5 February 2014 Thermabloc
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to rescue a stranded yacht.   Priceless.
Attic, shopping pallets picked up, new source of thermabloc
Scrabble today Mary wins, just.  and get under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Sir David Price, who has died aged 89, was a technocratic, humane and moderate Tory who served as a junior trade and aerospace minister under Macmillan, Home and Heath but spent 20 long years on the back benches after being sacked as Heath made his industrial and economic “U-turn”.
For most of his 37 years as MP for Eastleigh, Price campaigned for Britain to be a global competitor in aircraft manufacture, nuclear energy and space research; much of the early groundwork for a European Space Agency was his. As the dream faded, he blamed “an unholy alliance between the aristocratic Right and the intellectual Left that industry is not for us”.
Previously economic adviser to the chairman of ICI, Price formed an equally low opinion of the Treasury. Retiring in 1992, he said he had watched it with “increasing despair: they are brilliant people, hard-working and incorruptible, but in their economic judgments invariably wrong”.
An imposing figure, Price was never afraid to stick his neck out; his abstention over Suez with his uncle, Sir Lionel Heald, just after arriving in the House, was forgiven by Macmillan — although not by members of Pratt’s, who four years later blackballed him from his father’s old club.
He opposed capital punishment and apartheid; and advocated tax credits for the less well-off, a flexible retirement age and a criminal injuries compensation scheme years before they were introduced .
He also campaigned assiduously for the disabled, a cause which was close to his heart. His wife Rosemary had suffered a near-fatal 40ft fall from their Pimlico bathroom window in 1964, when she was 26, incurring multiple injuries and losing the second child they were expecting. After a year in Stoke Mandeville hospital she spent four decades mainly in a wheelchair . (Price himself had had a painful recovery from severe internal injuries after a car crash in 1958.)
In 1970 Price and his wife were turned away from the Tate Gallery when he took her there for the first time since her accident; not only were the steps difficult for a wheelchair, but attendants also said that the gallery was too crowded. The Prices checked other museums and galleries and found things little better; so when Heath’s government introduced museum charges, Price tabled an amendment allowing them to keep the money if they spent it on facilities for the disabled. He fought attempts by Labour to cut the number of beds at Stoke Mandeville, and proposed a Queen’s Award for firms employing more than their quota of the disabled.
David Ernest Campbell Price was born on November 20 1924 . A Rosebery Scholar at Eton, he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, before being commissioned in the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in 1942. He spent his war as an intelligence officer, eventually with HQ 56 London Division in Trieste.
Years later, when Archbishop Robert Runcie accused Margaret Thatcher’s government of creating a conflict in society between “efficiency and compassion”, Price retorted: “I know of no efficiently run organisation where the morale is low. Has the Archbishop forgotten his own experience in the Scots Guards?”
Demobilised as a major, Price belatedly went up to Cambridge to read History, being president of the Union in 1948 and a vice-president of the Federation of University Conservative and Unionist Associations. He spent a year at Yale before joining ICI, remaining with the company until 1962.
In 1955 Price was selected for the new seat of Eastleigh, winning it by 581 votes in a straight fight with Labour. He proved an assiduous constituency member and after a narrow squeak in 1966 increased his majority by 1979 to 20,294. Two years after his retirement Eastleigh fell to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election.
In the Commons, Price caused a stir with his abstention over Suez. When 110 Tories accused America of “endangering the Atlantic Alliance” by opposing intervention, Price called instead for renewed cooperation with Washington.
The prosperity of the late 1950s fuelled Price’s hopes that every citizen could become a capitalist. Before the 1959 election he proposed “Industrial Investment Certificates”, enabling the public to buy into a trust fund investing in the private sector. During the campaign he received a letter from an inmate of Winchester Prison saying that they would all vote Conservative because they had never had it so good.
In the new Parliament, Price chaired the Conservative backbench Atomic Energy Committee. Unhappy with the idea that the science minister must be an amateur, he said: “I rather hope that at the back of the Cabinet room Lord Hailsham is not playing with his chemistry set.”
In 1960 he proposed a joint space research programme with Europe and Australia, based on the soon-to-be-abandoned Blue Streak rocket. A report he prepared for Hailsham, who personally was not keen, was instrumental in the Council of Europe’s decision to create a European Space Agency at a meeting in Strasbourg that Price — who had served on the Council — attended.
In July 1962 Macmillan appointed him Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. Price took through a Weights and Measures Bill that embraced the metric system (though he did not envisage it replacing Imperial measures), and a Hire Purchase Bill guaranteeing that anyone who innocently bought a car covered by an HP agreement could keep it. He also fielded complaints from small shopkeepers that Heath’s abolition of Resale Price Maintenance would lead to aggressive price-cutters like Tesco putting them out of business.
After the 1964 election, Price became Opposition spokesman on science and technology. He warned that if Harold Wilson cancelled the TSR2 fighter-bomber, he would be remembered as “the Esau of our times who sold our technical future for a mess of American pottage”. He fell out with Frank Cousins, Minister of Technology, over his refusing Price the “normal courtesy” of seeing his press releases, and as the QE2 took shape, argued that the banks, not the State, should finance it.
When Heath came to power in 1970, he sent Price to the Ministry of Technology as Parliamentary Secretary; Price barely had time to launch a computerised accounting scheme for small businesses, however, before being moved sideways to Aviation Supply under Frederick Corfield.
Concorde — which then employed 25,000 people — seemed his first priority; but within weeks Rolls-Royce hit financial difficulties over the cost of developing the RB-211 jet engine. Despite earlier talk of letting “lame ducks” go to the wall, Heath stepped in to nationalise the company. When emergency legislation to create “Rolls-Royce 1971 Ltd” was brought to the House in March 1971, Price and Corfield caused confusion over how far the government had committed itself to the engine, and angry shareholders accused them of showing an “abysmal lack of faith” in the RB211.
That April Price moved to the DTI under John Davies as Parliamentary Secretary for Aerospace; in September the RB211 received a final go-ahead after the US government lent £104 million toward the engine’s development for the Lockheed TriStar.
Price was dropped in Heath’s April 1972 reshuffle along with Nicholas Ridley, the most vocal exponent of the “lame ducks” strategy. Ironically, the interventionist policies Heath went on to pursue were closer to Price’s own instincts.
After the close election of February 1974, Price took a call from Downing Street asking him to see Wilson; prudently, he checked — and found it had been meant for the Labour MP Bill Price, who became a minister.
Price now staked a claim to fame by using the phrase “Winter of Discontent” in a newspaper article to categorise the fledgling Labour government’s difficulties with the unions. It did not register — but five years later the Sun would use it again, to deadly effect. He also suffered the inconvenience of losing all his constituency correspondence when the IRA bombed Westminster Hall.
Labour’s outright re-election that October spelled the end for Heath. Price accepted that the Prime Minister could not survive — but insisted he had been right to call for a government of national unity. Succeeding Heath, Mrs Thatcher did not recall Price to the front bench.
He spent a contentious Parliament grilling ministers on the risk of rabies, identifying 377 legislative provisions for officials to enter and search homes and business premises, and swimming for the Commons against the Lords.
Knighted in 1980, Price became an energetic member of the new Transport Select Committee. When the government rejected its recommendations for transferring the testing system for HGV drivers to private operators, he abstained in protest. He also declared that the Serpell Report recommending drastic cuts to the railways had “got it wrong”; what was needed was more investment.
After the 1983 election — in which he was helped by his Labour opponent from 1970, who had switched sides — Price joined the Social Services (later Health) Select Committee. He condemned Kenneth Clarke’s plan for anonymous Aids testing of hospital patients as “clinically irresponsible”, and criticised the government’s handling of the protracted ambulance workers’ dispute. Nevertheless, he was the whips’ choice that year to chair the committee — but was defeated by the even more independent Nicholas Winterton.
Leaving Parliament, Price developed his industrial consultancy, was a non-executive director of Southampton University Hospitals Trust and chaired Hampshire Community Care Forum. He was vocal in urging residential care — even calling it “asylum” — for mental patients who could not cope in the community.
Price was twice chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, and parliamentary consultant to the Institute of Industrial Managers from 1973 to 1990 and its vice-president from 1980 to 1992. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Hampshire in 1982.
He married Rosemary Johnson in 1960. She died in 2006, and he is survived by their daughter.
Sir David Price, born November 20 1924, died January 31 2014


