26 July 2014 Astrid

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A very very dry day

Scrabble Mary wins, but gets under 400. perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Lettice Curtis – obituary

Lettice Curtis was a pilot who ferried Spitfires to frontline squadrons and gained her helicopter licence at the age of 77

Lettice Curtis

Lettice Curtis

6:33PM BST 25 Jul 2014


Lettice Curtis, who has died aged 99, was arguably the most remarkable woman pilot of the Second World War, flying a wide range of military combat aircraft with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and being the first woman to qualify to fly a four-engine bomber.

She had qualified as a commercial pilot in April 1938, and was working for the Ordnance Survey when, in June 1940, she was approached by the ATA. There was an urgent need for more pilots to ferry aircraft and, with most men joining the RAF, it was decided to form a Women’s Pool to bolster the number of pilots. Lettice Curtis was among the first to join .

With a small group of other young women, she began by flying light training and communications aircraft at Hatfield. She soon graduated to more advanced trainers and also the twin-engined Oxford. ATA pilots often flew alone and with no navigation aids — they had to rely almost entirely on map reading as they ferried aircraft from factories and airfields to RAF units around the United Kingdom. Weather conditions were often difficult.

Until the spring of 1941 there was a government ruling that women could not fly operational aircraft, but everything changed that summer. Without any extra tuition, and just a printed preflight checklist, Lettice Curtis ferried a Hurricane to Prestwick. Soon she was flying the fighter regularly, and it was not long before she was also delivering Spitfires to frontline squadrons.

In September 1941 the role of women pilots was extended further, and Lettice Curtis quickly graduated to the more advanced aircraft, ferrying light bombers such as the Blenheim and the Hampden. She then converted to the even more demanding Wellington, later observing: “Before flying [the Wellington] it was simply a question of reading Pilot’s Notes.”

At the end of September 1942, Lettice Curtis was sent to an RAF bomber airfield where she was trained to fly the Halifax. On October 27, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, accompanied by Mrs Clementine Churchill, visited the ATA to meet the women pilots. Lettice Curtis stood under the wing of a Halifax in the pouring rain and was introduced to the American President’s wife as the first woman to fly a four-engine bomber. The encounter prompted a field day in the national press, one headline reading: “Mrs Roosevelt meets Halifax girl pilot”.

In 1943 Lettice Curtis was authorised to ferry more types of heavy bombers, including the US B-17 Flying Fortress. The following year she was the first woman pilot to deliver a Lancaster. By the end of the war, when the ATA closed down, Lettice Curtis was probably the most experienced of all the female pilots, having flown more than 400 heavy bombers, 150 Mosquitos and hundreds of Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Lettice Curtis climbing into a Spitfire

Eleanor Lettice Curtis was born at Denbury, Devon, on February 1 1915 and educated at Benenden School in Kent and St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she read Mathematics and captained the women’s lawn tennis and fencing teams; she also represented the university at lacrosse, and was a county tennis and squash player.

She learned to fly at Yapton Flying Club near Chichester in the summer of 1937. After her initial training, she flew a further 100 hours solo in order to gain her commercial B licence. She did not expect to get a flying job, but in the event was taken on by CL Aerial Surveys, which she joined in May 1938.

Flying a Puss Moth fitted with a survey camera, she photographed areas of England for the Ordnance Survey. On the outbreak of war she transferred to the Ordnance Survey’s research department and nine months later she joined the ATA.

Post-war Lettice Curtis worked as a technician and flight test observer at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment before becoming the senior flight development engineer with Fairey Aviation in 1953. She also flew as a test observer in the Royal Navy’s Gannet anti-submarine aircraft and regularly flew Fairey’s communication aircraft.

Her love of flying never diminished, and she regularly took part in the National Air Races organised by the Royal Aero Club, piloting a variety of competitive aircraft, among them a Spitfire belonging to the American civil air attaché in London. In this Spitfire she raced against the country’s top test pilots, and achieved a number of high placings. She later bought her own aircraft (a Wicko), in which she competed in a number of Daily Express Air Races.

In the early 1960s, Lettice Curtis left Fairey for the Ministry of Aviation, working for a number of years on the initial planning of the joint Military and Civil Air Traffic Control Centre at West Drayton. After a spell with the Flight Operations Inspectorate of the Civil Aviation Authority, in 1976 she took a job as an engineer with Sperry Aviation.

A strong supporter of Concorde (her Concorde Club number was 151), she made two flights in the famous airliner. In 1992 she gained her helicopter licence, but three years later decided that, at the age of 80, her flying days were over.

A strong-willed, determined individual, Lettice Curtis always felt that the ATA did not receive the recognition it deserved, and in 1971 she published The Forgotten Pilots . Her autobiography, Lettice Curtis, came out in 2004.

Lettice Curtis, who was unmarried, was in great demand on the lecture circuit and as a guest on RAF stations. She was one of the first patrons and supporters of the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Lettice Curtis, born February 1 1915, died July 21 2014


While Polly Toynbee may well be right to say “the solidity of the policies taking shape is giving Labour a new spring in its step”, she omits the fact that it is the moderation of the policies which has lost Labour so many voters, especially to Ukip, predicted in the latest Ashcroft poll to win two of Labour’s target seats (Labour’s got its spring back but what about the swing? 22 July). Goodwin and Ford’s research suggests the defectors to Ukip were not so worried by doubts about Labour’s “fiscal rectitude” as about policies resembling those of the Tories too much, and some members of the front bench being too close to the City (Revolt of the dispossessed, 10 March).

