Peter Rice

6 September 2014 Peter Rice

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A warmish day. Peter Rice coms fixes drain book shelves and wine racks. I collect my prescription

Mary’s back not much better today, pork chop for tea and her back pain is still there.


Tony Hickson – obituary

Tony Hickson was a food industry entrepreneur who was born in a workhouse and became known as the ‘King of Pickles’

Tony Hickson, the 'King of Pickles'

Tony Hickson, the ‘King of Pickles’ Photo: CHRIS DAVEY/KENTISH GAZETTE

5:18PM BST 05 Sep 2014


Tony Hickson, who has died aged 87, made his name as the “King of Pickles” in the food industry, after setting up his own company, Humber Pickles, in the 1950s; in the 1970s with the “Beetroot King” Jack Lowe, he was involved in a “reverse takeover” of the debt-ridden Hazlewood Foods, which they led through a period of rapid growth.

But, as he confessed in his memoir The Musical Pickle Man’s Tail, Hickson’s flair for business was accompanied by bouts of mental instability and difficulties in personal relationships which caused the breakdown of two marriages and the near collapse of the third, periods in psychiatric care and one suicide attempt.

By his own account Tony Hickson was conceived “across a pile of pickling onions” in May 1926 at a Hull pickling factory when the factory boss, Sydney Warden, took advantage of Tony’s mother, Olive Hickson, a 15-year-old worker at the plant. Expelled from the family home for conceiving her child out of wedlock, she gave birth on February 16 1927 in the West Hull workhouse.

Tony was transferred to the care of his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, a casual dockworker, and it was only when he was about 10 that he discovered that the woman he thought of as his sister was, in fact, his mother. His father, meanwhile, had lived for some years in Denmark managing a pickle works for Crosse & Blackwell before returning to Hull where, after the war, he set up his own onion pickling business in a run-down area of the city.

After leaving school, Tony Hickson volunteered for service in Bomber Command and trained as a flight mechanic, but was discharged from the service after an incident when, in his sleep, he nearly throttled a fellow serviceman sleeping in the next door bed, while dreaming that he had found his girlfriend with another man.

After the war he joined his father in the pickling business and helped him to expand and diversify into products such as piccalilli and sandwich spread. He was furious when his father sold the business without telling him (he recalled that when his father died his widow had tried to persuade Tony to sign a document “for and on behalf of an unknown number of illegitimate half-brothers and half-sisters, the children of Sydney Warden Esquire” under which he undertook to make no claim on his estate).

Although Hickson agreed to stay on as manager, the new owner made his life impossible, and the business soon failed. In 1950 he set up his own business, Humber Foods, which, over the next 20 years, he developed into the largest privately-owned pickle company in the country.

As chairman of the pickles and sauces section of the Food and Drink Federation, Hickson became involved in negotiations with Brussels after Britain’s entry into the EEC, although he found it tragic that so much time was wasted deciding “what size and colour a pickled gherkin should be or how much spice should be in a jar of red cabbage”. He was particularly irritated by the imposition of “sell-by” dates on pickles which improve the longer they are kept.

The reverse takeover of Hazlewood Foods in 1977 allowed Hickson to trade as a PLC under the Hazlewood name and the company expanded rapidly through a series of takeovers. By the mid-1980s it had become a highly-rated “glamour stock” and was considering making a bid for Northern Foods. Following disagreements with fellow board members, however, Hickson took early retirement in 1986 . Later he began his own business consultancy.

From his school days Hickson had been passionate about classical music, and from the 1970s he served as a member of the board, and later chairman and president, of the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra. He sponsored stars such as Paul Tortellier and Segovia to play with the orchestra, and in the late 1980s came to its rescue during a time of financial crisis.

Throughout his life, however, Hickson (who at various times sported a waxed moustache à la Hercule Poirot) had suffered from mood swings and severe bouts of mental instability, which he blamed, in part, on the concussion he had suffered as a result of a sporting accident at school (in later life he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy).

One manifestation of his disturbed state was his inability to remain faithful to one woman. Having, as he put it, “ruined two marriages and left everyone devastated”, he married, thirdly, in 1960, Audrey Zweierzchowska. That marriage, too, nearly came unstuck in the late 1980s when he began an affair with the concert pianist Annette Servadei. After a long period of blowing hot and cold, during which Audrey initiated divorce proceedings , he managed to patch up his marriage before Audrey succumbed to cancer in 2003.

Tony Hickson’s closest relationships were with his dogs, and in later life, after moving to Kent, he became a familiar figure in the streets of Canterbury, riding a mobility scooter with his Great Dane, Daisy, running alongside.

With his second wife, Jean, Hickson had two daughters; with his third wife, Audrey, he had a son and a stepdaughter.

Tony Hickson, born February 16 1927, died July 21 2014


Marcus Butt Illustration by Marcus Butt

The introduction of a food crime unit, recommended by Professor Chris Elliott in his report, is to be welcomed (Food scandals: protection money, Editorial, 5 September), as is the government’s new found commitment to fighting food crime. Hopefully the government’s aim to shrink the state and encourage self-regulation will not cause the new FCU to flounder. Our recent research demonstrates that food crime in the meat sector is serious and organised, but the supply-chain dynamics mean that the organisers are those who have legitimate access to the markets in order to place adulterated products. These offenders do not conform to our usual stereotypes of organised criminals, as many have a legitimate role in the supply chain/marketplace.

It is not until we have a much more sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of food adulteration and contamination and market/supply chain dynamics that it will be possible to ensure food safety. This can only be enhanced by an FCU that has both investigative teeth and powers of prosecution, otherwise it will go the same way as many specific crime-focused agencies have in the past; as a an extension to the “empire” of whatever the national agency is that is responsible for tackling organised crime.
Jon Spencer Senior lecturer in criminal justice, Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, University of Manchester, Professor Roy Goodacre Professor of biological chemistry, School of Chemistry and Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, University of Manchester, Dr David Ellis Senior experimental officer, School of Chemistry and Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, University of Manchester

• The battle to offer lower prices to shoppers is incentivising sharp practices in the food industry, and the key recommendation of an independent inquiry is for a new food crime unit “to fight criminals cashing in on supermarkets’ determination to minimise the prices they pay to suppliers” (Growing threat of new food scandal, 5 September). No mention of the disastrous race to the bottom in the food and farming sector caused by the consumerist fantasy of ever-reducing food prices. It almost makes you nostalgic for New Labour. Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime.
Chris Smaje
Frome, Somerset

• The horsemeat scandal is finally moving towards some kind of finishing line with the publication of the Elliott report. There are signs that the government will take up its main recommendations, which is welcome. There is also hope that adequately resourced initiatives might go some way to restoring some public confidence in our food supply. But strengthening the systems against food adulteration fails to address an underlying problem – even perhaps an indirect cause – of the scandal: the progressive alienation of shoppers from food producers. Our food shopping is increasingly devoid of human contact. We don’t encounter the people who produce the food we eat. We rely on brands and labels. The supply chain is opaque. To engage shoppers we really need to promote local food bought from markets, farm shops and independent outlets, which come mostly from short and simple supply chains. The human connection between shoppers, shopkeepers and producers builds trust in the product, while feedback and human relationships support quality, as well as a better understanding of where and how food is produced.

