11June2014 Liz

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to pick up Liz and Anna

ScrabbleMary wins a very respectable score perhaps Iwill win tomorrow


Professor Marilyn Butler – obituary

Professor Marilyn Butler was a scholar of Romanticism who found the politics in Jane Austen and became the first woman to head a formerly male Oxbridge college

Marilyn Butler

Marilyn Butler

5:47PM BST 10 Jun 2014


Professor Marilyn Butler, who has died aged 77, was a groundbreaking scholar of Romanticism and wrote several influential critical works on Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth; she was also the first female head of a formerly male Oxbridge college.

As Regius professor of English at Cambridge, Marilyn Butler’s sophisticated analysis helped to define Romanticism within its colourful political and social context. Her warmth, impish sense of humour and passion for political as well as literary debate made her a hugely popular tutor and lecturer. In contrast to much clunky, jargon-laden contemporary criticism, her elegant, entertaining prose style was a model of clarity and betrayed her early influences – journalism and broadcasting.

She was born on February 11 1937 to Margaret (née Gribbin) and Trevor Evans, a former South Wales miner who had worked his way up through penny-a-line local newspapers to become industrial correspondent of the Daily Express. He was knighted in 1967.

News stories and deadlines dominated the household, to which six newspapers were delivered each morning. The family lived at Kingston-on-Thames because the only train which left Fleet Street after 4am, the time of the Express’s last edition, went to Kingston.

Brought up amid constant political debate and discussion, Marilyn was fascinated by current affairs from early childhood, and, aged 11, thrashed the rest of Wimbledon High School in the school’s general knowledge quiz, remaining unbeaten throughout her time there.

Planning to read History at university, her mind was changed when she watched a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Stunned at its power, she made a last-minute switch to English, which she described as “the artistic representation of history”.

After winning an Exhibition to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, she threw herself into the university’s intellectual and political life. She wrote film reviews and news stories for student magazines and became involved in Oxford’s New Left, a group of students which, according to one of its leaders, Stuart Hall, moved beyond the “pretty backward, belle lettriste atmosphere” of the official Oxford literature course and discussed questions of power, culture and why literature mattered in wider society. He described Marilyn as “not a student radical but very, very intelligent”.

After graduating in 1968 with the top First in her year, she briefly moved into journalism as a BBC news trainee, but two years later married the social scientist David Butler, an academic at Nuffield College, Oxford – a renowned psephologist nicknamed “Mr Swingometer”. Marilyn Butler began a DPhil as a junior research fellow at St Hilda’s, studying the work of the neglected novelist Maria Edgeworth, an Anglo-Irish intellectual whose questioning, sceptical intelligence matched her own.

This fruitful period produced a well-received literary biography, Maria Edgeworth (1972), and three sons. Thanks to Butler’s formidable capacity for multitasking and her husband’s devoted support, she was able to balance both family and academic commitments. The couple enjoyed a loving, teasing relationship of mutual respect that endured throughout their lives.

In 1973 she became a tutor and Fellow at St Hugh’s College, where, she later revealed, she spent the happiest years of her career. In her most celebrated book Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975), she argued that Austen’s novels are not apolitical studies of young women’s inner lives, but highly political, subtly reflecting in their dialogue and repeated themes the ideological battles of the early 19th century. This, which proved as accessible and lively to general readers as to academics, established her reputation.

Peacock Displayed (1979) was a literary life of the relatively obscure author Thomas Love Peacock. In it, Marilyn Butler, steeped in the historical background of the period, strongly identified with her subject’s humour, intellectual curiosity, satirical gifts and scepticism and vividly fleshed out both his personality and his ideas. Her fourth book, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981), portrayed the political and social preoccupations of the younger Romantic poets – Byron, Shelley and Keats – as more central to their work than the transcendent world of the imagination traditionally associated with them.

To her students, Marilyn Butler’s mischievous wit, friendliness and charm proved as irresistible as her relish for intellectual debate. Her tutorials, conducted in a room decorated with exquisite pencil studies of her three sons, were a comforting reminder that formidable scholarship could coexist with happy family life. She and the family were devastated when in 2008 one son Gareth, a radio producer and former editor of Radio 4’s The World this Weekend, died of a heart attack aged just 42. The BBC has set up a journalism traineeship in his memory.

In the famously bitchy world of academe, Butler had a rare capacity for friendship and made few enemies. She was never happier than when enjoying heated debate at social gatherings or introducing her students, particularly the shy, to academic opinion-formers and literary greats. Giggling, she would recount how at one of her cocktail parties, a newly-arrived provincial undergraduate found herself in proximity to a round-faced, untidy-looking woman at the centre of a chattering literary throng. Scrabbling for small-talk, the student blurted out: “Do you write?” at which point a friend hissed: “Shut up you fool, it’s Iris Murdoch!”

In 1986 Marilyn Butler was appointed to the Edward VII chair of English at Cambridge, where she edited the works of Edgeworth and, with Janet Todd, those of the outstanding female intellectual of British Romanticism, Mary Wollstonecraft. When Marilyn Butler became Rector of Exeter College in 1993 her gregariousness and love of debate proved a winning combination. A string of honours and awards followed, including a Fellowship of the British Academy in 2002.

She retired in 2004 and her last few years were blighted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Lady Butler is survived by her husband, who was knighted in 2011, and their two sons.

Professor Marilyn Butler, born February 11 1937, died March 11 2014


D-day was a decisive moment but the 70th anniversary celebrations (Report, 7 June) are in stark contrast to earlier observances that I recall from postwar summers spent with my French grandmother. So many more civilians died than allied troops as a result of indiscriminate bombing that locals claimed the safest place on the Normandy coast that day was the beach. The traditional image of grateful French women showering soldiers with flowers needs to be tempered by the reality of a summer of chaotic violence, brutality, looting and rape. Nobody wanted to hear this after the war – especially De Gaulle – but before D-day fades into history we might reflect that, for many, Libération was “a bitter road to freedom”.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

• Why not just campaign against violence in war (Angelina Jolie lauded over war zone anti-rape campaign, 10 June)?
Roger Greatorex

Thames magistrate court. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

I seldom think that media accounts or dramatised portrayals of what goes on in magistrates courts are very accurate but Amelia Gentleman’s article (Crimes and misdemeanours, 7 June) nails it. What she saw in Thames magistrates court is what happens in courts up and down the country. The sad and hopeless cases she saw are dealt with these days in almost heroic manner by defence solicitors, probation officers, court officers, the police and magistrates, against a background of ever-more savage cuts by a succession of governments who seldom see the damage being caused to what are often the most vulnerable members of our society. The latest cuts to legal aid are nearly the last straw.

In Lincolnshire we are witnessing the end of local justice through the closure of many of the courts in our geographically large county. We have seen the appointment of district judges, allegedly with the aims of speeding up proceedings, bringing more consistency to sentencing and saving money, none of which seem to be much in evidence in my experience. Instead, we have seen two much-cherished rights disappearing: the right to local justice and the right to be judged by three of one’s peers, who give their time and experience free of charge. Why don’t I resign as a magistrate, I hear you say? Maybe, like many of my colleagues, I feel we are now the only half chance of meaningful intervention some of our offenders have left – since cuts to welfare and services mean that shoplifting seems increasingly carried out not just to feed drug habits but also, it often turns out, families.
Name and address supplied

• In comparing the coalition’s output of criminal justice legislation with that of Labour, you describe the coalition as having been “relative (sic) quiet in this area” (Report, 5 June). Outsourcing ever more prisons with ever more punitive regimes to be run for profit by the likes of Serco and G4s; cutting legal aid to the most vulnerable; secret court hearings for terrorism; and the part-privatisation as of this week of the globally-revered 107-year old probation service with no guarantee of the level of training or quality of non-probation staff assessing and managing risky offenders. The legislation may have been lean but the consequences have been prolific for justice, human rights and public safety in this country.
Professor Gwyneth Boswell

Tristram Hunt‘s pathetic response (‘It’s chaos, with free schools just landing in the middle of nowhere’, 10 June) to Michael Gove‘s rampage against our state-funded school system (is this for him an example of the “history of British statecraft … to work with what you inherit and try to mould it in constructive and progressive ways”?) comes as no surprise to those members of the Socialist Education Association national executive who met him last year in the House of Commons to discuss Labour party education “policy”.

