10May2014 Optician again
I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to Arabia Priceless
Off to the Opticians I have ‘significant deterioration’ so I have a field test its peripheral vision
No Scrabbletoday, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.
Charles Hughesdon – obituary
Charles Hughesdon was an amorous aviator who married a film star and crashed in the African bush during a 1930s air race
6:52PM BST 09 May 2014
Charles Hughesdon, who has died aged 104, was a daredevil aviator, champion ballroom dancer, insurance broker and airline executive who married the film star Florence Desmond and boasted of affairs with Shirley Bassey and Margot Fonteyn.
In the mid-1930s Hughesdon was an aspiring young insurance salesman. As a fledgling pilot, however, he kept an eye on the sky and his chance for a daring flight of fancy came in the 1936 Schlesinger African Air Race. With a route running 6,000 miles from Portsmouth to Johannesburg, the contest aimed to promote the Johannesburg Empire Exhibition and offered a £10,000 prize.
At dawn on Tuesday September 29, Hughesdon and his co-pilot, David Llewellyn, took off in a Percival Vega Gull wood-and-fabric monoplane from Portsmouth aerodrome. Their dinner jackets were safely stowed in the hold.
Programme for the Schlesinger African Air Race
Their passage took them smoothly through Budapest, Cairo, Khartoum and Juba before continuing for their penultimate landing in Abercorn (now Mbala) on the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika in Zambia. As night fell, however, smoke from forest fires obscured their destination and their troubles were exacerbated by a leak in the plane’s auxiliary fuel tank.
With only a few minutes’ fuel remaining they desperately searched for an emergency landing site. “Just as the engine finally cut out we saw in the moonlight a yellow strip, which we presumed was sand, almost against the shore of the lake,” recalled Hughesdon. They crashed into the clearing; the tail of the plane came off on a tree, the undercarriage came up through the Gull’s wings and both men were injured. “We sat there for a while in silence,” wrote Hughesdon later, “before one of us remarked that it would have been a good idea if we had bothered to read up on the wildlife of Africa between packing our dinner jackets.”
Outside they were overwhelmed by insects — dousing themselves in Napoleon brandy only made the situation worse — as they hacked through the tropical undergrowth to get to the lake’s shore. There the pair slept on a narrow belt of sand peppered with crocodile tracks. The following day they were rescued by a local who guided them to his village chief. Hughesdon briefly considered the possibility that their saviours might be cannibals. “I was in trouble if they were,” he stated, “because Llewellyn didn’t carry much meat on him.”
Charles Frederick Hughesdon was born at St Margarets, outside Richmond upon Thames, on December 10 1909 — the year, he liked to point out, that Louis Blériot first flew the English Channel. Hughesdon’s origins were humble. “Socially my family were in a kind of no-man’s land,” he said. His father’s parents ran a sweet shop in Dulwich, while his maternal grandfather was a milliner. His father (after whom Charles was named) was chief engineer at the Johnny Walker & Sons warehouse on Commercial Road, a position that allowed, often to the chagrin of his family, for an unlimited supply of whisky.
While Hughesdon’s father was “somewhat inflexible”, he instilled a strong work ethic in his son and a love of motor vehicles (he gave him his first motorcycle, a Douglas EW, in reward for obtaining his General School certificate).
During the First World War the family moved to a flat above the Johnny Walker offices, and Hughesdon was educated at the nearby Raine’s Foundation Grammar School. A notion (soon abandoned) that he might be suited to the priesthood allowed for a short spell in 1922 at a seminary near Dublin, where he attended the funeral of Michael Collins.
After school and temporary jobs at Johnny Walker and Balfour Beatty he joined Provident & Accident White Cross Insurance in 1927 as a clerk. He soon passed professional examinations to become a regional representative. At this time he also learnt ballroom dancing and was selected for the first English ballroom team. “Dancing,” he asserted, “was a further step into the high life.” He went on to represent England at an international tournament in Copenhagen.
Hughesdon made his first “sale” to a slot-machine shop, insuring their cigarette and chocolate dispensers. He was hooked. “I vividly remember the thrill of that first piece of business,” he recalled late in life. His other lifelong addiction, flying, arose circuitously through his job. With friends from his competitors — Lloyds, Willis Faber, and London & Lancashire — he set up the Insurance Flying Club (with their venture duly underwritten).
“I didn’t feel superior but detached,” he recalled of his first flight. “I had a sudden new perspective on all my problems and difficulties. It is a feeling I have never lost.” Learning to fly (in Gypsy Moth biplanes) during the early 1930s was a precarious business: there were no radios and no brakes. “Once you were up and flying,” stated Hughesdon, “you were on your own.”
He got his flying instructor’s licence and was commissioned in the RAF Reserve in 1934. He got a commercial pilot’s licence two years later — by which time he had flown Sparrowhawks and Hawker Tomtits in the Isle of Man race and King’s Cup, and been half way across the world on the race to Johannesburg.
Simultaneously his career and private life soared. He joined the brokers Stewart Smith, developing their airline insurance business, and was introduced to the actress Florence Desmond (who turned up to their first date wearing crossed silver foxes and later joked that Hughesdon sold her three policies over dinner). Florence was the widow of the aviator Tom Campbell Black, who had been killed preparing for the Schlesinger Race. Hughesdon and Florence married in 1937.
Charles Hughesdon and Florence Desmond leaving Croydon by air for honeymoon, in Paris in 1937
At the outset of war he was made an RAF instructor — being considered too old at 30 for Fighter or Bomber Command — but was soon seconded to General Aircraft as its chief test pilot, flying alongside Polish pilots at Heston Airfield, testing Spitfires for the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit and 70ft tank-carrying gliders. The tests, he said, could be a “a bit hairy”.
In 1943 he was sent to America to test-fly Brewster SB2A Buccaneer bombers. While there he was questioned by the FBI over a telegram he had sent home that read: “Ill in New York. No medicine.” He explained that it was indeed a coded message, but that it was intended to tell his wife that he missed sleeping with her. On his return to Britain he rejoined the RAF as a long-distance transport pilot with No 511 Squadron. On one assignment, to recently liberated Brussels, he was astounded to discover his wife billeted in his hotel as part of an Ensa party. Hughesdon was awarded an AFC for his war service.
At the end of the war he rejoined Stewart Smith, negotiating new policies for Scandinavian Airlines System and, using his new contacts in the United States, with various American airlines, including Trans-Canada, United and Braniff. Meanwhile marriage to a film star — Florence Desmond starred alongside George Formby and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr in the 1930s and 1940s — brought house guests such as David Niven, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor.