This apparent Catch-22 situation is not insoluble, as there is, in Toynbee’s words, “room for manoeuvre”; policies can be radicalised in some areas without additional cost, as in retaining RBS as a people’s bank, and a declaration of war on tax avoidance. In the struggle to win the swing voter’s trust, Ed Miliband could insist all Labour MPs and candidates make public their tax details prior to the election, so the electorate can be clear there is at least one party willing to be transparent on this important and ethical issue. Cameron failed to carry out his promise back in 2012 that the tax details of the leading lights of the cabinet would go public and completely avoided answering a question about it in last week’s PMQs. Could this be the silver bullet Labour seeks?
Bernie Evans

• Rafael Behr suggests Ed Miliband may end up as the leader with the largest share of the vote by accident (Ed Miliband’s leadership style could put him in No 10, 23 July). But the article gives us evidence that Miliband may yet end up as much more than that. Behr describes Miliband as a consummate team-player and the opposition as a well-organised team. What we do need to see now is more of Miliband and his front-bench team explaining their policies (on the economy, the NHS and education, the three things people most want to hear about) in terms we can understand and, perhaps more importantly, clearly showing us that they are a government team-in-waiting, something no other party will find it easy to do. We don’t want another coalition.
Peter Henderson
Sherborne, Dorset 

• Polly Toynbee’s attempt to create a viable Labour programme encapsulates the party’s dilemma. If it presents a winning manifesto, its government will be at best a slightly less objectionable version of the coalition; if it offers a set of measures that stands a chance of addressing the complex crisis that the country faces, it won’t win. The reason is our electoral system, which is simply dysfunctional. Unless the first past the post system is overhauled, the future is bleak.
Norman Housley

• The proposals emerging from the Labour national policy forum endorsed by Polly are fine as far as they go. But by themselves they’ll not win Labour the election. What we need is the big picture beneath which Labour will campaign. This might consist of: Labour wholly rejecting the Tory and Lib Dem smear it is responsible for the deficit – the public finances went awry when billions of pounds of pubic money went to bailing out the banks; in future the broadest shoulders will bear the brunt of whatever economies are needed; the poor will be treated with sympathy and respect; the Tory/Lib Dem privatisation of the NHS will be halted and reversed; there’ll be a searching review of Britain’s role in the world, in light of the continuing need for economies, to ascertain whether a role similar to Sweden’s and the Netherlands’ would be more appropriate for our country.

Come on, Ed, stop pussyfooting around with Cameron and Clegg and start to think big. There’s not much time left.
Robin Wendt

• The lacklustre cheerleading in Polly’s piece is a key factor in explaining Labour’s drift and irrelevance. She ticks boxes with gusto and visits Trident, austerity, the living wage, rail nationalisation, economic credibility and house-building. That’s fine, but where’s the ignition ? I invite Polly to write an article about Mr Miliband? If she acknowledged his fatally anodyne and timid approach to Britain’s many dilemmas, and urged him to throw off his safety belt, I’d listen to her with respect; and he might listen too.

I’ve been a member of the Green party since 2003 , after leaving Labour when the Blair government attacked Iraq without legal or moral justification. Pardon me if I’m rather partisan but we have all the progressive values, vigour and leadership which Labour lacks.
Maurice George
Ormskirk, Lancashire

I listened with interest to reports on BBC Radio’s Today of concern over the small number of women who appear in letters pages (Letters, 12 July). Given my frequent appearances in print, it is a cause of wry amusement; readers have even been known to complain about my prolific output. The arguments about gender imbalance, and the fact that women just don’t have the time to write, is plainly codswallop. I spend a lot of time in the car, and rather than listen to music, I prefer to hear what’s going on in the world, hence my passion for BBC Radio 4. On reaching my destination, I have had the opportunity to shout out my opinion of whatever the hot topic of the day happens to be in the privacy of my car. By then I have also already formed the letter I want to write in my mind. Writing it down and sending it out into the wider world is the most blessed relief; the perfect way to relieve pent-up frustration at the injustices of this world. If, and when, my penmanship is published, there is also the satisfaction of knowing that I may influence others, even if it is only to respond in disagreement; rather that than apathy. It saves bashing my head against the wall, or beating up the cat. By the way, this took me less than 10 minutes to write.There are those who may say, ‘I can see that it did by the lack of quality.’ Who cares? Not me that’s for sure.
Linda Piggott-Vijeh
Combe St Nicholas, Somerset

• The heavy male bias on your letters page obviously minimises women’s presence and influence, but also excludes feminist voices, which could help reframe the political agenda and the policies and practices of our political parties. My unpublished letters to the Guardian between 2010 and 2014, for example (available on, bear this out. Unless I manage to be short and “funny” about gender issues, letters don’t get past your gatekeepers. And while I routinely treasure the Guardian letters pages, as a long-term, critical, but devoted, Guardian reader and subscriber, who tries to contribute to a productive dialogue about equality, neoliberalism, environmental values and left politics, for example, I also recognise this hostile reflex to attempts to tackle the complexity of these issues. I have to bear it. But I can’t grin.
Val Walsh

• I get annoyed by the number of letters you publish that just churn out a vested interest. I look at who has signed the letter before deciding if I want to waste my time reading what is obviously a campaign for something or other. On 16 July, I passed over six of these, the classic being from the campaigns officer for the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces using an article on public service cuts to shove his oar in. Equally, I nearly missed a short, beautifully crafted dig at the change of policy by the CoE on women – from an atheist. But the writer was a professor of computer vision etc whose job had absolutely nothing to do with the subject. Do you print such job titles to show your letters page is intellectually superior to others?
Roy Moore
Badsey, Worcestershire

A piece of the wreckage of the

Roger Tooth (Warning: upsetting images, G2, 24 July) criticises Magnum for offering Jerome Sessini’s coverage of the MH17 site. We at Magnum have a 67-year history in photojournalism that stands for integrity, speed and clarity of responding to major events. There are countless examples of our photojournalists getting pictures that have informed the world and they also can shock. This has been the case since even before the start of Magnum, when its co-founder George Rodger was at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and his pictures informed and shocked the world.

