cold light of day
SIR – Could someone please explain to me why, unlike fridges, freezers are never fitted with a light that comes on when the door is opened?
Anthony J Burnet
East Saltoun, East Lothian
Save AS-level exams
SIR – Cambridge has, for the second time, spoken out against plans to decouple the AS-level and A-level. This is unprecedented lobbying by one of our most eminent universities and a move we wholeheartedly support.
The AS-level in its current form has done more for social mobility than the linear A-level ever did. It gives young people from all backgrounds a vital staging post on their way to A-level and it is abundantly clear that universities value it as an indication of recent and future academic achievement.
Removal of the AS will disadvantage young people, particularly as it will happen simultaneously with challenging reforms to GCSE. Those students affected will be under the pressure of uncertainty for up to four years. There will also be confusion among universities, employers and parents.
We call on the Government to reconsider its plans to remove the AS from the A-level qualification. At the very least we must delay and reconfigure changes in order to minimise confusion and potential disaster for thousands of young people.
President, Girls’ Schools Association
President, Association of School & College Leaders
Dr Tim Hands
Chairman, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference
SIR – If you are a non-native grey squirrel, threatening red squirrels, broadleaved woodland and songbirds, and you get injured, Natural England will issue a licence for your release. If you are a cat driving the native Scottish wildcat to extinction, you are likely to be taken in.
A ruddy duck, looking to mate with a white-headed duck, will be hunted to extinction at a cost of £2,400 per bird. Are our priorities wrong?
Trustee, SongBird Survival
SIR – Cambridge councillors want to remove punctuation from street names. Sandwich in Kent has a street called No Name Street. I live near a street in the Royal Arsenal called No. 1 Street. Without the full stop after No., the meaning of the name would be changed.
The irrepressibly backwards-running dog judge
SIR – Tom Raper (1816-1893) and his brother George were early cricketers and reputed to be two of the fastest runners in the country. George was so good that he was heavily handicapped in a foot race against Alfred Mynn, the 20-stone England cricketer, which the latter only just won.
Tom’s youngest son, my grandfather James, clocked up 10.2 seconds in the 100 yards, running for Darlington Harriers. Tom’s eldest son, also called George, was Britain’s greatest dog judge in Victorian times, and an inveterate sporting gambler who took wagers wherever he went.
As recorded in an obituary in Our Dogs magazine in 1919, at the end of big dog shows he would issue an open challenge: “One of his take downs is to race backwards, and many a dog man has lost his wager by taking on Irrepressible George, as he is often designated, they of course running the race forwards.”
SIR – When retreating it is wise to keep an eye on your opponent. Running backwards helps enormously, especially in rugby, football and hockey. It was a crucial part of our training regime, increasing dexterity of foot, balance and awareness.
SIR – Try running backwards for 30 seconds, taking note of how your body moves; then run forwards, keeping the same style. This drill demonstrates perfectly the basis of the pose method of running, designed to maximise efficiency and minimise injury.
I was taught it 15 years ago and still do the drills. I have had no injuries from running, apart from stiffness, even when I ran the London marathon. I still enjoy weekly pose training in my running group, and I am 70.
SIR – Once again an industry chief executive, this time from BAE Systems, recommends that Britain should stay in the EU. This time, it was not a threat to shut down operations, like that issued by the chief executive of Ford CEO recently, but merely a desire to “maintain stability”. That is not perhaps a phrase that one would associate with the present EU.
It seems that the arguments put forward by those against Britain leaving the EU (who include the three main party leaders) are just as speculative as the doom that was once forecast by similar captains of industry if Britain failed to join EMU.
SIR – Ford warned it would reassess its presence in Britain if the country left the European Union. This highlights the crucial relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom.
It is imperative that we retain our access to the single market if we are to secure Britain’s economic future. George Osborne, the Chancellor, is right to call for reform of the EU – preserving an institution in aspic is never the best way to ensure it remains relevant – but the EU remains Britain’s largest market.
NHS waiting times
24 Jan 2014
If you want comfy socks, knit them yourself
24 Jan 2014
In a CBI survey, 80 per cent of British businesses said leaving the EU would harm them: we must heed Ford’s warning.
