Under the Weather again

8 March  2014 Under the weather again
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee exploits Captain Povey’s animal impersonations.  Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired.
Scrabble today  I win but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Marion Thorpe, who has died aged 87, was a concert pianist and co-founder of the Leeds International Piano Competition, and destined for a brilliant career on the concert circuit; instead her life was defined by two high-profile marriages: to the Earl of Harewood, the Queen’s cousin, and to Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party.
Having grown up in the heady cultural hothouse of pre-war Vienna — where she met Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg referred to her as his “haselnüsschen” (“little hazelnut”) — she retained a lifelong rapport with musical masters (she would later become one of the closest female friends of Benjamin Britten, with whom she played both piano duets and tennis).
In 1961 Fanny Waterman, her son’s piano teacher, had the idea for an international piano competition based in Leeds and enlisted her support. Marion, who since 1949 had been the Countess of Harewood, was able to secure the patronage of her mother-in-law, the Princess Royal (Princess Mary), as well as opening the door to many other society contacts.
“The Leeds” was first held in 1963 and quickly established a reputation as one of the foremost classical music competitions, on a par with the International Tchaikovsky in Moscow and the International Van Cliburn in Texas. The roll-call of winners from its early days was spectacular — Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia and Dmitri Alexeev, among them — while those who took runners-up prizes was even more so: Mitsuko Uchida, András Schiff and Peter Donohoe, to name but a few.
Marion’s second marriage, to Jeremy Thorpe, the dashing leader of the Liberal Party, was overshadowed by accusations that he had conspired to murder Norman Scott, a former male model who claimed to have been Thorpe’s homosexual lover. Thorpe was acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1979, but his career was over; thereafter the couple remained largely out of the public gaze.
She was born Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Erwina Wilhelmine Stein in Vienna on October 18 1926, the daughter of Erwin Stein, a prominent Jewish musician and editor who had been a pupil of Schoenberg, and his wife Sophie. “My father’s circle was that of the so-called Second Viennese School,” she once said, recalling that Alban Berg — whose opera Lulu her father had arranged into a vocal score — was “enormously tall and dark and handsome”. Inter-war Vienna, she said, “considered itself the musical shrine of the world”.
As a child she was immersed in music, such as Mozart’s The Magic Flute, although her father deemed Don Giovanni, Carmen and La Bohème unsuitable. Mahler, with whom her father was acquainted, was another influence.
After the Anschluss in 1938 the family left Vienna; Erwin Stein joined Boosey & Hawkes in London, working as Britten’s publisher. When he was interned on the Isle of Man in 1940, Marion and her mother were forced to survive on a weekly allowance of only £3.
After schooling in Kensington she studied with Kendall Taylor at the Royal College of Music. Later she took lessons with Franz Osborn, while Clifford Curzon became something of a mentor .
She was 12 when she first met Britten, curtsying to him after a concert at the Queen’s Hall — something he teased her about for many years. When a fire destroyed the Steins’ apartment in 1944 the family lodged for 18 months with Britten and Peter Pears in St John’s Wood, although she later described the arrangement as “not always easy”.
She would play Schubert, Mozart and Mahler with Britten, and enjoyed a front-row seat during the preparations for his opera Peter Grimes, which opened at Sadler’s Wells in June 1945. However, playing tennis with the composer was frightening. “He was really very good… he hated losing,” she recalled of their matches at the Red House in Aldeburgh for a rare BBC interview last year to mark the centenary of the composer’s birth.
By 1948, the 21-year-old Marion was a noted beauty, and while attending Britten’s new music festival at Aldeburgh she met and fell in love with the festival’s president, the seventh Earl of Harewood, who was 11th in line to the throne. Britten counselled that “absolutely nothing should weigh in importance beside whether you really love him”. At first Queen Mary objected to their union. Lord Harewood summed up her view of his bride: “Not only Jewish … she doesn’t hunt”.
The couple married at St Mark’s Church, North Audley Street, in September 1949, the Royal Family interrupting their summer at Balmoral to attend the ceremony, which included the first performance of A Wedding Anthem by Britten. Five hundred policemen lined the streets of London and 900 guests attended the reception at St James’s Palace.
A few months earlier Marion had taken part in the premiere of The Little Sweep (part of Britten’s Let’s Make an Opera) at Aldeburgh. By all accounts she was a first-rate pianist, whose radiant personality was reflected in her sparkling performance. But after her children were born she retired from the concert platform. “I got so far, and let it go,” she once said. “I don’t regret it.”
Now chatelaine of the magnificent Palladian Harewood House, north of Leeds, she threw herself into organising events. In March 1950, for example, she created an opera-inspired fancy dress ball in aid of Britten’s English Opera Group, featuring Frederick Ashton and Moira Shearer dancing the tango from the ballet Façade. The following year Britten dedicated Billy Budd to the Harewoods.
Between the first Leeds piano competition in 1963 — for which she persuaded Britten to write Notturno, a work that all the competitors were required to play — and the second in 1966, her marriage unravelled when Lord Harewood admitted adultery with Patricia Tuckwell, an Australian model. Britten ordered him to resign from Aldeburgh Festival; for many years he was not welcome at Court.
The couple were divorced in 1967. That same year Marion began to co-write, with Fanny Waterman, the Me and My Piano series of piano tutor books for beginners. A bestselling series for Faber’s musical list, they have sold more than two million copies.
In the early 1970s the pianist Moura Lympany introduced Marion to Jeremy Thorpe, the MP for North Devon, whose first wife, Caroline Allpass, had been killed in a car crash in June 1970. The couple married quietly at Paddington Register Office in 1973 and Marion now immersed herself in being a political wife.
But divorce from a member of the Royal Family was followed by further social ostracism when her husband was consumed by the scandal that ended his career. The case centred on the claim by Andrew Newton, a former airline pilot, that he had been hired by Thorpe to kill Norman Scott, but in the event had only managed to shoot Scott’s Great Dane, Rinka, before his gun jammed (the scandal became known as “Rinkagate”).
Marion Thorpe supported her husband loyally throughout, never leaving his side. She was in court each day and shared his relief when, after considerable deliberation on the part of the jury, and a night in the cells for her husband, the court acquitted him. The strain of the case seriously impaired Jeremy Thorpe’s health and it was not long after that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Marion nursed him for many years until prevented from doing so by her own infirmities.
Although she kept a magnificent piano at their 16th-century thatched cottage in the hamlet of Higher Chuggaton, it was rarely used. The room in which it was housed was described by one visitor as “like a mausoleum”. To those who met her in later life, Marion Thorpe could seem cold and distant. But, as Barrie Penrose noted in Rinkagate, his book about the Thorpe scandal: “Friends said that this was no more than reserve… that she had had such a difficult life that she understood the pain of failure”.
After Britten’s death in 1976 she continued to serve as a trustee of the Britten Pears Foundation and in 1985 compiled a 75th birthday tribute book for Pears.
Marion Thorpe, who was appointed CBE in 2008, is survived by Jeremy Thorpe and by the three sons of her first marriage, the eldest of whom succeeded to the Earldom in 2011.
Marion Thorpe, born October 18 1926, died March 6 2014