Their marriage, however, was informed by a flexible attitude to fidelity: extramarital liaisons were considered “medicinal”. Hughesdon had flings with both the first and second wife of his friend Tyrone Power. In 1955 he was introduced to Shirley Bassey, then in her late teens, who was at the time lighting up the West End. The pair conducted an affair for several years, meeting up in Britain, America and Australia. The singer even joined Hughesdon and his family for a Boxing Day party at which she and Florence Desmond duetted. “It was riotous,” recalled Hughesdon. “Finally after much laughter and Shirley dancing barefoot on the billiards table a few of us finished in the sauna bath.”
A longer relationship evolved out of a lunch with Margot Fonteyn at Hughesdon’s house in Surrey during the early 1960s — at the end of the meal he followed his guest upstairs and kissed her. “She didn’t resist,” he recalled, “but neither did she exactly melt.” From this inauspicious start they engaged in an affair which continued sporadically for the next 10 years. “As time went on she came to depend on me in many ways,” claimed Hughesdon. “For sex, certainly, but also for companionship, advice, and strength.”
Charles Hughesdon and his wife, Florence Desmond, at home in 1957
In the early 1960s Hughesdon oversaw the indemnity policy for a troubled, and eventually abandoned, British shoot of Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor caught flu and the English fog drew a veil over any Egyptian atmosphere).
Stewart Smith merged with Bray Gibb Wrightson in 1972 to become Stewart Wrightson, with which Hughesdon remained until his retirement, as chairman, in 1976. The 1970s also saw him become the owner of his own airline, Tradewinds Airways, a cargo company with lucrative British American Tobacco and Grand Prix contracts. He sold the company in 1977 to Tiny Rowland.
Hughesdon was honorary treasurer of the Royal Aeronautical Society (1969-1971). He counted shooting, horse racing and dressage among his recreations, and in later life wrote his spectacularly indiscreet memoirs, Flying Made it Happen .
Florence Desmond died in 1993, and later that year Hughesdon married Carol Elizabeth, the widow of the former Attorney General Lord Havers. She survives him with a son, Michael, from his first marriage, and two stepsons, the actor Nigel Havers and Philip Havers, QC .
Charles Hughesdon, born December 10 1909, died April 11 2014
A cross-party group of MPs calls for sanctions against British Muslims fighting in Syria (Report, 9 May). Will the same MPs replicate those calls with regard to the British Jews serving in the Israeli army? Or is enabling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza not a matter of concern?
• It is striking you in today’s editorial completely accept that the new chairman of the BBC should be chosen by a politician (Editorial, 8 May) and that the licence-payers should have no say whatsoever in selecting the person who will spend their money or decide the output.
• Your leader rightly argues the next BBC chair should be chosen on merit. It should have added that it is now the turn of an able person who did not go to Oxbridge.
• How sad Gerard Jones intends to stop buying the Guardian because you “provide a platform” for Tory sympathisers (Letters, 9 May). He should do what I do and welcome these items because I know that within a couple of days, just by reading the letters page, I’ll have all the ammunition I need to refute their thinking.
• Helena Costa (Report, 8 May) may follow in the Gucci-clad footsteps of Gabriella Benson (brilliantly played by Cherie Lunghi), heroine of Stan Hey’s The Manageress, a great novel, serialised on Channel 4 in 1989. Finally, 25 years on, literature and art may imitate life in the tough “man’s world” of football.
• While scanning the TV listings (G2, 6 May), I saw that Mr Drew’s School for Boys is broadcast with audio description (indicated as AD). So if I watch the programme on one of those fancy modern tellies, will it have ADHD?
Brighton, East Sussex
• Surely a new currency should be the dram divided into the wee dram (Letters, 9 May)?
Eighteen months ago we, Judy and Simon, sold our three-bedroom apartment of 34 years in West Kensington and used the money to help fund a joint purchase in south London – a four-bedroom house in Norwood/Tulse Hill. We have the ground floor, consisting of loo, double front room – we use it like a 70s bedsit – and large back kitchen; while our daughter, her husband and their little daughter have the two top floors. We share bills, garden, shower room and a study/library at the back of the first floor. Every Monday evening they come down to us for quiz night and every Saturday night we go up for TV night.
Four and a half days a week Judy is nanna/nanny to under-two Dinah, so our daughter and her husband can have careers, can save at least £20,000 a year in childcare and don’t have to stress to get home in time for the childminder. They return to a clean, fed, contented child. We, in our turn, get to have a major share in the up-bringing of our granddaughter. We have turned the clock back 30 years. In time, when we two start to fall apart, help is just one flight of stairs away.
It works all round – Germany alive and well in London SE21 (Labour party interested in German model for the ‘multigeneration house’, 2 May). The only question remains: where is our massive tax break from the government?
Simon and Judy Rodway
• It’s very good news that Jon Cruddas has discovered the German Mehrgenerationenhaus model, which really has no losers. Older people, children, families, mental and physical health and social-care budgets all benefit. And the example I know in Berlin has high environmental credentials. Members pay to join a co-operative which then has enhanced abilities to raise funds, and land is made more easily available.
Yet when I suggested something similar in Lambeth about 10 years ago – sheltered housing above a childcare facility, on the Danish model – as appropriate enabling development to fund the rescue and reuse of an historic educational building, the council officers reacted as though I had suggested housing unreformed paedophiles in a nursery. Even in Germany it is clear that state financial support is limited, but at least government doesn’t stand in the way. Local as well as national government must embrace this.
But on the basis of the dismal performance on Radio 4 this week on rent control by Labour’s shadow housing minister, Mr Cruddas has a long way to go to turn such a farsighted scheme into Labour policy.
To David Sainsbury’s excellent article (Pfizer: stop this sell-off, 9 May), warning of the electoral consequences of misjudging the voters’ mood on this issue, it is important to add the concerns of UK scientists and engineers. I speak as a scientist who has been involved in very fruitful collaboration with AstraZeneca. Over the last 30 years I have also seen, with dismay, several fruitful scientific collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry be completely wasted as a consequence of mergers and takeovers, followed inevitably by the shutting down of research laboratories and projects. As David Sainsbury says, this is not an ideological issue. There can be clear criteria for when takeovers and mergers are good and when they are bad for the UK economy. The warning lights in this case could not be clearer.
Professor Denis Noble
Department of Physiology, anatomy and genetics, University of Oxford
• We are deeply troubled by the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca, a key strategic national asset. This deal has the potential to tear the heart out of the UK’s science base and must be subject to the utmost scrutiny. Though we acknowledge the success of many aspects of the free market, we feel it is the responsibility of the UK government to temper the worst excesses of the market, especially when they conflict with the UK’s long-term prosperity, which is inextricably linked with the knowledge-based economy, science, engineering and innovation. We would contrast the UK’s approach with that of its competitors. Could it be imagined that Germany would have such an indifferent attitude towards a foreign takeover of BMW, or Siemens?
