29 March 2014 Liz

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an inspection by the admiral. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her take Liz

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Bruce Robertson , who has died aged 79, was managing director of the book design and artwork partnership Diagram and founder of the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title, an award presented annually by The Bookseller magazine.

Robertson and his business partner Trevor Bounford dreamed up the award in 1978 to avoid boredom at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. The first award went to Proceedings Of The Second International Workshop On Nude Mice. Other winners over the years have included How to Avoid Huge Ships; Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop; and Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way.

The Diagram Prize (which earns the winner a passable bottle of claret and — possibly — a boost in sales) is unique in that spotters and judges do not actually have to read the books in question. Indeed, they are actively discouraged from doing so, in case a close knowledge of the subject leads them to conclude that the titles are less odd than they first appear.

The prize grabbed the imagination of the Press and, indeed, became so high-profile that in 2004 the organisers complained that some publishers were self-consciously choosing titles with a view to winning it, “presumably in a bid to emulate the 2003 champion, Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories”. There have also been moments of nail-biting controversy. In 1999, for example, Male Genitalia of Butterflies of the Balkan Peninsula, with a Checklist, was a favourite to win — until it was rejected for being deliberately boring.

The competition was initially decided by a panel of judges, but since 2000 the winner has been chosen by a public vote on The Bookseller’s website — a development that has led to complaints of dumbing down and vulgarity (as seen in the controversial winner of the 2007 award, If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs). However, it should perhaps be noted that the 2011 winner, Cooking with Poo, is, in fact, a manual about how to create Thai dishes with crab.

With his shaggy beard, Union flag ties and black beret, Robertson cut a colourful figure on the book fair scene. His company, which specialises in book packaging and graphics, had little opportunity to enter the competition in its own right. However, Robertson was particularly proud to have been involved in the publication of a Japanese edition of Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual — in Braille complete with charts, “thus enabling blind Japanese women to know what goes on in their bodies”, as he put it.

Bruce Robertson was born in Sunderland, then part of Co Durham (now Tyne and Wear) on December 8 1934. His father, Fred, was the manager of a Co-Op store and his mother, Ivy, a cook in a local school.

After Hylton Road School and Sunderland Technical College for Boys, Bruce took up an apprenticeship at a local architectural practice. He proved so skilled at drawing that the owner of the practice suggested to his parents that he attend art school. Eventually, after two years’ National Service in the Army, he took up a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.

Having graduated, Robertson worked for several publishing houses, including Penguin and Aldus Books, doing graphic and book jacket design. He then held a teaching post at Chelsea School of Art and in 1960, with Bob Chapman, founded Diagram. Over the next 50 years the company grew to be a successful book packager, providing graphic and other material for some 270 publishers around the world.

The most recent Diagram Prize, the 36th, was, by coincidence, presented on the day of Robertson’s death. Continuing to mine a well-worn scatological seam, the prize went to How to Poo on a Date, by Mats and Enzo, a manual for dealing with calls of nature during romantic nights out.

Bruce Robertson is survived by his wife, Patricia, whom he married in 1959, and by their two sons and two daughters,

Bruce Robertson, born December 8 1934, died March 21 2014


In 1968 I was a young journalist on Business Management. For an article about management practices I interviewed Tony Benn, then minister of technology, on the “brain drain”. I was given the prize possession of our office – the tape-recorder. Apart from the on/off switch, I had no idea how it worked, but it was a better bet than my unreadable shorthand. I waited nervously on the 11th floor of Millbank Tower. He greeted me warmly, holding his trademark pint-sized mug of tea, and patiently answered my questions. Half-way through, the tape-recorder whirred and stopped. I sat helplessly. Benn smiled and asked politely if he could help. We spent 20 minutes sitting on the floor while he repaired it. The article appeared with a great picture of him. I remember his kindness to a young female journalist, whose career could have come to an abrupt end, with huge gratitude.
Lesley Bernstein

• Following the laying to rest of Tony Benn, it would be a fitting tribute for the Labour party to organise an annual memorial lecture, both in his honour and to keep radical alternative socialist views alive within the party. Perhaps Ken Loach could deliver the first one (Labour is part of the problem, not the solution, 28 March). If ever we need an echo of the principled, values-driven vision characterised by Benn within the Labour party it is now.
Gary Nethercott
Woodbridge, Suffolk

•  Suzanne Moore makes two misleading claims (I’m all for ‘weird’ Ed Miliband if it means a genuine alternative, G2, 27 March). First, she states that my selection as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Aberavon was the result of me somehow being “shunted” into the selection process by the party. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labour parliamentary selections are contested on the basis of one member one vote. Like all the other candidates in the Aberavon selection, I spent months meeting and speaking with hundreds of our members across the constituency, knocking on doors, making phone calls and engaging in debate about local, national and global issues. Ms Moore is welcome to her conspiracy theories about “patronage”, but the fact is that the Aberavon parliamentary selection was proof of Labour’s commitment to localism and democracy.

Second, Ms Moore claims that my domestic arrangements will prevent me from spending time in the constituency. As I made clear throughout the selection process, I am fully committed to being an active local campaigning candidate and MP. As such I will be establishing my home and a fully staffed office in the constituency and look forward to working hard in, and for, the community.
Stephen Kinnock

Having retired from teaching in recent years, I am so appreciative of our public services and now have time to write and sing their praises. Everything I’ve encountered today, as I write, was thanks to our fantastic, publicly funded amenities, so often unfairly criticised by politicians. This morning I benefited from a local authority-subsidised adult education class, meeting other keen and sociable learners. This centre is buzzing and a lifeline for older students who cannot get out much. Later I called in at one of Bristol’s local libraries, where staff really go out of their way to find the books I want, or reserve them – and all for free. They had just organised a public talk and signing by the acclaimed local writer and recent Costa award winner, Nathan Filer.

