23 October 2014 Leaves
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 drive
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Lynda Bellingham – obituary
Lynda Bellingham was a versatile actress who as the Oxo mum brought ‘man-appeal’ to the business of gravy-making
8:44AM BST 20 Oct 2014
Lynda Bellingham, who has died aged 66, became a minor national treasure playing the “Oxo mum” in a series of television commercials that ran for 16 years; in the 1980s she was also cast as Helen Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small.
When the BBC’s popular Saturday night drama series — based on James Herriott’s novels about the ups and downs of life as a rural vet in the Yorkshire Dales — launched in 1978, the part of James’s wife was taken by the actress Carol Drinkwater. But when the series resumed in 1988 after an eight-year break, Lynda Bellingham took over, bringing to the part what one critic called “a slight but unwelcome element of brittleness”, and remaining for the final three series.
But that was nothing compared with the epic 16 years she spent as the wholesome middle-class mother in the Oxo television commercials making gravy as her on-screen family squabbled around her. Chosen from 1,500 hopefuls in 1983, she and her screen family became the successors to Katie, Philip and their children, the original Oxo family who dominated television advertising for a generation.
“No half-respected actor would consider it,” she mused once, “but thank God it hasn’t ruined my career.” In retrospect, she was grateful for the part (“it paid for school fees and a nice house”), and recognised that the mini-dramas played out in the various advertisements had broken new ground as the first soap-style commercials. Certainly, as The Daily Telegraph noted in 1988, creating a warm, human feeling about stock cubes was a triumph of emotionally manipulative copywriting.
While at the height of her fame as Britain’s gravy-boat queen, Lynda Bellingham coped with a personal crisis when her second marriage broke down amid allegations that her husband, Nunzio Peluso, had subjected her to violent outbursts, had held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, and was stalking her. Finally, in 2000 following their divorce, Peluso was fined £4,000 for harassing her and handed a seven-year restraining order.
The Oxo campaign was showered with industry awards, and adding “man-appeal” to the business of gravy-making made her one of the most recognisable women in Britain. But it was pulled in 1999, when the Oxo makers decided that the idea of a family sitting down to eat together was “just completely outdated”. For her part, Lynda Bellingham felt depressed that family meals had been deemed a thing of the past; on the other hand, she blamed the mumsy image it perpetuated for her not being considered for the part of the man-eating Mrs Robinson in the West End stage version of The Graduate.
The demise of the Oxo campaign signalled a marked change of direction, and she appeared on American television as a brothel-keeper in a drama about Hans Christian Andersen, and on British screens she was seen in bed with Albert Finney in My Uncle Silas, a kind of homage to Finney’s famous 1963 film role in Tom Jones.
Not that she was a stranger to raunchy roles. She was Jimmy Tarbuck’s stooge, a nurse called Norma Snockers (complete with uplift bra), in the 1973 television series Tell Tarby, made her film debut in the lewd Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977), and was the saucy star of Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), produced by her first husband Greg Smith (she regretted doing both films). More to her liking was the role of Alexandra, the ill-fated wife of Czar Nicholas, which she played in a $12 million Russian epic filmed in Russia called The Last Days of the Romanovs (1997).
Lynda Bellingham and Christopher Timothy in All Creatures Great and Small (BBC)
Lynda Bellingham was born Meredith Lee Hughes on May 31 1948 in Montreal, Canada, to an unmarried teenager called Marjorie Hughes, and adopted by a British family called Bellingham when she was four months old. When her adoptive father, a BOAC pilot, retired from flying to farm at Aston Abbotts near Aylesbury, she attended Aylesbury High School for girls. She appeared in several school plays and performed at a local Shakespeare festival as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1966 she enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Television fame arrived in 1971 when she appeared in General Hospital. As the Oxo campaign became part of the national landscape she sought some variety by starring with James Bolam in the decidedly adult ITV sitcom Second Thoughts (1991), and then as Faith in the spin-off hit comedy series Faith in the Future (1995-8), with Julia Sawalha playing her grown-up daughter, which won the British Comedy Award for an ITV show in 1997.
In 1994 she was cast as the soft-hearted Mrs Lupin in the BBC’s adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit, and in 2000 she starred in the women’s drama At Home With The Braithwaites. A stint on The Bill as the evil Irene Radford in 2004 was followed between 2007 and 2011 by regular appearances as a panellist on ITV’s lunchtime chat show Loose Women.
On the stage she made an early appearance as a tart in Norman, Is That You? (Phoenix, 1975) starring the comedian Harry Worth, and in 1981 was Richard’s Queen in Robin Lefevre’s production of Richard II at the Young Vic. Feminists protested outside the theatre when she played a seasoned striptease artiste in Peter Terson’s Strippers (Phoenix, 1985), although she was the only woman cast member not required to shed any clothes.
She starred with David Jason in Look No Hands (Strand) and with Janet Suzman and Maureen Lipman in The Sisters Rosensweig (Old Vic, 1994). More recently her stage work included Losing Louis with Alison Steadman and Sugar Mummies at the Royal Court. She counted her starring role in Calendar Girls on a national tour (2008-09) and in the West End as one of her greatest triumphs.
In 2002 Lynda Bellingham endured another personal drama when her home in north London was firebombed as she slept by a former tenant, whom she believed was mentally disturbed, and who subsequently killed himself. In 2013 she announced she had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and the following year revealed it had spread to her lungs and liver. In August 2014 she decided to end her chemotherapy treatment, but hoped she would survive to see her final Christmas.
She published a volume of memoirs, Lost and Found, in 2010 and a second, There’s Something I’ve Been Dying to Tell You, in 2014. An accomplished cook, she confessed to always using Oxo in her gravy, but revealed that her secret was to add half a pint of sherry. She was appointed OBE in 2014.
Lynda Bellingham’s first marriage in 1975, to the Confessions film producer Greg Smith, lasted only a year. With her second husband, Nunzio Peluso, whom she married in 1981, she opened an Italian restaurant in Muswell Hill, north London, and had two sons. The marriage was dissolved after 15 years, and although she said she would never marry again, on her 60th birthday, in 2008, she married her third husband, Michael Pattemore. He and her two sons survive her.
Anonymous prisoners in their cell. ‘Despite the rhetoric of our leaders, the purpose of prison is to deter those rational enough to be deterred.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian
Thank you for reporting the rising rate of prison suicides as an issue of important concern (‘Terrible toll’ of prison suicides, 22 October). One practical suggestion that might ease the problem would be to extend the responsibilities of “listeners” in our jails so that they also become “watchers”. Establishments have a group of inmates, trained by the charity Samaritans, to listen to the anxieties of fellow prisoners who might be potential suicides. These listeners, who often work closely with wing officers, are widely credited with preventing some self-inflicted deaths which might otherwise occur. Prison staff, in my experience as a former listener, work hard to minimise suicides. They hold a list of high-risk self-harmers or worse. Those on it are kept under observation by officers using the peepholes in cell doors.
