Russian vine

4 October 2014 Russian Vine

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the path at the side of the house, tackle the Russian Vine

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down trout for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sheila Tracy – obituary

Sheila Tracy was a newscaster who also hosted Radio 2’s Big Band Special, and sometimes stepped in as a spare trombone

Sheila Tracy pictured in 1962

Sheila Tracy pictured in 1962 Photo: PA Archive/Press Association Images

7:10PM BST 02 Oct 2014


Sheila Tracy, the broadcaster, who has died aged 80, was the first woman to read the news on Radio 4, a familiar voice on British radio for 40 years and a much-loved figure at the BBC. A musician herself, she became best known as the voice of the BBC Radio Big Band, introducing both its weekly Big Band Special broadcasts and its live concerts.

She was born Sheila Lugg on January 10 1934 at Mullion, Cornwall. At the age of 19 she gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied piano, violin and trombone, and went on to join Ivy Benson and her All-Girl Orchestra as a trombonist.

Alongside her in the trombone section was Phyll Brown, who was also the band’s singer. The pair worked up a comedy-musical routine and, in 1958, launched themselves on the variety stage as the Tracy Sisters. They met with a fair degree of success, but the constant touring became too much for Phyll and they parted after three years.

At her mother’s suggestion, Sheila Tracy auditioned for BBC Television as an announcer, and was accepted. It was still the era of on-screen continuity announcers, who would appear between programmes, beside a tasteful bowl of flowers, appropriately dressed for the time of day.

This came to an end in 1963, when the announcer was replaced by a spinning globe, and Sheila Tracy moved on to become a regional news presenter for south-west England in Plymouth, Bristol and Southampton.

The contrast with Television Centre, she recalled, was striking: “At night I was sometimes the last person left in the building. After reading the late news, I’d have to turn out the lights and lock up.”

In 1974 she moved to BBC Radio 4 and read the news for the first time on July 16 1975. “It was the midnight bulletin,” she recalled, “so it didn’t cause too much fuss.” This was also the year in which the experiments in broadcasting Parliament began, and she was one of four newsreaders chosen to take part.

Transferring to Radio 2 in 1977 reunited Tracy with the world of professional music. Two years later she hosted the first edition of Big Band Special . Bands and the whole culture surrounding them fascinated her. She went to great pains in researching her scripts and developed a unique style of presentation, at once informal and knowledgeable.

In addition to its broadcasts, the band played up to 60 concerts a year, for which she tried, whenever possible, to learn her script so that she could speak to the audience without notes. Occasionally, if a score called for an additional trombone, she would join the trombone section. She even conducted from time to time, when the band’s director, Barry Forgie, played the extra trombone part.

Sheila Tracy after passing exams to become a Special Policewoman in London (PA)

As the 1980s began, as well as the Big Band shows, she also had a weekly late-night record programme. While on holiday in the US, she had noticed that one of the most popular shows of this kind was based on country music and aimed at long-distance truck drivers. Back at Radio 2, she suggested she devote an hour of her show each week to a similar audience, and call it Truckers’ Hour.

All went well until, in all innocence, she introduced a few scraps of truckers’ jargon, which turned out to have a coded meaning that was too colourful, not to say fruity, for the BBC, even after midnight. There was a mini-scandal and Truckers’ Hour was withdrawn forthwith. In fact, The Goon Show had got away with far worse, but that had been in the 1950s, when officialdom was less clued-up.

Tracy left Radio 2 in 2000. She moved to the digital station Primetime Radio where she hosted her own weekly show, Swingtime with Sheila Tracy, until 2008. Subsequently she had shows on the US internet station Pure Jazz Radio and on Age UK’s station, The Wireless.

Making use of notes and recordings of the many interviews she had conducted with musicians, Sheila Tracy produced two books, Bands, Booze and Broads (1995) and Talking Swing (1997), and was a popular lecturer on P&O cruises. In addition to musical topics, she broadcast travel items on Radio 4’s Breakaway programme and reviewed productions for The Stage, where her round-up of the season’s pantomimes was an annual tour de force. She continued to play almost until the end of her life, and was a past president of the British Trombone Society.

In addition to all the above, she was a fanatically keen golfer who had been known to practise her swing in the BBC Gramophone Library, on one occasion narrowly avoiding serious damage to her fellow presenter, John Amis.

Sheila Tracy married the actor John Arnatt in 1962. He died in 1999, and she is survived by their son.

Sheila Tracy, born January 10 1934, died September 30 2014


A signpost in Giv'at HaMatos, centre of controversy over an Israeli settler housing project. Photogr A signpost in Giv’at HaMatos, centre of controversy over an Israeli settler housing project. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

A year ago I went with four MPs to a spot of land south of Jerusalem. It lies on the lands of the neighbouring Palestinian village of Beit Safafa. Nearby is one of the mega-Israeli settlements, Gilo. To the south is Bethlehem, where the wall imprisons the city of the birthplace of Christ. To the east is Har Homa, one of the most recent of the Jerusalem-area settlements. It is a thicket of concrete, designed to separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem and indeed from the southern West Bank. But only months before, this plot of land had been designated for a new Israeli settlement, Givat HaMatos. Lowering down the last concrete slabs would complete the concrete curtain. Memorably, the Israeli guide stated coolly: “If Netanyahu wants to stab the Palestinian state in the heart, he can do it here.”

