21 December 2014 Updating

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I tidy up and update some software.

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


Virna Lisi was an Italian actress who abandoned a promising Hollywood career to pursue more challenging roles in Europe

Virna Lisi

Virna Lisi Photo: GETTY

Virna Lisi, the Italian actress, who has died aged 78, enjoyed a brief burst of fame in Hollywood in the 1960s before decamping back to Europe, frustrated at being cast as what she saw as blonde eye-candy; nearly three decades later she won the best actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of the scheming Catherine de Medici in Patrice Chéreau’s costume epic Queen Margot (1994).

She was born Virna Lisa Pieralisi in Ancona on November 8 1936, the daughter of a marble exporter, and began appearing in the Italian cinema at the age of only 17, having been discovered by two Neapolitan producers ; she was soon also working extensively on both stage and television, and her beauty secured her a spot advertising a brand of toothpaste with the slogan: “con quella bocca può dire ciò che vuole” (with that mouth, she can say whatever she wants). She made several films in France, including La Tulipe Noire (Black Tulip, 1964), alongside Alain Delon, and before she was 30 she had come to the attention of Hollywood.

In 1965 she starred with Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas in the romantic comedy How to Murder Your Wife. Lemmon has the part of Stanley Ford, a well-off New York cartoonist who is leading a happy-go-lucky bachelor existence until, at a party, he witnesses the comely Virna Lisi bursting out of a large cake in a bikini. The next morning he wakes to find her in bed with him, and discovers that he has married her in a drunken stupor; the relationship goes downhill from there.

Virna Lisi later described the film as “very successful, but very light”, and she was no more complimentary (“trivial fluff”) about Not With My Wife, You Don’t (1966), in which she is an Italian nurse during the Korean War who falls in love with two United States Air Force pilots (Tony Curtis and George C Scott).

As for Assault on a Queen (1966), an action-adventure movie in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra, in her judgment it was “not very good”.

She then turned down an offer to star in Barbarella (1968), later explaining: “They said, ‘You will look wonderful with wings and long silver hair.’ I said that I wanted to play something, a role, a real part.” The opportunity went to Jane Fonda, but 30 years later Virna Lisi claimed to have no regrets: “Maybe I’ve made some wrong choices in my career, but I don’t think that was one of them.”

Virna Lisi took the bold step of buying out her contract with United Artists and returning to Europe, making an enduring career in both film and television, principally in her native Italy. She did not entirely abandon English-language roles, for example co-starring with Anthony Quinn in Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), in which an Italian wine-producing village conceals from the Germans a million bottles of wine in the aftermath of the fall of Mussolini .

Virna Lisi emerging from the cake in ‘How to Murder Your Wife’

In 1977 Virna Lisi won critical praise for her role as the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, directed by Liliana Cavani, famous for drawing out superb performances from Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter (1974); and she gained further plaudits for her performance in Luigi Comencini’s Buon Natale… Buon Anno (1989).

Her most successful role could hardly have been further removed from Hollywood’s casting of her as a frivolous blonde. As Catherine de Medici in Queen Margot, set in Reformation France and based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, she forces her daughter Marguerite de Valois (Isabelle Adjani) to marry the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) and helps to orchestrate the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in 1572.

Although not everyone was enamoured of the film – The New York Times called it “chaotic, overheated and bizarrely anachronistic”, and likened Virna Lisi’s character to “Nosferatu with a wig” – the judges at Cannes voted her the year’s best actress. “I heard Clint Eastwood announce my name on the stage,” she later recalled. “It was a shock. My God! This was just a small part. My son, who was sitting next to me, whispered and told me not to cry. I got up there and cried as if I were a little starlet. It was very stupid, but, then, it had taken me 35 years to get there.”

Virna Lisi as Catherine de Medici in ‘Queen Margot’

It was a source of pride to her that her looks had nothing to do with the accolade: “It must have been difficult for [the film makers] to find anyone who was willing to look as ugly as this woman. I spent three hours in make-up every morning with them pinning things in my hair, to make me look ugly.” Peeling off the make-up and hair required another hour at the end of the day’s filming.

Virna Lisi’s later films include Follow Your Heart (1996), in which he plays an elderly woman dying of cancer. Her performance was rewarded with an Italian Golden Globe for best actress.

In 2002 she made Il più bel giorno della mia vita (The Best Day of My Life), appearing as a widowed grandmother living in her family’s crumbling villa in Rome.

Virna Lisi married, in 1960, Franco Pesci, an architect. He died in 2013, and she is survived by their son.

Virna Lisi, born November 8 1936, died December 18 2014


David Cameron and Nick Clegg
Partners in parliament: David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Photograph: Wpa Pool/Getty Images

In his condemnation of the Lib Dems for propping up “the most extremist rightwing government in my lifetime”, Phillip Wood (Letters) completely ignores the result of the last general election. Given the number of seats won, a Labour/Lib Dem coalition was impossible, and the only alternative to the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition was a minority Conservative government.

As this would have been an unstable situation, and in the light of the dire economic situation, David Cameron would almost certainly have called another election within a year or so (as Harold Wilson did in 1966 and 1974) and appealed to the electorate for a proper mandate to deal with the economic crisis. Given Wilson’s experience, particularly in 1966, this would most likely have resulted in a rightwing majority Tory government, enabling them to do whatever they wished, a much worse situation than now.

Junior partners in coalitions cannot call the tune, but at least the Lib Dems have managed to exert a restraining influence on the wilder fantasies of the Tories, delivering, for example, a rise in the income tax personal allowance, which before the election Cameron said was unaffordable. If you wish for the moon in politics you’ll have a very long wait. Politics is the “art of the possible” and the Lib Dems should be given credit for their achievements in government, not vilified for policies outside their control.

