4 September 2014 X-ray
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A warmish day. I take Mary to have a blood test and an X-ray.
Mary’s back not much better today, pie for tea and her back pain is still there.
Alan Reynolds – obituary
Alan Reynolds was an artist who painted the teasels and hop gardens of Suffolk and Kent before embracing abstraction
Alan Reynolds Photo: ANNELY JUDA FINE ART
7:09PM BST 03 Sep 2014
Alan Reynolds, who has died aged 88, was a singular post-war British artist whose early landscapes of Suffolk and Kent — works peppered with teasels, oast houses, hop gardens, orchards, copses and cornfields — mutated into formally abstract compositions.
During the early Fifties, Reynolds — himself a Suffolk boy — turned the farmland and fens of his childhood into a series of spectral scenes. Drawing on an earthy palette of dull cloudy greys, muddy browns and rainwater greens, his landscapes while captivating — even beautiful — were never vistas steeped in nostalgia or a notion of bucolic bliss; rather they hummed with elemental anxieties.
Alan Reynolds, Summer: Young September’s Cornfield (1954) (TATE, LONDON 2014)
In Summer: Young September’s Cornfield (1954) — now held in the Tate collection — a sun-kissed field of wheat is framed in the foreground by a prickly wall of thistles and on the horizon by an ominous inky firmament. The work illustrated Reynolds’s ability to render human psychology through a representation of flora and fauna, soil and sky. Often the war’s legacy echoed through his strokes. With Winter Pastoral, Kent (1952) he turned England’s garden into a sepia-toned necropolis, a composition reminiscent of the war art of Paul Nash — although Reynolds alludes to the possibility of nature’s reawakening.
“He had that rare ability to capture the essence of British landscape and render it completely contemporary,” said Frances Christie, head of Modern & Post-War British Art at Sotheby’s, “a feat that not many artists were able to achieve so successfully. He was also continually reinventing and developing his approach to representation.”
That reinvention began in the Sixties. Over the previous decade his landscapes had brought him considerable fame: he was feted as “the golden boy of post neo-romanticism” and his exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1956 had been the talk of London’s art world. However, Reynolds moved increasingly towards geometric abstraction.
It was not a huge leap — he had never been a traditional en plein air landscape painter. “I never painted landscape on the spot, apart from one occasion when our dear old drawing master took us out into the countryside and we did a few oil sketches,” recalled Reynolds in an interview with Andrew Lambirth in The Spectator. “I was after something else, I had something ticking away inside me.”
Alan Munro Reynolds was born at Newmarket on April 27 1926. His father’s family hailed from Scotland, his mother was from Suffolk. In 1944, aged 18, he joined the Highland Light Infantry. “When the war finished, my division was broken up,” Reynolds said in 2011. “We were all sent off to different places and I finished up training as an Army schoolmaster and eventually settled in Hanover for about a year and a half.” It was there that he was introduced to the avant-garde — “It was the most important experience I had.”
Back in London he was bemused by the city’s artistic circles. “It was such a gloomy sort of set-up, partly as a result of the war, I suppose, an indrawn nationalism,” he said in later life. “You can understand it: the country had been through a hell of a time and it had been cut off culturally, no question of that.”
He received his artistic education first at the Woolwich Polytechnic Art School (1948-52) and later at the Royal College of Art, where he won a medal for his painting. His first one-man exhibition was held in London while he was still a student, and his first New York show was in 1954. He settled in Kent.
Reynolds was an artist who retained a strong personal integrity in his painting style, refusing to repeat the early motifs that had made his name . His career can be seen to fall into two halves: the landscape and abstract painter of the 1950s and 1960s, and the constructive artist of the last 45 years. The former brought success, the latter relative obscurity.
Alan Reynolds, Sunrise – The Hillside (1956) (ANNELY JUDA FINE ART)
The quest for equilibrium had infused his work since he had emerged from the Royal College of Art in 1953; eventually his interest in abstraction, Expressionism and Cubism — and in particular the work of Paul Klee — took hold: “I was lucky enough to read some things by Herbert Read, particularly his Faber book on Klee, and it was just like getting a pat on the back. It was marvellous. I thought, ‘This man’s been there.’ ” His organic subjects — the spindly silhouetted branches, brittle reeds and ghostly dandelion clocks — faded away, to be replaced by “structures” and “forms” which fitted into the Sixties preoccupation with kaleidoscopic perspectives.
From 1968 onwards Reynolds set aside any residual attachment to representational painting in favour of the “concrete” image — in which art is intended to emanate “directly from the mind”, eschewing sentiment and often the characteristic “hand” of the artist. For more than 45 years, Reynolds made tonal modular drawings, woodcuts and constructed reliefs — many completely white.
These were a world away from the spiky naturalism of his early paintings. “The work can look a trifle austere at first glance,” noted Andrew Lambirth, “but the exquisitely balanced tonal drawings display a lyricism that leads you to the heart of his endeavour.” Reynolds, however, maintained that the geometric had always been there in his work.
Alan Reynolds, Dialogue 1974 (ANNELY JUDA FINE ART)
Reynolds’s success in his new style grew, leading to international exhibitions, including a retrospective at the Städtische Galerie im Schloss, Wolfsburg, and the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen in 1996. He was particularly admired in France (in 2009 he was shown at Galerie Gimpel & Müller) and Germany; but in Britain he continued to be known best for his Fifties’ bucolic canvases.
In 2003 Kettles Yard gallery in Cambridge staged a retrospective of Reynolds’s paintings and drawings; and in 2011 Michael Harrison, its director and a long-standing friend of the artist, wrote an extensive monograph on his work. Reynolds’s London gallery, Annely Juda Fine Art, held seven dedicated exhibitions of his work, including, in 2011, a selection of “recent reliefs and drawings”.
Reynolds taught at the Central School of Art & Design from 1954 to 1961 and subsequently at St Martin’s School of Art. He retired from teaching in 1990.
He won a number of prestigious awards, including an international prize at the Giovani Pittori in Rome (1955), the CoID award (1965) and an Arts Council award (1967). His work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the V&A and the National Museum of Canada.
At the heart of Reynolds’s work was a lifelong affinity for — and dialogue with — the European artistic tradition. “For an artist to have an aesthetic philosophy is poisonous in this country,” he said in later life, “you can get shot for that.”
Alan Reynolds married, in 1957, Vona Darby. She survives him.
Alan Reynolds, born April 27 1926, died August 28 2014
‘Why is Alex Salmond so scared of a Scottish currency?’. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
George Monbiot (Scots voting no would be an astonishing act of self-harm, 3 September) asks us to imagine a nation surrendering autonomy to a larger union then talks of handing governance over to another nation as if the two, union and nation, were equivalent. This is a fundamental flaw in the analysis. As individuals we acknowledge state sovereignty in return for security in all its forms, be it in terms of finance, trade or defence. Any union has to compromise on what is gained and what is ceded. The UK government did much the same when we joined the EU. This is an entirely logical position to take, though one can argue about the balance between gain and loss. None of this is to deny the failings of the current union and Monbiot would find me in agreement on Lords reform (but what about the monarchy?), a constitution and social justice.
However the biggest threats to freedom and democracy come from cross-border incursions eg cybercrime, environmental degradation and organised capital. With these evils, size matters and Scotland is too small to assert its authority on these issues. Perhaps the UK is too. So we need transnational institutions and, with that, more ceding of powers. It may be that Scotland’s opportunity to become a nation state has come at a time when such a model is becoming obsolete. If that is so then the referendum vote is a mere distraction.
• George Monbiot overstates the case for Scottish independence. He suggests that Scotland would be fine with its own independent currency, but even Alex Salmond doesn’t agree, preferring to shadow the pound if there is no agreement on currency sharing. And what sort of independence is that? Monbiot says the Scots already have no control over their currency, but that isn’t true. Scottish MPs are just as important as any other MPs, and one of them, Gordon Brown, was of course chancellor of the exchequer and then PM between 1997 and 2010. Collectively, Scottish voters prevented the Tories from having an overall majority in 2010, and as the Tories’ long-term decline continues (they last won an overall majority in 1992), Scottish voters will no doubt help the UK to elect more Labour goverments. By contrast, a nominally independent Scotland without a proper currency would be subject to UK fiscal and monetary policies over which it would have no say.