The Guardian’s repeated casting of the Meredith Kercher murder trial as a gross miscarriage of justice for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is disturbing (Reports, 1-4 February). Undoubtedly, the case is complex and shrouded in ambiguity and uncertainty. However, there are at least three points which are certain.
1) During the pre-trial, trial proper, and retrial, different judges and juries have, after close and prolonged examination of all the evidence, concluded there is enough evidence against the defendants to find them guilty of the murder charge against them.
2) The appeal in which the defendants were acquitted was overturned after the supreme court found it to have “multiple shortcomings, contradictions and inconsistencies” and that the “evidence against [the defendants] had been underestimated”.
3) At the same time as she was originally found guilty of murder, Amanda Knox was also found guilty of slander and subsequently sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for having accused an innocent man of the crime. Although acquitted of murder on appeal, the slander charge was upheld. At the time of the acquittal, Ms Knox had spent four years in jail, ie she effectively served the slander sentence while on remand. Therefore, she has not in fact served any time in prison for a crime she did not commit (although the same could not be said for Mr Sollecito if the final outcome of the legal process were to find him not guilty).
Assertions such as those made by Andrew Gumbel (himself a co-author of Sollecito’s autobiography) that Knox and Sollecito have been reconvicted “without a shred of evidence to substantiate the verdict” are untrue and undermine the gravity of the case, as does a one-sided interview with Ms Knox during which the evidence against her is barely addressed.
Only those in the courtroom are in possession of the full facts; it is only they who should make pronouncements on what the outcome should or should not be. Until then, the best course of action would be to wait for the (admittedly, grindingly slow) Italian legal process to come to its conclusion.
Georgia Ladbury, Friya Engineer, Jen Rouse and 105 others

You report (The works of art that could not be saved for British collections, 31 January) the “loss” abroad last year of 33,000 works of art and other items of cultural value. This is less serious than it sounds. Most were everyday sales from private collections here to private collections elsewhere. Welcome to the art market. The small number that were of high potential importance to UK museums were properly identified by the export review system.
Of these, only six of the original 19 were successfully acquired for public ownership. But it is the sharp decline in public funding for the arts, rather than the export controls themselves, that lies squarely behind this failure. The works which the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, challenged curators to fundraise for in 2013 were, at £115m, worth 50% more than those he export-stopped in 2012; meanwhile his government oversaw funding cuts averaging more than 20% across the sector. With such a background it was remarkable that as many as six were saved.
Agencies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund continue to do all they can to guard the UK’s arts and heritage against the ravages of the government’s austerity programme. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery’s current campaign for Van Dyck’s self-portrait, a number of trusts and foundations, as well as significant sums from public donations, are also of crucial help. The combination of high art prices in a buoyant international market, currently fast-fuelled by hungry private investors, and a sorry parallel decline in national and local funding for UK museums, is the only enemy.
Stephen Deuchar
Director, Art Fund

George Monbiot (Dredging up nonsense, 31 January) forgets that much of the Somerset Levels are below the high tide level. In order to remain as dry land, all the water that arrives at the Levels – by rainfall or by river flow – in 24 hours must flow out to sea in the 12 hours a day when the tide is low enough. In this area well-maintained drainage channels are essential. This was understood by the medieval monks who created the Levels, by Brunel, whose first effort at an iron ship was the little steam dredger he built for Bridgwater docks, and by the people who live there now.
Flooding any farmland kills that season’s crops of grass or vegetables, and is likely to reduce yields in later crops, putting up food prices and risking hunger among poor people. This is due to market forces when food is traded as a commodity. The argument that suggests dredging was stopped to protect the river bank wildlife always was nonsense. The wildlife had survived on the river banks because the previous management produced suitable conditions for it. There were arguments about the scale and speed of mechanical dredging, but allowing the upper levels of water voles’ burrows to flood is as stupid as flooding villages.
Huw Jones
Pwll-Trap, Carmarthenshire
•  George Monbiot seems to be the only public person who has read and understood the technical knowledge relating to flood events. Piecemeal panic solutions are not the answer. In the transitions from the River Authorities to the National Rivers Authority to the Environment Agency, which deskilled and outsourced much professional engineering competence, local experience and knowledge of how to respond to flood events was lost. The need for “whole catchment management” has long been researched and published by the UK research and consultancy centres CEH Wallingford and HR Wallingford, which are highly regarded international experts in this field. Rather than making panic pronouncements about dredging, it would be better to commit to investment in competent expert studies of the problem catchments and how to manage them to minimise flooding in the future.
Michael Thorn
Helston, Cornwall
•  Dredging the rivers in the Somerset Levels would be little more effective than digging a big hole to hold the floods. A simple scenario may help George Monbiot’s case. Imagine a stream flowing across a garden that occasionally floods the lawn. If it is deepened, it will merely hold more water. The outward flow will still be the same and it will still flood. Extending this deepening to the entire length of the stream would also do no good, as it is the slope of a water course that determines the amount of water it shifts. Deepened rivers shift the same amount of water as before, they just flow more slowly. To protect the garden, the banks of the stream would have to be raised, promptly sending the water next door.
John Linfoot
•  Surely it is now the time to start building the Severn Barrage, both to remove the threat of high tides (in the same way as the Thames Barrier) and to generate non-polluting power, to fill the looming power gap of about 25%, as old generating stations are closed down. It is estimated that the Severn Barrier could produce the same power as four nuclear power stations – yet be non-polluting and totally renewable.
Dr Brian Parsons
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
• Looking down from the Mendip Hills, a vast lake currently covers parts of the northern stretches of the Somerset Levels (Report, 3 February). Given that this is the part of the Levels least affected by flooding, it really makes you think what Britain will look like 50 years from now. By then the rise in global average temperatures will be approaching 2 degrees (in contrast to the havoc already being caused by our present 0.8 degree rise).
Those friends of the British countryside (including the National Trust) who oppose proposals for wind and solar farms such as the Atlantic Array (an opposition campaign spearheaded in North Devon by Ukip) would do well to consider what “natural landscape” it will be that they are preserving through their opposition to renewables. There is a strong strand of conservative environmentalism which is still in deep denial about the actuality of climate change, and some of this can currently be heard demanding river dredging and other “finger in the dyke” solutions in south Somerset.
Paul Hoggett
Chair, Climate Psychology Alliance

