4 August 2014 Tomatoes

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

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


Norman Cornish – obituary

Norman Cornish was a coal miner and artist whose paintings celebrated the industrial past with humanity and warmth

One of Norman Cornish's scenes of the industrial north-east

One of Norman Cornish’s scenes of the industrial north-east

5:48PM BST 03 Aug 2014


Norman Cornish, who has died aged 94, spent more than three decades working as a coal miner before making a successful career as an artist; he was the last painter from the so-called “Pitman’s Academy”, a pioneering arts community established in north-east England in the 1930s.

Cornish recorded the now largely forgotten environment of the north-east’s mining communities, portraying its knife-grinders and fish-and-chip vans; its vendors with their horse-drawn carts; men relaxing in the pub after work; and children skipping in the street. Motor cars do not feature.

Norman Cornish’s ‘Two Mean at Bar with Dog’

Unlike the work of LS Lowry (whom Cornish knew), his pictures carry no sense of alienation; rather, they radiate a mellowness and warmth (his pub interiors are usually bathed in an amber glow) and a nostalgia for an era in which, despite its terrible deprivations, there was a rich feeling of community. They are not only works of art, but also socio-historical documents.

Cornish once observed: “If you see a street and it’s not terribly interesting, you don’t draw it. But then something happens. Some interesting people come in or a couple of dogs start fighting or some kids start playing with skipping ropes, and suddenly it enlivens the place and I want to draw it.”

One of Norman Cornish’s street scenes

Norman Cornish was born on November 18 1919 at Spennymoor, in the Wear Valley, Co Durham, and he and his three younger brothers grew up in a terraced house next to the old ironworks, with no bathroom or lavatory. He would later retain vivid memories of the deprivation caused by the General Strike of 1926, and at the age of seven he contracted diphtheria.

Spennymoor had been a coal mining town since the 19th century (the first pit was dug in 1839), but by the time Norman was growing up most of the men were employed at nearby collieries such as Ferryhill, three miles distant. When Norman was 14 his father lost his job, and his eldest son — already passionate about painting and drawing — had to abandon his dreams of further education and start work.

Inevitably he went down the mine, and on Boxing Day 1933 he had his first shift at Ferryhill’s Dean and Chapter colliery (notorious for accidents, and known locally as “The Butcher’s Shop”). Cornish later wrote of his mining experience: “The dangers of gas, stone falls, the darkness and the restricted space, were all to shape these men into industrial gladiators.”

Norman Cornish: a self-portrait

Not long after starting work Norman Cornish learned that there was a sketching club at Spennymoor, run under the aegis of the Spennymoor Settlement, which had been established in 1930 to give working-class families and the unemployed access to the arts; it also offered classes in practical skills such as joinery and shoe repair.

Cornish became an enthusiastic participant, showing some of his work in the Settlement’s annual art exhibition, and became a close friend of another member, Sid Chaplin, later well-known for his novels, short stories and television screenplays.

Gradually Cornish began to exhibit, but he was unable to acquire a set of oil paints until a well-off local woman (who lived in “a big hall”) admired one of his watercolours and asked why it was not painted in oils. When he said he could not afford to buy any, she wrote out a cheque.

Norman Cornish’s ‘Miner on Pit Road at Night’

A number of gifted artists worked at the Settlement — among them the slightly younger Tom McGuinness (1926-2006), who would make a name as a painter of striking scenes of mining life — and collectively they became known as The Pitman’s Academy. In time they began to exhibit further afield, including at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, sometimes described as the “Royal Academy of the North”.

Cornish continued to work in the mines during the Second World War, and also served as a fire-watcher. In his spare time, though, he painted; and when the war came to an end he put on his first one-man show, at the People’s Theatre in Newcastle . In 1947 five of his paintings were purchased by Reg Revans, Director of Education for the newly-formed National Coal Board, for display at the Coal Board’s London office. On the back of this, Cornish was invited to help organise an exhibition in London entitled Art by the Miner .

In 1950 he graduated to more exalted company, showing alongside Henry Moore and others at a West End gallery in an exhibition called The Coal Miners. Throughout the Fifties he continued to show his work regularly in the north-east, forming an enduring relationship with the Stone Gallery in Newcastle, which also showed LS Lowry and the Cumbrian artist Sheila Fell. The Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath bought two of Cornish’s works — a source of wry amusement to the artist with his staunch socialist background.

Detail from Norman Cornish’s ‘Convivial Company’

In 1962 Cornish was commissioned by County Hall in Durham to produce a 30ft mural depicting local life. The project brought his work to wider attention, and the following year he was featured in a programme in the BBC television arts series Monitor, introduced by Sir Hew Wheldon and entitled Two Border Artists (the other subject was Sheila Fell).

Throughout this period Cornish had remained working in the pits, but in 1966 — increasingly suffering from back problems — he left his job. Although he was allowed to remain in his National Coal Board house, he clearly had to continue to support his family (his wife, Sarah, and their son and daughter), and he was not confident that he could do so from painting.

But with his wife’s encouragement, he gave it a try, and he succeeded in making a living selling his paintings, while supplementing his income with a visiting lectureship at Sunderland College of Art.

In 1974 he was awarded an honorary MA by Newcastle University.

Cornish published, in 1989, an autobiography, A Slice of Life, with an introduction by Melvyn Bragg. In the same year he had a major retrospective at the University of Northumbria Gallery, and in 1992 a one-man exhibition at the same venue. In 1997 he presented a substantial number of his pictures to the University for its permanent collection.

He continued to paint into his nineties, and in 2009 he was the subject of a book, The Quintessential Cornish, by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales.

The story of north-east England’s miner/artists was turned into a play, The Pitmen Painters, by Lee Hall, author of the screenplay of the film Billy Elliot. It opened in Newcastle in 2007, and has since enjoyed successful runs at the National Theatre in London and on Broadway.

An exhibition of Norman Cornish’s work opened in March at the Kings Place Gallery, north London, and is scheduled to run until August 22.

Three years ago, in an interview with the BBC, Cornish recalled a conversation he had had with Lowry: “I remember we talked about what happened to an artist when he died. His work — was it forgotten or was it going to be cherished?”

Norman Cornish, born November 18 1919, died August 1 2014


Flanders Fields 100 Years Since The Great War

Congratulations to the Guardian for publishing a front-page article commemorating the work of peacemakers in the first world war (In memoriam: A century on, time to hail the peacemakers, 28 July). On Monday 4 July, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) will stage events throughout the UK to commemorate the start of the war. In London, the event will recall the suffragists, meeting at Kingsway Hall, who delivered a plea to Downing Street, beseeching British political leaders to use their political skills to avoid the war. Sadly the plea was ignored.