• George Monbiot’s glowing description of the possibilities of Scottish independence would be wonderful if it were possible. Unfortunately, the Scots are not being asked to vote for real independence but for a faux independence where, as Monbiot concedes without apparently understanding the implications, they will have no real economic independence because they will not control their currency. The question Scots should be asking themselves is why is Alex Salmond so scared of a Scottish currency? Perhaps his determination to hang on to the pound is due to a belief that a Scotland with its own currency would be unable to finance the deficit it would run? Or perhaps it is because he thinks a completely independent Scotland would be forced to join the euro if it wished to remain within the EU? Independence without control of the currency is not real independence at all; it is just a confidence trick.
• Reading George Monbiot after Rafael Behr (A race neither Labour nor the Tories are fit to win, same day), the thought occurs that if Ed Milliband wishes to move out of Behr’s doldrums, then a look at what Monbiot suggests is persuading so many Scots to vote yes might help him find a clear sense of identity, even at this late stage. Push the Blairite neoliberals overboard and offer us, on both sides of the border, a clear alternative to the floundering Tories.
• Paul Mason (G2, 1 September) suggests that turnout for the Scottish referendum may be well over 80%. I’m not surprised. People know their vote will make a difference and that they will be playing a crucial role in their destiny. Politics must be altogether more interesting in Scotland, with its abandonment of the first-past-the-post system. And, I should think, more fun. Contrast this with the rest of the UK. Why is turnout so low? One symptom of our moribund voting system is the number of constituencies where one party is so dominant that if you do not support that party, your vote is cast to the winds. There is no recognition of the needs of the minority voters, however big or small. Nor of the talented politicians who could enrich our governance. There will be considerable issues to chew on after the referendum. I hope this will be one of them.
• Monbiot’s assertion that opposition to Scots independence is primarily motivated by “system justification” is based on a false premise. The choice is not between the status quo and independence, but between a Scottish parliament with much greater powers and independence. Should those powers prove insufficient to protect Scotland from many of the present evils he identifies – eg if a new Tory government was to lead the UK out of the EU – then many of us would immediately switch from Better Together to better apart.
• By putting the no campaign in the hands of “respected senior figures”, meaning leading members of the old political class which is most publicly disliked, Better Together has been behaving as if determined to chuck it from the start. These leaders have, among other things, proceeded to “warn” the overwhelming leftwing Scots that they risk losing Trident, will be excluded from the lovely new foreign wars which now beckon, and might even risk Nato membership. I would regard that last one as a particularly good temptation to vote yes if I was a Scot.
• Your poll (3 September) shows support for the no vote has fallen dramatically since July. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Scots will have been encouraged to vote yes by seeing Mrs Thatcher’s face on postage stamps dropping through their letter boxes since they were released in August? Ironic or what?
• Monbiot makes a compelling case to vote yes. But as a Scot placed by circumstances in England, I hope fervently that Scotland does not abandon us to our present oligarchy, but sends us MPs in 2015 who will help end it.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
The heart-rending death of Steven Sotloff brings into sharp focus Owen Jones’s valiant exposure (1 September) of facilitators of global jihad, but does not delve deeply into the genesis of it. Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab’s doctrine, the cornerstone of Saudi state policy, advocates violent jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, a duty on the believers on a par with the traditional five fundamentals.
The flood of petrodollars flowing into Saudi coffers, following the tripling of oil prices in 1973 and since, has enabled the setting up of the world’s largest printing plant in Medina, which has become the leading source of supply of the Holy Qur’an and its Wahhabi doctrinal translation in thousands of vernaculars to mosques worldwide, usually free. Most mosques in Britain remain in the hands of those whose patrons reside in the sheikhdoms Owen Jones names, and where the Friday lessons and sermons preached are based on these Wahhabi-interpreted versions.
Ending support of Saudi Arabia by our government may be the first step to check the jihadi culture taking hold of some British Muslims, but a more effective course might be to make our mosques de-link from the ideology of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab.
Mohammad Abdul Qavi
• David Cameron has been quick to denounce the murder by beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by Islamic State fighters (Report, 3 September). He described the former as “shocking and depraved” and the latter as “disgusting and despicable”. Yet on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it had beheaded four men by sword following their conviction for smuggling hashish pills into the country. Saudi Arabia has executed 45 people this year – 30 in the past four weeks. Surely this is no less “shocking and depraved” or “disgusting and despicable” than the murder of Foley and Sotloff? Does Cameron’s silence have anything to do with the fact that under his premiership export licences worth £3.8bn have been approved for British arms companies’ sales to Saudi Arabia? Does Cameron overlook Saudi Arabia’s beheadings because it bought £1.6bn of UK arms in 2013 and has signed a deal a deal worth well over £4bn for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets from BAE this year?
• The killing of another American journalist by Islamic State terrorists and other atrocities contradict Islam and the way the prophet Muhammad – who was married to a Christian – treated people of other faiths. I have not met one Muslim who supports IS. Killing western journalists seems to get more publicity than the killing of other journalists in Iraq by US bombing, or the killing of Palestinian journalists by Israel. IS is a split-off al-Qaida which would not have existed without the CIA training and arming of Bin Laden and his fanatics in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
• Has the PM thought of asking the Saudis to do something with all those state-of-the-art military aircraft we have been supplying to them over the last 30 years? If not, perhaps he might also consider asking them – but in the nicest possible way, so as not to destabilise our arms industry or our oil supplies – to go easy on their funding of madrassas, faith schools etc, which do rather encourage the young to think that separatism, jihad, patriarchy etc is rather a good idea.
Author, God’s Terrorists: the Wahhabi cult and the roots of modern jihad
While I agree with most of what Mohammed Ali says about social elitism and diversity (Letters, 30 August), I must take issue with his claim that in Doctor Who “you will only see white – and green – faces”. Yes, the Doctor himself sadly has yet to be anything other than white (and male – and hasn’t even made it to “ginger” yet), but racial diversity among other characters, both regular and more minor, seems unquestionable; witness, for example, companion Martha (Freema Agyeman), semi-companion Mickey (Noel Carke), and in the latest episode Mr Pink and Courtney (who may be about to become regulars), and at least two other major speaking parts.
Given the series’ matter-of-fact portrayal of non-“straight” sexuality (Captain Jack, Madame Vastra and Jenny) too, I think its makers can be credited with a reasonable stab at reflecting a diverse society – given the obvious limitations of time and space.
Carol Fellingham Webb
Keighley, West Yorkshire
An expanded Heathrow is uniquely positioned to deliver huge economic benefits to Britain while also minimising its impact on local communities and the environment (Editorial, 3 September). Rather than resulting in fewer greenhouse gases globally, opposing a third runway at Heathrow would mean British passengers are forced to take longer routes to their destinations flying via other hubs around the world. For a typical passenger, an indirect flight to Beijing from London would mean a connection via Dubai, resulting in a journey 40% longer and adding a landing and take-off – burning more carbon unnecessarily and producing more emissions.
Heathrow is also closer to the centre of population for hub passengers, which would result in shorter journeys and less surface access carbon dioxide emissions than other hubs in Europe. Should capacity be increased at Heathrow, we are committed to ensuring there will be no more Heathrow-related vehicles on the roads than today and those vehicles that are travelling to the airport will be cleaner. The independent Committee on Climate Change has agreed that a third runway at Heathrow is consistent with meeting the UK’s legally binding climate change targets. A 60% growth in UK air passengers is possible while ensuring these targets are met.
Sustainability director, Heathrow
• You are right to question the case for new runway capacity to serve London. Seventy per cent of passengers using Heathrow are on leisure trips, so there is plenty of scope to expand business travel in support of Britain’s exporters. Some leisure travellers would be displaced elsewhere from existing long-haul flights and by shifting short-haul point-to-point routes to other airports. Leisure travellers are used to travelling indirectly, for instance via a Middle East hub at lower cost even though a direct fight. We have a very competitive market in air travel – four competing airports in the London region and many airlines, including new entrants. This will ensure that the priority needs of business travellers are met, together with the bulk of demand for leisure travel. If some of the latter is displaced to other modes or domestic destinations, we could live with that given our negative balance of trade in tourism.
