Settling down

26April2014Settling down

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate invisible planePriceless

Mary home first full day

Scrabbletoday, Mary nearly got 400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Tom Margerison – obituary

Tom Margerison was a broadcaster and journalist who helped launch New Scientist and LWT, but fell out with Rupert Murdoch

Tom Margerison

6:02PM BST 23 Apr 2014

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Tom Margerison, who has died aged 90, was a broadcaster, journalist and author who did much to stimulate an intelligent popular interest in science.

Margerison had a particular gift for interpreting complex scientific data in a manner to which the layman could relate, and in the mid-1950s was part of the team which launched the journal New Scientist, a pioneer in its field. At that time Margerison was working for Butterworth Press, where he and Percy Cudlipp conceived the idea of producing the country’s first weekly magazine aimed at providing “an intensive effort to stimulate nationwide interest in scientific and technological development”. New Scientist, launched in 1956, tried in particular to “capture the imagination of young people”. Margerison was the journal’s first Scientific Editor.

By the 1960s Margerison was among Britain’s best-known science journalists, working for both The Sunday Times and the BBC. At the forefront of reporting on the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, he was particularly knowledgeable about Soviet technology. He was the first television reporter to make a film (for the BBC’s Panorama) about Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city (where much of the Red Army’s ammunition was produced), and also fronted a major television documentary on life in Siberia.

Margerison impressed his Russian hosts by walking around in his lightweight Marks & Spencer’s suit in temperatures of minus 40 degrees. He took part in a swimming competition beneath the ice and learned to drink the Russians under the table .

He became close to the world’s first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, accompanying the cosmonaut on a visit to Buckingham Palace — Margerison was much embarrassed when Gagarin peered at the salad provided and told the Queen through his interpreter that, in Russia, this was what was fed to rabbits.

Such was the extent of Margerison’s contacts in the Soviet Union that the British Intelligence services attempted to recruit him. He declined.

Thomas Alan Margerison was born in Finchley, north London, on November 13 1923, the son of a tax inspector whose peripatetic career meant that his son attended Huntingdon Grammar School, Hymers College in Hull, and King’s School at Macclesfield before going up to Sheffield University, where he took a PhD in Physics.

At Sheffield, Margerison also took an active interest in the arts, appearing in and directing a number of productions; and for a time after graduating he wrote film scripts before joining Butterworth Press in 1951.

A natural broadcaster, he first appeared on television, for Rediffusion, in 1956 and later regularly reported on science, medicine and technology for the BBC’s Tonight programme .

In 1961 Margerison was appointed science editor of The Sunday Times, for which he covered not only space travel and nuclear energy, but also traffic development and motorways, satellites and communication, the first Concorde, medicines, drugs and drug testing, and climate and weather. He predicted the likelihood of fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel (it happened in 1999, with the loss of 39 lives), and the vulnerability of bow-doors in cross-Channel ferries, as demonstrated when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized in 1987, killing 188 passengers and crew.

Margerison was made deputy editor of the newly launched Sunday Times Colour Magazine in 1962, and two years later became managing editor of Thomson Technical Developments, during which time he was responsible for introducing the first computerisation of newspapers, in Reading and Hemel Hempstead.

Firmly believing that television should educate as well as entertain, and that the BBC was not achieving this aim, in the late 1960s Margerison joined Clive Irving and David Frost in a bid for the franchise which became London Weekend Television (LWT). But after he had replaced Michael Peacock as chief executive of LWT, there was an unhappy period following his approach to Rupert Murdoch to boost the station’s failing finances . The two men fell out, and in 1971 Margerison lost his job. He said later, however: “There is no question of personal animosity between Rupert Murdoch and myself. It is just one of those things. ”

During his time at LWT, Margerison was involved in the development of colour television, and it was under him that the first programmes were transmitted in colour, culminating in Frost on Friday. Subsequently, he became director of the Nuclear Electricity Information Group, where he sought to persuade the unions to be less resistant to nuclear power.

Tom Margerison’s marriage to Pamela Tilbrook, who died in 2009, broke down in the 1970s, and he is survived by his partner of more than 30 years, Marjorie Wallace, founder and chief executive of the mental health charity SANE. They collaborated on The Superpoison, a book telling the story of the 1976 Dioxin disaster in Italy. Marjorie Wallace cared for Margerison throughout the 15 years in which he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

He is also survived by two sons of his marriage, by his daughter with Marjorie Wallace and by three stepchildren.

Tom Margerison, born November 13 1923, died February 25 2014


The all-party parliamentary group that recommended the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients, which is cited as backing for Caroline Spelman‘s views (Outlaw buying sex, says former Tory minister, 22 April), is a partisan group whose original remit was to “tackle demand for the sex trade”. Its moralistic stance is confirmed by its choice of secretariat – the Christian charity Care. When the cross-party group reported in early March, it did not release evidence to show how many of the 413 respondents supported the main recommendation. Considering that more than half thought that prostitution was a legitimate form of work, it is unlikely this was a majority. It should now cough up the figures.

Ms Spelman glosses over sex workers’ concerns about how criminalisation of clients would undermine safety. sex worker from the Rose Alliance, Sweden, where the law was changed in 1999, spoke recently to a 200-strong parliamentary meeting about the increase in stigma and danger: “We are still criminalised if we work together in premises, we risk eviction by landlords, condemnation by social workers and even losing custody of our kids because we are seen as ‘bad girls’ unwilling to change. This law should be abolished, not exported to other countries.”