To give a bit back to the community, I spend an afternoon a week in a primary school listening to young children reading. I am so impressed and inspired by the commitment and hard work of the teachers and classroom assistants who take so much care and time to organise the education of 30-plus youngsters in their classes. And everywhere was reached by public transport, using my bus pass. When I arrived home, I had a phone call from my doctor following up a hospital visit, to pass on a prescription that I might need in the future. Of course there are also gyms, sport centres and university talks and concerts to take care of our physical and mental wellbeing.

Our public services have taken years to set up, develop and improve, and we are so fortunate in this country to benefit from such a variety of excellent facilities and their employees. So we must fight like hell to stop any government taking them away. I urge everyone not to let this government denigrate the NHS, our education service, our local libraries etc. Instead we must celebrate how much they enhance the quality of our lives and allow us to participate as active and independent members of our communities.
Ann Thomas

It is right that there is a clear distinction between giving medical care to someone previously subject to female genital mutilation, such as stitches after childbirth to control bleeding, and committing an offence (FGM charge hides the real issues, Letters, 28 March).

The law is clear that no offence of female genital mutilation is committed by an approved person who performs a surgical operation which is necessary for the patient’s physical or mental health, or for the purposes connected with the labour or birth. This was, of course, considered in this case.

The full facts of this case are yet to be heard in court and commentary which misunderstands the facts is unhelpful in this very important area of the law. It is also extremely important that nothing prejudices the upcoming trial.
Alison Saunders
Director of public prosecutions

With the first same-sex marriage taking place in Britain – in Brighton today (Report, 28 March) – is it not the time either to pass legislation permitting civil partnerships between heterosexual couples or to repeal the legislation recognising civil partnerships?
Peter Cave

• Contrast the “noiseless” 2014 Grand Prix racing engines (Sport, 26 March) with the glorious sounds of the V12, V8 and V16 power units of the past. Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Derek Warwick are right to complain. Grands Prix should be the pinnacle of motorsport, yet computers and modern technology have stripped it of all the drama, passion and emotion when Moss, Mike Hawthorn and others had to drive by the seat of their pants. That’s what made the crowds feel that these legends were gladiators and not robots.  Not for them, a boffin in the pits telling him to slow down and switch off his engine to save it for the next race.
Paul Foxall
Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire

• You remind us (Codebreaker who secretly read Hitler’s mail dies at 93, 27 March) that Raymond “Gerry” Roberts, one of the founding members of the Bletchley Park decipherers, helped to save millions of lives and shorten the second world war by an estimated two years. That more than 60 years later, in extreme old age, Roberts received a lowly MBE for his great  services to the UK and far beyond, offers another disquieting reminder that our honours system is far from honourable and lacks any set of true moral values.
Nicholas de Jongh

• Is this “control freak” Jeremy Hunt (Report, 28 March) the same minister who had no idea what his political aide Adam Smith was doing during the BSkyB take over bid?
Chris Kedge
Rainhill, Merseyside

• Your letter about mushy peas (25 March) reminds me of a lunch with friends at a pub in Northamptonshire. After we had selected our meals we were asked if we wanted northern or southern peas. Perhaps they couldn’t bring themselves to use the word mushy with its northern connotations.
Chris Jones
Bewdley, Worcestershire

• All these crazy place names (Letters, 28 March) are driving me to Witts End, Bedfordshire.
Brian Golby
Harlington, Bedfordshire

Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 27 March), writing about the contribution the Midlands have made to Britain’s culture and industry, curiously made no mention of Burton upon Trent, which in the late 19th century was the most important brewing town in the world. Due to the remarkable waters of the Trent Valley, which are rich in natural sulphates, brewers in Burton were able to perfect the first pale beers in the shape of pale ale and its strong export version, India pale ale (IPA).

Before Burton, beers – including lager beer from central Europe – were dark. The Burton brewers harnessed the new technologies of the industrial revolution to make pale rather than dark malt and added Trent Valley water that drew out the full flavours of malt and hops.

Burton pale ale transformed brewing on a world scale. Brewers from Austria and Germany hurried to the town in the East Midlands to see how pale ale was made and returned home to fashion the first golden lager beers.

As a result of corporate greed and stupidity, most of the famous names in Burton brewing, such as Bass and Ind Coope, have gone. But Marston’s, with its Pedigree pale ale, remains a major figure in British brewing and it’s been joined by a clutch of new craft brewers in the town. One of Burton’s great brewers of yesteryear, William Worthington, is commemorated in a small brewery named in his honour at the National Brewery Centre that celebrates Burton’s great contribution to brewing.
Roger Protz
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Robert Shore rightly reminds us of the importance of Birmingham and mentions the cities of the East Midlands, but what about further west into Shropshire? The iconic Ironbridge, now a World Heritage site, is shown, but there should be mention of nearby Coalbrookdale as an important centre of industry. In the county town of Shrewsbury lived some of the pioneers of the use of wrought iron in the building industry, as can be seen in one of the earliest iron-framed buildings, the Flax Mill. This technique proved to be the inspiration for the building of skyscrapers.

Shrewsbury, not far from the ruins of Wroxeter, the fourth most important town in Roman Britain, has connections with many famous people: Charles 1 visited, Charles Darwin was born here, Charles Dickens stayed here, Disraeli was its MP in 1841, the war poet Wilfred Owen lived here, as did the writer, Mary Webb. The reference to “blue remembered hills” in AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is an apt description of the land stretching into Wales.

