19 March 2014 Sharland

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.Leslie is determined to resign from the Service and Captain Povey can’t believe his luckPriceless

Cold slightly saw Sharland,

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets Over400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.



Madeline Gins, who has died aged 72, was a poet and painter who, with her creative partner and husband Arakawa, a Japanese-born conceptual artist, set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture, designing structures which – they claimed -would “counteract the usual human destiny of having to die”.

Their work, based loosely on a movement known as “transhumanism,” was premised on the idea that people degenerate and die because they live in surroundings that are too comfortable. The Arakawa-Gins solution was to create homes that leave the occupants feeling disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious. “People, particularly old people, shouldn’t relax and sit back to help them decline,” Arakawa explained. “They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses.” In normal homes, with level floors and modern conveniences, he claimed, “our bodies forget how to operate, we become weaker faster and we live shorter lives.”

Their philosophy, which they branded Reversible Destiny, resulted in designs for buildings where floors undulate like sand dunes; where kitchens are positioned at the bottom of steep slopes; where windows are too high, or too low, to look out of; where doors are missing, allowing no privacy; where electric sockets and switches are located in unexpected places on the walls, and where the whole is painted in dozens of clashing colours.

The Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, Tokyo (GETTY IMAGES)

Their ideas remained largely theoretical until 2005 when they unveiled a small apartment complex in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, known as the Reversible Destiny Lofts. Painted in lurid blues, pinks, reds and yellows, each apartment features a dining room with a warped floor, making it impossible to install furniture, a sunken kitchen and a study with a concave floor. “You constantly lose balance and gather yourself up, grab onto a column and occasionally trip and fall,” observed one visitor. “Even worse, there’s no closet space.”

But to Gins and Arakawa such inconveniences were precisely the point. “[It] makes you alert and awakens instincts, so you’ll live better, longer and even forever,” explained Arakawa, pointing to studies with mice that had shown that an “enriched” environment that stimulates the body and mind can stave off the effects of ageing. The estate agents’ blurb for the development touted “the discomforts of home”. Some apartments even found tenants.

A subsequent project, Bioscleave House, on Long Island, New York, was similarly unsettling — so much so that for safety reasons it remained off-limits to children, while adults were asked to sign a disclaimer when they entered. “In addition to the floor, which threatens to send the less-sure-footed hurtling into the sunken kitchen at the centre of the house,” wrote a reviewer, “the design features walls painted in about 40 colours; multiple levels meant to induce the sensation of being in two spaces at once… and an open flow of traffic, unhindered by interior doors or privacy.”

Inside the Bioscleave House in East Hampton

The architects felt obliged to produce a training manual for those having difficulty staying upright, featuring such instructions as: “Try to maintain two (or more) separate tentativenesses, that is, two (or more) distinct areas of indeterminacy.” If that did not work they helpfully installed a series of poles from floor to ceiling which could be grabbed in the event of total disorientation. “It may take five hours,” they enthused, “to get from one side of the room to the other.”

Madeline Gins and her husband had ambitious plans for a “reversible destiny town” and a “reversible destiny lower-middle-income housing complex”, which would “not only provide shelter for its residents but actually intervene with the universe on their behalf”. They themselves, they announced on their website, had “decided not to die,” because death was “old-fashioned”.

But their dreams were scuppered in 2008 when they lost their life savings which they had invested with the fraudster Bernard Madoff, architect of the world’s biggest-ever Ponzi scheme. The disaster forced them to close their Manhattan office and lay off five employees. Arakawa died two years later.

Madeline Gins soldiered on alone for four more years, designing two “reversible destiny healing fun houses” along with a “biotopological scale-juggling escalator” for Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market in New York, before succumbing to cancer.

Madeline Helen Gins was born in New York City on November 7 1941, and read Physics and Eastern Philosophy at Barnard College. She later enrolled at Brooklyn Museum Art School where she met Arakawa, a protégé of Marcel Duchamp and already an established conceptual artist. They later married.

Madeline Gins began her working life as a poet and experimental novelist. Her first work, Word Rain (subtitled A Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G, R, E, T, A, G, A, R, B, O, It Says), was published in 1969.

In 1997 “Reversible Destiny”, the first major exhibition of Madeline Gins’s collaboration with her husband, opened at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. It featured two pieces of work in progress, The Mechanism of Meaning, a vast installation featuring paintings, collages and “words in painting” (including injunctions such as “Keep the viscosity equal to the deliquescence”) and a section devoted to their later architectural designs.

Their architectural fantasies first achieved physical form in 1995 when an “experience park” consisting of a mountainous “exploratorium” of curved and warped surfaces designed to throw people off balance, opened about 100 miles east of Osaka. Visitors were exhorted to be “more body and less person”, but after two people broke their legs in the first two days, hiking boots were recommended and hard hats provided at the entrance.

Madeline Gins and Arakawa wrote several books, including Reversible Destiny, We Have Decided Not To Die (1997) and Making Dying Illegal (2006). Another book, Architectural Body (2002), was translated into Japanese and printed as both a book and a roll of lavatory paper. Shortly before her death Madeline Gins completed Alive Forever Not If But When, a book which she had begun with her husband.

Madeline Gins, born November 7 1941, died January 8 2014







Tony Benn famously said there are five questions to ask the powerful (Letters, 17 March). 1) What power do you have? 2) Where did you get it? 3) In whose interests do you exercise it? 4) To whom are you accountable? 5) How can we get rid of you? In view of Charles Windsor’s reluctance to comply with the Freedom of Information Act over his letters to ministers (Editorial, 13 March), perhaps these questions could be put to him.
Barbara Williams
Wantage, Oxfordshire

• Whoever wrote your editorial on supermarkets (14 March) has obviously never visited Aldi or Lidl. Both sell salmon en croute and sea bass fillets with fennel butter, as well as partridge, pheasant, quails, venison, goats’ cheese and other delicacies. All of excellent quality and very reasonably priced.
Jill Adams

• Re the new weather page (Letters, 15 March): I have been wondering why the east of England has been left out in the cold. All eight cities across the top of the page ignore the existence of the half of the country which lies to the east of the Pennines and often experiences weather very different from those featured. How about Leeds, York or even Newcastle as a representative of our area?
Gill Jewell

• My understanding was that the Duke of Edinburgh (Letters, 18 March) was known in Scotland as “Auld Greekie”.
Joe Cummings
St Mèdard de Mussidan, France

• In the Czech mountains north of Prague there is an area called Hell (Letters, 15 March), above which there is a restaurant called Heaven (and it is too).
Helen Keating
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries

• We don’t really need experts to tell us the universe could be expanding again (Waves from the big bang, 18 March). I’ve noticed that, compared to 80 years ago, it takes me longer to reach the floor.
AH Lee
Llanwrda, Camarthenshire

• I’m 31. Generation Y G2 made me feel really old (Letters, 18 March).
Julia Harris
Hastings, East Sussex


Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said Richard Feynman in the 1960s. But times change. Before about 1970, academics had access to modest funding they could use freely. Industry was similarly enlightened. Their results included the transistor, the maser-laser, the electronics and telecommunications revolutions, nuclear power, biotechnology and medical diagnostics galore that enriched the lives of virtually everyone; they also boosted 20th-century economic growth.

