22June2014 Strimming

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I sweep the drive

ScrabbleI win, but well under 400, I barely scrape past 300, perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Patsy Byrne – obituary

Patsy Byrne was an actress with the RSC who later played the dim-witted Nursie in Blackadder

Patsy Byrne as Nursie with Miranda Richard as Elizabeth I in 'Blackadder'

Patsy Byrne as Nursie with Miranda Richard as Elizabeth I in ‘Blackadder’ Photo: BBC

5:45PM BST 22 Jun 2014


Patsy Byrne, who has died aged 80, was a fine classical actress, but became particularly well-known for her role as the kindly but dim-witted Nursie, a member of the motley royal retinue attending the spoiled, capricious Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson) in the BBC television sitcom Blackadder II, screened in 1986.

Her finely-observed portrayal of the monarch’s addle-brained confidante provided a guileless counterpoint to the scheming aristocrat Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and the bumbling courtier Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).

It also went a considerable way towards rescuing the Blackadder series from the brink of extinction. The original six episodes had fared badly in the ratings, and the BBC was considering cancelling a second series. But the show was granted a last-minute reprieve when Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as one half of the writing team, and the programme subsequently attracted huge audiences.

In character, Patsy Byrne revealed that the Queen’s nurse’s real name was Bernard, apparently an in-joke inspired by the Conservative politician Bernard Jenkin.

As one of the more unworldly, homespun members of the Elizabethan court, Nursie was old enough to recall unflattering details of the Virgin Queen’s birth: “Out you popped, out of your mummy’s tumkin, and everybody shouting: ‘It’s a boy, it’s a boy!’ And somebody said: ‘But it hasn’t got a winkle!’ And then I said: ‘A boy without a winkle? God be praised, it’s a miracle. A boy without a winkle!’ And then Sir Thomas More pointed out that a boy without a winkle is a girl, and everyone was really disappointed.”

She also had a memorable scene with Rik Mayall when he made a cameo appearance as the sex-obsessed Lord Flashheart, bellowing: “Nursie! I like it firm and fruity!” and adding: “Am I pleased to see you or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?”

The programme’s producer, John Lloyd, pointed out that while Patsy Byrne would be remembered as “a lovable, slightly idiotic character with that ludicrous drawl”, she was, in fact, a classically-trained actress.

The only daughter of a railway engineer, Patricia Anne Thirza Byrne was born on July 13 1933 at Ashford, Kent, and educated at Ashford Grammar School for Girls. After studying Drama at the Rose Bruford College, she joined weekly repertory at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, doubling as assistant stage manager, later taking acting roles at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, and eventually the Royal Court in London, where she appeared in the original production of Arnold Wesker’s trilogy of plays, Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots, and I’m Talking about Jerusalem.

Patsy Byrne (ITV/REX)

In 1960 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing as Maria in Twelfth Night and as Gruscha in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Aldwych, 1962). In 1964, during an RSC tour of Latin America, she met Patrick Seccombe , then the British Council representative in Uruguay.

They married three years later, by which time he had been posted to Finland. Patsy Byrne acted as his cultural representative, giving readings of Dickens and undertaking acting roles before the couple returned to Britain in 1970, settling near Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

The following year she starred as Rex Harrison’s wife Sasha in a BBC Play of the Month production of Chekhov’s Platonov. She played Mrs Nubbles in the BBC’s adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop in 1979, and in the early 1990s appeared again with Tony Robinson (who had played Baldrick in Blackadder) in Maid Marian and her Merry Men. She also starred as Betty the Tea Lady in the BBC children’s programme Playdays.

Her other television roles included that of the domineering mother in the ITV sitcom Watching (1988-93), as well as appearances in Stealing Heaven (1988); Inspector Morse (1989); Les Misérables (1998); as Mrs Gummidge in David Copperfield (1999); and Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000). Her last appearance was in Holby City in 2006.

Patsy Byrne’s husband predeceased her in 2000. Her six stepchildren survive her.

Patsy Byrne, born July 13 1933, died June 17 2014


Alaa Abd El Fattah

Alaa Abd El Fattah has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Cairo court

We, the undersigned writers, artists, publishers and academics who participated in the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest), have been following the case of Egyptian activist and PalFest 2012 participant Alaa Abd El Fattah. We are deeply concerned by the 11 June decision of the Cairo criminal court to sentence him and 24 others in absentia to 15 years in prison (Report, 12 June).

Alaa and his comrades have been active campaigners for democracy in Egypt. They were prominent public voices in the uprising against previous oppressive regimes. They have set an example to the world with their use of non-violent means of mass protest and social organisation. They have helped to empower ordinary people long oppressed to have a voice in their national destiny. Rather than being celebrated, these passionate and politically engaged sons and daughters of Egypt will now be imprisoned for a decade and a half for peacefully protesting, on 26 November 2013, in front of the Egyptian Shura council against a proposed constitutional provision allowing military trials for civilians. The legal basis for their incarceration is a draconian protest law that has been widely condemned for its restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression. The arrest of Alaa and his comrades on charges of “illegal protest”, and their subsequent trial in absentia and harsh sentencing, fall short of the standards of basic human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such actions of the current government are tragically reminiscent of previous tyranny against which the Egyptian people rose up in the stunning way that captured the world’s imagination.

