Mary Home

1April2014 Mary

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an party for the admiral, Mrs Povey tries to get promotion for Henry. Priceless

Bring Mary Home

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Professor Margaret Spufford – obituary

Professor Margaret Spufford was a historian who overcame personal tragedy to write illuminating appreciations of the English peasant

Margaret Spufford in 1990

Margaret Spufford in 1990

6:45PM BST 31 Mar 2014

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Professor Margaret Spufford, who has died aged 78, was a historian of the 16th and 17th centuries whose “ground up” studies of life in rural England shed light on the intellectual life of peasant communities, challenging the view that they were passive recipients of ideas emanating from pulpit and manor house .

Margaret Spufford combined a high level of scholarship with a lightness of touch, and the great strength of her approach to the intellectual world of the ordinary English villager lay in the fact that her social history was firmly rooted in a hard-headed analysis of differences of wealth, agricultural systems and patterns of communication.

Her Contrasting Communities, which came out in 1974, examined three villages from the fenland, clay and chalk regions of Cambridgeshire, from 1525 to 1700, and in addition to examining their patterns of land tenure, discussed the educational opportunities open to peasant communities and the disturbance in their traditional devotional practices occasioned by the Reformation.

During her researches Margaret Spufford came across numerous examples of grass-roots literacy, including references to “little books” being sold by itinerant pedlars. Convinced that fellow historians were being conservative in their estimates of reading ability, she examined the spread of chapbooks (an early type of popular printed literature) which became available in the 17th century at prices within reach of a day labourer.

In Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular fiction and its readership in 17th century England (1981), she showed that elementary schooling was much more widely available than previously thought, generating a mass readership for what one publisher touted as “Small Godly Books, Small Merry Books, Double Books and History”. Among other things her examination of courtship dialogues from such works as Cupid’s Solicitor of Love and The Lover’s Academy led her to challenge the view put forward by Lawrence Stone that the basis for marriage in this period was financial rather than romantic. Despite demographic conditions that might suggest otherwise, she wrote, “this, reflected in its own twopenny literature, was not a world in which people married for economic interest rather than inclination”.

She went on to write The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapman and Their Wares in the Seventeenth Century (1984). This was a pioneering history of popular consumption in which Margaret Spufford focused on the itinerant pedlars who brought reading matter to the people — as well as clothes and haberdashery – showing where and when they were active, their ranks and their typical careers, the variety of wares they sold and the often hostile attitude of the authorities towards them.

All Margaret Spufford’s writings contained unforgettable portraits of individual men and women, from Sister Sneesby, an elderly, deaf Cambridgeshire widow working as a casual labourer whose baptist faith had been shaken by her reading Quaker books; to the young Oxfordshire shepherd (who could read but not write) who gave a lame young man one of his two sheep “to teach me to make the letters and joyn them together”; or the shipwrecked sailor selling “pictures, ballads, and other paper wares” bought on credit.

But to those who knew her well it was not so much her achievements as a historian that marked Margaret Spufford out as the fact that she accomplished her work in the shadow of her own chronic ill-health and that of her daughter, Bridget, who was born with a serious genetic disorder and died at the age of 22.

Honor Margaret Clark was born in Cheshire on December 10 1935 to parents who were both scientists. Her father was head of research at ICI Alkali and, before her marriage, her mother had been a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge.

Margaret was home-educated for much of her childhood by her mother, who taught her to read using headlines in The Daily Telegraph. When she was just 10, however, her mother had a devastating stroke. Possibly as a consequence, Margaret suffered from nervous illnesses for much of her early life, which led her to drop out of Newnham. None the less she went on to take an MA in local history at Leicester University, with distinction, followed by a PhD, after which she launched herself on her academic career.

After four years as a research fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, she became a lecturer at Keele University. She returned to Cambridge in 1979 as a senior research associate at the History faculty and a fellow of Newnham College. Although the university never gave her a properly paid job, over the next 15 years she assembled and nurtured one of the most important groupings of young early modern English social and cultural historians, known as “the Spuffordians”, with whom she produced The World of Rural Dissenters (1995), an influential collective work on patterns of religious dissent in England.

In 1994 she was appointed Research Professor in Social and Local History at the Roehampton Institute (then part of the University of London, and now Roehampton University). While she was there, she began the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, which launched a series of edited texts, with critical introductions, of the hearth tax records of late 17th century England. Eight large county volumes had been published by the time of her death, and a two-volume edition for the hearth tax of London and Middlesex, is at the press.

In 1962 Margaret had married Peter Spufford, who would become a leading medieval monetary historian at Cambridge and with whom she formed a close and formidable academic partnership. But while pregnant with their first child, Francis, now a successful author and broadcaster, Margaret developed excruciating pains in her back and foot. Three years after her son’s birth, a daughter, Bridget, was born, and the pain returned. Eventually Margaret was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of osteoporosis and for the rest of her life she suffered back and limb pain of increasing and disabling intensity.

Worse still, a few months after her birth, Bridget became ill. One of her kidneys failed and the other was found to be malfunctioning. Doctors diagnosed a very rare genetic disorder called cystinosis and gave her between seven and 14 years to live. Terrible and invasive treatments followed, including two kidney transplants. Some of Contrasting Communities was written while Margaret Spufford was flat on her back helped by a machine which enabled her to read her sources and write her text. The book was completed during months spent in Great Ormond Street hospital with Bridget.

In 1996 Margaret Spufford was appointed OBE for services to Social History and to disabled students. After Bridget died in 1989 she established a trust to support a hostel for severely disabled students in Cambridge, enabling young people to study and live independently as Bridget had not. The hostel flourished for 12 years from 1991 to 2003.

In a deeply moving, book, Celebration (1989), Margaret Spufford wrote of how, as a Christian and a mother, she dealt with, though never fully came to terms with, the sufferings of her child. She described the trauma of living on the frontiers of medical knowledge, torn between doctors wanting to try the latest hi-tech medical intervention and the feeling that the most humane option would be to let nature take its course.

Throughout her ordeals, Margaret Spufford was sustained by the deep faith that led her to become an Anglican Benedictine oblate. But she admitted: “If those theologians who assert that God is in total control of His creation are right, I cannot worship Him. Integrity demands that I do hand in my ticket. For I still cannot cope with the endemic nature of pain. And integrity has to come higher than anything else at all, even God, or at least my present perception of Him.”