The WILPF centenary congress at The Hague in April 2015 will bring together women of 43 countries to commemorate the work of women who met at The Hague in 1915. Then, 1,200 women from 12 countries met and passed 20 resolutions on war and its causes. Five elected delegates visited 21 heads of state in war-stricken Europe and America to inform statesmen of the resolutions and to urge them to implement continuous mediation.

In 2015, WILPF women at The Hague will acknowledge the efforts of all women who have continuously worked toward peace for 100 years and will formulate strategies that might inspire world leaders to resolve international disputes by peaceful methods.
Helen Kay

• The bloodfest reported from conflict zones around the world no longer makes me weep. That alone is telling and sad. I do despair at times – but despair is manageable; the death of a child, lover, father – under a crumbled building, shot, blown up – how is that managed day in, day out? Thank you, Adam Hochschild and the Guardian. Front page news remembering and commemorating the peacemakers past and present. Peacemaking is a heroic activity – let us have a “Provide for Peace” to run alongside Help for Heroes.

Thousands said no to the call-up and killing of the first and second world wars – many were tortured and some died as a result of their stand. Bravery is not limited to aggression in the face of opposition, it is often about refusing to be aggressive. It is when you and I agree to fight that war ensues. You and I need to learn the far harder and braver skill of agreeing to make peace. We allow war to happen; when will we determine to make peace the norm?

Quakers do not have all the answers but they do know some pathways to a solution: courses, literature, peacemaking experience, exhibitions, activists available for anyone interested.
Anne McGurk
Bromley, Kent

• Adam Hochschild bemoans the lack of peace museums in Britain. On Monday, the market town of Thirsk is opening a week-long exhibition called “Choices 1914”. We have tried to preserve a balance between the pity of war and the objections to it. Over 80% of Thirsk’s young men joined up. As visitors enter, they will see the names of the 137 local men who gave their lives, with where and when they died. But the majority of the other exhibits will be by or about women and children. One room will be about the advocation and experience of war: the other about its objectors. We will even be displaying the original letter setting out the aims of the Union of Democratic Control, signed by the future Labour prime minister Ramsay MacDonald and Charles Trevelyan, one of the three Liberal ministers who resigned over the use of the royal prerogative to send Britain into war.
Jeremy Shaw
Thirsk, North Yorkshire

• Your article on the Manchester Guardian’s opposition to the 1914-18 war (‘If we rush into war it will be both a crime and an act of supreme folly’, 2 August) reminds me that HG Wells, in a number of articles from 1914 onwards, had optimistically predicted that it would be “the war to end war”, a phrase that was to be widely adopted throughout the conflict. Wells had hoped that the war would usher in the potential to realise his utopian ideas for social and political reform. The second world war and the current horrific events in Gaza and elsewhere prove how misguided Wells had been. As his 1932 novel The Bulpington of Blup testifies, Wells was to become extremely embittered when it became clear that the war had changed nothing. However, he went on to have a significant influence on the 1948 universal declaration of human rights. Wells was a remarkable man in remarkable times.
Professor Linda Dryden
Edinburgh Napier University

• Your piece about Jill Gibbon (The woman turning arms fairs into art, 28 July) inexplicably fails to mention that her drawings appear regularly in Peace News. I write a regular column for PN and I’m proud to be a contributor alongside her and its other excellent writers, cartoonists and photographers. In all your coverage of the first world war, I can’t remember any reference to Peace News, which was founded in 1936 as a reaction against the nationalism and patriotism of 1914-18. It remains a politically unaligned pacifist paper and the only such voice in the UK.
Jeff Cloves
Stroud, Gloucestershire

• Your leading writers (The front lines, 26 July) missed the diary entry by Violet Bonham-Carter who recorded Winston Churchill as saying in 1915: “I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet – I can’t help it – I enjoy every second of it.” Oh, what a lovely war, indeed!
Jamie Dockery
Clydebank, Scotland 

• One of the untold stories is the Scottish women’s hospital on the western front. The hospital was unique because all the personnel, surgeons, doctors, nurses, orderlies, stretcher bearers and ambulance drivers were women. It was situated in the abbey at Royaumont, 30 miles north of Paris, and came under the auspices of the French government and French Red Cross. When the British government had been offered the hospital in 1914, they turned it down because it was to be run by women! The French were very glad to have it and the hospital soon gained a good medical reputation under the leadership of Frances Ivens. My mother was a doctor there during the last year of the war.
Ann Fox
Port Sunlight, Wirral

• Ironically, one of the best ways of getting accurate information about events on the western front was to be an imprisoned conscientious objector (How state and press kept truth off the front page, 28 July). According to Fenner Brockway, it was the Walton Leader, a tiny underground prison journal produced by conscientious objectors in Walton prison, which published an exclusive account of the slaughter at Passchendaele, brought into prison by an objector who had shared a guard room with a survivor of that particular bloodbath.
Ann Kramer
Hastings, East Sussex

• Thank you foryour comprehensive article on the Manchester Guardian’s “vehement campaign against Britain’s involvement in the first world war”. While there have been programmes on TV on some of what is reported by you on the disagreements among cabinet members of the government at the time, I do not remember it being said that we had no legal responsibility any more to defend the neutrality of Belgium.

I deduce from the article that an important reason we went to war was the fear that if we did not the current government would be swept from power; and that the decision to go to war was not fully debated by MPs. I think the article should be included in the curriculum for all pupils in secondary schools, and be discussed along with the implications for the organisation of society today and the nature of decision-making.
John Haworth
Visiting research fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University

• The dust has almost settled on the 100th anniversaries, with the case for British war entry, depressingly, having dominated. But there is one more to go. This is the 6 August war credit debate in the House of Commons, when the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, in asking for the first of a succession of loans to fight the war, at last made the government’s case to parliament for its declaration of war on Germany. This was two days into the war – which says it all about that war and democracy.

This debate, like the adjournment debate which Liberal backbenchers forced on the evening of 3 August, after foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey’s afternoon speech, which sent the Conservatives and Irish Nationalists into raptures but stunned his own party, of course has not featured in the sanitised patriotic histories. When I researched the Hansards of this time, I found them crackling with the anger of government backbenchers about the revelations of the pre-existing military commitment to France. They are well-thumbed pages – they have evidently been carefully read down the years. In the 6 August debate, one contribution stands out. It was made by Liberal Sir Wilfrid Lawson: “We have heard in the last few days a great deal about honour; we have heard something about morality and something about self-interest. As to honour, I see nothing honourable whatever in our present proceedings; surely the most supreme of British interests lies in peace, and not in war. As far as the morality is concerned, when we are engaged, as we are now, in organised murder, I think the less said about morality the better. I was sent to support – as I understood – a policy of peace, retrenchment and reform. Where are they all now? All swallowed up in the bloody abyss of war!”