We call on the Egyptian government to release Alaa, his comrades, and all citizens punished for exercising their natural right to peaceful assembly and protest. We call on Egyptian authorities and others in power not to fear the courage and passion of their fellow citizens who dare to publicly oppose injustice. We call on the Egyptian government to cancel the protest law and to recognise the freedom to assemble and protest.
Susan Abulhawa Author, USA, Lorraine Adams Author, USA, Meena Alexander Author, UK, Lina Atallah Journalist, Egypt, Bidisha Author, UK, Victoria Brittain Journalist, UK, Selma Dabbagh Author, UK, Esther Freud Author, UK, Tarik Hamdan Author, Palestine, John Horner PalFest trustee, UK, Penny Johnson Author and editor, Palestine, Omar El-Khairy Playwright, UK, Ursula Lindsey Journalist, Egypt, Sabrina Mahfouz Poet, UK, Jamal Mahjoub Author, Spain, Pankaj Mishra Author, UK, Bill Mitchell Dramatist, UK, Tania Nasir Author and singer, Palestine, Andrew O’Hagan Author, UK, Ursula Owen Publisher, UK, Michael Palin Actor and author, UK, Ed Pavlic Author and professor, USA, Alexandra Pringle Publisher, UK, Marcia Lynx Qualey Blogger, USA, Sapphire Author, USA, Kamila Shamsie Author, UK, Raja Shehadeh Author & Lawyer, Palestine, Gillian Slovo Author, USA, Jesse Soodalter Physician, USA, Ahdaf Soueif Author, Egypt, William Sutcliffe Author, UK, Alice Walker Author, USA

Philip Wood (Letters) argues that cultural anthropology should be taught in schools instead of religious education “so that children are exposed to a more critical awareness of other cultures and world views”. Without commenting on RE, I can assure him that it already is! An A-level in anthropology was designed by the Royal Anthropological Institute and has been offered by the AQA examination board since 2010. Social anthropology has also been available for some years as an option within the international baccalaureate.

The A-level embraces anthropology as a whole discipline (biological as well as social). It was developed in the belief that the subject can and should be available to secondary-age students, alongside other subjects, as a core element in a contemporary liberal education. An explicit aim of the course is to foster the globally informed citizenship, which can be seen as one of the “British values” under so much current discussion. Students are encouraged to encounter, and debate critically, themes such as the relationship between global and local processes, unity and diversity in human life, the social treatment of the body, gender, personhood, ethnic identities and stereotyping of the “other”.

Hilary Callan

Former director, Royal Anthropological Institute, London SW1

Defining British values

What a tour de force Frank Cottrell Boyce’s piece on British values was (“You can’t teach values, British or otherwise. You can only live them”, Comment). If anything, it contained all the principles (values?) most sane people wish to see in society: humour, tolerance, common sense, compassion, candour, honesty, clear-sightedness. After a week of reading and listening to the claims made by politicians and commentators, most of whom have never set foot inside a state school, faith or otherwise, about what goes on in the nation’s faith schools, this was refreshing indeed.

Margaret Riley

Blackrod, Lancashire

Inequity of austerity policy

Accepting Andrew Rawnsley’s economic analysis with regard to the deficit, which is by no means agreed by all economists, he peddles the usual Westminster/south-east view of the austerity agenda (“Labour needs to be candid about painful cuts it will have to make”, Comment). Those of us who live outside the M25 are outraged at the blatant unjust, inequitable implementation of that policy, especially with regard to local authorities. We would look for a Labour government to redress this imbalance where the Durhams of this world are not penalised for the benefit of the Surreys, where the poor are not paying for the rich, where need again becomes a criterion for redistribution. The total sum may be the same but the allocation of the burden should still be part of the debate.

EM Dixon

Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham

Arts funding outside London

Peter Bazalgette is right to point out the devastating effect that local government cuts have had on regional arts organisations (“Arts in crisis – ‘blame lies with council cuts'”, News). Poorer areas have faced larger cuts, exacerbating Britain’s cultural divide. Unfortunately further cuts are likely in the next parliament, no matter who wins the election. This means that organisations such as the Arts Council, BBC and National Lottery have an obligation to support diversity across Britain. Our recent report for the IPPR, March of the Modern Makers, found that Londoners receive three times more arts funding in total than everyone else in the country.

Absolute equity would be unwise given the national assets that are based in London for historic reasons. But the fact that the Arts Council has begun to shift funding away from London shows that the current settlement is not rational. All grant-making bodies must develop clear evidence on the right balance of funding between London and the regions, and how they will work towards it. Increasing regional funding will also help diversify the creative industries. The magnet of London for fashion, music, film, theatre and television, combined with a history in the industry of poorly paid internships and informal recruitment, is a barrier to a creative career for young people away from the capital and from less well-off backgrounds. Supporting cultural institutions in places like Manchester, Bristol and Edinburghelsewhere can help open these sectors by allowing talented young people of limited means to get their break closer to home.

Will Straw and Nigel Warner

Institute for Public Policy Research

London WC2

Living with cancer

Thank you for printing the extract from Marion Coutts’s book (New Review). My partner of 39 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer earlier this year and we are still coming to terms with it. Articles like this help us, as does the support we have received and continue to receive from friends and family across the globe via email/text/telephone calls and letters. At times like this, the world wide web is truly a safety net.

S Leslie


Where there’s a will…

As a retired clergyman, I must have officiated at more than 1,000 weddings. At not one has anyone ever said: “I do” (“It’s never too late to say ‘I do’: why the over-65s have fallen for wedding bells”, In Focus). This is because they have all said: “I will.”

