23 March 2014 Books

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to have a visit from the admiral will he find any of Pertwee’s little schemes? Priceless

Cold slightly better post office sold 3 books

Scrabbletoday Marywins, just,and gets justunder400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.




Mike Parker, who has died aged 84, was known as the “Godfather of fonts” – typographical rather than ecclesiastical — and was responsible for popularising Helvetica, a lettering style which now pops up on everything from corporate logos to the washing instructions on clothing labels.

Much thought goes into designing a font, but people rarely think twice about the lettering they see all around them, their interest mildly aroused only when they scroll through the strangely-named fonts on their computers. Yet ever since Johannes Gutenberg began transforming handwritten texts into modular fonts of movable type, the art of font design has been integral to the advance of literacy and modern civilisation.

The Bible printed by Gutenberg in 1455 used an old German ornate “blackletter” font; the fluid lines of “Garamond” (which Parker studied for a Master’s degree at Yale) emerged from the pen of Claude Garamond, a French publisher and “punch-cutter” of the 16th century (who also gave us “Grecs du Roi”, “Granjon” and “Sabon”). Most of today’s newspaper typefaces derive from the “Roman” typefaces of another 16th-century printer, the Dutchman Hendrik van den Keere.

The late 19th century saw a renewed interest in font design, led in Britain by members of the Arts and Crafts movement. In the early 20th century perhaps the most famous letter designer, Eric Gill, designed nearly a dozen fonts, including “Perpetua” and “Gill Sans”, the latter becoming the standard typography for Britain’s railway system and featuring on Penguin Books’ classic jacket designs of the 1930s.

Helvetica’s roots, as the name suggests, were Swiss. It began life as “Neue Haas Grotesk”, developed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein in 1957 — when Swiss designers were promoting the idea of “rational typefaces” to suit the ethos of the modern industrial age. The pair tweaked a 60-year-old German font, stripping off unnecessary fripperies such as the small flourishes at the end of letter strokes known as serifs, to produce a clean and simple typeface.

Parker, then working as assistant to Jackson Burke, director of typographic development at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, spotted the font, liked its clarity and set to work to adapt it, renamed Helvetica, for the company’s linotype machines that then led the world in book and newspaper typesetting technology.

In 1961 Parker succeeded Burke as Mergenthaler’s director of typographic development. He went on to develop some 1,000 fonts, but Helvetica was the one that really took off. From the 1960s onwards it became a popular choice for public signage and commercial logos such as those for Société Générale, Nestlé, 3M, BMW, Kawasaki, Lufthansa, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Motorola and Panasonic.

Helvetica entered the digital age by securing a place among the 11 fonts bundled with Apple’s early desktop computers, and the company continued to use it widely in devices such as the iPod. In Britain its rather bland functionality commended it to state-run monoliths such as British Rail, which adapted it into its own Rail Alphabet font (which was also adopted by the NHS and the British Airports Authority).

However, while Helvetica became dominant in the public world, it never really took off on the printed page, research showing that serif typefaces are easier for users to read in book-length stretches of text. While some criticised Helvetica as nondescript and dull, Parker waxed lyrical about its aesthetic appeal: “The meaning is in the content of the text, and not in the typeface,” he explained in a 2007 documentary. “It’s not a letter that’s bent to shape; it’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space. What it’s all about is the interrelationship of the negative shape, the figure/ground relationship, the shapes between characters and within characters… Oh, it’s brilliant when it’s done well.”

The son of an American mining engineer, Michael Russell Parker was born in London on May 1 1929. The family returned to America after the Blitz and settled in Rye, New York State. Mike was educated at boarding schools, where he became interested in painting, only to discover that he was colour-blind. Instead he took a degree at Yale University in Architecture, followed by a Master’s in Design.

After graduation he got a job at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, whose extensive historical typography collection inspired his fascination with fonts. Returning to America, he joined Mergenthaler in 1959.

By the beginning of the 1980s, however, revenues from the sale of typesetting equipment were dwindling; and as the digital age dawned Parker saw a business opportunity in the design and sale of fonts themselves — independent of equipment. In 1981 he left Mergenthaler and, with Matthew Carter, established Bitstream, a company based at Cambridge, Massachusetts, which became the first in the world to produce digital fonts that could be licensed for use by anyone.

The company was highly successful in the 1980s, when desktop publishing and personal computer use took off. In the Nineties, however, Parker lost money attempting to develop a joint venture with Steve Jobs which never quite came off.

Parker’s knowledge of the history of font design was exhaustive. In 1994 he created a stir when he published evidence that the design of Times New Roman, credited to the British typographer Stanley Morison in 1931, was based on 1904 drawings by the American Starling Burgess, which, he suggested, had been stolen in the 1920s.

Subsequently Parker became consultant and type historian for the Font Bureau, a typeface design foundry, and in 2009 he launched a font called Starling, based on Burgess’s original designs.

Parker’s two marriages were dissolved. He is survived by his ex-wife Sibyl who cared for him in his final years, by a son and two daughters and two stepdaughters.

Mike Parker, born May 1 1929, died February 23 2014





Your editorial “There’s no choice: we must grow GM crops” (Comment) attempts to draw a direct and compelling link between the starvation of future generations and GM technology. In fact, the link is tenuous at best and irrelevant at worst. We can’t even prevent starvation now, when there is plenty of food, because the framework of world trade pulls in the opposite direction towards widening the gap between rich and poor. To change this requires political will on a world scale and this is where our first efforts should lie.

Beyond that, a significant reduction in cereal-fed meat production would release a lot of food for human consumption and probably produce health benefits as well. GM science may well produce some valuable gains, but products must face a severe testing regime, not just for human health, but, above all, for their potential damaging interaction with our natural delicate ecosystems.

Such a science in the hands of short-term profit seekers is unlikely to contribute to the solution of feeding the nine billion in 2050. We need to take a much wider view.