Last week, just days before Netanyahu was to see President Obama at the White House, final approval was given to Givat HaMatos. As an editorial in the Israeli paper, Ha’aretz stated this week, “nobody can seriously believe any longer that Netanyahu wants to resolve the conflict” (Report, 3 October). It’s time that European leaders wake up to that reality and did more than just issue statements of concern. Only tough concerted action against these illegal settlements will have any effect.
Chris Doyle
Director, Caabu

• Oliver Miles (Letters, 1 October) accepts that President Obama has the constitutional power to recognise Palestine, but argues that to do so “would now come as a shock”. Shock diplomacy is exactly what is needed if the iron grip of the Israeli lobby on Congress is to be lifted and for there to be a prospect of a US challenge to the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. “How long, O Lord?” will only then be responded to in the words of another psalm (Psalm 18): “Then trouble and shock came on the earth and the bases of the mountains were moved.”
Benedict Birnberg

Files lining the shelves in the archives of the former East German secret police, the Stasi. Did the Files lining the shelves in the archives of the former East German secret police, the Stasi. Did they routinely use torture? Photograph: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Professor Tom Lodge (Letters, 3 October) disputes the statement in my letter (1 October) that “the Stasi did not …torture its perceived enemies, even if it was often heavy-handed and unjust”. He quotes Anna Funder’s Stasiland – the one book invariably quoted, although written by an Australian, now resident in the US, and based entirely on second-hand evidence. Lodge says the “torture facilities” in the Hohenschönhausen prison were “purpose-built by the Russians”. It was certainly used as a prison and transit camp by the Russians for Nazis at the end of the war and was later taken over and extended by the GDR in the 1950s. “In this place,” Lodge says, “torture was routine and systematic.”

While I don’t want to become drawn into defending the state security forces of the GDR, which were certainly very often an oppressive and ugly organisation, I do still dispute that “torture was systematic and routine”. There is a significant difference between harsh prison conditions and torture as a technique of interrogation and oppression, but by comparison with the Nazis, or even the US use of water-boarding and hooding etc, there is little evidence of the Stasi being as bad or worse.

Well-known GDR dissidents, like the environmentalist Rudolf Bahro, the publisher Walter Janka, the philosopher Wolfgang Harich and artist Bärbel Bohley, were imprisoned in Hohenschönhausen in unjustifiable and harsh conditions, but none, as far as I am aware, alleged any form of horrific torture. While the Federal Republic was extremely reticent after the war in condemning the Nazis for the horrors they committed, and even gave many of the perpetrators their jobs back, it is determined to demonise the GDR, not simply to confront its failings or forms of oppression, but to vilify the whole idea of an alternative and socialist German state.
John Green

A car tax disc: on the way out. Photograph: PA A car tax disc: on the way out. Photograph: PA

Tendring district council’s deletion of a Banksy artwork (Report, 3 October) is yet another example of the concrete thinking, confusing fact and fiction, which Michael Parsons warns against so eloquently (Letters, 1 October). Are we becoming a society incapable of metaphor, that is, of imagination? If so, it could one day be a very dangerous place to live in.
Alison Elgar

• “Only in circumstances of the direst national peril would Iran make the suicidal lunge for a [nuclear] bomb”, Christopher de Bellaigue avers (3 October). What would be such a peril and whence it might derive?
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• Could Steve Bell produce a suitable replacement for my tax disc (Report, 2 October)?
Ian Lavender
Driffield, East Yorkshire

Moazzam Begg leaves Belmarsh prison, 1 October 2014. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Moazzam Begg leaves Belmarsh prison, 1 October 2014. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

On 1 October, Moazzam Begg was released after seven months in detention because of allegations arising from his time in Syria which included charitable and investigative work (Report, 2 October). Days before a much-delayed court hearing, all charges have been dropped. Begg has been a role-model and mentor to many, young and not so young, and this new period of detention has caused great distress among those who look to him for inspiration. The manner in which he has been targeted and detained – with, ultimately, no evidence being brought against him in an open court – will confirm the view that this is a concerted campaign of intimidation, designed to scare Muslim communities away from active engagement in public life. While we celebrate his release, we remain concerned that he has spent another lengthy period in detention because of laws that are fundamentally unjust.

We write to express our extreme concern about the use of allegations of terrorism and the arrest and detention of charity workers to slur and curtail the work of Muslim charities and organisations such as Cage, Interpal, Ummah Trust and HHUGS, including through closing bank accounts, lengthy investigations into charitable status and, at the extreme, the arrest and detention of high-profile campaigners.

While we recognise and support the role of the charity commission in regulating the charity sector, it is inconceivable that the simultaneous investigation of such a number of Muslim charities at this sensitive time has arisen without political pressure. Recent history has meant that many Muslim charities are working with communities living through conflict – in Afghanistan and Palestine, in Syria and Iraq. Who can doubt that there is real human need in such locations? In common with many other charities, these organisations have sought to campaign for justice as well as raising funds for the needy. The concerted attack on such charitable activity when undertaken by Muslims threatens to further alienate a generation of young people politicised by the relentless images of suffering from Syria and Gaza.