He certainly astounded us, when asked whether all state-funded schools should be returned to some form of oversight by a locally elected democratic body, by replying that we should not “fetishise” (his word) democracy. It would appear he has inherited the patrician views of his great-uncle that “the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves”.

Equally shocking to us was his curt dismissal of one of the previous Labour government’s most progressive social policies: Every Child Matters, whereby the needs of all children, and especially those from the most vulnerable families, would be met by a coordinated multi-agency response involving schools, health and social care agencies. Clearly for Hunt, as with addressing state subsidies to private schools, “it’s not where my energies will be”.

At a time when the wheels are dramatically coming off the Gove juggernaut (could the scandals over the governance of academies and so-called “free” schools, and the problems in some Birmingham schools, occur if local education authorities, democratically accountable to their wider communities and with properly resourced advisory and support services, including to governing bodies, still had a responsibility for overseeing all state-funded schools?), sadly, it is only the Green party which has a commitment to move in this direction, and for that matter move towards ending the need for private education, rather than the Labour party.
Don Berry
Ex-member SEA national executive, Manchester

• John Harris (Comment, 10 June) is correct when he asserts that the issue at the heart of the Birmingham schools debate is about the system and not the extremist tag that the machinery of government is trying to spin it towards – to divert attention from its policy failings. It is the system that the Labour party started by sowing the dragon’s teeth of academies and centralising power away from local democratic accountability and onto the centralist dark star of the DfE, Ofsted and individual “sponsors”.

Of course, the coalition government has seized the chance to take this to its conclusion: parents know best what their children need and should be free to set up schools when no additional places are required in the area, while those parents living in oversubscribed regions cannot get access to a local school. Academies and free schools able to determine the appropriate curriculum and culture, free from the yoke of local democratic control via local authorities. The result is what we see today, allied to the politicisation of Ofsted under Michael Wilshaw, a system that neglects the need of young people to receive a broad, balanced, engaging education diet, free from the idiosyncratic whims of whichever secretary of state is in power and whom appoints an appropriate head of Ofsted to see it is translated into school-based pressure and action. The centralist experiment has failed, the DfE and Ofsted should be the ones being called to account in this debate, for it is they who have created the situation they are now condemning.
Gary Nethercott
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Gove is not the first secretary of state to exploit the inspectorate. I recall Ed Balls doing much the same in the Baby P case. The children’s services department was subjected to a second inspection after a very satisfactory earlier inspection: Haringey council was instructed to dismiss the service head when the second inspection conveniently produced a differing outcome.
Lesley Kant

• John Harris is right to highlight the disarray of the state education system as a key issue emerging from the Birmingham schools row. In particular, the arrangements the government has created for the oversight and governance of schools are not fit for purpose and need to be drastically revised.

Labour’s current solution is local oversight; that may help but would not be enough on its own. It’s the wholesale commissioning of state schools – contracting them out to hundreds of different and highly disparate bodies and then trying to monitor them – that is the cause of the current chaos and the barrier to the interdependence that is essential for effective oversight and support. That system is unsustainable and should be phased out.

Labour introduced the system on a small scale but surely never intended it to achieve such dominance. It also invented a much better model: the maintained-trust school, which gives ample autonomy and allows outside views and expertise to be brought in while upholding taxpayer-funded schools as interdependent public institutions. That kind of model should become the norm.
Professor Ron Glatter
Hemel Hempstead

Two factors stand out as responsible. First is the potential power vested in governing bodies. The School Governance (Role, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 state that the functions of the governing body include “ensuring that the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school are clearly defined”. Surely this should be the professional function of the teachers – for which they have trained – with the governors having oversight. But, as it seems has happened in a number of schools, obsessive governors have interpreted this as expecting them to lay down the law for teachers to follow.

The second factor is that governments (the coalition and to some extent its predecessors) have so cut back on finance for local authorities that their education departments are weakened. They have become unable to monitor and challenge changes in schools which seem inappropriate in a multicultural society. It is local inspectors and local administrators, familiar with the social features of localities, who are needed – not Ofsted inspectors briefed by London administrators.

At a deeper level, the spread of faith schools should be challenged because these can sow the seeds of future tensions in communities. There are few ideas which we should import from the United States, but the ban on religious instruction (not religious education) is one. Thomas Jefferson, in 1791, saw the wisdom of this, but would any of our current politicians dare advocate it?
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  As a primary school governor in the wake of the 1988 Education Reform Act, I was soon confronted with the impact of its requirement of a daily act of “wholly or predominantly” Christian worship, a requirement introduced by an amendment inserted by Christian “extremists” in the House of Lords (All schools must promote ‘British values’, says Gove, 10 June). Members of a local evangelical C of E church were quick to demand that their children should worship according to their religious views, and not be subverted by what they called an irreligious “hymn sandwich”. An intense debate ensued, involving Christian, atheist and agnostic parents, and the merely bemused. The outcome was that the staff declined to lead such worship, which was subcontracted, once a week, to local Protestant priests, one of whom had advised the school not to bother inviting “the Romans”. At one such act of worship, one of the priests cited the Japanese race as evidence of human evil, with a Japanese child sat in front of him. The head, to her credit, promptly banned him from the school premises. The legal requirement to conduct religious worship in schools is inevitably divisive and, self-evidently, puts parents of minority faiths in an invidious position, and can leave some children excluded from school assemblies. It would be much easier for school staffs and governors to contend with the demands of local religious communities to influence school activities if this invidious requirement that our children take part in acts of religious worship in their schools were repealed.
Dr Steve Ludlam

• Bernard Crick must be spinning in his grave. Whatever happened to all the work he did to establish citizenship – promoting knowledge of the system, tolerance and engagement as citizens – as a national curriculum compulsory subject? With its inclusion in teacher training, and training places allocated for the specific subject? And what about Keith Ajegbo’s report and the requirement to promote community cohesion in schools? Sidelined, vanished or downgraded by state schools who have had support for citizenship and community cohesion reduced or withdrawn by this government and “no longer required” by academies, and free schools not obligated to follow the national curriculum. Mr Gove, all the tools are already there, in detail and with associated materials and developments; why then the refusal to use them, instead relying on a vague statement about “British values”? This smells much more of politics than genuine concern.
Dr Neil Denby
Admissions tutor, teacher training, University of Huddersfield

•  Amid the present concern in certain schools for what Sir Michael Wilshaw has called “a culture of fear and intimidation” and whatever systems of regulation the realities may perhaps justify, there remains the issue of how to promote a culture of trust and respect, a culture in which children and their families of all backgrounds may prosper and contribute to each other’s wellbeing. I believe that a modern course in religious studies meets those needs, being critically focused on the accurate appreciation of a commonwealth of wisdoms in traditions both religious and secular. In that sense, it ticks all the boxes; it is academic in methodology, empathetic in technique and constructive of community, without prejudice to the concerns any individual’s interest in the notion of truth may have. As such, from my 30 years of observation, it is a subject which should be a universal birthright that can only be enriching for any modern society.
Esmond Lee
Head of religious studies, Trinity school, Shirley Park, Croydon

•  ”A culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some schools,” laments Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted. The same man who said in 2012 that: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” And they say irony is dead.
Tony Clarke

•  Just checked the recent Ofsted report for my local community college (we don’t do academies down here in darkest Devon). Ethnicity of the pupils? Overwhelmingly white British. Preparation by school for children to live in multicultural Britain? No mention anywhere. Perhaps Mr Gove would like to call for a reinvestigation down here, as well as in Birmingham.
Sylvia Rose
Diptford, Devon

