18May2014 Sweeping

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate the have to clear their entertainment expenses Priceless

Sweep the drive

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just for once not 400 though misses it by by a few pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Dick Douglas – obituary

Dick Douglas was a Labour MP who refused to pay the poll tax and went on to defect to the SNP

Dick Douglas with his wife, Jean, and grandson, Gilles, during his anti-poll tax campaign

Dick Douglas with his wife, Jean, and grandson, Gilles, during his anti-poll tax campaign Photo: PA

6:03PM BST 14 May 2014

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Dick Douglas, who has died aged 82, was a moderate Scottish Labour MP and pillar of the Co-Op who switched to the SNP after being radicalised by Margaret Thatcher’s imposition of the poll tax.

Until 1987, Douglas was on the Right of his party. He had voted to go into Europe, backed Roy Hattersley for the leadership, and told Labour supporters of nuclear disarmament that they should justify their policy to his constituents working in Royal Navy shipyards.

Then came the community charge. Douglas and his wife resolved not to pay it, and in February 1988 he resigned as chairman of the Scottish Labour MPs. Weeks later, at the party’s Scottish conference, he delivered a withering attack on the tax and Neil Kinnock’s handling of the issue, which Alex Salmond rated “one of the great political speeches of the time”.

He urged colleagues to set an example by refusing to pay; just 11 joined him, courting legal action. A marathon runner, Douglas jogged 400 miles from Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace to hand in a petition for the Queen.

In November 1988 a by-election in Douglas’s native Govan was won for the SNP by his former Labour colleague Jim Sillars, who went full out against the tax, ridiculing Scotland’s Labour MPs as “the feeble 50”. Previously a trenchant opponent of “separatism”, in 1990 Douglas left the Labour benches at Westminster to join Sillars and his three SNP colleagues.

At the 1992 election he left his seat at Dunfermline to challenge Labour’s future First Minister Donald Dewar at Glasgow Garscadden, but was well beaten. In the 1994 European Parliament elections he fought Mid Scotland and Fife.

Richard Giles Douglas was born at Govan on January 4 1932, the son of William Douglas, a shipyard plater, and the former Rose McGreavie. From Govan High School he went into the shipyards, at 18 leading an apprentices’ strike, then went to sea as an engineering officer, returning in 1957 to become a Co-Operative adult education tutor.

He completed his own education at the Co-Operative College, Strathclyde University and LSE, where he took a BSc in Economics in 1964, and in 1986 an MSc in International Relations. Until his election he lectured in Economics at Dundee College of Technology. He had joined the Labour Party at 16, and from 1958 was director of South Glasgow Co-Operative Party. He fought South Angus in 1964, Edinburgh West in 1966, then in 1967 was selected for a by-election at Glasgow Pollok when its Labour MP died. With Harold Wilson’s government unpopular, the historian Esmond Wright regained the seat for the Conservatives.

He was finally elected for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire in 1970. Douglas upset his local party by voting for Edward Heath’s application to join the Common Market, and introduced the first of several Bills to stop the distortion of opinion poll findings.

The February 1974 election was fought in Scotland on the twin issues of devolution – which Labour then opposed – and the SNP’s slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil!” Douglas lost the previously safe seat to the SNP’s George Reid. He fought off a move to replace him as Labour candidate, but in that October’s further election Reid doubled his majority.

Douglas built a successful North Sea practice advising Scotland’s growing oil and rig-building industries and the Labour government. But he was keen to return to Parliament, and at the 1979 election replaced the retiring Labour MP for Dunfermline.

Boundaries were redrawn for the 1983 election, and he secured the new Dunfermline West constituency, which he represented until 1992. He went on to chair the Scottish Water and Sewage Consumers’ Council.

Douglas retired to Fife, but later moved to the Cotswolds. There he completed a biography of the SNP’s first MP, Dr Robert McIntyre, before contracting dementia.

Dick Douglas married Jean Arnott in 1954. She survives him with their two daughters.

Dick Douglas, born January 4 1932, died May 13 2014


Alex Renton’s article on boarding schools (Observer Magazine) and the debate that has succeeded it are a transparent example of how times have changed. Today, the safety and welfare of children at school are of paramount importance. Schools have zero tolerance towards staff who fail to live up to these values. It is heartbreaking to learn that similar standards may not have applied in the past. The independent sector is no different from any other part of the school system in continuing to champion the highest standards of child welfare. In our case, the most recent examples of this are our updated guidelines on child protection, a comprehensive guide supplemented by extensive child protection and safeguarding training for all school staff.

The merits or otherwise of boarding education should not be conflated with those issues. Boarding is another example of choice in education, a choice made with consideration, care and – for some families – necessity.

John Edward

Scottish Council of Independent Schools

The EU does so much good

How wonderfully ironic that in the depressed ex-mining town of Forbach, the Front National wants to seal the French border (“A postwar dream of a united Europe is fading…“, In Focus). For the best hope for the town’s unemployed young people is to find jobs in the buoyant economy of Saarbrücken, the next-door German city, through extensions of that city’s brilliant new tram-train network. Here at UCL we’ve just got a grant from the much despised EU to help them do it – and also to boost the Lancashire coast through better train and tram links. But for Europe’s anti-Europe factions, it’s always easier to tilt at windmills.

Peter Hall

Bartlett professor of planning and regeneration

UCL, London WC1

Glasgow v Edinburgh? Boring

After a brief flirtation with Scottish nationalism and the yes vote, Kevin McKenna (“Why Glasgow is the Scottish independence game-breaker“, Scottish edition) flees, still conflicted as it transpires, to the safety and comfort of the dear green place, Glasgow, and its alleged difference to the rest of Scotland.