Policy Chairman, City of London Corporation
SIR – Ford left Southampton for Turkey aided and abetted by EU cash.
Ford is selling more cars in Britain because our economy is stronger than the eurozone’s. Most car manufacturers in Britain are exporting more cars outside the eurozone, and therefore would not want to leave Britain, in which they have invested heavily in plant and employees.
A British exit would mean a free trade agreement under World Trade Organisation rules, which could be set up in days. Europe trades more with us – we have had a trade deficit since joining the EEC in 1974. Neither Germany nor France would wish to impose trade sanctions on the export of their cars to Britain.
UK Independence Party candidate, European elections
SIR – Notwithstanding Britain’s membership of the EU, Ford has been pulling out of Britain for many years.
During the Seventies, Ford employed vastly more people in Britain than today. It assembled many thousands of cars, vans and trucks. Now it assembles none. All its vehicles sold in Britain today are imported.
Against that background the statement by the chief executive of Ford of Europe that Britain’s membership (or exit) of the EU will influence the size of Ford’s presence here is unconvincing.
Sir, – I was shocked to hear the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan say 10,000 fixed charge penalty points are terminated every year and this helped build a positive relationship with the public (Breaking News, January 23rd).
Surely he is missing the point? I lived in London in the 1990s and one day received a £50 on-the-spot fine and three points on my licence for what I thought was a relatively minor traffic offence. There were no discussions or excuses accepted and I paid the fine. However, I learned my lesson and I never offended again. This zero tolerance approach seems to work, with fatalities on UK roads being far fewer than in Ireland.
And isn’t that the point? It’s not just about building positive relationships, it’s about saving lives. Letting us off offences means only one thing – that we will repeat the offence because we know “someone” who will sort it out.
When gardaí issue penalty points they are doing their job and trying to stop the current carnage on our roads. Whingeing and asking them to undo their work is disrespectful, unacceptable and a crime in itself.
The biggest favour the gardaí can do for those who request their penalty points to be quashed is to say No. It’s especially hard to do knowing that at any point their decision could be undermined and overturned. The message Commissioner Callinan should drive through his organisation is: no exceptions! – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
Sir, – It might be relevant to note a few facts regarding the allegations of corrupt cancellation of motoring offences.
1. Certain members of the Garda are entitled to cancel certain offences for due cause. 2. Only the officer receiving an allegedly corrupt payment and the person making the payment can be certain corruption took place. 3. While any one Garda officer might suspect a few offences were cancelled without proper reason, he/she can only be arguing from “the particular to the general” that widespread cancellation is happening and that the cancellations are corrupt. 4. There are established facts of motoring offences brought by the Garda before the courts which are effectively being dismissed by the courts and without even the due imposition of penalty points on the culprit’s licence. To me, this is a far greater scandal than some unproven allegations which are causing Shane Ross to become incoherent with indignation. – Yours, etc,
Albert College Lawn,
Sir, – What was “disgusting” at the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday afternoon last was Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s attitude to and remarks about whistleblowers – the arrogance was terrifying and one hopes he will, indeed, “consider [his] position”. – Yours, etc,
Old Blackrock Road,
A chara, – Fintan Lane (January 23rd) suggests we should ask the”‘US war machine” to remove itself from Shannon Airport as an obvious solution to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s complaint that the State expended more than €17.3 million in security costs at Shannon between 2004 and 2013 because of opposition to US military presence at the airport.
€17.3 million is not the only cost to the State that has been incurred by the US military presence in Shannon. Figures from the Department of Transport in 2011 revealed €25 million had been paid over the previous 10 years to the Irish Aviation Authority to cover the costs of foreign military aircraft in Irish airspace.
The reason military flights are exempt from charges was explained by security analyst Tom Clonan ( “€10,000 per day for US military overflights has not really registered on the taxpayers’ radar”, June 25th, 2005). Ireland has a reciprocal arrangement with the US and some other countries to exempt military aircraft from charges for communication and navigation services. However, as Mr Clonan noted, “We do not enjoy much by way of reciprocity as the government jet is Ireland’s only military aircraft to enter foreign airspace”.
