Post office

14 August 2014 Post Office

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A wettish day. I get go to the Post office and the Co op

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

101 Games: Mary wins 52 John 49 Mary Average score 346 John 340


Lauren Bacall – obituary

Lauren Bacall was the actress whose partnership with Humphrey Bogart brought a new allure and electricity to the big screen

Lauren Bacall's Hollywood career spanned seven decades

Lauren Bacall’s Hollywood career spanned seven decades Photo: Rex Features

12:09PM BST 13 Aug 2014


Lauren Bacall, the actress, who has died aged 89, brought a new style of sexual equality and allure to the Hollywood cinema in the 1940s by co-starring in four films with Humphrey Bogart; the couple fell in love while making Howard Hawks’s To Have And Have Not (1944) and were married by the time they made the same director’s The Big Sleep in 1946.

Tall, slim and sultry, with a hoarse voice and a cryptic personality, Miss Bacall was the perfect match for Bogart’s rugged cynicism, “a leggy, blonde huntress,” as one critic noted, “whose cat’s eyes never blinked before Bogart’s scowls”. In each film they created a special atmosphere of dry, terse comedy and tough-guy talk which masked their underlying affection for one another and seemed unique in popular cinema for the balance of power their roles created between the sexes.

Sensual but never sentimental, insolent, sharp-witted, laconic, cool and above all sophisticated, they seemed, as another observer put it, even to kiss out of the corners of their mouths.

Higher brows were moved to compare the tone of these mating games with that of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, though the style owed more to Raymond Chandler or Hemingway than to Shakespeare. At all events, they brought a new and personal chemistry to the screen which made the partnership refreshingly equal at every level.

Although Lauren Bacall was an actress of accomplishment in her own right, it was her acting in only four films with Bogart and their enduring marriage that turned them as a couple into the stuff of legend, and enhanced her own dramatic reputation more than any anything she did elsewhere in films or on stage.

Lauren Bacall in 1946 (REX)

One of her most famous lines was in To Have And Have Not when they were about to go their separate ways after bidding each other goodnight. At the door she turned and said: “You know how to whistle? You put your lips together and… blow.”

As the American critic James Agee wrote: “Whether or not you like the film will depend almost entirely on whether you like Miss Bacall. I am no judge… It has been years since I have seen such amusing pseudo-toughness on the screen.”

Lauren Bacall, who was born in New York City as Betty Joan Perske on September 16 1924, was the only child of William Perske, a salesman of medical instruments from Alsace, and his wife Natalia, of Romanian and German-Jewish extraction. They divorced when their daughter was six. The mother adopted the name Bacal; the daughter added an “l” to stop it rhyming with “crackle”. She always disliked “Lauren”, the name bestowed on her by Hollywood, preferring to be known as Betty.

Educated at the expense of wealthy uncles at a private boarding school, Highland Manor, Tarrytown, New York, and at the Julia Richman High School, Manhattan, Betty intended to be a dancer, having attended ballet classes since infancy. But in adolescence she was drawn to acting.

Inspired by Bette Davis films, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when she was 15, dating Kirk Douglas, who was there on a scholarship; but as the academy precluded scholarships for girls, she was obliged to leave after a year before bluffing her way into a job modelling sportswear.

Sacked for being Jewish, or flat-chested (or both), she took another job modelling gowns for a Jewish dress shop and in the evenings worked as an usherette. In 1942 she made her stage debut at the Longacre Theatre, New York, as a walk-on in a melodrama called Johnny 2 X 4, and played the ingénue in a pre-Broadway tour later that year. Then she took a job modelling for Harper’s Bazaar.

Leafing through the magazine in 1943, Mrs Howard Hawks, wife of the Hollywood director, drew her husband’s attention to the girl on the cover. Hawks cabled the magazine asking if she was free; she subsequently turned up on their doorstep.

After a screen test she signed a seven-year contract with Hawks and the producer Jack Warner for $250 a week, changing her name from Betty to Lauren. Hawks went to work on her voice. Taking her to some waste ground, he made her shout Shakespeare and other writers for hours every day in order to lower the tone of what he called her high nasal pipe.

After the daily exercises in the open air her voice became for him (and for the rest of the world) what he called “a satisfactorily low guttural wheeze”. He then insisted that in future she should always speak naturally and softly. Above all, she should ignore suggestions for “cultivating” her voice.

Within a year of her discovery on the front of Harper’s, Hawks had cast her with Bogart in To Have And To Have Not and directed her in such a way that her acting, with its insinuating sexuality and offhand independence, caused a sensation.

Hawks had urged her to play each scene exactly as she felt her character would behave: to act as if she were living the part. If she were true to her own feelings, she would be true to the film.

One scene sprang entirely from her imagination. After an emotional episode in a hotel room with Bogart’s Harry Morgan, Bacall’s Marie left him, according to the scenario, and returned to her own room. Between takes, Bacall grumbled to Hawks: “God, I’m dumb.”

“Why?” he asked. “Well”, she replied, “if I had any sense I’d go back after that guy.” So she did.

At 19 she had become, in her first film, one of Hollywood’s most sensational, relaxed and dominating newcomers: husky-voiced, aloof and shrewdly impervious to insult. This was Bogart’s most interesting screen partner for years, in an otherwise hazy melodrama about the French Resistance at Martinique with Bogart as a sea skipper, edgy, grey-voiced, unsure of this strange girl called Marie.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in ‘Dark Passage’ in 1947 (ALLSTAR)

Some of her lines entered film mythology: “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” and, after Bogart has kissed her for the second tentative time: “It’s even better when you help.” To everyone’s astonishment, she also sang (or rather croaked and growled, like a trombone) a suggestive song in a seamen’s bar.

She was promoted by Warner Brothers, her studio, as “The Look” because of her way of looking up suggestively with her lynx-eyes from under a high forehead (and through a haze of cigarette smoke) at the rugged, appreciative Bogart.

In 1945 she became his fourth wife; she was 25 years his junior, and the partnership endured until his death nearly 12 years later. Along with her husband, she actively campaigned for the Democrats and protested against Hollywood’s blacklist of suspected Communists.

Lauren Bacall was miscast in Confidential Agent (1945), a thriller derived from Graham Greene’s novel about the Spanish Civil War with Charles Boyer as a Spanish agent; she was, as one critic put it, about as English as Pocahontas, although her “very individual vitality made up for her deficiencies”. The following year, Hawks brought her back with Bogart in The Big Sleep.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in ‘The Big Sleep’ (REX)

The level-pegging of their partnership was curious, unusual and, in those days unexpected in films. One theory was that Hawks’s dislike of Bogart was behind it. Before The Big Sleep, the director was reputed to have said to Bogart: “You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I’m going to make the girl a little more insolent.”

And so it proved. In their second film together, in which she played the rich antagonistic daughter of Bogart’s employer, in a fine adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, she proved every bit as cool and independent as she had been in To Have And Have Not.

Neither of their other two films together was a patch on their predecessors. In Dark Passage (1947), Lauren Bacall sheltered a heavily-bandaged Bogart in his attempt, as an escaped convict, to prove that he had not murdered his wife. All that Delmer Daves’s screenplay proved was that without sharp dialogue, an element of sexual rivalry or a more intelligent scenario, Bogart and Bacall were not themselves.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart at a Paris cafe in 1950 (GETTY)

John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) was a far better film, but it still failed to find any of the old style of banter for them to exchange in its tense tale of a bunch of gangsters who invade a hotel run by Miss Bacall, a war widow.

It was as if, having awakened public interest in the pair as a screen partnership, Warner Brothers could not find material to keep their characters effectively together. This was the film in which, to get the right facial expression from Lauren Bacall, Huston twisted her arm. He got the right expression but he never got her into another of his films. Key Largo was also her last film with Bogart who, unlike Lauren Bacall, went on to make some of the finest films of his career.