Professor Elliott rightly recognises the “enormous importance” of shorter supply chains and the sourcing of locally produced foods. There is, therefore, no better time for all political parties to promote the diversification of food retail and shorten and simplify food supply to deliver the deeper changes that are needed.
Graeme Willis
Senior rural policy campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England

• The government’s plans for a food crime unit and new laboratories to combat future food scares is merely papering over the cracks of a broken system. The reforms seek only to catch abuse in our supply chains once the damage has been done and there are still no controls in place to ensure supply chain managers are professional, licensed and competent.

When we surveyed supply chain professionals earlier this year, 51% said the horsemeat scandal has not led to supply chain risk being taken more seriously and only 21% of supply chain professionals could guarantee there was no malpractice in their supply chains. We must empower supply chain managers within their own organisations if we are to make real progress.

We already ask our members to self-regulate as we call for a licence for procurement and supply management professionals. Without it, we are going to see a re-run of supply chain mismanagement with devastating consequences.
David Noble
Group CEO, Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply

Appeal to save Wedgwood Collection ‘The loss of this important research collection would therefore have a devastating impact not just on the artistic heritage of Britain, but also on period research in the humanities internationally.’ Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

The council of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, Europe’s leading international society for the archaeological study of the post-medieval period, is writing to voice its strong support for the Art Fund’s Save the Wedgwood Collection fundraising appeal, as recently highlighted in your newspaper (Report, 2 September). While there is likely to be broad appreciation for the collection’s artistic importance, its international importance to post-medieval archaeology may be less well known. Among post-medieval archaeology’s core areas of interest are the study of such topics as artefacts of the post-1500 modern world, globalisation and the spread of capitalism, and the industrial revolution. The Wedgwood collection is a priceless research resource for all of these issues. Wherever post-medieval archaeologists work on sites dating to the later 18th and 19th centuries – whether in Great Britain, Ireland, and Europe, or further afield in North America, South America, Africa, Australasia, or even the desert oases of the Persian Gulf – one of the most common and important artefact types we recover are the British ceramic types pioneered, produced, and inspired by Josiah Wedgwood and his successors.

The loss of this important research collection would therefore have a devastating impact not just on the artistic heritage of Britain, but also on period research in the humanities internationally. In keeping with our goal of supporting relevant research, the SPMA has made a modest donation to the campaign in the welcome knowledge that the first £500,000 of donations will be matched. Individual council members have also made donations, and we hope that your readers will likewise lend their support to this important cause.
Dr David Caldwell President,
Nick Brannon Vice-president
Dr Alasdair Brooks Independent Researcher, Dubai
Stuart Campbell National Museums Scotland
Dr Vicky Crewe University of Cardiff
Emma Dwyer University of Leicester
Dr Kate Giles University of York
Prof Audrey Horning FSA Queen’s University, Belfast
Nigel Jeffries Museum of London Archaeology
Brian Kerr FSA, FSA Scot English Heritage
Dr Chris King University of Nottingham
Dr Laura McAtackney University College, Dublin
Kerry Massheder-Rigby University of Liverpool
Dr Sarah May Heritage for Transformation
Dr Natascha Mehler University of Vienna
Dr Hilary Orange University College London
Jacqui Pearce FSA Museum of London Archaeology
Dr Beverly Straube Jamestown Rediscovery, Virginia
Dr Hugh Willmott FSA University of Sheffield
SPMA council members

A Proms concert in progress at the Royal Albert Hall A Proms concert in progress at the Royal Albert Hall. Photograph: BBC

A spokeswoman for the mighty BBC tells Charlotte Higgins (Composers condemn ‘patronising’ BBC, 3 September) that the BBC Proms’ producers “have to bear in mind the audience” when choosing which Prom concerts to televise; and that “newer works are often less familiar”. Is someone paid good wages to write that sort of guff?

Serious questions about the programming of uncompromising “contemporary” music (often referred to by orchestral musicians as “squeaky gate music”) require more thoughtful evasion than this spokeswoman is capable of. Who decided, for example, that John Wilson’s Proms performance of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate should warrant only two short clips in Katie Derham’s television show? Not “familiar” enough for broadcast? And did nobody notice that living composer Roxanna Panufnik had created a most astonishingly topical, and accessible, composition that absorbed Christian, Jewish and Islamic musical traditions, to tell the story of Abraham and Isaac? Her Three Paths to Peace would have made an even more powerful comment if it had been broadcast after the evening news from Gaza. But it wasn’t.
Tony Staveacre
Blagdon, Somerset

• What a pathetic response by “a BBC spokeswoman” to criticism about the lack of contemporary music televised from the Proms. It can be dangerous to presume everything done in the past was better but one thing I know is that when I worked at the BBC we believed a vital part of our role was to encourage the audience to view, experience and appreciate works they might never otherwise have come across, in all art forms. If we had gone by the BBC’s current philosophy, then some of the most memorable arts programmes, now regarded as classics, would never have been made.
Diana Lashmore
Former executive producer, Music and Arts, BBC TV, London

• The problem is that it’s virtually impossible to write interesting new music for an ensemble combining conventional instrumentation that has scarcely changed in 250 years, and whose players have rigidly defined roles and playing styles – particularly since it already has a rich repertoire of undisputed masterpieces, and players who are so remarkably adept at performing it. It is not enough to write music that is merely “approachable” or “accessible”: composers need to write with a passion to express and communicate their ideas, and that means working with musicians who share that passion and can contribute creatively to its expression. The standard European symphony orchestra – whatever its undoubted glories – is not the ideal vehicle for this!

Britain’s demographic is changing. This means not only a wider and more diverse audience, but an ever-expanding range of other musical styles, instruments and above all musicians to draw on – thus opening up opportunities hitherto unimaginable for contemporary composers. Music which is exciting, original and properly expresses the spirit of Britain today may even also tickle the ears of broadcasters – and TV Proms transmissions are not the only outlet.
Tony Haynes
Grand Union Orchestra, London

Steve Rose (Strike force, G2, 5 September) apparently hasn’t noticed the difference between an Ealing comedy and the much sharper Boulting brothers comedies like I’m All Right Jack, which rather damages his credibility writing about British films. As for American films, it was good of Ken Loach to make the only film about union struggles in the US, as though the seminal Salt of the Earth and later films such as Matewan and Harlan County USA had never been made. Given the preference for continental Europe in Guardian film criticism, I’m rather surprised Rose hasn’t heard of Bo Widerberg’s Joe Hill – after all, it’s Swedish, even though its hero became an American union leader. And it’s rather sad that the article continues the cold-shouldering of The Happy Lands, last year’s British film about Scottish miners in the general strike.
John Wilson

1-On-1 Yoga Class at Shreyas Retreat,  Bangalore, Karnataka, India, Asia ‘If the original meaning of feisty refers to excessive flatulence, then it’s not an inappropriate term to describe people. Just attend a yoga class to discover why,’ writes Sue Johnson. Photograph: Robert Harding Picture Library/Alamy

After all the commemorations of the centenary of the first world war, I am astonished that the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war on 3 September has merited not a mention in the national media. My father’s generation included many who inclined to pacifism but volunteered for a just war, to defeat fascism. He survived but many of his comrades didn’t, nor did millions of noncombatants in many countries. We should honour them.
Dr Jane Darke

• While not belittling Warrior’s record in the first world war (Medal for war horse, 3 September), it should be pointed out that as he was an officer’s horse he was brought back home and lived to a ripe old age in comfortable conditions. Hundreds of other horses that served equally bravely were sold on, in France and other theatres of war, to suffer uncertain fates. One of the results of this was the foundation of The Brooke, the charity which today supports working equines in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Alison Harris
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