The cut in prison staff numbers by 10,000 over the past three years may mean that some officers reduce the frequency of their observation of high-risk inmates. So it would be a good idea to utilise the services of the existing listeners to support the efforts of prison officers in keeping watch over potentially suicidal inmates in their cells. A policy of giving such extra responsibilities to trusted prisoners would be in accord with the government’s approach of using offenders in the field of rehabilitation. Such a move would need an amendment to the Prison Service Instructions rulebook, but it would surely be a well-supported initiative to help prevent prison suicides.
• As someone who worked for over 30 years in the probation service, I cannot help but associate the raised rate of suicides in prisons in England and Wales with the removal of probation staff from prisons. Until a few years ago, all adult prisons had a team of probation staff who could play an important role in liaising between an individual prisoner and his or her family through their probation colleagues in the prisoner’s home area. They also understood the prison system, could work with prison officers on the wings, with medical staff and with governors, and could alert them to risk where vulnerable prisoners were concerned. The safety of prisoners at risk of suicide was ultimately down to the vigilance of prison staff, but probation staff could perform a vital liaison function. With cuts to prison budgets, probation staff have all but disappeared from prisons, and nothing comparable has replaced them as far as I am aware, and, of course, the probation service itself has been scandalously dismantled by the government.
Ever since John Major told us in the 1990s that “we must condemn a little more, and understand a little less”, there as been a gradual move away from the consideration of offenders’ welfare, and from that it is a short step to considering that their lives are somehow less important. One result of that is the indefensible level of suicides in our prisons that you have reported.
Wimborne Minster, Dorset
• It is with utter dismay and extreme apprehension for the future justice system in Britain that we have to watch this government ignore the increasing suicide rate in Britain’s prisons (Exposed: suicide crisis gripping the prison system, 18 October). We are advised by Andrew Selous that as minister for justice he will listen to the prisons and probation ombudsman and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. I would feel heartened with such a comment if it wasn’t for the fact that the PPO and HMIP are agencies of the Ministry of Justice and most likely will have to face another round of cuts this year.
Then there is the report that makes it plain that the secretary of state is going to defy an appeal court judgment and let staff use force to restrain teenage inmates (Grayling to let staff use force at ‘super-jail’ for children, 17 October). Not only is this government defying the appeal court but it is also defying the European court of human rights by denying prisoners the vote. So excuse me if I state I have no faith in what the justice minister promises as this government has made it clear that it wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and most likely doesn’t believe that prisoners or teenagers in custody should be entitled to any rights.
This is the downward slope to an undemocratic even autocratic state.
Public and Commercial Services Union (Ministry of Justice)
• It is disgraceful that the government plans to spend £85m building a new unit to incarcerate children. Although a minister has described it as “a far cry from the traditional environment of bars on windows”, it is difficult to believe this when the building plans are based on those for a young offender institute (YOI) previously planned for the site, and when the proposed rules include the use of adjudications and physical force for the purposes of good order and discipline, measures taken directly from the rules for YOIs. We are told that this establishment will provide a high-quality education, although neither the content nor quality of this can be judged as detail is not included in the bill now before parliament. But to expect any custodial institution, however good the education provision, to address the complex needs and entrenched behaviours of these children within the average 80-day sentence period is completely unrealistic.
At a time of constrained finances, and when the number of children in custody is reducing, any extra money should be invested in well-evidenced interventions that are more likely to work. Funding the construction of a new custodial facility for children is an expensive experiment that is almost certainly doomed to failure. There is no evidence to support the assertion that outcomes will be improved; on the contrary, all the available evidence suggests that placing children in large establishments, miles away from their home community will undermine efforts to reintegrate them successfully into society on their release.
Chair of trustees, National Association for Youth Justice
• Chris Grayling’s determination to give custody officers the power to use force on children to make them follow orders is even worse than you indicate. It is true that this flouts an appeal court judgment that such restraint would risk breaching a child’s right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. But we should also remember the high court ruling in 2012 that secure training centres had been sites of “widespread unlawful restraint” for at least their first 10 years. There would have been hundreds of child injuries, not “several” as you report. Two children died after being restrained: 15-year-old Gareth Myatt and 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, who killed himself after being restrained. The government says it will ban officers from inflicting severe pain on children to get them to follow orders, yet we know that situations can quickly escalate.
If ministers can’t find it in their hearts to ditch these brutal plans in memory of Gareth and Adam, and the many other children who have suffered abuse in prisons, why not show some consistency? Staff in secure children’s homes, which also house young offenders, are prohibited from using force to secure compliance and are never allowed to deliberately hurt the children they look after.
• Despite the rhetoric of our leaders, the purpose of prison is not to make vindictive voters feel better nor to warehouse out of sight and out of mind those whose mental health is disrupted. It is to deter those rational enough to be deterred, and to rehabilitate those capable of redemption. The ever-growing recourse to profit-driven firms to provide prisons is diametrically opposed to the provision of reform and rehabilitation in prisons. Returns on investment are boosted by overcrowding and understaffing. Underpaid and undertrained staff are understandably under-motivated when it comes to the extra effort required to turn troubled inmates into citizens who’ll go straight on release.
But these inadequacies in the system also result in punishments far in excess of those handed down by the courts, determined by the psychological frailty of those jailed and by the capabilities and motivation of the jailers. The result is the growing number of prisoners rendered beyond any return to a constructive contribution to society by death at their own despairing hands. Harsh, privately-run prison regimes are a fraud perpetrated on the victims of crime.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood
• The rising numbers of suicides in England’s prisons puts the lie to any notion that Chris Grayling’s regressive and uncivilised penal policies are defensible. His cuts and regime changes have made the tasks of prison officers immeasurably harder, and the vulnerable, and their families outside, inevitably suffer. But can anyone actually do anything about Grayling’s cruel intransigence, and his continuing denial that his prisons are in crisis? That a man with such indifference to the harm that he does can hold on to public office betrays the kind of political institution Britain has become.
Emeritus professor of criminal and community justice, University of Strathclyde
• In reference to your article on the chief inspector of prisons’ annual report (‘Terrible toll’ of prison suicides, 22 October), I thought we had abolished the death penalty.
While the refurbished William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, east London, shown here with Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow tapestry on display, is fully accessible, Temple Newsam is not so good for wheelchair users, says Pauline Eyre. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA Archive/Press Association Images
On its UK tour so far, The Vanity of Small Differences, an earlier work by Grayson Perry (Report, 22 October), has appeared on the egalitarian white walls of city centre galleries with no entry cost. At the moment, however, the six tapestries are on show at Temple Newsam House in Yorkshire, a Tudor-Jacobean mansion owned by Leeds city council, one and a half miles from the nearest train station and accessible by bus only in the summer months. Entry to the exhibition is free but contingent on a payment of £4.50 for entrance to the house.
Maybe the decision to take Perry’s epoch-defining exploration of the connections between class and taste to one of Yorkshire’s bastions of high culture was an experiment. I’m willing to be persuaded that Grayson Perry approves of his tapestries jostling for attention in rooms that are stuffed with furniture and decorative objects belonging to assorted lives from long ago. After all, that’s what the tapestries are about, isn’t it? So far, so good. I like experiments.