Centre for Transport Studies, University College London
Greek employers believed they were free to exploit – and then shoot at – foreign strawberry pickers, because those workers had no immigration permits (“They kept firing. There was blood everywhere”, 2 September). The Greek court failed to punish the employers and even acquitted them of exploitation. The Greek government can, and should, appeal these rulings. More important, all EU governments should ensure that every worker has a remedy against their employer for unpaid wages, regardless of immigration status. Anything less rewards employers of irregular migrants. Immigration control may justify deportation – it does not justify making a worker an “outlaw”, vulnerable to exploitation.
Migration lawyer, Open Society Justice Initiative
• Miriam Taylor suggests moving the August Bank Holiday to the beginning of the month (like Scotland) to have a better chance of decent weather (Letters, 28 August). In fact the Bank Holiday was at the beginning of August. We got married on August Bank Holiday Monday 1962 (6 August) and it bucketed with rain from start to finish. I can’t remember when it was decided to move it to the end of August – I expect someone thought there might be a chance of better weather.
• So IDS is moonlighting as a crossword compiler now. Imogen (Cryptic Crossword 26,355 – 20 down) defines “idlers” as “the unemployed”.
Northallerton, North Yorkshire
• Many decades ago Katherine Whitehorn declared: “There are no nagging women; only men who won’t do as they’re asked the first time.” Nothing has changed (G2, 2 September).
Dr Heather Parry
• Obviously Emine is not a Status Quo fan. When a man deregisters from a Quo message board the immediate response from other male members is: “Did he flounce?”
• Isn’t it time Hawkwind were mentioned again in the bottom left column of the letters page? Forty-five years old this month.
Beyond Kremlinology: Vladimir Putin at an EU summit in Minsk, Belarus, on 26 August 2014. Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media
That Wesley Clark, a military man, argues in favour of military support for Ukraine against Russian “aggression” is hardly surprising (Tell the truth about Russia, 1 September). What is no less surprising is that Clark has grasped so firmly at the wrong end of the stick. A better understanding of Russia would have taught Clark that the long history of that country is that it is not aggressive but defensive: after terrible sufferings during the second world war (to go back into the country’s history no further), Stalin’s primary aim in securing the communist regimes of eastern/central Europe was to establish a defensive buffer zone, not “aggression” as cold warriors like Clark claimed.
Similarly, when Putin (not at all a nice man, as anyone can see) provokes actions in eastern Ukraine, it is in a reaction to the ill-judged actions of the EU in pouring support into the government there. Viewed from the Kremlin (and we don’t have to agree with this, but that’s their view), EU actions since the Maidan revolution have suggested a rolling back of the accords under which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for a studied neutrality, and not surprisingly the Kremlin sees that as a dire threat.
It follows that the suggested actions of Wesley Clark in providing “a stronger Nato response” in beefing up its rapid reaction forces will only make a difficult situation far worse. Clark appeals for “a deeper understanding of the situation” but that is the very thing his column lacks. Hotheaded responses to such a highly nuanced situation are foolish: diplomacy without threats is rather wiser than wielding a big stick while claiming (falsely) that you’re in favour of a negotiated solution.
Dr Richard Carter
• As a strong and long-time supporter of the EU, I never thought I’d contemplate the idea of our leaving it. However, the more that those member countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union exert their influence over our collective approach to relations with Russia (Europe’s balance of power finally shifts east, 1 September), the more I am beginning to see it might become a moral necessity.
The EU and Nato have been encroaching into parts of Europe that historically have never been part of their sphere of influence or culture, and goading Russia for months, if not years, into a reaction – over Ukraine especially. They then turn on Russia as if surprised by its reaction. How can we preach democracy and self-determination when we have been bribing and enticing former Soviet countries into our fold, encouraging them to adopt overtly aggressive positions towards Russia ever since the end of the cold war? Instead of seizing the opportunity to build a new Europe of peace and cooperation, one which includes Russia, we are simply expanding and rebadging the old anti-Soviet bloc in order to oppose our traditional “enemy”. Perhaps the only honourable position is for the UK to have no part in this.
• In September 2014, it is shameful and embarrassing to be European. Shameful because people who live in countries that are members of the European Union or closely associated with the EU live in fear. They fear that the Russian aggression continues and if it is directed in their way, they have no certainty that the EU will have the resolve to guarantee their safety.
Embarrassing because our leaders manage to play an overwhelmingly strong hand so poorly. The EU is big, Russia is small. The EU is rich, Russia is poor. The EU (together with its allies) possesses the most advanced military capability in the world, Russia does not. Russia’s economy is eight times smaller than that of the EU (and 16 times smaller than that of the EU and its allies). And still the EU leaders manage to position the EU as if it was responding from a position of weakness.
Less than a decade ago, EU leaders sold the treaty of Lisbon to EU citizens on the premise that it would allow the EU to defend its interests and to project its values more effectively. Following the weekend’s summit, now is the last chance for the EU to demonstrate that the leaders were not wilfully and cynically misleading the EU population. Only a principled and strong response will do.
Real and effective economic sanctions will hurt the EU as well. But the EU is in an immeasurably stronger position to deal with them than is a fundamentally fragile and weak Russian economy. And mobilising the necessary military capability to halt and reverse the unlawful Russian incursion to the sovereign territory of an EU partner does carry a cost.
But sometimes it is necessary to draw the line and be prepared to pay the cost of one’s convictions. Now is such a time.
• In your editorial excoriating Vladimir Putin (Lies and deceit, 30 August) you neglect to mention one glaring fact. Namely that without the illegal coup in Kiev earlier this year, sponsored and funded by the US and applauded by the western media, there would have been no annexation of Crimea, no civil war in eastern Ukraine, no downing of planes, no incursions from Russia or anywhere else, no damaging sanctions, and no looming threat of a third world war. Putin may be a liar or not, but it’s hard to see how he’s responsible for any of this.
• To understand Russia we need to go a little further than speculation on internal politics (Inside Putinworld, where few risk speaking truth to power, 30 August). We need to understand what to be Russian means to Russians and why so many are still angry and heartbroken by what they see as the shameful betrayal of their motherland by the westernising and degrading years of Yeltsin.
To understand these things better we might learn something of the language: its nuance, beauty of sound, complexity and vigour, only perhaps equalled by those of English in the hands of a Shakespeare. We should read, at least, Pushkin and Chekhov (in the originals if possible), Dostoevsky if we have the courage, and also consider the story of a people who moved from tsarist serfdom to the first man in space in just about half a century.
And if we think we can intimidate Russians with threats, sanctions and the rattling of arms we should repeat to ourselves, several times, Stalingrad, Stalingrad, Stalingrad.
Then, perhaps, we might claim to understand a little better what it is to be Russian.
You cite as evidence of Rona Fairhead’s political background the fact that her husband Tom used to be a Tory councillor (Former boss of FT to be first female chair of BBC Trust, 1 September). Why infer something about her from his political affiliation? I would have hoped that such attitudes would have changed by now.
• Ms Fairhead’s husband was a Conservative councillor; she is said to be a chum of both Mr Osborne and Jeremy Heywood, who chaired the recruitment panel that selected her; she is a non-executive member of the Cabinet Office board and Francis Maude has made her a business ambassador; but she doesn’t have “crony status” (Editorial, 1 September)?
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
• Viola players (Letters, 30 August) were once scorned, and given the least important string parts in orchestral music. But a succession of composers (Vaughan Williams, Tippett, Hindemith etc) and great players (Gérard Caussé, Rivka Golani, Pinchas Zukerman and Roger Chase, to name a few) have lifted the instrument into the foreground of music-making. It has a personality of its own and is quite special.
• A use for whisky tins (Letters, 2 September)? When our daughter was young (and before we needed the tins to store our 35mm film canisters) we found they were the perfect size for her Barbie dolls. Few English seven-year-olds pronounced Bruichladdich with such delight.