The horrors of the consequences of the first world war with Britain in it, which have included the Nazis and much more, continue to evolve, with the Iraq/Syria and Israel/Gaza turmoil as today’s post-first world war hotspots (deriving from the Sykes-Picot agreement, 1916, and the Balfour declaration, 1917, respectively). What a pity the Guardian was not listened to.
Duncan Marlor
Matlock, Derbyshire

• Your correspondent Adam Hochschild rightly mentions several persons who stood against the collective group-think that propelled the nations of Europe into the maelstrom of the summer of 1914 I believe that there is one other figure that Mr Hochschild could have mentioned, namely that of Germany’s ambassador to Britain, Prince Lichnowsky. It was he who, in those days of late July 1914, made repeated pleas to his government in Berlin to get behind Sir Edward Grey’s plan to hold a roundtable conference of all the powers involved, which would have averted disaster. I have read that Lichnowsky was so well-respected that he was given a guard of honour when he departed Britain after war had been declared. He sat out the war years in Germany in disgrace for his alleged sympathetic attitude to Britain, until his death in 1928.

At least dying when he did he didn’t bear witness to the ultimate degradation, when his country fell into the hands of criminals five years later.
Nigel Baldwin

• Alan Travis’s report repeats the old canard that people in Britain in 1914 believed that the war would be over Christmas. In fact this is a fabrication of post-war myth, and estimates in the early months of the war differed enormously. “From three weeks to three years have been suggested as the probable duration, with every variety of intermediate estimate,” one military correspondent reported that August.
Mark Bostridge

• Reading Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s obituary (2 August) days before the anniversary reinforced the view that the Great War was the fault of a few aristocratic, monarchist, nationalist, very rightwing, anti-democratic old men, especially in Germany and Austria-Hungary. Millions sacrificed their young lives fighting for these incompetent people. The war was not the responsibility of the citizens of the various powers – and certainly not the women.

How typical that rightwing nationalist and anti-democratic men are behind the conflicts of 2014. How unsurprising that in August 2014 so few British people can identify names such as Berchtold, Conrad, Bethmann-Hollweg, Moltke, Jagow, Sukhomlinov and even Sir Edward Grey. It is no consolation to discover on recent visits to Vienna and Munich that some locals were similarly ignorant, blaming every nation other than their own for the 1914-18 war.

As a result, I dread the nonsense that will be written and spoken about the period after the end of the war.
Jeff Dunn
Crosby, Merseyside

It was with great pleasure and pride that we read your article on Pumeza Matshikiza and her opening performance at the Commonwealth Games (Puccini and Swahili, G2, 28 July). As you point out, Pumeza is a graduate of our Opera School at the University of Cape Town. She – along with many others such as Pretty Yende and Musa Ngqungwana – is literally changing the face of opera. Not only here in South Africa, but globally, they are giving a new relevance and meaning to opera against the outdated perception of it as a Eurocentric elitist artform. Opera taps into a rich tradition of choral music in our country which not only has huge transformative potential, but which is providing unparalleled opportunities for many talented young people from our townships to reshape their lives. The impact of this on their families and communities is profound.

But our Opera School is vulnerable. For the past decade, it has received generous funding from an international donor, making it possible for us to unearth such exceptional talent. However, as of the end of 2014, we will no longer be receiving this international funding. We are in the midst of a fundraising drive to secure the immediate sustainability of the school and its long-term future. We have a commitment from an international funder of a challenge grant of $500,000, contingent on us raising the matching amount. We want to put all these funds into an endowment and use the return on this to fund bursaries and scholarships for talented, historically disadvantaged opera students like Pumeza. May I urge your readers to support our campaign? Further information about it and about our school is readily available from UCT’s alumni department, from the UCT Trust in the UK, or on the Opera School’s Facebook page.
Dr Russell Ally
Executive director, development and alumni department, University of Cape Town

In order for the Commons to more accurately reflect the social/cultural diversity of the UK, alongside ethnic and gender considerations (Parliament failing to represent UK’s ethnic diversity, 1 August), surely each party must also restrict the number of its MPs who were privately educated to 7% of its overall total.
Pete Lavender

• Mike Selvey describing Chris Jordan’s approach to the wicket (Sport, 2 August): “he grips the ball as if he were a life model for the claw feet of a Regency commode”. With weekly gems like this, have we found John Arlott’s natural successor?
Mike Fox
Richmond, Surrey

• I wonder if the 10 pea recipes and “Back to basics” feature in your Cook section (2 August) will tempt former prime minister John Major to subscribe to the Guardian.
Tim Barnsley

• Instead of disparagingly referring to Aldi and Lidl as discounters (Report, 30 July), shouldn’t we call the big supermarkets extortionists or incompetent?
Naseem Khawaja
Yateley, Hampshire

• Surely you have heard of “Up north, down south” (Letters, 2 August)? “Up south, down north” doesn’t ring right.
Kay Smith
Burnley, Lancashire

• To coin a phrase, I agree with Nick (Israel has to talk to Hamas, 2 August).
Caroline Cawston

You ask: “Is vaping a smoking cure or a new hazard?” (News). The answer is clear. It is a new hazard and a great business opportunity for those who wish to profit from addiction. When I was a community pharmacist in the 1990s, we supplied nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to those trying to quit. Those using forms of NRT that gave a “hit” similar to a cigarette remained users of this for years. Skin patches, on the other hand, deliver a small constant dose, which reduces the craving. Between a third and a half of those using patches managed to quit, unlike their fellows on chewing gum, inhalators and so on. Why we should even consider allowing the unregulated sale of highly addictive products is completely beyond me.

Brian Curwain

Christchurch, Dorset

Unborn children need help too

As a paediatrician, it has long felt strange to me that we strive to identify child abuse in its many guises, yet antenatally that same rigour often seems lacking (“Alcohol abuse in pregnancy could be a crime”, News). No one would question that inflicting a daily tipple on an infant is abusive and that appropriate action should be taken. It raises the question as to why the same should not apply to a foetus. Criminalisation may not always be appropriate but greater attention must be applied to foetal protection.

John Trounce (Dr)

Hove, East Sussex

Fat cat pay is not inflationary?

Your Business Analysis reports that the Bank of England’s rate setters are anxiously watching wage rises, because “inflation-busting pay is… a trigger for higher rates”. Why are the very much higher salary increases (and bonuses) regularly awarded to senior bankers and company bosses never considered inflationary?

Pete Dorey


We undervalue parental role

In your editorial (“It’s time to think more creatively about time”, Comment), you argue that we may yet be “forced to reshape work”. Indeed so, but to suggest that “doing nothing bar domestic duties [and] entertaining children…” is liberating underscores the dominant societal view that caring for children – and indeed domestic duties – is not work and, worse, is unskilled. If children are to be valued, society must reflect the work and skill involved in bringing them up and the huge contribution made to future generations by parents and carers who stay at home.