Tackling the appalling 6.7% conviction rate for reported rape would be a more effective way of addressing high levels of violence against sex workers. New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers’ safety. Contrary to claims by Joan Smith and others, this is very different to Germany’s state-run legalised prostitution and deserves serious examination.
Niki Adams
English Collective of Prostitutes

• If you offer things for sale, you are obviously seeking purchasers; so if Caroline Spelman and others had their way, the bizarre outcome would be sex workers doing nothing illegal in enticing would-be purchasers to act illegally. Further, presumably payments being outlawed would not be restricted solely to cash; so any two people on a romantic date had better ensure they pay for their own food and drink, to avoid any misunderstandings.

ome sex workers are oppressed, suffer appalling conditions and would much prefer different occupations. Those features, of course, have applied to many other jobs. The solution has been legislation to improve standards of health, safety and benefits etc, not to make heavy manual work, tedious factory work and street cleaning, for example, all illegal.
Peter Cave

• So supply-side economics is finally coming to the sex trade. Given its utter failure everywhere else, Caroline Spelman indeed can perhaps hope that it will knock the sex trade on the head.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent

I welcome Frank Field MP chairing an all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty (Letters, 26 April). He has kindly asked me to give evidence. Before I do so, I ask him also to call for the abolition of subsidies to MPs for their food and alcohol in the Commons. As a long-standing party member, I ask all Labour MPs not to claim food and drink on their expenses. They are highly paid and can pay for these out of their own pockets. In short, public money should be used not to feast the privileged but to ensure that every citizen has access to sufficient food.
Bob Holman

• Defra is exacerbating Kew Gardens’ financial plight with a cut of £1.5m (Future less rosy for Kew as £1.5m funding cut threatens world-class botanic research, 25 April). Yet it spent £10m on the failed and scientifically discredited badger cull, because that is a fetish for the NFU, the trade union to which Conservatives can never say no.
Christopher Clayton
Waverton, Cheshire

• Six different writers were employed to write about the dismissal of the Manchester United manager (Letters, 25 April), but only one could be spared to cover the seven county championship matches in progress on Wednesday this week.
John Winn

• I enjoy reading Sam Wollaston, but he should know that verbs are conjugated, not declined (Last night’s TV, 24 April). Nouns are declined, as are invitations occasionally.
Howard Symons
Yeovil, Somerset

• On the subject of finding Márquez, Melville and Joyce “turgid” and “unreadable” (Letters, passim), are Marion Quillan and David Wheatley by any chance teenagers?
Gerard Kennedy

• Now he’s found Hoo and Ware (Letters, 25 April), I urge Tom Frost to visit Howe (Norfolk) and Wye (Kent). I continue to search for Watt and Wen.
Ellie Sedgwick
Halesworth, Suffolk

Polly Toynbee says the continuing levels of bonuses paid to bankers and others can’t go on (£5m for a banker: disgusting. So is £71 for the unemployed, 25 April). But it will, of course, go on unless there is direct state intervention. Attempting to limit bonuses and salaries is tackling the problem from the wrong end. Since the fat cats will not voluntarily leap off the gravy train and they all sit on each others’ remuneration committees, it will be necessary to claw the money back through the tax system. A tax on organisations, equal to the size of their bonus pot, might make them think twice. This could be accompanied by more progressive increases in income tax for individuals, starting with a 50% rate for those on £150,000 and an extra 5% for every £100,000 above that, rising to a maximum of 90%. This would give someone with a gross income of £1m a net income of about £330,000 and even the chief executive of Barclays, with his £5.1m package, would have a net income of about £750,000, not exactly leaving him destitute. If banks chose to increase bonuses to compensate, this would increase the tax on the bonus pot, providing more income for the exchequer.

But which party would have the guts? Not Labour, judging by its puny announcement about how it would tackle zero hours contracts. Not the Lib Dems, judging by Vince Cable‘s risible letter asking for restraint. Perhaps our tired political system has run its course, with the main parties hopelessly in hock to big corporations, and we need to create a new bottom-up system driven by fairness and equality, possibly based around revamped trade unions and the Greens. Just a thought.
Alan Healey
Milson, Shropshire

• Your article (Shareholders scorn Barclays over bonuses, 25 April) demonstrates exactly how helpless shareholders are in controlling soaring executive bonuses. Their organisation is too fragmented to allow them to counter boardroom excess with any certainty. What is required, of course, is the presence of informed and independent employee representatives on the boards of UK companies who will exercise a moderating influence. Evidence from Germany reveals that employee board-level representation is significantly related to lower levels of executive pay. We require a system that refocuses incentives away from the short-term obsession with share price towards the long-term interests of a wider range of corporate stakeholders, including workers.

One way forward would be to link the issue with moves towards increasing the number of female directors on the boards of UK companies. f trade unions in the UK had the right to elect their own board-level representatives – and if they prioritised women trade unionists to this end – then we would promote greater corporate accountability and gender equality in the boardroom at one fell swoop.
Michael Gold
Professor of comparative employment relations, Royal Holloway University of London

• The claim by the chair of Barclays’ remuneration committee that they have to pay the rate for the job is simply a means of guaranteeing a perpetual upward ratchet on pay at the top, not justified by performance, value-added, productivity or anything other than a self-referential rationale. All this nonsense, so rightly pilloried by Polly Toynbee, is only made possible by the state underwriting the banks. That promise, beyond depositor guarantees, should be withdrawn alongside the introduction of a legally enforceable ratio between top and median pay which would create a ratchet down at the top and up at the bottom, to general benefit.
Roy Boffy
Walsall, West Midlands

• Today’s Guardian reports “Shareholders scorn Barclays over bonuses”, “AstraZeneca shareholders revolt over pay”, “Bosses shocked by recruitment firm pay rebels” and Polly Toynbee’s article “£5 for a banker: disgusting. So is £71 for the unemployed”. Vince Cable resorts to appealing to shareholders’ and top executives’ morality to curb their obscene greed as they continue to dip their sticky fingers into corporate tills. This crocodile-tears pantomime of helpless hand-wringing could be cured at a stroke by this or any government imposing the 60% to 98% surtax and supertax rates applied in the 1950s and 60s to successfully boost the post-war economy; to be introduced, this week, with no new legislation required.
Noel Hodson