First it was the alleged slave holders in Brixton (Slavery case suspects linked to Maoist group, 26 November 2013). Now Raquel Rolnik’s UN report on housing in the UK is described as “Marxist” (Report, 4 February). Is there anything in the writings of Karl Marx which would justify these attributions? Or should we assume it is the Groucho tendency which is being referred to?
Professor Keith Graham
Author, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary
• As wonderful as it is to read about people’s pet stories (It’s a dog’s life for us, Family, 1 February), I was disappointed to see that all three stories about dogs featured the purchase of pedigree puppies – not a rescue mutt in sight! There are some fabulous “ready-made” pets in rehoming centres up and down the country; couldn’t we have read at least one of their stories?
Anna Lister
Cockermouth, Cumbria
• The Beach of Falesa (Radio rescue for long-lost Dylan Thomas script, 30 January) was performed on stage at the Cardiff New Theatre in the early 70s. It was an adaptation as an opera written by Alun Hoddinott, with the lead taken by Geraint Evans. Evans was then a member of the board of the ITV franchise holder for Wales, HTV, which filmed and broadcast the production.
Wyn Thomas
• George Lakoff’s analysis of the failure of the progressive mindset (The books interview, Review, 1 February) reminded me of WB Yeats’s poem The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
Jill Rooney
Ashtead, Surrey
• Islington council can worthily share the biscuit with Inverclyde for how to deal with a death (Letters, 1 February). We treasure in “Granny’s papers” the seven letters sent, postmortem, to “Mrs Annie Gray (deceased)”, each dealing with a different implication of her death.
Louise Vincent
• These egg puns (Letters, 4 February) are all white, but hasn’t the yolk gone far enough?
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

Your determination to ignore beer even extends to travel and holiday offers. In the Review (1 February) a travel offer to visit Lille and Antwerp includes “dinner with wine” in Antwerp. In case you haven’t heard, Antwerp is in Belgium, arguably the greatest brewing nation on the planet, with a vast portfolio of beers – many of which can be enjoyed in Antwerp’s bars and restaurants. Just a few metres from the central station, Bier Central is a spacious restaurant that stocks 300 Belgian beers and matches them with excellent food. The cafe De Pelgrim is attached to the city’s major brewery, De Koninck, and also matches beer with food, including a range of Belgian cheeses. To recommend “wine with dinner” in Antwerp insults the locals. When the Guardian announced a Masterclass on how to become a micro-brewer, the event was sold out within days. Pardon the pun, but there’s a thirst for beer knowledge among your readers and it’s time you reflected this in your pages.
Roger Protz
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Ian Sample’s article on super volcanoes is interesting, but his framing of “prediction” is dangerously misleading (Predicting smoke before the fire, 24 January). It has long been possible to foresee supervolcanic eruptions based on the geological record, which dates such eruptions, and geographic knowledge, which shows where they are most likely.
What this new work does is improve understanding of why these eruptions happen and reduce uncertainty in certain localities – perhaps. This “perhaps” arises because the most likely times of occurrence are millennia in the future, so falsification will be difficult.
This may seem like nitpicking, but Sample’s presenting of prediction unfortunately reinforces an erroneous way in which science is interpreted. Too often the public is encouraged to believe that science-based prediction equates to certainty rather than likelihood or probability, with associated uncertainty ranging from the trivial (a few seconds or hours) to millennia.
A recent outcome of this poor conceptualisation is the conviction of Italian earthquake scientists, where uncertainty was similarly misunderstood. An even greater travesty is the misunderstanding of climate change predictions, where significant uncertainty about short-term weather variation is used to obscure the near certainty of climate change catastrophe in the longer term and validate the pernicious short-term policies developed by politicians and economists.
It’s great that the Guardian reports good science. But it also needs to either explain the nature of the scientific method better or recognise it when writing about science.
David Roser
Marrickville, NSW, Australia
The threat is immediate
In the article High Andes gets on top of climate change (24 January), the author suggests that for poor indigenous communities climate change “is not some distant threat”, but an immediate problem.
Anyone who has lived through the past 14 months in Australia, with 2013 the hottest year since records began and topped off by the breaking of temperature records across NSW in January 2014 – by more than a degree in some cases – must surely be aware that something is very amiss with our climate.
Plants simply can’t grow outside their tolerances of temperature and rainfall, birds and insects die; climate change is not something we will have to “adapt to”, it is a total game-changer for ecosystems, and we ignore that at our peril.
The crunch will come when global wheat and rice crops fail in the same year.
Philippa Morris
Gravesend, NSW, Australia
Many kinds of atheism
Several times a week I bow to a shrine and light incense before sitting in meditation with a small group of other people. I am an atheist, but not the kind that Zoe Williams seems to have in mind in her column (24 January).
I am a Zen Buddhist so I actively cultivate a mind free of the notion of a personal saviour or a distinct soul. Unlike Williams, I follow a precept not to indoctrinate my children into my beliefs, let alone raise them to believe that other people are mad for their beliefs. Strangely, I probably have more in common with contemplatives from theistic religions such as some Sufis and Christians than with what Williams describes.
The kind of atheism she talks about seems to have a lot in common with the Deobandi Islam described by Jon Boone (Moderate Islam under siege in Pakistan). Her views are characterised by absolute certainty of her position (dogmatism), a presumption of uniformity of view across atheists (intolerance of heresy) and perceived victimhood.
I think Williams may have been radicalised by the fundamentalist cleric Richard Dawkins and should be watched closely by the NSA, but then she probably already is.
Roger Hyam
Edinburgh, UK
• Zoe Williams is exactly right: atheists don’t make enough fuss. It’s the perennial problem of those driven by what they don’t believe. At university in the 60s we were called woolly liberals, intent on achieving nothing more serious than raising a wry smile on the faces of evangelicals. This is why Richard Dawkins’s rampant atheism is such an eye-watering breath of fresh air.
Sadly, the rest of us woolly liberals don’t quite know how to follow him to the barricades and probably don’t have the energy anyway. Like sheep, our skills are more to do with counting people to sleep or keeping them snuggly warm in our wool.
Peter Roberts
Huddersfield, UK
• To be an atheist is not at all the same thing as to be a heathen, and the fact that Zoe Williams does not seem to know that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of her column.
Patrick Curry
London, UK
The expat’s challenge
Roy Greenslade’s light-hearted take on the Swedish military seeking someone to make fictitious broadcasts (Shortcuts, 17 January) displayed an incredible degree of insensitivity and ignorance of the challenges involved in living in a country whose main language is not your own.
Learning a foreign language as an adult is always tough, especially in a country like Sweden, where the natural response to an immigrant’s bumbling attempts to speak the – admittedly relatively easy – native tongue is to switch to English. As such, I could imagine that a job requiring native-American English proficiency and broadcasting skills but no competency in Swedish is nothing less than gold dust for a number of unemployed Americans with a background in media who have made the brave decision to, for instance, follow a Swedish partner back to their homeland in spite of the difficulties involved in such an endeavour. It beats cleaning up vomit on the notorious booze cruises that run between Finland and Sweden or stacking shelves in a supermarket: the lot of many an immigrant. Greenslade sneeringly instructs readers: “Don’t all rush.” It’s good advice; the result could be a stampede.
Allan Bain
Helsinki, Finland
The man sitting in his chair
Gaby Hinsliff (January 17) warns us of how social media is “purpose-built for killing time and showing off”, giving bored people who are “disappointed or dissatisfied with their own lives” the opportunity to indulge in what she calls “online vitriol”. Alas, when Blaise Pascal wrote that “all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room”, he obviously didn’t have an inkling that, over 300 years later, a man would be able to spread evil in the world without even getting up from his chair.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
Perhaps a smaller wedding
I do not know what the Greek word is for “lack of common sense”. Is it because it is too ordinary a complaint that Scott Stossel (A life ruled by anxiety, 17 January) does not include it in his list of afflictions?
How can I take seriously a man who, knowing the number of phobias he suffers from, chooses to get married in front of 300 people? If I was allergic to almonds would I eat an almond croissant (yum, yum) just because people expect me to do so?
A very private wedding (one can always invent a reason for doing so) plus a great party (one can always be seized by a convenient bout of flu) might have prevented Stossel from suffering from wedding anxiety. I cannot think of a proper reason for not choosing this solution. If there was one I can only apologise.
Amy Gibson
London, UK
The hegemony of English
I was intrigued by Harry Ritchie’s rather self-righteous article condemning what he considers to be the hegemony of standard English, especially as it applies to the spoken language (24 January). I did find it ironic, however, that given his argument that non-standard English should be granted equal status, his article should have adhered so slavishly to grammatical convention.
Had this not been the case, of course, it is unlikely that the article would have been published. It is also unlikely that his commentary on the subject would have been so cogent. I object to the pomposity of those who eschew the use of non-standard English as much as Ritchie, but I would also contend that it is critical that people understand what kind of linguistic register is most appropriate for any given context.
Although this observation might not be a central premise of Ritchie’s argument, I suspect that it is one that, at least in practice, he subscribes to wholeheartedly.
Simon Clarke
Nedlands, Western Australia
• About 60 years ago, there was just such a debate in California: shouldn’t black children be taught in “Ebonics” rather than standard English? They would have an easier job learning arithmetic, geography, history and so on, at least as long as it was not necessary to read the same textbooks that white middle-class children were given.
It was obvious to enough of us why this was being suggested – even pushed, and the proposal never became law. Those black children would never go to college. They might not even be able to finish high school. They would, in any case, not compete for jobs with “our children” who do get degrees. The US needed, still needs, a proletariat and, if those who are still in the American middle and upper class have their way, the working class will soon be desperate enough to work at any menial job offered. A lumpenproletariat, why not?
Bryna Hellmann
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
• The dilemma of Egypt is this: how do you maintain a liberal democracy when the majority vote for an Islamic theocracy (3 January)?
Martin Down
Witney, UK
• The cartoon portraying François Hollande as Olympia made me howl with laughter (24 January). Brilliant! You should start a caption contest. My contribution: “I must remember to get a wax job.”
Alexandra Chapman
Paris, France


