Slightly better

9 March 2014 Slightly better

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.Pertwee is innocent just for once Priceless

Cold slightly better Both of us very tired.

Scrabbletoday Marywins but gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.




Roscoe Howells, who has died aged 94, was an outspoken Welsh historian and author who championed the rich heritage and wild landscape of his beloved Pembrokeshire.

As the “voice of the Welsh countryside”, he wrote impassioned histories, biographies, novels, short stories and newspaper columns, during a career spanning half a century. Although varied in format and genre, each of his books drew on his abiding love for the rocky weather-lashed landscape into which he was born. “I love the area,” he explained. “It’s been my life. I know so many of the people. I know some of the better ones and I’ve met some of the awful ones.”

The “awful ones” would often propel him into action. As a campaigner, Howells was never backward in coming forward. His dedication both to the historical legacy and natural beauty of his pocket of south-west Wales saw him take causes to the Press and befriend other strident Welsh personalities, such as the actor Kenneth Griffith. Outside influences were not, to his mind, a benevolent force to the region: “The second homes and holiday homes. They come in and take over and in 10 minutes they know it all. They tell you what’s wrong with you.”

Roscoe Howells was born at Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, on October 27 1919, in the depths of a crippling rural depression – a trying start which turned to tragedy when his mother died three weeks after giving birth. One of Roscoe’s earliest memories was of the impact of the 1926 strike, when miners at the colliery at Boneville’s Court were called out. “My father was a builder and I remember men coming to the back door and asking if they could have a week’s work so that they could get a stamp to go on the dole,” he recalled. “Grown men, coming around crying and genuinely so, genuine workmen, not like today’s parasites.”

Aged 12 he helped rescue two people at sea (two others drowned) for which he was awarded the Royal Humane Society certificate for life-saving, at that time the youngest person to hold the award.

Prior to his writing career, he farmed for several years at Cwmbrwyn (between St Clears and Pendine) breeding Guernsey cattle, a career ruined by cases of brucellosis, a bovine disease which causes cows to abort. In the late 1950s he began writing for Welsh Farm News.

In his first book, Cliffs of Freedom (1961), he told the story of Skomer Island and the Codd family, the last remnants of a farming community dating back to the Iron Age. It would be an apt beginning to a publishing output that had lost — or disappearing — worlds at its heart. Over the following five decades, Howells chronicled the ecclesiastical isolation endured by the monks of Caldey Island (Total Community, 1975) and parishioners who emigrated to the American Mid-West (From Amroth to Utah, 2001), along with studies of the changing face of farming and portraits of outlying islands.


In 1979 he wrote the novel Heronsmill. “This tale of country folk, their loves and hates, their customs, is like a prescription for our troubled age,” said the renowned Welsh novelist, Alexander Cordell, recommending that readers enjoy it “in a harvest field with your feet up listening to larks”. Cordell was to become a mentor to Howells. The book also received the support of the chairman of Tesco, Ian MacLaurin (later Baron MacLaurin of Knebworth), whose grandmother was born near the story’s setting. He threw a grand launch party, leading Howells’s publisher at Hutchinson to inquire sniffily: “What are we selling, margarine?”

Among other novels, Howells wrote Crickdam (1987) and Roseanna (1991), to make up, alongside Heronsmill, a trilogy spanning two centuries of rural life in the area. “Words are diamonds, jewels, precious gems,” said Howells; but all stories, he believed, were intrinsically linked to real life: “There is no such thing as fiction. Everything comes from something, either your own or other peoples’ experiences.”

His personal experiences would always be recounted with the directness of a no-nonsense countryman. In 1963 he visited London. “A big place, likewise also a very wicked place, or so they tell me,” he wrote. “Certainly very large numbers of people seem very anxious to go there, and I don’t suppose they are all intent on being wicked. In fact some of them are parsons and chapel deacons and such characters who wouldn’t do any harm to anybody.”

Those wishing to harm rural traditions received short shrift. “There can be no national prosperity without a prosperous agriculture,” he wrote to the editor of The Daily Telegraph in 2005. “Look at the state of our once great farming industry and the state of the country now.”

Oral history often lay at the heart of his inquiries. In 2007 he wrote a biography of a man whose unique achievement was, ultimately, impossible to prove. A Pembrokeshire Pioneer: Bill Frost of Saundersfoot, the First Man to Fly (2007) told the hazy local legend of the titular Saundersfoot carpenter who may, or may not, have beaten Orwell Wright to powered flight. When one interviewer tested the validity of the story, Howells retorted: “How did I come to the conclusion? Good God I knew the man, I was there, he showed my father the patent and the pictures.” His last volume, There Tis Then (2009), took its title from the gruff sign-off to his columns in the agricultural press.

Howells was the founding member, vice-president and former chairman of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society. He was also chairman of the old Pembrokeshire Records Society, past President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, past president of St Helen’s Balconiers (the Glamorgan cricket supporters’ society) and a former chairman and president of the Welsh Guernsey Cattle Breeders Association.