Ian Dickins

Wimborne, Dorset

Out of political proportion

Andrew Rawnsley rightly predicts that our voting system will prove unfit for purpose next May (“The parties prepare for a hung, drawn and quartered parliament”, Comment). Electoral Calculus predicts that the Ukip, Lib Dem and Nationalist parties will get a 17.17%, 8.19% and 4.14% share of the GB vote yet, perversely, win 0, 19 & 45 seats respectively. First past the post would appear to be not so much a non-proportional system as an inversely proportional one.

Peter Mendenhall


Man up, Barbara Ellen

Oh Barbara Ellen, do you not realise that it is because men have become so much more sensitive to the afflictions of others that we are articulate about our own conditions (“I’m so very sick. (Of you being ill!)”, Comment)? Moreover, your self-acknowledged callousness is surely due to fearfulness that if your man is ill there will be no more food on the table for you and your bairns. So get off your arse, you pitiful creature! Ah! You’re trapped in history. Poor dear. We, in our turn, feel guilty for being less than our expected strong, fit, Marlboro Country cousins, and have to justify ourselves.

Historically, we know that you and yours have had to retire early to bed with a headache.  We understand, Babs.

Charles  Hodgson

Newport, Shropshire

Electing to marry

Interesting exchange on whether 16-year-olds should be given the vote (The Debate, New Review). Bearing in mind that in Scotland the legal age for marriage is 16, are those opposed to extending the franchise seriously arguing that it’s OK to marry an MP but not to vote for one?

David Clark


We’re no champagne Charlies

Daniel Boffey’s article (“Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage”) relied on inaccurate evidence from Sir Malcolm Jack to the House of Commons governance committee. Let me be categorical: no proposal to merge the catering services of the two Houses has been put to the House of Lords by the House of Commons. The joint champagne procurement I believe Sir Malcolm was referring to was over a decade ago. We have since established a joint House of Commons and Lords procurement service that is seeking even better value for money for the taxpayer.

Mr Boffey goes on to describe the 17,000 bottles of champagne bought by the House of Lords since 2010 without explaining that every one has been or will be sold at a profit, as is all alcohol sold in the House of Lords: 87% of the champagne sold in the Lords is sold in the gift shop to visitors or at revenue-generating banqueting events. Such activities have helped us reduce the cost of the catering service by 27% since 2007/08. This is a very different picture from the inaccurate one of members of the House of Lords getting five bottles each a year painted by Mr Boffey.

Lord Sewel

Chairman of Committees

House of Lords


Lohan behold, it’s Lindsay

Lindsay Lohan wants to make London her home (News). I am curious as to her immigration status. Presumably she doesn’t have right of entry as an EU citizen. I have nothing against her personally, but how is it she can come and go as she pleases? If she decides to apply for citizenship, will her past be investigated for illegal or undesirable behaviour? Could she be ejected because of her past record of drug taking and alcoholism? As an immigrant, she will have to be very careful where she settles so that she doesn’t upset Nigel Farage by overburdening the M4 corridor.

Robert Ashley

London SE9

Young man voting
A young man voting: compulsory voting would help to resolve hunger and poverty. Photograph: Alamy

With so much discussion about the plight of the poor (“It’s shameful that so many go hungry in our wealthy country”, leader), the Labour party needs to consider how to make the opinions of the poorest and the youngest in our society count.

The Audit of Political Engagement in 2010 by the Hansard Society showed for example that 69% of the AB social group but only 39% of the DE group were likely to vote and that 73% of ABs but only 38% of DEs showed an interest in politics.

Of equal concern is that only 27% of our 18-24 age group, compared with 70% of those over 70, are likely to vote, yet many of these under-24s are struggling to find good jobs. The most certain way of improving these percentages is to make voting compulsory, yet this option has received almost no discussion. If the Labour party intends to institute a constitutional commission, discussion of this issue should be given a high priority.

Dr Simon Harris


“The glue that once held us together and gave life to our communities is gone.” Your leader argues that this statement from Feeding Britain, the report from the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty, is wrong because we are still charitable. Margaret Thatcher believed that we needed the poor: how else could we show our charity? A twisted creed if ever there were one. The glue that should hold us together is a belief in a public realm, an inimical faith for the neoliberals who currently govern our sad state, which, as Will Hutton writes, they are intent on hugely reshaping (“Yes, we can reshape the state – if corporations pay more tax”, Comment).

John Airs


Will Hutton writes that “arguably the state is paying part of what should be workers’ wages”. There is no argument! Taxpayers are now paying an extra £900m in tax credits to ensure that the low paid survive. How ridiculous that this happens so that companies can maximise their profits, pay executives huge bonuses and collect “yet more cash for dividend distributions” to shareholders. Adding to the absurdity, companies in the UK get rewarded for their greed by this government, with corporation tax reduced to 21%, a full 19 points below the rate in the US.

Hutton is optimistic about the effects of the recent “Google tax”, but he did not mention George Osborne’s announcement on Northern Ireland. Despite the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy stating that “the lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning”, yet again we see, in John Cridland’s words, another example of Britain “going it alone” by apparently allowing Northern Ireland’s corporation tax to match the Republic’s at 12.5%.

Does not the “variety of tax regimes” in the “international system” play into the greedy hands of tax-avoiding companies and their advisers in the “big four” accounting firms? Is it not time for action against tax avoiders to be taken in concert with our EU colleagues, rather than in opposition to them? Sensible and similar rates of corporation tax would be a start.

Bernie Evans


William Keegan exposes a central lie in the coalition’s justification of its failed economic policy (“The deficit isn’t the real problem. The crisis is in productivity”, Business). To justify that lie, they peddle another also swallowed by the media: that a government is like a household because it cannot “max out its credit card”. But Osborne himself boasts about paying off First World War debt, so our government can support long-term indebtedness and it can also issue its own currency, neither of which a household can. So government and household financial constraints are very different.

