Books

24 August 2014 Books

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 sort out thirty books from Marcus

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

110 Games Mary win 58 John 53

Obituary:

Jean Redpath – obituary

Jean Redpath was a Scottish folk singer who shared an apartment with Bob Dylan and recorded the ballads of Robbie Burns

Jean Redpath performing at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963

Jean Redpath performing at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963 Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:18PM BST 22 Aug 2014

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Jean Redpath, who has died aged 77, was considered one of the finest folk singers to emerge in the early British folk revival.

Revered as a Scottish musical treasure for her knowledge, understanding and research into traditional music, and her uniquely sensitive interpretations of some of the great ballads, she made more than 50 records, including seven LPs of Robbie Burns’s songs, and was an authority on traditional song. In the early Sixties she shared an apartment with Bob Dylan at the epicentre of the American folk revival in Greenwich Village.

Jean Redpath later in her career

Jean Redpath disliked the term “folk singer”, insisting: “I avoid it like the plague. In fact, I avoid putting a label on anything. I just like to sing – it’s an easier form of communication to me than talking.”

She had no formal training and said the best advice she ever received was when she sought the help of a singing coach, to be told that if she wanted to improve, the best thing she could do was go away and sing for 20 years the way she was doing already.

Born in Edinburgh on April 28 1937, Jean Redpath was brought up at Leven, Fife. Her childhood was surrounded by music: her mother sang traditional songs around the house, and her father, whose grandfather had made hammered dulcimers, later played that instrument on some of his daughter’s records.

Her mentor was the great Scottish folklorist Hamish Henderson, from the School of Scottish Studies, who visited the literary society at her school to give a talk on traditional song. “That was epiphany for me,” she said, and she was particularly moved when Henderson played the great travelling singer Jeannie Robertson’s version of The Overgate, a variant on a song her mother sang. Henderson was to become a firm friend and inspiration.

Jean started performing songs like Sir Patrick Spens and Willie’s Drooned in Yarrow in a four-piece group with Dolina MacLennan. She won a place at Edinburgh University, but dropped out after a year and in 1961 flew to San Francisco to sing at a friend’s wedding. She had no plans to stay or pursue a career in music, taking “a dollar an hour” jobs cleaning houses, minding children and driving cars. But the half-promise of a singing engagement at a club in Philadelphia lured her east, and when that failed to materialise she moved on to New York.

It was fortuitous timing. Becoming a “professional house guest”, she found herself sharing lodgings with Rambling Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan (also newly arrived in New York) just as the Greenwich Village folk boom was taking off.

Singing at famous clubs such as Gerdes Folk City, Jean Redpath became a leading light on that scene and, following an ecstatic review in The New York Times, was signed by Elektra to record her first album, Skipping Barefoot Through The Heather (1962). Primarily unaccompanied, the gentle quality of her delivery quickly established her as a true voice of the song tradition at a time when authenticity was greatly prized. She went on to put many more little-known traditional songs into wider circulation with her subsequent LPs Scottish Ballad Book (1962), Laddie Lie Near Me (1963) and Lilt And Laughter (1963).

Asked once at which point she had decided to become a professional singer, she replied: “About 10 years after I started doing it.” She toured the States regularly and also became an unlikely radio star with appearances singing (and revealing an unexpected flair for comedy) in a double act with Garrison Keillor on the APM show A Prairie Home Companion, and with Robert J Lurtsema on Morning Pro Musica for WGBH in Boston. She took great joy in sharing her passion for Scottish music, giving folklore talks in schools and spending four years (1972-76) as artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

In 1979 she returned to Scotland, taking up residence as a lecturer at the University of Stirling; but she continued to record and perform concerts around the world.

Among her most important work was a collaboration with the American composer and ethnomusicologist Serge Hovey, in which they planned a 22-volume campaign to record every song ever written by Robbie Burns with the original tunes used by the poet himself. In the event, they recorded only seven albums of Burns material over 20 years before Hovey’s death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease; but those records still stand as definitive interpretations of Burns.

The Scottish tradition was Jean Redpath’s first and greatest love, although she was not averse to embracing contemporary material. She performed with the cellist Abby Newton and fiddle player David Gusakov, most significantly on Lady Nairne (1986), a collection of songs – including Will Ye No Come Back Again and The Rowan Tree – which focused attention on the previously relatively obscure writings of Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne (1766-1845).

She also focused on women’s issues, helping to popularise songs like Judy Small’s Women Of Our Time, Glasgow Lullaby, Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk and The Jute Mill Song.

Jean Redpath, who was appointed MBE, championed Scottish culture at every opportunity, yet was contemptuous of some of the populist images it evoked, loathing songs such as Scotland The Brave.

“Most well-known Scottish songs subscribe to an image of Scotland I won’t touch with a barge pole,” she said.

Jean Redpath, born April 28 1937, died August 21 2014

Guardian:

The most sensible and useful thing would simply be to abolish school uniforms (“Schools are still out for summer, but it’s time to count the cost of uniforms“, News). Hated and subverted by pupils, generator of considerable time-wasting “discipline” problems or hassles for schools and teachers, often impractical (or at least useless as everyday clothes) and, of course, often wildly expensive.

If that is too much and the school must have the “correct” logo or coat of arms to brand its pupils, it could sell the badge separately as a brooch or a patch to attach to ordinary garments.

Children are conscripted to attend school (and mostly for their own good), but I can see no good reason to insist on quasi-military uniforms to brand them as attending this or that school. If it is a good one, they and their friends will feel part of it anyway. If it is a bad one, imposed uniforms will not make any difference.

Yes, the kids will invent their own group “uniforms” instead, which may or may not be school differentiated. The key point here is “their own”. In adults, it is called “choice” or “fashion”. And anyone who thinks a uniform protects the poorer kids from looking different has forgotten their own school days and the myriad cues to affluence and status that can be displayed in allegedly identical garb. Accept that schools are for learning for real life and clothes are mostly irrelevant. Remove one significant problem from school days.

Dr HM Gee

Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

Lisa Bachelor deserves praise for citing a pawnbroker capitalising on low-income parents struggling to pay for their children’s school uniforms, amid cuts in council grants. However, another human cost is the harsh reality that many workers in Bangladesh, who are making UK brands’ school uniforms for poverty wages, cannot afford to educate their children.