When asked, late in life, what he would be remembered for, Howells was uncharacteristically ambivalent. “Me? Being argumentative I suppose,” he said. “I’d like to think that I’d done a bit of good I can’t tell you. How do we know? I’d like to think that I would be remembered for saving things, which might have been forgotten. I could be wrong.”

Roscoe Howells married twice. His first wife, Lucy, predeceased him. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret, and a son from his first marriage.

Roscoe Howells, born October 27 1919, died January 13 2014





Catherine Bennett took the opportunity in her Comment column last week to give lawyers another bashing (“Pre-nups are no threat to marriage. They’re good for it“).

Of course there are bad lawyers, rich lawyers, self-serving lawyers, but there are also bad doctors and teachers. No one suggests that we should withdraw funding from the NHS or state education. Yet that’s how the public has been persuaded to accept fundamental changes to the administration of justice in this country. Legal aid has been withdrawn from most civil cases, and criminal legal aid is now in real danger.

The piece mentions that there are increasing numbers of “litigants in person” who cannot afford lawyers. This is the scandal. Pre-nups and post-nups have risks and benefits for those involved. The issue is about whether unfair bargains will be struck that could have an adverse impact on the vulnerable, particularly children. But the fact that the courts are full of unrepresented, confused litigants has not arisen because of horrid lawyers but because we have been cavalier with one of the pillars of our society – access to justice.

Philippa Dolan

Ashfords LLP

London W1

Selling visas is just wrong

I generally agree with Will Hutton, but selling visas to rich immigrants is profoundly immoral (“What’s wrong with selling visas to rich immigrants at £2.5m a pop?“, Comment. As Michael Sandel points out in his thought-provoking book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, selling the right to gain citizenship to rich immigrants perpetuates the growing divide between rich and poor, and conveys the message that the rich are special and deserve precedence over the poor. It was ironic that Will Hutton’s article was alongside a piece by Nick Cohen describing how a US equity group is seeking to deny union rights to Boots pharmacists, another example of the march towards inequality.

Michael Miller


Our huge waste of food

Jay Rayner makes good points but huge food waste occurs in production, too (“How greed became a food security issue“, New Review). Conservation could have been combined with limited production in many areas which were instead cleared for development or cash crops while the opportunity to cut methane emissions from ruminants via feed additives has existed for many years; the opportunity was wasted. I suspect the underlying problems are financial, though.

Feeding the world’s poor is unprofitable by definition while food gluts cause prices to fall more than proportionately, thus depressing farmers’ incomes. Alternative markets or changing land use can avoid this problem, but they absorb gluts and/or remove land from food production. Storage is the answer, but nobody wants the job or the bill. Just to finish matters off, wealthy commodities speculators help ensure hunger in a world of plenty.

Food security needs poverty to be addressed and support for better and sustainable supplies but these mustn’t dig up, chop down, pollute or cook the natural world, nor allow other human activities to do so. The many alternatives available in different areas are good news. The bad news is they require saner policies, cost money, need more vertebrate politicians, and western consumers have to realise they’ve been sold a pup for years. Both “Eat what you want, ignoring its impact” and “Eat what we tell or sell you” are irresponsible, self-serving and completely the wrong way round.

Iain Climie



Prescription for a career

I was disappointed to read Nick Cohen’s disparaging views on pharmacy as a career in “‘Homely’ Boots treats its staff like red revolutionaries” (Comment). Far from being something “no child dreams of growing up to become”, I strongly believe pharmacy is a rewarding and clinically challenging profession.

Pharmacists are a vital part of healthcare provision in the UK, helping 1.6 million people every day take care of their medicines and healthcare needs. Pharmacy is an under-utilised resource, which is offering more and more services and access to care such as anti-coagulation services, flu vaccinations and diabetes risk assessments.

Boots UK is committed to the professional development and support of pharmacists, providing more clinical roles and offering a highly competitive package which we continually review. Our pharmacists are consulted with at all levels throughout our business

Steve Banks

Director of professional standards and superintendent pharmacist Boots UK, Nottingham

The simple art of generalising

Your correspondent John Owen (Letters)suggests students will not choose to study difficult stem subjects as these lead to low-paid jobs, when they can “waltz through arts A-levels, go to university, study the same easy options, and get a better, well-paid job on graduation”. In my experience one of the key benefits of an arts education is that it teaches you to think deeply around subjects and not to make sweeping generalisations about things you know very little about.

Helen Walker

West London



Devolution of itself has not prevented Wales from being so impoverished by the latest round of local government cuts, which devolved austerity outwards from Westminster, that we cannot afford to defend the coastline from flooding, and the same is true for Cornwall and Devon and the north (“‘There is a real danger the rest of the UK is being cut off from London‘”, News)

If we immediately scrapped HS2 and used the £50bn plus for coastal flood defences that would create skilled jobs and real apprenticeships in areas of high unemployment, while protecting tourism where it is crucial to the local economy, but this will not happen while we have a government so largely funded by the City of London. Only a properly funded English assembly elected on proportional representation, so that constituencies band together in regional assemblies, will be an effective counterweight to London becoming a city state within a state. Scotland would not have the same need to break away from a federal system that could more fairly deliver to the regions and to Wales.