In 1950 she was the socialite who married Bix Beiderbecke (Kirk Douglas) in Young Man With A Horn, and appeared with Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf. Her gift for acid comedy came out nicely in Jean Negulesco’s How To Marry A Millionaire (1953), with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and in the same director’s A Woman’s World (1954).

Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe on the set of How to Marry a Millionaire (REX FEATURES)

As an occupational therapist and Richard Widmark’s mistress in Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman (1957), she was miscast as a scatterbrained fashion queen opposite Gregory Peck.

In Douglas Sirk’s Written On The Wind (1957) she was supposed to have been swept off her feet by an oil millionaire. Was the baby his (Robert Stack’s) or his best friend’s (Rock Hudson’s)? Nobody much cared, least of all Miss Bacall, for Bogart died that year .

Two years later, after playing a tough-talking American governess in the British melodrama North-West Frontier, with Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall decided to return to the stage after an absence of 17 years. As Charlie in Goodbye Charlie (Lyceum, 1959), the story of a man’s return to earth after death as a woman, she played with considerable success opposite Sidney Chaplin.

In 1961 Lauren Bacall married the actor Jason Robards. (There had been earlier talk of marriage to Frank Sinatra, “but Frank just couldn’t cope with the idea” she said years later).

In the 1960s her films became less reliable . In Shock Treatment (1964) she played a batty psychiatrist; in Sex and the Single Girl (1965) a squabbling neighbour (with Henry Fonda); and in Jack Smight’s Harper (1966) a vindictive wife in a film which paid homage to Bogart, with Paul Newman as a private detective.

Lauren Bacall (REX)

After that she worked mostly on Broadway. Apart from more than a year’s run as Stephanie, the nurse, in Abe Burrows’s comedy Cactus Flower (Royale, 1965), which some admirers considered the best role of her career, she spent three years as Margo Channing, a stage star threatened by a young rival, in the musical Applause, first in New York (Palace, 1970), for which she received a Tony award, then in Toronto, Chicago and on tour, before making her London debut in the same part at Her Majesty’s (1972).

Her role in Applause was the one Bette Davis had filled more flamboyantly in the film All About Eve. Lauren Bacall’s stage acting showed the same agreeable insouciance as her film acting .

She returned to the screen in 1974 in the Agatha Christie derivation, Murder On The Orient Express; and two years later faced, with admirable and stylish antagonism, John Wayne in Don Siegel’s The Shootist. This brought together one tough hombre and one tough cookie, and was the sharpest match since Bacall had first met Bogart.

As an indefatigable journalist in the musical Woman of the Year on Broadway in 1981, she took a slight story, according to the The Daily Telegraph’s John Barber, and injected into it “all the dynamism of a fascinating personality”.

In 1985 she was back in the West End in Harold Pinter’s revival of Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth (Haymarket).

The Fan (1981) brought her back to the screen as a successful actress entangled with a young man in her first Broadway musical, and seven years later she contributed to another all-star Agatha Christie film, Appointment With Death. She also stole a child in a psychological film thriller, Tree of Hands (1989).

Of her many television appearances the most notable included Blithe Spirit and The Petrified Forest in 1956 and a role in the Frederick Forsyth Presents drama series.

Lauren Bacall was, perhaps, an actress more famous for whom she was thought to be than for what she actually did. “It was those pale eyes framed by a tawny mane, a way of walking that suggested a panther in her family tree, and a husky voice that could set a spinal column aquiver,” noted one reviewer.

She kept up the image of a sharp-tongued, no-nonsense feminist in interview after interview down the years. Journalists were slightly scared of her. But in truth — and unlike, say, Katharine Hepburn — she did not go on to create a substantial body of work. Her fame continued to rest largely on the early films with Bogart.

Lauren Bacall in later life (GETTY)

Her memoir, By Myself, appeared in 1978, followed in 2005 by And Then Some by way of an addendum. In this she described working visits to Paris making Robert Altman’s satirical Prêt à Porter (1994) and to Britain, where she starred in The Visit at the Chichester Festival in 1995.

Lauren Bacall received a Golden Globe and an honorary Oscar. In 1996 she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. She continued to make occasional appearances on screen, including, in 2006, appearing as herself in an episode of The Sopranos. In 2004 she had a supporting role alongside Nicole Kidman in Birth, a psychological drama directed by Jonathan Glazer.

Her marriage to Jason Robards ended in divorce in 1969. In 1983 there had been talk of her marrying Harry Guardino, a former film co-star, but it came to nothing. She had a son and a daughter with Humphrey Bogart and a son with Jason Robards.

Lauren Bacall, born September 16 1924, died August 12 2014


anti-jewish graffiti

Owen Jones is right to point out how public discourse on anti-Jewish hatred has been muddled (Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is, 11 August). But he fails to apply his normally astute understanding of power to the analysis. Whose interests are served by bracketing off anti-Jewish hatred into its own special category of racism, with its own special word? Are incidents of anti-Jewish hatred rising more sharply than incidents of other kinds of race hatred? Jones does not question the dominant idea that this evil form of hatred is different from, and more pernicious than, other manifestations of racism. This plays directly into the exceptionalism that has sustained systematic institutionalised persecution on the one hand, and the impunity of contemporary Zionism on the other.

All racism must be opposed, but we must be aware of the ideological work performed when we privilege one form of racism above others.
Barry Stierer

•  Owen Jones seems comfortable with the rhetorical stitch-up that means only members of a white ethnic group can be victims of antisemitism. This means differences between white Catholics and Protestants are sectarian. But black or brown Muslim Britons are to be regarded as racist for disputing with white Jewish Britons?

It’s only a matter of weeks since Israel began its attacks on Palestinian civilians, and Jones has immediately acted to pre-empt any abuses that might be aimed at white ethnic British Jews. However, it’s widely accepted that, since Tony Blair’s Iraq war, race relations in Britain have plummeted. There have been racist attacks on mosques and individuals – including the murder of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem. Black Britons of all diasporas have also had to put up with selective institutional practices like racial profiling. To this we can add the phenomenon of black deaths in police custody, disproportionate arrest and incarceration – even in middle age I’ve averaged a stop and search every two years – plus institutional barriers to continuing education and economic ghettoisation. But can you get columnists and letters editors to accommodate this issue? We’re supposed to accept these conditions as the norm, but when a fraction of the black British experience risks being replicated among a white ethnic group it becomes an outrage. Apparently the narrative that only white people can be victims is still acceptable.
Dr Gavin Lewis

•  A virulent antisemitism, fanned by Mosley’s fascists, re-emerged in Britain shortly after the end of the war against Nazi Germany. Fresh from serving in that war, my father became the full-time anti-fascist organiser for the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen. My earliest political memory is of him speaking from a platform on a street corner on Ridley Road in London’s East End. Mosley’s cavalcade arrived, stones began to fly, and the chant “The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids” roared out. So I reckon I know something about antisemitism. Antisemitism faded later in the 1950s when a newer and more easily identifiable group, West Indians, arrived in England and racism was redirected. Of course Owen Jones is right that hate speech and acts are on the rise. But Jews are not a special case or the main victims. Try being a Muslim in much of western Europe today, or Romanian, or a Gypsy in England (or, for that matter, a Palestinian in Israel) and let’s get a sense of proportion.
Steven Rose

•  I agree entirely with much of what Owen Jones writes, but I take issue with his claim that to object that Arabs are also Semites is “a sinister piece of pedantry”. There are strong historical reasons why, in the European context, “antisemitic” has become synonymous with “anti-Jewish”; in the Israel-Palestine context to continue with that use is an act of linguistic genocide which writes a whole people out of the story. That is sinister. If we mean “anti-Jewish”, let us use that term, and, indeed, see it for what it is.
Barry Tempest
Dorchester, Dorset

•  I hope that those who campaign so vociferously against Israel, but insist that they are not antisemitic, are aware of the atmosphere they contribute to. Yesterday a young Algerian man shouted at me “He is a Jew, he has a Jew face”. It’s the type of abuse I have not received for about 40 years. I would like to think that all the campaigners would have intervened on my behalf, and did so too at the march on Saturday if they heard any antisemitic remarks. If they did not, they need to ask themselves why.
Paul Sinclair

At least the Tory Julian Lewis (Britain boosts role in battle with militants, 13 August) articulates a reason why he opposed armed intervention in Syria last year and supports intervention in Iraq this year. It is that in Syria there was a real risk that weapons would get into the hands of al-Qaida and its allies, while in Iraq it would be a question of assisting “the people” to resist a “totalitarian death cult”. However, it ignores the participation of “the people” of Syria in resisting the murderous regime of Assad and his Hezbollah allies and fighting for a halfway decent democracy. What non-intervention in Syria also meant was abandonment of any perspective to build up a “third force” in Syria that was for neither the regime nor the jihadists but for democracy.

