Mass visit

9 April2014hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: our heroes have to take care of farming Priceless

Mary in hospital visit her with Astrid, Anna, and Liz

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Peaches Geldof – obituary

Peaches Geldof was a celebrity whose ebullience and intelligence were scarred by a tragedy-laced upbringing and drug abuse

Peaches Geldof, daughter of Sir Bob Geldof, dies at the age of 25 in Kent

Peaches Geldof was wild, witty and clever Photo: Getty

9:11PM BST 07 Apr 2014

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Peaches Geldof, who has died suddenly aged 25, was a journalist, model and television presenter. But her chief occupation was being Peaches Geldof, daughter of the celebrities Bob Geldof and Paula Yates.

This was by no means an easy task. Her parents divorced when she was seven; her mother, also a television presenter, then began dating the Australian rock singer Michael Hutchence, who was found hanged in 1997. Three years later Paula Yates herself was dead of a heroin overdose.

The daisy-chain of tragedy in which Peaches Geldof found herself enmeshed ensured that she was, even before she turned 12, projected firmly into the public eye. It was a spotlight from which she was never able, or never willing, to withdraw. Indeed, it was typical of her relationship with publicity that she gave interviews – to rail against the media. Recently, with the rise of social media, she became a dedicated user of Twitter and Instagram, showering her hundreds of thousands of followers with personal thoughts and pictures. Her final tweet, written the day before she died, was: “Me and my mum”. It provided a link to a photo of the infant Peaches in Paula Yates’s arms.

Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof was born in London on March 13 1989, the second of three sisters, of whom Fifi Trixibelle was the eldest and Pixie the youngest. She would also gain a half-sister, Tiger-Lily, from her mother’s relationship with Hutchence.

Peaches Geldof on the set of This Morning in 2013

Peaches’s upbringing was marked not just by her parents but also by the family nanny, Anita Debney, who reportedly helped provide a stable environment for the three girls. That stability was fatally undermined when Paula Yates went to live with Hutchence. The stress of the bitter divorce was exacerbated by Paula Yates’s drug taking. Anita Debney was fired, and “family friends” later told newspapers that Peaches “got the worst” of the fall out. “I can’t even begin to describe what that poor girl lived through,” said one, Gerry Agar.

On the day of Paula Yates’s death, Peaches and her siblings moved in with Bob Geldof and his French partner, Jeanne Marine. Living in south-west London, Peaches attended Queen’s College in Harley Street.

But it soon became apparent that she was not going to retreat into a normal, if privileged, adolescence. Instead she began writing a magazine column for Elle Girl; The Telegraph and The Guardian also published articles under her byline which revealed a clever, bombastic teenager with refreshingly unvarnished opinions. “At the prospect of spending time in the country, I shudder,” she wrote in this paper. “This feeling hasn’t grown on me gradually – I’ve always hated it. Not only is it boring but, I also genuinely believe that it slowly drives people insane.” Her media career had begun.

By 2006 her fame was such that she was being interviewed in her own right, offering her thoughts on everything from Jane Austen to Tony Blair – her plummy-toned musings peppered with the refrains “Omigod” and “like”. Even then, however, a large part of the fascination she held for onlookers appeared to be whether or not she would manage to avoid the fate of her mother.

“Some newspapers are saying she’s set on the same trajectory as her mother: hooked on fame, got her tongue pierced, goes to too many parties, blah blah blah. I can’t see it,” wrote Robert Crampton in The Times in 2006. Two years later, Giles Hattersley, in The Sunday Times, was more concerned. “I worry for her,” he wrote. “She missed her childhood and now has to cope with living on her own, dodging paps and having all her mistakes splashed on the front pages – and she is still only 19. On reflection, I don’t think she’s like her mother. But this clever, troubled baby-woman would benefit from having her around.”

The person most aware of this was Peaches Geldof herself, particularly as she began to dabble with drugs – something she was prepared to admit (though she denied taking crack, and said that one story of an “overdose” was “overblown”). Comparisons with her mother were, she said, “lame”, fears for her well-being, misplaced, voyeuristic even. “It’s like people almost wish it would happen. But if my mother died in a car crash, does that mean I would have to run out in front of a car and it would be history repeating itself? If I was photographed by a road, would it be: ‘Peaches Geldof gets too close! She’s following in the path of her mother!’ every time?”

By then her media career had quickly moved from print to the screen, first with a documentary series (Peaches Geldof, Teenage Mind, 2005) and then, three years later, with the reality show Peaches: Disappear Here for MTV. She designed a collection for the fashion label PPQ and signed a lucrative contract to become “the face” of Ultimo underwear. But the deal was scuppered when scurrilous pictures of her and more rumours of drug taking began to circulate on the internet. In 2011 she presented the chat show OMG! with Peaches Geldof on ITV, but it was not a rating success.

Peaches Geldof with her father Bob Geldof in 2009

In September the following year she married Thomas Cohen, a singer with the London band S.C.U.M. — the wedding was held in Davington, Kent, in the church where her parents had married and where mother’s funeral had been held in 2000. Fulfilling a promise made in a Telegraph column to “carry on this ancient tradition of exotic yet pointless names” she named their sons Astala Dylan Willow and Phaedra Bloom Forever. The children’s arrival seemed to mark a new era in her life. “I’m in bed by 8pm nearly every night,” she said in October last year. “This is not what I thought I’d be doing three years ago when I was the poster girl for partying in London.”

It was her second marriage, following her first, brief, union, in August 2008 — at the age of 19 — to Max Drummey, a musician with the American band Chester French. They had known each other for a month and announced their split after nine months.

Peaches Geldof’s evident curiosity stretched far and wide. She declared herself fascinated by “quantum physics” and “wormholes” and “Stephen Hawking’s theories and Richard Dawkins’s theories. I’ve always been really interested in how we came to be and why. Which is how I guess I got involved in spirituality and stuff.”

In 2009 she declared that she was “a Scientologist. I feel like I needed a spiritual path. I felt I was lacking something when I didn’t have a faith.” That November she attended the 25th anniversary of the International Association of Scientologists at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex, with 5,000 other Scientologists — reportedly including the actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

She later flirted with elements of Judaism and then, last year, waxed lyrical about “a belief system to apply to day-to-day life to attain peacefulness”. The system in question was the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) — founded in the early 20th century and indelibly linked to the occultist Aleister Crowley. She had the initials OTO tattooed on her left forearm.

Peaches Geldof seemed to be looking forward to getting old. Or at least older. “I have so much shit put on me,” she said in 2008. “I haven’t felt like I was a teenager since I was 12. I’ve felt like I was 30 since I was 13. I don’t think I had a teenage time. Maybe my twenties will be easier.”

She is survived by her husband and two sons.

Peaches Geldof, born March 13 1989, died April 7 2014


Let me add one more to Larry Elliott’s five warning signs (A corner turned – or just more groupthink?, 7 April). Why have international investors been so keen to acquire UK assets, notably prime property in London? It is because they are confident that UK governments will do whatever it takes to preserve asset values: a collapse in values is the nightmare of any government hoping for re-election. They know too that in quantitative easing our government has a fine instrument for preserving (and boosting) asset values, never mind that it had done precious little for job creation.

But a second-division economy will get away with printing money only for so long as first-division economies are at it too. After that we either carry on printing and watch sterling decline, or stop printing and put our faith in a (miraculous) revival in the balance of payments. At which point investors more interested in dollar value than in the sterling value of their London mansions will head for the exit – a step made all the easier by past removal of all those pesky restrictions on capital movement.

So the sixth warning sign flashes when our slowdown in quantitative easing happens later than in first-division economies.
David Chambers

• Larry Elliott’s scepticism about the longevity of the economic recovery might itself have been influenced by the received wisdom it purported to doubt. It puts global warming as a reason for concern, rather than economic growth per se, which is causing “climate change” (a more complex concept than global warming) and other serious environmental degradation.

There is still insufficient attention paid to the fact that we live on a finite planet and that as a result economic growth has to be finite. To get away from this model, one has to look at different paradigms for economics, as well as different measures for assessing how well people are living.

The present system allows the richest nations to fool themselves into thinking that unbridled economic growth can continue, because they can print money, repress interest rates and import resources if theirs become scarce, thus depriving the poorest of basic necessities and social justice. What happens when we can no longer do this? Perhaps the colonisation and exploitation of Mars will keep us topped up?