I am less easily persuaded that it was a good idea to house The Vanity of Small Differences in a series of poky bedrooms across two floors of a minor stately home that is unable to offer full access to wheelchairs. To see the first five tapestries, I was required to transfer from my own electric wheelchair to something resembling a witch’s ducking stool in order to be manually dragged backwards up the Grade I-listed staircase. Once at the top, I would transfer to another wheelchair to be pushed round the exhibition by an employee. I turned down the opportunity. I’m used to relinquishing my autonomy when necessary, but I still have some pride. “Well, it’s not for everyone,” said the assistant.
There was a lift to the top floor to see the remaining tapestry, but even here, life was not straightforward. Because fire regulations dictate only one wheelchair up there at a time, I was made to wait till the previous incumbent had had enough. Luckily, he or she didn’t feel the need to watch any of the three 45-minute documentaries which are such an illuminating part of the show (but which are freely available over the internet at 4oD).
The curator, speaking to a large Ilkley literature festival audience in one of the house’s ground-floor state rooms (easily big enough to show most, if not all, of the tapestries), vigorously defended the decision to use rooms with poor access. At least I know my place now. I won’t bother trekking to Temple Newsam to spend my £2-an-hour earnings, then.
Skipton, North Yorkshire
When a pair of tickets for West Ham’s opening game of the season against Tottenham costs the same as a standing season ticket for Bayern Munich, it’s clear that the “customers” (Editorial, 20 October) have gained nothing from the Sky TV revolution that’s put untold billions into dodgy players’ and dodgier owners’ pockets. Not only are we ripped off at every opportunity, we have to put up with kick-offs at ridiculous times to suit armchair and pub audiences.
Premier League football is crying out for a democratic fans’ revolution, but while we wait for the glorious day, uber-capitalist Richard Scudamore and the other suits who run it could at least impose a £25 maximum admission charge for all clubs so that the average fan could more easily afford a match ticket. Such a measure would preserve the competitive advantages of the bigger grounds and would hardly be noticed, given that gate receipts are small beer in comparison to TV revenue. I realise the chances of this happening are on a par with those of my beloved Hammers winning the Champions League, but one thing they can’t take from us is that we can still dream.
• Your editorial on football democracy mentioned fans on the board, fan-owned clubs and for fans to have more say in our game. There is a shining example of this and we’re called FC United of Manchester. Far from FC United “being over by Christmas”, as our detractors once prophesied when we were formed in 2005, we move in to our new £6m home soon – £2m towards the cost of the ground was raised by the fans themselves. We are a co-operative, all major decisions are taken by the owners (the fans), we vote not to have a sponsor on the shirt and voted on admission prices and for fans to pay what they can afford for season tickets.
Football is pricing out working-class fans, especially youngsters. It’s now a birthday treat for them to watch their club when it should be a birthright. Fans of all clubs should not let petty rivalries stop them from organising together to take back the their game from the greed merchants, spivs and crooks of the modern game.
• Good to see Sunderland fans getting a refund on tickets after their team’s poor performance (Sport, 22 October). Perhaps this idea could be extended and made retrospective. After nearly 40 years’ watching Crystal Palace, I’d be owed a small fortune.
It is not just in the prison service that constructive dissent is discouraged and punished (Sacking threat to prison whistleblowers, 21 October). A culture where staff are expected to keep their heads down, their mouths shut and to toe the line would seem to permeate the whole of the civil service, even in the most minor matters. My husband has just retired after 40 years’ exemplary service in HMRC. In April he wrote to the Guardian to correct some factual errors on tax and civil servants’ pay in an article by Polly Toynbee. There was no whistleblowing involved, everything he said was already in the public domain. However, HMRC found him guilty of “serious misconduct” for contacting the press without permission and he received a 12-month written warning. As a result he was denied the customary long-service certificate and award when he retired.
It would seem that writing one letter was considered to outweigh 40 years’ service. In such petty ways does the civil service aim to keep its employees on a tight rein. Small wonder that morale among staff is at an all-time low. All my husband’s colleagues said how much they envied him being able to leave the service now.
Name and address supplied
The commission on social mobility will be too kind to all the political parties unless it tackles the unrelenting efforts of those in power in both local and national government to force citizens on the lowest incomes into unmanageable debts (Milburn delivers broadside against parties on poverty, 20 October). The recipe is toxic. First, dice incomes in work and unemployment while the prices of food and domestic fuel are escalating. Then chop council tax and housing benefits, leaving the rapidly reducing incomes to pay increasing rents and allow rents to increase. Let councils increase the council taxation of benefits from 8.5% to 20% while freezing it for everyone else. Allow to simmer indefinitely in a flavouring of the prohibitive costs of justice. Then ensure this toxic abuse of power cannot be cleansed by closing the door to judicial review in the criminal justice and courts bill now ending its passage through parliament.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• The same day that “David Cameron vows to create 3m apprenticeships” (Report, 20 October), repeating George Osborne’s previous impossible pledge to the Tory conference, Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility confirms overall apprentice starts are down and completion rates are falling. PS, they’re not apprenticeships, anyway, but subsidised job placements.
University of Greenwich
• The value of a £140m house in Park Lane has increased by £6m in the past few months (Balls seeks to calm fears in London over mansion tax, 21 October). In the same issue, we read that Alan Milburn recommends that the living wage be implemented by 2025 at the latest (Society on the brink of permanent division, government warned). Says it all really, doesn’t it?
Limpsfield Chart, Surrey
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (20 October) is probably right that Russell Brand is a “dilettante”. But he challenges the status quo and stands up for those who are on its sharp end, like the young mothers in Newham.
So he strikes a chord with tens of thousands of young – and older – people. Does anyone think that a book by Ed Miliband, who can’t even bring himself to support strike action by teachers or nurses, would fly off the shelves like Revolution is doing?
Alibhai-Brown is appalled that Brand won’t vote. Yet we all know that millions will abstain in the general election next year. Why? Because there is nothing to choose between the policies of three, now four, pro-big-business parties.
We need a party for the men and women who aren’t part of the corporate elite, a party for trade unionists, NHS users, pensioners, the low-paid, immigrants and young people who need decent jobs and homes. When there’s a real choice, and a chance to make a difference, you’ll get high turnouts, as we saw in Scotland’s referendum.
Nobody I know is sitting around “awaiting the revolution”. We’re defending services, fighting cuts, striking for a living wage, standing in elections as anti-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), offering people an alternative. We got 10 per cent in Salford last year. If we had PR we’d have a councillor or two.
Alibhai-Brown’s “institutional overhaul” of Parliament won’t bring them flocking to the polling stations – but a clear stand and a socialist alternative is like a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised.
Chair, Salford against Cuts, Manchester
Edward Collier (letter, 17 October) asks: “In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP and 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?” It was the system that delivers this inequity that a large majority of people actually voted for in a referendum.
I personally regret that decision, but I accept that it is the democratic will of our people, expressed in a referendum where every vote was equal.
Freudian slip raises a real question
There is something desperate about Ed Miliband’s outrage over Lord Freud’s case of foot-in-mouth.
He must know that this is not an issue that can be just harrumphed away. As a society, we have to look at the situation honestly. Nobody should be discriminated against, but if we want disabled people to participate in economic activity, we have to recognise that they cannot make the same contribution as an able-bodied person. It’s a big ask to expect an employer to take on a disabled person at the same wage as an able-bodied person.