Keegan is wrong though to claim we “needed austerity after the Second World War because the country was broke”. In fact, the authorities then focused on employment and economic expansion to reduce the debt. The approach was completely successful; within only two years, the debt was heading down and the wartime production and employment gains were preserved and extended through to the 1970s. They had “spent away” the debt.

David Murray

Wallington, Surrey



DJ Taylor confesses to be ignorant of physics (“Don’t know much biology”, 14 December). This reminds me of a special University Challenge in which one of the teams was a group of MPs. There was a round of questions on chemistry in which the MPs failed to get a single correct answer and, at the end, they said, “You don’t expect us to know anything about chemistry, do you?” This scientific ignorance is a very British thing – you will find a much rounder concept of general knowledge in the Netherlands and Germany. What we need is better education, producing more rounded people who know as much about chemistry and physics as they do about Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart and the Hundred Years War.

Ian K Watson,

Carlisle, Cumbria

I agree with DJ Taylor that the ignorance displayed by educated people towards science is striking. But this mainly applies to arts and humanities graduates: it is far less common for students of science to display the same ignorance of music and literature. Science and art enrich our lives in different ways, and the national curriculum should require children to study them both equally. Britain would be so much better governed if it were run by well-rounded polymaths rather than the narrow band of PPE types we have at present.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

John Rentoul (“The spirit of the Thirties lends Ed a withered hand”, 14 December) notes that Ed Balls has been more right on the economy over the past 10 years than George Osborne but that still might not win Labour the election. Why? Rentoul argues it is because Balls is bad at “selling” his analysis and policies. Labour can rarely expect a reasonable hearing from much of the media but that hasn’t stopped it winning elections. It has relied on an army of activists in the trade unions and in communities to get its points across in a far more direct and personal way. Labour still has some of that activist base, and far more of one than the other parties. However, it is diminished and in some areas hardly functions. That is a problem for Labour and more widely for democracy, though the rise in support for the Greens, nationalist parties and Ukip suggests that, as ever, nature abhors a vacuum.

Keith Flett

London N17

Your article states “More and more countries are now taking climate crisis seriously” (“Rich square up to poor at climate talks”, 14 December). It is worth recalling that world leaders all agreed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change as long ago as 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio. Since then, annual emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 60 per cent, the United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has withdrawn from the protocol, and China has become the largest emitter on the planet. In truth, the world is reneging on the promises made 22 years ago.

Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Simon Barnes (“Conservation begins at home”, 14 December) comments that if Prince William wants to be a conservationist then he must stop shooting. Unfortunately, this might not have the desired effect. Our research shows that well-managed shoots (including grouse moors) are a force for good. A study of an abandoned grouse moor recorded that, in less than 20 years, lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from 10 birds to one and curlew declined by 79 per cent.

Andrew Gilruth

Director of communications, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

In last week’s issue, I have read Ellen E Jones commenting on Alan Titchmarsh and the royal mushrooms, and Jane Merrick referring to the same Titchmarshian discovery. In the Arts & Books supplement, Food for Thought was by Alan Titchmarsh. In the New Review, he’s there again, under Agenda Credo. If you give us such extensive exposure of anyone in future, can it please be someone more deserving than this ubiquitous and vapid self-publicist?

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire


It has been suggested that excessive intervention by MPs does the economy more harm than good Photograph: PA/PA Archive

‘Zombie’ parliaments frighten businesses less than active ones

IN HIS article “Tories rue dawn of ‘zombie’ parliament” (News, last week), Tim Shipman mistakenly equates a more active parliament with a good one. Most business people I know say hyperactive, hyper-interventionist parliaments tend to be the ones that do the most harm to investment, job creation and growth.

They also say that knowing how long a parliament will last allows them to plan better, given our politicians’ short-term decision making on things such as tax and expenditure.

Furthermore, for the millions of people disaffected by our electoral system, MPs spending more time in their constituencies trying to reconnect with the public may not be such a bad thing.

Five-year, fixed-term parliaments are certainly imperfect, especially for Westminster watchers, yet they might have a silver lining for the country as a whole.
Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director, British Chambers of Commerce


The paucity of government bills in the last session of parliament gives backbenchers an opportunity to demand extra time to debate private member’s bills, their very own Cinderella of parliamentary business. But do they seize it?
Peter Saunders, Salisbury, Wiltshire


Camilla Cavendish (“Stuck between Brand and Farage is a place no one wants to be”, Comment, last week) asks why our faith in politicians has sunk so low.

In my work I speak to tradesmen, and a universal and recurring theme is that no politician has asked them whether they wanted mass immigration, which has led to a reduction in wages and an increase in the cost of property, or multiculturalism, which has resulted in people choosing to follow their own laws — sharia, for instance — rather than those passed in parliament.

All this has produced a very toxic brew. It is the mainstream politicians who are responsible for the rise of Nigel Farage and Russell Brand.
Gerry Congdon, Bristol

Finding Fawlty

Labour’s leaked guidance to campaigners not to mention immigration during the run-up to the general election brought to mind“Don’t mention the war!” in Fawlty Towers. It seems a Basil Fawlty is lurking somewhere deep within the Labour ranks.

Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirlingshire


I have always voted Labour, and am a member of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the National Trust. The reason voters in my area (a mixture of working and middle classes) will vote Ukip is the population boom. The council has voted to allow 3,000 new properties near my home to accommodate the population from Birmingham, in the main fuelled by immigration.