Canon Michael Blood



The Reform think-tank, which receives funding from private healthcare firms, and advises the Prime Minister, claims the NHS is too “hostile to competition” (report, 18 June).

The recent Commonwealth Fund report, ranking UK health care first of 11 nations, has not stopped the Government from calling for further savings. I have seen little comment on another aspect of the report: the cost per capita of services. The UK is number 10 on the list of 11, with only New Zealand managing to spend less.

This value for money is world-beating, and calling for more “efficiency savings” is entirely unrealistic. Competition will not help; no commercial organisation could compete, if subject to the NHS’s obligation to offer the best treatment to everybody, whatever their condition, whenever they need it and wherever they live.

The public and healthcare professionals alike are well aware that the NHS has shortcomings, but the reason is not wilful behaviour by the staff, just lack of resources at almost every level. The Government refuses to implement Review Body recommendations (except for parliamentarians), expensive treatments are restricted in availability, and any spare cash is too often eaten up in PFI repayments.

Think-tanks and politicians alike seem motivated by a desire to maintain inequality of wealth distribution, in this case by increasing inequality of health care. Perhaps reporting more on the value of the NHS, not merely its cost, would help us to understand the need for more funding, not less?

Gerald Freshwater,

Retired NHS Consultant

Lerwick, Shetland

British values aren’t that easy

Your article on Siegfried Sassoon (12 June) reminded me of a story I used to tell to my history students at Rock Ferry High School on the outskirts of Birkenhead.

During his stay on Merseyside in 1917, Sassoon is said to have thrown his Military Cross into the River Mersey close to where I taught. We used to discuss Sassoon in some depth, as we did several of the War Poets. Since then, of course, his medal has been found, though the MC ribbon was sent floating away on the river “in a paroxysm of exasperation” at the conduct of the war.

As a teacher, who has witnessed the harm Michael Gove has inflicted upon the teaching profession, I am sure Mr Gove would be proud of me, in promoting those “British values” of encouraging my pupils to challenge blind devotion to authority, to keep as open a mind as possible, and to chaff at anyone who so blandly asserts that “British values” are so easily defined as to be received rather than come to.

Nowell Snaith

Llangollen, Denbighshire

May we assume that a list of British values will contain few of the following? Respect and honour for the elderly; disgust at pornography; protection of the young from the profiteering persuasions of drugs and alcohol; little interest on loans to the needy; modesty; daily acknowledgement of the beauty of the world; a delight that families can live, work and be together as a regular thing.

Who do these Muslims think they are?

Ian Flintoff


Surely the most British of values would be stop banging on about them.

Martin Hollywood



Next door to a rogue landlord

I was delighted to read Jonathan Brown’s article (14 June) on rogue landlords. I have suffered from a rogue landlord for the past 26 years. I am not a tenant, I am a neighbour.

This landlord bought the neighbouring house to ours about two years after we moved in. We were horrified.

We knew that he would simply let his property degenerate into a state of dilapidation, and so it turned out.

For most of that period I have had to complain to my local council about him from time to time. To little avail. Since last Christmas I have been protesting more and more vehemently, and my council has at last been treating me seriously. However, it has had no effect at all on the landlord. I have sent my complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman, because although the council has recently been making valiant efforts on my behalf it has still had absolutely no success. Predictably.

TV programmes and newspaper articles rightly condemn rogue landlords because they exploit tenants. But when will anyone ever speak up for the thousands and thousands of neighbours who have to endure not only filth and negligence, but the loss in value and saleability of their own property, through no fault of their own?

Name and address not supplied

Let the grass grow in our parks

Recent correspondents (14 and 18 June) wrote about over-management of grass in parks. The Downs is an area of grassland in Bristol. It forms the western boundary to the city and was originally used for grazing sheep. It is larger than Hyde Park in London.

Every year, areas of the Downs are left uncut. We enjoy carpets of wild flowers which change as spring becomes summer. The grass continues to grow and it is now waist-high. In a few weeks, these meadows will be cut for silage.

Such “wild spaces” are much valued as areas of undisturbed biodiversity and they get better each year.

Robert Benton


Young Scotland wants to stay British

Christopher Hirst says (Books, 21 June) that Gordon Brown’s “relentless didacticism” in his My Scotland, Our Britain  “will have limited appeal, especially among the 98,000 16- and 17 -year-olds whose votes may be crucial”.

Brown doesn’t need to worry. School polls of those eligible to vote have shown overwhelming majorities for staying in the UK; 79.4 per cent of 11,653 pupils in Aberdeenshire in September last year and 71.3 per cent of 964 pupils in Moray last week voted No.

Hugh Pennington


One down, 30 to go

Of the 32 nations in the World Cup finals, 31 will fail at some point. At least England got their crushing disappointment in early.

Richard Walker

London W7

Don’t abolish private schools, learn from them 

Pupils at private schools have two things in common: they have parents who care about their education, and they have parents who can pay for it. What these pupils do not have in common is academic ability.

Private schools have to cope with a huge range of abilities. Yet most of their pupils emerge equipped to earn their living: they can speak and write properly in English and are reasonably numerate. Often a talent will have been identified that will be of use to them as an adult: in sports, or mechanics, or music. They have been educated to talk well with adults, to appear self-confident, how to be polite and how to behave in interviews.