Margaret Spufford was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1995. At the time she became too ill to continue her work she was serving as an adviser to a group of Japanese historians carrying out research into local communities in early-modern Japan and had almost completed The Clothing of the Common Sort, which is being prepared for publication by her last research student.

She is survived by her husband Peter, Emeritus Professor of European History in the University of Cambridge, and her son.

Professor Margaret Spufford, born December 10 1935, died March 6 2014


My daughter and I were at a convent in southern Tanzania. After our meal (Pay as you throw, foraging and biogas: how the globe tackles food waste, 29 March) we scraped our leftovers on to one plate, to be given to the pigs. But the sisters took the plate back, and rearranged the scraps “for the builders” working on the site. Then they ground down the inedible rinds and shells “for the fish” in the pond.
Bridget Gubbins
Morpeth, Northumberland

•  Sandi Toksvig says: “Today, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act comes into force and now every citizen is free to get married” (Family, 29 March). Unfortunately it’s not quite everybody. If you have a civil partnership you are unable to get married until the government works out how it could be done. It’s suggested it may be the end of this year, but until then we are not all equal.
Kate Gwynfyd-Sidford
Pontrhydfendigaid, Ceredigion

• Your article (Kate Bush and couscous: the VIP concert, G2, 31 March) sums up the London-centric view of the world. In discussing corporate hospitality packages, you tell us that the singer recently announced a 15-date tour. Well, excuse me, since when did a “tour” involve going to a single London venue and playing all the dates at that single venue?
Tony Fletcher

•  Down in the soft south, where people apologise if you tread on their foot, buses may well proclaim “Sorry, I’m not in service” (Letters, 27 March), but here in the plain-spoken north we make do with “Not in service” without the apology and the anthropomorphic pronoun.
Harry Watson

• Perhaps it was the same monoglot Brit (Letters, 27 March) that I met some years ago frantically ringing the bell outside the Hôtel de Ville in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. I was able to point out a real hotel and tell him the opening hours of the town hall.
Paul Tattam

• Getting bored with funny place names (Letters, 31 March), although Durham’s Pity Me seems appropriate.
Margaret Davis

l/Getty Images

Chris Huhne’s observations on Ukip voters in the wake of the Farage-Clegg debate (Comment, 31 March) show exactly why some prefer Ukip to the mainstream parties. What arrogance and insensitivity. So Ukip voters are old, fearful, anxious and poorly educated? Has Huhne considered that they might just be thoroughly fed up with the failure of other parties to represent their interests?

Huhne refers to the recent mayoral win by the Front National at Hénin-Beaumont in France as an example of how the far right appeals to the “threatened working class”. In fact, it’s a good example of what can happen when a mainstream party messes up. The seat was targeted by the Front National after a Socialist mayor resigned following a financial scandal that emptied the mayoral coffers.

I live in the Tory heartland of Kent, as dissimilar to Huhne’s caricature Ukip constituency as one can get. At a recent council byelection, a local independent beat the Conservative into second place (by 323 votes to 240), while Ukip won 97 votes compared with the Liberal Democrats‘ 13. I don’t believe this pattern of support reflects in any way the level of education, age or psychological state of local voters, but rather a genuine attempt by people to choose someone that best represents their – and their community’s – interests.
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

•  Chris Huhne’s position is, in effect, that the uneducated plebs will vote for Farage because they are irrational, but eventually they will recognise that their masters and betters have got their interests at heart, and will return to the fold when “better times [prick] Farage’s bubble”. There are many reasons for the growth in working-class support for Ukip, but one that stands out is disgust with the kind of patrician contempt that allows Huhne to dismiss the fear of poverty and insecurity as “a vision of a better yesterday”. National chauvinism as represented by Ukip is no answer to the threats working-class communities face, but nor was it an answer when the same card was played by Labour, the Lib Dems or the Tories. Still, at least Huhne can be happy with the better class of voters who have benefited from “higher education” when they turn out in single figures for the Lib Dems.
Nick Moss

•  As a frequent Guardian reader, I am probably untypical of Ukip supporters, but I am motivated by the hope that I may find convincing rational arguments to counter my political prejudices, rather than have them reinforced elsewhere. Chris Huhne’s article was clearly written to reinforce the prejudices of his fellow travellers rather than address the real issues at stake. His insults ranged at Ukip supporters – that they are stupid smokers, insecure and authoritarian similar to American Tea Partyists, creationists, global-warming deniers and heirs to the views of some obscure French wartime collaborator – may resonate with some but don’t square with his appeal for a concentration on the facts.

At the heart of Ukip’s appeal, and courageously put by Nigel Farage, is the overwhelming suspicion that within the EU we are losing our hard-won ability to elect and hold accountable those who claim the right to govern us.
Mike Gomersall
Airton, North Yorkshire

•  The EU has been “poking the Russian bear with a stick”, “feeding Ukraine with an entirely unrealistic dream of a future as an EU member state”, and “deepening Syria’s civil war by giving false hope to forces hoping to topple Assad”. The good news is that at last we have a prominent figure in this country’s political life voicing these views; the bad news is that it is Farage (Report, 28 March).

Polly Toynbee urges us to “forget tactics” and “stand up and rally against the Ukip vision” (Comment, 28 March), and provides a useful catalogue of reasons for repudiating Ukip’s obnoxious policies. She omits, however, any mention of the one point that illustrates so clearly that if a liberal current of opinion fails to take a lead in opposing unjust policies, then a reactionary one will exploit the opportunity for its own demagogic purposes.
Hugh Goodacre
University of Westminster and University College London

• When is someone going to talk in favour of our EU membership with as much passion as Farage argues against it (Voters give credit to Farage in head-to-head with Clegg, 27 March)? Have several decades of rightwing anti-European propaganda browbeaten everyone else into submission? The fact is that if Britain were to leave the EU, all our pretensions to world influence would be over; whatever freedom we have left over our own national destiny in this age of giant trading blocks and multinational companies would be gone; and we would resume the national decline that began after the second world war (although some would say it started long before that).

The only sensible course of action for this smallish island nation is to engage as fully as possible with the EU, and become a leading and powerful member within it. We can influence decisions to our own benefit. We can sway opinion to swing laws, rules and regulations our way. We can make life better for ourselves and for the other members of the EU. All we have to do is recognise that we would be mad to leave the EU, and declare it with as much passion as Farage argues against it.