Philip Thornley

St Weonards


Argentina, which once possessed one of the richest agricultural soils in the world, is facing soil depletion, soil structure degradation and initial desertification from growing GM crops. The situation in regard to GM crops in the US is not as rosy as your leader implies. The New York Times‘s Mark Bittman writes: “To date… the technology has been little more than an income-generator for a few corporations desperate to see those profits continue regardless of the cost to the rest of us, or to the environment.”

John Little

Bigbury on Sea


I’m writing to you to express my admiration for your editorial. You built your case on clear-headed and logical thinking. For too long, the issue of breeding enhanced crops through genetic engineering has been dominated by well-meaning, but scientifically illiterate people. Their cacophony has drowned out rational discourse. There have been two particularly unfortunate consequences of this hysteria.

First, research progress has been greatly slowed down, meaning crop improvement will now take longer. Second, a multitude of hurdles have enabled a small number of very large companies to dominate the market. This is particularly sad, since most of the discoveries that enabled these advances were made in publicly funded universities.

Philip Wigge

Sainsbury Laboratory

Cambridge University

The assumption that only GM crops will feed the world represents a position contested by scientists, food producers and civil society groups everywhere. Politicians must not swap due diligence for evaluation that prioritises speed over substance. Ministers ignore contrary evidence, such as the report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, which involved more than 400 international scientists. The government, instead, supports pro-GM corporations, such as Syngenta and Monsanto, which set profits before the needs of the poor.

The answer to global hunger is agroecology and access to land – not a technical “solution” that has brought thousands of Indian farmers’ suicides.

Graciela Romero War on Want and UK Food Group

Emma Hockridge Soil Association

Pete Ritchie Nourish Scotland

Jocelyn Jones World Family UK and Food Sovereignty Sussex

Andy Goldring Permaculture Association

Ruth West Campaign for Real Farming

Teresa Anderson Gaia Foundation

Simon Maddrell Excellent Development

Philip Goodwin Tree Aid

Eve Mitchell Food and Water Europe

Claire Robinson GMWatch

Debbie Clarke

Unicorn Grocery


While Andrew Rawnsley may be correct in asserting that Tony Benn’s political career was, ultimately, a “failure”, his crowning achievement – rare, in modern times – was to remain true to his principles: to encourage the citizen, in particular the working-class individual, to believe in their invaluable worth to society (“Charismatic leader of the left damned by warm Tory praises“).

Following the Digger vision, it was a society that he agreed should be judged by what it provided for the poor rather than how it treated the richest.

Yes, Rawnsley was correct to point out that the other Tony (Blair) led the Labour party to victory on three occasions, and improved the lives of working people (to a point), but such achievements came at a cost. In the quest to regain power for Labour, Blairism abandoned the socialist goal of equality and a fairer society. The party pandered to big business, the service industry and consumerism; under a Labour government, the gap between the rich and the poor began to widen. To cap it all, we now live in a political climate where all the discussion about austerity centres upon the “squeezed middle”. Where is the voice that will represent the “downtrodden poor”?

MA Hobbins



Andrew Rawnsley writes that Tony Benn “had an incurably romantic view of what the British people would vote for”. It was precisely this romanticism that helps account for the widespread emotional resonance evoked by his death. Despite all his weaknesses he made people feel there should be more to politics than toadying to big powers, appealing to crude self interest and looking after number one.

Ivor Morgan


Look to the north – or else

Thank goodness one senior minister has finally acknowledged the nexus of political, economic and moral issues associated with the HS2 project (“Cable demands high-speed rail rethink to ease north-south split“, News).

The case for starting the project from the north always has been strong. Likewise the argument for significant investment to improve rail connectivity between major northern cities. These arguments tend to be ignored by a metropolitan elite that seems to have little grasp of current realities outside the favoured capital and south-east.

I confidently predict that failure to deliver what the north needs will make the Scottish independence debate look like a sideshow. Demands for devolved regional government for the north are waiting in the wings; non-engagement with these will make the northern half of England impossible to govern from London, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Scottish referendum.

Gus Pennington


North Yorkshire

Let’s hear it for the PO bank

May I suggest an answer to Mick and Viv Beeby, who asked: “Where next for our bank account?” (“Co-op pay storm: it’s time to regulate the cabals that set executive salaries”, Big Issue)? I also decided to move from the Co-op when it sold out to the hedge funds; I opened a Post Office current account. They are, it’s true, not available everywhere yet (memo to the PO: why not?) but if they are able to do so, it is a great alternative.

The Post Office offers full current account services, including a cheque book, telephone and online banking, and your account can also be accessed at any of the hundreds of POs throughout the country, thus helping to keep them open, too. I had no trouble with the switch and all the staff I have been in contact with have been very friendly and efficient.

Liz Waterland

Deeping St James


Don’t make such a meal of it

I enjoyed Rachel Cooke’s Simon Rogan interview (Observer Food Monthly) story but here in Cumbria we are getting exasperated with the number of London journalists incapable of visiting L’Enclume in Cartmel without reference to long journeys and “braving” the West Coast main line or M6. It’s only a long journey if you assume all your readers are in London or perhaps the only people who would want to visit are from London.

In this instance, it is apparently “quite a journey” unless and only unless you live in Grange-over-Sands a few miles away. There are more than 10 million people in an arc from Glasgow to Liverpool via Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, all within a couple of hours of L’Enclume. If you were the London Observer this assumption that writer and reader share the same outlook would make sense, but you aren’t and it doesn’t.

Richard Eccles



Scarlett makes me see red

Gosh! I’ve just found a page in last Sunday’s paper without a picture of Scarlett Johansson! I’ve got nothing against the attractive and talented Ms Johansson, but perhaps six pictures of her in one edition, including the front page of both the main section and review section and a full-page picture as part of a four-page feature story, is just a wee bit excessive.

Eleanor Van Zandt








Tony Benn’s passing leaves us ever closer to being saddled with faceless career politicians, who may be “effective” to our Joan [Smith], but don’t have a principle or a moral code in their collective, expensively educated bodies (“Benn was entirely ineffectual and usually wrong”, 16 March).

