Books and tomatoes

18 August 2014 Books and Tomatoes

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 go tcollect some text books and a computer monitor

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

103 Games: Mary wins 56 John 49 Mary Average score 346 John 340


Jean Wilks

Jean Wilks was a headmistress who promoted greater independence for girls and broke down old hierarchies at her school

Jean Wilks, headmistress of King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham

Jean Wilks, headmistress of King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham

5:55PM BST 17 Aug 2014


Jean Wilks, who has died aged 97, was a distinguished headmistress of King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham and one of the great educators of her generation.

Jean Ruth Fraser Wilks was born at Wanstead, Essex, on April 14 1917, one of three children of a prosperous surveyor. Her background included both freethinkers and nonconformist clerics, and as a teenager Jean was a convinced atheist — although she would embrace Christianity at university. A major influence on her was her uncle Mark, who was imprisoned because his wife — a doctor and women’s rights campaigner — would not let him pay her income tax. During his incarceration, a group of suffragettes sang songs under his window to keep up his spirits.

At the liberal North London Collegiate School, Jean excelled at English and History but showed little interest in other subjects. On scoring only six per cent in a physics exam, she and several like-minded friends were placed in a remedial class which included “classical logic”. The subject fascinated her, sharpening her debating skills, and she later introduced it in most of the schools where she taught. She read English at Somerville College, Oxford, studying Wordsworth under the renowned scholar Helen Darbishire and attending lectures by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, who read his students instalments of The Hobbit as he wrote it.

Jean Wilks began her teaching career during the war and recalled that a surprising amount of education could take place with a bible, stub of pencil and scraps of paper in shelters during air raids. After eight years as assistant mistress of James Allen’s Girls’ School, Dulwich, she became headmistress of Hertfordshire and Essex High School, Bishop’s Stortford, from 1951 to 1964, then of the highly academic King Edward VI High School for Girls in Edgbaston for 13 years.

Understanding girls’ expectations of greater freedom and independence, she broadened the sixth form curriculum, introduced more varied extra-curricular activities and broke down the old hierarchies. Out went the structure of Head Girl and prefects as the whole sixth form took on their duties, organised by two small committees. Out too went uniform for the sixth form, leading to some jaw-dropping expressions of individuality over the years, from pelmet-style miniskirts to witchy maxi-dresses.

Jean Wilks was determined that able girls from any background should enjoy the privilege of a top-class education. Many, including the actress Lindsay Duncan, the neurology pioneer Professor Anita Harding, the squash champion Sue Cogswell and the journalist and real tennis world champion Sally Jones were educated free under the (state-funded) Direct Grant Scheme during her tenure at King Edward’s.

Although self-contained, scholarly and seemingly austere, Jean Wilks was approachable, enlightened and personally generous. Without being soft or gullible, she believed the best of people and was perceptive enough to recognise talent and intelligence among her more lively and rebellious pupils as well as among the more diligent.

Norman Hepple’s portrait of Jean Wilks (UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM)

She recognised that having a boys’ and girls’ school on the same site in Edgbaston with the same governing body provided the advantages of co-education alongside those of a single-sex school. Despite some dissenting voices, she encouraged cooperation between the two King Edward’s schools, and was greatly moved when senior boys and girls, on their own initiative, performed Fauré’s Requiem in her honour when she retired.

Jean Wilks was a governor and adviser to the Schools’ Council in the 1970s and served on the education committee of the Royal College of Nursing. As a member of the Public Schools Commission, she worked from 1968 to 1970 to produce the Donnison Report, which, to her regret, gave direct grant schools such as KEHS a stark choice: to become independent to remain selective, or to offer open access to stay within the state system. Most — including KEHS — opted for independence, reducing the number of subsidised places for bright children from poor families. She also served as president of the Association of Headmistresses (1972-74) and as Pro-Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University .

On her retirement in 1977 she was appointed CBE. The next year she was elected a Fellow of the College of Preceptors, the only honour specifically awarded for teaching. She moved to Oxford with her long-term friend and colleague, Maggie Davidson, and cared for her loyally as she became increasingly frail.

Jean Wilks, born April 14 1917, died July 15 2014


It is more than surprising that the Bank of England is so puzzled as to why the recovery is not showing up in the wage packet (Woe for workers as pay falls for first time since 2009, 14 August). That this is a problem that the bank is unable to explain is frankly disingenuous. After all, the stagnating wage economy is the result of the policies of Mark Carney’s employers, who have been boastful in portraying Britain as a low-wage, low-tax economy suitable for (foreign) investors. This has been made possible by the suppression of the trade unions and by the imposition of the minimum wage – a de facto benchmark for all wages (but not “salaries”). Employers and business owners can nowadays virtually factor in the “race to the bottom” of the cost of wage labour.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the interest rate rise – now indexed to pay after having exhausted all the other conditions – is a delaying tactic to mask the deleterious effects of the dogmas of liberal economics whose “system” of labour marketisation will surely result in the end of the whole concept of pay increases for generations to come.
Edward Whittaker

• I think Iain Duncan Smith should be congratulated. By creating terror among low-paid workers that they will lose their jobs and face sanctions, the bedroom tax and food banks, he has established the perfect Tory job market. The problem for the government is that businesses no longer need to invest in productivity when they can just hire more workers at minimal rates. Unemployment may be low but growth will be at risk as long as the UK fails to evolve into a high-skill, high-wage economy. Punishing the poor will not get us there.
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

• Aren’t we just chasing our tails with the calls for higher pay (Editorial, 14 August)? There was no minimum wage before the 1990s. When I left home in 1967 my tiny little flat in north London cost me a quarter of my disposable income. Now, I probably couldn’t afford it at all. Why don’t we address this problem from the right end? Unless there’s a radical new approach to housing to include measures like rent controls (as in 1967 – and no drying up of the rental market then, by the way) and a geographically based, steeply progressive land value tax, it seems to me a complete waste of time to be worrying about wage rises. The only beneficiaries of the present state of affairs are landlords, letting agents, property developers and foreign oligarchs.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent

• Your leader asserts that “wage growth is essential for a sustainable economy”. However, a sustainable planet will need a decline in consumption of limited resources and in the release of carbon dioxide. Moreover, peace is not a likely prospect until wage differentials between rich and poor countries converge. Wage reduction, for those on over-average income, especially in rich countries, is a straightforward and effective means of achieving these aims. Until world peace and improved technology make such effort unnecessary, that is.
Camilla Lambrick

• You suggest that the impact of low pay can be mitigated by higher tax thresholds. This could have the unintended consequence of employers not having to increase wages as they could argue that net pay has increased. I recently heard of a case like this. Like tax credits, yet another indirect subsidy for unscrupulous employers.
Alistair Gregory
Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

• The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report The Invisible Workforce (Office cleaners face underpayment, mistreatment and abuse, report finds, 13 August) presents real concerns and should reinforce to UK businesses the importance of equal opportunities and fair treatment for all employees. The facilities management sector employs almost half a million cleaners in the UK, and we believe that the sector has the potential to be one of the most inclusive in addressing such issues as the wages and treatment of cleaning staff.

