8 November 2014 Sandy

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Sandy comes to call.

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


Sonia Rolt was a conservationist with an abiding passion for canals who worked to preserve Britain’s industrial heritage

Sonia Rolt

Sonia Rolt

6:47PM GMT 07 Nov 2014


Sonia Rolt, who has died aged 95, devoted her life to Britain’s canals, to its industrial heritage and to the preservation of historic buildings.

Her interest in canals began during the Second World War when she happened to notice a Ministry of Transport advertisement in The Times calling for women volunteers “of robust constitution and good health” to work on the waterways at a time when many male canal workers had been called up for active service.

Seizing the chance, she and two flatmates escaped London for a canal boat plying the inland waterways, which were operating at full capacity in wartime. In 1944 the canal workers were given a special badge to wear bearing the initials IW (for Inland Waterways) which wartime wags soon changed to “Idle Women”. In fact, they were anything but idle. Only a few women volunteers survived the initial training and lasted more than a couple of trips; even Sonia Rolt found the work exhausting, if liberating.

The canals became an abiding passion and, after marrying a working boatman, George Smith, in 1945, she became an advocate of the interests of the boating community, striving especially to organise better education for their children.

From 1945 she shared many platforms with Tom Rolt, with whom she campaigned to prevent canal closures, co-founded the Inland Waterways Association, and wrote about 40 books, many of them about canals, generating huge public interest in the use of these waterways for leisure. They became close, and their relationship led to the breakdown of her marriage to George Smith in 1950. She and Rolt later married and had two sons.

In 1950 Tom Rolt campaigned to preserve the Talyllyn narrow-gauge railway, which ran seven miles from the slate quarry at Bryn Eglwys to Tywyn Wharf on the coast of Merioneth. He co-founded the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in 1951, which ran the first privately owned preserved railway in the world, with himself as general manager and Sonia in charge of the ticket office and much else.

Sonia Rolt (left) in 2006

In 1953, having established the railway, they moved to Stanley Pontlarge, Gloucestershire, to a charming 14th-century house of ecclesiastical origin, which had been bought in 1921 by Rolt’s parents. The collapse of a large portion of the roof encouraged Tom and Sonia to apply for assistance to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, the organisation founded by William Morris, of which Sonia became an active and energetic member. She became a member of the SPAB Committee in 1980, and chaired its education committee from 1991 to 2005. A visit to Sonia’s home at Stanley Pontlarge became one of the highlights of SPAB scholars’ year-long tour of Britain.

After Sir John Smith founded the Landmark Trust in 1965 to preserve small historic buildings by converting them into holiday homes, Sonia Rolt worked for 20 years finding furniture and books for their interiors, later doing similar work for the National Trust.

She was born Sonia South in New York on April 15 1919. Her mother, Kathleen, had come from a well-to-do colonial family in Barbados and had married a civil servant working in the Far East, but had had an affair which led her to leave for New York and then return to England with a new baby. Sonia never knew her father.

After education at Farnborough Hill Convent, Sonia went to the London Theatre Studio to be trained for the stage by Michael St Denis. Her acting career was terminated by the outbreak of the Second World War, when she was called up to work in the Hoover factory in Perivale, west London, fitting electric wiring into bombers.

After Tom Rolt’s death in 1975, Sonia promoted new editions of his many books, and in 1997 published her own, A Canal People, a record of the boating community centred at Hawkesbury Stop, the junction between the Coventry and Oxford canals, illustrated by photographs taken by Robert Langden in the 1940s and 1950s when the canals were still in commercial use.

Sonia Rolt was for many years on the Gloucester Diocesan Advisory Committee, which restricts unwelcome development in churches and churchyards, and encourages the preservation of historic churches.

A woman of great enthusiasm, humour and self-deprecating modesty, when she was presented with her OBE for services to industrial archaeology and heritage, she exclaimed to the Queen : “I simply don’t know why I have been given this!”

She is survived by her two sons.

Sonia Rolt, born April 15 1919, died October 22.2014


African hands hold corn African farmworker holding corn. Photograph: Greatstock Photographic Library/Alamy

The recent article by John Vidal (Gates foundation spends bulk of agriculture grants in rich countries,, 4 November) reports on a study that is misleading. The report, by the non-profit Grain, fails to recognise the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) as an African organisation. While we exist due to generous funding from the Gates Foundation and other donors, we are African-led and headquartered in Africa. Over 95% of our staff is African, working across the 17 African countries where we have programmes. And 96% of our grants go to African organisations, universities, scientists and small businesses to achieve a single goal: reduce hunger and poverty on our continent by unleashing the potential of the millions of small, family farmers who are the backbone of African agriculture and African economies.

Agra plays a critical role in generating adapted local technologies that are focused on increasing yields and improving incomes of millions of smallholder farmers. For example, our seed work is focused on giving farmers access to affordable locally adapted crop varieties developed by African scientists and produced by locally owned African seed companies. Agra is gradually unlocking Africa’s potential by systematically getting locally grown seed and soil solutions to thousands of African smallholder farmers.