Richard Bridge York

Time for a new social contract

Spreading the work available and shortening the working week make eminent sense in today’s over-populated and underemployed world (Commen.) It would require, however, a radical overhaul in which governments, international institutions, corporations, employers, workers and consumers play their part: corporations to pay adequate rewards, even for shorter hours, governments to enforce and consumers to vilify those who don’t. What we need is an updated social contract for our postmodern world.

John Browne


US holds answer to Gaza peace

Israel gets away with bombing schools, hospitals and water and electricity supplies because of the unconditional support of America. The US could stop this conflict by immediately ceasing to fund Israel, but Obama lacks the political courage. Israel will not accept a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem and thinks it can bomb its way to victory while all it does is breed more hatred. If the influence of Isis, a terrorist organisation so extreme it has been expelled from al-Qaida, is not to spread, America has to act now to ensure Israel accepts the two-state solution as the only way to achieve lasting peace.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

The military reality of Ukraine

Nick Cohen is, in the economic terms in which he sets his case, right that “Britain can afford to defy Tsar Vladimir” (Comment). No doubt deliberately, this rather ignores the military reality, which is relegated to the aside that “Russia is Nigeria with nuclear weapons”. The Russian conventional forces alone are probably sufficient to negate any forceful response by the EU states. Add nuclear and Putin holds the winning hand. Just ask Ukraine.

David Jones


Envy that drives our attitudes

The current tendency towards treating sexting as a crime (“Is it right to criminalise sexting?”, New Review) matches many others over the past 25 years that have sought to criminalise youthful actions and youths themselves. Society, politicians of almost all persuasions and the police are active and outspoken in their pursuit of charging or cautioning. This “criminalising” preference in the adult world is more bankrupt than most of the targeted activities. For many adults in the UK, taking their lead from the US, there is a deep envy of and hatred towards adolescents that drive these attacks.

Richard Rollinson

Witney, Oxon


The stated targets for Israeli artillery and missile attacks in the Gaza Strip are Hamas combatants and their tunnels and rocket sites.

The figures for assessing the accuracy of their efforts are 1,500 civilians killed, 8,000 civilians injured, 400,000 civilians displaced from their homes. and swathes of suburban Gaza laid waste and reduced to rubble.

Israel has not disclosed how many Hamas fighters have been killed nor how many tunnels have been destroyed. It also appears likely that one Israeli soldier was killed by Israeli shelling during efforts to respond to his alleged capture.

These figures speak for themselves when trying to calculate the accuracy of the ordnance being used and to evaluate the assertion by Israel that “civilians are not being targeted”.  Two UN-run installations have been hit by Israel in its attempt to kill Hamas fighters nearby, resulting in many civilian deaths. Israel has defended its actions by saying civilian casualties are inevitable in this sort of operation. Which prompts the question: “What sort of operation is this?”

This is no surgical strike with pinpoint accuracy on individually identified targets. Bunker-busting bombs are not being used to destroy underground facilities. The best efforts of the Israeli bombardment have not stopped Hamas firing rockets or using tunnels to ambush Israeli soldiers inside Gaza. So what is the point of all this slaughter and destruction?

Before ground troops were sent into Iraq, the US bombed the country “back to the stone age”, so this “shock and awe” tactic is not new. We will have to wait and see if the outcome of this latest application of overwhelming military superiority is any more constructive than it was before. I doubt it.

Peter DeVillez, Cheltenham

Perhaps I can suggest at least a partial solution to Brian Eno’s puzzle about the US’s “blind support” of Israel (“How can you justify images such as this?” 2 August 2014).

As Brian hinted in the article, most Americans are blissfully unaware of what goes on outside their borders and care even less. My wife and I have been to the States a few times and think that it is a beautiful country full of friendly people – but whose knowledge of the world stops at Mexico and Canada. And who has the most to gain from the US supporting Israel in a military conflict? The US armaments industry – which will keep donating gratefully to representatives, senators and presidents.

Barry Lees, Greenock, Scotland


There have been three wars between Gaza and Israel in the past six years. If nothing is done to stop Hamas, the only certain future for the area is that there will be another war in the not too distant future.

While many world leaders recognise the necessity of eliminating Hamas – both for the benefit of Israel and for the Palestinian civilians who suffer negatively from the decisions made by Hamas – few have the foresight or vision as to how to accomplish this.

The Palestinian Authority does not have the will or capability to eradicate Hamas. Israel has the capability to get rid of Hamas, but the world accuses Israel of being too brutal in doing it. The Western countries that could do it know that if they did, they would behave as “brutally” as they accuse Israel of being.

Michelle Moshelian, Givatayim, Israel


After weeks of bombing, devastation and slaughter of children in Gaza, I am ashamed to call myself British. And I am ashamed at our Prime Minister’s eerie silence. My children ask me repeatedly why the world is allowing this to happen? I have no answer.

The mantra of Israel’s right to defend itself continues. Don’t the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves? Since the world has refused to take measures against the illegal land grab and building of settlements, since it has allowed Gaza to suffocate and die a slow death, what are they expected to do? Wait another 30 years while the world turns the other way?

If the international community took Israel to task for broken UN resolutions, the Palestinian people would not have to resort to firing rockets. As the world does nothing, it is the Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves

Mostahfiz Gani, Kingston upon Thames

A play about more than a plane crash

David Lister (“How the news turned a comedy into plane-crash theatre”, 2 August) asserts that we should have censored our production of Tom Basden’s play Holes by pulling it in response to the shooting down of MH17. I would like to object to the suggestion that we have been “downright disrespectful”.

Holes is not about plane crashes, in the same way that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is not about asylums. It is merely the setting, a jumping-off point for an exploration of how we are living now. It is not about a plane crash, any more than The Tempest is about a boat crash. And we began work on Holes in 2010. MH17 happened the day after the first preview.

I’m willing to wager that between here and the crash site of MH17 more children have been killed by their mothers in the past two weeks than died in that plane crash. Is David Lister suggesting the National Theatre closes Medea?

Holes is a poetic and absurd response to these dark times. How are we supposed to act in the shadow of such a welter of information about so many enormous acts of violence. What are we actually supposed to do? It seems to me we don’t know how to make the world better.

So much great comedy is at root a cry of despair. Like Chaplin responding to the Great Depression, Beckett to the A-bomb, and the absurdists to communism. Absurdity juxtaposed against unimaginable horror seems to me a deeply appropriate response to the zeitgeist.

Just because the play makes people laugh, it doesn’t mean that it is not saying something profound.

The one thing we do agree on is that some lines take on a certain electricity in light of recent events. “Planes just don’t go missing” is one.