• I use my whisky tin to keep knitting needles tidy. Please take note Brooks Newmark (Letters, 5 September).
Susan Tibbits
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

• If the original meaning of feisty refers to excessive flatulence, then it’s not an inappropriate term to describe people (Letters, 5 September). Just attend a yoga class to discover why.
Sue Johnson

• Thanks Kathy Lette for a reminder of the genius of Spike Milligan (Comment, 4 September) and the new memorial. There is already a permanent memorial to Spike: his grave at St Thomas’s Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex, with the legendary “I told you I was ill” inscription. A lovely, peaceful sight in perfect country church grounds.
Ted Heath

• Thank you, Guardian, for a front-page photo two days in a row to make us smile over our morning coffee (Ebola nurse out of hospital, 3 September, and Goon but not forgotten, 4 September).
Sue and Robin Hoar
Teddington, Middlesex

Sandy Wilson, right, outside the theatre showing The Boy Friend, with the show’s producer Vida Hope. Photograph: Grey Villet/LIFE/Getty

Watching The Boy Friend by Sandy Wilson countless times as a young man never failed to fill me with delight and a longing for an age I had never known; it influenced a lot of my work with the band the Temperance Seven.

Wilson made life a little richer in those dark early 50s. Sitting in the gods, in my duffel coat and open-toed, existentialist sandals, a struggling art student, all I knew was that the music filled me with a happiness that had me humming on the bus all the way home to my miserable bedsit in Earl’s Court; the bright, witty, gently jazzy music ran through my head as I painted into the night. A happy meeting with a few fellow student musicians who shared my nostalgia resulted in the Temperance Seven. I like to think Wilson would have enjoyed our music as much as I delighted in his.


Bullies enjoy what they do – it gives them a sense of power and invulnerability if they are not caught and punished.

The worst thing you can tell a victim of bullying is “Ignore them and they’ll go away”. They won’t. They will just see how much further they have to go to get a reaction. Any attempt to stop their fun by anyone not in a position of unassailable power over them will be aggressively rejected.

Read more: The truth about bullying

As P G Wodehouse noted, “bullies are very rarely cowards”. And they don’t call it bullying. It is only “making fun of”, “teasing”, “banter” or (if you are a cricketer) “sledging”. It is, in fact child abuse, even when conducted by children, so let’s call it that.

Each school has a duty of care towards its pupils (and staff). Not challenging abuse – and in the case in your article “Cruel days” (4 September) it is child abuse accepted by adults who are in loco parentis – is a clear breach of this duty of care. Giving a child the impossible problem of gaining acceptance after a year of abuse, without help, guidance or support, or any intention of punishing the abusers, is yet more abuse

What to do? Tell the victim that “There is life after school – it does not last forever.” Ask whether your child looks good in their clothes and haircut; children judge each other a lot by appearances. Look at physical fitness. Good posture and muscles will make your child a lot less like a victim. If there is a sports centre or gym where they can get fit, take them.

Keep a diary of every humiliation and every failure by staff to take appropriate action. Don’t let the school think it can get away with ignoring the problem. Ask for its policy on dealing with bullies – but mention that it is child abuse. Contact the governors, and regularly send them copies of the diary, asking for their advice on what to do.

And remember that abusers are experts at not getting caught. But if they are not dealt with, some of today’s “bullies” will be tomorrow’s Jimmy Saviles and Cyril Smiths.

Peter Slessenger, Reading

The most depressing thing about the article “Cruel days” is that the parent trying to resolve a bullying issue actually made matters worse, because of the apathy (cowardice) and disregard of the people in senior positions who should have dealt with the situation, but actually turned things against the bullied. A bit like blaming a rape victim for being sexually provocative.

Regrettably, bullying continues past schooldays into work, where it is rife in so many different areas. Workplace bullying is rarely, if ever, physical, but is usually the result of a misuse of power, invariably to cover up deficiencies, and is emotional, verbal, electronic and goodness knows what else, all officially defined as “harassment”.

I work in construction where bullying has become almost endemic in recent years. I always stand up to bullies but have usually found the same attitude that distressed me reading this article – not only do people turn a blind eye, they often actively encourage such disgraceful behaviour.

This comes from both employers (not wishing to “make a fuss”) and clients/principal contractors, who are usually part of the problem. Luckily, my current employers are  very good in this regard.

A reduction in trade unions and professional bodies which actually care about these issues has contributed to the problem.

We need to see more trade bodies and professional institutions starting to tackle this issue properly, with proper debate, and if not punishment, then at least the naming and shaming of the protagonists, and, most importantly, offering support to victims.

This is an issue that has a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of a huge number of people, and it is about time we dragged ourselves into the 21st century and dealt with it.

Phil McLaughlin, London Colney, Hertfordshire

Can the Scots afford their own currency?

The way that the Union was set up, the Westminster Parliament extended its authority across Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament adjourned itself. The national debt therefore is Westminster’s problem. Has the SNP administration at Holyrood the mandate to lumber an independent Scotland with the proposed 10 per cent of the debt to keep sterling?

In order to borrow money to pay public-sector workers, from the start an independent Scotland would need a Scots pound. If an independent Scotland kept the British pound, there could be no public-sector borrowing, only a balanced budget. Nearly all modern states are run by borrowing to pay for public services. Scotland would need to do this, with a welfare state.

Any new Scots pound floated on the international currency markets will devalue to about 77p, if Ireland’s experience in  1979 is anything to go by, thereby cutting the spending power of all public-sector wages, pensions and benefits.

Everything in the shops would increase in price by 40 per cent in one jump if an independent Scotland had its own currency. Unfortunately, an independent Scotland would need one to function. But do the Scots want a pay cut?

Nigel F Boddy, Darlington, Co Durham

The Yes/No debate for Scottish independence is gathering momentum, with the question of what currency Scotland will use in the forefront.

Lloyds Bank and other financial institutions threaten to move to London should the Scots vote Yes: a move that would benefit the Scots rather than harm them – they should be cheering them on their way.

Currency and monetary manipulation is a lever of control of the ruling elite. The last thing in the world an independent Scotland should consider is keeping either the British pound or the euro.

Both are under the control of central banks run for the benefit of the bankers and their owners.

As Mayer Amschel Rothschild said in 1790: “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.” A truly independent Scotland must control its own money to be worthy of the description “independent”; anything less is merely cosmetic change with no substance.

The choice is clear: rule by the ruling elite and the banks, or real independence through Scotland controlling its own money.

Clive Menzies, London N13

No second-class PM – on stamps

The problem with Colin Burke’s suggestion (letter, 5 September), that the Yes campaign in Scotland should just send out a blank postcard to voters with a Margaret Thatcher stamp on it, is that the Royal Mail does not issue its prime minister stamps until 14 October.

But it is of interest that the four post-war prime ministers to be depicted (Attlee, Churchill, Wilson and Thatcher) are all on first-class stamps. Presumably they thought it would be too controversial to make any of the prime ministers second-class.

David Lammin, Boxford, Suffolk

boris won’t take  no for an answer

So with the Thames Estuary airport as it was with the water cannon: Boris Johnson seems incapable of being told No. Well, incapable of understanding and accepting it, at least.