We fear that we have drifted into a situation where the charitable giving of Muslim communities is regarded as “suspect”. We urge all people of goodwill to resist the attempt to criminalise the charity of some communities and we ask the charity commission to enable the organisations in question to resume their invaluable work.
Professor Bill Bowring Birkbeck University of London
Professor Marie Breen-Smyth Associate dean, international faculty of arts and human sciences, University of Surrey
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Zita Holbourne Co-chair BARAC
Caroline Lucas MP
Malia Bouattia NUS black students’ officer
Professor Richard Jackson National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand
Sheila Coleman Hillsborough Justice Campaign
AL Kennedy Writer
Dr Phil Shiner Solicitor
Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya University of East London
Hamja Ahsan Free Talha Ahsan
Amrit Wilson South Asia Solidarity Campaign
Dr Shahrar Ali Deputy leader, Green party
Saleh Mamon Campacc
Les Levidow Campacc
Muhammad Rabbani Managing Director, Cage
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick
Eeva Heikkilä Barrister
Dr Ruth Blakeley University of Kent
Tafazal Mohammad Muslim Youth Skills
Toby Cadman Barrister
Andy Worthington Journalist
David Young Barrister
Dr James Fitzgerald Dublin City University
Saghir Hussain Solicitor
Shakeel Begg Lewisham Islamic Centre
Paul McNab Public Interest Lawyers
Yusuf Patel
Dr Christopher Baker-Beall Nottingham Trent University
Nadya Ali University of Reading
Mitch Mitchell Defend the Right to Protest
Mohammed Kozbar Finsbury Park Mosque
Rachel Harger Bindmans
David Renton Barrister
Bethany Shiner Public Interest Lawyers
Emily McFadden Public Interest Lawyers
Klara Holdstock Public Interest Lawyers
Leisha Shiner Public Interest Lawyers
Imam Abdullah Hasan, UKIM Masjid Khadijah, Imams Against Domestic Abuse
Mary Nazzal-Batayneh Barrister

• According to your report on the Moazzam Begg case “it is now clear that police and prosecution lawyers involved with the case are angry that the documents were disclosed to them after Begg had spent several months on remand”. It is probably much worse than that. Begg would have disclosed his case at an early stage in the proceedings, possibly before the bail application, if not during his original interview following his arrest. The statutory duty of disclosure would have required the police to ask MI5 if his account were true. What did MI5 reply? “No?” A lie. Begg would be entitled to huge damages from them. Alternatively: “For security reasons we can neither confirm nor deny the proposition.” That should have been enough to bring the prosecution to a grinding halt.For dragging it out, the police or CPS should similarly be liable in significant damages.
David Wolchover
Anthony Heaton-Armstrong

• Although Moazzam Begg was released from prison for lack of evidence, we can rest comfortably because Theresa May’s latest proposals (Report, 1 October)should see him back behind bars in short shrift. Her proposals will require no evidence, just the perception of harassment, alarm or distress. So one of her new-fangled “extreme disruption orders” will sort him out. No evidence needed, just a perception. Problem solved.
Neil Holmes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

• So the Tories want to opt out of European human rights legislation (Report, 3 October) because we can’t have foreigners telling Brits what to do. They’ve forgotten that there’s big quid pro quo: the Brits also get a voice in telling foreigners what to do. Hence Brits who choose to travel, live or work abroad get civilised treatment. Reciprocity is the whole point of the thing. If we withdraw, even “partially”, we lose it.
Cristina Howick

• I am a male, white, middle-aged, property-owning, public school educated professional. If ever there was a target market for the Conservative party, I’m it. Today I learned that the Tories in the 80s were even more contemptuous of working people than they previously admitted to being; and that today, they place no value on human rights and an independent judiciary. They make me ashamed to be British.
Martin Scott


As parents and educators we find ourselves increasingly concerned at the pressure that is being placed on our children and young people. We worry about the long term impact that this pressure may have on our children’s emotional health, particularly on the most vulnerable in our society.

We are concerned to hear of children crying on their way to school, upset that they will not be able to keep up; of parents worried that their four-year-olds are “falling behind” or of six-year-olds scared that they “might not get a good job”. And we wonder what has happened to that short period in our lives known as “childhood”.

The pressure that is put on schools to achieve results, particularly in the tests that now form such a regular feature of a child’s life, has inevitably led to increased pressure on the children themselves.

This is not to blame teachers, or schools. Rather, it is to say that with test results becoming such a high-stakes feature of our education system, schools are put in a very difficult position.

When test results are the key measure of whether a child’s school is “good” or not, we believe that every child’s entitlement to a broad and balanced education is put at risk. We believe all children have the right to become fully rounded individuals, and that in order to help them achieve this, we must protect their emotional well-being, now and for the future.

We believe all children have the right to be treated as individuals, and to be allowed to develop at a pace that is right for them, not to meet a government target.

We call for all those who are equally concerned to speak out against the direction in which education in England, and in other countries around the world, is moving. We call for governments around the world to take into account children’s emotional wellbeing when they consider the “effectiveness” of schools and other educational settings.

Sue Cowley

Neil Leitch
Chief Executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance

Michael Rosen
Professor of Children’s Literature
Goldsmiths, University of London

John Wadsworth
Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education
Goldsmiths, University of London

Sue Palmer
Director, Save Childhood

Sue Atkins

Kevin Courtney

Deputy General Secretary
National Union of Teachers

Liz Bayram
Chief executive
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years

Jill Berry

and 420 others

The full list of signatories may be viewed here

Genteel British anti-Semitism

Congratulations, or should I say Mazal Tov, to Grant Feller for, belatedly, waking up to the anti-Semitism that has followed him through his life (“Time to stop running”, 2 October).

Like many  British Jews he will have to consider his course of action. Will he become more “Jewish” and start to observe some of those rules that he has, until now, rejected; or will he become less so and even change his religion and try to hide his origins? Whatever he does he will still come across those hurtful comments from colleagues and so-called friends.

One thing that can be gleaned from his article is that traditional, genteel British anti-Semitism has little to do with Israel and a lot to do with anti-Semites. Perhaps Grant will consider taking his family, including his half-Jewish children, to live somewhere where they will be spared the comments that he has suffered from all those years and where his wife will not have to kick him under the table to stop him defending himself and his people.