• Great piece by Emine Saner (Feisty, flounce, bossy … Have you ever heard these words used to describe men? Thought not, G2, 2 September); please add describing a married couple as “Bret King and his wife, Naghmeh” (Report, 2 September) to her list.
• The finding that surgeons and GPs are nearly a hundred times more dangerous on the road than building society clerks suggests that the statistics have been doctored (Report, 2 September).
Dr John Doherty
Most parents will have enormous sympathy with Mr and Mrs King and members of their family (Parents of Ashya in separate jails, 2 September). Many members of the public will not argue with their individual preference for a particular sort of medical treatment which they believe (rightly or wrongly) will be the most effective for their son. The treating specialists and other experts may disagree with this point of view and the matter may ultimately have to be decided at court. All those involved are likely to want to do the best they can for Aysha.
Leaving those points aside, what I cannot accept as being in Ashya’s best interests is the use/involvement of him by his parents on social media. I did not see the “happy” boy his father described when I watched my television on Sunday, and this appeared to me to be yet another example of a situation where the filming of a child on social media is potentially emotionally abusive and misguided. In my opinion a five-year-old boy does not need such a level of exposure to the arguments going on about him and his medical condition.
Consultant social worker/expert witness
• As a parent who has suffered the tragic loss of a child with cancer, I can understand the anguish of Ashya King’s parents, but am concerned about their lack of trust in Southampton general hospital. Unfortunately their subsequent desperate measures involved a very long, arduous journey for such a sick little boy.
I find Suzanne Moore’s stereotyping of “the medical system with its certain arrogance” unacceptable (Criminalised for caring, 2 September). In particular I take issue with her sweeping statement “Once a doctor has said no more can be done, people are too often just left to cope somehow.” This was not my experience.
Also, I would like to fiercely defend the hospital’s reputation. Recently my grandson, who has a brittle bone condition, was admitted as an emergency. The treatment he received and his subsequent care have been excellent, and communication with him and his parents cannot be faulted.
Any criticism must be aimed at the cuts being made to the NHS by the coalition government and its policy of creeping privatisation, which has damaged trust on the part of some of the population.
No sign of snow at Lord’s cricket ground in June this year as Gary Ballance of England celebrates reaching his maiden Test century during the England v Sri Lanka series, but did it fall there on 2 June 1975? Photograph: Tom Shaw/Getty Images
Your editorial (Unthinkable? Snow in August, 30 August) refers to Laurie Weidberg’s “one-man campaign between 1975 and his death in 1986” against the Guardian, and to his Socialist Standard obituary describing him as “a socialist eccentric” who died hating “the Guardian newspaper and its soggy bourgeois liberalism”. His obituary writer also noted: “I have never witnessed a better socialist heckler. He must have been given his training by Moses Baritz, the man who blew his clarinet down the ventilator shaft of an SDF meeting from which he had been barred.” Baritz was not only a fellow SPGB member but also a music critic for the Manchester Guardian. Incidentally, the Grauniad is still eagerly perused by many members, but we still share Weidberg’s opinion of it as “half-baked lefty crap”.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
• If you need any additional support for your and John Arlott’s contention that it snowed at Lord’s on 2 June 1975, you are welcome to my eccentric but truthful memory that it also snowed in Northumberland on that day. Driving ewes and lambs through a late morning’s snow squall close to that switchback of a B6318 above Corbridge was memorable. Stupidly, I wasn’t listening to the Test match.
Langley on Tyne, Northumberland
• An aunt used to send me copies of aged newspapers dated for my birthday, 4 August. One she sent – probably from just before or just after the war – included a picture of women in fur coats at Victoria station heading for Glyndebourne. The report referred to the snow in Sussex.
• I was brought up in north Cumbria and recall two elderly cousins of my mother who had lived all their lives on a remote hill farm on the fells near Bewcastle, telling us that they had seen snow lying on the ground in every month except July.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
As you note (In praise of…, 1 September), Newport was the scene, 175 years ago this autumn, of the Chartists’ attempted insurrection in pursuit of a democratic society. Recent research, contrary to the ridicule of traditional history texts, shows that the attempt was almost successful. One wonders if Nato leaders meeting in Newport this week will visit the graves of the Chartist dead of 1839 in the Cathedral church of St Woolos on Stow Hill, to pay respects for those who fought for the democratic principles they themselves claim to be the guardians of.
• If only Newport’s councillors were as sensitive to its history as your editorial is. Just 11 months ago they demolished a 35-metre mural, by the ceramicist Kenneth Budd, that depicted the Chartist uprising. Unfortunately, it was in an unlovely shopping centre, and the local authority and its architects were unable to see that a new version centred around it would be better than the easier, lazier, slash-and-burn approach beloved of developers everywhere.
Frankie Mullin (Mapping our lives, 25 August) is correct to highlight the value of “lifetime” studies (also known as pregnancy or birth cohorts) for understanding the determinants of development, health and wellbeing, including the interaction of socioeconomic and lifestyle through to molecular and genetic determinants. She is also right to highlight the major role that the UK has had in driving this research. However, she is wrong to describe the new Life Study as being the first in the world to study people from “womb to tomb” by collecting data before children are even born. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (started by Prof Jean Golding and also known as the Children of the 90s study) recruited over 14,000 women in early pregnancy in the early 1990s, and those women, their partners, children and now their grandchildren have been followed with detailed repeat assessments ever since, making it the most detailed life study in the world. The major influence of that study has led to establishing many other similar studies, including over 100,000 participants recruited during pregnancy in Norway (starting in the late 1990s) and a similar number in Denmark (early 2000s), and the recently established Born in Bradford cohort (recruitment from 2007). The Southampton Women’s Survey recruited couples before conception and then followed the families forward. Those of us who have worked on these studies helped inform the design of the Life Study, which will make further key contributions to scientific understanding.
Professor Debbie Lawlor
University of Bristol
Your editorial of 3 September is bewildering. You seem to recognise that Nato expansionism is the cause of present Russian behaviour, but advocate a response which is more confrontational still. Unless there’s a last-minute change of heart in Newport, you are likely to get your way.
They intend a course of action which is maximally likely to lead to an armed clash between Nato forces and Russian forces. They will put Nato bases in countries adjoining Russia, knowing this is exactly what will wind up Russia further, and not just any countries adjoining Russia but countries with belligerently anti-Russian governments; and not just belligerently anti-Russian governments but also large Russian minorities who already feel repressed and discriminated against. These will regard the arrival of Nato troops as deliberately flaunting their repression in their faces, and an invitation to respond in the same way as the Russians in Ukraine.
On the hundredth anniversary of 1914, our best hope is that the sane Germans will restrain the British hotheads.
The letters published on 3 September regarding the Nato summit in Newport this week “showcased” (to quote one of the writers) a rather narrow-minded attitude to the event. There is a different view.
International meetings always cause disruption whether they be political or sporting; it goes with the territory. As pointed out in your editorial, the current tension over Ukraine means that major decisions have to be taken by our political leaders that could change the military situation in Europe. One way or another, we will all be affected by the outcome of this meeting.
As I listen to the helicopters flying overhead, ferrying participants to the meeting, I feel that history is being made a few miles away at Celtic Manor, and am delighted that it has established itself on the world stage as a suitable venue for these events. The temporary inconvenience that we have to deal with is trivial compared with the fate of the people who live in the countries they are discussing.
We are privileged to have lived during such a long period of peace in Europe. We should not become complacent and complain if occasionally our comfortable lives are disrupted for a few days.
I am not usually an apologist for David Cameron, but Peter Giles’s snide comment on the history the Prime Minister was taught at Eton (letter, 2 September) prompts me to suggest that it is Mr Giles who should study his history books more deeply.
He claims that Russia has never been an expansionist European power; how does he account for the fact that in 1914 Russia included Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the whole of Poland? At the end of the Second World War all those countries except Finland were back under Soviet domination.
I suspect I may be older than Mr Giles, but in my lifetime Russia has been responsible for the Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the Katyn massacre of 1940, and the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, and of the Prague Spring in 1968.
Like most Europeans we had always sought to draw a distinction between the long-suffering population of Russia and her appalling rulers, and had assumed that on the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 a new democratic country would emerge.