Your short films and coverage of the current issues in emergency medicine is timely and welcome (Report, 5 March). The daily challenges facing departments throughout the UK are very real and not infrequently extreme. The College of Emergency Medicine has been calling attention to the root causes for many years but with little success prior to our presentation to the Commons health select committee last year. In the autumn we published a document, 10 priorities for resolving the A&E crisis, and subsequently we have seen signs of much-needed progress. We have no agenda other than ensuring that the delivery of emergency care is safe and effective for patients and sustainable for the doctors and nurses working in often heroic circumstances in our A&E departments.
Dr Clifford Mann
President, College of Emergency Medicine
• Dr Saleyha Ahsan is doing a great public service by informing citizens about what is happening at Queen’s hospital. Queen’s is heading towards a Mid-Staffs situation unless more resources are found. On 20 March Redbridge council will decide whether to test if bed closures at King George hospital, as part of the A&E closure plan, will lead to a rise in emergency patient deaths at Queen’s. That such a motion needs debating shows how fragile our NHS is today.
Cllr Andy Walker
Save King George Hospital party
• Dr Ahsan reasonably suggests improved earlier care in the community would ease the burden on hard pressed A&E departments. But what or who is going to ease the burden on hard-pressed community care teams?
Robert Young

We strongly criticise the government’s decision to refuse a visa to René González. René was to be the principal witness for the International Commission of Inquiry into the case of the Miami Five, taking place at the Law Society this weekend. René served 15 years’ imprisonment in the US before being released last year. Along with four others, known as the Miami Five, the fairness of the trial which convicted them has been strongly criticised, including by Amnesty International and eight Nobel prize winners. One of the aims of the commission is to investigate this, with 20 international witnesses and commissioners. The decision to deny René the chance to participate can only be interpreted as a political one. Surely it is in the public interest to lay bare the circumstances surrounding the arrest and imprisonment of the Miami Five. For the sake of openness and transparency we urge the government to think again and allow René González to attend the commission.
Diane Abbott MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Billy Hayes General secretary, Communication Workers Union
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Christine Blower General secretary, National Union of Teachers
Angus MacNeil MP
Kelvin Hopkins MP
Ian Lavery MP
Conor Murphy MP
Jeremy Hardy Broadcaster
Aaron Kiely NUS black students officer
Diana Holland Chair, Cuba Solidarity Campaign
Rob Miller Director, Cuba Solidarity Campaign

Seumas Milne concludes Crimeans must have the chance to choose their own future (Comment, 6 March). Fair point. However, we know from Chechnya how brutally Putin can deal with dissatisfied minorities. The west would be criminally negligent if we allowed Crimea to become Russian without rock-solid safeguards for the region’s Tatars and Ukrainians.
John Bond
• Your report (Minister’s speech turns spotlight on nationality of PM’s staff, 7 March) could also have pointed out that Cameron employs an Aussie immigrant as his puppet master. Then there is the Canadian immigrant running the Bank of England and the New Zealand immigrant in charge of RBS. Away from politics, we have in the Premier League perhaps Arsenal immigrants against Chelsea immigrants. Let’s use the word in all cases where it applies and we might understand it a bit better.
David Wotherspoon
Downholland, Lancashire
• How is it that any one with an iPad or smartphone can track hundreds of thousands of ships throughout the world using a free “app”, and the Justice ministry can’t follow 20,000 offenders (Report, 6 March)?
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk
• Razmig Keucheyan makes some good points (Comment, 7 March) about capitalism’s response to ecological crises, but for the social consequences you can’t do better than Margaret Atwood in her Oryx and Crake trilogy. It’s also a hugely enjoyable read.
Norman Housley
• Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Mrs Schofield’s GCSE (G2, 4 April) brought to mind what is surely a still more telling response to the mismatch between poetry and the requirements of an exam, FH Townsend’s parody of Wordsworth: O cuckoo, shall I call thee bird/ Or but a wandering voice?/ State the alternative preferred/ With reasons for your choice.
Peter Burden
• I never knew Mike Parker (Letters, 7 March) but he sounded like a decent type.
Michael Cunningham

It’s fair enough to debate the value of creative writing courses (Creative writing courses are a waste of time, says Kureishi, 5 March). However, my experience at Bath Spa University is not like his. The students on our creative writing MA are talented and focused. Our courses have close links with the publishing industry, and many graduates find agents and publishing deals. In January, one of our graduates, who now lectures at the university, won the Costa book of the year award. Nathan Filer is just one of the gifted people who choose to do creative writing courses every year. Quite apart from the commercial aspect, creative writing students are being encouraged to tell stories that matter to them, sometimes stories they have long wanted to tell – and that means no one is wasting their time.
Maggie Gee
Professor of creative writing, Bath Spa University
• If Hanif Kureishi feels his experience as a teacher of creative writing at university level has been so negative, perhaps he or the University of Kingston should consider his position. My experience of introducing and teaching the subject at the University of Glamorgan, now the University of South Wales, beginning in 1982, was more positive, with some undergraduates and postgraduates going on to publish. Of course, that can never be the stated aim of such courses, but the success of published and award-winning writers and poets from a course reflects back on both their fellow students and the teaching staff.
A small number of students will go on to publish and have lives as professional writers, but those numbers may be similar to graduates from fine art and performing arts. Others will take positive experiences forward with them from writing workshops in which they engage with the language and imaginations of others. Their careers will be more rewarding in teaching and arts administration, or social work or banking or HR or politics or any other occupation where the power to express oneself and to imagine oneself into the lives of others would make more meaningful their jobs.
Tony Curtis
Emeritus professor of poetry, the University of South Wales
• When I taught at Birkbeck College, I thought it a reasonable learning outcome if students found out a bit more about themselves and the world through sharing their stories. Doesn’t rubbishing your students’ abilities call into question your talent as a teacher? The idea “you can’t teach writing” seems propagated by those deep in denial about how their abilities where nurtured and encouraged. Perhaps our culture overvalues literary talent over the ability to be a decent human being.
Peter Watson
Haltwhistle, Northumberland