Margaret Phelps


When asked by Toby Helm if London could be the winner from HS2, Jim O’Neill states: “Of course it could.” In this he just restates what every authoritative report on HS2 has concluded from the transport select committee onwards. All have said that London and the south east will be the major beneficiaries with, for example, roughly 70% of any new jobs created. Equally, it was concluded that if we want regeneration then multiple smaller projects in the regions would be much more effective. Instead of starting HS2 in the Midlands and north as O’Neill suggests, we should scrap it immediately and reallocate the £50bn to many smaller, regional infrastructure projects.

I suggest allocating 25% to flood prevention schemes as these have an excellent rate of return (8 to 1 against HS2’s dodgy 2 to 1) and they will stop a rerun of the misery that people have suffered in recent months. The next 25% should be spent on alleviating commuter overcrowding on our trains. This could be done by extending the length of platforms and adding carriages to the trains.

This will help the vast majority of rail travellers instead of getting a few businessmen to London a few minutes earlier.

We should allocate 10% to road repair. Our roads are a major asset but they are falling apart from neglect. We need a national programme to repair them properly in order to stop the damage being caused to vehicles of all kinds. The remaining 40% should be spent on important road and rail projects in all regions.

There is plenty of scope for improving links between all of the major cities of the Midlands and north not just Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, as HS2 is supposed to do.

All of the above can be started without delay. They can be resourced with British labour and materials and, unlike HS2, won’t need international expertise or foreign rolling stock. They will not be faced with enormous compensation bills either.

We know it makes sense: let’s cancel HS2 now.

Peter Edwards



Asking ex-Goldman Sachs chief Jim O’Neill to head a commission on how cities can thrive is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken run

Goldman Sachs played its own distinctive role in the financial crisis which certainly did not help cities or businesses in the north of England to thrive. O’Neill’s remedies seem to include merging Liverpool with Manchester (“Manpool”), which is hardly likely to succeed, and greater devolution of decision-making, which is already happening, and other banal remedies.

Oh dear, such short memories.

Simon Newton






Lord Owen describes Ed Miliband’s reforms of the Labour party which include union members having to “opt in” to make party contributions as “brave and bold” (“Miliband reform gains backing from Lord Owen”, 2 March). This will put Labour at a huge disadvantage to the Tories in terms of party funding.

It is now the turn of the Tories to be “brave and bold”. It is surely unacceptable that company shareholders (many from modest backgrounds) should find themselves contributors to the Tory party against their wishes. The Tories should only accept donations where shareholders have opted in to make a donation. This should also apply to banks and insurance companies: a customer who doesn’t want to opt-in to a political contribution should be offered more favourable terms in lieu of this lesser expense to the company.

But what about consumers? Every time Labour or Liberal Democrat voters buy a product from a company that donates to the Tories they are unwittingly contributing to the enemy. The solution is obvious: there should be information on the label stating to which party (if any) the company contributes – in a similar fashion to warnings on cigarettes!

Phil Nicholson


Harriet Walker’s article (New Review, 2 March) on her diversion from Heathrow to Newcastle makes for depressing reading. Comments such as “I’ve no idea where it is” and “It’s basically Scotland” fill me with despair. It is amazing how many Britons are happy to cross half the world to go on holiday but will not explore a different part of their own country. Why are supposedly intelligent and educated people so ignorant?

And is Southern culture really so sophisticated or are we confusing region with social class? I can’t see any difference between Geordie Shore and Towie apart from accent. The extent of regional prejudice in this country borders on racism. Northern people are as fed up with regional ignorance as black people are with racial stereotypes.

Pippa Lewer

Morpeth, Northumberland

There was a time when the United States would support the undemocratic removal of democratically elected heads of state in its own backyard; now it does so in Russia’s backyard – and has the “incredible” audacity to be outraged when Russia responds (“Ukraine crisis”, 2 March).

Peter McKenna


Gavin Plumley is right that Richard Strauss is due a reappraisal in his 150th anniversary year (“The sensitive side of Strauss”, 2 March). It would also be an appropriate time for the classical music channels to make sure his first name is pronounced correctly.

On Radio 3 and Classic FM there is an aversion to pronouncing certain German forenames the German way. Schumann’s Robert and Wagner’s Richard are pronounced as though they were British. Richard Strauss suffers the same fate. The same broadcasters would never pronounce Ravel’s Maurice the English way.

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire

Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron’s claim that only two kinds of votes will count in the forthcoming European elections – those for his party and those for Ukip – seems like a rather polarised position to take (“It’s us or Ukip, says Lib Dem contender”, 2 March.

One assumes that the Lib Dems are a party of the political centre. If Mr Farron really does think society is fundamentally split, with little middle ground, and he may be right, there are surely other political parties he could be involved with.