Last August in the middle of the day at Baker Street Underground
station, I wanted to add some credit to my Oyster card. Unfamiliar with the
ticket machines and unwilling to delay others, I joined the queue for the
ticket office, and eavesdropped.
There were two tourists ahead of me, both, it transpired, with minimal spoken English. The first was investigating which multi-ticket would be most suitable for her stay in London, about which she was questioned and then offered advice.
The second, a young man, had managed to purchase a similar ticket but it would not function. Eventually the patient and courteous man in the ticket office discovered the error was a wrong start date, and rectified the matter. I did detect a note of relief in his voice when I made my very simple request and handed over £10 cash.
Who is so deluded that they think a bank of machines and more retail outlets will ever replace this kind of service, the idea that has provoked the current dispute with the RMT union? Such expertise and understanding cannot be quantified, and are of immense benefit to London’s image as a tourist-friendly city.
S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire
While I share Charles Foster’s concern about the potential excesses of socialism (letter, 28 January), I find his criticism of trade unions as “profoundly undemocratic” unfair and unsubstantiated.
Trade union policy is decided by annual representative conferences. Industrial action is only possible if mandated by a majority of the workforce. Contrast this with party conferences and public statements during hustings, which can be ignored once power is obtained.
The Tory party promised not to undertake major reforms of the NHS and to be the greenest government ever. The Liberal Democrats promised to oppose nuclear power and not to support increases in tuition fees.
By proposing resolutions and attending mandating meetings I had a say in every policy which my trade union adopted. Political parties no longer even pretend that their conferences mandate their behaviour.
Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk
If state schools were like private schools
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, wants state schools to “be like private schools.” However, if this were the case, 85 per cent of children would not be in a school at all: they would be barred entry on the grounds that they were either not rich enough or not clever enough.
How about an alternative approach? What about private schools being like state schools and taking on some challenging children, not just the “easy to teach” bright, motivated ones from supportive homes? If this happened we really would start to break down the “Berlin Wall” between the two education sectors.
Ben Warren, Head teacher Summerhill Comprehensive School Dudley, West Midlands
Michael Gove makes the interesting assumption that private schools are better than state schools. Is there any evidence for this? No, there is not.
Our top state schools are at least as good as the top private schools. Indeed once you allow for the difference in the standard of pupils at entry, many are better academically.
Mr Gove constantly compares Eton to the worst state school. But (whisper it softly) most private schools are not actually academically particularly good, unsurprising when their staff are often the failures from the state sector.
Parents are very well aware of this, and the honest parent of a child at private school will openly admit that the school is chosen not for its academic achievement, but because it enables children to meet “the right people” and “make connections”.
Private schools work best for those pupils who can only get a well-paid job through knowing the right people, as they would fail on merit.
Sadly then, the attempt at making our state schools “as good as private schools” misses the point. They have different aims and objectives. No amount of long days and homework will make the change.
Sheila Parker, Worthing, West Sussex
I am delighted to hear that Michael Gove’s government will be providing resources to enable schools to extend the times that they remain open and provide activities such as “school plays, sports clubs, orchestras and debating competitions” to pupils.
This was a policy established under the last Labour government and funded through the Extended Schools agenda. Unfortunately it was also one of the areas of funding the Conservative-led Coalition scrapped as soon as it got into power.
Funny how, in the run-up to a general election, money can be made available when it wasn’t previously.
Jo Rust, Secretary, King’s Lynn and District Trades Council, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Saudi Arabia, source of extremism
Peter Popham’s article “The war on Christianity” (30 January) compliments Prince Charles for “saying the unsayable” by speaking out over the persecution of Christians in Islamic states.  An additional unsayable which could be said is the role of Saudi Arabia as the well-spring of most of the Islamic extremism in the world.
Salafism (for which read Wahaabism), the state religion of Britain’s apparently unimpeachable ally Saudi Arabia, identifies Jews and Christians as enemies of Islam. In addition, Sufis are defined as “witches” and Shi’a as “polytheists”, whom some Salafis believe they should fight and kill in the cause of tawheed, the homogenisation of Islamic thought.
While some Salafi groupings eschew violence, the broad Salafist propensity toward violence and intolerance is propagated by the Wahaabi moonshine of muddled fiction that in Salafism passes for theology.
Saudi petrodollars have enabled Salafism to incubate extremism worldwide, via the internet, by funding mosques in Britain and the US, madrasas (schools) in struggling states like Pakistan, and through the Salafi regional offshoots. Such groupings carried out the Mumbai massacre and the Nairobi siege, and include al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, the Deobandis and Ahl-el-Beit of India, and the Jama’a Islamiya of Pakistan.
The pared-down, simplified Salafist ideology is at odds with the rest of Islamic thought on many issues, and in this context  with a hadith (recorded saying) attributed to the Messenger Muhammad. The Messenger is reported to have directed that Muslims being denied the right of reply, when receiving viewpoints in conflict with their own beliefs, should “politely listen and leave”.
Hamdi Shelhi, Oxford
Medieval floods on the Somerset levels
I do understand why Chris Harding (letter, 3 February) is unsympathetic to those afflicted by the Somerset floods; but there are “more things in heaven and earth”.
He notes that records of flooding have not been kept over the past thousand years. That is of course true, but the medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, writing around the year 1125, did have things say on the subject.
Of Muchelney in particular (often in the news of late) he says: “The place is not easy of access; one can normally get through in summertime on foot or by horse, but not in winter.”
All the same, we are not living in the Middle Ages, and it ought to be possible to do something about this parlous state of affairs. Allowing the Environment Agency to do its job by staffing it properly would be a good start.
Julian Luxford, Ceres, Fife
Owen Paterson is very keen to focus on the houses in Somerset that haven’t been flooded.
How long before someone in the dock invokes the “Paterson defence”?
“I may be heavily implicated in a number of homicides, but just consider how many people I haven’t murdered, M’lud”.
Mark Robertson , East Boldon, Tyne & Wear
Desperate to smoke in cars
I suppose it was inevitable that the proposal to ban smoking in cars in the presence of children would be met by the objection that it is “unworkable” because it would be very difficult to identify the perpetrators.
This specious argument is always trotted out when members of a small, vociferous group face losing their freedom to do harm. The same shrill voices were heard when fox hunting was banned. It is the last refuge of the desperate, and it is nonsense.
A second’s thought would make it clear that on this basis every law is “unworkable” because it is always difficult to identify the perpetrators.
Andrew McLauchlin, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire
This morning I observed a gentleman driving his car while lighting his cigarette with one hand and texting in the other. I thought it was only women who could multi-task.
Lynn Hutchings, Whitstable,  Kent