Jerome Sessini’s work in getting to the crash site and getting those pictures out was entirely in the best Magnum tradition as an agency. Our job is not to censor the harsh truths but to deliver them to picture editors such as Roger Tooth, who can then decide whether the Guardian’s readership can see them. We do not take that decision; he does. He was shocked that published them. That is his right but surely as an agency our job is to deliver what we have taken. To quote Roger in his own words, “their place (photographers) is to record; ours is to edit”. We completely agree. That is exactly what we did in this case and will in the future.
Stuart Franklin
Vice-president, Magnum

• In response to Stan Labovitch (The politics of war photography, 25 July), the pictures are not the problem. The killing and maiming of children is the problem and without the pictures the world would not be aware of the full horror of this result of Israel’s actions. We need more exposure of these barbaric actions, not less. It is actions that create jihadists but pictures expose the hypocrisy of those who defend the actions that create the jihadists. I hope The Guardian will continue to bring into the light things that oppressors worldwide and not just in Gaza would rather keep hidden.
Jim Morrison

It is a pity that Simon Jenkins’ excellent article on the folly of western sanctions against Russia (Comment, 25 July) is marred by his comment that the west “sells Russia guns, ships, Knightsbridge flats and places at Eton”. There are two misconceptions here: firstly the sensationalist innuendo that places at Eton can be “bought” and secondly that all Russians with sons at Eton (and there are very few indeed, well below the average to be found in the independent sector) are wealthy. Russian families are to be found among the 21% of our boys whose families receive financial aid in order to enable them to send their sons here. Like any other boy applying for entry to Eton, Russian boys are academically assessed and interviewed in year six. It is as impossible to buy a place here as it is to circumvent the rigorous entry standards.
Charles Milne
Tutor for Admissions, Eton College

Your article (Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to attend major Ban Ki-moon climate summit, 24 July) illustrates the welcome re-emergence of climate change at the top of the global agenda. In the UK, the Climate Coalition, a network of over 100 organisations representing over 11 million people, has come together because of our shared interest in protecting the things many of us love and hold dear. Without action to tackle climate change, the food we produce and import, the wildlife in our gardens and the land we depend on may be changed or lost forever. We therefore look forward to confirmation that the PM’s name is also on the list of attendees, and to the UK playing a leading role at this important summit.
Laura Taylor Head of advocacy, Christian Aid, Neil Thorns Director of advocacy, Cafod, Ruth Davis Political director, Greenpeace UK

• It was good of Stephen Bates (Diary, 24 July) to draw attention to the honour bestowed on Viscount Ridley and his belief that “free enterprise … makes people wealthier, healthier and wiser”. It certainly worked for his family who got more per ton of coal extracted from under their land in Northumberland than the men in my family got for actually digging it out. Tended to kill my family a lot younger too. We are wise to them, however.
Peter Hutchinson
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

• “Pyramids do actually release more taste” (Report, 24 July). Who cares? Loose tea is the only way to make tea properly. Have you noticed that as we make ever more fuss about how our coffee is made, it is now next to impossible to buy a cup of tea made in the proper way? Teabags of any shape are an irritating and unnecessary invention.
Graham Mytton
Dorking, Surrey

• Yet another reason for the preponderance of foreign players in the Premier League (Letters, 24 July) is the lax tax regime for highearners that operates in England.
David Grundy

• If your crossword setters’ interest in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (Letters, 25 July) helps generate wonders like Qaos’s secret agents and Puck’s armadillos (23 and 24 July), then long may it continue.
Jill Cramphorn

Gerard Benson, poet

‘Nothing could match the immediacy of Gerard Benson and the Barrow Poets performing in a basement bar’

I first encountered the fabulous Gerard Benson in the very early 1970s when the Barrow Poets played in a scrubby basement in the Sir Christopher Wren pub in the old Paternoster Square, by St Paul’s Cathedral in London, when I was barely old enough to buy a (legal) drink. While other young things were into Genesis or King Crimson, I was gripped by their spectrum of poetry and music, from their own compositions to Purcell, Byrd, Blake, Keats, Stevie Smith and lots of Anon.

With the endlessly energetic Gerard, small and roundish, reciting, singing and playing kazoo and saw, the visually contrasting William Bealby-Wright, tall and thin and slightly lugubrious, on the homemade cacofiddle – once described in the Guardian as “a kind of DIY, cymbal-augmented double bass, seemingly built by the Clangers” – and the other wonderful musicians and poets, they were electrifying. Later they played in grand venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, but nothing could match the immediacy of the basement bar.

A couple of decades later I made contact with Gerard in person, for a children’s poetry festival. He and Cathy came down to Hampshire from Yorkshire, where they were living, having recently finished a residency at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage at Grasmere, in Cumbria. He charmed the audience, and was as delightful in person as I could have hoped. Cathy was equally delightful and later sent my daughter a drawing and a poem. It was obvious they were a contented couple, but these calmer waters hadn’t dimmed his performing spark.

A few years later I embarked in a foolhardy manner on an arts festival under canvas, in a field in Dorset, aimed at families and children. It was essential that Gerard should be there. (Ideally all the Barrow Poets would have been there, but that wasn’t possible.) Again he and Cathy travelled south, and again delighted an audience of all ages. If anything stuck in the children’s heads, it was probably Edwin Morgan’s Loch Ness Monster’s Song. Possibly only Gerard would have been rash enough to attempt it aloud.

Our children grew up on the Barrow Poets’ LPs, not all entirely suitable for small children but which should be piped into every school until every child is entranced. The books are wonderful but the aural experience is unbeatable.



Arguments for and against taking children out of school for term-time holidays

Sir, Jenni Russell (“A few days off won’t ruin an education”, July 24) argues sensibly for a more humane approach to holidays in term time, even though the examples she cites are extreme. However, bad cases don’t make good laws — and citing such cases makes it appear that heads are exploiting blunt legal instruments. The reality is that these misfortunes are an inevitable by-product of well-intentioned procedures which are generally fair and predominantly beneficial.

However, as one who taught for 34 years and who as a head of year was responsible for promoting good attendance, I have to agree that holidays were rarely damaging and often beneficial to the student.

It is also true that most are more than capable of catching up, though that is not the case at the beginning of a school year. Those early weeks are crucial for teachers and learning groups in many ways, and no individual should be allowed to disrupt that period by choice. I would also have strong reservations about leave of absence in the months leading up to GCSE exams.

Gerald Cook

Wollaton, Notts

Sir, Jenni Russell does not allow for the possibilty that there may be children who do not wish to miss any schooltime. I was an anxious and conscientious pupil, and it would have pained and grieved me to miss any lessons, despite the lure of a family holiday.

