1 September 2014 Scanning

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 scan some books.

I bump in to Mary and she has a fall shes a little worse today, duck leg for tea and her back pain is still there.


Maria Lassnig: ‘Blokes are advised to bring a helmet’

Maria Lassnig’s nude self-portraits — painted in her eighties — shocked gallery audiences

Maria Lassnig. Partners, 2013. New Collection Galleries With Maria Lassnig's Painting 'die Sanduhr'.

Maria Lassnig with her painting ‘die Sanduhr’ Photo: REX FEATURES

7:15AM BST 31 Aug 2014


MARIA LASSNIG, the Austrian painter, who has died aged 94, was embraced by the art world only when she began to paint shockingly confrontational nudes of herself as an old woman.

Throughout an artistic career that spanned nearly 70 years, Lassnig’s art went in and out of fashion in her native Austria. But – though she lived in Vienna, Paris, New York and Berlin – she remained an obscure figure on the international scene. Her work was first unleashed on British audiences as late as 2008, when she was 89, for a solo show at the Serpentine Gallery featuring a selection of recent self-portraits observed from life in her late eighties.

Critics were stunned and impressed by her audacity — above all by a work titled You, or Me? which depicts the artist in a cheery palette of soft pinks, blues and green, with legs open and breasts sagging; in each hand she brandishes a gun, one pointing at her head, the other at the viewer. One reviewer’s write-up warned: “Visiting blokes are advised to bring a helmet.”

But Lassnig was praised for her bleak humour and insight as much as for her ability to provoke. One painting, featuring a couple with heads sheathed in plastic wrapping, was said to have been inspired by a visit to a supermarket where it dawned on her that fruit packets were a neat metaphor for the emotional distance between people.

Lassnig’s work bridged the post-war era, in which introspective Freudian ideas gave birth to expressive painterly styles, and the provocative feminist voices that emerged from the Sixties and Seventies. She herself, however, always denied allegiance to any political or feminist cause. “I’m interested in painting the finer feelings,” she said simply.

She refused to court trends in the art world, and weathered decades of rejection from the Establishment. Ultimately, she would be rewarded for sticking to her guns. “I have been working long enough to establish my own tradition, from realism through Surrealism, art informel, automatism, and I don’t know how many other isms,” she observed.

On her death she is remembered as one of the most significant Austrian painters of the past century, carrying on a figurative tradition that can be traced back to the Viennese artist Egon Schiele, and even – given her distinctive taste for a muted palette of pinks and blues – to the Austrian baroque. A retrospective exhibition of her work was recently held at MoMA in New York.

Maria Lassnig was born on September 8 1919 in the Carinthian town of Kappel am Krappfeld. She spent the first five years of her life at her grandparents’ farmhouse, until her mother married her adoptive father, Jakob Lassnig, and they moved into an apartment above his bakery in Klagenfurt; she did not meet her biological father until she was an adult.

After education at the Ursuline Convent School, in 1939 she trained to become a primary schoolteacher but, while painting portraits of the children, her ambitions changed. In the autumn of 1941, as Austria entered the darkest hours of the Second World War, she determinedly packed a bag and rode her bicycle 300km to Vienna to take up a place at the Academy of Fine Arts, which aligned itself at the time with the realist school favoured by the Nazis.

Maria Lassnig was a technically gifted student and, bored with the representational styles encouraged by her teachers, she experimented with Expressionism and Cubism. Classified a “degenerate” by her teacher, Wilhelm Dachau, she was expelled from his class. Decades later, in 1980, she would return to the academy as a professor, the first female painting professor in the German-speaking world.

Early on in her career, Lassnig became interested in exploring the relationship between her internal world and external appearance, and in 1948 coined the term “body awareness” to describe her efforts. Even in the Fifties and Sixties, while she explored abstraction, she was still investigating the limits of the human body; her so-called “Line Pictures” from this period were painted while kneeling or lying on the canvas to restrict her arm movements.

She was offered a fellowship in Paris in 1951, and afterwards spent long periods in the French capital, where she befriended the poets Paul Celan and André Breton. In 1968 she moved to the United States, the “country of strong women”, as she called it. In typically contrarian fashion, living among minimalists and conceptualists in New York inspired her to return to figurative painting. She called self-portraiture “research”, as opposed to painting, and was prolific and unwavering in her investigations: there are hundreds of them. She, briefly, experimented with filmmaking too, notably Kantate (1992), in which she sings and illustrates her life story.

In 1980, Lassnig represented Austria in the 39th Venice Biennale and returned to Vienna to take up a teaching post (until 1997).

Lassnig never married or had children, a conscious decision. “The dear Lord did not gift me with beauty, but the ability to paint,” she said.

Although Maria Lassnig famously tore around at great speed on her motorcycle, she was frightened of dying. The need to confront her own mortality caught up with her; her paintings became clearer, bolder and more confrontational. In her late eighties, she energetically produced work after work of startlingly youthful intensity. “Art keeps me young,” she insisted.

In 2013 she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.

Maria Lassnig, born September 8 1919, died May 6 2014


Member of Parliament Carswell Douglas Carswell (R) and Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, laugh as they walk through the town centre of Clacton-on-Sea on 29 August. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

On the day the MP for Clacton defects to Ukip (Defection to Ukip puts pressure on Cameron, 29 August), the third Folkestone Triennial opens (A nugget and spade resort? The 2014 gold rush, 29 August). These might seem unconnected, but the problems of coastal towns, with their glamorous seaside image long gone and with only half the economic hinterland of any other town, are shared around the country, even in the otherwise prosperous east or south-east of England. Add in the surrounding low-wage agricultural areas in Lincolnshire, say, and you have all the ingredients Ukip needs.

What is different is that Folkestone had a one-man rescue campaign, with the foresight to realise that the arts could be used for wider regeneration. What Roger de Haan is doing in Folkestone, public bodies are now doing in Margate, but where are the philanthropists to take on Clacton or Great Yarmouth or Hartlepool? Encouraging philanthropy is one of the coalition’s few policies for the arts, but the vast majority of it remains in London.