Whether there should or should not have been intervention was a matter of judgment, but turning non-intervention into a principle is not only wrong but has proved full of unintended consequences. Behind the principle of non-interventionism is an alliance of “right” and “left”. The right is generally governed either by the imperialist notion that “the Arabs” are not capable of democracy or by the narrow realpolitik notion that British interests are not directly and immediately affected. The left is generally governed by a mix of social isolationism (what really matters is welfare and employment at home), Christian pacifism (the “west” is warmongering), cultural pluralism (they have their ways, we have ours and ne’er the twain shall meet), and a deformed “anti-imperialism” (that is blind to all violence and all human suffering that is not caused by the “west”). It is time we had a more intelligent debate on interventionism than we have had – in minor part because the space for such a debate was, and continues to be, tainted by the actions and words of one, Tony Blair.
Robert Fine
Emeritus professor of sociology, University of Warwick

•  So, we are arming the peshmerga of the Kurds of northern Iraq? But which peshmerga? The peshmerga of which political party, of which sectarian division, which linguistic group are we arming? And are we making sure we give arms to all the different peshmerga, in order to keep the balance that has kept the peace between all these rival peshmerga since their civil war of the 90s? And, if we are arming peshmerga, then why don’t we make sure we arm the peshmerga who’d be most effective against the Islamic State (IS)? No, that would mean arming the PKK operating out of northern Syria. They are officially a terrorist group. And if we really want to help the Kurds, we need Turkish bases to operate from – but the more rifles we put into the hands of Kurds, the more we lose Turkey as an ally. And we also cannot expect to arm the Kurds and then receive the assistance of the Baghdad government in tackling IS. It gets messy arming the Kurds. The Kurds need to be protected – not armed.
Dr Rod Thornton
Defence studies department, King’s College London (formerly of University of Hewler-Kurdistan, Irbil, Iraq)

•  Those armchair strategists who see the horrors in Northern Iraq as “the blowback from US intervention in Iraq and the Middle East in general”, and in particular blame “Messrs Bush and Blair”, display a disproportionate response.

Surely only extreme pacifists and anti-Americans would deny just cause for the current military intervention (Letters, 11 August). And to suggest that “western reporting has been alarmist” also suggests the western media cannot be relied upon when ordinary members of the public form their own judgment. For most of us, America is the beacon for democracy, freedom and liberal values. However, no democratic system can guarantee to throw up leaders with perfect judgement. If and when military mistakes are made in good faith, such mistakes should not be allowed to feed the forces of evil: whether they revitalise Saddam, or sustain those who have inherited his same capacity for inhumanity, the consequence is not good.
Mike Allott
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire

When I was growing up, “consumerism” was the bogey. Later, it was “individualism”. Now it’s “neoliberalism” (George Monbiot, 6 August). But these ideas mask the truth: if I move my mortgage or my savings from one bank to another to get a fractionally improved rate of interest, then I, too, am screwing the economy, and, ultimately, the planet; and, uncomfortably for Guardian readers, it’s the hundreds of millions of people like us, worldwide, who do most of the damage – not the super-rich.

We’re not neoliberals, nor selfish, nor acquisitive, just ordinary people, doing our best to eat, live, and pay the salary of whoever sold us the cover we took out, so we don’t have to pay a week’s wages to get the boiler fixed. Widespread belief in the neoliberalism myth, like others before it, leads to widespread disempowerment: the larger and vaguer the abstraction, the less able we feel (and are) to take effective action.

We can change our habits, influence others and reform institutions (radically as well as incrementally), whether alone or jointly, in response to specific wrongs, abuses and injustices, but the idea of neoliberalism does not help. And Monbiot himself acknowledges a further problem: if the neoliberal condition actually exists nowhere – and not even its alleged advocates believe in it, or want it – then it cannot be the enemy we have so collusively and easily settled on.

He is right about the pervasive bureaucratic juggernaut, but neoliberalism does not explain it: we need a better theory.
Jon Griffith
School of social science, University of East London

•  “Market-based society” is an oxymoron because market free-for-all destroys society. Rather, “society” is formed from the interaction of politics, culture, community and economy, which make up our “commonwealth”. This traditional word for society is still used by some countries like Canada, and offers a more fertile narrative than market fundamentalism.

Yes, the market fundamentalist narrative has largely captured government, state, business and culture so that we live in a corporatocacy. And mental ill health gets worse the more that people are reduced to commodities to be bought and sold on the market. The successful rich become the righteous. The poor are the market failures, social parasites in a nightmare of all against all.

However, it’s up to us to push back the market from government, schools, health service and planet to co-create a prosperous, healthy, equitable commonwealth.
Martin Large
Stroud Common Wealth

Jeff Rooker (Letters, 12 August) is getting his maths wrong. The coalition does not “have an inbuilt majority in the revising chamber”. There are 774 peers at present; after all the latest recruits take their seats there will be 796. To have a majority (“inbuilt” or otherwise), the coalition parties would have to number 388 now and 399 in future. The actual figures for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups combined are 317 today, and 335 after the new peers come in. This would explain why the government has been defeated in the Lords on 90 occasions since 2010. Meanwhile, the gross overpopulation problem in the Lords could have been sorted. Had Lord Rooker’s Labour colleagues in the Commons taken their cue from Damien Welfare (Letters, 11 August) instead of playing party games with the Lords reform bill in July 2012, prime ministerial appointments would have ceased. Next year the public would be choosing the first 120 elected peers. Protections in that same bill would have made it all but impossible for parties to gain an overall majority in the Lords. Yet Labour chose to reject democracy and retain patronage: why bleat now at the results?
Paul Tyler
Liberal Democrats, House of Lords

depressed man

Your editorial (Mind the gap, 13 August) was right to identify the paucity of treatment options available to those with mental illness in the UK. A recent BMA report examined the evidence and called for action to tackle another factor affecting the care of people with mental illness and those with intellectual disabilities – that less emphasis is put on their physical health, leading to preventable premature mortality.

This is down to a lack of recognition that those with mental-health problems and those with intellectual disabilities may also have physical health needs, which we signally fail to address as well as we could. We need to see people as whole people who are not defined by one diagnosis, recognising that they might need a different approach to preventing and treating their physical illnesses.

Discrimination does not need to be deliberate to cause damage; shaping services without thought for those whose lifestyles make it difficult for them to access services can cause harm, as can casually assuming that patients with a mental-health problem will not respond to some interventions, and then denying access to that intervention – such as smoking cessation.

We need to seek out ways to ensure that equal value is placed on patients’ mental and physical health. Making this a key part of commissioning services will make a real difference to those who die early not from their mental-health disorder but from an illness neglected as we fail to see the whole complex person.