More “real” realism, please, so that we can explore sustainable long-term alternatives in mainstream economic commentary, rather than confining the environmental discussions to doom and gloom pieces in other parts of the paper.
Dr David Dixon

• Articles on economics, as with your leader (A discipline ripe for disruption, 3 April), seldom mention the role of money itself, yet 97% of money in circulation – about £2,200bn – has been created by banks sinking their customers, including the government, into debt (Q1 Bulletin 2014). Banks are reluctant to reveal the interest they receive, but a conservative estimate is 5% on average, indicating that society pays these for-profit companies £110bn a year. Compare this with VAT revenue of £103bn. No wonder personal debt is higher than ever, social services are being cut, and our society inhabits two separate and opposing economic planets.
James Bruges

Chris Huhne asserts that wind generation is popular with the British public (The Conservatives’ onshore wind sums are all at sea, 7 April). He omits to say that’s because up to now the British public has been largely unaffected by the development of this fundamentally useless form of electricity generation. However, in the relatively small and thinly populated area of Britain that is the Scottish Borders, many of us have spent much of the past decade fighting windfarm development. Unsuccessfully, it has to be said: in spite of planning policies aimed at preventing undesirable development, some 400 turbines have been built here, and there are many more in the planning pipeline. If those 4,000 turbines across the UK produce about 5% of our total electricity need – when the wind is blowing – be sure there will be a windfarm coming your way quite soon. Let’s see how popular that turns out to be.

Huhne thinks that turbines are “elegant and minimalistic”. Individually on a distant horizon, Mr Huhne, or dozens in vast slabs of metal 70, 80 or more metres high, covering a couple of square miles and in your face on a daily basis? But even if they may be elegant, they certainly are not a solution to a pressing energy need. For every hour a turbine operates it has to be supported by alternative means, just in case the wind doesn’t blow, often when the temperature is at its lowest and our need is greatest. And should it blow too hard, landowners, many of whom don’t live close by and aren’t characterised by Huhne as “venomous nimbies”, can pocket large sums of “compensation” in return for turning them off. So it’s no surprise that here on the A1 at the Scotland-England border, there is a fine panorama of wind turbines 20 miles or more to the north, west and south.
George Russell
Eyemouth, Berwickshire

•  Chris Huhne claims that onshore wind enjoys more than 60% support in polls. May I point out that probably well over 95% of residents live far away from windfarms, and that only a few years ago the percentage of support was far higher. Mr Huhne might do well to consider why protesters against onshore wind appear to be so noisy, as he states. The answer should be perfectly clear to him: while residents affected by close proximity to the HS2 railway line or those affected by close proximity to fracking sites can expect compensation, there is no scheme for those affected by close proximity to wind turbines. Many of these people often live at high altitude in isolated locations, making it vital for such residents to be able to move away in sickness or old age.
Wyck Gerson Lohman
Machynlleth, Powys

• I have some sympathy with the residents of Cornwall who are opposed to the “industrialisation” of their landscape (Turbines plan fans community discord, 5 April), but they continue to enjoy the benefits of industrialisation elsewhere in the UK and the rest of the world. Are they prepared to do without the vast array of consumer goods that are now considered essential for everyday living? Their phones, computers, freezers and vehicles are manufactured somewhere else and travel huge distances to get to them. They must be disposed of somewhere, and the hazardous waste dealt with. Their manufacture, operation and disposal require the expenditure of energy.

We haven’t begun to consider how we can switch from an energy-greedy consumerist existence to something more sustainable, and our government is not giving us any leads on this.
Jill Friedmann

•  Everyone, no doubt, will not agree with Chris Huhne that wind turbines are beautiful. But it is undeniable that they are elegant, and a tribute to their brilliant engineer designers and the outstanding skills of the manufacturers. Their design is clearly highly superior to that of the lumpen electricity pylons that lumber across our landscape. However, it is disingenuous to claim they are, like agriculture, just another benign change to the natural climax vegetation of mature forest. Windfarms bring the ethos of the factory to the nature environment and thereby intrude on that soul-healing experience which so many enjoy in getting away from an urban setting. We certainly need windfarms, but out at sea is the ideal place for them.
Jim McCluskey

• Would the government’s decision (Tories plan 2020 ban on onshore windfarms, 5 April) have any connection with the recent news that EDF had had to cut its nuclear output “as the grid was receiving higher wind and solar output from Europe than expected” (, 20 March)? Just in case anyone realises that renewable energy can be very efficient when properly supported?
Pat Sanchez
Littleborough, Lancashire

Tony Blair defends the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that without it “you would have had the so-called Arab spring come to Iraq” (Syria crisis: failure to intervene will have terrible consequences, says Blair, 7 April). Clearly there could be nothing worse than the people of Iraq rebelling against their leaders and deciding their own future.
Given that this interview comes on the same day you publish Blair’s eulogy to the president of Rwanda (Comment, 7 April), perhaps one should not be surprised. Your paper has pointed out (Report, 10 October 2012) that Paul Kagame won the 2010 election with 93% of the vote when three major opposition parties were excluded from the vote, and that two of their leaders were jailed and still languish there. In the same article you reported that “UN monitors accused Kagame of meddling in his mineral-rich neighbour the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supporting a rebellion led by a war crimes suspect and blamed for atrocities including mass rapes.” Then again, holding leaders to account for meddling in other countries’ affairs is probably not something our ex-prime minister would be likely to support.
Declan O’Neill

• Kagame’s government has paid for Mr Blair’s African Governance Initiative’s consulting services since 2008, which include Mr Blair’s personal advice to the president. As such, Mr Blair does not write in a personal capacity but rather as a spokesman for Kagame’s government.
Alexandra Reza
St Edmund Hall, Oxford

• Tony Blair’s belief that his views on intervening anywhere might still have any currency shows how very far out of touch he remains with reality.
Mark Lewinski
Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire

Archbishop Welby is right to understand that what is said by the Church of England transmits messages (Welby links killings in Africa to gay marriage, 5 April). The prejudice that kills Christians thought to be gay-friendly is the same as that which kills LGBT people themselves in increasing global homophobic crimes from Russia to Nigeria. Whether failing to support gay marriage here because of the risk it places African Christians under is shrewd or simply handing power to the oppressor can be debated. I am convinced that if such support isn’t forthcoming, those who commit acts of anti-Christian violence are likely to find other reasons to do so. However, one urgent move is now essential – to speak out in support of decriminalising homosexuality across the Commonwealth and wider world. To do this in a joint statement with Pope Francis would be a powerful communication of the church’s non-negotiable belief in God-given human dignity and underline the clear distinction between morality and criminality – just as Archbishop Ramsey recognised when he supported decriminalisation in this country. It would also help reduce the abuse and murder of LGBT folk that criminalisation is perceived to legitimate. As Alice Walker wrote, “no person is your friend who demands your silence”.
Canon Mark Oakley

• Archbishop Welby thinks we must sacrifice the longings of gay people for their own marriage on the altar of appeasement of certain murderous Nigerians. He, along with his predecessor, is too spineless to stand up for the gay minority, and exposes his church as incapable of living up to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1, “all human beings are equal in dignity and rights”, and nothing more than a hotchpotch of amoral stone-age superstition.
Dr Martyn Phipps
Ellesmere Port, Cheshire

• As a gay man I have no objection to straight people seeking to convert, or vice versa (Minister seeks to stop gay conversion therapy, 7 April). It’s as a taxpayer that I agree with Norman Lamb – there is no place for this in the NHS!
David Mungall

Edward Thomas remembers Hackney in the 50s as a contented “monocultural society in a cockney setting” (Letters, 4 April). I used to visit my grandparents weekly in Hackney during the late 50s. They and most of their neighbours were of Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian and Russian descent, and many local shops reflected this diversity. Since the early 20th century Hackney has welcomed consecutive waves of immigrants, and everyone seemed perfectly content. Thomas describes life in Hackney as being “a straightforward English way of life”. That’s not how I remember it at all.
Marilyn Finlay

•  We know very little about Shakespeare’s life, and his poems have lived on to be reinterpreted by many generations, so do we need to know so much about Ted Hughes’s life (My life of Ted Hughes: the controversy, 5 April)? Leave his life alone. If his poetry is good enough it will live on.
Tristan Moss

• Commenting on his right thumb, broken in eight places, Joe Root (Root signs new Yorkshire deal, Sport, 8 April) is quoted as saying: “You’ve got to take these knocks on the chin and come back.” I wish him success, but trust his batting skills are better than his knowledge of anatomy.
Alan Sykes

• Looking at the photo of the model of the Battersea power station development (Starchitects’ take on Battersea power station is attacked for ignoring affordable housing needs, 8 April), it occurred to me that in no time another spidery letter will be winging its way to a government department.
David Prothero
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

•  How about the villages of Nasty in Hertfordshire and Ugley in Essex, with the apocryphal headline “Nasty man marries Ugley woman” (Letters, 8 April)?
Jim Waight

• I have photographic proof of me looking back in Anger, Bavaria, while on a cycling holiday.
Steve Boardman

David Edgar says, too readily, that after the miners’ strike “miners’ wives went back to the kitchens” (Review, 5 April). At Northern College, Barnsley, in 1980, a group of women from Worsbrough established regular short courses for themselves over many years. In 1984 they were part one of the first women’s support groups, published a book on the strike (The Heart and Soul of It, Bannerworks, 1985) and created a theatre group touring the region. After the strike, three of the Worsbrough women, as they became known, progressed via short courses and youth worker training to social work degrees.

