18 March 2014 Consultant

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to pick up some unexploded depth charges.Priceless

Cold slightly saw Consultant, minor improvement next appointment three weeks!

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets Over400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.




Clarissa Dickson Wright, who has died aged 66, sprang to celebrity as the larger of the Two Fat Ladies in the astonishingly popular television series.

Clarissa Dickson Wright was a recovering alcoholic, running a bookshop for cooks in Edinburgh when the producer Patricia Llewellyn was inspired to pair her with the equally eccentric Jennifer Paterson, then a cook and columnist at The Spectator.

The emphasis of the programme was to be on “suets and tipsy cake rather than rocket salad and sun-dried tomatoes”, the producer declared. Hence bombastic tributes to such delights as cream cakes and animal fats were mingled with contemptuous references to “manky little vegetarians”.

Not all the reviews were kind. Victor Lewis Smith in the London Evening Standard referred to the ladies’ “uncompromising physical ugliness” and “thoroughly ugly personalities”. Another critic quipped: “Perhaps handguns shouldn’t be banned after all.” Most, though, became instant addicts and predicted future cult status. By 1996 the programme was attracting 3.5 million viewers.

The Triumph motorbike and sidecar which sped the two fat ladies around the countryside might have appeared contrived (although Paterson was a keen biker), but their kitchen-sink comedy could never have been scripted. Clarissa Dickson Wright would come up with such lines as “look at those charming looking fellows” when describing scallops, and advise businessmen to come home and cook “to relax after the ghastly things they do in the City”.

Not content to confine themselves to the kitchen, the indomitable pair ventured out into the field, gathering mussels in Cornish drizzle — using their motorcycle helmets as pails — and perilously putting out to sea in a sliver of a boat to catch crabs.

Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright was born on June 24 1947, the youngest of four children. “My parents had great trouble deciding what to call me in the first place,” she explained about her abundant christening, “but then they were so delighted they had finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church.” To decide which name should come first, “they blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in the library, where she pulled out a copy of Richardson’s Clarissa”.

Her father, Arthur Dickson Wright, was a brilliant surgeon who was the first to extract a bullet from the spine without leaving the patient paralysed; he also pioneered the operation for stripping varicose veins and his patients included the Queen Mother, Vivien Leigh and the Sultana of Jahore. He had met Clarissa’s mother, Molly, an Australian heiress, while working in Singapore.

Growing up in Little Venice, Clarissa’s first memory was of eating a hard-boiled egg and a cold sausage on a picnic at Wisley at the age of three. Her father, though basically miserly, did not stint on household bills. He had pigeons flown in from Cairo and a fridge permanently full of caviar. From infant trips back to Singapore remembered consuming “deeply unhygienic but delicious” things wrapped in banana leaves.

When her parents entertained, Clarissa read recipes to the illiterate cook, Louise, who in turn would squabble with Clarissa’s mother about what they were going to serve. One day, Louise stood at the top of the stairs: “Madam,” she said, “if you make me cook that I’ll jump.” “If you don’t Louise,” Mrs Dickson Wright retorted, “you might as well.” (Clarissa also had memories from around this time of Cherie Booth “always doing her homework in school uniform in the middle of louche Hampstead parties — she was a swot”. Later she observed the budding union between Booth (“desperately needy”) and Tony Blair (“a poor sad thing with his guitar”). Later still she observed that the “wet, long-haired student” that she had known had been replaced by a man with “psychopath eyes. You know those dead eyes that look at you and try to work out what you want to hear?”)

Clarissa’s father became a progressively violent alcoholic, so that when he came home “one would take cover”. He broke three of her ribs with an umbrella and on another occasion hit her with a red-hot poker. She later confessed to poring over botanical volumes in search of suitable poisons and scouring the woods for lethal mushrooms.

Boarding school proved a wonderful refuge. She then did a Law degree externally at London (her father refused to pay for her to go to Oxford unless she read Medicine) and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1970. It was while she was at home studying for her Bar final that a letter arrived for her mother while the family was at breakfast. It turned out to be from her father, announcing divorce proceedings. After her father left the house Clarissa Dickson Wright never saw him again.

She was by then a regular pipe smoker, consuming two ounces of Gold Block a week. The first woman to practise at the Admiralty Bar, she received excellent notices from, among others, Lord Denning, and was elected to the Bar Council as a representative of young barristers.

Things started to go awry, though, when her parents died in quick succession in the mid-1970s. Her father left his entire £2 million fortune to his brother, explaining his decision in a caustic rider to his will. Clarissa’s mother, he wrote “never helped me and sought to alienate my children”. Clarissa’s sisters had married men either too old or too young, and her brother’s fault was to be “seeing Heather (one of Clarissa’s sisters) again”. As to his youngest daughter: “I leave no money to Clarissa, who was an afterthought and has twice caused me grievous bodily harm, and of whom I go in fear of my life.” The family contested the will to no avail.

It was Derby Day when Clarissa came home to find her mother dead. “It was a shock I quite simply couldn’t handle,” she recalled. She went to her boyfriend’s house and surprised everybody by pouring herself a large whisky: “I remember thinking ‘Why have I waited so long? I’ve come home.’ I felt this enormous sense of relief.”

Her “habit” soon consisted of two bottles of gin a day, and a bottle of vodka before she got out of bed. “Suddenly it was as if I’d done it,” she remembered of her consequent loss of ambition. “I could hear the eulogies at my memorial service in my head, so what was the point of actually going through the mechanics of doing it.” In 1980 she was charged with professional incompetence and practising without chambers; she was disbarred three years later.

Financially this presented no immediate hardship since her mother had left her a fortune. Yet by the age of 40, Clarissa Dickson Wright had blown it all on “yachts in the Caribbean, yachts in the Aegean, aeroplanes to the races – and drink”.

“If I’d had another £100,000,” she conceded, “I’d have been dead.”

At rock bottom she went to the DSS to ask for somewhere to live, only to be told: “We’re not here for the likes of you, you know. You’re upper class, you’ve got a Law degree.”

She began to cook in other people’s houses. “Of course it’s only the upper classes who will become domestic servants now,” she reflected. “Other people feel it demeans them.” One day, when preparing to cook for a house party, she was on her knees, cleaning the floor. “I looked up,” she remembered, “and said ‘Dear God, if you are up there, please do something.’” The next day she was arrested for refusing a breathalyser. “I was carted down the long drive just as the house party was coming up it. From then on, I was inexorably swept into recovery.” It took place at Robert Lefever’s Promis Recovery Centre at Nonington, not far from Canterbury. She retained an affection for Kent ever after.

Clarissa Dickson Wright owed her proportions to drinking six pints of tonic a day over 12 years, leading to “sticky blood” (a condition normally associated with people taking quinine tablets over a long period) and a very slow metabolism. Of the ungallant nature of the Two Fat Ladies title, she said: “Well there are two of us. I have a problem with ‘Ladies’ as it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin?” Her size did not deter suitors. “I get more offers now than when I was slender,” she said. “Especially from Australians. They’re crazy about me.”

It could also be a formidable weapon. On Two Fat Ladies she was known as “Krakatoa” for her temper, and once put two would-be muggers in intensive care. “I didn’t go around beating people up,” she said, “but if people were aggressive to me, then I hit them.”

A knowledgeable food historian, she argued that the “use of anti-depressants is directly relatable to the decrease in use of animal fat (a stimulant of serotonin).” She did not own a television, but went across the road to watch the rugby. Her choice for Desert Island Discs ranged from The Drinking Song by Verdi to Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. The desert island of her imagination was “a Caribbean island during the cool season with lots of shellfish… and perhaps the odd hunky native that one could lure to the sound of music.”