Keith Flett

London N17

Alan Gregory (Letters, 2 March) offers Logan’s Run as a warning against euthanasia. Isn’t it about time that we had a grown-up debate on this subject without recourse to political, religious (and literary) hysteria?

I doubt whether legalised voluntary euthanasia for the terminally failing elderly would leave me in anything like the danger of unwanted death as the apparently readily accepted dangers of venturing upon almost any road, by any means, these motor-crazed days?

Alison Sutherland

Kirkwall, Orkney





Sochi is a $50bn waste after events in Ukraine

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia’s president, spent $50bn (£30bn) or more on the Winter Olympics to showcase his country — that was a waste, wasn’t it? We will remember March and Ukraine and forget February and Sochi (“Putin pushes Ukraine to the brink of war”, News, and “Putin’s playbook leaves the West in a dither”, Editorial, last week).

Russia has weaknesses — particularly its dependence on oil and gas revenues, and a lack of internal non-military manufacturing — that Europe, America and their allies can exploit. It is important we hold firm to the Budapest memorandum that safeguards Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Ted Coffin, Salisbury
Trampling on democracy
Future historians will question why the Russian bear has had all the best arguments in the Ukrainian crisis. How have we got to a situation in which it is Russia that is defending the democratic legitimacy of an elected leader, and a disunited West that is studiously avoiding all discussion of this?

The West’s proponents of what Tony Blair termed “liberal imperialism” in his 1999 speech in Chicago have form in terms of their democratiphobia. This is the second time in a year they have supported and perhaps even actively conspired in the overthrow of a democratically elected leader — the first in Egypt and now in Ukraine.
Terry Daly, London N22
Putin’s plan
Countries don’t go to war by accident but for issues such as spheres of influence, minorities, military rivalry and suchlike. Putin has already shown he regards Ukraine as within the Russian sphere, if not a satellite of Moscow. As Thomas Hobbes said: “Covenants, without the sword, are but words.”
Anthony Piepe, Southsea, Hampshire
Answers, please
Democracy is about waiting for the ballot box, not throwing Molotov cocktails. Viktor Yanukovych’s five-year term of office was scheduled to end next February. The West’s attempt to “liberate” Ukraine raises many other questions.

Why is Russia deemed not to have the right to pursue its national interest in its “near abroad”? Are there any geographical limits to an expanding EU? And will hard-working UK taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?
Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
A vote for Russia
The people of Crimea will have the opportunity to say that they do or do not want to be part of Russia in the referendum to be held on March 16. If you know Crimea, you will know the people are Russian, as are their culture, language, history  and media. They even want to set the clocks by Moscow, not Kiev, time.
Graham Ariss, Gothenburg, Sweden

Ignoring harmful effects of lower age of consent

INDIA KNIGHT suggests that the age of consent should be lowered because of the number of children who already engage in sexual relationships (“If you want to protect children, let them have sex at 15”, Comment, last week). Should the age at which they may purchase tobacco and alcohol be lowered too, on the basis that many already consume these?

The age of consent aims to protect children from behaviour that may cause them harm. It should arguably be raised, not lowered.
Emma Hodgson, Littleover, Derbyshire
Unreliable statistics
To verify that “half of all UK teenagers have had their first sexual experience by the age of 14” and “a third of teenagers had had full intercourse before they were 16” would entail checking on each individual’s 14th or 16th birthday, and even then it is unlikely that all respondents would give a true answer.
Francis Harvey, Bristol
Too much too young
I gave birth to my beloved son when I was 15. I concealed my pregnancy and received no medical care until the last stage of labour. I had no interest in sex when my 18-year-old boyfriend, with whom I was besotted, began pushing me for it. In truth I hated it. To reduce the age of consent would only put more girls at risk of such intimidation and rape.
Name and address withheld
Repeat offender
What was it about the 1970s that created a poisonous alliance between sexual liberation and naive politics? Whatever it was, it is still being repeated.
John Barleycorn, by email

EU confusion

In response to your article “Eurocrats take the gravy train back to their old schools” (World News, February 23), the European Commission claimed: “Our staff do not get ‘two days off work’. Legitimate expenses are paid and they go straight back to work, or, if trips are self-financed, they get an extra day’s leave — without expenses” (“EU school visits no junket”, Letters, last week).

Perhaps it can explain why the European parliament (EP) office, in an email to EU staff, states: “The EP reimburses their agents with two days’ allowance and the participants get a special leave of two days maximum.” The same explanation — for EU officials only — is also on the EP intranet.