• After 50 years I’ve finally taken the first faltering step towards ditching my Barclays accounts. The relationship has survived numerous crises and scandals over the years, mainly due to my inertia but also backed by the belief that they knew what they were doing as a bank. B ut when they think a 30% fall in profits merits a 10% increase in bonuses then the horrible truth finally dawns. Barclays really is a piggy bank!
Owen McLaughliny
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

• The chair of Barclays’ remuneration committee tells shareholders that “only the most discerning will appreciate” the need to pay increased bonuses after a year in which profits have fallen by 32%. Am I the only person who is reminded of the tailors who told an emperor that only intelligent people would be able to appreciate the fine cut of his suit?
Simon Cherry
Claygate, Surrey

Letters motherhood

“They muck you up, your little ones,” writes Kate Rohde-Bogan. Ayelet Waldman, pictured with her family, wrote about motherhood as an Olympic sport.

Kira Cochrane’s interview with Ayelet Waldman about her views on motherhood (Motherhood as an Olympic sport, 19 April) reminded me of my daughter Kate’s poem, written with acknowledgements to Philip Larkin.

This be the reverse
by Kate Rohde-Bogan

They muck you up, your little ones.

They do not mean to but they do.

The hurt and heartbreak they will feel

Should swing about to fall on you.

But they must have it in their turn –

Parental love can’t stop the pain.

Life throws you what you need to learn.

Safe childhood only keeps you sane.

So over-love your children now.

Show them everything you know.

Teach them tenderness and how to

Stand again when it lands a blow.

I look forward to reading Family each week – thank you.
Jenifer Rohde


As one of the anti-competitive left mentioned in your editorial of 22 April, I’d like to stand up for Xenophanes.

Competition against others is often meaningless; if you win, it could be because they are having a bad day; or you could creditably surpass yourself and come last in a brilliant field. Differences in sporting performance may be minuscule, but the glory goes to a single victor. Recall the devastation of some Olympic silver medallists who scored only a fraction of a point less than the winner.

High achievers will still make scientific breakthroughs and execute works of art because they are determined to do as well as they possibly can. They compete against their own previous best. Our young people should be encouraged to do what they do because it’s worth doing, not because they might secure plaudits for what may be a pointless exercise.

Determination to come out on top has given us: the demeaning bear garden of Prime Minister’s Question Time; footballers who are paid more in a week than others are in 10 years; and an economic system that increasingly rewards the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

The writer of your editorial clearly hasn’t read Margaret Heffernan’s recent book A Bigger Prize – why competition isn’t everything. She makes a convincing case that on the whole competition undermines rather than motivates school pupils. The few winners may come out well, but the rest, believing they will not reach the top, are likely to make less effort in their studies.

Sure, it is good if we strive to do better than we did last time, but it is not necessary to set one pupil against another, or one school against another, to achieve good results. We may have gained in art and science as a result of competition over the years, but let us not discount the profound ill effects that unbridled competition brings. On the whole, co-operation is a more grown-up, intelligent and humane way of living.

John Gamlin, East Bergholt, Suffolk

The sport of baiting cold callers

I was initially delighted to read of Sean O’Grady’s approach to cold calling (“Don’t hang up on a cold caller”, 24 April) but this soon turned to disappointment when I realised that my personal best of six minutes 20 seconds keeping one of these pests on the line is as nothing compared with his 43 minutes. Respect!

I urge Independent readers not already engaged in this sport to take it up. And if you’re stuck for conversation, ask your cold caller who their client is, what the data will be used for and whether they are conducting their “research” in accordance with the Market Research Code of Conduct. They should then provide a free phone number to enable you to check their status.

Beryl Wall, London W4

Sean O’Grady tells us what a hoot he has wasting the time of cold callers. As a former cold caller, allow me to tell you some truths.

No one wants to do it; we do it because we have to. It is an awful job enduring abuse all day. Treating us badly does nothing to hurt the businesses that employ us, it just hurts us. I always let down cold callers quickly and with courtesy.

Sean Nee, Edinburgh

TV drama with Authentic mumbling

Instead of being criticised, the director of the BBC’s Jamaica Inn and the actor playing Joss Merlyn should be praised for an authentic characterisation. They have obviously referred back to Daphne du Maurier’s book, where Aunt Patience attempts to reassure Mary Yellan: “Your Uncle must be humoured, you know; he has his ways, and strangers don’t understand him at first.”

John E Orton, Bristol

Amid the brickbats thrown at the BBC for mumbling in the recent TV Jamaica Inn, let’s give Auntie a huge bouquet for the wonderful Radio 3 performance of Antony and Cleopatra on 20 April. Kenneth Branagh, Alex Kingston and the rest of the cast gave full measure to every spell-binding word of Shakespeare’s poetry. Words do matter, but only the steam radio seems to know it.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford

Reasons for a drop in crime

Your editorial of 24 April suggests that the downward trend in violent crime may be due to alcohol having become more expensive relative to earnings. But an even more important influence may be closed-circuit television cameras.

You can now hardly do anything or go anywhere without being recorded, and anyone contemplating a crime knows this. No one really likes snooping cameras, but they may be helping to keep us safe.

Richard Bass, Leigh, Surrey

Union’s democratic decision-making

To claim, as Mark Leftly does, that Mark Serwotka “seized control” of the Public and Commercial Services union is just absurd (Westminster Outlook, 18 April).

The truth is that in 2000 Mark won a democratic election of the union’s membership and Barry Reamsbottom, whose name was not on the ballot paper, tried to cling on to his former position, vacating it only when ordered to do so by a High Court judge after we had been forced to initiate a legal challenge.

The possibility of a merger has been suggested precisely because, thankfully, we are now a union that aims to build the most effective possible trade union fightback against damaging cuts and privatisation. Decisions on merger will be made by our members after a full, open and democratic process.