His self-belief is unquestionable – quite literally, it seems – as illustrated by his apparent refusal to take advice or instruction from those he is supposed to work alongside, those who “advise” him or those whom he is supposed to represent.

Now that he has become bored with the city he was given to play with, it only remains to be seen whether the public will be foolish enough to risk electing him to go lord it in the Commons.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

United Nations is our only hope

Your front page (4 September) issued a challenge to President Obama as “the leader of the free world” – but that is the kind of thinking that perpetuates the problem.

So long as we continue to look to the “great powers” to sort out all the problems in the world, we will only store up more trouble. We cannot determine what is best for others. If we seriously believe that democracy is the best way to resolve political issues, we need to start acting as if we believed it. It is not up to America, Russia or anyone else to decide how the world should be. We need a forum where all parties, all countries, can freely debate and decide on the best course of action.

That is the true function of the UN, a key institution which has been shamefully sidelined and ignored in recent years. How can we expect anyone else to take notice of international law if we blatantly ignore it?

Simon Prentis, Cheltenham

too many cook’s pictures… The Independent has joined the trend (worst offender being the Radio Times) of littering the pages with pictures of Mary Berry.

I can’t help feeling that this unnatural adulation is a case of over-egging the pudding.

Nick Pritchard, Southampton


The poor reputation of care homes may well be undeserved, though more could be done

Sir, I have visited many care homes over the years and I have almost always been impressed by the patience, tolerance and compassion of the staff caring for residents, some of whom can be very difficult at times and others, occasionally, frankly aggressive (“Old people turn to ‘lonely’ care homes only as final resort”, Sept 3).

Any case of abuse is, of course, inexcusable and 7,654 cases reported over a year is dreadful. That said, with 450,000 people in care homes at present, this means that 1.7 per cent of that population has reported abuse. Even if one adds an element for unreported abuse, it seems clear that the great majority are not abused, so the poor reputation of care homes may be undeserved.

The challenge is how to work out which homes will provide high-quality care for a relative who may now be completely unmanageable at home with severe dementia or double incontinence.

Some of us have been arguing for years that there should be an annual survey of care home residents — and/or their relatives — measuring their experience of care and their quality of life. I believe that this would generally produce positive figures, but certainly the published results should enable people to make a more informed choice.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen

Barnet, Herts

Sir, Your report (Sept 3) gives a bleak snapshot of just some of the issues facing our rapidly ageing society. Older people left languishing in hospital wards, fears of poor care in care homes and the risk of neglect or abuse — the Demos and Age UK reports make for grim reading. As the Demos report found, some providers are evolving and great care does exist. We are aware of the many concerns facing the older people of today and the future. However, the underlying theme with these reports seems to be that the government is not.

The government, care providers and the NHS need to work together to ensure that a crisis in social care is averted. This can only be achieved with representation at the highest level of government. In 2011, 137,000 people signed the petition for a Minister for Older People to be appointed — which was handed to No 10. The case for change is stronger than ever, and action is long overdue.

Jane Ashcroft

CEO, Anchor, and commissioner, Commission on Residential Care

Sir, With regard to the King’s Fund report (“Elderly must pay more for better care system”, Sept 4), I have spent a career trying — with varying degrees of success — to bridge the gap between health and social care. It is clear to me that both agencies are keen, indeed actively seek, to co-operate for the good of their patient/client. The stumbling block has always been the fractured funding system between monies raised locally and governed by locally elected council members, and that driven from central government.

Experience tells me that if we crack this funding question, the rest will be easy. For too long we have had to work in a system which is confusing not only to those receiving care but to the very people working within it.

Christina Sell

Managing director, Langton Care

Sir, The report by the Commission on Residential Care A vision for care fit for the 21st century describes the negative perceptions associated with the term residential care, and instead uses the term “housing with care” as it “encapsulates the entire spectrum of options from care homes to extra care villages and supported living apartments”.

This creates various problems. As things stand, the term “housing with care” (also known as extra care housing) is typically used to differentiate between a housing model, in which care is available around the clock, and a residential care model. As the report makes clear, a housing model offers distinct benefits, as well as being funded and regulated differently.

Until such time as the report’s recommendations become reality, and care homes become more like genuine housing with care, using the term “housing with care” when referring to residential care creates considerable confusion. It also risks having the opposite effect from that intended, transferring the negative perceptions of residential care onto housing with care.

Sue Garwood

(Extra care specialist)

Royston, Herts

Views of Scotland from outside range as widely as those within the country

Sir, Over the past year I have found myself moving towards being a Yes supporter. I am English, so this is academic, but the more I examine where England is as a nation, the more I am appalled at the failure of socio-economic neo-liberalism that creates a tiny powerful elite while marginalising everybody else.

From housing to welfare to justice, to education to economic fairness we in England are morally skewered. That Scotland has a chance to shake off the legacy of elitism and exclusion is fantastic. In doing so I hope Scotland provides the radical mind shift that we in England so desperately need to embrace fairer ways of doing things.

The earthquake that would come from Scottish independence would force us to rightly look at ourselves and what we truly stand for.

Gerard Brown

London W2

Sir, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown heading the No campaign? Where are the English politicians telling Scotland why we want them, why we need them and why they should stay with us?

Leslie Howard

St Albans

Sir, Listening to the Yes campaign one might think that Scots are an oppressed people living in poor conditions. But our island is a haven of freedom and relative prosperity which people risk their lives to join. What sort of paradise do the Scots think they can create by this messy, expensive and divisive divorce?

Professor Robert Elkeles

Northwood, Middx

Sir, It defies logic that Scotland might retain the pound. It would remain hugely dependent on the remaining UK government’s economic policy but without any representation. It is better off now.

Michael Old

Poole, Dorset

Sir, With this recent defection of a Conservative MP to Ukip, the upcoming Scottish referendum and a possible future referendum on EU membership, it is not conceivable that in the near future we could be out of the European Union while Scotland is in.

Dan Green

Ewell, Surrey

Sir, I have, like most in England, only had a passing interest in the Scottish referendum but I would be keen to know what the chances are of keeping “English” Summer Time throughout the year if the Scots decide to depart, as I am certain it would improve the road safety of the inhabitants south of the border.

It would be left to the Highland dairy industry to plead directly with Alex Salmond for their historical light-saving advantage that we have afforded them in the past.

Stephen Williams

Saffron Walden

Sir, Clare Harbord (letter, Sept 4) claims that an extra runway at Heathrow would provide sufficient capacity until 2040, and that this would match Amsterdam and Paris.

What she fails to mention is that those airfields have surplus capacity in the form of more than three runways. A three-runway Heathrow operating close to capacity would result in even greater disruption when there were delays caused by fog or incidents that temporarily closed a runway. A modern international airport needs a spare runway that can be brought into operation at short notice. Without this, delays and cancellations are inevitable every time that anything disrupts the perfect flow of air traffic.

Captain Will Steynor (British Airways, retired)

South Brent, Devon

Sir, It is indeed true that e-cigarettes can help established smokers to stop smoking (report, Sept 5). However, they deliver pure nicotine and it is now understood that nicotine is a “gateway” drug that lowers the threshold in the body for taking other addictive substances, notably cannabis and cocaine. This effect is biological, not emotional.

It follows that because of the danger of non-smokers, especially young people, experimenting in the false belief that e-cigarettes are safe, great caution should be exercised in their regulation and sale.