Instead we get Mr Putin, who repeats Hitler’s tactics when invading Czechoslovakia of claiming to rescue the German minority and then Mr Chamberlain’s shameful response. So on this occasion I find myself in agreement with David Cameron.
It beggars belief that even a newspaper as well-balanced as The Independent should join the media frenzy for aggressive action in Ukraine.
Unlike many world problems, this one is easily resolvable. The west should push for elections region by region in the country, allowing the inhabitants to join Russia or stay with a western-oriented Ukraine.
The Russians will agree with alacrity. With good reason, they think parts of eastern Ukraine will vote to join Russia. The Kiev government will refuse and then all western support should be withdrawn.
We created this situation with the unwise extension of Nato into Eastern Europe, now we should disengage before the things get out of control.
School lunch served up by the nanny state
I am not at all sure if the £1bn free school meals scheme that came into effect this week is “one of the most progressive changes to our school system for a long time”, as claimed by Nick Clegg. Putting aside the cost of the scheme, I am more concerned that it is likely to encourage state dependency among many families.
It is well known that many children go to school without any breakfast. Some will argue this is because of financial hardship, while others will argue this is due to parental irresponsibility. I align myself with the latter group because it has been proven time and again that good healthy meals can be prepared for as little as £2 a day. Therefore I believe that the Government’s free school meal scheme will allow some parents to delegate their parental responsibilities to the nanny state.
Many parents will now “legitimately” send their children to school without any breakfast, with the knowledge that the children will be fed by the state. In fact for many children this will be the only meal that they will receive during the whole day.
I am afraid this new scheme will bring up a new generation of young people fed by the state with hot healthy meals, but they will grow up without knowing how to choose and cook good healthy meals at home and how to become self-sufficient.
Protect Syrians from British fanatics
Stan Labovitch balances the protection of civil liberties with protecting British citizens from terror (letter, 3 September). However, there is another duty to protect.
British citizens are among the many foreigners currently butchering Syrian citizens in their own land. British politicians and the British media, with their warmongering statements and biased coverage, have also in effect acted as recruiting sergeants for Syrian rebel groups over the past three years.
There is a responsibility to protect Syrians from the British, not just dump on them every swaggering fanatic who is capable of sacralising his own sadism.
Elizabeth Morley makes a cheap and mischievous point (letter, 3 September) when she asks about the status of British Jews returning after a stint in the Israeli army.
While jihadists of Isis, al-Qa’ida, Hizbollah, Hamas, Boko Haram etc have mercilessly murdered countless thousands worldwide and will undoubtedly spread their wings even more strongly in Britain if allowed to, Jewish natural sentiment towards Israel has never affected in any manner whatsoever the loyalty of British Jews to Britain, and there has never been a single case of a British Jew harming anyone else for religious reasons.
Bet Shemesh, Israel
US opposition to trade treaty
The trade minister Lord Livingston’s suggestion that opposition to the TTIP trade deal is motivated by anti-American sentiment is somewhat ironic, given the scale of opposition to TTIP and its sister treaty the TPP in the US. The withholding of “fast track” negotiating authority from Obama by a hostile Congress could well prove the single most important factor in defeating this corporate power grab.
Director, World Development Movement, London SW9
Spanish a true world language
I would remind David Head (letter, 1 September) that one can travel from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego with a knowledge of just two languages, English and Spanish. Unlike German, which is spoken mainly in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Spanish is a world language and has been since the end of the 15th century with the Spanish colonisation of Central and South America.
Baffled voters in Scotland
I recently took the opportunity to ask two young men at Glaswegian call centres which way they were going to vote in the independence referendum.
The first answered: “I can’t be bothered with all that nonsense.” The second said: “I haven’t really got the facts I need to make up my mind … people who don’t vote will be counted as Noes, won’t they?”
If such understandable attitudes are widespread, what hope is there for a representative outcome to the referendum?
The great increase in the number of undergraduates reveals nothing about the success or failure of comprehensives
Sir, Professor Bernard Barker confuses two different issues in his argument against grammar schools (letter, Sept 3). The great increase in numbers of full-time undergraduates tells us nothing about the success or failure of the comprehensive system. It simply shows that the government has expanded the universities. University degrees vary greatly in quality and do not guarantee a “flying start” in anything, as many indebted young people are now finding.
There are also objective facts to show that academically selective schools aided (and still aid) social mobility. The 1966 Franks Report into Oxford University showed a steady and substantial rise in undergraduate entries from state schools following the 1944 Education Act. In 1939, grammar and direct grant pupils won 32 per cent of Oxford places. By 1965, just before abolition of selection, this figure had risen to 51 per cent.
The effect persists. The Higher Education Statistics Agency recorded recently that the university chances of a child from a poor home in Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK to retain a fully selective school system) are nearly one third better than in largely comprehensive England, and almost 50 per cent greater than in fully comprehensive Scotland.
Sir, Since when, as intimated by Professor Barker, has social mobility been a significant purpose of schools? Surely the prime role of schools is education and learning?
To couple the grammar schools’ debate with a comparison between today’s levels of university enrolment and those in 1963, is irrelevant. In earlier days access to universities were restricted by the universities themselves. The explosion of numbers attending university since then has similarly been created by the universities, by lowering standards of entry.
Sir, Linda Miller (“Back to school”, letter, Sept 2) is misguided to think that schools should go back in August in order for children to receive extra teaching, therefore making the autumn term ludicrously long and, eventually, counterproductive.
Instead, the last few weeks of the summer term could be used extremely productively. Young people could be encouraged to volunteer, produce school plays or music/dance events, enter local inter-school sports competitions, raise money for charity, mentor younger students, entertain the elderly, do short “business” courses, or indeed any course they are interested in, start A-level classes or other qualifications they may be taking, produce a school magazine or film or go on school trips.
In fact, do anything constructive and worthwhile that a crammed subject timetable and exam preparation does not allow. All of these suggestions could help our young people to become rounded individuals, not just exam machines.
Sir, I attended a grammar school in the 1960s. I sat for my last O-level examination on a Thursday, and had the Friday off. On the following Monday we started work on our A-level syllabus. When the term ended a fortnight later, we were set reading lists and essays for completion during the summer holidays. With the current system of pupils moving on to sixth-form colleges, this is no longer a viable option.
Sir, Dickens may not mention fish and chips (letters, Sept 2 & 3), but in his A Tale of Two Cities (1859) we read of chips without the fish: amid the 18th-century pre-Revolution French peasantry “Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.” (Book the First, Chapter 5.)
Sir, Andy Cole of Cleethorpes (letter, Sept 2) should understand that it is not the growing (of the potatoes) or the catching (of the fish) that makes for a good fish and chip supper (although excellent produce is essential), it is the cooking that does the trick. So perhaps Lincolnshire should investigate why it did not have a representation in the guide.
Blaydon on Tyne, Gateshead
Sir, Either Mr Cole forgot, or you chose not to mention, that Steel’s in Cleethorpes is one of the top fish and chip restaurants in the country — equal to the Magpie Café in Whitby, which is also not in the guide.
Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Sept 3) claims that “Larkin was right: What will survive of us is love”. But Larkin is always a tricksy one, and what he says is that the Arundel tomb may “prove our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive”& c.
Sadly, a miss is as good as a mile, and those “almost”s torpedo the lovely, resonant sentiment.
Sir, David Terry (letter, Sept 1) says that boiling a kettle of water with a kettle of half the wattage takes twice as long and so consumes the same amount of electricity. This is approximately true, but ignores the heat loss from the kettle while it comes to the boil. If the kettle takes twice as long to boil the heat loss is doubled and so the lower wattage kettle actually consumes more electricity to boil the same quantity of water.
Sir, Further to the correspondence on journeying abroad (letters, Aug 29 and Sept 1), when travelling by train in Germany I happened to board the Speisewagen (restaurant car). For the benefit of the English, someone had helpfully scrawled “Meals on Wheels” underneath the sign.
Sir, Roger Boyes has confused his Greats (“Nato needs to flex its muscles against Putin”, Opinion, Sept 3). It was Catherine the Great who corresponded with Voltaire, not Peter the Great. While Peter did indeed open up Russia and was a most remarkable tsar, he was definitely not an intellectual. By contrast, Catherine the Second (or the Great) most certainly was an intellectual.