I may have disagreed with Tony Benn in many ways, and found his naivety both touching and infuriating in equal measure. Maybe his ideas were just too utopian? We will most probably never know. It is still a shame though, that supposedly left-leaning commentators choose to prefer living in the world of unfettered and destructive capitalism promoted by every government since Thatcher, and only tinkered with around the edges by the latest incarnation of the Labour Party.

I am also blonde and political – but I chose to mark his passing with the sadness and respect it deserved.

Emma Flowers

Witney, Oxfordshire

In all areas of human achievement history is the final arbiter of an individual’s success or failure. Many visionaries have died with the stigma of having been drowned by the waters of history, only for the currents to change and show they were in fact swimming powerfully in the right direction.

Thus to those antagonistic to change or those lacking in judgement, Tony Benn has failed because the world has become a plutocratic heaven and an ethical hell. However, the very excesses of this system and it’s catastrophic effects on our planet must ensure that Benn’s visionary, sharing socialism will become relevant and fashionable again. Else… all of us are done for.

Joan Smith’s obtuse and spiteful little dance on the grave of a great man already looks silly but to future historians it may well provide a classic example of the partisan fallibility of contemporary judgements.

Steve Edwards

Haywards Heath, West Sussex

I applaud Katy Guest’s decision not to review gender-specific children’s books (“A good read is just that. Ask any child”, 16 March) but why limit this policy to children’s literature? The relegation of women’s writing to the world of candy-coloured frivolity is demeaning to both writers and readers. Additionally, it corroborates the belief – commonly held among men – that women’s writing is not for them. This warps the literary space and denies many fine writers the reach they deserve.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Feminism is about gender equality, but it should also be about pride. Katniss from The Hunger Games is a strong female protagonist, but we should avoid suggesting that this is because she is associated with what might be considered typically male traits. Can a woman wearing a pink dress not be a strong feminist? Women can be “handy with a bow and arrow”, but they can also be a glittery pink princess, and the world we want is one in which all of these possibilities are the unchallenged norm for men and women alike.

Charlotte Davey & Joe Murgatroyd

London SE27

Prince Charles only gets away with perverting the course of democracy because of this class-divided country and the support of the establishment (Archie Bland, 16 March). In a small country like this one they have six palaces, thousands of servants, and this Government gives them an open cheque book while many are in abject poverty.

Jenny Bushell

Wimbledon SW19

Why does Jane Merrick insist that the Prime Minister should have visited Israel sooner (16 March)? Surely, it is bad enough that a British Prime Minister should heap such fulsome praise on, and “stand every step of the way” with, a country which illegally occupies Palestinian territory, has annexed Jerusalem against international law, discriminates against Israeli residents of Palestinian descent and ignores UN resolutions without going further out of his way to favour this particular country over others?

Jeff Smith

Beeston, Bedfordshire

Have your say





STATE school teachers hostile to Oxbridge are one of the reasons for the under-representation of their pupils (“University leg-up for state pupils”, News, last week). I remember the director of education of a Labour council who hoped no local pupils would apply to Oxbridge as they were “corrupt institutions”, and the department head who refused to speak to his star pupil after she accepted an Oxford place.

In more than 20 years as head of a comprehensive I can think of only two deserving pupils denied a place — and they are more than outweighed by those successful at colleges only too anxious to recruit from the state sector. Hostility to elitism has been one of the more damaging crusades.
Geoffrey Samuel, Twickenham, London

Analyse this
Caution must be applied when using research to endorse discriminatory practices. Less than a year ago the Higher Education Funding Council for England produced research that gave a very different picture from your report.

It tracked 225,765 students living in the UK who started university in 2006. Almost 65% of privately educated students gained a first or upper second-class degree, compared with 52.7% of their peers from the state system. It also emerged that 60.4% of students from fee-paying schools gained a graduate job — a skilled career — compared with 46.8% of other graduates.

The research mentioned in your article uses a smaller base and excludes students with A*/A at A-level (the majority within the independent sector). It should not be used to shore up the crass assumption that all who receive a government- funded education are disadvantaged.

Nor should it be used to deny that many students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend independent schools as bursary recipients.
Roberta Georghiou, Co-chairwoman, Girls’ Schools Association

Class leading
I’m afraid that, as with so much in this world, there is nothing new in Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths About Education (“Classroom politics”, Books, last week).

She has — as have many young teachers before her — realised that what works best is teacher-led lessons. Interestingly, in the same section, John Carey remarks in his book The Unexpected Professor that to learn and to have fun are “two aims [that] seldom coincide”.

My first teaching textbook in the early 1970s in Scotland was useless, leading the pupil and the inexperienced new teacher down unfinished roads, following the politically led rise of the comprehensive system in Scottish education.

However, direct instruction is still alive and well. I know — I was one of those unfashionable teachers until recently.
Sandy Cunningham, Largs, North Ayrshire

Scan delays fail to reveal true picture

YOUR article “60% jump in patients kept waiting past six-week deadline for scan” (News, last week) fails to point out that the rise in waiting times is not happening because radiology departments are failing; indeed most of them will be able to demonstrate very significant increases in productivity over the past 10 years or so.

The problem is that the number of scan requests continues to rise exponentially as doctors increasingly rely on technology rather than clinical judgment. However, the output from a scan is not a picture: it is a proper radiological report from an appropriately experienced radiologist — generally a consultant — who has reviewed the images.

The target is that scans should be performed (on non-urgent cases) within six weeks of the request, but there is no mention of the crucial factor, which is when that scan is actually analysed. Because there is a national shortage of radiologists, many of these scans once performed will sit for weeks in a queue before anyone gets round to analysing them. Some of them will show significant pathology.

Hospitals will pour resources into achieving the six-week target (to get the box ticked) but ignore the crucial matter of getting the scans reviewed in a timely manner. The target culture does not work and merely drives dysfunction into the system.
Dr Tom Goodfellow, Consultant Radiologist, Pailton, Warwickshire

Type 1 error

The billionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe (“Union-busting tycoon tackles obese children”, News, March 9) says that “childhood diabetes didn’t exist when I was growing up. It was an old man’s disease. But now lots of kids have diabetes. They are eating so much sugar that by the time they are 16, the pancreas is giving up the ghost.”