The solution is for the welfare system to make up the difference. Such a policy would be perfectly acceptable to disabled people, and less of a burden on the Treasury than paying a full disability allowance.
What’s astonishing is that the Government doesn’t seem to see that – and David Cameron couldn’t spot a prime opportunity to steal Ed Miliband’s thunder.
A huge concern making billions can reasonably be expected to employ a proportion of disabled people at its own expense. A smaller outfit could be damaged by having an employee who, through no fault of their own, was less than optimally productive; in such a case it could be to the benefit of the firm, the disabled employee and society at large for the taxpayer to contribute towards their payment.
That was possibly the point that Lord Freud was trying to make. But he made it badly, and should not be a spokesman for that reason.
He may, however, have done us all a service in raising the issue of “worth”. It could be said that no one is worth more than, say, 20 times the living wage. But many are paid vastly more than that and it is their worth that needs to be challenged.
Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
The welfare minister claimed some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour and that he’d think about how those unfortunates who might wish to work for £2 an hour might be helped to do so.
A Freudian slip or another Tory “reform” in the offing? The mindset of this divided old political party – the oldest in Europe – is as revolting as it is revealing towards the end of this parliament, no matter how artfully disguised at the beginning.
They’re out of touch, out of time –and out of here soon if there’s to be any fairness at all about politics.
Theatre of the absurd
I warmly applaud Adrian Hamilton’s article on the current theatrical fashion to rewrite or traduce plays that are part of the European classical canon (15 October). However, he omitted to mention the mauling British dramatists have received at such hands.
In a recent National Theatre production of what was claimed to be Marlowe’s Edward II the audience was greeted with a cast dressed in bomber jackets, all smoking furiously and constantly on mobile phones. Scenes were added that are not in the Marlowe text and much that is was omitted.
The nadir of this production, to me, was the scene where Edward’s court celebrated his Pyrrhic victory over the barons by waving plastic swords and dancing the hokey-cokey accompanied by an electric keyboard player on stage.
I certainly do not wish for museum theatre, but production companies must be more honest with theatre-goers. They should announce that this is Ms X’s or Mr Y’s version of Oedipus, Medea or Edward II and omit the names of Sophocles, Euripides or Marlowe from their publicity. But that might not generate the same ticket sales.
Dr Mick Morris
For the second time in recent months I have walked out of a London theatre because of a play’s continuous and unnecessary foul language.
Needless to say I was denied a refund of my ticket price. As I bought my ticket at the box office just before the start of the matinee performance I could not have been aware of the vile content.
Have other theatre goers also been caught out like this, and is it not time all prospective audiences were warned about such disgusting content? In future I will check before buying tickets, assuming I ever consider risking attending another London theatre venue.
John Walsh is quite right in advocating the abolition of tiresome theatre intervals (16 October). However, I would request one exception – the Royal Opera House.
Much of the seating at this ludicrously expensive venue is unfit for humans (battery chickens spring to mind) and 30 minutes is about all I can bear on the rare occasions that I find myself being “entertained” there.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Now, the three-day passport
Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) lavished well-deserved praise on the Passport Office after receiving her passport five working days after applying.
Who can beat this? I applied for my passport renewal on 6 October and received my new one on 9 October – after three working days! My congratulations to both the Passport Office and the Post Office.
Whatever new brooms, prunings or decapitations were necessary to achieve such high standards of public service efficiency, pray that they may soon be mobilised to thin out the dead wood in our NHS.
Housing help for the super-rich
Labour proposes a “mansion tax”. This will tax out middle-class Londoners who bought their houses more than 30 years ago and are now coming into retirement on modest pensions. How will that benefit any housing crisis other than that of the very wealthy wanting central London properties?
When the middle classes got driven out of Manhattan in the 1980s it became a ghetto for the super-rich and a once thriving and diverse cultural scene has been reduced to fighting for the best opera seats and to-be-seen-in restaurants.
Ebola or not, we need Heathrow
Nigel Long (letter, 16 October) moves away from a sensible discussion about Ebola to confuse the debate about Heathrow.
It is not airline and airport operator profits driving the need for growth but the long-term interests of current and future generations who will be affected by a decline in our international standing if Heathrow’s hub status is allowed to decline further.
Sir, The proposal to pay GPs £55 for each new patient diagnosed with dementia beggars belief (report, Oct 22). Diagnosing illness is not an extra service commitment, and introducing financial incentives for a diagnosis sets a dreadful precedent. What about other conditions, cancer for example? The fact that this proposal has been put forward illustrates the gap between the objectives of an honourable profession and a managerial bureaucracy that is intent on its deconstruction.
The reality is that patients do not always want a diagnosis, especially with conditions like dementia. In these circumstances, many individuals, who in the early stage of the disease are coping independently or with family support, do not want a label for their condition. There may be medicines that slow the process, but they are of no interest to an individual who is avoiding the issue, and while they are mentally competent their wishes should be respected. To subject such individuals to tests and scans to prove they have dementia is inhuman, yet that could be the result of this proposal.
Consultant surgeon (Ret’d), Watermillock, Cumbria
Sir, It is essential to promote good health through preventive medical care, rather than just treatment. Enormous credit must go to those GPs and community services that regularly check patients for ageing conditions and recommend preventive measures, such as establishing a lifestyle — including exercise and diet — which is known to limit the onset of dementia.
RKM Sanders, MD
Sir, Having an aged parent with advanced Alzheimer’s, I’m strongly supportive of better and earlier diagnosis of dementia, but I find NHS England’s proposal deeply disturbing. Well-intentioned it may be, but this initiative looks more like an ugly combination of a medical bounty and a deeply flawed PR gimmick.
Sir, When my wife started to have memory problems, our GP referred her to a local psychiatric hospital. A consultant psychiatrist came to our house and tested my wife, which took the best part of an hour. A preliminary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia was made and later confirmed by other tests. When are GPs going to find time adequately to test patients for dementia?
Wigan, Greater Manchester
Sir,Many GPs have little training in mental health, and until this is rectified it will be best to refer patients who may have dementia to community mental health teams. I assisted with running a memory clinic, so saving the time a GP would take. The screening included a memory test and also a look at how well a person deals with everyday tasks, which was useful for social services to assess the level of help needed. The problems that dementia brings can be eased by close co-operation between the NHS and social services.
Retired mental health nurse,
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Sir, I have more than 40 years’ experience of caring for older people, and understand the importance of early and accurate diagnosis of conditions like dementia. However, the idea that GPs need a financial incentive is ridiculous. That money should instead be spent on training professionals who work with older people to identify the signs of dementia and offer swift support.
Executive vice president,
Sir, I would pay my GP double the £55 fee for him not to tell me I have a crippling disease, for which there is no cure, and for which treatment is forbidden by Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) until it’s too late.
Sir, Many GPs would, I’m sure, be happier to see the proposed £55 payment for each diagnosis go instead to the Alzheimer’s Society or a local memory clinic.