Initiatives such as Living Wage, which BIFM supports, has led to great progress being made in raising awareness of low-pay issues, and we welcome the recommendations outlined by the EHRC. We must however have a firm commitment from businesses to review their contracts and policies and make amends where necessary if we are to eradicate bad practice in the treatment and pay of the cleaning workforce.
Gareth Tancred
CEO, British Institute of Facilities Management

Winston Churchill: witticism about phrasal verbs.

While generally agreeing with many of the points made by Steven Pinker in his article (Whom knows, Review, 16 August), I should point out that in his discussion of prepositions at the end of a sentence, Pinker’s explanation of the witticism attributed to Winston Churchill– “This is pedantry up with which I will not put” – is not correct.

The verb “to put up with” is a phrasal verb (or more accurately phrasal-prepositional), and the elements “up” and “with” are not prepositions or adverbs here; they are particles which are integral parts of the verb and must normally occur in this sequence. This is the reason for the grammatical unacceptability of the witticism.

In addition, the meaning of the verb “to put up with” is not connected with the meanings of its constituents (a phenomenon often found with phrasal verbs) and thus cannot be deduced from them.
Dermot McElholm

• I presume, rather than assume, that Steven Pinker’s inclusion of the words “flouted”, “dichotomy” and “refuted” in the introduction to his glorious attack on pedantry was not accidental.
Brian Booth
Rochester, Kent

• I had mixed opinions on Steven Pinker’s views on the rules of correct usage in English but unmixed feelings about his attribution of “Render unto Caesar…” to William Shakespeare. Not true – unless Shakespeare was one of the translators of the King James Bible.
Frances Wilson
Boston, Lincolnshire

Christopher Thomond

Could there be a more appropriate time for the Chilcot inquiry report to be released?
Julie Cuninghame
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• At the start of last week, Sir Peter Fahy, the Greater Manchester chief constable, called for police to have the right to access medical records and other confidential data without an individual’s consent (Report, 11 August). At the end of last week, the police tipped off parts of the media including the BBC that they were going to raid the home of the entertainer Sir Cliff Richard (Editorial, 16 August). Can the police really be trusted with medical records?
Dr Alex May

• Have you ever seen a cat guiding the blind, hearing for the deaf, tending the paralysed, warning of intruders, digging out people buried under avalanches and collapsed buildings, tracking the lost, stranded and injured or detecting explosives, harmful drugs and potential tumours merely by sniffing (Letters, 16 August)?
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• Football is indeed now too big for its boots (Comment, 14 August ). But it is not the only sport to expand its season. In 1956 , when Willie Watson and Arthur Milton were playing, the County Championship season did not begin until early May and both their counties had finished their programme by the end of August. This year the Championship  began on 6 April and ends on 26 September.
Dick Booth

Cannabis could have major benefits for people with multiple sclerosis.

Norman Baker MP is calling for liberalised drug laws so that medicinal cannabis can be made available (Minister calls for looser restrictions on cannabis to treat sick, 14 August). People with multiple sclerosis who turn to street cannabis to treat their condition often do so out of desperation. For years they have been told by successive governments to wait for a pharmacological, legal alternative to cannabis as a way of treating their symptoms and pain.

Now one such treatment, Sativex, exists – but the latest draft National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) clinical guideline proposes rejecting it based on a flawed assessment of its cost effectiveness. Just one in 50 people currently have access to this treatment, most of them paying privately. Unless Nice amends the guideline, the majority of people will be left to battle painful symptoms, or face financial strain as a result of funding the licensed treatment themselves.
Sally Hughes
Programme director for policy, MS Society

• As a pharmacist with a special interest in the medical uses of cannabis I am delighted that Norman Baker has spoken out. We are not talking here about the widespread use of cannabis in the community. One particular cannabinoid,CBD, is not psychotropic nor toxic and shows promise as a useful drug in certain conditions. The two active ingredients, THC and CBD, were discovered in Israel.

That much maligned little country is a world leader in research into the medical use of cannabis. Its health service already uses cannabis for certain conditions.
Monty Goldin

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud: 'Some people use the word Wahhabism to describe

Richard Norton-Taylor suggests that Saudi Arabia has been “funding the most intolerant brand of Islam” in his blog (UK weapons trump human rights in Israel and Saudi Arabia, 11 August)

He suggests this is “Wahhabi absolutism”. Hearsay and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He supports his argument with information gleaned from the column of a fellow journalist from another newspaper.

Wahhabism is not a sect of Islam. What is being referred to is the interpretation of Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab, who saw his fellow Muslims being diverted from the path of Islam as it had been delivered by the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Saudis do not accept to be labelled “Wahhabis”. We are Muslims. In 2011, HRH Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (now the crown prince) said: “Some people use the word Wahhabism to describe the message of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in order to isolate Saudi Muslims from the rest of the Muslim world.”

This word is a convenient label that has been dreamed up by some governments, political analysts and the media to describe the major “Islamic threat” facing western civilisation. It is described as extremist and radical, accused of inspiring movements ranging from the Taliban in Afghanistan to the al-Qaida network and now the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq.

But this view does not even faintly correspond with the teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al Wahhab, who was a well-travelled, learned, scholarly jurist of the 18th century. He insisted on adherence to Qur’anic values and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which includes the maximum preservation of human life, even in the midst of jihad. He taught tolerance and supported the rights of both men and women.

Let me make it perfectly clear. The government of Saudi Arabia does not support or fund the murderers who have collected under the banner of the Islamic State. Their ideology is not one that we recognise, or that would be recognised by the vast majority of Muslims around the world – whether they were Sunni or Shia.

Under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, we launched an initiative for dialogue between all religions and cultures in 2008 with the establishment of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna.

Following an international counterterrorism conference held in Riyadh in 2005, the UN counterterrorism centre was established with financial support of $200m from our government.

We have been and are fighting extremism within our own borders daily, indeed hourly.

Firm action is taken against any imam who is found to hold extremist views and who tries to incite their followers to violence. We have passed laws and warned our citizens that they will be arrested and prosecuted if they attempt to join Isis or any other international terrorist group, or to take part in any of the conflicts raging in any region. We have done and will do everything we can to stop the spread of this corrosive poison in our country and region and encourage all other governments to do the same.
Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom


From Vietnam through many subsequent wars – Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria – many of us who read The Independent have opposed intervention by the US and UK. But we need to cut the Prime Minister and President Obama some slack in dealing with Islamic State.