Austria is a neutral state and, like Ireland, a member of Nato’s Partnership for Peace. Unlike Ireland, Austria does not exempt foreign military aircraft passing through its airspace from air traffic control charges.
By so generously facilitating the use of Shannon Airport to US military aircraft, Irish taxpayers have been, effectively, subsidising the so-called “war on terror”.
People who, like Margaretta D’Arcy, have been bravely protesting at Shannon against the military use of the airport, deserve all our support. – Is mise,
Treasurer, Irish Campaign
for Nuclear Disarmament,
PO Box 6327, Dublin 6.
Sir, – I have the utmost respect for John Waters, but on this occasion (Opinion, January 24th) I disagree with him. Yes, we have, as a nation, handed over an awful lot of sovereignty to others, but we still have meaningful political choices to make, and it matters whom we elect to government.
Should the TDs and senators of the Reform Alliance form an actual political party, then I would warmly welcome this. Not because I expect radical policies from them – Irish politics, since the foundation of the State, has largely been middle of the road – but because they have given me reason to trust that, if elected, they will keep their election promises. – Yours, etc,
Lismore, Co Waterford.
Sir, – Does anyone see the irony in the fact that Reform Alliance came into existence as a result of their opposition to reform? – Yours, etc,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The members of One Step Forward (a Limerick-based support group for the parents of children with cerebral palsy) welcome the resignations the CEO and board of directors of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) last month. In recent years parents of children with special needs have been repeatedly told that funding for essential equipment, including wheelchairs, adapted buggies and other mobility aids, is not available due to HSE funding cuts. Many children with special needs have to wait for up to 12 or 18 months to receive essential equipment.
At the same time, over the past year, the respite care grant has been cut; medical card applications on behalf of children with special needs have been delayed (and very often denied) and now, in recent weeks, we learn that funds raised in good faith to support the work of CRC, and to help fulfil the equipment needs of our children were, in effect, taken to pay top-ups on the already excessive salaries of senior executives of the organisation.
Despite this, the Public Accounts Committee has not made any attempt to recoup the funds which were used for top-up pensions to those concerned. According to some reports a figure in the millions has been siphoned off to pay top-ups to the salaries of CRC executives. The Public Accounts Committee knows who received these top-ups and should recoup the funds as soon as possible. As parents of the intended beneficiaries of this funding, we request that those involved return these funds without delay. – Yours, etc,
On behalf of One Step
Sir, – As a female candidate for Fine Gael in the upcoming local elections, I recognise the importance of addressing the gender balance in politics (“Shortage of women candidates for elections”, January 24th).
Groups such as Women for Politics have been instrumental in highlighting the barriers often encountered when entering political life. Simple measures that will make it easier for women to balance work and family commitments are crucial to changing the political culture in a country where just 15 per cent of Ireland’s TDs are women – a figure that has changed just 1 per cent in the past 20 years.
I hope the debate over equality in politics and also in the workplace will continue in your publication, the Dáil and elsewhere – and help foster an atmosphere where more women candidates seek the opportunity to stand for election in the future. Most important, however, is that voters have a selection of strong, capable candidates – no matter their gender.
The article stated that Fine Gael does not yet have any female candidates in several Dublin wards, including Stillorgan and Rathfarnham. This is not correct. I am standing for Fine Gael in the Stillorgan ward of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, while Fine Gael is also running female candidates in Dundrum (ex-INO President Madeline Spiers), in Glencullen (Aileen Eglinton) and Rathfarnham (Anne-Marie Dermody). – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Whether Frank Flannery billed the Rehab charity in 2011 and 2012 using a company that was dissolved in January 2009 is beside the point (Home News, January 23rd). Surely the issue that should be addressed is the propriety of a board director appointed to a non-remunerative position having a beneficial interest in the charity’s business. – Yours, etc,
Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – The dead hand of inactivity, which is frequently adopted by public servants unable to make a decision. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – Glass half full or half empty? (Preview of This Weekend Irish Times, January 24th). – Yours, etc,
PATRICIA O KEEFFE,
Sir, – The grammatically incorrect use of the word “presently”. . .