After 1970, politicians substantially expanded academic sectors. Peer review’s uses allowed the rise of priorities, impact etc, and is now virtually unavoidable. Applicants’ proposals must convince their peers that they serve national policies and are the best possible uses of resources. Success rates are about 25%, and strict rules govern resubmissions. Rejected proposals are usually lost. Industry too has lost its taste for the unpredictable. The 500 major discoveries, almost all initiated before about 1970, challenged mainstream science and would probably be vetoed today. Nowadays, fields where understanding is poor are usually neglected because researchers must convince experts that working in them will be beneficial.

However, small changes would keep science healthy. Some are outlined in Donald Braben’s book, Promoting the Planck Club: How Defiant Youth, Irreverent Researchers and Liberated Universities Can Foster Prosperity Indefinitely. But policies are deeply ingrained. Agencies claiming to support blue-skies research use peer review, of course, discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century. We must relearn how to support them, and provide new options for an unforeseeable future, both social and economic. We need influential allies. Perhaps Guardian readers could help?
Donald W Braben University College London
John F Allen Queen Mary, University of London
William Amos University of Cambridge
Richard Ball University of Edinburgh
Tim Birkhead FRS University of Sheffield
Peter Cameron Queen Mary, University of London
Richard Cogdell FRS University of Glasgow
David Colquhoun FRS University College London
Rod Dowler Industry Forum, London
Irene Engle United States Naval Academy, Annapolis
Felipe Fernández-Armesto University of Notre Dame
Desmond Fitzgerald Materia Medica
Pat Heslop-Harrison University of Leicester
Dudley Herschbach Harvard University, Nobel Laureate
H Jeff Kimble Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences
Sir Harry Kroto FRS Florida State University, Tallahassee, Nobel Laureate
James Ladyman University of Bristol
Nick Lane University College London
Peter Lawrence FRS University of Cambridge
Angus MacIntyre FRS Queen Mary, University of London
John Mattick Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney
Beatrice Pelloni University of Reading
Martyn Poliakoff FRS University of Nottingham
Douglas Randall University of Missouri
David Ray Bio Astral Limited
Sir Richard J Roberts FRS New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate
Ken Seddon Queen’s University of Belfast
Colin Self University of Newcastle
Harry Swinney University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences
Claudio Vita-Finzi FBA Natural History Museum




Owen Jones’s piece on the rightwing bias of the BBC is to be welcomed (Comment, 17 March). I’ve lost count of the number of times flagship programmes like Newsnight, for example, frame debates in ways which reflect this bias. On my local BBC news programme, Look North, the rightwing Taxpayers’ Alliance is frequently introduced as an “economics research group” and its “researchers” seem to be called on more often than any other relevant pressure group in the region. Just recently a presenter described a Labour council’s modest increase in council tax as being “in their blood”, while the very next night going soft on a representative of a Tory council that had done the same thing. But impressions won’t do. What we need is robust data. I know there are university media research groups working in this area, but they are few in number. Perhaps they or readers can suggest the easiest and most practical way individuals can collect facts and figures?
John Quicke

• Owen Jones detects irony in the fact that I am occasionally asked on to the BBC while I continue to argue that it is heavily biased towards the left. He needs a sense of proportion. The corporation’s general sympathy for the moral and cultural left, as acknowledged by (among others) Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and Mark Thompson, is not cancelled out by occasional exceptions, nor by outnumbered appearances on liberal-dominated panels. It is also not much affected by the BBC’s admittedly careful balance in party political matters, especially now that the Tories have joined the cultural and moral revolution.
Peter Hitchens
Mail on Sunday

• I was privileged to work at the corporation during its more halcyon days, when salaries were subdued within a cherished public service ethos, whereby no one expected, nor wanted, incomes equivalent to those in the commercial sector. At that time the myth about its leftwing bias was constantly purveyed by its enemies. I was mystified as to how this originated. My view was that the BBC and most of its employees were conservative, with both a small and a big C.

That has been graphically demonstrated over the past weeks: the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike – the most seismic labour dispute in the country’s history – has come and gone with scarcely a word or comment from the BBC. It was left to ITV to mark the occasion with an informative, incisive documentary. We are overwhelmed with BBC programmes about the first world war, and yet the traumatic 1984 strike appears to have been airbrushed out of history by the corporation.
Jennifer Sheridan

• I was very happy working for the BBC for 28 years, so still fondly regard it as one of the best institutions in Britain. But I agree with Owen Jones that not only its news presentation, but the bias of some programmes, is not up to the standards of the BBC ethos I was trained in. The rot set in with Thatcher’s insertion of John Birt as director general, which crippled the BBC as he didn’t understand the ethos; and, to their eternal shame, New Labour’s bear-baiting has stripped it of its independence of thought, as Owen Jones suggests. As a pro-government mouthpiece it does democracy no favours and I cringe at some of the output.
Janet Whitaker
Former radio drama producer, Burton Bradstock, Dorset


As the custodian of the personal data of thousands of students, Ucas takes its data protection responsibilities extremely seriously. We never sell, or disclose, or give access to, the personal data of our applicants for commercial advertising and marketing purposes (Report, 13 March). Our commercial revenue is generated through email campaigns (sent by us), advertising on our websites, running conferences and conventions, and providing analytical services. Our biggest client group by far is universities and colleges. I am intensely proud that we manage a highly regarded national service without any recourse to the taxpayer. We do this by running an efficient operation and by treading a scrupulously careful line in generating additional revenue via our commercial subsidiary, Ucas Media. We operate wholly within the guidelines of the Data Protection Act and all relevant legislation, and apply our own criteria and restrictions to ensure that any commercial messages are suitable for the intended audience. Applicants can opt out of receiving our services at any time and, if they do, will still receive all the information they need to participate fully in the admissions service.
Mary Curnock Cook
Chief executive, Ucas


The average UK driver now pays more every year in fuel duty and VAT than for their gas and electricity bills – and that’s just the tax, not the fuel. Having the highest duty for diesel and the second highest for petrol in the EU is disadvantaging millions of families and businesses across the UK and reducing consumer spending power. This Treasury cash cow of a tax impacts on the engine room of our economy, the UK haulage industry, with their predominant business cost ultimately affecting the level of all consumer product prices.