Agra is committed to transforming African agriculture primarily to boost food security and income levels of smallholder farmers. Agra is inviting anyone who is interested to explore its projects across the continent to see first-hand what Agra is supporting on the ground to build a better life for all Africans.
Dr Agnes Kalibata
Interim president, The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra)

LIBRARY IMAGE OF ED MILIBAND ‘Ed Miliband is a thoughtful, determined and courageous politician, with far more evidence of conviction and empathy than David Cameron will ever understand,’ writes W Stephen Gilbert. Photograph: David Gadd/Allstar

There are four specific reasons why Ed Miliband is the best possible leader for the Labour party (Report, 7 November) and will also be the best prime minister for the country at this time. 1) He stands up to and is never daunted by the trivial and hostile media. Not only on phone hacking but with the intentionally mocking pictures he shows statesmanship and courage. In today’s media and social-media world, these strengths are of great importance. 2) He has been accused of having an intellectual attitude to politics. Such an attitude, combined with his practical experience, is what is sorely needed at present. Politicians chase after photo opportunities, base their policies solely on focus groups and populism, jabber endlessly in cliches about hard-working taxpayers and benefit scroungers, and have no medium- or long-term philosophy to let us know what kind of democracy they seek to create. Ed Miliband does. 3) His background, intelligence and sensitivity equip him with the insight and determination to understand and deal with the problems of migration, disadvantage and inequality like perhaps nobody else in parliament at present. 4) He has kept Labour party united where other parties have or split.

I have never met him and have no incentive to write this other than my deep and honest care for the people of Britain.
Ian Flintoff

• It is in the nature of the case that the Tory press, whose proprietors enjoy the tax advantages of living abroad and so are blithely untouched by anything like a cost-of-living crisis, will stop at nothing to deter the electorate from returning a Labour government. When unnamed Labour front- and backbenchers, editors of allegedly Labour-supporting magazines and columnists in non-aligned newspapers set out systematically to undermine Labour’s appeal, those of us anxious to see the back of the coalition are plunged into despair. If the editor of the New Statesman is really better acquainted with the lower middle classes of Clacton-on-Sea, Romford and Ongar than is the Labour frontbench, he should avail his expertise to the party’s researchers rather than using it as a stick with which to beat the leader.

Ed Miliband will lead Labour into the general election – for good or ill. There is no credible alternative and anyway a putsch would be as likely to demolish as to enhance Labour’s prospects. Many of the attacks on him are subjective and centred on things he cannot change: his back story, his demeanour, the fact that (like everyone else in public life) he sometimes takes an unflattering photograph. There seems to be a reluctance to identify an anti-Jewish subtext in some of these attacks: his voice, the “weirdness” that polling organisations have proposed, the “anti-British” slur aimed by the Daily Mail at his late father. I venture to suggest that this is in the mix, though Miliband, to his credit, did not suggest so in speaking this week of antisemitism (Report, 5 November).

By any objective test, Miliband is a thoughtful, determined and courageous politician, with far more evidence of conviction and empathy than David Cameron will ever understand. Unless those cavalierly demoralising Labour in general and Miliband in particular can offer a clearly superior alternative, they will have to prepare to take the blame for keeping Cameron in office.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• Why didn’t those in Ed’s team grasp long ago that, in contemporary politics, more and more voters put the quality of the leader ahead of the party’s policies, and are prepared to vote on that basis. There has been a clear shift towards a more “presidential” system, which seems to have escaped Ed in his latest assertion that it’s the party’s policies that will be decisive. From day one, there should have been a sustained policy of leader “promotion”. That he has remained almost invisible to the electorate is a major factor responsible for his dire personal ratings. Why has this not been grasped, in the face of a hostile, vindictive rightwing press determined to exploit his foibles, and ever-alert to opportunities provided by his negligent minders to mock him and destroy his credibility as a potential PM?

If the appointment of Lucy Powell is to have any significance, every day from now to the election should be devoted to the promotion of Ed. Rather than taking more of a team approach, as suggested by David Blunkett (Report, 7 November), Ed should be provided with every opportunity to articulate, again and again, key vote-winning policies, giving him the personal visibility that he desperately needs. And Ed, please get angry!
Brian Anderson
Brighton, East Sussex

• If Labour’s parliamentary representatives aren’t worried by the current state of the party, they should be. Labour is in meltdown in Scotland, poll ratings nationally are hardly moving and when they do it’s normally downward. After three years, there is no hope that Ed Miliband can connect with voters in the last six months of this parliament. After his disastrous conference speech it should have been curtains for him, but those in parliament whisper, wring their hands and seem to hope the problem of the leadership will go away. It won’t. Ed Miliband is a decent person but as a party leader he’s out of depth, surrounded by a team out of its depth. My cousins in Edinburgh come from a family that’s voted Labour since 1919. They shocked me by declaring their support for the SNP.
Ian Frost
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

• The moment talk of an Ed Miliband leadership crisis is associated with a call for John McDonnell to be Labour leader, I’m listening. Otherwise I’ll assume it’s the usual Tory media mischief-making helped along by some disgruntled remnants of New Labour.
Keith Flett

• Clive Soley’s “vision” (Labour is doomed if its leadership can’t convey the message, 7 November), with growth at its core, inspires me not one bit. The world can’t cope with growth ad infinitum. Here’s a vision: a country (and a world) without nuclear weapons. The billions saved by abolishing Trident could do so much to reduce poverty and inequality. Thank God there’s a Green party.
Peter Kaan
Exeter, Devon

• Ed Miliband has been criticised for not being in touch with “ordinary” people. His riposte is to get Oxford-educated ex-parliamentary assistant Lucy Powell to organise greater connection with voters. That should do it.
Toby Wood
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• Time for a wall chart – ideally with the blank spaces for “shadow cabinet sources” filled in.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