This will cover most of the green space we enjoy, and HS2 will destroy two golf courses. Our deciduous forest mass is the lowest in Europe. Ukip is our only alternative and Farage speaks for a great proportion of the electorate in my community.
Paul Butler, Cannock, Staffordshire

Nothing new about budgetary aid misuse

THE massive misuse of European and British budgetary aid in Ghana reported by Bojan Pancevski is no surprise, since almost all UK financial aid now takes that form, or is disguised so as to be impossible to audit (“British aid bankrolls Ghana’s legion of ghost civil servants”, World News, last week).

The Department for International Development (DfID) is now giving almost £300m a year to Ethiopia, and many millions to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya and numerous others. It is impossible, indeed dangerous, to audit budgetary aid; an assassination attempt on Malawi’s former budget director occurred last year after he planned to reveal corruption.

There have also been huge scandals over the way the governments of Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Nepal have misused this type of aid. And if anyone thinks that the £268m going to Pakistan reaches poor people, they must be very naive. The DfID is being taken to court over claims about misuse of aid in Ethiopia and it has been condemned by Amnesty International.

Barbara Castle, who in 1964 was put in charge of the newly formed Ministry of Overseas Development (for which I worked as director of economics), instructed us to phase out budgetary aid, as it undermined local effort, got diverted and was impossible to audit. We did this for all the big countries by 1972. However, it was reintroduced several decades later, as it was the only way aid targets could be met.

My guess is that about 50% of Britain’s £11bn aid programme is being misused or misdirected to multilateral agencies in order to meet the 0.7% aid target. Making this a legal target is incredibly irresponsible.

There is a strong moral case for providing help to developing countries primarily for family planning and education, but aid given in this way and on this scale is not. Castle must be turning in her grave.
Gordon Bridger, Guildford, Surrey

Baby-boomers could write book on austerity

IT IS difficult to describe what life was like for the baby-boomers in the 1950s and 1960s without sounding like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman sketch and no one wants to hear apparently well-off older people whingeing about the austerity and greyness of life then; how they scrimped and saved and for the most part did not go to university (“Golden years? We haven’t always had it so good”, Money, last week). Young people have far more money nowadays and they are not afraid to spend it, or go into debt to have what they want, despite warnings that there may be no pensions for them. “Live for the day” seems to be the mantra.
Carol Trueman, Harrogate, North Yorkshire


We oldies may have had to jump through hoops to buy a house, but if we wanted to, we could. Most young people now cannot and, coupled with the uncertainty of the private rental market, this is a huge handicap that we did not suffer. Without a degree — achieved at great cost — the better jobs are few and hard to find, but in our day the work was plentiful. The additional freedom the young have today does appear to us to be gold-plated, whether it be sexual freedom, or acceptance of single motherhood, or state aid for parenthood.

But this overlooks the responsibility that comes with such freedom. The young of any age handle the responsibilities of additional freedom rather poorly, and I sometimes wonder whether we have handed them insurmountable problems masquerading as liberty.
John Simon, Stroud, Gloucestershire


I agree with Hunter Davies that we haven’t always had it so good; I had a mediocre education at secondary modern, for instance. Why, however, does he trot out the old chestnut about the food being terrible? My mother was a great cook and the food was delicious.
Cherry Green, Norwich


Those of us who donate to food banks will most probably have taken steps to confirm that the distribution of these items serves people who for a variety of reasons are trapped in poverty. Your balanced coverage of the issues (“Beans and blame pile up in food banks”, News, last week) is reassuring and based on the causes and effects of poverty.

In contrast, Jeremy Clarkson (“Can’t cook, won’t cook, want everything on a plate: it’s Generation Idle”, News Review, last week) uses bigotry and class prejudice in an attempt to amuse.
Dr Adrian Watkinson, Bristol


Clarkson’s swipe at the poor, the charitable, Liberal Democrats, the government and the clergy reads like the script from a “Poshwolds” dinner party conversation and was not even funny in its attempt to be controversial. Angry young man turns into Victor Meldrew.
Philip Rushforth, Crowle, Worcestershire


I applaud Clarkson. Good common sense. Make it obligatory for all the “hard done by” people in Britain to visit Asia to learn how to be self-sufficient.
Margaret Gumbrell, London SW18


Dr Michael Irwin and I appreciate the advance publicity for our non-profit, multi-author book on assisted suicide, I’ll See Myself Out, Thank You (“I’ve helped 7 people to die, reveals doctor”, News, last week). However, helping people to die is what Dignitas does. Writing medical reports is a rather neutral activity. If I find that mental capacity is lacking or that not all acceptable treatments have been explored, Dignitas will not help them. It is an awesome privilege to be able to share the thoughts of individuals (and their families) contemplating the most irrevocable decision they will ever make. I hope eventually to publish an overview that may help other patients and professionals, especially where the diagnosis is dementia, which one of our contributors, Baroness Warnock, calls “the most intractable problem of all those we must face”.
Colin Brewer, London SE1


The business secretary, Vince Cable, makes a valid demand for greater diversity in the boardroom but I would ask he begins with the cabinet — and, indeed, parliament — itself in both terms of racial and cultural origins and in female representation (“Cable demands end to all-white boardrooms”, News, last week).
Gordon Lilly, Tenterden, Kent


Cable appears to wish to dictate to companies who should sit in their boardrooms. As an investor of modest means, I wish him to know that he should have no say in the matter. The appointment of a company’s board members is a matter for its shareholders and possibly its employees. I prefer to have experienced, educated and competent people making decisions on the use of my money. Whether they are male, female, white, black or brown is a matter of total indifference to me.
Ron Bullen, Chepstow, Monmouthshire


In our small village most of our neighbours have wood-burning stoves (“Wood-fired stoves fuel city pollution”, News, last week). It has reached the point where if we open the front windows, our house fills up with smoke. The notion that these things are ecologically sound is a sick joke. It is time the government took action on this issue because the quality of our air now is far worse than it was 20 years ago.
Simon Gladdish, Swansea