Penelope Elliott

Potterne, Wilts

Sir, Jenni Russell is quite wrong. As a cathedral boy chorister I received and retain an exemplary musical education. However, morning choir practices meant that I consistently missed every theory section of my first year of school chemistry and physics, to the detriment of my undergraduate geology studies.

I began to understand parts of these subjects only after retiring, and having the chance to watch television documentaries on them.

Bob Ferguson

Solihull, West Midlands.

Sir, The most important issue is that very few children holidaying in term time actually do all the set work properly, so falling behind, and damage the education of their classmates since lesson time has to be spent helping them to catch up, to the detriment of the children who were in school. While parents may only consider the advantages of term-time holidays for themselves and their children, schools and teachers must consider the prospects and education of all their pupils.

Jenni Russell suggests that a few days off school won’t ruin an education and that may or may not be true for the children concerned. It will, however, damage the education of the many disadvantaged by the prospect of a couple of weeks in the sun for a few.

Dr Nick Winstone-Cooper

Bridgend, south Wales

Sir, Absence from school is not always harmful. Osbert Sitwell claimed that his education took place during holidays from Eton.

George Garner

Bradninch, Devon

Changing electricity supplier is to venture into a labyrinth of exploitation and subterfuge

Sir, I have just changed my electricity supplier from npower to Extra Energy. In the process I viewed several comparison websites and the Ofgem website.

There is an important fundamental about household electricity suppliers. They are all selling exactly the same product at exactly the same frequency and voltage. To then shroud this single basic product in hundreds of differing tariffs is nothing short of obfuscation. My view is ably supported by Ofgem’s thoroughly unhelpful website: “Allowing consumers to choose their (electricity) supplier helps to keep pressure on prices and drives better customer service. It also promotes innovation in products and services.”

Who is Ofgem trying to fool? There is only one product and the service is to provide it without interruption. There are unknowns in predicting the cost of electricity for the next 12-24 months. Therefore the fixed tariffs that suppliers quote can only be experienced guesses. For Ofgem to continue to endorse the electricity suppliers’ subterfuge and cynical exploitation of unwary, innumerate customers by permitting such a wide range of mainly uncompetitive tariffs is a scandal. In my case the difference in annual cost between npower’s standard variable tariff, that my account would be “automatically” moved to, and Extra Energy was over £1,000. The nation deserves better.

John Redman

Waldron, E Sussex

Instead of taking over green fields why not put solar panels on the roofs of all new buildings?

Sir, Neath Port Talbot council has just given permission for a euphemistically styled solar “park”. This 81-acre (45 football pitches apparently) installation will no doubt make a fortune for its owners, while further draining the government’s coffers. Meanwhile, houses, factories, offices, supermarkets and shopping malls spring up all over the UK with not a single panel fitted. Instead of using up thousands of acres of rural green space, why does the government not simply require all suitable new-build homes and commercial premises to be fitted with solar panels?

The average domestic array costs as little as £5,000, so the outlay for builders buying and fitting thousands at a time would be tiny and for consumers a small rise in mortgage payments would be more than offset by a substantial reduction in fuel bills.

Kate Saunders

Ipswich, Suffolk

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury liked to eat such simple dishes as sausages and mashed potato

Sir, Nelson Mandela’s serving of sausage and mash to a guest (Report, July 23) was in contrast to the experience of Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury. When as bishop of Durham he took up residence in 1952 at Auckland Castle, he inherited as butler the quaintly majestic Ernest Alexander. Alexander rated it infra dign itatem for sausage and mash to be served in an episcopal palace, despite the Ramseys’ liking for the dish. So at mealtimes in the butler’s presence the Ramseys found themselves staging a conversation on these lines. Mrs Ramsey: “What was it again you had for luncheon at the House of Lords yesterday?” Ramsey: “Oh, sausage and mash; yes, yes, sausage and mash, delicious sausage and mash, very nice, very nice.” After a few weeks Alexander caved in.

Eugene Suggett

Dorking, Surrey

The fans of unpasteurised milk dismiss health worries while others call for it to be banned

Sir, We buy raw unpasteurised milk while on holiday in the south of France. (“Selling raw milk will raise risk of TB”, July 23). It has certainly never affected us, and I am not aware of TB being a problem in the locality.

It costs €1.30 a litre (62p a pint), a far cry from the £1.50 you quote, and the milk we buy in the Saturday market is undrinkable by Tuesday.

David Shamash

South Fawley, Oxon

Sir, My five sons, now aged from 25 to 42, were brought up on raw milk, and none has ever been ill, apart from chicken pox. Also, it keeps better than the pasteurised variety.

Amanda Griffiths

Hendre, Flintshire

Sir, The raw milk ban in Scotland came too late for me. Despite working in a bacteriology department dealing with brucella I failed to recognise the danger on my uncle’s farm in the 1970s. When I told him I had caught abortus fever he said, “We farmers never drink raw milk.”

Thomas Law

Sandbank, Argyll and Bute


The letters pages of newspapers have an unwitting male bias. Is there is a feminine reluctance to put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard

While female letter writers may be relatively rare, they are vocal on many online message forums, not least parenting websites such as Mumsnet.

While female letter writers may be relatively rare, they are vocal on many online message forums, not least parenting websites such as Mumsnet.  Photo: ALAMY

Harry Wallop

By Harry Wallop

6:20AM BST 25 Jul 2014


In the week that the Booker Prize judges announced a 13-strong longlist that included just three female authors, another equality crisis has hit the world of letters.

An academic has written to the Financial Times to complain that of the 115 letters published by the pink ’un over the past three weeks, just three were written by women – and two of those were co‑authors of jointly signed letters.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a paper dedicated to the world of commodities, markets and companies should have so few female readers who want to join the debate. After all, just four of the companies listed in the FTSE 100 have female chief executives.

But it is certainly true that – along with pottering in a garden shed and smoking a pipe – the urge to dash off a missive to a newspaper is a predominantly male activity.

The Daily Telegraph is not immune to this phenomenon. Even on a quiet day there are at least 500 letters submitted for publication, and during the MPs’ expenses scandal this climbed to 1,800. But though our letter writers come from all walks of life and have a catholic and sometimes eccentric view of the world, there are definitely more men than women putting pen to paper.