This is a potential genocide, with similarities to Rwanda, including the possible speed of events. It meets the criteria for the UN’s evolving norm of the Responsibility to Protect. For the record, it also meets Tony Blair’s criteria for humanitarian intervention offered in his 1999 Chicago speech – would that he had applied them. There is no issue about material or air support, as requested by the parties, which requires Security Council consent.

David Cameron is reported still to be fuming that Labour pulled its support for intervention in Syria last summer. But the grim reality is that, when it comes to armed intervention, there is a big difference between the response to a past atrocity and to a potential genocide. For the former, eventual prosecution or other sanctions may do. Not so the latter.

The risk now is that the PM will be too cautious and focus only on humanitarian aid, when material and air support to the Kurds and Iraq stands a reasonable chance of staving off an epic humanitarian disaster.

Prior to the 2015 election, the PM cannot afford to lose another vote on intervention. I for one hope that Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t play politics on this issue, will see that these are different circumstances, and will give the PM the assurances he needs to provide material and air support as a matter of urgency.

Andrew Shacknove

The claim of Isis to be a state, indeed the revived Caliphate destined to take over the world for Islam, raises legal and constitutional questions.

Isis has been with us for about a year. Its birth has not been registered. There does not seem to be any functioning organisation or any welfare services or any legal structure – or any plans to establish any of them. It appears to consist of hysterical gun-wielding fanatics living in a bloody present with no clear vision of the future. The other Muslim nations have greeted this addition to their turbulent company without enthusiasm.

Does Isis intend to apply for membership of the United Nations? If so, how? What happens if the Baghdad government recovers, combines, however briefly, with the de facto Kurdistan government and, with or without western aid, breaks it? Will its gun-toters be treated as PoWs, or be shot out of hand, or be arrested with a view to trial as war criminals?

What will happen to areas now in the possession of their “state”? If a vacuum is created, what will fill it?

I hope that western governments have plans A, B and C in the pipeline to deal with an entity that is both a state and not a state – and surrounded by those in little better case.

Margaret Brown
Burslem, Staffordshire

America has spent years and billions of dollars fighting a “war on terror”, with at best spurious evidence. Remember those WMDs they knew were there, but never found. Now we have real terrorists, flying their own flag and taking over territory in Iraq and Syria, but America and it allies are doing virtually nothing to combat them. How ironic and sad.

Toby Snape
Prestbury, Cheshire

No ‘rubber stamping’ of search warrants

The description of the lay justice system as the “Achilles heel of our civil liberties”, by Geoffrey Robertson QC, commenting on the police raid on Cliff Richard’s home (16 August), is as inaccurate as it is offensive.

He is right that an officer seeking a search warrant must show that it is “not practicable to communicate” with the occupant or owner of the premises. However, this is quite different from it being not possible to communicate with them. Without wishing to comment on the particular case he highlights, I doubt that much evidential material would be recovered from searches if occupants generally knew that the police were going to arrive.

Magistrates are unpaid and give up a huge amount of time in public service. They undergo rigorous selection, and receive thorough training, and those who consider out-of hours-warrant applications (often at very unsocial hours) are specially trained and always have the support of a qualified legal adviser when necessary.

They are acutely aware of the interests of justice as they apply to all parties, and decisions are never taken by means of a “rubber stamp”.

The statistics speak for themselves. Most criminal cases start and finish in the magistrates’ courts. Only a tiny fraction result in successful appeals, far fewer than in matters dealt with in the courts above.

Yes, mistakes are sometimes made, by magistrates as well as senior judges, but Mr Robertson’s remarks do not reflect the realities of a system that has served this country well for centuries, or the efforts and goodwill of those who continue participate in it.

Howard M Winik

Unwelcome Sound of music on the train

Ronan Breslin (letter, 15 August) completely misses the point of David Carter’s letter (13 August). Why should any passenger have to put up with “trish-trash noise” of headphone leakage, which is hardly “minor” compared with the insignificant noise produced by today’s quiet trains?

Why should the insulting reaction of the youth Mr Carter asked to turn the volume down be allowed to pass unnoticed? Quite apart from this, Ronan Breslin’s reference to his fellow correspondent as a “curmudgeonly bully” is the sort of name-calling, only too common nowadays, that should have no place in the The Independent.

Nick Chadwick

When I travel by train I use the “quiet coach” if there is one. I am sensitive to intrusive background sounds. Several times I have walked out of restaurants and shops because I cannot cope with the background so-called music.

But my wife is not aware of these sounds until I complain about them. It’s probable that most people are like my wife and don’t notice the sounds. But if you are like me the quiet coach is highly desirable and makes a rail journey a pleasant experience rather than a taste of purgatory.

On the Continent they don’t have “quiet coaches”, but “silent compartments” – not only no mobile phones or iPods, but no talking either. It’s about time the rail industry here got a by-law to allow train staff to enforce the rules for quiet carriages.

Ian K Watson

Those exercised about noise in railway carriages might try my solution: I always travel with a pair of industrial-grade ear protectors. They look like headphones. Young people think I’m listening to rock music and consider me cool.

Stephen Pimenoff

Scots myth of English domination

I must take issue with Brian Palmer’s blithe assertion (letter, 14 August) that England just seeks dominance in its relationship with Scotland.

Scotland already enjoys more autonomy within the UK than any other country or region. More is to come with the 2012 Scotland Act, and yet more will come if there is a No vote and the promises of the major parties mean anything.

The Better Together campaign has made much of its slogan that Scotland can enjoy the best of both worlds by staying within the Union. Arguably it already does, so evidence of a desire for “dominance” seems hard to find.

There is certainly a view in some quarters that Scotland’s ills, real or imagined, are somehow the fault of the English and that Scots can break free with one bound on 18 September. Independence as offered by the SNP can only diminish Scotland. The fact that it might also diminish England sadly appears to motivate some Scots to vote Yes.

Jonathan Callaway
London SW15

Courageous Jews who speak out over Gaza

Even if Jewish support for Netanyahu were 100 per cent, it would not make me anti-Semitic (letters, 16 August), but it would make me sad. So, as a non-Jew, I humbly salute the courageous Jews in Israel and around the world who have spoken out against the human catastrophe of Gaza. They are the best friends their own people could possibly have.

Julie Hynds

Leaders without computers

John Rentoul (article, 15 August) seems puzzled that world leaders don’t have computers on their desks. This might have something to do with the leaders’ awareness of the vulnerability of electronic communications.

The President of the United States in particular should have some insights into the capabilities of the US National Security Agency and its surveillance programs.