Dr Larry Amure, BCHIR
Sir, The letter about altering the rules of pub darts (Oct 22) reminded me of a wheeze I used as a youth seeking a free pint. I would challenge any darts player to a game of 301 on the condition that their score was doubled. The impossibility of a win only dawned on some cocksure opponents near the end of a match — and I got my beer.
Potters Bar, Herts
Sir, Professor John Miles says that driverless cars would ease congestion (report, Oct 21) but this claim is flawed. These cars are programmed to stop in the event of danger and once people trust in the technology, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of ordinary cars will take advantage, thus subverting the rules of the road.
A driverless car at a standstill will stop the traffic behind it, hence it becomes a creator of congestion, not a traffic-flow solution.
Sir, Fresh eggs lie horizontally at the bottom of a vessel of cold water (letter, Oct 22) because they contain only a small amount of air. As they age, more air enters through the shell. Eggs that are not completely fresh — but still fine to eat — will tilt upwards. If the egg floats, then it has gone bad.
Sir, Catholics are permitted to divorce in certain situations (letter, Oct 21). Code of canon law 1153 states: “A spouse who occasions grievous danger of soul or body to the other or to the children or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse a reason to leave . . .”. Those divorced in such circumstances can receive the sacraments, provided they are not in another relationship.
Dr Owen Gallagher
Glenavy, Co Antrim
The reasons for the increase in appeals against GCSE and A-level marks, and subsequent changes in grades (report, Oct 22) lie both in the examining process itself and the way in which it is overseen. Many scripts are now marked not on paper but online. Markers no longer attend standardisation meetings. Instead, the team leader is a voice on the phone, and the senior examiner a face on a screen. Marking has become a solitary process.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many older, experienced markers have responded to these changes by giving up. A lot of scripts are being marked by last-minute recruits, some of whom will only do it once. Greater volatility in the workforce inevitably leads to greater volatility in the standards of their work.
Stability may be achieved in time; the process would be assisted if the regulatory body Ofqual more obviously understood the process it oversees.
The pilot experiments with opening GP surgeries seven days a week Photo: Alamy
6:55AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – Many GPs regularly work in the evenings and at weekends and they don’t earn the sums that Roger Strong mentions in his letter.
The £100 an hour figure quoted is an estimate for a small number of practices taking part in the Government’s Challenge Fund pilot that is experimenting with opening GP surgeries seven days a week. The British Medical Association has concerns about this pilot. We do not feel this is a sensible use of limited resources at a time when GP services are struggling to deliver basic care during the week because of rising patient demand, falling resources and a shortage of GPs. We need to address this crisis before we start asking an already overstretched and underfunded service to do more.
Despite being in an election year, we need all policy-makers to develop long-term and sustainable solutions to the problems facing our health service, and not indulge in short-term gimmicks aimed at making headlines.
Dr Richard Vautrey
Deputy Chairman, BMA’s GP Committee
SIR – Isabel Hardman (“Most trolls are more to be pitied than hated”) says, based on her personal experience, that most internet trolls are “people who never grew up enough to deal with irritation”.
This conclusion is at odds with a recent study by academics at the universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg and British Columbia, which found that, of all personality traits, it was sadism which showed the most robust associations with trolling. The authors of the study concluded that cyber-trolling was an internet manifestation of everyday sadism, and explained that trolls therefore are likely to suffer a dispositional tendency to enjoy hurting others, tending to respond in the affirmative to psychology test statements such as “Hurting people is exciting’’. As sadists troll because they enjoy it, this may explain why, when victims reveal their suffering, this further encourages the trolls.
Isabel Hardman’s advice that the best way of dealing with trolls is to ignore them may, in fact, be correct. Though her advice to send angry trolls a “lovely YouTube animal video” may not be psychologically consistent with the first part of her advice.
Dr Raj Persaud
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Pheasants are causing havoc on the roads Photo: John MacTavish
6:56AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – I recently had a close “air miss” with a suicidal pheasant while riding my motorbike. It flew across me at chest height when travelling at around 50 miles per hour (me, not the pheasant). I am sure that, had I not instinctively breathed in, it would have ended in tears and feathers.
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I told a local estate manager I had hit three of his pheasants, causing expensive damage to my car. He said he would send me an invoice for the dead birds.
Chipping Norton, Oxford
Price and life of milk
SIR – Dairy farmers throughout the country are being forced to sell milk for less than it costs to produce. We often pay more for bottled water than for milk.
Surely if the Government can propose a minimum price for alcohol, then it can do the same for milk and allow farmers to make a reasonable profit.
SIR – On Tuesday morning I finished off a four-pint container of skimmed milk with a use-by date of September 28. I have suffered no ill effects whatsoever. So much for food safety labelling.
Not music to my ears
SIR – My greatest pleasure in listening to Classic FM is not just the film music, the adverts or the travel news, but hearing them trying to pronounce Eugene Onegin.
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Over-familiarity: Kevin Spacey ridicules Jason Bateman in Horrible Bosses
6:57AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – As Steve Baldock and Ruth Huneke demonstrate, different generations have different values regarding how best to address a person. Surely the only social skill required to solve this is listening.
If Steve Baldock is introduced as “Mr Baldock” or “Steve”, then call him that.
Over-familiarisation and abbreviation should be avoided, and it shouldn’t be assumed that because a woman wears a wedding ring, the surname she gives is her married name.
SIR – I was once interviewing youngsters for a warehouse job when a lad seated himself in front of me, still wearing a full-face crash helmet.
He had the courtesy to raise the visor, which enabled him to hear my two-word suggestion that he quickly leave my presence.
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire
SIR – Mr Baldock should count himself lucky to be addressed by his Christian name by interviewees.
When speaking to potential candidates for a position in my firm, I try not to wince when they call me “mate”. They’re all good tree surgeons, I am sure, but sometimes they lack the courtesy to turn up for the interview.
My recruitment advertisement asks for candidates with “good manners and a sense of humour” – have I been hoist by my own climbing rope?
Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire
SIR – Mr Baldock’s letter reminds of the day a new member of staff joined the company I was working for and called the boss “Freddie”.
The boss told him: “My best friends call me ‘Freddie’, my staff call me ‘Mister’, others call me ‘Sir’. You may call me ‘God’.”
On a roll: Nicole Cooke celebrates her win at the Road World Championships in Italy, 2008 Photo: Getty Images
6:58AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – In last week’s Pub Quiz, Gavin Fuller states that Tommy Simpson was the first British cyclist to be world Road Race champion in 1965, and asks who the second was, in 2011 (the intended answer being Mark Cavendish).
In fact, the first British Road Race champion was the marvellous Beryl Burton, in 1960, a full five years before Tommy Simpson.
And the third British win? Beryl Burton again, in 1967. So does that make Mark Cavendish the fourth British winner? Of course not, that would be Nicole Cooke in 2008, relegating Cavendish to fifth place in the list of British champions.
Riddlesden, West Yorkshire
Taking the lead: it is one thing to lead a party, but quite another to lead the country Photo: AFP/GETTY
6:59AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – Ahead of next year’s general election, vote-catching policies are being generated in response to policies put out the day before by rival parties. Yet, ultimately, the choice of voters will be centred around the leadership potential of individuals – a worrying thought.