We call on the government to ensure a living wage in Britain, so that all parents have enough money for uniforms, but also a living wage for workers producing them overseas for UK outlets, so they can send their own children to school.

Martin Gemzell

Senior international programmes officer

War on Want

London N1

Our family has been designing and manufacturing school uniforms for more than a century. We have been urging schools to avoid specific shops with hugely inflated margins on uniforms for decades. There are many new ways of distributing school uniforms and reducing costs, including a personal online service.

But to quote Aldi’s basic £4 school uniform without referencing it in terms of the provenance and quality of such garments is hardly fair. Schools are increasingly asking questions such as: “Who made these garments and whereabouts?”, “What quality can we expect from this garment?” and: “Does our school stand out in terms of a sense of belonging and identity?”

One has to ask oneself how much the people who have sewn these garments together have been paid and how long will these garments last when worn. As highlighted on recent television programmes such as Panorama, the conditions and wages of poorly paid workers in garment factories in less developed countries are shameful. Furthermore, recent studies by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have highlighted the growing garment waste pile accumulating from low-quality clothing retailers.

We believe a more balanced view is needed when reporting on the schoolwear market, which includes ethics, overall cost in use and quality. What is pertinent to this debate is the adult uniform market – businesses that care about their appearance do not send staff down to Aldi or a local uniform shop, but source their garments themselves; something schools are increasingly embracing.

Dr Mark Southcott

School Colours

Knaresborough

Staff at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge have faith in their pupils’ abilities. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Will Hutton says that “the Sutton Trust reports that four private schools and one sixth form college in Cambridge send as many students to Oxbridge as nearly 2,000 state schools”. (“If Britain wants a smarter society, it must favour poorer students”, Comment) It seems odd to me that people use this fact to point out where the state system is going wrong, rather than asking the question: “What is this particular state sixth form college in Cambridge doing right?” Hills Road college assumes that many of its students are capable of getting to Oxbridge. It has high academic standards. It trains the Oxbridge hopefuls in interview techniques. Why can’t other schools and sixth form colleges do the same?

Jo Edkins

Cambridge

The press and Robin Williams

Peter Preston appears to suggests (Media) that the [mere] existence of the internet removes the duty of newspaper editors to behave responsibly and in line with agreed guidelines when reporting sensitive matters such as the suicide of the actor Robin Williams.

It is bizarre to suggest that because “bad things” can be found on the internet, there should not be standards and guidelines for the British press. The editors’ code of practice is drawn up by editors – hence its name – and most have agreed to be bound by it. Arguing that the speed of the internet should allow for “bending of guidelines” once a story gains international attention is a transparent attempt to allow media outlets to wriggle out of not only their claimed accountability to self-regulation (and I would agree that is a bit of a joke anyway), but also out of their duty of care to readers.

The failure of those who ignored their own code demonstrates the urgent necessity of creating a truly independent and effective self-regulator, which will protect both the press and readers.

Joan Smith

Executive director, Hacked Off

Proper mince and tatties

I’m sorry, Fergus [Henderson, chef], I tried your recipe for mince and tatties and while delicious, it is actually mince ragout and tatties (Observer Food Monthly). Any Scottish laddie of a certain age knows that to make proper mince and tatties, one needs:

1. A pound of the best possible quality minced beef.

2. One chopped onion (unsweated).

Place the mince and the onion in a little water together with one or two crumbled red Oxo cubes (I am prepared to countenance the addition of some pinhead oatmeal if I must). Simmer for 2-3 hours and thicken if necessary. Serve with floury potatoes that can be mashed into the mince.

Enjoy being taken back to childhood!

Professor Bill Grant

University of Leicester

Education, not inspection

In the 1970s, enlightened local education authorities appointed advisers rather than inspectors – both subject and general advisers. These were friends of their schools, visiting often, able to drop in and out of classrooms, aware of achievements and individual teaching performance. In the 1980s, enlightened industry moved away from inspection to understanding that process control was much more effective, relegating tick-boxes and targets to history, understanding that continued process improvement backed by process measurement would produce so much more.

Your article “Academies run by ‘superhead’ received advance notice of Ofsted checks” (News) demonstrated why both these movements worked better than Ofsted. Could it be that the real problems within our education system stem from its politicisation and the creation of a money-making marketplace? Oh for Tony Blair’s mantra “education, education, education” to be implemented by someone – unlike Blair – who understands what this really means.

Jon Choppin

Blandford Forum, Dorset

Not quite the first annexation

Oliver Bullough writes: “The fact that Putin stole Crimea [odd use of “fact”!] … was the first annexation in Europe since the Second World War” (Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches From Kiev, New Review). Well, Khrushchev “stole” Crimea in 1954 and annexed it to Ukraine without consulting its people; wasn’t that the first?

Of course Monmouthshire was annexed to Wales in 1974, so far luckily without disastrous consequences.

Professor Robin Milner-Gulland

Pulborough

West Sussex

Open spaces are for everyone

The proposal to impose a local levy for those living near parks may work in San Francisco, but any similar scheme in Britain would simply create a divide between the “haves” and “have nots” (“Would you pay ‘park tax’ to keep the grass cut, crime down – and your house price up?”, News).

Parks and open spaces are an essential part of any community. Access and enjoyment is open to all and is as much a part of health and wellbeing as a doctor’s surgery.

The risk of creating a parks levy is that those who pay it may well think they “own” the park, and not the community.

Clarence Barrett

Upminster, Essex

Series: Family life

Previous | Index

Family life: Postwar wedding joy, the Supremes, and Mum’s red spaghetti

Readers’ favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot Graham Sheath

Snapshot … Graham Sheath’s parents, Geoffrey and Ruth, just married in 1946.

Snapshot: Smiles on a postwar wedding day

It is a cold, rather wet, day in February 1946 a few months after the end of the second world war, and my parents, Ruth and Geoffrey, have just been married at Sandal Magna church near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Behind them are some of the small wedding party: my maternal grandparents, Dad’s sister, the little boy who is my eldest cousin, and, almost hidden from view, an army friend, their best man. No doubt they are all heading home for a modest family celebration.