In fact 97% of UK childhood diabetes is type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition that cannot be prevented and is not caused by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

Almost 30,000 children in the UK live with type 1 diabetes and must take insulin every day via multiple injections or a pump simply to stay alive.
Karen Addington, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

No deal for Mr Blobby at BBC

IMAGINE what Noel Edmonds’s BBC would be like: a week-long house party with celebrities and game shows (“Mr Blobby bids to buy ‘doomed’ BBC”, News, last week). Perhaps some services need to go, but the corporation’s Reithian ideals should not be thrown out as it comes to terms with commercial limitations. The licence fee is still fabulous value.
Kevin Platt, Walsall, West Midlands

Not so fast on iPlayer boast

Once again the metropolitan and arrogant BBC says the iPlayer is to become the “front door” into the corporation (“BBC report says scrap licence fee”, News, March 9). Has anyone at Auntie inquired about the speed of internet connections outside urban areas? Even my fast connection struggles to cope if every member of my household watches iPlayer. For those outside the big cities the iPlayer will be more of a peephole than a front door.
David Thorpe, New Malden, London

Pay to play
There are many advantages to living in Perth, but Australian TV is not one of them. While we are grateful to be able to listen to The Archers et al free, we miss the quality and variety of BBC TV and would pay a significant premium for such a service. Adam Maxwell, Perth, Australia

Film reviewer flunks her screen test

CAMILLA LONG (“How I became a film critic”, Culture, February 16) writes that Unforgiven was “rubbish”, Mary Poppins was “stomach-churning stuff”, Henry V was great because Kenneth Branagh was “woof” and she saw Howards End four times as she was “unsure if there was anything sexier than being dry-humped on a barge by Samuel West”. Time has gone by but not Long’s teenage approach to life.

Yet it was her review of The Book Thief (Culture, March 2) that led me to write. The vitriol she pours out is false and absurd. She shows no understanding of the horror of wartime — hiding someone in a cellar meant dicing with death for all concerned. She describes the child heroine (played by Sophie Nélisse) as “a pudgy-faced goody-goody who spends most of her time borrowing books or reading to Max, the Jew in the basement”, and says Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush have terrible accents. Watson, Rush, Nélisse and the entire cast are all excellent.

She is trying to follow in the steps of AA Gill but is moving along the wrong path. Gill is wicked but with humour, observation and insight. Long does not notice the heart of a movie — only the penis. Does that make a critic?
Joss Ackland, Clovelly, Devon


Pot shot
Allowing us to take our pension pots in a lump sum is not a good idea. Some people may invest wisely but many will not, and there are financial sharks looking for such tasty morsels. Many will lose their money one way or another.
Alan Scaife, Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire

Hungry for less
Camilla Cavendish makes an excellent analysis of the problems with food banks (“The wrong notions about solving poverty are piled high at the food bank”, Comment, last week). It is inexplicable why Britain, with social security benefits from cradle to grave, has need of them. Average workers cannot possibly live anywhere close to their place of work in the London area. In Greece if you do not work you will starve without family or community support. A fifth of its population is in that position.
Brian Vallance, Lefkimmi, Greece

Working model
Vast legions of non-working adults have become a generational concern in some areas. The churches are not considered relevant. The Conservatives can’t appear too radical on these matters for fear of being labelled uncaring, and so progress is minimal at best. Nothing short of a revolution is required. The next generation should not be allowed to spend their lives being unproductive. An unemployed person should be required to volunteer, be in training or be studying before an allowance is given.
Mary Cecil, Ballycastle, Co Antrim

Balanced opinion
In any society there will be poor and rich — but a society in which the desperately impoverished are minimised and the overly wealthy not lionised would be better than what we have. A differential certainly encourages ambition but too great a differential crushes it.
Bernadette Bowles, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Patriot games
It is a mark of the degree of Euroscepticism in this country that government supporters of the EU feel they have to dress up in patriots’ clothes (“‘True patriot’ Tories urge Cameron to keep UK in Europe”, News, last week). In doing so they miss the point, however. Those of us who oppose the EU do so not just because we are patriots but because we are democrats. We love our country because, despite all its faults, it can claim to have led the world in establishing parliamentary democracy and accountable government.
Mike Lynch, Wolverhampton

Hitting the buffers
The expenditure on HS2 is often justified on the grounds that the rest of Europe has modernised its infrastructure with a fast railway. What is overlooked is that distances in Europe are vastly greater than in Britain and HS2 entails huge expenditure for a gain of minutes rather than hours, as is the case in Europe.
Gordon Vinell, Uckfield, East Sussex

Head in the sand
If the 45 beaches identified by the Environment Agency are unsafe, why is it not closing them immediately instead of waiting until next year (“Kiss me quick before 45 top beaches close”, News, last week)? How many people might suffer illness or worse as a result of this inaction?
Alistair Nicoll, Sheffield

Peace pipe
Tony Benn and the folk singer Roy Bailey came to the Wickham festival two years ago and talked and sang respectively about the struggle for democracy, peace and human rights (“The tears of big Benn”, News Review, last week). Halfway through the evening Benn lit the pipe he had been holding and occasionally sucking on since the start of the proceedings. He puffed away till the end; nobody in the audience objected. Who else would have got away with this?
Gill Farrar, Fareham, Hampshire

Corrections and clarifications

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


Damon Albarn, musician, 46; Mike Atherton, cricketer, 46; Sir Roger Bannister, first man to run four-minute mile, 85; Barry Cryer, comedian, 79; Princess Eugenie of York, 24; Mo Farah, athlete, 31; Sir Chris Hoy, cyclist, 38; Chaka Khan, singer, 61; Michael Nyman, composer, 70; Sir Steve Redgrave, rower, 52


1857 Elisha Otis’s first “safety elevator” installed at 488 Broadway, New York; 1919 Italian Fascist movement founded by Benito Mussolini; 1933 Reichstag passes the Enabling Act, making Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany; 2001 Russian Mir space station burns up in the atmosphere before falling into the Pacific





SIR – A daily shower may now be, as Victoria Lambert writes, the norm. But it was not always so.