For these reasons, it is likely that fewer of them will end up as unemployed. So their parents save public money in two ways: they pay for schooling, and they produce children unlikely to be on the dole. Probably these children will grow up to earn more and contribute more as taxpayers. The answer is not to destroy what works. Far from destroying private schools, as urged by Alan Bennett, we should be looking at why they work so well.

We can try to imitate private schools’ advantages in our state schools: smaller classes; pay teachers more, asking them to take evening classes and clubs in term-time; have a discipline system that really works.

In particular, provide a wider range of subjects and activities to pick out those abilities that lie latent. Ensure there are excellent musical facilities. Provide drama and debating to encourage self-confidence. Make available fringe subjects like Greek and philosophy. Art in all its forms can show up unsuspected gifts. After-school clubs: utilise those expensive school facilities for activities such as photography, graphic design, car maintenance and mechanics, carpentry and plumbing, cooking, gardening. There should be classes in basic finance skills. And of course there should be a quiet place to do homework.

Yes, it would cost more money, but that would probably be saved if a more self-confident and better-equipped generation of children didn’t end up on the dole, or in the courts.

Alison Willott

Tregaer, Monmouth

Janet Street-Porter (Voices, 21 June) may agree with Alan Bennett that independent schools should be abolished, but how  do you deal with the  fact that some parents will gain advantage by buying private tuition for their children?

Her idea to reintroduce grammar schools will not eliminate this fee-paying service.

The only way to deal with the advantage of money is for the state sector to provide a better service.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands


Sir, We have devoted most of our professional lives to European Union law. Our purpose in writing is not to support or oppose the nomination of anyone in particular as commission president, but to draw attention to what the treaties require and why. The relevant provision is Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union.

Members of the commission “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution” — including the European Parliament. The duty of complete independence explains why the commission has the exclusive right to propose legislation. It must be independent if it is to strike a fair balance between conflicting interests and to protect minority interests. This applies all the more to the president.

The procedure for choosing the president separates the right of initiative from the right of final decision — a separation of functions that is characteristic of the treaty system. The heads of state or government of the member states, meeting as the European Council, first identify the person they consider best suited to lead the commission. The parliament then decides whether to elect that person. If not, the European Council must propose another candidate.

In making its choice the European Council must “[take] into account the elections to the European Parliament”. This time, the elections have shown the deep disaffection of many citizens throughout the Union. The president of the commission must be someone who can respond to this challenge and maintain the credibility and independence of the commission.

Professor Sir Alan Dashwood, QC

Professor Sir David Edward, QC

Sir Jeremy Lever, QC

Dr John Temple Lang

Sir, Matthew Parris (Opinion, June 21) chooses to forget that in 1975 the “anti-Europeans were the loony left” precisely because it was deemed to be a capitalist enterprise.

Once it metamorphosised into a socialist, federalist and largely undemocratic entity not only the so called loony left but also the broad left (with the honourable exceptions of Peter Shore and Tony Benn) changed their minds and became true believers.

As for branding those against an ever increasing federalist agenda “home grown anti-EU crazies” is Mr Parris trying to annoy more Conservatives into voting UKIP and so let in Labour?

David Hutchison

Robertsbridge, E Sussex

Sir, The pro-EU lobby represent the choice over exit as being between staying within the warm embrace of the EU, with all the sense of security that that engenders, and being cast away on a desert isle while Jean-Claude Juncker steers the good ship Euroland off into the sunset. A better analogy might be that, seeing rapids ahead, we are asking to be put ashore before it is too late.

Or better still, that rather than passengers on a ship, Britain actually represents a major part of the fabric from which the vessel is made, and that our leaving will cause the whole structure to fall apart. If the UK were to vote in favour of leaving, it is difficult to envisage the concept of an ever closer union surviving beyond the next set of European elections.

Matthew Parris believes that a British exit would cause instability because of German hegemony. In my view the shift in position of the balance in “qualified majority voting” towards the recipient southern states would cause the greatest tensions.

We might well find that our lifeboat is rather crowded.

Alistair Newton

Theydon Bois, Essex

Sir, Would it be possible for the manufacturers of clip-on St George flags to provide longer staffs, so that the flag can be lowered to half mast when the inevitable happens?

Philip Downer

Teddington, Middx

Sir, Howard Goodall (June 21) sadly finds a conflict between the study of mathematics and individual creative development. He goes on to champion his own professional discipline of popular music. People with narrow cultural horizons would do well to compare and contrast their own careers with that of Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw: Professor of Mathematics at Manchester University, Lord Mayor of Manchester and prime mover in the founding of the Royal Northern College of Music.

Anthony Cutler

London SW7

Sir, Both Isis, intent on “smashing the Sykes-Picot conspiracy”, and Ben Macintyre (“We can’t let Iraq’s borders shift in the sand”, June 20) appear to be putting the blame for the Middle East settlement after the First World War on the wrong culprits. Sykes and Georges-Picot did indeed make proposals (Lord Curzon called them “iniquitous”, “absolutely impracticable” and “fantastic”) for dividing the region up in the colonial interest, but their agreement was dead by July 1920 and Iraq and Syria were not partitioned in accordance with it.