Christopher Howse, the page’s editor, insists “we are sex-blind on Letters”, pointing out that most people write by email. This means that, as they scroll down, a decision has been made to consider the letter for publication before he, or his assistant editor Sally Peck, has seen the signature. None the less, he estimates that about three-quarters of the virtual post bag comes from men.

A quick audit of 374 letters published this month shows that two thirds were from men, a quarter from women and the rest from people who signed with just their initials. “I am afraid it is a meritocracy. We choose the best letters,” Howse says. “Our first duty is to the readers and to produce a page that is, yes, about important things, but also which will not make them turn over to the obituaries, which is the next most interesting page in the paper.”

There are, of course, far fewer female MPs, bishops and retired generals, a group with a greater propensity to express their views than the general public. But The Daily Telegraph letters page also specialises in whimsy and wry observations about daily life. Howse correctly observes that some of the wittiest and most observant writers are women, who were sending letters long before the advent of email.

A quick glance at the letters pages of the early 1990s shows subjects as varied as kissing, gentlemen’s clubs, pantomimes, Toryism, Beatrix Potter, and the state of Diana and Charles’s marriage exercising women letter writers. Dame Barbara Cartland fulminated at the prospect of an agnostic Neil Kinnock being elected. “Are the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the bishops going to stay silent while the people vote for a man who is against God?” she railed in 1992.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: ‘More people know me for writing letters to the paper than for writing books.’

Just a few months later, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, of Northwood, Middx, wrote: “Using the male career yardstick to measure female achievement is as pointless and misguided as complaining that a Ming vase makes an unsatisfactory petrol can.”

The novelist is still a regular writer to the paper. Miss Harrod-Eagles, 65, says she usually composes an email with breakfast marmalade still sticky on her fingers. She is unsure why she is in a minority in her willingness to do so. “Women have the opinions. They just don’t dash off letters to the newspaper about them. Is it about modesty? Men seem to have more of a public persona.

“Maybe it is just in women’s DNA. But I am a writer, I have always dealt in words, and I’ve always read newspapers and it is just natural for me to express what I think.”

What is curious is that while female letter writers may be relatively rare, they are vocal on many online message forums, not least parenting websites such as Mumsnet.

This site has 5.6 million monthly users, the vast majority of whom are women. Justine Roberts, the co-founder, says: “Our busiest forum is ‘Am I being unreasonable?’ – a lot of that is people complaining or people wondering if they should be complaining. It is about seeking validation. It’s not that women don’t get riled or don’t get worked up about stuff, it’s that they prefer to do it anonymously and outside the glare of full public scrutiny.”

Message boards and online chat rooms appeal to women, says Ms Roberts, possibly because “women would rather have a collective voice than stick their heads above the parapet”.

Felicity Foulis Brown: one of The Telegraph’s most reliably sharp correspondents

This is something that chimes with one of the Telegraph’s most reliably sharp correspondents, Felicity Foulis Brown (“people think it rhymes with raspberry coulis, but it rhymes with fowl. And my maiden name was Parrot”).

She is a school receptionist at the independent Reading Blue Coat School and has mastered the art of the short, snappy letter. One example: “SIR – There is no need for the Bank of England to be alarmed about the number of fake pound coins in circulation (report, April 9) – just view it as another branch of quantitative easing.”

Mrs Foulis Brown says: “I do think women are diffident about expressing their views. But I never have been diffident. I always think: this is my opinion, you are welcome to it.

“My daughter is a teacher in the state system and I think she feels that some of my opinions are not politically correct. Her generation – and she is 31 – is far, far, far more worried about political correctness. I think women are more worried now about what other people think.”

When it comes to The Daily Telegraph letters page, women do not just specialise in aphoristic gems in the Foulis Brown mould.

Ann Farmer, a strident pro-life campaigner, writes regularly and eloquently on a variety of weighty issues

A regular correspondent is Ann Farmer, a strident pro-life campaigner, who writes regularly and eloquently on a variety of weighty issues. One from just last month read: “As a disabled person I feel safer under a law that protects my right to life than a law with safeguards that depend on the mood of the moment – which could be discarded once we got used to killing the vulnerable.”

She says she has full sympathy with women who fear that they are somehow holding themselves up to ridicule if they write a letter.

“I remember the first letter I wrote and it was to my local paper; it was about unemployment, I think. It was back in the 1980s. I remember, after posting it, just wishing I could stick my hand into the postbox and get it back. I felt just awful,” she says. “And when I saw that they had published it, I thought ‘you have gone and exposed yourself’.”

She says she still has a morning-after feeling of “Oh, God, did I dance on the table last night?” after sending a letter, but it is worth it in order to fight for her causes.

Sally Wainman, 65, a grandmother of five, who still works part-time as a nurse, is another who writes in the hope of making a difference. A fervent campaigner for sports facilities, especially swimming pools, she has stood as an independent parliamentary candidate in Ipswich to keep open Broomhill Pool. “You can’t know in advance what is going to make a difference,” she says. “I’ve read letters which have made a big impact for a long time. If you feel you want to say something, you should say it.”

And all those who write to The Daily Telegraph say they get a frisson of delight in seeing their letter having made it through as one of the just four per cent (at most) that get published. Miss Harrod-Eagles says: “More people know me for writing letters to the paper than for writing books. People say to me, ‘Are you the Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’, and I say ‘Oh, have you read my books?’, and they say, ‘No, I always see your letters in the Telegraph’.”

Long may her marmalade-sticky fingers continue to reach for the keyboard.

SIR – It is already an offence for ex-lovers to place revenge pornography online; see section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Any internet service providers, search engines or websites publishing revenge pornography could be party to an offence.

The charging criteria are, first, whether any prosecutions “for revenge pornography” are in the public interest, and, secondly, whether there exists a strong likelihood of conviction.

The challenge for the prosecution authorities is to seek to obtain convictions against any party involved.

Tim Lawson-Cruttenden
London WC1

Shady car parks

SIR – Last year in Puglia, southern Italy, I came across a small municipal car park where the shade provided for cars also acted as a support for solar panels.

Think of the acres of green fields that could be saved if car parks at supermarkets, stations and sports stadiums were also acting as mini solar farms.