Following the success of Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright was elected a rector of Aberdeen University and opened a restaurant in the grounds of the Duke of Hamilton’s 16th-Century Lennoxlove House.

Then, after Jennifer Paterson died in 1999, Clarissa Dickson Wright presented the One Man And His Dog Christmas Special. She later went on to appear (from 2000 to 2003) in the series Clarissa and the Countryman, with Johnny Scott. It was remarkably un-PC, but the real reason for the fact that the BBC dropped her, she claimed, was that she was too pro-hunting.

Her support for the Countryside Alliance did see her plead guilty to attending a hare coursing event in 2007. She had thought it legal as the greyhounds were muzzled and the magistrate gave her an absolute discharge. “I did not get a criminal record for that,” she said. “I was quite looking forward to going to jail in Yorkshire and writing the prison cookbook. It would have been a rest.” In 2012 she again raised eyebrows when she suggested that badgers shot in any cull should be eaten. Badgers, she noted, were once a popular bar snack: “I would have no objection to eating badgers. I have no objection to eating anything very much, really.”

Her autobiography, Spilling the Beans (in which she claimed, among other things, that she once had sex behind the Speaker’s chair in Parliament) was published in 2007. That and other ventures such as the “engaging county-by-county ramble” Clarissa’s England (2012), and a return to the small screen (filming a three-part series for BBC Four on breakfast, lunch and dinner) saw her finances steadily improve. One supermarket chain offered her an “awful lot of money” to promote it, but she could afford to turn it down. “I don’t regret it. I used to say that all I had left in life was my integrity and my cleavage. Now it’s just my integrity.”

Her faith was less well defined than her views on field sports. “I’m not a very good or compliant Catholic. I reserve my right to disagree. My ancestors fought with Cromwell. Other ancestors went with Guy Fawkes. So we’re bolshie on both sides.” She admitted attending Mass to “give thanks” and enjoyed AA meetings, describing them as “better than television”.

The love of her life was a Lloyd’s underwriter named Clive who died from a virus caught in Madeira. Latterly she said that she had a long-time admirer. “We are very companionable,” she noted. But they did not live together. “Heaven forfend! I don’t mind cooking his meals, but wash his socks? No.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, born June 24 1947, died March 15 2014




I would like to congratulate Luke Harding for his balanced and informative article about the makeup of the new Ukrainian government (‘They’re not fascists, they’re peasants’, 14 March), which puts into perspective some of the wild claims from Moscow that Ukraine is in the grip of anarchy, and Russian-speaking citizens are under threat from rampaging gangs of fascists. In fact, its new leaders seem up to now to have shown remarkable restraint in the light of considerable provocation.

There are clearly economic and social tensions in Ukraine, which the international community (including Russia) can help to resolve, with goodwill on all sides. But the last thing Ukraine needs is further military action by Russia on the pretext of “protecting order”. And Russia has enough challenges of its own without getting involved in a bitter and costly trade war with the EU and the US, and an armed conflict with its neighbour.
John Bourn

•  Before the US and EU introduce sanctions against Russia for recognising an illegitimate referendum, they should explain clearly why they regard the new government of Ukraine as legitimate (US and EU expected to announce sanctions against Russia, 17 March).

Treating it as somehow self-evidently so simply will not do, and is particularly provocative in light of the fact that the EU itself brokered and then promptly broke a compromise deal for a unity government.

And the uncompromising stance of the US in particular makes one wonder what role was played in recent events by the money it ploughed into Ukraine to promote the market-friendly policies it so dishonestly calls “democracy”.
Peter McKenna

• The fact that the options presented to the Crimean electorate did not include any “Ukrainian options” (Two options but only one possible outcome, 15 March) means that the referendum is no more or less democratic than our own AV v FPP referendum, in which there were no proportional representation options. As in Crimea, so too in the UK the powers that be have total control over the choice of ballot. Sadly, international rules on the conduct of referendums do not recommend multi-option voting. Hence Crimeans who might have wished to vote for a compromise, or even just the status quo, are not allowed a free choice.
Peter Emerson
The de Borda Institute

•  With its newfound passion for democracy and self-determination, I hope that the Russian Duma will now support referendums in Chechnya and North Ossetia to enable those people to decide whether they want to remain in Russia.
Bashyr Aziz
Pelsall, West Midlands

•  Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine. This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. So there is no need for alarm.
Will Podmore

•  Can someone tell me why it was OK to bomb Serbia for not letting go of Kosovo, but to reward Ukraine for not letting go of Crimea? Must be a good reason if only i could think of it.
Bruce Kent


The letter (15 March) from Gail Chester and 31 others protesting about the relocation of the Women’s Library from London Met to the LSE reads like a list of personal axes to grind. Surely it is time to look at the bigger picture and for all of us who cherish and love the Women’s Library to now support it in its new home. At long last, I dare to hope that this irreplaceable archive will be secure for future generations – academics and the general public – to appreciate. We are where we are, and we owe it to all the women in the past whose struggles are carefully documented in the library to show that we can and will pull together on this issue.
June Purvis
University of Portsmouth

• I was reassured to read Elizabeth Chapman’s account of the place of the Women’s Library at LSE (Letters, 15 March). One advantage offered at the Aldgate site was to mothers who were allowed to study in the reading room with their babies, on condition that the babies did not disturb other readers. This was a wonderful opportunity for mothers who could then study, without needing to find someone else to care for their babies. I wonder whether LSE can offer a similar option.
Naomi Stadlen


Tristram Hunt (Comment, 13 March) is right that “school inspections must be free of political meddling”, that Michael Gove‘s policy of “forced academisation” is disastrous, and that “we need to disaggregate curriculum from qualifications; question the breadth of provision; and highlight the broader function of schooling in building character and resilience in young people”.

He is also right in his critique of Ofsted – but doesn’t go far enough. Over the years it has often been a ruthless enforcer of government policies with a narrow vision of education that has ignored local circumstances; for many teachers its inspectors are fear-inducing and unsupportive; for headteachers an adverse report may cost their job; and overall it seems to promote a bullying culture in school staffrooms which would not be tolerated in playgrounds. It is time to close down Ofsted – and save £70m of the national schools budget.

Schools aren’t factories and don’t need tick-box inspection: to raise their profile they need dialogue with experienced fellow professionals. That can come from local authority inspectors who understand local problems, from colleagues in neighbouring schools on the basis of school self-evaluation, and from teacher-trainers at the local university. Schools improve from the inside – through collegial discussion of staff, drawing on views of parents, community support, local governors and fellow educators – not from the outside in the form of quick in-and-out visits by Ofsted inspectors.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  Tristram Hunt’s confirmation that, as secretary of state, he would guarantee the independence of Ofsted and ensure that all schools funded by the taxpayer are open to inspection is welcome. So too is his recognition that there is far more to a good education than can be recorded in tickable boxes. It is now time for him to ask himself whether England should remain the only country in Europe to attempt to manage thousands of schools by means of contracts with an individual government minister. Academy “freedoms” are important but can perfectly well be secured by other means. Contracts are proving unenforceable and ludicrously inefficient. They would remain so even when managed by a more competent secretary of state than the present one.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

•  Some of the suggestions made by the Policy Exchange review about the inspection of schools are helpful, but overall they are dangerous to the future of our children and our country (Ofsted needs shorter inspections and better use of data – thinktank, 17 March). Yes, more frequent visits by better-qualified inspectors could be valuable, as would a shift of emphasis towards helping schools to improve their performances – both to make what is being done more effective and to respond to changes in the world in which we live.