The borders around the two states, and the northwest-southeast border between them which Isis seeks to erase, were the work of Faisal, King of Syria and later of Iraq, and Arnold Wilson, second British High Commissioner in Baghdad. In the case of Iraq at least, they remained the same as under the Ottomans and are therefore no more artificial than when they had been settled nearly three centuries earlier and Western empire-building had yet to begin.

Dr Richard Long

Bromsberrow Heath, Gloucs

Sir, The noted zoologist Guy Dollman, of the British Museum’s natural history department, said in a letter published in The Times on March 26, 1935, that in churchwardens’ accounts for the parishes of St Paul’s Bedford, and Dean, Bedfordshire, 1797-1838, bats were on a list of malefactors for the heads of which a reward was offered. It was stated that in one church, 852 bats were killed and paid for at the rate of 6d a dozen.

More recently, Mrs Josephine de Goris reported (letter, Sept 15, 1986) that in 1951 the organist of St Margaret’s Binsey was unable to tell the black keys from the white, so great was the depth of bat-droppings on the manuals. To remedy this, the vicar, the Rev Arnold Mallinson, installed a stuffed owl, which, to deter the bats, stood sentinel in various parts of the church until at last it was nailed to a newel post on the corner of the vestry screen. Whether it worked, Mrs de Goris did not say.

Eugene Suggett

Dorking, Surrey


SIR – Sir Martin Sorrell reflects that, following the recent European Union election results, “Nations are not coming together, but are in danger of pulling further apart.”

His remedy for this appears to be “urgent reform in a number of areas”, achieved by working from inside the EU. Should Sir Martin have been following developments in the EU over the last 40 years, he could hardly fail to be aware that we have heard this refrain from our political leaders almost since the day we joined the European Economic Community back in 1973.

Roger Hopkins
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Sir Martin Sorrell claims our “global influence depends to a significant degree on our place in Europe”, but this ignores the benefits an exit would bring.

An independent Britain would gain a seat at the table in bodies like the World Trade Organisation, while retaining its seats on the UN Security Council and Nato. If Britain continues towards becoming a province of a federal Europe, it will have as much influence as an American state does upon the world stage.

Luke Stanley
London SW1

Inward investment

SIR – For inward investment to benefit this country it must be genuine investment rather than the takeover of prosperous British companies with a view to eliminating a competitor, stripping assets or just buying the brand, with manufacture and control being placed offshore.

The investment in machinery, plant and people made by Tata Motors since buying Jaguar Land Rover was an excellent example of the sort of thing we need, whereas Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury was the opposite.

When George Osborne talks about the benefits of inward investment he should emphasise that investment is putting money into British companies or starting new ones, not just buying out existing shareholders.

Tony Goodbody
Havant, Hampshire

Doubts or prejudice?

SIR – One cannot tell whether or not a person is British-born by skin colour or other physical attribute, nor by their dress style.

Legitimate doubts about the impact of immigration can all too easily blur into racial prejudice, which is often more prevalent than rationality.

Politicians of all stripes should recognise this and choose their words carefully.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

Rubbish tips

SIR – Why wait until 2030 to recycle 70 per cent of all household rubbish? In our area we have one bin for recyclables, an optional one for garden waste and one for landfill waste. I take glass to the bottle banks and waxed cartons to a collection point. Clothes and surplus household items go to a clothing bank or a charity shop. Another local charity collects printer cartridges. I compost vegetable peelings and garden waste and I sell some usable items online.

The things that have stumped me recently are video cassettes and polystyrene packaging.

Geoff Dees
Alford, Lincolnshire

SIR – You state that an astonishing third of all rubbish from British households consists of food waste.

There is an obesity crisis costing us all millions of pounds a year, as well as a problem with excess plastic and other wrappings. All three problems could be alleviated by banning food offers such as “Three for two” and “Buy one get one half price”, instead of charging five pence for each plastic bag.

Ardon Lyon
Templecombe, Somerset

Mute admiration

SIR – Turning the sound off on the television may reduce the boredom of listening to Phil Neville’s World Cup commentary but, more importantly, it permits one to concentrate on the inane gestures made by the players when they disagree with the referee, and to admire their wonderful haircuts.

David Perrott
Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

Hygienic greeting

SIR – Ron Kirby (Letters, June 8) feels safer kissing than shaking hands. In fact, any kissing also involves an exchange of bacteria. A verbal greeting does seem to be the obvious answer.

However, a bow or curtsey could be suitably formal and avoid any touching.

Professor Julian Verbov

A place in the sun

SIR – I note that the “Discover” section is promoting Europe’s hidden beaches.

If I book a holiday on one of these beaches will I arrive to find rows of other holidaymakers in deckchairs all reading The Sunday Telegraph?

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Staying the night is important for bonding

SIR – You report that the child care expert, Penelope Leach, has claimed that children of separated couples should not stay overnight with their fathers before the age of five.

Preventing overnight stays will damage relationships irreparably. Richard Warshak, an American specialist on child custody and former White House consultant on family law reform, has analysed the reports of 110 of the world’s top experts and concluded that shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages, including “sharing the overnight care for very young children”.

It is mischievous of Penelope Leach to suggest that parents who share parenting are driven by self-interest or see their children as possessions.

It is essential for their full development that children are allowed to bond with both parents, and there is no minimum age at which overnight staying can begin.

Nick Langford
Family Justice Network
Havant, Hampshire

Getting rid of grunts

SIR – A D Wilson (Letters, June 15) is fed up with the screeching of female tennis players. If a coach says the screeching doesn’t happen during training, then it may be done purely to put an opponent off, just like deliberately slow play.