And please, for those who have forgotten what it used to be like in Europe before the EU, just observe Russia’s casual annexation of Crimea.
Steve Moran
East Grinstead, West Sussex

•  European membership is more than a question of economic benefits to the UK and has to be seen in a wider world context. Farage and Clegg both trivialised the debate and failed to create either a sense of vision or address the need for reform within the EU that can offer real hope for those in the UK who fear they are being disadvantaged by EU membership.

Although I am culturally English, my passport tells me I am British, but I went to college in England, Scotland and France, married a Dane and have an Anglo-Danish son. I think I am typical of a generation of British-born people for whom integration has already happened and Europe is seen as a continent of opportunities and friendships not to be feared. I am also old enough to remember the second world war and recognise that the EU has brought peace and prosperity to the older democracies and hope to the newer countries that have emerged from years of dictatorship including Portugal, Spain, Greece, East Germany, the old Yugoslavia, Albania etc.

We need statesmen to lead us, not self-serving politicians trading dubious statistics. Angela Merkel seem to be the only European leader with that sense of vision and statesmanship, but then she speaks from the experience of growing up in the totalitarian regime of East Germany.
Ian Haywood

The one thing lacking in your otherwise excellent coverage of the latest devastating IPCC report on the likely impacts of climate change was a sense of urgency. Your editorial (31 March) suggests that the report represents a “careful, nuanced attempt to wake people up”.  But these very same alarm bells have been sounding ever louder since the first IPCC report was published nearly 25 years ago, yet over that same period annual global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 60%.

As a result, an increasing number of experts agree that we will need to leave around 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding 2 degrees warming.

Yet just a few weeks ago, the chancellor gave yet more tax breaks to oil and gas companies, boasting that the government intends to get “every last drop” of oil from the North Sea, while fracking company Cuadrilla’s boss, John Browne – former chair of BP – has promised to invest “whatever it takes” to get more fossil fuels out of the ground.

But the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. It ended because we found smarter ways of doing things – and there are huge numbers of smarter ways of generating energy.

In Balcombe, for example, which last summer saw unprecedented protests against the prospect of fracking, a new clean energy co-op has been set up, which aims to build enough community-owned solar power to match the electricity needs of every home in the village. Profits from the scheme will go back into the village, funding more solar installations, and energy-saving measures for homes and communities.

These positive stories are the best way to engage people with the need for urgent change. As the alarm bells on the climate crisis ring ever more loudly, we can only hope that this government removes its earplugs very soon.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green party, Brighton Pavilion

•  Today, the world’s top scientists published a devastating report on the impacts of climate change. Climate change is already making it harder for millions to feed their families. Wild weather and unpredictable seasons are causing chaos for farmers. Food prices are going up. Food quality is going down.

Oxfam calculates that climate change could put the fight against hunger back by decades. If we continue to let greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures rise we will hit a threshold – in our own lifetimes – beyond which the chance of ending hunger worldwide may be lost for ever.

We will not stand by and watch this happen. People all over the world are doing their bit to tackle climate change. Now governments and big business need to step up and play their part: reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, helping farmers adapt to changing weather and ensuring there’s enough good food for everyone.

If we act together, and if we act now, we can stop climate change causing hunger and ensure our children and our grandchildren will always have enough to eat.
Raymond Blanc Chef, Helena Christensen Photographer, Livia Firth Activist, Anna Friel Actor, Sheherazade Goldsmith Designer, Angelique Kidjo Musician, Baaba Maal Musician, Claus Meyer Chef, Dave Myers Chef, Richard Oliver Chef, Simon Pegg Comedian, Vivienne Westwood Designer, Thom Yorke Musician


As principals of the 12 sixth form colleges in London, we are writing to express our dismay at the Government’s plan to spend £45m on the Harris Westminster Sixth Form (“The most expensive free school in Britain?”, 29 March).

Our colleges have experienced three budget cuts in three years, and we expect the Government to attempt to make a fourth cut to our funding later this year. As The Independent reported in February, this has led some institutions to cut courses and increase class sizes. In January, the Government said it could not introduce a VAT refund scheme for the sixth form college sector (to mirror the arrangements in place for free school sixth forms) as the £30m cost was unaffordable.

So it is entirely unjust that £45m has been found to establish an institution that will educate less than a fifth of the number of students currently enrolled at some of the existing sixth form colleges in London. The total capital budget for all 93 sixth form colleges in England last year was less than £60m.

Michael Gove is establishing institutions like the Harris Westminster Sixth Form to break down what he has described as the “Berlin Wall” between the state and independent sectors. He has only succeeded in creating a new divide – between new, generously funded and often highly selective free school sixth forms and the very successful network of state sixth form colleges they are modelled on.

The sixth form colleges in London have an excellent record of supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to progress to top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, and we do so without highly selective admissions policies. It does not make educational or economic sense to divert scarce resources away from the 20,000 16- to 18-year-olds currently studying at a sixth form college in London to benefit 500 young people at a highly selective institution in a very expensive part of the city.

We urge the Secretary of State to rethink his decision to spend £45m on this new institution, and ask that he redirect the investment to address the growing crisis in sixth form college funding.

Ken Warman, BSix Brooke House Sixth Form College

Eddie Playfair, Newham Sixth Form College

Jane Overbury, Christ the King Sixth Form College

Paul O’Shea, Saint Charles Catholic Sixth Form College

Brett Freeman, Coulsdon Sixth Form College

Andrew Parkin, Saint Dominic’s Sixth Form College

Paul Wakeling, Havering Sixth Form College

Stella Flannery, Saint Francis Xavier Sixth Form College

Tim Eyton-Jones, John Ruskin College

Paolo Ramella,  Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College

Kevin Watson, Leyton Sixth Form College

John Rubinstein, Woodhouse College

Your story “The most expensive free school in Britain?” contained inaccuracies and did not present a complete picture.

Westminster Sixth Form is an exciting and innovative project focused on the poorest in society that has never been tried before. At full capacity it will offer 300 places in each year group, giving hundreds of children from low-income families the kind of top-quality sixth form previously reserved for the better off. Westminster Sixth Form was assessed for value for money using standard Treasury tests and it passed precisely because it will open up opportunities to disadvantaged young people and their families.