For many women in the coalfields, far from their commitment “melting away” as Edgar suggests, this was a period of momentous change, personal and community development, and an essential, perhaps defining, factor in what “David Douglass called ‘values of community, of work, solidarity, of looking after each other'”. The Thurcroft miner was right; something did come out of it.
David Browning

Polly Toynbee (House building alone won’t end this ladder of insanity, 4 April) is right to turn her fire on the chaotic UK housing market. The absence of definition of affordable housing is the black hole at the heart of every policy to reduce poverty. That failure is destroying the viability of the living wage, and has already destroyed it for the national minimum wage and unemployment benefits in metropolitan areas.

Poverty can only be increased while central government allows the market to extract larger and larger amounts of rent and council tax, by threats of eviction and prison, out of the incomes needed for food, water, fuel, transport, clothes for growing children and other necessities. The poorest tenants in rent arrears will continue to be pushed from pillar to post by demented free market extremists in Westminster.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in May 2013 that in 2012-13 Haringey had accepted 1,833 households from other London boroughs, 1,200 from Islington, and exported 1,282 out of the borough, 1,147 to Enfield. A total of 19,057 households had moved between boroughs in London. That included the impact of the coalition’s housing allowance caps on housing benefit in 2012-13; since April 2013, the bedroom tax, the £500 overall benefit cap and the council tax have been wreaking additional havoc. This is like pouring households into a giant kitchen mixer and expecting them not to get hurt.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• Polly Toynbee rightly identifies the house price explosion as a social disaster, but she misses some of its ramifications. She writes that over-60s “see how their children and grandchildren struggle to find anywhere to live”. If over-60s own the house they live in, they might think that their children will at least be able to live in it after them. But this is not the case, in London at any rate: the house-price explosion will have brought the most modest home into the inheritance tax bracket, and the children will have to sell it and be left with too little to buy anything in London.

Anyone who bought a modest home years ago at a reasonable price would be hit by Toynbee’s proposed 1% property tax; 1% of their home’s supposed current market value could be half their current income, forcing them to sell up and move out. Toynbee and others have pointed out that “social cleansing” of poor tenants is in progress in London. Her proposed property tax would amount to social cleansing of owner-occupiers on modest incomes.

It’s generally understood that current house prices hurt the majority of non-owners; it needs to be understood that high market values don’t help the majority of owners who just want to live in their houses, and can hurt some of them very badly.
John Wilson

•  As well as the cheap money policies of the Bank of England and state subsidisation of mortgages that Polly Toynbee mentions, restrictive planning laws imposed by the state (including the Green Belt) mean supply is severely unresponsive to new demand in areas where people want to live. The degree of state interference can be seen most clearly in statistics which suggest land values increase up to 250-fold in the south-east when planning permission is granted. It’s therefore baffling to claim housing an example of market failure. Our housing market is as clear example of government failure through misguided state policies as one could get.
Ryan Bourne
Head of public policy, Institute of Economic Affairs

• Anne Perkins is right about the council tax (Time to ditch the unfair council tax, 2 April). Not only is a revaluation of homes long overdue but the huge gains made by those in the most expensive homes – primarily in London – need to be reined in. Many of those homes are paying a fraction of the bills they had under the last year of domestic rates 25 years ago. It was not uncommon then for the most expensive homes in London to pay domestic rates of £10,000 a year; now, depending on which London borough they’re in, they enjoy bills as low as £1,350 a year.

The crude council tax banding system needs replacing with individual valuations to produce a fairer distribution of the council tax burden. Help could be given for those who are asset-rich but income-poor.

When Northern Ireland scrapped the old rates system it opted for a council tax based on property values but, rather than creating a series of price bands, it opted for individual valuations. To prevent punishingly high bills for those in the most expensive homes, it set a ceiling so that no home would be considered to be worth more than £400,000.

Don’t expect any rush, though, to reform the tax in the rest of the UK. For the foreseeable future, council tax reform remains a political no-go area.
John Andrew
Speldhurst, Kent

• John Harris ridicules as outdated left-of-Labour calls for a mass house-building programme to solve the housing crisis (The Tories own the future – the left is trapped in the past, Comment, 3 April). But a new report predicts that London will be “crippled” if there is no solution to housing disaster.

What would Harris offer to the private tenant whose landlord is demanding a rent increase on his one-bedroom flat in Walthamstow from £800 to £1,200?

This is what is old-fashioned, stuck in the pre-council-house past where landlords’ greed was the only factor determining rents. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition calls for mass building of council homes, for trade union rates of pay in the jobs created in the building and refurbishment schemes, and for rent control, with rent councils to set the cap. To most people, that’s a programme that addresses the future.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

• Given the lack of any coherent policies, the only option remaining to pro-Europe, left-thinking individuals would seem to be a cynical exploitation of the house-price bubble: sell up and move to somewhere warm with nice dinners and cheap wine before they bar the doors against us.
Duncan Grimmond

• I wonder how ministers, let alone the MPs on the standards committee, can be trusted to legislate to rebalance the economy away from property values.
Richard Harley
Alresford, Hampshire

The American psyche is a conundrum (What is the point of Obama’s presidency? 28 March). Over the years I have watched the news, open-mouthed, as ordinary Americans protest with banners saying “Get your socialist hands off our bodies”, “No to a minimum wage” and so on. But upon deeper reflection, I suddenly understand: the population, even that vast number at the bottom of the wealth pyramid, have all been brainwashed by the American Dream: that anyone can make it to the top.

Strictly speaking, the Dream is true – witness the election of Obama – and it is an entirely admirable feature of American civilisation that no one is barred from competing (for wealth, fame or political office). But, in reality, millions of people live desperate lives (poverty, violence, drugs etc) with almost zero chance of escape. I say almost, because that is the key – there is a finite, albeit minuscule, chance of bettering yourself, and this phoney hope acts as the suspenders that keep the Emperor Ponzi’s new clothes on (ie keep the US economy going).

It reminds me of a joke told in our family: I say to my husband “Oh, if only I could win the lottery”, and he says “But Darling, you haven’t bought a ticket”, to which I reply “No, but it doesn’t alter my chances much, does it?” Dream on: a civilised society must have mechanisms in place so that people do not have to rely on luck. As we might say to wean someone off gambling – luck is not a strategy.
Jennifer Coopersmith
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

Propaganda on Ukraine

I was dismayed that your usual excellent coverage of the Ukraine troubles was marred by adopting the propaganda language of government spin doctors (28 March): specifically, that the enthusiastic and voluntary secession of Crimea was repeatedly referred to as a Russian “annexation”. I’m sure that the authors of those articles know that the word “annex”, as defined in several respected dictionaries, means the forceful acquisition of another nation’s territory.

It is disingenuous to accuse Russia of pinching Crimea from Ukraine, since it was the Crimeans who freely, and by 96% majority, decided to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

No matter how much the United States and Nato try to justify their cynical sophistry, the reality is that when a population decides by 96% to realign itself, no one – absolutely no one – has the right to try to stop them, no matter what treaties had been signed on their behalf in some distant past.
Sam Nejad
Geraldton, Western Australia

• Putin gave up on the west (28 March) in part because of the incessant, vainglorious push to the east by both Nato and the EU since 1989. It’s time for three strong leaders (Obama, Putin and Merkel) to meet again in Yalta, Crimea and draw yet another borderline from the Baltic to the Black Sea to delimit mutually agreeable spheres of influence. The Shower Curtain?
Douglas Porteous
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Message to adolescent girls

“If you really want to know what adolescent girls need, you should talk to adolescent girls,” runs the take-out of Hadley Freeman’s article (21 March). Yes, as reported on the BBC recently concerning gender inequality in the professions, adolescent girls do indeed have ambitions, to be lawyers, or whatever, but they need to be sexually attractive lawyers at the same time.

In fact, there was some hesitation over whether they would prefer being plain lawyers or attractive waitresses. Tolstoy’s views on gender equality hardly cut much ice nowadays, but his statement that “women will never enjoy equal rights to men as long as men view them as objects of desire” must be regarded as having some contemporary relevance. Being “bossy” doesn’t go well with being sexually attractive (other than appealing to men’s female domination fetishes): hence bossiness is linked to plainness and absence of attraction.