I have spent most of my life in Edinburgh, though I gained my degree at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow, and have worked in London, Newcastle and Glasgow since; indeed, much of my work is still in Glasgow. I would have to say Glasgow is not so different as some of its citizens would seem to imagine. However, what Glasgow does display, at its worst, is acute anxiety about its identity. One side of this coin is over-weening self-confidence, even arrogance, as evidenced by McKenna’s piece; the other side is a profound self-loathing summed up in the proposed, now wisely abandoned, demolition of flats as part of the Commonwealth Games opening celebrations.

While working in Glasgow, I have lost count of the times I have been given some Weegie’s uninvited view, on his learning I’m from Edinburgh, that it’s the abode of the tight-arsed. McKenna does no better than your public bar sage, though the language is possibly more refined. Many with involvement in both cities have sought to bridge the east-west divide, whether the animus originates in Edinburgh or Glasgow. McKenna returns us to the antagonism of the 1970s.

Roger Emmerson


The food’s not so grim up here

Short of conducting a “landscape slam” or a “Michelin star-off”, it’s hard to check Guy Lodge’s unthinking aside that in the new Italian update on 2010’s The Trip, “both the scenery and the cuisine get a sizable upgrade from that endeavour’s north of England route” (DVDs and downloads, The New Review,). In an edition in which Ken Loach noted the continuing influence of the “charmed circle”, it’s good to know that delightfully subtle snobbery is flourishing among the capital’s journalists.

John Sanders



The BBC’s democratic legacy

Richard Osman’s article about what TV has done for him illustrates something that is often forgotten (“Television is utterly democratic“, Observer Magazine). Teaching in the inner city for 40 years, I saw the rise and fall of many educational initiatives. A few educationalists and politicians stand out, but I wonder how many had such a beneficial effect, particularly for the working class, as that of Lord Reith?

Of all the government money spent on education we should never forget to include the phenomenal contribution that the BBC makes as millions tune in to be entertained and informed. And in the digital age, Lord Reith’s vision is more relevant and precious than ever.

Chris Hall


That Dylan. Such a wag

Although Susannah Clapp (“Tangled up in Dylan“, The New Review) describes Llareggub as a “back to front town”, she omits to mention, possibly deliberately, that it is actually back to front for “bugger all” – another example of Thomas’s cryptic humour!

Dereck Wade

Lewes, East Sussex

In the extract from Think Like a Freak, the authors of Freakonomics describe how, having once been outmanoeuvred over the incentive structure of potty-training by a three-year-old, they feel it is better to address small problems rather than big ones (“Freakonomics was a global hit…“, The New Review). This does not apparently prevent them offering David Cameron advice on how to run the NHS: in short, make the ill pay. However, in the authors’ home country, the US, healthcare is already largely privately funded, yet on average costs 250% more than the NHS per person (OECD figures for 2011) and generates worse outcomes: for example, life expectancy at birth in the US was 78.2 years compared to the UK’s 80.4 (figures for 2009).

One can only hope Mr Cameron has taken from this that often it is better (and more economically efficient) to think like a statesman.

Kevin Albertson Reader in economics,

Manchester Metropolitan University

It is depressing to see claims that Freakonomics offers a radical new approach to economics. It does nothing of the sort. The original is a good read because of its knockabout play with statistics. However, the intellectual biases behind it are merely a twist on mainstream economic thinking, based still on theories of individuals as rational acting and self-interested.

This simplistic view should have died with the global financial crisis. Unfortunately it didn’t, but the Observer shouldn’t be complicit in its resuscitation. A genuinely alternative economic thinking is required that recognises the limitations of biases within and policy damage caused by mainstream economic thinking. Even economics students recognise this need and are now demanding a broadening of the content of what they’re being taught in British and other countries’ universities.

Chris Warhurst


Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred’s thoughtful essay (“After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics“, Viewpoint) offers many excellent reasons for reforming the undergraduate economics curriculum. However, I find their criticisms of the Core (Curriculum in Open-access Resources in Economics) project group puzzling. The Core project is not “assuming that economics is a settled science” – just take a look at its website. Since Core materials are open and free, the authors should have studied the materials more carefully.

Core courses aim to question how economics evolves over time, whether economics can be a science and whether it can complement other disciplines. The Core curriculum “acknowledges the flaws in core theory” by emphasising the insights of Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and Hyman Minsky.

It makes the role of financial markets, economic history, latest data and the complexity of economic systems prominent early on. Core turns the undergraduate economics curriculum into an empirically grounded study of the real-world economy.

Perhaps Drs Chang and Aldred shouldn’t rush to bash anything supported by HM Treasury and join the teaching revolution instead.

Dr Alexander Teytelboym Postdoctoral fellow

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Freakonomics gurus Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are nowhere near as clever as they think they are. Their analogy comparing NHS healthcare provision with transport is utterly absurd. The point about transport is that we always have a choice. As an alternative to the car, we can use a bus, the train, a taxi or even stay at home and communicate using Skype for free. But if I need a heart bypass, I would be unwise to buy an ice-cream or try to treat myself by using Google. When will these fundamentalist economists finally realise that the market is not the answer to everything?

Kevin Adair



Snapshot Christine Seal with her father View larger picture

Snapshot … Christine Seal with her father, Ray Scudder, in 1958.

Snapshot: My 1950s rockabilly dad

It’s 1958, I’m six years old and posing in our backyard with my rockabilly dad while my mother operates the Brownie camera that commits this image to our family history. Dad has just come home from work in this photo. This is his usual look: very stylish, a typically 50s hairdo with a pompadour at the front and a DA down the back. Perhaps uncommonly, for the 50s, he took care of his physique by weight training, boxing, cycling and swimming.

Dad is a working-class chap, becomes a big union supporter and shop steward in his local chapter. But he’s not a teddy boy and he doesn’t hang out with a gang attacking immigrants. He’s on shift work at United Dairies so he works nights some weeks and I don’t see him very often. He even works on Christmas Day, so I open my presents at about 4am so that he can see me before he leaves.

