Sandy

14 December 2014 Sandy

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But its getting better. Sandy comes to call.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up duck for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Lydia Mordkovitch

Lydia Mordkovitch Photo: SUZIE MAEDER/LEBRECHT

Lydia Mordkovitch, who has died of cancer aged 70, was a Soviet-born violinist who made her career in Britain; her performances of Shostakovich were mesmerising and intense, and her pedigree was impeccable, thanks to her studies with David Oistrakh, with whom the composer had collaborated.

Similarly, she excelled in Prokofiev, bringing a dark and melancholy tone to his music. Meanwhile, she also became an ardent champion of British composers, ranging from the well-known, such as Britten, to the more obscure, such as John Veale and E J Moeran.

If she seemed more comfortable in the recording studio than on stage, Lydia Mordkovitch’s concerts nevertheless drew the cognoscenti. They could be memorable occasions, with the pouting, unsmiling violinist exploring the darker side of composers’ scores. She was fiery, but never flippant, and expressive, but never excitable. Few could leave her concerts unmoved, such was her deep and introspective examination of the music.

The critic Edward Greenfield declared that her recordings bore witness “not only to her masterly technique and gloriously varied tone colours, but also to her extraordinary dedication to playing long-neglected works”. Her disc of the two Shostakovich concertos – widely considered to be the best recordings after Oistrakh’s own – won a Gramophone award in 1990.

Lydia Mordkovitch was born at Saratov, south-east Russia, on April 30 1944. According to one account, she was born in a railway station after the relatives who were due to meet her expectant mother failed to turn up; they were casualties of the war.

Her family was unable to afford a piano, so she took up the violin instead aged seven. Soon she was studying in Odessa. In 1967 she was named Young Musician of the Year in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

This drew her to the attention of the musical authorities in Moscow who, even though she was married with a four-year-old daughter, brought her to the Conservatoire to study with Oistrakh.

“He had the most amazing brains,” she told one interviewer. “What Oistrakh said in one hour, nobody else said in a lifetime.” She was present during the gestation of Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata, which Oistrakh played to his students while learning it himself.

Lydia Mordkovitch (SUZIE MAEDER/LEBRECHT)

In 1969 Lydia Mordkovitch won the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris, which might have launched her international career, but little more was heard of her in the West as she pursued a career within the Soviet Union. She turned up in Moldova, teaching in Kishniev, before emigrating, in 1974, to Israel, where she was “discovered” teaching in Jerusalem by Brian Couzens, a British record company executive who persuaded her to commit the Brahms Violin Concerto to disc. When Couzens founded Chandos Records it became her permanent recording home and she would make more than 60 discs for the label.

Her British debut was with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester in 1979 and the following year, leaving behind her failing marriage, she settled in London, latterly living in St Albans. Her American debut was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Georg Solti in 1982 and she appeared at the Proms in 1985 and 1988, on the latter occasion giving a marvellously virtuosic account of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Marek Janowski. Her other concerts in London included an appearance with Solti and the London Philharmonic at the Festival Hall, also in 1988, and recitals at the Wigmore Hall.

Lydia Mordkovitch was a widely respected teacher, feared and loved in equal measure. She was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music from 1995, renowned for insisting that her students do more than simply practise. “Go to the ballet! Read Chekhov! Become Russian!” she exalted one protégé who was struggling with Tchaikovsky.

Her recordings are probably her most lasting legacy. One critic noted that her disc of Bliss’s Violin Concerto (2006) “offers a fiery, almost gipsy interpretation”, while her 2009 account of obscure Russian repertoire, in which she also played the viola, might not, said another, be for the faint-hearted but was “always full of sultry temperament”.

Lydia Mordkovitch never forgot her background. “Whatever Russian music I’m playing, I still feel my roots very strongly,” she said.

Lydia Mordkovitch is survived by her daughter; her granddaughter, Juliette Roos, was a finalist in the strings section of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Lydia Mordkovitch, born April 30 1944, died December 9 2014

Guardian:

Women are free to breastfeed anywhere they like. Get over it

This is not about feminism or exhibitionism, it is about feeding babies as nature intended

It’s extraordinary that there is still a debate over breastfeeding. Photograph: Observer
It’s extraordinary that there is still a debate over breastfeeding. Photograph: Observer

Nobody puts baby in a corner (or indeed a toilet) anymore (“If breastfeeding offends you, look the other way”, Barbara Ellen, Comment)! Twenty eight years ago I was shown into a toilet, with a chair in it, in order to feed my new baby son. I hasten to add that I did not stay there. I had thought that we, as a society, had come a long way since then. Establishments such as Claridge’s need to be fully aware of, and also implement, their obligations under the Equalities Act 2010.

This issue is not about feminism or exhibitionism; it is about feeding babies as nature intended and a large establishment’s apparent policy regarding “discretion” – a policy which no doubt contravenes the legislation. It is also about the obvious pressure put on women today: we are criticised if we cover too much flesh; condemned if we do not cover up enough; referred to as exhibitionists if we feed our children on demand in public.

Let us be clear, the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are solely breastfed for six months and breastfed (with other food) for two years. Women and their children are now free to feed anywhere, any time, anyhow they (and their babies and children) wish and this right is protected by the law. The pity is that such a law was necessary at all.

Isobel Kerrigan

Horsmonden

Kent

How to see off that cough

As an acoustician who devotes considerable effort to designing out extraneous noises from concert halls, it is disconcerting that this good work can be undone by people coughing (“Should you go to a concert with a cough?”, New Review).

Although the idea of free boiled sweets is a good one, I would like to suggest the provision of cough suppressors such as those used by game hunters. These are tubes lined with acoustic material and cost little. If they are good enough to make a cough inaudible to a nearby deer, they should be fine for keeping audience coughing below the threshold of disturbance.