There have been many TV documentaries recently on hard-core subjects, such as alcoholism, drug-addiction and prostitution, presented not by male investigators, but by young, sexually attractive women – physical appearance or age is not an issue with male presenters. Less physically attractive and older women are confined to radio. The message going out to adolescent girls is: Yes, you can have your place equally alongside men, so long as you are young and physically attractive. Bra burning gets you nowhere.
David Bye
Kosd, Hungary

• Hadley Freeman’s article was the most sensible piece I’ve read about women in a long time, especially her advice for schools. For the record, Miss Piggy was one of my childhood heroines too.
Caroline Sandes
London, UK

Arabs in France

Both David Bell (Deeply troubled but not cursed, 21 March) and Andrew Hussey (in his book The French Intifada) seem to forget the hundreds of thousands secular or Christian Arabs living in France: they’re mostly Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian and indeed north African. They have for decades now adapted and integrated into French life and culture, confidently asserting their place mostly in the middle classes, while in return enriching French society with their rich Middle Eastern background.

There’s definitely no “war” there. As a lot of French people do, let’s not forget that the word Arab is not synonymous with Muslim.
Fares Samara
Kempsey, NSW, Australia

Climbing Mount Everest

Philip Hoare comments on the fact that the people who are determined to climb Mount Everest are seemingly doing so without giving any thought as to why they are doing it or the damage that they are doing to its environment while attempting to do it (28 March).

When I used to climb mountains, if you used devices to enable you to achieve your goal one removed them so as to minimise damage and also so that the next team would have the same challenge. Seemingly these climbers are doing so only to tick off a list of events.

So there should be regulations in place, which one has to sign before one starts, in which waste, debris and aids have to be removed before one leaves. The climbing fraternity should ensure that anyone who intends to climb anywhere should accept their responsibility to maintain any climb for everyone.
Brian Mahood
Hamilton, New Zealand

Compulsory voting is flawed

Edwin Carter presents familiar arguments for compulsory voting (Reply, 4 April) but they are deeply flawed, mainly due to the lack of informed opinion among those who are forced to vote or else face a fine. The real enemy of democracy in Australia is the “donkey voter” who takes no interest in public affairs, doesn’t follow the political news and is probably ill-equipped by education to do so anyway. His – and often her – interests are limited to beer, gambling machines and the footie. They have never had it so good, so why worry?

This is a very elitist view, yet I vote Labor or Green in disgust with the so-called Liberal party’s fascism. Thankfully, these Liberals say they want to uphold free speech.

There was once a cry for “no taxation without representation”. We now have a situation where many people who pay no taxes and have no considered opinions have equal voting rights with those who fund their comfort. Those who pay no taxes should not have the right to vote, let alone be compelled to do so.
Ted Webber
Buderim, Queensland, Australia


• In no way do I favour a political merger and acquisition between Canada and the United States (28 March). This idea has been an on-again, off-again fantasy of the United States since the American revolution. It’s a stale idea with little merit.

I would, however, favour the United States and Canadian partnership to build the twice-aborted Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. This renewable energy project would do far more good for the people of North America than any permanent political union.
Jeffrey W White
Somerville, Massachusetts, US

• I enjoyed your excellent article from Gary Younge on Tony Benn (21 March). As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins (written in 1925): Politics without Principles, Wealth without Work, Commerce without Morality, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Science without Humanity, Worship without Sacrifice. Benn believed and fought for many of these causes.

To quote Younge: “He stood for something more than office and he didn’t pander”.
Deirdre Lane
White Rock, British Columbia, Canada

• Yes, we have some talented bakers making wonderful bread in France, but there are also quite a few mediocre and even bad ones (28 March). And of those 10bn baguettes, a not insignificant proportion are factory-made, tasteless, woolly white sticks sold plastic-wrapped in supermarkets, unworthy of the term bread. France has its share of junk food and these sticks are in that category.
Patsy Pouvelle
Reims, France


The Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne (8 April) writes: “The task today is to push power, money, information and choice down to the individual citizen, so everyone can enjoy opportunities a fortunate few take for granted.” His solution: give those fortunate few more money!

He does not actually say so but the logic of his argument is that those “fortunate few” earning a minimum of £150,000 a year are so despondent at the burden of taxation that they are at present marking time, working to rule, and therefore need a tax gift to unleash the “individuality, creativity, originality” which only they possess.

This is all in aid of keeping up with an Asia-driven resurgent capitalism. In other words, more growth, more consumption, more pillaging of finite resources, more pollution, global warming, deforestation, acidification of the oceans etc, etc. Or  to put it another way:  “Foot flat to the floor; there’s a bottomless pit  straight ahead.”

Mr Browne wants “a willingness to challenge stale thinking”, but his own thinking is not just stale but fossilised. It is also extremely unjust and dangerous.

Steve Edwards, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex

Your editorial supporting a reduction in the 45 per cent tax rate (8 April) demonstrates that you just don’t get it. Tax rates should rise with income, until, at the highest level, they do become confiscatory.

Do we wish to live in a fair society? Morality, not economics, should direct our thoughts. No individual is entitled to preposterous wealth when so many go without; to entertain such a philosophy is to encourage an even more unequal society. Advocates of lower taxes are almost always those who already have too much.

Finlay Fraser, Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Wind, solar or biomass?

While Jane Merrick is of course correct that the British weather is variable (3 April), she is wrong to suggest that this means onshore wind farms don’t make sense.

Onshore wind is cheaper per unit of electricity generated than any other source of renewable electricity. It is also cheaper than new nuclear, which, under current government proposals, will receive subsidies for 35 years as well as up to a £10bn loan guarantee from the Treasury.

Electricity from onshore wind soared by 36 per cent last year compared with 2012 and contributed nearly 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. Most polls suggest that 70 per cent of the British public are in favour of onshore wind turbines.

It is important to focus on a range of renewables as we move towards a decarbonised electricity mix, but onshore wind has an important part to play for the foreseeable future.

Nick Molho, Head of Climate and Energy Policy, WWF-UK, Woking, Surrey

Jane Merrick’s views on the inefficiency of onshore wind turbines reflect mine about solar “farms”. As a broad supporter of green initiatives, I naively thought that there was a grand plan to situate solar panels on domestic and commercial roofs, brownfield sites and areas of no agricultural or scenic value, a great way of gaining an extra dividend from these sites. Not so, it seems.

Applications are flooding in, all over the country, to snatch the cash and cover thousands of acres of good-quality agricultural land with solar panels in a modern gold rush. This at a time when we have an increasing population,  a need for land for new housing, land being lost to coastal erosion, and an annual food import bill of some £8bn. And are reliably told that world food production is set to fall.

At least the footprint of a wind turbine is small and sensible things can be done with the surrounding land.

Tim Colyer, Diss, Norfolk

Surely only a political mind could dream up the insanity that is currently encompassing Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire.

You truly have to wonder at the idea that it would be environmentally worthy and economically viable to convert the largest coal-fired power station in Europe to one that burns wood (biomass) – wood chips that need importing over 3,000 miles from the forests of North Carolina.

Common sense makes it obvious that destroying acres of forests, processing them into wood chips then transporting these thousands of miles will not prove environmentally or economically viable.

The wood-fuelled furnaces produce 3 per cent more carbon dioxide than coal, and twice as much in gas emissions. In the longer term, you and I will be paying £105 per MW/hr for Drax’s biomass electricity, compared with the current market cost of just £50 per MW/h.

Drax says it is simply responding to government policy. Only out-of-touch, misinformed and foolish politicians could wreck the environment in the name of saving the planet. Our whole UK energy policy belongs in the madhouse.

Dave Haskell, Penparc, Cardigan

The Great War against German aggression

A new First World War comic-book is designed to combat Michael Gove’s “jingoistic” interpretation (report, 2 April). It is important to remember the stories of those on all sides of the conflict and of the pacifists and the shell-shocked executed as cowards, and to remember the awful loss of life. It is wrong, however, to call Gove’s interpretation “jingoistic”.

Wilhelm II of Germany had imperialist ambitions, and used the conflict in the Balkans as a way to escalate to a full-scale European war. The victors’ peace imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk in 1917, where the latter lost Ukraine, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus, shows this imperialist agenda.

Recent research has revealed that the German “rape of Belgium” in August and September 1914 actually occurred. The German high command ordered systematic atrocities against the Belgians, killing 6,000, destroying 25,000 homes in 837 settlements and displacing up to 1.5 million Belgians (20 per cent of the population). Up to 10,000 workers were forcibly removed from Belgium to build German roads and military facilities. The German army also dismantled Belgian factories, relocating machinery to Germany. Belgium, the sixth largest economy in the world, was reduced to a mere shell of its former self and never fully regained its pre-war economic activity.