Free schools offer good value for money and are opening at a fraction of the cost of previous programmes – new schools are now being built around 40 per cent cheaper than under the former government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. So far we have opened 174 free schools for 80,000 pupils, with the vast majority in areas facing a shortage of school places or in deprived communities.

It is also wrong and irresponsible to say that “there is expected to be a shortage of 240,000 primary school places by 2015”. We are giving councils £5bn to spend on new school places over this parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over a comparable period. This has already created 260,000 new school places, and many more are due to be delivered by 2015.

Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Department for Education

Black box that would stay afloat

The “black box” of the missing Malaysian airliner has not yet been recovered. We are told that it emits a locating signal once the aircraft crashes, but that it is difficult to detect if the aircraft has sunk into deep water, and furthermore is only emitted for about 30 days while the batteries contain sufficient charge.

Would it not be possible to incorporate an additional device into aircraft that would be designed to break free and float in the event of the plane landing in the sea? Such a device would emit a locating “ping” detectable from satellites and could incorporate a solar charger in order to maintain battery power indefinitely until the device is retrieved. Surely this is within the capabilities of aviation engineers.

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne

We need more Tories like Tapsell

I wish a very happy retirement to Sir Peter Tapsell MP, who is standing down at the next election, but it will be a great shame to see him go.

He has been a Keynesian and pro-Commonwealth opponent of the Euro-federalist project from the start. He was scathingly anti-Thatcherite, to the point that, in 1981, he became the first Conservative to vote against a Conservative Budget since Harold Macmillan in the 1930s.

He has consistently opposed the neo-conservative wars all the way back to Kosovo, and only in the last fortnight he was asking on the floor of the House why, if Scotland could have a referendum on dissolving constitutional arrangements that went all the way back to 1707, Crimea could not have one on those which dated only from 1954.

He has called for a return to the division between retail banking and investment banking.

He has identified, in their seasons, the money markets, the media moguls and the intelligence agencies as the heirs of the nabobs and of the Whig magnates whom past generations of Tories had made it their defining cause to cut down to size and to subject to the sovereignty of Parliament.

Regardless of party, some other such figure must be elected in 2015. But who?

David Lindsay, Lanchester, Co Durham

Crimea: dangerous precedents

President Putin should bear in mind the adage about people who live in glass houses. The Russian Federation is a patchwork of nationalities and ethnic minorities whose disgruntled separatist elements must have learned something from the Crimea situation. Former Soviet allies may now see their Russian connections and Russian communities as potential pretexts for Anschluss and persuade them to seek better protection.

Hamid Elyassi, London E14

The UN has set a dangerous precedent in declaring the referendum in Crimea illegal. It was a secret ballot, and with 96 per cent voting in favour with an 80 per cent turnout, the result must be democratically safe.

If the argument is that the whole of Ukraine should have voted, then we need a referendum to establish whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or become part of a united Ireland, with the whole of Ireland voting.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Russia has annexed Crimea illegally but in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the people who live there. Israel annexed East Jerusalem illegally and contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people who live there.

Why are we applying sanctions against Russia but not Israel?

Gordon Broadbent, London SW15

Where is our pension compensation?

While Osborne may have decided to change the rules about how people coming up to retirement can use their “pension pot”, he was carefully silent about the millions of us who were constrained by the previous regime. If it is true that pensioners have lost out on the purchase of their annuities, should there not be some form of redress similar to the repayment of PPI. Perhaps it is time to refund some of the excessive fees and review the parsimonious interest rates that have condemned so many of us to a “baked beans” old age.

Simon Piney, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Reasons to boycott robot checkouts

All those readers who find automated checkouts distressing should note that the evidence of many studies suggests that the process of using one is also slower than using a manned till. Their sole purpose is to save on staff salaries, thus putting people out of work. If we all refused to use them (as I do) and insisted on using manned tills not only would they disappear, but the time we spend in queues and at the checkout would be diminished.

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex


Sir, Oliver Kamm’s assertion that secular values, not religion, have made us a tolerant society (Thunderer, Mar 29) lacks intellectual rigour. It could be argued that the reason we have a modern, civilised democratic society in Britain is because of our Christian heritage, not despite it. Why else do modern democracies exist almost entirely in Western countries with a Christian heritage?

Kamm’s article implies that advances in civilisation and liberal democracy have taken place only in recent times, during which religious adherence has declined. This is not the case: it has been a long, slow process over decades, and even centuries, during which Christianity, with its emphasis on love of one’s neighbour, has prevailed as the norm. One has only to think of William Wilberforce’s fight to end the slave trade or the predominantly Christian founders of the modern Labour Party to find evidence of religion’s positive influence in creating a fairer society. On the other hand, one need look no further than Stalinist or Maoist Communism to find evidence of what aggressively secular, anti-religious thinking is capable of.

Hugh Rawson
London SW17

Sir, Oliver Kamm applauds Ian McEwan (Mar 28) for arguing that, “the secular mind is better equipped than religion to reach reasoned and compassionate judgments”. Tellingly, Kamm does not credit “religion” with a mind, although it is debatable whether the modern “enlightened” Western mind would have evolved without the input of Christianity. That aside, the allegation that faith is inherently lethal is itself a harmful misrepresentation which secularists indiscriminately employ to marginalise religion in the public sphere. Religion and for that matter secular belief systems are powerful because they motivate — for good or evil. They may indeed be dangerous, but that is likely to be when they are used to justify actions which their proponents take on grounds that contradict the core tenets of the religion they profess to follow. The rational response to the abuse of religion is to take theology seriously and to direct the force of faith to the compassion that is found in all the major world religions and is central to Christianity.

David Harte

Sir, Oliver Kamm contrasts slaveowner Thomas Jefferson’s secular values with freedom fighter Jephthah’s rash promise. Comparing the best secular values with the worst religious ones doesn’t do justice to either. To compare the outcome of secular values with religious ones, it would be better to compare either best with best or worst with worst.

Tony Harrop
Reading, Berks

Sir, The book of Judges has as one of its main themes the lament that “in those days . . . everyone did as he saw fit”. The horrific sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter that Oliver Kamm cites is one such example. Yet Judges is immediately followed by the book of Ruth, a story of self-sacrificial love and loyalty, and featuring a kinsman redeemer who is surely a foreshadow of Christ.

Kamm writes that religion “is more frequently a source of confusion rather than light”. Sadly that is more true of his own article.