Dr Tom Weinberger

Grant Feller’s article made me realise that anti-Semitism is more widespread in the UK than I imagined. It is totally unacceptable. But I found it difficult to sympathise with all he said.

He wrote that “the turmoil and catastrophic waste of human life in Israel, Gaza and the rest of the Middle East provides some oxygen” to anti-Semitism. “Some oxygen” belittles the disaster experienced by Palestinians at the hands of Israel.

Mr Feller was in a room with executives who rejected an individual because they were Jewish. Such a dismissal could apply any day of the week to women, blacks, Muslims, gays, disabled people. Anti-Semitism, like all discriminatory behaviour, is unacceptable, but discrimination should be challenged wholesale.

So yes, Mr Feller, fight against bigotry, but on all fronts. And I will continue to criticise Israel for its invasion of another country, bombing of citizens and breach of UN resolutions.

Beryl Wall
London W4

Sleepwalking into a Farage nightmare

Nigel Farage’s simplistic, isolationist, right-wing view of the world has taken root in the Conservative Party.

Do we really want to live under a government that shamelessly tries to bribe the electorate with a tax cut paid for by the poorest people in the land?

Do we really want to turn our backs on the European Convention on Human Rights, which we helped to found and which has served as a beacon of liberty across the world?  Do we really want to detach ourselves from the single most important political and economic union in the world, which has brought peace, prosperity and the embedding of liberal democratic values to our continent?

If there really is a progressive majority in this country, it had better start making its voice heard, before we find ourselves sleepwalking into an inward-looking, reactionary dystopia.

Ian Richards

How we thwarted Hong Kong democracy

After almost a decade living in China and Hong Kong, I find the democracy protests painful to watch. Given all Beijing has at stake, they can accomplish nothing.

Hong Kong was arguably ready for full democracy as early as the 1970s, but the UK opted not to introduce it, since this would have undermined the Crown Colony’s earning potential.Had a democratic system been introduced back then, by 1997 it would have been almost impossible for China to dismantle it. The choice for Britain was simple: principle or profit. Profit won.

Now that the territory is one of Beijing’s cash-cows, it is again denied full democracy, but this time for different reasons. Either way, the fate of Hong Kong has always been wrapped round the axle of outside agendas in the most terrible way. The result is one of the most educated and prosperous societies in the world forced to accept political candidates vetted by a one-party dictatorship.

Beijing’s lack of vision is regrettable; but China is not a democracy, so what can one expect? Britain is one of the oldest democracies in the world. Where lies the greater shame?

Mike Galvin
Tewkesbury,  Gloucestershire


George Osborne should do a goodwill tour of China. The Chinese Communist Party would love him to bits.

They’re pushing the idea of lessening their poverty gap so as to galvanise their internal market. They don’t seem to be too keen on actually implementing the necessary changes to bring this about (they’re rather fond of cheap labour), but, bless ’em, I guess they’re worried that if they don’t at least acknowledge the need then the West will assume they have no idea what they’re doing.

Osborne could go over there and tell them not to bother. Give them the good news. He’s discovered that economies don’t work that way at all. The CCP can drop the charade and start boasting. “Look at us, Britain! We’re way ahead of you!”

Pete Marchetto
Guilin, Guangxi Province, China


Town with a steamy past

I refer to Richard Poad’s letter of 3 October, where he mentions Affairs of the Heart, a novel by HG Wells. In fact the title of the book is The Secret Places of the Heart, published in 1922. The theme of the novel is a search for an adult pattern of sexual morality.

At the time there was an outcry at a suggestion in the book that Maidenhead was a rendezvous for illicit love affairs.

It is well known that Wells used Monkey Island Hotel for his liaison with Rebecca West, a long-time mistress, among his many others. West describes the hotel in her novel Return of the Soldier.

Not a major novel, The Secret Places of the Heart merits reading if only for the illuminating historical and descriptive commentary on places such as Maidenhead, Avebury, Stonehenge and Tintern.

Eric Fitch
Secretary, The HG Wells Society, Hereford

No sex without smartphones

My wife and I noted with concern the introduction of an app for consensual sex (report, 2 October).

Neither of us has a smartphone. We are not looking forward to our newly imposed celibacy.

Michael O’Hare
Northwood, Middlesex


Sir, It was a privilege to be present as two combined cadet force (CCF) cadets from All Saints Academy, Cheltenham, received their promotions from a senior naval officer at a parade last week. This is exactly what the government wishes to see with its target of 10,000 new cadets as it expands the cadet programme into the state sector, outlined in your story (“Public school cadet forces face closure as costs rise”, Oct 1). However, this expansion will come at a cost, with new charges on existing CCFs to fund growth, which may affect CCFs at independent schools.
The irony is that the All Saints contingent has been developed in partnership with the Dean Close CCF, using our experience and resources, and they are bringing some superb talents to the team. If the MoD proposals are imposed then the partnership, and others like it, could well be a casualty.
We don’t expect special hand-outs, and we do expect to share the assets and skills that we have, but a funding model imposed without consultation or understanding will cause damage and undermine investment in those young people who most deserve it. Time to think again?
Jonathan Lancashire
Headmaster, Dean Close School, Cheltenham

Sir, Prior to the current cadet expansion programme there were 237 contingents in England, 61 in state schools and 176 in independent schools. These figures belie the perception that only independent schools provide this opportunity for young people to exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment. Your report omits to mention that the proposals also affect long-established contingents based in state schools, which are even less well placed to meet the changes in funding policy. In fact the changes endanger all CCFs, including those newly established in state schools, which owe their recent foundation to partnerships with independent schools. In military terms this ranks as an example of “blue on blue”.
Peter Sargeant
Loughborough Grammar School Combined Cadet Force