Planning should be straightforward, and your correspondent’s request for sheltered parking to protect people and animals waiting in cars would be met.

Lesley Watson
Little Horkesley, Essex

Holding water

SIR – Like a good commuter, I always take heed of the rail company’s order to carry a bottle of water at all times.

However, last Friday my nerve broke and I opened the bottle and drank the water. I spent a further 45 minutes on a train with no buffet. What should I have done?

Steven Broomfield
Fair Oak, Hampshire

NHS pain relief

SIR – Our son was dying of cancer and needed a syringe-driver for morphine. When a second one was needed, the district nurses had great difficulty obtaining one because of shortages.

When he died we decided to devote any donations at the funeral to buying syringe-drivers. Our other son went on the internet and found the exact model used by the NHS at a cost of £90. The NHS would not accept them, as they had to be obtained from their own suppliers. Just one of those cost £1,000.

We were furious. The money we provided would have given another 10 people relief from pain and suffering.

Adrian Robertshaw
Elland, West Yorkshire

Russia sanctions

SIR – Was our Prime Minister being entirely ironic when he suggested that it helps to be a member of the EU in order to “punch above our weight in the world”?

Clearly he could not have been referring to the EU’s response to the murder of 298 innocent people on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – a series of flaccid, unseemly and humiliating compromises cobbled together to minimise the cost to the other national component parts of the EU.

Paul Harrison
Terling, Essex

SIR – There has been comment on sporting links with Russia in the wake of the MH17 airplane crash, but little mention of Manchester United’s official airline partner, Aeroflot, the Russian national airline.

It would be appropriate for the club to sever its link with Aeroflot and find another airline partner.

D A Pain
Cheriton, Hampshire

Spooner myths

SIR – Christopher Howse writes that Dr Spooner said to a man: “Was it you or your brother who was killed in the War?”

William Hayter, in his biography of Spooner, writes that this story, “though it bears the mark of a typical Spoonerian confusion, is probably apocryphal since it is inconsistent with his habitual sensitive courtesy towards the young”.

There are many anecdotes about absent-minded professors, though people who tell them cannot usually remember whom they are about. One hears a story about Einstein which one has already heard about Dirac, or about Bowra which one has heard about Jowett.

Philip Roe
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Dead noisy

SIR – We moved a decade ago to a house looking over an extensive cemetery toward the Purbeck hills, with no more noisy neighbours. But a new contractor has now been employed by the cemetery who manicures the grass, often using three ride-on mowers and a team of six strimmers from 8am till 5pm.

Sitting on our balcony with the Telegraph or a good book is no longer the joyful prospect it once was, even if we overlook a very well-kept spot.

Alan Saunders
Wareham, Dorset

Merit alone

SIR – Would you print this letter, just because I am a woman? I would hope not!

Trees Fewster
Gomersal, West Yorkshire

Airing grievances on noisy hot-air hand dryers

SIR – The noise from hot-air hand dryers would be more tolerable if they worked effectively.

I saw one with a series of instructions on the front: “Press button to start. Place hands under outlet. Rub hands together.”

Someone had helpfully added a final line: “Wipe hands on trousers.”

Chris Kent
Earley, Berkshire

SIR – Fast and efficient hand dryers may be, but they terrify infants.

Jill Massey
Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire

SIR – With regard to the new breed of high-speed dryers, which you use with your hands vertically above the dryer rather than below, I was very pleasantly surprised the first time I used one at how rapidly and efficiently they disposed of the water, until I realised that it had simply been blown up my sleeve.

Colin McGreevy
Maghull, Lancashire

SIR – I can’t say why hot-air hand dryers are so loud.

However, as the owner of an establishment that has one, I can say that I stopped providing hand towels because I was sick of clearing up the mess left by people who clearly either didn’t know what a bin was for, or were lucky enough to have someone to pick up after them at home.

Kim Halliday
Newport, Essex

SIR – Martin Billingham (Letters, July 21) should move from London SE6 to our village. We have all of the characters that he describes, plus a few more.

There are the ardent cyclists who are incredibly proud of how far they have travelled and how fit they are; the grumpy farmers who relish telling those of us who are not “boys of the soil” how tough things are, and then climb into their Mercs and Range Rovers, which are usually driven home by their wives or partners; and then we have the dog owners whose wives discover that, when walking past the pub at lunchtime (when it is closed), their pet sits resolutely outside the door, refusing to move.

We have our disagreements, but eggs, books, parcels and conversation all pass across and around the bar. Without our differences and our village pub, the world would be a sorrier place.

Don Moorman
Bluntisham, Huntingdonshire

SIR – John Ashworth writes of spotting majors in pubs. It used to be said that there were more admirals per head in Petersfield than any other town in the country.

So I put it to the test, standing outside the busy little town centre supermarket one Saturday morning. To my loud greeting, “Good morning, Admiral”, two gentlemen responded with courteous acknowledgement.

Ian Gregory
Cattistock, Dorset

SIR – I used to go into a pub in Marton, North Yorkshire, where the barman, Jack, kept behind the bar a myna bird that he taught to speak. Every time a customer ordered a drink, the bird said: “And one for Jack.”

Needless to say, Jack never bought a drink.

Peter Gilbert
Thames Ditton, Surrey

SIR – On Wednesday night I watched two processions on television. I saw the joyful exuberance of the athletes in Glasgow, raucously celebrating their youth and energy and excitement at the prospect of competition: the very best of life’s promise and ambition.

And then, on the news, there were images of the stark dignity with which Holland received and honoured the victims of MH17, the tragedy made bleaker by its contrast with what had gone before.

I had just come in from watching a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Must we all forever be divided into Montagues and Capulets, Ukrainians and Russians, Jews and Palestinians?

Tony Fry
Ruthin, Denbighshire

SIR – After the Red Arrows were cheered as they trailed red, white and blue across the city of Glasgow, a stadium full of (mainly) Scots heartily sang the national anthem.

Can we please have this referendum, so that we can all move on?

Gilbert Dunlop
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – How many of the athletes representing Scotland in the Commonwealth Games will also be eligible to vote in the September referendum?