Are EU institutions telling one thing to staff and another to the suckered taxpayers?
Paul Nuttall, UKIP Deputy Leader and MEP for North West England

Stunning is not kinder than ritual slaughter

I WAS stunned — no pun intended — by the arrogance in Andrew Wilson’s letter last week (“No religious bar to stunning animals before slaughter”). Veterinary professionals such as Wilson seem to think their evidence is conclusive and fail to mention the pain and distress that pre-stunning can involve. Speed, humanity and low pain levels are central to ritual slaughter as practised in large parts of the world.
Siobhan Breen, London NW3
Killing flaw
We daily inflict violence and death on chickens, pigs, cows, sheep and fish. We also exploit dairy cows and egg-laying hens before they meet the same fate as “meat” animals. Wilson should condemn all types of slaughter, not just the “religious” methods.
Mark Richards, Brighton, East Sussex
God is in the details
The Reverend Ian Williams, a man whose thinking is presumably ruled by religious dogma, accuses Dominic Lawson of a wilful disregard for logic on female genital mutilation and circumcision (“Muddled thinking”, Letters, last week). Kettle calling the pot black?
Ian Hurst, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire

No exam exemptions for faith schools

IF RELIGIOUS groups wish to deny their young people access to sex education, or knowledge about evolution, this is arguably a matter for the groups themselves (“Faith schools cut exam questions on evolution”, News, last week).

However, the OCR exam board sets nationally accredited public examinations and candidates should all be placed on an equal footing when it comes to assessing their knowledge and skill.

While many aspects of science and science education are properly subjects for debate, picking and choosing which questions to set on the basis of religious doctrine raises the question of whether OCR can retain the required degree of public confidence.
Edgar Jenkins, Emeritus Professor, University of Leeds
Beyond belief
Having taught for many years, and as a member of the Church of England, I believe while faith can enable us to see more meaning in the things around us, it also requires that we do not ignore any aspect of the world. Special treatment for faith schools is contrary to educational principles and would affect social cohesion.
Mike Lynch, Codsall, Wolverhampton

Cancer loses out to fast trains

CANCER patients complain that they aren’t getting treatments they were promised (“‘Cruel’ failure of Cameron’s cancer pledge”, News, last week). The staff who should be administering them complain that NHS cuts prevent them from doing so adequately. An MP complains that the treatment on offer in the UK falls behind the standards of other countries.

Still, as long as a few people can get from Birmingham to London 35 minutes quicker in the future via HS2, that seems the right way to spend our money.
Geoff Hulme, Altrincham Greater Manchester
Radiotherapy boost
Radiotherapy services are in a much better place today than in March last year. However, there is a need for further investment if we are to deliver high-quality advanced radiotherapy services to all who require them.

The Vision for Radiotherapy, a joint report issued last week by NHS England and Cancer Research UK, is a major opportunity to address what still needs to be done. The Radiotherapy Board — a nationwide collaborative of the three main professions (clinical oncologists, therapy radiographers and medical physicists) — stands ready to make the vision a reality across the whole of the UK, not just in England.
Dr Diana Tait, Chairwoman, Radiotherapy Board, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London


Just deserts
David Davis MP (“Weighing the evidence in Plebgate case”, Letters, last week) insists that having “examined every second of the available video evidence of Andrew Mitchell’s interaction with the police”, the “five seconds” that Mitchell’s conversation lasted were insufficient for him to have spoken the 40 words Davis says are at issue. Whether five seconds were enough — indeed whether Mitchell called the police plebs, or plods — is totally irrelevant. The point is that a senior cabinet minister has admitted using the f-word against police officers doing their duty to keep him, his colleagues and therefore our country safe. Mitchell deserved to lose his job.
Anthony Glees, Director, Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham
Feline of déjà vu
Your report on the cat cafe in east London states that it was the first one in Britain (“The cats that got the cream cake and cappurrcino”, News, last week). This is not so. There has been one in Totnes, Devon, for almost a year.
Kenneth Potter, Paignton, Devon
Lost opportunity
I knew nothing about the service last weekend at Senlis Cathedral, north of Paris, to commemorate the Turkish Airlines crash of March 3, 1974 (“I told her not to worry . . . and so sadly, fate took over”, News Review, last week).

My husband, Leslie Paine, was one of the passengers killed, leaving four children aged between 11 and 18. The service was organised by a detective with Thames Valley police. My name is still the same and I live in the same village as we did in 1974, albeit in a smaller house. I wouldn’t have thought it beyond the wit of a police detective to find me. My regrets are bitter.
Sheila Paine, Blewbury, Oxfordshire
Getting personal
Why did somebody in your brilliant newspaper approve Jeremy Clarkson’s rant against Piers Morgan (“Cheer up, Piers. You can always get a job as my punchbag”, News Review, last week)? I didn’t enjoy a single word of it.
Richard Freeth, Oxford 
Target practice
There was me worrying that honest-to-God vitriol and vindictiveness had been outlawed in our Sunday papers, when Clarkson got his target in his sights and not only gave Morgan both barrels but reloaded frequently and shot accurately. Well done.
John Rogers, Rathowen, Co Westmeath

Corrections and clarifications

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission ( or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Bill Beaumont, rugby player, 62; Juliette Binoche, actress, 50; John Cale, musician, 72; Ornette Coleman, jazz musician, 84; André Courrèges, fashion designer, 91; Linda Fiorentino, actress, 54; Martin Fry, singer, 56; Keri Hulme, author, 67; Martin Johnson, rugby player, 44; Juan Sebastian Veron, footballer, 39


1796 Napoleon Bonaparte marries his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais; 1959 the Barbie doll makes its debut; 1967 Svetlana Alliluyeva — Joseph Stalin’s only daughter — walks into the US embassy in Delhi and asks for political asylum; 1976 42 people die in a cable-car disaster in Cavalese, Italy





SIR – British governments have promoted referendums in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Gibraltar, which confirmed the wish of their people to remain British. No doubt the verdict of the Scottish people in September will be accepted.