Over many generations, research and development in the private sector has benefited from the UK’s intellectual institutions, human, social and financial capital, and tax breaks. All this, and further potential international long-term gains which have not yet materialised, would be lost for ever, if short-term financial injection or short-term increased jobs are cited as sufficient grounds for allowing the takeover. We demand that: a compulsory independent assessment of the national interest is performed transparently for both friendly mergers and predatory takeovers; and an independent assessor should be permanently armed with a golden share (that cannot be frittered away later) to safeguard the national interest and to police any merged entity to ensure fairness for all.
It is a backward step to export our well-earned long-term world-class R&D in pharmaceuticals. This is not simply selling off the family silver, but relegating Britain to a lower scientific standing.
Prof David Caplin, Prof Willie Russell, Prof Jonathan Slack, Pamela Buchan, Dr Feroze Duggan, Dr Michael Galsworthy, Dr Matt Gwilliam, Bobbie Nicholls, Dr John Unsworth (Chair), Dr Martin Yuille Scientists for Labour
• The arguments advanced by David Sainsbury against allowing Pfizer to take over AstraZeneca are devastating. Yet David Cameron and George Osborne seem determined to support the bid. Liberal Democrats in government should make it clear that this is the view of the Conservatives in the coalition, not that of the Liberal Democrats, as Vince Cable has intimated. They should firmly and publicly oppose the bid. It is a test case for the doctrine preached by market fundamentalists that the primary aim of public companies is to maximise shareholder value, and that shareholders alone should decide the fate of companies and be free to sell to the highest bidder irrespective of the public interest or the interest of employees. This is a pernicious doctrine, one of the causes of the short-termism that is one of the main weaknesses of British industry.
House of Lords
• British science is never safe in Tory hands (Big pharma needs a public stake, 8 May). In 1987, Margaret Thatcher privatised the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge. At the time it was a world leader in plant breeding, with scientists visiting from all over the world and 70% of the cereal varieties grown in East Anglia were bred at the PBI. The site is now a park and ride and a Waitrose supermarket. In the early 90s, Craig Venter in the US tried to make a dash to sequence the human genome, expecting to be able to patent human genes. It was John Sulston and the Wellcome Trust who played a major part in sequencing the genome, making it freely available to researchers, with little support from government. Now we have AstraZeneca and your report that Cameron wants Pfizer to up their offer instead of supporting an important British science company. At the same time Kew Gardens, world famous scientifically, is under threat from government spending cuts.
These public-school educated Tory posh boys seem unable to comprehend the importance of state support of science for the public good.
Suzanne Moore’s piece (Jeremy Clarkson is not a maverick – he is the bullying face of the establishment, 8 May) is a most brilliant combination of outrage and logical argument. The BBC is on the wrong side of the line regarding Clarkson and must respond accordingly.
• Jeremy Clarkson‘s head has long been sought by the self-righteous left as it cannot abide dissent from a duplicitous intolerant version of monochrome acceptability. Clarkson admits to perhaps muttering the N-word in a recording that was not transmitted, presumably because the editor made the right decision to cut the incoherently offensive mumble. If Clarkson were to go because of an un-aired error of judgment, kept discreetly private then we should be very afraid indeed.
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
Your coverage of the Better Care Fund (Polly Toynbee: The NHS is on the brink: can it survive till May 2015?, 9 May; £3.8bn NHS Better Care Fund policy delayed after damning Whitehall review, 7 May) has highlighted a truth widely acknowledged within the NHS – that it is heading towards a financial crisis in 2015-16, if not before. The focus should now be on what needs to be done. While there is still scope to improve efficiency, and efforts to release savings should be redoubled, this will not be enough. Unless significant additional funding is provided, patients will bear the cost as waiting times rise, staff are cut and quality of care deteriorates.
Crucially, new funding must not be used to disguise the need for change by propping up unsustainable services. Instead, it should be used for two distinct purposes. First, a “transformation fund” should be established to meet the cost of service changes and invest in developing new models of care outside hospitals. Second, emergency support should be made available for otherwise sound NHS organisations in financial distress as a result of the unprecedented pressures on their budgets.
Politicians from all parties are unwilling to engage in a public debate about the future funding of the NHS. Health was not a big issue in the runup to the last general election – it needs to be this time round, otherwise the political process will have failed.
Chief executive, The King’s Fund
• Simon Jenkins references Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (7 May). The problems of the NHS are very different, reflecting local conditions; like many in their ninth decade I am alive after several NHS operations, owing my life to its consistent care. Maintaining standards in a huge organisation, like liberty, calls for unfailing vigilance and the strongest sense of purpose.
While everyone is focusing on whether or not Ukip is a racist party, the irrationality of just two of its major policies is being overlooked. First is Ukip’s denial of climate science which has been accepted by every research body on the planet for several decades. This short-sighted, essentially suicidal policy, will inevitably create vast humanitarian refugee and immigration problems in the future for all developed countries, including ours.
Second is its policy of amalgamating income tax and national insurance into a new flat-rate income tax pitched at around 34 per cent. Bearing in mind that most of Ukip support comes from better-off pensioners who don’t pay National Insurance and that very few of them pay higher rate tax, Ukip is therefore proposing to raise the taxation of its main supporters by 70 per cent. Can’t they do sums? In contrast, a mere 34 per cent flat tax will obviously be a bonanza for bankers like Nigel Farage.
The increasing gap in political cultures between Scotland and England is further evidenced by the latest research on voting intentions for the European Parliamentary elections and attitudes to the EU.
South of the border, Ukip is challenging Labour for first place in the European Parliament elections. In Scotland the Ukip vote is a third of that in England, and it is unlikely that the elections will deliver any MEPs for Mr Farage’s party.
Of those surveyed in Scotland, 48 per cent would vote to remain in the EU if a referendum was held, compared with 32 per cent who said they would vote to leave. In England 40 per cent would vote to leave the EU, compared with 37 per cent who would vote to stay in.
The results also indicate how national identity plays a key role in voters’ views about the European Union, with Ukip support in England strongest among those who identified themselves as being “English” rather than “‘British”. It is also clear from the research that “Scottish” identifiers back entirely different parties from “English” identifiers.
Scotland and England are two nations moving in different political directions. The independence referendum will determine whether Scotland will plough its own furrow or remain shackled to a political system whose values we no longer share.
Commentators are surprised that damaging disclosures about Ukip candidates and members don’t harm the party’s poll ratings. Surely the answer is that most of the voters threatening to vote for Ukip will actually vote for NOTA (None of the Above).