However, to rely on test results to judge schools and decide whether and how they should change would be disastrous. Already there is far too little time observing teaching and talking with teachers and children. I know of a six-class school judged on the basis of six lessons being seen. Test results are never perfect. By 13 years of age it was shown that 10% of children were misplaced under the old 11-plus system, and the percentage rose with age. The tests given today are also far too narrow to provide an adequate picture of a school’s performance. Our children need a broadly based education that will enable them to take a positive and effective part in the world about them.

Children’s education needs to proceed from where they are, and so does the development of a school.
Professor Norman Thomas
(Former HMI), St Albans, Hertfordshire

•  The Policy Exchange report on inspection makes many good points but fails to get at the heart of the inspection process. Evaluating a school without observing work in class is akin to reviewing a play or a concert without having seen it performed. It can be done, it probably has been done, but it should not be done.
Professor Colin Richards
(Former HMI), Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• The Kent LEA “Protocol for what happens to a headteacher if/when their school receives a poor Ofsted report” (Headteachers face up to the prospect of being ‘disappeared’, 11 March) should be no surprise. Heads have been losing their jobs in reaction to Ofsted inspections for a long time.

Now, only the most driven individuals would wish to take a job which has to be one of the most vulnerable leadership roles in professional life. When an inspection goes badly, the talent and years of hard work invested often count for nothing. Many headteachers have had their careers tarnished, or wrecked, by the implementation of Ofsted’s approach. In turn this “zero-tolerance” approach is replicated by both local authorities and central government, who fear being seen as weak in their management of schools. Fear and intolerance permeate the system.

The paradox here is that we fete and honour successful headteachers. In psychological language, there is a powerful split at work here, based on our own experiences of having once been schoolchildren ourselves. On the one hand we idealise headteachers (and teachers generally) who are perceived as “good”, but we cannot bear the idea of “failing” school leaders or schools. Our politicians and Ofsted have played into this simplistic formula for too long.

It seems Ofsted may slowly be realising that for schools they approve of, the threat of public exposure and professional punishment for “failure” is not the answer. It is not the answer for schools which are struggling, either.
Dr Phil Goss
(Former headteacher), Kirkby Lonsdale

• Teachers are leading the transformation of English education, and your misleading article (Inside the A* factory, Weekend, 15 March) undermines their enormous efforts. We have given teachers more freedom: the new national curriculum states what children need to know, rather than telling teachers how to teach, and Ofsted has made it clear it will focus on whether children are learning, rather than interfering in how teachers teach. That makes teachers more important. Thanks to them, 250,000 fewer children are now in failing secondary schools, while we have the highest-ever number of children doing subjects like chemistry and physics.

Your article also described a “demoralised” profession working in an “exam factory”. But we have got rid of GCSE modules, and moved to linear A-levels with exams only at the end of the course, hugely reducing the number of tests children sit. Meanwhile we have the best generation of teachers ever. New teachers are half as likely to switch to another career as other graduates. Teach First, which recruits more teachers than ever, is ranked the third-best graduate employer in the country. We have the highest-ever proportion of new teachers with top degrees, and our teachers are paid more, and promoted more quickly, than in most developed countries.

Your failure to report the real story of English education – of a transformed system and brilliant teachers – undermines teachers and the work that they do.
Elizabeth Truss MP
Education minister

One of the attractions of towers for developers (The only way is up…, 13 March) is that they can almost be guaranteed to be free of social rented housing; five such developments at the Elephant and Castle – Tribeca Square, Strata Tower, 360 Tower, Eileen House, One the Elephant – have not a single social rented unit between them. In every instance the developer has successfully argued that the scheme simply would not be financially viable if it had to have social rented housing; as a consequence, while towers sprout up in Southwark its housing list, currently 20,000, just continues to grow.
Jerry Flynn
35 Percent campaign, London

• Ironically, the outcome of your efforts to have Prince Charles’ letters published under the Freedom of Information Act (Report, 13 March) will have the effect of stifling freedom of expression. Who in the future will ever commit their opinions and thoughts to paper in the expectation of privacy when there will be every chance that those opinions and thoughts will be made public one day?
Gaynor Clements
Elsworth, Cambridgeshire

• Terry Eagleton (Molly Bloom without the swear words, Review, 15 March) need not fear: the theologians cracked the Lenten drinking impasse by establishing a league table of days. A national solemnity easily trumps a weekday in Lent, so your St Patrick’s Day pint is perfectly in order. (Alas, finding a way to bless the love of two men or women still eludes us.)
Fr Wealands Bell

•  Steve Bell’s cartoon strip (If… flashback, G2, 12 March) refers to the royal eminence as the “Chooky Edinburgh”. As any Scot could advise, the correct phrase is “Chooky Embra”. Ya mug ye.
David Stevenson

• Why can’t the remains of Richard III be shared between York and Leicester (Editorial, 15 March)? One foot in each grave…
Tully Potter
Billericay, Essex

• How refreshing to find that nine out of 10 of the young G2 editors (Generation Y takeover, 15 March) are female. Does that mean Fred will make the tea?
Sue Morhall
Chelmsford, Essex




Fifteen years ago on 18 March 1999, the then prime minister’s pledge to end child poverty led to all of the leading parties coming together with a promise that child poverty in the UK would be ended by 2020. This historic move made child poverty a political priority and led to huge progress.

As charities and frontline organisations, we saw what this change meant for struggling families. There was a dramatic rise in investment in childcare, better early-years support through Sure Start, crucial child benefit and child tax credit support, and major improvements in lone-parent employment rates. The fall in UK child poverty in the years leading up to 2008 was the largest of any OECD nation in the world.

Alarmingly, that trend is now in reverse; child poverty is on the rise. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that by 2020 – the year by which the government committed to tackle this crisis – nearly one million more children will be in poverty compared to the current official figures. And the government’s consultation on its draft child poverty strategy promises very little that might alter this course.

Effective solutions are possible – the evidence is clear. We need politicians to commit to tackle low pay, put an end to families having to choose between heating and eating, bring down unaffordable rents, and help make work pay by providing more help with the costs of childcare.

Politics is about promises and priorities. Whether it’s when the chancellor stands up to deliver the budget on Wednesday or when parties start to write their manifestos for the next election. It’s time our political leaders kept their promises and made ending child poverty a priority once again.
Alison Garnham Chief executive, Child Poverty Action Group, Neera Sharma Assistant director of policy and research, Barnardo’s, Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society, Anne Longfield Chief executive, 4Childre, Fiona Weir Chief executive, Gingerbread, Sol Oyuela Public affairs director, Unicef UK, Dr Hilary Emery Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau, Susanne Rauprich Chief executive, NCVYS, David Holmes Chief executive, Family Action




Extending HS2 Phase One to Crewe, as proposed by Sir David Higgins, is a substantial amendment to the original plans, which have gone out to recent public consultation, and may be seen in some quarters as a distress signal for the entire project.

With the cities of Derby, Sheffield and Stoke all making convincing cases for city-centre stations, and digital technology radically changing the way that business is conducted, is it now time to go back to first principles and design a scheme which meets the aspirations of the UK as a whole?

High Speed Rail and the expansion and modernisation of the existing UK rail system are both excellent objectives, but we need to future-proof them and make them attractive to private investment.

Dr John Disney, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

The Government’s enthusiasm for HS2 is difficult to comprehend. Apparently, we don’t have the funds to support the disadvantaged in our society. Neither can we afford to carry out basic maintenance work. The national debt stands in excess of £1trn and we know that further massive cutbacks will have to be made following the next general election.