Janice Godrich, National President, Public and Commercial Services Union, London SW11

The raunchy side of solar energy

The photograph above a short article on the first page of last week’s Your Money section caught my eye. The article was about a scheme to invest in solar energy for schools. The photograph showed a group of young women dressed in mini skirts and stockings with the caption: “The sun could shine on St Trinian’s under a solar panel scheme for schools.” This looks like  a cheap way of “spicing up” the Your Money section.

Patricia Bartley, York

Patron saint of Anatolia?

Amid all the gentle humour surrounding the origins of England’s national saint, can we at least stop referring to St George as a “Turk” (letter, 25 April). This is an anachronism on a par with calling an ancient Briton an Englishman, or an Aztec an American.

The influx of Turks into Anatolia, and its subsequent definition as Turkey, occurs largely from the 11th century onwards. Polyglot Greek, Palestinian, Levantine – the one thing St George is definitely not, by over 500 years, is a Turk.

Christopher Dawes, London W11


Sir, The City would do well to follow the shift of culture we are seeing in medicine towards both men and women working less than full time (“Fathers with City jobs are shunning paternity leave”, Apr 23).

Diminishing numbers of men or women can take five days a week of full-on clinical work seeing patients for 12 hours a day. More and more doctors are burning out and leaving the profession early, in the same way that City workers retire in their fifties, often for health reasons.

Men should be encouraged to take leave under the new parental leave arrangements and reap the benefits of forming strong relationships with their children as well as understanding what their wives do.

Employers will realise that there is no difference between men and women in terms of potential leave for childbearing as they could well split the parental leave equally. This will help to prevent the misconception that women are seen as less desirable to employ.

Young women with university degrees are less and less inclined to play the “supporting, non-working wife” role, which is needed if jobs in the City continue to demand such long hours that participation in family life is impossible.

Medicine is well on the way to busting the myth that we are individually indispensable and must therefore be present at work for 60 plus hours a week. Doctors who work less than full time can still reach the top of their careers. Dame Fiona Caldicott revealed that her most satisfying achievement was that she was the first president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to have trained on a less than full-time basis, while bringing up children.

Both men and women benefit from having a balance between work and family. We need to remove the stigma attached to fathers who wish to participate in their children’s lives and benefit from the new parental leave arrangements.

Let us celebrate a remarkable group of new women presidents: Jane Dacre, president-elect of the Royal College of Physicians, Clare Marx, soon to be the first woman president of the Royal College of Surgeons and Suzy Lishman, president-elect of the Royal College of Pathologists. They will join Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

Dr Fiona Cornish

Medical Women’s Federation


The postwar generation has done very well – perhaps it should not be so quick to resent inheritance tax?

Sir, I agreed with much of Tim Montgomerie’s column “Man Utd and Britain share a problem — debt” (Apr 24) today until he said “Voters hate any kind of inheritance tax.”

Do they really? If so, it follows that we prefer to pay (more) tax while we are alive. After all, if a tax is abolished it must almost certainly be replaced by another. As a postwar baby I have enjoyed the benefits of the welfare state and expanding economies more than the next generation will, and I have generated assets far greater than my parents ever had. Others of my generation are in the same position and will be able to pass on significant sums. Do we need to be able to pass on such riches, tax free, to the next generation?

The law entitles us to pass on £325,000 before incurring an inheritance tax liability, and it seems likely that this figure will increase. Anything beyond that is taxed at 40 per cent. Even with inflation taken into account it seems to me that this is a generous amount to pass on, even to share between siblings.

Esmond A Hitchcock

London NW2

Severing the constitutional link between church and state may not change the things that matter

Sir, Calling for disestablishment (“Coalition split on the role of the church”, Apr 25) shows ignorance of the role of the church. If the deputy prime minister thinks that there is benefit in severing the constitutional links, these only amount to the appointment of bishops (now a matter for the church), church legislation and bishops in the House of Lords (mired in the wider review of Lords reform). None of these church/state connections is what the mission of the Church of England is about.

Despite falling congregations, the church has a presence in amost every town and village and is available to all, of faith or no faith, at times of significance in their lives. None of this would change if it ceased to be the church by law established.

Anthony W Archer

(Former member, Crown Nominations Commission)

Little Gaddesden, Berks

Published at 12:01AM, April 26 2014

For 30 years Pakistan’s legal system has connived in the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims

Sir, Thirty years ago today Pakistan amended its penal code to target Ahmadiyya Muslims and made it a criminal offence, punishable by three years imprisonment, for an Ahmadi to call himself a Muslim.

It is deplorable that 30 years on, this legacy of General Zia remains and the law is still used to justify the persecution of Ahmadis: millions are harassed, tens of thousands forced to flee the country and hundreds murdered in cold blood.

Together with blasphemy laws that prescribe the death penalty, with no requirement of evidence bar a reported allegation, these laws have emboldened extremists to harass and kill Christian, Ahmadi, Shia and other citizens simply on grounds of faith.

As officers of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief we are seeking to highlight this issue, and welcome the House of Commons debate on the subject that will be led by Naomi Long, MP, on May 1.

As a true friend of Pakistan, David Cameron will, we are sure, do likewise when he welcomes Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to the UK in the coming days.

Thirty years of persecution is enough.

Baroness Berridge


Lord Singh of Wimbledon

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Baroness Cox

All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Greater London is seeing an annual 9 per cent increase in children with physical and learning difficulties

Sir, The tragic case of the family with three children with a severe genetic condition (“Mother charged with killing her three disabled children”, Apr 25) raises the general issue of the 9 per cent annual increase in Greater London in the number of children requiring admission to special schools for children with severe physical and learning disabilities. This is a huge, increasing burden, emotional and financial on the families and the state.