• Michael Gove expects schools to teach that gender segregation is wrong. I wonder if he has run this past the prime minister and the other Old Etonians in the cabinet?
Simon Cherry
Claygate, Surrey


Jonathan Freedland repeats the view (7 June) that Britain’s hostility to the EU derives from victory in the second world war. But his assumption that continental Europeans were gung-ho for a federal Europe on account of their different war records remains unproved. No one ever asked them to vote on a European constitution of any kind till 2005, when France and the Netherlands voted no. Thereafter, the matter was fixed behind closed doors. As the letter you published (7 June) from a long list of academic Eurofanatics ironically shows, matters still are. The EU has never been a democratic body. European citizens on both side of the Channel know this all too well.
Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics

• Despite the danger of crossing departmental boundaries in Govist fashion, may I suggest that food banks be used to feed minds as well as bodies? If the books our children study are to be rationed like fruit or canned goods in wartime, then perhaps we should donate copies of The Grapes of Wrath (Review, 7 June) and the like along with other staples such as beans to be handed out to the hungry of our own times. Or would that run the risk of starting them thinking about the way our country is run?
Juliette Brooke
Bewdley, Worcestershire

• Ministers and their special advisers would do well to remember that on the railways Spad stands for signals passed at danger (May faces questions, 9 June).
Michael Sargent
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

• Love the photo of Cameron, Merkel and the Dutch and Swedish leaders afloat in a boat (10 June). No oars? No rudder?
BCJ Bowden

• Tell Lucy Mangan that ‘ow do? is still in regular use in Yorkshire (How do I do? Much better without canapes and kisses, thanks, Weekend, 7 June).
Lynda Das

• During the decades-long struggle to get a letter published in the Gruniad, I realised that you printed many from doctors. So I embarked on a part-time PhD programme that took me 10 years to complete. I have maintained my efforts to get a letter in, but more recently have noticed there are usually a few letters from professors. I can tell you now that as I approach the grand old age of 65, there’s not a cat’s chance in hell of my getting a professorship!
Dr Khosro S Jahdi

There was another, quieter side to Rik Mayall, as I found when sharing a platform with him at a conference on broadcasting and censorship in the 1980s, at a time when the BBC had dropped, banned or cut a succession of controversial programmes. Of course one knew there had to be more to him than his anarchic, explosively violent comic creations, but I still half expected him to burst out onto the stage and start an eye-popping, spittle-flecked rant.

Instead, he actually seemed quite shy and even slightly vulnerable beneath his impeccable manners and modest demeanour. He was one of the most handsome people I’ve ever met, with striking blue eyes, a surprisingly gentle manner and understated charisma as he spoke. He was inevitably highly critical of the coercive and repressive tendencies within Thatcherism but equally scathing about the number of times the BBC had succumbed to the prevailing pressures. He argued with a kind of icy precision that we all too often censor ourselves, both as individuals and as institutions that are meant to serve the public such as the BBC, effectively doing the job of social control on behalf of the conformists and agents of repression. It was clear to me that there was a vein of continuity between his art as a comedian and his way of thinking as a citizen. He was a consistently free and liberat

I was shocked that so many rightwing, isolationist parties had such success at the European elections, but feel that we are missing a large part of the story (30 May). At the moment we are given a binary choice, with people either supporting Europe and voting for a mainstream party or being against Europe and voting for an anti-European party. I don’t feel that I fit into either of these camps.

I am a passionate supporter of Europe and strongly believe that Europe should stay together. But I am also strongly against the clique in Brussels, which seems more intent on pandering to the demands of corporate lobbyists rather than working for the interests of ordinary Europeans. Evidence of this can be seen on any high street, where the usual suspects of retail chains have crowded out local commerce, individual creativity and regional colour.

On top of this, oligarchic, monopolistic conglomerates are given free rein, banks are far too powerful and transnational companies are allowed to channel their profits to offshore hideaways. The next big threat to Europe’s soul is the fact that Brussels is pushing for the signing of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will pass power out of the hands of the people into the laps of multinationals, with them obtaining the right to prosecute governments should they feel that they have been hard done by.

So where is a party that I can vote for? One that is for Europe but against the kind of Europe that Brussels, with its bloated, self-serving structures, is peddling.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

An anarchist president?

It is understandable that in a world of bland career politicians, military strongmen and bombastic ego monkeys, somebody like José Mujica should stand out as a subject of interest (Uruguay’s maverick president, 30 May). He is clearly not your average leader and the writers did well in capturing their subject’s eccentricities, depth of learning, commitment to reforming his country and commendable modesty.

However, it was remiss of them, in their enthusiasm for the subject, to allow his self-characterisation as a putative “anarchist” to go unchallenged. Mujica may be many things, but if political terminology is to have any meaning, the leader of a state is by definition the antithesis of an anarchist. Allowing his statement to pass without comment lends credence to it and conflates his own “slightly potty” nature with that of a political philosophy that he has nothing to do with.

Anarchism may have faults, but it can surely do without the confusing rhetorical contributions of Mujica. Just because a topic is interesting, that should not obviate the requirement to exercise a bit of clarity and basic critical judgment.
Barrie Sargeant
Otaki Beach, New Zealand

Even bosses get sacked

Hadley Freeman is right: bosses are bosses, male or female, like marriage is marriage, gay or straight (30 May). But bosses get sacked; often they are criticised. What is crazy – and dangerous – is to suggest that simply sacking a woman editor and listing her faults is necessarily sexist (or else why the story?). No one should be exempt from losing a job or being criticised, whatever their gender (or colour or sexuality), if there are adequate grounds.

Most of my bosses throughout my 40-year career have been women. Most have been good; a few have been unbelievably bad, but that could be said of some of the men. Freeman should not blame Jill Abramson’s sacking simply on her gender, unless she can adduce better evidence than she has here.
Peter Roberts
Huddersfield, UK

• Hadley Freeman’s piece on how the English language can deal with women in charge is but little compared with how the French handle this. English has no gender. French must get to grips with le juge, le professeur, le député (MP) and so on. There was a spell of madame le juge, which seems to stick. Madame le ministre has become Madame la ministre.

As to teachers, une professeuse doesn’t work. The illustrious defenders of French, the French Academy, have their work cut out. At least it gives them something to do.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France

Where does racism begin?

I don’t understand where racism starts (Racism is far more than using the N-word, 23 May). Our family lived for 20 years among people whose skin was darker than ours. During her second term at an international school, our daughter, aged six, wanted to tell me something about her friend. I wasn’t sure which little girl she meant.

“She has the desk near the window. She is the best one at sums. Her Daddy sometimes comes to collect her. We eat our sandwiches together and sometimes we swap.” I was still not clear who she meant, and asked her whether she was a Papua New Guinean. “Yes” was the reply.

Not only did I identify her friend but I was deeply touched that it hadn’t occurred to our daughter to mention her friend’s colour. Today she has a senior position in a government department working with people here and overseas, from those in displaced camps to heads of government. Her attitude remains the same.
Cherry Treagust
Portsmouth, UK

Thailand is changing

Your coverage of the current coup in Thailand is a reminder of the dramatically changing social dynamic in that country (30 May). There is, as you say, an underclass of Thais mounting a credible challenge to a military-backed elite that has yet to run its course in that country.

My wife Julie and I taught in northern Thailand in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh to communist forces in the 1970s. At that time it was feared by conservatives in our region that south-east Asian countries were starting to fall to communism, in what was perceived as a domino effect, with Thailand the next country anticipated to go down. In response, internal government pressure on grass-roots dissents in Thailand was very heavy-handed indeed and ugly things were happening there.

That’s a story that’s yet to be fully told.

As your editorial cautions, the new social dynamic in play is a potentially dangerous one – for the Thai people, and for visitors there.