Far too little attention is given to the contrasting skills required for a party leader and a prime minister. It is one thing to come up with a manifesto and sell it to the party faithful and the swing voter; it is quite another to demonstrate capabilities of statesmanship on a national or world stage, negotiating with those of opposing views and reaching compromises.
Credibility, presence, gravitas, diplomacy and common sense must prevail over party politics if progress is to be made and the country is to rally behind. Do all of our prospective leaders meet these criteria?
Let us hope that after the dust settles in 2015 we will have a prime minister who can lead the nation and not just their party.
SIR – At a conference of our parochial church council, all three churches listed “attracting young people” as an aim. I mentioned that a church I know of holds a service on Sunday afternoons to encourage families whose children are involved in Sunday-morning sport to attend.
I was told that it is “tradition” to hold services at 10.30 or 11am. Unless churches look for ways to attract younger people, even it if means dispensing with tradition, our congregations will indeed wither away.
Outgoing European Commission President Barroso addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg Photo: Reuters
7:00AM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – Authority to make your own laws, control your own currency and control your borders must be cornerstones of a sovereign nation, along with the possibility of changing a government which is out of kilter with the electorate. So how can José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission president, speak of a union of sovereign nations when none of these properties apply to most member states?
The end point of an “ever-closer union” is a single country with a single currency, no internal border restrictions and one in which all laws will be made, or subject to approval, by Brussels.
C B Rosenberg
SIR – Mr Barroso says that “migration has been good for Britain”, which is an over-simplification. It fails to address the shoals of foreigners who sit on the streets of Britain’s cities begging, or the stress upon our health service and infrastructure, which must cope with housing millions of extra people.
Britain does need immigrants, but only those who contribute.
My friends in the oil business travel overseas to work and then return home after paying whatever taxes they are required to stump up where they work. EU and non-EU workers similarly should be allowed to work here, pay National Insurance, just as we do, and then return home when they have completed their contracts.
Andrew H N Gray
SIR – I would like to disagree with the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchard, who claims that Britain should provide more funding to support a Sangatte-style centre, arguing that the migrants are only in Calais because they want to settle in the UK.
The main problem is the EU’s Schengen policy, which was created to facilitate movement of nationals from member states, not sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. With great foresight, we opted out. If France had done the same, she could refuse entry at her borders and not blame us for being the modern “promised land”.
We are, I believe, the second-most-crowded country in Europe, and cannot absorb more people.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I keep hearing that the free movement of peoples is a cornerstone of the EU project.
If a cornerstone is faulty, and threatens the integrity of a structure, it needs to be replaced or the structure will collapse.
Four Elms, Kent
SIR – Populism must be firmly resisted or we shall end up with democracy.
Thames Ditton, Surrey
Diagnosis: many think the proposed payment would create a conflct of interest
4:49PM BST 22 Oct 2014
SIR – A spokesman for NHS England describes the unnecessary proposal that GPs be paid £55 for each dementia diagnosis as “an investment”. To put this money into the pockets of professionals who are paid well to perform a service which should already be part of their remit, at a time when other areas of the health service appear to be under great strain, is bizarre to say the least.
Trying to dignify this action by calling it an investment does a disservice both to GPs and their patients, who will trust their doctors less. It also exposes the management of NHS England to ridicule and the taxpayer to the distressing prospect of being made complicit in the corruption of what we once took pride in calling a family doctor service.
SIR – When I was admitted to an NHS hospital last April, I was asked 10 questions to determine if I had dementia. It took less than five minutes.
Therefore, if any payment should be considered necessary, surely a GP should get only, say, £10 per diagnosis, rather than the proposed £55.
Dr Michael Irwin
SIR – Surely the “diagnosis” money offered to GPs would be better spent on specialist training for staff in dementia care homes, or support for those who care for people with dementia in their own homes.
Preston Crowmarsh, Oxfordshire
SIR – Paying doctors for dementia diagnoses runs the risk of aping dental policy in the Sixties, when Australian dentists were tempted to Britain with payments per filling (£1, I think).
The resulting carnage in the mouths of adults and children became known as “Aussie trench” and funded some superb dental surgeries back in Australia.
SIR – Can we now expect teachers to be paid for marking books and police to be paid for arresting people?
SIR – Is it not enough we have to bribe our bankers to do their jobs? Now GPs, too?
SIR – Only 2,727 patients with dementia would be required to purchase one Bentley.
SIR – If I self-diagnose, and my GP confirms it, do I get the 55 quid or does he?
Sir, – It has been interesting to see a host of academics venting spleen about the fee-paying primary and secondary education sectors in your letters pages over the last few weeks. This was made all the more interesting by the fact they were proceeded by a host of academics venting spleen in the wider media about the lack of fees in the university sector. It seems that what is bad for the goose is highly desired by the gander. – Yours, etc,
MAIT Ó FAOLAIN,
Foxrock, Dublin 18.
Sir, – I become incredibly frustrated when I read articles such as the one written by Ciaran O’Neill when he writes about low-income families subsidising education they cannot “hope to bestow” on their children (“Paying for privilege”, Education Analysis, October 24th).
No-one disputes that every child has the right to a state-funded education. In fee-paying schools the parents subsidise additional facilities out of their own net income. The fees parents pay include costs such as light, heat, repairs, etc, costs normally incurred by the state in non-fee-paying schools. The vast majority of parents make considerable sacrifices to put their children through these schools. The upshot is that it costs the state less to educate a child through a fee-paying school than a non-fee-paying school. This is an undisputed fact and why the department will never “open its books” to the public.
I put it to Mr O’Neill that the parents of fee-paying schools are subsidising the taxpayer and not vice versa. If the money given to fee-paying schools were withdrawn, this could only lead to an increase in the school fees. An increase most parents simply could not afford because the vast majority of parents scrimp and save to put their children through these schools. There would also be a massive migration to non-fee-paying schools and the state plainly couldn’t cope. It is therefore ironic that the state is dependent on these schools to remain open as it could not afford for these schools to close. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was thrilled to read Ciaran O’Neill’s fascinating analysis of private education in this country.
What I do not understand is why the 93 per cent of the people in this country who have not been and will never be educated privately are not up in arms about the annual subvention of €100 million that goes from our collective pockets into bastions of privilege that only serve to reinforce and strengthen the inequality in our society.
I recently told my sister – who has no children and pays her taxes – that thanks to her taxes the private schools in our catchment area are now in a position to resurface their tennis courts, restring the violins of their orchestras, and pay for a physiotherapist to be pitch-side when the elite children of Ireland line out for their school sport. At first she was astonished and then horrified. She had no idea that the system of education in Ireland is funded in this manner. How many other people out there, who are struggling to pay their mortgages, dreading property tax and marching against water charges, have considered the fact that their taxes are propping up a fundamentally unequal and unjust education system from which they will never benefit and which, by virtue of the very privilege bestowed upon its pupils, will only serve to disadvantage them further? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was flabbergasted at the response from Dr William R Fitzsimmons (October 22nd) to the article “Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment” (Education Opinion, October 14th). The so-called holistic system he speaks of is one that works in theory and may be successful in the United States.