Miraculously, however, we apparently do have in excess of £40bn to spare to fund this rail scheme. Never mind that, by the Government’s own figures, the business case for it is at best flimsy, at worst, non-existent. Apart from being morally outrageous, HS2 appears to be financial madness on an epic scale.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Hear, hear for HS2. We invented railways. The UK is small and overcrowded, ideal territory for railways. This will take freight off the roads. Japan has had bullet trains for decades; Europe is well trained.

We should start building it from the north and south now, not least while money is cheap. And there are the jobs – please, priority for UK residents.

Protesters have justifiable worries. As in France, HS2 should be in cuttings, landscaped, tunnelled. The sooner we do it the better.

Ebbsfleet on HS1 is to be developed. HS2 will do the same for the North. It will make for a more united country.

I hope all the political parties will support this endeavour.

Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

Crimea votes to go back to Russia

Isn’t the furore in Western governments about the referendum in Crimea a bit rich? They say the vote is illegal because it took place under conditions of Russian occupation. So does that mean that the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan which took place under Western military occupation where also illegal?

I wonder how Western governments would have liked it if after they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan China and Russia had imposed sanctions on them?

Mark Holt , Liverpool

We all are horrified by the appalling behaviour of the Russians; they have invaded land that is not legally theirs. We have gone to the UN to prove our case. But all the people who have looked at Crimea know the wishes and preferences of the majority of those who live there. However we in the West are now about to impose sanctions to try to reverse their aggression.

But hang on, did not our PM, that principled politician, denounce sanctions against Israel being called for on behalf of a people whose land is being invaded and constantly stolen by that country, or am I missing something?

Peter Downey, Wellow, Somerset

Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. There is no need for alarm.

Will Podmore, London E12

From Bath to  Brussels with Ukip

Steve Richards (Voices, 11 March) visited Bath and observed: “The Lib Dems face a daunting challenge at the next election. I spent a few days in Bath last week, a seat currently held by them, and kept on bumping into people who had voted for Clegg’s party last time but who insist they will not do so next year even if that means the constituency elects a Tory MP.”

It is true that the popularity of the Lib Dems has plummeted nationally. They cannot rely on the incumbency factor in Bath because the Lib Dem MP Don Foster will be retiring in 2015. Labour do not have much support in Bath. However it is not at all certain that the Tory candidate would be elected.

Ukip has a local candidate, Julian Deverell, who has plenty of good contacts and roots locally. The Tory candidate has been parachuted in from London, and his campaigning to date has been sporadic. Ukip has an excellent chance of electoral success in Bath.

The first King of all England, Edgar the Peaceable, was crowned in Bath in 973, in the Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church. It would be fitting for a patriotic Englishman to be elected to represent Bath in 2015.

Hugo Jenks, Bathampton, Bath and North east Somerset

Is there any European measure that Ukip would vote for? I ask because, having checked what UK MEPs did in last week’s European Parliament vote on forcing mobile phone manufacturers to all use the same design of charger, I see that Ukip’s MEPs voted against.

Ukip bangs on about supposedly defending Britain from Brussels meddling, but if that meddling means I can recharge my iPhone when I forget to take my charger with me to work, then I am all for it. Ukip seem so blinded by their rejection of anything European they’ll even vote against perfectly sensible measures like this.

Stuart Bonar, London W1

Earworms show a brain in good shape?

Howard Jacobson (15 March) bemoans the presence of the earworm, the tune that lodges in the brain, and suggests that it might be ruinous to our mental health.

But hold on. In an experiment conducted by the teacher of a class of excessively disruptive boys, she found that playing classical music quietly in the background  had a calming effect on their behaviour. She went on to discover that the music of Mozart was more calming than that of any other composer. I am sure Howard Jacobson would understand that.

The theory was then put forward that by composing his ethereal music, Mozart was treating his own Tourette’s syndrome, often associated with the exclamation of obscene words, or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.

In a ward of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, I often found that despite the absence of any memory for the past, they would sing songs in tune and word-perfect, presumably indicating that the part of the brain in which Howard Jacobson’s “earthworm” had burrowed had remained intact. So the ohrwurm is not all bad news.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

The case for taxing mansions

Nick Eastwell writes that the “mansion tax” is unjust because some people may never have had enough income to pay, and that they will only be subject to the tax because their house is an asset that bears no resemblance to the original purchase price (letter, 12 March).

In other words they have a substantial potential, but not realised, capital gain. In principle this is analogous to a family who have a child at university and thus have a spare bedroom. The Government expects them to downsize if they have insufficient income to pay council tax. Why should the same not apply to those who live in mansions?

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex

That dog is a German spy

Spy dogs (Natalie Haynes, Another Voice, 14 March) were apparently taken seriously during the Second World War, when my aunt and uncle and their young son left London to live in Hythe in Kent.

My cousin had always wanted a dog, and became very attached to one belonging to neighbours, which regularly followed him to school. As a newcomer, wanting to impress the other children, he invented a tale about the dog being a German spy, parachuted on to the beach.

My aunt knew nothing of this until two very intimidating policeman arrived at the door, wanting to know where the dog had come from.

Laura F Spira, Oxford

Talking the talk with Tony Benn

I totally get that Tony Benn talked a lot of good left-wing stuff. But can someone please tell me, what did he actually do about it?

Prue Bray, Winnersh,  Berkshire






Many parents want their children’s school to espouse the values that they learn at home

Sir, Further to Philip Collins on faith schools (Opinion, Mar 14), my wife and I thought hard before sending our daughters to a Jewish primary school.

Amid the moral decline in our increasingly secular society, we felt that the values that underpin our lives would not be emphasised in a non-denominational school. The values of the home and the school should not contradict each other.

We are not Charedi Jews like those of Stamford Hill that Philip Collins lived alongside. My children had access to television and points of view that were different to ours. They knew by watching soap operas that there were values being expressed that we opposed. They were able to make their life choices in the knowledge of what was available outside the home and the school. However, the school supplemented the values of the home and meant that they had a solid core of beliefs and practice to use as their yardstick as they entered a multicultural adult life.

Jeremy Michelson


Sir, Philip Collins seeks to undermine the sincerely held beliefs of faith communities, focusing much of his attention on my own community and the school of which I am chairman of governors.

He casts us as discriminating against poor families when in fact many of our students come from underprivileged backgrounds.

He misrepresents the value of faith schools. We have never suggested that faith is a “determining factor” for a good school but we do believe that it is right for us.

The State respects our right as a community to make that decision for ourselves and although Mr Collins pours scorn on our arrangement with an examining body which allows us to redact certain questions in accordance with our values, it is precisely that set of values that make us a school that has never had a problem with drugs, crime, underage pregnancies and countless other issues that blight many mainstream schools.

We would never seek to impose our values of Mr Collins; we only ask that he extend us the same courtesy.

Theo Bibelman

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School


Sir, Philip Collins fails to distinguish between faith schools and church schools. The former do indeed select pupils on the basis of Christian (let us say) observance, but the latter do not. They accept all comers from their local area, irrespective of faith, or lack of it. They are best seen as the Church’s gift to the community. Yet these schools are often highly successful and popular with parents. Mr Collins should ask himself why this is. The answer lies in the ethos of such schools, which frequently combines the drive for the highest academic standards with outstanding pastoral care. This is based on the Christian values of mutual respect and support, showing compassion towards the needy, cherishing and enriching each individual and demonstrating forgiveness and trust when difficulties occur in relationships.