It’s as well to remember that it was during a Thai coup in 1985 that the highly regarded Australian journalist, Neil Davis, was killed in crossfire involving the Thai military.
Terry Hewton
Adelaide, South Australia

Oil is an economic activity

The horrors of coal, as Simon Jenkins so succinctly sums it up, are not in its science but in its economics (23 May). Oil companies don’t major on hydrocarbons because they’re good for the world, but because they make money out of them. Oil is an economic activity, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a science establishment. They talk different languages. Unfortunately one, like Shakespeare’s Tarquin, takes all its pleasure up front, while the other, Lucrece, is left to suffer the consequences.
Richard Crane
Vallon Pont d’Arc, France

The sky’s the limit

After reading with delight the news that Mexican environmentalists are successfully promoting the growth of rooftop gardens to ameliorate air pollution (9 May), I then moved on to your Culture page to discover with dismay your writer Oliver Wainwright going on about a skull-obsessed graffiti artist rhapsodising about using drones to fly over the city to “get to places others can only dream of reaching”.

Apparently, then, even “green roofs”, as they are called, will not be immune to direct hits by polluting, chemically derived aerosol paint, as the result of apish Jackson Pollocks furtively reaching for new heights of absurdity.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada


• I was struck by a disturbing phrase in your article Conflict fears as Arctic ice retreats (23 May). Describing dangers posed by conflicting national interests arising from the rapidly melting ice, Paul Kern [spokesman for the board behind a recent report] prefaced his summary: “as the Arctic becomes less of an ice-contaminated area”. A curious use of language – what could be purer or less contaminating than polar ice?
Cynthia Reavell
Hastings, UK

ing spirit who enriched all our lives.


Who is Michael Gove to perceive extremism? He is himself an extremist, a disciple of Bush and Blair, an ardent believer in the worldwide existential threat to western civilisation, whose fifth columnists  are in our midst plotting against us. 

Notice the charge against the schools involved: not that they have been teaching the jihadist view of the world, but they have been “failing to protect” pupils from exposure to any views which might lead them to further views which might perhaps cause sympathy with opinions which need to be proscribed. The extremist requires the teaching of his own views, and failure to do so (or even insufficient ardour in doing so) is further proof to him of the omnipresent threat which he fights against.

Roger Schafir

London N21

In his madcap crusade to create “free schools” and academies and to destroy local education authorities, which he regarded as part of the “Blob”,  Michael Gove has failed to provide any monitoring or accountability procedures.

Given the appalling problems identified at the Al-Madinah school in Derby and the numerous accounts of financial mismanagement in a host of academy chains and academies, he has failed to act decisively.

The programme has carried on at a giddy pace, and now it appears has gone completely off the rails. The education of children in some schools has been taken over by radical elements, and the “revolution” which he promised has been subverted by others with a quite different agenda.

Mr Gove chooses, like many fanatics, to blame everyone else. Now is the time for him to stand up and be counted, stop faith school groups creating free schools, and bring all academies back into a structure that can oversee them, like local authorities. He may thus salvage something from this disastrous monster that he has created.

Simon G Gosden

Rayleigh, Essex

There was a time – the 10 centuries preceding the past half-century – when immigration was low enough for newcomers to be absorbed, and they expected to be absorbed into the culture in which they had chosen to settle.

Along came multiculturalism. Then the idea of a host nation’s culture taking precedence began to unravel. All minority cultures were to be regarded equally, regardless of the lack of equality practised in some of them.

There was bound to be a clash sooner or later. One of the results of the multicultural approach is now being played out in Birmingham and Whitehall.

Edward Thomas

Eastbourne, East Sussex

When the “Popish Plot” was exposed as phoney in 1685 its author, Titus Oates, was flogged at the cart’s tail through the streets of London. Now it’s the Islamic “Trojan Horse Plot” that is creaking at the seams. Better get the newspaper down the trousers, Mr Gove.

Richard Humble


What cottage hospitals could do

Kenneth Taylor (letter, 4 June) was almost certainly a hospital doctor and certainly not a GP working in a GP-led cottage hospital as I was for 25 years back in the 20th century. He should not make generalisations based on his own limited experience.

In that hospital we, the GPs, were delivering 250 babies per year in the maternity unit and had the best safety figures in the region.

My partner, a GP surgeon, was doing two lists per week in our small operating theatre.

After morning surgery we went on a rota system from the GP surgery to the hospital minor injuries unit to deal with casualties and undertake minor surgery.

We had visiting consultants in all specialities from the district general hospital every week coming 12 miles to do outpatient sessions in psychiatry to gynaecology to dermatology and undertake ward rounds on the medical, surgical and geriatric wards.

We had a thriving physiotherapy department, X-ray facilities and a day hospital.

It is now a shadow of its former self, purely for economic reasons.

Ask anyone what they want from the NHS and they will say, the best possible treatment as local to where I live as possible.

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough, Wiltshire

I understand what Kenneth Taylor writes about the downside of cottage hospitals. But I wonder whether a physician, even an obviously caring one like him, realises that his familiar working environment is a frighteningly alien and impersonal place to a vulnerable old person.

Any old person who does not wish to go “gentle into that good night” would welcome Dr Taylor’s concern. But many of us would readily swap access to the latest technological equipment for a shorter life with palliative care in the more homely atmosphere of a cottage hospital.

Friends that I visited, 40-odd years ago, in a Suffolk cottage hospital seemed to me to be cared for, virus-free and relatively happy. It is what I would wish for myself.

Margaret Cook

Seaford, East Sussex

Cautious welcome for carrier bag charge

Most campaigners against plastic waste will give a cautious welcome to the 5p charge on plastic bags announced in the Queen’s Speech. The welcome would be much warmer if the Government had been brave enough to be consistent and include all single-use bags and all retailers, large or small. As it stands, the charge will confuse shops and shoppers, and still allow significant amounts of waste and litter to pollute our environment.

Those who care about our environment will also greet the “food poisoning threat” from reusing bags with some scepticism. Most food, even from small retailers, comes so well wrapped that cross-contamination seems highly unlikely, and those of us who regularly use cloth bags don’t, in any case, “store” fresh meat and vegetables in them, as the researchers seem to think we do.

We store fresh produce in our fridges and cupboards, where contamination is also possible if proper precautions are not taken. We also wash our cloth bags occasionally and most of us have so far survived the dangers of reusable bags rather well.

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

The announcement of a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in the Queen’s Speech comes as welcome news for England’s canals and rivers.

Plastic bags are an unsightly blight on the nation’s waterways, blocking weirs, getting tangled in boat propellers and trapping wildlife. Even with the help of many volunteers, the Canal & River Trust still spends over £770,000 a year removing litter from the 2,000 miles of historic waterways in our care, money we have to divert from vital maintenance.

What would make a real difference is if the money raised for the charge were recycled back to those environmental charities, like ourselves, that are at the front line of tackling litter.

Richard Parry

Chief executive, The Canal & River Trust

Milton Keynes

A penal tax on expensive homes

There remains a strand of political thought that the solution to every problem is to increase taxes on someone else. You assert, with no evidence, that the present system of council tax means that the bills of the super-rich are “subsidised” by those in the lower bands (editorial, 4 June).

The truth is that most of local government expenditure is financed by grants from central government.

These funds are derived, inter alia, from income tax, and the highest earners are the larger income tax payers by a long, long way. Council tax is intended to be a payment for council services and was never intended to be a penal tax on expensive homes, whose occupants may not be wealthy.

Richard Horton

Purley, Surrey

Mix-up in the Great War trenches

It was nice to have John Lichfield share his thoughts on the Somme offensive (“Massacre of the innocents”, 28 May) but could I point out that the illustration captioned “going over the top during the Battle of the Somme” in fact shows members of the 9th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) carrying out a  trench raid near Arras on  27 March 1917?