Built above a loop in the River Severn, Shrewsbury has almost 600 listed buildings, narrow medieval streets, a castle, an abbey, of Brother Cadfael fame, many churches, a new theatre and a famous annual flower show.
Helen Wilson
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• Devotees of heavy riffing and high volume will have noticed a glaring omission. No mention of the region’s status as the birthplace and spiritual homeland of heavy metal. Black Sabbath started it all, of course, but consider a lineage which includes Judas Priest, Napalm Death, Godflesh and Iron Monkey (among countless others). It’s no wonder that there was sufficient interest and material for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to host an exhibition called Home of Metal in 2011. Surely a piece which found room for comedy singer Robbie Williams could have also given due credit to Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward?
Olly Thomas
Brighton, East Sussex

• Why no mention of the greatest Midlander of all time, Robin Hood? He is in much need at the present time to ensure that the rich are robbed to give to the poor. Our contemporary sheriffs in Westminster seek to undermine this principle of social and economic justice, but Robin always had popular support.
Canon David Jennings
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire

• I was surprised that you failed to mention Charles Darwin. Shrewsbury, his birthplace, is nearer the centre of the region than the eastern outpost that is Grantham, home to Isaac Newton.
Paul Pascoe
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• No wonder the Midlands are so often subsumed into the north. In the letter calling for HS2 to be speeded through parliament (28 March), the signatories describe themselves as leaders of eight major “northern” cities, yet the group includes Derby and Nottingham.
Dr Alex May


Where is this “real world” that Graham Hinitt (letter, 27 March) inhabited? It is entirely unclear why he believes that his role in financial services, which entailed, inter alia, long hours of record-keeping, was more real than that of teachers, or whether he believes that teachers should be doing more paperwork or should stop moaning about what they already do. 

Although my days as a teacher did involve increasing amounts of record-keeping and, obviously, teaching, they also required me to deal with the baggage that the pupils brought to school with them.

Over the years, this baggage included: acrimoniously divorcing parents who used the child as a stick to beat each other; eating disorders; abuse of drugs and/or alcohol; pupils with suicidal feelings; those who were being physically, sexually or emotionally abused at home; acute anxiety over academic performance; unwanted pregnancy; and those struggling with their sexuality.

I’m afraid Mr Hinitt is suffering from the delusion that because teachers are not engaged in wealth creation they are not living in the real world.

I can assure him that it was uncomfortably real to those pupils and often to the teachers who tried to support them.

Kathy Moyse, Cobham, Surrey

The trouble with some financial services managers, such as Graham Hinitt, is that even when they leave school they never actually work in the real world. They don’t understand how tough it is in the teaching profession, having only seen it from the point of view of the pupil.

Before my retirement I worked at one time in a secondary school – not as a teacher but in admin. Having previously worked in the “real world”, I gained a new respect for the teaching profession.

The hours were long  and much time was spent on record-keeping, as  well as actually in the classroom. Not possible to get a coffee whenever you feel the need – not with a class of pupils requiring your undivided attention the whole time.

Many teachers have worked in business before taking up teaching and they certainly would not consider it to be a soft option.

I suggest that Mr Hinitt spends some time volunteering in a school, I am sure his expertise would be much appreciated and he would gain useful knowledge.

Jill O’Kelly, Horringer, Suffolk

In the late 19th century, my grandmother taught classes of about 50 children and regularly fell asleep over a pile of marking in the evening – long hours and hard work. Yet she inspired generations of my family to follow her, because teaching is a joyous and rewarding experience.

The line of teachers has survived unbroken until now, but it is about to come to an end with the resignations of two members of my family,  one from the primary and one from the secondary sector, both consistently rated “outstanding” throughout their long careers.

It’s nothing to do with hard work and long hours; it’s because of frustration at not being able to do the job as it should be done.

Alison Sutherland (letter, 28 March) says it all: “daft organisational and curriculum ideas” imposed by people who have no idea of the implications. Teaching and learning are no longer a joyous experience for anyone.

My grandmother would be very sad indeed.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire

Why Crimea is so important to Putin

Mary Dejevsky (27 March) recommends bold action to negotiate and resolve our problems with Russia, but I don’t think she addresses the main reason why Russia wants to secure Crimea – which is the link Crimea provides with its naval base in Syria, preserving its ability to support its clients, mainly Assad, and its general ability to influence events in the Middle East.

This is also the reason why the West, pungently represented by the US’s Victoria Nuland, whose scorn for her European Union partners was so memorably recorded, gave so much power to the elbow of the anti-Russian streetfighters  in Kiev.

A secure pro-Western Ukrainian government intending to winkle the Russians out of Sevastopol would have been extremely helpful.

Russia is acting ruthlessly, but not from sheer weakness, as Barack Obama claims, rather from a determination to preserve, for good or ill, what power over the world’s most vital region remains to it.

The problem that needs to be resolved is not so much those that Mary Dejevsky explicitly mentions but the Israel/Palestine problem, which is spreading poison through all the world’s veins

Martin Hughes, Wokingham, Berkshire

Vladimir Putin’s colonialist occupation of Crimea offers Islamic jihadis a pool of potential recruits among the peninsula’s 300,000 Muslim Tatars, and a new Black Sea coastal forward base for terrorism only 200km from the EU’s eastern border.

The Crimean Tatars have no love for Russia which, in the 1940s, ethnically cleansed their grandparents from their ancestral homeland to Central Asia, from where they have been returning since the 1980s to a territory safely outside Russia since 1954.

Faced with new threats to their security and ethnic identity, the more embittered Tatars will be natural allies for Chechen separatists to the east of the Black Sea, battle-hardened by two wars with Russia and now fighting in Syria against Russia’s ally President Assad, and other regional activists.

A saner strategist than Putin might have considered that the last thing the world needs is any more disaffected Muslims – especially ones with a genuine grievance against the occupation of their country. We should not, therefore, be surprised when we see TV footage of Russians again reeling from Chechen-style bombing campaigns, orchestrated from a Black Sea arc with easy access to the whole Middle East.

The pity is that jihadis, once indoctrinated, don’t tend to feel geographically restricted from turning their wrath against other targets.

David Crawford, Bromley, Kent

Privatised power has run out of steam

When the largest gas supplier threatens us all with the lights going out, we surely know that the experiment with privatised power generation and supply has failed.

It is time for the public sector to re-establish control over our power supplies. We deserve a cheaper, sustainable, more reliable alternative. We would never put our national security at risk by selling our military defences to the private sector to be subsequently sold to foreign institutions, yet our energy supplies are essential to our daily security.