One thing Mr Boyes is absolutely right about is that Mr Putin is not in the same league as either.
Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Sept 3) claims that “Larkin was right: What will survive of us is love”. But Larkin is always a tricksy one, and what he says is that the Arundel tomb may “prove our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive”& c.
Sadly, a miss is as good as a mile, and those “almost”s torpedo the lovely, resonant sentiment.
Naghemeh and Brett King were treated like suspected terrorists rather than concerned parents
6:57AM BST 03 Sep 2014
SIR – Ashya King’s parents were pursued under a European Arrest Warrant – a piece of legislation brought in to facilitate the apprehension of suspected terrorists, not of parents who want the best treatment for their sick five-year-old.
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I am on holiday in Spain and have watched television reports on Ashya King. They portray the police, NHS doctors and social services as “do-gooders” who think they have a better idea of how to look after a child than his own parents. Unfortunately, the Spanish reports are entirely correct.
Scotland’s energy bill
SIR – During the televised debates between Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, and Alistair Darling, chairman of the Better Together campaign, I heard nothing regarding renewable energy and how the subsidies will be afforded by an independent Scotland. Westminster has categorically said it will not pay for Scottish renewable subsidies; nor will it necessarily buy Scottish renewable power. Rather, it will buy from wherever gives the best deal for its citizens. Britain already imports electricity from France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and is planning to build other cables to Belgium, Denmark and Norway.
If our energy bills or our taxes must increase to pay the subsidies – because, either way, we will surely be paying – then this will result in greater fuel poverty.
Is Mr Salmond relying on that magic pot of never-ending North Sea oil money to make up for any shortfall?
Gone off the boil
SIR – Now some genius in the European Commission has suggested that we limit the power of our kettles in order to save the environment.
At first glance, it might be assumed that, if the wattage is reduced by half, we would be forced to wait twice as long for the kettle to boil, while saving no energy at all.
Sadly, it’s even worse than that. The longer a kettle takes to reach a particular temperature, the greater the amount of heat it loses to its surroundings.
Thus, under the new system, there would be a waste of energy, a waste of time and a waste of money – surely a perfect metaphor for the EU itself.
No more flora
SIR – The International Botanical Congress has ruled that descriptions in Latin are an “anachronism” and should now be written in English.
At least the use of Latin alerted one to the fact that the name was definitive. Many plants have several common English names. How are we to know whether we are seeing the definitive name or one of several ambiguous common names?
Since Latin is not (a very few exceptions aside) a spoken language, it is therefore not the prerogative of any nation. How long before the Chinese or Spanish-speaking groups demand equality with English, and we start seeing the definitive name of a new plant in Chinese characters?
Dr A E Hanwell
SIR – My late father was called up into the Denbighshire Hussars and Yeomanry in 1915, and learned to fight on horseback with a lance. Upon disbandment of the Hussars, he was transferred to the 11th Cheshires and subsequently wounded at Passchendaele.
As part of his recovery, he embroidered an intricate 12in square with the badge of the Cheshire Regiment. (“A stitch in war time”, Letters, September 1). I assume that his injured colleagues were given the same therapy.
Black and ready
SIR – How does one tell when black tomatoes are ready to pick?
SIR – The article on asbestos by Harry de Quetteville correctly stated that chrysotile, commonly known as white asbestos, is the most frequently found type of asbestos in buildings today, and that it is still considered to be a major health hazard by the EU.
However, the article failed to mention that in 2006 the British Health and Safety Commission published a risk assessment entitled A Comparison of Risks from Different Materials Containing Asbestos. This assessment found that asbestos cement and similar products containing the chrysotile form of asbestos cause no significant risks to health.
The amphibole forms of asbestos, which once were used for lagging pipes or insulating boilers, can indeed pose a serious health risk if breathed deep into the lungs, because the insoluble needle-like fibres can irritate the mesothelium surrounding the lung. The fibres of chrysotile, however, are both soft and soluble in acid, so that any particle reaching the lung will degrade and disappear within two weeks or thereabouts.
No proven cases of illness or death from exposure to chrysotile have ever been recorded.
Bryan K Edgley
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Tax disc abolition
SIR – I am amazed that there has not been more of an outcry about the abolition of the paper tax discs for cars and motorcycles by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
This change is supposed to save money, but I wonder if it will actually cut costs; it will be easy for people not to renew the tax and then not bother to insure the vehicle. If more cars are uninsured, this will put a greater burden on the law-abiding majority in the event of an accident.
Apparently, there will be cameras checking the numbers. How will this be done? Such a decision should have been taken following widespread consultation.
A name for Scrabble
SIR – The letter from Zog Ziegler about car parking with his mother caught my eye. The two Zs in his name would give him 30 points as a Scrabble score. My name, with its x, can only muster 25 points. Any advance on 30 points?
Lovey-dovey: passenger pigeons billing, from J J Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’, 1838 (www.bridgemanart.com)
SIR – A hundred years ago this week, in Cincinnati Zoo, a pigeon by the name of Martha died. She was the very last passenger pigeon.
When Europeans were settling in North America, passenger pigeons were found in incredible numbers. Eyewitnesses spoke of flocks darkening the sun and taking hours to pass. Their population, in peak years, was estimated at 10 billion.
Being good to eat and easy to shoot, the passenger pigeon was brought to the verge of extinction in the 19th century. The last in the wild was shot in Indiana in 1902.
By 1914, only Martha remained. Her body is now kept at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
A passenger jet aircraft comes into land at Heathrow Airport on March 13, 2007 Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
7:00AM BST 03 Sep 2014
SIR – The Davies Commission’s findings on airport expansion and capacity defy logic.
Heathrow is a bad airport in a bad place. Neither a third runway nor the expansion of an existing one will overcome the problem of congestion, nor would such moves be likely to increase capacity.
An estuary location providing four runways, 24-hour take-off and landing, minimal disruption to existing infrastructure and the regeneration of a run-down area must be the best alternative. It is all very well for the airlines to object, but they must either adapt or die.
John D Frew
SIR – The commission’s report is as predictable and blinkered as Boris Johnson’s team has indicated.
A Thames Estuary airport is the only realistic, long-term solution. By cancelling the unnecessary and ill-advised HS2 and diverting half its allocated funding to improving rail links in the Midlands and north of England, the other half could be allocated to the new airport.
SIR – I can understand Boris Johnson’s London-centric desire for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
However, many people in Britain reside further afield. I live within 45 minutes of Birmingham, East Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester airports, but for long-haul flights, my options are generally limited to Heathrow or Gatwick.
Why not ease the pressure on London with a new national airport in the middle of Britain – say, on the military wasteland of Salisbury Plain?
SIR – Now that plans for an estuary airport have been dropped, why not build a nuclear power station there?
London needs electricity and it would make much more sense to generate it there rather than 100 miles away on the Suffolk coast.
SIR – Well done to Natalie Paris for highlighting the success of regional airports.
Here in Kent, we are fighting to keep our airport at Manston – it was bought by Ann Gloag, the co-founder of Stagecoach, some 10 months ago and then closed down after four months, even though a company offered the full asking price. The resultant loss of 600 jobs has been a blow to our fragile economy.
I hope that the Government will recognise the capacity of smaller airports such as Manston. Their ability to take the pressure off busier airports should not be underestimated.
Sir, – Patsy McGarry reports on a call by Dr Ali Selim to reform radically the Irish education system to cater for those of other faiths, in particular the growing number of Islamic children in Ireland (“Call for State schools to accommodate Islamic beliefs”, September 3rd). Dr Selim is correct in saying that the current state of exclusion is unacceptable, unfair and completely hypocritical given our alleged commitment to human rights. Section 15 of the 1998 Education Act should be considered an affront by any decent, fair-minded person.
Where Dr Selim is wrong, however, is in seeking that further accommodations be made for religious beliefs in our education system. The only logical answer I can see to this issue is the removal of section 15 and the secularisation of the education system.