The majority of Britons saw the war as a painful but necessary way to stop German aggression.

Harrison Edmonds, Cheadle, Cheshire

Farage’s leap into the unknown

Mary Dejevsky is right (4 April) that the appeal of Nigel Farage is his anti-establishment rhetoric. But he is also a hugely entertaining and persuasive communicator, well able to hold his own in televised debates as well as in front of a packed audience of students at the LSE in January.

He will obviously do well in the European elections, but when it comes to the referendum, voters will not be prepared to take that leap into the unknown and withdraw from the European Union. Better the devil they know.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Nightmare of an old folks’ home

Grace Dent’s “dream old-folks’ home” (8 April) sounds like a version of hell to me. The prospect may have been what drove Anne to suicide.

The point about assisted dying is that it provides people with another option. We all have our own views of what constitutes a good quality of life; it’s no one’s business to tell someone else how they should feel.

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

Killer’s payout for prison attack

The press appears to agree that Levi Bellfield, who is in prison for killing three young women, should not have been allowed to sue the prison service after being attacked in jail. They seem to be ignoring the fact that the relatively small payout amounts to little more than a rare slap on the wrist for the authorities for allowing prisoners to attack each other with weapons.

Have we really degenerated so much that we think being shanked in prison is just fine?

Jim Jepps, London NW1

Royal visits to rich countries

It seems that the royals tend to frequent only the richest Commonwealth countries, such as New  Zealand, Australia and Canada, whenever they make official trips abroad, while the vast majority of poorer Commonwealth countries rarely appear on their schedule. Is there a specific  reason for this that your readers may know about?

Chris Ryecart, Dovercourt, Essex

Parliament must regulate itself

Despite the general disquiet about its handling of Maria Miller’s expenses claims, Parliament, at least the elected part of it, should not concede authority over its members to another body. A future government might stuff any independent oversight authority with its own people to harry independent-minded MPs.

John Hartland, Cambridge


There are good reasons for paying for the BBC but the TV licence isn’t the best way

Sir, Emma Duncan’s call for the BBC to be funded on a subscription basis risks undermining the corporation as a unique national asset (“The licence fee is stifling the BBC’s creativity”, Apr 7). Its basic requirement has always been to reflect diverse interests and opinions across the country, free of government and commercial control. Also, who is to produce events that demand huge resources such as the general election, the Olympics and other national occasions? Maybe the BBC has grown too large, maybe it has faults in meeting changing expectations and there are difficult issues about how it is financed, but do we want the next Coronation to be sponsored by Tesco? At least we have one institution that appears to work.

Terence Hughes

London SW15

Sir, One reason I’ve been happy to pay the licence fee is to be free from advertising but with recording I can fastforward through the ads at 30 times the speed — very satisfying. TV advertising may be booming but for how long? And how much will my subscription TV cost if advertising fades away? However, competition is a powerful tool and the BBC should be subject to it: yes, kill the licence fee.

Michael Stubbs

Brighton, E Sussex

Sir, I often visit Canada, where the TV is universally unwatchable and gifts of DVDs of BBC programmes are gratefully accepted. I always return feeling proud of our BBC and keen to enjoy the incredible value of my licence fee. Long may it continue.

John Priestley

Shipley, W Yorks

Sir, Emma Duncan weakens her argument by ignoring recent BBC drama successes such as Line of Duty , The Fall and Peaky Blinders , not to mention the entirety of BBC Radio and BBC online content.

Tak-Sang Li

Borehamwood, Herts

Sir, There are many British institutions but few great ones. The BBC has become great in its quintessential presence in British social life and also in its worldwide appeal.

The anachronism of the licence fee, dating from the 1920s when wirelesses were first licensed, based on ownership of the means to receive communications, has no place in this digital age. When technology ownership is ubiquitous, licensing is outdated and wrong. Emma Duncan hits the spot in identifying a complacency within the BBC on two fronts; popularity and creativity. She blames the licence fee for featherbedding the BBC’s structural and artistic deficiencies. However, she does not propose a solution. Might I suggest that just as another great British institution, the Royal Family, has faced changes in its funding and scrutiny from the National Audit Office, the BBC might benefit from appraisal and new funding sources.

Brian East

London W13

Sir, With the overdue recognition of the need to allocate a greater proportion of defence spending to the overseas aid budget can we also ensure that the budget for the BBC’s World Service falls under international development as well? Perhaps then this valuable resource might also receive the funding that it richly deserves.

David Moss

London SW13

The rules which govern the unfair situation of Service widows must the changed

Sir, We appeal to the Prime Minister to bring justice to Service widows who lose their pension on cohabitation or remarriage. This includes most such widows, current and future.

This situation is at odds with the Armed Forces Covenant, which exists to redress disadvantages the Forces community may face in comparison to other citizens; for widows, as a result of Following the Flag, this includes rarely accruing an occupational or full state pension.

Most women affected by the widows’ rules receive pensions of less than £3,000 a year. Many cannot afford this loss, so face a life of enforced solitude. Removing the rule would cost £250,000 a year, much less if the cost of monitoring compliance and tracking down transgressors is taken into account.

The latest rules rectified matters for some widows, but the Treasury has vetoed further change, apparently not accepting the principles underpinning the Covenant.

The new Armed Forces Pension Scheme, due for implementation in April 2015, is a unique opportunity to simplify a complex and unfair system and introduce a common rule for all Service widows from that date, avoiding 40 more years of misery for those affected.

Vice-Admiral Peter Wilkinson

Royal British Legion

Admiral Sir Ian Forbes

Forces Pension Society

Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Ridgway

Confederation of Service Charities

Air Marshal Sir Christopher Coville

Forces Pension Society

and Kate Adie (Forces Pension Society), Dr Ros Altmann (former government pension adviser); Martin Bell (Forces Pension Society); Admiral Lord Boyce; Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Craig of Radley; Sir Nick Harvey, MP; Lord Hutton of Furness (chairman, Independent Public Services
Pensions Commission 2010-11); Joanna Lumley (Forces Pension Society); Group Captain Bill Mahon (ret’d) (RAF Families Federation); General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux;
Kim Richardson (chair Naval Families Federation); Lord Robertson of Port Ellen; Catherine Spencer, Army
Families Federation;
Gisela Stuart, MP

Trust in police and politicians is too important to our democracy to be left to their self-discipline

Sir, Apropos the Police Federation, the Prime Minister has described the police as Britain’s last great unreformed public service (leader, Apr 7), and the Coalition is threatening to reform it should it fail to do so itself. It is true that several serious failures have badly affected the trust hitherto enjoyed by the police. However, public trust in Parliament is also at an all-time low, yet Mr Cameron has set his face against demands to reform a system that allows MPs to have the final say on those accused of abusing their expenses.

Trust in the police and in politicians is too important to be left to self-discipline. The political parties must address this in their manifestos for the next general election with policies upon which voters have a choice.

G. M. Waddington

Detective Superintendent (retired) Messingham, Lincs

The European Azerbaijan Society writes to clarify the status of Nagorno-Karabh, under “illegal occupation”

Sir, You quote Baroness Cox (Apr 5) saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave “relocated by Stalin to Azerbaijan”. In fact Nagorno-Karabakh has always been part of Azerbaijan, and legally still is. Four UN Security Council resolutions say so, and not a single country in the world disputes Azerbaijan’s rightful sovereignty, which endures despite Armenia’s illegal military occupation.

Lionel Zetter

The European Azerbaijan Society, London

The debate over Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughtering animals for food involves the problem of mis-stunning

Sir, There is a certain tragic irony when “leading vets” claim to have been misled by faith communities (Apr 5) on the number of animals mis-stunned in the UK. We take no pleasure in having to expound the depth of the problem of mis-stunning, and the apparent determination of animal welfare groups to creatively gloss over the problem makes it all the more troubling. To be clear, the Government’s figures do not show the number of animals mis-stunned every year in UK slaughter houses; they show the number of recorded mis-stuns. To take one example, studies from Europe and the US place the numbers of mis-stunning of poultry each year, in the tens of millions. Defra’s figures for last year recorded just 13 cases. Mis-stunning is not properly recorded in the UK, and that is part of the problem. The real question is why animal welfare groups avoid the problem rather than addressing it urgently and honestly.