Mark Whitley
Fovant, Wiltshire

SIR – Should the Scots vote Yes in the referendum, would they automatically become members of the Commonwealth, or would they, as a “new country”, have to apply to become members?

Keith Attwood

Chudleigh, Devon

SIR – Seventy-one nations are attending the Commonwealth Games. Seventy-one nations with links to the United Kingdom and the Queen. Seventy-one nations that could and should have been our main trading partners. Why did we need to join the European Community?

Mike Nicholls
Freshwater, Isle of Wight

SIR – Within 20 minutes, commentators at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games had, between them, managed to find 20 “incredible” aspects of this event. My credulity has been stretched to breaking point.

Michael Amies
Pershore, Worcestershire

SIR – Inspired and inspiring are the most over-used words at the games.

John Dainton
Molesey, Surrey

SIR – Since sporting events are intended to showcase fitness, it was disappointing to see how many people in the opening ceremony were clearly obese.

Catherine Castree
Fetcham, Surrey

Irish Times:

A Chara, – I come from a Gaeltacht background. When I went to school there was nobody at home who would give the time of day to the language I was being force-fed.

English to them was of no “worldwide interest”. Neither were they in any sense deluded about Irish becoming “a vehicle of communication in this country”.

The reason for their lack of interest: when they were in school their language wasn’t even allowed on the curriculum. However, unlike Mr Kavanagh (Letters. July 24th), my grasp of the language I was force-fed is maximal. – Le meas,


An Cimín Mór

Bóthar na Ceapaí,


Co na Gaillimhe

Sir, – Enda Kenny and Joan Burton are to be complimented for their very progressive ministerial reshuffle. We are now served by a Cabinet that includes four first-term TDs (together with the government of an chéad Dáil, the highest number in any Irish government). Seven junior Ministers are first-term TDs (the highest number ever). One Minister is in his 20s and four are in their 30s.

Alan Hansen, upon retiring as a football pundit after the recent World Cup, said his only career regret was saying of Manchester United in August 1995, “you can’t win anything with kids”.

Fergie’s Fledglings (the two Nevilles, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs) went on to win consecutive Premier League/FA Cup doubles. – Yours, etc,




Co Roscommon

Sir, – In the good old days your friendly building society levied a hefty early redemption charge in the event that inconveniently (for the institution) one sought to repay one’s loan early.

Notwithstanding that the redeemed capital was lent on as a matter of course, self-servingly, the lending institution deemed itself entitled to a chunk of the future profit it had bargained on had the original deal gone the distance.

In a word, usury – an abuse of power in one of its many guises. Today we read that the Government may encounter resistance on the part of the IMF and/or of individual EU member states, in the event that it should seek early redemption of its bailout loans as an exercise in reducing interest charges currently clocking in at more than twice market rates.

Preposterous. Perhaps a strategic revisiting of the default option would bring common sense to bear? On the other hand, if only one knew a little more about economics! – Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Sir, – I refer to your editorial entitled “Protecting data” in The Irish Times of July 23rd.

You state: “For more than a year, offered online access to the personal details of every citizen born, or who married, in the State.” This statement is factually incorrect. The Indexes to Civil Records held by the General Register Office were launched on the website portal just three weeks ago – on July 3rd, 2014 – by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection and the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The portal was set up to assist those, whether at home or abroad, who wish to trace their roots and establish their family history.

The provision of access to the Indexes to Civil Records was a joint project between the Department of Social Protection, the General Register Office and this Department. The records were supplied to this Department by the General Register Office in accordance with the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between both parties. The addition of the Indexes was seen as a major contribution to the website and was warmly welcomed by genealogy researchers, including your own contributor Mr John Grehan in his Irish Roots column (July 7th, 2014), who described the development as “good news” and “simply astonishing”.

Your editorial also states: “How surprising then that a genealogy database, under the control of a Government Department – the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – was operated in breach of data protection laws.” This statement is misleading as the Department has not, in fact, been found to be in breach of any data protection legislation.

The position is that on July 18th last, this Department was contacted by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, expressing concerns about the availability of personal data in relation to living persons on the website. We responded promptly by disabling access to this data on a “without prejudice” basis so that the nature of the concerns expressed by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner could be examined further.

This Department will continue to engage proactively and responsibly with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Department of Social Protection and the General Register Office with a view to ensuring that any issues of concern are fully addressed as soon as possible. – Yours, etc,


Press Office,

Department of Arts,

Heritage and the Gaeltacht,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Joachim Pfeiffer, economic policy spokesman for Angela Merkel’s CDU party, was in town on Thursday to give Ireland its latest lecture on its economic “progress” and to assure the dewy-eyed Irish Government that, no, there was “no chance” of any legacy bank debt deal (Business This Week, July 25th). Mr Pfeiffer claims that the banking and property bubbles were all “home-made”, neglecting to mention that surplus monies from German banks fuelled them – so not actually “home-made”, Mr Pfeiffer.

However, we should derive some measure of pride and succour from Mr Pfeiffer’s hearty reassurance that Ireland – as opposed to irresponsible France and Italy – is “now firmly on the right track” and was “an example to other countries in how it accepted the burdens of its financial past, increased competitiveness through lower labour costs and reformed its tax code”.

Roughly translated, this means that Ireland was nicely compliant in inflicting an austerity regime on its citizens and is now following the same track as Germany, that is reduced wages for lower and middle earners, new and increased taxes, an absence of wage rises nationally and schemes such as our Job Bridge for the unemployed, a scheme akin to Germany’s decade-old “Agenda 2010”, wherein participants work for a little over €1 per hour as a route back into the regular workforce – and a dream for exploitative employers.

So, “firmly on the right track”. But for whose benefit? Yours, etc,


Stillorgan Road,

Co Dublin

Sir – Critics of the location of the National Children’s Hospital at St James’s have thrown up numerous objections to this siting – the most recent, reiterated in The Irish Times on June 8th, refers to the site as having “poor traffic links”.

Any reasonable assessment of the traffic links to James’s Hospital does not substantiate this. For example:

The N7, serving the south and Midlands of the country terminates at Inchicore, five minutes from James’s.