Professor Sir Denis Pereira Gray

(Past chairman, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges), Exeter

Sir, If Scotland votes for separation and then applies to share the pound in a currency union, surely the rest of us in the remainder of the UK have the democratic right to have our say on whether we are willing to share sterling with the new state. In such post-referendum circumstances, we must be given the earliest opportunity to vote on this issue, which is of fundamental importance to us all. Indeed it is hard to see how any government of the remaining UK would have a mandate to negotiate on a question of such magnitude without a vote having taken place.

P Carden

Thetford, Norfolk

Sir, Hugo Rifkind (Times2, Sept 4) makes an important point about the absence of positive feeling for those campaigning against independence. Of course it seems much more exciting to be voting “Yes” to something. Isn’t it time for the “No” campaign to be emphasising the positives for keeping the union, rather than all the negatives?

Dr Roger Kennedy


Sir, The question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is ambiguous. Scotland is already independent — with a legitimate government, its own law, education and sports teams, etc. A “Yes” vote could be deemed a vote for keeping the status quo of an independent country within the Union. But better ask Brussels — they handle Unions.

Alex Mackinnon

Dollar, Clackmannanshire

What should schools do, exactly, with the final few weeks of the summer term?

Sir, At my school in the 1960s the weeks before the end of term in July were put to good use (letters, Sept 2 & 4). Those going into the sixth form were prepared for the following term. Most useful of all was a programme for the school leavers that covered bank accounts and managing your money, cooking on a budget, public speaking, the importance of using your vote, time management and looking after your health. Perhaps this is now all covered in the curriculum, but it was invaluable at the time.

Lucinda Morrison

Emsworth, Hants

Sir, Perhaps cricket matches should be introduced in the first half of the autumn term rather than in the summer term (letter, Sept 3). The weather at this time of year is often still and warm, and this year looks to be no exception. I grew up on the North East coast, where my love of sport was severely tested by trying to catch a cricket ball in freezing temperatures in April and having my bones crushed on rock-hard rugby pitches in September.

John Williams

London SE9

Sir, Your leading article on Hong Kong’s political reform (Sept 2) is misleading. Since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, the central government has upheld the principle of “one country, two systems” and strictly followed the Basic Law in handling Hong Kong-related matters. Hong Kong has therefore enjoyed a high degree of autonomy.

The colonial rule of Britain’s unelected governors gave Hong Kong no democracy. By contrast, the Chinese government initiated the process to elect a chief executive through universal suffrage, which was later inscribed in the Basic Law.

The decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee a few days ago marks an important milestone for Hong Kong’s democratic progress. For the first time in Hong Kong’s history, a chief executive can be elected through one person, one vote. It will not only advance Hong Kong’s democracy and political process but will fuel Hong Kong’s continued prosperity.

Miao Deyu

Chinese Embassy, London W1


A passenger jet aircraft comes into land at Heathrow Airport on March 13, 2007 Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 05 Sep 2014


Flying from Britain

SIR – While Alan Greenwood (Letters, September 3) has a point about the number of people residing further afield than the Thames Estuary, I would question his selection of Salisbury Plain as the site of a new airport. First, notwithstanding its continued use by the military, the plain is a noted conservation area.

Secondly, Salisbury Plain is not “in the middle of Britain”. That claim belongs to the village of Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, in the middle of the Trough of Bowland, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

James Barry
Stokesley, North Yorkshire

Objective in Iraq

SIR – During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, there were several questions regarding the situation with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the jihadist group, and the country of Iraq.

But the most obvious question, “What is the Government’s objective in relation to Isil?” was not asked. Nor, moreover, has the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary ever disclosed the Government’s objective.

No strategy declared by the Government can be effective unless it is designed to achieve a known objective.

Nicholas Watkis

SIR – Why glorify this thug by calling him “Jihadi John”? He should be called a coward for not showing his face.

Peggy Rowell
Chippenham, Wiltshire

Police yourself

SIR – You report that police are getting members of the public to look for evidence themselves after they are burgled. Will we also have to issue our own crime numbers for insurance purposes?

If, as recommended, victims of crime investigate the matter themselves, are they required to apprehend the suspect, or would that be classed as vigilantism?

John Milhofer
Broadstone, Dorset

SIR – If there is a whiff of racism or homophobia, the police are quick to attend, usually mob-handed, explaining: “We have a duty to investigate all such incidents.” Presumably, this diligence does not apply to old-fashioned crimes such as theft, vandalism and criminal damage.

Dr Chris Topping
Pilling, Lancashire

Making a century

SIR – I thoroughly enjoyed reading the obituary (September 3) of the cricketer Norman Gordon.

However, there is a Test cricketer who played either side of the Second World War who is alive and well, aged 102. Eileen Ash is a delightful lady, whom I met at Lord’s in 2012 when my husband was president of Marylebone Cricket Club.

Eileen played golf until she was 99 and still practises yoga. Her energy, vitality and sense of humour make her unforgettable. Her recipe for longevity is red wine.

Sally Ann Hodson
Notton, West Yorkshire

Parrot paradox

SIR – Some years ago I was visited by a parrot, an African Grey called Henry. “Can you talk?”, I asked Henry (“Without question”, Letters, September 4). The bird cocked its head, gave the matter some thought, and replied loudly: “No.”

Tim Deane
Tisbury, Wiltshire

Boarding and care

SIR – A new generation of boarding school could transform “troubled children’s chances”, a think tank believes (report, September 1) – but it could be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Disadvantaged children who go to independent schools do significantly better than others from the same background. There is no need to turn “top” state schools into state boarding schools. The capacity already exists in the independent sector – it only needs local authorities to realise the value for money.

According to some estimates, it costs around £100,000 a year to educate and look after children in care. The cost would be £40,000 in independent boarding schools, including extras such as holiday clubs.

It would help improve social mobility and provide structure, security and care, while giving the fullest education.

Taunton School has links with social services departments and we have two children with us, both doing well.

Duncan Sinclair
Headmaster, Taunton Preparatory School

A personal Bayeux

SIR – In my shop we stretch and mount tapestry pieces. After the first Gulf war, a young wife brought us the small pieces her husband had completed while sitting on his tank waiting to go into action (Letters, September 3). There was still sand in them.

It was quite a task to straighten them, but we returned the finished pieces with a suggestion that the date should be sewn in too. Anyone else involved with records like these should do the same.

Eve Wilkinson
Blandford Forum, Dorset

Eating for two

SIR – Geoffrey Shaw (Letters, September 4) asks what he, living alone, should do with recipes for four. I cook a recipe for four and eat it four days running. Or, as there is no one around to witness it, I sometimes scoff the whole lot in two days.

Isobel Barker
Torpoint, Cornwall

Ripe experience

SIR – How to tell when black tomatoes are ripe (Letters, September 4)? As an allotment holder I have an infallible guide. Anything that’s ripe will get stolen.

Roger Green
London SE25

Hi falutin ways in which to begin an email

SIR – The Rev John Campbell (Letters, September 4) wonders how to greet his email correspondents.

He may choose a salutation that suits the recipient. “Greetings, O silver one” would do for a fellow silver surfer; “Good morrow” for a Shakespeare fan; “Morning all” or “Greetings all” for a group message; “Dearest” for a beloved; and for Klingon buffs, nuqneH.

Rosie Harden-Vane
Holywell, Northumberland

SIR – “Hello”, “Hallo”, “Hullo”, or even “Salve”. All are preferable to the universal “Hi”, an unwanted and unnecessary Americanism, when there are so many alternatives.