We’ve repeatedly asked the Treasury to challenge findings of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that a 3p cut in duty would create 70,000 jobs and increase GDP by 0.2%, but they refuse to rebuff these figures. So far the nascent economic recovery has been bankrolled by consumers rather than industry, and having the highest fuel taxation in Europe will reduce any further flows of disposable income into the UK economy.

Over 60% of consumers do essential food shopping by car, and 50% use cars and vans to commute to work. Restricting both of these activities by high fuel taxation threatens future growth and causes misery to millions. A 3p per litre duty cut for all vehicle fuels in the budget isn’t just prudent fiscal planning but should be an essential pillar of the government’s strategy for economic regeneration. Any financial recovery begins through increased consumer spending. The Treasury must not ignore this essential fiscal truth.
Quentin Willson Motoring journalist and FairFuelUK campaigner, Angus MacNeil MP SNP’s Westminster spokesperson on transport, Geoff Dunning Chief executive, Road Haulage Association, Jason McCartney MP Conservative member of transport select committee, Naomi Long MP Deputy leader, Alliance party of Northern Ireland, Nigel Dodds MP Deputy leader, Democratic Unionist party, Paul Sanders Chairman, Association of Pallet Networks, Pete Williams Head of external affairs, RAC, Rob Flello MP Labour, Rob Shuttleworth Chief executive, UKLPG, Sammy Wilson MP DUP parliamentary spokesman on economic and finance matters, Tessa Munt MP Liberal Democrat, PPS to the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, Theo de Pencier Chief executive, Freight Transport Association, Howard Cox FairFuelUK campaign founder


Your 7 March article that discussed the unrest in Xinjiang province in China posed the question, “What does result in the hate from Xinjiang?” Over 20 years ago, my husband and I made the trip across China by train from west to east – a fascinating and interesting experience that opened a whole new world to us.

In the course of one of our stopovers in Xinjiang province, we were going through a market. We had just started to talk to someone who could speak English when a burly policeman rolled up and demanded, ” Is this man annoying you?” We looked a bit startled and began, “No, of course not. We were just …” By now, the man had been taken out of our reach. No further conversation with these subversive foreigners.

Later, we were able to have a brief chat with a native of these parts from whom we began to appreciate that the Uighurs were far from happy. Apparently even then, Han Chinese were being transported to Xinjiang by the thousand by the Chinese government, the aim being to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland.

It seems that their aim has been achieved and that the Uighurs have thus been usurped in the management of their own affairs. Nothing in China happens by accident and the treatment of the Uighurs is no different from many other injustices that reign throughout that land.

It should be no puzzle to the man who asked what brought about the hatred in Xinjiang. It is pure and simple: that the natives of those parts, the Uighurs, have been swamped by the official influx of Han Chinese from the east. No wonder there is hatred. It is, indeed, surprising that it has taken so long for the hatred to manifest itself.

We reap the reward of what we sow, whoever we are, wherever we are and whenever it takes place.
Helen Heron
Hong Kong

The crisis in Crimea

The apparent ambition of the Kremlin towards Crimea is remarkably similar to the strategy and rationalisation used by Germany in the 1930s (West scrambles to contain fallout of weekend uprising, 28 February).

In 1936 German troops occupied the Rhineland. On 10 April 1938 Austria ceased to exist and became part of Germany. On 30 September 1938 the Sudetenland was taken from the Czech Republic and annexed by Germany. These takeovers were accomplished without resorting to warfare; however, threats of invasion were formidable. The rationale used by Germany at the time was their concern for the welfare and wellbeing of the pro-German population of these areas.

On 14 June 1940 the Soviets presented an ultimatum to Lithuania demanding the arrest of certain key officials and the acceptance of Red Army troops to occupy their country. Lithuania accepted this ultimatum. During the next few days the same terms were agreed to by Estonia and Latvia.

On 26 June 1940 Russia demanded that Romania allow Bessarabia and Bukovina be annexed to Russia. German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, in a panic, implored Romania to yield, which it did on 27 June.

Germany was alarmed they might lose their oil supply should Russia occupy the whole of Romania. Germany’s source of oil is now Russia. Deja vu, all over again?
Ed Lien
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

• While Terry Hewton (Reply, 14 March) is right about the past importance of Russia’s Black Sea ports, I believe they will be less so in future.

A couple of years ago I read in these very pages about the increasing volume of shipping using the old Northwest Passage. The arctic ports of Russia should be much more useful in the near future than in the past; maybe more useful than Black Sea ports for extra-Mediterranean trade.

However, I doubt that this increased naval facility will mitigate the angst felt by Russia (the only state with Arctic and Black Sea ports that I’m aware of) over Crimea. As my Greek relatives proverbially advise: only ever acquire property, never relinquish it.
S W Davey
Torrens, ACT, Australia

The joys of solitude

I wholeheartedly agree with the points John Bohnert’s letter (28 February) makes about the joys of solitude, and I would add the joys of writing, music and sculpting. This kind of life can be very satisfying indeed as I know.

The difficulty comes with health problems that can make one unable to cope with some basic physical aspects. Unstable equilibrium, inability to lift or sense things, failing eyesight, hearing, the need for an operation and becoming bedridden – any of these and others would take away one’s independence to a greater or lesser extent.

So far – I am in my 80s – I have been very lucky. I do need some help but am largely able to carry on with my way of life. It is a question of compromise, as far and as long as possible, I suppose.
Marlene Binggeli
Perchtoldsdorf, Austria

Ethical expediency

In your editorial Keeping promises (7 March), you say that Irish parties ought to have the “maturity” to accept that hundreds of IRA murderers should escape prosecution in order to respect “an agreement that has delivered nearly 15 years of peace”. From the perspective of the Basque country where ETA has been forced to stop all activities and a final dissolution is expected, that ethical expediency looks appalling.

Our situation is certainly different, as ETA has been brought to its end by the rule of law. But several self-appointed international “mediators”, some of them British, seem to be trying to prescribe for us an Irish-style closing model so as not to miss “a unique opportunity for peace”, apparently unaware that peace has already been irreversibly achieved.

Some Basque nationalist parties contend that such a solution would help heal the wounds in our society but they are always suspect as historically they have systematically opposed all initiatives that have led to the present situation. I do hope we won’t end up paying your unpalatable price.
Anton Digon
Vitoria, Spain

Problem of empty homes

I read on your 28 February front page that there are 700,000 empty houses in the UK. Later in the same issue I read that there were 122,500 new houses started in England in 2013, less than half of the estimated 250,000 new homes a year needed to meet the demand for housing in England.