Henry Grunwald, QC

London NW5

The cost of childcare proposals in Scotland is likely to be dwarfed by the massive expense of becoming independent

Sir, On the subject of the SNP’s childcare proposals you report the view that “SNP ministers have not put a pricetag on the proposals” (Apr 4). I would suggest that that cost, whatever it might be, would be a drop in the ocean compared to the undeclared, probably unconsidered, cost of reshaping hundreds of institutions, agencies, etc, in fields ranging from issuing driving licences to ambassadorial representation — surely a massive bill to be paid before Scotland can start thinking of financial benefits.

Stuart C. Poole



SIR – Prudence Seddon can no longer fit her bulbous toothbrush into the holder. She should push it into the holder with the bristles going in first. I have been doing it for years.

Judith Kent
Holland-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – Because toothbrush manufacturers have changed the contours of their handles, I can no longer find a toothbrush that is comfortable to hold in my right hand and that allows me to change my grip as necessary for the brush head to connect with all teeth from every angle. Several new-design toothbrushes are now languishing unused in the holder.

Erika Sciama
London NW3

SIR – Worse than a sloping basin in the bathroom is a rounded edge to the bath. Where do you put your gin and tonic?

Rev Roger Holmes

SIR – Despite the engineering accolades being heaped upon them, building the two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers was an expensive mistake.

Access to UK base ports will be limited because of their draught. We will not have sufficient escort vessels to maintain the necessary associated task groups, and the overall logistical support required will place unacceptable demands on our impoverished fleet and support facilities.

Jump jets do not require a platform of 65,000 tons in order to operate effectively. The only justification for a vessel of these proportions is for conventional strike aircraft requiring arrester gear and launch boosters, complete with a fully angled deck, providing interoperability with American navy carriers. Plans to include these features were cancelled due to cost.

The previous, prematurely discarded Invincible Class carriers of 20,000 tons had proven themselves to be highly versatile and cost-effective vessels. Three of these smaller carriers could have been built in individual yards for a similar price.

Cdr D L Deakin RN (retd)
Totland Bay, Isle of Wight

Starting to read early

SIR – Sally Goddard Blythe claims that “It can take up to seven years for some children to develop the eye movements necessary to support reading”, and that a third of the children who enter school “may not have all the physical skills in place to support academic learning”.

This is no more than an updated version of the “reading readiness” excuse that progressive educators have been using to explain away their failures for the last century. Hundreds of schools – many serving disadvantaged families – succeed in teaching all children to read long before their seventh birthday. They do so by teaching the necessary sub-skills, including tracking print from left to right, as opposed to waiting for some mythical developmental milestone to pass.

Delaying reading instruction is the surest way to demoralise children with learning difficulties and to perpetuate educational disadvantage. At most, half an hour per day is needed, leaving plenty of time for “learning through play”.

Prof Tom Burkard
Easton, Norfolk

Co-operative banking

SIR – My somewhat eccentric grandmother had a meeting with her bank manager in the late Sixties. Their business concluded, he politely asked her to let him know if there was anything else he could help her with in the future.

Taking him at his word, my grandmother telephoned a few days later asking him to come to her house and he arrived to find several chicken coops that needed moving.

With admirable sang-froid he rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Dominic Weston Smith
Fernham, Oxfordshire

Selling British cars

SIR – Of course car manufacturing in Britain benefits from EU membership.

A survey for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders states correctly that 49 per cent of UK-produced vehicles by volume are exported to the rest of the single market. But in 2012, the proportion of British car exports going to the rest of the EU by value was only 37 per cent. Between 2007 and 2012, Britain’s car exports to the rest of the world more than doubled from £5.8 billion to £13.4 billion, while over the same period Britain’s car exports to the rest of the EU declined from £8.6 billion to £8 billion.

If Britain left the EU, World Trade Organisation rules would force the EU to tax British car exports at the same 10 per cent tariff rate the Japanese and Americans face, which would be a problem for British car manufacturers. But Britain could replicate most of the benefits of single market membership by negotiating a new inter-governmental customs union-based preferential trade agreement with the EU.

If such an arrangement left them with unimpaired access to British markets, continental exporters would have no moral grounds for objection if such an arrangement left them with unimpaired access to UK markets.

Ronald Stewart-Brown
Trade Policy Research Centre
London SW1

Eva Braun’s ancestry

SIR – It is not the case that “many Ashkenazi Jews in Germany converted to Catholicism”.

The majority of German Jews, especially those in the Prussian provinces, leant towards Protestantism, with many reform communities introducing organs and choirs during the latter part of the 19th century. Thus, they tended to convert to Protestantism, and there were many mixed marriages.

Stephen Cameron Jalil Nicholls
Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex


SIR – The man who inadvertently travelled to Spain on his girlfriend’s passport reminded me of the time when my wife passed through, not one or two, but four border controls using her deceased father’s passport.

Only on the final examination was any comment made. The lady looked at my passport, at me, at my father-in-law’s passport and then at my wife. With a look of despair she said, “Thank you, sir,” and returned both to me.

John Pickles
St Peters, Guernsey

Folding business

SIR – Could someone please inform me how to fold a fitted sheet without it looking like a crumpled mess in my linen cupboard? Until I know how to do this I will have to continue using traditional flat sheets.

Caroline Chaffe
Southborough, Kent

Introducing children to the delights of opera

SIR – As a trustee of Operaluna, a charity designed to bring opera to new audiences, I disagree with Rupert Christiansen that, when it comes to the operatic voice, “kids don’t like it, don’t understand or identify with it”. My experience is that high-calibre and enthusiastic operatic performers can harness the imagination of young people.

Our charity facilitates opera workshops for state primary school children in Wiltshire. Many of the young people who participate in these workshops have no experience of opera; they have never been to London, let alone visited the Royal Opera House or English National Opera.

Who knows whether any of the young people who participated in the workshops ran to the library to find out more, as Mr Christiansen did as a boy. But i8f just one of them feels that the experience broadens their horizons and gives them a taste for the sheer joy of music-making, the charity will have done its job.

Laura Ingram Hill
Pewsey, Wiltshire

SIR – We should expose children to opera, alongside many other music genres, because in order to make informed choices and to make sense of what we like and don’t like, we need variety.

We also know that early exposure to music in very young children helps to boost the imagination and improve communication and language skills.

Children who learn a musical instrument are often more advanced in maths and languages, as well as being more organised in their approach to learning. They are also able to engage with others more confidently.

Caroline Crabbe
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – What would happen if any of us fiddled our expenses at work? Surely a sacking would follow. I will not be voting for a party that condones Maria Miller’s behaviour regarding her expenses claims.

Jan Lindsey-Clark
Hindhead, Surrey

SIR – If ever there were a case for maintaining press freedom, the latest scandal concerning Maria Miller and her expenses must surely fit the bill.

Whatever its flaws, the press represents the last bastion against corrupt government. No wonder those in power are eager to see press freedom curtailed.

Catherine Castree
Fetcham, Surrey

SIR – David Cameron has made much of the fact that a House of Commons Committee on Standards, consisting of “lay” members as well as MPs, has decided not to place serious censure on Maria Miller, meaning she will escape repaying £40,000 in expenses claims. Mr Cameron relies on the fact that nobody will actually read the report.

If you read the report there are constant references to Mrs Miller providing incomplete documentation, not consulting properly on financial matters as advised, and not providing all the information requested. She failed to respond properly to requests for information. This has taken 14 months.

Terry Maunder

SIR – Before ministers are appointed to the Cabinet, they should be required to sit a short intelligence test:

1. You have two homes and spend more nights each year in one than the other. Which one is your main home?

2. Can you recognise whether your parents are also living in one of your homes?

Guy Smith
Reigate, Surrey

SIR – What is the point of Mrs Miller resigning? Like previous corrupt ministers – Mandelson, Laws, etc. – she will take the parachute payment and then be quietly reintroduced a few months later.

David Steer
Rockwell Green, Somerset

SIR – Iain Duncan Smith supports Mrs Miller by saying “if we’re not careful we end up with a witch-hunt of somebody”. I would be interested to hear his definition of the difference between a witch-hunt and the pursuit of moral (and lawful) justice.

Stuart Ashton
Whitley Bay, Northumberland

SIR – We are constantly being told that we live in a “compensation culture”, riven by arrogance, greed and self-interest.

On reflection, perhaps Mrs Miller is indeed the best choice for the post of Culture Secretary.

Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I was born in England to Irish parents who had emigrated in the 1950s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life. I learned to tie my shoelaces there, went to school, played on the street and made friends. We would visit Ireland on our holidays, so I was giddy with excitement when it was announced that we were selling the house and moving back to the old country. It was time. We were going home. I was nine years old.

My first day in primary school in Drogheda was like a scene from Oliver Twist . I had stepped back 100 years. Nevertheless, children are adaptable and I soon settled in to a new life, new street and new friends.