Paul Cummins's installation the Tower of London Towering symbolism of the first world war trenches: Paul Cummins’s installation in the dry moat of the Tower of London. Photograph: Tim Ireland/AP

Having seen and understood both sides of the “should the poppy installation be extended” dilemma (Letters, 3 November), I think I have a serious, workable and poignant solution. The installation should come down on schedule, as per the original artistic vision. However, beforehand, it should be photographed from all viewing points in the highest resolution. Using state-of-the-art projection technology, this “ghost” of the original installation could be made to reappear as the evening falls and remain bright all night, only to fade again as the sun comes up. For does not the poem say: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”

I think this solution would satisfy all, and there’s no doubt that the expertise and technology to achieve it on short notice exists right here in London.
Simon Lovelace

• “The poppies’ transience was part of the original artistic concept” (Tower of London officials stand firm on poppies deadline, 7 November). So next year why not plant living red poppies in the moat? They will look the same from space – and they really do die.
Bob Mays
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

• While I sympathise with Jonathan Jones’ belief that art tackling war should depict its horrors, he misses a key point about the poppies’ location. The Tower of London is a symbol of the establishment’s centuries of exercising power through the deployment of bloodshed and torture, captured in this work by the poppy-blood pouring from its windows.

The moat – a trench transformed by the poppies into a bloody lake – is a potent re-imagining of the trenches of the first world war, a reminder of the mass reduction of young men to gore. As art it works precisely because it brings the horror of war into the capital, its ultimate source, and challenges those who would turn it into sentiment to look, and imagine, again.
Ian Crockatt
Banff, Aberdeenshire

Toddler with iPad Mini Tech-savvy toddler. Photograph: Alamy

I’ve solved the conundrum of why five-year-olds are better at operating the TiVo than their parents using statistical physics (Shortcuts, 5 November). When (Number of different features × Age of user/Number of attempts to use)<1 adult may be said to have the hang of using “it”.
Helen Overton-Hore
Romsey, Hampshire

• Regarding slogans on T-shirts (Report, 3 November), we should not forget the observation of the jazzman who said: “If you gotta wear it, then you ain’t it.”
Harry Marsh

• Guardian offers, page 50 (7 November). Men’s & ladies wax jackets, just £35. Is this what a feminist newspaper looks like?
Alan Greenslade-Hibbert
Mollington, Oxfordshire

Romanians wait in line to enter a polling station at the Romanian embassy in London Romanians wait in line to enter a polling station at the Romanian embassy in London on 2 November. Photograph: Reuters

On 2 November, thousands of Romanians abroad were denied the right to vote in the Romanian presidential elections by their government. I was one of those who turned out at the embassy in London and stubbornly queued for six hours in order to cast their vote with no success. The embassy shut its doors at 9pm. The British police were called in to protect the officials from the rage of the people left out of the democratic process.

How exactly has this blatant infringement of civil rights happened? The long queues formed outside voting stations across Europe were due to poor organisation – some might even say deliberately poor organisation – although the Romanian prime minister denies any mismanagement of the elections abroad, claiming instead that procedures were put in place to avoid electoral fraud in the diaspora. The diaspora, previous elections tell us, tend to vote, at times decisively, against the PSD, the party that has inherited much of the infrastructure, mentality and collective memory of the former Communist party.

We could just call this “ineffective bureaucracy”, red tape, and move on. However, coming from Romania, a country that lived under 45 years of communism, I know that this “bad and slow bureaucracy” is a sign of a corrupt and oppressive state. For decades, the communist regimes in eastern Europe used the bureaucratic machinery of the state to make people feel incapacitated, fearful and keep them quiet and, on 2 November, I had the uneasy feeling that what I witnessed was a sophisticated oppression and electoral fraud masquerading as democracy gone bad due to poor management. For this reason, I cannot keep quiet and I want the world to know that I was denied my constitutional right to vote.
Dr Diana Silvia Stirbu



Sir, Melanie Reid (“Rugby score: broken jaws 2, fractured cheekbones 1”, Nov 4) is spot on. The International Rugby Board (IRB) has a duty of care to the men and women, boys and girls who play the game. I struggle to regard the word “hit” as compatible with the aspirations under the “Principles of the Game: Conduct” about being able to exert extreme physical pressure on an opponent to gain possession of the ball “but not wilfully or maliciously to inflict injury”. Another new aspect is the “choke tackle”. This is a means of gaining a turnover of the ball by making sure that the attacking ball carrier is held above the ground with ball trapped. In the recent Ulster v Glasgow Warriors game one of the Glasgow players was left unconscious on the ground when the maul dispersed.

I believe that the risks of continuing to allow players to make contact with their opponent at below neck level would be greatly reduced if the laws were changed to require contact to be waist and below. That would restore the traditional tackle using arms to prevent the players from running rather than knocking them back and intimidating them. There should be no place for the choke tackle.
Ian Williamson


Sir, Unnecessary injuries are occurring in rugby because laws relating to the tackle area are not being applied. Defending players are allowed to attach themselves limpet-like to the tackled player without allowing any time for the ball to be released. Attacking players attempt to clear the defender from the tackle area by means of an uncontrolled collision. Such is the momentum of these players at the point of impact that staying on their feet becomes impossible, yet many referees allow the game to continue so long as the ball is available. How long will it be before this so-called “clear out” of the tackle area results in a life-changing injury, or even a fatality?
Gary Kernan
Hove, E Sussex

Sir, The absence of a response to the Haka gives New Zealand an unfair advantage. An appropriate response stems from our history, such as Ben Macintyre’s suggestion of the Morris Dance, but more robust (“How to dance to victory over the All Blacks”, Nov 7).