Professor Jim Sharpe

Department of History

University of York

Fewer children produce less art

I have just read Zoë Pilger’s article about the RA summer exhibition (3 June) and see there is a work entitled “In 2013 14% Less Children Chose Art at GCSE …”.  Let us hope that these 14 per cent fewer children were busy learning English grammar so that they will not commit the same mistake.

Shirley Leuw

Stanmore,  Middlesex


Sir, Birmingham city council gets its share of the flak. However, 25 years after the Education Reform Act how can we talk about local authority “control” of any schools — especially academies, which account for most schools now being placed in special measures. The local authority role has been largely written out. Look at school governance, financing and inspections — how can anyone seriously suggest that there are effective levers of local control?

Nick Henwood

Littlebourne, Kent

Sir, A secular, taxpayer-funded school in Birmingham has been criticised by Ofsted for interfering with the performance of a nativity play, while another has incurred the wrath of the inspectors because it cancelled Christmas celebrations.

By what right did these secular schools attempt to foist a Christian celebration on their non-Christian pupils?

Professor Geoffrey Alderman

University of Buckingham

Sir, Isn’t it high time that all religious state schools be phased out to make way for equal opportunities for all pupils under a state education system to receive an impartial and inclusive education that is free from any religiously biased activities? Citizenship education does not need to be delivered by any acts of faith, be it Christian or otherwise.

Jane Tam


Sir, The head of Ofsted does little to build confidence in either the transparency of working procedures or reporting conclusions of his organisation. His talk of “a culture of fear and intimidation” summarises precisely that Ofsted-generated climate which continues to erode morale among teachers, of whom more than a few would relish the opportunity to carry out an unannounced inspection of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s work.

Robert Gower

Egleton, Rutland

Sir, I have been a Scottish Presbyterian missionary in Ghana; a Hebrew-speaking Jew; a Catholic school social worker and the manager of a Sunni camp after the Pakistan earthquake 2005. This background leads me to conclude that Ofsted could create a multicultural educational system at a stroke by separating education from religion. In this post-Christian country, it must be the only way forward to prevent friction in children’s lives and education.

Miller Caldwell


Sir, I am amazed that it is only now that inspections without notice for schools are being considered. As a retired head teacher of primary schools in London, I would have appreciated not being given any notice. Why have special preparations for an inspection? Why shouldn’t Ofsted see what goes on in a school, warts and all? It should be able to go into any school, without forewarning, and see what everyday life is like in that school.

The time between notice of an inspection and the inspection was an extremely nerve-racking for all in the school community. And, as has been alleged in Birmingham, it may be possible to manipulate what inspectors see. Indeed, more generally it is often suggested that difficult pupils are “encouraged” to be absent for an inspection — not possible if it is sprung without notice.

David Collins

Tel Aviv

The founder of Dyson says the future is in the hands of engineers — and intellectual property lawyers

Sir, I’m grateful to Giles Whittell for challenging Dyson engineers to solve some of humanity’s biggest problems (“The future’s bright if we can trap the Saharan sun’” June 7).

Our engineers are problem solvers: a Saharan electricity superhighway, transportation or over-population — there are plenty of problems to be solved. The future is in the hands of engineers.

Dyson’s 1,500 engineers and scientists are working on a 25-year technology pipeline, and I believe Mr Whittell would find some projects very interesting. I’m afraid they are top secret, however. Intellectual property is valuable. We have projects at more than 20 of Britain’s world-class universities, including a robotics lab at Imperial and a chair leading research into aerodynamics at Cambridge. Britain is a wonderful place for ideas and it’s an exciting time to be an engineer. Watch this space.

Businesses often assume that if they acquire an existing formula and apply it somewhere new, money will roll in. But this doesn’t lead to better technology, and people quickly see through it. The important thing is that the resulting technology yields genuine improvements, rather than marketing fluff.

For a company to be genuinely pioneering, it should take new approaches to problems, investing heartily in research and development. But assurances are needed that these ideas won’t be copied. There will be no Saharan electricity superhighway if Britain’s rip-off laws are not strengthened.

Of course it’s cheaper to copy than make new technology successful but it’s immoral and doesn’t move the world on. So I found it interesting that Whittell chose to highlight that Samsung has a marketing budget the size of Iceland’s GDP.

Sir James Dyson

London SW3

A judge ponders his experiences of juries in 20 years of trying rape cases

Sir, May I add two points in support of Messrs Heaton-Armstrong and Wolchover (letter, June 10) about the new director of public prosecution’s comments on rape allegations ?

First, juries are there to use their own independent judgment and will not take kindly to being instructed on so-called rape myths.

Second, as a judge trying many rape cases over the past 20 years, although not infrequently surprised at acquittals in less serious cases, I came to the conclusion that, being well aware a minimum sentence would be at least five years’ imprisonment with the judge allowed no discretion, juries were often not prepared to visit such an outcome on a defendant.

His Honour Robert Hardy

London SW7

Japan has said that it is to defy the UN and global public opinion to resume the killing of whales

Sir, The breathtaking arrogance of the Japanese in resuming whale hunting despite a UN court ruling that it is illegal (June 10) should result in sanctions of some kind against Japan. Whales do not belong to Japan or indeed to any of us; they are beautiful wild creatures that have every right to be left alone. The smoke screen of scientific study and tradition should be treated with contempt. At the least there should be a boycott of Japanese goods if they pursue this unacceptable killing.

Robert Smith

Merstham, Surrey

Hedgehog populations are declining; badgers are multiplying; badgers eat hedgehogs – it is a no-brainer

Sir, You point to bonfires, tough winters and elastic bands dropped by postmen as the causes of the fall in hedgehog numbers by 35 per cent over the past ten years (June 10). However, bonfires are banned except those with a licence, elastic bands are far less common now than ten years ago as people send less mail, and harsh winters have become no more common in recent times. Several studies have shown that the real culprits are badgers whose numbers have coincidentally risen over the past decade. The bumblebee has suffered a similar pattern of decline over the past decade. It is time to face facts about the damage a predator like the badger can cause if their numbers go unchecked.

Peter Evans

Sandon, Herts

A judge ponders his experiences of juries in 20 years of trying rape cases

Sir, May I add two points in support of Messrs Heaton-Armstrong and Wolchover (letter, June 10) about the new director of public prosecution’s comments on rape allegations ?

First, juries are there to use their own independent judgment and will not take kindly to being instructed on so-called rape myths.

Second, as a judge trying many rape cases over the past 20 years, although not infrequently surprised at acquittals in less serious cases, I came to the conclusion that, being well aware a minimum sentence would be at least five years’ imprisonment with the judge allowed no discretion, juries were often not prepared to visit such an outcome on a defendant.

His Honour Robert Hardy

London SW7


Retiring collection: milk bottles among other vintage receptacles on sale at a craft fair Photo: ALAMY

6:58AM BST 10 Jun 2014

Comments60 Comments

SIR – Collecting milk bottles is not a bad idea for Janet Newis’s retiring milkman (Letters, June 6). I now have more than a dozen bottles from the Seventies. They carry colourful advertisements, my favourite being: “Eggs are smashing for breakfast.”

Tony Geake
Exeter, Devon

SIR – Having recently retired, I’ve taken up church bell ringing.

It is a wonderful blend of sport, music, exercise and friendship – a challenge to your wits, a service to the church and very satisfying when you get it right.

There are hundreds of churches with bells all over Britain and there are always days out organised to ring other towers’ bells. Go to your local church, see who the tower captain is and give him or her a call.

Philip Hulme
Yarford, Somerset

SIR – Why give schools even 30 minutes’ warning of an Ofsted inspection? When I worked for a high street bank, the thought that the inspectors might walk in at any moment focused minds on correct procedure and prevented any misdemeanours.

These schools should not be given time to cover up their grubby practices.