What is really surprising is that intelligent voters will vote for a party that opposes every proposal that comes before the European Parliament, no matter what the subject, and does little or no work in Brussels, yet will scorn the party that works its socks off in the interests of Britain in Europe.
Geoff S Harris
The letter from the selection of Ukip high-ups (7 May) has finally debunked their view of themselves as distinct from the “old” parties and reveals them to be exactly the same. They moan about people being mean to them, media conspiracy, their views and policies being misrepresented, and of personal attacks and abuse.
Is this not the same charge perennially posited by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats about their treatment in the media? Politics? Don’t you just love it!
Newton Abbot, Devon
The SNP hopes for Scottish independence within the EU. Ukip promises to take us out of the EU in order to control immigration. In the unlikely event that both are successful, could Mr Farage tell us what border arrangements he would put in place between Scotland and the remainder of the UK, and would unemployed Scots be on his exclusion list?
GP system needs thorough reform
Jane Merrick’s article of 8 May highlights one of the main issues which gives rise to my increasing frustration as a GP, namely the absurdity of continuing to try to make an outdated model of primary health-care provision fit into a modern society. Leaving the issue of funding aside, my experience is of a need to simplistically split primary care into two basic components.
First, there is the need to care for the frail elderly, and those with complex long-term conditions, in a community setting. GPs are an experienced but expensive resource, ideally suited to the holistic nature of this difficult task, which is time-consuming and labour intensive if it is to be done properly, and which could potentially occupy almost all of a GP’s time.
Second is the need for readily available first-point contact primary care, which in most cases does not need to be provided by a GP, but can readily be done by nurse practitioners, extended care practitioners, pharmacists, or other suitably trained health-care professionals, who are more than capable of dealing with a considerable number of problems currently presenting at GP surgeries (and indeed many GP practices are increasingly using these resources).
The continuing perception that anyone with a new health problem must see a GP is precisely what is causing the immense strains in the system.
I am pleased Ms Merrick’s problem was of a benign nature, but would it not have been much easier and caused less emotional turmoil had she been offered a same-day appointment with a nurse practitioner in the first place?
Jane Merrick’s account of her treatment under the GP system (8 May), reminded me of other such failures. Patients requiring urgent blood tests are told that they cannot be taken. Others are told that an important appointment to discuss a health concern will take two weeks. When will one of our political leaders have the integrity to say to the electorate that the health service requires more funding and it must come from earmarked taxation? I assume that our political class has had their cojones removed under private health insurance.
Workhouse for a new generation
Your correspondents regarding “generation rent” (8 May) show a remarkable lack of neoliberal vision. Surely we can be absolutely confident that there are bright young Conservative advisers at this very moment working on a return of the workhouse, although in keeping with the times they will be provided by G4S or Serco rather than the local authority. A new name will be necessary, of course. The Seeking Workhouse doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure other readers can help the government out here.
Saudi Arabia and kidnapped girls
Many countries are now clamouring for action to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, but the only country which might be able to pressure Boko Haram into releasing them is silent. If Boko Haram is Wahabist – and as an Al-Qa’ida affiliate it probably is – then condemnation from Saudi mullahs ought to weigh with it, even if no money or training or equipment is flowing from the Kingdom (which it probably is). Does the Saudi religious establishment really believe that kidnapping virgins and selling them as slaves is, as Boko Haram claims, proper Islamic behaviour?
A load of old rubbish
Andy McSmith’s mention of Birmingham Council’s policy of not collecting garden rubbish (The Diary, 8 May), because “there was no reason why people who have not got gardens should subsidise those who have”, astonished me. Here in Wiltshire the council provides a large green garden bin for the disposal of garden waste once a fortnight. This waste is then recycled to make compost which is sold back to gardeners. This reverses the Birmingham attitude completely as all council taxpayers, gardeners or non-gardeners, benefit as a result of the cash raised.
Sexism on the hustings
Compare the description of these two Parliamentary candidates in Carlisle (News, 6 May): “Stevenson is a 50-year-old lawyer-turned-politician”; “Sherriff, 41, is a divorced mother of three”.
Please treat the sexes equally. We know nothing, from these descriptions, of Sherriff’s previous career path or Stevenson’s marital or parental status.
Capitalism raw in tooth and claw
Barclays makes a loss, pays those at the top increased bonuses, and then sacks 19,000 workers (“Barclays boss Antony Jenkins defends bonuses despite restructuring”, 8 May). Tells you all you need to know about capitalism, really.
Lewes, East Sussex
Kenneth Clark, centre, and crew in the making of the BBC’s Civilisation series
Published at 12:01AM, May 10 2014
Nearly half a century on, and Kenneth Clark is still drawing critics and fans
Sir, Rachel Campbell-Johnston acclaims Civilisation rightly as a landmark television series (“He came to praise art, and almost buried it”, May 7), so in fairness we should also acknowledge the key contribution of its two distinguished producers, Michael Gill and Peter Montagnon. Their visualisation of Lord Clark’s script was just as important in captivating the audience. There is much speculation about who will present the remake of the series; I hope as much thought is devoted to who will produce it.
Bishop’s Sutton, Hants
Sir, I would give a lot to see a re-run of the original Civilisation series. Last week on my first visit to Florence I was wonderfully guided by Kenneth Clark’s accompanying book, Civilisation , specifically by his chapter on the Renaissance, entitled “Man — the Measure of all Things”. His elegant analysis of 15th-century Florence was invaluable for planning my museum visits. He will be a hard act to follow.
Sir, Rachel Campbell-Johnston’s piece on Kenneth Clark raises an awkward truth about art and ordinary people, a truth that leftist art-school orthodoxy cannot cope with. Campbell-Johnston portrays Clark as hopelessly condescending towards what he called the “average man”.
His role in popularising high culture is acknowledged, before being lost in the usual list of failings that make Clark derided as out of touch by bien pensant radical, art-world figures: “clipped accents . . . Winchester College . . . Oxford . . . patrician figurehead . . . huge wealth . . . [belief in] the supremacy of figurative painting . . . conservative . . . lofty . . . suited” (even, heaven forbid, “middle-aged”).
However, this narrative cannot cope with the facts. Many millions of ordinary men and women watched Civilisation and took delight in it, or bought the accompanying book. In the US 24,000 people turned up to watch the series at an auditorium holding 300.
Despite their political sympathy with what they cannot bear to call the “average man”, today’s art-school radicals cannot cope with the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest breakthrough in public understanding of art was the work of a white man who wore a suit and went to a public school. Nor can they cope with the reality that ordinary people continue to show contempt for the kind of abstractions they so champion, many of which require the help of a (very expensive) art-school education to begin to understand.