Could the threat of Ukip actually encourage the other parties to invest in cultural regeneration?
Judith Martin
Winchester, Hampshire

• I have never voted Conservative, and would never consider voting Ukip, but I think Douglas Carswell deserves more credit than your rather begrudging editorial gives him (Schism-on sea, 29 August). There are exceptions, but generally voters support a party rather than an individual. As you point out, “most MPs who change party allegiance simply do so without consulting their constituents”. This is both dishonourable and, more importantly, fundamentally undemocratic.

In the absence of any right of recall, where local electorates can trigger a byelection, I hope you are right that Carswell’s decision “could break the mould”. As for the risk that his actions could end with the arrival of Ed Miliband in Downing Street, Cameron has only himself to blame. By defeating the proposed changes to our voting system that AV would have given, the option of voting 1 Ukip and 2 Conservative does not exist. How the Tories must regret that now.
Declan O’Neill

• Douglas Carswell’s attempt to secure another term in office as Clacton’s MP by defecting to Ukip will be seen by many as an opportunistic move because he sees his seat slipping away from him.

For a man who claims to be against the top-down approach of the political elite in Westminster and to fight for local democracy, his actions do not appear to match his words. We need no lectures about transparency from someone who, in conjunction with Nigel Farage, selects himself as the Ukip candidate.

Roger Lord, until now the Ukip candidate selected by local Ukip members, is reported as stating: “It’s pretty arrogant of Douglas Carswell to assume that the voters and the electorate are like sheep and they will just go along with this.”

If Mr Carswell does believe in democracy, why doesn’t he take part in a selection process and let the members of the party he is now representing make the decision of who their candidate is?

When the people of Clacton find out what Ukip’s policies are on privatising the NHS and tax breaks for the well-off, I believe they will vote for Labour.
Keith Henderson
Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

• We are told that Clacton is a viable Ukip target because its electorate contains a large number of poor white pensioners (A defection that leaves Cameron’s strategy in tatters, 29 August). This active member of the Labour party is all three and regards that observation as outrageous stereotyping.
Colin Yarnley
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

• So Nigel Farage is on the front page yet again. It would be interesting to see who heads the list of most front-page photos at the end of the year. Favourites must be Nigel, Boris and Andy Murray.
Mick Jope
Maidstone, Kent

• Is it just a strange coincidence that on the day the prime minister sees his party starting to disintegrate and desert him, he offers us the diversion of an increased threat level (New powers to tackle Isis threat, 30 August)? How is extremism actually going to be defined? Is it anyone who criticises him and his minions, or his policies, or the security services?
Kay and Barrie Thornton
Ellesmere, Shropshire

Richard Dawkins. ‘He asks what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. The answer is again simple. Both are wrong,’ writes Mary Midgley. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The question “what is wrong with positive eugenics?” (Nobody is better at being human, Professor Dawkins, least of all you, 30 August) has a simple answer. The only good reason for having sexual intercourse at all is that you love your partner. Doing it to produce a (scientifically expectable) athletic or musical child is – as Kant put it – using the partner as a means to your own ends. In fact, it is exploiting them. And if both parties agree on the project things actually get worse, because both are then agreeing to exploit the prospective child for ends that are certainly not its own. Experience has shown how badly this can work out for the planned child. And making the planning more scientific – that is, more impersonal – would surely be likely to make things worse for it, not better.

Professor Dawkins asks what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. The answer is again simple. Both are wrong, but the former is calculated to mess up the life of an entire family much more widely.
Mary Midgley
Newcastle upon Tyne

• A huge thank-you to Giles Fraser for his thoughts on Professor Dawkins and eugenics – a beautifully written condemnation of the destructive assumption, rarely explicitly advocated but often used as a basis for decision and opinion, that eugenics is good and solves problems. Human flourishing can only come from seeing human life as sacred and the supreme and absolute good.
Canon Paul Townsend
Winchester, Hampshire

• Giles Fraser writes “nobody is better at being human, neither are there better sorts of human beings”. Does he seriously equate, on any level at all, Pol Pot with Gandhi, Torquemáda with Mother Teresa?

The only thing in his article more nonsensical is his claim that religion defends human life. No one can seriously doubt that religion, of one sort or another, has been responsible for horrifically cruel human slaughter on an unimaginable scale throughout history, right up to the present day and with every prospect that it will continue in the same vein. It is difficult to imagine anything else, short of an extinction event, being responsible for greater or more pointless human destruction.
Ian Evans

UK, passport, British, ID ‘The government’s claim that it needs new powers to deny British passports is false,’ writes Simon Cox. Photograph: Alamy

The government’s claim that it needs new powers to deny British passports is false. In April 2013 it said “passport facilities may be refused to or withdrawn from British nationals who may seek to harm the UK or its allies by travelling on a British passport to, for example, engage in terrorism-related activity or other serious or organised criminal activity”. Nothing has changed since then. No new powers are needed. The prime minister’s statements – and the legal proposals – are just to be “seen to be doing something”. This kind of politics – law reform as propaganda and distraction – undermines democratic debate.

The Guardian has not yet looked beneath these claims. Your Analysis article (How do you rein in extremists when your hands are tied?, 30 August) confuses British citizenship with possession of a British passport. These are not the same thing: the views attributed to government lawyers relate to deprivation of the former, not denial of the latter. Your front page (New powers to tackle Isis threat, 30 August) is likewise lacking in independent analysis. The political announcements are noise. By your unconsidered amplification, you help lay the ground for the security services to demand emergency laws to yet further constrain our liberties. (Those same security services who so completely failed to prepare for Isis, and yet who keep their jobs.) The Guardian has led the way in explaining Snowden. Please may we have the same attention to detail here?
Simon Cox
Migration lawyer, Open Society Justice Initiative

• Instead of new powers to tackle Isis, wouldn’t Cameron do better to focus on the fact that “Muslims in the UK suffer more than double the UK’s average poverty level” (Letters, 30 August)?
Roy Boffy
Walsall, West Midlands


Although sexual abuse of children has been widely reported recently, in children’s homes, by men in positions of power, in the entertainment industry, and within families, I have not seen a suggestion that these cultures needed investigation, as the British Pakistani community was targeted after similar criminal activity.