Sir, I read with concern of the government proposal to end support for CCF units in independent schools. When I became a cadet officer in 1955 my fellow officers had service records, many of them from the war. However, between 1970 and 1995, as headmaster of Nottingham High School, I watched the last officer with a service record retire. There was, however, a residue of tradition: while there wasn’t actual service experience, there was knowledge of how the CCF was run. It was striking to see how new officers drew on the experience of their seniors so that they and the cadets picked up the traditions established over 100 years. From whom will the officers of these new units draw inspiration, and why throw away a national asset in pursuit of an unlikely gain?
Dennis Witcombe
Bramcote, Notts

Sir, At a time when national and global security is high on everyone’s agenda, it is perverse to be jeopardising the flow of leaders into our services. Moves to cut CCF funding are wrong-headed and run counter to the message given to independent schools to open our cadet forces to pupils from maintained schools. We have embraced this opportunity in York, with pupils from a neighbouring state school training alongside our cadets every week. To lose this sort of opportunity would be an unintended consequence of these short-sighted cost-saving
Leo Winkley
Head master, St Peter’s School, York

Sir, In the late 1950s I attended a direct-grant school which ran an active combined cadet force. Apart from some of the drilling and kit-polishing, I enjoyed the experience, especially the shooting, summer camps and free RAF flights. I doubt, however, whether financially it made any sense. I can recall only two pupils from my four years’ membership going on to enter the forces.
Dr Michael Cullen
Dunvegan, Isle of Skye

Sir, Following your “Correction and Clarification” (Oct 1), that “the female of the red deer is a hind, not a doe”, could I please ask for assurance that a ray remains a drop of golden sun, and that “me” is still an acceptable name to call myself?
The Ven Gavin Collins
Archdeacon of the Meon

Sir, “Even in Norfolk,” you say in your leader “Land of Laughter” (Oct 1), placing us at the foot of the nation’s humour league. Well, let me tell you that I’m 70 next year and have rubbed shoulders with all the British folk at some time or another and know that Norfolk humour is second to none.

Its unique lexicon covers a variety of inoffensive subjects and since this is Nelson’s county I will take a lead from him. You may not know it, but his last command, “Do you anchor, Hardy,” contains Norfolk dialect inasmuch as the “do” is idiom for “now you must”. “Do” has two other idiomatic meanings here, “otherwise” and “if”, as this story will illustrate: a young Norfolk mother was turning her son over to a cousin for a holiday in London and she said to the cousin: “Do you make him do as you do, do he ‘on’t do as he ought to do. And, do he play you up, do you give him a doin’ to, I do our other two.”
Richard Shepheard
Fakenham, Norfolk

Sir, Does anyone else read “Birthdays today” and have a bounce in their step when they’re younger than all the people listed? October 1 was a good day for me — bar Dizzee Rascal.
Alexandra Brown (45)
Bearsted, Kent

Sir, September was notable for its warmth and low rainfall, while August was wet and cool. Presumably this means that between August 1 and September 30 our weather was staggeringly average. Should this be a cause for concern?
Clive Humphries
Croesau Bach, Shropshire


England’s Emily Scarratt breaks free during the 2014 World Cup final against Canada  Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

7:00AM BST 03 Oct 2014


SIR – The record number of injury-enforced retirements in rugby last season is cause for concern. Leicester had 22 players unavailable through injury, and England squad members went down like flies.

The tackle and breakdown area is the most dangerous part of the game and yet we now see 20, even 40 phases as the ball is recycled time after time. There is seldom much competition at the breakdown.

Referees continuously allow the support players of the ball-carrier to go off their feet. When the ball is won there is a wall of giants in front of it. So, unless the ball is kicked, opposing players go bash once again, the process being repeated time after time.

Referees should make all the players stay on their feet, and we would not end up with these big heaps. We might then get competition at the breakdown.

Rugby is supposed to be a running, handling game for players of all sizes, not a war of attrition where size and power is more important than speed and skill. I never thought that I would see the day when the women’s game was better to watch than the men’s. I have now.

Neil Highfield
President, Nottingham Moderns RFC

SIR – The campaign to develop an airport in the Thames Estuary is surprising. The concept was rejected in the late Sixties when Maplin Sands was considered. The cost would have been prohibitive but the overwhelming difficulty was – and is – the problem of bird strikes.

Why not consider the now disused long east-west runway at Lyneham, in Wiltshire? Or Greenham Common, which is closer to London and has an enormous runway.

Finally, and probably too controversially, why not use the facility at Brize Norton? These locations are viable and well-tried.

Tony Waldeck
Truro, Cornwall

SIR – Not long after the Dartford tunnel first opened, with one lane in each direction, a second tunnel was built to allow for two lanes in each direction. A few years later, a bridge was constructed which provided four lanes in each direction.

But these are still insufficient, leading to discussions of a second bridge. The project has just been patched up as it goes along.

It looks as though the same is going to happen to plans for a hub airport, which is more important for world trade than a tunnel.

Michael Anderson
Worthing, West Sussex

Apple appeal

SIR – Avril Wright (Letters, October 1) rightly sings the praises of British apples. But I’m not convinced they are necessarily better than imported ones.

Yesterday in my local supermarket, New Zealand Braeburn apples were on display alongside British Cox apples. Of course the current British apples could knock spots off their Kiwi counterparts, but the latter were picked six months ago and kept in storage until being put on display. In six months, this will be reversed – the stored British Cox will be a disappointment.