In the Hundred Years war against France, our principal weapon was the longbow. Should a bowman be captured by the French, they cut off his bow fingers (index and second) and returned him to the English where he would be unable to fight and a liability. Thus was born our English gesture of defiance; those who escaped capture turned the back of the hand forward and raised the retained digits in a V sign, effectively stating “I have kept my bow fingers and will fight again”. Over time the gesture has acquired a less elegant connotation but the message is the same and still applies.
Roland Shepherd
Haslemere, Surrey

Sir, It has always struck me as bizarre that seconds before the start of a sporting contest as physically confrontational as any on the planet, one side is allowed to work themselves up into a frenzy while the other is expected to stand there meekly. It’s about subjugation and control and woe betide any opposition player who doesn’t show the appropriate level of respect, as Brian O’Driscoll discovered to his cost on a recent Lions tour.

Let the All Blacks come out 15 minutes before kick off to perform the Haka alone.
Mark Crivelli


Sir, I watched a game of rugby in Manila between two expat sides, Antipodeans and Brits. A Haka was countered by Ring a Ring o’ Roses. The Brits then trounced their bemused opponents. Perhaps England should try it?
Bob O’Donnell

Loughborough, Leics

Sir, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen, soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans . . .” Some things never change.
David Housden

Elton, Cambs

Sir, My six-year-old grandson told me that he was learning rugby at school. “I like it,” he said, “but there are so many rules. I don’t know why we can’t just go out and fight.”
Barry S Peters

Bramcote, Nottingham

Sir, A more modern take on Dorothy Parker’s martini rhyme might be “one mojito, two mojito, three mojito . . . more? Four mojito, five mojito, six mojito . . . floor.”
Isobel Williams
Mumbles, Swansea

Sir, Regarding the success of Japanese entrants in the Whisky Bible 2015 (“Japanese whisky leaves Scotch lost in translation”, Nov 5), when I did National Service in Japan I was advised not to drink the one labelled “Genuine King Anne Scotch Whisky”.
Michael J Fisher
Albrighton, Shropshire

Sir, As a Cornishman resident in Devon, may I respectfully correct the terminology in your account of the effect of second homes in St Ives (“Kensington-on-Sea aims to turn the tide of second-home grockles”, Nov 7).

Indeed, “grockle” is a mildly derogatory term, but has long been the Devonian word to describe summer tourists in general, and not confined to second-home owners. Its provenance is the subject of scholarly debate, but it may have first been used in Torquay.

The Cornish equivalent is “emmet”, an old Cornish dialect word for an ant, thus requiring no further explanation.
Barrie Behenna

Teignmouth, Devon

Sir, The irony of the Barnett formula (obituary and leader, Nov 4) is that it is so simple it can hardly be called a formula. It was a development of the so-called Goschen formula devised in 1888 by the then chancellor, and it was not devised by Barnett. In essence, any increases or decreases in public expenditure in England on services which are devolved will be matched by increases or decreases in Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland) calculated pro rata to population. That simple mechanism cannot survive unchanged if Scotland gets more taxation powers — with a corresponding reduction in the Scottish contribution to UK taxation receipts.
Peter Mackay
Kincraig, Highlands


SIR – The continuing negative rhetoric from political leaders about migrant workers is starting to undermine the migrants’ confidence in Britain.

We employ 50 staff, mainly from Poland. Since 2004 one word has disappeared from our vocabulary: “absenteeism”. The staff work ethic is exemplary.

British manufacturing, hospitality businesses and the NHS will all suffer if this rhetoric continues, and the economy will go back into recession.

Howard Marshall
Altrincham, Cheshire

SIR – Experts from University College London say that native Britons make a negative contribution to our economy, while immigrants from the EU make a positive one.

Since many Britons have been displaced in the workplace by EU migrants, I fear their report fails to tell the whole story.

Michael McGough
Loughton, Essex

SIR – The debate on whether immigrants contribute economically is like observing miles of slow-moving motorway traffic and deciding this is a good thing, because the fuel used and phone calls made increase consumption and spending. It ignores the failure of the motorway’s primary purpose.

Rodger Fuse

SIR – The United Kingdom is a physically small place and there isn’t the room to accommodate high numbers of immigrants. Even Germany, many times our size, is having problems.

We must control the numbers. For a start, actually knowing just who is arriving and leaving would be an advantage.

Dr John Gladstone
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Immigration is much talked about in political circles and pubs alike. The problem most people in pubs have is not the economic effect, but the change in our culture, our way of life. Many want to reduce immigration because of this effect.

G G Garner
Ravensden, North Bedfordshire

SIR – Here in the sticks we are hosts to numerous eastern Europeans. They fill employment gaps that the local workforce cannot, owing to poor education. But the immigrants decline to join in some of the host community activities. In time, those activities may wither away and Britain will be a worse place as a result.

Bill Davidson
Balderton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – Dorothy Armstrong (Letters, October 31) suggests that Britain will “be allowing desperate refugees to drown in the Mediterranean”. Surely those responsible are the human traffickers who herd them on to unseaworthy vessels on the North African coast.

Dennis Wilby
West Haddon, Northamptonshire

Queen Vic, Ambridge

SIR – The Archers used to be “an everyday story of country folk”. It was recently described in Radio Times as “contemporary drama in a rural setting”.