Alex May


The RAF is sending Chinooks into Iraq for the first time since 2011 CPL NEIL BRYDEN/MoD/Getty Images

Published at 12:01AM, August 18 2014

“The barbarity and genocide in Northern Iraq and Syria, if not checked, will spread and affect us directly in various ways”

Sir, There are several imperatives for intervening once again in the Middle East. The barbarity and genocide in Northern Iraq and Syria, if not checked, will spread and affect us directly in various ways.

The appalling situation is a part of a bigger crisis that is fast becoming a global game changer. This is not just about the Middle East, as events in Indonesia and Nigeria show, and the longer-term threat to the UK is significant. The wrongs of the recent past and understandable dread of re-engagement must not blind us to this. Too little too late now and we court more horrors and greater dangers in the years ahead.

Getting things right this time requires our political leaders and opinion formers to persuade public opinion that firm, proportionate action is required to prevent genocide and chaos from spreading. Action must be genuinely international, even if a disproportionate amount of any initial military and logistic action is US/British because few others have the requisite capabilities — eg Chinook helicopters and experience.

Short-term emergency action must however be backed up by international efforts to nurture political frameworks and multi-ethnic and multi-religious state infrastructures. We must encourage the international community to stop reacting to events and begin to drive them. A sustained effort is required to safeguard viable states and to quarantine areas where order has collapsed. This may well involve both “soft” and “hard” power, but diplomacy must lead and involve the key regional powers and actors.

For us the centre of gravity now is British public opinion. Perhaps we need to examine our own consciences and priorities more and be less hasty to blame our politicians and recent mistakes. Hard work beckons.

Brigadier Nigel Hall

General Tim Cross

London W1

Sir, David Aaronovitch’s article “Only military action will defeat the jihadis” (Aug 14) is spot on, along with his apt comment, “This is Operation Drop Something From a Tornado and Get Out”.

Operation Haven in April 1991 which I participated in is a good example of what can be achieved in terms of the humanitarian relief, but also the very deployment on the ground sent a strong message to Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard. It acted as a deterrent which helped to stabilise the region. I would hope that the UK Armed Forces, along with its Nato and Kurdish allies, could not only mount a similar operation but, most importantly, also deter the so-called Islamic State from further acts of barbarism. I just hope that the prime minister and his Cobra team have not missed this golden opportunity by its limited and hesitant approach to date.

Andrew Higginson

Barnes, London

Sir, From your news reports we are all only too aware of the terrifying humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the shortages of healthcare services and the looming threat of genocide initiated by the IS.

As doctors all having a connection with Iraq silence is not an option for us, and we believe inaction by the British government is an act of avoidable negligence. The moral and humanitarian case to support the helpless people of Iraq and to take them out of their misery is clear. The UK, the US and others have had major involvement with Iraq and cannot walk away or turn a blind eye from all this now.

Dr Husni Habboush, Consultant Haematologist, Wales

Dr Ali Kubba FRCOG, Consultant Community Gynaecologist, London

Professor Saad Shakir, Director, Drug Safety Research Unit, Southampton

Sadoon S Sadoon, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Medway Maritime NHS Foundation Trust, Kent

Dr Baha Al-wakeel, Consultant Emergency Medicine and H Senior Lecturer, North Middlesex University Hospital, London N18

Dr M H Jawad FRCP FRCPCH DCH, Consultant Paediatrician, Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

Dr A Alissa, General Practitioner, London SW15

Dr Moayed Aziz, Consultant Anaesthetist

Miss Zara Nadim, Consultant Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

Dr Mazin Alfaham, Consultant Paediatrician, Cardiff

Dr Wala Alsafi, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Rotherham General Hospital

Terrorism is not specific to one religion or ideology but it is always divisive

Sir, It is certainly true (letters, Aug 13) that British Jews are distressed by reactions against them because of the Gaza conflict — but we have been here before: in the 1980s over the Phalangist massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila; in the 1970s with the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism; in 1946 when the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, was blown up.

If antisemitism seems to be rising, it may simply be due to new methods of communication — in social media such as Twitter people are much more outspoken than they are in print.

Whatever the case, why should British Jews be blamed for events in the Middle East? Those who oppose China’s policy in Tibet do not hound Chinese restaurants in London and Bradford.

It is vital for national cohesion that we do not import the problems of the Middle East and make Britain a proxy warzone. The good
relations between most British Muslims and Jews should be used as evidence that there is no inherent antagonism between the faiths, that Israel/Gaza is a political problem that requires a political solution, and we can best help by showing how it is possible to live side by side in harmony. If we cannot achieve that here, what hope for those there?

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain
Maidenhead Synagogue, Berks

Sir, You report (Aug 13) that most Britons feel threatened by terrorists. This is hardly surprising, as in the same article you report that in Oxford Street, London, Isis supporters were openly handing out terrorist material to passers-by and are being investigated under anti-terrorism legislation.

One wonders, therefore, how it is that, if threatened they feel, so many Britons in London, Manchester and elsewhere spend their weekends on demonstrations openly supporting the terrorist organisations, Hamas and Hezbollah — or do they become “un-terrorist” when their victims are Israeli (whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim)?

Terrorism is the same the world over and we must all stand united in fighting it, whether the lives being defended are the citizens of Israel, or the Christians or Yazidis in Iraq.

Anthony Levy
Woodford Green, Essex

Sir, Terrorism is not exclusively linked with any religion and ethnicity — in past centuries almost all peoples have experienced terrorism at the hands of other religions and ethnicities. However, Britain throughout those centuries has been a humane and civilised sanctuary for those fleeing religious and political persecution. Ethnic and religious minorities have enormously contributed to British civilisation and economic prosperity.

Terrorism has no religion. We should be united, especially when we are faced with problems of biblical proportions such as climate change.

Dr Munjed Farid al Qutob
London NW2


“The history of the independence movement and subsequent history of India is littered with critiques of Gandhi’s life and methods”

Sir, Further to your report “Gandhi statue ‘would be an affront to women’” (Aug 9), Dr Vadgama is entitled to her opinions, but several inaccuracies should be addressed.

Firstly, it would be incorrect to suggest that the matter of sexual exploitation has been hushed up; Yogesh Chadha’s 1997 book Rediscovering Gandhi refers to the incidents involving Gandhi sleeping with his nieces, and it was the Mahatma’s own openness about the subject that led Nehru to criticise him.

While it would be correct to describe Gandhi’s actions as perverse, and arguably exploitative, Gandhi would have regarded his action of involving women in his experiments as an act of treating them with the highest esteem.

Gandhi’s career as a whole shows that he believed that women had a full and active role in his campaigns. This could in fact be seen as illustrating how the Mahatma was ahead of his time.