I’m at a loss to understand what the housing need or homelessness situation is in England, and I can only surmise that there might be an extremely high number of empty houses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Peter Johnston
Lasqueti Island, British Columbia, Canada

Kipling’s love of the train

Jonathan Yardley’s heartfelt review of Tom Zoellner’s book Trains (7 March) recalls Rudyard Kipling’s detailed locomotive study .007 (The Day’s Work, 1908). In this piece, the newcomer to the engine shed encounters his seniors in the mechanical world that determined the railroad’s expansion in the American continent of that era. The precision of technical description is lovingly evoked in the personalities of the engines that ruled in the continent’s growth.

The depth of Kipling’s mechanical enthusiasm is perhaps overlooked in criticism of his political attitudes, but the poetry of engineering excels, in this as in other delights of the Victorian steam age.
Jack Palmer
Watson, ACT, Australia


• Tim Lewis, in Who wants a male pill? (7 March), states that “in the fifth century Hippocrates had some success with heating a man’s testicles in a hot bath”. I wonder if any correlation has been established between the low fertility rates in Japan and Scandinavian countries and their love of taking extremely hot water or steam-cleaning treatment in, respectively, onsen (hot springs) and sauna cabins.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK

• Nervy Marina Hyde gives Optic Nerve a poke in the eye by suggesting to watch the watchers (7 March). Drop a spanner in the works. Give budding NSA subcontractors with their posh jobs pause to consider “what the hell am I doing?”
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US

• Holly Baxter tells us of the travails of double entendre place names (Shortcuts, 7 March). Many of my friends are from Newfoundland, where if you visit Come by Chance by way of Dildo you need not visit Conception Bay.
Bob Walsh
Wilton, Connecticut, US





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






Poetry may not be the best way to learn history but it has some supremely valuable lessons

Sir, Further to your excellent coverage of the poets of the First World War (Mar 17), few of us realise that most of these poets, particularly Wilfred Owen, were more or less forgotten, and not discussed in schools, until Benjamin Britten brought them thundering into view with his War Requiem almost 45 years after the events they describe.

As Owen (and Britten) says: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the Pity. All a poet can do is warn.” That is why poetry is important, and why Jeremy Paxman (‘“Poetry is no way to teach the Great War’”, Mar 14) is wrong.

Tony Palmer

London W3

Sir, Fewer than one in eight of the combatants who died in the war were English-speakers, but all the important poetry of the war seems to have been written in English. Have we and our cultural leaders never heard of Ungaretti, Stramm or Apollinaire, or any of the other poets who wrote of the war in languages other than our own.

Dr A. D. Harvey

London N16

Sir, When I studied the war poets at grammar school in the late 1960s I was struck by two things from Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est . The first was the true awfulness of death by a silent assassin, gas. The second was how Owen had taken a Latin text from Horace meant to extol the virtues of heroic gallantry and used it to warn us that not everything we read in the press should be taken at face value. It would appear that both messages are as true today as they were then.

Ian Cherry


Sir, May I assure Sir Max Hastings that if I want to find truth I’m infinitely more likely to find it in literature. History merely offers interminable debate that can never be finally settled, while a great poem can offer us humans truth in a sentence. So give me Sassoon or Owen ahead of any historian.

Colin Clayton

Port Erin, Isle of Man

Sir, Another feature on First World War poetry with all the usual suspects, and without a mention of Kipling, who was incomparably a better poet than all of them.

If your readers want the horror of war, try Gethsemane ; if it’s ruthlessness, Tin Fish ; if it’s sorrow, My Boy Jack ; the whole dreadful tangle of feelings is piercingly alive in Epitaphs of the War . Moreover, Kipling was a great poet of the aftermath of the war — the suffering of the survivors, both those who were maimed in body and mind and those who were left to mourn.

Professor Daniel Karlin

University of Bristol

Sir, A key area of study in the First World War is the use of art, language and the media to manipulate public opinion.

A study of propaganda reveals to the student the inherent danger of accepting well-rehearsed arguments at face value.

In believing and disseminating the unsubstantiated and prejudiced argument that the First World War is taught mainly through poetry Jeremy Paxman ironically displays a profound ignorance of history teaching in modern Britain.

Janette Rowley

Libby Purves was wrong about the tax man, technically — but in practice she was absolutely right

Sir, Libby Purves (“Memo to HMRC: we’re not all on the fiddle”, Mar 17) is technically incorrect when she states that the taxpayer cannot claim back fees paid out to correct mistakes which are entirely the fault of HMRC. In fact there used to be a publication by the Inland Revenue entitled Code of Practice 1 – Errors and Mistakes by The Inland Revenue, which showed how aggrieved taxpayers could obtain recompense.

That publication has long since been withdrawn, and reference to this remedy is now hidden in an abstruse form in a “Helpsheet”, not ostensibly relevant to that topic. The average punter would be unlikely to research that particular reference unless prepared to spend a disproportionate amount of his life on the exercise.

If appropriate taxation professional help is sought in order to obtain redress, against the inevitable protestations of HMRC that they were acting in accordance with “normal practice”, then the fees for this assistance (irrecoverable) would usually exceed the amount recovered.

This brings me to the conclusion that although Libby is, as aforesaid, technically wrong, she is pragmatically quite correct.

Les Beckett

(Chartered tax adviser)

Abergavenny. Monmouthshire

Sir, Libby Purves is right. Her article reminds me of the response of a great aunt to a similarly inappropriately phrased observation by a policeman, made in the 1930s: “Young man would you kindly remember that you are a public servant.”

HMRC, please take note.

C. S. B. Williams

Oakham, Leics


The gender gap is closing but the class gap is widening — poorer people die younger after shorter retirements

Sir, You say that “the wealthy enjoy an extra 20 years of healthy life” (Mar 15). Indeed. The gender gap is closing, but the class gap is widening. The poorer-off not only work for more years, from the age of 16, but they then have far fewer years of healthy retirement, as well as lower life expectancy overall. Yet we continue to raise the state pension age the same for everyone — and that means the poor get even fewer decent healthy years in retirement. They work longer and die younger, with few years of healthy retirement in between. Unfairness compounded.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

House of Lords

Sir, I once had an illuminating introduction to how “working class” women manage as best they can’ with childcare (letters Mar 15). I was taken outside a large secondary school adjacent to a social housing estate, and shown groups of young pupils, years 7 to 11, hastening from school to get to the nearest primary school. I was told they would act as carers for the younger children until their mothers returned from 12-hour shifts, often at 8pm. As the mothers had left at 7.30am, the years 7 to 11 pupils also dressed and fed the family to get the children and themselves to school in the morning.

This army of young carers keeps large numbers of women in work to this day, and the families depend on the income generated (and the working tax credits paid to boost the minimum wage).