Dr Raf Orlowski

Cambridge

Don’t do the dirty on cleaners

Congratulations on publicising the fate of the cleaners who have been left in the lurch by Saatchis (“The media giant, the cleaners and the £40,000 lost wages”, Comment). The amount owed to their cleaners by this huge media giant is a mere £40,000, and they have already offered 30% of this amount to the staff, Why not all of it? They were, after all, 100% responsible for outsourcing the cleaning, not 30%! Readers can do their bit to help by signing a petition to try to shame them into paying up, here: http://bit.ly/1z5LjMJ

Dr Richard Carter

London SW15

No need for a tizz over fizz

Combining the catering facilities within Westminster is a worthy goal that however misses the real reform that is needed (“Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage”, News) If members of parliament were to purchase their alcoholic drinks at market price, several benefits would accrue. The amount of alcohol consumed would go down, resulting in better health and better focus on the issues under consideration. Paying full price would increase tax revenues. And paying for champagne at full price could resolve the issue of combining catering facilities in favour of the cheaper option, which would result in additional savings.

Claudia Cullen

Leigh-on-Sea

Essex

Shame on the Lib Dems

I would rather not vote than use the “nosepeg strategy”, referred to by Andrew Rawnsley, in my Tory/Lib Dem marginal (in 2010 I voted Lib Dem and gave them some money towards their campaign) (“One leg in, one leg out. Nick Clegg had to take up the hokey-cokey”, Comment). Lib Dems have provided the Tories with a block of MPs who have enabled the most extremist rightwing government in my lifetime (born 1949) to do massive harm to our society.

Supporting failed austerity economics instead of sensible Keynesian public spending is only one of their many follies. The sheer naivety of Baroness Williams and Lord Ashdown convincing the Lib Dem conference that they had achieved changes to Andrew Lansley’s awful NHS bill was beyond stupidity – resulting in an NHS in crisis, semi-privatised, in the red – which even senior Tories admit was a disaster. All these follies, plus many others that have been foisted on us without an electoral mandate, should make the Lib Dems ashamed. They deserve to be annihilated in 2015!

Philip Wood

Kidlington

Oxon

You say tomato…

Following on from the letter from David Spaven about the US usage of train station instead of railway station, can I point out that Alex Salmond won’t be running for parliament, unless he is running in the US, but standing for parliament (“Salmond to run for seat in Westminster in 2015”).

John Alvey

Cranbrook

A more egalitarian tax system is needed if Britain's economy is to thrive.
A more egalitarian tax system is needed if Britain’s economy is to thrive. Photograph: Alamy

Will Hutton is right (“Forget austerity – what we need is a stronger state and more taxation”, Comment). But do we really need to “broaden the VAT base”? VAT is effectively a tax on the level of economic activity in a way that taxing rentier incomes is not.

Switching taxation from VAT and on to the incomes of the super-rich would increase spending on reproducible goods and services and away from spending on non-reproducible assets – the latter surely a good thing, given the state of the London property market.

VAT is also the most regressive of taxes – a poll tax on living, if you will. By all means we need to rethink the nature of taxation and the state. But even to contemplate a rise in VAT is to fall in line with modern Conservative (and Ukip) thinking, viz that the state is primarily for the poor and that therefore the poor should pay for it.

Dr William Dixon and Dr David Wilson

London Metropolitan University

Will Hutton advocates both a stronger state and more taxation. A stronger state, with political commitment to pulling the country together for the good of us all, is surely needed. But in a democracy where a government has to conform to the contradictory demands of a nervous electorate, how can austerity and effective economics be brought into balance? Democracy can work in an expanding economy, producing a surplus that provides a measure of improvement for all. Nobody fixes the roof, because everyone expects a share in a boom. Conversely, austerity has no friends for neighbours.

More taxation can sound egalitarian, but democracy is very bad at holding a balance. We need investment which provides the employment that generates the taxes that a civilised society needs. Increasing taxes on people who are already willing to pay taxes will only induce people to adopt a libertarian view.

Before we start arguing for increased taxation, we need to close tax havens which both deprive the state of its income and drive up the cost of everything a civilised society needs. If democracy can’t move to a more egalitarian tax system, both civilised society and democracy itself will be forfeit. What is lacking is political will. The bottom line: tax the untaxed, invest to create jobs, bank tax revenues, reinvest for the future. Any increase in the general standard of living should be modest.

Martin London

Henllan, Denbighshire

At last, a commentator who argues for an alternative to austerity. At the founding conference of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford in 1893, one of the delegates’ first three plebiscites was to tax wealth, not income (others included to abolish the House of Lords and dissolve the monarchy) – and this is easily achievable by transferring tax from income to land. A gradual transfer to Land Value Taxation is as relevant an objective now as it was in 1893, and is arguably more appropriate given the need to redress a spending imbalance and the radical right’s bias on taxation matters with flat taxes etc.

Ronald Mackie

Leeds

The desire for big state spending simply cannot be achieved in our increasingly low-wage economy. When pay packets have to be topped up by working tax credits and other benefits, and companies can easily route profits to another European with lower tax thresholds, then decisions have to be made as to how we live within our means. We can’t spend until we challenge the international laws that underpin the status quo.

Posted online

 

 

Independent:

It’s appalling that the Catholic Church meddles with how hospitals handle abortion in Italy (“Vatican’s influence is restricting abortions, Italian doctors warn,” 7 December).

Abortion is a private medical procedure. Religion shouldn’t come into it, but if medical staff do refuse to carry out abortions for such reasons then women must at least be made aware of who else they can safely turn to, not be turned away like outcasts.

Unwanted pregnancy can become a grave danger to mental and emotional well-being without the right support. Illegal abortions were the third biggest cause of death for Italian women before Law 194, but it’s as if the anti-choice lobby turn a blind eye to this. Abortion would be far less common if more people were educated about and had access to birth control, yet the Catholic Church won’t acknowledge that either.

To have an abortion is a personal choice. For some it can be a deeply upsetting decision, but that doesn’t mean they should not have the right to make it.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

It is very troubling that Shmuley Boteach, a Jewish Oxford graduate, is unable to attempt to understand or explain why Britain is becoming more hostile to Israel (“Sex, Sainsbury’s, celebrity… and anti-Semitism”, 7 December).