Dr Michael Ridd
London SW18

SIR – I have more than 60 varieties in my small orchard. Tydeman’s Early, George Cave, Peasgood’s Nonsuch, Scotch Bridget, William Crump, Ten Commandments and American Mother are all old varieties.

Marcher Apple Network has, over the past 20 years, found and propagated over 500 varieties, which are planted in museum orchards in Herefordshire and Powys. Most are now fruiting, but the main object is to preserve the genes and provide graft wood for people who wish to plant an old variety.

Tom Froggatt
Ludlow, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – When media outlets make a mistake, we get a small apology, usually on the inside pages. Yet when the Taoiseach lets his own high standards momentarily slip, all his previously hard work and commitment to our recovery is set at nought and the media hunt in a pack to take him down and tear him to pieces.

A pinch of perspective might be considered if we hope for decent people to enter politics in future. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Tom McElligott (October 2nd) opines that the Taoiseach should “stick instead to what he knows best”. Based on the available evidence, surely that is precisely what we don’t want. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – On the evening of his election to the current Dáil the then Taoiseach-in-waiting stated in an interview, “The incoming government is not going to leave our people in the dark . . . Paddy likes to know what the story is”.

It would appear that the current Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht did not hear Mr Kenny’s statement or, if she did, was unaware that Mr Kenny was using “Paddy” as a figure of speech for the citizens of this republic.

In answering, “I’m not at liberty to say who mentioned his name to me and because that’s a Fine Gael matter”, in response to a question regarding who had approached her about appointing John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma), Ms Humphreys shows contempt for “Paddy”. The Minister speaks as if Fine Gael was a private club appointing one of its members to an internal committee. But Fine Gael is not a private club – it is a political party in government, and Imma is not one of its committees, it is a State-funded institution.

The party’s website states that “Fine Gael believes in being truthful and courageous in what we do . . . Fine Gael stands for integrity in public life”. Nothing in the conduct of Fine Gael in this current controversy indicates that these values are adhered to at a senior level in the party. In the absence of complete, clear and coherent answers to simple questions, I – and I suspect many others – will assume that Fine Gael has something to hide. So much for openness and transparency and a new way of conducting political debate.

On the same evening as his Paddy pronouncement, Mr Kenny described the 2011 general election results as “a democratic revolution . . . they didn’t take to the streets but they’ve wreaked vengeance on those who let them down”. Mr Kenny as the leader of Fine Gael would do well to remember his own words if he wishes to avoid another democratic revolution in 2016 – or sooner. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I would willingly serve on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art but I’m a contemporary artist so that disqualifies me immediately. – Yours, etc,


Member of Aosdána,

Cloonlara, Co Clare.

Sir, – John McDonnell ( October 3rd) more than adequately expresses the unfairness of the ill-conceived pension levy on private pension schemes which was introduced by this Government.

It is worth recalling the comments of Michael Noonan when the then minister for finance Ray MacSharry introduced a levy on the capital gains on pension funds in 1988. This was a levy on profits, not capital. As opposition finance spokesman he opposed the measure, which would have taken less than €20 million per annum from funds and said that it would drive funds into insolvency. Mr Noonan’s levy is now taking almost €700 million per annum from pension fund capital.

If the Minister’s promise to end the levy this year is not kept there will be a strong sense of betrayal. There may not be mass demonstrations outside Leinster House, but I can assure the Minister that we are waiting in the long grass. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The so-called four-year pension levy is – for some of us – anything but four years. Given an existing €1.2 billion deficit, and an obligation to pay a further €80 million levy over the four years (2011 -2014 ), my pension fund trustees have decided to spread the cost of the levy over each member’s lifetime. In my case I’ll pay €600 a year for the rest of my life. While one hesitates to cite equity and ethics and such-like remote concerns, might the Government in its own self-interest seek to introduce some element of mitigation such as tax credits for those affected? – Yours, etc,


Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Those supporting John Bruton’s defence of John Redmond ignore the role of the Great War as the backdrop to the Rising. Europe and Ireland had already been brutalised by the carnage at the front. Tens of thousands of Irishmen had already enlisted (who knows how many already felt they had been duped into enlisting) and the threat of conscription was very real.

The rejection of conscription by the mass of the Irish people was effectively a declaration of independence, making nonsense of any possible negotiated form of home rule. This was a circle that could never be squared.

Ireland could not be real part of any union if it refused to fight for that union in a total war.

Redmond continued with his illogical and intellectually dishonest policy of support for enlistment and rejection of conscription but the people saw the matter more clearly and deserted to Sinn Féin as conscription loomed ever closer.

Conscription was avoided in the end, partly because of the unexpected early end to the war, but mostly because of the likely violent opposition that it would have encountered in an Ireland now dominated by Sinn Féin.

Readers with grandfathers and great-grandfathers born around 1900 should be especially thankful. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 11.

Sir, – A large harumph, but a respectful one, to Dr Colum Kenny’s view that emigrants (like me) should have a vote in Irish elections (“Why the Irish abroad should be given a vote in our general elections”, Opinion & Analysis, October 3rd).

This is representation without taxation. Ireland educated me and I sell my services to Australians and pay my taxes in that country. Ireland owes me nothing.

Why should I get the chance to influence the governance of those who stayed and are committed? Absentee landlordism of a sort! – Yours, etc,


Bendigo, Victoria,


Sir, – In the small number of cases where the banks approve loans to small firms, they are not actually lending to the companies. They require personal guarantees from the company directors. This means they are actually lending to individuals and not to the companies as the final responsibility for the debt lies with the individual. – Yours, etc,


Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Your editorial (October 3rd) casts a dark shadow over employers and their employment practices. Your suggestion that many business could afford the living wage increase shows how out of touch you are with regard to the struggle of small business in this country.