We live in a basement flat in north Paddington, London where, despite the damp, we are fortunate to have a decent landlady and a fair rent as we are sitting tenants. Nearby, the infamous landlord Peter Rachman, owns much of the housing and is notorious for his abuse of tenants, many of whom are newly arrived from the Caribbean. The whole area is troubled with undercurrents of racial unrest. There is hostility among the white working classes towards the new West Indian community culminating in race riots just down the road from us in Notting Hill.

I’m blissfully unaware of this racial tension as my friends in the street are a mix of Irish, Nigerian and West Indian as well as white British. We all rub along just fine – I eat their food in their houses and receive invitations to their birthday parties – and vice versa. Round the corner live a beatnik couple. They worry my parents as they are long-haired (therefore dirty) and always wear black. I have no idea what a beatnik is, but they look arty, intelligent and interesting.

There is a vast amount of music around me. Our West Indian neighbours throw open the windows on a Friday evening and the partying begins to the rhythm of the Blue Beat. I can see the dancers inside upstairs and others spill out on to the front steps. Upstairs in our house there is an Irish family in residence, a band of four brothers and their singing sister, Biddy – they treat us to traditional Irish songs into the early hours or until my dad asks them to wind it up if it’s a school night.

Where music is concerned, my rockabilly dad is no exception. He plays a mean harmonica and jew’s harp and plays on an improvised drum kit. We love the rock’n’roll and skiffle of the 50s so I grow up on a diet of Elvis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly followed by Cliff, Tommy Steele and others. It’s great fun having young parents who dance and sing. We like the harmonies of the Everly Brothers and the Dallas Boys. Sometimes, in our backyard, we have our own skiffle band and we sing and play Lonnie Donegan–style numbers, like Tom Dooley and Cumberland Gap. We play a washboard with a thimble and a double bass made from a tea chest, broom handle and a piece of string.

If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that the strongest influence from my 50s childhood led me to become a beatnik – or a hippy, as it turned out. Sorry, Dad …

Christine Seal


An investigation into Nigel Lawson’s so-called charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is long overdue (“Lawson’s charity ‘intimidated’ environmental expert”, 11 May)

It was launched in 2009, just before the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, and Lord Lawson used the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia to cast doubt on the science of global warming and the independence of key researchers.

Subsequently there were five official inquiries into “Climategate” including three in the UK, none of which found any evidence of scientific misconduct or manipulation of data, but these inquiries took years and allowed climate-change deniers to argue that the science of global warming was suspect.

Lawson also criticised Professor Phil Jones and his colleagues at CRU for failing to provide data following Freedom of Information requests, but has himself refused to declare who is funding GWPF, a stance that has been criticised by the editors of both the Lancet and the BMJ.

Finally it is richly ironic that a trustee of GWPF should accuse Bob Ward from the London School of Economics of “not being an academic”, whilst Lawson himself has no scientific credentials of any sort.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Tim Mickleburgh (Letters, 11 May) correctly claims that Inheritance Tax reduces the amount received by beneficiaries who have done nothing to earn it. The tax does however remain pernicious!

It must be pernicious not to discriminate between the ways in which wealth has been accumulated. It must be right to collect tax from the transfer of those assets which have not been taxed in the hands of the donor. Equally it must be wrong to tax again those assets on which the donor has already paid tax.

This could be achieved by abolishing the illogical seven-year rule; the source of much avoidance. The donor should then be assessed for tax on all asset transfers but have the right to claim double taxation relief on any assets which can be shown to have arisen from taxed income.

Clive Georgeson

Dronfield, Derbyshire

For those who condemn Inheritance Tax, the simple response is: “For those in receipt of money or property gifted to them by inheritance, 60 per cent of something is better than a 100 per cent of nothing!” Just be grateful.

David Culm

Littleover, Derby

Michael Calvin fears Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff’s “successors in the England team have been browbeaten into becoming corporate clones” (Sport, 11 May). Given Flintoff’s natural cricketing successor is Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, who was sent home from an England Lions tour for enjoying a drink rather too much and who is currently unable to play because of a broken wrist sustained by punching a locker, Freddie’s legacy appears to be in safe hands.

Martyn P Jackson

Cramlington, Northumberland

Paul Vallely is quick to trivialise the question of halal meat – an attempt to silence those of us who want the law on stunning enforced (Comment, 11 May). This law was brought in to save animals suffering. Meanwhile full labelling on all meat sold/served should be enforced. Consumers have a right to a choice and the Food Standards Agency should act.

Jenny Bushell

London SW19

Hamish McRae argues that thousands of job losses at Barclays are an inevitable result of changing times in banking (Comment, 11 May). One thing that does not seem to have changed is Barclays ethical position. Having been a part of a banking crisis that brought society to its knees, while it carried on handing out bonuses to its top people, it now proposes that the taxpayer should pay again, in the form of benefits, as it sacks many which it might more reasonably have redeployed.

Keith Flett


Generals in the First World War have often been portrayed - perhaps wrongly - as inept Generals in the First World War have often been portrayed – perhaps wrongly – as inept (Popperfoto)

Shooting down myth of bungling Great War generals

THANK YOU, Max Hastings, for debunking part of the myth engulfing First World War generals, particularly  the accusations about incompetence (“Oh, what a lovely myth”, News Review, last week). My family lost two members in the Great War, both brigadier-generals decorated in earlier conflicts.

One was killed by a sniper in no man’s land, the other mortally wounded visiting the front line. Alan Clark’s slur in titling a book The Donkeys (after the phrase “lions led by donkeys”) damages the memory of such brave men.
David Cranstoun, Corehouse, Lanarkshire

Frontline duty

My father was one of those underage volunteers who went to war believing they were defending their homes and families. A Lewis gunner, he saw action at Ypres, at Cambrai and in the “most gallant defence” — the words of General Douglas Haig — of Béthune by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, before being wounded and gassed in the advance through Flanders.