Times have changed; pity for their Holocaust experience has dissipated, as the truth about Israel’s relationship towards another people, the Palestinians, is shown to be ruthless, callous and racist. Ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land continues recklessly in order that, from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, all of it will be Israel.

Anna Tognarelli

Stockport

I feel Professor Mark Bishop is forgetting the Turing test, when he claims that human qualities such as understanding and consciousness cannot be replicated by computers (“Stephen Hawking versus the robots”, 7 December). Alan Turing proposed that if a human could not tell from on-screen conversations with a computer and a human, which was which then we could say the computer can “think”. The issue is not that understanding can’t be replicated, but what type of understanding is replicated.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Stephen Hawking should listen to the writers of the Terminator TV series about the limitations of Artificial Intelligence. In it Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) states that machines “cannot appreciate beauty, they cannot create art. If they ever learn these things, they won’t have to destroy us, they’ll be us.”

Will Goble

Raleigh, Essex

Steve Connor describes Karel Capek as a Czech film-maker. In fact he was an author and playwright. The term “robot”, derived from a Slovak word, appeared in his play R.U.R. Another of his plays was The Makropulos Affair, made into an opera by Janacek.

Paul Dormer

Guildford, Surrey

I was not surprised to read of the poor take-up on the “NewBuy” and “Help to Buy” housing schemes (“NewBuy housing scheme is a 95 per cent failure”, 7 December).

Given that it is virtually impossible for many people to save at the same time as paying, sometimes exorbitant, rents and associated utility bills, why can’t a certified track record of paying rent regularly and reliably be used as a guarantee to support a mortgage of the same amount?

After all once they have a mortgage they don’t need to continue to save towards a deposit, so in fact their income is likely to benefit. If a person is able to evidence any further regular saving, such as saving towards that unachievable first-time deposit, the amount be added to how mortgage they can be offered.

No doubt there are safeguards to be built into this idea, but what about the principle? Ministers please consider it, nothing else is working.

Sue Clark

Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Times:

Some breakfast cereals are not the health foods their manufacturers like to claim Some breakfast cereals are not the health foods their manufacturers like to claim (REUTERS)

IN A week when Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged David Cameron to set up government-backed food banks (“Back food banks, Welby tells PM”, News, last week) you reported that the stamp duty change had caused one family to cut their house-buying budget from £2m to a miserly £1.5m (“We must lower our ambitions”, Money, last week). They were planning to relocate to Italy. I hope that, once there, they may appreciate how lucky they are.
Yvonne Milne-Redhead, Clitheroe, Lancashire

Rich man, poor man

Camilla Cavendish is wrong about the tax burden of the rich (“A chancellor can dream of surplus but the truth is too few of us pay tax”, Comment, last week). Not merely do we all pay tax but some of the poorer among us pay the most, proportionately. VAT, tobacco and alcohol duties and tax on petrol make heavy inroads into the incomes of those earning less than £15,000. Then add income tax of £1,000.
Harvey Cole
Winchester

A tale of two chitties

Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20.06; “misery” — Mr Micawber. Annual income £648bn, annual expenditure £732bn; “a healthy economy” — the chancellor (“Osborne goes to war against the Lib Dems”, News, and “Face it, George, you’re the new Brown”, Focus, last week).
John Rogers, London SW16

Sugar-packed cereals making us fat

I AM 63 in January and swim a almost a mile most mornings (“‘Healthy’ cereals mix high sugar with little fruit”, News, last week). All my adult life I’ve been “beer belly”-shaped. Up until two years ago I weighed almost 11½ stone. Having cut down on my food, I was about 10½ stone this time last year. Then in April I decided to replace my supermarket breakfast cereals with my own mix of oats, bran, nuts, seeds and fruit. Within six months I came down to just under 10 stone with a 29in waist and have stayed there. At this point I realised just how much sugar there is in “healthy cereals”.
Phillip Ellis, Ascot

Healthy options

As a diabetic I always look very carefully at the sugar content of everything, and in terms of cereals I have found very few satisfactory products. Most food manufacturers care little about the health of their customers and more about profits. So, friends, buy cautiously. If you boycott the unhealthy ones, the message will get through via the profit decreases.
Peter Atkinson, Cserszegtomaj, Hungary

Heavy duty

Instead of a mansion tax proposed by the Labour party, would it not be better to introduce an obesity tax? It would not only reduce the burden on the NHS but might improve the health of a considerable proportion of our population. It would also benefit taxpayers and make travel on trains and planes more comfortable.
John Chalk, Barnet, London

Stonehenge tunnel vision misses a trick

WHY NOT build a bypass well away from Stonehenge and leave the A303 as a toll road (“A quick dig won’t do. We must move heaven and earth for Stonehenge”, Comment, last week)? People wanting to drive past the stones without entering the theme park could pay £5, say, and all the lorries and people in a hurry could speed past elsewhere. This is cheaper than a tunnel and is also revenue-raising.
John Harthman, Sheffiel

Park keepers

In “Kim Cattrall is the star of a new drama — Parks and the City” (Comment, November 30) Charles Clover does not take into account the funding crisis we face in Liverpool. Central government provides 80% of our funding and has cut this by 58%. The simple fact is that it means finding new ways of raising revenue.

In this instance, the 5½ acres adjacent to the 235-acre Sefton Park will be sold to create 34 houses sympathetic to those already around the park. We will use the capital receipt and council tax raised to help us continue to invest in our parks and other services.

Our forefathers pioneered the creation of green spaces paid for by the construction of handsome villas around them. We are doing no different around (not in) Sefton Park.
Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

Give nursing staff a break

I FEEL compelled to comment on Jenny McCartney’s article “Little acts of kindness soothe the screams of new mums”, (Comment, last week).