I was as Irish as anyone, perhaps more so having experienced emigration, but a small part of me was of England. I was of two countries in the same way that we are all of two parents. And my countries were not happy. In fact, they were divorcing, in a bitter, painful and drawn-out way. I remember the hunger strikes as the darkest time. Like a child trying to reconcile his warring parents, I would tell my friends that English people did not wish Ireland ill. And when I emigrated to England in the 1980s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life, I would explain to my English friends that things happen for a reason in Ireland — that there was a traumatic history that could not be denied.

Roll forward a few years and Queen Elizabeth is wearing green and our President, Michael D Higgins, is standing on red carpet on a State visit to the United Kingdom. My parents have reconciled after so many lost years and are together again. They are talking and laughing and having tea parties in the garden. The family is reborn. Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Park,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Born in England of an Irish family a little over 60 years ago, I, along with many others in the same circumstances, have developed a technique of ignoring as graciously as possible the many slights, and worse, which come with the turf.

It is a sad thing to feel obliged to keep a low profile as regards your heritage, to not know quite where you fit in to the grand scheme of things. From being a bit of a Paddy to the English, to taking stick for my Brit accent in Ireland, I cannot tell you just how good it feels to see the President of Ireland, and as such, the Irish people, being so well and warmly received in London, and rightly so.

Full marks to all who have brought about this momentous change. What great comfort to think that the troubles of centuries could be on the way to becoming a thing of the past, consigned hopefully to history, not to be forgotten, but to be found in a better place.

To be able to celebrate what is great about both countries, their peoples and civilisations – and there is a great deal to celebrate of both nations – is a truly liberating and uplifting moment. I am not overly given to sentimentality, but today I shed a tear of joy and was surprised that it could taste so sweet. A truly great day indeed. Yours, etc,





Sir, – Your correspondent John Rogers (Letters, April 7th) equates commemoration of the upcoming centenaries with the glorification and celebration of blood sacrifices, and refers in a somewhat jocose manner to the events at Gallipoli, the Somme and at the GPO.

While in the past we may have heard phrases such as “our glorious dead” I doubt if those who wish to commemorate the death of an ancestor 100 years after the event are trying to glorify them. They may rather be trying to get some semblance of recognition that they actually did exist and that they did die in the fields of France, Belgium and Gallipoli for causes which at the time were seen and believed to be a matter of world importance.

The problem in Ireland is that these war deaths were overtaken by the events relating to the Irish rebellion and by the time the survivors of this horrific rather than glorious war came home, Ireland had moved on, nationalism had been fanned by the execution of the leaders of the rebellion, and although they were Irish themselves they were treated like pariahs. It became almost shameful to even mention the 40,000 to 50,000 Irishmen who perished.

In even the smallest town in other European countries there are monuments recalling the names of those who died. More than 700 men from Galway died, for example, yet their names are not recalled anywhere in that city. Now, at the centenary of the start of the first World War, there is an opportunity for Galway and every other town in Ireland to correct this continuing slight. For those who lost family, it is not a celebration, but a long overdue commemoration. Yours, etc,



Co Galway

Sir, – Once again this weekend I have read (twice) the unchallenged view in the columns of The Irish Times that, this State shamefully ignored or neglected Irish participation in what Gay Byrne continues to call “the Great War”.

This is getting boring. I write as someone who lost a great-uncle in that war and who has visited the Belgian memorials to the dead. Given the way the commemorations have evolved in Britain, does Gay Byrne really believe it was realistic or appropriate for a fledgling state, in the immediate aftermath of the War of independence to have found time to commemorate a war which was largely fought over five miles of muddy ground on the Western Front and which was a complete waste of all of those Irish lives?

It is now almost obligatory to wear a poppy if you wish to appear on British TV during November, and the symbol has been used to justify the illegal war in Iraq and to silence criticism of the presence of British troops in Afghanistan. Quite incredibly, people like Gay Byrne are more concerned with criticising post-independence silence about first World War dead and survivors than with taking the British government of the time to task for encouraging his father, my great-uncle and their comrades to go to death or injury in Gallipoli, the Somme and Messines ridge.

A hundred years on let’s have a proper debate in which iti is legitimate to criticise propaganda. And if we do commemorate, can we not also point out the folly of the whole sorry escapade, bury any talk of noble sacrifice and question why a war to end wars is now used to justify, and silence criticism of, current illegal conflicts? Lest we forget. Yours, etc,


Rock Street ,


Sir, – Ellen MacCafferty (Letters, April 8th) asserts that GPs are “virtually public sector workers”. Really? I am sure doctors around the country are popping corks to hear that they are now entitled to huge pensions, like other public sector workers.

What GPs earn from the GMS is information that is freely available, on a practice-by-practice basis, from the HSE. But Ms MacCafferty would like doctors to publish what they privately earn in nett terms, so that she and people like her can judge what is fair. Why stop there? She might also like to know what cars they drive, where they holiday, where they live and what schools their children attend?

What I would suggest is that she should read, if she is interested, the OECD report 2013 into the remuneration of medical specialists, which ranked Ireland at the bottom of the OECD countries in terms of earnings as a multiple of the average industrial wage.

The idea that the rush of Leaving Certificate students to do medical degrees is proof positive that the earnings “must be worthwhile” is risible, especially in the context of over half of current medical graduates leaving these shores within two years of graduating, presumably for better pay and conditions abroad.

Finally, while it is true that everyone in business has to pay running costs, not everyone has to endure the abuse that GPs do for having the cheek to ask their customers to actually, God forbid, pay for their services. Yours, etc,




Dublin 14

Sir, – As a practising rural GP, living on a peninsula the size of Louth, I concur with the sentiments of my GP colleague Dr Valerie Collins (Letters, April 7th). Dr Collins’s description of the day-to-day demands on a rural GP is very apt. Couple this with the dictatorial health regime, which refuses to negotiate meaningfully on contract issues, and the result is a disillusioned workforce, which cannot be in the best interest of any of the stakeholders, most importantly our patients. Yours etc,


Swanick Family Practice,


Co Mayo

Sir, – According to a recent survey, people perceive that doctors tell the truth 89 per cent of the time, TDs 23 per cent and Ministers 20 per cent. GPs say that their unwell and elderly patients are losing their medical cards to fund the under-sixes. They say GPs are leaving and we will face a manpower crisis in the next five to 10 years. They say we need planning and investment before universal healthcare can work. The Ministers and TDs say they are lying. Are they? Yours, etc,


Loughboy Medical Centre,


Sir, – Heather Abrahamson (Letters, April 8th) objects to the use of the Christian Bible to swear in new members of the Garda Reserve. Back in 1957 I was commissioned an officer in the FCA. At the ceremony, in Cathal Brugha barracks, there were 25 of us, 24 Catholics and one Jew. The 24 marched up in groups, saluted the flag, bared our heads, took up the Bible and swore the oath of allegiance. The Jewish officer marched up, saluted the flag, left his cap on, took up the Jewish holy book and swore the oath.

I am sure that today the same applies: one can swear on whatever book is holy to the religion of which one is a member, be it the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita or any other. So Ms Abrahamson can rest easy. I do not think that the State is trying to force any particular religion down the throats of anybody. Yours, etc,


Essenwood Road,


South Africa

Sir, – What, I wonder, does your front page photograph (April 5th) of the Garda Reserve graduation ceremony say about equality in our 21st century Irish society?

A deserved pat on the back for racial and gender equality, it would seem, and a smack in the face for the non-religious. Yours, etc,



Humanist Association

of Ireland,

Royal Terrace West,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin

Sir,- Regarding the photograph on Saturday of the new gardaí holding aloft what appeared to be Government-issued Bibles, would it not be more in keeping with modern society and their role in it if they were swearing on the Constitution? Yours, etc,





Sir, – Correspondence about our prospective universal health insurance scheme has pointed to its probable non-affordability and negative reference has been made the Netherlands. Has any attention been given to the case of Belgium?

There insurance is provided by several non-profit-making mutual societies ( mutuelles ). Every resident must be insured and has a free choice of mutuelle . The monthly contribution is paid in equal shares by the insured person and his or her employer. It covers the individual and dependents, and is calculated pro rata on the level of earnings. The unwaged have their contribution paid entirely by the state. Thus the system is designed to ensure that the mutual societies have adequate resources.

In operation, the insured person pays directly for treatment and medicines and then claims reimbursement from his mutuelle on the basis of an authenticated receipt. However, through a national institution (the INAMI), encompassing the medical professions, the hospitals, the pharmacies, the mutuelles and the state, precise maximum prices are periodically negotiated and fixed for every known form of treatment or care. Each treatment is accorded a number which has to be inscribed on the receipt given to the patient. A significant point is that those maximum prices ( charges conventionnées ) are much lower than those demanded in Ireland.