Jill Forrest
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – I dislike using “Hi” and have discovered that “Greetings” serves me well as an opener: it is not overly official, but is pleasantly friendly to all those with whom I correspond.

David Horchover
Eastcote, Middlesex

SIR – Using the salutation “Hi” in emails is juvenile and irritating. Emoticons are worse.

Mr Campbell would do better by just using the recipient’s name. Brevity in emails is admirable.

Tony Munday
Haxton, Wiltshire

SIR – What ho!

Henry Dodds
Sevenoaks, Kent

Allium hollandicum, ‘Purple Sensation’, in the ‘Scent of a Roman’ garden at Chelsea, 2007  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 05 Sep 2014


SIR – Three cheers for Harry Mount’s defence of Latin terminology against those botanists who attack the language as being an “irrelevant anachronism” (Features, September 3).

It is, indeed, the ultimate lingua franca, descending from the Renaissance, when scholars and literary figures addressed each other in elegant Latin through letters and poems, and used it in international symposia, where it would be readily comprehensible.

Its lexical variety can be illustrated by the following challenge: how many synonyms can you think of for the English word famous? Latin has at least 15 of them.

Christopher Pelly
Parkstone, Dorset

SIR – On holiday in Cuba, a friend and I visited the National Botanical Gardens in Havana. We spoke no Spanish, our guide and translator knew nothing about plants and gardening, and the young lady at the gardens spoke no English. However, as soon as she started pointing out the plants’ Latin names, we were off on a wonderful visit.

Chris Gordon
Benington, Lincolnshire

EU Fiscal treaty referendum…No and Yes counting slips lie on top of hundreds of ballot boxes in the warehouse of the Dublin County Returning Officer, before they are distributed to polling stations across Dublin county ahead of the nationwide vote of the Fiscal Stability Referendum tomorrow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday May, 30, 2012. Photo credit should read: Julien Behal/PA Wire Photo: PA

7:00AM BST 05 Sep 2014


SIR – Allan Steward writes of the lack of “No” field posters on the road between the border and Edinburgh (Letters, September 4). He was too late. Blink and they’re gone.

Field posters here in Midlothian are lucky to last one night before disappearing. This does not look like casual vandalism; it feels like an orchestrated campaign.

Never have I met so many who will not put up posters for fear of vandalism. Never have so few been ready to put stickers in cars or windows of their houses. The police do what they can – issue crime numbers.

Scotland is already a different country.

Marnie Crawford

SIR – The Scottish referendum may end up in a narrow win for the Nationalists, but there will still be a United Kingdom general election eight months later, when the implications will have had time to sink in.

If a majority of the candidates elected are from pro-Union parties, and declare so in their manifestos, will such an important issue be reopened?

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – A Yes vote is for ever, not just for Christmas.

Ivan Childs
Martock, Somerset

SIR – If Scotland votes to leave the Union, it would be proper for the general election in 2015 to take place with no Scottish representation. This would, I guess, require legislation, but it would be preferable to postponing the election for a year.

Rev John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – Whether Scotland votes for independence or not, in the eight months until the general election, the rest of the UK, having been denied a vote on Scottish independence which will have significant effects for them, should not be rushed into negotiating in the divisive aftermath.

It seems unreasonable for the Coalition Government to embark on serious discussions when there will be a new government in Westminster in a matter of months.

The period between September and May should be one of quiet planning and reflection on both sides, leaving a new government to negotiate and make the crucial decisions resulting from the outcome of the vote.

David Clarke
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – I am concerned about the prophecy made by those who wrote the Act of Union. They wrote that such a Union would stand for “all time coming, the sure and perpetual foundation of a complete and entire Union of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England.” Are we really about to reach the end of time?

Rev Dominic Stockford
Teddington, Middlesex

‘If ever there was a reason not to take part in a reality TV show, here is a sound one’ Photo: BBC

10:32PM BST 05 Sep 2014


SIR – After the media storm over the exit of Iain Watters from The Great British Bake-Off last week and the apparent scapegoating by some people of another contestant, Diana Beard, I write to put the medical record straight. As Diana’s GP I am fully aware of the medical reasons for her inability to continue in the series. She has asked me to make these reasons clear, because of the inferences drawn by some commentators, that her withdrawal from the programme was linked to the exit of Iain.

After the filming of the episode at the end of which Iain left, Diana returned the next weekend ready to film Episode 5, screened this week. The evening before filming, all the contestants went to a restaurant for a meal together. At the end of the meal Diana stood up, lost consciousness and fell heavily, banging her head on the stone floor.

She was taken to the A&E department of the local hospital where she remained that night as a result of her injury. She was diagnosed with concussion and could not take part in the Bake-Off that weekend, so returned home. She was given a “bye” into Episode 6, to be screened this coming week.

Filming for Episode 6 was a week later, by which time Diana had not recovered from her concussion. I advised the programme producers that she needed a longer time to recover before starting to bake again. They were not prepared to allow Diana to miss two episodes, and she therefore had to leave the programme.

Ever since this head injury, Diana has been unable to smell or taste anything. She had a number of investigations, including a CT scan and a MRI scan of her head. These showed that the nerve from the nose, the olfactory nerve, which transmits taste and smell to the brain, had been completely severed as a result of the impact.

Diana sought the advice of a neurosurgeon who said that there is no treatment to repair this. If she is very lucky she may regain these senses but this would take many months, if it happens at all.

In my view, Diana has paid a heavy price for taking part in the GBBO. If ever there was a reason not to take part in a reality TV show, here is a sound one.

Dr Kieran Redman
Whitchurch, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – What a sad picture Dr Ali Selim (“Call for State schools to accommodate Islamic beliefs”, September 3rd) paints of school life for Muslim teenagers, particularly girls. They cannot take part in the school raffle, in case winning a box of Milk Tray at the school concert should turn them into gamblers. However, that’s only a minor detail compared to the more serious issues raised. Muslim girls should not remove their scarves during PE. How could they play properly with this garment getting in their way? Only females should be present in the PE hall. Girls should not be “visible to men” while they play.

But the saddest picture of all is the subject of music. Even those of us who cannot sing (quite a few of us) or play a musical instrument (even more of us) get endless enjoyment from listening to music. Is this simple, but vital pleasure, to be denied to Muslim children?

To sum up, these are the rules: girls, cover yourselves from head to foot; don’t mix with boys; don’t play too boisterously; don’t swim in a communal pool; don’t dance; don’t sing; don’t listen to music; don’t enjoy yourselves; don’t be happy; and don’t be young.

Muslims living in liberal western countries should modernise, or not only will they alienate their neighbours, but also their children. – Your, etc,



New Ross, Co Wexford.

Sir, – With regard to the recent call for changes to existing state schools to accommodate Islamic belief or new schools set up specifically to facilitate such beliefs, I would like to refer your readers and contributors to the 2011 census. According to it, Islam comes sixth in terms of religious classification numbers (after Catholic, No Religion, Church of Ireland, Not Stated, and Other Stated Religions) and is only marginally ahead of “Orthodox (Greek, Coptic, Russian)” and “Other Christian” .

Even if we draw the “inclusion” cut-off line at just below Muslim (excluding Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, etc), this leaves six religious and two non-religious groupings which need to have special sectarian accommodations made for them in the education system. And why stop there? What about the health system, the justice system, broadcasting, transport, etc?