David Lister’s view that the play is uncomfortable is shared by many critics. But his view that the play be closed is not.

Phillip Breen, Director of ‘Holes’. Luddington, Warwickshire

Driverless cars  are on their way

Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network. They could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2.

There is already a level of automation in our cars, with cruise control, and many people will be unaware that automation is already widespread on planes and on underground trains.

Driverless cars could be particularly beneficial in helping to keep older people or those with disabilities mobile.

From 2015, we will see trials in some of our cities that will address some of the issues around public acceptance, liability and safety of driverless cars. In the longer term, driverless vehicles are set  to be a common sight on our roads.

Paula-Marie Brown, Head of Transport, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

If two driverless cars meet on a single-track country road, which one reverses back to the passing place?

And if two of these cars collide (which at some time they will), how will it be possible to say which one was at fault for the insurance claim?

H Kilborn, London SE12

Let’s have a legacy from these games

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games have been a great success, but if there is to be any lasting legacy in sporting terms, this should be stimulated and encouraged by scrapping all entry charges to sporting centres and swimming pools, as they are currently far to expensive for the pockets of poorer people.

The London Olympic Games were also very successful, but recent assessments have shown there has been no meaningful increase in sporting activity to be claimed as a legacy.

We have very serious health problems in Scotland, and with life expectancy down to 64 in some parts, it is time to get the nation motivated in sport of any kind, and scrapping all entrance fees could be the first step.

Dennis Grattan, Bucksburn, Aberdeen


Unlike D Sawtell (letter, 1 August) I cannot comment on the suitability or otherwise of “Jerusalem” as the Team England anthem, but as a Scot living in Wales I am pleased that Team England have chosen not to use “God Save The Queen”, which applies to all the home nations, as well as to members of the Commonwealth, and is not the English national anthem. I look forward to a time when other English sporting teams follow this example – the year of the Scottish independence referendum is as good a time as any.

Gordon Middleton, Creigiau, Cardiff

Will the anachronistic and backward-looking Commonwealth Games be followed by the Nato Games?

David Freeley, Clonard, Wexford, Ireland


Rex Features

Last updated at 12:01AM, August 2 2014

Some feel we should use the past tense when talking about the past, and some disagree

Sir, I am reading Melvyn Bragg’s piece (July 30) on the use of the historic present tense and am surprised to note that he does not give any examples. Perhaps he should in future.

Ian Cherry

Sir, The historic present is confusing and awkward. Melvyn Bragg, in his confession, proved his point that it is here to stay, within one paragraph: ‘Chaucer employs it at will’.

Douglas McQuaid
Oxhey, Herts

Sir, The usefulness of the historic present is that it gently emphasises that the protagonists were not aware of what happened next. It suggests a step into the then unknown; the past tense records a step towards a known outcome.

Will Wyatt
Middle Barton, Oxon

Sir, Melvyn Bragg hosts a radio show called In Our Time that has discussed such contemporary topics as Abelard and Heloise, the battles of Bannockburn and Bosworth Field, and the Abbasid Caliphs. Is it any wonder that he favours the historic present? As a historian I’m happy with it in small doses. I think of it as a kind of submerged direct speech.

The Rt Rev Professor NT Wright
St Andrews

Sir, I disagree with Melvyn Bragg about the use of the historic present. I find a book using this tense highly annoying (including Wolf Hall). If I persevere I am jarred by occasional lapses. Leave the past where it belongs — in the past tense.

Sheila Taylor
Pevensey Bay, E Sussex

Sir, As TS Eliot says in Burnt Norton: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.” On that basis, could we persuade John Humphrys, Melvyn Bragg and Matthew Parris to shake hands and defuse the tense argument about the historic present?

Yanka Gavin
London SW11

Sir, You would think that Melvyn Bragg and John Humphrys have read no fiction. Hilary Mantel, who won the Man Booker prize two years in a row, uses the historic present (as I do now) almost continuously, and to the ultimate point of the Immediate Present: here, now, he stands before you.

David Tipping
Sherborne, Dorset

Sir, The present historic is used by people who need to make an uninteresting subject more exciting. They often fail, but by so doing make themselves sound pretentious, thus further devaluing their subject. In the real world — anywhere not in academia, the media or literature — the present historic is used rarely.

Charles Vaughton
Retford, Notts

Sir, Lord Bragg rightly refuses to de-demonise “wicked”, but the real threat to our language and culture comes from the interrogatory uplift. There are few more troubling experiences of linguistic vandalism than hearing academics resort to the cadences of Antipodean populist soaps. Since we live in an age when parliament is happy to legislate against thought crime can we expect a law to prohibit giving the impression a question is being asked when no actual question is intended?

Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden
Villedieu-les-Poêles, Normandy

The first casualty of this year’s festival seems to have been an Israeli theatre group

Sir, Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, it is wrong that an Edinburgh Fringe entertainment by Incubator Theatre of Jerusalem has had to be cancelled because of a Scottish Palestine Solidarity demonstration (report, July 31).

The Fringe embraces many points of view, and there is no reason why any aspect of that healthy democratic complex should be swept aside. It is a dangerous threat to artistic innovation and essential testimony.

David Day

Ackworth, W Yorks

Sir, It was disturbing that the police allowed the protesters to dominate the two access points to the venue, obliging ticket-holders to file past protesters . When one stuck his camera in front of my face and I pushed it away a policeman rose from his torpor and blocked my entrance. He said I was liable to be arrested for assault and so I would not be allowed in. His stance did not alter when a water bottle thrown from the crowd hit me in the chest.

I am a member of the Foreign Office’s advisory group on freedom of religion or belief. Currently, there is a debate about how far religion motivates protesters who are usually

remarkably composed about violence in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, much worse in kind than that occurring in Gaza. Perhaps the Scottish government might match the Foreign Office with an initiative to protect artistic expression in Scotland and the rights of audience members to have some minimal protection from the police to attend a cultural event. A shadow hangs over the Edinburgh Festival as long as the police wink at mob rule .

Tom Gallagher

Emeritus Professor of Politics

University of Bradford

Sir, I am ashamed of my city. A group of young performers in the Festival Fringe has been forced to close — because they are Israeli.

The venue, Underbelly, Bristo Square, has given in to intimidation by a currently popular pressure group. Since when do demonstrators who seek to go beyond their lawful right of demonstrating receive the support of the law rather than their targets? How pathetic that “the logistics of policing and stewarding the protest” meant that the theatre group had to cancel — rather than the protestors being limited to protesting peacefully.

This is a slippery slope — from bullying protesters closing down any show they don’t like (“Second Fringe show is in danger from anti-Israeli protest”, Aug 1) — to a potential growth of antisemitism.