Lee Dalton

Weymouth, Dorset

With the CEO of Centrica threatening blackouts, has it occurred to anyone else that the privatisation of our national energy was the worst legislation in Parliamentary history? I know who I will  be burning in effigy on  5 November.

David Monkman

Ramsey St Mary’s, Cambridgeshire

end this sex discrimination

With the first same-sex marriage taking place in Britain today, is not the time ripe either to pass legislation permitting civil partnerships between heterosexual couples or to repeal the legislation recognising same-sex civil partnerships? Until such legislation is passed, is not unjustified discrimination being manifested?

Peter Cave

London W1

cow fodder  vs the gadfly

I am happy to enlighten Dave Keeley (letter, 28 March) on the origins of the word Farage. Obviously, it comes from the Latin farrago which my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary tells me meant “mixed fodder for cattle, hence fig, a medley, a confused group, a hotchpotch”.

As for the word Clegg, it seems to have Old Norse origins from “kleggi: a gadfly”, now meaning figuratively “one who torments and worries another” and “an irresistible impulse”. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Patrick Walsh


I have long believed that the world would be a jollier place if we were allowed to pronounce two names in British politics in a slightly different way.

Farage should surely rhyme with the south London garage of my youth, ie “farridge”, while Gove must, in all conscience, rhyme either with “move”  or “shove”. See? You’re smiling already.

Steve Clarke

Portree, Isle of Skye

Farage vs Clegg was like two donkeys going round Aintree.

Amanda Baker

Morpeth,  Northumberland

how many mothers  are you buying for?

Is there any special significance in one town-centre card shop offering “Mother’s Day cards: five for a pound!”?

Godfrey H Holmes


Sir, Neil Jones (letter, Mar 27) is entertainingly provocative about BBC radio audiences. The Radio Joint Audience Research figures for the three months to December 2013 show that Radio 4 was listened to by just over 11 million people, and Radio 3 by just below 2 million. Neither figure is insignificant, and both contradict his suggestions that few people listen to Radio 4 and “hardly anyone has ever listened to Radio 3”.

Richard Doubleday


Sir, In answer to the letter from Mr Jones, I expect you will be bombarded with letters from people like me, still well under 50, who regularly listen to Radio 4 and have done for many years.

Robert Duddridge

Woodford Green, Essex

Sir, Elitist is the one thing Radio 3 and Radio 4 are not. They are available to all, free of charge — no TV licence is required to listen. They enable anyone, including the poorest in society, to listen to the greatest thinkers, artists and intellectuals of our time.

Stephen Follows

London W14

Sir, On March 16 the sun was shining and vast numbers of people under 50 (and many under 50 in spirit) were enjoying themselves on the South Bank to the soundtrack of not Radio 1, but Radio 3 at the start of its residence at the Southbank Centre. There were no clamouring voices demanding the music be changed. This is but one small example of the enjoyment and fulfilment that Radio 3 and 4 provide to their listeners. They engage, educate, provoke and transform, and allow communal experience without demanding physical presence, which for many would be impossible. They offer a wealth of knowledge and debate otherwise out of reach of many, and permit exploration of the most pressing topics, the farthest lands, the most astounding music and human endeavours.

These all seem to be excellent purposes. Perhaps Mr Jones should close his eyes and listen with more open ears.

Joanna Williams (aged 29)

London SW19

Sir, Even if it were true that no one under 50 listens to Radio 4, that would still give a potential audience of some 20 million. Is there not a wider point behind the call to get rid of BBC Radio? If its informal role of guardian (and definer) of what it means to “educate, entertain and inform” must now be given to the market to decide then, logically, we must also disband all other institutions that help us distinguish quality from mere popularity.

Without the foundation stone of “this is better than that because . . .”, all that will remain of our cultural life will be the sciences (where “truth” is testable and provisional) and the marketing of popular entertainment. However much we may disagree with others about what is good in culture, life without the debate — and someone to insist that there is a debate to be had — would be very much shallower.

David Boorer

Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Sir, No one listens to the radio? Does Mr Jones not know any painters, bricklayers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, scaffolders and kitchen fitters?

John Smart

Taverham, Norfolk

More than 60 leading physicians and medical scientists call for an urgent response to climate change

Sir, On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its latest report on the current and projected impact of global warming and climate change. The report will add substantially to the existing evidence that climate change represents, as The Lancet put it, “the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century”.

Leaked drafts of the report describe how human health and social stability will suffer. Altered patterns of disease, extreme weather events, food and water scarcity, human migration and violent conflict will affect hundreds of millions of people within our lifetimes and those of our children. These impacts are already affecting populations worldwide.

The IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. The American Association for the Advancement of Science confirms that “the wellbeing of people of all nations [is] at risk” and that there is now a “real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts” on people around the globe.

As medical professionals, we call for immediate preventative action through a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and rapid transition to a zero-carbon world, at a pace far beyond that which is already planned. This will require transformative and radical change to energy policies, patterns of consumption, and transport systems, among other things. Such change may be considered disruptive and difficult, but such actions are necessary and can bring enormous benefits to human health and wellbeing both in the short term and in the years and decades to come.

Never before have we known so much and done so little. Failing to act decisively and quickly will inevitably cause great suffering and have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Sir Richard Thompson

Royal College of Physicians

Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran

British Medical Association

Professor Terence Stephenson

Nuffield Professor of Child Health

Professor Norman S Williams

Royal College of Surgeons of England

Dame Julie Moore

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Professor David Haslam


Professor Hugh Montgomery,

UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance

Dr Fiona Godlee

Editor, British Medical Journal

Dr David Pencheon

Sustainable Development Unit

Dr Robin Stott

Climate and Health Council

A reader recalls finding a souvenir of the Great War in his garden – was it lost or did someone throw it away?