Dr Vadgama is also incorrect to suggest that Gandhi has been above criticism — when the history of the independence movement and subsequent history of India is littered with critiques of his life and methods, and not just from supporters of the British Raj like Churchill.

Similarly, the criticism of Gandhi as being portrayed as “absolutely pure” was something neither Gandhi himself, nor the Gandhi Foundation, would have sanctioned. However, we at the foundation do believe that Gandhi’s life and ideas concerning nonviolence, environmental sustainability and religious pluralism were prophetic then and are equally appropriate in today’s troubled world.

William Rhind

Gandhi Foundation

Sir, On the CBC in Toronto many years ago when they used to feature classical music more frequently than nowadays, the announcer assumed that the conductor was French, so we were able to hear “Néveel Marrinay.”

Christopher Grounds

Burlington, Ontario


Donkeys on Blackpool Pleasure Beach may struggle to find enough riders if school holidays are shortened  Photo: ALAMY

6:58AM BST 17 Aug 2014


SIR – Tourism is one of Britain’s biggest industries, worth £127 billion a year, growing at 3.8 per cent a year and supporting 9.6 per cent of all British jobs. These benefits are spread throughout the regions, bringing prosperity to every corner of the country.

The tourism industry relies on the summer months, and particularly the six-week school summer holiday period, for its success. The seasonal nature of many attractions, especially those outdoors, means that they close during periods of the year when it is uneconomical to open, then spend months treading water, trying to turn a profit.

The Deregulation Bill, which is in its final stages in the House of Lords, contains clauses that permit school summer holidays to be shortened from six weeks to four. Michael Gove stated on numerous occasions that shortening the summer holiday period was his intention and those close to him admitted that this was being looked at. Nicky Morgan, his successor, has said she stands by his intention.

Many in the tourism industry survived the recession by the skin of their teeth. The economic harm provided for within the Bill is deeply worrying.

We call on the Government to engage with the tourism industry, consult, and properly assess the impact of this ill-conceived legislation.

Nick Thompson
Managing Director, Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Mike Vallis
Managing Director, Thorpe Park

Colin Bryan
CEO, Drayton Manor Park Ltd

Julie Dalton
Managing Director, Gulliver’s Theme Parks

Gary Smart
Managing Director, Harbour Park Ltd

Albert Jones
Managing Director, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach

Richard Mancey
Managing Director, Paultons Park

Bob O’Connor
Managing Director, Howletts and Port Lympne Estates

Martin Dupée
Director, Zoological Society of East Anglia (Banham Zoo and Africa Alive!) and Dinosaur Adventure

Dominique Tropeano
Zoo Director, Colchester Zoo

Joseph Manning
Managing Director, Old MacDonalds Farm

Laurence Smith
Managing Director, Drusillas Park

Luke Knightly
Director, Knightlys Fun Parks

Tom Pearcy
Owner, York Maze

Darren Chorley
Director, West Midlands Safari Park

Dan Jones
Managing Director, Wizz Kidz

Pippa Craddock
Director of Marketing & Development, Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo

Sharon Hunt
Director of Operations, Activity Time Ltd t/a Playzone

Darren Johnson
Owner, Eddie Catz Ltd

Ellis Potter
Director, Riverside Hub

Brian Moore
Mini Monsterz, Whitby

Sarah Watefield
Mini Monsterz, Scarborough

Sara Mancey
Director, Paultons Park

Harry Stevens
Director, PlaySpace Indoor Play Centre

Ken Lunn
Jack in the Box Club Ltd

Lorraine Kearney
Director, Northwest Play & Party Ltd

Tim Kent
Director, Treasure Chest soft play centre

Roni Zigner
Owner, Kids’n’Action Limited

Rick Turner
Director, Purple Cloud Consultancy Ltd

SIR – Steve Mitchell (Letters, August 10) seems to think that being an MP should be a full-time job. Does he really want an MP in the Westminster bubble and totally dependent upon the whips for advancement?

We need MPs with alternative careers who can strike independent blows for their constituents, confident that their ultimate livelihood will not be threatened. Parliament needs mavericks – without them it would be very dull and democracy would be ill-served.

Jane S Haworth
Thames Ditton, Surrey

Gaza conflict

SIR – Oliver Miles applies the words “morally indefensible, disgraceful, disproportionate” to Israel but fails to mention the incessant raining down of Hamas rockets on Israeli civilian targets.

Neither does he mention the maze of tunnels Hamas built into Israeli territory with the sole object of perpetrating a massacre of its people.

Philip Platt
London N3

SIR – Christopher Booker is right: the world is on fire and the West has only itself to blame. In Iraq and Afghanistan, mainly due to Tony Blair and his puppet master in Texas, there is now a hideous legacy of Islamic jihad which has spilt over into Syria.

The Americans support Israel through thick and thin, with little more than lip service paid to the plight of the Palestinians, who look to Hamas as their only morsel of support.

Jo Bird
Slapton, Devon

MS drug lottery

SIR – The news that people with multiple sclerosis in Wales will be the first in Britain to receive access to the potentially life-changing and licensed MS medicine Sativex is very welcome.

However, the situation is a reminder that for many people receiving NHS care, treatment is not based on clinical need, but where they live.

The latest draft Nice clinical guideline for MS rejected Sativex for NHS use based on a flawed assessment of its cost-effectiveness.

Unless Nice amends the guideline, it means that while people in Wales will rightly benefit from the treatment, people in England will be left to battle painful symptoms, or face financial strain from funding the treatment themselves.

Sally Hughes
Programme Director for Policy & Influencing, MS Society
London NW2

Respect for radio DJs

SIR – I sympathise with those celebrities who found it difficult to operate radio studio technology. In the mid-Nineties, without any training, I hosted a three-hour Saturday morning programme on BBC Radio Solent.

Saying something half-sensible while sorting out which of six faders to operate, which of four microphones to switch on or off for guests, keeping an eye on the clock for news and weather, listening all the time to the producer in the headphones, selecting CDs to play, bringing up jingles and asking guests supposedly sensible and searching questions was the most difficult multi-tasking job I had ever known.

After 10 months I just could not come up to the mark. The station manager and another presenter gave me a very nice leaving lunch and I came away with a great admiration for all radio and television presenters.

Dr Terry Langford
Milford on Sea, Hampshire

Sunbed solution

SIR – A hotel in Cyprus has the answer to the vexing problem of towels on sunbeds. On arrival, you are assigned sunbeds for the length of your stay. So the rushed breakfasts can be a thing of the past, and you can stroll casually to your sunbed at midday.

Angela Klemer
Westcliff on Sea, Essex

SIR – Many years ago, we went on holiday to Acapulco. While having a late meal we saw a German party place towels on four sunbeds and walk off to bed. Next morning after breakfast, we threw the towels in the pool and used the sunbeds ourselves.