The situation in Gaza is emotive but complicated, and thanks here go to Catherine Philp for her excellent and balanced overview (“No water, no electricity . . .” July 30) and to Deborah Ross (“We Jews are always bracing ourselves for more antisemitism”, July 31). Views on this or indeed any other issue should not affect the shows produced at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it is up to Festival organisers to ensure this — something at present they seem to be manifestly failing to do.

Everyone in this country has the right to free speech. I therefore look forward to hearing about the new venue for The Incubator Theatre and its show The City and I hope it receives massive support for its courage in the face of adversity if the show can indeed go on.

Sylvia Gray


How much did he contribute to the beginning of the hostilities in 1914?

Sir, Professor Röhl (letter, Aug 1) hopes we will ignore revisionist works suggesting the Kaiser was not solely responsible for the Great War, but who to blame for our own entry is far from clear.

The British cabinet remained calm in the aftermath of continental mobilisation with most opposed to involvement in the Balkans or the provision of aid to France and Russia.

The great exception was the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who off his own bat mobilised the British Navy and placed the First Fleet on war alert in the North Sea.

If mobilisation is what really tipped a nation into the conflict, Churchill’s pre-emptive actions are more blameworthy than Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s specious diplomacy.

To the dismay of Prime Minister Asquith, Churchill was outrageously bellicose in cabinet and Lloyd George noted that he dashed around with the “radiance of really happy man”.

Of course, when it was over and 16 million were dead, Churchill contacted Beaverbrook as he wrote Politicians and the War, hoping he would not be portrayed as a “warmonger”.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

Elderberries are lusciously ripe early this year but they are toxic to humans

Sir, At the risk of causing another corncockle panic, may I remind readers of Derwent May’s Nature Notes (July 30) that elderberries, eaten raw, are poisonous to human beings. One or two will do no harm, but members of a family in Sweden who each consumed a bowlful died. We must respect our elders.

Dave French


Fracking in the Weald ‘cannot’ threaten chalk aquifers, says drill company boss

Sir, You report (“Park fears fracking will pollute water”, July 29) that more than a million people in the South Downs and surrounding cities such as Chichester and Brighton rely on the chalk aquifer for drinking water. This chalk is not present under the centre of the Weald area, where Celtique is seeking permission for exploratory drilling, so our operations could not contaminate the chalk aquifer.

The absence of this chalk has been confirmed by independent geological and hydrological studies, as well as in a report from the British Geological Survey and Environment Agency published in July. We hope that this latest study gives the Mineral Planning Authority and people in the area greater confidence that onshore exploration can be undertaken safely in the South Downs National Park.

Geoff Davies

Celtique Energie

A bit of so-called humour in a German newspaper prompted a range of responses but not much laughter

Sir Your headline “German tabloid opens fire on ‘drunk, stupid Brits’” (July 31) was misleading. The word used by Bild is englisch.

Eva Tyson

Dalgety Bay, Fife

Sir, Whatever happened to the Scottish “Anyone But England” brigade? One heart-warming aspect of the Glasgow games was the way the home audience enthusiastically cheered not only their own competitors and those of Wales and Northern Ireland but also the English. I wonder what Alex Salmond made of that.

Barry Norman

Datchworth, Herts


Saint-Symphorien cemetery near Mons in Belgium Photo: © Arterra Picture Library / Alamy

6:57AM BST 03 Aug 2014


SIR – Tomorrow, on the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War, the eyes of the world will be on the St Symphorien cemetery, near Mons in Belgium, a few miles from where we work at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape).

From there, Nato’s military operations are planned and run. St Symphorien is remarkable because, unusually, buried there are the fallen from both sides in the battles that raged in and around Mons, first in 1914 and then 1918. It also contains the graves of the first and last British soldiers to die in the War.

Although defence against the threat of the Soviet Union was the catalyst for Nato, earlier conflicts still cast a long shadow. At Shape one can see the lessons of St Symphorien put into practice in an alliance of 28 nations, including almost every combatant in the First World War. The enemies of Mons are now the closest of colleagues.

Nations have often switched between being friends and foes, but there has never been anything like Shape, with its decades of integration of core defence staffs. The nationality of staff here goes virtually unnoticed. This is symbolised by us as Shape’s three senior commanders, one American, one British and one German. We remain proud of our nations, but in Shape we are one team.

So tomorrow, those of us standing at St Symphorien and contemplating the events of a century ago will be determined to continue applying the lessons our nations have so painfully learned. To our brothers in arms we want to say “Rest in Peace”. They fought for what they believed in and were united in death. We, those that followed them, are united in life to defend our shared values and united nations.

General Philip Breedlove
(United States)
Supreme Allied Commander
General Sir Adrian Bradshaw
(United Kingdom)
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander
General Werner Freers
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

A barmaid’s revenge

SIR – When I worked in bars in my youth, there was nothing more annoying for us bar staff than being unable to see over or round the half-dozen backs leaning against the bar.

The solution was to pour a jug of water onto the counter, which seeped slowly through the layers of clothing of the offenders, by which time one was at the other end of the bar, deep in conversation.

Jane Cullinan
Padstow, Cornwall

Blame planning laws for poor architecture

SIR – As a long-retired town planner who spent 25 years in development control in my local planning authority I was infuriated by Dame Jenny Abramsky and her views on planning.

Planners are not the problem. Politicians meddle with the system in the mistaken belief that planning causes economic stagnation and that relaxing controls on development will miraculously create more development and thereby cure the country’s economic woes. This hasn’t worked under previous governments, and it won’t under the current one.

Secondly, it is not the case that planners cause degradation of the built environment. This is the result of weak planning legislation. The provisions of the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order, which planners are required to enforce, have changed in recent years and now give licence to mediocre architects often driven by ego and the blinkered desires of their clients.

Frank D J Smith
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire

SIR – Dame Jenny Abramsky says that communities should stand up for themselves on planning issues. But if one does so, one is accused of Nimbyism.

If the developers, who are there only for their own profit and not for the benefit of the community, are turned down at local level they can appeal to the Planning Inspector, whose decision cannot be challenged further by the community. If their appeal is turned down, developers have the right to take it to a higher authority. The decision by then is irrevocable.

Stand up and be discounted?

Alyson Persson
Henfield, West Sussex

Ken the Europhile

SIR – I am unable to share your sunny view of Kenneth Clarke’s nature.

He has spent decades arguing for the absorption of this country into a European superstate. If it had been up to him, Britain would have joined the euro, experienced all the economic problems associated with it, and perhaps ended up electing parties that make Ukip seem like the Liberal Democrats.

Peter Davey
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – One hopes that the end of Kenneth Clarke’s career as a Cabinet minister will also see the end of his airtime on the BBC’s Today programme. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the people there to question his views had done so as rigorously as they do those of eurosceptics.