It is incumbent upon our State to educate our children about the world. If parents wish to educate their children about non-secular issues of faith then they should do so, by all means. But they should not be afforded the chance to do so at the expense or exclusion of other children. – Yours, etc,
King Street North,
Sir,– Dr Ali Selim, in his usual measured and erudite way, has done much over the years to explain Islam to an uncomprehending and sometimes unsympathetic public. However, his views on the Irish education system, and the role of religions in it, will surely foment many mental tussles on whether in our search for an inclusive society we should allow ourselves to be dictated to by a religious minority.
Of course Muslims have rights and they, like every other faith group, should be accommodated educationally and compromises should be made. But only as far as is practicable. Dr Salim’s agonising about communal changing rooms, music and headscarf prohibition at PE brings us back many decades to the episcopal strictures on “mixed bathing”, “company keeping” and the McQuaid Trinity ban. He is unaware, perhaps, that Islam, like any other religion, has an obligation to adjust to, although not necessarily agree with, the society in which it lives.
This is not to deny, of course, the need for reform of the role of religions in our schools. – Yours, etc,
Templeogue, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – Far from being a “revolution of inclusivity”, most of the changes proposed by Dr Ali Selim to make State schools accommodate Islamic beliefs would serve as a step back into the well-worn path of dogmatic irrationality.
Dr Selim is undeniably justified in highlighting the discriminatory practice, in some schools, of giving preference to pupils of a certain religious persuasion.
Once a school receives State funding, it should lose the right to apply such criteria, on the grounds that it is a remnant of traditional inequality in a supposedly equal society.
However, he calls for discrimination of a different kind by proposing that girls be only allowed play when out of sight of boys, that all physical contact between boys and girls be forbidden, or that certain musical instruments be prohibited for fear their use would conflict with Islamic values.
From the article, it is unclear if Dr Selim is proposing that these measures be applied selectively for Islamic children in Irish schools, on a wider scale in schools with a high proportion of Islamic students, or across all schools.
Regardless of which option he envisions, none of them can be considered in State-run establishments.
In 2014, our schools should be run on principles guided by reason, rather than ancient texts. We can no more consider an Islamic version of physical education than we can a creationist version of science. School governance should be informed by compassion, equality, inclusivity and a spirit of inquiry.
None of these principles can be sacrificed in the desperate scramble for political correctness.
The Irish education system has never been freer from the clutches of dogmatic influence. We owe it to future generations to take this opportunity to iron out finally old prejudices and pointless divisions from our social fabric, rather than introducing new ones. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps Catholicism and Islam are not that different after all. Dr Ali Selim’s descriptions of some of Islam’s more prudish strictures have the distinct whiff of John Charles McQuaid about them. – Yours, etc,
Clonsilla, Dublin 15.
Sir, – Having read Dr Ali Selim’s medieval wishlist for Irish education, I would like to thank him sincerely for reminding us all why we need less religion, not more, in Irish schools. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The suggestion by Jacky Jones (“Educational caste system affects all aspects of life”, Second Opinion, Health + Family, September 2nd) that there might be a compulsory 40 per cent intake of disadvantaged children has much to commend it, but will it work?
I come from a working class background and was educated in England under the provisions of the 1944 Education Act and what was then the “11-plus” system. In effect, you got into an advanced secondary level education on the basis of educational achievement. That is not to say money was not a great help, particularly if your parents wished to bypass the public system.
But inevitably, being of Catholic Irish extraction meant that most boys in my year were working class too. It also meant that from primary school level upwards, we were as Catholics trained to believe that we were as good as anybody else. Under that 1944 Act, and because of other assistance promoted by the postwar British Labour Party, it became the norm that most boys that I knew went on to third level. I do not think my female contemporaries were any different.
In short, social mix meant nothing in the context of the educational achievement of my contemporaries. It might be more productive to examine the basis of the success evident in the performance of secondary level students in Northern Ireland as compared to the UK generally. – Yours, etc,
Marley Grange, Dublin 16.
A chara, – I’m curious as to how Dr Jacky Jones would carry out her proposal to force all schools to have a mix of “40 per cent of pupils from families with medical cards and 60 per cent from middle- and higher-income families”. Whatever about forcing schools to adopt changes to their admission policies – it’s already hard enough drawing up enrolment polices – drawing them up so as to reflect the socio-economic background of the students on top of everything else would be a nightmare. How would she force parents to comply? Parents do have constitutional rights in this area; drawing up legislation that didn’t infringe on these would probably be problematic (and please don’t suggest we have yet another referendum to deal with it – we can’t amend the Constitution every five minutes).
Even without these rights, does she seriously imagine parents would put up with allowing their children to be sent hither and yon for the sake of her theory? It’d be a brave TD who’d stand up in the Dáil and vote for that one, party whip or not.
Also, how are the children to be moved from one area to another? Our school transport system is already struggling to cope. And let’s not forget the students – how likely are they to want to spend extra hours out of their day in travel? Not to mention being forced to go to school outside of their own communities, away from their families and friends. Extra resources for the preschools, primary schools, and secondary schools attended by children whose background indicates they are less likely to go on to third level would seem simpler.
Simpler, that is, if the desired goal actually is to guide these children into higher education and provide them with the attendant health benefits that Dr Jones says comes from further education. If the agenda is about breaking down perceived class barriers, that’s a whole different conversation. – Is mise,
Rev PATRICK G BURKE,
Sir, – In spite of the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust and the work of the OPW, the upcoming Bantry House contents sale (“Appeal to State to keep Bantry House rare works from sale”, September 3rd) demonstrates that there is still no effective safety net to protect the historic collections of the great country houses of Ireland. Since the publication of the Irish Georgian Society and Department of the Environment-supported report by Prof Terence Dooley, A Future for Irish Historic Houses? (2003), this sale will become the second great country house in this study to have had its contents sold in its entirety while others have seen significant sales.
As cultural tourism attractions, these houses, together with their historic collections, often play important roles in rural economies through drawing visitors away from major centres. Selling their historic contents, as is now occurring in Bantry House, diminishes the attractiveness of the sites to potential visitors and so seems self-defeating.
So as to limit the further erosion of these nationally important heritage sites and to consolidate their role in the tourism economy, there is a clear need for all interested organisations (the Irish Georgian Society, the Irish Heritage Trust, the Irish Historic Houses Association, the Office of Public Works and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) to rethink the basis upon which intervention might prove possible so as to avoid further instances of this potentially irretrievable loss of heritage patrimony. – Yours, etc,
Irish Georgian Society,
City Assembly House,
South William Street,
e been negotiated, and Gaza moved off the front pages, when Israel announced the takeover of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank, the biggest appropriation of Palestine land in 30 years (“Israel draws international rebuke for latest West Bank land seizure”, September 1st).
We have to start somewhere to reverse this situation, and to move towards a peaceful and just solution to this historic and ongoing problem.
As Irish people we need to use our recognised position as a neutral country, take a stand, and withdraw our ambassador from Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador.
This step could become the turning point, one which starts to mobilise world opinion, and forces Israel to operate in a civilised manner. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment expressed in the letter from Senator Sean Barrett (September 2nd). However, it is not policy that gets things done, but rather action. Mr Barrett is in the privileged position of having been elected as one of our legislators. It is within his power, and that of his fellow Senators, who have expressed “strong support for the position of compliant tenants of defaulting landlords”, to bring legislation before the house to rectify this issue, which is affecting an increasing number of the Seanad’s constituency. Draft the legislation and put it before the House and let the Senators vote it down, if they dare. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to recent correspondence (September 2nd), introducing a greater variety of languages in schools would be a welcome step. Yet it would be foolish to dismiss the utility of the French language.
Regrettably, French is too often taught as solely the language of France, and with some luck Québec. Leaving Cert comprehensions are populated by Pierre and Marie from Paris, never by Fatima from Guinea or Merwan from Algeria. Yet only a fraction of the world’s Francophone people lives in France, and this proportion is steadily diminishing.
French is growing fast. A projection by investment bank Natixis estimated that the language will be spoken by 750 million people by 2050. Most crucially, this growth is occurring in what will be the economic powerhouse of this century – Africa. A focus on French’s international, especially African, flavour would make for not only more employable but also for more socially aware citizens. The need to engage students with the developing world has never been greater. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On behalf of Pennsylvania State University, I wish to record my deepest appreciation for the warm hospitality we were shown during our recent visit to Ireland.