Two hours later the Germans appeared and started shouting and waving their arms. We blamed the windy night and remained on the sunbeds. The Germans stormed off.

John Marshall
Horsington, Lincolnshire

Cringing at kilometres

SIR – I share John Buggins’s concern (Letters, August 10) that people start might saying “to go a country kilometre”. I also dread the day I hear somone ask a car salesman, “What’s the kilometreage on it?”

Richard Tyler
Droitwich, Worcestershire

SIR – It seems there is a global competition to see who can use the word “like” the most times in a sentence, and teenagers are winning.

John Batty
Middle Assendon, Oxfordshire

Make university year begin in January

SIR – The publication of the A-level results has produced its expected crop of views from the commentariat. Among these has been the desirability of AS levels or GCSE as a way of predicting future university performance.

Since the statistics can be interpreted in various ways, this is at heart an arid debate. Given that it is unlikely that any future government can unwind Michael Gove’s linear exam reforms, would it not be better by far to decouple the timing of the academic years of secondary and university education?

The university year should follow the calendar year, with terms from mid-January to mid-December. Just think of the advantages: the school exam cycle would continue as at present; no university offers would be made until after the results were known; the main admission process would be undertaken in September; and all students would have a “mini gap” from October to January.

University exams would be undertaken in November, with the advantage of a long summer holiday prior to finals.

Jonathan Hughes
Alton, Hampshire

SIR – Why are A-level pupils now always described as students? Presumably to make them seem more academically advanced than they really are.

To me, a student is someone in university or some other form of higher education. When I was at Pontypridd Grammar School we were still known as pupils in the upper sixth form, although our standard of literacy, numeracy, general knowledge and spoken English was clearly superior to that of present-day “students”.

Douglas Davies
Porthcawl, Glamorgan

Artificial fears

SIR – Tom Chivers’s review of Superintelligence warned of future robotic machines capable of smashing the Earth to pieces, or even destroying all things in the universe capable of asking difficult questions.

I’ll start to worry about this threat once there’s an artificial intelligence gadget clever enough to find and clean our cat’s litter tray.

Neil Richardson
Kirkheaton, West Yorkshire

Wise words, Dad

SIR – My father said many wise things about marriage (Stella, August 10).

Among these were “Never use the words “You should” or “You shouldn’t” and “Never argue with a woman in her own kitchen, especially if she’s slicing vegetables.”

Keith Chadbourn
Over Compton, Dorset

SIR – Ron Pearse (Letters, August 10) says that Scotland has “contributed more than its fair share” to the UK economy but he has not taken into account the annual subsidy paid into the Scottish economy since 1974 by means of the Barnett formula.

Running at about £10 billion a year, it has enabled Scotland to provide free university education for Scottish and EU students (but not English), free prescriptions, and a health service better funded than in England.

Scotland spends £1,700 more a year on each person living there than is spent in the rest of the UK. Compared with this subsidy, North Sea oil revenues are forecast to be around £6 billion next year. Despite the blusterings of Alex Salmond, Scotland has far more to lose than to gain if it votes for independence.

Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex

SIR – The currency worries are a red herring. An independent Scotland could align itself to any currency it wishes, and it makes sense to align to your near neighbour’s. Before the euro, the Benelux countries and France used their currencies in each other’s countries to good effect.

Currencies in Scandinavian countries were similarly aligned. Caribbean countries align to the US dollar, while Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand have a similar arrangement.

What we should really consider is the effect of independence on GDP. Scotland is self-sufficient in food thanks to its agriculture and fisheries, has two nuclear power stations, one of the largest coal-fired stations in Europe and is advanced in the development of renewable energy.

It also has booming tourist and whisky industries worth billions – and then of course there are the oil and gas reserves, which, incidentally, we were told would be exhausted by the Nineties.

John Cobb

SIR – Christopher Booker seems to fear that continued expansion of Scotland’s wind power capacity will result in large bills for the taxpayer south of the border.

Of course, Alex Salmond’s self-aggrandising drive to build ever more wind turbines at the expense of the taxpayers south of the border is absurd. As one of those taxpayers, I fervently hope that Mr Salmond wins his referendum and Scotland becomes independent.

Then the rest of the UK will no longer need to subsidise his wind farms; will no longer need to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland when it next runs out of money; and will no longer need to bankroll the very generous provisions of the Scottish NHS.

All the UK government jobs expensively outsourced to Scotland (such as the tax office) will be repatriated to the rest of the UK.

David Cooke
Woking, Surrey

SIR – Christopher Booker is right that England must pay over the odds for Scottish wind power when it is in surplus, while the Scots will buy English conventional power cheaply when the wind does not blow, but that situation would only pertain as long as we were one country with a National Grid.

If Scotland were an independent country, power would not be shared on a single national grid but imported or exported at whatever price prevailed.

England would be foolish to import Scottish surplus wind power for more than the price of available French nuclear; similarly, there is no reason for England to subsidise the cost of whatever power Scotland requires to make up its shortfall when wind generation cannot cope. The financial losses on this deal would be Scotland’s alone.

Jim Delaney
London E2

SIR – Would Scottish nationalists kindly stop using the word “independence” to describe their desire to come out of the United Kingdom? No one forced Scotland into a union with England. The Scottish Parliament decided to approach Westminster in 1707 and ask for one. The correct term should be “to leave the Union”.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – Eamon Maloney TD’s call for An Post to withdraw from circulation the first World War commemorative stamp that features John Redmond dishonours the memory of the 200,000 Irishmen who answered the call of duty, by insinuating they were in some way the dupes of a war-mongering establishment fronted by the Irish Parliamentary Party leader. A hundred years on, none of us can say with any certainty why so many of our countrymen joined up and went off to France to fight and die in the trenches. Youthful idealism, unemployment, boredom – the motivating factors were many and to depict Redmond as a butcher’s apprentice who busied himself feeding the meat grinder with raw recruits is disingenuous and I suspect Mr Maloney’s interpretation owes more to some half-remembered war poetry from the Leaving Cert and episodes of Blackadder on television than any objective study of the historical evidence.