While appreciating that the story of Charlotte Bevan leaving the Bristol hospital in her slippers, carrying her newborn baby Zaani Tiana, is horrendous, I felt saddened by the comment: “One cannot now go back and nudge the nurses to turn around from the vending machine to soothe her nameless terrors.”

Those nurses may well have been buying food or drink after a long shift without a break. It feeds into the story from Leicester, where NHS reception staff are banned from having hot or cold drinks at their desk because it makes them look like they might be slacking, after patients complained of long waiting times.

Nurses are human and need food/drink/rest/ lavatory breaks like the rest of the public. I am sure that the nurses at St Michael’s Hospital are distressed enough without the implication that they were somehow failing in their duties to their patients by making a purchase from a vending machine.

Providing more nurses would allow the staff who remain on the ward to monitor vulnerable patients more closely.
Jenny Lindsay (RGN, BA (Nursing) Gerontology, Dip Professional Studies), Sutherland, Highland

Fears for vanished children

HAVE retired from teaching but recall two incidents relevant to the story “87,000 ‘invisible’ children at risk of abuse” (News, last week). The mother of a 14-year-old girl announced that a “council house swap” meant her daughter was leaving for a nearby city at once. Investigations conducted by the local authority and me after her departure — prompted by the lack of any contact from a receiving school — drew a blank.

On another occasion a youngster from the Middle East was placed in the care of a family in my school’s catchment area in the Midlands. He claimed to be 13, but after an interview in London concluded he was at least 19, he vanished.

If it is impossible to identify the whereabouts of a young person, it is natural to assume that the reasons behind this are less than innocent and are potentially very sinister indeed.
Brent Robinson, Redditch

Off the radar

Your article on ‘invisible’ children and the two other stories (“Schools told to call police over sexting” and “Schools shun sick children”, News, last week) about the failure to meet the educational and safeguarding needs of some of our most vulnerable young people all have a common theme.

With the greatly increased autonomy of schools and the cuts in local-authority budgets, there is scarcely room to protect the interests of those children increasingly seen as liabilities.

It is not lawful to remove a child from the register just because they have been absent, or to require a parent to home-educate them. Our knowledge of children who have never been sent to a school is at best patchy because there is no requirement on parents to make themselves known.
Ben Whitney, Independent Education Welfare Consultant and Trainer, Wolverhampton

Regulator not to blame for mental health cuts

The health regulator Monitor is committed to supporting parity of esteem between mental and physical health services, and is not recommending cutting budgets for any services (“Overstretched mental health services need funding boost”, Letters, last week). Decisions about how much to spend on services, and what prices to pay, are made at local level through negotiation between commissioners and providers, not by Monitor. The NHS does face significant pressures on its overall budget, as set out in its Five Year Forward View. In response, mental health services, along with all other services, are expected to make efficiency improvements.
Adrian Masters, Managing Director, Sector Development, Monitor, London SE1

A boney to pick

Napoleon was not defeated by the British alone (“British to spare Boney’s blushes at Waterloo II”, News, last week), but by an allied army of nearly 200,000 men, 70% of whom were German. The Duke of Wellington mustered the remaining 30%, many of whom were Dutch and Belgian. We really need to do better after 200 years.
Colin Russell, Cambridge

TIME TO Give HIM the elba

Good to hear that we plan to spare Boney’s blushes in June 2015, but what about our own in allowing him to “re-escape” from Elba (a period of exile that the Italian island already celebrates) and “re-disembark” in Golfe-Juan in France on March 1, 2015? Thereafter a procession will set out on — you’ve guessed it — the Route Napoléon.
Barry Mellor, London N7

Transparency is key to distribution of aid

Lord Monson’s letter (“Aid hand-outs do not always go to the right causes”, Letters, November 30) about British aid to Kenya only touches the tip of the iceberg in terms of the frivolous attention that is paid to the delivery of aid in developing countries. Do the Department for International Development, along with supranational bodies such as the UN and its truant children Unicef and Unesco — and, I’m afraid, too many international non-governmental organisations — not realise that effective aid is dependent upon transparency of how the funds provided have been used? The true value of giving is reliant on ensuring that the money goes on making a quantifiable and sustainable difference at the point of need. That means spending time “on the ground” and monitoring expenditure against what has been achieved. We would never accept such a negligent approach in commercial ventures. Perish the thought that it is all about presentation and politics.
Christopher Lavender, Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, Hong Kong

Relative values

More MPs are employing relatives, and the cost of doing so is unregulated (“MPs give spouses a £1.3m pay rise”, News, last week). For the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to allow this when public-sector workers are under severe pay restraint is unacceptable. Are we not all “in this together”?
Jim Stather
Lowestoft

Finding his marbles

I don’t often agree with Dominic Lawson but he was spot-on about the amorality of art and culture in “Seeing one of Elgin’s marbles won’t make Russians think like us” (Comment, last week). Art can be didactic, but its lessons may not be ones we approve of. Like religion, it expresses our need for transcendence.
Paul Thomson, Knutsford, Cheshire

Maternal tragedy

Jenny McCartney says it all in “Little acts of kindness to soothe the silent screams of new mums” (Comment, last week). The days after the birth of my daughter were the worst 10 days of my life and my family have heard me say over the years that if I hadn’t been so exhausted I would have walked out. That was in 1978. As I watched footage of Charlotte Bevan leaving hospital in Bristol, I hoped she would reach home safely. As we know, she didn’t.
Sylvia Scrivener, Ipswich

Mechanical response

Robots may soon rule the world (“Hal and his pals may wipe us out while we’re not looking”, Comment, last week), so it has been mooted that they be programmed with human values to ensure a sense of social morality. When we consider how such values are ignored — why should a machine behave any better?
Roger Carrington, Parekklisia, Cyprus

Repeat offender

The BBC has about 23,000 employees and a £5bn annual income (“Make way while I run the BBC off the road to Wigan Pier”, Comment, last week). Yet reportedly 63% of its Christmas offerings will be repeats: how much is the tape-changer paid?
Vincent Sinnott, St Raphael, France