The British Army has some of the best training teams in the world: it makes sense to deploy them in Iraq to teach forces to counter Isis, or Islamic State (“UK troops back in Iraq to halt Isis”, News, last week). Our army trained the soldiers of the British Raj, both India and Pakistan still use our methods and numerous heads of state attended Sandhurst. Sending teams to world troublespots ensures employment for the military, and is a lot cheaper and probably more effective than aircraft carriers.
Tim Deane, Tisbury, Wiltshire


During 1939-1940 many people said that it would give no satisfaction to declare, after we had been invaded and conquered by the Nazis, “Ah, but we fought cleanly” (“The challenge of fighting a dirty war cleanly”, Editorial, last week). After the Blitz on London and the raids on other towns and cities, there was widespread support for the aerial bombing of German cities. We would fight fire with fire, to win. It was 70 years before it was revealed that the living quarters of German officer POWs were bugged. This certainly was not cricket.

John Carder, Anstruther, Fife


Roman Catholic marriages are legally recognised only if the church is registered under the Marriage Act (1949) and a registrar is present at the ceremony (“Humanist weddings blocked by No 10”, News, last week). Mosques are similarly entitled to register under the act and, provided a registrar is present during the ceremony, the marriage will be legally recognised. In practice only about a third of Muslim marriages in Britain are legally registered but that is not because of any problem with the law but simply because very few mosques have chosen to register. That issue does need to be addressed by the government and Muslim organisations but it is certainly not the case that the law treats Muslim marriages unfairly or differently from other religions.
Neil Addison (barrister), New Bailey Chambers, Liverpool

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Corrections and clarifications

The picture of the late Kirsty MacColl with the article “Ho, ho, ho! Merry royalties everybody” (News, last week) was inappropriate and we apologise for the choice.

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Martin Bayfield, rugby player, 48; Julie Delpy, actress, 45; Chris Evert, tennis player, 60; Jane Fonda, actress, 77; Samuel L Jackson, actor, 66; Jeffrey Katzenberg, film producer, 64; Tom Sturridge, actor, 29; Kiefer Sutherland, actor, 48; Jamie Theakston, radio and TV presenter, 43; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor, 70


1620 the Pilgrim Fathers land at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts; 1913 British-born Arthur Wynne publishes the first crossword, in the New York World; 1937 Disney premieres Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; 1958 France elects Charles de Gaulle as president; 1988 a bomb explodes on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, killing 270


£500m bailout to NHS as A&E on brink of collapse

Official figures show that waiting times at accident and emergency departments are at record levels Photo: PA

SIR – In 2002 there were up to 100 patients waiting on trolleys and beds in the A&E departments of the three acute NHS hospitals in the East Kent NHS Trust, some for up to a week. This state of affairs had been going on for many weeks, although my colleagues and I protested to the authorities about compromised patient welfare.

At the beginning of February 2002, because of a lack of Trust action, we drew public attention to these events. An extensive refurbishment was provided by the Government, which offered some improvement.

Twelve years have passed – surely enough time to produce the necessary long-term solution to such threats as winter pressure – and yet still patients are being told by the Trust not to go to hospital unless they are “seriously ill” or “it is a real emergency”.

This invites self diagnosis, which is often correct, but leaves plenty of room for mistakes and is not the sort of thing we should expect the public to undertake unaided, as people may come to harm.

This Trust and its officers are being put into an impossible position, trying to provide good care with inadequate resources. Patient welfare is still being compromised in 2014.

One hopes that the Government and the Department of Health will come up with a solution before another 12 years have elapsed.

Robert Heddle FRCS
Ickham, Kent

SIR – Much is made of long queues at A&E and NHS delays generally.

When I visited the hospital last week for an outpatient appointment, the digital display stated that 1,761 people had missed their outpatient appointment the previous week. One can only guess what the national figure is.

How many of those people ended up in A&E after failing to take up outpatient treatment? Failure to attend appointments exacerbates delays, quite apart from the lack of consideration it demonstrates towards other patients and staff.

How can we expect our NHS to operate efficiently if we treat it and our fellow patients with such little respect?

Ian Wells
Market Drayton, Shropshire

SIR – It is hardly surprising that there is a lack of qualified British nurses.

Many nurses are women and take a career break to raise children. To return to work, one must renew qualifications and update expertise.

As a highly qualified but unregistered nurse, I would love to be working again, but I find that the NHS has made little serious attempt to encourage me by making return-to-practice courses accessible and affordable.

Jo Hepper
Youlgrave, Derbyshire

A war of ideologies

A Pakistani police officer walks the hallway of the school (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

SIR – The Peshawar massacre of innocent children defies words for its barbarity and ruthlessness. Politicians across the world have rightly condemned the attack.

But their rhetoric is empty, their mindset locked into more futile war. Our leaders vow we will not be beaten by terrorism. And we will not be. Yet the harsh truth of history is that, unlike conventional wars, terrorism cannot be defeated either by bullets or bombs. This war must be waged with words, ideas, values and, yes, listening and dialogue, even with Isil and the Taliban, if peace is to be won. Our leaders, it seems, either don’t know how to do that or don’t have the courage to lead us there. The language of “an eye for an eye” just condemns us to future Peshawars.

For the sake of all children everywhere, we have to find another way, however imperfect and challenging that might be.

John Hallam
Ashford, Kent

Too few cooks

SIR – Allison Pearson quite rightly disparages the change from Domestic Science to Food Technology in our schools.