Rachel Mason
Seaton, Devon

SIR – Alan Judd’s article “Mission to end extremism” implies that the teaching of extremist views is not for taxpayer-funded state schools, but perfectly all right for privately funded Muslim schools. Surely, this cannot be allowed. Isn’t it time to abolish all religion-based schools and leave religious education for families and churches to organise in their own time?

J S Hirst
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – Faith schools in Northern Ireland helped to foster division and mistrust, encouraging children to grow up thinking those of another faith were different, if not downright enemies. Allowing Muslim faith schools is surely likely to have the same effect. It would appear that we never learn.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

An audible actor

SIR – Michael Gambon’s every syllable in Quirke was audible, since he can project without losing nuances of expression. The problem is with younger actors who have not learnt their stagecraft.

Rev Don Bennett
Forres, Morayshire

Writing wrongs

SIR – The ballpoint pen is to blame for the peculiar way the younger generation hold their pens (Letters, June 9). If one were to hold a fountain pen in the modern contorted fashion, using liquid ink, or even a chalk on slate, the line above would be smudged.

Two generations ago, in the age of nibs and inkwells, we were obliged to write with the hand resting on the paper below the line being written.

Ian Sims
Graigfechan, Denbighshire

SIR – As a retired reception-class teacher, I am appalled at how many children are not taught to hold a pencil correctly. A pencil should be gripped by the thumb and forefinger and rest on the middle finger.

Sue McFarland
Little Bytham, Lincolnshire

SIR – My daughter, who is a teacher, says: “Put a pen or pencil on the edge of a table pointing towards you and pick it up”.

Jan Hunter
Ottershaw, Surrey

SIR – The art of holding a knife and fork also seems to have been lost. The knife, if it is used at all, is held as if murder is to be committed and the fork gripped in the manner of a young child or baby.

Patrick W Fagan
Bowden, Roxburghshire

Turing Test

SIR – I am impressed that the first computer has passed the Turing Test in fooling operators into thinking it was a human being.

Many call-centre operatives I talk to would not pass that test.

Michael Gorman
Guildford, Surrey

Siting sun farms

SIR – It is good to read that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has ruled against solar energy farms on arable land. But it is too late for us, soon to be blighted by a sea of panels on farmland at the edge of the village.

Surely the Government should open up, for energy needs, the vast areas of largely infertile land devoted to military training and not now required by a shrinking Army.

Michael Edwards
Farringdon, Hampshire

Cost of special advisers

SIR – Perhaps the debacle surrounding Fiona Cunningham, the Home Office special adviser, should highlight the cost of such officials to the taxpayer.

Jeremy Hunt rejected the independent recommendation for a 1 per cent rise for NHS staff this year. Yet advisers last year enjoyed rises of up to 36 per cent, with Ms Cunningham seeing a rise of 14 per cent to £74,000, and some advisers being paid £140,000. Despite a Coalition promise, their number and cost have rocketed (to £7.2 million last year).

So what is Danny Alexander, who approves their pay, doing?

Rev Marcus Stewart
Broadstairs, Kent

Kings in waiting

SIR – King Juan Carlos clearly does not understand the value of the Prince of Wales’s current role.

Far from standing idly by, waiting to become king, he works tirelessly for this nation and the Commonwealth in ways that will not be possible once he ascends the throne. Let us wish long life to both him and his mother as they each fulfil their separate, different roles.

Mary Pain
Peasmarsh, Surrey

Nocturnal gardening

SIR – In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman in the last stages of emotional and physical exhaustion, mental confusion and despair, goes to dig his garden in the middle of the night .

Surely the drama of the World Cup (report, June 9) will not force us out of the house in this way, will it?

Brian O’Gorman
Chichester, West Sussex

A domestic chorus of beeps, pings and jingles

SIR – John Leach (Letters, June 7) bemoans the fact that every item of equipment seems to emit a “beep”. One exception is the microwave, which “pings”.

The Welsh, with considerable ingenuity, have invented a name for it – popty ping (popty being the Welsh for oven).

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

SIR – I have a washing machine that gives a short rendition of Jingle Bells to show that the programme has finished.

I wish it just went “beep”.

Roger T Simpson

SIR – Beeping domestic appliances drive my labrador frantic. But worst of all are the beeps at the end of questions on Mastermind. The final, when there were six contestants, was a nightmare, with 12 episodes of beeping terror.

Alison Stephenson
Coanwood, Northumberland

SIR – My mechanical heart valve makes a barely audible, high-pitched click, which I can hear when I lie awake in the night.

I find this reassuring; my surgeon tells me that if the sound stops, so do I.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – Max Pemberton describes the current NHS policy of forcing medical staff to remove ties and watches as making no sense. He is perfectly correct.

This and shift work, which was widely introduced to implement the European Working Time Regulations, have badly damaged the morale of trainee and senior doctors. Almost every month seems to bring a new and badly thought-through initiative that does nothing to help us treat patients.

Most of this doesn’t happen in the private sector – perhaps because doctors who think their hospitals are hopeless will simply move and also take their patients elsewhere.

I, too, have decided that early retirement (aged 59) from the NHS is the only option that will allow me to retain my self respect.

Tony Narula FRCS
London W2

SIR – For the past two days, I have been under the excellent care of the nursing staff at Lincoln County Hospital Trust, needing an Achilles tendon repair operation. They take my blood pressure, temperature and heart rate three times a day and offer me drugs, which I decline as I am not in pain. They bring me food, water and regular hot drinks. However, I am not allowed to wait at home because I would lose my place in the queue. No wonder the NHS is losing money.

My sister had an operation recently in a private hospital. She turned up at 10am, having followed normal pre-operation rules, and was operated on that afternoon.

Alice Gray
Stow, Lincolnshire

SIR – The current crisis in primary care is beyond anything I have seen in my 20 years as a GP. For efficient primary care to work, it needs experienced clinicians. Locally we are losing those clinicians to early retirement in a significant way.

Government and the profession accepts that the number of GPs needs to increase. But in the March 2014 round of recruitments there was a 15 per cent drop in applications to train for general practice.

Daft government initiatives mean that doctors are doing more box-ticking and administration than ever: we get letters from hospitals requesting us to make referrals (instead of the consultant doing it directly) and requests from patients, solicitors, gyms and airlines to provide certificates of health.

Patients’ unrealistic expectations from a health service that is on its knees and financially unsustainable have led to further criticism about access and waiting times, without any politicians pointing out that this is an inevitability of the current system and its attendant pressures.

The number of meetings has also increased, taking doctors away from their patients. Constant negativity from politicians, hospital colleagues, health pressure groups and the press have led to a specialism that is so demotivated it will take a lot to recover.

Professor Johnny Lyon-Maris
Marchwood, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – As an alumnus of Bessborough (1985), I remember vividly the screams of the institutionalised in the middle of the night, the old nun who said my baby would be fine in America and the girls who came and went without notice. But in that strange world of false names and shame there was also a strong and grim camaraderie between the girls, and some green shoots of humanity as I have a clear memory of the same nun helping me study for my Leaving Certificate French exam.

My daughter was adopted in Cork and, natural bonds rent asunder, we are now reunited and trying to piece together a relationship that has a beginning, no middle and an end to be determined. – Yours, etc,


Killester Avenue,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – I was born six weeks prematurely in Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, in March 1965, and my birth mother, who was 21 at the time, died from a post-partum haemorrhage three days later. I was alive, thanks to the same nuns who may well have neglected my mother. No thanks to my grandmother, extended family or society, who had discarded me and my mother as an inconvenient truth.

There was a chicken-and-egg scenario in Ireland whereby the church fed societal fear and shame but society also accepted it. The valley of the squinting windows took easily to rigid Catholicism.

When I met my grandmother (more than 30 years later) she said that no one in the family would have had a future if they had taken me home. They would have been spat at in the street. The parish priest at the time didn’t want to bury my mother on sacred ground and my grandmother lied to neighbours about the cause of death.

The “culture” of the time was largely influenced by the Catholic Church.