In our family’s case, advances in science and pre-implantation screening enabled a younger, normal sibling to be born for a brother with a life-threatening, disabling genetic disease. With consanguineous marriages there should be pre-marital screening, as is the case where disease is known to be endemic, eg, Tay Sachs disease in the Jewish population.

Glenda Baum

(Chartered physiotherapist and

ex-chair of a school for children with severe learning disabilities)

London SW15


SIR – Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, complains that the UK Independence Party’s depiction on a poster of the Union flag on fire is “disrespectful and inappropriate”.

He does not mention the many other inappropriate uses of our national flag, on everything from women’s underwear and umbrellas to sofa cushions and doormats. These are hardly appropriate uses, considering the brave soldiers who have given their lives to protect the flag.

Terence Edgar

Wallasey, Wirral

SIR – How might a resident of Looe, St Ives or even Lanhydrock have a distinctive culture that is different from mine? Surely we read the same newspapers, watch the same television and most importantly, speak the same recognisable form of English?

To be really distinct, the Cornish language needs to be your first language, and this ancient language is now spoken by a very few enthusiasts. I would encourage those Cornish people who crave distinction to learn their language first.

Rev Dr Anthony Peabody
Burghfield Common, Berkshire

SIR – Could you possibly publish a comprehensive list of all national minority areas in the United Kingdom so that I can remember where not to visit in future for fear of offending someone?

Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex

Teachers under attack

SIR – There is indeed a “wearisome predictability” in the annual round of teachers’ union conferences, but this is not adequately described as “playing politics”.

It began with politicians playing teachers when the Education Reform Act became law in 1988. The National Curriculum, coupled with the later introduction of Sats, took much professional autonomy away from teachers and gave the country the impression that political control was the way to run a successful education system.

The many subsequent “adjustments” to both the National Curriculum and the examination system since then, by politicians of all parties, have removed any sense that teachers have constructive ideas on how to run a school.

Teachers meanwhile are overwhelmed with paperwork in attempting to prove to politicians that they are doing the right thing. Ofsted is simply a government enforcer, where once the inspection of schools was of the greatest support to teachers.

The Education Reform Act provided for governing bodies rather than local education authorities to manage schools. Anybody with the available time could apply. The ensuing mixture of well-meaning, supportive parents overwhelmed with government paperwork and people of independent means with a sociopolitical agenda has meant death to the autonomy that served our schools so well for decades.

As we are seeing in Birmingham, this can have a sometimes dangerous effect.

I strongly dislike the posturing of the annual teachers’ conferences. But I despair at the way teaching has been altered by political domination. Teaching is increasingly carried out by people who have first of all to defend themselves from political interference. It is not surprising that they look to political means to redress the balance.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex

How’s it grab you?

SIR – Could the BBC stop using the unpleasant phrase “up for grabs” in its news bulletins?

David Langfield
Pyrford, Surrey

Happier onions

SIR – Why it is that when peeling an onion nowadays I am no longer reduced to tears? Is it anything to do with GM farming or an EU directive?

Keith Edwards
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Going to fight in Syria

SIR – If the Government is opposed to Syria’s President Assad, why are Britons wanting to fight in Syria considered terrorists?

John Lovibond
Bunbury, Cheshire

SIR – Why are those who left Britain to fight against Franco in the Thirties hailed as heroes, but those who leave to fight against Assad are hunted as terrorists?

Colin Whitfield
Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham

SIR – The Metropolitan Police plan to persuade mothers and wives of would-be jihadists to report on their loved ones is laudable. But I fear that loyalty to their menfolk means it will have limited results.

William Hollingsworth

Irish crème de la crème

SIR – You added “and Irish” to your list of “20 best British novels of all time”. Was this on the basis of the chosen novelists’ nationalities?

James Joyce rejected Irish nationality on several occasions. Living in Paris in 1930, he wrote to his son Giorgio: “I had to renew my passport. The clerk told me he had orders to send people like me to the Irish delegation. But I insisted instead, and got a British one.”

A decade later, the Joyces were offered Irish passports, which would have enabled them to leave Nazi-occupied France more easily if needed. Again the offer was declined, and Joyce clung doggedly to his British passport, despite the increased risk.

Flann O’Brien’s hometown of Strabane is in the United Kingdom, and Dublin-born Iris Murdoch moved to London when only a few weeks old. On your list, only John Banville is unequivocally Irish.

Dr John Doherty
Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal, Ireland

Painting by numbers

SIR – Michael Hanlon quotes Max Tegmark, the cosmologist, as saying that because we use mathematics to describe the world, the world is just mathematical. This makes as much sense as saying that, because a painter can depict the world, the world is just a blob of paint.

If “the philosopher-kings of the 21st century are unafraid to speculate on the wildest shores of physics”, it is because they know they cannot be proved wrong.

Norman Baker
Tonbridge, Kent

What happened in ‘Jamaica Inn’? Read the book

SIR – Those who could not hear the BBC adaptation of Jamaica Inn should read the book. Daphne Du Maurier’s original is quite different and infinitely better.

Robert Walford
Upavon, Wiltshire

SIR – Many television dramas now feature dim lighting and unclear diction, which is overlaid with “dramatic” music. The problem is compounded by the fact that modern large-screen televisions have only small speakers, tucked away (out of sight and earshot) on the back of the sets.

Judy Wienholdt
Over Peover, Cheshire

SIR – The opening scene showed a field that had been partly ploughed by a large, modern, six- or eight-furrow plough. There were two women working the field, one of whom was pushing a 1930s wheeled hoe along a furrow eight inches deep, the second dropping seeds into the furrow behind the first. All total nonsense.

Bob Lomas
Horsham, West Sussex

SIR – Clearly audible in the second part of Jamaica Inn were the Rev Francis Davey and his congregation singing The King of Love my Shepherd Is.