It is high time that the Lawn Tennis Association gave umpires the authority to deduct points – this would solve the problem instantly. Navratilova, Graf and Hingis didn’t resort to grunting, so why is it tolerated today?

John Batty
Middle Assendon, Oxfordshire

SIR – I have a desire to buy a ticket for Centre Court and at a change over, stand up and yell: “For goodness’ sake, Sharapova, shut up.” I suspect I would get a round of applause and then be evicted, but it would be money well spent.

Christopher Downs
Goodrich, Herefordshire

Terry the tipster

SIR – Terry Wogan is being unduly modest when he writes that “my racing tips were a disincentive to gamblers.” For the 1984 Derby I placed my largest ever to-win bet (£200) on the short-priced, supposedly unbeatable, favourite, El Gran Senor. Then, on the radio, I chanced to hear Mr Wogan tip Secreto so convincingly that I was persuaded to place a modest each-way bet on him.

That cancelled out a big loss on the runner-up and preserved my appetite for gambling.

John Cottrell
Addlestone, Surrey

The sculptor Ken Thompson in his studio with his design for the plaque to be installed in Westminster Abbey  Photo: Ella Pellegrini

6:59AM BST 22 Jun 2014

Comments7 Comments

SIR – It is indeed time that a suitable memorial be raised to the great Admiral Arthur Phillip at Westminster Abbey (“Kangaroo stone at Westminster Abbey to honour Australia’s founder”).

We must also thank him for taking aboard those first vines when he revictualled in South Africa, so founding an industry which helps to grace so many of our dinner tables.

I T Legge
Billericay, Essex

SIR – The man who took the first settlers safely to Australia was hardly “a little-known British admiral”. Every Australian child learns his name at school.

There was a plaque on his house in Bath when I worked there in 1964, and his name was much mentioned at Portsmouth in 1987 when the Queen waved off the ships re-enacting the sailing of the First Fleet 200 years on.

Michael Cole
Laxfield, Suffolk

SIR – Bathampton church, where Admiral Phillip is buried, can boast stained glass windows and a plaque in his honour. The floor is of Australian Wombeyan marble and all the woodwork of Australian blackbean wood.

Chairs were donated by many Australian cities and organisations, and kneelers by Tasmania. Each year, on the Friday closest to his birthday, October 11, a service is held in the church. The Australian High Commissioner or his deputy attend, with agents general of different states, their wives and many West Country Australians.

By long tradition, the children of the village primary school also take part. A short service is also held on the Saturday closest to Australia Day.

Jane Shepherd
Bathampton, Somerset

SIR – You used the term “death duty” to describe what is officially known as inheritance tax. Given that it is charged on the deceased person’s estate, your description seems correct.

But as the law stands, four beneficiaries inheriting equal shares in an estate will start to pay death duties over a threshold, not of £325,000, but of £81,250. If there is to be a true “inheritance tax” the threshold would be set for each beneficiary and not for the testator.

John Tuck
Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire

SIR – You argue in your leading article that British inheritance tax, with almost the lowest threshold in the world, should be reformed.

Better still, abolish it completely with the quid pro quo of imposing a charge at the time of death to capital gains tax on worldwide assets, with the usual exemptions, including relief for the principal private residence. That would be extremely popular with families.

At the same time, the Chancellor could sweep away the complicated rules for non-doms, who in future would pay the same tax as anyone else.

Coupled with a low corporation tax and a commitment to reduce further the top rate of income tax, this could form an attractive package to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to settle in Britain and stimulate our economy.

If only I believed that the Chancellor could be that bold and actually simplify taxes.

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – You mention that all taxes are unpleasant but that inheritance tax (IHT) is doubly so and hits families in their moment of grief. Meanwhile, Arthur Laffer, the economist, asserts we should get rid of tax credits and the “absolutely offensive” inheritance tax that creates jobs for consultants and accountants.

Elsewhere I have seen IHT described as immoral, on the grounds that it is wrong to steal from the deceased. So, would readers agree that this tax should be abolished or that the threshold should be raised to £1 million, as the Tories said they would do, given a clear majority?

Richard Palmer
Stoke Golding, Leicestershire

SIR – I cannot share the widespread hostility to inheritance tax. If we are to have a safe, happy and civilised society, then we need good-quality public services.

We need more GPs so that we can see one when we need to; more consultants and nurses to cut hospital waiting times; probation officers to stop criminals reoffending; trading standards officers to protect us as consumers; carers, ring-and-ride, meals on wheels and other services for older people; and social workers and foster parents to protect neglected children.

These services cost money, and inheritance tax is one of the fairest ways to raise it. Very few estates would be liable for inheritance tax without the unearned gains from rising property prices, so it is perfectly reasonable for some of this windfall to be taxed for the benefit of us all.

Otherwise, other taxes have to rise or our public services have to be cut.

Richard Mountford
Hildenborough, Kent

SIR – With the inheritance tax threshold now not much more than the value of a small Home Counties house, an elderly parent would be wise to mortgage it before dying, spending the money on new cars for each child, a cruise (or 10) for themselves and dividing the rest between them.

Sue Doughty
Twyford, Berkshire

SIR – While we are on the subject of tax reforms, the Government could alleviate the current house price problem by extending capital gains tax to primary residences.