On Saturday, on International Women’s Day, at the Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, Lynne Featherstone, the development minister, will outline the government’s programme to reduce female genital mutilation (FGM) by 30% in 10 countries across Africa over the next five years. While the audience will be predominantly British, this recognises that the mutilation of hundreds of thousands of girls’ bodies a year is undoubtedly a global problem, to which we need a global solution.
Up to 70% of all girls and women coping with the devastating effects of FGM live north of the equator in Africa. It is also true that many of the British girls at risk of mutilation will be taken to have the procedure performed in their parents’ countries of origin. The truth is: we cannot eradicate FGM in the UK without ending it everywhere else that it happens, as the Guardian’s commendable campaign against FGM has recognised. That is why the Department for International Development’s renewed focus on women’s rights under Justine Greening’s leadership is both welcome and vitally important.
It is also why international development agencies have a crucial role to play in the fight against FGM. ActionAid works in countries where “cutting” is rife.At the request of local activists we are educating communities about its devastating effects, and seeing real results. We provide direct support to girls escaping mutilation and our programmes reach thousands of survivors and continue to save lives. Our experience shows that if we are to see an end to the mutilation of girls in our lifetime, we must fight FGM and all other aspects of violence against girls and women wherever that takes place and with every tool at our disposal.
Rowan Harvey
Women’s rights adviser, ActionAid UK
• The Guardian’s coverage of the campaign against FGM highlights what a serious violation of human rights the practice is. The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomes the government’s recent commitment to end this abuse. However, we are concerned that the steps proposed are not sufficient. I have written to Norman Baker, the minister responsible, to let him know that a more robust approach is needed if the state is to meet its obligations.
This would include developing a national strategy to prevent FGM, which would be overseen by a single body. Any strategy should incorporate proper enforcement of existing sanctions against professionals who fail to report children at risk of or victims of FGM. As a national human rights institution, this commission is well placed to be the single body overseeing this.
The commission is clear that public authorities responsible for taking action on FGM should not be deterred by concerns around “cultural sensitivity”. FGM can never be excused by reference to cultural practices that are inconsistent with human rights.
Education and awareness-raising are essential if we are to tackle these attitudes and protect those at risk. We are therefore concerned that the £100,000 fund identified for charities to do this is inadequate.The commission has this week provided a submission to the home affairs select committee on FGM, setting out its position.
Onora O’Neill
Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission
• Could someone please explain to me why Michael Gove is writing to all schools about FGM? Would it not be more sensible for the government to contact all social services departments and police departments. Surely FGM is illegal in the UK. If not, it should be.
Joyce Morgan
• Your story (Report reveals ‘extensive’ violence against women in EU, 5 March) provides extensive evidence of the extent to which women are physically and/or sexually abused across Europe. The size and scale of the problem has been fairly well hidden up until now because of a lack of data collection at a national level. For the very first time, policymakers have comparable EU-level data.
But we must keep monitoring the issue through continuing research. Collecting data using surveys, as the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights has done, can be costly and time-intensive. What we need now is to build on this with more centralised data collection by the EU countries.
We need different types of data to better understand the prevalence of incidents of violence against women and the contexts in which it occurs. Survey data doesn’t tell us much about the political and/or law enforcement response to the issue. Survey data doesn’t provide indications of what is working and what isn’t to tackle the problems, whereas administrative data, unlike survey data, is not based on a sample, but includes all cases or incidents that authorities – be it in the police, justice, or health system – are made aware of. This is widely recognised as an important factor for all research into violence against women across the EU and will feature in a forthcoming report prepared by Matrix Knowledge for the European Institute for Gender Equality. To better protect women and girls against violence, we must become better informed and one way is to ensure the use of different types of data in future research.
Jacque Mallender
Matrix Knowledge
• It is heartening to see domestic violence being covered in such depth by the Guardian, particularly in relation to high-risk victims who are at serious risk of harm or murder. Sadly, the situation is far more grave than your article suggests. First, our research shows that there are more like 100,000 high-risk victims – 10 times the figure in your article. Second, only about half of these victims who live with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse get any support at all.
We work with teams around the country who try and protect these women and their children. In the past 12 months, there were almost 50,000 high-risk victims with more than 60,000 children who did receive specialist support. These victims were identified – over half by the police but, crucially, also from those working with children and independent charities. Unquestionably, the police have a vital role to play in protecting those women who contact them for help.
However, without the active engagement of health professionals, in particular, we will continue to fail women and their children and miss the “hidden” 50,000. In the week when the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidelines for health and social care professionals about responding to domestic violence, we hope very much that this might mark a turning point in attitudes which continue to see domestic violence as “someone else’s problem”. Without this, your paper will continue to have to report on more such tragedies for many years to come.
Diana Barran
Chief executive, Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse


Many thanks to Mary Dejevsky for her columns on the Ukraine crisis that provide a commonsense, factual antidote to the comic-book commentaries elsewhere in the media. It seems that we always need a bogeyman – and happily unearth Cold War and even 19th-century stereotypes of Russia to fit the bill.
standards dominating the current rhetoric are staggering: never mind the Iraq parallel, how can one side (the unelected new Crimean authorities) be described as anti-constitutional when the other (the equally unelected Ukrainian interim government, replete with far-right ministers) is held up as a paragon of democracy?
There seems to be a widening disconnect between commentators’ inflammatory words and the film we see on our TV screens  showing not much happening on the ground.
Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France
Writing on the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, Mary Dejevsky is wrong to assert that “an independent EU report found that Georgia ‘started it’ and Russia’s action was a response” (7 March).
The EU’s report, written by the Swiss diplomatist Heidi Tagliavini, confirmed that the Georgian action “was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents . . . there are a number of reports and publications, including of Russian origin, indicating the provision by the Russian side of training and military equipment to South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August 2008 conflict. Additionally there seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August 2008”.
Are we not seeing something similar in east and south Ukraine? Traditional Russian tactics seek to create a climate of tension with small-scale infiltrations in order to provoke a reaction that then justifies use of full-scale force.
Watching Russia Today broadcasts from east and south Ukraine one sees a worrying ratcheting up of rhetoric not dissimilar to that used by Milosevic in the late 1980s as he denounced any move to independence from Serb domination. War in or over Crimea or the Donetsk industrial heartlands may seem absurd, but so did war in the Balkans 25 year ago. Policy planners should be prepared for all contingencies now that Putin has lost Kiev.
Denis MacShane, London SW1
Roger Blassberg (letter, 5 March) is concerned that the legitimate president of Ukraine was deposed. My impression was that the man had taken it upon himself to run away, leaving behind his grotesque Disneyworld palace and collections of luxury cars etc, objects that his dirt-poor subjects can gaze upon as they contemplate state bankruptcy.
And the writer hopes that the Russians will continue to act with restraint in safeguarding their vital interests, a policy that embraces the deployment of thousands of Russian troops in a sovereign state, their faces hidden and their uniforms stripped of insignia. Some restraint!
Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey
I expect we shall be told, some way down the road, that “in hindsight” the EU could have acted differently. I should like to state that – as of today – it is quite clear that the EU has decided that the Crimea is going to Russia; it’s not worth fighting over; better this way than to take on the Russians.
And the answer to Kissinger’s question – “Who do I phone when I want to get in touch with Europe?” – is simple:  nobody – the phone is off the hook (and bugged anyway).
Paul Wingrove, Carshalton, Surrey
Why big business gets a bad name
Preceding Chris Blackhurst’s article bemoaning the anti-big business stance of some Labour MPs (5 March) there was the piece on Glencore Xtrata’s board awarding themselves $500m for one year’s work. Ivan Glasenberg the CEO, was clearly not happy with his $10bn share valuation and felt compelled to award himself a $182m dividend for his work in 2013.
Such obscene corporate greed is turning more than Labour MPs against “big business”. Perhaps The Independent could calculate what the Glencore Xtrata’s board’s shares and dividends equate to in numbers of miners at their average wage.
Ian Dunlop, Staplecross, East Sussex
We need to get a grip on immigration
The subject of immigration is becoming toxic, as BBC1’s noisy Question Time on 6 March made clear, and politicians need to get a grip on it.
Yes, of course Britain has a tradition of welcoming immigrants. Yes, of course immigrants want a better life. Yes, of course immigrants contribute to the economy and the life of the nation. Few would deny any of this, but, in the rush to condemn their opponents as xenophobes, racists or worse, those who support uncontrolled immigration seem to think that simply repeating these self-evident truths clinches their argument and provides a sensible solution to the practical problems caused by immigration.
Not once, in either The Independent or elsewhere, have I read or heard supporters of open-door immigration explain how this country can hope to ease the massive pressure on schools and hospitals and the demand for housing that immigration is now creating, beyond some vague notion that we must provide more services, create more jobs and build more houses, as though these things can be plucked off the shelf. The scale of the task is truly enormous.
Nor have I heard a hint of apology from these people for their enthusiastic support of a selfish policy that bleeds skilled and productive talent from poor countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, that can ill afford a mass exodus from their workforce.
D Stewart, London N2
I would have thought that it was obvious that immigration boosts the economy, as more people must mean more spending. However immigration is also one of the causes of our rising population, and that is where the discussion should take place.
Do we want to live in a country of 70, 80 or even 100 million, with the consequent loss of open space?
Rob Edwards, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Police: only a Royal Commission will do
In the light of Thursday’s disturbing statement by the Home Secretary, many will feel that what is now needed is a Royal Commission on the Police. There have been so many worrying issues emerging in recent months concerning the constabulary that it would seem that nothing less than a full, root-and-branch review is required.
Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Middlesex
So Theresa May is shocked at the corruption and cover-up in the Met. What planet has she been living on exactly?  This is another in a long line of police abuses against the communities they are supposed to serve.
If the Home Secretary now wishes to act decisively and with meaning she should end the blight to community relations that is stop-and-search. This has become both the symbol and the most oppressive mechanism of the racist policing of Black and Asian youth for the best part of 40 years. It should go.
Dr Mick Wilkinson, Lecturer in ‘Race’ and  Social Justice,  School of Social Sciences, University of Hull
Reforms in the energy markets
Ofgem is singlemindedly focused on its statutory objective of protecting the interests of consumers, with far-reaching, effective initiatives now making this market simpler, clearer and fairer. Claims to the contrary, including that in your editorial on 1 March, bear no relation to reality.
We have now introduced the most radical set of reforms to the energy retail market since competition began, and consumers are already benefiting from simpler choices because of our ban on complex tariffs. November and December showed the highest switching rates ever.
We have also published reforms to open up the wholesale power market by requiring the largest energy companies to post transparent prices for wholesale electricity and trade fairly with independent suppliers. This, together with our retail market reforms, will make sure that competition bears down as intensely as possible on prices for consumers.
Rachel Fletcher, Senior Partner, Ofgem, London SW1
Hindu God in the wrong role
Anne Keleny is mistaken to believe that Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum is a temple to the creator god Vishnu. Brahma is the creator god, and the earth is the temple to Brahma. Vishnu is the sustainer god in the Hindu triumvirate. The Maharajah of Travancore (obituary, 5 March) certainly helped sustain the wealth of the temple while he was alive.
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands

Sir, It was a depressing coincidence to read Jenni Herd’s impassioned plea in defence of today’s teenagers (letter, Mar 4), after Demos had revealed in February that persistent negative stereotyping by the media is demoralising young people.
Ms Herd is clearly one of the four out of five teens (according to Demos) who feel they are unfairly represented in the media and, worringly, one of the 85 per cent who said that this was damaging their chances of getting a job.
Her anger is justified. It is hard enough for a young person to get a job in a recession, without the morale-sapping suspicion that society thinks you are useless, but she displays a doggedness of spirit. This is familiar to us at Vitalise, a charity providing respite breaks for people with disabilities and their carers. We rely on volunteers, more than 2,000 each year, most under 25 and a third under 19. In contrast to the lazy media stereotype, our volunteers are a credit to their generation — they are clued up, switched on and hungry to engage with society. We recently surveyed our young volunteers and found that not only did 90 per cent emerge feeling more confident and well-rounded, but over 80 per cent also thought the experience had boosted their chances of getting a job.
In our experience, far from being the “strange creatures from another world”, the teens we work with are really rather wonderful, so let’s stop demonising young people and start engaging with them instead.
Chris Simmonds
Vitalise, London N1
Sir, I was disappointed to read the letter from Jenni Herd who wants adults to be taught to respect teenagers. This neatly summarises the problem between generations.
I was a teenager in more difficult times, just after 1945. We knew we would have to help to rebuild the world and our country, and I do not recall that we spent time blaming our elders. The bad news is that only former teenagers are available to run anything and there never has been an era in which there were no difficulties.
A problem now is the emphasis on rights and entitlement. It used to be well understood that respect had to be earned. Cynicism and anger get one nowhere and certainly don’t make young people attractive potential employees.
“Straight A students” need to stop collecting grievances. They should recognise that they have great advantages and learn to make the most of them. We all wish them well.
John S. Burton
Cheltenham, Glos
Sir, How I sympathise with Jenni Herd. It will be no consolation to her to know that it looked very much worse in 1940, when I was born. Looking back it astonishes me how many of today’s ills have been foisted on us by bright and forceful, possibly even angry young men and women (my own generation included), whose brilliant new take on society, industry, finance, the economy, has so often ended in ashes. What is astonishing is how society has ridden over crisis after crisis, on the back of an innate optimism and determination that things should become better.
I suggest that what is required is not anger and self-pity but a quiet determination to make the best of what we have and to acknowledge that at 16 we know very little about the world and its workings. It has taken me a lifetime to realise it.
Simon Banks
Burghclere, Hampshire

Sir, You say (leader, Mar 6) that it is too soon to insist that animal welfare must trump freedom of religious expression. What about the concerns of millions of people who care about unnecessary animal suffering who may not be religious? There has to be a compromise.
Vivienne Thompson
Hythe, Kent
Sir, The call to end religious slaughter in the UK is an affront to faith communities but also fails to draw attention to the most pressing animal welfare issues in the UK at the moment. Even if John Blackwell, of the British Veterinary Association, ignores the ample scientific evidence which makes it clear that religious slaughter is at least as humane as the industrialised methods used in conventional mechanical slaughter, it is startling that he overlooks, for example, the unspeakable cruelty uncovered at UK abattoirs by animal welfare groups over the past five years or the unacceptable amount of animals who are incorrectly mechanically stunned before slaughter. It seems to us that John Blackwell has got his facts and his priorities completely wrong.
Henry Grunwald, QC
Chairman, Shechita UK
Sir, I was delighted that John Blackwell has spoken out against the traditional methods of slaughter, without stunning, for halal and kosher meat. The practice is a disgrace, and I hope such an eminent opinion will bring about changes. We have no right to inflict unnecessary torture on animals. Having sat as a magistrate on animal cruelty cases I met nothing to compare with this procedure.
Eileen Parry
Sir, Some people may consider your front-page headline “ritual slaughter” Mar 6) smells of bias. Many Jewish people, like myself, keep Judaism’s strict laws of animal slaughter because we believe the scientific evidence which suggests this is the most humane method of obtaining meat to eat.
Lord Winston
Professor of Science & Society, ICL