Never once did I hear him speak of his commanders other than with respect. He was not damaged emotionally and, like most others who served, he returned home and resumed his life. Ordinary people of that era had a very different outlook on life from ours. We should not judge their actions or reactions by today’s standards.
Ron Bullen, Chepstow, Monmouthshire

Poet’s corner

The war poets Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and many others volunteered with great enthusiasm to fight for their country. These men were cultured, sensitive people who were able to express the reality and horror of the conflict. Their poetry is part of what makes us civilised.
Yvette Roblin, Cardiff

Commanding officer

Horrendous though the casualties were, they were far less than the tens of millions who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. The poets who wrote of the futility of the war and the incompetent generals were not representative of those in the trenches. Some had done no fighting, and the majority were from public schools.

Revisionists who revile Haig should remember that when he died in 1928 more than 100,000 people filed past his coffin as it lay in state in Edinburgh.
Dr Barry Clayton, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire

Crime of Passchendaele

If Haig was such an able commander as Hastings argues, why did he choose to fight at Passchendaele in 1917? Hundreds of fit and thousands of injured British soldiers drowned in the mud for a few yards of ground of no strategic significance. There are pages of letters attached to the former prime minister David Lloyd George’s views on Haig in his book War Memoirs, in which soldiers of all ranks wrote that the generals should have been hanged over Passchendaele.
John Fisher Kew, London

Soldiers not above the law

THE notion that terrorist attacks within the UK have been deterred by the presence of British troops in Helmand since 2006 requires serious scrutiny and definite proof —  I doubt it (“Hammond: I’ll save troops from lawyers”, News, last week).

Furthermore, the suggestion that British forces should be provided with “combat immunity” under law is a cause for deep concern. This issue was under review in 1972 in anticipation of similar incidents during Operation Motorman, the clearance of so-called “no go” areas in Northern Ireland.

Fortunately, and rightly, legal opinion has remained that British soldiers were, are and always will be subject to the common law, regardless of provocation. The alternatives are far worse — we have only to examine Bloody Sunday as an example.

After 37 years of military service, from the age of 18 to 55, in the Parachute Regiment, where my own actions were on occasion subject to scrutiny, I cannot but applaud those who insist that this fundamental legal requirement is placed upon  all our servicemen and women.
David Benest (Colonel, retired), Pewsey, Wiltshire

No comment

Please do not use Tony Blair again to comment (“Combat this evil where it takes root — in our schools”, Focus, last week). His legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan will affect people, especially service families, for years to come.
Ralph Marshall, Bournemouth

Shale gas regulations not set to go up in smoke

NOWHERE in our recent report on shale gas and oil did we call for a “bonfire of the regulations”, as Charles Clover alleges (“Between ban and frack-for-all is a way to share the shale bounty”, Comment, last week). We specifically point out that the UK’s existing regulatory regime is rigorous and thorough and well regarded internationally — indeed we suggested improvements, including that well inspectors should be independent and not employed by the drilling company, as can be the case at present. What we did call for was more effective regulation through reduced complexity and better co-ordination of the various authorities involved.

Nor do we say that a cabinet committee should be established to push through fracking ahead of carbon-free forms of energy. What we do call for is a cabinet committee to improve co-ordination between the various government departments involved, so that we can get on with developing the potentially huge benefits much faster.
Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Chairman, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee

Follow rules of engagement on paying for dinner dates

IN AN unusual, though refreshing, burst of feminist “we want the best bits” honesty, Katie Roiphe points out that women still expect men to pay on a date, although males are increasingly reluctant to do so (“Why he should pay”, Style, last week). The simple rules are: man invites woman, man pays; woman invites man, woman insists on paying, as men are victims of the seemingly coy but cunningly money-saving reverse invitation gambit; and for internet or agency dates the costs are shared equally.

If Roiphe has found herself on a date where the man is reluctant to pay, my suggestion would be to follow her own advice and “man up” and pay her share.
Dr Steven Field, Wokingham, Berkshire

Out of date

Roiphe does a disservice to women by suggesting it is acceptable or desirable for men to pay for dinner dates. Is she not aware of the patriarchal culture of entitlement — “I’ve bought her dinner, so I’ve bought the right to her body” — that is the real subtext?

It has nothing to do with dewy-eyed nonsense about men “protecting” grateful, dependent little women by buying their dinner. I find it depressing that after 40 years of feminism  anyone could still write this in a national newspaper.
Dr Barbara Reay, Inchture, Perthshire

English language and literature A-level is the genuine article

UNIVERSITY English represents higher-education English departments across the UK. The English language and literature A-level is not, as Eleanor Mills suggests, a new qualification (“Let English A-level stick to the Bard’s booky wook”, News Review, last week). We have no idea why the Department for Education (DfE) has pronounced that pupils taking such a qualification may be denied places at “good universities” as it is currently accepted by universities across the country, including almost all Russell Group institutions.