When British Muslims travelled to Syria and Iraq to take part in war-making and obnoxious activities, their community was again under scrutiny, which did not happen when white British soldiers were involved in torture, or when white British persons led us into illegal war.

In the UK, for decades at least, there has been a tolerance of child abuse in many situations. We also live in a culture in which war is glorified, assassination normalised, soldiers trained to kill idolised, and dehumanising and killing of “the other” in games played by children rewarded.

I don’t see it as surprising that some individuals from many backgrounds, all products of our British society, have turned to crimes such as illegal war-making, murder, and child abuse. Isn’t it time we looked at “traditional British values” to see how these contribute to attitudes of those who grow up with a distorted vision of what is normal, attracting a minority of British people to behave in an inhumane and criminal manner.

Dr Judith Brown
Farrington Gurney, Somerset

Following Rotherham and other cases of a similar nature, we need a complete retraining of all police officers and social workers.

 They cannot be allowed to continue without being given detailed training in child development, conflict resolution, survivor empathy, trauma and recovery, and the social effects of inter-generational trauma patterns.

This is now a matter of extreme urgency.

Corneilius Crowley
South Harrow, Middlesex

It is 18 years since I retired from the public service, but I can still recall vividly the obsession with “political correctness” that engulfed the Probation Service at that time; therefore I am not at all surprised by what happened in Rotherham.

Given that the perpetrators were not European they would have been untouchable because anyone making a complaint would have been considered a racist. Let us hope that from now on reason might prevail and “political correctness” is consigned to the rubbish bin.

D Sawtell
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire


Cameron rallies the Yes vote

Alex Salmond has described David Cameron as “the No campaign incarnate”.

It seems to me the Prime Minister is doing a great job persuading people to vote Yes by stating that the Conservatives (so loved and respected north of the border) are deigning to consider giving Scotland more powers in the event of a No vote. Of course if, when and how that happens will be completely up to Westminster to decide.

This makes it clear what a nonsense it is for Scots to have their country run by a government they have not elected. Why would they even consider voting No to independence? If only I could vote in a referendum which could guarantee never again having to live under Tory rule.

Dominic Horne
Ledbury, Herefordshire

Peter Milner (letter, 29 August) foresees trouble if the Scottish referendum produces a narrow result. However, a very narrow majority will suit the Government.

The Government wants Scotland to stay in the UK. Suppose the “No” vote is 51 per cent. The Government will breathe a sigh of relief and say, “End of story”.

But suppose the “Yes” vote for independence is 51 per cent. Referendums are not legally binding on governments; they are there to test the water. The Government will say that there is no way it would be proper to grant independence on such a slender majority, as it would offend too many people and destabilise a newly independent country.

So on a narrow majority either way it will be heads the Government wins and tails Alex Salmond loses.

I would prefer Scotland to remain in the UK, but for some inexplicable reason I have no say in the matter although I am a UK citizen.

David Ashton
Shipbourne, Kent

If the Scots go independent they will no longer have any say in English politics, English finance, English membership or not of the EU, no longer be able to use the pound sterling, no longer be members of the EU (lucky things), but Scottish football managers will remain, doing their dour, cautious best managing English clubs and making many English fans miserable for another season.

Simon Icke
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

Language dilemma

With regard to the inexorable rise of Spanish at GCSE, which is made all the more conspicuous by the decline in the number taking GCSE French and German, you quote the chief executive of the AQA exam board, Andrew Hall, as saying that the pupils opting for Spanish are “savvy students” who are thinking “This language will really help me”, because it is “one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world”.

You also quote the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, as pointing out that Spanish is a language that English pupils “find fairly easy to learn”, because it is “very similar to our own language in some ways” (“Spanish to replace French as most popular language”, 22 August).

I would argue that students opting to avoid German are not particularly savvy at all. The number of speakers of German in Europe puts the language well ahead of English and French, not to mention Spanish. Germany is the UK’s leading trading partner, and it is a major investor in UK industry (Bentley, Rolls-Royce cars, the Mini, Siemens). Many UK pupils will accompany their parents to supermarkets bearing the name Aldi or Lidl.

All of those companies are major UK employers, of course, and some include training placements in Germany as part of their recruitment strategy, in which connection a knowledge of German is a major asset.

As for Spanish being popular because it is “very similar” to English, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that English is, alongside German, the most widely spoken Germanic language. Not surprisingly, it contains a huge number of similarities with German.

If the level of advice being given to secondary schools pupils about which modern foreign language to study is as superficial as the comments made by Andrew Hall and Brian Lightman, it is not at all surprising that German languishes scandalously in third place as a GCSE level foreign language subject.

David Head
Navenby, Lincolnshire

Cot deaths and bed-sharing

Rebecca Hardy’s article of 18 August recommends bed-sharing by parents and young children. In 1991 Peter Fleming led the way in promoting “Back to Sleep” in this country, which resulted in a 70 per cent reduction in the numbers of cot deaths.

Cot death rates have again levelled out and more that 50 per cent of the deaths are now occurring when bed-sharing. Analysis suggests that most of these deaths would not have occurred had the babies not been bed-sharing.

Although the risks may be small in ideal circumstances, Nice has followed the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Dutch in recommending that parents should be made aware of the association of bed-sharing and the occurrence of sudden unexplained infant death. My hope is that the message is taken seriously, and that we see a substantial further reduction in these tragic deaths in the next few years.

Professor Robert G Carpenter
Department of Medical Statistics
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine


Art is one thing, real life another

I read with the usual interest Howard Jacobson’s article (30 August) in which he explores the cathartic release that vicarious grief brings.

Once I would have agreed with him. Yes I cried at Othello’s plight, at Romeo’s distress, at the sadness of Tristan and Isolde. Then my beloved wife died and I realised that the emotions experienced through art can in no meaningful way prepare you for the sadnesses of life.

Stuart Russell


Terrorists or victims?

I am concerned about the presumption that all the young men coming back from Syria are terrorists. It is likely that some are suffering post-traumatic stress and need help.