With resources scarce enough in education, do we really need to modify our schools as requested? Most Irish villages and towns struggle to keep one school running, without the need for six or eight divided along religious lines, even before we consider the school transport complexities that would bring.

Surely the solution for a multidenominational society are multidenominational schools, hospitals, buses, police, courts, public spaces, and so on. – Yours, etc,



Bandon, Co Cork.

Sir, – In 2012 Dr Selim’s Islamic Cultural Centre hosted a lecture branding all Irish Ahmadi Muslims apostates. Perhaps we should not leap to the assumption that the Irish Muslim community is monolithic, or that Dr Selim’s unelected organisation should be its sole voice. – Yours, etc,


Iona Road,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – On interacting with professionals (in this case, teachers), Dr Ali Selim states that, “Muslims do not believe in eye contact between members of the opposite sex”. This was “significant for teachers when dealing with Muslim parents”.

There we have it. The mask has slipped. Dr Selim should be asked whether his views are capable of being integrated within a western democracy. – Yours, etc,


Highland Avenue,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – The revelation in The Irish Times that 9,000 cases of abuse, neglect or welfare concerns over children at risk are waiting for a social worker is deeply concerning (“Thousands of children at risk await social workers”, September 5th). This is fundamentally a political issue, which must be high on the Cabinet agenda as it prepares Budget 2015, because it highlights an extremely serious and potentially catastrophic funding shortfall within Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

It is, or ought to be, a cause of national scandal – especially given our history in the matter – that thousands of children at risk of abuse, neglect or welfare concerns are having to wait to be allocated a social worker. Worryingly, we understand more than a third (3,250) are “high priority” cases that were awaiting a response during the summer.

Any delays can result in deepening hurt and trauma on the child and situations reaching crisis point. The failure to intervene early places these children and families at ever-deepening risk. Children in these situations need immediate support, and Tusla must be appropriately equipped to provide that essential care.

Everyone involved in the field knows the budget provided to set up Tusla was too small to cover its projected costs, by at least €60 million. Essentially, it was given only around 90 per cent of what it needed when it was established earlier this year. There is no evidence of waste, mismanagement or gratuitous overspending within Tusla – quite the opposite.

We all know that Tusla is working hard to streamline systems and practices, but a built-in deficit like this is a recipe for catastrophe and failure. Tusla must be given adequate funding in Budget 2015 to ensure it can cover its mandate adequately, but also to ensure the system can cope with the necessary extra workload that will arise when mandatory reporting is introduced, hopefully in 2015, and also for the new workload resulting from the need for an adequate inspection regime in the childcare area. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,


Christchurch Square,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The problem of homelessness is now out of control. A growing number of people are sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin, as there are not enough beds available.

To eliminate rough sleeping is not rocket science – it involves renting or buying a few buildings, doing some internal renovations, putting in beds and employing some staff.

Why can the Government not address that relatively simple issue, especially now that winter is approaching and the economy recovering?

Why are drug-free homeless people forced to share a room full of drug users, or forfeit their social welfare payments?

Why is the whole experience of accessing emergency homeless services such a frustrating, degrading and humiliating experience, especially for people who are first time homeless?

There is no sense of urgency at the political level to provide a half-decent homeless service which respects the dignity of homeless people and which actually works.

Homelessness and rough sleeping are likely to increase substantially over the next 18 months.

Some 31,500 buy-to-let residential properties are in mortgage arrears of more than 90 days, and 35,000 principal home properties are in mortgage arrears of more than two years.

The Central Bank has referred to a “potential mortgage arrears time-bomb”. Each house that is repossessed by a financial institution is a person or family potentially facing homelessness.

There is a “potential homeless time-bomb” ticking away. It may explode before the next general election. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Centre

for Faith and Justice,

Upper Sherrard Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – The Department of Education’s consultation paper on foreign languages is an achievement in post factum obfuscation of which the late Sir Humphrey Appleby would be most proud (“Schools need to vary language teaching amid ‘predominance of French’, report suggests”, August 29th).

If post-primary students have less choice in modern language learning than was the case a number of years ago, this is a direct consequence of increases to the pupil-teacher ratio in schools and other cuts to teaching staff implemented by successive governments with the connivance – willing or otherwise – of senior officials who stand behind this document.

Maintaining compulsory and other high-demand subjects has required the cutting of less popular ones in languages, science and business. In a similar manner, schools have not been able to add subjects owing to the almost impossible pressures on their timetable.

In this fog of wilful deceit, the gunboat Marlborough Street has turned its turret on French. In doing so, it perpetuates the neophile’s obsession with potential rather than reality.

In this case, the reality is that France is our sixth most important export partner, with Belgium and Switzerland, home to significant French-speaking populations, actually further up the list. These nations are natural markets for indigenous Irish produce and they account for a significant share of tourism here. More to the point, the generally respected EF English Proficiency Index shows that the proportion of people in France who speak English is significantly lower than in Germany or Spain, whose languages are also widely taught in our schools.

If an intelligent conversation regarding the status of languages is to be had, there first needs to be a recognition from Government that its short-sighted decisions have brought us to this point and secondly an acknowledgement that we can ill do with a downgrading of French given the scale of our relationship with French-speaking countries and the manifest requirement to produce graduates capable of speaking their language. – Yours, etc,


Turvey Walk,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Imagining that the study of French limits one to communicating only with citizens of metropolitan France and engaging only with their culture is short sighted. I studied French in secondary school up to Leaving Certificate, just like thousands of my peers. While I later completed my theology degree in France and through French for ordination as a Catholic priest, I now live in Italy and use French almost daily, socially and for work, with Québécois, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Senegalese, Togolese, Berkinabè, Iraqis and Lebanese, among others. Such communication is not in any way unusual for somebody living outside an Anglophone country. The foundation for it was laid, in my case, during six years of French classes in my secondary school, Christian Brothers College, Cork.

Knowing French also makes understanding, and then learning, the other Romance languages relatively straightforward. – Yours, etc,


Collegio San Clemente,

Via Labicana,

Sir, – Given the persistent push via media outlets and political rhetoric that we should remember great strides and advances such as the IRA ceasefire of 1994, I trust we will continue to apply equal clarity and insistence when we reach other milestone dates subsequent to that time.

Dates such as the day, not even a year and a half later, when the IRA broke this ceasefire with the London Docklands bombing, then later the Manchester bombing and the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe during an armed robbery.

The people in question, still unrepentant to this day for their actions, had not “gone away, you know”. – Yours, etc,


Celbridge Road,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Rob Sadlier (September 4th) writes that “the introduction of gender quotas could result in better candidates losing out to weaker candidates”.

The decisions that contributed to the bankrupting of the country were made by a Dáil which was nearly 90 per cent male.

It does not look, therefore, as if the better qualified candidates were always chosen in the past.

Marginalising the talents of the half of the population that are women does not seem like a wise policy in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

On the contrary, the introduction of gender quotas might go some way to bring in better qualified candidates from the female half of the population. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – When all the undergrowth of debate and discussion on meritocracy, practicality, fairness and discrimination is burned away and the true shape of our political landscape is exposed, what we see is a distorted democracy, with half of our population represented by just 15 per cent women in our national parliament.