All exam bodies, including Oxford Cambridge and RSA, whose proposed new syllabus has generated so much media noise over the past fortnight, must adhere to subject content identified by the DfE, in which, for English language and literature syllabuses, the study of spoken language is a key requirement. It draws on ideas and methods from literary criticism and the study of language to analyse both literary and non-literary texts, spoken and written. There are obvious benefits in introducing teenagers to the rigorous analysis of the forms of discourse they encounter in their daily lives (such as Twitter feeds) as well as those with which they are less likely to be familiar (such as the proceedings of parliamentary select committees).
Professor Susan Bruce, Chairwoman, University English


Voice of America
It is a triumph for feminism that Michelle Obama took the place of her husband in his weekly radio address to America in order to publicise the case of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, but was it constitutional (“Find our girls and save their dreams”, Focus, last week)?
Nicholas Coates, London SW6

Actions, not words
Christina Lamb writes about the Nigerian teenagers being held by Boko Haram. The girls are tragic pawns in a morally desolate place. Yet western summits still go ahead in a country whose governance seems distorted and inept. Until the West addresses the rights of the Nigerian people, nothing will change.
Jim Cosgrove, Lismore, Co Waterford

Black mark
Your article “Teen Victoria’s diary reveals first view of ‘blasted’ Black Country”, News, last week) left me incandescent. The area takes its name from the deep Staffordshire coal seam and has nothing whatsoever to do with the thoughts or opinions of the 19th-century monarch. In addition, far from the Black Country wishing to live down the name, as stated in your newspaper, it is a badge of honour for its inhabitants. Incidentally, none of Birmingham and practically none of Wolverhampton falls within the Black Country, which largely consists of the area between these two cities.
Martin Bonnor, Wolverhampton

Grammar lesson
There is a growing acceptance of the grammatically incorrect “myself” instead of “I”. Even Sir Richard Branson (“Buzz Branson stuck on launch pad again”, News, last week) says: “And then, summer or late summer, myself and my family will go into space.” What happened to “my family and I”?
Michael Jenkins, Leatherhead, Surrey

On song
Camilla Long (“Hairy moments in Eurovision apocalypse”, News, last week) had me laughing uproariously in spite of the doom and gloom elsewhere in the news.
Brian Stephens, Penarth, South Glamorgan

More than a woman
David Cameron says he  wants “a woman” to be the next director-general of the BBC, as if they were some homogeneous subspecies (“PM wants woman to head BBC”, News, last week). If he does appoint a woman, all the newspapers will refer to her for ever as “the first female director-general”, as if her sex were the only thing to say about her. You might as well label Winston Churchill “the bald prime minister”.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Northwood, London

Lapse in concentration
Your article “Cocaine on tap in drinking water” (News, last week) reminded me of a similar drug story in the 1960s that highlighted the fact the pill was contaminating London water, and that it might feminise men, who could go on to develop breasts. It turned out that to ingest the equivalent of one pill, a Londoner would have to  drink a gallon of water  every day for 40 years.
Tim Kenny, Cavendish, Suffolk

Private failures
The headline “NHS misses tumour the size of a football” (News, last week) cannot be justified. Private contractors were responsible for taking the scan and then reading it wrongly. The patient himself objected to radiology being contracted out in this way and praised his NHS treatment. The mystifying aspect of this story — apart from the tumour being missed — is that two private companies were indemnified from legal action, so the NHS picked up the bill for compensation.
Jennifer Rees, Cardiff

Corrections and clarifications

A report about the property market (“Welcome to the jungle”, Home, March 9) stated that Douglas Allen estate agency advocates selling by “informal tender”, charges the purchaser a percentage fee based on the property’s value and “picks up the usual fee” from the seller. In fact, the agency charges the seller only a small administration fee of £150 plus VAT. We also accept that sale by tender is a legitimate marketing method. We are happy to clarify the position and apologise for the error and any embarrassment caused.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Chow Yun-fat, actor, 59; Tina Fey, actress and screenwriter, 44; Brad Friedel, footballer, 43; John Higgins, snooker player, 39; Miriam Margolyes, actress, 73; Jacques Santer, former president of European Commission, 77; Nobby Stiles, footballer, 72; Rick Wakeman, keyboard player, 65; Toyah Willcox, singer, 56


1804 Napoleon declared emperor of France; 1944 Monte Cassino falls to the allies; 1965 Israeli spy Eli Cohen hanged in Damascus;  1980 Mount St Helens erupts in Washington state, killing 57 people; 1991 Helen Sharman becomes Britain’s first astronaut, on an eight-day mission aboard a Soyuz spacecraft


SIR – As an accountancy student, I was taught that tax evasion was illegal. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, provided it did not infringe the provisions of the law, was considered to be a worthy pursuit.

The textbooks quoted the comments of no less a personage than Lord Clyde, the Scottish Lord Justice General (Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services v Inland Revenue, 1929): “No man in the country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel in his stores. The Inland Revenue is not slow, and quite rightly, to take every advantage which is open to it under the taxing statutes for the purpose of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket. And the taxpayer is in like manner entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue.”

These wise words were by way of an obiter dictum (a passing comment) and not a statement of the law, but in my view they are as relevant today as they were in 1929.

David Lockwood
Worksop, Nottinghamshire

SIR – A rate of 60 per cent tax (Letters, May 16) is just the starting point. Spend the other 40 per cent and the Treasury takes VAT and petrol duties – and if you smoke and drink…

Rowland Aarons
London N3

FCO advice on Kenya

SIR – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now destroying an African country through ill-advised security information (“Tourists flown out of Kenya in terror alert”, report, May 16).

This may cause British residents in Mombasa long-term harm. We will probably become targets when, because of the travel advisory, British tour companies pull out, causing huge local unemployment and destabilising a fragile economy.

If anything happened here in Mombasa, it would be by pure chance, nothing more.

I hope that the FCO will retract this travel advice very quickly, and make some plans to help Kenya win the battle against such security threats.

P M Barnard
Head teacher, Braeburn Mombasa International School
Mombasa, Kenya

On the trail of the snail

SIR – The kindest and most effective way of getting rid of slugs and snails from your garden is to lure them with cat food.

Place out in the garden a brown paper bag with a spoonful of cat food on it, and in no time they will have congregated in droves. Then you can make a furtive foray to the nearest waste ground or hedgerow and deposit the lot without it being too unsightly until it biodegrades.

Regular application of this method will have wonderful results for all concerned: plants, snails, birds, neighbours and the environment will all be indebted to you.

A M S Hutton-Wilson
Evercreech, Somerset

Checkout fashion

SIR – I have received a catalogue that recommends wearing a particular item of their clothing, a linen tunic, to shop at Waitrose.