In a lifetime crammed with bad decisions, I look back on my choice of “DS” over metalwork as one of the few really good ones; it has brought me independence, nourishment and creative gratification and I continue to use the acquired skills every day, while never having had the remotest need to operate a milling machine (whatever that is).

Andrew G Holdridge
Doncaster, South Yorkshire

That’s not all folks

SIR – Serial dramas that lack a definitive ending have been with us for some time.

The Jewel in the Crown series is one example. We never quite knew whether Guy Perron and Sarah Layton would marry. Only in a fifth book written much later than the Raj Quartet is there a short reference to the fact that they did and had two children.

Evelyn Howson
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

On the map

SIR – Surely the shape of Britain (Letters, December 17) resembles John Tenniel’s depiction in Alice in Wonderland of the Duchess throwing the baby or pig.

Her wimple forms the north-east of Scotland, while the south-west is her face. Norfolk is the bustle, the Lleyn and St David’s peninsulas her arms, and Ireland her offspring with its arm or trotter out.

Paul Strong
Claxby, Lincolnshire

Uncharitable treatment

SIR – The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has published a report stating that, since 2007, it has reviewed all 52 of Scotland’s independent schools on its register and none had been removed for failing the charity test.

So, Scotland’s independent schools have passed an independent public benefit test to justify their charitable status. But apparently this is not good enough, for the OSCR goes on to warn these schools that they will face a “higher level of vigilance” in future. In fairness to the independent schools, it would be interesting to know whether the OSCR has seen fit to issue similar warnings to the other charities on its register who have passed its tests, and, if not, why not.

Doug Clark
Currie, Midlothian

Closing time

SIR – Allister Heath’s interesting analysis of the demise of the British pub lists a number of factors to explain this phenomenon, from tax regimes to regulators, politicians and the general fall in public demand for beer.

What he doesn’t mention is the quality of the beer served by the big brewers. The boom which the new micro brewers are now experiencing appears to demonstrate that beer quality could be the real problem.

George Healy
London N16

Women at the front

(The Canadian Press/Press Association Images)

SIR – It has taken a long time to select people for front-line military service based on ability, rather than gender.

Perhaps we can now do the same when selecting parliamentary candidates and boardroom members.

Roger J Arthur
Storrington, West Sussex

A Christmas card with no reference to Christ

SIR – While banks in continental Europe still send corporate Christmas cards mentioning Christmas, in Britain and America it has almost become an offence.

Working in banking, I am both amused and saddened to see so many firms wish each other “Happy Holidays”. The best I can hope for is the correct deployment of the apostrophe in “Season’s Greetings”.

Stephen Kiely
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – In answer to Terry Gorman (Letters, December 19), we receive two types of Christmas card – those addressed to me, my wife and children, and those also addressed to our Airedale terrier. We’ve had the Airedale longer than the children, and we prefer the latter type.

Mark Redhead

SIR – My son sent me a Christmas card signed by the family plus dog, and the “spider who lives under the tele”.

Elizabeth Luders
Knebworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – If sent a Christmas card signed by a dog, I respond with a card that includes the message: “Say hi to the boy/girl.”

This usually ends the practice the following year. Too many people view their pets as children.

Simon Field
Midhurst, West Sussex

SIR – Overheard in a local shop where a couple were buying Christmas cards: “Do you sell personalised cards headed ‘To my ex-wife’?”

Nigel Turner
Worlingham, Suffolk

The diverse talents of Churchill’s budgie, Toby

A porcelain Toby jug from the collection of Lady Soames, Churchill’s daughter (Heathcliff O’Malley)

SIR – It was not only at meal times that Churchill’s budgie, Toby, left his mark.

This much-loved creature slept in a special cage in Churchill’s bedroom during his peace-time premiership in the Fifties. The cage was opened when ministers gathered for matutinal confabulations before the great man got up.

In his diary, Churchill’s private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne, gives an affectionate account of Toby “flying round the room, pecking at Cabinet papers, taking nips from the whisky and soda at the Prime Minister’s bedside and settling upon the domed head of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the inevitable consequences”.

Rab Butler, the Conservative politician, came to these meetings with a special silk handkerchief which he used to mop up after Toby, murmuring: “The things I do for England”.

From his master Toby received only kisses, never rebukes.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Mobile drone

SIR – Julian Gall writes (Letters, December 19) that he can’t get a signal for his mobile phone while on the train between Waterloo and Guildford, asking that this be addressed before initiating efforts to improve coverage in rural black spots.

I agree. This dead zone should be extended to cover the entire rail network in Britain so that I and my fellow travellers don’t have to listen to people bawling interminably into their devices.

I sympathise with Mr Gall’s difficulty in getting the Telegraph’s online service to play ball and I suggest that admirable alternative: the newspaper itself.

John Penketh
Hayling Island, Hampshire

A look ahead

SIR – I would be so pleased if everybody decided to refer to next year as “Twenty fifteen”.

David Spence

It’s life, Jim. . .

SIR – Hopefully the little men on the Red Planet won’t be green. Think of the colour clash.

Peter Sumner
Ruan Minor, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Herbal Cannabis hidden in a suitcase at Dublin Airport
Herbal Cannabis hidden in a suitcase at Dublin Airport

Madam – As festive lights twinkle and Christmas approaches, most Irish people are looking forward to a happy and peaceful holiday.

But gangland doesn’t rest for Yuletide. Drug dealers are plying their poisonous filth on city streets and in towns and villages around the country, luring more and more young people into lives of addiction.

To pay for the habit, addicts may resort to crime, thus increasing the sum total of human misery in this country. A depressing scenario… but occasionally a little ray of light shines through the murky fog of drug-related crime: A truly inspirational example of the triumph of good over evil was reported in a recent edition of the ‘Kilkenny People’, which told how a man who had died from a drug overdose, left on his bedside locker a list for the gardai of the mobile phone numbers and addresses of the drug dealers who had been supplying him and other victims of drug abuse.