Arriving to live in student digs at Exeter University in 1968, I was informed by my landlady that the bathroom was kept locked, and that I could ask for the key to take a bath, once a week.

Neither I nor my fellow house-mates thought this arrangement unusual.

Stephen O’Loughlin
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – I remember well the tin bath in front of the Rayburn on a Friday night in remote Suffolk in the Fifties. As the only girl, I was allowed the bath water first.

Heather M Tanner
Earl Soham, Suffolk


SIR – We write to express our deep concern at the attempt by the Metropolitan Police to introduce water cannon on the streets of London, and urge Theresa May, the Home Secretary, not to authorise their use.

The proposal lacks support even from the police, with five out of the six largest police authorities, several police and crime commissioners and Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, refusing to support the introduction of water cannon. The London Assembly voted down the proposal and 39,000 people have now signed a petition against it.

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ own briefing acknowledges that “water cannon are capable of causing serious injury or even death”. Water cannon would be more likely to be used against organised protests than in situations such as the 2011 riots, with profoundly disturbing implications for democracy.

Mrs May has previously rejected calls for the weapon to be introduced, saying in 2010: “I don’t think anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain because we have… a different attitude to the culture of policing here in the UK. We police by consent and it depends on that trust between the police and the public.” The following year she reiterated: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”

Trust between the police and the public is fundamental to a peaceful, civilised society. The introduction of water cannon would take us down a dark path.

Joanne Darrant
Founder of petition against water cannon
Paul Burstow MP (Lib Dem)
David Lammy MP (Lab)
Andy Slaughter MP (Lab)
Shadow Justice Minister
Dame Tessa Jowell MP (Lab)
Diane Abbott MP (Lab)
Kate Hoey MP (Lab)
Katy Clark MP (Lab)
Andrew Love MP (Lab)
Caroline Lucas MP (Green)
Paul Flynn MP (Lab)
John McDonnell MP (Lab)
Jeremy Corbyn MP (Lab)
Dr Hywel Francis MP (Lab)
Martin Caton MP (Lab)
Sarah Teather MP (Lib Dem)
Dr Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem)
John Leech MP (Lib Dem)
Martin Horwood MP (Lib Dem)
Lord Adonis
Joanne McCartne
Chair, London Assembly Police and Crime Committee
Fiona Twycross
London Assembly Member
Caroline Pidgeon
London Assembly Member
Liz Green
Leader of Kingston Council
Muhammed Butt
Leader of Brent Council
Jean Lambert MEP (Green)
Mary Honeyball MEP (Lab)
Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty
Susan Bryant
Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Helena Kennedy
barrister and human rights law specialist
Gareth Peirce
human rights lawyer
Stephen Knight
London Assembly Member
Darren Johnson
London Assembly Member
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Jeannette Arnold
London Assembly Member
Len Duvall
London Assembly Member
Tom Copley
London Assembly Member
Murad Qureshi
London Assembly Member
Andrew Dismore
London Assembly Member
Susan Bryant
Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Matt Foot
Criminal Defence Solicitor
Hannah Dee
Defend the Right to Protest
Rosie Rogers
National Coordinator, Compass
Dr Chris Cocking
Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton
Susan Matthews
Michelle Stanistree
General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
Paul Kenny
General Secretary, GMB Union
Billy Hayes
General Secretary, Communication Workers Union
Mark Serwotka
General Secretary, PCS Union
Len McCluskey
Unite the Union, General Secretary
Steve Turner
Unite the Union, Assistant General Secretary
Frances O’Grady
General Secretary, Trades Union Congress
Wes Streeting
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Ilford North
Jessica Asato
Labour Paliamentary candidate for Norwich North

Finding your voice

SIR – Mary Beard wonders how we overcome the problem of women’s voices being ignored or labelled with derogatory words such as whine, whinge and strident.

First we need to address where women stand in our society; we must look to issues of equal pay, our domestic role and the nurturing of children. We should enjoy being women and what we have to contribute to the whole – neither better or worse than men, but different. Once we’ve overcome these obstacles, our voices will most certainly be heard as valued members of society.

Gillian Cohen
Hale, Cheshire

Flying jackets

SIR – I used to have access to subload seats on planes, where staff are entitled to travel on a space-available basis. In order to take advantage of this, I was obliged to dress smartly (collar, tie, jacket, no jeans) to “fit in” with first-class passengers. The irony was that the wealthy first-class passengers would, more often than not, be dressed down, not up, so I would be rather conspicuous.

Jeremy Burton
Reading, Berkshire

A fine nose

SIR – My wife is allergic to moulds and fungi, and can tell instantly upon entering a building if it has dry rot . She could make a fortune this way.

John Goulding
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Re-purposed heritage

SIR – Sir George White laments the Ministry of Defence’s plans for Larkhill aerodrome. This week, the local planning committee consigned RAF Hucknall, near Nottingham, to a future of houses and industrial units.

First opened in 1916 it was, from 1935, Rolls-Royce’s flight test establishment. All of the great engines were initially flown from there, from the Kestrel, through the famous Merlin, which powered Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, and heavy bombers, to the RB211 and its derivatives that contribute to this country’s kudos and export earnings. Airborne tests of the original Whittle gas turbine began as early as 1942, followed by the first flight of a Mustang with the Merlin engine, the world’s first turbo-prop aircraft, supersonic military jets, and the “Flying Bedstead” which tested jet-powered vertical take-off, leading directly to the Harrier jump-jet.

Why must we squander our heritage?

David Smith
Calverton, Nottinghamshire

School age

SIR – I was glad to read of the mother’s victory in keeping her son, whose birthday falls at the end of August, at home for another year before starting formal schooling (report, March 21).