On a recent visit to the abbey, I visited the chapel where the girls would have prayed daily. Over the altar is a stained-glass image of Mary Magdalene – the prostitute and sinner. But who was the real sinner? – Yours, etc,



Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – One line of thinking I have seen repeated since the dreadful Tuam story broke in the media is that the public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile at the time. Well I say this – no particular time in our history should be an excuse for what happened here. All our shameful history needs to be brought out in the open – corporal punishment in our schools, the dreadful industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, clerical sex abuse, and now this latest news on the remains of 796 babies, who died at a religious-run and State-funded home for unmarried mothers in Tuam from 1925 to 1961.

We must not separate these dreadful happenings, and realise and accept, once and for all, that as a society we have no excuses whatsoever. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – The refusal of the Irish authorities to reveal the extent to which they sought orders for the disclosure of content from Vodafone is a matter of the gravest concern (“Thousands of requests made to secretly track Irish calls”, June 6th). While one might accept that the details of such warrants may be sensitive, the number of warrants issued simply gives a measure of how much covert surveillance is taking place.

In a functioning democracy, citizens have a right to know the extent to which the apparatus of state impinges upon their privacy and they have a right to challenge the state if they feel that the state is exercising the enormous power that they have vested in it inappropriately.

Entire networks have been penetrated covertly by a State that is not prepared to quantify the extent of its surveillance.

This matter needs to be clarified immediately. The State has already been found to be utterly remiss in its administration of justice. Seen in this context, any attempt to prevent publication of these figures can only be interpreted as an indication that the State has something to hide from its citizens. – Yours, etc,



Scariff, Co Clare.

Sir, – Frank McNally’s interesting “Irishman’s Diary” (June 5th) recalls the infamous libel action taken by the poet Patrick Kavanagh against the Leader in 1954.

As late as the autumn of 1966, 12 years after that trial, Kavanagh’s anger over that disastrous fiasco still burned strongly in his heart, as this writer was to experience in an encounter in the Bailey Bar in Dublin. At the time I had just graduated from UCD with a degree in history. I joined Kavanagh’s company in the Bailey and was carrying a copy of the literary magazine Envoy.

Kavanagh spotted the magazine, asked to have a look at it and he then went into a paroxysm of anger when he discovered that his own diary column in that particular back issue dealt with the Leader trial.

He accused me of deliberately setting him up to read it and denounced the staff in UCD history department. It seems that he strongly suspected that a certain professor of modern history at UCD had had a hand in writing the Leader profile of him which had caused him to take the libel action against the periodical. – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – When will we learn? It was disturbing to read (“Nama considers offering 500 apartments as social housing”, Home News, June 3rd) that consideration is being given by Nama, the Housing Agency and the Department of the Environment to using 500 apartments near the Square shopping centre in Tallaght in Dublin for social housing. According to the article, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has urged local authorities to reconsider the national guideline placing an upper limit of 20 per cent of social housing dwellings in a private development.

There are solid, evidence-based reasons for that limit – the long-standing and compelling evidence from around the world that undue concentration of disadvantaged families compounds the disadvantage experienced by those families, affecting children’s educational outcomes and life chances as well as the residents’ health, employment prospects and wellbeing.

The present housing crisis in Dublin must not be solved by adopting short-term strategies that could have serious long-term negative outcomes for people and communities, and especially for children. If we are serious about placing children’s needs and interests at the centre of policy, as set out in the recent National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020 published by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, we must recognise the lasting impact of housing on children’s lives and plan accordingly. – Yours, etc,


Ballinteer Road,

Sir, – I have sympathy for your correspondent Dr Martin Pulbrook (June 9th), who had the misfortune of seeing so many errors of spelling, punctuation and translation in notices for the public in Portlaoise railway station and elsewhere. From now on he will have to quickly avert his eyes when he comes across another, as they are everywhere, especially in Galway, where it seems that a concerted effort is being made to propagate the notion that Irish is spoken and understood in the city.

On consecutive road signs, “Galway West” is “Gaillimh Thiar”, then “Gaillimh Siar”. A road sign in Loughrea has “Bóthar Átha na Rí” instead of “Bóthar Átha an Rí”. I had to look twice when I saw “Shráid na Siopaí” in gold lettering on a shop window.

I saw “Sean No’s on Friday” in a pub window. Somebody must have pointed out the error, for a few days later the apostrophe was extended backwards to become a síne fada. Then it became “Seán Nós” followed by “Séan Nós”. Above its doors a beauty salon has “It’s Ú mo Chuisle”. The phrase was taken from the internet, they told a friend of mine, and was therefore correct!

In radio advertisements “An Post” is pronounced in genteel English tones to rhyme with “on” and “lost”.

The daddy of them all can be seen in the Bon Secours hospital in Galway. The English version is: “If you think you may be pregnant, please tell the radiographer before you have your X-ray”. The translation underneath is: “Ma dh’fhaodadh e bhith gu bheil sibh trom, leig fios dhan radiographer mus teid sibh a-steach airson X-ray.”

I agree with Dr Pulbrook that those responsible should hang their heads in shame but for his own peace of mind I suggest aversion therapy. He should start collecting examples. He will very soon have a full notebook and will be able to smile and shrug his shoulders. What else can one do? – Yours, etc,


Donnellan Drive,


Sir, – Cían Carlin (June 10th) repeats one of the cardinal errors of Irish politics when he reduces “unionism” to a mere political preference. The divisions in Northern Ireland span not only politics but also culture, religion, history and ancestry. “Unionist” and “nationalist” have become shorthand names for Ulster-British and Gaelic-Irish ethnic groups, each with their distinct mythology and cultural norms. Pretending that a word when uttered by someone else means only that which you would prefer it to mean serves only to derail the argument.

To believe that one ceases to become “unionist” if one votes for a united Ireland is to reduce the entirety of a culture to a single issue. If changing your mind about a particular policy also implies wholesale abandonment of your culture and history, then it is no wonder that Northern Ireland politics is so dysfunctional. For too long we have pretended that a struggle for ethnic supremacy is a mere political disagreement, perhaps because we fear the implications of admitting that our problems are not amenable to quick-fix solutions.

More thoughtful politicians and commentators prefer to use “pro-union” for the political viewpoint in order to clearly distinguish it from cultural “unionism”.

It is quite possible to mix and match political and cultural labels – there is a distinct body of “unionist” opinion that would prefer an independent Northern Ireland state, and many “nationalists” are content to be part of the UK.

So many fruitless arguments hinge on the misinterpretation of ambiguous terms. Just as “Ireland” can mean either the 32-county island or the 26-county republic, so can “unionism” and “nationalism” have multiple, distinct meanings depending on context. Debates descend into slanging matches where opponents aim their rage past each other, each using the same words but meaning different things by them.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped using the words “unionism” and “nationalism” altogether, as they seem to create more confusion than enlightenment. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I fully share Cormac Meehan’s view that the nomination of Ireland’s next EU commissioner should not be a consolation prize for political failure (May 31st).

Instead, I believe Ireland’s next EU commissioner should be directly elected by the Irish people. What would be required would be for the Government to hold an election and to undertake to nominate the candidate chosen by the people. This would in no way contravene existing European treaties as the actual nomination would still be formally made by the Taoiseach. It would simply be a way for the Taoiseach to ask the people whom they wished him to nominate.

One advantage of this arrangement would be that it would be extremely difficult for the EU Council of Ministers, the incoming European Commission president and the European Parliament to reject the people’s choice, which is, of course, why it probably won’t happen. Nevertheless, I think the Government should give it a try. Who knows, it might even catch on in other countries if someone sets the example. – Yours, etc,


Keswick Road,

St Helens,

Sir, – Your Editorial (“Educating Together”, June 9th) on plans by the Stormont Executive to fund “shared education” between Catholics, Protestants and those of other faiths, gives a guarded welcome to the initiative.