“Presently” describes something will happen shortly eg “he will be along presently” whereas it is habitually used incorrectly as in “talks are ongoing presently” to describe something which is happening currently or at present.
“Rant over!” which come to think of it is another PWCLW. – Yours, etc,
Howth, Dublin 13.
Sir, – Credit and commiserations to Hilary Wakeman for lexical research on limited resources (January 23rd), but I’m afraid I must vent my habitually annoying floccinaucinihilipilificatiousness. I trust the editorial word mint will not find my logomachistic coinage semantically counterfeit. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Eamonn McCann (Opinion, January 23d) in his exploration of the nebulous status of the Vatican/Holy See, neglected to mention another oddity. Why doesn’t the Vatican (or is it the Holy See), a sovereign state, represented at the United Nations, have a football team?
After all, other European micro-states – Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, Andorra, and San Marino (like the Vatican City, also surrounded by Italian territory) – have international football teams. Sure, it only has a population of circa 800 from which to select a team, and the “granny rule” might prove to be a problem (or would it?), but that could be offset by its network of clergy worldwide and judicious use of FIFA’s residency rules. And we know that it has had some good players in the past; Pope John Paul II was known to have been handy between the sticks. His successor, Benedict XVI is a Bayern Munich supporter, and the current pope, Francis, like all Argentinians, is football mad.
Apparently the Vatican is one of seven sovereign states who are not full FIFA members. Another is Monaco, against whom the Vatican fielded a team twice, in 2001 and 2011, losing both. But were they “internationals”? – Yours, etc,
Editor, History Ireland,
Palmerston Place, Dublin 7.
A chara, – I refer to Martyn Turner’s cartoon “The Seven Wages of Man-agement” (Opinion January 17th) and OECD figures quoted by Noel Mc Bride (Letters, January 17th) which put average pay in Ireland at just over €50,000 a year, an average arrived at from a wide range of pay.
While differences in pay reflect different responsibilities at work, there is less justification for such wide differences in pensions. Increased life expectancy is also changing the ratio between years at work and years in retirement, to the detriment of the public purse. To paraphrase De Valera’s “No man is worth more than a thousand a year”, if public pensions were capped at €1,000 a week, it would equal average pay in Ireland, not bad for no work responsibilities at all. – Is mise,
ÉILIS Ní ANLUAIN-QUILL,
An Pháirc Thiar,
A chara, – As I entered the doorway going to Mass last Sunday I was accosted by two people pushing Fine Gael election literature for the May elections. Talk about Christmas ads in September.
I beg politicians and their supporters of all parties, and of none, please refrain from all forms of canvassing until at least May 1st, and I beg all forms of media to refrain from reporting any such canvassing until the same date.
Am I alone in thinking that canvassing inside the church doors in January for elections not due until May, is a bit much? – Is mise,
SEAN O KIERSEY,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
* In the grand tradition of our republican ideals as a nation the scandal of “top-ups” is currently being vented and, as ever, there is more heat than light. The sense of being shocked and horrified that is being voiced in the media and in the public sphere in general will be, I am afraid, subject to Mary Harney’s shrewd encomium that “the people have short memories”.
Also in this section
We fund the salaries, so we have a right to know
Greatest crime is the betrayal of trust
CRC pay scandal endemic of way country is run
The same shock and horror was expressed at the publication of the many reports dealing with child abuse scandals, and mental reservations, and the consequences for the role of the church in the public sector were negligible.
There was shock and horror that we had to bail out the banks and the bondholders; but we were told that now that we own the banks things would be different and there would be caps on salaries and bonuses. As we have seen, the cap has been thrown to the wind, while the banks remain bullish and conveniently forget how badly they managed their own debt.
The shock and awe that we all felt at the bailout, the bank crash, the economic downturn and the austerity Budgets and the general lack of accountability brought about the “democratic revolution” whereby a new broom would sweep clean. And the result was . . . austerity Budgets and a general lack of accountability because things had to remain the same and the rhetoric of our democratic revolutionaries was contextualised in the phrase “that’s what you tend to do in elections”.