Sir, I cannot agree with Martin Marix Evans’s opinion as to the “staggering tedium” of Kenneth Clark’s presentation of Civilisation (letters, May 3). On the contrary, his dulcet delivery, idiosyncratic inflections and lightly worn erudition introduced me, a teenager, to a world of culture that I might otherwise never have known and which has remained with me ever since.
Sir, Secure in our unifying comfort blanket of Britishness, I am sure that few of my rugby-loving English compatriots have taken offence at the lyrics to Flower of Scotland (letter, May 8) Indeed, I must admit to joining in. In its own strange way, it is one of the greatest anthems. It is also history alive.
Effort would be better expended in providing England fans with an alternative to God Save the Queen, the appropriation of which by England I do regard as an insult to our Scottish and Welsh friends, and an awkwardness at least for that part of the Irish team made up of players from Northern Ireland.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
Sir, The outrage from a few British writers that Alan Bennett has the temerity to prefer Americans (“Bennett should read more, say miffed writers ”, May 7) damages their own reputations more than his.
Sir, England’s literary establishment always seems to react with venom to the slightest criticism. Susan Hill reduces the debate to the personal, while Professor Sutherland ungenerously suspects the opinions of Will Self and Edward St Aubyn are a function of their proximity to literary prizes (“The demise of the English novel is (again) exaggerated”, May 7). Overall, it isna picture of irate sardines “shoal supported”, to adapt a phrase of FR Leavis, by the tide.
Sir, John Sutherland puts up a feeble defence of the contemporary English novel when he pits “everyone’s favourites” Ishiguro and McEwan against US contemporaries such as Bellow, Roth, Pynchon and Chabon.
Current US fiction is superior in scale, psychological insight and stylistic originality. I am reading Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist. It sizzles with wit and energy, experiments with wall-to-wall dialogue, and offers liberal helpings of the poetry of politics, absent from English literature for a century.
Sir, Apropos your report “Fashion twist for women of the cloth” (May 7), perhaps the designer Camelle Daley could consider a culotte dress, as long as a cassock, so that women clerics can show their male colleagues who is really wearing the trousers.
At St Paul’s I once saw a female verger wearing a divided cassock — she looked pretty amazing walking down the nave in 1970s culotte/flares a whisker wider than taxi doors.
(organ builder, St Paul’s Cathedral 1972-77)
Sir, I am saddened to hear a leading educationist encourage computer games as a form of learning (“Angry Birds teaches pupils life skills, says schools chief”, May 6). I agree with everything Angela McFarlane says about games, but the same is true of Snakes and Ladders, Cluedo and Monopoly — with the advantage that the life skills are not a superficial coating on an aggressive, conflict-led platform and the interaction is social and face to face.
Nor is there a marketing strategy to get our children addicted by rewarding them with a dopamine fix every six seconds (usually when they destroy something). This erodes their attention span and their ability to persevere and to learn the value of delayed gratification. Professor McFarlane says she became hooked, ironically, on a game called Lemmings. This is what marketers employ psychologists to do — to get our children hooked. I do not want our 6-year-old to be encouraged to use computer games to develop his life skills.
Violence and death are trivialised in so many games and we may well ask whether acquiring superficial life skills justifies anaesthetising our children to death.
I would encourage your readers to sit down with their teenage offspring and watch Beeban Kidron’s film In Real Life to get a more balanced view of the insidious nature of these seemingly innocent “games”.
Sir, I am one of those who won continuing healthcare (CHC) funding for a relative (letter, May 7), also getting it backdated in the process.
I urge anyone affected to study NHS CHC Checklist, Decision Support Tool for NHS CHC, and National Framework for NHS CHC and NHS-funded Nursing Care. These, all online, are well written, logical, unambiguous and easy to follow; then, to ensure that the process of assessment is initiated and allow it to evolve. If an entitlement emerges and a recommendation is made for CHC funding by a multidisciplinary team, it may not be overturned by another panel, except in exceptional circumstances, nor may either group act as a gateway for funding.
Persevere and those entitled will receive their entitlement.
SIR – I am so heartened that we may at last be told how the meat we buy has been slaughtered, and if the animal was stunned before death.
I do not eat meat and do not condone the way most animals are bred, farmed and slaughtered. My husband does choose to eat meat, but only if the highest standards of animal welfare are observed.
I only buy meat from shops where I am sure my welfare principles have been satisfied. I never buy from supermarkets.
I am Christian but have no problem with other religions or ethnic groups. I would just ask that meat-eaters consider the poor beast dying just to feed us and that they treat the animals with respect and as much kindness as they can.
SIR – No one has ever made concessions to Jews by providing kosher food in pizza restaurants or fast food chains. Jews eat at their own restaurants or buy their own kosher food to cook. Why cannot Muslims do the same?
Crawley, West Sussex
SIR – I am in favour of allowing religious slaughter. But it may not be well known that religiously slaughtered meat has been consumed unwittingly by the general public for decades.
The hindquarters of animals – rump or leg – killed by Jewish slaughter, shechita, is sold to the non-kosher trade in accordance with the Biblical reference in Genesis 32 that states that the children of Israel should not eat the sinews of the hip joint.
The forbidden parts – sinews, certain fats and veins – can be removed but the process is so expensive that often the relevant part of the animal is sold to the non-kosher market.
SIR – Perhaps Ed Miliband could explain the basis of intellectual self-confidence?
So far, there appears to be nothing in his ill-defined policies to show that his party accepts responsibility for its part in the economic crisis of 2008, let alone any credible economic policy for the future.
SIR – Perhaps Mr Miliband’s claim, like Marvin the robot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to have a brain the size of a planet explains why so many of his policies seem to originate from a parallel universe, where rent controls do not reduce the lettings market and thereby force up market rents; energy price controls do not reduce investment in future supply and lead to higher prices; and capping rail fares does not lead to fewer trains.
Worst of all, in Mr Miliband’s world, increasing borrowing and taxation do not destroy growth and incentive, just as happened under the last Labour government.
May I suggest that the Government increase funding to the UFO research programme, as this may be our only hope of stopping more aliens coming into Westminster after the next election.
SIR – Socrates knew that he knew nothing, and was thereby the wisest man in Athens. Yet fools seldom lack self-confidence.
SIR – My school is one of those that is consulting on prioritising free school meals in our admissions criteria. Broadening access is about much more than the 11+, though. It is about a school’s commitment to openness, and about help with costs such as travel and sports equipment so that every pupil can attend on an equal basis.
My experience is that some former grammar school pupils are keen to give philanthropically to support these aims. Our donor-funded primary school programme (InspirUS) was shortlisted for a national Enterprise and Community Award, and our financial assistance fund (the Lune Scholarship) was generously established by a local entrepreneur.