I say: Thank God for people like that, because it is never too late to do the right thing, free of the fear of drugs crime.

John Fitzgerald,


Co Kilkenny

Editor’s remarkable work

Madam – The forthcoming  and deeply regrettable departure of the Sunday Independent Editor Anne Harris, after such a long and remarkable contribution, reminds me  of the magnificent Kurdish women among their  Peshmerga freedom fighters who are slowly routing the Isil jihadi savages.

She and they live by the slogan of that other great anti-fascist woman, Dolores Ibarrui, chair of the Spanish Cortes in 1936, in the face of the Franco Fascist rebels: “No Pasaran.” Or “They shall not pass.”

And those Harris relentlessly resisted, to the end, have all been the common enemy of ordinary decent Irish people, North and South, as of freedom-lovers around the world – the recent championing of Mairia Cahill was another agenda-defining stand which was unfettered by subservience to power, be it in the form of the masked terrorist, at home or abroad, or the equally masked wielders of equally unaccountable financial or media influence.

Her paper – which has truly become all our paper – deserves to not merely continue but thrive.

And this will only happen if it continues to fearlessly plough the same principled as well as never-boring furrow.

Tom Carew,


Dublin 6

We need brave leadership today

Madam – Surely it can’t be true? I hear that Anne Harris will no longer hold the reins as editor of the Sunday Independent?

But who is qualified to replace her? Will he or she have the stomach for the fight that undoubtedly lies ahead?

Anne Harris is most certainly a flag-bearer for middle Ireland and has few peers in the newspaper industry.

Her fearlessness can be gauged by her insistence on publishing material that often offends the sensibilities of bully-boys like Sinn Fein/IRA while simultaneously uncovering the activities of power brokers with deep pockets.

Is there someone out there who can give the same level of courageous leadership in this time of great uncertainty? I very much doubt it!

Niall Ginty,


Dublin 5

Bruton unfair to opposing views

Madam – John Bruton (Sunday Independent, 14 December) is not being fair to the Government or other public bodies in claiming that the passage of the Third Home Rule Bill has been inadequately commemorated.

The former Minister of State with responsibility for the decade of centenaries Jimmy Deenihan went across to the British Houses of Parliament for a special joint ceremony in 2012 to mark the centenary of the first of three required legislative passages of the Bill through the Commons. UCC held a special conference on the Bill and published a book on it.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs unveiled a County Wicklow World War I memorial at Woodenbridge on 18 September, the anniversary of John Redmond’s speech urging Irishmen to join up and fight wherever the front extended. Under the auspices of the Ceann Comhairle and the Committee for Procedures and Privileges, there is an examination in progress of ways to enhance the prominence and visibility of the older Irish parliamentary tradition in Leinster House, where perversely at present it is more visible in Westminster.

However, whether we regret it or not, Home Rule was stillborn, whether in the 32-county version put on the statute book, which could have represented a valuable historic compromise between unionism and nationalism, if unionists had not gone all out to resist it, or the scaled down and delayed 26-county version that was all that was likely to emerge after amending legislation following the end of the war.

Unpardonably, Southern Unionists represented in cabinet and the House of Lords vetoed an attempt to bring in Home Rule sooner in July 1916 after the Rising, despite it being agreed between Redmond and Carson.

Worse still, the attempted introduction of conscription in 1918 utterly contradicted the Redmondite contention that Ireland with Home Rule pending was on the cusp of freedom.

With regard to the request to honour equally those who sought to put down Irish independence, the mission statement of the Government’s expert advisory group of which I am a member says that the State cannot be expected to be neutral about its own existence.

As President Michael D. Higgins said in South Africa recently, inclusiveness and consideration for other sides does not require that we have to confer equality or moral equivalence on all different versions of the past.

Martin Mansergh,

Tipperary, Co Tipperary

Bruton view backed up by facts

Madam – Born into a staunch Fianna Fail family in the 1950’s and growing up during a period where civil war politics was still the norm, my loyalties at election time for the most part stayed with family tradition.

It is not therefore through rose-tinted glasses that I read John Bruton’s article on the events of 100 years ago.

I must congratulate the writer on grasping the nettle and laying it out as it was, and producing the facts to back up his view. Ridicule will follow no doubt; his is not the popular fairy tale that we were fed through our early education system.

Time is indeed a healer but it also clears away the fog of limited and narrow-minded views of what could be looked on as a tragic rather than glorious period in our history. The bravery cannot be questioned, the necessity of it all will however be considered more and more through time; history will I feel lean towards Bruton’s view.

Yes, of course, the victims should be remembered. All the victims.

TG Judge,

Convoy, Co Donegal.

Support for Prof Fanning’s stance

Madam – I concur with Dr. Ronan Fanning’s rejoinder to Mr. Bruton (Sunday Independent, 7 December) that while the Home Rule Act 1914 was passed, “it was simultaneously suspended” and unlikely to be implemented “in the form in which it was enacted”.

The advent of World War I in 1914 cancelled the probability of armed Ulster resistance to Home Rule; it was likely also that Pearse and the IRB would stage a rebellion against a Redmond-led government.

The zeitgeist of that era was a passion for war and related sacrifice of life; the imperative was of contentions on racial, linguistic and religious demarcations. The constitutional nationalism of John Redmond was a parallel road to war. There was an atavistic dichotomy between the participants in the Easter 1916. Rebellion and those who went to fight in World War I; it is difficult to comprehend how both may be commemorated as a duality.