We entered the war for reasons that were sound, but the battles could have been fought in ways more economical with lives
Sir, There is an excellent case that the First World War could have been fought in ways more economical of Allied lives, and a much less persuasive one that had Sir Edward Grey been a Foreign Secretary of greater weight and vision the Kaiser might have been persuaded to stay his hand. After Germany invaded Belgium on August 3, national interest no less than honour dictated that Britain uphold its treaty commitment and defend Belgian neutrality.
Professor Sir Roger Williams
Sir, Professor Ferguson’s arguments (report, Jan 31) concerning the “error” of fighting the First World War may be sound but are perhaps incomplete. H. H. Munro, humorist, traveller, astute observer of politics and, eventually, casualty of the war made the penetrating comment that supporters of the stay neutral and make a profit school were unable to differentiate between a nation of shopkeepers and a nation of shoplifters.
Dr. R. Blackburn
Sir, Sir Michael Howard (Feb 3) is right when he says Britain entered the war for a variety of very good reasons and that German intentions were highly suspect. John Rohl in his study of Kaiser Wilhelm related that the Kaiser promised his troops that he would allow them to settle on “ethnically cleansed” lands in Flanders. This was an indication of his well-known racist views and a clear link to Nazi anti-Jewish policies some 20 years later.
Dr Barry Clayton
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancs
Sir, German archives do not support Professor Sheffield’s view (Feb 1) of Britain responding to the threat from an ideological foe in 1914. German intelligence failed to predict Britain’s entry because no such noble plan existed. The British ambassador in Berlin, bemused by conflicting telegrams, asked for his papers and declared war by departing with the Belgian ambassador on a special train to Brussels. During the retreat from Mons the Foreign Office received the bill for his self-indulgence and felt honour bound to pay up.
Roger Macdonald
Weimar, Germany
Sir, Gary Sheffield’s account is anglocentric. He is right that Germany needed to be kept under control, but the war also led to the collapse of the much more benign regime in Austria-Hungary, which was an unmitigated disaster for central Europe and the Balkans, ushering in a host of small and unstable countries unable to resist the attentions of Hitler and Stalin in the ensuing years. The unrest that we currently see in Ukraine is a piece of business still unfinished from this “Great War”.
David Kirk
Crewe, Cheshire
Sir, I wonder if Professor Sheffield (Feb 1) would have the same view if he had to fight himself. His attitude was one which consigned a whole generation of young men to their death. It could equally well be argued that if Russia and France had fought Germany without us, all three would have ended up weakened. I wonder if he is a friend of Mr Gove? The most useful thing that children can learn from the First World War is never to trust the older generation.
Michael Wetherall
Newcastle upon Tyne

Simply to replicate private schools’ long days and activities will not raise standards — discipline and commitment are required
Sir, There is a Berlin wall between the state and private schools, which has been gradually built by all governing parties since the 1970s (“Minister wishes to end state-private divide”, Feb 3).
With the direct grant system there was a more co-ordinated approach between the sectors, leading to greater social mobility and higher academic achievement by the most able in all social classes.
There were problems with the 11+, but, rather than deal with them, it was attempted, through government diktat, to over-centralise education and reduce it to its lowest common denominator.
Michael Gove’s reforms are another retrograde step, showing little understanding of education itself. He does not even understand the private sector, which is itself varied and multi-faceted. Simply to replicate private schools’ long days and activities will not raise standards. Parties need to think constructively about how the systems can work together to provide the appropriate education for each child.
Stephen Smith
Former Head, Bedford Modern School
Sir, The elephant in the room in the education debate can be summed up as “discipline” and “commitment”. Parents in the private sector sign up to an ethos of good behaviour and, in general, their children fulfil their part of the contract; if they persist in unacceptable behaviour they are expelled.
Meanwhile, many classes in the state system are disrupted by bad behaviour, albeit of a minority; the school’s attempts to discipline these pupils is undermined by similar behaviour by the parents, many view school as free child care and condone their children’s behaviour. It is very difficult to exclude a disruptive state-educated pupil. Teachers should be able to get on and teach, not work as an extension of social services.
I make this observation as a former grammar school teacher, member of an LEA and mother of three privately educated children.
Marion Hudson
Smarden, Kent

The government effectively abolished the police caution some years ago as a way of diverting first-time offenders away from the criminal justice system
Sir, There is an explanation for the large number of people on benefit who also appear on the police national computer (“A fifth of claimants have criminal record”, Jan 31). The government effectively abolished the police caution some years ago as a way of diverting first-time offenders away from the criminal justice system to ensure that a single minor offence does not blight a person’s career prospects for life. There is now no difference between a police caution and a criminal record acquired through an attendance at court. If you receive a simple police caution you will be added to the police national computer and be subject to the same restrictions on employment and travel as if you went to court and were convicted.
Although the police will claim that a simple caution is not a criminal record you will be hard pressed to distinguish the two.
Dennis Clarke
Tonbridge, Kent

The plan to remove cash as way of paying for a bus journey raises several questions concerning tourists and Oyster cards that run out
Sir, Transport for London (TfL) says buses will soon not accept cash for fares (report, Feb 3). This follows a consultation. However, when I took part in this consultation and asked TfL two questions, I received no response. First, how this would affect visitors to London, who might well not have an Oyster card? Second, what happens to people whose pass is lost or stolen? Would they be left stranded? If TfL cannot answer such questions, the public transport system would be inaccessible to some of us.
Tim Lamport
South Croydon

With the prospect of further heavy rain, sooner or later a boat navigating on a flooded road is bound to collide with an oncoming land vehicle
Sir, A. P. Herbert famously raised the question whether boats navigating on flooded roads should pass oncoming traffic “port to port”, obeying the rule for navigation, or keep to the left in accordance with the rule of the road. There have lately been many pictures in the media showing inflatables and other small craft travelling along flooded roads, particularly in the West Country. With the prospect of further heavy rain, sooner or later a boat navigating on a flooded road is bound to collide with an oncoming land vehicle such as a tractor or 4×4. And of course boats using roads as waterways could also hit other boats.
I don’t know whether the issue was ever satisfactorily resolved, but if liability can be disclaimed, I feel sure the insurance companies are up to the task.
David Wilson
Bridell, Pembrokeshire


SIR – Fionnuala McHugh, in her illuminating article on Macau, describes the joys of the old town, but she did not mention the work of George Chinnery, the British artist.
In his time in Macau (1825-52), Chinnery produced exquisite drawings, water-colours and landscapes in oils, whether of the Macaonese people in street scenes, or of the great Hong merchants and their factories on the Praia Grande. His work brought to life this Portuguese colonial city.
Chinnery’s pictures can be seen in the Macau Museum of Art in the Cultural Centre, near the Protestant Cemetery in Camoes Square. There one can also pay tribute at his large gravestone.
Randolph Vigne
Fish Hoek, Eastern Cape, South Africa