Paul Harrod

We agree that apprenticeships are central to developing the skilled workforce of the future…


The Government recently announced further investment for apprenticeships.

We agree that apprenticeships are central to developing the skilled workforce of the future and it is encouraging to see cross-party support for them. However, we are concerned that by 2017 GCSEs will be the only way to meet maths and English requirements for apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are about learning hands-on skills and gaining experience in the workplace. It makes sense that maths and English requirements for apprenticeships should be contextualised and practical too; this is not the case with GCSEs, which are primarily academic in focus.

Students know that maths and English are important. The City & Guilds Group’s research shows that 69% of young people believe maths can help them succeed, but also that 27% cannot see its relevance to their career goals. 54% of 16-18 year-olds think maths should involve more real-life scenarios. With National Numeracy reporting that poor adult maths skills could cost our economy £20 billion a year we should not let this problem persist.

The Government recently announced plans for a core maths qualification as a contextualised alternative for students who do not take A-level maths. Why not offer a similar option at GCSE level for students after 16? The Government can call it a GCSE if it wants to; as long as the qualification is practical, contextualised and rigorous.

Our economic future depends on a workforce that is not afraid of numbers and can apply maths, and indeed English, in the real world. GCSEs in their current form aren’t the only solution; the sooner the Government addresses this, the better.

Sir John Armitt CBE FREng FCGI, Chairman, City & Guilds and the Olympic Delivery Authority
Chris Jones, Chief Executive, The City & Guilds Group
Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FRS FREng FCGI, Vice-President, City & Guilds
Richard Sermon MBE HonFCGI, Vice-Chairman, City & Guilds
Sir Mike Tomlinson CBE HonFCGI, former HM Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of OFSTED
Valerie Bayliss CB FCGI, Former Vice-Chairman of City & Guilds
Steven Beharrell
Ian Billyard, Principal, Leeds College of Building
David Blake JP, Masons’ Company
Mary Crowley OBE, President, International Federation for Parenting Education
Air Commodore Peter Drissell FCGI, Director, Aviation Security, Civil Aviation Authority
Dame Jackie Fisher DBE FCGI, CEO, Barnfield Federation
Dr Paul Golby CBE FREng FCGI, Chairman, Engineering UK
Professor Brenda Gourley FCGI, former Vice-Chancellor, Open University
Professor Alison Halstead FCGI, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Aston University
Professor Chris Hankin FCGI, Director, Institute for Security Science & Technology, Imperial College
Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairman of Council, Royal Society of Arts
Professor Sir Deian Hopkin FCGI, President, National Library of Wales
Michael Howell HonFCGI, Clothworkers’ Company and former Chairman, City & Guilds
David Illingworth, Past President, ICAEW
Blane Judd FCGI, Executive Consultant
Dame Asha Khemka, DBE, Principal and Chief Executive, West Nottinghamshire College
Michael Laurie, Saddlers’ Company
Mike Lee, Needlemakers’ Company
Marie-Therese McGivern, Principal, Belfast Metropolitan College
Peter McKee, Former President, TRL Technology
Andrew Morgan, Fishmongers’ Company
Toni Pearce, President, National Union of Students
John Randall FCGI, Independent Chair, Police Negotiating Board
Dr Maggie Semple OBE FCGI, Chief Executive, The Experience Corps
Iain Smith, CEO, Network for Skills Ltd
Andy Smyth, Accredited Programmes Development Manager, TUI UK
Daniel Stewart-Roberts, Grocers’ Company
Pat Stringfellow MBE HonFCGI, Managing Director, Human Resource Solutions
Peter Taylor, Director, Goldsmiths’ Centre
Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, Managing Director, Asap Communications
Dr The Hon Sandy Todd, Salters’ Company
Clive Turrell, Joiners & Ceilers’ Company
Dawn Ward OBE FCGI, Chief Executive and Principal, Burton & South Derbyshire College
Jacquie Wathen, Mercers’ Company
Simon Wethered, Consultant, Charles Russell Solicitors
Dr David Wilbraham FCGI, Treasurer, City & Guilds
Tom Wilson, Director, unionlearn

How can Laura Craik write about stylish fedora-wearing without mentioning the charming and twinkling Leonard Cohen?

Sir, How can Laura Craik write about stylish fedora-wearing without mentioning Leonard Cohen (Magazine, Mar 29)? At 79 he is the embodiment of wise, twinkling, self-deprecating charm. While on tour last August he came down to breakfast at the Grand in Brighton in the suit and fedora he had worn for his breath-taking concert the evening before. Typically, he waited his turn to be shown to a table. As he walked through the dining room, he responded with grace and warmth to the numerous fans. Stopping at the end of the room before entering the main section of the restaurant, he lifted the fedora, smiled broadly and thanked us, his friends, for everything. If you’re looking for “brilliantly louche”, not to mention warm, funny and wise, Leonard is your man.

Jane Duffield-Bish
Hethersett, Norwich

The judgments of many teachers will be suspect given the lack of central guidance, particularly in the first few years…

Sir, Libby Purves underplays the difficulties facing schools by testing all children at the age of 4 (Opinion, Mar 31). With the demise of national curriculum levels and descriptors, teachers are left with devising “age-related expectations of performance” as they attempt to gauge progress. The judgments of many teachers will be highly suspect given the lack of central guidance, particularly in the first few years of any new system. In other words, they’ll default to comparing a child’s progress to some ill-defined expectation of an “average” child, based on his or her performance in a very narrow range of measures as they start formal schooling — actually a test of parents rather than teachers. Yet the wonder of children is that they all develop differently, and not one of the country’s 14 million children could ever be called “average”.

Neil Roskilly
Independent Schools Association

The ongoing decline in legal aid funding for experts is driving many highly skilled professionals out of the courts

Sir, Robert Buckland’s plan to make deliberate harm of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development a crime is to be welcomed (report, Mar 31). However, many of the prosecutions that will arise will have to be undertaken without the expert advice that Mr Buckland has suggested will be required. This is because the ongoing decline in legal aid funding for experts is driving many highly skilled professionals out of the courts. It is to be hoped that the Government will seek to reverse this decline.