Our nearest Waitrose is 120 miles away. Please can any reader give sartorial advice for shopping at local supermarkets?

Sally Jaspars

Fat friend

SIR – Those of us who have to test our blood glucose levels regularly to maintain control soon realise that dietary sugar is not the only problem (“Warning: no more than one glass of juice a day”, report, May 15).

Starches are nearly as efficient at raising blood glucose – being readily split apart by digestive enzymes and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Thus flour products (bread, pastry, cakes, pasta), rice and potatoes also have to be treated with caution.

If we all ate less of these rapidly digested carbohydrates we would place less stress on our pancreases, which have to produce ever-increasing amounts of insulin to counteract the glucose intake caused by the modern Western diet.

Current dietary dogma does not recommend this, as we would have to consume a larger proportion of fats to maintain sufficient energy intake, thus increasing our blood cholesterol levels and exposing us to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

There is, however an increasing body of evidence that shows that increasing the levels of dietary fat (including the dreaded saturated fat) does not raise blood cholesterol levels.

Some of us also test our blood cholesterol, and mine has actually reduced over the two and a half years during which I have been on a low carbohydrate diet. This must be the healthy diet of the future.

David Watson

Fear and West Lothian

SIR – David Cameron’s presence in Scotland, arguing for a “No” vote, is to be welcomed.

However, he is holding out to the Scots the promise of more devolved powers if they turn down independence. But he does not, apparently, consider the effect upon the English, the Welsh and Northern Irish.

How will the West Lothian question be addressed?

Alan Quinton
Eastbourne, East Sussex

No squares in the Dales

SIR – Up in the Yorkshire Dales we are fighting hard to keep the odious fashion of square plates (Letters, May 16) from our borders.

We have allies fighting to ban the use of “on a bed” from all menus.

Richard Ackernley
Skipton, North Yorkshire

Sharp’s the word for Miss

SIR – I can hear my French-born French mistress screaming at us: “Do not call me Miss!” We had to call teachers by their names, such as Mrs Hodgson or Miss Sharp. The latter was called Miss F Sharp, as the head had the same name. Of course, we had pet names for most staff, including Effy.

I think the Americans have it right, with their respectful Ma’am.

Marina Warden
Watford, Hertfordshire

SIR – At Arnold House, in the Fifties as now a fashionable prep school in St John’s Wood, pupils were required to address all members of staff, irrespective of sex, as Sir.

When the late Duchess of Kent was due to visit the hospital across the road, the school was asked to provide a guard of honour, resplendent in scarlet blazers trimmed with green braid.

At assembly the headmaster, George Smart, briefed us. “It is,” he said, “most unlikely that Her Royal Highness will stop to speak to any of you. But if she should do so, on no account are you to call her Sir.”

Anthony Rentoul
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – How should you address a female surgeon? A male surgeon is Mr, deriving from Master, meaning “proficient”, but that does not sound right for a woman. The skilled lady who did my cataracts did not know either (or care much, I think).

Andrew Shelley
Rudgwick, West Sussex

SIR – In North Carolina the best they could offer us in a well-known fast food establishment by way of a cup of tea (Letters, May 15) was to put a mug of sweet iced tea in the microwave. We had coffee.

Bob Nicholls
Dalston, Cumberland

SIR – I agree that good tea is hard to find in America. This is also true in Britain: a cup of tea all too often turns out to be made with a bag of indifferent blend.

Boiling water does not solve the problem. Ideal water temperatures vary with tea type and range from 75C to 95C.

The real culprit is the bag or “pyramid”. Using loose tea allows the leaves to expand and infuse correctly, producing the perfect colour, aroma and taste. Oh, and it works out cheaper, too.

Fay Poate
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – When I worked on a building site, I was instructed to add the tea and sugar to the water, all to be boiled in an urn that served as our kettle-cum-teapot. The result could properly be described as “builders’ tea”. I do not recall that the brew was unwelcome.

Richard Phillips QC
London EC4

SIR – Reading Sarah Rainey’s piece about Dr Richard Hughes (“I saw them through the best and worst times”) made me realise that my husband, also a Richard – Dr Dick to all and sundry – shared an experience of general practice that was almost identical.

He was lucky enough to be in a forward-looking practice which pioneered, among other things, the use of practice nurses and managers at an early stage – led by Dr John Ball, who worked to improve the lot of both GP and patient on a national scale.

My husband also practised emergency medicine as a volunteer doctor for 32 years, alongside his paid job. He trained with the British Association for Immediate Care, and attended hundreds of accidents at the roadside, in industry, on farms and in the homes of patients.

We were almost always “on call”, and both missed it tremendously when he retired from emergency work at the age of 73.

We are registered as patients at his old practice, and on the odd occasion when either of us has to attend the surgery, there is always someone there who makes a big fuss of him – either patients or staff.

I was even stopped in the town centre recently and asked if he would consider coming back to work, as he is still so missed.

I hope that Dr Hughes is able to enjoy his retirement safe in the knowledge that he made a huge impact for good in his community.

Maggie Herbert
Hartlebury, Worcestershire

SIR – We GPs care deeply about our patients and we are as frustrated as they are about the constraints that undermine our ability to do the best for them.

The rising number of vulnerable patients and those with chronic conditions, the increase in workload and the worsening state of GP practices, are all having a detrimental effect on the services that practices are able to provide, leaving patients frustrated as more and more are left waiting for appointments.

Yet the solution to this is not the one offered by the Labour Party. Its plan to reintroduce an arbitrary target of a 48-hour waiting time for a GP appointment is misguided and unlikely to alleviate the pressures on general practice, and could in fact make the situation worse.

A rush for appointments when surgeries open could overwhelm GP services, and restrict the freedom of GPs to schedule appointments beyond 48 hours for patients with long-term conditions.