Gender quotas, while not ideal, represent the lesser evil. We should not have to rely on an evolutionary pace of change to achieve a truly representative democracy. – Yours, etc,


Bushy Park Road,


Sir, – I am writing to you to express my deep frustration with visiting Ireland. I am a regular visitor and a strong supporter and proponent of Ireland – but during the past several visits, I have faced hour-long waits at Dublin Airport because of a decision to keep most of the border inspection booths closed.

It is incomprehensible to me that a country with a need for tourists and investors would be so narrow minded as to intentionally allow these much-needed visitors (and their substantial spending and investment) to stand for an hour or more at Dublin Airport simply because of a decision not to staff the inspection stations.

The first impression that international visitors receive upon touching down at Dublin is that they are essentially not wanted – what else could explain having only three gardaí on duty to handle a half a dozen international flights all scheduled to arrive at the same time?

Ireland is a wonderful country to visit and in which to invest, but first impressions are important – and a visitor’s first impression upon arriving at Dublin Airport is that they really are not welcome. – Yours, etc,


21st Avenue,

Isle of Palms,

South Carolina.

A chara, – The headline on your editorial thoroughly and rightly condemning the killing of Steven Sotloff reads “A barbarous execution” (September 4th). Barbarous, yes; but an execution, no. Mr Sotloff was kidnapped by terrorists, held captive against his will for over a year in horrible conditions, and then forced to read an ideological spiel justifying the actions of his tormentors before being hideously murdered by them on camera. His murderers refused to even allow him dignity in death and posted the video of his brutal murder online.

Let us give not even the slightest hint of cover to these truly barbarous people by using the legal-sounding term “execution” to describe their evil actions. – Is mise,


Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Frank McNally refers to the cries of the newspaper boys he heard when he first came to Dublin (“The lost art of paper pushing”, An Irishman’s Diary, September 4th).

The cries I remember from my youth, half a generation earlier, sounded something like “Heggle-o-May-ill, late foinal Mayl-o-Heggle”. – Yours, etc,


Oaklands Drive,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – If we ever adopt American spelling (September 3rd), would this mean we would no longer have to hear the British term “mum” but have “moms” instead? And would the Irish “mam” or “ma” be confined to history? – Yours, etc,


Glenvara Park,


Dublin 16.

Irish Independent:

In 2003 and 2004 an estimated 30 million people around the world marched against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with three million people marching in Rome; 750,000 in London and one million people in Dublin.

The invasion was intended to liberate the Iraqi people and also, we were told frequently, to get rid of weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in the country and to especially remove the country’s tyrannical leader, Saddam Hussein. Chemical weapons were found, but hardly any or none of the more lethal weapons of mass destruction. Few could have predicted how worse it would get for the stability of the Middle East. Saddam was hanged, but it didn’t lead to peace in the country as hoped.

A new organisation, Isil, has this year taken over a third of Iraq and Syria as part of their plan to set up an Islamic caliphate state encompassing as much territory in the region as possible.

They tolerate no differing views and their methods include beheading civilians and shooting dead 500 to 700 of Iraq’s army captured in June, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

The UN published a report on atrocities in Iraq this year.

The beheading of two American journalists in the Middle East in the last eight days has US President Barack Obama talking tough, but whether he will follow through is uncertain.

Civilised human beings can’t understand how anyone could behead a person and video it for the internet – the stuff of nightmares. Isil were described in a newspaper editorial as fascists like the Nazis of the 1930s in Europe.

This new group has gained a vast amount of territory in six months and the fear is they may completely take over Iraq and terrorise the population of 35 million.

The government in Iraq is fragile and still in need of armed support from the West. Its brave people who serve in the government are putting their lives in danger all the time.

A special mention too to our Irish UN peace-keepers, who last month rescued UN Filipino colleagues who were surrounded at their post because of the spreading Syrian civil war near the traditional UN neutral zone of the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. It is a sad litany of violence in the Middle East.

Mary Sullivan, College Road, Cork


Ireland on the edge

What has gone wrong with our country?

We are jailing mothers who decide what’s best for their children.

We are having our budgets being distributed to members of the German Parliament before our elected representatives see them -and this same country is only now deciding to pay compensation for the child victims of their darkest hour of history.

We are members of a Union that operated a rendition programme in Poland.

We have heroin washing all over our once-peaceful towns and villages.

We have court cases costing vast amounts and we are seeing guilty verdicts in our criminal courts receiving the punishment of community services .

We have spent millions setting up a company that is going to charge us for the water that falls out of the sky to flow through pipes that are already in the ground. We have a council of unelected people, namely the Economic Management Council, seemingly deciding our economic future.

We have soldiers on the edge of what is beginning to look like hell on Earth “observing” a ceasefire.

We have binmen that are beginning to look like they have been transported back to the Lockout era of our history.

We have a national broadcaster that seems to have made some very strange editing decisions on what is news and what is not.

We have unknown people running into pubs shooting firearms.

We have a Government with the largest majority in the history of the State with a “new” billion euro. Sure it’ll all be grand.

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway


What about ‘our’ games?

Should non-GAA events ever be accorded precedence over Gaelic games at Croke Park?

Tony Barnwell, Dublin 9

Falcao wages a sign of madness

I read on the front page of your paper the following: “United land Falcao on €335,000 a week”. Is there something not quite right about that or is it just me?

Madness – pure madness. It really does take the good out of any sport. Not even our Jim McGuinness is worth that after last Sunday! On second thoughts…

Ah! to hell with it, I must be getting old!

Brian McDevitt,

Glenties, Co Donegal

Children have rights as well

Victoria White’s article of the September 4 is predicated around the assertion that “nowhere in the Constitution is a parent’s right to home-educate made subject to any “minimum standard'”.

This is patently false. Article 42.3.2 explicitly says “The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social.” It is clear then that the right of parents to home-educate their children is not absolute.

Rather, it is a competing right to be balanced against the right of the children to receive a certain minimum level of education. How else to ensure this balance is maintained than by some form of mandatory assessment? I fail to see any constitutional issue here.

Jessica Copley, Knocklyon, Dublin 16


When Longford ruled Ireland

Albert Reynolds‘ demise reminds me of the time when Ireland was ruled from Longford.

Albert was Taoiseach; Willie Mulvihill was Secretary General of the GAA; and Cahal Daly (not born in Longford, but he was there long enough for us to claim him) was head of the Catholic Church.

More importantly, my mother used send scratch cards to Mr Reynolds with requests to fix the road to our house. I know he didn’t take bribes, but her letters were always acknowledged and the road was always repaired.

Tom Farrell, Swords, Co Dublin


Time to get fundamental

Sadly – even with the rising barbarity of the nutters of the Islamic State terror group – so many of today’s Western elites, assorted clever people, chaff head celeb-set types, “New Age Tories” and so many other types of the West’s modern-day crusading cappuccino commandos derisively dismiss America’s founding fathers’ great American constitution as an “18th century experiment”!

Perhaps such “educated, but unlearned” fools will soon come to realise that to protect the West’s Judeo/Christian foundations it’s not so much a matter of back to basics, but forward to fundamentals!

Howard Hutchins, Victoria, Australia


Fix flawed prostitution laws

With Mr Carter’s commentary having placed our prostitution laws in the headlines, it should be recognised that our laws, as they stand, are ambiguous as to whom exactly they and their penalties apply, especially as regards who solicits who and what for.

That’s why the actions of both parties need to be absolutely criminalised, and in no uncertain terms, the same way as both dealers and buyers are prosecuted under our drug laws.

Killian Foley-Walsh, Lourdes, France

Irish Independent


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