Some will have come back disillusioned, having gone out to fight for a cause and found barbarity and cruelty instead. I hope they are being treated individually and humanely rather than demonised.

Mary Barnes
London NW5


Sir, We, the charity coalition National Voices, are launching a list of recommendations for how to achieve genuinely person-centred health and social care.

Past reforms have created fragmented, under-resourced systems which give patients, their families and their communities too little say. This is especially true of the most vulnerable people. However, there is growing evidence that care is better when people have a say in the decisions about their health, are helped to look after themselves, and can plan their care in partnership with professionals and effective services. It is increasingly accepted that overly medical, managerial care does not satisfy each individual’s need for independence, control, purpose and social contact — all vital ingredients of good health.

Real reform must start from the things that matter to people. For this, we need the next government to provide consistent leadership, more funding and stability. We must not have any more radical structural reorganisations. Instead, the government should focus on co-ordinating everyone’s efforts, so that statutory bodies, voluntary groups and local communities can work together.

Paul Farmer, Mind; Lord Adebowale, Turning Point; Chris Maker, Lupus UK; Chris Whitwell, Friends, Families and Travellers; Sally Light, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Robert Johnstone, Access Matters, Patricia Schooling, Action Against Allergy, Katherine G Whiteÿ, Addison’s Group, “Paul Springer FRSM, FRSPH”, Age Related Diseases and Health Trust, Jeremy Hughes, Alzheimer’s Society, Phil Gray, ARMAÿ(Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance), Kay Boycott, Asthma UK, Sue Millman, Ataxia UK, Steve James, Avenues Trust Group, Mark Flannagan, Beating Bowel Cancer, Chris Phillips, Behcets Syndrome Society, Robert Dixon, Bladder and Bowel Foundation, Melissa Green, Bliss, Rose Thompson, BME Cancer Communities, Deborah Alsina, Bowel Cancer UK, Joy Warmington, BRAP, Marion Janner, Bright, Liz White, British Association of Skin Camouflage, Andrew Langford, British Liver Trust, Laura Guest, British Society for Rheumatology, Dr Frank Chinegwundoh MBE, Cancer Black Care, Dr Ian Stuart, Cavernoma Alliance UK, Henrietta Spalding, Changing Faces, Sue Browning, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Alison Taylor, Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, Danielle Hamm, Compassion in Dying, Philip Lee, Epilepsy Action, Angela Geer, Epilepsy Society , Nick Westbrook, Evirias (S.E.) Limited, Bernard Reed OBE, Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), Alastair Kent OBE, Genetic Alliance UK, Malcolm Alexander, HAPIA Healthwatch and Public Involvement Association, Liz Glenister, Hypopara UK, Jenny Hirst MBE, InDependent Diabetes Trust, Nick Turkentine, James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer , Karen Friett, Lymphoedema Support Network, Mike Hobday, Macmillan Cancer Support, Kathy Roberts, Mental Health Providers Forum, Nick Rijke, MS Society, Margaret Bowler SRN SCM, Myotonic Dystrophy Support Group, Susie Parsons, NAT (National AIDS Trust), “Debbie Cook MPA, ACIS “, National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS), Claire Henry, National Council for Palliative Care & Dying Matters, NeilÿCleeveley, NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), Ailsa Bosworth, NRAS (National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society), Heather Wallace , Pain Concern, Christine Hughes, Pain UK, Steve Ford, Parkinson’s UK, Sue Farrington, Patient Information Forum, Dr James Munro, Patient Opinion, Tess Harris, PKD Charity, Jim Phillips, Qismet, Mark Winstanley, Rethink, “Dr David Branford PhD, FRPHarmsS, FCMHP”, Royal Pharmaceutical Society , Amy Baker, Sclerodoma Society, Sarah Collis, Self Help Connect UK, John Murray, Specialised Healthcare Alliance, Anna McEwen, Shared Lives Plus, Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Terrence Higgins Trust, Liz Carroll, The Haemophilia Society, Heidi Wilson, The I Have IIH Foundation, Mike Oliver, The Keratoconus Group, Wendy Thomas, The Migraine Trust, Dom Weinberg, The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS), Liz McElligott, The National Counselling Society, Elspeth Lax, The PXE Support Group – PiXiE, Andrew Fletcher, Together for Short Lives, Barbara Babcock, Transverse Myelitis Society, David Pink, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), Lucie Russell, YoungMinds, Jeremy Taylor, National Voices,

Sir, If the grammar schools had not been destroyed we would not now be having a debate about public schools producing our elite (“Old boys and girls still take top jobs”, Aug 28).

Chris Reaney
Marlborough, Wilts

Sir, My grandfather, an upholsterer, left school at 14. His son, my father, won a scholarship to a grammar school and went on to teach Classics after Durham University. My father and mother saved to send me to an independent day school whence I went to Oxford and became a judge.

Does the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission really think it just that my father and I should have been artificially impeded in our careers because of our education.

His Honour Gerald Clifton
Heswall, Wirral

Sir, One day there are not enough students from disadvantaged backgrounds at Oxbridge; the next day there are too many Oxbridge-educated people in high places. Is this a plot to keep the poor in their place, or the effect of the chop logic course in PPE?

Peter Williams
Malvern, Worcs

Sir, It should be no surprise that years of work to open the leading professions have done little to dislodge the privately educated. Anthony Sampson said a decade ago that independent schools are now open to the wealthy and clever too, a formidable combination.

Being clever from a disadvantaged background will not get you into an independent school and thence into Oxbridge and the professions. Some independent schools help with financial assistance and/or sponsoring academies. In Kent, several independent schools, helped by the Sutton Trust, have set up the Kent Academies Network, to provide mentoring and summer schools for academy pupils. The scheme also involves Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, which sees it as a way of promoting open access to the college and other universities. This initiative will inevitably be limited by the availability of finance and the schools’ resources.

What is the solution to this lack of social mobility? Sampson identified a major cause of the problem as the closure of the grammar schools in the 1970s, which led to independent schools reasserting themselves. So a big part of a countrywide solution would be to open more grammar schools. This would not adversely affect the independent schools, as it would give them more opportunities for pursuing schemes like the Kent network. What a pity that, despite Michael Gove’s splendid reforms, the government is currently opposed to creating more grammar schools — surely the greatest engine of social mobility we have ever seen.