Sir, Apropos Bob Smethurst, the former dustman who rescued Great War memorabilia from bins (report, Mar 17), it reminds me that many years ago when digging in my garden my fork struck a metal object. It was a bronze plaque, 4¾ inches in diameter, inscribed “He died for freedom and honour” around the circumference with the name Norman Alfred Lee next to Britannia and a lion. It turned out to be a next-of-kin memorial plaque (or “death penny”); over one million were issued to the next-of-kin of those who fell in the war. I always wonder if it was buried on purpose or thrown away during a house move.

Richard F. A. Strother


Responses to the proposal to concentrate NHS resources on the young because they are more valuable to society

Sir, Sir Andrew Dillon’s assertion that saving the lives of the elderly is less valuable to society than saving younger people (“Young must come before elderly, NHS adviser says”, Mar 27) is nonsense. A person’s value to society can vary from very positive to very negative. A much better and acceptable explanation of Sir Andrew’s proposal, which has merit, is that the benefit applies to the person and not to society.

Brian Parker


Sir, If we are to consider a patient’s contribution to society when allocating healthcare resources then surely we should prioritise those who have contributed more? The elderly have given a lifetime to society, and a healthcare system that recognises this and cares for our elderly and terminally ill is of much greater importance to society than Sir Andrew Dillon’s opinions.

Dr Ian Coyle-Gilchrist

Neurology Registrar, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

Dr Lorraine Peck

Haematology Registrar, Royal Free Hospital, London

The nonsense about prisoners not being allowed books is not confined to a single inhumane prison

Sir, The ban on receiving books in prison (letter, Mar 27) already exists at HMP Albany on the Isle of Wight. I support a prisoner transferred from HMP Wandsworth — a tough regime where he could not receive books by post, directly or via Amazon, though I could bring them in personally for him. At HMP Albany I cannot even bring in or post anything at all for him. Can the prison regime get more inhumane than this?

Peter Flower

New Malden, Surrey


SIR – Each year, as we approach the fourth Sunday of Lent, we are bombarded with an increasing number of advertisements and inaccurate references to “Mother’s Day”, an American invention that seems to have eaten into our retail soul.

The correct name for Mother’s Day in Britain is Mothering Sunday, and its origins are very British. In Victorian times, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mothers and families. Although the sentiments are similar, Mother’s Day in America has distinctly different beginnings.

If we are to preserve any semblance of our national identity, perhaps some of our more prestigious institutions and trading outlets, such as the National Trust and Marks & Spencer, could lead by stemming the tide of this historical erosion.

Julian Stapleton
Ash, Somerset

SIR – It is not surprising that consumers do not switch suppliers all that often (“Millions paying too much for energy”).

The procedure is complicated. I am in the process of changing now. It is taking several weeks and it is still not done. At present, I am committed to two direct debits, which is stupid but unavoidable.

Keith Moore
Yoxford, Suffolk

SIR – Individual consumers do not need to know what part of the bill is down to green taxes, and the power companies should be allowed to keep their billing as simple as possible. If the Government feels the need to impose green taxes, it should do so exclusively on power company profits.

It’s no wonder power companies are reluctant to make long-term investments in new plant when politicians of all parties are playing Russian roulette with the energy markets.

Don Edwards
Manningtree, Essex

SIR – SSE has made its offer of freezing prices in the expectation, I suspect, of gas prices falling (most likely as America becomes more energy efficient).

This offer has been made in order to seek commercial advantage in the marketplace. Perversely, a Government-mandated price freeze could, in fact, result in locking consumers in to prices higher than necessary, as global energy prices fall, inflating the profits of energy companies.

Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire

Prisoners’ books

SIR – I work as a prison librarian. Our library is well stocked with books of every genre. It is well attended and appreciated by the prisoners who often claim that it is a lifeline for them. It gives me tremendous job satisfaction to be in a position to help the prisoners and encourage them to read.

However, some prisoners are incarcerated for sex offences, paedophilia and kidnap. These prisoners attempt to access material to satisfy their perversions in every way possible. If a prisoner requests a book that we do not stock, we apply for the book from an outside library. It is not always possible to assess the content until the book arrives. Occasionally, the books contain unsuitable material. It is due to this problem that restrictions have to be put in place.

Angela Lord
Exeter, Devon

Uphill work

SIR – In your report “Most workers fail to catch the cycling bug”, about which cities and towns are showing growth or decline in cycling, one important factor was missed.

A big advantage enjoyed by Cambridge (where 290 in every 1,000 cycle to work) is that it is one of the flattest cities in the country.

In Merthyr Tydfil, you report, three in 1,000 people cycle to work. I would guess that steep hills might be a disincentive for cyclists.

T H Brown
Bathgate, West Lothian

Valuable coins

SIR – Why not mint the new pound coin with four holes in it? This way, future generations could use them as buttons, which is soon all they will be worth.

Jane Cullinan
Padstow, Cornwall

Suicide for the disabled

SIR – Scope, the disability charity, strongly welcomes the Prime Minister’s oppositionto legalising assisted suicide. The law as it stands provides crucial protection to people who feel under pressure to end their life.

This issue tells us a lot about public attitudes towards disabled people. Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?

The ban on assisted suicide sends a powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive.

There are loud, well-organised and influential voices calling for the legalisation of assisted suicide for terminally ill adults.

But a lot of disabled people have been left feeling very concerned by suggestions that a change could be one step closer.

We hope, therefore, that politicians will follow David Cameron and decide against changing a law that works.

Richard Hawkes
Chief Executive, Scope
London N7

SIR – Your leading article reiterates the cry of many medical professionals that one of their most important principles is to “do no harm”.

But how does one define harm? Can anyone argue that a doctor who assists a terminally ill person to avoid fear, distress, pain and indignity by hastening death has “caused harm”? I believe the doctor is providing a welcome and humane service.