It does not help them to take part in after-school clubs, or help with homework timetables, but they shore up our economy: shop workers, factory “girls’” and many nurses and carers, depend upon them.

Mike Clegg

Lytham St Annes, Lancs


Professor’s evidence to the House of Lords did not touch on the spring 2015 general election

Sir, You say (Mar 17) that “Scots could lose right to vote in general election” if they vote for independence in the referendum. You attributed this proposition to evidence which I gave to the House of Lords Committee on the Constitution. The transcript shows clearly that my evidence did not touch on the 2015 general election, nor did anyone on the committee question the right of Scottish electors to vote in that election, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Independence, if it comes at all, would not be until 2016 at the earliest.

Professor Alan Boyle

University of Edinburgh


Britain should look at the history of its own overseas possessions before criticising Russia over Crimea

Sir, The people of Crimea have voted overwhelmingly to be Russian. The Falkland islanders voted powerfully to remain British. The Gibraltarians have made it clear that they do not wish to be a part of Spain. A simplistic observation perhaps, but what is the difference?

Pamela Hart

Watford, Herts






SIR – You report that the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will not be delivering electricity to the grid until 2023, or even later. It was expected to be up and running by 2017 but deadlines have already been missed, and the construction costs have rocketed to £16 billion.

On top of that, the European Commission says that total public subsidies could reach £17 billion, which is more than the cost of the plant itself. What are the benefits of having a private-sector electricity generating industry when high financial returns have to be paid to the shareholders for decades, and the Commission has to be satisfied that the subsidies don’t amount to illegal state aid?

The Central Electricity Generating Board would have built Hinkley Point C, and paid for it out of taxation, with the regulator making sure that the electricity prices charged to the customers were providing a modest rate of return on the capital investment. Was it a mistake to nationalise the electricity, gas and water companies in the Eighties?

James Allan
Hartlepool, Co Durham

Long-standing MPs

SIR – By my calculation, Tony Benn’s death leaves John Freeman, the former Labour politician, broadcaster and diplomat, who was elected in 1945, as the only surviving MP to have served in Parliament under King George VI.

Only three former MPs survive who sat in the House of Commons during Winston Churchill’s final term as prime minister: Lord Healey, Lord Mason of Barnsley and James Ramsden, the last Secretary of State for War, all of whom were elected in by-elections.

Simon Gordon
Faversham, Kent

Bard’s biblical grasp

SIR – Sir Trevor Nunn’s view is his own, but can he argue that the majestical roof of Hamlet, or the cloud-capped towers of The Tempest, reach higher than even the lowlands of Job? There is no zero sum here: Shakespeare’s language and imagery grow from the Bible.

We need both, yet many students know neither. In Kipling’s Proofs of Holy Writ, Shakespeare remarks to Ben Jonson: “If the pillars of the temple fall out, nature, art, and learning come to a stand.”

E G Nisbet
Egham, Surrey

‘Non-stun’ slaughter

SIR – Lord Sheikh states that comments made by our president-elect concerning animal slaughter without pre-stunning have created misunderstandings. He further claims that the method of zabiha slaughter, where the neck is cut without the animal being pre-stunned, renders it immediately unconscious.

The British Veterinary Association’s position on non-stun slaughter has been developed in light of scientific research which demonstrates that slaughter without pre-stunning compromises animal welfare. The EU-funded Dialrel project (2006-10) reviewed all of the evidence and concluded that it was highly probable that animals feel pain during and after the throat being cut without prior stunning.

The BVA’s prime concern is for the welfare of animals and we oppose the practice of non-stun slaughter. It is important to note that around 80 per cent of halal slaughter is pre-stunned.

Robin Hargreaves
President, British Veterinary Association
London W1

Free organ lessons

SIR – Caroline Mitchell writes that most rural organists play for the love of it. Many, like myself, do so in gratitude for the opportunity to learn to play this magnificent instrument. The Presbytery of Perth has a scheme whereby anyone with the requisite keyboard skills is given a year’s tuition paid for by the Presbytery, thus increasing the number of organists available to play for Sunday services. At a time when organists are a scarce commodity in some places, it might be a scheme worth copying more widely.

Doreen Beattie
Errol, Perthshire

SIR – The Organist and Master of the Choristers at Arundel Cathedral mistakenly believes that you wouldn’t expect an accountant to give free advice to a church. I know many professional accountants who do just that, and who also use their “considerable training and ability” to take on the onerous role of honorary church treasurer.

Michael Robinson
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Stonehenge eyesore

SIR – Just outside Oswestry there is a very fine old iron-age fort. There has been a planning application to build houses around it, a construction that I likened to building around Stonehenge. It was therefore of little surprise to read (report, March 13) of a proposal to build in the eyeline of this ancient monument.

Peter Barling
Oswestry, Shropshire

First fruit

SIR – After the Second World War, the Ministry of Food declared a special ration of one banana for each child under 14.

I remember coming down for breakfast to be confronted by a solitary banana on a plate. No knife and fork had been provided, but I was shown how to unpeel it. I took one mouthful and declared that I didn’t like it, whereupon four grateful adults divided it up and shared it between them.

David Griffiths
Bromley, Kent

SIR – I recommend the African banana, much smaller than the West Indian variety but very sweet. They are best eaten directly off the tree.

John G Prescott
Coulsdon, Surrey

The death of British soldiers from our poison gas

SIR – Your report of the Battle of Loos during the First World War, in which Private William McAleer was killed, states, as do other accounts, that a change of wind direction was responsible for blowing the poison gas back towards the British lines, so killing many soldiers.

I have transcribed a report of the battle, written at the time by my husband’s great uncle, who fought at Loos. He describes how the Scottish infantry rushed from their trenches and “reached the German line so quickly that many died from the effects of our own gas”. He tells of seeing “hundreds of dead Scotch [sic] infantry”, many killed by gas in the German trenches.

I wonder whether the accepted version, blaming a change in the wind, or Great-Uncle Henry’s report is correct.

Penny Clive
Swanmore, Hampshire

SIR – My wife and I have just returned from a short trip to Flanders. We visited many graves and cemeteries, including the German cemetery at Langemarck.

Michael Morpurgo, the children’s author, suggests British schoolchildren should visit such German war graves. Everywhere we went there were wreaths, cards and other tributes of reconciliation on the headstones of German soldiers from British pupils. There were no reciprocal messages from their German counterparts.

M J Gibson
Tockington, Gloucestershire

SIR – As a small businessman who organises walking tours in the pretty Cotswold town of Burford, I applaud Geoffrey Lean’s article on David Cameron’s controversial planning reforms. Unfortunately, Bampton, where Downton Abbey was filmed, is only one of several villages that would be adversely affected by new developments.