Looking at your statistics on MPs’ educational backgrounds, could it be that they want to preserve the system of “jobs for the boys (and girls)”?

Ian Hitchen

Sir, I was interested to read how the privately educated still take the top jobs. While I agree that these jobs should be open for all-comers, top positions need well educated and informed applicants. It is not the fault of private schools that their alumni take precedence. The fault lies with the government which consistently fails to provide a top-class education for the majority of pupils. So many intelligent and capable pupils fall by the wayside.

Sharon Pache
Terling, Essex

Sir, As an impartial, politically neutral humanitarian organisation, Save the Children has not taken, and never will take, sides in the Gaza conflict, or any other conflict that we are responding to worldwide (“You don’t save children by arming terrorists”, Aug 28).

I thoroughly condemn Hamas for its indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel. We have consistently called for a permanent ceasefire from both sides, particularly for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas due to the harm caused to children in both Gaza and Israel. Our call to lift the blockade on Gaza is shared by the UN and many leaders including David Cameron and William Hague. Save the Children calls for the end of the blockade because it is causing severe hardships and harming children and their families.

Justin Forsyth

Save the Children

Sir, Matthew Syed (Aug 25) explains why we should never tarnish whole communities on the basis of the crimes of a few. I think Paul Kohler, the academic who was savagely beaten recently (allegedly by Poles) magnificently epitomised this sentiment. When a Polish woman, in faltering English, apologised on behalf of her nation, he held her hand and told her it wasn’t her fault, as who would be judged by the worst people in their society?

Lesley Russell
Kingston upon Thames

Sir, You report that having banned vacuum cleaners with motors above 1,600 watts, the EU energy commissioner is now considering similar limits for other electrical devices “to try to slow climate change” (“Hairdryers may be next on hit list in EU power game”, Aug 29)

Such bans are absurd for two reasons. First, lower wattage does not guarantee reduced electricity consumption. For example, boiling a kettle of water with half the wattage will take twice as long, and the total electricity consumed will be the same. And a less powerful cleaner might be used for longer as it takes longer to pick up a given quantity of dust

Second, electrical devices do not, of course, emit CO2. It is the power stations that generate the electricity that do, but only the gas and coal-fired ones. Renewable and nuclear produce negligible amounts. The variation among EU countries in the proportion of their electricity generated by renewables, not counting nuclear, ranges from over 70 per cent for Austria to about 12 per cent for the UK. This makes a nonsense of having a directive treating all countries the same

David Terry

Droitwich, Worcs

Sir, My admiration for Colonel Benest (letter, Aug 29) knows no bounds but I wonder whether he is old enough to remember hobnailed ammunition boots. The mighty crash of a well-drilled company coming to attention and the noise we made marching on a hard road chivvied by our NCO were a pleasure which I fashionably denied at the time, but was shared by most of my comrades. I wonder if it would be possible to use hobnailed boots for ceremonial occasions rather than the carpet slippers which have shuffled in to replace them.

Antony Stanley Clarke

Mosterton, Dorset


SIR – The Home Secretary is right to condemn social workers, council bosses and police chiefs who failed in their duty to protect the children of Rotherham.

To prevent such blatant neglect of duty ever happening again, those deemed culpable should not just be allowed to resign and effectively get away with it; they should be forcibly sacked and any pension accrued severely reduced.

Only with such draconian measures will those in authority throughout the country be incentivised not to sweep things under the carpet in future.

B J Colby

SIR – This year alone we have had the export of extremism, the Trojan horse affair in education in Birmingham, and now the horrors of Rotherham – all because of a reticence, or even fear, of treading on the sensibilities of ethnic minorities.

This has come about as a direct result of the determination in the last three decades to establish multiculturalism: the notion that all cultures are equal, that there is no such thing as a host-nation culture to which all foreign-comers should be prepared to adapt.

It is now surely obvious, even to the most hardened ideologue of the Left, that the process has been an abject failure.

Edward Thomas
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Out-of-control borders

SIR – I was not surprised to read the headline “UK border controls in chaos”.

I recently came across an encampment of tents and at least 15 young Asian men in a hidden area of Fryent Country Park in Middlesex. They were not pleased to be seen and only one man appeared to understand English.

Suspecting they were illegal immigrants, I contacted the police. I was told to contact Immigration Services, where there was no response on Sunday and, once I got through on Monday, no option to report finding immigrants.

Perhaps if the public was encouraged or even allowed to report illegal immigrants, they would be less keen to come here in the first place.

Dr R E Alexander
London NW9

SIR – We have been hearing about chaos in border control for years. Unlike most countries, Britain does not require passport checks upon departure, so we have no idea how many people who came in on valid tourist visas have overstayed. This is utterly ridiculous.

Ramji Abinashi
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

No avoiding Assad

SIR – The Foreign Secretary is reluctant to join forces with Bashar al-Assad to fight Isil, but in 1942, when Hitler invaded Russia, we made a pact with Stalin. Winston Churchill said he would make a pact with the Devil if Hitler invaded Hell.

Churchill was right then. Philip Hammond is wrong now.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

So long, seagulls

SIR – I feel it necessary to point out that gull control methods successfully pioneered by Dumfries and Galloway Council over the last six years have related not to egg pricking, but nest and egg removal.

This method has been closely monitored by an independent expert and representatives of the Scottish government and Scottish Natural Heritage. The removal of several thousand eggs and subsequent disturbance to breeding gulls is now beginning to produce the desired results.

There is a cost to this service and it is reliant on easy access to buildings and the cooperation of property owners, but we believe it is the only non-lethal way of controlling this increasing problem.

Martin G Taylor
Environmental Health Services, Dumfries and Galloway Council

SIR – R J Ardern calls for stricter controls of gulls, but it is humans who are mostly at fault. The 1956 Clean Air Act prevented rubbish-tip operators burning waste, so gulls took advantage of the huge amount of organic material sent to landfill instead.