The patient has a free choice, at every stage, of GP, specialist or hospital. All are in abundant supply. Perhaps the Belgian system is worth a glance in the current discussion. Yours, etc,


Silchester Road,


Co Dublin

Sir, – It is wonderful to hear from TK Whitaker and to remember his many contributions to Ireland (Weekend, April 5th). Long may this 97- year-old enjoy his days salmon-fishing and his couple of pints afterwards.

One of his very important, but less remembered, contributions to the country was to chair the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System, which reported in 1985. In the light of recent Garda controversy and the promise of an independent Garda authority, it is pertinent to recall how the Whitaker Committee severely criticised the Department of Justice’s stewardship of the prison system and advocated “a separate executive agency or board”, established by statute, to run the prisons. This has never happened, and the Department’s control of the prison system is as strong today as it ever was.

The Whitaker Report also proposed that Ireland have a low prison population, with prison used only “as a last resort”, and it set out clear pathways to achieve this. It also wanted much smaller prisons. Importantly, it stipulated “basic living conditions” which all prisoners should have — yet today’s prisons fall far short of these standards in almost every important respect. It is high time to look again at what the Whitaker Report had to say about our prison system. Yours, etc,


Kilgarron Hill,


Co. Wicklow

Sir, – Your recent report on property tax by Fiach Kelly (April 5th) and the views of commentators that the economy and the housing market are now picking up are a timely warning to all homeowners that the property tax time-bomb is already ticking.

Last year almost 97 per cent of homes were returned to the Revenue Commissioners at values under €500,000. However, the new property boom is on its way and houses valued in May/June 2013 at, for example, €375,000, have now jumped to €500,000 and beyond. Homeowners who have been paying €14 a week will easily qualify to pay more than €20 a week, or €1,000 a year, when the next review comes around. And it will not stop there. There is something patently unfair about a tax on a home that rises dramatically at the whim of the markets.

May I appeal to your homeowning readers to raise this issue with candidates in the local elections? I hope that they will ask candidates what their attitude is to runaway house prices that automatically raise the taxes of homeowners, and ask what their parties propose to do about it. Any solutions offered should be noted, and voters should seek the application of necessary measures soon rather than having to wait for a review some years away. Additionally, homeowners should remember party responses now with an eye to the next general election. Yours, etc,



Sir, – In the late 1970s or early 1980s, Spike Milligan, in his Q series ( Q4 , Q5 , Q6 etc ) of comedy programmes screened on BBC television revealed ( if that is the right word) that life began under the carpet on the fifth floor of Harrods department store in Knightsbridge in London.

That may sound a bit daft but it seems no more bonkers to me than claims by certain boffins that they have detected ripples in space which originated very shortly after the Big Bang went off, over 13 billion years ago. Yours, etc,


Loreto Park,

Troys Lane,


Sir, – Imagine if you will a world where male employees were free to wear both suits and other smart casual attire to work while female employees were required at all times to be dressed formally in business suits. In the interest of equality and political correctness I don’t think such a state of affairs would last too long in the modern world. Yours, etc,


Somerton Lodge Mews,


Dún Laoghaire

Sir, – The death of Mickey Rooney brings to mind a quote (along the following lines) attributed to him. “If you must get married, do so very early in the morning … then if it doesn’t work out you may not have wasted the full day. ” Yours, etc,


Elm Mount,


Dublin 9

Irish Independent:

Many moons ago, when I worked in the ESB, we had planned a power switch-out in a rural area of West Limerick. These switch-outs, for maintenance and repairs, were always arranged for weekdays between the hours of 10am and 4pm and the customers would be notified two to three days in advance. This was done to confine disruption to a minimum for the mainly farming community and, as a result, was met with little or no resistance.

Also in this section

Injustice in our way of life

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Garda cadetship vital

However, this particular switch-out, which was arranged for Wednesday, July 29, 1981, was different. When the notification commenced on the Monday, all hell broke loose. The official on the doorstep was met with stern resistance and, a short time later, the phones in the office were hopping. We menfolk scratched our heads and wondered what major event we had missed.

Phonecall after phonecall conveyed the same message and asked the same question – mainly from the womenfolk: “Are you aware that the royal wedding is taking place on Wednesday?” Mna na hEireann would not be excluded from the 750 million viewers who tuned in around the world for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

It came as no surprise to me that, years later, the seeds for this week’s historic Presidential visit to Britain were sown by three women: Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth.

Therein lies a message for us menfolk!





This morning I received a text from a very good schoolmate: “Can there be anything worse than losing a child?” We were both in school with Bob Geldof.

I have admired this man for many years, for both his great goodness to humanity and his great intellect and courage to speak out, with regard to all aspects of life in this country and beyond. No words of mine will help him or his family, but I do pray that the awful passing of his beautiful young daughter Peaches will not destroy this man, as the world would be a poorer place for it.




Recently, I was listening when the usual ‘it’s a disgrace’ brigade on the Joe Duffy show bemoaned the sale of 20 GAA games to Sky Sports for this year’s Championship.

Since the announcement was made, there has been hysteria surrounding this issue because Irish people will have to pay for an expensive Sky package to watch a handful of games.

There seemed to be a cry that the GAA had somehow reduced us all to an inevitable trip to the pub of a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon to watch our counties. Nonsense!

This deal is a resounding endorsement of our game; one of the biggest sports carriers in the world has come knocking. The sole argument against this move has been money; people won’t be able to afford Sky Sports, they say. They will, however, be able to go to the pub – and the complainers seemed to be leaning toward the pub rather than actually going to the games to support their teams, which would cost roughly the same.

On a broader point, not every GAA game is shown on television at present anyway, but local and national radio keep us up to speed. I have often listened to my county playing on local radio because the game was not offered on television. Your local stations are always going to keep you informed, and the outcry has been nothing short of pure histrionics.

Forget about the GAA’s spin of wanting to bring the sport to the diaspora – this Sky Sports deal is plain old business, and extremely shrewd business too. Sky Sports has grown viewership and interest in the NFL and Super League in Britain, and there is every reason to believe the GAA will see an increase in participation in clubs across Britain as well.




Bruxelles is often regarded as being too directive in matters which could be best handled at national level. But sometimes it does leave margin for manoeuvre.

In dealing with free competition in the broadcast media, member states were allowed designate within reason events of national interest which must remain available on a free-to-air system. The Government nominated the GAA Championships as such an event. This was accepted by the EU.

When the EU was dealing with the preservation of water through the introduction of water charges, the Government argued that we should be exempt from that requirement. It pointed out that with the rainfall we enjoy we would always have adequate supplies, essentially once we reduced the leakages in the system. Again, this was accepted by the EU.

How things change when we look beyond a principle and see a cash cow.





I refer to an article on deflation by Professor Stephen Kinsella (April 8).

Deflation has taken hold. There is no alternative in a world that produces too much of practically everything without any controls or restraint except the crude law of the market.

Cutthroat competition drives prices into the ground; survival means pricing the competition out of existence. At best, prices stay static, at worst, they decline to levels that eliminate all profit, precipitating epidemic business failure, which we now experience.

As long as over-production remains, deflation will only get worse. Historically the problem never existed before, except of course in the experience of agriculture in the EEC about 50 years ago – mountains of beef and butter; lakes of milk, wine and olive oil. The Common Agricultural Policy took care of that problem with production quotas and payments to produce less. Not a perfect solution – it broke all freedom-of-trade rules and is considered heresy by economic purists – but it saved farming in Europe. What happened to farming back then has happened to practically all production in the 21st Century.

I listened yesterday to a tirade on food wastage supposedly promoted by supermarkets; the world threw away half the food it produced last year. That is why we had vegetables at five cent just before Christmas – a time when historically prices were increased. They are not increased any more; desperation to sell more is at crisis point. Unregulated over-production breeds such selling mania and deflation.

We need new economic thinking; it is past time that politicians and economists saw the inadequacies of their ideology and faced the realities of the technological 21st Century.





In his letter of April 8, Philip O’Neill is continuing the promulgation of the ‘we are all to blame’ mantra in relation to the bankrupting of the country.

We are not all to blame. A small number of the most powerful people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, made the decisions during the boom which bankrupted the country. The rest of us were simply not told of the risks of the policies pursued during the boom.

Philip O’Neill is wrong, therefore, when he says that “our minds become atrophied and failed to notice”.

The truth is, we were not told, by those whose business it was to do so, until the troika landed.



Irish Independent


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