Reaching a disagreement

I frequently disagree with what AA Gill says but admire the way he says it (“Beyond the Palin”, Letters, last week).
Henry Malt, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Making an exit

I feel your reader Dr G Sandler has not truly explained the term “nebbish” (“Language lesson”, Letters, last week). The best definition is that when a nebbish enters a room, it feels as if someone has left.
Martin Bronstein, Weybridge, Surrey

Lessons in new thinking

When, oh when, will some members of the Labour party excise their perceived problem concerning private education (“Murphy’s warning to private schools”, News, last week)? Labour’s philosophy is often described, somewhat unkindly in my opinion, as the politics of envy. If private schools do indeed have meritorious aspects over and above state schools, surely the thing to do is to give the state schools those merits, too. I was always taught that you do not make yourself one inch taller by remarking on the lack of height of others.
Doug Clark, Currie, Midlothian

Face facts

Your photo accompanying the article “May exiles first British family” (News, last week) surely takes the biscuit for irrelevance, having as it does all faces pixelated out. What are we to make of that? Not much more, I suggest, than that your report involved human beings; a fact we might have been able to grasp from the text alone.
Darrell Desbrow, Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbrightshire

Figure it out

Steuart Campbell (“Polls apart”, Letters, last week) does not address the two simple figures that the SNP certainly disregard when it claims an allegedly narrow result. Out of the total number of people eligible to vote, only 37.8% voted “yes” for independence. Also, the number of votes cast for “no” was 23.7% larger than the number of votes for “yes”.

Vaughan Hammond

Braco, Perthshire

Letters should arrive by midday on Thursday and include the full address and a daytime and an evening telephone number. Please quote date, section and page number. We may edit letters, which must be exclusive to The Sunday Times

Corrections and clarifications

In Camilla Long’s interview with John Humphrys in today’s Magazine, the phrase “They [the BBC] were frightened of appearing racist” was inaccurate. Mr Humphrys did not say this and we apologise for this error.

In “Schools shun sick children” (News, last week) we attributed a comment about attendance procedures at Parkside and Titus Salt schools to Leeds city council. The local authority for both schools is Bradford. We apologise for the error.

“Relative values” (Magazine November 30) wrongly referred to Sir James Dyson’s tutor as Roger Fry instead of Jeremy Fry. We apologise for the error.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to complaints@sunday-times.co.uk or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.

Birthdays

Antony Beevor, historian, 68; Jane Birkin, actress, 68; Miranda Hart, comedian, 42; Natascha McElhone, actress, 43; Beth Orton, singer, 44; Michael Owen, footballer, 35; Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, 67; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, prime minister of Denmark, 48; Chris Waddle, footballer, 54

Anniversaries

1782 the Montgolfier brothers’ first balloon test flight lifts off; 1911 Roald Amundsen becomes the first person to reach the South Pole; 1972 Eugene Cernan is the last person to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 17 mission; 2012 Adam Lanza kills 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut

Telegraph:

For more than a decade, motorists buying diesel cars have enjoyed tax breaks because the cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide and are more fuel efficient

The City of London has prohibited engine idling to help improve air quality Photo: Alamy

SIR – I can confirm Wendy Mead’s statement (Letters, December 11) that the City of London has prohibited engine idling to help improve air quality. I live in the City and can assure Mrs Mead that the vans, taxis, cars and coaches parked there are either totally unaware of the ban or choose to ignore it.

Unfortunately when it’s very cold, or indeed very hot, mentioning that engines should be turned off is met with a none-too-friendly response. We need boots on the ground to remind drivers to turn off their engines or risk a fine. Legislation is one thing, enforcement another.

Nancy Chessum
London EC2

SIR – Wendy Mead, defending a 20mph limit in the City, fails to grasp basic engineering concepts.

At 30mph my engine runs at about 1,200rpm. At 20mph in a lower gear, it runs at about 2,000rpm. So mile for mile, there are more combustion cycles, and thus pollutants, just where she doesn’t want them. My vehicle is most efficient at about 66mph, but clearly this is unsafe in a built-up area; 30mph is a sensible limit in terms of safety, efficiency and emissions.

Alan Bennett
Carterton, Oxfordshire

SIR – The technology already exists to manage pollution from diesel engines.

There are many diesel-powered vehicles available which conform to “Euro 6” emission standards, producing fewer oxides of nitrogen and giving good economy too, which helps eke out oil supplies.

Perhaps we can hope that one day there may be new machines that are not dependent on fossil fuels at all.

Tim Bradbury
Northwich, Cheshire

SIR – Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a cleaner fuel than either diesel or petrol, and is available from more than 1,000 filling stations across Britain.

A system has now been devised to convert diesel engines as well as petrol engines to LPG. It would not be difficult to convert London’s black cabs, whose owners could then set up their own LPG filling tanks throughout the capital.

G A Lock
Churt, Surrey

SIR – My diesel car has both a catalytic converter and a particulate filter. Do such things work, and if not, against which of the pollutants and under what conditions?

We hear nothing of compulsory testing or licensing regimes, just “diesel bad, petrol good”.

John Stone
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – London must be the only city where the aeroplanes fly overhead day and night, spewing out pollution. Taking away diesel vehicles is not going to solve the problem.

Hermione Delano-Osborne
Florence, Italy

In economic denial

Paul Grover for The Sunday Telegraph

SIR – Had I not been driving, I would have fallen off my seat when I heard the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, declaring on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday morning that “we will inherit a large deficit”, with no degree of recognition that his party had actually handed such a deficit to the present Coalition Government.

Robin M Phoenix
Gisburn, Lancashire

SIR – At last the Labour Party has realised that in order to sustain a modern economy and not beggar our children, you have to balance the books. It has taken the party nearly five years to understand the economic plight it left behind, so why would anyone trust it with the task of trying to get it right the next time round?

Ken Smith
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – Ed Balls says that the Coalition has made the average worker £1,600 worse off. He and his Labour colleagues were responsible for the debt in the first place.