SIR – Sir David Higgins claims on behalf of the Government that there is an unanswerable case for building HS2. This is despite its spiralling costs at the expense of schools, hospitals and defence.
But if HS2 is so demonstrably beneficial, why does the Government insist on suppressing the report by its own Major Projects Authority, which is apparently highly critical of the grandiose project?
Nikolai Tolstoy
Southmoor, Berkshire
SIR – David Higgins says that there will be 18 trains an hour on HS2. That will be one train leaving Euston every 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Where will the huge number of passengers come from? Where will they be assembled? How will they be shepherded into line?
Related Articles
An artist who captured the essence of Macau
04 Feb 2014
The Government must protect both town and country from flooding
04 Feb 2014
John M Dent
Mickleover, Derbyshire
Smart meters
SIR – The Government is determined to help consumers save energy through the introduction of smart meters. These will put consumers in control of their energy use in a convenient way, bring an end to estimated bills, help people to switch supplier, save money and transform the energy market.
While there are some costs associated with the roll-out of meters, there are real long-term benefits; for example, recently published energy company research has shown that nine in 10 customers who use smart meters take active steps to reduce energy consumption.
The Government’s vision is for every home and small business in Britain to have smart electricity and gas meters by 2020. We continue to work closely with industry, consumer groups and others to introduce meters in order to lower energy bills and cut carbon for decades to come.
Baroness Verma
Under Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
London SW1
A palace in wartime
SIR – Bishop Francis Underhill offered pupils at St Brandon’s School, Bristol, the shelter of the Bishop’s Palace in Wells during the war. I had the privilege of living there from 1939-41.
We slept in the drawing room and the picture gallery (said to be haunted) and ate in the crypt, which was used as an air raid shelter at the height of the blitz on Bristol. The newer part of the building was used for school rooms, staff dormitories and the sick room. We had a very unpatriotic epidemic of German measles.
When the ringing of church bells was stopped (they were only to be sounded in the event of invasion), the three swans were no longer allowed to ring for their food at the Gate House. The grounds were a peaceful and exciting playground offering us all sorts of stimuli for the imagination.
Dian Morgan
Swanage, Dorset
Scanning the scanners
SIR – Two million unemployed, many of them young and desperate for jobs, yet machines are everywhere – in banks, transport hubs, libraries, surgeries and cinemas. Now we learn that theft from supermarkets may be mainly due to customer frustration when scanners fail to scan.
One solution would be to employ more staff to monitor the checkouts.
Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
Grammar school cuts
SIR – I agree with the comments by Paul Evans, the head of Colyton grammar in Devon, about the lack of funding for grammar schools (report, January 25). As a student of the school, I am aware of the challenges it faces as a result of Government cuts.
As a school that has consistently been near the top of league tables, Colyton, along with other high-performing grammar schools, ought to be one of the flagships of British education policy. Grammar schools provide a strong role model to other state schools on how to educate students to a high standard. This cannot be maintained if Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, continues to obstruct progress by cutting their funding.
By reducing funding to such a vital part of the state school system, Mr Gove is doing a disservice to hard-working students. His actions will only exacerbate the education gap between rich and poor.
Samuel Wycherley
Crewkerne, Somerset
Chorus of approval
SIR – If our cathedral choirs are in danger, we risk losing more than a wonderful, unique choral tradition.
Choristers’ training is a discipline that follows throughout their lives. Some go on to be eminent musicians, but many take on roles in life for which their training has shaped them. Many politicians and those in prominent public positions are former choristers. It is a blueprint for working as a team, and producing excellence.
Avril Wright
Snettisham, Norfolk
Replacement for ties
SIR – Dr Steven Field carries his comparison too far in suggesting that “ties must vie with high heels for the title of most uncomfortable and pointless item of clothing”.
The tie not only adds colour to male dress, but covers up the Adam’s apple – unattractive even in high-profile television presenters. Perhaps Britain’s designers could create something that replaces the tie but still manages to maintain an element of colour, comfortably adjusts to the size of the neck, helps keep men’s necks warm in winter, and can be loosened to ease the heat of summer.
At the same time, they could start designing suits with pockets the right size for mini iPads and mobile phones.
Sir Harold Walker
London SW1
Name tapes: the well-travelled, long-lasting kind
SIR – I notice, with regret, that Cash’s, the company that makes woven name-tapes, has gone into administration.
I still travel with shoe bags that I took to my prep school, complete with name tapes. The bags (and the name tapes) have seen service in the Army and were with me during the 50 years that I spent in several African countries. I took them to various European countries, America, the Far East, and they are shortly to visit southern Africa again.
F John Hunt
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
SIR – I stopped lovingly sewing on countless fiddly name tapes when the school outfitter at Eton recommended that I used a sewing machine.
Not only was it faster, but this method also ensured long-term survival of the name tape on a garment; sometimes it lasted longer than the clothes themselves.
Angela Walters
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire
SIR – With five sisters, and a mother who was in a care home, I have sewn hundreds of name tapes into school uniforms. Produced in a variety of colours, with different styles of script, they were an excellent product – hard-wearing, and surviving countless wash cycles as the items of uniform were passed down.
The culprit for their demise is the permanent marker pen – quicker for mothers with busy lives, but, as it cannot be changed except by crossing out, it can produce a messy result.
Christine Hartridge
Hambledon, Hampshire
SIR – Labelled clothing is very useful. While on an art trip with his school, to London, our son thought he would call in to see his father at the Wellington Barracks.
The guardsman at the gate asked for identification. The only item our son could think of showing was the label on his socks. He was allowed in.
Pauline Rossiter
Fleet, Hampshire

SIR – While we acknowledge that government funding for flood defence is not a bottomless purse, we should not pit the needs of one community against another.
It is not good enough to say that this is part of the natural cycle of things and that flooding is simply something that happens from time to time. Neither is it good enough to let agricultural businesses, which are a central part of rural communities and economies, be sacrificed.
The Government and the Environment Agency need to develop a strategic, coherent national response to the effects of our changing weather systems.
Fiona Howie
Campaign to Protect Rural England
London SE1
SIR – Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, says, “Flood defences cost money; and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend…?” The answer is: whatever it takes. The Government should start by cutting back its overseas aid budget.
David Hartridge
SIR – Town or country? Protect both – and the many – by cancelling the high-speed rail line for the few.
Rita Gulliver
Woodley, Berkshire
SIR – The choice is not town or country, but humans or beetles, and the Environment Agency continues to make the wrong one.
Allan G Jones
Rhuddlan, Denbighshire
SIR – For years, the Environment Agency has been preoccupied with prosecuting farmers. Now, having neglected to dredge the rivers, it is responsible for flooding a huge area of Somerset. This has caused slurry pits to overflow, workshops to be inundated and septic tanks to flood. When the water subsides, engine oil, mixed with farm and human waste, will pollute the ground and end up in the rivers and sea.
Who will prosecute the prosecutor?
Rosemary Moorhouse
Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset
SIR – Lord Smith’s duty is to all citizens, whether in Finsbury or Muchelney. Those on the Somerset Levels pay their taxes.
John Cleare
Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire
SIR – On the Lincolnshire coast, the Environment Agency is about to flood 338 acres of Grade 1 and 2 arable land to create an “intertidal wildlife habitat”.
This land was painstakingly drained by Henry Pye in the 19th century: land that has produced 1,200 tons of wheat, 600 tons of peas or 5,000 tons of potatoes in rotation. And yet, according to Lord Smith, “agricultural land matters”.
Peter J Taylor
Welton le Wold, Lincolnshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – Perhaps it would be better to call social media platforms that permit “neknominatinons”, which encourage reckless behaviour, dangerous drinking practices, and have been linked to the death of at least one person in this country, “anti-social media”. – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – The public debate over the neknomination craze seems to blame the internet for all the ensuing tragedies. How very convenient.
Ireland’s attitude of amused tolerance to alcohol abuse is a serious and deadly flaw that needs addressing at the highest levels of government.
The Minister for Health has publicly declared his determination to stamp out smoking because of the health risks. Which habit is responsible for street violence, domestic violence, higher mortality rates among young people, social dysfunction and many other ills?
If the “game” involved the innocent enjoyment of a cigarette, cigar or pipe, millions in public funds would be brought to bear, and public fulminations would reach boiling point as the health Nazis geared up to full outrage mode. Priorities indeed. – Yours, etc,
Lough Atalia Grove,
Sir, – Why are we all so outraged by the actions of our young? For years we have been nominating the likes of Obama and Clinton to neck pints of stout every time they visit us.
It’s time we all grew up. – Yours, etc,
Woodlands Park,
Co Galway.
Sir, – Justice Paul Carney’s remarks (“Neknomination risks ‘tsunami of homicide and rape prosecutions”, February 3rd), regarding the link between the “neknomination” game and rape are outrageous.
It is deeply troubling that a member of our judiciary of his rank would make such comments about rape, so wholly disregarding the nature of this crime. To suggest that otherwise upstanding men from “good families” (whatever that means) only commit their brutal crimes against women because they’ve had a few too many drinks ignores the undercurrent of sexism and misogyny that pervades many aspects of Irish society. It is this deep-seated misogyny which is the driving force behind violence against women.
The “long line of cases” of rape that Justice Carney has been dealing with lately is not the result of some drunken poor decision-making; it is the result of the normalisation of violence against women, as evidenced by high rates of male-on-female domestic violence and incredibly lenient sentencing for such violent crimes. We need to be addressing the negative attitudes towards women that make our fathers, brothers, and sons do these terrible things, not trying to censor Facebook for a drinking game. – Yours, etc,
Shankill, Dublin.
A chara, – Regarding neknominations: to my mind the moral question Facebook has to ask itself is: Is it merely the ticket seller at the turnstile to the games in the amphitheatre of life, or is it the promoter? – Is mise,
The Park,
Cabinteely, Dublin 18.