The death of Robin Williams is a tragedy; but a similar loss is faced by families every day in the UK. It brings into focus the need for practical steps to change treatment models so that those with mental-health issues and intellectual disabilities are as likely as those without to lead long and fulfilling lives.
Professor Sheila Hollins
Chair of the BMA Board of Science

Extending public-sector pensions to surviving spouses even when they re-partner takes the “pensions for life” scheme to its – unaffordable – logical conclusion (Pension rules ‘condemn police widows to lonely life’, 9 August). Those of us who remain single pay the same level of contributions as married colleagues but without benefiting from the ability to pass our pension rights on. It would be an even greater injustice for singletons to have to pay increased contributions in order to extend “pensions for life” for Ms Fulton and her fellow petitioners.
Val Carroll
Silsden, West Yorkshire

•  So, Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, is objecting to the Reclaim the Power Camp because it may “seriously harm the reputation of Blackpool as a holiday destination” (Anti-fracking protesters set up camp outside Blackpool, 12 August). If fracking continues to develop, Blackpool will be surrounded by a gas field with far more dire consequences to tourism than a temporary protest camp. Perhaps Clair and her members will consider objecting to that.
Jayne Watson
Misson, Nottinghamshire

•  “Was it not Voltaire who said ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’?” asks Rose Rachman (Letters, 13 August). In fact it wasn’t Voltaire, and it wasn’t in the spoken word either. This unfettered defence of free speech is from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s 1906 biography of Voltaire.
Steve Moore
Leumeah, New South Wales, Australia

•  In more than 50 years’ canvassing, door-knocking and delivering literature on behalf of the Labour party, I have never been bitten or attacked by a cat. Dogs are another thing, however, and I bear the scars as evidence. Dogs are definitely Tories (Letters, 13 August).
John Sullivan
Oldbury, West Midlands

•  Did Joe Corbett’s “several cats … all of [whom] knew the name of the founder of the Chinese Communist party” prefer Li Ta-chao or Ch’en Tu-hsui?
Professor Alan Knight
St Antony’s College, Oxford

• Now the ruddy duck has been sorted (Report, 9 August), any chance of the Himalayan balsam being next on the list?
Paul Gleave


Following the sudden death of our police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands, a by-election has been called for 21 August. The first I knew of this was when the voting card arrived, there having been no advance publicity. As I am on holiday then I have applied for a postal vote.

The ballot paper has four names on it: one candidate from each of the main parties plus Ukip. There are no independents and they are all men of a certain age; though thankfully one is from an ethnic minority.

Persistence was required when searching the internet to find some information about these people, there being no printed material. What I finally found was an extremely brief document with barely half a page per candidate, containing a few predictable platitudes and the usual political statements, on which basis I am supposed to determine who will be best placed to oversee policing in a region containing over three million people.

We have ended up with the inevitable politicisation of local policing predicted when this ill-advised system was introduced. The process discourages independent candidates and excludes those with no access to the internet, while the timing of the election will result in a turnout even lower than the lamentable 15 per cent we managed last time.

The sooner we do away with this travesty of democracy the better.

Ian Richards


Discover the real Cambridge

Rosie Millard’s experience (11 August) at the Cambridge University open day is disappointing. As a comprehensively educated recent graduate at Robinson College, who worked the open days tirelessly trying to dispel myths and welcome prospective students, I find it very frustrating to read that poor management and apparent complacency put her daughter off applying.

It is quite possible to have a great experience studying and living there, meeting fantastic people from all over the world and of all backgrounds. I’d encourage anyone to talk to “real” Cambridge students, who can provide honest appraisals of uni life, and to have the confidence to take with a pinch of salt the pretensions of some of the unhelpful people who presented the university in such an unappealing and elitist fashion to Rosie and her daughter.

I survived three years without playing a single game of croquet.

Laurie Dudley
Newcastle upon Tyne

Stranded at Orpington

Probably many readers will be in sympathy with Oliver Wright’s suggestion (Inside Whitehall, 13 August) that the nation’s main railways should be mutualised. But I wonder if it was entirely fair of him to accuse a Southeastern Trains employee of “surly indifference”?

“No one’s in charge here”, he said, when challenged. “They’re all at home in bed.” He was probably at least as angry as the passengers – frustrated at his inability to help them. Who could blame him?

Things used to be different. Faversham is a junction. Like Orpington, where Oliver Wright and other passengers were understandably put out, it sports sidings where electric multiple units are stabled between turns.

My memories, from commuter days, are that staff would work heroically to meet the needs of passengers in an emergency. On one occasion no up trains were coming through from either Dover or Ramsgate. To ensure that commuters still got up to London, the station master (there were such in those days) simply summoned up three multiple units from the sidings and found a driver and guard to run them.

In the absence of station masters at most stations, initiatives like that are now virtually impossible. They will become quite impossible once the present process of closing even quite modern signal boxes and replacing them with “regional operation centres” is complete.

Arthur Percival
Faversham, Kent

Why on earth did Oliver Wright go back to Sevenoaks by bus when he was stranded at Orpington station? Even if the “surly” Southeastern station staff were unhelpful, surely it would have been sensible to continue towards London. In fact there are two bus routes, 61 and 208, from Orpington station to Bromley South station, where trains would have been running.

By all means blame un-cooperative staff – I have been on the receiving end of misleading information on Southern at West Croydon – but Mr Wright should have used a bit of initiative.

John French
London SE21


Oliver Wright doesn’t think a nationalised rail service would work. I beg to disagree.

I travel the East Coast rail line regularly from Darlington to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The services are usually punctual and the staff both on board and at the station are helpful and friendly. This service is nationalised in all but name, but it is to be sold off before the next election by this government despite making £250m a year profit. Such is their determination to prove that nationalisation doesn’t work.

Ken Twiss
Low Worsall, Cleveland


Gunfire over the moors

The grouse season is with us and once more some of our most beautiful moorland is being trampled by people who enjoy murdering and maiming beautiful birds which have been raised solely for the so-called sport of driven grouse shooting.

Not only are large areas of heather being cut and burned, despoiling wonderful views, but raptors are being persecuted to make grouse more available for the guns. While it is part of nature for hen harriers to attack grouse to feed their young, it is not part of nature for humans to rear grouse just to have them blasted out the sky for pleasure.

On Sunday nearly 600 people gathered in the Peak District to protest peacefully against this illegal killing of hen harriers and other birds of prey merely to enhance the chances of more grouse being shot. It is hoped that those organisations who own or manage moorland will now do more than just talk and take action to stop the killing of raptors and maybe, in time, even to stop driven grouse shooting.

Tony Hams
Tideswell, Derbyshire


The various fates of fish

Grace Dent is too eager to support the RSPCA’s bully-boy tactics (12 August), if the experience of my tyre fitter is anything to go by.

He has two tanks in his office with a splendid selection of tropical fish. One of the tanks contains a single, large, ugly specimen. A customer complained to the RSPCA and he was visited and told that the fish was lonely and needed company.

“I put other fish with him, but he ate them”, he said.  He was then told that the sides of the tank should be painted black so that the fish did not feel intimidated by visiting customers.

“You should go to the shop down the road,” he told the officer. “They dip their fish in batter and fry and eat them.” He was told that this was not a laughing matter.

Nigel Scott
London N22

Let the wine speak for itself

Countries with a long tradition of wine making sell it in bottles designed for functionality according to the type of wine, and for elegance.

The latter characteristic invites consideration of the wine as it is poured and as it is tasted – be it alone or as a component of a meal. The labels of long-established châteaux are themselves the result of careful composition.

Having first become acquainted with wine while living in France many years ago, I am sure that I am not alone in being horrified at the thought of flashing a health warning under the noses of friends and guests as I address their glasses (“Put health warnings on beer and wine labels, say MPs”, 11 August)

The nasty label round the back already reiterates the volume of the bottle, and informs them of the concentration of alcohol and the number of “units” they should not exceed . I feel that I owe it to the wine and to my guests to remove this vulgar impertinence by soaking and scraping before my bottles reach the dinner table.