How can he attempt to pass the blame? Admittedly not many people trust him anyway, but the Coalition should make more of this.

Ian James
London NW9

SIR – Why does George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, use the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) to pay out but the Retail Prices Index (RPI) to take in?

Mr Osborne tells us that regulated rail fare rises in 2015 will be capped at 2.5 per cent, which was last July’s rate of inflation as measured by the RPI. In his emergency Budget in 2010 Mr Osborne decreed that public-sector pensions, and pensions that shadow the public sector, would in future receive increases linked to the lower CPI. The CPI increase in July 2014 was 0.9 percentage points less than the RPI increase at 1.6 per cent.

In March 2013, in a cynical political move, the UK Statistics Authority removed the RPI as a national statistic. The RPI/CPI User Group Committee of the Royal Statistical Society is holding a public meeting on Thursday to discuss this.

Perhaps the Chancellor should attend.

Mike Post
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Frankly disappointed

SIR – Instead of encouraging philatelists, the Royal Mail often disappoints them by allowing the obliteration of unfranked stamps with crude biro scribbles.

This destroys all philatelic interest. Surely the company could devise a less crude method – there is plenty of small, hand-held machinery behind the counter of any post office.

Anne Everest
Sidmouth, Devon

Musical theatre

SIR – As a surgeon, I have always preferred opera in the operating theatre.

I have often tested the skills of my anaesthetic colleagues by joining in with Nessun Dorma.

David Nunn
West Malling, Kent

SIR – It used to be traditional for anaesthetists to complete the Telegraph crossword once their patients were safely “under”.

I looked up from the operating table recently to see a senior colleague playing Candy Crush.

Hugh Warren
Harpley, Norfolk

Who’s to blame for the modern Brussels sprout

The sprout fan’s friend: a good frost is regarded as lending flavour to the vegetable (Sue Robinson / Alamy )

SIR – The Brussels sprout as such was unknown in ancient Rome. Writers in ancient Rome did describe heading-cabbage and kohlrabi that were also varieties of the highly variable Brassica oleracea cabbage species.

The modern sprout dates from a genetic one-off found in Belgium in 1750. By 1800 it had reached England, becoming known as chou de Bruxelles. Earlier records from the 13th century and illustrated by Jacques Dalechamps in 1587 were probably a different species, Brassica capitata.

Roger Croston
Chester

SIR – North of the border, the man in red who comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is, and always has been, not Father Christmas but Santa Claus.

Mary Firth
Edinburgh

Future of immigration

SIR – Your leading article is spot on: the issue of immigration is about more than just space and economics. It’s about society and culture, both of which will be adversely affected by continued high levels of immigration. That prized virtue of tolerance will be a casualty.

Despite everything, David Cameron continues to support Turkish membership of the EU. This will lead inevitably to even more immigration, no matter what transitional controls are put in place.

Malcolm Williams
Southsea, Hampshire

Flying blind

SIR – How degrading to learn that Britain had to ask Nato to search for a Russian submarine in our waters north of Scotland; and all because our misinformed Prime Minister cancelled our brand new aerial recce fleet in the name of cuts when he took power.

Yet still he wants our votes next year.

Richard Waldron
Woolavington, Somerset

For better, for worse

SIR – When did the fashion for men wearing wedding bands start?

Neither my father nor any of his friends sported a wedding ring; nor did my maternal grandfather; nor, according to family photographs, did his father or uncle. A good friend of mine wore a heavy gold wedding ring in the Sixties, but his friends thought it a Continental custom.

I have copied my maternal grandfather and now wear a thin band under my signet ring, to celebrate my relatively recent marriage publicly.

Simon Edsor
London SW1

Brand deterioration

SIR – When will the BBC start to take Question Time seriously again?

The inclusion of “celebrity” personalities on the panel has turned it from a serious debate into something approaching comedy. Thursday night’s programme was like a brawl in a bar, with Russell Brand throwing the beer glasses.

It’s about time David Dimbleby took a leaf out of his brother’s book and chaired the programme on the same lines as Radio 4’s Any Questions.

Tony Cross
Sevenoaks, Kent

No-man’s-land football game, Christmas 1915

SIR – During the First World War, similar events to those of Christmas 1914 also took place in 1915 in France, though they are less well known.

My father, Ralph Worfolk, enlisted in Kitchener’s Army in September 1914. I am fortunate to have his diary that runs up to his demobilisation in January 1919.

As a member of the 61st Field Ambulance Unit of the 20th Light Division he was posted to Estaires, and served at various dressing stations during the battle of Loos in the autumn of 1915.

His diary entry for December 25 1915 reads: “Fine Xmas weather. Brigade in the line, since 23rd and an attack expected, so we were confined to billets.

“Big dinner (off plates!) at 2pm. Roast beef, spuds and plenty of glasses of Worthington’s for each man. Guards Div in the line, no rifle fire but artillery fairly active. Three Germans came out of their trenches and started to bury their dead. Three or four dead bodies of our men were lying close to the Guards’ line and the Germans came over and took them away, burying them along with theirs.

“An officer of the Scots Guards detailed three of his men to go and help. They did and the Germans gave them wine and cigars. More of our men went over and took a football and there was a lively time for 5 or 10 minutes. Somebody put the artillery on this part of the line and there was a rumpus.

“Court Martials in the air. Guards had green envelopes stopped.”

It seems that the senior officers did not want a repeat of the previous year’s fraternisation. The green envelope (Army form A 3078) referred to was issued to the troops for the transmission of letters relating to family matters only. Their provision was regarded as a privilege.

Michael Worfolk
Southport, North Carolina, United States

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – The comments of Fine Gael TD John Deasy on the march of Sinn Fein (Sunday Independent, 7 December) will seem to many of your readers, accurate and timely.

However, as a Northerner from an SDLP background, Mr Deasy’s remarks sent the alarm bells ringing. The comments about Sinn Fein vice-president, Mary Lou McDonald, using the Public Accounts Committee as a “kangaroo court” are quite legitimate.