Unfortunately, this is Ireland and alternative methods of entry here can too easily fall victim to the cronyism that has infected this country to the core.
It has been clearly documented that personal statements, entrance examinations (in whatever form they take) and interviews favour students from a higher socio-economic background.
The fact that most of our third-level institutions are grossly underfunded will also put pressure to accept donations of finance that could be used to oil the wheels of alternative entry systems.
Those in Harvard, and similar world-class institutions, with their large endowments and grants, do not have this issue.
The CAO system, which I accept has its faults, is still a fair system that does not and cannot take into account where the student is from, how well they hold a fork or who their daddy or mommy is. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Dr William Fitzsimons, dean of admissions at Harvard, who wrote in defence of TCD’s student admission experiment, was chairman of the 2008 US Commission on the Use of Standardised Tests in Undergraduate Admission.
That commission’s 2008 report states: “Universities may be better served by admission exams more closely related to high school curriculum”. The points system of admission does this.
The report further says that such exams “send a message to students that studying their course material in high school is the way to . . . succeed in a rigorous college curriculum”. The points system sends this message. The commission further states that preparation for non-curricular tests by school pupils “detracts from the most important element of a student’s college preparation – understanding the core subject matter”. The commission also expresses a concern that preparation for non-curricular tests may be more accessible to the affluent.
Eccentric admission experiments by elite institutions rely on the national system to admit those rejected in the experiment. The points system is a national system. TCD’s experiment can never be. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The claim that future Irish retirees are at risk of not having a State pension is ridiculous (“Warning that retired Irish workers not guaranteed State pension”, October 22nd). It is yet another example of how the financial services sector is allowed free rein to spin all manner of hysterical nonsense in its never-ending lobbying to ensure the government of the day does its bidding.
If every retiree turned 65 on the same day and gave up working on the same day and had no other savings or pension provision, and there were no other people working in the country at the time, then it would be a disaster. But in reality that will never be the case and if it were, then pension would be the least of our worries. Furthermore, the pensions paid to retirees are not lost to the State. The cost from one side of the ledger is recouped on the other side through taxation, spending in local and national economies; even savings from pensions are subject to tax.
In its most recent report, the Australian Centre for Financial Studies, on whose figures the above claims were made, gave one country (Denmark) an A rating but no one is claiming that the pension schemes of all the other countries are about to go bust.
The financial services lobby may have a point that not enough Irish people save sufficiently for their retirement. Such an argument is part of a wider debate where the Government has failed to address Irish living costs so that people have sufficient extra income to save for a pension and in general. It has failed to address why two incomes are needed to service a 35-year mortgage on a small, bland, badly designed and poorly built house or why childcare and travel costs take up so much of a family’s income.
But another problem stems from the excessive charges and penalties applied by Irish product providers, which also prefer to deflect attention from the fact that most annual growth on pension funds is due to the tax relief added to the net premium and not any return generated by the industry. Take out the tax relief and the charges and perhaps attention might finally turn to why investments in Irish financial products provide such a poor return relative to similar investments in other countries.
But that would require breaking the financial conflict of interest between the political system and a financial services lobby that has free and unregulated access to government and a veto over the decision-making process. – Yours, etc,
Canary Wharf, London.
Sir, – I read and re-read Fr Vincent Twomey’s article (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th) several times and then it struck me! Think how much confusion would have been avoided if God had placed a few orthodox theologians alongside Jesus Christ, just to keep him on the right path.
They could have enforced a more rigid theology than the simplistic approach adopted by Jesus and his sidekick Paul, who, in his letter to the Corinthians, placed rather too much emphasis on love. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – It is a pity that those criticising Fr Twomey (a brilliant and good man) don’t seem to have read Humanae Vitae. To paraphrase Chesterton, the ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried. – Is mise,
Sir, – Dave Kavanagh (October 21st) is somewhat missing the point – if a woman has lived her life with her father’s (or mother’s) surname, then it is also her surname.
Her life, friendships, educational achievements and career will be bound to that identity. That she would uproot herself from these by abruptly taking on her husband’s surname (or indeed, her mother’s maiden name) is certainly an interesting social phenomenon.
Of course people are free to make their own choices in these matters, but it should be a choice and not just a habit. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to John McKenna’s “The best thing since sliced bread? Ban the sliced pan” (Health + Family, October 21st), just because white bread is bad for swans, I do not see why the same is true for humans.
I have been eating it for over 60 years and have come to no harm as a result, but, like the swans, I would draw the line at mouldy bread. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In my unsuccessful attempts to find work experience for transition year, I have noticed something interesting. The places where teenagers spend their money – high street chains, department stores, restaurants, coffee shops and hair salons – provide no work experience for transition-year students, even though the work is unpaid.
It is all left to schools, hospitals, libraries, and some multinational companies like Google to give us a week of work. I am one disillusioned teenager. – Yours, etc,
Raheny, Dublin 5.
Sir, – When I read that Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea (Oireachtas Report, October 22nd) will not be submitting his PPS number to Irish Water because of its response to queries he has made, I must admit that I laughed like a drain. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – How come local authority staffs around the country were for many years able to deliver water to our taps without the need of a bonus culture? It’s unsettling to think of our water supply being handed over to the monopoly that is Irish Water, where it now seems “bonuses” will be paid to staff who do not even reach the required performance standard.
What impact is this performance/bonus system going to have on the price charged to consumers now and in the future? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Minister for Finance Noonan tells us water charges will be “modest”. Yet no-one seems to know what “modest” means! People who have signed their Irish water forms have signed a blank cheque.
Furthermore, does Mr Noonan realise that a charge of €188 for call-out for Irish water to fix a pipe (pipes in all probability of ancient provenance) is a full week’s disability benefit for a disabled person? That is not acceptable.
The poorest and most vulnerable cannot either afford “modest” or €188. There is simply nothing left to give. – Yours, etc,
Dr MARGARET KENNEDY,
Sir, – In Greek mythology, the hydra was a huge monster with many heads. If one was cut off, two would grow in its place. Perhaps Irish Water should adopt the hydra as its emblem. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I have been giving thought to our water bills coming in so soon after all the Christmas expenses! Listening to a radio advert for gift vouchers for a local business, it suddenly hit me – the proverbial bottle of wine or equivalent which we usually take when visiting over the festive season can be dispensed with. Let’s ask Irish Water to issue gift vouchers then we can all bring those instead. That way we’ll be sure the washing-up can be done when we’ve left! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Bonus schemes for staff operate in many companies. They are usually contingent on a number of factors, such as individual performance with regard to meeting goals and the company’s performance with regard to meeting targets. Here’s a target for them – bonuses to be paid only when, if ever, a minimum of 95 per cent of the water in the system is delivered to a consumer. Let the appalling volume of leaked water which is allowed to leak out of the system be brought under control before any bonus is considered.
Targets for bonus-earning usually come under a few headings. One of the main ones is increasing company revenue.
No employee of Irish water can induce us to use more water than we need, given that they cannot supply more than they have available and what is available at present is being over-used.
The next most common criterion for a bonus is increasing the customer base.
This is outside the control of the staff of Irish Water, unless they extend the range of piped water supplies.