Mr Collins is, of course, correct to emphasise the importance of the quality of teaching, but it is only when the ethos is right that both teachers and pupils can achieve to the maximum of their potential.

Roy Ludlow

Winsley, Somerset


Western doubters about the referendum in Crimea forget that many of its people regard themselves as Russians

Sir, In the 1990s I made frequent calls at the port of Kerch, in eastern Crimea, as master of a merchant ship.

Shipmasters have contact with a number of locals — shipping agents, customs and immigration officials, pilots, dockworkers and the military guarding the port installations. All were ethnic Russians, who formed the large majority in Crimea. None had a good word to say about Crimea’s inclusion in the Ukrainian Republic and all desired reunification with Russia.

Peter Adams

Lambley, Notts

Sir, Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. Russia has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

Will Podmore

London E12

Sir, Mr Putin will succeed in annexing the Crimea but he will be defying international law, and this challenge must be met with an equal determination to support defenceless Ukraine with political and economic sanctions. Ordinary citizens can play a part. Professional people of every kind, athletes, and ordinary tourists should cancel any forthcoming visits to Russia. In response to aggressive state-controlled Russian media foreign journalists should take every opportunity to remind Russia that while it may have a long established interest in Crimea, this does not nullify either the legal rights of Ukraine or the moral rights of the Crimean Tartars. The very name Crimea (Turkish in origin) tells us who has the better claim to this much fought over peninsula. The poor Crimean Tartars were, along with Ukrainians, victims of Stalin’s genocidal policies. Only when Russia officially abandons its deplorable admiration for Stalin and his equally evil predecessor Lenin, will there be any hope for true democracy in Russia.

John Kenrick

Newcastle upon Tyne


Women who find it too expensive go back into skilled employment after having children are a loss to the economy

Sir, John McTernan (Thunderer, Mar 15) says childcare is expensive for a few years but then gets relatively cheaper. He fails to appreciate that in those early few years women leave the labour market because it’s too expensive to go back to work.

According to the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, two in three mothers say the high cost of childcare is a barrier to work. And as a result, maternal employment rates are poor compared with our economic competitors. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) analysis shows maternal employment rates for mothers, with their youngest child aged between 3 and 5, lower than the OECD average (58 per cent, compared to 64 per cent); and the gender pay gap is growing for the first time in 15 years.

Not only is this a waste of talent and, in many cases, trained and skilled workers, it’s holding the economy back. So it’s not “hope” that makes Labour determined to tackle this Government’s childcare crunch of rising prices, falling places and cuts to support but necessity. Indeed early work from the IPPR shows that even modest increases in supply-side childcare support would raise £1.5bn in tax receipts and reduced benefits alone. Labour’s plans to extend free childcare for working parents with 3 and 4-year-olds is a fully costed proposal that will help make work pay and break down barriers to the labour market for women.

Lucy Powell, MP

Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children


Children suffering stress from overparenting is a sensitive and serious issue which needs careful handling

Sir, Being a mother of three children and living in the aspirational middle England I was interested in High Investment Parenting (HIP) (Weekend, Mar 15). I like to think that I don’t put my children above my marriage and that I achieve a healthy balance in my family life. I don’t need to get my children into any top schools or run them to clubs as a full time hobby. I enjoyed the article very much until I came to do the quiz. I understand that it was tongue in cheek, but I was not able to answer any of the questions. I was neither (a) a HIP parent, (b) a workaholic, (c) or a Peter Pan character.

Children suffering from stress due to over-parenting is a sensitive and serious issue and should be dealt with as such. It is possible to be lighthearted while being meaningful. I would have liked this quiz to be meaningful.

Abigail Macfarlane

Stratford upon Avon


Women who find it too expensive go back into skilled employment after having children are a loss to the economy

Sir, John McTernan (Thunderer, Mar 15) says childcare is expensive for a few years but then gets relatively cheaper. He fails to appreciate that in those early few years women leave the labour market because it’s too expensive to go back to work.

According to the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, two in three mothers say the high cost of childcare is a barrier to work. And as a result, maternal employment rates are poor compared with our economic competitors. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) analysis shows maternal employment rates for mothers, with their youngest child aged between 3 and 5, lower than the OECD average (58 per cent, compared to 64 per cent); and the gender pay gap is growing for the first time in 15 years.

Not only is this a waste of talent and, in many cases, trained and skilled workers, it’s holding the economy back. So it’s not “hope” that makes Labour determined to tackle this Government’s childcare crunch of rising prices, falling places and cuts to support but necessity. Indeed early work from the IPPR shows that even modest increases in supply-side childcare support would raise £1.5bn in tax receipts and reduced benefits alone. Labour’s plans to extend free childcare for working parents with 3 and 4-year-olds is a fully costed proposal that will help make work pay and break down barriers to the labour market for women.

Lucy Powell, MP

Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children


UK fuel duty is among the highest in the EU — a cut in the Budget would be a shot in the arm for the economy

Sir, British drivers pay the EU’s highest duty for diesel and the second highest for petrol. This is disadvantaging millions of families and businesses, reducing consumer spending power, strangling the UK haulage industry and leading to higher prices all round. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has estimated that a 3p cut in duty would create 70,000 jobs and increase GDP by 0.2 per cent.

We believe that a 3p per litre duty cut for all vehicle fuels in the Budget would be prudent fiscal planning and an essential pillar of the Government’s strategy for economic regeneration based on increased consumer spending.

Quentin Willson

Howard Cox

FairFuelUK Campaign





SIR – Those of us directly affected, as I was as the father of Flora, murdered at Lockerbie by the terrorist destruction of Pan Am 103 in December 1988, will never forget the short interval during which we were unable to confirm whether our families were known to have died.

Then came September 11 2001, where one of the planes was hijacked only to crash, near Pittsburgh, as a result of brave attempted intervention by the passengers.

The augmented anguish of the families of passengers on flight MH370, caused by the week-long absence of certainty over whether this was structural failure, sabotage or a hijack, must be terminated by discovery of the plane’s fate.

This time the relatives do not even know whether their loved ones are dead or possibly alive in central Asia or even an Indian Ocean island.

We would beg that all the satellites and drones, all the radars, and all the intelligence services of the world, never mind whether Chinese, American or Malaysian, be deployed to their utmost to give certainty to the relatives.

Anything less is to connive in torture of the most hideous kind.

Dr Jim Swire
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

Statins and muscle pain

SIR – I can add myself to the acquaintances of Robert Hurran (Letters, March 15) who experienced agonising muscular pains after being prescribed statins.

I didn’t, initially, realise the cause until, fortunately, I read an article in the Telegraph describing the possible side effects. I spoke to my doctor, who tried me on a different brand, but the problem did not go away.

I decided to cease taking them, of my own volition, and relief was almost immediate, with complete recovery in about seven days. I have since spoken to a number of others who have suffered without knowing the cause.

The medical profession seems loath to warn patients unless questioned directly.

Charles Dobson
Burton in Kendal, Westmorland

SIR – Last year, your columnist Dr James Le Fanu highlighted the issue.

With the support of my GP, who said that one in 200 people is prone to adverse side effects, I stopped taking statins.

Three months later all the muscular symptoms had gone. I reverted to a halved dose and they have half returned.

Who do we believe, and why?

Neil Blake

Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Grains down the drain

SIR – I open all paper bags of sugar (Letters, March 14) by holding them over the sink – less mess. There must be a better way of packaging sugar.