Dr C J Pyle
Head, Lancaster Royal Grammar School
Keep the magic alive
SIR – I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary by taking my wife to a history lecture on the subject of “Public dissection of criminals’ corpses in the 18th century” in Oxford. This was followed by a candlelit dinner for two at a nearby Italian restaurant.
Ringmer, East Sussex
SIR – What should I get my husband for our 30th anniversary? He says he doesn’t want anything special.
Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire
SIR – Professor Faulkner’s experience in Bali reminds me of a recent visit to our local supermarket to buy French mustard. When I asked for help finding it, I was told apologetically that all they had was English and Dijon (to rhyme with pigeon).
Professor Richard Ramsden
SIR – Richard Hawkes says disabled people are campaigning against old-fashioned services. He fails to mention that he is closing 11 homes, displacing 190 residents and making 400 staff redundant.
He tells us that if Scope closes these homes, “We’ll support families to work with local bodies to find alternatives that are right for them.” That is contradictory to what parents have been told: I heard that whatever the outcome of the consultation, the homes will close and that it will be up to local authorities to provide new placements for these 190 residents.
With local government still having to make huge financial cuts, what sort of say (if, in fact, they can say) are these disabled people going to have?
SIR – I have a profoundly disabled daughter who has lived in a care home in Salisbury for the past 30 years. Throughout that time, the care she has received at the hands of Scope has been exemplary.
When the choice of care homes is being considered, we must not lose sight of some fundamental truths. First, as Richard Hawkes rightly points out, even those with the most complex needs must be given a say in where, how and with whom they live, and as new concepts and ideas arise they must always be considered carefully, but choices must only be made after the most careful assessment: they must be appropriate, realistic and they must be sustainable. If not, a scheme will fail and another devised to take it’s place, and there is nothing more unsettling for the disabled than insecurity.
Some years ago I was a member of a small Scope working party considering “empowerment”, and often during our discussions I found myself aching to cry out “Stop. Get real!”, for while there are many who will benefit from new ideas and practices, there are also many for whom they are just an irrelevance; what they need is good old-fashioned tender, loving care.
Dr Richard Riseley-Prichard
SIR – Last week my wife and I were bedazzled by the colours of all the varieties of rhododendron, azalea and camellia at Exbury Gardens in the New Forest. If European bureaucrats had existed a hundred years ago, presumably they would have “saved” us from such sights.
(Clean) old hat
SIR – How does one clean a Panama hat without reducing it to pulp?
Alan J Watson
Cayton, North Yorkshire
Gales of laughter
SIR – I agree with John Ley-Morgan about BBC Radio 4’s so-called comedy slotat 6.30pm. For a laugh, just listen to Radio 4’s weather forecasts.
Lily Allen performs at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire at the launch of her new album last week Photo: Redferns
5:49PM BST 08 May 2014
SIR – Lily Allen complained that she probably only earned about £8,000 from her Christmas advert for John Lewis. Then Harry Wallop (Features, May 7) explained some of the other revenue streams that modern pop musicians enjoy to give them huge incomes.
What amazes me is that these people expect such large sums of money for so little work. I know that in the past successful artists did earn a great deal, but markets change.
Lily Allen’s £8,000, for at best a day or two of work (she didn’t even write the song), is, by most people’s standards, a very substantial income. It seems to be that people who earn enormous incomes have very little appreciation of how the average person manages.
SIR – Philip Johnston is quite rightto highlight the potential of brownfield sites for much-needed housing. But how can the owners of these sites be made to bring them into use?
One of the benefits of a land value tax is that it encourages landowners to develop a vacant and underused site to its full planning potential, and discourages land banking.
Michael J Hawes
SIR – You report on how buyers must be forced to find bigger deposits to slow down the booming housing market. The fault lies with the banks, which have been lending way beyond their reserves in a liquidity ratio often given as 10 to 1, but in reality, with hedge funding, far higher.
Not infrequently, foreclosure ensues, where the debtor’s house is sold to an outside party at decimated value. Though collusion between the outside party and the bank that forecloses may be hard to prove, it can easily occur. One hopes that one day, Parliament will recognise that such foul practice does exist.
SIR – Additional lending constraints, as suggested by the OECD, and Labour’s bureaucratic rent controls are both market-distorting measures.
Much better would be to remove tax relief on buy-to-let mortgage loans, thus treating them equally to those to owner-occupiers. A welcome by-product would be a reduction of several billion pounds in the budget deficit.
Chichester, West Sussex
SIR – The Government must control the larger planning applications being submitted by developers who want to build thousands of houses in countryside areas in order to make big profits. If it doesn’t, it is in danger of losing votes in the 2015 election.
The Prime Minister has said that villages would be protected by having house building limited to 10, 15 or 20 only. This is not happening.
Here in West Sussex, there is an application to build 10,000 houses, which has been rejected by the local authority as well as the majority of the local population, as the site covers a great deal of countryside, including small villages.
The proposal also lacks employment opportunities, schooling, shops and roads suitable for the increased traffic. The company promoting this project has a director who is leading the Government’s Planning Guidance Review.
My fear is that the planning minister will rub his hands with glee and approve the scheme, adding another 10,000 houses to his total.
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
Sir, – What possessed the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to issue its statement regretting the resignation of Alan Shatter (Home News, May 8th)?
It seems to me that the ICCL has lost the run of itself in effectively siding with the minister who refused to acknowledge the shabby treatment of Garda whistleblowers, was reluctant to tackle Garda malpractice, and who breached data-protection regulations. If the ICCL thinks none of this is reason enough for Mr Shatter’s resignation, I think we’re all in trouble. – Yours, etc,
Ardfield, Co Cork.
Sir, – It is hard to believe that less than 10 years after the statutory and administrative reforms introduced in response to the Garda corruption exposed by the Morris Tribunal that we are still being confronted with a seemingly endless succession of scandals concerning the Garda. There is no reason to believe that the recent and prospective inquiries will be any more effective in delivering lasting reform.
There is a systemic malaise in the Garda organisation that can only be tackled by the establishment of a Patten-style commission with the remit and resources to conduct a thorough root-and-branch review of what we want from policing and how we should deliver policing in this country. This must include basic issues such as recruitment, training, pay and conditions, deployment, management, powers, functions, policies and mission, as well as the fundamentals of governance, accountability and transparency.
The object must be the establishment of a professional, efficient, accountable and transparent civil police organisation that reflects best international standards appropriate to a European democracy in the 21st century.