How long before the Bull becomes the New Queen Vic?

Rosemary Stanbury
Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – If Sean O’Connor, the editor of The Archers, thinks that sexing it up will attract the young he should think again.

And if he must introduce new actors, can he please make sure they can act? With the exception of Eleanor Bron, they are all awful.

We were perfectly content with sabotage in the vegetable tent, lost sheep and family squabbles. We do not want closet gays (Charlie) or possible psychotic killers (Rob). I want to be entertained, not depressed.

Jenny Phillips
Warsash, Hampshire

SIR – As for David leaving Ambridge – I wish. Unfortunately, Brookfield stands as much chance of being de-Archerised as Peggy has of becoming England’s first woman bishop.

Now if it were EastEnders, both would happen.

Kevin Liles

Jews in Muslim countries

SIR – The Prince of Wales has drawn our attention to the abuse of Christians in Muslim countries.

Until about 50 years ago, such countries at Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Yemen also had significant Jewish populations, communities which had existed, in some cases, for 3,000 years or more, well before both Islam and Christianity existed.

For example, until the Sixties, about 30 per cent of the population of Baghdad were Jews. All those who were not murdered in pogroms or hanged in public squares, such as the nine Jewish businessmen in Baghdad in 1969, fled, mostly to Israel, the United States, Britain or France.

Having rid themselves of their Jews – about 800,000 individuals – the focus has turned to Christians.

Danny Leiwy
Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire

Mobile or immobile

SIR – It is ironic that the Government intends to require mobile phone providers to collaborate in providing coverage to rural areas, while bus operators are actively prohibited from collaboration in the sacred name of “competition’’.

If two bus operators have garages at opposite ends of a long rural route, it makes sense for them to collaborate so that the last bus in each direction finishes at its home garage. But competition law decrees that one operator may not even discuss the possibilities with another.

What is good for mobile phones must also be good for buses.

Mike Keatinge
Sherborne Transport Action Group
Sherborne, Dorset

Pre-school TV

SIR – Hundreds of viewers are reported to have complained that Chris Boardman set a bad example by cycling without a helmet on television while children were getting ready for school.

Perhaps parents are setting a bad example by turning the television on in the morning instead of the radio.

David Townson
Isleworth, Middlesex

Dementia bounty plan

SIR – When the majority of GPs object to another ill-conceived preventative health initiative (Leading article, November 5), something must surely be seriously wrong.

There is no evidence in favour of using a considerable amount of NHS money on the wrong strategy of payments to GPs each time they diagnose dementia. As for a cure, sadly, there isn’t one.

The money would be far better spent on research, supporting physicians, psychiatrists and nurses dealing directly with this significant disease and improving social care in the community.

Dr Paul Loxton
Virginia Water, Surrey

SIR – Dementia tests for all? One result will be increased morbidity and lowered cancer survival rates, particularly in the over-sixties, since people will be frightened to go to their GP until absolutely necessary.

D C Cox
Falmouth, Cornwall

Please the bees

SIR – Used copies of the Telegraph are essential beekeeping kit. They are the perfect size to cover a National Beehive brood box, and provide a barrier when uniting two different bee colonies.

The bees take their time to chew through the paper. By the time they have done so, they have become accustomed to the smell of each other and unite harmoniously.

Rebecca Nesbitt
Llangurig, Montgomeryshire

Taxing issues

SIR – I am delighted to see that, after presiding over an election debacle at Birmingham City Council, and having been accused of “catastrophic leadership failure” at the Border Agency, Lin Homer has at last found her niche, performing so brilliantly as to deserve a huge bonus. Well done, Lin. Congratulations!

Now, how about retiring on this high?

Tom Mitcham
Rustington, West Sussex

SIR – I have just received my tax summary from HM Revenue and Customs (“Dear taxpayer, quarter of your cash goes on welfare”, report, November 3).

I can see no mention of my contribution to the Queen – might that be included under welfare?

Andrew Johnston
Wykey, Shropshire

The cost of delivering millions of bottles of water

Topless bottles await marathon runners in Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: ALAMY

SIR – MPs are asking why milk is cheaper than bottled water. Milk is undoubtedly too cheap, but we also should ask why bottled water is so dear.

Perhaps more importantly, thousands of tons of bottled water are transported on our roads every day at considerable cost to the environment, not to mention the depletion of our energy reserves.

Bill Parish
Hayes, Kent

SIR – I am seriously allergic to the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is much cheaper to use than sugar. It is already found in many foods and drinks – not just in the diet and low calorie category – and is difficult to avoid.

If sugar were highly taxed, then even more companies will resort to using the cheaper alternative.

Valerie Westbrook
Littlehampton, West Sussex

Poppies blowing from Flanders to the Tower

SIR – My relation, Sir Herbert Brown, a London flour miller, was instrumental in establishing Poppy Day. In September 1921, as the Hon Appeal Secretary of the British Legion, he went to Paris to meet Anna Guerin, its French secretary, to find out whether French manufacturers could produce large numbers of artificial poppies for the British Legion to sell to raise money for ex-servicemen.

They could, and the first poppies arrived in the run-up to Armistice Day on November 11 1921. It was a great success. Many thousands were sold for threepence each. By breakfast time on the 11th, single petals were selling for £5 each in central London. That first year, the poppy sellers, who were mostly women, raised the huge sum of £106,000.