It is a matter of urgent concern that different experts give different figures for sea-level rise predictions
Sir, Lord Krebs has written to the Environment Secretary stating that sea levels are expected to rise by 12cm by 2030, that is 7.5mm per year (Mar 7). The Met Office report on the floods tells us that sea levels in southern England have risen by 12cm in the past 100 years, that is 1.2mm per year. If Lord Krebs is correct, something truly biblical must be about to happen to our climate.
Henry Faire
Baythorne End, Essex

Many houses are lying empty because ancient laws decree that they may only be used by farm workers
Sir, Alice Thomson (Mar 5) did not mention agricultural ties in relation to planning new homes. There are houses (many lying empty) that would be available for families if such ties — which decree that the house can be lived in only by an agricultural or forestry worker — were lifted. The ties date from the days when a farmer had to provide accommodation for his workers and their families. Those days are long gone, and the “ties” on such properties should be lifted accordingly. I know of three houses in this village alone, one of which has been empty for nearly a decade because the land has been sold to a neighbouring farmer, but the house cannot be sold because it must have an agricultural resident.
This will not solve the problem of whether barns should be converted, or whether housing estates should be built in small villages, but it would help to start the ball rolling.
Mary Evans
Scarborough, N Yorks

The Ministry of Defence is soon to unveil a package of changes in the way it deals with internal complaints procedures
Sir, You are right when you say that the Service Complaints Commissioner needs more power (leader, Mar 4), citing findings of the inquest into the tragic death of Cpl Ellement.
After the Blake Review following the tragic deaths at Deepcut Barracks, a Service Complaints Commission, under Dr Susan Atkins, was set up to be independent of the Armed Forces, and the complaints system has been modified over the last six years, drawing on Dr Atkins’s insights. But we recognise that we must do better and, as ministers have made clear to Parliament, we have been working with Dr Atkins on how to achieve this. We need to ensure that her post has the right powers to act in the best interests of an individual. Since May we have been working up and assessing a package of changes, and they are to be unveiled imminently. The Army has offered its sincere apologies for the failings from which Cpl Ellement suffered. Our commitment to provide a complaints procedure in which our personnel can have full confidence is reinforced by our determination to correct those failings.
Lieutenant General
Andrew Gregory
Chief of Defence Personnel

Londoners are being squeezed out of London as wealthy foreigners enjoy a tax-free property spree
Sir, We seem to have created a tax haven for foreign wealth in the London. Foreign purchasers have bought extensively into the London property market knowing that they will pay little or no capital gains tax when they sell.
This has had a dual effect on the property market: house prices have been inflated, and UK residents are being edged out of the property market in their own capital city.
We, British taxpayers, now start to wonder who this city is for — non-residents who are making a fast buck, or the hundreds of young people who cannot afford to buy or rent flats in London, even though they are working their butts off.
Sharon Baker


SIR – Bill Duff played a crucial role in transforming Dubai from a poor Gulf fishing village to an international economic phenomenon. Essential to his success with the emirate’s long-time ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, was that he was not only an expert in finance, but was an excellent Arabist.
Bill was also a founding member of a monthly dining club for the (mostly bachelor) pioneers who provided the essential services for Dubai from the Fifties. They were all British and provided Sheikh Rashid with the essential infrastructure: police, water, electricity, water transport, roads, a toll bridge, customs and docks. With these in place, Sheikh Rashid could carry out his plan to make Dubai the Hong Kong of the Gulf.
Leslie McLoughlin

SIR – Undoubtedly General James Cowan will be lampooned for voicing his expectations of acceptable behaviour in the mess and at dinner parties (report, March 6). He will be characterised as an “old buffer” from a bygone age.
What he actually touches on is, indeed, a real sadness – the disintegration of a society that understands one’s personal accountability to others, of which etiquette is or was a manifestation.
I fear, though, that ordering his officers to hold their knives properly is probably tackling the demise of such understanding from the wrong end.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Holden (rtd)
Lymington, Hampshire
SIR – General Cowan’s instructions on etiquette should be mandatory at all schools and universities. Perhaps then our youth would be a little less uncouth.
Meriel Thurstan
Stoke St Mary, Somerset
SIR – How can James Conboy (Letters, March 5) be sure that his “strong regional accent has not hindered” him? Many snobs conceal their attitudes so that victims are never aware of their disdain.
Christopher Egerton-Thomas
Hove, East Sussex
Squeezed out middle
SIR – In recent months the middle classes have been lambasted for having the temerity to want a good state education for their children. Those of us who are retired have been shamed for living in our own homes – bought and paid for – which we should apparently vacate for families.
Now it seems that we are also responsible for the level of immigration.
The common thread in all this is the abject failings of successive governments. They have allowed a state education system to develop that is massively variable; a housing policy that has signally failed to meet the needs of a growing population; and an open-door policy for migrants forced on them by EU doctrine.
The easy option is to blame the middle classes. After all, if they blamed the working classes, they would be accused of middle-class prejudice.
Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire
Smuggled Smiley
SIR – While John le Carré and the late John Bingham obviously differed in their perceptions of British secret service work during the Cold War, it was somewhat ungenerous of Lord Clanmorris, as Bingham became, to suggest that Mr le Carré’s novels “gave comfort and even pleasure” to their adversaries.
None of the Smiley novels, which are much more scathing about the brutality and aggression of the Moscow Centre and its protagonist Karla than about the bureaucratic intrigues and betrayals inside the British Circus, could be published behind the Iron Curtain while the Cold War was on, and for a good reason.
On the contrary, when smuggled there, they provided comfort and much pleasure to the opponents of the regime like me who saw in their description of the real complexities of intelligence work and in their constant examination of its moral underpinnings a proof of the moral superiority of the West.
Like John Bingham, George Smiley was a hero of the Cold War and John le Carré depicted him as such.
Michael Zantovsky
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom
London W8
A sweet tooth
SIR – Nature tells us when we are taking too much sugar in our diet and regular visits to the dentist confirm this by identifying tooth decay. The early signs are detected from small patches of decalcification of the enamel surfaces.
However, over the years, this natural early warning sign has been suppressed by the vast amounts of fluoride toothpaste we use. We have attempted to correct one problem and encouraged another.
Dr Nigel J Knott
Farleigh Wick, Wiltshire
SIR – The Chief Medical Officer for England has suggested that a tax on sugar should be introduced. About time. I have written to every Chancellor of the Exchequer from Iain Macleod to Gordon Brown urging that chocolate, sweets and carbonated drinks should be taxed, in the interest both of generating revenue and of promoting healthier living.
In 1970 you printed a letter from me on this topic. The only official response was that a tax would be too complicated.
Hew Goldingham
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex
Banking on charity
SIR – I help run a church food bank in a small Surrey town that is in a reasonably affluent area. There is a genuine need for this charitable service.
The majority of those referred to us are in need through no fault of their own. They have legitimate rights to state benefits, which they are taking up often for the first time in their lives, yet they have to wait weeks and sometimes months before receiving payments. This leaves many destitute and humiliated by having to rely on the charity of the local community.
Thankfully, members of the public are generous, and our food bank receives many donations. But these gifts are subsidising failing Government policies.
I am appalled that in a G8 country there is need for charitable handouts due to the unsympathetic attitude of our present Government.
Christine Preece
Redhill, Surrey
Floating a scheme
SIR – How appropriate it is that Owen Paterson, the Environment Minister, will, as the BBC has reported, have a “raft” of measures for a flood action plan to protect the Somerset Levels.
Andrew Blake
Shalbourne, Wiltshire
Spring sunshine to fight the late-winter blues
SIR – Peter Moreton would like the clocks put forward two months after the winter solstice to give him an extra hour of daylight in the evening during March to “lift the winter blues”.
Personally, I know that the resulting extra hour of darkness in the mornings in March would significantly deepen my late-winter blues.
Jocelyn Derwent
Brighton, East Sussex
SIR – Those who do not rise early should note that the latest sunrise and earliest sunset do not occur on the shortest day.
In my location, on December 21, the sunset was already getting later, though the latest sunrise was two weeks later. It was well into the second week of January before sunrise was at the same time as on December 21. At that date, sunset is already 20 minutes later, changing at a faster rate than sunrise.
Even here on the south coast, I feel the present dates to change the clocks are the best compromise. In any case, we will not be able to alter this until we leave the European Union; it is another of their directives.
A E Reeves
Cowes, Isle of Wight
SIR – I know that spring has arrived when my wife peers out of the window and announces: “We can lunch in the garden.”
Alastair Craig
Folkestone, Kent
SIR – The first day of spring is when I see my first wild violet.
Martin Johnson
Edgehead, Midlothian
SIR – The blooming of my neighbour’s magnolia is a reliable signal that a vicious cold snap is just round the corner.
Michael Stanford
London SE23