When my son was three, he was only just starting to talk and hated being left at a crèche once a week. Luckily, we were living abroad, and my husband’s company paid the fees at the local expat school from the child’s fifth birthday. Starting school at five was right for him: he is currently at Oxford, studying engineering sciences.

Marilyn Leary

Urban pests

SIR – We share Anthony Vickery’s experience of torment by grey squirrel.

Mr Vickery lives in the woods; we live on the top of a block in the Barbican in London. Squirrels have ruined our roof terrace and we have even caught one little monster munching on a vase of roses in our drawing room: it had entered via a slightly open window 200ft up from the street.

The pest control department of the City of London squeamishly refuses to deal with this nuisance (although they willingly exterminate other kinds of vermin).

So where do I find some buzzards?

Richard Lynam
London, EC2

Bletchley Park vs the Museum of Computing

SIR –The Bletchley Park Trust (BPT) says it “bent over backwards to cut the struggling computer museum a good deal in a joint-ticketing proposal for the National Museum of Computing.

At first sight, single-ticketing seemed to be a major step forward in relations between the two, but the offer included a section implicitly questioning the ownership of the Colossus Rebuild.

The National Museum of Computing could not accept a deal with such an unnecessary and provocative statement. The working rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, which cracked the most complex cipher of the Second World War and altered the course of the war, is the highlight of most people’s visit to Bletchley Park. The Colossus Rebuild has been maintained and displayed by the museum for many years through a long-term agreement with Colossus Rebuild Limited.

The “good deal” also failed to recompense the museum adequately for making the Colossus Rebuild available free of charge to Bletchley Park Trust visitors for many years despite calls by the museum since 2008 for fair recompense in the form of a rent and utilities discount. The Computing Museum faced an annual bill of more than £100,000 in rent and utilities from Bletchley Park Trust.

We hope that the Board of BPT will agree to an independent review so that the full facts can be addressed by third parties and the situation finally resolved so that a globally important heritage site can be an inspiration for future generations.

Tim Reynolds (Chairman)
Kevin Murrell (Deputy Chairman)
Andy Clark
Matt Crotty
Margaret Sale
Bob Willett
Kevin Murrell

Trustees of the National Museum of Computing


SIR – We welcome the move by the Chancellor in the Budget to reduce the cost of flyingto growth economies such as China and Brazil.

The next priority should be to ensure that there are the aeroplanes and routes to bring people to and from existing destinations in these markets as well as to new cities in China, Brazil and other growth economies.

One of the biggest barriers to Britain trading more with growing economies is a lack of connectivity. A long-term solution that will deliver a fundamental change in boosting trade is expansion of our airports.

To enhance Britain’s economic competitiveness and our status as a global aviation hub, before the next general election the leaders of all the main parties should commit to airport expansion.

Gavin Hayes

Director, Let Britain Fly

Baroness Jo Valentine

Chief Executive, London First

Mark Boleat

Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation

John Allan

Chairman, Dixons Retail

Sue Brown

Senior Managing Director, FTI Consulting

Sir George Iacobescu

Chairman and Chief Executive, Canary Wharf Group

Ufi Ibrahim

Chief Executive, British Hospitality Association

Andrew Murphy

Retail Director, John Lewis Partnership

David Sleath

Chief Executive Officer, SEGRO PLC

Sir Martin Sorrell

Chief Executive, WPP

Colin Stanbridge

Chief Executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Simon Walker

Director General, Institute of Directors

Mike Cherry

National Policy Chairman, FSB

Tony Pidgley

Group Chairman, Berkeley Group

Iain Anderson

Director and Chief Corporate Counsel, Cicero Group

Surinder Arora

Founder/CEO, Arora International

Dr Eamonn Butler

Director, Adam Smith Institute

Gordon Clark

Country Manager, Global Blue

Richard Dickinson

Chief Executive, New West End Company

Robert Elliott

Chairman and Senior Partner, Linklaters LLP

Chris Grigg

Chief Executive, British Land

Dale Keller

Chief Executive, Board of Airline Representatives in the UK

George Kessler

Group Deputy Chairman, Kesslers International

Tim Knox

Director, Centre for Policy Studies

John Lehal

Managing Director, Insight Public Affairs

John Morgan

Chief Executive Office, Morgan Sindall Group PLC

Theo de Pencier

Chief Executive, Freight Transport Association

John Rhodes

Director, Quod

James Rook

Managing Director, Nimlok LTD

James Rowntree

Managing Director Transportation, CH2M Hill

Francis Salway

Chair, Open for Business Champions

Hugh Seaborn

Chief Executive, Cadogan

Inderneel Singh

General Manager, The May Fair Hotel London

Michael Tobin

Chief Executive, TelecityGroup PLC

Paul Wait

CEO, Guild of Travel Management Companies

Ian Reeves

Senior Partner LLP

Richard Fursland

hief Executive Officer, BritishAmerican Business

Gary Forster

xecutive Director, Turley

Bob Rothenberg

enior Partner, Blick Rothenberg

Sir John Ritblat

Chairman of Governors, LBS

SIR – George Osborne’s announcement of an increase in Air Passenger Duty (APD) for the business jet industry clearly positions operators on the Continent at an unfair advantage over their British counterparts, following a recent survey from the Baltic Air Charter Association suggesting that 25 per cent of non-British business jet operators avoid paying APD.

Yet again the Government is picking on an industry which, according to the latest figures from 2008, contributed 4.2 billion euros to the British economy.

With a potential 50 per cent increase in the amount of APD, some British-based business jet operators will be less able to compete with the rest of Europe. The Chancellor continues to cripple an industry that is a major contributor to the British economy with a duty that was originally proposed as an environmental tax but has simply been absorbed by the Treasury.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore
Chief Executive, London Executive Aviation
Stapleford Tawney, Essex

SIR – The scrapping of the scandalous annuity handcuffs is welcome, but we must be cautious. Pensioners will now be able to spend their own hard-earned money, but we need to avoid the flow of this money offshore to holiday properties, hotels, cruises and luxury goods – none of which will fuel the recovery in Britain. I would like to see pensioners invest and spend their cash on things that benefit Britain, and not the Costa Brava.