Why, then, is there such objection to a referendum in Crimea, the result of which, if accepted, should help defuse tension in the region?

John Harris
Penrith, Cumberland

SIR – Nikolai Tolstoy of all people should appreciate that Russians (ably assisted by a Georgian) over the past 150 years have caused as much suffering for Russia (and its neighbours) as have its invaders.

Russia has effectively rehabilitated Stalin and has not apologised for his crimes. Vladimir Putin has declared that the demise of the Soviet Union (rather than its birth) was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife

Migrant magnet

SIR – I employ immigrants. I would prefer, on principle, to employ British people, but they won’t come off the dole to do the work.

The Government pays them this dole, which allows them not to work, by taxing me. If the Government reduced the dole, I might get British applicants. If the dole reduction was passed on to me as a tax reduction, I could afford to pay more.

John Burke
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

VAT by any other name

SIR – Paula Bates (Letters, March 4) is correct that in America “sales tax”, not “VAT”, is shown separately on receipts, raising awareness of taxes.

Such awareness is heightened in America by all prices for goods and services being listed before sales tax. Such a practice would be useful in Britain to highlight the taxes involved in purchases, particularly when filling up the car.

Tony Manning
Barton on Sea, Hampshire

Cost of 101 phone calls

SIR – I live in a rural area where we are encouraged by the police to report unusual sightings. The 101 telephone number is given as a contact for non-urgent information.

Recently I used the number for the first time, to report suspicious activity. The response of the local police was exemplary. They took the trouble to phone me back to tell me what action had been taken.

The use of the 999 number is free. But on my monthly bill I found that I had been charged for the 101. Apparently 101 attracts this charge across the country. Surely this is a triumph of bureaucracy over common sense. I know which option I shall use if the need arises again.

Philip Williams
Ingoe, Northumberland

Comfort coffee

SIR – What’s with all this walking to work carrying steaming cups of coffee? I see it on television coverage from London. Are the metropolitan “elite” so pushed for time that they cannot manage a proper breakfast, or are these drinks a sort of comfort blanket against a hostile world?

To us Northerners it all looks a bit weird.

Brendan Palmer

Magna Carta vs food

SIR – The Bishop of Durham (Letters, March 5), Frank Field MP and others draw attention to the need to feed the hungry.

Churches in this area are among those that give in-date food to the Salisbury Trussell Trust, knowing that this food goes directly to the hungry.

I am a guide in the splendid Salisbury Cathedral, which houses arguably the best copy of Magna Carta in its chapter house. The Cathedral is seeking £500,000 of Heritage Lottery funding to preserve and present better the Magna Carta to the public – an aim I support. The plan is to raise another £200,000 on top of that.

A modest 10 per cent of this latter given to the Trussell Trust would help some families in Salisbury (or Durham) not to go hungry in Lent, or later. The down side is that the Magna Carta planners would have to manage on £680,000.

I agree with the bishop: all hands to the pump.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Joseph Gilbert
Salisbury, Wiltshire

The label of dementia

SIR – The Government’s plans to speed up the diagnosis of dementiato six weeks fail to take into account the immediate and catastrophic consequences to the lives of affected individuals.

Being diagnosed as having dementia makes it impossible to make a legally valid will, sign a contract, sell property, decide where and how to live, or consent to – or refuse – medical treatment. The assets of a person with dementia would be controlled by the Court of Protection, regardless of his or her wishes.

That this loss of the autonomy that we all take for granted could be initiated on a shopping trip by a busybody from a supermarket, or that a decision to move one’s savings from one bank to another could involve a dementia test in the manager’s office, is unacceptable.

Alix Ramage-Hayes
Nash, Buckinghamshire

Award for turning up

SIR – It seemed to me that barely 10 per cent of Members of the House of Commons were in attendance when Theresa May made her announcement relating to a public inquiry into undercover policing.

Half of an MP’s salary should be linked to actual attendance in Parliament.

Michael Fielding
Winchester, Hampshire

Once more unto the dining table

SIR – General James Cowan’s comments on table manners (Letters, March 7) reminded me of a dinner party given for my husband’s staff, where a guest felt the need to scratch the back of his head with his fork before plunging it once more into his chicken.

Jan Wilkinson
Norton Disney, Lincolnshire

SIR – When General Cowan is abroad on Army business, I hope that he does not lecture his hosts in the same pompous manner as he does his officers.