The N4, serving the Midlands and the west of the country, terminates at Kilmainham, again five minutes from James’s.

Mainline rail services serving Waterford, Cork, Galway and points in between terminate at Heuston Station, also five minutes from James’s.

A myriad of bus services pass along the front gate of James’s; the Luas light rail actually goes through the James’s campus.

Travel links such as these will ensure that the National Children’s Hospital will be accessible to all children, families and other visitors regardless of where they live. – Yours, etc,



Leinster House,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Breda O’Brien’s article discussed pressures on children which should be of concern to all parents. In the past parents could engage with these influences since they were generally understood by them, being verbal or written.

Many parents are not up to speed with social media and the internet and consequently are unaware of the reality of what their children are exposed to and unable to do anything about it – should they wish to do so.

Surely this situation is worth discussing in its own right rather than treating anything that Ms O’Brien writes as apologetics for the Catholic Church and attacking her accordingly without actually engaging with what she is saying. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Dublin 18

Irish Independent:

THE latest onslaught by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on Gaza, a stretch of land the size of Co Dublin with a population of 1.7 million, is the third time since 2009 that the IDF has invaded Gaza.

Israel‘s latest assault on Gaza has so far led to over 700 civilians being killed, including over 200 children, while less than 40 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of whom were members of the IDF. This is akin to a person ‘defending’ their home against stones being thrown at it by burning down their neighbour’s house and killing everyone in it. Also the IDF has attacked UN buildings, including schools, which have been used to house almost 150,000 Gazan refugees and have even killed UN employees.

Israel has continually ignored numerous UN resolutions condemning its treatment of the Palestinian people, especially Resolution 242, passed by the UN General Assembly, which calls upon Israel to withdraw its forces to its original 1967 borders, which would also bring to an end its illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Israel’s latest actions have led to the UN investigating the state for war crimes against the Gazan civilian population.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza has led to the slow strangulation of a people.

According to Amnesty International, Israel’s actions have resulted in “mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages leaving four out of five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid”, and it has criticised Israel’s blockade as “a form of collective punishment, a flagrant violation of international law”. Israel is a racist state punishing the Palestinian people for having voted Hamas into power and is supported by the US to the tune of $3bn (€2.27bn) a year.

Various groups, including the Irish Anti-war Movement, have long been calling on Ireland to boycott Israeli goods and for the removal of Israel’s position as a favoured trading partner with the EU.

Cultural links with Israel should also be cut, along with the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. These are the kind of actions that helped to bring about the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Peace will only ultimately come to this part of the world by the establishment of a joint Israeli/Palestinian secular state where the democratic rights and the equality of all citizens are respected.




* Is the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), whose mandate is supposedly to promote and protect human rights around the world, anything other than a toothless and useless talking shop?

This body, since it came into being in 2006, has passed more than 50 resolutions condemning Israel. The cumulative number of condemnatory resolutions directed at Israel is greater than the number of resolutions condemning all the other nations of the world combined – but not one of them has proven to be a catalyst for progress in the region.

Ireland and eight other member states of the European Union are current members of its governing council, but the voice of these EU member states was ominously silent in Geneva on July 23 when they abstained from the vote taken on a resolution that was passed by a majority and is intended to reinforce respect for international law, in response to the latest lethal, bloody and savage conflict between Israel and Hamas. These EU member states were following the direction of the European Union, which is not a member of the UNHRC in its own right. The UNHRC received $122m (€90.7m) in voluntary contributions last year, including over $50m (€37.21m), or 42pc of the total received, from individual member states of the European Union and that included a contribution of $2,618,581 (€2m) from Ireland.

The EU and the US each contributed $13m (€9.6m), or 11pc of the total voluntary contributions. The contribution from Israel was $25,000 (€18,600) and from Egypt, for whom Irish diplomacy expressed a particularly high regard as a regional peace-broker, was a mere $5,000 (€3,700).

Why should Irish taxpayers contribute to the UNHRC when the sentiment of Irish people is suffocated by faceless bureaucrats in the EU on matters of particular concern to them and Irish diplomacy has apparently no direct influence?

Secondly, what weight, if any, does the UNHRC carry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, apart from publishing soothing statements that protagonists routinely oppose or blatantly disregard? The current Egyptian regime has not demonstrated much regard for Hamas and has made this known through its media; nor has it committed much financial resources to the UNHRC.




* The Government’s decision not to support an international inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza is of serious concern.

The appalling situation in Gaza has led to an unacceptable loss of life. The conflict has killed over 700 of which approximately 170 are children. This is utterly shameful and should be fully investigated.

As the death toll continues to rise, I believe that questions now arise from Ireland’s decision to abstain in a UN Human Rights Council vote on whether to investigate Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

I have written to Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, ambassador Patricia O’Brien, seeking an explanation for this decision and requested information as to what diplomatic efforts we as a nation are deploying to contribute to a resolution to the ongoing atrocities in Gaza. I have also written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, seeking clarity on the matter and what consultations took place ahead of this decision.

The assault on Gaza has had a devastating effect on the civilian population and majority of victims have been women and children. We have a moral duty to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure that human rights abuses are not ignored.




* When the current flare-up of the Hamas/Israeli conflict ends, the only thing achieved will have been a great loss of life. Sadly, many of those killed would have been oblivious as to whether they were Palestinian or Israeli simply because they would have been too young to know. Only the body count distinguishes between the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by Hamas and Israel’s ineffectual ‘pinpointing’ of targets in Gaza where the death tally is 80pc civilian. But we will continue on with our lives as usual while this chaos carries on not far from the border of a EU country.




* Enda Kenny and Joan Burton are to be complimented for their very progressive ministerial reshuffle.

We are now served by a Cabinet that includes four first-term TDs. Seven junior ministers are first-term TDs. One minister is in his 20s and four are in their 30s.

Alan Hansen, in his last column as a football analyst (When I work with Rio Ferdinand and see Twitter I knew it was time to retire, Irish Independent, July 15) said his only career regret is saying of Manchester United in August ’95: “You can’t win anything with kids.” Fergie’s Fledglings went on to win consecutive league/FA Cup doubles.



Irish Independent


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