Arthur Bayley
Tyldesley, Lancashire

SIR – On legalising assisted suicide, you are right: it may add to the pressure for the aged or ill to see themselves as a “burden”. But it is ironic that in the following leading article – supporting a cap on the annual welfare budget – you fail to acknowledge the danger that this could reinforce negative public perceptions of benefit claimants. Demonising people as a “burden” or “scroungers” isn’t helpful.

Dr Alex May

Toeing the fashion line

SIR – I read in the fashion pages that socks should now be worn with sandals. This will come as a great relief, although perhaps not as a surprise, to the thousands of Englishmen at present planning their holiday wardrobes.

Liz Wheeldon
Seaton, Devon

iWatch: how to keep time in the modern world

SIR – No one has a watch any more. They all get the time from their mobiles.

Tallulah Johnson
London SW5

SIR – I noticed that Vladimir Putin was wearing his watch on his right wrist when signing, with his right hand, the paperwork for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Did he do this to advertise a brand of Russian-made watch?

Richard Colley
Skipton, North Yorkshire

SIR – I never wear a watch and I am never late. There are clocks everywhere: town halls, churches, cars, shop windows, other people’s wrists. Failing those, one becomes adept at estimating the time accurately.

Geoff Brokenbrow
Okehampton, Devon

SIR – I wear my watch on my left wrist, and upside down – ie 12 o’clock is at the 6 o’clock position, and vice versa – in order to improve my lateral-thinking skills.

Jim Ryan

SIR – Nick Clegg’s statement that only about 7 per cent of British legislation is imposed by the European Union is typical of the deception with which defenders of membership of the EU present their case.

In 2010, the House of Commons library concluded that “it is possible to justify any measure between 15 per cent and 50 per cent or thereabouts”.

Sometimes a figure of 70 per cent is used; this is the percentage of laws that the politicians we elect to the European Parliament have as much say on as our national Parliament.

A figure of 85 per cent is based on an analysis provided by the German government in 2005.

Dr Max Gammon
London SE16

SIR – Considering the proportion of laws that come from the EU, perhaps the time has come for a “conscious uncoupling”.

Michael McGough
Loughton, Essex

SIR – You report that “Britain has 100 per cent failure rate when trying to block EU legislation”. It is also notable that Britain has been ready to vote in favour of almost 95 per cent of the total number of proposals in the Council of Ministers since 1996.

Only in 55 cases has it voted No. All of these proposals were unsuccessfully opposed.

The solution lies in the unanimous report of November 2013 by Parliament’s all-party European Scrutiny Committee. There we argued for two things: a veto on European legislation in the pipeline and the disapplication unilaterally by Westminster of existing European legislation, where Parliament regards that as being in the national interest.

Bill Cash MP (Con)
London, SW1

SIR – If the debate really was a victory for Ukip over the Liberal Democrats, surely those most “bubbly” outside London will be the SNP. What “Little England” (Nigel Farage’s ideal as described by Nick Clegg) represents is anathema to a Scot of any persuasion: see Mr Farage’s reception on his last visit north of the border.

The Salmond and the Sturgeon must feel that the tide is beginning to turn for them.

Philip Schofield
Zeals, Wiltshire

SIR – LBC is to be applauded for at last igniting the debate on our membership of the EU. It highlights the failure of the BBC to allow this 40-year-old sore point to be debated openly.

This raises serious questions over the morality of the licence fee.

Philip Wyness
Esher, Surrey

SIR – The best television I’ve seen for a long time: W1A followed by Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

Brian Hill

Irish Times:

Sir, – On Monday, all four of the Dublin’s local authorities will have voted on whether or not to hold a plebiscite, the wording of which they do not know and for which the heads of a Bill of the enabling legislation have not even been discussed.

The subject of that plebiscite is the establishment of the office of a “Democratically Elected Mayor (‘DEM’) for Dublin”. The manner in which this question is being put to the elected members of those four councils means that the critical link between deciding to hold a local referendum and the wording of that referendum is broken, an extraordinary situation.

That Minister Hogan and his advisers think that in a modern democracy this procedure is acceptable illustrates the extent to which, since the foundation of the State, successive national governments have deprived local government of any real decision-making powers.

I have been a public representative for 13 years, and a member of the Labour Party’s working group on local government reform, and know something of how this will play out. I was also a representative on the forum set up by the minister to examine this issue. I know from that experience what this minister is likely to do if given a blank cheque to draft the terms of the plebiscite himself – which is what voting Yes on Monday would give him.

One only has to look at his track record. There was virtually nothing about devolving central government powers to local government in the new Reform of Local Government Act. These powers are absolutely central if the role of a DEM is to mean anything. The plain fact is that this minister is not going to devolve those powers to a DEM.

I don’t buy the “suck it and see” approach. The consequence of this will be less local democracy not more, within those four local council areas, and a handicapped directly elected mayor for the metropolitan area. Proponents of a Yes vote on Monday are prepared to wait years or even decades for the evolution of those DEM powers, if such an office is created, but are nor prepared to wait until we get the legislative basis for the office right in the first place without damaging local democracy in the four existing councils in the interim.

If the people of Fingal re-elect me in May (that’s local democracy in action), I don’t intend to stop working when this minister leaves the stage for the EU (as seems likely) and I look forward to working with someone else who is serious about local government reform and giving councillors and voters real choices in a plebiscite.

Yours, etc,


Fingal County Council,


Co Dublin

Sir, – David Walsh (Letters, March 28th) seeks to debunk the “cliche” that oppressive gender roles are one reason why women seem to avoid politics. He rightly claims that many people view politics as an arena that involves unsocial hours, weekend working and a lack of a private life. What he fails to acknowledge is that both men and women are concerned with those unsocial hours and lack of private life yet it is disproportionately (and consistently so) women who are dissuaded by them. Perhaps he would say that “they” clearly have other priorities or more competing demands on their time than men. If that is so, David Beatty’s “oppressive gender roles” (Letters, March 26th) stand up to scrutiny.