Early in the war, my grandparents’ home close by had been part-requisitioned for army use and it was there that my father, a young army officer, met my mother. Not long afterwards, he was posted to Burma and India, where he spent four years before returning home after VJ day: meanwhile, Mum joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, among other things driving ambulances. But the die was cast and they kept in touch.

Looking at the photo, I think of them bringing up my brother, sister and me in the difficult postwar years. Dad, like many of his generation, spoke little about the war. He died in 1983 and Mum survived him by more than 25 years until just short of her 91st birthday.

I delight at the smiles on their faces, which not only say so much about their personal happiness at being reunited, but also reflect the joy and relief that so many of their generation must have been feeling with the war behind them and the prospect of peace ahead.

Graham Sheath

Playlist: Mr F and my love supreme

Where Did Our Love Go by the Supremes

“Baby, baby / Baby don’t leave me / Ooh, please don’t leave me / All by myself”

Where Did Our Love Go.

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I grew up in a multi-storey block of flats in Birmingham, where my parents had trained me to walk quietly and keep my music down, so living the student life with my new “family” was exciting and liberating. They loved my parents too, who lived closest to college, so Mum and Dad often found at weekends that they had replaced one noisy daughter with a gaggle of them.

I played this Supremes single incessantly on my Dansette, to the delight of all except one seriously studious neighbour in my halls of residence. She asked to be transferred to another room when she returned in September. Her replacement loved the Supremes, so the students of J-block continued to bop along to their music.

One night, when I was rehearsing for a play at college, the record player was unplugged and removed from my room by a lecturer who lived on campus. She had clearly had enough. (How my mother would have sympathised.) I returned from rehearsal to find it gone, but my records left behind.

My vinyl collection has since moved home with me many times, and somewhere in the loft there still lies a finger-printed, scratched, beer-stained Supremes 45, waiting to be born again.

I’d always loved the Supremes but never got to see them live. During the 80s, my husband, remembering this story from my student days, secretly bought tickets for Diana Ross at the Royal Albert Hall. He didn’t let on who would be performing at the concert until we got there. Our daughter and dog had been sworn to secrecy.

I was thrilled that he had thought to organise such a fantastic surprise, particularly as his tastes were more Dylan than Diana. It was a wonderful night.

However, Mr F probably wished he hadn’t organised it when I turned into a groupie at the end and went forward with others to shake Miss Ross’s hand.

Barbara Fisher

We love to eat: Mum’s red spaghetti

Ingredients

Two handfuls of wholemeal spaghetti
A jar of tomato pasta sauce
Handful of ground almonds
Grated cheese

WLTE Sam Lunney Sam Lunney’s red spaghetti.

Cook the spaghetti and drain. Chop it up a little, so the spaghetti strands aren’t too long. Stir in the jar of tomato sauce, and then add in the ground almonds and grated cheese. All the amounts are rough, just add what you need to make it look balanced. It should be served with a green salad on the side.

Looking at the ingredients of this dish as an adult, it seems so simple. But as a child, this wasn’t just spaghetti and tomato sauce. It seemed to me that red spaghetti was tastier and more exciting than other kinds of spaghetti, and I used to often ask my mum to make it for dinner.

My mum had become a vegetarian several years before I was born, and she has always been interested in healthy eating. As I child I didn’t always want to eat things that were good for me, so she would sneak healthy things into my dinner whenever she could. This dish is a perfect example of that; brown pasta instead of white and some secret almonds I never knew were in there!

Sam Lunney

Independent:

Newmarket is a dump (“Tory minister lines up with racing royalty against new homes”, 17 August). The High Street is dominated by betting shops and seedy nightclubs. Traffic is snarled up all morning while the trainers’ horses take priority.

Rather than recognise the reality of the modern world, and moving the horses out of town, the racing fraternity instead uses a supposed threat to the industry to oppose any development that might support growth and a rebalancing of the local economy to a broader and more productive base.

The billionaire stud-owners who oppose development in the town, and donate to Matthew Hancock’s local party, do not live in Newmarket, use its services, nor spend money there.

Hancock’s request to Eric Pickles to call in the Hatchfield Farm development is cynical and hypocritical, and clearly not in the best interests of those who live in Newmarket and the surrounding area. Still, the stable lad’s vote is worth as much as Kirsten Rausing’s. I hope come next May he will use it.

Rachael Padman

Newmarket, Suffolk

Laurence Phelan writes in “The acid test” (17 August) that LSD’s status as a Schedule I, Class A drug is not “an accurate reflection of the dangers it poses”. This is a big claim. We are often told the same thing about cannabis and yet anyone who has experience of mental-health units, drug rehabs, and other such hidden places, will tell you of the irreversible mental damage that psychoactive drugs often cause.

Also disturbing is Dr Robin Carhart-Harris on addiction: “Depression and addictions rest on reinforced patterns of brain activity, and a psychedelic will reintroduce a relative chaos.” I have met thousands of alcoholics and addicts. I cannot imagine that any would have benefited from the sort of treatment he proposes.

Addiction is deep disorder despite the “patterns” he mentions. Introducing further disorder is likely to be harmful, particularly for those in the early stages of recovery, which is when the “patterns” will still be most detectable.

Daniel De Simone

Ashtead, Surrey

General Sir Richard Shirreff’s observations (“A spineless lack of leadership”, 17 August) about absence of strategy don’t just apply to Iraq. Government has lost the art of statecraft. The Prime Minister is incapable of articulating our national interests in a form suitable for action.

The first thing David Cameron has to do in September, is come to the House and show leadership. Articulate our national interests, give his analysis of the nature of the problem of the Eastern Mediterranean and spell out how all government departments will strategically interact to achieve the desired outcome.

And he needs to do that with words which carry meaning, and plans that can be translated into actions. Our armed forces and our voters have a right to expect strategy and leadership from their Prime Minister.

Gisela Stuart

MP Birmingham Edgbaston, Defence Select Committee

Sarah Kane appears to have been under intolerable stress as a person unqualified to deal with high-risk offenders (“Chris Grayling accused of ‘murdering the probation service'” 17 August). A friend is experiencing the other side of these reforms. In his fifties with 30 years’ experience, he is one of several, similarly aged colleagues being given the sack. He would be pleased to be offered Sarah Kane’s job but, as a qualified professional at the top of his grade, he is probably too expensive. When considered with the simmering unrest in our jails, the falseness of these “economies” becomes alarming.