Until recently, I was a parish councillor in the nearby village of Alvescot. We successfully fought plans by West Oxfordshire District Council to build 1,600 houses – these would have swamped a parish with only 110 properties. But plans are afoot for another development in the village to include 1,000 houses, business premises and a school.

There is little local need for such projects. Despite the presence of RAF Brize Norton, the area has high unemployment. There are similar proposals to enlarge Brize Norton village itself, and now plans to build 250 homes in Burford, thereby increasing the population of that iconic town by some 40 per cent.

These developments would change West Oxfordshire’s towns and villages at a time when the need for new properties is further east. We can have increased tourism, or we can have commuter and semi-retirement estates. We can’t have both.

Roger Bellamy
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire


SIR – There are two lessons to be learnt from the current situation in Crimea.First, credible armed deterrence would have stopped Russia in its tracks. While it was never likely to be an option for Ukraine alone, it must remain an option for Nato. The “Peace Dividend” – the reduction in defence spending by Western countries after the end of the Cold War for supposed economic benefits – was based on an over-optimistic premise and it has now gone so far as to encourage aggressive states to flex their muscles on our borders. This in turn increases the risk of armed response. As the military strategic balance tilts away from the Western powers so the world grows less safe.

Second, the European Union has to take more care with its expansionist aspirations. Russia, predictably, cites Western interference in Ukrainian affairs as an excuse for the occupation of the Crimea. It should have been clear well in advance that the direction of EU diplomacy was provocative in Russian eyes. Without the advantage of credible deterrence (which excludes sanctions) what has happened was inexcusable but entirely predictable.

Air Vice-Marshal M R Jackson (retd)
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

SIR – There could be a diplomatic solution to the Crimea situation. The Kiev government might be persuaded to recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea by treaty in exchange for full recognition of the new Ukrainian regime by Russia, and a payment by Russia of a very large sum of money as compensation.

Related Articles

Such transactions are not unknown to diplomacy. Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. Russia sold Alaska to the United States. The sum paid by Russia would go some way to solving Ukraine’s economic difficulties. If the Kiev regime accepted such a treaty, the transfer to Russia would be legitimised and could be recognised by the United States, the EU and Britain, so neutralising the whole crisis. The legitimacy of the deal would also, by the terms of the treaty, prevent any further expansion into Ukraine by Russia.

As it is already accepted that the Russian annexation is more or less inevitable, and popular with a majority of the Crimean population, this would be a peaceful way of settling the matter.

Damian Grimes
Llanrwst, Denbighshire

SIR – Duncan Rayner describes the West’s mild interference in Crimea as “provocative”.

The Crimeans may well have voted for Russian control but the presence of 20,000 Russian troops is provocation in the extreme, and distinctly undemocratic.

No account is taken of the legality of the referendum or of the minority Ukrainian or Tatar population who, given Russia’s poor record in dealing with minorities, face a very grim future.

Iain Gordon
Banstead, Surrey




Irish Times:



Sir, – The concept of the private rental market being subject to rent control, or as Senator Aideen Hayden puts it, “rent certainty” (“It’s time we felt at home with the idea of rent control”, Opinion & Analysis, February 28th), makes as much sense as saying the State should immediately put the money paid for accommodating over 30 per cent of the population into building social housing.

Housing is not built overnight and no-one wants to see ghettos being created to satisfy some spurious ideology, but private landlords are providing an essential service to the community and to their customers, who are their tenants. “Rent certainty” is no more than rent control in another guise. In any event, tenancy agreements and leases already prescribe the rent to be paid during the term of the tenancy or lease.

Landlords are business people who have their own costs to sustain the properties that are homes for some 800,000 people in Ireland – more than at any time in the last 50 to 60 years. These costs include 25 per cent of interest paid on mortgages and loans not being allowable as expenses (which can actually result in being taxed on a loss), local property tax (and the previous household charge and non-principal private residence charge) not being allowable against income, although landlords are charged for services provided to tenants. Other substantial costs include insurance, maintenance, registration, compliance, as well as the normal taxes levied on the population, such as the USC, PRSI and income tax. It is ironic that management charges in multi-unit developments are allowed against rental income, yet charges for services provided to tenants are not allowable.

Central Bank statistics show that landlords with arrears in their buy-to-let mortgage accounts rose from 39,948 (26.9 per cent ) to 40,426 (27.4 per cent) at the end of the third quarter of 2013, which disposes of the suggestion espoused by certain sectors that landlords have deep pockets and are somehow immune to the financial crisis in our society.

The mid-February report from Germany’s Bundesbank strongly supported efforts to encourage investors back into the market, and held the view that this would be more effective in moderating prices than rent control, which the Bundesbank described as “counter-productive”. How can people promoting rent control be treated seriously when its previous incarnation up to the early 1980s contributed to the ruination of many fine buildings throughout the country as rental income was controlled and property owners were unable to retain or maintain their properties?

It is easy to shout out that increased rents should be held back by legislative means. Yet those bald statements conveniently ignore the fact that the market forces causing rents to increase are the same market forces that caused a reduction in rent during the austerity years, and increases now originate from a very low base where rents decreased by some 40 per cent over the past five years.

Recent actions by the Government in making it easier for lenders to repossess properties will only cause further aggravation to the rental market through independent landlords exiting the business, and their properties being snapped up by so called vulture funds that will not have the same ethos as an independent landlord who values tenants. – Yours, etc,


Irish Property

Owners’ Association,

Ashtown Business Centre,

Navan Road,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – I find the Taoiseach’s whinging to my government about “immigration reform” to aid thousands of Irish who have entered America under false pretences and are living here illegally appalling (“Undocumented Irish frustrated with US lawmakers, says Kenny”, Home News, March 14th). This is a gross interference in American domestic affairs by a foreign leader.

Rather than being a high-profile spokesman for lawbreakers, perhaps Mr Kenny should have forgone this year’s boondoggle to America and spent his time, and taxpayers’ money, tackling the very real problems at home that are the root cause of such illegal behaviour. – Yours, etc,


Serenity Lane,



Sir, – If it takes one bowl of shamrock to sort out the “undocumented”, how many would it take to bail out the banks? Answers in writing only to Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan, Nama, Central Bank and the troika (cc St Patrick). – Yours, etc,


Leim an Bhradáin,

Co Cill Dara.


Sir, – We witnessed a truly great sporting weekend and have sadly seen an Irish hero wear the green of Ireland for the last time. When we look back in 10, 20 or 30 years from now, the achievements of our favourite son will be no less spectacular. In a country where our institutions have continually failed us, we have often looked to the institution of sport for respite and inspiration. We have not been let down. Professional sport in most cases demonstrates true meritocracy as there is no place for spin, waffle or nepotism. On the pitch, there is nowhere to hide.