It will take a brave and visionary Minister for Justice to pursue that project and to see it through to a successful conclusion. The future of the Garda and the quality of policing, democracy and the rule of law in this country are heavily dependant on it. – Yours, etc,
Old Dover Road,
Sir, – Des Kelly (May 9th) compares the price of bottled water in supermarkets to the proposed price of mains water under the Irish Water regime. He says the disparity between the two should give us food for thought. I am feeling undernourished.
Bottled water sold in supermarkets is a commodity that serves particular purposes. Some people buy it because they do not trust tap water, others because they do not have easy access to tap water at that moment. No-one I know buys it to bathe their children. It would be needlessly lavish, inconvenient and cold.
Mr Kelly’s letter highlights a deeper social and political problem. Conventional wisdom in Ireland now thinks of a substance essential to our most basic human needs as a commodity. Under the new Irish Water regime, one of our most basic human needs will be rationed on the basis of wealth.
All of the parties in Ireland’s political establishment see water as a commodity and not as a human right. This illustrates the real attitude toward democracy and social equality in official circles.
Food for thought, perhaps. – Yours, etc,
Mount Rochford Close
A chara, – Now that the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre will be using 12,000 litres of water during every performance of Singin’ in the Rain (News, May 6th), one hopes that they won’t follow this with The Merchant of Venice. – Is mise,
LOMAN Ó LOINGSIGH,
Sir, – Paddy Cosgrave’s bias towards his alma mater really has got the better of him! (“Is a Trinity degree worth more? Tech entrepreneur hits a nerve”, Education, May 9th)
I direct an advanced masters programme in software engineering in UCD that has, over the years, accepted hundreds of experienced graduates from almost all the third-level institutes in the State. I dearly wish we could predict success by such a simple measure as Paddy applies, but the truth is that there are highly talented and able students in all the third-level institutes, and employers who bias themselves for or against any particular institute are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the competition to recruit excellent graduates. – Yours, etc,
Dr MEL Ó CINNÉIDE,
School of Computer
Science and Informatics,
University College Dublin,
Belfield, Dublin 4.
Sir, – John Fitzgerald (May 6th) starts off innocuously enough in the guise of a defence of country rambling, but soon focuses on the hunting fraternity. He is at pains to point out that huntspeople include “prominent legal eagles, bankers, property developers and super-wealthy socialites”. These same undesirables can also be seen playing tennis, rugby, golf, bridge, football and most every other recreational activity. Does this condemn all the aforementioned pursuits or is it only when they are hunting that these types are seen at their worst ?
It is true that the people Mr Fitzgerald lists have been known to hunt but, in my own experience, so too have teachers, nurses, civil servants, gardaí, shopkeepers, students and schoolchildren.
Mr Fitzgerald refers to “the foxhunts that operate in the countryside in the winter months”. He later tell us that huntspeople can be seen “ripping up whole fields of crops”. One of the reasons that hunting takes place in the winter months is precisely because there are so few crops at that time and damage is kept to a minimum. Hunts depend on the support of the farming community and they therefore know, or should know, not to leave gates open or damage crops. If they were to do so, they would be barred from that land and that would be the end of it.
Mr Fitzgerald must not be familiar with the concept of “headlands”, which is the loud cry that hunters make as they enter a field. This reminds them and those following, if it were necessary, to ride close to the hedges around the field and not to cut across it. Mr Fitzgerald omits the one group that probably comprises the largest cohort of hunt members in the country – the farmers themselves. As for the “mayhem” he says hunts cause, or the “scattering of livestock in all directions”, in many years I have not once seen an instance of either.
Ultimately the key to these rural issues is courtesy, respect and good manners. – Yours, etc,
Foxrock, Dublin 18.
Sir, – May I suggest that before Liam Doran continues to call for an increase in nurses at ward level (“INMO seeks recruitment”, Home News, May 9th), he should consider the time they spend office-bound.
The nurse has been driven from the bedside to the office because of the ever-increasing demands of paperwork, chasing a paper trail in search of evidence-based nursing, but alas to the detriment of nursing care. It is this that is demoralising to nurses – ticking boxes, form-filling, worrying about the next checklist instead of the patient. Mr Doran would be better calling for an urgent root-and-branch review of the role of the nurse in acute and residential settings. – Yours, etc,
MG STOREY, RGN, RPN
Sir, – The things one finds out as a commuter can be quite extraordinary. I sometimes wonder if those who use train carriages or buses as an extension of their office realise that most of their fellow passengers are capable of hearing.
Just this week, I became privy to what was surely sensitive information about a high-profile sporting organisation, due to a rather disgruntled member of staff who proceeded to discuss his day at length on his mobile. This is not an isolated occurrence.
Moreover, I cannot be alone in regarding it as inconsiderate to hold extended and progressively louder – as tends to happen – phone conversations to the detriment of the right of others to a peaceful journey. Perhaps next time, I shall contact you, Sir, with the scoop. – Yours, etc,
Donabate, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Thomas Ryan (May 8th) misunderstands my argument about the sale of State assets. My point is that in agreeing to undertake a review of such assets, it was clear that this did not bind that government or any future government to actually selling them.
What I didn’t anticipate at the time was that Labour in government would be willing to accept such privatisation plans. I still believe the sale of Bord Gáis Energy was unnecessary and that it should have been kept in public ownership. – Yours, etc,
16 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.
Sir, – Rory O’Callaghan expresses his disappointment (May 9th) that the Arbour Hill commemoration seemed to give more prominence to the Irishmen who died in the first World War than to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. But this is fully consistent with the message from our governing politicians in recent times, that the main objective of any 1916 commemoration should be to avoid giving offence to our British neighbours.
In that spirit, I propose that it is high time we did due honour to the British general who ordered the executions of the 1916 leaders. We should relabel Leinster House as “Maxwell House”. This might even attract some commercial sponsorship of our legislature. – Yours, etc,
AODH Ó DOMHNAILL,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – I was appalled at Fionnuala Fallon’s suggestions for slug control (Magazine, May 3rd): “slicing them with secateurs” or “impaling with a knitting needle” and “dunking in boiling water”.
Gardeners everywhere are managing to find alternative methods of dealing with slugs.Hardening off tender young plants and delaying planting, until they are tougher and more resilient, is one possibility; mulching with seaweed is another. Some gardeners have found success in providing a sacrificial patch to satisfy the slugs’ appetite.
Slugs and snails, along with earthworms, contribute to soil enhancement.
Gardeners should work with nature – not against it. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Slugs cannot abide broken eggshells or used coffee grounds. So please forgo the commando-style tactics against slugs and just take the route of recycling breakfast rubbish. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – According to Bishop Eamonn Walsh, “Audi alteram partem [listen to the other side] is a basic rule in resolving any issue” (“Bishop in plea for tolerance at Arbour Hill memorial to Rising”, Home News, May 8th). He added: “from experience we know that the longer a voice is suppressed, the stronger the force and resentment that will accompany it when it eventually explodes and has to be heard”.