We can deter seagulls by reducing the amount we throw away, preventing street littering, and making public waste bins and collection arrangements “gull-proof”. Those best placed to do this are landfill companies, local authorities and statutory bodies with a wildlife management remit, but the behaviour of individuals is also important.

All bar one of the British gull species are of amber-listed conservation concern. The herring gull – to many, the sound of our seaside – is a red-listed species and its population is still plummeting. Can we imagine a British coastline devoid of its evocative calls?

Ed Hutchings
Stoke-by-Nayland, Essex

Burn it, don’t waste it

SIR – Burning waste in special incinerators prevents noxious fumes from entering the atmosphere and generates electricity, lessening the amount of fossil fuels that need to be extracted from the ground. The ash left behind is also a valuable commodity, containing elements that can be re-used in industry.

Land is too valuable to use for landfill sites. We should be building more waste incinerators as well as continuing to sell our valuable waste overseas.

Sue Doughty
Twyford, Berkshire

Scottish civil service mantras sound Soviet

SIR – The politicisation of the civil service in Scotland is a worrying trend.

Scottish government ministers’ wearisome and meaningless mantra that independence will make the country “a freer and more just society” is totally at odds with their policy of making government function as “a single institution”, and smacks of the authoritarian regimes which rule some of the former Soviet republics. It’s a grim prospect of what Scotland could be letting itself in for if there isn’t a resounding No vote in the forthcoming referendum.

Peter Myers
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire

SIR – I would like to ask Alex Salmond: 1) Would an independent Scotland divorce itself from any further UK involvement in conflicts in the Middle East, and 2) Could an independent Scotland succeed where the UK has so dismally failed in securing its borders and limiting immigration?

If his answer to these questions was “yes”, and I was a Scot, I would vote for independence, irrespective of economic considerations.

John Cottrell
Addlestone, Surrey

SIR – You state that “the final decision whether or not Scotland leaves the Union is, rightly, left in the hands of the Scottish people” Who are these Scottish people?

I was born and educated in Glasgow and have lived in England for many years. I have always considered myself to be a Scot who is a citizen of the United Kingdom. How is it possible that someone from Outer Mongolia who moved to Scotland in the last few years has a vote, but I don’t?

Derek Leithead
West Byfleet, Surrey

Basic clichés

SIR — The use of “So” to begin the answer to a question is undeniably irritating, but less so than its predecessor, the excruciatingly clichéd “Well, basically”.

T G Jones
Pinner, Middlesex

SIR – Why do people ask, when buying a drink in a pub, “Can I get a pint of…?” The bar staff are there to get your drink for you.

Andy Watson
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – I should have thought that for someone emigrating to France to say “See you later” was most appropriate (Letters, August 24).

What on earth does Jane Scott think “Au revoir” means?

Dave Day
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

SIR – As a secondary modern boy who worked his way up through the theatre ranks to become director of the Council of Regional Theatre and then moved into management at the BBC, I fully endorse what Ben Stephenson, head of BBC drama commissioning, had to say about the acting profession not reflecting the real world.

Back in the days when we had repertory theatres, the true training grounds for the country’s actors, in every major city and town, people from all sectors of society took to the boards. In those days we could all see the eventual effect that television would have on the acting profession: not only a diminishing theatre audience, but a siphoning-off of local talent, thus making the theatre more reliant on those who could afford to have expensive drama training.

It is a sad state of affairs when a majority of our actors come from the so-called “posh” schools as this skews what should be an egalitarian profession appealing to a broad cross-section of the population.

The simple answer is for both television and the cinema to fund scholarships so we do not miss out on the Dora Bryans and the Bob Hoskinses of the future.

Vin Harrop
Billericay, Essex

Irish Times:

A chara, – I was astonished to read Carter Dillard (August 28th) defending China’s one child policy by solemnly quoting a UN estimate of a world population of 256 billion by 2050 based on 1995 fertility rates. I remember the report; and I also remember being told as a child that if all the offspring and descendants of one breeding pair of flies were to survive and breed themselves, the Earth would be knee deep in flies at the end of a year. Both may have been put forward as theoretical possibilities, but no one thought them in any way likely to happen.

Under the doomsday scenario Mr Dillard mentions, the population of Africa would have been rocketing towards 169 billion. The present population of that continent is around 1.1 billion, up from 719 million in 1995. At that rate of growth we don’t have to worry about reaching the doomsday number anytime soon. And no country in Africa has employed China’s draconian measures to curb growth.

Ever since Thomas Malthus produced his An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, people have been scare-mongering about the dangers of population growth and how the world is going to run out of resources. Over 200 years of lived experience should serve to put those fears to rest. It’s time to accept the reality that the Earth’s population, while it is rising, is doing so at a rate we have shown we can cope with. – Is mise,


Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I was born within 25 metres of the Barrow Line in the early 1940s. I can remember the Grand Canal as a working entity, with barges travelling up and down the waterway. I learned to fish and swim along the line in my early teens. By the time I emigrated in the early 1960s, the canal was derelict, the line overgrown and unusable and the waters unfit for swimming.

I have just returned from visiting family in Finland. My daughter, her husband and three children, aged seven, five and two, had just completed a short camping and cycling break covering about 250km over four days, all of which the seven-year-old was able to cycle unaided, principally due to the efficient network of cycling tracks, also used by walkers, available to them. They could also avail of serviced campsites and food and drink outlets along the way.

The Barrow Line lends itself perfectly to the development of this sort of activity for both residents and tourists alike. There is the potential to tie into the Blackstairs Mountain range and, through Bunclody and Enniscorthy, a 1798 heritage trail, leading to Wicklow and by way of Celbridge and Maynooth, linking up with the Royal Canal pathway and ultimately the Western Way.

There is the potential for landowners along the way to provide serviced campsites and also the potential for the development of coarse and game fishing. As we are unlikely to ever become a sun-seeker’s destination, this is the sort of activity-based development Tourism Ireland should be pursuing. It is popular and eco friendly. How to do it? Could I suggest having a look at Finland? – Yours, etc,



Tuam, Co Galway.