Gray Gilbert
Fovant, Wiltshire

SIR – General Cowan neglects to draw attention to the ghastly modern habit of wearing a wing collar with a dinner jacket.

Group Captain Terry Holloway
Great Wratting, Suffolk

SIR – General James Cowan is not alone in not wishing to sit next to his wife. During a Commonwealth conference I found myself sitting next to my wife for the third night in a row.

I asked the woman opposite, who was in a similar predicament with her husband, and was not unattractive, if she would like to swap places and come and sit by me for a change. The reply was a sharp and short “No thank you”.

My wife and I resorted to discussing the electricity bill for the third night running.

Vyvyan Harmsworth
Challock, Kent


SIR – Rev Dr John Strain (Letters, March 3) writes that HM Revenue and Customs unfairly taxes organists who play in his rural churches for “meagre stipends”.

I suggest the organists play for nothing, as I do – especially at the frequency of an hour a month. Whether the organists are Christian or not, it would be a benevolent act at a time when so many churches are struggling to survive financially.

I’d like to think that most rural organists play for the love of it and for the community.

Caroline Mitchell
Maentwrog, Gwynedd

SIR – Church organists aren’t the only ones being targeted by HMRC. I’m the clerk (the only employee) for my local parish council, drawing the princely sum of £600 per year, which has always been taxed through my occupational pension. Last year, however, HMRC decided that all such clerks should be taxed via a PAYE system, irrespective of the size of the council.

Setting up such a system, which has to be done online, proved to be less than simple. Yet I’m still allowed to pay my tax through my pension as long as I create PAYE records showing a nil tax deduction.

Jack Smith
Lindal-in-Furness, Cumbria


SIR – Headlines focus on the shrinking number of soldiers (leading article, March 6), but depredations to the other two Services since 1990 have been far worse. In 1990, the Royal Navy had 50 frigates and destroyers, 25 attack submarines and three aircraft carriers, today reduced to only 20, seven and zero (with one “helicopter carrier”) respectively. In 1990 the Royal Air Force had 30 combat squadrons, which by next month will have been reduced to six.

Ministers preach about the enhanced capabilities of the numerically inferior equipment replacing the larger numbers of older units, but a ship or aircraft can only be in one place at one time and allowance must also be made for attrition losses.

Defence contracts take many years to provide a new capability, but existing ones can be removed almost overnight with the stroke of a minister’s pen. The unfolding problems in Ukraine serve as a reminder that conflicts can spring up globally almost overnight and Britain needs to be able to protect its interests. These threats cannot be met solely by large numbers of soldiers, we need capabilities across all three forces.

Phil Mobbs
Wantage, Oxfordshire

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SIR – Con Coughlin harks back to the “glory days” of the Royal Navy. It is time to wake up from this dream. For centuries we faced invasion from the sea, and justifiably maintained a huge Navy; this threat has gone. Our reliance on overseas trade, often cited as a reason for military spending, does not depend on force of arms but commercial and technological strength.

I would like to see further down-sizing of our Armed Forces, with money and human resources thus liberated devoted to solving problems at home. With Angela Merkel’s firm guidance and its commercial strength, Germany has become a world leader, but not by a show of military muscle.

Jane Hewitt
Manaton, Devon

SIR – A minority of Army officers cling to the view that only Regular soldiers count in war. The 30 reservists who have died over the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq and the 70 decorated for gallantry remind us of a precious – and cost-effective – asset.

Reversing years of cancelled training and severe neglect will take time, but the new approach is already bearing fruit in rising morale and esprit de corps – as many flood victims have seen over the past weeks.

As the absurd delays in the recruiting pipeline are progressively unblocked, this great national asset will regenerate.

Julian Brazier MP (Con)
London SW1

SIR – Who does the Government think will want to join a reservist force, having seen how our professional military from all Services have recently been treated, and knowing at the same time that their civilian jobs will be as insecure as their lives.

Richard Waldron
Woolavington, Somerset



Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – With the advent of the whistleblower controversy, Gerry Adams has called for Garda cold cases to be pursued. What an appealing vista that may open.

Also in this section

Letters: A true centre of excellence

Letters: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Threat to hare is horror story that shames us

If Adams’ memory is rejuvenated, he may recall his membership of the Provisional IRA, become a whistleblower and give the Garda information concerning the murder of Jean McConville and perhaps many such heinous crimes committed by the Provisional IRA.

However, that may cause Sinn Fein to question Adams’ appeal to the electorate and to replace him with Mary Lou McDonald for the next election.

In that event, Eamon O Cuiv may get his wish to see Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein forming the next government become a reality. However, in that event, I would apply for a UK passport as I don’t want to travel at the behest of a government which has supporters of Provisional IRA murderers sitting at the Cabinet table.