Dr Peter Green
London SW12

To qualify for this reduction, prisoners must also submit a grammatically sound, legible essay on each title

Sir, Rather than preventing prisoners from receiving books, Chris Grayling should adopt the Brazilian “redemption through reading” programme. Through reading works of literature, philosophy and science, prisoners in Brazil can reduce their sentences by up to 48 days a year. To qualify for this reduction, prisoners must also submit a grammatically sound, legible essay on each title.

This approach would not only reduce overcrowding in prisons in Britain but would improve educational standards within prisons.

Andrew Copeman
London SW18


SIR – On the A10 between Cambridge and Ely a large rookery on either side of the road stretches for at least a mile.

I have noticed that while some trees have two or three nests in, others have at least eight, 10, or more.

Do rooks have “family” trees?

Susan Spencer

SIR – The real problem with woodpigeons is that they don’t just eat the food on the bird-table – they fill their crops with it for later.

Thus two of the beasts can, in minutes, clear the table of what was intended to keep a whole squadron of smaller birds happy all day.

They also make a mess that necessitates frequent scrubbing of the bird table with boiling water.

Huw Walton
Chepstow, Monmouthshire

SIR – LikeBrian Sewell I am homosexual and not comfortable with the word gay, which is a cop-out, a dilution of the true state of homosexuality.

I too am opposed to “gay marriage”. Talk of equality is baffling, since heterosexual couples cannot enter civil partnerships while same-sex partners can also marry. Nor is it valid to equate what has just been made legal with all the modifications to marriage through the ages. They involved marriage with members of the opposite sex. No comparison lies down that road.

Mr Sewell gets to the heart of the matter in pointing out the uniqueness of marriage and why it should have stayed as it was. The union of a man and a woman has the potential, even if not the result, of producing children. Union between two people of the same sex never can. The institution of marriage was established to manage such procreation.

The issue has encouraged gesture politics, including the Prime Minister’s posturing assertion: “I am for gay marriage not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative.”

Mr Sewell finally points out that the battle should be against prejudice. Will those who continue to be prejudiced against people like him and me be won over by this new law, especially in light of a fifth of the population or more not wanting to accept an invitation to a ceremony now covered by it?

Edward Thomas
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Brian Sewell writes: “Most of us are content with what we have.” I, for one, am extremely pleased that, for the first time in my 46 years, I am now equal under the law.

After serving 10 years in the military and then being ejected for reasons of sexual orientation, I will not tolerate sub-standard treatment by society because of whom I choose to have relationships with.

It could be argued that it is precisely because of those like Mr Sewell, with his willingness to tolerate discrimination, that gay members of society have had to suffer inequalities as prescribed by Parliament since the Labouchere Amendment of 1885.

This decision by the Coalition government may cost them votes at the next election but I heartily congratulate it.

Andrew Tuckwell
Plymouth, Devon

SIR – To paint the Mona Lisa required Leonardo and his subject, Lisa Gherardini. If his studio had held two artists, or two Lisas, the crowd in the Louvre would have a blank wall to look at. Marriage is about a couple complementing each other in every way, not just in mutual satisfaction. It exists that we might be fruitful.

As a lifelong scientist, I fail to see how gay marriage can ever fulfil its name. Even in an age that widely wants to believe the opposite, I am evidently far from alone. I never will be; and science, like common sense, operates by logic, not prejudice.

George B Hill
Sandbach, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Una Mullaly argues that citizens are disappointed by the lack of progress of “reform” since the 2011 general election (Opinion, March 31st).

While I share her appetite for a changed society, the media analysis on this issue is increasingly trite and too focused on the failures of politicians.

While many in the media regularly express disappointment at Government inaction on reform, I’m not so sure that many Irish citizens necessarily feel the same way.

For example, close to 50 per cent of the population still voted for the conservative parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in the “radical election” of 2011. The Irish people voted to keep the clapped-out Seanad and rejected a proposal to strengthen Oireachtas committees. Only a minority of our citizens bothered to vote and put children’s rights in the Constitution in 2012.

Next year the Government will hold a referendum on same-sex marriage. I have no doubt that the usual forces of apathy and conservatism will resist this, as happens every time a Government feels brave enough to put its ahead above the parapet and propose a social reform to the Constitution. To succeed, the campaign will need to be hard fought by civil society and individual citizens alike. Politicians alone, it seems, simply cannot win the argument.

Given the record of recent referendums, you can hardly blame politicians for being reluctant to spend their political capital on reforms towards which the population seem at best apathetic.

Rather than another critique of the failure of top-down reform, I’d prefer to see a wider discussion of why our citizenry has become so apathetic and uninterested in how our society is governed. Yours, etc,


Haddington Road,

Dublin 4

Sir, – Finding an individual to lead the Garda Síochána in the 21st century is not going to be easy. The recent problems it has encountered and the difficulties it has endured are a wake-up call to policy-makers in the Republic to realign the priorities of its police and reintegrate them into the body politic of the nation.

The police do not operate in a vacuum. They are answerable to the law, accountable to the public they serve and are quite correctly subject to the forensic scrutiny of an investigative media.

Their practices and procedures should be transparent and articulated to the public in a coherent and unambiguous way. But who is to bell this cat, An Garda Síochána?

The next commissioner should not, under any circumstances be appointed from the existing management team at Phoenix Park. This has too much of a “Buggin’s turn” flavour about it and existing senior officers are carrying far too much baggage.

No, the next officer-in-command should be appointed from a reservoir of proven talent in industry, the professions and science.

Those charged with the responsibility of appointing the next chief should do so expeditiously – and yet with caution. The person selected has an overflowing in-tray to tackle. Good luck to whoever gets that poison chalice. He or she will need it.

Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,



Sir, – If institutional Ireland were a stick of rock, the words “loyalty is prized above honesty” would run through it. The Irish authorities always choose loyalty. Yours, etc,


Ard na Lir,



Co Cork

Sir, – Your report (March 28th) on the plans of BW Energy and the Rethink Pylons group for a pylon-free alternative to Grid25 raises important issues of national significance, as access to a reliable, affordable and clean energy supply is vital for our national well-being. The case for co-firing biomass at Moneypoint instead of increasing our use of wind-led renewables looks compelling on the grounds of cost, energy security and reliability.

Even more compelling is the argument for replacing Moneypoint with small nuclear reactors. For example, the proposed biomass option has an estimated fuel cost of around €75 per MWh while the small nuclear option has a fuel cost of only €8 per MWh. A nuclear plant at Moneypoint would also reduce emissions cheaply and safely while requiring no new pylons or overhead lines.