Sir, – Brendan O’Donoghue (August 15th) is right to point out that tax relief on medical expenses is no use if you don’t earn enough to pay tax. However this is but one of the many inequities caused by our threshold-based social support system.

For example, if an aspiring student from a very disadvantaged background takes a summer job and earns, say, €1,000, they could easily find that their family income, which is used to calculate grant eligibility, then exceeds the threshold for the highest rate of grant. This could result in a loss of almost €3,000, giving a marginal tax rate of 300 per cent. This is unjust and unnecessary.

Unjust because no one should face such confiscatory levels of tax.

After all, we are repeatedly told that at a marginal rate of 60 per cent our highest earners would lose the “incentive to work”.

Unnecessary because the single step-like cut-off arrangement is a hangover from pre-computer days when eligibility had to be calculated manually.

It is a trivial IT problem to arrange for a graduated payment of benefits so that those marginally above the limit receive some (reduced) benefit. Of course, if this change is to be revenue-neutral, those just below the limit will see some reduction in benefit also. Similar changes across a range of benefits would together deliver increased equity and economic efficiency. – Yours, etc,


Castletroy Heights,


Sir, – My husband died this year, in mid-May. Within days, I began the administration, including advising AIB to close his account. Obviously, all standing orders to be cancelled. However, without funds in the (now dormant) account, AIB paid the following month’s rent on our apartment.

Three phone calls and a personal visit followed, where I produced all paperwork, including an original death certificate.

By mid-June, my husband’s death had been recorded and noted by at least four AIB employees. I had agreed, even though the mistake was theirs, to repay the amount of the rent, once I had my affairs in order. Next, a letter arrived, dated July 3rd. The Dickensian wording announced: “Notification issued pursuant to applicable law”.

It was addressed to and advised my dead husband in stern tones that his account was overdrawn and that steps would be taken.

An embarrassed woman at AIB assured me that the bereavement section would contact me to discuss this dreadful and distressing error. No follow-up call ever came.

The agency that manages rentals in my building has just informed me that AIB has, without any further reference to me, contacted the proprietor of my apartment, requesting the return of the rent it paid in error.

At one of the most stressful times in my life, I have made every effort in this debacle. AIB has demonstrated a stunning lack of efficiency at every turn. Now they have shown a complete lack of scruple, not to mention the absence of that old-fashioned thing, compassion. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to Ann Marie Hourihane’s “Most tourists want to hear the real Dub accent” (August 29th) on the Learning for Life programme, Diageo is the ideal company for it. After all, as Guinness, it has a track record in youth employment going back to 1901. Initially confined to the sons of Guinness employees, it was not long before it became an open competition. The Guinness exam, as it was called, continued until 1968, at which stage free secondary education rendered it surplus to requirements.

The Guinness exam became an institution in working-class Dublin. Over the years thousands of young men between the ages of 14 and 15 sat the exam, and some 4,000 to 5,000 were successful, and went on to work there in different parts of the company.

However, not content with providing essential job experience, the young men were expected to continue their education. The company paid the fees for whatever area of education chosen, and success in the particular exams was rewarded.

I sometimes feel that there is a case to be made for some version of the above: it is quite clear that a significant percentage of teenagers are not academically inclined and frequently drop out of school early. A scheme similar to the Guinness exam might be a way of giving these young people an incentive to work and study.

In conclusion, may I wish the 15 people on the “Learning for Life Programme” continued success. – Yours, etc,



Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – May I add to Patsy McGarry’s discussion of the cappuccino (“In a word”, August, 25th)?

The drink originated as the coffee beverage kapuziner in the Viennese coffee houses of the 1700s though it is now known in Vienna as a melange, but in northern Italy, which used to belong to Austria, it is called a café Viennois.

Cappuccino as we write it today (in Italian) was first mentioned in Italy in the 1930s following the introduction of espresso machines.

It’s enough to make you reach for an Irish coffee, but that’s another story.

The entertaining myth that the name derived from Marco d’Aviano, the Capuchin preacher and miracle worker, emerged only in the 1990s during the process for his beatification.

It is true that the many bags of coffee abandoned by the OttomanTurks after their 1683 defeat in the Battle of Vienna led to the opening of local coffee houses that flourish to this day, and in one of which this letter is written – over a caffé latte. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The ice bucket challenge is cold, but the enormous goodwill it has spread throughout the country, not to mention the vast amount of money which is still pouring in for motor neuron research – it has topped the million euro mark – would warm the cockles of one’s heart.

I am sure I speak for everyone who suffers from motor neuron disease – I got my diagnosis 14 years ago – when I say a heartfelt thanks to all of you, young and old, including my own grandchildren and their friends, for taking up the challenge and donating money to fund research into this cruel disease. As yet, there is no cure for motor neuron disease. The cause is unknown and, indeed, apart from the tender loving care given by family, friends and medical personnel, there is no treatment. It is uplifting to know that, with your help, sooner rather than later, research will discover the cause of this dreaded disease. Then, of course, a cure will follow! Mile buíochas díobh uilig. – Yours, etc,


Foster Avenue,

Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – We had reason to attend Barretstown recently for a few days on a camp with our daughter.

The whole experience was inspiring from start to finish. The setting of the facility, the engagement and understanding of all staff, including team leaders and volunteers who were on hand at all times with every conceivable offer of help, had to be seen and experienced to be believed.

The range of appropriate activities, coupled with top-class catering, made for a wonderful all-round experience.

This is its 20th year since it was established by its founder Paul Newman. When one considers it survives almost totally through voluntary assistance, and the support it receives from the general public through various fundraising efforts, one cannot but be impressed.

It is run on the most professional and cost-effective basis.

Against the background of recent controversies connected to the charitable sector in general, it is most important to highlight the good that is being done. – Yours, etc,



Moyglare Village,


Sir, – A recent report published in Foreign Affairs magazine contends that it may make more sense for the International Monetary Fund and central banks to give money directly to households as oppose to banks. This extra money would improve the budgets of these individual households, allowing them to spend more, thus helping the local economy, or pay down debts, thus improving banks’ balance sheets.

This idea was previously muted by Jon Stewart some years ago. Mr Stewart is an American comedian and host of The Daily Show.