So, here we are again, as shock and horror is expressed at the top-ups of charity, hospital and HSE bosses, not to mention the €50m spent on consultants by Irish Water, and the refusal of the CEO of Rehab to reveal her salary. My guess is that when she does so, we will be – yes, you guessed it – shocked and horrified.
So in the spirit of cooling down the heat, dispensing with shock and horror, and perhaps injecting some light, can I make a suggestion for the future?
Any institution that is in receipt of state funding should have a salary cap by law. The joke that people should collect for charity to pay top-ups for inefficient CEOs and board members is no longer funny.
Any monies received, from whatever source, above this cap should be taxed at 95pc. This would apply across the board to all semi-private agencies, universities, charities, semi-state bodies, and semi-nationalised banks – any system in receipt of public money. Any agency that did not like this could just stop taking state money in any form.
I can already hear the squeals of outrage and would respond with the following: if it is unconstitutional let it be tested in the courts; and if found to be unconstitutional, let it be put to a referendum and make it constitutional.
This would ensure that the shock and horror response would be replaced by a sense of social and civic responsibility; it would also ensure that perhaps, just perhaps, the tiny seeds of a real democratic revolution would begin to emerge.
DR EUGENE O’BRIEN
MARY IMMACULATE COLLEGE, LIMERICK
THUMBS UP TO ‘AMBER’
* What a wonderfully thought-provoking and sad ending to ‘Amber’. I admit to being critical of some of the quality of the drama over the first three nights, but the extremely clever ending, which has the whole nation talking, made up for any negative criticisms one might have.
It really brought home the reality to us all, how devastating it would be, if a loved one went missing forever with no closure.
Congratulations to all involved.
GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL
GIVE GEORGE THE HOOK
* As a Connacht supporter and season ticket holder I take serious issue with George Hook’s article that Connacht now deserve to have the plug pulled.
I was in Hendon last Saturday and it was not pretty, but to get to Dublin and read this made my blood boil.
Ireland has won two Grand Slams, 10 Triple Crowns, and never reached the last eight in the World Cup. Maybe we are giving all the money to the wrong team.
We are a small enclave and I say the only country with historical and identifiable regions so it’s disband all or none.
ROS CAOIN, GALWAY
* I spoke with a retired, eminent solicitor a number of weeks ago regarding another despicable attack on an elderly person in our community. His reply really made me think. He said there was no surer sign of failure of a government than when people are afraid in their own homes.
The five-second news blitz and useless politicians offering condemnation will pass until the next atrocity.
Criminals with scores of previous convictions are released time and time again.
The system in our country is protecting the criminal, not the victims.
This is the view of 99pc of the decent law-abiding population. As usual the public are miles ahead of the politicians.
With elections coming up, why can’t someone have the guts to stand on a platform of zero tolerance towards thuggish behaviour.
There should be mandatory sentencing with five years for a first offence, 10 years for a second, and 20 for a third with no remission.
New York mayor Rudy Giuliani turned one of the most violent cities in America around with a zero tolerance policy.
We need a new party to crush the cowards and put them where they belong – behind bars for a very long time.
DROGHEDA, CO MEATH
* Was Bono’s attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos done on a pro-bono basis?
DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
HEAD IN CLOUDS
* Kay Noonan writes, (Letters, January 22) that there must be another world after this life?
The only part of us that lives after death is our genes which we pass on to the next generation. We humans reproduce exactly like our four-legged cousins, the ones that we kill and hang up in butchers’ shops and eat for Sunday lunch.
There was life on earth billions of years before man stood up on his hind legs, and who then went on to invent God, or gods.
God exists not in heaven but in the mind of man; the near-death experience that some have is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain.
And those who claim to predict the future are hoaxers who make lots of money from the gullibility of the unwary, of which there are so many.
Millions of people have been persuaded by hoaxers with fertile minds that a conspiracy existed in relation to the JFK shooting but to this day not one of those smart people has been able to produce one scrap of evidence to back their case.
And they’ve been flogging this particular dead horse now for more than 50 years.
I’m not at all surprised that religion has such a strong hold on the masses. They need to believe. There’s a craving to believe, even to believe the unbelievable.
BALBRIGGAN, CO DUBLIN