And if the problem with gender quotas is indeed that they tend to generate demands for more I suppose we should be careful. Before we know it they’ll be looking for the vote, the right to stay in work, equal pay …

Yours, etc,



Co Kerry

Sir, – I disagree that a call by the National Women’s Council for a 40 per cent representation for women at Cabinet is arrogant (David Walsh, Letters March 28th) although I certainly think that it’s unrealistic. However his primary objection to the request seems to be that the NWC made no mention of merit or experience. It would be wonderful to think that every man in a Cabinet post is there due to merit or experience, but I’m sure that support for the party leader, as well as quotas to satisfy a coalition government trump merit or experience every time. Yours, etc,


Copeland Grove,


Dublin 3

Sir, — As a firm supporter of politically correct nonsense cooked up by self-interested ideologues, I demand to live in a society where my concerns as a voter are ignored by politicians of both genders on an equal basis. The next time I see the interests of my country being subordinated to the interests of international financiers, oil companies, tax-dodging corporations or other states, I want to at least have the comfort of knowing that Irish democracy was devalued in a gender-balanced manner. Yours, etc,


Barnwall Court,


Co Dublin

Sir, – It is inconceivable in a client service business that an urgent letter dated March 10th would be left undealt with until March 24th pending the return of the director responsible from a business trip. All senior client-facing people are now equipped with mobile devices and are available 24/7 to avoid such eventualities. This policy, inter alia, greatly reduces the risk of a client fast becoming an ex-client.

Is it credible that the Justice Department did not send a scanned copy of the Attorney General’s letter to Mr Shatter when was abroad? Is it conceivable that Mr Shatter was not in telephone or email contact with his officials for almost two weeks, or if he was in contact that this vital issue was not raised? Hardly!

Others can argue the politics of the situation better than I but on a practical level, if Government departments are managed in the manner suggested by Mr Shatter similar situations will recur in the future. Yours, etc,




Dublin 13

Sir, — I have difficulty with an assertion in Tom O’Malley’s article (“Nightmare scenario may render convictions unsafe”, Opinion & Analysis, March 27th).  He declares that “Many who have found themselves in [Garda custody] have later stated that they would have been willing to confess to anything just in order to regain their liberty”. To me, this smacks of sensationalism.  What relevance does it have to the general point of the constitutional right to privacy in communication with one’s solicitor? Yours, etc,


Lough Gur,

Co Limerick

Sir, – RTÉ is charged with reporting on national news in a fair and unbiased manner, thus allowing the listener/viewer to make up his or her mind. Since the now-retired Commissioner Callinan’s “disgusting” remarks in Leinster House, certain elements in the TV newsroom in particular have shown a distinct bias in their coverage that has been favourable to the “official” side and decidedly cool to the legitimate claims of the two Garda whistleblowers. Can this be because RTÉ TV news depends so much for its daily feed of news on the Garda Press Office? Thank goodness for newspapers. Yours, etc,



Co Clare.

A chara, – In Miriam Lord’s column (“Twin egos once joined at the hip threaten Coalition”, March 26th) she wrote: “The intervention of Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar (who was being quietly congratulated by the likes of Róisín Shortall and Peter Mathews ) escalated the situation.” Can you please explain what she is trying to convey by writing “the likes of …” in relation to individuals? What are we to understand? Is she suggesting that it wasn’t actually Róisín Shortall or Peter Matthews themselves who were having a chat but some equivalents, some entities of which they, Shortall and Matthews are but iterations? The Irish Times is far from alone in its enthusiastic adopting of this term, rending individuals into equivalencies. It’s just that when one reads the likes of Miriam Lord adopting it, one loses faith in a worthwhile publication, the likes of The Irish Times , for example. Is mise,




Co Cork

Sir, – Regarding the comprehensive profiling of movers and shakers in the implementation of the smoking ban compiled by Patrick Freyne (March 22nd), the omission of the one person without whom none of it would have been possible was regrettable.

Most of the parties mentioned came in at a time when a glimmer of reputation or career enhancement was becoming possible through supporting the change. In contrast, the prime mover, Brian Timmons, had to fight much opposition and ridicule. He was probably risking his reputation and career when he devised, and acted on, the original idea, based on effects on his own health and additional research about damage from smoking in general.

As a civil servant in lower management in 1991/1992, he got the crucial igniting motion to introduce a voluntary code of non-smoking in civil service offices, passed through his union, the PSEU (Public Service Executive Union). This was the first step of the journey described. Only after that point did the idea catch on elsewhere.

Where completion of the public record in respect of this topic is concerned, it would be a pity for the heroic pivotal contribution of Brian Timmons to the roll-out of the smoking ban to go unacknowledged. Yours etc,


Ashfield Rise,


Co Dublin

Sir, – May I assure Clíona Saidléar that it is not accent that upsets native speakers. What is grating to their ears is the disregard by many foghlaimeoirí for three basic elements necessary for the correct speaking of any language, namely syntax, grammar and pronunciation (gutturals, broad and slender consonants, etc). There are many different accents in every country and also within the Gaeltachts and they are readily and mutually accepted. I am speaking from my personal experience of living among speakers of English, French and Spanish. Yours, etc,


Caisleán Ghriaire

Co Chiarraí

Sir, – I was almost reaching for my calendar to check for the beginning of April when I read of the rebranding of the “University of Dublin, Trinity College” to “Trinity College, the University of Dublin”. While this is not the first name change for my august alma mater it is most certainly Pythonesque, bringing to mind the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front! Yours, etc,


Sitric Place,


Dublin 7

Sir, – Students, taxpayers, society, the economy … would all be better served if the authorities in Ireland’s education establishments focused more of their attention on achieving high academic standards and less on the names of the institutions. Yours, etc,


(former lecturer at


The Avenue,



Sir, – Paddy Wordworth (Opinion & Analysis, March 27th) is right when he states that our bogs contribute much more than turf to the Irish nation.

From his list of those undoubted benefits he omits however the traditional use that some members of the community have found for bogholes as cheap and convenient repositories for old TVs, refrigerators, couches and general household waste.