I am looking forward to the long-suppressed voices of women to be raised up in the Vatican and the heavy stone blocking the door to women’s ordination to be rolled away. – Is mise,
Sir, – Am I alone in despairing of the ever-increasing number of magpies in the greater Dublin area and the consequent reduction in number of smaller garden birds, namely sparrows, finches and dunnocks?
The breeding season is upon us and so too is the yearly spectacle of these carnivorous magpies feasting themselves and their young with the defenceless nestling chicks of smaller garden birds. Let’s bring back the bounty on magpies. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Having read about and listened to some of the commentaries on last night’s Eurovision Song Contest, I can surmise that most people believe that the contest is rigged. I can only presume that it is only fixed in the years that Ireland doesn’t win. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It wasn’t all over for us . . . until the bearded lady sang. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In the Press Association-sourced “Twitter troll jailed over comments on Ann Maguire death” (Home News, May 8th), Robert Riley is referred to as an “ex-junkie”.
Regardless of the reprehensible actions of Mr Riley, such cheap name-calling is beyond the scope of an objective news report.
There is enough of this rubbish invading modern media without The Irish Times getting involved. – Yours, etc,
Árd Lorcáin Grove,
Published 10 May 2014 02:30 AM
* The local and European elections are now just a fortnight away and there will be wall-to-wall coverage on the candidates and likely winners and losers. What won’t be covered is the electoral system itself, because apparently the body politic assumes that voters know how to vote despite nobody telling them.
Also in this section
Ireland is almost unique in having PR-STV (proportional representation, single transferable vote), but when was the last time you saw an information advert or received a booklet in the letterbox explaining it? We have public relations campaigns on road safety, smoking, mental health, and so on, but no PR about PR (excuse the pun).
How many readers know the answers to the following questions? What does 1, 2, 3 mean? Is there tactical voting and how can it be done? Why are candidates disappointed when voters say they will “give them a vote”? Why are candidates terrified of journalists saying that their seat is safe? Is it alright to give a protest candidate your number one, and your preferred candidate a number two? Why are there multiple counts? Are transfers important, and are transfers from eliminated candidates better than from elected candidates? Do foreign voters know that, unlike in their home country, you don’t place an X beside the party or candidate of your choice, but write 1, 2, 3 and so on in order of your choice?
Since we don’t have an electoral commission to educate the public, perhaps the media could explain how PR-STV works?
SWORDS, CO DUBLIN
BUT INDEED WHERE IS ‘GOD’
* Colm O Torna accuses me of having a “blind spot” regarding the existence of a merciful God. I keep an open mind and consider any evidence or arguments presented to me. All I ask is that the faithful do the same.
It is the faithful, who seem to have very clear ideas about God, that have the blind spot. Surely, in any debate about the existence of something, the onus of proof rests on those alleging the existence of the thing – in this case a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God (it is, after all, difficult if not impossible to prove a negative, eg that something doesn’t exist). The evidence points against the existence of a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God, but faith covers the blind spot when it comes to the evidence.
Colm blames “nature” for “horrific injuries” suffered by people. The God of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) can and does control nature. Moving on from that minor detail, I quote Epicurus:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
“Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
“Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
“Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
It may provide solace and strength to believers to think that they are part of ‘our Creator’s family’, but the rest of us, on behalf of the thousands of children who die in the world every day (among others), question what kind of family this could be. A very dysfunctional one, I would submit. And paradise awaits, but for whom, and on what grounds? One institution’s rules? What about hell (which is still mentioned on the Vatican’s website), and for whom and on what grounds?
These concepts have terrified generations unnecessarily. Luckily, there is not a shred of evidence that hell exists. Why the silence on these matters from the church these days? You’d swear people were copping on.
Colm mentions Nazism and contends that it was anti-religious. The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler was an oath sworn “by God”. Wehrmacht soldiers carried the slogan ‘Gott mit uns’ (‘God with us’) on their belt buckles. In Chapter 2 of ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler says “By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work” – and his truly awful book is littered with references to God, the Almighty, the Lord and heaven.
Colm mentions Auschwitz. There is no evidence that hell exists, but Auschwitz certainly did exist. I have been there twice. When I was there, I could not help thinking, “Where was God?”
The gods many of your letter-writers speak of vary from the theistic to the deistic to the pantheistic. Whatever about deism or pantheism, I have not heard a single persuasive argument to support the premise of the existence of a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God. The God of the Bible is certainly not all-benevolent – the injunction to Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, or the injunction to Saul to massacre the Amalekites (“Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants”) being just two examples.
If there is an all-powerful and all-benevolent God outside of the Bible, he is at the very least guilty of gross negligence.
RATHFARNHAM, DUBLIN 16
BRING OUT THE BIG GUNS
* It is a measure of the generosity of the American people that they are always prepared to lend their power to right a wrong and aid the helpless. Those who kidnapped schoolchildren in Northern Nigeria, and who now taunt the world with their obscene plans, are deserving of immediate retaliation. The children must be rescued and justice must be done.
I’m not sure that the 6th Cavalry with all its power and publicity is the best choice for this operation. They will be venturing into unknown and difficult terrain against indigenous guerrillas who have the best bargaining tool in the world: helpless children.
I think there might be a better way. Can anybody spell Mossad?
PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN
CASTAHEANY, CO DUBLIN
WE WON’T BE CHANGING OUR TUNE
* Seeing the result of the Eurovision semi-final on Thursday reminded me of how, last May, I felt compelled to write the following to your Letters page, which you were kind enough to print: “‘The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Albert Einstein. Has anybody in RTE considered applying this wisdom to its continuing involvement in Eurovision?”
It would appear that my rhetorical question received a negative response.
NAVAN, CO MEATH
WURST CASE SCENARIO
* It wasn’t all over for us . . . until the bearded lady sang.
BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9
EXORCISM: A GROWTH INDUSTRY
* It is hard to believe that the Vatican has decided to wheel out “the devil” as their saviour once again.
It would appear that demonic possession manifests itself (among other things) by “babbling in foreign languages” – is this a reference to Russian oligarchs, or, bless my soul, President Vlad himself? Or maybe those who utter business-speak, or equally meaningless jargon in politics or any other profession you care to mention?
I cannot help but think that all those jobs becoming available for “exorcists” must be sorely tempting for all those devil advocates who have been previously defrocked and are now wandering around looking for new employment opportunities.
The truth is out there, but it won’t be found in the halls of the Curia.
SAN PAWL IL-BAHAR, MALTA