You would be better served by demanding a review of tax bands with a view to widening them, thus giving employees more money in their pocket; and lowering employers’ PRSI to encourage further recruitment, thereby reducing the cost of unemployment to the State. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – From a number of perspectives, I greatly enjoyed Sean Moran’s article on Brian Cody (“Cody ungracious to insist on having a final say in the aftermath of latest triumph”, October 1st).

Nobody could but admire Brian Cody’s achievements as manager of Kilkenny. The article, however, correctly pointed out an unsavoury aspect to the manner in which this man deals with criticism or fair questioning by the media.

The article was refreshing in that it showed that your correspondent is willing to criticise a key figure in Irish sport at the risk of future access to the manager. Many other journalists, sports and otherwise, might have shirked the task. They should take note of his courage. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Surely Phil Mickelson and Brian Cody have something in common?

One cribs when losing, the other when winning. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to Peter Crawley’s review (“The most dangerous Hamlet ever?”, September 29th), I have to agree with Susan Knight (September 30th) and Nicholas Grene (October 2nd) on how disappointing the recent performance of Hamlet by the Berliner Schaubühne was. What really showed up the inadequacies of the production was the contrast between the power of Shakespeare’s language in the surtitles and the rather workaday and humdrum language of the translation put in the mouths of the actors. Part of the explanation for the inadequacies may lie in remarks by two of the actors in the question and answer session on the second night. One complained about how difficult it was for actors to get a response from German audiences — in contrast to non-German audiences. Presumably the production has been developed – quite legitimately – with this characteristic of German audiences in mind.

It appears also that there have been in the region of 230 performances of the production to date – so perhaps it’s inevitable that subtleties that were originally in the production have disappeared over time. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Prof Grene, in his letter about the extraordinary Schaubühne production of Hamlet, protests too much. Whatever about the director’s aim to “violate” Hamlet, his production seems to me to capture the essential theme of the play.

In a sense, the graveyard scene offers us the central image of the play and the daring director reminds us constantly of this, as does the text. When Hamlet’s final words ring out, we know that they apply not only to him alone, but to all of us, together: “the rest is silence”. A daring production, yes. But it had to be done.

About one thing I would agree with Prof Grene. People, in general, give standing ovations too readily. I stood myself, but what do you do if you’re only five foot two? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Irene O’Donovan, six months pregnant, and Brian Lougheed (76) complain that nobody spontaneously offers them seats on the Luas or bus (October 3rd). Given that most of those lucky enough to get a seat on the Luas spend the journey glued to their phones, it is little surprise that their forlorn expressions go unnoticed.

I frequently offer my seat, and observe others offering their seats to those in obvious need – heavily pregnant women, the very elderly, people with crutches or walking sticks, or those trying to manage young children.

Very few people are deliberately selfish; however, I am wary of offering my seat to women not obviously in late pregnancy, or to older people who are not obviously frail for fear of causing offence, and I suspect most other commuters have similar reservations.

For those with less visually obvious but equally sincere need for a seat the answer is actually very simple. Instead of suffering in silence, if you just ask and explain your predicament, I am certain you will find no shortage of considerate strangers. When it comes to etiquette, the expressions “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you” were invented for just such a purpose. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – Des Doris, from the WiFi environs of Dún Laoghaire, writes, “Printed telephone directories. Why?” (October 3rd)

He may not be aware of the vast swathes of our “greatest little country in the world to do business” where, if you have an internet connection at all, waiting for a page to open in your browser and having a good night’s sleep could be described as “multi-tasking”. – Yours, etc,


Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – “Printed telephone directories. Why?” Well, for one thing, people of a certain vintage who can’t be bothered with the internet. Not to mention price-gouging directory inquiry lines. Third, admittedly a long shot, Charles Atlas impersonators. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – My 01 Dublin area directory from 2004 has performed admirably in holding up a truncated leg of my kitchen table. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a walker, there are two types of people I encounter a lot – one is the type that never cleans up after their dogs, and the other is a new breed (excuse the pun) that does clean up, probably because they are being watched, and then sneakily just throw the bag on the ground when they feel no one will spot them. Has anyone ever being fined for either disgusting behaviour? I have stopped arguing with them as it spoils my walk nearly as much as having to avoid their pets’ mess. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Clive Williams (September 30th) claims that he has a “simple solution” to the problem of entrances to business, banking and government offices being polluted by smokers. My problem is that he never says what this solution could be. Presumably, he means that this activity should be banned.

Smoking outside workplace doors is in fact prohibited in many workplaces and in “smoke-free” hospital campuses, but enforcing that rule is well-nigh impossible unless bouncers are in situ to ensure that it is observed. – Yours, etc,


Cork Institute

of Technology,


Sat, Oct 4, 2014, 01:01

First published: Sat, Oct 4, 2014, 01:01

Sir, – I’m intrigued by Rev Patrick G Burke (October 3rd) when he says that his local community school, with a “Catholic ethos”, which his two children attend, is “extremely inclusive” as they invite him “as the local Church of Ireland rector, to take part in all the school services”. While I’m pleased for him that it seems to work well for his family, it can scarcely be described as “extremely inclusive”. It reminds me of a line from the film The Blues Brothers: “‘What kind of music do you normally have here?’ ‘Oh, we’ve got both kinds – country and western’”. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

The word that no politician wants with his or her name has entered politics: cronyism. If we ignore the current debacle and look at cronyism as a concept then its effect on the public mood can be seen.