But Mr Deasy goes on to reveal that he believes that “the public are starting to see through Sinn Fein’s tactics”. That is the kind of wishful thinking that saw the SDLP pushed aside by Sinn Fein in the North. The public don’t see Sinn Fein as white knights. They never have and they never will. That is why their voting conversion to Sinn Fein is rarely reversed. In most cases, once they go to Sinn Fein, they stay there.

John Deasy himself tells us why most Sinn Fein voters sign up in the context of the Tanaiste being trapped in her car recently: “that brand of bullying politics that worked so well in other places will not work here.”

The reason why people go to Sinn Fein is precisely because they send out a signal to everyone who wants to listen that they are the muscle who’ll stop at nothing to make things right. They are bullies and many voters recognize that and support them for it. Everyone knows that they also have links to now dormant (?) IRA operatives and that can affect the nature and extent of the response to them. People can keep their heads down or suggest that they are “too afraid” to read out names of sex abusers in republican ranks.

The bottom line is that Sinn Fein are perceived as packing a punch, fearless when taking on those who annoy them and ready to get their hands dirty. Ultimately they soil everything and everyone in politics and that is why, in their worldview, cynicism is encouraged and elevated. Other parties need to adapt the strategy to deal with them, rather than rely on solo runs from various politicians.

John O’Connell, Derry

 

Give disabled choice

Madam – My wonderful, bright, loving and lovable son has an intellectual disability. The system of services for people with intellectual disability in this country is broken.

When a service is set up and staffed by highly paid individuals, a strange thing seems to happen. A new, bureaucratic system develops at the place where the person with intellectual disability should be.

We should ask who are these services for ? They are not for my son. Shouldn’t the power lie with the person with the disability and his family?At present, highly funded institutions hold the power in decision-making. I think this results in institutions pressurising parents to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the child.

Regrettably, large institutions tend to have a dehumanising effect and this can be reflected in attitudes.

People in Ireland work hard to support our children with disabilities. But, where does the money go ? It does not follow the person and his needs. It follows overheads, salaries, buildings and so on. It is far cheaper to buy therapies or care or aids and appliances privately than it is to fund a large service to supply these. I know this. I bought them.

When will our children be treated as individuals – not as service users in serviceland?

When will persons with intellectual disabilities be allowed to make the choices everyone else takes for granted and be given the freedom to determine the course their lives will take?

Margaret Gregg, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

 

Homeless need extra help

Madam – Jody Corcoran (Sunday Independent, 7  December) writes about the “homeless industry” having questions to answer.

He made important points such as the need for funding to homeless charities to be targeted effectively to address the complex needs of homeless people, and also the idea of a Housing First strategy, providing a home first and fast.

But for many of our homeless this will also require intensive support to maintain their tenancy and lots of disparate housing charities will not be able to deliver the support if they are not co-ordinated, and managed appropriately.

It is also naive to think that all our homeless can be housed, because a small number will remain far too vulnerable because of mental health and addiction issues to be able to live safely in the community without supervision.

Frank Browne, Templeogue, Dublin 16

 

Ministers fiddle as the homeless die

Madam – I was very sad when I heard about the poor homeless man who died on the street outside the Dail.

On the same news programme there was a story about an ex-minister who was in court claiming for money he wasn’t meant to have.

So I was thinking that if this ex-TD and others like him didn’t claim the money that they were not meant to have, would there be extra money to help the homeless? And maybe even have stopped that man from dying?

Ali Cawley (6th Class), Kilross NS, Co Sligo

 

Light-fingered postal Grinch

Madam – What is the world coming to when Government services are not to be trusted anymore?

I posted a letter to my granddaughter in Kerry last Wednesday week. The child’s name is Grace and it contained a simple card that said “Santa please stop here for Grace” and a plastic light-up badge with her name on it.

Somebody in An Post must have thought there was something worth stealing because when it reached the destination it was half an envelope enclosed in a plastic bag with a note from the authorities saying that it “seemed to have been interfered with”.

Little did they know when they put their livelihood at risk, that they were two “expensive” items from Dealz costing €1.49 each, just to bring a smile to a little girl’s face.

The fact that I put two stamps at 68c on the envelope didn’t make it any safer.

Liz Hartigan, Dublin 11

 

Teachers already do “best practice”

Madam – I fully agree with Eoghan Harris in relation to his views on apprenticeships, This is the way forward for a very large section of our young people and should be given the support and status it deserves.

However I strongly disagree with the predictable, lazy and wrong position relating to teachers and reform. The point that is being missed in almost all debate on this issue is at present “best practice” relating to further proposed “project work” already exists and is in place.

For example there is the Junior Cycle ‘Materials Technology Wood’ (MTW) exam project completed by 15,000 students over a six-month period and externally assessed. This is currently happening in a wide range of subjects, so the correct model is in place at present.

The real issue is in fact our old friends again – cutbacks and funding. This should be clearly stated by the proposers of these reforms. They should not be hiding behind bland meaningless terms that are being rolled out on this and many other issues.

Conor Gill, Manor Kilbride, Co Wicklow

 

Central Bank disputes report

Madam – your columnist Charlie Weston recently made a number of criticisms of the Central Bank (Sunday Independent, 7 December).

He dismisses as “measly” or “paltry” the recent fines imposed by the Central Bank on financial service providers. The Central Bank operates, as it must, within a legal framework that limits the scope for fines that can properly be imposed. The fines recently imposed on Provident and Ulster Bank for breaches are at the upper end of those limits. With regard to the Provident case, it has been suggested that the fine of €105,000 that was imposed is small in the context of the UK stock market valuation and turnover of the Provident group of companies. But the Central Bank can only concern itself with the Irish-regulated entity (Provident Personal Credit Limited).

In the Ulster Bank case, the €3.5m fine imposed was the maximum that could have been imposed, allowing for settlement discount in accordance with published Central Bank policy.