This could exclude those who are receiving the state pension to help those who need to move out or trade down.

I would also remove the stamp duty land tax.

Derek Vivian
Whyteleafe, Surrey

Irish Times:

Sir, – Your editorial (“A fair deal for farmers”, June 19th) claimed that since 2011 “dairy prices powered ahead but meat prices fell”. The reality is that Irish cattle prices increased by 18 per cent in the period 2011 to 2013.

Yes, there are currently some challenges in the beef sector with regard to profitability at producer level, but 2013 saw record high prices for beef cattle. Price have actually increased by 40 per cent since 2009. However, many farmers were unable to capitalise on those high prices due to a combination of increasing input (feed/fertiliser) prices and inefficiencies at farm level. While prices have reduced slightly in 2014, due to falling demand, the Irish cattle prices remain higher than the EU average.

Recently the Minister for Agriculture commissioned an independent report to assess how the beef sector was performing. The comprehensive Dowling report followed consultation with all stakeholders in the sector, including farm organisations, processors and retail customers. The report makes a number of recommendations on breeding, on-farm production efficiencies and animal health programmes, all of which should now be taken on board by the farming sector. If adopted, these recommendations will add significantly to farmers’ margins.

The beef sector is a critically important part of the agri-sector and a major contributor to the wider economy.

Ireland is well placed to deliver on the targets of Food Harvest 2020 and continue the progress made by Bord Bia and the beef processors in marketing Irish beef to European and global markets.

It is important that farmers, and their representative bodies, now engage with Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation in terms of adopting the innovative measures to assist them reduce costs, breed animals that will optimise market returns and, in doing so, make their businesses more profitable. – Yours, etc,


Meat Industry Ireland,

84/86 Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The ruling elite will be toasting Chris Johns (“Our average earners have low tax burden”, Business Opinion, June 20th), who writes “. . . if we want to be like other countries we are already there for high earners but we will need to take more from average earners”.

The average annual wage in Ireland according to CSO figures is €35,738. Mr Johns advocates that imposing more taxes on people with these very modest earnings and therefore reducing their limited disposable income even further is part of the solution to our economic woes. The implication of Mr Johns’s argument is that we already tax the well-off enough and therefore the appropriate option is to impose additional hardship on the average earner. Mr Johns seems to be of the view that the wealthy have reached their limit of pain and can’t give anymore, while those earning €35,738 a year have surplus income that can be further taxed.

Mr Johns concludes his article with “I can hear the shouting already” but no matter how loud the shouts of protest are against his article they will no doubt be drowned out by the delighted shouts of approval from the “hard-pressed” elite. – Yours, etc,


Conquer Hill Avenue,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – Your feature “The last of the Blasket evacuees” and the story of Gearóid Cheaist Ó Catháin (Life & Style, June 16th) struck a chord. Your readers might be interested to know the story of the Soay islanders, a small Island off the southwest of Skye in Scotland and overlooked by the Cullin Mountains. In 1953 the 27 remaining residents were evacuated and resettled by the British government of the day. There are many parallels in the stories of the two sets of islanders: petitions to the government for support due to isolation, poor communication and difficulties in getting supplies along with unrealistic business propositions.

In Soay’s case, it was its purchase by Gavin Maxwell, of Ring of Bright Water fame, and his audacious plans for a shark fishery for oil production that failed.

The island’s history features in the book The Soay of our Forefathers by Laurance Reed and escapades of my grandfather, Sandy Campbell, who was the boatman of the Soay supply boat the Marys, along with his nautical evaluations the 1937 British America’s Cup entry are described in Alastair Dunnett’s The Canoe Boys. The plight of the Soay islanders and that of the inhabitants of the Hebridean islands was a feature of the Times of London editorial and coverage on May 30th, 1953. Photographs of the evacuation, including my grandparents (my grandmother was the island’s teacher) and some surviving aunts, to the SS Hebrides on June 20th can be found online in the Hulton Archive.

In 2003 the few surviving and able Soay evacuees, along with their families, travelled to Elgol in Skye to mark the 50th anniversary with a trip back to the Island. The weather was too severe for the boat crossing! – Yours, etc,




Co Antrim.

Sir, – Perhaps because of the present spell of good weather, there has been a huge increase in the number of young adults skateboarding on the pavements in this area (apparently as a part, or for all, of their commutes). In order to lessen the high risk of them colliding with cyclists, I am calling on the city council to create separate designated lanes on the pavements here for each of these two groups. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – If Dublin as a city is serious about promoting urban cycling, the most vital infrastructural change required is a large increase in dedicated bike lanes. Currently, many bike lanes are located at the edge of vehicle lanes, differentiated only by a road marking. This means cars can veer dangerously close to bicycles – a harrowing and downright unsafe experience for cyclists.

If we truly aspire to the continental ideal of making biking the preferred means of urban transportation (with all the corollary benefits to city traffic and public health such a change implies), we must build safe, functional lanes in which cars cannot enter.

If you build them, they will come! – Is mise,



An Muileann,

Oileán Chliara,

Co Mhaigh Eo.

Sir, – For too long after independence this country tended to blame the British for much of its problems and shortcomings. That this rarely happens now is to be welcomed; the consensus seems to be that we have now matured as a State and no longer need straw men. The modern approach is that when confronted with our societal failures, we lay the blame at the door of one of the churches. Plus ça change. – Yours, etc,


Bellvue Apartments,

Cookstown Road,

Tallaght, Co Dublin.