If we are to be insulted with even more information on these labels, or on third labels, might I request that they be attached to the bottle with a glue which yields to the gentle insertion of a thumb nail, to leave the bottle in its original unsullied condition.

Sidney Alford
Corsham, Wiltshire


Dominated by England

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asks (11 August) why England holds contradictory opinions on Europe and Scotland, wanting to leave the former but stay in union with the latter. It’s a good question, but the answer’s easy, and to do with dominance.

England cannot dominate Europe (witness the recent election of the president) but feels it does dominate Scotland. Dominance is its idea of a relationship.

Brian Palmer


Improvement in the economy is a chance to tackle welfare changes and housing benefits

Sir, Iain Duncan Smith is correct that getting the economy working means getting the state safety net right (“Broken welfare system drove up migration, claims Duncan Smith”, Aug 11).

The overall positive trend in the economy is good news and is the chief determinant of whether families can make ends meet. However, trends in the labour market, including more unstable working hours, rising self-employment and stalled wages, are making home life more insecure for many workers. Positive policies of support to help people save for retirement, make pensions decisions and afford childcare must reflect the reality of this new economy.

The secretary of state is right when he says that welfare reforms are first and foremost about people. As the economy continues to grow, ministers must tackle the major welfare challenges of fixing the broken systems of support for disabled people and safely delivering the flagship Universal Credit.

Gillian Guy
Citizens Advice

Sir, May I suggest a moratorium on the word dependency in the context of the welfare debate (“Beveridge’s Bequest”, leader, Aug 12). In February 2013 there were 5.1 million claimants of housing benefits in the UK. Tenants in particular totally depended on that benefit to keep a roof over their heads. Come April 2013 and the poorest large families (£26,000 annual limit) and single people (spare room supplement) had their housing benefit cut, leaving rent unpaid and eviction threatening.

Low-paid single people, widows and widowers, around 50 to 60 years old, becoming ill or unemployed for the first time in a long, working, tax-paying life could no longer depend on the rest of us to keep them in their family home among vital community support. The policy is to force them to move to make a better use of affordable social housing. Large families with young children suffer the same fate just because they happened to be large on April 6, 2013.

A very small minority of benefit claimants might be dependent on benefits to such an extent that it is corrosive to the wellbeing of individuals. Most need them but wish they did not. Yet all are publicly branded and their incomes reduced, even though the fault lies with the lack of any governmental policy to provide enough affordable housing for many decades.

The Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
London N17

A Sussex reader reports seeing an Orthodox Jew who felt he had to conceal his religious identity in public

Sir, Hugo Rifkind’s insightful article (Aug 12) merits a long pause for thought. While enduring the lengthy queue at Eastbourne’s central post office this week, my patience was shared by a gentleman and his young daughter. Having lived in Israel for a while, I recognised them as orthodox Jews, but what struck me — for the first time in this country — was that this man had felt it necessary to mask his appearance. His skull-cap was hidden under a cap while his payot (long side-curls) were twisted behind his ears and tucked underneath.

We have reached a new low in Britain when citizens of any religious minority fear identification in a public place.

Anne March

Eastbourne, E Sussex

Sir, Growing antisemitism is another unforeseen consequence of Europe’s departure from Christianity.

Notwithstanding certain times and places, Christianity has offered protection to Jews and Judaism over the centuries due to shared scriptures, theology and ethics. Proactive atheistic campaigning to destroy the Judaeo-Christian basis of European society will continue to increase Jewish vulnerability.

Into the spiritual vacuum has stepped Islam with its specific credal antisemitism. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “ ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

The Rev Dr Robert Anderson

Blackburn, Lancs

Inefficiencies in the collection of the TV licence prompt calls for a different system

Sir, I was not surprised the BBC sends 100,000 letters each day demanding payment of the licence fee. Quite a few of them came to me (Aug 13).

My late mother’s house was empty for 18 months before we sold it at the end of last year. Every few weeks I received a letter from TV licensing. Every time I received a letter, I rang and explained that the house was unoccupied and had been cleared, so there was no TV in it. All of these calls were ignored.

Joanna Martin

Hitcham, Suffolk

Sir, While paying for the licence by direct debit we received a barrage of increasingly threatening letters which stopped only when we said we’d see the BBC in court.

Martin O’Keeffe

West Chiltington, W Sussex

Sir, As the owner of a property with neither a TV nor broadband connection, I received over 140 TV licence reminders.

Mark Haslam

Malvern, Worcs

Events far from Britain prompt some to call for military intervention – or at least for foreign policy clarity

Sir, As a naturalised Briton of Iraqi Christian origin, I am horrified by the plight of Christians, Yazidis, Jews and other minorities in northern Iraq.

Why do moderate Muslims in the UK not condemn the acts of Islamic extremists in the Middle East, and why do churches not urge the government to intervene?

In the Gulf wars Britain and the US toppled a secular regime and brought instability to a volatile region. It is therefore our responsibility to take a tough military stance, using air strikes and arming the Kurds. Kurdistan is a secular Muslim country and is an ally in a region dominated by religious extremism and corruption. Terrorist states such as Isis threaten not only the future of the Middle East but eventually the safety of all of us.

Nora Emmanuel

London, SW1

Sir, Most Britons feel threatened by Islamic terrorism, and many want to attack Isis forces thousands of miles away (Aug 13). Yet Israel is vilified for trying to defend itself when Hamas, the terrorist Islamic organisation that has vowed to annihilate Israel, is raining rockets down over its border.

Over 250,000 Muslims have been killed in Syria; Isis forces are attacking Christians in their tens of thousands. Why are the Muslims not protesting about the thousands of Muslims attacked by Islamic terrorists such as Boko Haram? Why is it only Israel that is singled out for such hatred in their protests?

Mindy Wiesenberg

London NW4

A reader took to heart a maxim from his school maths teacher and now his garage is very untidy

Sir, Written around the wall of my maths teacher’s classroom was the exhortation “Never work anything out until you have to” — sensible advice for calculations.

It is a maxim I have successfully adapted in later life to include doing things, which, over the years, has avoided a lot of blind alleys and much rework. It does, however, lead to a rather untidy garage.

Christopher Martindale

Wicken, Bucks


SIR – Excessive alcohol intake damages health. Minimum pricing could reduce the harm to many heavy drinkers, but I think that the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse is risking alienating responsible drinkers.

People under-report or deny their use of harmful substances. Simple biochemical tests can verify and measure the smoking habit. With alcohol this is not the case.

There is evidence that light to moderate drinkers have a lower cardiovascular risk than non-drinkers. While warnings should be given about the dangers of chronic, excessive drinking, those who drink sensibly should be assured that their intake poses no major risk to their health.

Dr Graham F Cope

SIR – The committee on alcohol misuse has, once again, raised the prospect of reducing the drink-drive limit from 80mg per 100ml to 50mg – meaning that one pint would put you over the limit.

This would be the death of the country pub, one of the few remaining institutions that gives England its singular character.

Tony Speechly
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – Does it not seem ironic that MPs are calling for dire warnings on booze bottles when so much tax is raised from this source and taxes are used to subsidise Westminster bars and restaurants?

David Allen
Cley, Norfolk

Help manual

SIR – I have bought a vibro-sonic jewellery cleaner but am struggling with the instructions (Letters, August 11). No 4 reads “uft tray and place into tus”.

Joy Leach
Peterlee, Co Durham

One thing never to say when asked how you are

SIR – When faced with the question “How are you?” (Letters, August 12), it is polite to respond with, “Very well, thank you,” or even “Fine.” The answer should certainly not be “I’m good”.

The question is in relation to one’s state of health or wellbeing, not one’s moral behaviour.

Garry Petherbridge
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – When my mother was asked how she was, her response was either, “Up and down like Tower Bridge,” or, “All right, down one side.”