In addition, the Central Bank insisted on, and oversaw, a customer restitution process that saw €59m paid by Ulster Bank to its customers because of its failings.

The Central Bank has made frequent public references to its ultimately successful request that legislation should increase the allowable penalties far in excess of the ceiling which bound us in the case of Ulster Bank, and since the commencement of the Central Bank Act 2013, our maximum penalties on firms have been doubled to €10 million or to an amount equal to 10 per cent of the turnover of the firm, whichever is higher.

On the subject of the transfer of Newbridge Credit Union to PTSB, our application to the High Court was the orderly conclusion of an exhaustive process aimed at finding a solution within the credit union sector for the failing Newbridge. The transfer resulted in ensuring that the members of Newbridge Credit Union had continuity of service and none of them lost any funds. As to the case of Bloxham Stockbrokers, thanks to the work of the Central Bank, no clients of Bloxham lost money.

On the appearance by the Governor of the Central Bank at a recent Oireachtas Committee, the published transcript will show that he specifically stated that the standard published figures on mortgage interest rates (which are calculated according to standard international practice) are not irrelevant.

And on the question of our new headquarters building on North Wall Quay, this will deliver considerable operational efficiencies and lower running-costs. The Central Bank has not published its cost estimates as there is a tendering process ongoing; however the costs will be in line with construction industry norms for similar buildings.

Neil Whoriskey, secretary, Central Bank of Ireland, Dublin

 

Aran Islanders grow their own

Madam – I wish to compliment Mr. Murt Hunt, on his Letter of the Week (Sunday Independent, 7 December), about his attempts to buy Irish fruit and veg.

I have visited the Aran Islands on a few occasions. Inis Oirr is the smallest of the three islands, off the infamous Clare Coast, sailing from Doolin.

I was enthralled and bewildered, in equal measure, to see their “post-card” size gardens, meticulously kept. Surrounded by stone walls, by the inhabitants, that so proudly live there. It is a sight to behold, how these people toil, to sow their crops, in rich sandy soil, to supply their five a day.

They are to be greatly admired for making themselves self-sufficient when cut off from the superstores.

Spare a thought for them at Christmas though – they possibly have just one day to do all their Christmas shopping, in Galway on the mainland.

And even that depends on the weather and the sea conditions.

Jeanette Leckey, Lanesborough, Co Longford

 

How can they kill in midst of beauty?

Madam – What a wondrous, beautiful world we live in. Whether a winter snow-scene or a lovely autumnal sunset or early sunrise, I say ‘Thank God!’ for eyesight to see and health to enjoy each day.

It’s very hard to take in, or think what goes on in the minds of persons who kill and bury other humans in the same God-given Earth!!

Drugs or drink is no excuse. Will th e perpetrators find peace as they prepare to return to the dust of the earth, as we all must? Same earth for all!

Kathleen Corrigan, Cootehill, Co Cavan

 

1916 could bring about a reconciliation

Madam –  Sharing the ownership of Easter Week 1916, so cogently argued by Professor Ronan Fanning in your columns last Sunday, is surely a most worthwhile objective for the national commemoration.

Despite the reservations by John Bruton and some of your correspondents about the rationale for the Rising, it was the firm belief of my father, Jack Shouldice, and his colleagues in the Irish Volunteers, that a protest in arms was a bitter necessity. They believed that the suspension of the 1914 Home Rule Act was in effect its coup de grace, in view of the growing influence of Carson at Westminster, the unrestricted armed drilling by the Ulster Volunteers and the reluctance of senior British Army officers to enforce the Act – as evidenced in the Curragh Mutiny.

My father and his brother Frank’s dearest wish was to see the Civil War enmities resolved in a spirit of harmony. I found it therefore a sad irony that after Jack’s funeral Mass in February 1965 at Fairview Church, I saw two tall elderly men in black overcoats and Homburg hats talking intimately to each other.

The men were Eamon de Valera and WT Cosgrave.

How sad that this spirit of togetherness did not bear fruit during the following five decades. Perhaps the 2016 Commemoration might finally see a much desired reconciliation?

Chris Shouldice, Templeogue, Dublin 16

Britain thrived, but we stumbled

Madam – Ronan Fanning tells us that Ireland’s constitutional nationalists were destroyed by the failure of British parliamentary democracy.

Yet it was this democracy that passed legislation in March 1918, when the country was in desperate conflict with the Central Powers, trebling the size of the electorate in Britain and Ireland, enfranchising women for the first time.

At the termination of hostilities it was this democracy that immediately called a general election in December 1918. It was then (and not in 1916) that the greatly increased electorate of Ireland, most of whom were voting for the first time, chose to replace Mr Redmond’s party with Sinn Fein members.

In the election of 1922, the Sinn Fein party was dismissed from Irish politics (at least until recently). Mr de Valera and his cohorts ignored the democratic decision and shamefully attempted to usurp the result by Civil War.

Even under the harshest circumstances it seems that British democracy was thriving. Ireland’s own nascent democracy stumbled badly at the first fence.

Charles Hazell, Fethard, Co Tipperary

 

We were on wrong side in WWI

Madam – I wish to support Pierce Martin’s contention (Sunday Independent, December 7) that the 1916 rebels had no mandate and they brought death to civilians and hunger and destruction to the city.

It was a stab in the back to hundreds of thousands of Irish men fighting in the British, Commonwealth and the American armies. Pearse considered Kaiser Germany and sultanate Turkey our “gallant allies” when the free world considered them war criminals.

I do not want the 1916 celebration to remind us that we were on the wrong side.

Kate Casey, Barrington Street, Limerick

 

What about US, France and Italy?

Madam – In his letter ‘Let’s save the 1916 millions’ Pierce Martin states that no other liberal democracy has as its “foundation stone, the brute force of an insurrection carried by an elitist private army against the will of the people” except ours.

Well, except of course there’s the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and Garibaldi’s Uprising, which ended Papal control of the Papal States. No votes or referendums in any of those cases.

John Collins, Carlow

Sunday Independent

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