While it is their money, it was invested tax-free and some restrictions or incentives on its use would be appropriate.

Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey

SIR – As a result of the Chancellor’s budget, I watched my shares in Aviva and William Hill plummet on Wednesday (thanks, George). My only consolation was that Ed Miliband’s credibility plummeted even further.

Tony Bullock
Kirby Le Soken, Essex



Irish Times:

Irish Independent:


2:30 AM

Madam – Martin Callinan succeeded admirably in one thing. His rather sly tapping into the Irish psyche by linking the evidence of two members of the Garda with the nation’s suspicions of “informers” would do credit to anyone wishing to muddy the water.

Also in this section

No new politics on offer

Quotas contrary to equal opportunity

Monumental achievements

The Sunday Independent banner headline had a politician pleading that we must protect the “whistleblower.” Much like we must protect the white-tailed eagle or some rare bird that is threatened. The pellet-riddled body of a white-tailed eagle tells us how quickly a rare species can be wiped out. That only two men from a force of 14,000 plus (not counting retired members) felt compelled to speak out, tells us how scared the rest are. Or are they so steeped in endemic sloppy practice that right and wrong are now blurred into grey?

The penalty points fiasco has permeated all of Irish life, in particular the ruling and influential classes. It is alleged points were wiped out across the pillars of society and its four estates. That erosion comes at a price. Sometimes it’s a favour returned and sometimes it’s just pointed silence and a nod of the head the other direction. That the whistleblower is seen as some lesser spotted oddity and needs protection surely is amazing.

In a true democracy both the Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner would be gone by now. This won’t happen, because in Ireland we avoid sword-falling like an alcoholic avoids lemonade. However the body politic and a once grand institution is now dragged down to the level that the Catholic Church is viewed over its dealings with the various abuses.

Well done to all concerned including the rather silent Garda unions who left two honest colleagues swivel on a stick. One assumes the next government will appoint an outsider with managerial experience and a strong constitution to head the Garda force.

That whistleblowers need protection, that it merits a front page headline, is an indication of how far into the slime we as a people have sunk.

John Cuffe,

Dunboyne, Co Meath

Monumental achievements

Madam – I was almost in full agreement with Declan Lynch (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) on his assessment of the Failte Ireland/Inspire Ireland promotional video, which I found cringe-inducing.

However, I took exception to his analysis of the video caption “Newgrange is older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge” when he declared “this could simply mean we’ve been reducing everything to ruins longer than anyone else”.

Newgrange is, of course, not in ruins but rather is one of the best-preserved Neolithic monuments in the world. It is almost incomprehensible that our ancestors, some 5,000 years ago, had such knowledge of the seasons and the trajectory of the sun and that when at its lowest azimuth on a single day in December they were able to harness its sunlight through a narrow channel to a central chamber. If this is not something we should use in promoting tourism in Ireland, then I’m not sure what else should qualify.

John Bellew,

Dunleer, Co Louth


Madam – The comments by Declan Lynch (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) were timely and true.

This Government is a real letdown in my view. All we can now aspire to as a country is to get a job working for an American. Since jobs are being shed at the same time, are we running after a receding train?

It seems that cars that can drive themselves will appear in the near future – they are almost ready. What will this do to those earning a living by driving?

We have more university qualifications than ever before. Yet all they do is ship off to Australia for a job. I once believed that education would help end unemployment and emigration, through empowerment. Why is this not the case?

Those who voted in the Government can hardly slate it now. What can sheep expect but to be slaughtered – or, as the Greeks say: “We are not the Irish.”

John Arthur,

Dublin 16


Madam – May I echo the words of David Scott from Belfast (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) regarding Ireland’s Call. Yes it will take time to grow a fondness and attachment to it, but it is those words – “The four proud provinces of Ireland” – that stir me. It is a precious thing to see the 32 counties represent Ireland, and long may it continue and grow to all sports regardless of your political alliance. As a very proud Irishman I am humbled to see our men from Ulster wear the green of Ireland with the passion and pride they do.

Michael Fitzgerald,

Jersey, Channel Islands


Madam –As a long-term reader, I am sick sore and tired of your correspondents referring to my country, Northern Ireland, as ‘The North’.

Why can’t these people use the proper term and give our country the respect it deserves? Better still, why don’t you set an example by living up to the sub-heading of your letters page and exercise your right to ‘edit where necessary’?

John McClung,

Kells, Co Antrim


Madam – Following further revelations about the state of the administration of the penalty points system, I wonder if any of your readers are in the same position as myself.

When, in December 2013, I was notified that two points had been put on my licence for a speeding offence, I discovered somewhat alarmingly that I already had two points belonging to another driver.

Numerous letters, phone calls and emails have resulted in me being one step nearer to having the rogue points removed.

However, as the first offence took place in June 2011 and points cannot be removed retrospectively, I will have points on my licence for six years for one offence.

Robert Brown,

Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary


Madam – Eoghan Harris proposed that the silver Scott medal be awarded to the Garda “whistleblowers” (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014). Surely he jests.

There are few Scott medals presented, and when done, it is for bravery displayed in the face of great personal danger.

Gardai, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good, are a treasure to be cherished.

Fergus Moroney,

Castlegregory, Co Kerry


Madam – How sad to read on the front page (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) “that two district judges named in the whistleblower file on penalty points, each had their points removed three times, and points were also removed for the spouse of one of the judges”.

“This revelation is particularly serious in light of the fact that it is district judges who adjudicate on a daily basis on citizens who face the imposition of penalty points on foot of charges under the road traffic acts.”

This article continued on to page two, and it was so appropriate to read on page three opposite, a poem, The Madness of Mammon, by Anthony Cronin: “The sins of the rulers shall be visited on the people, forever and ever. The poorer we are, the more honest we’re required to be.”