Jeanette Green
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

SIR – You stand your Tate & Lyle packet inside a Tupperware box. Then and only then do you cut open the packet and pour the sugar into the container. You won’t lose a grain. The same goes for Weetabix.

Rosmarie Hall
Canterbury, Kent

SIR – Captains of industry are well rewarded enough to be able to pay others to open their packets of sugar and breakfast cereals. If they themselves had to open the packets and contend with the spillage, the problems would soon be fixed. I feel this is a strong argument in favour of pay restraint at the top.

Ian Macpherson
Guildford, Surrey



SIR – During the war, when I was a baby, my mother heard that a local shop had a delivery of bananas (Letters, March 14).

I was pushed there in my pram and parked outside the shop while my mother made her purchase. So delighted was she that it was not until she arrived home that she realised she had the bananas but not the baby.

Hilary Phillips
London W5

SIR – I remember being bitterly disappointed when bananas finally became available because they were not juicy. I’d had the occasional oranges, which were available on children’s ration books during the latter part of the war.

Bananas are still not my favourite fruit. It amazes me, though, that they remain so cheap compared with other fruits.

Jill Forrest
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – The sham referendum in Crimea gives Russia a pretext for annexation. For President Vladimir Putin, demographic change there (with growing Tatar and Ukrainian populations, combined with a younger generation less in sympathy with Russian domination) means that events in Kiev have given him a one-off opportunity, which he intends to take.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, needs to show his teeth. Britain clearly does not have the appetite to confront Russia militarily, although a limited deployment in Ukraine would still stop Mr Putin in his tracks.

As it is, Mr Putin will continue to roll the dice. That gambling is of grave concern, not just to the rest of Ukraine, but also to our Nato allies in eastern Europe. It will be deeply destabilising.

Unless Mr Cameron does show his teeth, the comparison with Chamberlain will become irresistible.

Martin Potter

SIR – On the legality of yesterday’s referendum in international law, it should be recalled that, in 2010, the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia (February 17 2008) did not violate international law. To date, 110 states have recognised Kosovo.

The 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances, provided to Ukraine by Britain, the United States and Russia, did not guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Instead the powers agreed “to respect” Ukraine’s borders. The difference between guaranteeing and respecting is the same in international law as in ordinary language. A guarantee can be cashed; respect is a matter of degree.

The powers agreed to take the matter to the Security Council if Ukraine faced a nuclear threat; in other circumstances they agreed to consult.

Cornelia Navari
Visiting Professor of International Affairs
University of Buckingham

SIR – Mr Putin says that Crimea is more important to Russia than the Falklands to Britain. That may be so, but in drawing this parallel does he not understand that Russia is taking the part of Argentina?

John Pope
Ivybridge, Devon

SIR – It would be bizarre to start military actions against Russia over Crimea, as the people of Crimea welcome the chance to be Russian again.

Corry Lilley
West Wittering, West Sussex

SIR – At least they’ve had an in/out vote.

Maggie Hughes
Gnosall, Staffordshire

SIR – Does the referendum promoted by Russia in Crimea imply that Russia will now be pleased to support such referendums in its own country?

Ralph Bradley
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Garden city jobs

SIR – George Osborne should observe that housing is needed where there is work. Building a city in the middle of nowhere will succeed in inflating the housing bubble but will not solve the problems of people seeking housing near to their jobs.

Dr Robert J Leeming
Balsall Common, Warwickshire

Ball and cross

SIR – Another footballer who won the VC in the First World War (Letters, March 15) was L/Cpl William Angus. He played for Celtic and Enlisted with the Highland Light Infantry as a territorial. His VC was for rescuing his officer under fire at Givenchy.

Phil Angus
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – Bernard Vann was not the only Church of England clergyman to earn a Victoria Cross. The Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy, chaplain to the Lincolnshire Regiment, won the VC, DSO and MC for a succession of heroic rescues of wounded men under fire, even though he was over 50 years of age when he joined up in 1916.

When George V presented his VC in France, he appointed him one of his chaplains, to save him from further danger. Hardy declined the offer and, three weeks before the armistice, he was killed.

Aidan Tolhurst
London SW14

Badger debating

SIR – Much as I love badgers, I wonder if more important issues might concern Parliament. It wasted much time on fox hunting; they are still being hunted.

Bill Thompson
Frankby, Wirral

Uncommon market

SIR – European Union citizenship is reported to have been bought for £150,000. Where can I sell mine?

A D Gatling
Berwick St James, Wiltshire

Heroic failure

SIR – The Royal Society of Arts (report, March 14) suggests the word fail be excised from educational vocabulary. Would it approve of the report of a friend of mine: “Tries, but useless”?

Mark Solon
London N1

Tony Benn’s no entry sign

SIR – I was brought up to judge a person by what he did rather than what he said. The most conspicuous act of Tony Benn I can remember was to refuse those walking along the Essex coast to pass in front of Stansgate Abbey, his ancestral home. They were told to go round the back, despite their having a legal right to walk along the foreshore.

David Crawford
Llandudno, Conwy

SIR – Evidence of Tony Benn’s economic illiteracy is his remark: “We had full employment when we were killing the Germans. Why can’t we have full employment when we’re building hospitals?” We ended the war bankrupt, and owing vast sums to America.

David Watkins
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I am surprised no one has pointed out that Tony Benn was the only British politician to appear in a Superman story. He was prime minister of a Soviet satellite British state in the story “Red Son”.

The storyline is based on Superman having landed in Soviet era Ukraine rather than Kansas. The result is that he helps a form of Stalinism to take over the whole globe (except the United States).

Alan Crerar
Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – My wife and I once went to see Tony Bennett at the Royal Festival Hall. Tony Benn was appearing next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. One man was wandering round looking bemused, having got into the wrong venue.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey




Irish Times:


Sir, – Any suggestion that our education system has been “dumbed down” should be viewed in the context of the shift in expectations that has occurred over the last few decades (Dumbing-down will ‘screw up’ economy, Morgan Kelly warns”, Home News, March 10th).

While a good education is a desirable asset perhaps it has all gone too far, as now every child is expected to aspire to reach third-level.

Not only that, but our institutes of technology are hoping to achieve university status, putting further emphasis on the fact that a third-level degree is now a basic requirement for most jobs. Several decades ago it was possible and normal to find employment with just a Leaving Certificate qualification. The Civil Service and companies such as Aer Lingus, RTÉ, and most of the banks were happy to accept employees straight from school who received on-the-job training – and several went on to hold senior positions within those organisations. Only a small number of candidates went to university, where entry requirements varied but in some cases amounted solely to an ability to pay the fees. There was no pressure on students or schools to attain high CAO point levels or the status of degrees.

I am not advocating a return to the situation where only the privileged few could attend university, but many current students are attending university not because they want to be there but because it is expected of them. School league tables and the allocation of places based on the popularity of courses, which dictates the points required, have both contributed to an intense pressure on children to perform.

Students of average ability, the majority in any society, often struggle to reach their target point level while their parents struggle to get additional tuition for them in an attempt to secure their child’s future. It is this madness, rather than a “dumbing down” of exams, that has led to students achieving higher grades in exams. The emergence of a market in grind schools is proof of this.

Children have to wait for their CAO offer to discover what place they have been allocated, and rather than studying something they have an interest in, they often get allocated something they are unsuited to. It is perceived that any degree is better than no degree, and those who leave the education system with just a Leaving Certificate find it difficult to get anything other than low-paid work.