Sue Organ,

Chichester, West Sussex

King Richard III ate and drank in line with the times in which he lived. Many books and his coronation records state these facts, and are confirmed by this study. The headline “The Richard III diet revealed” (17 August) sounds more of a new Paleo diet rather than revealing the diet of King Richard III.

Joe Ann Ricca

Chief executive/president

The Richard III Foundation

Times:

Deirdre Kelly — ‘White Dee’ from the Channel 4 series Benefits Street — is to speak at the Tory party conference Deirdre Kelly — ‘White Dee’ from the Channel 4 series Benefits Street — is to speak at the Tory party conference

Reward marriage or face being divorced from social harmony

THE revelation of the scale of Britain’s underclass is only the tip of an iceberg that is lurking to shipwreck society (“Rise of new underclass costs £30bn”, News, last week).The impact of family failure is greater than is estimated by Louise Casey, the director-general of the government’s troubled families programme, and could mean every taxpayer paying more than £1,500 each year to pick up the pieces.

The problem can be traced to decades of dilution and dismantling of the value of marriage as the ideal family structure. Research shows that children deprived of their fathers have poorer life outcomes. Even where there is significant conflict in the marriage — except in extreme cases such as domestic violence — family life in a married household is better for the welfare and development of children.

However, the popular wisdom is that divorce in such situations is good for children. The prime minister has fallen for this myth when he says “divorce can sometimes be the best outcome for children”. Such a doctrine is a convenient excuse for parents to get what they want and absolves them of any guilt.

Couples intending to marry should consider a prenuptial agreement that they will seek counselling if they get into difficulty and that divorce will be only for the most serious reasons. The tax system could give real recognition to marriage. We should take measures to guard against the tsunami of social disintegration that is waiting to happen.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali Christian Concern,
London W1

WELFARE CULTURE

The underclass problem stems from politicians buying votes with welfare or following a left-liberal agenda. There are howls of protest when there is any attempt to change or reduce welfare.

When I was a child it was a disgrace to go on to welfare — the shame encouraged people to work. Now there is no shame and some are feted as reality TV stars. Are not the Tories having “White Dee” (Deirdre Kelly from Channel 4’s Benefits Street) as a speaker at their party conference?

Those who find work are caught up in the race to the bottom, on minimum wages and zero-hours contracts with yet more welfare.
Graham Thoburn
Nottingham

BROKEN PROMISES

I seem to recall that the Tory promise was for every family to have contact with a family case worker. The issue is not confined to the underclass.
Peter Copping
Manchester

POVERTY TRAP

Presumably the word underclass is only used to describe poor dysfunctional families. There are plenty of rich dysfunctional ones too. This is another attempt to demonise the have-nots.
Barbara Devaney
Nottingham

We must unite to stop the march of Isis

WE ABHOR and reject the ideology and tactics of Isis, the so-called Islamic State. As British citizens we believe its message of hate, violence and evil should not divide us, nor should we allow it to create tensions in UK communities. Britain has a long and proud tradition of peaceful co-existence between people of different racial and religious backgrounds — a tradition that needs to be defended and upheld in these testing times.

We also believe mere condemnation of the actions of this group is not enough. We should all seek to do much more to challenge and discredit its poisonous narrative as well as undermine its propaganda efforts. We should also continue to work with the authorities in order to safeguard our national security and ensure the image of British Muslims, who are by and large upstanding members of society, is not adversely affected by the actions of Isis.

We need to confront the ideology of Isis head on and not be cowed by fears of being deemed politically incorrect or culturally insensitive. Let’s all stand up and be counted in this struggle.
Majid Nawaz, chairman of Quilliam and prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn,
Khalid Mahmood MP, Perry Barr, Hafiz Yacoob al-Naqshbandi, Sara Khan,
co-director of Inspire, imam and Labour councillor (Luton), Dr Sheikh Irfan Allawi, executive director of Islamic Heritage Foundation, Zafar Choudary, the Azad Society, Fiyaz Mugha
l, director of Faith Matters, Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, director of the Association of British Muslims, Iram Ramzan, women’s rights activist, Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Gita Sahgal, executive director of Centre for Secular Space, Azhar Ali, prospective parliamentary candidate for Pendle, Saif Rehman, founder of Humanist Muslim and Cultural Muslim Association, Sheikh Musa Admani, imam of City University, Iram Ramzan, women’s rights activist, Hazel Blears MP, former secretary of state for communities and local government, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

MILITARY FORCE

I differ from Tom Holland (“Eternal empire of the sword”, News Review, last week) in his opinion that ultimate victory over Isis cannot be secured militarily. This may be so but I cannot see how it can be done by an appeal to reason. One is dealing with an entity brainwashed into a medieval mindset by an extreme ideology.

If Isis is allowed to propagate itself, the consequences could be dire, certainly for the Middle East. We are partially responsible for the Iraq debacle and one hopes that arming the Kurds will enable some containment.
Brian Hardy
Gravesend, Kent

BEYOND REASON

In return for a show of piety Islamic fundamentalism gives these people a licence to murder and plunder. For sociopathic types this is the point of their faith.

Reasoning, even with the Koran in hand, will not change a thing. They are lusting after power — and pointing it out is not going to turn them into peaceniks.

As such, Islamic extremism can only be crushed. My belief is that real Muslims — those inspired to charity and love by their religion — want us to crush it even more than we want to see it crushed.
San Toi
London
N10

PIQUE OIL

In your article “Sniper hid in bin to take deadly aim” (Focus, last week) you state: “Some officials estimate that Isis raises £2.7m a day selling oil from the dozens of fields under its control in Syria and Iraq.”

How is it selling this oil? Via what pipelines and what ships? Someone must know about this. Why is it being allowed to happen and who is making the profits, apart
from Isis?
Dr Ian Clements
Hove, East Sussex

FRIEND OR FOE

Now America is bombing Isis, which is President Bashar al-Assad’s enemy, are we on Assad’s side along with Russia?
Kay Bagon
Radlett, Hertfordshire

It’s wrong to woo students with hand-outs

YOUR article “‘Bring a friend, earn £200’ — universities battle for students” (News, last week) highlights the lengths some institutions are going to in order to balance their books as they are forced to become commercial operations. Yet this recruitment jamboree is masking many problems. How many of these new applicants will pay back their student loans, for instance?