Within months, a collar factory in the Old Kent Road was converted by the Disabled Society, and five disabled ex-servicemen were employed to make poppies. Four years later, there were 191 employees. Today some 36 million poppies are produced annually.

Peter Sinclair
Barkway, Hertfordshire

SIR – Britain excels in staging pageantry, ceremony and pomp on a grand scale. Paul Cummins’s installation “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” at the Tower of London follows in this tradition. I cannot think of another work of conceptual art that has so captured the public’s imagination with its beauty, simplicity and meaning.

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – My parents visited the Tower on their way to France. A text from my mother said: “Everybody was happy and smiling, including the station staff and police”.

The poppies should remain on display for longer before being removed.

Geoff Smith
Gretna, Dumfriesshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Please, please Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, can you ensure that when I refuse to pay my electricity bill and my gas bill I will not be cut off? – Yours, etc,




A chara, – There is an air of desperation in Leo Vardkar’s claims that anti-water charge protests are now being hijacked by dissident republicans. Does he really think that over 100,000 people could have been influenced by such a small and “sinister fringe” last Saturday?

Are we to believe that the million unregistered households are now subscribers to the views of such groups as RNU, 32CSM, Éirigí and all the other acronymic dissident groups which seem to have more letters than members?

The Government should admit defeat and stop discrediting its people before it discredits itself entirely. – Is mise,


Baile Átha Cliath 8.

Sir, – The ECB threatened to turn off the tap once before.

Is it time for an encore? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – If there is to be a referendum on Irish Water, will voters be obliged to reveal their PPS numbers on arrival at the polling stations before being issued with a ballot paper? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – While agreeing water, like any other service must be paid for, is there another method?

I propose 100 per cent tax relief for water butts and rainwater purification systems manufactured indigenously. It would create employment while reducing water charges for individuals. – Yours, etc,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – Inflation is back – at least in terms of protester numbers.

The recent protest against water charges had a turnout, we were told, of 100,000 on the day that it actually took place. Within a few days this number had been revised upwards to 120,000. Yesterday Gerry Adams TD further revised it up to 150,000, and this morning on RTÉ Paul Murphy TD told us it was 200,000.

At this rate of progress, come Christmas, we will all have been there. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – It’s about time this Government stopped placating the looney tunes and started placating the people who actually pay for this country. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – I have a marvellous ideas to solve the Irish Water debacle. Let’s get Glanbia to pay for our water! – Yours, etc,


Pearse Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I have a lined pond that leaks and which needs to be emptied, cleaned and refilled annually. I estimate that it takes about 30,000 litres of water a year to maintain this wildlife habitat. There are also my paved driveway and patios, which I power-wash twice a year to keep the place looking spic and span.

What with washing the cars, irrigating the lawn and wildflower meadow, I would be lost without my mains water supply.

I would like to thank Gerry Adams and all the others who denounce the introduction of water meters and charges and who wish me to continue with my water-wasting lifestyle.

Logic and commonsense would suggest otherwise, but then who am I to refuse the offer of a free and plentiful supply of treated water delivered to my doorstep and paid for by some unknown, but clearly wealthy society. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – The people of Ireland seem to have at last found their voice after years of passivity. Now we can demand more of our politicians, and ourselves. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – If they cut the water off to my house, I will have no choice but to wash myself naked in the Garavogue river. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The extraordinary cynicism displayed by ECB president Mario Draghi, when he stated that the Irish government invited a financial bailout of its own free will, should remove any lingering suspicion that we as a nation were the victims of an extraordinary injustice in November 2010 (“ECB says Irish policymakers to blame for economic crash”, Front Page, November 7th). The wording of the crucial letter couldn’t be clearer; that unless we sought a bailout, one that guaranteed private banking losses, we would have ECB funding cut off. Isn’t it even clearer now that we should have called the bluff, as evidently the ECB was solely motivated to protect the interests of the larger, controlling nations within the EU, nations that had resorted to vile threats to stave off an existential crisis coming their way? – Yours, etc,


Lisdowney, Kilkenny.

Sir, – As the producer assigned by BBC Radio 4 with former Irish Times economics editor Dan O’Brien to record an in-depth interview with the late Brian Lenihan for the documentary When the Troika Came to Town, I was struck by the deep sense of betrayal he felt and that he was in no doubt that he had been bullied by the ECB .

Mr Lenihan had been given a brief in advance of the line of questioning to be taken by Mr O’Brien. He therefore came to the interview well prepared; he spoke for more than an hour, answering each question at length and in great detail without a script or any notes. At the end of the interview, he asked Mr O’Brien and myself if we were happy we had all the information we needed, to which I replied that I would like to know how he himself felt while all this was happening.

This was not a question he was not expecting, yet from his answer it was obvious it was something that he had already given much thought to. His response has been broadcast many times and is worth repeating here. “I’ve a very vivid memory of going to Brussels on the final Monday to sign the agreement and being on my own at the airport and looking at the snow gradually thawing and thinking to myself, this is terrible. No Irish minister has ever had to do this before”.

This was his last recorded interview and an extremely important one in light of what is now emerging. – Yours, etc,


Raphoe, Co Donegal.

Sir, – Now that the ECB has released correspondence with the Irish minister for finance in the period leading to the Irish government’s acceptance of the bailout terms, perhaps those people at the centre of events here, civil servants and politicians, will release documents detailing the alternative, realistic and practicable alternatives which they were considering proposing to the various international financial institutions.