The sincerity of all involved is not in doubt, but I opine that these men could not have anticipated the latter-day Ireland: conversely, this generation of Irish people would baulk at the horrendous waste of life in these wars. There is not a historical obligation on modern political parties to contrive a continuum with events of a hundred years ago: leave history to the historians! “Ownership” of Easter 1916 (or of World War I) by political parties is the anti-thesis of objective history.

Tom McDonald,


Co Wexford

Divided parties must reconcile

Madam – May I welcome the excellent letter by Chris Shouldice (Sunday Independent, December 14) under the heading ‘1916 Could Bring A Reconciliation’.

I would say rather that 1916 must bring reconciliation in 2016 if not before.

There is, however, quite a lot to reconcile. We ought not to judge harshly those living through years too awful for most of us even to contemplate.

What would we have thought if in Dublin in 1916 trying to adjust to the loss of some 4,000 Irishmen wantonly slaughtered in the catastrophic British bungle of Gallipoli? A bungle that followed the bungle of Mons in 1914 and was to be followed by the epic bungle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

These are bungles that devastated Ireland – north, south, east and west.

We ought to do better than 1966 when Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street was blown up. I assume that the patriots of 1916 could have blown it up at their leisure at any time in the 1920s or 1930s. Why did they not do so? I assume out of respect for the Irish dead under an English commander at Trafalgar in October 1805. In the same way, as an Englishman, I have respect for the English who fought and died under an Irish commander in the Peninsular War (1808-14) and at Quatre Bras and Waterloo in June 1815.

We cannot alter the facts of history just to suit our present interests. We need to reconcile to one another all the fragmented parties that result from 1916. This is quite a task, but surely not an impossible one with good will strengthened by reflection and hindsight.

Gerald Morgan,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2

Tough decisions averted disaster

Madam – Regarding Eilis O’Hanlon’s description (Sunday Independent, 14 December) of Sinn Fein selling “fascism with a human face”.

The government of the day took on the banks’ debt, which came to €64bn. When the country was unable to bear this burden, the Troika went guarantor for the debt or provided funds which went to pay senior bondholders and to refinance one or more banks and perhaps funded the budget deficit above the 3pc target.

Then the Troika took control of running the country, and the government started to make interest payments on the €64 Bn debt and to get to a sustainable budget.

Much of the remainder of the country was also in negative equity and shareholders of banks stock lost their shirts.

This bailout option avoided a run on the banks, enabled the government to continue to pay running expenses of the country in a very recessionary economy, allowed it to continue over budget for five more years and kept the euro system stable, all of which would have been at risk with the burn the bondholders option.

So, if we had burned the bondholders, the government would not be paying interest on €64bn – but much of the country would still be in negative equity, bank shareholders would still be ‘shirtless’, and the government would have had to much more immediately live within its means.

The recession would have been even more traumatic and there would probably have been a bust-up with our EU partners, perhaps an exit from the Euro and perhaps a bust-up of the EU.

Peter Kinane, Dundrum, Co Tipperary

SF will bring us North divisions

Madam – I like to view Sinn Fein through the prism of human psychology. As a party spawned in a very dysfunctional society north of the border, Sinn Fein will seek to recreate these same divisive conditions in the Republic by setting one section of the electorate against the rest.

It needs to polarize the electorate or die an electoral death. This process has already begun. Similarly, Sinn Fein’s only fiscal experience to date has been the spending of generous British transfers from Westminster. With no such gravy train available in the Republic to disburse, it is very likely that Sinn Fein will simply decide to plunder the pockets of that section of the electorate irrevocably opposed to its policies to prop up its core vote supporters.

Sean Goulding,

Newtownsandes, Co Kerry

Sinead needs to read more history

Madam – In her article last week about her decision to join Sinn Fein, Sinead O’Connor mentions the word ‘Free State’ six times.

The Irish Free State was the name given to the state established in 1922 as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations, comprising the whole island of Ireland, though Northern Ireland exercised its right under the Treaty to remove itself from the newly-formed state. The Free State came to an end in 1937.

So what is the reason behind her historically erroneous and repetitive use of the term?

Miss O’Connor should realise that language reflects reality, so bearing this in mind perhaps she should read more history and be careful not to become a victim of a narrow sectarian nationalism masquerading as a patriotic republicanism.

Dr Stephen J Costello,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Why join Shinners right now, Sinead?

Madam – Sinead O’Connor had 210 months (17 years and seven months since non-violence was adopted) in which to join Sinn Fein. Sinead says the “younger members’ hands are clean”, but they refuse to describe dragging an Irish mother from screaming children and terminating her in a field, as murder. Given we in the Republic abolished capital punishment in 1963, this means no member of southern SF is clean.

MS O Dubda,

Dublin 6

Sinead and SF will help re-elect Enda

Madam – The Government parties need have no worries about the next general election. I think the new alliance between Sinead and Sinn Fein will do what Enda hasn’t managed to achieve yet – the reversal of the current trend in the polls.

It’s the political equivalent of a soccer team buying Balotelli.

Pat Burke Walsh,

Ballymoney, Co Wexford

Straight bulls plan march on the Dail

Madam – There is an extremely high degree of discontent among the heterosexual bovine population in Ireland, in particular among those about to be slaughtered – and plans are ahoof for a stampede on Dail Eireann in a frustrated attempt to gain equality with Benjy, the gay bull, who avoided the slaughterhouse simply because of his homosexuality. Be warned.

Patrick Murray,

Dundrum, Dublin 14

Another gift gone missing in the post

Madam – just like your writer last week, I recently sent a gift card for the University of Limerick Concert hall to my sister in Limerick. When the envelope arrived it was empty. The thief had even resealed the envelope! I rang An Post to report it, but very little was made of it. Not good enough. Surely we’re entitled to a reliable service from a body such as An Post.

Evelyn O’Brien,

Clonee, Dublin 15

Sunday Independent


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