The first problem with cronyism is that it ensures the collapse of any given regime. The reason for this is because if cronyism exists then the question is not ‘who is the best person for the job?’ but rather ‘who do I want to get the job?’

When the latter outlook is adopted, it nullifies the wisdom of the former.

This is bad long-term strategy.

Secondly, when people see cronyism they begin to ask ‘who else is involved?’

This means people are beginning to ask ‘what if some Europeans have cronies here?’ While no evidence of such exists, there is a lot of Irish money leaving these shores.

When cronyism enters the equation, people can’t help but wonder: how deep does it really go? And when will it ultimately end?

Dermot Ryan

Attymon, Athenry,

Co. Galway

Ethics must apply to all

In the light of the latest farce at Government/political/State administration level, I presume that the two words that will now be permanently deleted from all their future pronouncements are ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’. They should learn to drop words that carry real meaning and stick with their general obfuscation.

What does this latest debacle say about the President’s call for us all to become more ethical? We have studies on unethical business practices, etc, to beat the band, often echoed by high-sounding calls from those in political and governmental power for stricter morality and behaviour. I think we’ve had enough high-level sermonising accompanied by selective-practice of their sermon messages. It seems that at the Government/political level, we need to have a very clear understanding of when they think ethics matter and who should be subject to ethics, as it seems that they exclude themselves.

Ed McDonald

Stradbrook Road, Blackrock,

Co Dublin

Women free to enter politics

Regarding actress Emma Watson’s recent much-hyped UN speech in favour of feminism, for several reasons it will take far more than a speech from Ms Watson and an equally-hyped letter from a schoolboy in support of her views, to convince this writer that feminism is a benign force that men should support.

Attempts to impose a model of ‘equality’ that seems to be based, at least in part, on a denial of the existence of naturally-occurring variations between people may well end up doing more harm than good.

While it’s true that women are in the minority in several fields, the same is true of men (with the teaching profession being a crucially-important example). However, such imbalances are not necessarily always due to “sexism,” discrimination, etc., but in many cases are simply a natural result of differences in the career preferences of individual men and women. Efforts to eliminate them, whether by means of quotas or otherwise, serve no useful purpose.

Regarding women in public life, I agree entirely with the views expressed by David Quinn in his article of September 26. It should also be stressed that since the foundation of the State, we have had universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot, and no one has been prohibited from standing for election because of their gender – crucially, one doesn’t require the nomination of a political party to stand for election. This being so, it would be more to the point for those who complain about the position of women in public life to complain less and use the rights that have been available equally to women and men alike for the past 90 years.

Hugh Gibney

Castletown, Athboy, Co Meath

We need credit lending limits

Where did all the property experts go? Will anybody get their money back from people selling books and courses telling the general public to take out large mortgages during the boom years? The Central Bank has just said that they may wish to limit the credit that banks lend out both in terms of deposit and income levels. This is welcome, but a far greater threat to bank stability is the length of loan. This should be reduced from 30 years to 20 years.

I have to disagree with David McWilliams that we are in a bubble again. The rental yield on Dublin property is 5.5pc, which has taken into account the rise in rents. In 2006 the rental yield on Irish property was between 2pc and 3pc.

But the warning signs are there to see! Like in the boom years, as property prices rise, banks lend more, and as they lend more property rises even further. This is what causes a property bubble.

The Central Bank should put limits on credit lending. Hopefully, for the sake of the nation.

Darragh Condren

Dundrum, Dublin 16

Cats are deserving champions

In response to the recent letter by Mr P Cosgrave regarding the All Ireland hurling champions, I wish to state that superb skill and tenacity are only part of an array of attributes that this team possesses.

The most ardent of Kilkenny supporters will concede that on occasions their tactics are outside of what the rules allow. However, they are not any different from the teams they are competing against and in any case this where the referee must do his job. I have no doubt that if scrutinized, their performances over the last 15 years will show that they are just as sinned against as sinned.

There seems to be a pattern to this type of criticism. Ger Loughnane suggested some years ago that they were playing on the edge, then we almost had a witch hunt against Tommy Walsh for dirty play, etc, and now they are accused of arm-pulling, body checks and so on. Both finals this year were great spectacles, the drawn game an absolute classic. Tipperary would have beaten any other team with their wonderful performance in the drawn game. Kilkenny are not any other team. Champions on 10 occasions in the last 15 years while their rivals Tipp and Cork have two each. I think it’s a little more than arm-pulling.

Frank Prendergast,

Shanbough, New Ross, Co. Wexford

We must protect mothers

With the budget looming over the horizon, I am sure important and difficult decisions are being made regarding the little bit of wiggle room the recent pick-up in the economy has giving the country’s finances.

When making these decisions, I hope the Government looks at one of the particularly mean-spirited austerity measures implemented in recent years, mainly under the radar, inflicting the women of this country at possibly one of their most vulnerable times.

I am talking about the cuts made to the maternity benefit. Not only was the top level cut by well over 10pc but the benefit was also made taxable so any cuts could not be offset by working partners taking tax credits. Depending on circumstances this could add up to a loss of over €2,000 at a time when their life has changed beyond all recognition, added responsibility, pressures and expenses.

This was a hit on the women of this country at a time when their country should have been supporting them, not adding financial worries to their burden.

I felt that the Government saw this as an easy target, the benefactors of which don’t have a voice. I want this country, my country, to be one that protects and looks after our vulnerable, not one that adds to their worries, as they see them as an easy target to save a few million euro.

J Meighan

Address with editor

Irish Independent


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