Within this arena, Brian O’Driscoll has set his own standards on and off the pitch over 15 years.

People often cite his hat-trick in Paris in 2000 as the trigger for international recognition, but for many it was his performance for the British and Irish Lions against Australia in the opening test of the 2001 series that achieved this. He scored one of the great tries and in doing so, led the Lions to a test victory over the reigning world champions. We often forget how bleak Irish rugby was in the 1990s, but through that performance, we had someone who banished those dark days to a distant memory.

We live in a world that seldom provides heroes. Sport is the exception and we have ours in Brian. He will undoubtedly be remembered for his tries and turnovers, but mostly for how he dealt with adversity. He came back after his 2005 career-threatening injury to become a stronger player, who achieved greater success through Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and further Lions tours. When dropped by Warren Gatland last summer for the final Lions test, he simply moved on and returned to help Ireland win a second Six Nations championship. – Yours, etc,


Madinat Al Alam,


Sir, – Trevor White’s article (“Why do Irish people take so little pride in Dublin”, Life, March 17th) makes the astonishing claim that, with reference to the Irish people, “most of our citizens can’t stand Dublin”, while attempting to substantiate this assertion with reference to an unnamed survey commissioned by Dublin City Council in 2010 which “revealed that just 26 per cent of Irish people have any emotional connection to the capital”. Such a conclusion based on this evidence is at best unscientific, and at worst disingenuous and provocative in equating a lack of an “emotional connection” with not being able to “stand” our capital city.

The many facets of “Irishness”, of Dublin and of this country’s relationship with the rest of the world are truly unique, and our culture, heritage, music and games are seen as inclusive and accessible to anyone with an interest, without being limited to people “of” or “from” this country, and indeed Ireland is known as a fantastically diverse, welcoming and interesting place that is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.

The urban-rural divide is an inevitable feature of any society. I would have hoped that particularly at this time of year, when the eyes of the world are on Ireland, that readers could be spared the jaded cliches about “parochialism and provincialism”, and the divide between Dublin and “the rest of the country”.

Perhaps our energies and the energies and exceptional capabilities of Mr White and others like him would be better spent celebrating all that is good about this country and its peoples, rather than dwelling on or exaggerating our perceived differences. – Yours, etc,


Pembroke College,

University of Cambridge,



Sir, – Further to Manchán Magan’s article “Away with the faeries”, Magazine, March 15th, I was county engineer in Clare for 12 years prior to my retirement in 2008, so I oversaw infrastructural development, including the motorway, in the county.

I can categorically state that the motorway was not rerouted to avoid the sgeach or fairy bush. The fact is that, when the controversy arose, nobody knew the precise co-ordinates of the bush, except that it was fairly close to the carriageway under construction. When its precise co-ordinates were determined, it was found that the bush occupied a spot which lay between the main carriageway and the northbound slip road at the Latoon interchange, so we fenced it in and it did not interfere with construction works.

Later attempts to vandalise it by unknowns with a chainsaw did not succeed, thankfully, and it co-exists today with the motorway. – Yours, etc,


Gallows Hill,

Ennis, Co Clare.


Sir, – Now that the Crimeans have had their say, are we to expect a referendum on Chechnya’s allegiance any time soon? – Yours, etc,


Sans Souci Wood,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The depressing assertion of your editorial (March 18th) “There is almost now, like it or not, a fait accompli quality to Ukraine’s loss of Crimea”, should perhaps have read, “Sadly, EU economic self-preservation, and imperial expansionist bullying, combine in triumph, as one United Nations member invades another with astonishing and shameful impunity”.

The situation in Ukraine is undoubtedly complex, but so what? This complexity should not blind us to the shocking reality that a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity has been ripped apart, with every possibility that further Ukrainian territory will be annexed.

The slow strangulation of the infant Russian democracy under Vladimir Putin has been conveniently and long ignored by whatever the “West” is supposed to be. Now, I fear, the tanks are coming home to roost! – Yours, etc,





Sir, – Together with two friends I attended the game on Sunday between Blackrock College and Clongowes, which turned out to be a thriller, played in exemplary spirit. It made a fine conclusion to a rugby weekend. On the field, that is.

Seated in the sparsely populated north stand, there was a mix of rugby people, some neutral fans, including many families with children.

Some 10 rows behind was a large group of young men, all attired in Blackrock jerseys and colours, who offered loud, occasionally aggressive, vocal support. This included a chant of few words, “**** off Clongowes, “**** off Clongowes”, not an imaginative lyric, just highly objectionable.

They appeared to be recent graduates rather than current pupils and so outside the direct sphere of any influence from their alma mater. However, it made me wonder how they came to acquire these “values”.

What school did I go to? Blackrock College. Proud of that fact? Let me get back to you on that. – Yours, etc,


The Alders,

Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.


Sir, – Greg Carley’s call (March 18th) for the introduction of a €5 coin is a pragmatic response to the increasing devaluation of the loose change in our pockets. Here in the UK the 1p and 2p coins are almost irrelevant. The Bank of England has recognised this fact and in 2016 it is going to introduce a polymer £5 note to replace the existing paper one.The £10 plastic note will be introduced a year later. Such a move has overwhelming public support. The new note will be more durable and as such will be more environmentally friendly, it will be harder to counterfeit and, with a shelf life of five years, it will be in circulation for some 2½ years longer than the current fiver.

There is a downside, of course. Although the polymer note is waterproof and will survive a spell in the washing machine, it could melt if you take your iron to it. You have been warned. – Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,



Sir, – Following the success of Property, The Terror , Morgan Kelly (“Real crisis will begin when ECB halts sweet credit line,” Opinion & Analysis, March 14th) has finally delivered his difficult second album SME, Future Fear . Sadly, it doesn’t live up to the promise he showed all of seven years ago. After building up our hopes that we’re in for another full-on credit crunch-style crisis, he fumbles it by declaring that “SMEs will eventually recover from their debt overhang – this sector is nothing if not resilient” before fading with a lament on the state of academe. A big disappointment for miserabilists everywhere. Maybe he should have done as U2 did and postponed. – Yours, etc,


Meadow Copse,





Sir, – While I appreciate the attempts by those who smoke to tackle their nicotine addiction, I find the widespread use of e-cigarettes to be extremely rude and unpleasant. It is now approaching the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban in the Republic and I feel the use of e-cigarettes in public places to be regressive. – Yours, etc,



Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – Am I alone in detecting an increasingly intolerant attitude emerging regarding electronic cigarettes? The health “dangers” posed by someone “vaping” next to one are virtually nil. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.