Makes you wonder who we should be really listening to! – Yours, etc,


The Old Rectory,


Co Louth.

Sir, – Although we can’t solve the mystery of the first World War painting The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Boi (“Painting of first World War blessing stirs memories”, August 23rd), it may interest your readers to note that Rev Gleeson’s class photograph and matriculation information can be found in the archive of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The exhibition “Maynooth College 1914-1918” in the Russell Library showcases this and other fascinating material. – Yours, etc,


Senior Librarian,

Maynooth University


Co Kildare.

Irish Independent:

Your August 29 news item reporting the unveiling of a Cahersiveen memorial plaque in honour of Daniel O’Connell coincides with news that pressure is growing for a similar public mark of recognition in London.

When Francis Campbell, former British Ambassador to the Vatican, took over the leadership of London‘s St Mary’s University earlier this month, he gave several newspaper interviews.

In the course of these interviews he called for the erection of a statue in London’s Parliament Square in honour of Mr O’Connell.

The timing of the suggestion coincides with the recent announcement of British government plans to create a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, who acknowledged the inspiration of O’Connell in his own non-violent civil rights struggle for national freedom.

Over 100 years ago the Catholic parish church of Cahersiveen was officially named Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church of the Holy Cross in recognition of O’Connell’s human rights leadership in both Ireland and Britain. The time is surely right for Britain to recognise this outstanding member of the House of Commons, and I urge Irish Independent readers to support this campaign.Alan Whelan,Heronsforde, London Boom led to Ireland’s decline

Fred Meaney highlights the fact that “there are so many things in our society that are not acceptable” (Letters, August 30).

He fails to mention the fact that all of these problems were made much worse by the bankrupting of the country by the decisions of a small number of its most powerful citizens during the years of the boom. The biggest calamity since independence was missed by those who are now complaining about its consequences.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

A return to ‘puke football’

For the last week I looked forward to the replay of the SFC semi-final. I, along with many others, thought it very unfair to ask these warriors to go back out within six days and go to war once again, especially as they are amateurs.

However, both sets of players, like so many times in the past, just wanted to wear the county jersey with pride and worry about injuries later. Though the game between Kerry and Mayo was exciting it was – as best described some years ago by the game’s finest-ever footballer – ‘puke football’. I can’t ever remember seeing any team engage in so much pulling and dragging. It certainly had little to do with football.

The winners of yesterday’s semi-final will sleep easy in their beds and not have too many nightmares, I’m sure.

Fred Molloy, Glenville, Dublin 15

Obama must stand up to Putin

US President Barack Obama needs to grow a spine, take a leaf from Reaganist foreign policy, and meet expansionist Russian President Vladimir Putin head on. Send American soldiers to Ukraine – at Kiev’s request, of course – and call Putin’s bluff. No Russian soldier will kill an American one outside a declared state of war, in the knowledge that to do so would itself create that state of war.

With their advance halted by an American presence, backed by the 10,000-odd soldiers NATO is mobilising in the area, any further Russian incursions will be prevented, and an end will have been put to this episode once and for all.

Killian Foley-Walsh, Kilkenny city

Squeezed middle have it easy

References to the so-called squeezed middle in pursuit of a particular agenda simply don’t bear scrutiny. Many of these people or families have a weekly income, after tax, of €1,000 or more, when tax breaks and the very significant college fee subsidy are taken into account. Yet many families have to get by on a weekly income of less than a third of that.

These are the people who are truly being squeezed. At this back-to-school time they will be driven, by sheer need, into the arms of moneylenders. In fact, they are regularly squeezed till they cry out in pain, at which point gardai are often called.

They did not have the capital to take part in an irresponsible property investment binge, yet they have ended up paying for one, ironically. The so-called squeezed middle might, more accurately, be referred to as ‘middle income, high expectation’.

Cadhla Ni Frithile, Clonard, Wexford

Fishing not an option in Famine

Tommy Shields (Letters, August 29) tells how upon visiting a museum in Kerry he happened upon two words – “fishing failed” in relation to the Great Famine. “Surely fishing could not have failed all around the coasts of Ireland?” he asked.

The Famine had its most devastating effect in the west of Ireland. Unfortunately the west coast also has our most treacherous waters.

By the time of the Famine, Ireland had been deforested and timber was at a premium. The only boat available to the inhabitants was the curragh – a small boat made of animal hide covering a light timber frame. These boats were incapable of deep sea fishing and were extremely dangerous in the Atlantic Ocean.

Another problem was the lack of refrigeration and the high cost of preservation salts. In effect, this meant that, even if large quantities of fish had been caught, there was no means of preserving for transport inland.

John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth

Ryanair check-ins ‘unfair’

I am appalled by the way in which Ryanair is now operating online check-ins. While checking in online for my trip on August 30 from Dublin to Zadar, in Croatia, I found that I could not check in for my return flight and print the boarding pass until seven days and two hours before departure.

What this means is, that in order to print my return boarding pass before leaving the country, I have to pay €5 per person per seat for the privilege of printing the relevant pass.

Where I am travelling to in Zadar has no internet access and my departing flight leaves early in the morning on August 30 (the only time I could possibly print the pass while still in Ireland). I think this new practice is very unfair

Margaret Jacob, Address with Editor

Time to act on hare coursing

The Minister for Arts and Heritage, Heather Humphreys, has a peculiar attitude to the preservation and protection of wildlife.

On August 13, she condemned the illegal shooting of a protected peregrine falcon. She stated: “It is intolerable for birds of prey and other wildlife to be persecuted, poisoned or shot”. She also expressed concern that the incident might impugn our international image as a nation that treasures its wildlife heritage.

Less than 48 hours later, Ms Humphreys issued a licence permitting the capture of hares for coursing, in which they will serve as live bait for greyhounds. Thousands of the timid creatures will be netted in the Irish countryside. A percentage will die in the struggle to break free and others will perish in captivity. And on coursing day a percentage will be mauled or forcibly struck by the muzzled but hyped-up greyhounds.

The minister issued the hare coursing licence despite numerous appeals from animal protection and conservation groups not to do so.

John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny

Irish Independent


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