Sir, – You suggest (Editorial, “Trusting Science”, June 14th) that “the intense resistance by some to scientific findings on climate change is difficult to understand.”

Maybe. But isn’t climate change denial just another example of belief based on faith rather than logic? – Yours, etc,



of Geography,

University College Cork.

Sir, – Having just returned from San Remo in Italy, I have to praise highly their conversion of the old town railway line into a beautiful cycle and pedestrian lane over 40km long. Along the way, B&Bs, hotels, markets and restaurants ply for the passerby’s trade.

It is hard to overestimate the potential in Ireland of using disused railway lines in a similar way.

The Western Greenway is a great start but now is the time to plan routes that will touch every county in Ireland, bringing commerce, consumers and visitors to every corner of our beautiful land, – Yours, etc,


Bayview Drive,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Let us not get self-congratulatory that we are not now what we were then, in relation to the Tuam babies and so many other situations. Some issues in the current reality of Ireland still haunt and disturb our consciences and will not go away: homelessness and direct provision for asylum seekers and refugees.

It’s easy to point the finger of judgment and say, self-righteously, “we would never do that”. Our current national reality of homelessness and direct provision for asylum seekers should shock us and stimulate us similarly. Does anybody wonder why we are not so incensed about those issues? In another 50 years, what will society say about us? – Yours, etc,


Sundrive Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – I am a 58-year-old woman who experienced redundancy after 36 years working in the construction and service industry. In 2009, I began the adult learning BA in All Hallows College. I am dismayed that this fine establishment will be permitted to close and wonder about the missed educational opportunities other mature students might have accessed. – Yours, etc,


Lombard Court,

City Quay, Dublin 2.

Irish Independent:

The untimely death of Gerard Conlon should remind us all how important it is that we allow politicians to make representations on behalf of prisoners, be they guilty or not.



I am reminded of the role of former British Labour MP Chris Mullen who did such outstanding work for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six that brought international attention to these cases.

One should never forget the words of Lord Denning in summing up in the appeal of the Birmingham Six when he said that if what the appellants were saying was true it “would be an appalling vista”.

While some people do not like what Niall Collins TD or others do for prisoners, it is their duty to continue this work.




It would be interesting to find out how many letters were written by Eamon O Cuiv or Niall Collins on behalf of those struggling through the harsh austerity measures.

Are there any letters written for homeowners overburdened with unsustainable mortgages, or huge electricity or heating bills these past few years? Is there any written representation for business owners facing closure, or workers facing redundancy or wage cuts? Were there letters written to the HSE when medical cards were being so casually cancelled for families and people with disabilities?




I am currently enduring a summer cough, and note that Curly Wee (by coincidence) these days is seeking out a cure for the common cold.

Should he be successful and let us in on the secret, I for one promise never to eat another rasher.




Tax harmonisation is the next threat by the powers-that-be in Europe to keep us under their thumbs – specifically, Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax (12.5pc).

Ireland can’t compete with the manufacturing might of Germany, France, Italy or Sweden (cars, pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, washing machines, weapons and industrial infrastructure), but it can compete in attracting foreign investment through its corporate tax laws.

But that’s not good enough for the big boys. They want it both ways. They set the parameters which suit their banks and bondholders, giving other member states easy access to the cash and credit which fuels the demand for the big boys’ manufactured goods. At the same time they ask for protection for their own unsecured bondholders and demand that banking debt be taken on by our citizens as sovereign national debt.

Seems like double jeopardy to me.

Besides, it reminds me of the biblical story when David’s jealousy got the better of him. Read all about it in the Second Book of Samuel, where he got rid of an innocent man to cover his own crimes.




Five million Scots will note that in the World Cup, Italy (population 61 million) and England (population 53 million) have been seen off by Uruguay (population 3.3 million) and Costa Rica (population 4.5 million) .




I am still waiting to see some sizzle from Brazil in the World Cup. Instead of fluid samba soccer we see leaden-footed caution.

This is supposed to be a sporting carnival, not a square dance.




Imam Ibrahim Ahmad Noonan writes: “Is Islam an ideology of hate, evil, and teachings of ‘kill’?

The answer is no.” (Irish Independent, June 18). He fails, however, to explain that the pattern of violence and aggressive disregard for human suffering is consistent with some Koran teachings.

The Koran, for example, makes a distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as establishing a hierarchy of relative worth.

It suggests that Islam is not about universal brotherhood, but about the brotherhood of believers.

The Koran also plainly tells Muslims that they are a chosen race, while those of other religions are “perverted transgressors”.

The role of non-believers is subordinate to the position of Muslims.

Those who would resist Islamic rule are oppressed until they acknowledge their inferior status by converting to Islam or by paying a religious poll tax.

There is absolutely no other religion system that draws such sharp distinction between its own members and others outside the fold. David Walsh



I have the good fortune to be back in Ireland, and I made my way out to beautiful Sandycove in south Dublin.

As the sun shone and children splashed about I could not help but wonder how bereft of sandy beaches our city shoreline is. I cannot imagine any other European capital making so little civic use of such a unique and stunning coastline.

True, we do not always enjoy Mediterranean sunshine, but families should be able to avail of more amenities along the shore instead of being packed into a tight corner of the coast like sardines.

TG Gavin

Dublin and USA

Irish Independent


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