How advanced the parish of Altarnun must have been in 1820: the writer of the verses, Sir Henry Baker, was not born until the following year, and the Rev John Bacchus Dykes, composer of the tune, two years later in 1823.

Rev I G Brooks

SIR – It is clear that Jamaica Inn was the product of W1A.

Christopher Pratt
Dorking, Surrey

SIR – Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed Jamaica Inn. It was gripping. The mental torment and reality of smuggling were powerfully portrayed, as were the relationships between the characters. I couldn’t wait for each part to be broadcast. Shame it has had so much bad press. And, yes, I heard it the same way as everyone.

Katie Williams
Torpoint, Cornwall

SIR – David Cameron is to be commended for pointing out that Britain’s religious tradition is Christian.

It is not Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or any other tradition. And being Christian, it is one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world – thank God.

Indeed the very term unchristian is commonly used to mean “uncharitable”, which is a reflection of Christ’s teaching.

As a Jew I am pleased to be a citizen living safely in this country, where a church spire is a fundamental architectural feature. And long may this be so.

Professor C B Brown
Bradfield, South Yorkshire

Related Articles

SIR – Allison Pearson’s concern at the Vicar of Aldeburgh not being invited to conduct an assembly in his community primary school reminds us of the tendency of head teachers over many years to marginalise Christianity.

The law requiring that daily collective worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character” is often ignored by schools, governors, local authorities and also Ofsted.

Canon Roger Knight
Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire

SIR – I agree with Dominic Grieve that it is common for someone to remain “a believer” yet not go to church.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who do not attend church even for major Christian festivals, but who have come to me to request a Christian burial or baptism for their families, even when an alternative secular ceremony is available.

When talking to them, I am often surprised at how deeply rooted is their Christian belief, even though they would never express this in their daily lives.

What I don’t understand is why people who say they have no belief get so worked up over something that, to them, doesn’t exist.

Rev Margaret Hadfield
Lutterworth, Leicestershire

SIR – It seems ironic that David Cameron advocates being “more evangelical” about expanding the role of faith-based organisation, while Muslims are demonised for using their faith as a driving force to participate in British society.

Omer El-Hamdoon

President, Muslim Association of Britain

Wembley, Middlesex

SIR – Today’s Christian Britain is reminiscent of the Islamic rule of Spain, a golden era when diversity, harmonious coexistence, freedom from coercion and social dialogue flourished. Similarly, one cannot miss the myriad mosques, churches, synagogues and temples all over modern Britain.

Watching events in Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic and many other places should make us grateful that we live in an inclusive, participatory, diverse and tolerant society.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2

Irish Times:

Sir, – The call by a Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, for Ireland to rejoin the British Commonwealth following the successful state visit to the UK of President Michael D Higgins comes as no surprise. However, the response by Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes, who said “such a proposal should be considered”, does.

The Irish State formally left the British Commonwealth in 1949.  At that time, this policy was seen as a natural further step in the direction of a fully sovereign State. Today, 65 years later, there are Irish political figures, and not just Brian Hayes, who are calling for the restoration of the Commonwealth link.

However, despite their machinations, there is no significant degree of support among the population for re-entry. Rejoining the Commonwealth would have the effect of gradually “re-Britishing” the Irish State and would amount to a rejection of the separatist aspect of Irish nationalism.

Because the British monarch has always been head of the Commonwealth, this would mean that symbolically speaking, the monarch would occupy a higher position politically than that of our own democratically elected head of state. We could find ourselves being embarrassed in the course of future royal visits, or state ceremonial occasions involving representatives of “Her Majesty”.

A “British dimension” would be restored to our political life. In terms of international affairs, we would once again become a white Commonwealth dominion. Much of Europe would interpret our move as a “return to the fold” and a rejection of our policies of separation from Great Britain.

Alongside the armies of Commonwealth nations, the Irish Defence Forces would be expected to participate in Armistice Day ceremonies and to ensure that army personnel wear the poppy.  The re-Britishing of the 26 counties would restore attitudes of subservience and servility among sections of our political and social elite. Britain would continue the practice of handing out “hongs” to selected Irish citizens in the form of knighthoods and other titles of “nobility”.

The import of Brian Hayes’s statement must be clarified by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. I regard Ireland’s sovereignty as sacrosanct, probably because we had such a long and hard battle to secure it.

Irish separation from the embrace of the British polity and the existence of a Republic are non-negotiable basic principles. Ironically, it was a Fine Gael taoiseach, John A Costello, who in 1949 ended the last formal British link over most of Ireland.

It is imperative that we ensure that some in modern Fine Gael don’t try to undo that achievement. Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,

Dublin 6W

Sir, – Hugh Pierce (Letters, April 25th) stated: “Throughout the modern era Christians of all denominations have been enthusiastic practitioners, proponents and facilitators of the death penalty.” Yet Amnesty International provides figures for 2013 which show the US as the only country in the Christian Americas that performed state executions.

In the EU, not practising capital punishment is a prerequisite for membership. Those few European countries outside the EU which still have capital punishment on their statute books performed no executions last year.

According to Amnesty there were 22 countries worldwide that carried out state executions in 2013. Of those only the US and South Sudan could be said to have Christianity as the religion of a sizeable proportion of their populations. It seems to me that in the modern era “Christian” countries are increasingly following the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Yours, etc,



Co Louth

Sir, – Further to the letters discussing Christianity and judicial execution, the catechism of the Catholic Church states (para 2267) that the “teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”. Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair

Sir, – Your letters page will surely flourish for as long as we read, alternately, that “throughout the modern era Christians of all denominations have been enthusiastic practitioners, proponents and facilitators of the death penalty” (Hugh Pierce); that Christ Himself “blessed murderers, calling for their forgiveness and asked His followers to do the same” (Geoff Scargill); that “one can be a perfectly authentic Christian and support capital punishment” (Sean Alexander Smith); that Christ’s three most recent representatives on Earth “reaffirmed the Holy See’s support for the abolition of the death penalty as part of the Church’s defence of the dignity of human life” (Ian d’Alton) – and all this against a backdrop of Christ’s own Father having definitively decreed that “whomsoever takes a life shall surely be put to death” (Hugh Pierce).