It was a magical trip marked by spectacular scenery, friendly people, educational opportunities and a thrilling athletic competition in Croke Park, which is one of the world’s most historic sports venues. Special thanks go to the Gaelic Athletic Association which helped facilitate the trip, and Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke who opened up the city to our student-athletes, coaches and fans.
Thousands of alumni, staff and students have returned to the US with countless memories, and we look forward to building on the cultural, academic and economic development opportunities between Penn State and Ireland’s outstanding colleges, universities and industries.
I believe that you can tell a great deal about people based on their hospitality. Ireland stands tall on that score. – Yours, etc,
ERIC J BARRON,
Sir, – I agree with Daniel K Sullivan ( September 3rd).
Why, when a candidate – who happens to be male – is chosen, is there such disapproval from some quarters, solely on the basis of his gender? It seems that some people want objectivity, but on their own terms. They are against discrimination, unless it’s discrimination that suits their agenda. The irony here is dazzling.
The introduction of gender quotas could result in better candidates losing out to weaker candidates. Is this really what we want? A better-qualified woman should not lose out to a lesser-qualified man. Similarly, a better-qualified man should not lose out to a lesser-qualified woman.
I would whole-heartedly welcome an increase in female candidates at the next general election, but gender quotas are not the way to go. Gender quotas, by their very nature, facilitate and encourage sexual discrimination. Is this not precisely what advocates of gender quotas are seeking to address?
Candidates should be chosen on the basis of ability and merit, irrespective of gender. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – Paul Clements (An Irishman’s Diary, August 30th) relates how in 1924 the BBC was set up in the newly formed state of Northern Ireland. The identifier call sign was 2BE, suggested at the time by prime minister Lord Craigavon as standing for “the second city of the British Empire”.
On January 1st, 1926, in the Irish Free State, Radio 2RN was formally opened by Dr Douglas Hyde, who was to become the first president of Ireland in 1938. The call sign Radio 2RN was designated by London, phonetically reproducing the last words of the song Come Back to Éireann. This title was maintained until 1932 when it was changed to Radio Éireann. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Rachael Stanley’s letter (September 3rd) about death being a great leveller reminded me of the two onlookers watching a millionaire being buried in his Rolls Royce.
One remarked to the other, “Man, that’s what I call living”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Without giving offense to our favorite transatlantic neighbors, it would be difficult to organize the dropping of British spelling (September 3rd). However, with some labor, humor and dialog, we might maneuver our way towards the center of American spelling, but it could take all nite. – Yours, etc,
Pope Francis’s decision to consider Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador for sainthood dilutes the influence of those right-wing voices in the Vatican who saw Mr Romero’s radical siding with the poor, the marginalised, the tortured and the disappeared as more to do with politics than faith. Mr Romero was persistently critical of the ruthless military regime that was complicit in his murder. The people of San Salvador already see him as a saint.
Mr Romero took seriously what he saw as the Christian calling to serve the poor and outcasts of society, intensifying awareness of their unjust oppression. A key influence on Romero was Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, particularly through his book, ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.’
Freire had shown that the education system, far from liberating the poor, confirmed them in their condition. The church served the state well in the inculcation of orthodoxy and resignation; the notion that God loved the poor was equated with the view that he loved poverty.
However, the promise of a better condition for the poor in the next life, allied to the difficulty the rich would experience in getting to heaven, did not fire the enthusiasm of the wealthy for poverty. Central and South America, with the support of the USA, were bedevilled by a series of corrupt and oppressive dictators with a pathological antipathy to democracy.
They served the interests of the rich and powerful, leaving the poor to pick up the crumbs that fell from their tables.
Pope Francis’s commitment to pursuing the beatification of Mr Romero represents a radical move towards bringing Christian life back to earth, to face up to our responsibilities for one another; so that all of us, politicians included, do not dispose of our duties to those at the margins of society by praying for them.
Our politics and our faith are inseparable.
Philip O’Neill, Oxford, UK
Joan as spacewoman
In the much-acclaimed movie ‘Gravity’ Sandra Bullock‘s character is required to save herself. With meagre resources and against impossible odds, she has to extract herself from hostile outer space, avoid the random lethal debris of the space race and return to Earth.
Our own Miss Congeniality, Tanaiste Joan Burton, has a similar task. She has even fewer resources and is facing even more impossible odds, but has the added burden of saving the irradiated and comatose Labour Party. And without the benefit of the best special effects that money can buy.
At the cost of being momentarily serious (and with apologies for the pun), does she and the Labour Party, let alone our good selves, realise that this task will require more than mere gravity?
Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry
Time to listen to sex workers
Your report (Independent.ie, September 2) outlining Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s consideration of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex contained a basic factual error. It is not illegal to sell sexual services to another adult in a private place in Ireland.
In addition, I am confused as to why the minister, or anyone, would see the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services as a practical response to the state-sanctioned poverty of people living in Direct Provision.
As was clear from the report on ‘Today’ with Sean O’Rourke, people in Direct Provision are not selling sex just because other people want to buy sex; it happens because people live in poverty with few or no other ways to earn an income and provide for their families. Perhaps the minister should consider allowing those applying for refugee status to work, and focus on ending Direct Provision, rather than criminalising and stigmatising people in sex work any further. If you are selling something that is illegal to buy, how can you not feel that you are doing something illegal? If the police intercept you as you are working, how can you not feel like a criminal?
The minister would do well to actually listen to sex workers and refugees. They know their own lives. They are the experts. Arresting people who pay for sexual services will not give either of these marginalised groups any more rights, protections or opportunities. Let’s not pretend it will.
Dearbhla Ryan, Portobello, Dublin 8
US must end support of Israel
Israel’s attack on Gaza and its people has taught us a terrifying lesson. Over 2,100 people in Gaza, many of them children, have been killed by Israel and the world just stood by and allowed it to happen.
The United States administration supported Israel and the United Nations did nothing whatever to stop the widespread carnage and destruction of Gaza. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is less than inspiring. And what can one say about Tony Blair? What has he ever done for these poor people? The savagery of Israel’s assault on the unfortunate people of Gaza is beyond description. Homes, a hospital and UN-run shelters were attacked and innocent people were killed. Children playing on the beach were killed. There will, of course, be no peace in the Middle East till Israel lifts its blockade of Gaza.
Israel continues even now to steal land to which it has no right and build settlements – and still the USA continues to support it. I listened to brave Israeli journalist Gideon Levy speaking on the BBC programme ‘Hard Talk’ where he said: “Israelis cannot live in the luxury of no accountability for what’s being done in their name.”
There will be no peace in the Middle East while the US administration continues to give unconditional support to Israel.
Name and address with Editor
State to blame for travel woes
The AA have recently warned that motorists can expect the “worst traffic season” in years, with “traffic volumes up across the road network”. In that light, one would expect a government with any semblance of foresight to invest in its public transport network, so as to reduce the need for private cars on our roads.
Instead, our government seems intent on washing its hands of any responsibility for public transport. It has slashed the public subvention to public transport companies by over €53 million a year.
With the prospect of severe traffic congestion looming on the horizon, surely the best way forward is to provide a properly funded public transport system that is capable of reducing the necessity for people to take their car to work.
Instead, we have a situation whereby the number of trains and buses in service is being cut and industrial unrest is being instigated.
Perhaps the imminent constant reports of gridlock around Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick will force the government to explore ways of reducing traffic levels on Irish roads. However, by that stage Irish citizens will have already paid the price for the Government’s arrogant and ideological refusal to properly fund a public transport network.
Simon O’Connor, Crumlin, Dublin 12
Action needed on housing crisis
My heart goes out to the thousands of students unable to find suitable accommodation in Dublin, but attention must also be given to professionals unable to find the same.
I myself have been searching for over a month, have viewed countless rooms and yet, with my lease ending this day last week, still find myself without a room in Dublin. How are people expected to work and live if they are competing with 100 other people for a €500 p/m box room?
And when is the Government going to address the ever-growing housing crisis in Dublin?
Chris Prendergast, Address with Editor