Sir, – It was upsetting to encounter the negative reaction (March 13th) to the Taoiseach’s participation in the recent service of thanksgiving and remembrance for the most remarkable Irish inventor Louis Brennan (“Taoiseach honours Mayo-born inventor of the torpedo”, Home News, March 12th).

Brennan’s inventions spanned a number of application areas and were by no means exclusively of military application.

While the dirigible torpedo that he invented clearly had military application, its deployment in the coastal defence of the British Isles probably prevented much death and destruction from German U-boats among the civilian population.

As a nation, we ought not to be churlish in our attitude to the remembrance of greatness in our past in all of its rich diversity. Brennan’s genius and creativity serve as a source of inspiration as we address our current challenges. – Yours, etc,


Professor in


Sir, – I fail to understand why dog-owners are fined €150 “on-the-spot” or, on summary conviction, up to €3,000 for failing to clean up a dog’s waste, yet horses are permitted to be used as a tourist attraction in our city and are freely permitted to foul our streets. Would it not be a simple matter to attach dung-catchers to these animals and offset the cost by selling the manure for fertiliser?

We all need to play our part in keeping Ireland tidy. – Yours, etc,


Newtownpark Avenue,


Co Dublin.



Sir, – Good to see lots of Patrick’s in the Magazine (“I’m no saint”, March 15th) but where are the Fitzpatricks? – Yours, etc,


Beechlawn Manor,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.




Irish Independent:


* With media focused entirely on the Government lurching daily from farce to fiasco, another significant injustice to pensioners has slipped under the radar, ie the unilateral elimination of the Transition Pension for 65-year- olds.

Also in this section

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

Letters: Keeping a little light alive

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

This represents a loss of €12,000 to those who have worked and paid PRSI all their working lives, up to 40 years in many cases. Workers did this in the legitimate belief and expectation that they would receive this money on retirement.

Contrast this shakedown of ordinary Irish citizens to the kid glove, hands-off treatment by the Government of their own lavish pensions and perks. Just like those in the previous Fianna Fail government, present ministers, as well as the President of our bankrupt little state, will retire on world-class, six-figure pensions and golden pay-offs.

Contrast also this shakedown on the easy availability of countless millions for a growing army of consultants in quangos like Irish Water and across all government departments. The Government boasts that it has not reduced basic social welfare rates – true maybe, but in a whole series of sleight of hand stealth taxes they have savaged the income of ordinary pensioners.

Apart from the transition pension, pensioners have also lost the Christmas bonus and vital telephone subsidy; many have lost their medical cards; prescription charges have trebled; government changes have driven the cost of ‘gold-plated’ private health insurance through the roof; and there’s been an increase in retention tax on savings.

It is inexplicable, therefore, that the present grey brigade appears, so far, to have lost its bottle and has meekly accepted the unprecedented, unfair, immoral and unequal treatment meted out by the Government.

Presumably and hopefully, pensioners and others are patiently biding their time, waiting in the long grass to collectively and justifiably give their verdict, loud and clear, on May 23 next. Time surely for a real and genuine democratic revolution.





* At first it might seem reasonable to wonder what all the fuss is about Enda Kenny marching in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade, that is until you consider the bigger picture.

No rational vote could have chosen Fianna Fail in the 2011 election, so people were instead left with little option but to take a leap of faith and plump for Fine Gael.

In doing so, they were reassured by Mr Kenny claiming that he was offering a complete and total break with the way things were done in the past, so much so that he specifically stated when he took office that there had been a “democratic revolution” in Ireland and this would be reflected in his style of governance.

Well, three years into that term, people can be under no illusion that they were sold a dud.

In New York, when given the choice between following the example of the new New York mayor, he buckled and simply could not stop himself from looking like the wannabe New York ward boss that he is at heart.

At every juncture of his period in office to date, when Mr Kenny is confronted with a situation that requires him to take actual action, he reverts to type and makes an emotional speech but then fails to tackle the root cause.

He made an emotional speech upon taking office; his speech about church failings on child abuse was moving but he’s done nothing to hold the religious orders to account and get them to pay up.

He made another speech on the rights of children but has done nothing to ensure a child in the Irish care system of 2014 can come out the other end an emotionally secure person – and of course, there is still no children’s hospital.

The public have an opportunity in the upcoming local and European elections to vote intelligently and send a message to Mr Kenny and his government partners – that they have failed to live up to the promise that they made to the Irish people in 2011.

If you don’t think austerity has been fairly spread and if you realise that there is a difference between the sacrifices we all have to make to correct our current budget deficit, and the sacrifices some of us were made to make to pay for private sector banking debt, then May 2014 gives you the chance to make your voice heard.





* I believe the Taoiseach was entirely correct to resist pressure to follow the example of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Minister Joan Burton and boycott this year’s New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, despite being strongly urged to do so in our national media and by many others.

Gay organisations are not unfairly discriminated against in the New York parade.

The parade rules which bar them from displaying banners proclaiming their sexual orientation also bar heterosexuals from doing likewise.

This is a crucial point which seems to be overlooked or ignored by most commentators.

Thankfully, the Taoiseach understands this, but the boycotters and their numerous supporters in the media and elsewhere apparently don’t. Besides, there are other events, such as gay pride parades, when gay organisations can express their sexual orientation and carry banners to that effect.





* Mr Putin gauged the weakness of the political establishment in the west almost flawlessly. He considered that talk and discussion had reached epidemic proportions in western democracies, and the stomach for any kind of military support for their political and commercial colonialism was absent.

He knew they would consider that such support would be just bad for investment. He then proceeded to give leaders in the west a masterclass in how to annexe a strategic interest without firing a shot.

The taxpayers of the west are so fed up supporting political and commercial adventures around the world, there is now little or no prospect that their ‘leaders’ could ever hope to persuade them to support a military adventure, based on their leaders’ loss of face.





* I read the letters, the debates and the opinions in your newspaper.

I am saddened and ashamed to read of the dilemma the author of ‘St Patrick’s lament’ (March 17) faces on La Fheile Padraig in Ireland in 2014.

I did not join the parades this year. Instead, I walked for a charity on the day.

Yet I hope all who joined festivities on St Patrick’s Day, and especially visitors to Ireland, enjoyed themselves.

When I am up to it, I enjoy a celebration.

I am not in negative equity, and I will not ever be among those who ‘have craved fame and fortune’ (‘Keeping a Little Light Alive’, March 17). I still ride my bicycle. Eccentric or not at my age?!

And paying off a big health bill where I had to refer myself to London for head surgery last year. Thankfully, I’m doing okay for now.

I am still working. None of us knows where we may be in one or two years from now.

For me, it’s good to still be here, and to be contributing. Please get your prolific letter writers writing articles for the Irish Independent.

We need to hear the voices of the observers and carers out there.


Irish Independent



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