Neither John Redmond or the then prime minister, HH Asquith, whose eldest son, Raymond, was killed fighting alongside Irish troops at the Somme in 1916 – had any idea of the appalling slaughter that would ultimately result from the inexorable slide into conflict triggered by the shots fired in Sarajevo. All that was certain 100 years ago this August was that a continent occupied by Germany from the Vistula to the Bay of Biscay would be intolerable. Indeed Deputy Maloney’s confusion seems to deepen when he refers to Irishmen “killing for Great Britain”. Is he not aware that Irishmen were in fact British up until December 6th, 1922? Or perhaps Deputy Maloney has been reading opinion polls rather than history books during his extensive summer holidays and has woken up to the impending Sinn Féin blitzkrieg into Labour’s electoral territory at the next general election. If so, then the Deputy is greatly mistaken if he thinks abandoning the red flag and brandishing a green one will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.– Yours, etc,


Oatfield Park,


Co Kildare

Sir, – It has been said that one of the most powerful optical instruments ever devised is hindsight. With its aid, we now see the Easter Rising as the start of the final campaign for Irish independence and thus as an iconic and epoch-making event. Then, no right-thinking person, including Redmond, could have seen it as anything other than an act of high treason. Nor could anyone have expected the instigators to escape with their lives.

If a soldier would have been shot in 1916 for refusing to go “over the top”, how unreasonable was it that a similar fate should befall men who rose up against their king in his own realm, particularly in wartime? It could even be argued that a surprising degree of clemency was shown to those rebels who were not considered ringleaders, given the scale of the death and destruction which resulted from their activities.

As the centenary approaches, I hope that those who write for public consumption, and those who teach the younger generation about history, will try to take a step backwards from the official version of 1916 which has prevailed for so long in some quarters, and bring some objectivity into their perception and discussion of those events. – Yours, etc,


Kelsey Close,

St Helens,

Merseyside WA10 4GY

Sir, – In line with what is now an annual event the “Girls beat boys to the honour in all but nine of the 59 Leaving Cert papers” article (August 15th) will probably evoke the usual explanatory speculation.

Top executives and professors tend to complain that the Leaving Cert favours those who rote-memorise and rote-learn. Though boys could do both at least as easily as girls, generally they have been less adept than girls in ignoring those complaints. I say, “generally”, because obviously the boys who get top marks – and go on later to complain about precisely what got them to their top work positions – also rote-memorise and rote-learn brilliantly.

The complainers don’t realise that successful memorisation at all life stages must use rote memorisation, and that all successful learning must use rote learning. So great is the general ignorance in that respect, that a longer letter would be needed to explain if the explanation were not to be misunderstood.

In any case it would add up to this message for students (and their parents/guardians) at all levels: treat your work as opportunities to become brilliant rote-memorisers and rote-learners; your tragedy is that too few of your teachers are equipped to impart the simple related drills which could help you to be brilliant users of these skills. Yours, etc,


Sandford Road,


Dublin 6

Sir, – I wasn’t surprised to see the usual criticism of the Leaving Cert as being too dependent on rote learning. This criticism is usually trotted out without any substantiation. Having taught for 20 years I don’t know any student who learns things without understanding them and then applying this knowledge in a variety of ways. It acts as a platform for expansion. As Daisy Christodoulou puts it her book Seven Myths about Education: “Saying all these negative things about rote learning [versus understanding] is very unhelpful. The two things are not in opposition. It’s not that we should spend time on conceptual understanding instead of spending it on learning times tables. It’s by spending time on times tables that you’ll develop the conceptual understanding.”

Christodoulou goes onto critique other favorites of our of our academic elite – projects and “active learning”. This she does with a mixture of common sense and extensive research which contradicts much of what the elite proposes. I would recommend that your readers to pick up a copy of her book before we throw out a relatively well-performing system and replace it with the latest fad. We need more minority voices – the consensus is often wrong – quite wrong. Yours, etc,


Giltspur Wood,

Killarney Road,


Co Wicklow

A Chara, – With regard to the somewhat over-optimistic view that a world language will lead to peace on earth, may I cite your letters page (in English only) as evidence to the contrary. Idir an dá linn, tá sé i gceist agamsa agus daoine mar mé ár dteanga aoibhinn stairiúil féin a thabhairt slán, even if “foam-lipped ideologues” of English find this determination to ensure that our future is a rational continuation of the past rather annoying. Naturally there will be an international language. No argument there, except of course about which one. – Is mise,



Na Cluainte,

Trá Lí

Sir, – Frank Naughton rightly points out that the myth of the Tower of Babel is but one among others; John Thompson’s (August 13th) interpretation of it is also just one among others. While his reading of the story as implying linguistic diversity to be a curse of a vengeful God and intended to “impede mankind from fulfilling its full potential” is typical, it is as reasonable to understand the myth to imply linguistic diversity to be the gift of a creator God to a creation going astray. So understood, the myth suggests that the way to fulfilling the full potential of mankind is through linguistic diversity. – Yours, etc,


Clybaun Road,


Sir, – Hagappagy, according to my sons who are of that vintage, means “happy”. It was spoken by them with friends of both sexes in the early 1980s, and still exists in isolated pockets. They heard that it may originally have been used by shopkeepers and/or prisoners of war for reasons of confidentiality, but this is unsubstantiated. However, the translation for “girl” was not pc, and as Hagappagy became intelligible to too many people they invented “Heebappeeby” and also “Ermywermy”. Cagould agit bage aga fagorm agof pagig lagatagin? – Yours, etc,



Adelaide Road,


Co Dublin

Sir, – I am pleased that some remember the secret teen language of the ’50s and ’60s. I do have sympathy with the boys and girls of Waterford in that they truly believed that their parents had cracked the code. The very fact that Waterford teenagers (Letters August 13th) would jointly converse in front of their parents sets them apart from all other teenagers on the planet. Whether you view the practice as a cultural tradition lost or a silly subculture (I opt for the former) my central question remains : how and when did this wonderful argot decline to the point of extinction. Is the texting language of today its cultural replacement and will the advent of the obnoxious social media sites be its nemesis? I somehow think an aspiring PhD student could prosper in exploring this piece of social history. – Yours, etc,


Westminster Lawns,


Co Dublin

Sir, – When comments deemed to be insulting to Islam are published in newspapers. we see a multitude of comments and letters of outrage from senior Muslim leaders and clerics about said alleged insults.

Why are these same people not publicly condemning the killing of non-Muslims in Iraq for not converting to Islam that we have seen over the last weeks? Why the silence? Do they condone this sort of behaviour from fellow Muslims? If not, why aren’t they protesting in the streets about these murders with the same vigour they apply when Islam is being apparently attacked or mocked? – Yours, etc,


Glenvara Park,


Sir, – The Irish Anti War Movement calls on the UN and NGOs to organise humanitarian airlifts to the beleaguered Yazidi people, criticises the recent US military intervention, and questions US and British motives regarding Iraq and Gaza (August 15th). This represents confused thinking. Few nations have the military capability to provide such airlifts, and fewer still would be willing to accept the risks involved, but top of the short list would be the US and Britain.

If we depended on the UN to intervene, we could expect to wait at least a month for a compromise resolution, and longer still for a relief effort to be organised. Any sort of military effort would be deferred indefinitely, with Irish involvement further delayed while the triple lock was unpicked. Of course, by that time Isis would have resolved the issue in a rather extreme manner.