Tony Moriarty,

Dublin 6 W


Madam – I find Gerry Adams‘ letter, ‘Views on North are blinkered’ (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014), galling to say the least. Many eminent people have tried to study the cause of suicide. There are several and I would list depression as top of the list. Mr Adams and his cohorts are responsible for a lot of pain and depression in this country. How can he blame Unionism or British rule for the high suicide rate? I suppose he’ll blame anybody but himself. He and he alone knows what hurt and pain and depression he has caused.

Then I turn to page 4 to read ‘Adams’ order to take explosives into Britain‘. He denies it all.

Another article tells us how SF scrapped its planned homecoming party for Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey – just like the one they held for the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Adams gives him his full support, saying he is entitled to a party.

Why is Gerry Adams not asked more questions about this kind of thing in the Dail? What sort of country would vote for someone like Gerry Adams?

Una Heaton,



Madam – Many thanks to Gene Kerrigan for his concise article (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014), which ties up many loose ends on the Garda Whistleblower saga. Finally there is an explanation for a high profile female public servant being handcuffed, arrested and placed in a cell for some time, having committed no crime.

This is the first time anyone has offered a reasonable explanation for this strange occurrence. Until it is faced head-on personally by each of us, we will make no progress as a democratic republic. Hats off also to Maurice McCabe and John Wilson for their courage.

Kate Foley,



Madam – I was surprised and sad to read ‘The Devastation of Rural Ireland,’ by Donal Lynch. (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014).

Rural Ireland has become a lonelier place to live, with poor public transport, a bus once a week where it used to run once or twice a day.

There is only one answer – investment in the Irish people.

No more post office, garda station, pub or business closures. Enda Kenny said Ireland is the best country in Europe. It’s time to divert money from Nama and Europe to help local towns and villages in Ireland.

Bernard Rafter,

Slough, Berkshire, England.


Madam – I fully agree with the view expressed by Declan Lynch ‘A monument to our national failure’, (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014). No doubt, there were Gaelgoirs who made a career out of being proficient in Irish as it ensured they had a job for life. In the early years of the State’s birth, this was important as the only alternative was the emigrant ship.

There was a man I dealt with regularly over the years in business. In many conversations during our working relationship, he told me he was an enthusiastic Irish speaker as a young man in the early years of the new Irish State. He, like many of his colleagues at that time, went to Irish classes to perfect their native tongue. Years later he met one of his former classmates in town. He greeted him warmly and addressed him by his English name. His former friend told him that he had changed his name years earlier and was now known only by his Irish name. And the cynical reason was that he realised early on in his career that if he became a fully fledged Gaelgoir, he would never be out of a job!

Those who were not cute enough to see the career opportunity took the boat to England. Would it not have been better to teach them good English rather than be seen as the thick Irish when they looked for jobs over there?

Brendan M Redmond,

Terenure, Dublin 6w


Madam – Declan Lynch (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014), misses the point. Language matters. It forms our thoughts and shapes our lives.

The Irish language, because of exclusion from public life, has gone from being the majority language in the early 1800s to being a minority language today. This was the greatest social change in Irish history. Imagine had England been conquered and its language replaced by Spanish, French or German.

Imagine an English population unable to read Shakespeare except in translation and cut off from their own history. Imagine the effect this would have on the psyche, confidence and sense of self. Now consider Ireland: an Anglophone State where officialdom uses Irish as an ornament, if even that.

Our English-only mentality costs us export markets and jobs. Our negativity toward speaking Irish saps morale. We need to open our minds to the wider world. Rejection of Irish, no matter how it is presented by Declan, is profoundly negative and shameful, rejecting as it does normal curiosity as to the meaning of place names, common surnames and historical sources.

America and Australia are offshoots of English culture. We are not. Americans promoting English is an affirmation of self. The Danes learnt English without abandoning Danish and have a stronger economy than we have. Small open economies with educated multilingual confident populations do well.

It’s high time to stop being in awe of the Dutch or Finnish multilingual and become Irish multilinguals. Speaking Irish makes Ireland sound and feel like a regular European country. It is the recovery of our intellectual and cultural sovereignty and contributes to an inclusive Irish identity beyond colour or creed.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh, BL,

An Leabharlann Dlí,

Baile Átha Cliath 7


Madam – After reading Emer O’Kelly’s article (Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014), I found myself reading it again on Monday and I still couldn’t figure out what it was all about.

Ms O’Kelly’s article, under a headline: ‘Refusal of travel expenses for judiciary may be straw that breaks the camel’s back’, certainly caught my eye.

The judiciary in question don’t have a boss – and when it comes to respect, just try chewing a bit of gum next time you’re in court, and watch the downtrodden chap on the bench reminding you, apologetically, of the powers he/she has.

Ms O’Kelly kind of suggests that if these guys don’t get their bus fares paid, that the availability of learned fellows from the Law Library will dry up. But by the time the Law Library chaps start thinking about the bench, they are fairly well heeled.

So the real issue would seem to me to have nothing to do with money, but the power that goes with a job. That and related social aspects would be more than enough to attract an adequate sufficiency of chaps.

RJ Hanly,

Co Wexford





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