Instead of a short-term fix, we need urgent solutions to tackle the impending threat to services. The BMA is calling for long-term, sustainable investment in the things that will really make a difference: more GPs, more practice staff and fit-for-purpose GP buildings.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul
Chairman, BMA GP Committee
London WC1

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Published 18 May 2014 02:30 AM

Madam – Your Letter of the Week writer (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014), suggested that Sinn Fein “took pride in the peace process” and should therefore “now engage in a warring process and say sorry for the nightmare years”.

Also in this section

Hope: a thing of magic

Youth recognises political promises

Democracy valued

I suggest that Sinn Fein‘s current attitude to the peace process is simply because it best serves their future political ambitions. As for saying sorry, that’s not in their script – as it would be very much a vote-losing exercise, particularly in Northern Ireland. For the same reason their fine representatives at Westminster will continue to refuse to take the Parliamentary Oath. According to my dictionary, democracy is defined as “government by all the people, direct or representative”. Sinn Fein is therefore denying the most basic of democratic expectations to their constituents.

Over 100,000 people in the relevant constituencies were non-Sinn Fein voters at the last UK general election. There are three questions that need answering: Why is Sinn Fein so ready to praise “the democratic process” in other situations and declare, in recent times, that they have “moved on”? Why is this situation allowed to continue by the UK government, given the present successful application of democratic local government within Northern Ireland? Sinn Fein should be told that it will not be accepted at the time of the next UK general election in May 2015.

Finally, the question of flying the Union flag on public buildings in Northern Ireland has caused strong protests, physically and otherwise recently but, on the question of the loss of their basic democratic nights, the affected voters in Northern Ireland have remained silent over many years. To me this is particularly odd, given that they are still required to pay the same taxes as those who have full representation by their MPs at Westminster.

John Crossland,

Crawley, W Sussex, UK


Madam – Hope is magic.

So here’s the bit where I’m supposed to fly. Be optimistic. Successful. Only I’m falling not flying, and the sun’s warm and something in me tells me even if my wings appeared in this moment, strong and wide and beautiful as I could ever dare to imagine, that somehow the self-doubt, the bad news, and the scars of the past would make me some kind of ridiculous Icarus because people are watching and I might fail again.

And in the fleeting moments of confidence I’d be blinded to my own flaws and I’d burn and the world would witness.

And the usual chorus of ‘I told you so’ and ‘we always said she’s no good’ would be the last song I’d ever hear.

Rising time after time is hard. Knowing each night when I lay my head on my pillow that the odds are against me and have been for a while, and knowing the morning comes and I have as much power over that as I do over the banks and the government tomorrow, makes me wish for sleep that I never have to wake from again.

But . . . there is a thing called hope. And I believe hope is a kind of magic – even though we might get so beaten down we forget sometimes. And it is said hope is a dangerous thing. It is true there’s danger in hope.

The risk of another letter with that crushing red line and those killer words ‘Final Reminder.’ And the knock on the door or the look of pity in the eyes of someone who sees you and doesn’t understand because where they stand today, the waters you’re drowning in now haven’t reached them yet. But they probably will. And some of us will inevitably drown. Or suffer so much damage we never deserved, that when and if it’s all over, what they leave us with of who we once were will be different.

And it will have made us hard. Cold. Without hope.

I can’t pay all my bills. I can’t promise I won’t want to die sometimes. I can’t give what I want to give to those who have less than me. I can’t say I have any clue where or how the light is coming in. But I look for it anyway because of hope.

Someone gave me hope just by listening to what I needed to tell them. And like a tattoo that reminds me, I come back. The hope an angel has given to me comes back too. Day after day. Week after long and, at times, suffocating week .

And I absolutely, defiantly and forever refuse to believe in a world without the kind of magic that hope is.

Name and address with Editor


Madam – Your editorial (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014) raises questions about Mr Kenny following Mr Shatter. Similar to a broken clock being occasionally correct this will happen, if not sooner, then at the next election. It is fast becoming obvious that whistleblowers are among the few assets we have left.

Some would say that simply on the basis of his smugness and arrogance, Minister Hogan should also go. Why should he be allowed to coast to the next election before moving from one gravy train to another in Europe, leaving a path of destruction in his wake? The current class are not concerned about the level of water charges in two years’ time because they know they will not be involved.

Give me a politician like Leo Varadkar or some of our current Independents (and some notables from different parties in the past) who actually speak out and make decisions and I will support them. My problem in the next election is that there are very few of these, and Mr Varadkar’s problem is that he must stand away from the current crop, before he too becomes contaminated. He is obviously a future candidate for Taoiseach but I can’t see him waiting around as long as Enda did.

Furthermore, unlike Enda, he wouldn’t want it by default.

Michael Duffy,

Co Clare


Madam – So the canvassing is on again, handbills are being passed through the door like no one’s business, promises are being made left, right and centre; posters are being put up on high vantage points on the telephone poles; people are shaking hands with people they never met before, at least not since the last election.

New schools will be built, student grants restored, hospital wards re-opened, pensions will rise, tax will come down, jobs will be guaranteed, roads brought up to standard – the same balderdash we’ve heard come every election time and numerous lies will be told to young and old alike.

The youth of today will not, however, succumb to the put-on promises like their parents did. For years, families have been turned against each other over politics, and God help anyone mentioning FG in a FF house, and vice versa.

My late father left Ireland for the US in the the last century not talking to his sister, all over their preference of government. Opposing deputies can be found with arms around each other in the Dail bar, singing The West’s Awake, with their poor followers thinking they’re working their ass off up in the Dail.

One rotten potato will rot the whole pit of spuds, and by God we have seen some rotten potatoes down the years.

What a sad state of affairs that the invalided, deaf, blind and poor have to pay for the sins of others. The once famous island of saints and scholars is now the island of thieves and blackguards and the emigration train never was as busy.