The primary advantage of biomass over nuclear is that biomass is classified as renewable while nuclear is not. However, both are low-carbon options and it is the low-carbon aspect that will be most important beyond 2020. In the post-2020 world, the economics of small reactors will be vital in helping us reduce our emissions in a cost-effective manner.

Perhaps a useful compromise would be to convert the peat stations to burn more biomass while replacing Moneypoint with small nuclear plant when it closes in 2025? This would satisfy our renewables mandate and reduce emissions while keeping the cost of low-carbon energy affordable.

If the Rethink Pylons report does nothing more than stimulate a much needed rational analysis of all our electricity supply options for the coming decades it will have been well worthwhile.

Such analysis has been lacking to date and the consequences for our economy and our citizens could be far-reaching. As Solomon once said: “Without foresight, the people perish.” – Yours, etc,


Burnaby Woods,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – At a time when Trinity College ought to be eagerly promoting its status as one of the seven premier ancient universities of these islands as its most potent weapon in an ever decreasing armoury of internationally recognised competitive advantages, the board of the college seems to have embarked on a fundamentally misguided campaign of destructive self-effacement (“Is nothing sacred? Trinity drops the Bible”, March 29th).

Leaving aside the aesthetic shortcomings of the new “corporate identity” (numerous as they are) and the fact that the college cannot unilaterally change its arms without making application for a new grant of arms to the relevant heraldic authority, when the board of a university is concerned that the institution may be associated with the alleged cut-price tawdriness of Ikea and Ryanair, it says more about lack of confidence in the brand of the university than it does about its visual identity.

One does not see the University of Cambridge concerned that it may be identified with the values McDonald’s nor the University of Oxford concerned that it may be associated with those of Lidl. In such challenging times of necessary change, the board of Trinity College would be well advised to take better care of its stock of existing selling points and avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Yours, etc,


Pall Mall,


Sir, – With regard to the proposed changes to the logo of Trinity College and the reasons/excuses being offered for these changes, is one allowed to ask just how far this political correctness (read madness) will be allowed to go? I am quite sure that when a prospective student considers a number of universities, the institution’s logo, or its perceived “inclusiveness”, must be well down on the list. Surely what makes a university inclusive in fact is how it treats its students. One might also ask if the political correctness behind this decision is to be extended to any crests that might be embedded in the college’s masonry.

In an era of harsh economic reality, where funding for education should be used to draw out its optimum value, it beggars belief that such time, energy and resources should be devoted to a process which resulted in such an extraordinary decision. Yours, etc,


Garland Hill,

Sir, – In the media the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly continues to state that GPs in Ireland are among the highest-earning doctors in Europe and that having 1,000 medical card patients on one’s books is worth €250 000 per annum to a GP practice.

As a former GP and also a former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, the Minister knows this to be obtusely untrue.

Dr Reilly is clearly spinning stories for the benefit of his Oireachtas colleagues and attempting to manipulate the opinion of the general public on this matter.

I would like to respectfully ask the Minister to desist from this unhelpful and mischievous propaganda and I challenge him to produce the documentation to support either of his claims.

General practice is now failing and sadly most of the destruction is at the hands of this Minister.

Dr Reilly’s only legacy will be that of dismantling the one part of the health service that actually worked, the one part that had no waiting lists, the one part of the health service that was value for money and the one part of the health service that consistently delivered the highest satisfaction rate among patients.

If he continues down this path of destruction it could take decades to recover what he has done in three short years.

The Minister has the foundations of a first-class health system at his fingertips. We have the best-trained doctors in the world and we are the envy of Europe with regard to our practising doctors.

For the sake of our families, our friends and our future the Minister must stop the systematic devastation of family medicine in Ireland, he must follow the lead of his colleagues in Europe and the rest of the world, invest in general practice and build a health service we can be proud of, not one of which we are ashamed. Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

National Association

of General Practitioners,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Regarding Dr Muiris Houston’s “Medical Matters” column (March 25th) I think the heading’s suggestion that “summer time can be fraught with danger” gives a misleading impression, for though the actual time changes at the end of March and in October have been shown to be associated with an increase in accidents, summer time itself is surely of benefit to society as a whole.

Many, I know, greet the arrival of summer time with relief and dread the early advent of darkness in autumn. Personally, like Muiris, I would love to see the reintroduction of double summer time, remembering it nostalgically from my youth.

Failing that why not change to be on a par with Spain and other EU countries. I know Senator Feargal Quinn and others would favour this.

Surely our longer daylight hours would benefit the economy, tourism, energy conservation, the elderly like me, those suffering from SADS and those needing exercise and outdoor activities for medical and social reasons.

Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Sir, – As usual at this time of the year, when the clocks change from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST), there is a clamour to scrap the change and move permanently to BST. If we have BST all year long then in midwinter it will remain dark until about 9.15am. Some of your readers will recall a three-year experiment in the late 1960s when the clocks did not change to GMT. The idea was abandoned due to a sharp rise in the deaths of schoolchildren on the roads in the early morning. Yours, etc,


Blarney St,


Sir, – I find myself in total agreement with John Devlin’s argument (Letters, March 29th) that the “best way young children learn is via a teacher, chalk, books and pupil interaction” .

It is really a no-brainer to follow the way of Silicon Valley, where “the top primary schools have banned computers from the learning process ”.

Take a look at what the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget says: “Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.”

Overdependence on screens for information stunts oral expression and calculation. Ask most people when will Easter fall this year and they will generally take out their screens to answer!

Written communication also suffers from the use of screens. Being involved in primary education and communication I come acrross the increasing poverty of the written and oral word every day of my life. I believe I am not alone in this observation. DH Lawrence advised us: “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you have to say and say it hot.” – Yours, etc,


Asgard Park,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Donald Clarke’s article (“Clubs where women aren’t welcome to join”, March 29th) is fine as far as it goes, but this subject has been discussed so many times before and one of the points clearly established is that both men and women are entitled to join clubs catering for their own sexes (and indeed do so). When Mr Clarke attacks men-only clubs as “reactionary” but ignores women-only clubs (of whose existence he must also surely be aware) he just ends up sounding reactionary himself.