We have been told of the levels of bonus that staff members might receive if they meet targets, but we have not been told what those targets will be, nor have we been told who will set and monitor them. It might be interesting to see the finer details. – Yours, etc,
TONY McCOY O’GRADY,
Sir, – Is Irish Water a busted flush? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – “Furthermore, the escalation of street politics has its own inherent dangers that should be obvious to all of us on this island.” (Michael Joy, October 22nd). That’s funny; the governor of Hong Kong said the same thing only last week. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In addition to the anger and disbelief expressed by so many on the general terms of the bonuses for Irish Water executives, there is a further point that needs to be addressed – the extent to which the sliding scale of those bonus payments will benefit most those already doing very well indeed.
Widening inequality has a negative impact on society. Granting 19 per cent bonuses to those at the top and a mere 4 per cent to those at the bottom is a step in the wrong direction. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Yesterday most households in the New Ross area received two letters from Mick Wallace and Claire Daly, inviting us to a public meeting in a local hotel to oppose water charges. Postage was paid for by the Dáil, ie the taxpayer. Mr Wallace and Ms Daly oppose people paying for water but expect the same people to pay for their postage. Charming. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Most utilities fund the cost of infrastructure maintenance and repair from the standing charge component of their income.
To charge directly for repairs discourages consumers from reporting faults and leakages, which is potentially both dangerous and wasteful. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Drip, drip, drip. When will it ever end? – Yours, etc,
The man in the pub looked into his glass. The pronouncement that followed showed foreboding and disdain in equal measure.
The Irish soccer team that would that evening oppose the might of the world football champions on Germany’s home turf would be duly humiliated. “Lambs to the slaughter” and “couldn’t kick snow off a rope” were some of the more printable phrases that tripped off his tongue.
John O’Shea’s glorious equaliser in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, was something of a setback to his prophecy. The pundit is slowly recovering from this reversal and is now focusing on Ireland’s next competitive fixture – Scotland in Glasgow.
Here, Ireland will be truly exposed at the back and will lack penetration up front.
I know this to be true because the man in the pub told me.
His glass remains half empty.
Come on Ireland!
Longwood, Co Meath
Bonus plan doesn’t hold water
“Slobbering in the water” best describes the debacle that is Irish Water. Even more so, when one considers it cost €180m – most of the spend going to outside consultants – to launch the company.
The obvious first step would be to ensure that the national pipe network was replaced to the point where all water passed from the supply source in an enclosed system is free of all forms of contamination.
Then, similar to the National Electrical Grid and supply sources, private metered connections could be made to every house in the State, guaranteeing a quality product to all. The quality standard is even more serious in the case of water because it is a consumable product on which the health of the nation depends. Only at this point should it be legally possible to price and market the product to the public.
Is this the procedure with Irish Water? Unfortunately, no. Problems with contaminated water having to be boiled for safety and countless undetected underground leaks causing huge losses of water are countrywide. Tens of thousands of water meters are still in the process of being installed.
In these circumstances, isn’t it scandalous to waste time discussing bonuses for its 500 highly paid staff when delivering on water is its prime objective? Senior management are to be paid €9,000 in top-ups, while the harder workers down the line are offered considerably less to meet the same targets.
Irish Water is a semi-state company still in its infancy. Is it right or honest that bonuses should be demanded or paid at this critical stage – wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect all personnel first to prove they are, at least, capable of their tasks?
Thurles, Co Tipperary
Power lines – go underground
If there is any question about whether the power lines should go over or underground then ask any of the people who have been left without power in recent weeks – in one case for 18 hours.
Most of the power outages were caused by fallen lines.
Gorey, Co Wexford
Don’t envy Iceland
Writing from London, Desmond FitzGerald accuses those of us who live in Ireland, and put up with the consequences of the economic calamity that hit this country, of indulging in “myths” and not knowing what we are talking about (Letters, Irish Independent, October 18).
In his letter he says that Ireland “became bankrupt because of deliberate choices made by the ECB”.
He ignores the fact that before the ECB made those “deliberate choices” Ireland’s problems were created by the equally deliberate decisions of a small number of its own most powerful citizens during the boom. In highlighting the “difference” between “sovereign debt” and “private banking debt” he ignores the fact that it was all Irish debt and was, therefore, our responsibility.
When he cites Iceland, he ignores the fact that Iceland had no option but to default, since, according to the experts, its banking debt was six times its GDP and it did not have the backing of the EU and the ECB. He also ignores the fact that, again according to the experts, it devalued its currency by half – which made Icelanders much poorer – its capital controls pushed away investment and its mass mortgage write-offs ensured that savers lost their money.
Sutton, Dublin 13
Irish Water: the solution
I think I have it solved – the whole Irish Water thing!
Rather than extending the time that people can avoid an extra charge that some might say makes a mockery of equality, why doesn’t Irish Water allow those who won’t or can’t pay/register/apply (who, don’t forget, are citizens who previously owned this precious resource) to do community service, like the bankers who were found guilty after an extremely expensive legal case?
Maybe watering the flowers in Stephen’s Green or giving water to the animals in Dublin Zoo , or even pulling pints in the Dail bar – where it was reported some politicians found it quite difficult to settle their bills – could be forced as penalties upon the thousands who marched against water charges?
Perhaps those on this community service could check reservoirs as an early warning system for hosepipe bans in case we get an unusually dry and sunny summer. We might – oh, sorry I used “we” there, I thought I was in a democracy for a second.
Athenry, Co Galway
Moral vacuum on rising rents
News of the increase in house prices (Irish Independent, October 20) will be cold comfort to the rising number of working people falling into homelessness due to unaffordable rents in Dublin. The Government and the media appear to be united in refusing to entertain a discussion of rent controls – perhaps many of them are landlords?
In the moral vacuum of our neoliberal, free market economy, more and more people are inevitably becoming consigned to what critic Henry Giroux calls “zones of abandonment and social death, where they become unknowables, with no human rights and no one accountable for their condition”.
The logic of a profit-driven system dictates that the cost of socio-economic protections is unjustifiable, but it also means that we have failed in our collective civic responsibility to our fellow citizens.
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Taxing the web
I laughed out loud at your article headlined ‘Hungary plans tax on internet use’ (Irish Independent, October 22).
I’ve never Googled as much in my life as I have with the search term “water charges”.
If Enda Inc were to introduce the web tax, I may as well move to Budapest and be done with it all!
Drogheda, Co Louth
Sex is God’s creation
It is the job of the Catholic Church’s government to discern, here and now, what Christ is saying to humanity – and, most importantly, what He is not saying.
Since the day of his election, Pope Francis has been trying to get this across to us all, especially to the recent synod.
For example, traditional church teaching on sex is still tainted by the negativity of St Augustine, because of his own formal life-style. Sex is a positive entity, the mainspring of God’s ongoing creation. Sex is good, precious and beautiful. The church must rescue sex from the filth of this age, not frown on it as part of the problem.
Why are women still excluded from having any real say or meaningful role in church governance? Why does the church still impose compulsory celibacy on all clergy? Does the Vatican know, or care, what ordinary lay people think on these and similar subjects?
Address with Editor