Sir, – Ronan Quinlan (February 4th) asks if Eamon Gilmore has forgotten that the Labour Party introduced the tax that it now says it will try to reduce if party candidates are elected in sufficient numbers at the local elections.
Indeed, one must wonder at Mr Gilmore’s poor memory in respect of his position on this tax. In 2010 he said, “it would be perverse to ask people to pay a property tax on a property on which they are paying a mortgage and the size of the mortgage in many cases is more than what the value of the property is worth”.
In the Labour Party 2011 general election manifesto it promised that a property tax would not be introduced until 2014 because it would take time to ensure it was structured in a fair and efficient manner and they spoke of the need to take account of those who paid large sums in stamp duty or who are in negative equity.
The Labour Party can hardly blame its broken promises on the need to compromise with Fine Gael. That party’s manifesto said, “an annual, recurring residential property tax on the family home is unfair” and said it wouldn’t introduce one at all.
When the promises start coming in the months ahead, let’s hope voters have better memories than the politicians. – Yours, etc,
The Cloisters,
Clane, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I would like to congratulate the wonderful lady Louise O’ Keeffe on her successful case in the European Court of Human Rights, which helped give recognition to children’s rights.
This is very personal to me, and I thank her with all my heart, for her dogged determination and courage.
I do not remember one happy day of my school life. Most of my school childhood memories are of corporal punishment. The thing to remember is that any kind of childhood abuse, be it sexual or otherwise, remains with the child for the rest of his or her life and makes it much more difficult to survive in life afterwards.
Louise O’Keeffe’s long, successful struggle has helped at least one person deal with some dreadful demons from the past. She is, without doubt, a courageous and wonderful lady. – Yours, etc,
Co Donegal.

Sir, – While laudable, the call for access to some 60,000 records of those who were adopted requires considerable forethought (Home News, January 24th). Many of these records were misfiled, incomplete or fabricated/embellished when originally taken. Consequently, reliability of contents can never be guaranteed.
With this in mind, caution must also be applied to the potential use of such information when/if released. Mechanisms to effectively link a child to his/her birth family must be adhered to in an attempt to minimise upset on both sides of this sensitive relationship.
Most perplexing, however, is the notion the child has an “absolute right” to this information or to know his/her birth parents. Preliminary discussion must centre on where the child’s rights end and the rights of the birth mother kick in? Far too often adoption is perceived from the child’s perspective, not the birth mother’s. There are indeed many birth mothers like Philomena Lee searching for their children, but there are a considerable number who remain shrouded in secrecy. In the early years of legal adoption in this country, many women handed over their children in an atmosphere of “cleansing their sins”. The circumstances of each adoption is as individual as the child and the birth mother. Many women gave children to people they thought could give the child a better future and in exchange, they were granted privacy. It was an unspoken contract.
While many argue a child has an absolute right to know his/her birth parent/s, it must be respected that many birth mothers also have an absolute right not to be known. While the approach is not faultless, it is my opinion that the State is correct in applying caution to this area. There are ladies now in their 70s and 80s who fear that knock on the door – my own birth mother being among them. – Yours, etc,
BalkilA chara, – I’m very surprised at Barry Walsh’s (February 4th) opposition to quotas for women candidates in Irish elections. I thought that argument had been won.
Of the current 25 elected councillors in Kildare County Council, only two are female – a paltry 8 per cent. Furthermore, of the 24 candidates who contested the last three general elections in South Kildare, only one was female (4 per cent).
If there is an increase in female candidates for the local elections it is only because political parties are getting ready for the quota being introduced for our next general election. Mr Walsh is correct that the fault doesn’t just lie with selection conventions, we also have the inequalities of cash, confidence, culture and childcare.
Forcing political parties to have a quota of female candidates will force them to engage with these issues also. If a woman cannot accept a nomination because she has no money or has to sort out childcare then the political party will have to help her sort them. Without quotas, she becomes the high-hanging fruit and 50 per cent of the population will continue to be shut out of representative politics. – Is mise,

l Park,

Sir, – I take issue with Dr Elizabeth Cullen’s well expressed but erroneous letter on pylon health risks (February 1st)
In the early 1890s the Westinghouse Electric Company introduced high voltage AC distribution of electrical power to the north-east of the United States. Power transmission in this form has been around for over 120 years. If a health hazard was associated, surely it would have shown up by now.
If there is a health problem associated with alternating electrical fields, I should worry more about my electric blanket or the alarm clock positioned two feet from my head as I sleep; or the multiplicity of circuits and gadgets around the house which, presumably, are emitting this “radiation”.
I have a 220,000 volt power line located 80 metres from my house and a large, unsightly pylon in the corner of our site. I have worked in a plastic tunnel 10 metres away from the nearest conductor for the past 25 years. I am not in any way worried by this proximity.
These power lines and pylons are a visual and aesthetic intrusion on the landscape. But the alternative suggestion of putting the lines underground is not economically sound. The UK based IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) has recently released a report on underground versus overhead transmission costs with the following conclusion:
“The report deduced that when comparing overall lifetime costs, overhead transmission cables are the most economical technology. For example, 75km of direct-buried AC medium capacity (6380 MVA) cable will incur a lifetime cost £1414.3 million, whilst its overhead equivalent will cost £299.8million.”
Using these figures, the cost of putting the required cables underground would be approximately 4.5 times the overhead equivalent. Many extra billions would be required.
Perhaps the environmental lobby would need to reconsider its support for the ridiculous target of 40 per cent of our generation capacity to be sourced from heavily subsidised and unreliable renewables. This widely distributed generation largely dictates the requirement for the proposed new power lines. – Yours, etc,
BE (Elec) CEng. MIEI,