All I know, sir, is that, along with the aforementioned chroniclers, you have me all of a doodah. Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Dublin 13

Sir, – I wish to support general secretary Pat King’s condemnation of a minority group at the ASTI convention who barracked, heckled and abused Mr Quinn throughout his speech. The teacher who used the megaphone and his main supporter who addressed the media are founding members of the self-styled “ASTI Fightback Group”. This small group of disaffected ASTI members (comprising seven or eight activists) do not have the right to use the acronym ASTI in their rather melodramatic title; the group is not a recognised or legal structure within the union and does not have a mandate from its 18,000 members.

My colleagues and I do not pay our union subscription to have crucial business and procedures at annual convention derailed by a small, very vocal group who hog the microphone throughout convention debate yet whose raison d’être at conference is simply to wait for the Minister to arrive and disrupt proceedings. By harnessing the complete attention of the media and the general public for their own political agenda, the thuggish behaviour of these people has deflected attention from the crucial issues and real concerns surrounding Junior Cycle reform and assessment and other important educational matters.

This group has done great damage to students, teachers and the union. I am appalled at this outcome, which has, in effect, swung the pendulum in Mr Quinn’s favour. I am reminded of the lines from Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Yours , etc,



Co Kildare

Sir, – Amid charges that teachers who interrupted and heckled Ruairí Quinn were guilty of disgracing the profession and harming students, teachers and the profession, I feel I should respond as one who, very reluctantly, engaged in such heckling. I did this because of deep frustration that we have a Minister of Education who has refused to listen to those very people who know best when it comes to educational reform and the negative effects of the new Junior Cert.

None of us likes resorting to this kind of behaviour but I thought it appropriate that the Minister experience the deep anger that teachers throughout the country are feeling. The “fightback” group, who do have considerable support, are a response by some ordinary and concerned ASTI members that the leadership of the union is not sufficiently defending the pay and conditions of teachers, especially the most vulnerable young and non-permanent members.

I do hope that people who got upset at this expression of anger display the same upset at policies that have devastated families and communities throughout this country. Yours, etc,


Beauvale Park,

Dubliin 5

Sir, – I have been involved in GP training for the last 36 years and this is the first time we have failed to recruit sufficient suitable candidates. Young graduate doctors are leaving, voting with their feet. We cannot afford for them to go as we have too few GPs as it is and a lot of older colleagues ready to retire. It is a time for meaningful dialogue not diktat. Yours, etc.



Dublin 8

Sir, – How nice it was to see that our Polish friends chose, fittingly, to thank us in our national language (“Poland thanks Ireland of the welcomes”, April 24th).

It shows that the more recent arrivals to our nation don’t necessarily share the cultural inferiority complex that an influential minority among us harbour regarding anything too Irish and above all, the most Irish thing of all, our language. It was therefore somewhat ironic that the need was felt to specify in the same article that Polish, with 120,000 Poles living here, is the second most widely spoken language in the State.

While I am sure the reporter was only reconveying information she picked up elsewhere it is important to recognise the ideological basis of such a claim in the language context of Ireland. Ideological because claims about the death of the Irish language began to be made in the sixteenth century when it was the most widely spoken language in the country and are a tool to justify curtailing speakers’ rights, and untrue because Census 2011, which tells us that there are 119,526 people who speak Polish in the State, also tells us that there are 187,827 people here who speak Irish every day or every week.

This figure probably represents the core of fluent speakers from the 1,777,437 people who reported that they spoke Irish. Unfortunately, due to the dire economic straits we are in, the next census will probably show a decrease in the number of Polish speakers in the State. However, given that the trend in all recent censuses is for increasing numbers of Irish speakers there are likely to be even more of them by the time of the next census. It remains to be seen if the media will then feel compelled to seek different rationales for ignoring Irish. Yours, etc,


Bóthar Choill na


Cluain Dolcáin,

BÁC 22

Sir, – Reading Hilary Fannin’s column (April 25th) about the perception of women becoming invisible after the age of 50 I remembered a photograph of an elderly woman which I saw in the Kathmandu Post in Nepal. She was dressed in festive garments and crowds gathered to pay homage to her because she had attained the auspicious age of 77 years 7 months and 7 days and was now being revered as a god. She belonged to the Newar tribe in the Kathmandu Valley. Perhaps we women should follow the Newari tradition and instead of becoming invisible after 50 aim to become gods once we reach the auspicious age of 77. Yours, etc,


Woodlawn Park,


Dublin 14

Sir, – It is surprising to see a headline stating that Nama is set to give €5 million for project on Dublin’s Moore Street. This would mean that the agency is about to give millions to the developer of a commercial mall, so that a limited number of those houses where James Connolly, PH Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada spent their last hours of freedom, can be “developed” into what is described as “a monument project”.

Are we thus abandoning the republic of equals Connolly, Pearse, Ceannt, MacDonagh, O’Rahilly and our Citizen Army, Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan fought for, and allowing this historic site to remain in private hands?

May I ask the Dáil to instead mandate compulsory purchase of the properties where the GPO garrison spent the last days of the Rising, and from which they walked out to surrender and prison – or for the leaders death – for an Irish republic. Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6

Sir, – The story featured on the front page of your newspaper (April 25th) showing a mother and three children forced to sleep and live in a car represents an appalling injustice. It was ironic to read on the same day the supplement celebrating 10 years of the Ombudsman for Children.