This poem could have been a continuation of the penalty points story, and was so appropriate in the context of recent events. Oh dear, things never change.

John M Hunt,

Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo


Madam – I agree with both Eoghan Harris and Gene Kerrigan that whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson should be praised for the work they’ve done in exposing malpractice. The fact that this Government, and in particular the Minister for Justice, has refused to do so shows a government unrepresentative of the people it serves.

There is a way, however, that the people can show their appreciation and also embarrass the Government into doing the same. Log on to the “People of the Year” website and nominate the two whistleblowers. Then when the Taoiseach has to present them with their award it might dawn on him that his loyalty should have been to the people of Ireland, not his buddies the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner.

Kevin Conry,

Mullingar, Co Westmeath



Madam – In her critique of Minister Howlin’s FOI Bill (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014), Emer O’Kelly notes, I assume sardonically, that the minister “wants to give the little man and woman the right to find out how the great public and semi-private corporations are operating on their behalf”.

The minister richly deserves a derisive tone to overlay any analysis of his plan for the FOI Bill. While purporting to herald a new era of transparency, a section of this bill actually takes us in the opposite direction.

The current law requires public bodies to make known to the public, information regarding their operations across a range of categories, (sections 15 and 16 FOI Act 1997). The new bill abolishes this legal requirement and instead gives the power to the public institutions to decide what they will make public.

In addition, the minister is vested with new powers to decide what information will be published and to revise such information if he “thinks fit” to do so: Section 8 FOI Bill.

In his defence, the minister has said that a new “code of practice and guidelines” will contain publication requirements for the public bodies, but this code and guidelines are not specified in the text of the law – and it is what is printed in the text of the statute that matters.

This is an incredibly retrograde step that urgently requires the retention of the current law and not a ‘make it up as you go along’ charter, which is what the bill proposes.

John Sullivan,

Dublin 7

No new politics on offer

Madam – ‘Revolution’ or ‘busted flush’? (“Enda’s revolution needs heads to roll,” Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014); tossed stir-fried ratatouille or drab ‘deja vu’? What does this non-Government now offer us?

Some of us suggested, back in 2008 or so, that TDs should take Edmund Burke‘s definition of their mandate seriously, remove the flaked-out Cowen regime and form the equivalent of a National Government to confront what was clearly a national emergency.

Such a patriotic and pragmatic leap outside the box suited nobody in Leinster House. Everybody had their own blinkered reason for waiting for the then ‘Administration’ to collapse so that they could cherry-pick the carcase.

Professor Morgan Kelly may or may not be correct in his identification of the runaway locomotive coming hurtling down the track. What we can state with some certainty is that the EU is not yet ready to ‘work’ in the way it was intended to. For the benefit and security of all its members – particularly the smaller, more ‘open’ and vulnerable. Such as ourselves.

You, Madam, have done your best to encourage us, the Plain People of Ireland, to generate ‘a new politics’. I see no coherent and potentially politically effective group in Leinster House offering the long, hard road to such a new politics.

When I vote on May 23, I will see no such group of candidates on the ballot paper. However, time is short and if we do not take control of the locomotive of history soon, it will drag us, sleep-walking, to oblivion.

Maurice O’Connell,

Tralee, Co Kerry

Quotas contrary to equal opportunity

Madam – Regarding Emer O’Kelly’s article (Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014) on gender quotas and Sheila O’Flanagan’s response (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014), Ms O’Kelly’s article is the more convincing of the two in terms of reasoning and logic.

While Ms O’Flanagan is undoubtedly correct in saying that men in high positions do not always owe their status to being the best persons for their jobs on the basis of ability, quotas raise serious issues of their own.

As someone who has voted for women candidates in the past, I regret to say that the introduction of quotas will make me think twice about doing so in future because it will be impossible to know if such candidates have been chosen primarily for their ability or primarily to fill a quota.

This is a valid point, and I quite fail to follow Ms O’Flanagan’s reasoning when she says: “Such a belief is only possible if it is the case that all the male incumbents . . . are the best person for the job by reason of ability.”

Quotas are, by their very nature, obstacles to choosing the best persons on the basis of individual merit and are contrary to the concept of equality of opportunity, which is not the same thing as equality of outcome.

The supposed need for quotas seems to be based on the simplistic egalitarian premise that just because men and women are roughly equal in numbers in the general population, this should be reflected in every profession or occupation, and at every level, on the grounds that gender imbalances are always due to “sexism” and past or present discrimination, whether direct or indirect.

I do agree there are a few instances in which gender quotas could be justified, and one of these is in relation to education. UK research suggests that boys’ academic performance has suffered relative to that of girls because of the shortage of male teachers in both primary and secondary schools, a shortage which is especially acute in the former. Research also suggests there’s a preference among teachers for teaching girls, which, if correct, bodes ill for boys in the context of a female-dominated teaching profession. However, given today’s PC climate, there’s little chance of a serious debate on these matters anytime soon.

Hugh Gibney,

Athboy, Co Meath


Madam – Sheila O’Flanagan’s criticism of the people who have objections to the long overdue efforts to get more women on the ballot papers in the next general election is apt and to the point (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014).

The message from the objectors is that the women on the ballot paper are ‘token’ and have no ability. The ‘token’ mantra will be repeated ad nauseam by insiders and incumbents from now till the general election and beyond.

We are told that, since independence, a mere five per cent of TDs have been women. The Dail is still 80-90 per cent male. Now when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind on the ballot paper, the insiders and the incumbents will fight tooth and nail to undermine the effort.

They should not succeed.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13


Madam – Gene Kerrigan’s piece (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) was a simple work of journalistic brilliance.

When I first heard and then read the Garda Commissioner’s comment on the whistleblowers, I thought to myself that I must have misheard him or not interpreted his thoughts correctly. Unfortunately I was wrong.

To think our Justice Minister and Taoiseach approve of him only makes the whole sorry episode even sadder.

It would be nice to think that by the time this comes to print our Commissioner would have resigned, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Sean Healy,




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