Angela Weallans
Worcester Park, Surrey

SIR – My friend’s late mother always replied, “One foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin.”

Patricia Evans
Sandhurst, Berkshire

SIR – A common response around here is “Right side of the turf.”

Michael Glover
Dinton, Wiltshire

SIR – I sometimes borrow a line from Lieutenant Commander Data, the android of Star Trek: “My biological and psychological systems are functioning within normal parameters”.

Derek Cheeseman
Broadstone, Dorset

SIR – Depending on who’s asking, my usual response is, “How long have you got?”

Neil Buchan
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

SIR – A bore is a man who, when you ask him how he is, tells you.

Bernard Kerrison
London SW4

SIR – K L Parsons draws attention to the redundant cement works near Shoreham in Sussex.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has recently started a campaign entitled “Waste of Space”, drawing attention to the enormous number of brownfield sites such as this. By putting land back to better use and providing the opportunity to regenerate certain areas, local planning authorities and developers could remove some of the blots on our rural and urban landscapes.

A dream? Probably, since developing a greenfield site is so much easier.

Stuart Derwent
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – It must be wonderful to live in an area where eyesores are up for demolition. Here in the western Lake District we are constantly fighting the building of new ones. Plans for a second nuclear power station on a greenfield site have been abandoned, but now we are confronted with a nuclear dump and a line of pylons going down the coast. The horizon is already studded with offshore turbines.

No doubt many will consider this “nimbyism”: but if local communities do not look after these lovely areas, who will?

Frances Rand
Silecroft, Cumbria

SIR – The derelict Shoreham cement works are not pretty but their offence is relatively localised. The ugliest feature of the South Downs is the Glyndebourne wind turbine, which destroys the view for miles around.

Philip Styles
Cheddar, Somerset

Last post

SIR – I live some 500 yards from a postal sorting office. Now that the Royal Mail has decided to have postmen perform my local collection as part of their delivery rounds they seem to have delayed the arrival of my post to match.

I received today’s postal delivery at 11 minutes to six in the evening.

Keith Appleyard
West Wickham, Kent

SIR – If the collections are to be early and only once a day, it is essential that details of the next collection are displayed on the post box.

Paul Eward
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

Respect for Bach

SIR – While we are still treated to plenty of good music on daytime Radio 3, the obsession with the modern piano and any kind of transcription, however silly, is utterly frustrating – especially as the main victim is J S Bach.

Bach wrote music to suit the resources for which it was intended, and the compositions for organ are written like little else in his output. Scales abound, well-placed dissonances are carefully planned, and the sustaining feature of the organ is utilised frequently.

A Steinway does little for them, and a romantic symphony orchestra produces hardly more than a parody.

This greatest of composers deserves to be treated with more respect.

Robert Lightband

‘My name is Pincher’

SIR – The obituary of Chapman Pincher brought back memories of my time as an engineer at Windscale (now Sellafield). I started in 1949, to work on what are now called nuclear reactors.

As can be imagined, this work was top secret, yet Pincher seemed to be able to publish details in a roundabout way.

I think his best achievement was when the reactor was being gradually raised to full power for the first time. The telephone rang. A voice said: “My name is Pincher. I believe something big is happening.”

The boss, well-known for his colourful language, took the phone and saw him off. There was obviously a source in the organisation, but he was never identified.

Allan Kitchen
West Kilbride, Ayrshire

The eureka moment

SIR – During the Second World War, scientists developing radar found that their cooling mugs of tea reheated when left on a particular piece of equipment. This phenomenon resulted in the ubiquitous microwave – good, clear, logical development of a casual observation.

So how on earth did David Craddock (Letters, August 11) discover that spraying used tea bags with Deep Heat was a good cat deterrent?

Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire

An ungenerous offer

SIR – I have just been contacted by a Nigerian gentleman expressing the warmest indications of friendship. Unfortunately, he has only transferred $3.8 million to my bank account.

Other friends that I did not know from the region have apparently sent far more in the past. Why is my worth declining, year on year? Should I blame the Coalition?

Tim Arnold
Slough, Berkshire

The Government must be prepared to send in warplanes and troops to prevent the slaughter of innocents

An Iraqi Yazidi child, whose family fled their home a week ago when Islamic State (IS) militants attacked the town of Sinjar, looks on at a makeshift shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk

A Yazidi boy in the Kurdish city of Dohuk, after fleeing the town of Sinjar with his parents  Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 13 Aug 2014


SIR – Britain must do more than send an RAF cargo plane to help the minority religious groups of Iraq. We must send in warplanes and, if necessary, troops. In fact every country in the civilised world must come to these people’s aid. They are begging the world to help.

How can we stand and watch as barbarians are slaughtering men, woman and children? These people are not only the enemy of Christians, Yazidi, Kurds and other Muslims, they are the enemy of humanity, and must be destroyed.

Michael Ford
Bocking, Essex

SIR – What determines our Prime Minister’s support for British values and Christianity?

The Kurds have a democratic government, a great tolerance for Iraq’s Christian minorities and are prepared to fight terrorism.

Antony Snow
London SW3

SIR – Invading Iraq was a mistake, getting involved in Libya was a mistake, to have interfered in Syria would have been a mistake, but to do nothing but drop water and food to the Yazidi and other minorities would be a shameful error.

The humanitarian case for assistance is overwhelming. The aim must be the military destruction of Isis, and if that requires boots on the ground – hopefully in coalition – then so be it. Do it, then leave.

Use the aid budget if necessary. Recall Parliament and make a bold decision.

Cdre Malcolm Williams RN (rtd)
Southsea, Hampshire

SIR – Like Frankenstein, George Bush and Tony Blair created a monster – and their successors don’t know how to get rid of it.

Morton Morris
London NW2

SIR – Boris Johnson may well want to protect and support the Kurds, but he must have noticed that David Cameron has been cutting our Armed Forces to the bone, so we would have great difficulty mounting an operation in Iraq.

Some Tories seem to think that our ever-increasing overseas aid budget will earn us future goodwill and greater security, but they really should remember Kipling’s comments on the Danegeld. In practical terms, in international relations, we have lost our status and we are no longer a worthwhile friend to our allies or a threat to our enemies.

David Wragg

SIR – As the West struggles lamely to form some kind of joint response to the anarchic events across Syria and northern Iraq, perhaps this might be the time for the Nato nations to take a lead by deploying the ready-formed Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

In theory, this ought to demonstrate joint political resolve – assuming, that is, that there is any political resolve.

William Pender
Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – The announcement by the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, of the Government’s decision to establish a working group next month to review the operation of the direct provision system is very welcome. While a review of direct provision conditions is important, its remit must extend to the biggest single issue facing asylum seekers, which is the excessive length of time spent awaiting a final determination of their claim.

One in three asylum seekers has been waiting at least five years since first applying for asylum in Ireland. One in 10 has been waiting seven or more years, during which time they cannot work and endure a de facto barrier to third level and further education, while living on €19.10 per week.

But fixing a broken asylum system is not easy. Successive governments have promised and failed to introduce a single procedure where all applications for different forms of protection are lodged together. The announced fast-tracking of this long-awaited legislation will constitute a significant step forward. But a single procedure will not address the situation of the 1,600 asylum seekers stuck for more than five years at different stages of the asylum process. In particular, it will not resolve the impasse arising because of the large number of asylum cases before the courts for judicial review.