We are getting ready to celebrate the centenary of the declaration of the Irish Republic and yet families are being forced out of accommodation in circumstances akin to the evictions of over 150 years ago. Those three children will be seven, five and three when the 2016 celebrations occur. It is up to all of as a society to make sure that they are properly housed immediately. Government bodies need to give themselves a shake-up. Yours, etc,


Manor Street,

Dublin 7

Irish Independent:

* As one who believes in a higher power, having experienced many spiritual occurrences in my 64 years, I too often ponder on the questions posed by Rob Sadlier in his interesting ‘epistle’ (Letters, April 24).

Also in this section

Definition of insanity: voting same way, expecting change

Letters: God works in mysterious ways

Letters: To go far on climate change, we have to go together

And I have no intention of trying to change any person’s belief or disbelief, bearing in mind we have free will. I study philosophy in attempts to reconcile similar questions of my own.

Rob’s question, why a loving god allows human suffering without intervention, was discussed by early Jewish, Christian and Islamic philosophers, many of whom believed that God does not see the particular/ individual; rather, He/She/They see the overall or general.

In my considered opinion, the Irish RC church, in its past teachings, presented a God more akin to a Fairy Godmother, where life was black and white, with no grey, let alone reality.

Earthly life is so varied, yet also similar, but it is man’s greed destroying the gifts given to us by Gaia that can lead to “a parasitic worm boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in west Africa“.

The Greek bible says “God is an enigma”, therefore are we not also individual enigmas? We have talents and gifts for the good of mankind and nature.

Alas, in Ireland today we see a Government totally bereft of humanity, or accountability to its people, while a great number of its members proclaim their Catholicism. Do they imagine God only sees them in church on Sunday?

Eastern people’s lives have been based on philosophy of love for oneself and their fellow humans.

The enormous damage done to many non-European nations by conquerors in the name of earthly and heavenly regents has led to the cult of the individual, and this should be of greater concern to humans than a trinity in the ether watching over us, supposedly waiting to toss the soul into an eternal fire.

I am of the firm opinion that there is an element of woman in God. For any who may be interested, there is a website “History of Philosophy without any gaps” from Kings College London, where you can access a weekly lecture on philosophy from its earliest known days:

Declan Foley, Berwick, Australia


* Nearly all recognised religions have two stories. The first is that there is a kind, loving God and the second is that there is an evil entity. We are meant to do what God asks us and reject the evil entity.

Nearly all religions also have a communal “praying” ceremony and if you like a bit of music and a bit of bread and wine, then there is one religion that will throw most of that in for you if you place an anonymous amount of money into a not-so-anonymous envelope.

Meanwhile, apparently, God will look down and extend eternal life to you for having religiously attended these ceremonies.

If I was to look for evidence of the existence of God, I would look to Florence Nightingale, not Adolf Hitler. The atheist argument is that there is no God because Hitler existed. I find it next to impossible to understand how the religious orders of the world have not advanced the counter argument along the lines: “Ah, no, what you are doing there Mr Atheist is presenting evidence of Satan as proof that God doesn’t exist. We have told you about Satan and how you are meant to reject him, so well done on recognising the evil that he can spread throughout our species.”

Dermot Ryan, Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway


* Election posters. What a load of botox. Never have I seen so many Irish men and women looking so well and blemish-free. Many of those in my own area I know personally. What have they done? Can ‘Operation Transformation’ have had such a health-inducing impact on so many?

We need more of this. Problems faced by the HSE will be ended with such a healthy-looking population. In recent years, there have been many calls for politicians to clean up their act. It would seem that the local and EU election candidates have done just that . . . at least on the face of it!

Philip Byrne, Co Wicklow


* We have really hit the floor with a mother and her three tiny children sleeping in a car (Irish Independent, April 25).

What has happened to Ireland?

Where I live in Dun Laoghaire, all along the main street there are three-storey premises going back to the Georgian era, which in better days had shops on the ground floor. Sadly far too many of them are now vacant.

Any one of these buildings could house several families.

Rather than rezone and rebuild, even as the wind whistles through the ghost estates, why can we not convert and adapt or free up the thousands of potential dwellings we already have?

Have we as a society, economy, government, come to a place whereby we have actually become indifferent to the plight of a mother and three little children reduced to living in a small car?

God help them.

God help us.

D Fullam, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin


* I agree with Mark Keane (Irish Independent, April 25) with regard to election posters being an eyesore and contributing to the litter problem.

But even more serious is the added danger they bring to the motorist, as your eye is inevitably attracted towards the various posters, which could cause a serious accident.

We should be the first, just like with the smoking ban, and make a complete ban on election posters.

If it was to prevent one serious accident on our roads, then surely there can be no argument.

Brian McDevitt, Ardconnaill, Glenties, Co Donegal


* The National Competitive Council (NCC) has warned that Ireland has largely failed in recent years to regain the virtuous position it once held briefly in the 1990s. The NCC further warns that today, 2014, our national competitive position is now disimproving again.

The vocal minority in trade unions are all seeking pay rises now at the first mention of the word recovery, a recovery that is elusive to most. The indigenous retail industry is on its knees, with no meaningful or sustained signs of any growth.

If not me, we should heed the NCC. It explains that pay rises now will further erode our weakened competitiveness, prolong long-term unemployment, and discourage any incentives to create employment.

Self-interested trade union bosses seem only concerned with their members and show little interest in the unemployed. Ireland’s troubled economy is a long, long way from the luxury of awarding pay rises.

Brian Cooper, Old Youghal Road, Cork


* I can remember a time when teachers were considered role models for kids, when bankers were considered to be pillars of the community, when priests were looked on for moral guidance, and when gardai could be trusted without reproach.

I must be getting old.

RA Blackburn, Abbey Hill, Naul, Co Dublin


* Pope Francis is now eligible to become a saint. He just performed two miracles by making Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II saints.

Kevin Devitte, Mill Street, Westport, Co Mayo

Irish Independent


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