Perhaps more worrying is the growth of mental health problems that universities are expected, but are often struggling, to manage. Some of the young people enticed by the prospect of a few years of partying funded by their loans are already known to have significant psychological problems; indeed they are encouraged to disclose them in order to gain more financial support.

Others may arrive relatively healthy but fragile, enrolled on courses that they have little interest in and that will place academic demands on them different from anything they have experienced. This, combined with cheap alcohol provision and easy access to all manner of other substances, is for some a lethal combination.

Who is picking up the pieces? University counselling services do a fantastic job but cannot possibly cope with the increasing numbers of mentally troubled young people. The financial cost of student loans never repaid is likely to be the least of our problems. We owe it to our school-leavers not to entice them into an academic world for which many may not be prepared on the promise of cash or an iPad.
Kate Dunn, retired university counsellor

Points

ADDED ATTRACTION

Congratulations to Carol Vorderman, one of my favourite women, for championing female mathematicians (“The disproving of sexism’s last theorem”, News Review, last week). At school I was head boy and excelled at science and maths, and was only beaten once at the latter — and that by a mere girl.
John McCall
By email

WOMEN OUTNUMBERED

The brains of men and women are differently constructed. One or two remarkable women are not proof that women can think like men. In most cases quite minor talents are exaggerated in order to support a fallacy. Vorderman studied engineering but did not practise it. She made her career in something that was more congenial for her, doing elementary arithmetic quickly. In spite of her assertion to the contrary, it remains a fact that men are better at maths then women.
T Aldridge
Taunton, Somerset

MARINE CONSTERNATION

Congratulations to Charles Clover for his robust article “Marine fish farming will kill jobs and glorious Hemingway moments” (Comment, last week). We have for years campaigned against open-net fish farms along the Scottish coast and there is a wealth of peer-reviewed scientific evidence on the negative impacts of the practice on wild salmon and sea trout populations. It beggars belief that government-funded bodies should therefore be supporting a move into open- net aquaculture in southwest England tidal waters without first being assured that the impacts of sea lice infestation on wild fish, escaped stock and the polluting effects of this method of production on local marine ecosystems have been addressed.
Richard Garner Williams
Salmon and Trout Association
Cardiff

OUT FOR THE COUNTY

Harry Mount’s article regarding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s move to Anmer Hall (“Royal flush”, Home, last week) does not seem to have been well informed about Norfolk. Despite repeating the famous Noël Coward line, much of the county is not flat. If you want a county that’s flat, Cambridgeshire is a much better bet.

Second, the comment about Norfolk having little tactical advantage and thus no Norman castles apart from the one in Norwich is wrong. What about the castle keep at Castle Rising on the outskirts of King’s Lynn built after 1138 by an Anglo-Norman nobleman? Or the ruins and impressive earthworks at Castle Acre, built by William de Warenne, who came over with William the Conqueror.
Peter Webber
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

SOMETHING AMIS

Just when I thought The Sunday Times was over its fixation with Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and the overly self-regarding Martin Amis, we were hit with “I’ve done all the agonising” (Culture, last week). The coverage of Amis over the decades far outweighs his talent, and if he garners the same amount as the other two when he is gone, heaven help us.
Andrew Burdon
Stone, Staffordshire

Corrections and clarifications

In the article “It’s all bowing, scraping and undies plots — the glitzy life of a jihadist Wag” (News, last week) we referred to Lord Sugar in an article about Amal El-Wahabi, who was convicted for asking a friend to smuggle money to Syria at the demand of her husband, a fighter there. By stating that “even Lord Sugar doesn’t treat women as badly as this”, we did not intend to suggest that he does treat women badly or in a comparable way. We apologise to him for any distress caused.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Birthdays

Kenny Baker, actor (R2-D2), 80; AS Byatt, novelist, 78; Paulo Coelho, novelist, 67; Simon Dennis, rower, 38; Stephen Fry, writer, 57; Rupert Grint, actor, 26; Steve Guttenberg, actor, 56; Jean Michel Jarre, musician, 66; Linton Kwesi Johnson, poet, 62; Alexander McCall Smith, novelist, 66; Sam Torrance, golfer, 61

Anniversaries

AD79 Vesuvius erupts, wiping out Pompeii; 1814 British troops torch the White House; 1875 Captain Matthew Webb begins first cross-Channel swim; 1990 Islamic Jihad releases writer Brian Keenan after holding him hostage in Lebanon for more than four years; 1991 Ukraine declares independence

Telegraph:

Riveting yet elegaic: ‘The Honourable Woman’, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein  Photo: Des Willie

6:58AM BST 23 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Having endured the very slow-moving The Honourable Woman for weeks, I feel a massive relief it’s all over, and gone are the long pauses and poses of the main actors. But I still can’t decide if I enjoyed it or not.

Allan J Eyre
Middlesbrough

SIR – Dan Hodges says that the BBC licence fee does not represent value for money. My wife and I have had a wonderful year watching Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games and amazing dramas such as The Honourable Woman. We would gladly pay treble the fee for these delights.

James Ingram
Sandhurst, Berkshire

SIR – In these days of catch-up, those of us watching earlier episodes of The Honourable Woman didn’t really want to know from television reviewers the storyline of the penultimate episode, with the spoiler about the British agent.

The Government should not allow Bercow’s choice for the new Clerk to the Commons to prevail

Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Carol Mills

Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Carol Mills Photo: REX

6:59AM BST 23 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – William Hague thinks that it would be “quite extraordinary” for the Government to block the Speaker’s recommendation for the post of Clerk to the Commons.

Surely it is even more extraordinary for John Bercow, the present Speaker, to recommend an unqualified candidate? The last Labour government had no hesitation in overriding constitutional traditions when it suited them. One would have hoped that this Government might have bent the traditional modus operandi of leaving this to the Speaker, in order to protect the well-established workings of the House of Commons.

Quentin Skinner
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – Thank goodness for Baroness Boothroyd, the former Speaker, and her efforts to insist that the next Clerk to the Commons should have appropriate constitutional expertise.