In the light of the backlog and the lack of available court resources it is estimated that it will take many years to resolve the existing caseload. Thus it is critical that the terms of reference for the proposed working group include identifying durable solutions for applicants stuck in the asylum process, who have been “living in limbo” for years. – Is mise le meas,


Jesuit Refugee

Service Ireland,


A chara, – Over the years there has been a plethora of reports, many funded by the Government, there have been conferences, academic courses, films, newspaper articles, TV programmes, legal cases, reports of international human rights organisations and videos similar to those currently being aired by Carl O’Brien on the Irish Times website. Yet people still linger in these appalling direct provision centres. People should have their own homes, should be allowed to work or have an education or claim normal social welfare. Their children should have the normal life a child deserves There is no justification for this system and it must stop now. Surely we are better than this? – Is Mise,



Co Cork

Sir, – Some of the comparisons between Ireland and Sweden in their dealings with asylum seekers (Lives in Limbo, August 12th) are quite misleading. It is said that in Sweden “Those who apply for asylum are immediately allowed to work”. At an EMN Ireland conference in Dec 2012, a senior official of the Swedish Migration Board made it clear that, in fact, that right was conditional on the asylum seeker co-operating with the authorities in the matter of establishing their ID, 90 per cent having provided no such documentation. The great majority prefer not to co-operate and as a consequence only 19 per cent work. The most important reform of the system will be the single procedure and Ms Fitzgerald is to be congratulated for facilitating this. – Yours, etc,


Immigration Control


PO Box 6469,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Carl O’Brien’s excellent reports on the subsistence conditions which people fleeing their own countries have been forced to endure here show how urgent a change in Government thinking is on the right to seek paid work. How could we, as a society, have tolerated this cruelty for so long without protesting? How can our Government not hang its head at being paired in this infamy with Lithuania, a much poorer country, as the only two European states still refusing asylum seekers the right to earn a wage. Shame on us all! – Yours, etc,


The Coppins,

Dublin 18-

Sir, – Almost every major western state, with the exception of Sweden, underwent revolution as part of its modernising process. Southern Ireland, not a major state, nonetheless underwent revolution as part of its formative process, and eventually became a republic. Revolution, however traumatic at the time, is a normal part of western state formation; people may not want it, feel deeply ambiguous about it, but they want the alternative less – in southern Ireland’s case continued domination and exploitation by the metropolitan centre with attendant, it was believed, economic underdevelopment.

Those who are either opposed to or ambivalent about revolution, believing that southern Irish participation in the first World War, together with the essential fairness of the British parliamentary system, was bound to bring about independence, have a difficult case to make: the subordination of the interests of the dominions to the needs of the metropolitan centre until quite recently being not the least of the obstacles to the case they seek to make.

Had there been no radical discontinuity in Irish history it would of course have been quite easy to imagine a Redmondite John Bruton sitting at Westminster, where he might even have become vice-chairman of the agriculture committee. However, given what did occur, he became taoiseach of an independent republic. Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8

Sir, – It is probably unlikely that Fintan O’Toole’s cogent critique will disturb John Bruton’s sangfroid. One is reminded of Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Yours, etc,


St John’s Court,


Dublin 22

Sir, – I find myself half-agreeing with Fintan O’Toole (August 12th). John Bruton sums up why Fine Gael is just another power-hungry party. But Bruton is correct when he says governments will have to start reneging on current welfare entitlements.

There are now only a handful of properly run democracies that are living within their means. Increasingly governments gain and retain power by promising people a standard of living they are not earning. This ratchets up the national debt, which is then left for future generations to pay for. In Ireland, approximately 150, 000 people have never worked, yet we continue to import labour and we pay hospital consultants approximately two and a half times as much as their German equivalents. We still have the third-highest-paid prime minister in the EU and an army of senior civil servants and former politicians whose pension pots each cost more than €1 million each. This suits the lobby groups, minority groups and vested interests who now control government policy. The only people it does not suit are Joe and Mary Taxpayer, and the future generations of working and middle class Irish. We are witnessing the steady death of meaningful participatory democracy. – Yours, etc,


Orwell Gardens,

Dublin 6

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole’s column (August 12th) is quite unfair to John Bruton. There is no basis for the assertion that former taoisigh receive their pensions on the condition that they will not engage in paid work. The pension scheme may be in need of reform, but if so this applies to all retired office-holders, not just to John Bruton. Given that he was aged 50 when he ceased to be taoiseach, it’s not surprising that he has had a career subsequently. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin

A chara, – If, as John Bruton reportedly believes, governments are going to default on their commitments to healthcare and pensions, when, in his judgement, should we default on our income taxes and social charges? – Is mise,


Aughrim Street,

Dublin 7

Sir, – I refer to former taoiseach John Bruton’s wish (News, August 13th) that the British government might transfer the Westminster statue of John Redmond to us since we have none of our own. Lest he wonder why Westminster has seen fit to honour Redmond, the content of an election pamphlet issued in support of Count Plunkett, standing for election after the Rising, might enlighten him. It is headed “John Redmond and the Executions” and reads: On the evening of the 3rd May 1916, after the English Premier had announced – amid the cheers of the English Whigs and Tories and the Redmondites – that Pearse, MacDonagh and Clarke had been shot that morning,and while Joseph Plunkett, Edward Daly, Cornelius Colbert and Michael O Hanrahan were lying in the condemned cell, John Redmond rose in the British House of Commons and said: ‘This outbreak happily seems to be over. It has been dealt with with the firmness which was not only right, but it was the duty of the Government to so deal with it … I do beg the Government not to show undue harshness or severity to the great masses of those who are implicated, on whose shoulders lies a guilt far different from that which lies upon the instigators and promoters of this outbreak.’ Redmond thus signified his approval of the execution of the leaders. Redmond uttered this speech at 4pm in the British House of Commons on May 3rd. Eleven hours later Plunkett, Daly, O’Hanrahan and Colbert were shot by the British Government’s orders. Who will vote for the nominee of Redmond the approver and inciter of the execution of Joseph Plunkett?”

The pamphlet was issued by JB Boyle, Solicitor, Boyle, election agent for Count Plunkett in the 1917 Roscommon North by-election. – Yours, etc,


Oxford Road,


Dublin 6. mob

Sir, – I wonder did Cahal McLaughlin (August 12th) check with the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn if it reviewed the funding of every single event it hosts or just the Jewish Film Festival (JFF).

Did it check what events received funding via Russia or China, or from rich people who use such events as a way to avoid tax? Do its facilities use any products produced by companies like Apple, and if so did it have no regard to the labour practices employed by that company? How does it decide which states it will allow to fund events and which it won’t.

The real question to ask is who exactly started the conversation at the Tricycle Theatre about how the Jewish Film Festival was funded. The only reason to single out a Jewish event is because the person who first raised the issue is anti-Semitic, because otherwise the theatre would have simply announced that it would accept no events directly funded by any embassy.

Did it never occur to Mr McLaughlin that the JFF might be an opportunity for the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities to come together and set an example of inter-religious friendship? –Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


Sir, – Medical researchers recently told us that early treatment of stroke symptoms provided a better outcome than late intervention. Now educational researchers tell us that, basically, children who come from comfortable backgrounds have a better chance of attending university than their poorer peers. I suppose Isaac Newton needed researchers to tell him that his apple did not float in the air. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,

Dublin 24

Sir, – Now that we have a report telling us that the children of middle class parents are more likely to go to college than those of working class parents how soon can we expect a report telling us that happily married people are least likely to get divorced? – Yours, etc,


Lorcan Drive,

Dublin 9

Sir, – In 2013, 16 per cent of Leaving Certificate students took higher maths, while in 2014, 27 per cent took it. Newspapers and radio immediately report that this represents a 10 per cent rise. Rounding from 11 to 10 would be fine in the interests of telling a simple story. However, a change from 16 per cent to 27 per cent represents a whopping 68.75 per cent increase from one year to the next. Would that journalists – any journalists ever – could master simple percentages. – Yours, etc,