SIR – Events in Ukraine show that Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership are still stuck in the Soviet mentality. They are confident that no one is prepared to risk all-out war to stop their bullying ways with their immediate neighbours.
They are also confident that the West will not go far enough with economic and political sanctions to hurt them. The current debate assumes that we will let Russia continue its illegal activity because Europe, including Britain, will not wish to block Russia’s gas exports, for fear of hurting its own economic recovery.
As we learnt in the Thirties, appeasement only gives the bully more confidence to continue, and may cost Europe and the United States even more in the future.
There is no stopping Putin without pain and we should do it now before he decides that a neighbouring Nato ally can be invaded. By then we may have no other option than the military one.
Edward Featherstone
Dartmouth, Devon
SIR – Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, will we still have to seek agreement from the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia sits) for our foreign policy initiatives?
William Furness
West Bradley, Somerset
SIR – Does President Putin’s “right” to use his armed forces to “defend” Russians in Crimea also allow him to do the same to protect the Russians living in Britain, if they should have their assets frozen?
Alastair MacMillan
Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire
SIR – I am having difficulty understanding the difference between the takeover of the Ukraine government by so-called “fascist” sympathisers and the Soviet-style takeover of Crimea by militants in Russian uniforms, supported by troops from Russia flown in by Putin and Co.
The Russians would, of course, recognise a fascist regime. After all, in 1939 they got into bed with Hitler, carved up Poland, slaughtered thousands of Polish officers (denied until 1990) and supplied Germany with raw materials for the first two years of the war. Yes, they fought valiantly after that, but they could have saved Europe from war if they had stood up to Germany in 1939.
Lyn Puleston
Daventry, Northamptonshire
SIR – The United States and the European Union have been planning aggression against Russia for years, via what they regard as her soft underbelly.
Russians know their history, and remember how Charles XII of Sweden marched to destroy Russia in 1709. He also started with Ukraine, where he was joined by the nationalist leader Mazeppa.
Their plans came unstuck at the battle of Poltava, where my ancestors served. Russia defeated the invader then, and will prevail against Charles XII’s epigones today.
Nikolai Tolstoy
Southmoor, Berkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – It is not for society to judge the motives of former Magdalene sisters; but is a right and a duty of society to judge their actual deeds. Like many in Ireland, Catherine McCann misses the point (“Sisters who ran Magdalene laundries are being treated unjustly”, Opinion & Analysis, March 3rd). Anyone who ever maltreated a child or an unmarried mother has done evil. Anyone who looked on when a child was unreasonably beaten, or an unmarried mother humiliated, has done evil.
To be misled or misguided is no excuse – nuns or not, they were all responsible adults. And the blame doesn’t stop at the gates of the convent – any parent who surrendered an unmarried daughter into such a place was doing evil, as were neighbours who “condemned” unmarried mothers. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Recent correspondence reflects a desire to scapegoat at all costs, which seems unfortunately to be part of our Irish make-up. It demonstrates an all too common rejection of the low-key and factual McAleese report, which mentioned the short stays of many girls in the laundries, frequently used as remand hostels or as merciful alternatives to prison, as well as a longer-term refuge for young women with a variety of difficulties, including physical and intellectual disabilities. We should bear in mind that even today, Irish legislation for the rights of disabled people lags decades behind that in the UK.
Creative workers in residential care require not only high motivation but suitable temperament, and a variety of skills. No training was available then to teach these things , nor was it thought necessary.
The easy assumption was made that “caring” was a simple matter and something all women did naturally. That comfortable belief is still with us today.
Regarding institutions, whatever form any highly structured living takes, there will always be people who love it for its security, a good many who will tolerate it, and a few who hate it utterly and say it caused all their troubles. The latter group is the most likely to be interviewed.
There was a period when the majority of people in Ireland had narrow horizons and limited education, and little official attempt seems to have been made until very recently to remedy this.
There was then almost no attempt at practical welfare, except by individuals and voluntary organisations, mainly the churches. No royal patronage, no generous Irish millionaires! Only the extended family, to which a child with a “blemish” or a “difference” was somebody to hide away lest their presence affect the marriage or career prospects of their siblings !
Don’t let us forget the past. We are no better now, just more forgetful. – Yours, etc,
Church Street,
Co Cork.