My impression at the time was that there was a complete policy vacuum at the heart of Irish government, which the ECB and others inevitably filled in its own interest.

Until Brian Cowen and his colleagues show differently, I shall continue to believe they were completely out of their depth, and sank the Irish economy as a result. – Yours, etc,


Mount Brown, Dublin 8.

Sir, – The letters from Europe at the time of the bailout are of little real interest. It was the letters from Europe in the years leading up to the crisis that would be most revealing.

We were warned, were we not? Or was it a case of the dog that didn’t bark? Either way membership of the EU didn’t offer the citizens of Ireland any protection against poor management of the economy. Europe let us down not so much at the time of the bailout but rather in the preceding period. Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – I have often wondered how the five countries with the highest per capita income (Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Jersey, Luxembourg and Switzerland) were all centres of international finance.

Now I have some idea thanks to your excellent reporting in The Irish Times (“Irish companies linked to further Luxembourg tax disclosures”, November 7th). These countries all offer international financial services at a multiple of local domestic needs.

For some 40 years, Luxembourg offered bank deposit accounts to the German middle class with the assurance that no Dirt would be deducted and the interest would not be reported to the German tax authorities. From this simple idea, Luxembourg spawned the idea of zero-taxed international investment funds.

A visit to Luxembourg is eye-opening. Imagine a city the size of Cork with hundreds of banks, finance companies and investment management companies. They are there to offer quite legal tax avoidance services to companies and moderately wealthy families – the really wealthy go to Switzerland.

In more recent years multinational companies have developed a culture that treats taxation as another cost, to be reduced by any legal means possible. The benefits of double-tax agreements between countries to aid international investment in employment-creating projects have been hijacked by the international financial services industry, facilitated by the elimination of currency controls by central banks.

A radical rethink is required, otherwise national governments will be forced to impose ever higher taxes on personal incomes and on sales and excise taxes rather than on companies. Companies will pay less and less and individuals will pay more and more tax. Such policies are no longer sustainable. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The only surprising thing about the recent disclosures of corporate tax avoidance is that people are surprised. Globalisation may have its benefits but its greatest ill-effect has been to allow corporations to grow to a size where they are, in some respects, more powerful than sovereign democratic governments. Hence the sad spectacle of small, and some large, countries desperately competing for minuscule tax takes in a socially destructive race to the bottom.

If we are to redress the balance, we need action on a global scale and we need to reform corporate governance. While the recent, timid, steps of the OECD are to be welcomed, it will take radical change to restore the historical, and economically productive, tension between capital and society.

Two good first steps would be to abolish the secrecy of unlimited companies and to require every multinational to publish full accounts for each subsidiary on a country by country basis. It would be cheering to think that this was on the agenda for the OECD or the transatlantic trade deal talks but somehow I doubt it. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Conor Boyle (November 6th) asks if it is worth rewriting the fundamentals of the Constitution, “simply to preserve a traditional ideal of what marriage should look like?” In posing his question Mr Boyle fails to take account of the case law on the relevant articles of An Bunreacht, from which he would be left in no doubt but that the traditional and constitutional ideal has always been, and still remains, one man to one woman for life.

Notwithstanding that the removal of the constitutional prohibition on dissolution of marriage has, in practice, reduced constitutional marriage to one man to one woman at a time, it is still worth preserving as the best statutory institution we have for the loving and responsible procreation of children, and their nurturing by their natural parents in a secure, committed, and loving environment, so essential to their wellbeing and happiness. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – Marriage has been understood for centuries as the union of one man and one woman. The idea of spelling that out would never have occurred to those who wrote the Constitution in the 1930s. Gay people in civil unions can have all the rights they need, or fight for them as fiercely as they seem to be fighting to reverse the meaning of marriage entirely. – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.

Sir, – With reference to Donald Clarke’s article “Badly behaved children don’t deserve a place at the cafe table” (Opinion & Analysis, November 1st, 2014), there are places where a certain standard of behaviour is expected. Maybe parenting skills are worse these days but the fact is that adults going out to a restaurant are entitled to have their meal in a relatively calm atmosphere. Today’s parents are seriously deluded if they think it is okay to bring their uncontrollable and spoiled children out into an environment that is meant to be relaxing and just let the chaos of their lives disturb everyone else’s. Letting a child run around in a confined space is not only selfish, but also a safety hazard with hot food and drinks being carried around by waiters. Cafes are not creches. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I think Donald Clarke is wonderful. Of all the curmudgeons I know – and I know quite a few – he is the most curmudgeonly. – Yours, etc,


Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Ian Lindsay (November 7th) believes he has the solution to all our nation’s troubles. “All we need to do is to have the people who write letters to The Irish Times run the country. They appear to know absolutely everything about how our little state should be organised”.

This has always been a deeply held conviction of my own.

As taoiseach I would be very happy to have Mr Lindsay as my tánaiste. When can he start? – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – I wish to object strongly to the suggestion from Ian Lindsay that letter-writers should run the country. Everyone knows that both taxi drivers and callers to Joe Duffy know almost as much about the mismanagement of this country as letter-writers. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Regarding the wearing of the poppy, David Walsh (November 4th) wonders if we are “remembering to remember”. Who knows? I hope, however, “we” may remember to remember next month’s 100th anniversary of the spontaneous 1914 Christmas truce between British and German troops. The Christmas spirit spoke. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 9.