Carole Taylor
New Milton, Hampshire

Too-liberal Tories

SIR – Iain Martin, in his analysis of the next Tory leadership battle says “Members of the Conservative Party…could be forgiven for asking whether or not they get a say”.

He is absolutely right. The elite at the top of our party need to be reminded that it is not theirs to do with as they wish.

I will be extremely dissatisfied if, when David Cameron steps down, the only choices are George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Theresa May, all of whom have espoused the same “Liberal Conservative” policies that Mr Cameron has forced on us.

John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

Children of the Blitz

SIR – Sheila Williams is to be congratulated on surviving the war years and growing up to be “normal” .

But in her day, attitudes to mental illness were far less enlightened than they are today, with unfortunate sufferers often facing the stark choice of “getting on with it” or risking incarceration in mental health institutions largely unchanged since the Victorian era.

Eve Corbett
Blaenau Ffestiniog, Merioneth

SIR – Perhaps Sheila Williams is made of sterner stuff than I, but my recollections of the Blitz and its aftermath are somewhat different from hers.

I was bombed out in 1940 after a prolonged period of day and night raiding, and it was more than two years into evacuation in Devon before I stopped shaking.

Returning to London after the war, I was aware of classmates who had not escaped the trauma of the Blitz. Some could not speak without stuttering continually. A bit of professional counselling might have been very useful.

Peter Holloway
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – I am of the same generation as Sheila Williams. All we needed for stress was a stiff upper lip, but nowadays if one child is subjected to some form of stress, the whole school needs counselling.

Are we breeding a nation of wimps?

Norman Baker
Tonbridge, Kent

The shale revolution

SIR – If the myriad of “green” pressure groups had existed centuries ago, we would have had no coal or iron ore mines, no hydroelectric power, and no Industrial Revolution.

The Government is right to ignore the doomsayers and grant licences for fracking. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

El error

SIR – Some years ago, on holiday in Menorca, our walks took us past a church where I spied the word “iglesia” and assured my wife that this meant “English”.

She duly attended the church that Sunday and waited, ever more impatiently, for the English section to begin. On her return I discovered from the phrase book that the word I wanted was ingles (English) and not iglesia (church). I didn’t bother looking up the Spanish for “doghouse”.

Desmond Eccles
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Island hopping

SIR – Andrew Marr is not the only one who takes a strange route to work.

Jim Bergerac always seemed to drive past Gorey Castle (on the east end of Jersey) on his way from St Helier (centre of the island) to Jersey Airport (the west of the island). I put this down to a lack of satnav; but Mr Marr surely has one of those.

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – I read with interest the article about jazz by Lord Coe. Perhaps if, as he tells us, he is such a great supporter of jazz he could have had some of it played at the Olympic opening ceremony as well as the mind-numbing pop music.

And if he likes quality music, why did he allow Rowan Atkinson to take the mickey out of the London Symphony Orchestra with his one-finger piano playing and unfunny facial expressions?

Charles Sherwood
Tatsfield, Kent

SIR – Janet Daley reflects on Europe’s ignominious failure to rise to the most serious threat to world stability in a generation – namely, Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

The situation bears an uncanny resemblance to the attempts by the League of Nations to impose sanctions on Italy for its invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935.

Then as now, Britain was the only major power to impose sanctions which actually cost its economy anything. Then as now, the other major powers continued to trade with Italy – America shipping oil, France refusing outright to impose sanctions and Germany, as now, continuing to sell its machinery and cars.

Like Putin today, Mussolini took no notice of the sanctions. After nine months, Britain recommended to the League of Nations that they should be lifted. Italy now saw Britain as its main opponent in the world at a time when the Mediterranean was a key British interest.

With two key British interests – BP and City finance – under threat from the Russian response to sanctions, is history about to repeat itself?

Professor Stephen Bush
University of Manchester

SIR – Ukraine is a classic example of a young state that doesn’t naturally command the allegiance of all its peoples.

Other examples abound. The Slavs of Transdniestria, which abuts Ukraine, don’t feel any affinity with the Romanian-speaking Moldovan authorities and fear that Romania will eventually absorb Moldova. Nor do the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave wish a return to rule by Azerbaijan. Then there are the Abkhazians and South Ossetians of Georgia who distrust Tbilisi rule.

To treat these cases solely as instances of Russian imperial rule is unhelpful. The EU needs to tread carefully. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

SIR – The Russians have denied involvement in the downing of MH17. They have published their radar findings, claiming that Ukrainian warplanes had been in the vicinity. They have been asking Washington and Kiev to publish their data, and still no conclusive evidence has been supplied by either government.

Families of the victims deserve a full explanation as to why Western governments have failed to demand this vital information from America and Ukraine.

It is possible that American intelligence cannot come up with any evidence that pro-Russian separatists were responsible. Other explanations for the crash may involve a bomb inside the aircraft or Ukrainian warplanes. Either way, we need evidence in order to establish that the main players are not concealing the truth by blaming one another.

Christopher Booker’s article is very well balanced. We need to be more cautious, avoid Cold War tactics, and wait until data from the black boxes reveals new information. In the meantime we ought to show respect for the families involved.

Constantine Louis
London WC1

SIR – I usually agree with Christopher Booker but I do not understand why he is pointing the finger at President Obama.

The finger should be pointed at the imbecile who pulled the trigger, the person who gave the order to fire and the person who supplied the missile launcher. It is evident the people responsible did not check to confirm the target before deciding to shoot it down.

With a simple PC, they could have identified the aircraft and realised how many lives they were about to destroy. Virtually every civil aircraft in the world is tracked in real time and there is a website putting information out to the public: departure airfield, destination, airline, height and speed of the aircraft and its type and call sign.

If the murderers were incapable of operating a PC they should have telephoned me; but they did not care to find out what the target was.

I D Batten
Bridgend, Glamorgan

Irish Times:

Sir, – Since the second World War, the West, led by America, has devised an updated legal code of human rights and international behaviour in peace and war. It insists on the world observing this code by – among other things – making accountable and punishing those who breach it. It has established international institutions charged with policing the code.

It has, however, persistently prevented it being enforced in the case of Israel, which in the same period has repeatedly, in peace and war, offended against it. In recent weeks it has been doing so again in Gaza and the West Bank. This persisting impunity of Israel has made of the code in question a capricious and cynical charade. It deprives the nations of the world of a common code of behaviour deserving respect and makes any prosecution or punishment based on it a rank injustice. – Yours, etc,


Sydney Parade Avenue,

Dublin 4

Sir, – On July 24th, it was reported that 15 children had been killed by a missile landing in the UN school in which they were billeted. The Israeli reaction was to claim that it was a Hamas missile that had fallen short of its target. Israeli spokespeople maintained that line, even as they said the killings were being investigated. That remained their position.