Sir, – Michael Finan (March 7th) writes of the recently published revised regulations which have come about as a result of the Priory Hall fiasco, in which a firewall, which, by law, should have been capable of withstanding fire for a certain amount of time in order to give residents a chance to evacuate the building, was not, according to media reports, actually a firewall.
Mr Finan complains of numerous flaws with the legislation. It is a pity, if he is correct, that these regulations do not achieve the purpose which they should have been intended to achieve. Namely, that any individual who participates in the construction of a building, from the architect who designed the building right through to the plasterer who finishes it, and all engineers and tradesmen between, are all personally liable for the portion of the work which they carried out.
Obviously, the architect who designed the building can’t be responsible for the actual hands-on construction of that building, nor a bricklayer for the under-specification by the architect of, for example, a structural column.
Rather, if every individual has personally to sign for the work that they have carried out, certifying that the work is built to, at least, the minimum standard as laid down in law, and they understand that they are personally liable with personal sanctions for their portion of the work, it is highly likely that shoddy construction work would disappear overnight, when people realise that they could end up in jail and drummed out of the industry.
The aviation industry uses a similar system. Every job, no matter how small, is signed off by the technician and their supervisor and the records are retained for the lifetime of the aircraft. So the system would be workable. – Yours, etc,
Royal Oak Road,

Sir, – There is an easy way to thwart the clampers (“Council sets 60,000 target for clampers”, Front Page, March 7th). It is to acquire a Parking Tag from Dublin City Council.
With this you just text in details of where you are parked and for how long your car will be there. The system gives you 10 minutes’ notice on your mobile of when your time is running out. You can then extend the time or return to your car.
I have used this system ever since I was clamped some years ago and I find it to be invaluable. – Yours, etc,
Terenure Road West,
Dublin 6W.
Sir, – The news that Dublin City Council has set a target to clamp 60,000 vehicles a year has nothing to do with “promoting sensible parking”.
This is turning what is effectively the hounding of Dublin-based motorists into a business enterprise and, incredibly, even seeks to force the issue by threatening the company responsible for the operation of this “service” that if the target is not met, the council will pay less for the “service” but will, however, offer a bonus to staff if the target is reached or exceeded!
How’s that for an example of “good cop, bad cop” all rolled in to one? – Yours, etc,
The Haven,
Stillorgan Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – The fact that one in three European women has experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 and that 26 per cent of Irish women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since that age is quite simply appalling (“Quarter of Irish women have been victims of violence”, Home News, March 5th).
It is imperative that we take action to turn the tide on such pervasive and pandemic gender-based violence.
For this reason, the Irish Girl Guides have adopted a Voices Against Violence curriculum that has been developed by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, in partnership with UN Women.
Our 1,800 volunteer leaders throughout the country are receiving training on issues of gender-based violence before introducing the curriculum to our 10,000 girls and young women, who will learn to talk about violence, understand its root causes, recognise their rights and develop the skills and confidence to claim those rights for themselves and others.
The curriculum uses fun and interactive methods to create a safe space for girls to learn about the issues. Age-appropriate activities are used so that our youngest members, Ladybird Guides aged 5-7, can engage with the programme by learning about their likes and dislikes and their rights to make decisions, while Senior Branch members, aged 14-plus, are encouraged to take action in their communities and to speak out against violence.
This week, to mark International Women’s Day, our members are taking part in an activity called “From a Whisper to a Shout” that encourages them to speak out and make their voices heard.
Our vision is to see a world where girls and women feel free and safe, both in Ireland and overseas – a world where they are fully empowered to fulfil their potential. – Yours, etc,
Chief Commissioner,
Chief Executive Officer,
Irish Girl Guides,
Pembroke Park, Dublin 4.

Sir, – I see that the EU leaders have met in emergency session in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea and have agreed a range of sanctions against Russia in protest at Moscow’s involvement in the crisis (“European Union toughens stance on Russian sanctions”, World News, March 6th).
I recall no such emergency meeting nor agreement on sanctions by EU leaders against the US when that superpower, under George W Bush, launched a war without provocation or justification against Iraq in 2003. – Yours, etc,
Barrybeg Hill,
Co Roscommon.
Sir, – As Ukraine looks to be heading for a combination of partition and a treaty with its powerful neighbour Russia, might it be appropriate for the Government to offer to share Ireland’s experience with Kiev? – Yours, etc,
Glencree Road,
Co Wicklow.
A chara, – The level of hypocrisy from the US and the EU in relation to Ukraine would be comical were it not so disturbing. They actively supported the violent and lethal overthrowing of an elected Ukrainian government. Indeed, a leaked conversation between a US diplomat and the US ambassador to Ukraine revealed their intention to decide which politicians would form the new Ukrainian government.
Yet they find the thought of a referendum in Crimea to peacefully secede from Ukraine to be “unacceptable”.
The US decried the presence of Russian troops in Crimea as “illegal”, yet seems to have forgotten its own actions in Iraq, when it went into that country – without UN endorsement – in search of mythical WMDs, a move which resulted in the death of many thousands of Iraqi citizens.
It appears that when it comes to modern western imperialism, there are no limits to the level of douple-speak the “superstates” of this world will engage in.
When a country supports a violent and lethal coup to achieve regime change yet dismisses a democratic referendum, you’d have to wonder if it is not, in fact, the aggressor. – Is mise,
Lismore Road,
Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – I notice Apple has being paying tax at “lower rates” than expected over the past few years and thus has saved itself €814 million (“Apple paid €36m tax on $7.11bn profits at Irish unit”, Front Page, March 7th). I have today written to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan asking him to please advise me as to how I too can avail of these “lower rates” in respect of my taxes. I expect it will be some time before useful advice is forthcoming. – Yours, etc,
Co Clare.
Sir, – I felt nothing but sympathy for the “fed-up” gentleman who is having difficulty buying his fifth property (“Dublin buyers fed up with pent-up demand”, Property, March 6th). It seems pent up-demand is the issue causing him to be “messed around”.
One could argue, and I don’t wish to cause anyone offence, that if everyone demanded five properties, there might not be enough to go around. – Yours, etc,
Devonshire Road,

Sir, – Once again International Women’s Day is upon us and once again I am immeasurably grateful that one whole day has been set aside to recognise women’s contribution to society. Unfortunately, the logical corollary is that the other 364 days are not days for women. Are they days for men?  Like little Oliver Twistettes may we humbly ask for more, please? Instead of an annual pat on the head, could we expect that society considers and treats women as equals every day of the week, month and year? Now that would be an achievement worth celebrating! – Yours, etc,
Ballinfull, Co Sligo.