A chara, – Domini Kemp’s recipe for chunky beef stew (Magazine, November 1st) listed “a glass of red wine” among the ingredients, but no mention of this was included in the cooking method. So I drank it. Does this make it “cook au vin”? – Is mise,


Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

The publication of the Jean-Claude Trichet letter is a bombshell and a political disaster for the Government.

This is a government that read the letter and passed a benign judgment on same.

It then proceeded to attempt to move our national water infrastructure off balance sheet when it saw the ECB was very forceful when moving debt on to the same sheet, while moving our pension reserve fund off balance sheet and into the coffers of God knows who.

The letter proves that there is a level of incompetence, to put it mildly, at the heart of the affairs of the State that requires immediate action.

The people have spoken and have said no to the Troika-backed plan to introduce water charges. The publication of Mr Trichet’s letter now means we have to question the current practice of paying off the IMF loans – ostensibly to save us money – while at the same time ensuring the IMF gets every drop of blood within the proverbial pound of flesh.

If ever Ireland needed a cool, calm, forceful and righteous leader to provide proof against those who seek to profit hugely from our efforts, then now is the time. Who do we have at the moment  – Enda Kenny?

Forgive me for opining that a general election is imminent, but it seems the Government

has proven to us that the people  have no other choice.

Dermot Ryan

Athenry, Co Galway

Not a threat, just a bailout

“Jean-Paul [sic] Trichet is a very subtle, refined, cultivated Frenchman and he would never make a threat like that, but he would not allow me to burn the senior bondholders.” (Finance Minister Michael Noonan on ‘Prime Time’, December 12, 2013).

Well, we now know that the former president of the ECB was not at all shy about issuing threats, as proven by the November 19, 2010 secret letter to the late Brian Lenihan, pushing Ireland into the bailout programme.

Oliver McGrane

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16


Stealth taxes

USC.IE = UISCE. A tax by another name

Ry Dunne

Enfield, Co Meath


Time for German puppet to go

The very disturbing news that this government is actively looking at ways to gain access to people’s salaries is the last straw for me from what is becoming an increasingly dictatorial regime. This cannot and must not be allowed to happen.

Furthermore, the idiotic idea that this Government can decide on a fair and honest charge for water is a delusion, because the purpose of charging for water is to take it off the Government’s  balance sheet and to do that, it must receive a minimum of €800m – otherwise, according to European regulations, they are not allowed to take it off the balance sheet.

Therefore, any charge for water will be based on achieving this target, but not on fairness and honesty.

I for one am against this methodology, as I have no desire to pay up just to satisfy Enda’s desire to receive an excellent grade on his report card from Angela.

With regards to the Government’s balance sheet, Joan Burton displayed her usual ability to highlight the disconnect between the general public and politics.

Yet both she and Enda fail to realise that they have increased this disconnect.

In referring to the balance sheet as the Government’s, they have drawn a line between the people of this State and the leaders, but the reality is that the balance sheet belongs to the people. Governments will come and go.

This is no longer about water charges, this is about dismissing a man who places more importance on pleasing European politicians than caring for the people of this island. The time has come for Angela’s puppet to go.

Ray Behan

Clontarf, Dublin


Time to win the people back

Dear Taoiseach, do you want to be out of office for the next 15 years? If you keep on the way you are going that is exactly what is going to happen.

Stand back and think these water charges through. As things stand you are not going to bully the people into paying. So what should you do?

Put the charges on hold for a year to calm things down.

Begin the  repair of all the leaking pipes.

Let the people know you are listening to them.

In the meantime, borrow the money from Europe to do this work.

You are going to borrow several billion over the next 20 years anyway, so after the year, come to the people, explain how the water charges are going to work. Making  sure this time that there are no bonuses for the staff in Irish Water.

I can’t for the life of me understand why you are antagonising your people now after all we have been through as a nation.  When we stood shoulder to shoulder with you and backed you all the way.

We took the pain, when people had no work and families lost their homes.

Businesses went to the wall.  Many people were driven to despair.

Aine O’Duinnecha



Roma deserve a home here 

It seems insane that in Ireland we allow problems to develop in full sight without dealing with them.

There is no place for vigilantism in Ireland. There is no place for racism.

But there should be room for discussion.

After all, it’s what we – pretend at least – to do best.

The Roma have been here for some time, and I’ve never had any problems with them.

Like most people, I wonder why they beg, as I’m pretty sure they should get the dole like everyone else.

But this should be open for discussion. After all, we all make bad judgment calls in a new place.

Knowing Ireland, it’s as likely some young gurriers saw the opportunity to have a crime spree and blame the new guys. But the truth is what the guards, not the people, are meant to find out.

But isn’t it time to get to know the Roma community and work out a way for them to become a new and wonderful part of Irish society.

Pauline Bleach

Wolli Creek, New South Wales, Australia


Long live ‘Independent’ letters

Was it any wonder condolences poured in reflecting the loss of the ‘Letters Page’ in last Monday’s Irish Independent?

As a sideline contributor for half a lifetime, graduating from pen via typewriter to computer, I’m not surprised.

Many readers have told me it’s the first section of any newspaper or magazine they open.

Why? Because it expresses the voice of most ordinary people up front, who have neither the time nor opportunity to do so themselves.

The editorial presence on the same page also attracts readers.

 Were it not for the ‘Letters Page’ even the ‘Irish Times’ would lose out heavily on circulation.

For some unexplained reason it carries that prestige and integrity tag that seems to attract more politicians and professionals to writing letters.

Long may ‘Letters Page’ survive and expand.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary


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