So, since then, does anyone have a clear idea what happened? Or, as was predictable, have the Israelis buried the story in the rubble and the hundred times that number of dead since? I presume each of those children had a name, parents, siblings, that made them the individuals they were; easily forgotten though, it would appear. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8

Sir, –Recent comments by the Israeli ambassador in Ireland denying attacks on medical facilities and staff in Gaza are repugnant. To date over 25 medical facilities have been targeted, including the Gaza European hospital and Al-Aqsa hospital, where one patient was killed and 20 medical personnel were injured. Numerous ambulances evacuating patients have been sniped at or shelled, killing doctors, nurses and patients alike. Rehabilitation hospitals, paediatric hospitals and primary care clinics have been bombed, killing patients and staff. Even Red Crescent and UN staff are being killed by Israel aggression.

Medical neutrality ensures the protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference and unhindered access to medical care and treatment and the humane treatment of all civilians and nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick. These principles are enshrined in international human rights law, humanitarian law and medical ethics. To target medics and hospitals is to purposely dismantle the health care infrastructure with the effect that the wounded also die. In Gaza the wounded are predominantly innocent civilians who have no escape from the conflict zone. – Yours, etc,



Eccles St,

Dublin 7

Sir, – Whatever one’s views on the war in Gaza there is no doubt that that territory is governed and presided over by one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the Middle East. Israel is blamed for overkill in its response to unprovoked attacks from Hamas. Meanwhile, Sharia fundamentalists see the war in Gaza through the soft focus of a Western media much of which appears to have sided with Hamas.

A constant stream of one-sided comment on how Israel deals with rocket attacks on its citizens would suggest that Hamas is, at least, winning the media battle. The only truly democratic State in the Middle East is now seen in many quarters as the Great Satan. Europe’s first line of defence in the fight to contain the onward march of Islamic fundamentalism has been seriously compromised.

There is no doubt that Israel is currently well able to contain attacks from Hamas and its backers from throughout the Middle East. But it is a small country and is surrounded by many sworn enemies – and many of those are growing stronger and bolder and will undoubtedly gain access to more sophisticated weaponry. The bottom line is stark. If Israel falters under pressure from united fundamentalists, the West won’t be too far behind. European Christianity is already on life support. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5

Sir, – I trusted that Friday’s front-page picture of the President speaking at Glasnevin on July 31st would lead to a full report within the paper of an event which was of monumental significance in every way within these islands. However, instead of showing any image of the Cross of Sacrifice, on your Home News page we saw the backsides of a tiny crew of protesters whose limited verbal taunts were reproduced faithfully in Peter Murtagh’s report. No mention was made of Dr Edward Madigan’s historical reflection, or of any words HRH the Duke of Kent spoke.

The excitement in your report comes from the noise and objections of as few as two protesters, rather than from the feeling of friendship and emotion from the hundreds, which, as someone down from the Wee North, I can personally report was history being made in the truest sense. The protesters have scored a victory in the way The Irish Times has given prominence to their objections. The plus is that in a liberal democracy the head of state and distinguished guests can be verbally abused by protesters when at an official function, broadcast live on national television. The minus is that in aiming to achieve balanced coverage of the event, your paper and its story headline favoured those outside the railings as much as those within. – Yours, etc,



Co Down

Sir, – It seems that every day when I open my Irish Times I have to relive the first World War, from the murders in Sarajevo to the first volleys being fired. My wife says not to worry, it will be all over by Christmas. Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath

Sir, – Conor Gearty is missing a number of points in his article (“Human rights best hope for mankind”, August 1st) on human rights and equality. First, democracy did not start with “the labour and suffragette movements” or with political independence. It goes back to ancient Greece. Second, all members of the churches may not, as he says, always practise the love of neighbour ethic which they preach. The fact that they do not always live up to the ideal, however, does not render the ideal “irrelevant”. Third, his statement that “the conditions that drove democracy in the past no longer pertain” is just not true. We still need the ideal of the equality of citizens to be enshrined in our political and legal institutions.

The fact that some citizens do not exercise their rights and that other citizens use their wealth and/or privilege to undermine that equality makes it all the more necessary for democracy to be defended. The fact that women, who are a majority in the electorate, are so badly represented in the Dáil is a challenge to democracy. The fact that those in control of mass media can determine public opinion is a challenge to democracy.

Despite all that, however, Conor Gearty is right when he says that “the drive for equality must inevitably return” and that “the democratic advocacy of human rights” is our best hope for the future. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Dublin 13

A chara, – As a (now semi-retired) Irish-language journalist could I assure PD Goggin that I am one of those who regularly uses the Irish-language versions of official documents and laws.

I worked for nearly 20 years reporting on the Dáil for Raidió na Gaeltachta, and needed official versions of public documents as a necessary part of my work. Necessary because I was reporting for the Irish-language community, which may be small but which does exist, contrary to Mr Goggin’s prejudices.

I want no more than my English-language counterparts get – a version of official documents in my own language, which incidentally is recognised in the Constitution as the first official language of the State.

But perhaps Mr Goggin is a subversive who doesn’t recognise our Constitution and who wants to bully us through compulsion into accepting his monolingual English-speaking version of Ireland. Who indeed is the bully? And who indeed uses compulsion? – Is mise le meas,


Ascaill Ghleanntáin

na hAbhann,

Cluain Dolcáin,

Baile Átha Cliath 22

Sir, – Geoff Scargill’s response (July 30th) to Maeve Halpin’s letter stretches credulity. Ms Halpin cited “on the record” evidence of a severe failure to prosecute so-called white collar crime in this country. Factor in the reality that the individuals in question have not, in the main, endured drug- and violence-ridden childhoods and we are looking at a virtual apartheid in the dispensation of justice in this country. That is not “emotion” but evidenced-based reality, as indeed was Ms Halpin’s excellent commentary on Conor Gearty’s article. – Yours, etc,


North Circular Road,

Dublin 7

Sir, – John Bowman, in his article “Time for us to remember first World War fallen” (August 2nd), claims that more Irish died as a result of that war than any other in Irish history. This is far from the truth. While the first World War was indeed a tragedy, far more Irish people died during the Confederate War in Ireland, which resulted in over 600,000 deaths.

This is not to include the 200,000 to 300,000 men, women and children sold as slaves to English plantation-owners abroad. The Confederate War saw Ireland’s population half: no comparison whatsoever to the first World War. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The word “mansplaining” is used to describe a man talking down in a patronising, condescending way to a woman. My four-year-old granddaughter tells me in a patronising, condescending manner “Grandad, you know you might die soon ’cos you’re old?” or “Grandad, you know all your hair is falling out ’cos you’re old?” Is this “girlsplaining”? Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Park,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:


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