Sir, – The interview with Pope Francis in Corriere Della Sera was more wide-ranging than would appear from your report (“Pope Francis defends Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse crisis”, World News, March 6th).
After dealing with poverty, Marxism, the family and the role of women in the church, the pope was asked: “At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae , can the church take up again the theme of birth control?”
He responded: “All of this depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted.”
In December 1970 you published a letter from me which suggested that, on a literal reading of Humanae Vitae , contraception was only proscribed when it made conception impossible – that is, rarely, if ever.
Has the Holy Father been reading back issues of The Irish Times ? – Yours, etc,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair,

Sir, – The interview with Pope Francis in Corriere Della Sera was more wide-ranging than would appear from your report (“Pope Francis defends Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse crisis”, World News, March 6th).
After dealing with poverty, Marxism, the family and the role of women in the church, the pope was asked: “At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae , can the church take up again the theme of birth control?”
He responded: “All of this depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted.”
In December 1970 you published a letter from me which suggested that, on a literal reading of Humanae Vitae , contraception was only proscribed when it made conception impossible – that is, rarely, if ever.
Has the Holy Father been reading back issues of The Irish Times ? – Yours, etc,
Cnoc an Stollaire,

Sir, – Best wishes to a true sportsman as he plays his last game at Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium for Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Cabinteely Close,
Dublin 18.
Sir, – Thanks be to Bod. – Yours, etc,
Beggars Bush Court,
Dublin 4.

Sir, – Lily Langtry was the original actress (and the Bishop of Worcester played the supporting role). Lily was of course also the “mistress” of Edward VII, a word regrettably not yet decommissioned by The Irish Times , which features it with reference not only to the actor involved with the French president, but also his former partner (“Presidential mistresses sue ‘Closer’ magazine”, World News, March 7th). What’s sauce for the goose? – Yours, etc,
Palmerston Road,
Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:
Those of us with snow-white temples and relying on hipflasks to get us through as the easterly wind blew into Lansdowne Road used to live off the exploits of Moss Keane and Willie Duggan.
Also in this section
Letters: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Threat to hare is horror story that shames us
NATO partly responsible for Ukraine crisis
Two giants who bestrode the rugby landscape with devil-may-care attitudes to authority or their own well-being on the pitch, they gave it a lash.
When professionalism came, few thought that seeds of hope would flourish in the hallowed precincts of Dublin 4. Discipline, dedication, determination, these words in the old days only came alive in the apres-match rush to be the first to the bar .
That was before the epiphany – the arrival of the special one. Brian O’Driscoll, our very own green pimpernell, exploded into the game. We had sought him here, there and everywhere, we had to wait for the damned elusive keeper of our rugby dreams, but he has kept all our hopes alive against impossible odds, given the ferocious intensity and brutal toll the game demands. There was misplaced talk about golden generations, new eras and bright dawns; much of that talk was overblown and premature. Truth to tell, we have produced five or six world-class players.
O’Driscoll eclipses them all. He has been an examplar and an inspiration. He didn’t just make the No 13 shirt his own in Ireland, he would have walked into any world 15, that was the hallmark of his gift.
Thanks, Brian, for all you have given; you will leave a big absence, and you have thrown down the gauntlet for other generations. One cannot conceive of a harder act to follow. A one man centre of excellence.

After gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine was still regarded in many quarters as an ‘area’ or a ‘territory’. This was implied by the common use of the colloquial name ‘The Ukraine’ rather than simply ‘Ukraine’.
In 2008, Vladimir Putin, in conversation with George W Bush, tried to use this ignorance to his advantage when he said: “Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, but part of it – a considerable part – was gifted by us.”
That statement confirms Putin’s mindset six years ago, yet nobody paid much remarks to it. In truth, from the early 1990s we in Western Europe have been remiss in our support for a country that badly needed it.
Undoubtedly this is partly due to Russia’s stranglehold over the gas supply to both Ukraine and Europe. As long as that subtle threat hangs over us, we will continue with our inoffensive tut-tuts of disapproval while kow-towing to Russia’s whims.

In light of the well-publicised comments from the Clare hurling manager about the need to avoid alcohol to achieve success in sport, why does our national soccer team need an official beer sponsor?
It was disappointing to read Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald’s comments this week regarding drug taking by an element within the Clare hurling panel.
Mr Fitzgerald is to be commended for speaking out on mental health and self-esteem and his words will offer comfort to many people.
However, to point out that some Clare players in the mid-late 2000’s took drugs was grossly unfair.

I would like to congratulate Sean McElgunn on his eloquent letter on the mystery of life. I am one of those atheists he speaks of, those who say they just do not have faith.
A reluctant atheist, though, as I envy the ease with which Sean is able to skip from acknowledging that he does not know the answer to the mystery of life to disregarding this information and settling on naming the first cause “God” because it’s the best he can manage – and finally to not only knowing that God exists but also knowing that He is Love.
I envy the comfort and solace this knowledge must bring. I am, however, cursed with a rational mind that will not settle on a solution to a mystery simply because it is the best it can manage. The mystery rolls on.

Thank you, Irish Independent, for cheering me up this glum week.
Academia stuck a middle finger in my eye in the form of the rarefied air in UCC’s upper echelons, which bestowed an honorary degree on Mr Barroso. The only ‘doctor’ I recognise is the guy I impart the €55 to, so I ignored most of Mr Barosso’s flannel. However, I draw a line when he asked us to recall how the EU showed financial solidarity and support to the Irish people.
The Irish taxpayer bailed everyone out and every red cent due to the bondholders and EU will be bled from their veins for generations to come. Mr Barroso is the same dude who labelled us for making his precious euro almost a victim of the Irish bank crisis.
Which brings me to the three-card trick AIB is trying to pull. It would like to “write off” a cool €3.5bn in bailout loans backed by the tax serf when the bank sank. In exchange, it will give the tax serf shares. Wow!
I hope they are better than the ones that caught fire shortly after I had carelessly invested a portion of my retirement fund in late 2007.
The bust seems to be over, alright. Now we have men dressed up in outlandish gowns, bestowing honours on other notables, and banks doing what they do best, sleight of hand and promises in sand.

Once again I find myself asking why the Academy of Motion Pictures seems to operate on the default assumption that once an outstanding film is in a language other than English, it must be included in the Best Film in a Foreign Language category and be precluded from the Best Film category? That the ravishing, mad dreamscape that is ‘La Grande Bellezza’ was not nominated in the Best Film category is a travesty.
Art should not be categorised according to whether its creators are English speaking or not.
I wonder if Caravaggio would have won Best Painting by a Foreign Speaking Painter or if Dostoevsky would have won Best Novel in a Foreign Language if there had been the equivalent of the Academy Awards for other artforms in centuries gone by?

I must ask you to facilitate me in repudiating a letter you published in my name. My very short letter was inspired by one more than three times its length that you published from Philip O’Neill under the heading “We can’t deny anyone the right to express love”.
In his letter Mr O’Neill invoked his mother’s compassion – I simply posited the additional and invaluable virtue of logic. Yet that very word was one of the quite small number that you excised from my letter, under the heading “Gay marriage debate”.
That “debate”, as you thus refer to it, has been utterly lacking in logic throughout its course over the past couple of months, but it has been sodden with what is presented as compassion, soppier even than the weather that accompanied it.
As my letter in its authentic version pointed out, by the logic of that particular compassion, the “right to express love”, however publicly, however ritually, could not be denied to any grouping of persons, whatever their number and whatever their sex or sexes. And logic, after all, is the twin of truth.

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