So come on, young people, get out there and vote in who you think may get you off the emigration train, the dole queue, and the road to nowhere.

You are the future of this once proud little gem of an isle.

Murt Hunt,

Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo


Madam – Maurice O’Connell is overstating the case when he implies that it was the 1916 rising alone that was ‘undemocratic’ and that ‘left us with a toxic legacy’ (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014).

Some blame for the toxic legacy rests in London. There, between 1912 and 1914, the parliament, at the head of the most powerful and populous empire in the world, passed an Act giving the people living on the island of Ireland Home Rule.

But this most powerful parliament failed to implement its own Act when nearly half a million unionists signed a covenant ‘to use all means necessary’ to stop its implementation. That was at least as undemocratic as what happened in Dublin in 1916.

That caused a minority of Irish nationalists to turn to physical force. The euphoria over Home Rule had marginalised physical force. Even Patrick Pearse was on Home Rule platforms in 1912.

So the rebellion in 1916 was no more undemocratic than the failure of the most powerful parliament in the world to implement its own Act.

It took the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the vast majority on this island, to bring that toxic legacy to an end.

Our present problems tell us that democracy is not perfect and our governments can be as liable as the British to make mistakes.

But surely our free press and our democratic leadership are capable of ensuring that what Maurice O’Connell calls the ‘principles and values’ of this constitutional democracy are not ‘thrown on the rubbish heap of history’.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13


Madam –I refer to Mr Barrett’s, letter ‘Catholicism and the fight for freedom’, (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014).

I seem to recall myself that in 1845, Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid declared his intention to send £10,000 to Irish farmers, but Queen Victoria (the famine queen) requested that the Sultan send only £1,000, because she had sent only £2,000. The sultan is supposed to have sent the £1,000 along with three ships full of food. The British administration tried to block the ships, but the food arrived secretly at Drogheda harbour. A letter in the Ottoman archives of Turkey, written by Irish notables explicitly thanks the sultan for his help.

Mr Barrett would be wise to come to terms with the natural end to the defunct British empire, and undertake a new hobby.

Margaret Mitten,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14


Madam – Perhaps J Dawson (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014), should stop buying the Sunday Indo and instead confine him or herself to the tabloids.

Gene Kerrigan is, and has been for years, like a light shining into the dark crevices of Irish public life. He exposes the truth, however unpalatable it may be, to the party hacks of whatever persuasion.

For my part, I look forward with relish to his articles.

Keep up the good work, Gene!

Paul Mullan,

Navan, Co Meath


Madam – There is a lot of talk at the moment about the use of mobile phones while driving. I think the practice of smoking while driving is dangerous and should be banned. Just think the fag in one hand and the wheel in the other! The smoke from the fag blinding the driver, so it is very dangerous.

Seamus Denton,

Enniscorthy, Co Wexford


Madam – I found Pat Fitzpatrick’s article ‘A Decade of Difference’ (Life, Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014), to be extremely shallow and out of touch with reality. It’s an insult to put emigration on a list with subjects that have no real substance.

The tone of Mr Fitzpatrick’s description of emigration led me to ask what planet has he be living on and maybe his only experience of emigration is his dad paying for his gap year abroad. Emigration has a huge effect on families and communities and from my own experience it certainly is no joke even if you are prepared to make it into one, Mr Fitzpatrick. You have the same mentality as our Government; out of touch with what is going on with young people in this country.

Connor Burke,

Co Kildare


Madam – I have just read your headline article ‘Rabbitte: High taxes will bring down coalition government’. (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014). Pat Rabbitte needs to look to his own department. His handling of Ireland’s natural resources, together with the giveaway of the Whitegate power plant and Bord Gais Energy is nothing short of disastrous. He should add this to the reasons why the Government could fall.

Joe Brennan,

Co Cork


Madam – Marc Coleman writes: “It is a sad fact that too few of our politicians have a thorough grasp of history”. (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014). Sad indeed! Marc then proceeds to describe King Louis XIV as the grandfather of King Louis XVI. He was, in fact, his great, great, great grandfather. People in greenhouses, Marc …

David Kelly,

Stillorgan, Dublin 18


Madam – There must be something wrong with me. I love dandelions. I love their bright yellow colour. The fact they pop up every year unaided and unfarmed. In times gone by our ancestors used them for food, flavours and medicine. They are also one of the first summer flowers and are there to provide a large amount of food for the emerging bees – the real farmers which go around, unpaid and help to increase nature’s bounty. The bees are just emerging from the winter hibernation in response to the growing heat and light, the same factors that brought on the dandelions. Why would anybody want to kill these magnificent creatures?

These are not weeds. They are food and medicine for us and for the rest of nature, provided free for our benefit.

Ayla Mahon,



Madam – Cllr Dermot Lacey wrote (Sunday Independent, May 11, 2014), “Reluctant as I am to disagree with a constituent, Emer O’Kelly (Sunday Independent, May 4, 2014) has tempted me. Her comments about the role of councillors are ill-informed and unfair… Contrary to Ms O’Kelly’s implication, the adoption of a budget is a reserved function for councillors”.

But should councillors have any reserve function?

In 1876 a speed limit of 6mph was introduced in Ireland and in 2014 it is a reserve function of councillors to set speed limits. Councillors must consult with organisations including the Gardai before setting speed limits – but having consulted, consent is not required.

According to the Irish Independent (March 7, 2003) car-nage on Dublin city roads was cut by 74 per cent as a result of traffic-calming measures but there was an increase of 26 per cent in the number of deaths in Dublin county over the same period. Dublin now claims to have the safest roads of all EU capital cities.

Up to 4,000 drivers receive speeding penalty points weekly on roads with incorrect speed limits set by councillors using the reserve function.

Ms O’Kelly’s comments about councillors appear well-informed and fair.

Frank Cullinane,

Dublin 11


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