School of Computer Science

and Informatics,

University College,

Dublin 4

Sir, – I would take issue with John Thompson’s suggestion (August 13th) that the existence of multiple languages is intrinsically harmful. I cannot speak a second language fluently, so I’m not a linguistic enthusiast myself. Thompson gives no evidence that linguistic diversity is intrinsically harmful to peace and happiness. After all, Switzerland, with four official languages, is one of the most peaceful and prosperous societies that ever existed. In contrast, monolingual America has among the highest levels of income inequality and violence in the developed world. It could be argued that linguistic diversity is a force for happiness and peace. When you take that into account, along with all the proven personal benefits of multilingualism, it’s hard to see on what basis Thompson assumes such diversity is a bad thing. – Yours, etc,




Co Leitrim

A Chara, – It is difficult to afford any credence to the assertion that a world with fewer languages would be a more peaceful one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but were not the participants on both sides of the American Civil War, one of the bloodiest on record, for the most part English-speakers? Some of the latest thinking values linguistic diversity as highly as biodiversity. Certain concepts, thoughts and meanings embedded in one language are often difficult to translate or transpose into another. Maintaining this diversity is believed to contribute to enriching human thought and imagination. A language lost entails an entire culture and ways of imagining the world lost. If anything, a greater tolerance and respect for the diverse languages and cultures of this world would help us all lead a more peaceful existence. Yours, etc,




Dublin 18

y Meany (August 12th) on the noise levels at Croke Park. I’ve noticed an increase in volume over recent years, although this was generally confined to advertisements from GAA sponsors being shown on the big screens. Now we have music of all kinds constantly being played at full blast. Not only does this racket affect those attending, it could be heard clearly during sideline interviews on the TV coverage of last Sunday’s hurling semi-finals. It appears to me that referees, on occasion, have to hesitate before throwing in the ball or sliotar, as if waiting for the music to be turned off. Surely the game and those playing it are the priority here, not the soundtrack which someone in GAA headquarters has decided must be inflicted upon all present?

To paraphrase a popular anthem, while the GAA may have envisaged “counting dollars” this summer, some of us just look forward to “counting (all-)stars”. And not being deafened in the process. – Yours, etc,




Co Kerry

Sir, – Regarding the Government’s laudable plan to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products, according to tobacco multinational Philip Morris that strategy would cost the Exchequer €125 million a year in lost revenue (News, August 12th). Did you ever hear the like? Smoking-related illness costs the State some €2 billion a year. The tobacco industry should be made cough up more in taxes to ease the burden that smoking imposes on State coffers.To the Government I say this: take no notice of these brazen purveyors of carcinogenic products. – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Sir, – Well done to the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Joe McHugh, for telling the Seachtain na Gaeilge gathering: “Tá mé ag dul ar ais ar scoil” (News, August 13th). Somehow it reminds me of those “An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí­ an leithreas?” moments in high babies when I was seven years old. – Is mise,


Shandon Crescent,


Dublin 7

Irish Independent:

There can be no justification for the mayhem and merciless assault on innocent life in Gaza. The charge of anti-Semitism is disingenuously used to silence all critics. Many Jews seek to disassociate themselves from what is happening in their name – they too are opposed to the current drift of Zionism, particularly the settlement expansion on the West Bank and the continued medieval-type siege of Gaza.

The branding of the justified assertion of our basic rights as terrorism has been the psychological weapon of choice by states that have a lot to hide.

This tactic was used by Margaret Thatcher in her dismissal, as terrorists, of Nelson Mandela and his fellow opponents of Apartheid. In our own country, one of the greatest political misjudgments was the refusal to address the glaring injustice raised by the civil rights movement in Ulster.

This allowed the IRA to use violent means as all peaceful means had been suppressed. The Israelis have persistently failed to acknowledge the depth of injustice felt by the people of Gaza.

There has been similar blindness to the inevitable consequences of the inequitable distribution of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq.

The drift to the right in Israeli politics has closed the door to genuine rational debate. The unshakeable belief that God decreed that a wandering semi-nomadic people would inherit a land of their own is a myth of origin that sits uneasily with reasoned discussion.

It is sometimes tempting to think that the creation of Israel was a monumental mistake, in that there seemed to have been little done to secure the rights of all affected.

The overwhelming international support for a two-state settlement seems to be the only constructive way forward. Sadly, this is opposed by the USA and Israel.

Meanwhile, the antipathy towards Israel has intensified with the real possibility of it becoming a pariah state.

Philip O’Neill



Egypt’s closed doors

Christy Wynne (Irish Independent, Letters, August 13) says about the Gaza Strip that “a population of 1.8 million people live in a hell hole a fraction of the size of Connacht and are locked in by land, sea and air, with water and electricity rationed and dished out at the discretion of a draconian neighbour.” But it’s not clear whether he’s referring to Israel or Egypt.

Gaza has a 30-mile border with Egypt, its fellow Arab state, so why does Egypt refuse to open its border with Gaza? And why do people like Mr Wynne not call for the Egyptian Ambassador to be expelled or arrange marches to the Egyptian Embassy?

Perhaps he might like to comment on why there are 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip, or why there are no female doctors or nurses in Gaza. In case he isn’t aware, it’s because women in Gaza live under Sharia Law.

Desmond FitzGerald

Canary Wharf


Where there’s a will . . .

Mary Kenny gave me a good laugh recently (Irish Independent, August 9), when a chest infection made her think it was time to run down to her solicitor to change her will, seeing it as “call up time from God”. The best will I ever heard of was: “Being of sound mind, I spent all my money while living.”

That shook them.

Kathleen Corrigan


Co Cavan

The enemy of the State

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.

“It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This quote attributed to Joseph Goebbels says it all about the state of affairs in every single country; the only solution is to ensure a situation where the truth is given preference to the lie – big or otherwise.

Liam Power

Bangor Erris


Co Mayo

Ireland as ‘Britain‘s Yugoslavia’

Hugh Duffy, (Irish Independent, Letters, August 12), says: “In the opinion of Jackson, Home Rule ‘far from inaugurating a new and peaceful era in Anglo-Irish relations, might well have introduced a period of bloodshed and nagging international bitterness’.

“Finally, in response to Mr Bruton’s claim that Bonar Law approved of Home Rule; Law is recorded as saying: ‘Ireland under Home Rule might well have proved to be not so much Britain’s settled democratic partner as her Yugoslavia’.”

Are we to understand that Ireland, following 1916, experienced no “period of bloodshed and nagging international bitterness” and never became “Britain’s Yugoslavia”? My understanding of what ‘actually happened’ is that from 1917 until 1923 there was indeed “a period of bloodshed” – including a Civil War in which the mutual reciprocation of atrocities paralysed and divided the South for two generations.

Far from ignoring the long constitutional struggle led by O’Connell, Butt, Parnell and Redmond for what was effectively the repeal of the Act of Union, the British Parliament finally passed a Home Rule Act. ‘Exclusion’, (of the six counties), may have been a bitter pill to swallow but nobody with a smidgen of realism could argue that blanket Home Rule could have been forced, (without ‘a bit’ of trouble), onto a powerful and armed unionist minority, (whose conservative allies had behaved with utter and grotesque cynicism, if not sedition and treason).

Maurice O’Connell


Co Kerry

Leaving Cert and ‘game of life’

Leaving Cert results = OMG.

Matt Kavanagh


Dublin 16

* * *

Is Ireland the only country that sets so much store by ‘results’ before the game of life has really even begun for our young adults?

I wish them all well, but earnestly hope they will set their own compass.

Ed Toal

Dublin 4

America loses its smile

Robin Williams smiled though his heart was breaking; America has lost its funny face.

A Jones


Co Dublin

* * *

Robin Williams was 63. I am 63. Words fail me.

What an awful waste, the world is a poorer place without such wonderful talent.

God love him, he struggled hard with his demons and lost.

Thank God we still have Mrs Doubtfire and many more besides. May he find contentment and peace now.

Brian McDevitt


Co Donegal

* * *

It’s sad that someone who gave so much happiness to so many people wasn’t happy himself.

Kevin Devitte

Mill Street


Co Mayo

Irish Independent


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