As Mr Justice O’Higgins famously said in the course of the High Court case involving Portmarnock Golf Club in 2005: “it is permissible to have – exclusively – a bridge club for Bulgarians, a chess club for Catholics, a wine club for women and a golf club for gentlemen”. Perhaps it is Mr Clarke rather than the clubs who needs to be dragged “kicking and screaming into the 19th century”? Yours, etc,


Ard Haven,


Sir, – Perhaps not many of your readers are great users of public transport. Let me therefore point out a rather disconcerting phenomenon now frequently observed on Dublin buses, namely the application of make-up (by ladies). We hear much of health and safety. Is there not a danger that an errant mascara wand could deliver a nasty poke in the eye were a bus to brake suddenly. Then there’s the question of propriety. What next? Nail clipping on the 15B? A little light depilation on the 46A. — Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,


Dublin 6W

Sir, – I write in response to Vincent Browne’s column (“Big Issues ignored as Callinan resigns”, March 26th). It is untrue to assert that deference to status or wealth is the motivation behind the assistance of the Catholic Communications Office at certain Catholic funerals.

Among the services offered by the CCO, one is to assist a parish as it responds to the demands of media queries and/or media presence at a particular local funeral. The CCO enables media personnel to access accurate information regarding the funeral liturgy. Feedback indicates that this is viewed as a useful service. Yours, etc,


Catholic Communications



Co Kildare

Sir, – Your heading above Chris Garvey’s letter (“Uses for Ireland’s boglands”, March 29th) tickled my funny bone. I expected to read of development proposals for the barren terrain bounded by Merrion Street to the east and Kildare Street to the west, where the living dead stumble into fetid drowning pools, strange animals roam, vultures swoop, and no birds sing!

Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,


Dublin 16

Sir, – The most recent political poll suggests that a sizeable percentage of us are not satisfied with the manner in which the Government is administering the justice system and we are opting for Sinn Féin as an alternative. Hmm. Yours, etc,


Newmarket on Fergus,

Co Clare

Irish Independent:

Also in this section

Pylons will mutilate our beautiful countryside

Think the unthinkable

Speak about feelings

The Lord Mayor and the burghers in Cork City Hall have decided in their expansive wisdom and generosity that President Michael D Higgins should shortly be given the Freedom of the City.

No great harm in that, you might say – the only problem is that we, the ordinary people of Cork, will, as usual, end up footing the rather expensive bill through our rates, property and other taxes.

Conversely, there is no money for those citizens who are crippled with negative equity and unsustainable and crucifying debts, no money for the many children daily going hungry to school, no money for the homeless, the aged and the disabled or the thousands who are jobless and in despair.

No money to bring home the thousands of our young and not so young who have been forced to emigrate. No money for our struggling small businesses or to fix our potholed and broken roads.

Miraculously, however, we have plenty of money for a meaningless shindig in the present economic climate and in the throes of a raging recession.

It is, of course, in microcosm, another measure of the disdain and disconnect that those in positions of power and influence have for the lives and travails of ordinary citizens who have been force fed on debilitating austerity for the last six years.

No doubt the people of Cork and elsewhere will express their feelings on this and other matters next May.




* Reading the Irish Independent on March 24, a beautiful photograph on page 14 caught my attention; surgeon Pat Kiely and formerly conjoined twins Hussein and Hassan Benhaffaf from Cork.

Speaking as a co-founder of charity Straight Ahead (which I confess I was unaware of), Dr Kiely referred to problems caused by delays in carrying out spinal surgery on children at Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals.

Dr Kiely and his fellow surgeons have already given up their free time to operate on 26 children at no cost to the parents.

The twins’ mother, Angie, was quoted as saying “their generosity moves me . . . what they do is life changing”.

It was heartening to hear of such dedication and generosity at a time when we have been bombarded with stories of the obscenely high executive salaries/pensions in organisations like CRC, Rehab, etc – some even having the nerve to tell us they should be earning more and are entitled to bonuses but have (generously) not taken them for four years!

Do these people realise or care about the enormous damage being done to the whole charity sector?

Well done to Dr Kiely and fellow surgeons for the wonderful work you do.




* I write regarding Sinead Moriarty’s comment piece entitled ‘We’re too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress’ (Irish Independent, March 28).

About three years ago, I noticed two small children playing on a narrow path outside a newsagent’s beside a very busy roundabout in south Co Dublin. I advised the older one, a five-year-old boy, to please be very careful as it was just at dusk and traffic was heavy.

They were still there when I came out and I asked if their mother was in the shop. They said, ‘No, she’s gone to work’. It transpired that the five-year-old was ‘looking after’ his three-year-old sister. I took them to the far side of the road where the path was much wider and safer, and decided I should wait with them until a parent arrived to collect them.

Around 20 minutes later, I asked the boy if he knew where his house was and he pointed to the far side of the roundabout. It seems he had navigated this roundabout safely earlier!

We began to walk, me hoping we were going the right way, and the children chatting away happily. We reached their house about 10 minutes later to find people running around frantically looking for them, including their father who had just fallen asleep in the chair and was horrified to know they had gone so far from home.

I was very glad that I was the person who found them, but the thing is it never crossed my mind to call the police or that my motives might be suspect to anyone. I just wanted to know that they got safely home.

As a mother of four adult children, I would always be very aware of a child with apparently no adult accompanying them.




* The so-called selfie in our brave new world serves as the ultimate distraction. One’s self.

This, if I may say so, to use a word of some disputation currently, is little short of being “disgusting”.

Great hardship is being endured by men, women and children in this country and in countries across the world, and to propagate the concept that the self or narcissistic preoccupation should prevail is to veer dangerously close to fascism.

It is a time not for the selfie but for the antithesis of the selfie.

The unselfie.




* There is need for far fresher ideas than those implemented by Government (Editorial, Irish Independent, March 31) to overcome the unemployment problems that are accumulating in an entirely unprecedented work situation.

Work is being eliminated on a truly massive scale by rampant automation and much more than stopgap programmes for a few is needed.

There is need on a world basis, or at least a large trading bloc such as the EU or US, to move to much shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement for all.

The maths are simple; more people working less or fewer people working more.

There is also need for Government to generate much more public service employment. Private enterprise will require fewer people even working shorter hours as technology advances.

Employment change is the most urgent crisis we face; greater even than climate change. If employment escalates out of control, as it will without drastic action, and society breaks down, climate change will matter only to the birds.

We need 21st-century thinking for 21st-century employment. There seems little sign of any yet.




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