A chara, – Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton (Opinion, January 23rd) wrote: “I believe that we must continue and build on our strong record on human rights.”
Surely by his and our Taoiseach’s failure to integrate human rights issues into their trade talks in the Gulf they have undermined and tarnished that record.
Mr Bruton believes that trade issues and human rights issues are mutually exclusive and to raise genuine concerns over women’s rights, workers’ safety or governmental reform would jeopardise those important talks.
However, to have any serious chance of effecting real change in these areas, trade missions are exactly the arena to raise concerns. Business and trade cannot exist in isolation from society and civilisation.
It is morally incumbent on those of us with a strong voice to speak up for the voiceless in our societies. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 4,000 more migrant workers will die in Qatar, building the stadiums before a ball is kicked in the World Cup.
On our behalf, the Taoiseach and his minister lost an important opportunity to speak up for these unfortunate workers. – Is mise,
ShelmartinSir, – Over the past six months we have seen our health insurance fees rising by more than 33 per cent due to fee increases and reductions in tax allowances.
I was therefore horrified to note patients with private health insurance are to be charged €800 per bed night in public hospitals versus €80 per night – capped at €800 – for those without insurance. I have worked and paid PAYE tax for 40 odd years, at punitive rates in the 1980s and again in recent years, yet because I have taken the added precaution of having health cover insurance I am to be penalised for same.
Article 40 of the Constitution guarantees that all citizens are equal. How does this sit with this ruling? In effect I am deemed to be inferior to these people – some of whom are hard-working and deserving citizens, but their number also includes work-shy chancers, cute hoors who have wangled undeserved health cards from their TDs and others. Meanwhile, people like me who are prudent but not wealthy have to pay through the nose for everything.
There are limits to our patience, but given the government’s pursuit and intimidation of Louise O’Keeffe and her fellow victims, as well as Bridget McCole many years earlier while she was lying on her death bed, we are not too hopeful of a resolution any time soon. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – “Should consider his/her position” – when used instead of “should resign or be sacked”. – Yours, etc,
Marley Close,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – “Health and safety”. “But not while driving”. – Yours, etc,
Circular Road, Galway.
Sir, – People say “I refute that” when what they really mean is that they are disputing something. – Yours, etc,
Beech Drive,
Dundrum, Dublin 16.
Sir, – “I have to say . . .” – Yours, etc,
Co Clare.
Sir, – We are treating the death as suspicious, say gardaí (after victim found with his head bashed in and five bullets in his stomach). – Yours, etc,
Delgany, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – “The bank loaned E €xyz . . .” I was taught that loan was a noun and lend was a verb. – Yours, etc,
Barton Road East, Dublin 14.
Sir, – “I haven’t read the report yet” – oft used by Ministers to forestall awkward questions. – Yours, etc,
Ballinteer Road, Dublin 16.

Irish Independent:

* Writing in the ‘Weekend Review’, Derek Davis articulated the sentiments of many older citizens when he wrote about ‘fear’ as the driver for maintaining private health insurance.
Also in this section
Letters: Stop and think before joining drinking craze
Letters: Living in fear, cut off from the outside world
Keep challenging consensus
The comparison made by Davis between ageing people and old cars – both needing more maintenance – is a very apt description of the reality of ageing.
Paying what they see as ‘protection money’ to ensure timely access to properly resourced private health services is one way older people can reduce the sense of ‘fear’.
Another emotion that can also be readily identified is anger. Anger at the deliberate targeting by the Government of those who continue to subscribe to private health insurance rather than rely on the under-resourced public system.
Of course, it is an easier option to target one segment of society in order to provide an imaginative stealth tax revenue stream, rather than tackle the failed entity that is the HSE.
Public health patients are charged at a rate of €80 per bed night, while privately insured patients are to be charged €800+ for the same bed night.
The privately insured patient can well carry the additional cost, what with their ‘gold plated’ health insurance plans.
The minister with responsibility argues that there is no justification for a rise in the cost of private health insurance as the increased charges will only cost an additional €30m.
But the service providers have estimated the increased cost at €130m. Where lies the truth?
Since 2009, the Government has deliberately targeted those of its citizens who choose to ensure ready access to the health services they may need, through private health insurance.
Pity the same Government has not shown a similar degree of determination and targeting at those whose responsibility it is to manage the provision of the hospital care needs of the population.

* I would like to congratulate this wonderful lady Louise O’ Keeffe on her successful case in the European Court of Human Rights which helped give recognition to children’s rights. This is very personal to me, and I thank her with all my heart, for her determination and courage.
I do not remember one happy day of my school life. Most of my school childhood memories are of corporal punishment. The thing to remember is that any kind of childhood abuse, be it sexual or otherwise, remains with the child for the rest of their lives and makes it much more difficult to survive in life afterwards. You are, without doubt, a courageous and wonderful lady.

* In the recent ‘less religion, more literacy/numeracy’ debate, sometimes I get the impression that some people think maths is real and religion is airy fairy. When I was a boy, some days, instead of going to school, I went to the local livestock mart with my father. One day, he bought two heifer calves. He paid a good bit more for one than the other. Since then, I have never trusted that one plus one equals two. And on some mart days, my father never bought or sold a calf, but we never came home after buying or selling a negative number of calves, bull or heifer.

* The papers on Monday reflected on the reality that Ireland’s relationship with alcohol has taken another twist. The ‘Neknominations’ phase that has been gaining popularity amongst Irish youths has now taken the life of 19-year-old Jonny Byrne from Carlow, with 22-year-old DJ Ross Cummins also dying of an alcohol-related incident. But who is to blame?
I would attribute the blame to three factors: social media, lack of education and the Irish drinking culture. It is undeniable that without social media, a craze like this could not spread like wildfire. Youths need to be made aware of the dangers of social media and the Government needs to acknowledge the reality that cyber-bullying occurs on a daily basis.

* Isn’t it telling that one former finance minister (deceased) could give €30bn overnight to save just one bank, while another (living) cannot even come up with €10m to bail out (literally) much of the citizenry of his own country? Apparently, the situation does not even warrant an emergency cabinet meeting. From my perspective, 1,500km away, that would be a “no-brainer”.

* Why does RTE insist on treating viewers like idiots? I am referring to their latest failed venture into comedy where viewers are expected to watch so-called funnymen for almost two hours on programmes such as ‘Next Week’s News’ and ‘Trojan Donkey’.
I believe one of them has a slot at Vicar Street.
At least there you have a choice. Unfortunately viewers have no such choice except to reach for the remote control.
The only people who think the programme is funny are the panellists. I believe God created the world in seven days. Then, thankfully, he created the remote control.

* Having moved to Ireland from California, I’ve never been able to understand the attitude to bus lanes.
In California they are known as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes and are open to any vehicle carrying two or more occupants.
Sure, initially there were abuses, the most common being to carry an inflatable doll on the front passenger seat, but once the California Highway Patrol had copped on to this, the abuse was, er, deflated.
On the I-80 corridor into San Francisco, the HOV lanes require a minimum of three people per vehicle. However, at the suburb of Hilltop there is a Park ‘n’ Ride (eh, Dr Varadkar, where are the Dublin Park ‘n’ Ride sites?) where people queue to be picked-up by private cars thus making a complement of three and allowing use of the HOV lane, which in peak hours by-passes the toll booths of the Bay Bridge.
All very efficient.
Operational only at commute times, with the requisite number of occupants, the California HOV lanes are open to buses, coaches, taxis, limos, cars and motor-cycles, etc.
Why are there no such equivalents in greater Dublin?

* Just when you thought it might be “safe to go back in the water” we now find that Kenny Egan is trading in his boxing gloves for a career in politics, while Mick Wallace (TD) might be moving in the other direction to a career in sport, as he has recently been togging out in a football jersey in the Dail.
The country may be falling apart but it’s great entertainment!
Irish Independent


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