It seems strange to me that people in the Republic of Ireland, a country which allocates inadequate resources to its own defence and which shrinks from membership of international defence organisations, can persistently call on the “international community” to defend oppressed minorities around the world. – Yours, etc,


Philipsburgh Avenue,


Dublin 3

Sir, – Jim Roche of the Irish Anti War Movement seems to suggest that western intervention to help the Yazidi minority in Iraq is a bad idea because previous western governments made poor foreign policy decisions. He also seems to suggest that the “Islamic State” fighters would not now be slaughtering infidels and apostates in Iraq if the West had only treated them better.

This is the worst sort of self-flagellation and fails to recognise the movement for what it is, a fanatical group intent on establishing the most extreme sort of medieval theocracy in the 21st century. It would save everybody a lot of time and be a lot more honest if the IAWM renamed itself the Irish Anti-American Movement and be done with it.– Yours, etc,


Old Tannery Lane,


Cornwall TR2 4PZ

Irish Independent:

Peace and not war is what we need. On June 28 1914, World War I started. It finished on November 28 1918. Still debate occurs as to why and who started the war.

It matters little. There were 37 million casualties. Many thousands of these were from Ireland. There were 60 million casualties in World War II, estimated at nearly 4pc of the world’s population at the time. Now, in 2014, we see the horrific killing of innocent citizens who are trying to defend themselves against the might of bombs and guns from those that possess such weaponry.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of these situations, we are again witnessing the slaughter of innocent children, with entire families being wiped out. The United Nations was set up to resolve world conflict in 1945, with the agreement of over 50 of the world’s most powerful countries.

The UN has the moral authority to work towards resolving conflict and intercede where borders are in dispute, pressing each country to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What is happening in a number of countries often goes unreported. Religious fanatics are carrying out horrendous atrocities. People are being persecuted for their beliefs. Encroachment on neighbouring countries has led to years of conflict. Is the UN failing or is it simply unable to carry out its function because of the veto of other countries?

The manufacturing of arms is going on at a faster pace than ever.

Sales are booming in the strife-torn areas of the world like the Middle East, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, North Korea, and parts of Latin America. The total spend is $1.75 trillion, according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database 2013. As Albert Einstein said: “Peace cannot be achieved by force, only by understanding.”

Dermot Hayes

Ennis, Co Clare

Riddle of the red squirrel

They say the red squirrel is a victim, under threat of extinction, usurped by the grey invader, but what if they are wrong?

Perhaps the answer is evolution. Maybe the red squirrel has adapted and changed in unison with the environment. My theory is entirely based upon my observations. Living in close proximity to woodland has the advantage of frequent encounters with wildlife and the disadvantage of an outside chance of a brush with a serial killer.

Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of many visits from a variety of creatures, with no predators larger than a bushy-tailed fox thus far. But the most clandestine, unpredictable and true urban chameleon is the squirrel.

A red coat is great camouflage in the trees, but in the concrete jungle a grey coat is practically an invisibility cloak.

One moment I’m sipping my morning coffee looking at the cute little pack of fur balls scurrying across the lawn, when suddenly I notice something, something positively Darwinian, as they roll and jostle at play revealing red fluffy bellies . . . and on closer inspection, quite a few patches of red fur mottled throughout the grey topcoat. Eureka! The red is the grey – or more accurately, was the grey.

Michael Coffey

Harolds Cross, Dublin

Cupla focal . . . and an expletive

I am indebted to a retired national school teacher for making my entire week by telling me the following true story from their days teaching in a Gaeltacht area, back when most rural schools consisted of one teacher, and any stranger was assumed to be English-speaking – such was the scarcity of visitors coming to such remote locations.

Surprise visits by Department of Eduction inspectors were not unknown, if not actually the order of the day, and on one such occasion the teacher in charge was late in arriving but the doors were open to admit the pupils.

The inspector, not wishing to break protocol by entering the school uninvited, decided to wait in the entrance porch for the arrival of the headmaster. Over the hubbub of chattering pupils fighting over which seat to take in double-desks, he heard an unidentified scholar, who couldn’t have been more than seven, say the immortal words: “Cé hé an b*****d ins an halla”?

I reckon you do not need to know any Irish at all to translate what was said. For sheer brilliance, brevity, clarity and an ability to voice a young person’s insatiable curiosity in any language, but especially Irish, this ranks right up there with another life-changing question – “Who made the world”? – but even better.

Liam Power

Ballina, Co Mayo

Fitzgerald’s UN grilling

An Irish Government delegation led by Frances Fitzgerald was recently summoned to attend a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee.

The delegation duly obliged and to all intents and purposes assumed the bearing of a group of bold school children being told off by the principal. They certainly did not give the impression they represented an independent state with a sophisticated constitution which has been the model for many other newly formed states. One would have hoped Ms Fitzgerald would have told her overbearing inquisitors that as a “sovereign republic”, Ireland will not be bullied by a non-elected supra-national quango.

Eric Conway

Navan, Co Meath

Sky’s the limit

It would appear that we can’t bring a tiny bottle of our shop-bought water onto a plane, but a pilot with an artificial arm is allowed to fly the thing. We are truly living in a world gone mad.

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

Robin Williams‘s legacy

The death of Robin Williams continues to provoke debate, even as his fans worldwide accept the reality of his passing. Everyone has their favourite movies, but I especially liked his performances in What Dreams May Come, with its depiction of what the afterlife might be like, and Jakob the Liar.

I treasure the scenes in the latter movie in which his character pretends he’s receiving good news (from a non-existent hidden radio) about advancing allied armies drawing closer by the day, giving hope, albeit by devious means, to the oppressed Jews in the ghetto for whom hope could mean the difference between life and death.

His comic genius turned frowns into smiles, enhancing life via the “best medicine”. What a tragedy that an immensely talented man who made countless people laugh should opt for a mode of departure from life that has broken hearts around the world and drawn rivers of tears.

Depression affects so many. Though it may be a cliche to say it, I’d like to think this wonderful man’s untimely death will act as an incentive to all victims of this illness to seek help and support.

It can affect anyone at any age, and with the Leaving Cert results concentrating young minds nationwide, one’s heart goes out to any teenager upset by a perceived failure or lack of progress.

The message should ring loud and clear: falling short of achieving one’s objectives is never the end of the world. There’s always another day, another opportunity, and always help, advice, and support, regardless of what dark clouds appear to smudge the horizon.

People close to Robin Williams have asked that he be remembered for his creative genius. Perhaps his life, and death, will also serve as a reminder that hope needs to be kept alive, and that whatever the problem, suicide is not the answer.

John Fitzgerald

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Irish Independent


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