A third-level qualification has become a basic necessity, but worse than that, more and more graduates find themselves having to embark on further studies such as masters degrees and doctorates to stand out from the crowd and get employment in their field. It is therefore inevitable that our universities have many students of average ability registered, but it is not the answer to make exams more difficult and fail them. They have been led to believe that society will judge them based on their academic achievements, and the annual media interest in school results and points levels bears this out.

An alternative would be to reduce the emphasis on school league tables and points by offering a suitable alternative to university degrees for more students. Further investment in post-Leaving Cert courses, where a broader range of courses could be offered in State-run colleges that would confer a qualification acceptable to relevant employers, is an option. The institutes of technology could be used for this purpose rather than upgrading them to university status, and potential employers could be involved in designing modules that would give students required skills. The current range of courses offered in universities could then be modified to avoid competition.

It is time to change the perception that every child has to get a degree and that every college has to be a university to be valued. Then, and only then, can we consider making third-level exams harder. – Yours, etc,


Stonepark Abbey,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Morgan Kelly warns that “despite the IT revolution”, administration has grown at an alarming rate in the university sector. Surely it is partly because of the IT revolution that this expansion has occurred? All that management software has to be used to justify the expense of both itself and management.

With this IT revolution has come the advancement of the institutes of technology. Paul Hannigan, the chairman of Institutes of Technology Ireland, wants more profiling of the customer, calling for more data to be be collected in the “handshake” between second and third level (“Why colleges need to know their students better, Education, March 11th). This, he asserts, is to help the institutes to “contextualise” academic results, “ease the transition” of students, gain a more “holistic view” of them in order to “enhance services” – all of this designed to better retain the students, to maintain those bums on seats.

This edu-business babble is embarrassing. What next – loyalty cards to gain academic credits?

With the institutes represented as having such an academic wish-list by their spokesman, Prof Kelly must view the institutes of technology on the march to university status “as further evidence that Irish universities are beyond repair”. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Communication,

Cork Institute

of Technology.


Sir, – Jim Lawless (March 10th) drew attention to deficiencies he perceives in our national approach to the medical catastrophe of subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH). Because interventional radiological and neurosurgical services cannot be provided at local hospital levels, it is incumbent upon providers to ensure timely access to these services at specialist centres.

Appropriate urgent care will predictably improve survival and reduce disability in this clinical scenario.

We, the Council of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland (ICSI), wish to commend Mr Lawless on his motivation to address this matter and indeed on how constructively he has directed his grief following his wife’s tragic death toward better outcomes for others.

Definitive resolution of the problems relating to SAH will require a coordinated and multidisciplinary approach. However, we would emphasise that neurosurgical emergencies are among many acute medical and surgical scenarios which require immediate intensive-care admission. In such circumstances, rapid access to intensive care and its ancillary services is crucial.

The report Toward Excellence in Critical Care , by management consultants Prospectus, commissioned by the HSE in 2008, outlined Ireland’s need for intensive-care unit resources. The standards at the time of publication fell far short of those required.

While some of its broad-reaching findings and recommendations are being addressed, the overarching requirement was for a doubling of intensive-care unit bed capacity by 2020.

Halfway through this timeframe, bed capacity has actually been actively reduced.

We in the ICSI feel obliged to highlight the necessity for an expansion of critical care capacity.

For any patient faced with an acute life-threatening illness, delay in accessing intensive care units demonstrably reduces the prospect of survival.

As regards subarachnoid haemorrhage, whilst more research on outcomes is welcome and essential, the immediate emphasis should be on ensuring timely access to adequate critical care resources for all patients who need them. The case for this can be predicated on existing data. – Yours, etc,






Consultants in

Intensive Care Medicine,

Cork University Hospital;


Consultant in Intensive Care


Beaumont Hospital;



Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

Mid-Western Regional

Hospital, Limerick;


Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, James

Connolly Hospital, Dublin;


Specialist Registrar in

Intensive Care Medicine,

The Mater Misericordiae

University Hospital, Dublin;



Consultants in

Intensive Care Medicine,

Tallaght Hospital;


Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

Waterford Regional



Consultant in Intensive Care

Medicine, The Mater,



Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

University College

Hospital, Galway.



Specialist Registrar in

Intensive Care Medicine,

The Mater, Dublin;


Consultant Anaesthetist,

St James’s Hospital, Dublin;


Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, The Mater,



Consultant in Intensive Care

Medicine, St. Vincent’s

University Hospital;


Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, University

College Hospital, Galway ;


WESTBROOK, Consultant

in Intensive Care Medicine,

St Vincent’s University


The Intensive Care

Medicine Society of Ireland,

22 Merrion Square North,

Dublin 2.



Sir, – There are real educational issues, and there are spurious educational issues. Talk to any primary school teacher who was around in the Celtic Tiger years and you will be told that the extra resources that were made available to schools, during that period, made a huge difference to children with learning difficulties. By the same token, withdrawal of these supports, and increased class sizes, the result of deliberate educational cutbacks by the present Government, will result in more children leaving school unable to read, write or do simple arithmetic. That is a real educational issue.

It is not the issue that is being debated in the media, however. I think that the Government is well aware of this media bias, and cynically uses it to distract attention from the awfulness of some of its educational policies.

Ruairí Quinn (routinely portrayed in the media as a “reforming” Minister for Education) had hardly settled into his job when he announced that he envisioned 50 per cent of schools being removed from Catholic control.

He received a lot of positive media coverage for this. He commissioned a survey of parents – not a random sample, but conducted in areas where demand for non-Catholic schooling was expected to be highest – and discovered that actual demand, for non-denominational schools in these areas, ranged from less than 1 per cent of parents up to a maximum of 8 per cent.

That is, a small number of non-Catholic schools are viable, and will be provided by the State. No one, and certainly not the Catholic Church, has a problem with this. I am sorry that some citizens, in areas where demand for non-denominational education is low, cannot be accommodated, but it seems a bit extreme to infer from this that we are somehow failing as a republic. If the demand is there, this State will provide the bulk of the funding for schools that are non-denominational, faith-based or language-based. Is that not how a liberal democracy should work? – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.




Sir, – It ends where it began for Brian O’Driscoll. Whatever else happens in his life from now on, he’ll always have Paris. – Yours, etc,


Knapton Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Now that Brian O’Driscoll’s international career is over, can I have my name back please? – Yours, etc,




Co Wexford.

Sir, – In response to John O’Byrne (March 15th), Brian Boru was not a Clontarf man, he was from Thomond. No, I don’t think he ever played in Thomond Park! – Yours, etc,





A chara, – What deserving champions and wonderful role models for our young people. Forgive me for also hoping that the win will mean the fulfilment of Gordon D’Arcy’s promise to shave his beard. There is a thin line between attractive stubble and wearing a furry creature on your face and the trend amongst Irish men at the moment is to most definitely cross that line! – Is mise,


Well Road,



Sir, – It appears Fingal’s mayor is determined to block a plebiscite on the alternative of a new directly elected Dublin-wide mayor (“Fingal council set to block referendum on directly elected mayor for Dublin”, Politics, March 14th).

I suppose the mayor deserves credit for at least openly saying he is opposed to giving voters a choice. On the other three Dublin councils many councillors that are opposed to reforming Dublin local government aim to defeat the measure by not turning up for the vote, defeating it on a technicality, while not having to explicitly insult the voters in an election year by voting against it.

I would suggest that on May 23rd, Dublin voters withhold their vote from any councillor who, by either voting no or absenting themselves, denies citizens their say on reform. – Yours, etc,


Schoolhouse Lane,

Dublin 2.