However, I believe the provision of “shared campuses” rather than the complete integration of students is a failure to take the bold steps necessary to confront sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland and could be construed as promoting a benign form of apartheid.

You cite as an unacceptable reality that of 291 schools in Northern Ireland in the 2011-12 school year, 180 had no Protestant children and 111 had not a single Catholic on their roll.

Since the foundation of the Northern state a policy of segregation of communities was rigorously enforced in line with the policy of gerrymandering to ensure continuation of unionist hegemony in predominantly nationalist areas.

Indeed, a recent survey found that in excess of 90 per cent of the population in the North lives in denominationally segregated housing.

Therefore, the successful integration of students in education can only come about if there is the same appetite to pursue a similar policy of integrated housing. This policy of integrated education, which I fully endorse, must be consensus-based, not mandatory, where difference is not just tolerated but respected, where all creeds, colours and systems are celebrated and where the existence of schools with a differing ethos is both welcomed and defended. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Sir, – Donald Clarke’s recent article suggested that many parents participate in Christian rituals in order to gain school places for their children (“If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals”, Opinion & Analysis, June 7th). Yet the recent census of 2011 revealed that over 84 per cent of the population regard themselves as Catholic, while 6.4 per cent said they were from the Church of Ireland faith. Perhaps these statistics explain the large numbers willingly participating in Christian rituals. – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

Sir, – It was with great sadness that I learned of the sudden and untimely death of Prof John Fitzpatrick (“Outstanding doctor who became a world leader in urology”, Obituaries, June 7th).

Known to a litany of surgical trainees and junior doctors that worked in his department as “Prof Fitz” or, but never to his face, “Fitzy”, his remarkable qualities are outlined in your obituary.

I had the immense good fortune to receive his guidance both as an undergraduate looking up from a packed lecture theatre on Wednesday mornings in the Mater hospital, where he would impart his wisdom without the aid of chalk or PowerPoint, and as a junior surgical trainee scrubbed alongside him during one of his intricate cancer surgeries.

I also had the luck to work alongside his youngest son – a true gentleman, a remarkable character and excellent doctor. My heartfelt sympathy to him and his family. I know I echo many UCD and surgical graduates when I say his character and guidance will be missed. – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.

Sir, – I take no side in the dispute between Aer Lingus and its cabin crew. Be that as it may, I prefer to take my holidays on the days I choose – and with that in mind I have just made a booking for later this year with a competitor, despite a higher price and a less convenient time. I cannot be the only one. – Yours, etc,


Pembroke Square,


Sir, – I have been waiting for at least five days for the forecast “thundery showers” here, “with possible flooding”. Nothing so far. Perhaps if “Weather Watch” stops forecasting it, it might happen. Otherwise, sending this letter might just do the trick! – Yours, etc,


Lower Dodder Road,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

* The attempted rationalisations conjured up by the church and its followers with regard to the Tuam mass grave are not surprising.

The “we weren’t the only ones at fault” attitude has almost become a slogan for the church and religious apologists in modern times, wheeled out in times of controversy in an attempt to inoculate itself from further disgrace.

I would take issue with Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob’s and Fr Con McGillicuddy’s letters (Irish Independent, June 9) where they say things such as “we should blame societies who at times condemned unmarried mothers or children born out of wedlock to neglect, ostracism and abandonment”, and “adoptions were forced on unfortunate single mothers because there were no social services for them and Christian families would not bear the public shame of caring for a daughter who had a child born out of wedlock”.

Both men focus on symptoms rather than drilling deep for the cause. However, they hit on an accidental truth (thus disproving their intended points). An aside . . . even if their points were true (and church and State were completely separate) it wouldn’t make a difference, for only one of these organisations preaches divinely inspired morality.

At the time in question (still to this day, some would argue) Ireland’s politics, culture and society were so deeply couched in religion that it was arguably, if unofficially, a theocracy.

In fact, so much power had church and so tightly had the concept of sin impressed itself into the lives of the people, a kind of proto-caste system had emerged, and the unlucky were cast into indentured servitude, to which no one batted an eyelid.

This had a crippling effect on society and Irish culture. Ultimately, it’s at such times, when dogmatic religious fervour has gripped a national consciousness to such an extent, that the church can preach righteousness, morality and love while simultaneously, and apathetically, committing acts of unspeakable cruelty.

This mental and emotional compartmentalisation coupled with such pervasive political power allows the church (and all religions) to be able to eschew empathy in lieu of preserving its supposed virtue.

Dr Al Qutob goes further to say: “The more we distance ourselves from religious doctrines, the more we become ruthless, indifferent and void.” I dare say if the unwed mothers and terrified children (and everyone else) of 20th-Century Ireland had been more distant from religious doctrines, they’d (and we’d) be all better off for it.

It’s time to cast aside the mental manacles of religion, to cull this willing suspension of our critical faculties and seek intellectual and emotional independence just as we once sought national independence.





* What people have to remember is that when the Tuam babies were being buried, the Catholic priests of the time were talking Latin to a wall while all the people of the parish were looking around wondering what was going on.

They were then treated to the thoughts of a single man on the evils that could beset all those outside wedlock, while at the same time expected to believe that this man was above these very same temptations.

This placed the clergy in an ascended position in society through the simple trick of their being the only ones brave enough to speak about sexual matters in public and from an unchallenged position.

This was a power, involving different themes, eg, Hitler speaking about Jews, that has been manipulated for centuries.

The antithesis to this is the truth. Once evidence emerges, then the problem has to be dealt with. In today’s world, one of inter-connectivity, one where all opinion and all stories are shared, the old days of burying a file or dancing an advocacy group to oblivion, or outliving them in the courts is coming to an end.

What the world is evidencing in the recent votes is a changing of the guard, the new replacing the old, the method of governance in the digital age is emerging. Ancient methods and ancient theories and superstitions are being broken down by an emerging educated youth.

The politicians that best resemble this emergence are those who will be elected in the future.





* A shocking discovery of a mass grave of 796 babies who died in a mother-and-baby home in Tuam. Another case of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil in good old Catholic Ireland. Another dirty little secret hidden under the nuns’ habits.

Church and State have always gone hand in hand so they too are responsible for turning a blind eye through the years of Ireland’s past.

How many more of these babies not buried went to hospitals/colleges for medical research?

This was raised in the Dail in 1930 but maybe the government was too busy with the treaty and had no time to bother about its young citizens dying like flies. To the outside world, Ireland was this picturesque island of fairies and leprechauns with horses and traps and donkeys going around the lakes of Killarney, a land of saints and scholars, the land of milk and honey – well, what a pretty picture this latest scandal paints.

Suffer little children to come on to me, the Lord said. Safe in the Lord’s hands they now rest, away from the hands that promised to serve God but failed.





* Media failed to challenge the spending spree brought about by the decisions of a small number of our most powerful citizens during the boom.

That ended with a bankrupt country.

The consequent austerity was denounced by the same media as unnecessary since it was someone else’s fault and should be paid for by someone else.

Now media are orchestrating an early election and the return of an anti-austerity government in a country that is borrowing billions to keep public services going.

How irresponsible is that?





* Columnist Ian O’Doherty trawls far and wide in his quest for new cultural patterns to share with his readers. The latest offence he has unearthed in the US is “cultural appropriation”, ie, going native. I had heard of cultural imperialism where small nations are dominated by great powers.

The newest politically incorrect offence means that those pilgrims touring here clad in looney leprechaun costumes are looting our traditional treasures.

Blush in shame.





* As the great World Cup fiesta approaches, one must note the widespread criticism about questionable FIFA decisions, inequalities in Brazil, overpaid underperforming prima donnas, etc.

But we football fans must also embrace the beautiful game and look forward to some spectacular moments of sheer skill.

The balletic artistry of performers such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and more is sure to enthral. These ball-juggling wizards are the Rudolf Nureyev or Vaslav Nijinsky of their discipline. A joy to behold. Game on!



Irish Independen


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