In a country without a written constitution such expertise is vitally important. To give a hopefully hypothetical example, imagine trying to cope with the fallout from a Yes vote in Scotland without the kind of able advice provided by Sir Robert Rogers and his predecessors.

Wendy Matthews
Bristol

SIR – Can we not find a British candidate instead of head-hunting in Australia? Or would that be considered xenophobic?

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Japan on our side

SIR – Japan declared war on Germany on August 23 1914. A Japanese flotilla based at Malta gave the Royal Navy much assistance with anti-U boat patrols, escorting British troopships in the Mediterranean and rescuing many British soldiers whose ships had been attacked.

Their contribution should be recognised at this time of remembrance.

Major David Finnie (rtd)
Kennett, Cambridgeshire

Opera buffoon

SIR – I remember that at a dress rehearsal at Glyndebourne an alarm clock went off in the stalls and the curtain had to be brought down (Letters, August 21). I am still wondering why anyone would take an alarm clock into an opera.

Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex

Border control fiasco

SIR – Alasdair Palmer writes that an “e-border” control system will not work when a border official mis-types someone’s name.

There is no typing involved. A passport is identified by a bar code. A machine similar to the one at the supermarket checkout records the identity of the passport coming in or going out. The official should also check that the passport was issued to the person carrying it. If it is a British passport the bar code reader can summon to the official’s computer screen the photograph taken when the passport was issued. This should correspond both to the photograph printed on the passport and to the person’s facial features.

How a person chooses to spell his or her name is immaterial. The machinery only has to work a few hundred thousand times a day: a trivial number compared with the transactions of a supermarket or a bank.

Philip Roe
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – Alasdair Palmer refers to the millions of pounds lost by the Government through the cancellation of computer programs that do not work as intended.

From my own experience, I have found that the reason this occurs is that those in charge of such projects insist on having a new program written especially for the particular job.

There is nothing particularly complicated about recording when visitors enter Britain, how long they stay and when they leave. However the writing of a new computer program means using millions of lines of instructions, and it takes a long time to “debug” them.

That is why they fail. In any case, most of the requirements that the client thinks he or she will need are, in fact, unnecessary.

Tony Silverman
Edgware, Middlesex

Uncaring care homes

SIR – Perhaps Norman Lamb, the care minister, should visit my mother. He would see that her room in a new purpose-built care home is filled with her possessions and “homely”.

However, on closer inspection he’d notice that she needs a bath or shower, that her teeth are probably not clean, the bedclothes need changing, the room needs a good clean and her own clothes need a good wash. I know exactly where the focus needs to be in our care homes, and it is not on the furnishings.

Elizabeth Leeman
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Hung up on 111

SIR – You report that the Government wishes to encourage us to dial 111 for medical problems that do not require treatment in hospital.

Before doing so, it would be good to be told the percentage of callers who ring off before they get to the end of the incredibly onerous set of questions demanded by the current 111 call centre operators.

Chris Fairgrieve
Fordingbridge, Hampshire

Clean fight

SIR – I have just purchased a pack of “Ultimate Cleaning Cloths” from my local DIY store. On the pack it states “Warning:do not use as any sort of weapon.”

While I realise it would be breaking this sound health and safety advice, perhaps the world’s superpowers could rid themselves of their nuclear arsenals and stockpile dishcloths instead. They were only 50p for a pack of three.

Martin Horsfall
Newick, East Sussex

Blame the EU for dog hairs on the carpet

SIR – I read with consternation that the EU has now ruled that we can only purchase ineffective vacuum cleaners. Two things come to mind: first, many EU countries are in warm climes and do not have carpets; and secondly I have two heavy-coated dogs, so a powerful vacuum cleaner is a necessity.

If I am forced to buy a weak vacuum cleaner I will spend much more time using it, with a negative impact on carbon emission reduction.

Celia Smith
Lymm, Cheshire

SIR – As a retired chartered engineer, I am perplexed by the EU Commission’s edict that vacuum cleaners will have their maximum power output cut drastically.

Let’s say cleaning a bedroom carpet requires the energy expenditure of 100 kWh. With my present machine of 2kw that’ll take me three minutes. A machine of half the power will take twice as long but with the same energy expenditure.

With vacuum-cleaner technology already at its innovation horizon what do the EU Commissioners have in mind? The abolition of dust?

Seamus Hamill-Keays
Llansantffraed, Breconshire

SIR – The thinking behind the ban on vacuum cleaners in excess of 1600W is as flawed as that which required the reduction in volume of modern lavatory cisterns to save water. Without going into detail, most people appreciate that it is now often necessary to flush a lavatory twice, thereby using more water not less.

Tim Lemon
Irby, Wirral

A video of American jounalist James Foley’s execution at the hands of Islamic State militants was released on Tuesday Photo: Steven Senne/AP

7:00AM BST 23 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – If the Islamist jihadist who carried out the brutal act of beheading James Foley is British, then his family and friends in Britain must already know his identity.

If they truly want to be part of a peaceful British society then they must declare his identity to the authorities, as should the family and friends of others fighting for Isil.

Brian Higgins
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – I am not convinced that the answer to the problem of young Muslim men being converting to the Islamist cause lies with outsiders. These men have been nurtured within a Muslim society in their homes and mosques.

If Muslim communities abhor the atrocities committed in the name of their religion, why do they not preach hellfire and damnation loudly all over the world so that the jihadist young men have no doubt they are rejected by their own people?

23 Aug 2014

Joyce Chadwick
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

SIR – Over-optimism is always foolish but so is excessive pessimism. The Islamic State has had sweeping recent success. But it is flawed for the long term in three areas.

All successful movements of this kind have had a protector state: the Vietcong, North Vietnam; the Taliban, Pakistan; al-Qaeda, Afghanistan. The Islamic State is surrounded by enemies: Turkey, Kurdistan, Shia Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. It has no nation-state friends.

It has attracted the weird, sadistic, insane, greedy – all fair-weather friends. How many will stick around when defeat and death become almost guaranteed?

It has stolen Iraqi currency and weapons, but these will run out. It cannot manufacture to replace losses.

It has not yet really met the terrible destructive force and accuracy of Western air power. This can and must be rectified without delay.

Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

SIR – While the West is reluctant to put boots on the ground, will Iran stand and watch if the holiest Shia shrines of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq are attacked by Islamic State fighters? What is our view about Iranian forces occupying Iraq?

Bob Whittington
Frant, East Sussex

SIR – Britain 100 years ago faced an avalanche of asylum seekers. More than 200,000 Belgians fled the German army. Many would not have spoken English; many were Catholics. Local councils were encouraged to form committees to find accommodation. In Bristol, a train-load of refugees was welcomed by a crowd.

The people of Syria are an ancient and civilised society, and themselves provided asylum for Christian Armenians in the last century. We should be deeply ashamed if we cannot do as much again for those who flee from tyranny in our time.

John Littler
Bristol

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – I was privileged to be among the congregation at a Mass held in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on the first Sunday in August marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

It was heartening to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin refer to those Irish men (his uncle was one) as “having fought with great courage in the defence of an ideal”.

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, who also attended, correctly said afterwards that it was “most regrettable” that the Irish war dead were “airbrushed from history”.

Sadly there is another cohort of Irish men who “fought with great courage” for the same ideal – the promise of Home Rule and devolved government – and who are still “airbrushed from history”.

They served the community faithfully in the decades leading up to independence, as the record will justly testify, until they found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of history. The record shows that over 500 members of the RIC and 14 members of the DMP died violently between 1916 and 1922.

The writer Sean O Faolain, whose father Denis Whelan served with the RIC in Cork City, said of this bloody period: “Men like my father were dragged out in those years and shot – so be it. Shot to inspire terror – so be it. But they were not traitors – they had their loyalties and they stuck to them.”

However despite our lobbying efforts over several years, there seems to be no apparent appetite among our politicians to have a memorial erected to these men or even to have an official commemoration for them, a matter of major disappointment to their legions of descendants (85,000 men served in the RIC and the predecessor force).

Nonetheless our small ad hoc group of retired gardai has taken up the cudgels where official Ireland has failed. We will be holding our second annual interdenominational commemoration service at the church of St Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus, Dublin 6 next Saturday, August 30, at 2.30pm. All are welcome, especially anyone who had relatives in either force.

Gerard Lovett,

Hon Sec RIC/DMP 
Commemoration Committee,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16

Women change, men don’t

Madam – How long is Rosanna Davison married?

A couple of months at a guess – and now she is an expert on relationships. Good for her if she is able to get around the daily domestic grind without having to nag her husband to put out the rubbish when he is in his “man cave”. She picks up his towels and socks. Will she still be doing this when she is cleaning up after the kids? It’s hard to train an old dog new tricks.

In today’s modern world I thought it was all about compromise and sharing the domestic duties.

While it’s lovely to spoil our menfolk, I would tread carefully A woman marries a man expecting he will change – but he doesn’t. A man marries a woman expecting she won’t change – and she does.

Mary McKenna

Maddoxtown,

Co Kilkenny

What will Rosanna say in 40 years?

Madam – We are 40 years married this month, so I was amused to read Rosanna Davison’s recipe for a happy marriage after only a few months!

Perhaps you could ask her again in 40 years.

Patricia Keeley,

Dublin 6W

Few agree on the size of the pay gap

Madam – Your report last weekend (Sunday Independent 17 August 2014) wrongly claimed that there is a huge gap between public and private sector pay, and failed to explain the moderate gap that really exists.

The report didn’t mention that the CSO figures it quoted do not include the so-called public service ‘pension levy,’ which reduces public service incomes by an average 7.5pc.

Neither did it mention the CSO’s disclaimer that its comparisons of public and private ‘average’ pay are not comparisons of rewards for the same or similar jobs. That’s because they don’t take account of responsibilities, qualifications, experience or educational attainment, all of which are higher on average in the public than the private sector.

Economists and other researchers disagree on the size and significance of the public-private pay gap. The most balanced study of recent years was done by the CSO in 2012. It looked at ways of calculating the gap and concluded that, depending on how it’s measured, it could be as little as zero or as much as 12pc once the pension levy is factored in.

Recent pay increases in many parts of the private sector – which are both welcome and overdue – are no doubt narrowing the gap. But there is no divide between public and private sector workers.

Pay increases are badly needed in all sectors of the economy, both to improve dented living standards and to support the fragile recovery by getting people spending in the local economy again.

Bernard Harbor

Head of Communications

IMPACT trade union

Dublin 1.

No reliable data on public/private pay

Madam- The report you carried in last week’s Sunday Independent by Daniel McConnell, on the so-called salary gap between private and public sector workers, represents the worst kind of stoop down low journalism. Of course, by referring to CSO figures, you claim some form of divine legitimacy. Can I respond?

The CSO, along with the ERSI, are government funded and ultimately government controlled bodies. The ERSI in particular disgraced itself during the Celtic-bubble years by cheer-leading the illusory economic miracle. We have no independent, economic data gathering body.

On the direct matter you addressed last week: what does the CSO, and the Sunday Independent mean, by “private”?

Does this refer to the profits generated by multi-national companies and taken from this country by millionaire and billionaire owners and shareholders?

Does it refer to privately employed people that have a large range of perfectly legitimate means of avoiding taxation?

Do you consider that a publicly employed and highly trained doctor or nurse should be compared to a minimally trained person who works on a till in Aldi, or a person that serves coffee in one of the notoriously tax avoidant international coffee chains?

When one factors in the reality that private industry in Ireland is lightly taxed (to put it mildly), and that public sector workers, as well as suffering swingeing pay cuts, have no means of avoiding tax, the reality is we are very much worse off than the private sector as a whole.

As a public sector worker I would love to pay a notional 12pc of my income in tax, and would then gladly pay an accountant to assist me bring that 12pc down to 5pc, as so many private sector companies do here.

So, please Sunday Independent, play fair and stop promoting hatred of public workers, we aren’t the enemy you insist on making us out to be.

Declan Doyle

Lisdowney, Kilkenny

We should listen 
to McCarthy

Madam – In his article of August 17, Colm McCarthy warns us that “with debt still rising, pay hike talks are unnerving”. He is also giving us the sobering advice that “it will be at least a decade before the public purse can bear pay increases – not before.”

He may be a pain in the face but Colm McCarthy has the unhappy knack of being right.