Sir, – I have just signed a medical card renewal form for one of my adult patients. He has had significant physical disability and medical problems from birth. He will never be above the income threshold for a medical card. Why do his parents have to go through the stress of submitting the same information again and again to ensure that he doesn’t lose his medical card? Unless he wins the Lotto, he needs a medical card for life. Is there no-one in the Primary Care Reimbursement Service and the HSE with the common sense to see that? – Yours, etc,


Loughboy Medical Centre,




Sir, – The writer and artist Christy Brown was one of the most extraordinary Dubliners of the 20th century. Tomorrow his personal archive will be sold at the London auction house Bonhams.

The archive, which includes many previously unseen manuscripts, letters, pictures and poems, is expected to fetch up to €50,000.

At the moment that sum is beyond the reach of most Irish museums. If the archive leaves these shores an important part of our cultural heritage will be lost, probably forever.

Is there someone who would like to ensure that Christy Brown is remembered for generations to come here in Dublin, his hometown? I hope so. – Yours, etc,


The Little Museum

of Dublin,

St Stephen’s Green,

Dublin 2.



Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“The Irish film industry needs belief, strategy, and . . . action”, Weekend, March 15th) writes: “It is not accidental that a country such as Denmark, which has both its own language and its own economy, has the confidence to also develop its own TV and cinema culture.”

A memorable observation but left hanging, I thought, as an obvious mention of TG4 in this context never materialised. – Yours, etc,


Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – The possible ending of the one and two cent coins (“Coppers face axe: are one and two cent coins on the way out?”, Home News, March 15th) prompts the question of what coins do we need for everyday use. A logical step would be to introduce a five-euro coin to replace the five-euro note. A coin can last up to 100 years in circulation (Victorian pennies were still in use in Ireland up to 1971), whereas the less cost-effective €5note lasts less than a year.

The Central Bank has the power to introduce such a coin for use in Ireland, it just would not be legal tender elsewhere in the euro zone. It could also be a decent size – in line with the half-crown or £1 coin.

I suggest 2016 would be the ideal time to launch the first €5 coin for circulation and this could also double as a commemorative coin in honour of the 1916 uprising. Worth considering? – Yours, etc,


Rock Lodge,

Killiney, Co Dublin.






Irish Independent:

* Minister Phil Hogan referred to the BBC interview with Tom McFeely “as an outrageous waste of free speech” (Irish Independent, March 1). This was not so much a waste of free speech but an abuse of it.

Also in this section

Letters: Keeping a little light alive

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

Taxing issues for offshore oil firms

The right to freedom of expression is invoked regularly without a clear sense of what is involved. Freedom of expression does not stand on its own feet; it is an offshoot of the general notion of freedom.

To say we are all free is not a description of our current state but a prescription about how we ought to be treated.

The principle of freedom runs as follows: we are free to do what we like unless there are relevant reasons for interfering in that freedom. The presumption is in favour of non-interference.

The question of free expression is about the grounds on which we can be prevented from saying or writing what we wish to write.

The right to freedom of expression is not absolute and can only be exercised in the context of rational constraints, not arbitrary ones.

Freedom of expression cannot be elevated above a whole range of other freedoms. Additionally, it has to be set against the principle of equality.

Freedom of expression can only exist where there is equality of access to the means of expression. Mr McFeely has a right to make his case but only if his victims have equivalence of opportunity to make theirs.

For years, the Murdoch press has provided an inordinately influential platform for the voice for one man, excluding the millions of voices of those who think differently.

We have witnessed the regular sickening spectacle of politicians in Britain coming on bended knee to seek Mr Murdoch’s support at election time.

Freedom of expression will always remain an ideal towards which we aspire. It is destined to be continually used and abused.

However, it is the one freedom that defines a democracy.




* I have just watched Imelda May’s first show on RTE (March 16). Wow, what a warm, lovely, talented lady she is, and the generosity she showed to her guests is really what makes this lady so special.

I remember seeing her, heavily pregnant, on the 50th anniversary of the ‘Late Late Show’, and her chat and musical performance that night were the highlight of the show.

This lady is, as she said herself, passionate about continuing her new show and promoting all the wonderful musical talent in the country, new and old. So I would very strongly advise RTE, on behalf of the viewing public, not to let this very special lady down.




* I have to say I’m somewhat astonished by the reaction of the EU and US to the referendum in Crimea. While I’m sure that the Russian government is far from blameless, the belligerent tone from western governments does nothing but exacerbate the situation and increase the risk of conflict.

Throughout this whole crisis, most of the western media coverage has – perhaps unsurprisingly – presented a somewhat one-sided version of events. Yet despite this, it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of those living in Crimea would prefer closer association with Russia, and voted as such.

The US and EU, however, have decided that the will of the people is irrelevant and that they will simply refuse to recognise the result.

The pretence on which they base this position is that the referendum supposedly violates the Ukrainian constitution. In reality, however, the prospect of Crimea returning to Russia would be incompatible with the political ambitions of Brussels and Washington.

Both the US and the EU were happy to support the violent, destructive and lethal protests in Kiev, in order to precipitate a regime change, so for them to reject the overwhelming will of the people in Crimea is the absolute height of hypocrisy.

Now that they have their more ‘amenable’ government installed in Kiev, it appears that they have no intention of allowing their influence to be threatened by something as heinous as a referendum.




* It used to be that when the last refrain of ‘Amhran na bhFiann’ was blasted out by the fans, either in Lansdowne Road or Croke Park, I always believed they were finishing with “. . . Shovin’ Connie around the field”. (As a child I thought it referred to Bishop Con Lucey of Cork, who was seen at every important GAA match).

I didn’t know the words to the national anthem back then, and I still don’t – but sure what harm?

Things get into our heads and stay there, or they don’t get in at all, but we are no less a patriot because of it.

While I might not be well versed in this song, the air to the anthem is never far from my consciousness, and over the past three years another set of words have crept into my brain, but in another context.

You see, when I am challenged to remember a date or a time in a conversation or filling out a form, I have to sometimes force myself not to sing out or write: “Was it the day Michael Collins was shot?” – by way of an uncertain question or answer.

I’ve put this down to a visit I made to Clonakilty once and saw the statue there of Mr Collins, and my first thought was that he appeared angry, and had his hand out as if to say: “There ye all are, and I’ll bet not one of you remember the date I was shot!”

While the purists can scoff and ridicule my perceived scant attention to a set of words that denotes their own rabid nationalism, as they might see it, there is not a man in this country who has not paid more on-going attention to this anthem than my good self. I deserve a medal for the sweaty strain it becomes not to succumb.




* Although an admirer of the late Margaret Thatcher, I found the late Tony Benn to be a supremely admirable figure, too.

Mr Benn, like me, espoused a united Ireland, and an abolition to the British House of Lords and monarchy. Compared to the UK, the Republic of Ireland has an enviable democracy. I sincerely hope to see, in my lifetime, a united, peaceful Ireland, and an independent republic of England.




* I was seriously behind and patients were kept waiting. Nearly everyone I saw seemed to have a complex health issue. The only time I caught up was when I saw a child. I actually thought to myself, ‘my job would be so much easier if I saw more children and fewer sick and elderly adults’.

I was stressed as I rushed out to do a house call to an elderly man. He had a bad chest infection. He was incredibly apologetic for having called me out. He said, ‘I hate calling you, you are so busy’. I left his prescription into the pharmacy on my way back and my secretary took it out to him as he had no one to collect it.

He is what we GPs call a ‘heartlift’ patient. He reminds me why I went into general practice. He is one of the many reasons why we need more resourcing of general practice, primary care and community services. He has no political clout. I am his voice.



Irish Independent



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