Yours, etc,


Lindsay Road,


Dublin 9

Sir, – Dick Ahlstrom’s article on “smart cities” (Mar 27th) rightly points out that it is giant technology companies who are mainly pushing this agenda; a case in point is Dublin City Council, which on the one hand wishes to install Wi-Fi in our public parks, while on the other it has removed all our badly needed public toilets. How smart is that? Of greater concern is that the computer giants are keen to push their products into schools – even primary schools.

Experienced teachers are despairing at the drop in our educational standards, a drop that is mainly due to pupils shortened attention spans, shortened by an over-reliance on technology.

Regrettably research skills have been dumbed down to “cut and paste” while, more worryingly, students have sub-contracted their learning, creativity and memory to their iPads and phones.

The majority of research studies have found that deep learning and creative thinking are achieved via a combination of good teachers, books and pupil interaction – not through computer screens. Unfortunately, unproven electronic gadgetry is being pushed (sometimes for free) on schools where they act only as a distraction and hindrance to learning in the classroom.

It is ironic that in Silicon Valley, home of this “technological wizardry’, the top primary schools have banned computers from the learning process. They know, as every experienced teacher knows, the best way young children learn is via a teacher, chalk, books and pupil interaction. Yours, etc.


Erne Terrace,

Dublin 2

Irish Independent:

* When I was of age, my class and I were each given a communion book that was given a designated amount of time each day as we neared communion day.

Also in this section

In the interests of justice, Shatter must resign

Perfect opportunity for real garda reform

Shatter has decimated An Garda Siochana

I never questioned it because I was seven years of age and didn’t have the capacity. I looked up and every other boy and girl had a book, and we would all write down our feelings toward making our communion. My mind couldn’t comprehend that Mary or Joe’s families might not share the same beliefs as one another.

I can’t remember any of my classmates not partaking in this communion crash course, but I suspect numbers might have been diminished in different circumstances.

There should be a separation between religion generally and education in this country. There is nothing wrong with teaching children about respect and common moral values, but intertwining that with the staples of a religion is wrong and unnecessary.

If Mary’s parents want her to grow up within the Catholic Church, they can make that decision themselves, and take her to Mass and lead her into her communion, confirmation, etc.

If they don’t want to do that, they can just refrain from doing so without having to contact a principal for them to say Mary will have to sit out when the communion is mentioned.

So, if the making of communion was wholly a private decision and action taken within a family, how many of a class of 30 would there be receiving the sacrament on the day? There would be fewer frills and pink Hummers, let’s just put it that way.




* Wonderful news about Intel‘s $5bn (€3.6bn) spend in Ireland. But there is a profound sting in the “tale” we must get to grips with. Not very long ago, $5bn investment would have meant tens of thousands of additional long-term jobs. Not any more!

We’ll be lucky if the $5bn retains present employment levels. Multinationals like Intel must automate to stay in business.

Automation means more product with less work. We have achieved technological genius of making everything we need or want without working so hard any more. The big difficulty is figuring out a way of maintaining employment.

The impediment is in the ideology; we need 21st-Century thinking on work and jobs; a strategy of creating a lot more jobs from a lot less work.

An easy answer might be moving towards shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement; more people working less.

We have been doing it for 100 years but need to accelerate the process. Automation can pay for it; it creates more wealth without work than all the work in the world could.

But we are still locked into old thinking of “earn your bread by the sweat of your brow”.

It does not cut mustard anymore; automation ensures there simply is not enough work to keep everyone working hard.

It’s the biggest problem facing economics and society but nobody will talk about it; nobody will even mention it.

It is what newspaper editorials should be writing about.




* The first item on the agenda of the incoming Garda Commissioner should be the promotion of officers John Wilson and Maurice McCabe.

However, as the former has retired, may I suggest that they join either Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour. Only then will we be assured of two honourable politicians in the Dail.




* At a time when Russian forces have invaded Crimea, 239 people are still missing from a “disappeared” flight and an incurable Eboli killer disease has hit Guinea, we Irish have our own serious disaster: use of the word ‘disgusting’.

The whole sorry saga is actually disgusting.

The Garda Commissioner has now resigned/pushed because he would not apologise for using this ‘disgusting’ word, even though he claimed he wished to say sorry.

We are all totally confused as to who said/meant what.

I am reminded of the witty words of the satirist Samuel Butler, who died over 110 years ago: “I believe that he was really sorry, that people would not believe he was sorry, that he was not more sorry.”

As relevant today as it was back then!




* Congratulations to a wonderful student Elayna Keller from Our Lady’s College Drogheda (Irish Independent, March 28), who won top prize at the NNI Press Awards. She wrote a piece entitled ‘Kids can be cruel’ after her own experience of being bullied when she was younger.

In your article were the following few honest and wise comments from one so young: “My social skills were really stunted afterwards. I had no idea how to talk to people . . . writing is my way of getting my feelings out.”

I can relate so much to these comments after my dreadful experiences of school life in the 1960s, of which I have written about many times.

I have no doubt we will see more of Elayna’s writing abilities in the years to come.




* Your online edition (Irish Independent, March 28) carried a video showing the extraordinary emotions of a lady who, having been deaf since birth, was enabled to hear for the very first time by using modern technology. She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she uncontrollably burst into tears on several occasions as a nurse called out the days of the week to her.

It was impossible not to be affected by her emotions as I contemplated all the things that we take for granted yet show little appreciation for.




* Having been recently released from jail, I would like to thank all those who really overwhelmed the prison with their support.

The shock and disgust of the supporters was evident, at the “laissez faire” attitude, denial and ultimate complicity of the Government; allowing Shannon civilian airport to be abused by the US military.

For three months, the continuous vigils, pickets, the collection of signatures, press statements, and radio and television coverage was a tsunami of support from all over the world.

This cannot be ignored as it is a collective act of solidarity.



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