Way back during the tiger years he was one of the few who warned of the dangers of the policies that were being followed then. In contrast to his warnings the message from media in general during the boom could be summed up by saying that everything is getting better and better and we should not pay too much attention to “whingers”.

Well, Colm McCarthy was one of the whingers back a decade ago or more – and how right he was. He is now telling us that we had what he calls a “Demolition Derby for budgetary prudence” before elections during the boom. We are paying for that now in austerity.

Despite the austerity, however, he tells us that “outstanding debt” as a percentage of national income is “a whopping 140pc”.

That may be unnerving and we may not like it but we cannot say we were not warned – for a second time.

A Leavy,

Sutton,

Dublin 13

Senator disagrees with Harris view

Madam – It is regrettable that former Senator Eoghan Harris, in his Sunday Independent column, chose to tackle the speaker and not the substance when I called on the Government to clarify, if the view of a former Taoiseach – that the 1916 Rising was “completely unnecessary” – was also the current Government position.

This statement by John Bruton has upset the relatives and descendants of those who struggled and many who died to achieve the ideals of the Proclamation – “equal rights and equal opportunities, civil and religious liberties” – certainly aims worth achieving and not at all “unnecessary”.

As to the unwarranted attack by your columnist on me, I will have to borrow a quote from your letter of the week last week – one of the over 250,000 descendants of the Easter Rising, and someone who was also insulted by your columnist. “To be insulted by you is to be garlanded with lilies’

Senator Mark Daly,

Leinster House,

Kildare St, Dublin 2

Let’s cut out the name-calling

Madam – I agree with your correspondent, Donal Lynch’s implication that the State broadcaster should not have to provide “the alternative perspective” every time gay marriage is discussed on the air in any programme.

Personally I feel that marriage is between a man and a woman and that gay marriage is a step too far. I certainly agree to civil partnerships to protect the rights of gay couples.

I object strongly to your correspondent’s description of myself and others with the same feelings as anti-marriage cranks. If in the future an anti- gay marriage discussion takes place and there are gay people who object if an “alternative perspective” is not provided, will your correspondent describe them as pro-marriage cranks?

James Purcell,

Balbriggan, Co Dublin

Brendan made me think of home

Madam – I loved Brendan O’Connor’s newsletter from West Cork. Here I am working hard in Pittsburgh, and could definitely be brought back to West Cork and Bishopstown and Innishannon and Baltimore.

One of these days we will take a trip home again.

Thanks for sharing it.

Dorothy Murray,

Pittsburgh, USA.

Thanks Brendan for the memories

Madam – Coming from Cork, a native of Cloughduv, my homeplace is not very far from Brendan O’Connor’s route from Bandon into Innishannon.

I have lived in Melbourne for the last six years and long for Cork and the trappings of summer. Brendan has described the trip to the mother’s place perfectly, and in the process made me very homesick. I want to thank him for this article and all the other great articles he writes.

The only thing missing from the article was the Bandon butter on the homemade bread with coleslaw to make it a true heart attack on the plate.

For a son of Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimh, he has a terribly good way with the English language!

Ronan Creedon,

Melbourne,

Australia

Niamh’s critics missed the point

Madam – I am writing in defence of Niamh Horan and the article she recently wrote about women’s rugby (Sunday Independent August 10).

What happened afterwards, mostly on Twitter was a storm in a teacup. People took offence with some of the imagery used in the article, for example, “these are not butch, masculine, beer-swilling, men-hating women.”

Anyone with cop-on can see 
this statement for what it is: a 
light-hearted poke at cliched beliefs that a minority of people hold about women who partake in this sport.

Sometimes the best way to expose the use of language in this way is to bring it into the open as Niamh has done and let people see how ridiculous it is. In this age of politically correct speech we can sometimes lose the run of ourselves and throw the baby out with the bath water.

I enjoyed the article and am delighted to read in her follow-up piece that she is not for turning despite the brouhaha created by people on social media who more than likely have little else to do with their time. To quote her from last Sunday, “no matter how big the wall of opposition becomes, never ever back down from being true to who you are.”

Keep up the good work Niamh and I look forward to future articles where at least you get down and dirty in your research unlike many of the armchair naysayers,

Tommy Roddy,

Galway

Niamh’s advice is appreciated

Madam – Niamh Horan, in response to the women’s rugby controversy, wrote last weekend (Sunday Independent, August17, 2014) the following: “During our encounter, the rugby players taught me about physical strength, so I can now return the favour in moral strength.

“No matter how big the wall of opposition becomes, never ever back down from being true to who you are. I would rather be hated for what I am, than liked for what I’m pretending to be”

Very wise words from this young lady. Bravo Niamh! Bravo!

Brian Mc Devitt,

Glenties, Co Donegal

Niamh’s column a welcome relief

Madam – Kudos to Niamh Horan (August 17) for her robust (and humorous) rebuke to the online antagonists who railed against her following an article published in the previous week’s paper – a light-hearted piece on a day spent training with the Railway Union women’s rugby team.

It escaped the attention of many that the article was about women who happened to play rugby and not about the game itself; the clue – it wasn’t in the sports section.

The Sunday Independent is the most diverse newspaper in the Irish market, with its broad range of news stories and opinion pieces. Niamh’s column brings a welcome relief from some of the more depressing news from across the globe. She has also shown pluck as a reporter such as when she confronted Priory Hall developer Tom McFeely after a chance encounter while on holiday.

I suspect that many of the self-righteous, self-appointed guardians of political correctness use their spare time scanning newspapers looking for offence.

As for me, next week after reading about some outrage or other, I will relax and read Niamh’s column.

John Bellew,

Dunleer, Co Louth

Attack on Niamh was ‘bizarre’

Madam – It is difficult not to be utterly bemused by the bizarre storm in a thimble that blew up in response to Niamh Horan’s light-hearted piece (Aug 10) about a day spent with a women’s rugby team.

As for those who have reacted so negatively to Ms Horan’s article, they have done themselves no favours and have made themselves look ridiculous in the eyes of people of common sense – maybe no bad thing.

Congratulations to the team on their outstanding achievement in defeating New Zealand, generally considered to be one of the world’s best.

Hugh Gibney,

Athboy,

Co Meath

Sunday Independent

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