Christmas Day

A very quiet Christmas day, a nice bag from Sandy and a cat book for Mary

Brian Cashinella during his reporting days

Brian Cashinella during his reporting days Photo: Tony Marshall

Brian Cashinella, who has died aged 75, was an old-fashioned general reporter who produced shrewd, swift and vivid news stories on widely different subjects for three national papers.

On joining The Daily Telegraph in Manchester during the mid-1960s, he was sent to Northern Ireland where the Troubles were already brewing, and reported the horrific Moors murder trial.

During the 1966 general election he wrote that Labour leaders in Yorkshire “wore grins as broad as the Pennine valleys” while Tories confessed they were at “rock bottom”.

Transferred to London, he aided a police contribution to medical science by having blood taken from his ear, and his face and hands smothered with aftershave. This important research incontrovertibly showed that his bloodstream was untainted by alcohol – though his ear hurt. From then on Cashinella covered the dithering over whether to locate London’s third airport at Foulness in Essex, about which he wrote the book Promised to Land. He also satisfied the managing editor’s obsession with the failings of his train home to Burnham on Crouch in Essex.

On being lured to The Times, he was kept busy on the police beat, which led to another book, Anatomy of Crime in Britain Today, and witnessed the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland. He did not think the killings were deliberate, though he later told the Saville inquiry that he had heard a senior officer shout “Go Paras and get ’em”.

Finally Cashinella joined the Daily Express, where his first story involved the train robber Ronnie Biggs, who was living in Brazil. For 16 years he was its head of investigations, and later assistant news editor. Once he led a journalists’ stoppage on the Sunday paper.

The son of a van driver, Brian Cashinella was born in Manchester on May 24 1939, and spent his early years playing cricket in bomb sites. He went to St Gregory’s School, Ardwick, where he showed academic promise but left at 15. He joined the Bury Times, where his first story was the ordination of a Roman Catholic priest who had been a “Bevin Boy” in the pits.

On being called up for National Service, Cashinella was posted to the Intelligence Corps in Malaya, where he played plenty of cricket and spent three weeks in the jungle with the Gurkhas. Two years later he completed his provincial experience on the Manchester Evening News and married Pat Taylor, a nurse, with whom he had four children.

Brian Cashinella with his wife Pat

On leaving the Express after 16 years, he worked in public relations and tried to sell a film script about Two-Gun Cohen, a Jewish lad from London’s East End who became a general in Sun Yat Sen’s army in China and retired to live with his sister in Manchester. Many producers were interested, but they feared the costs would be prohibitive.

“Cash” was a keen cricket fan proud to have kept wicket in the Central Lancashire League with and against Clive Lloyd and Sir Garfield Sobers.

He also remained devoted to a “session” in the pub long after a sniff of alcohol became virtually unknown in news rooms. On one occasion he was in the office filling out a passport application which required him to give his “occupation”. “Permanently pissed,” he wrote.

The Telegraph offered him “a chaotic workaholic experience”, he recalled; The Times was a gentleman’s club, where copy was never changed without permission; and the Express was a fine working newspaper.

Fleet Street in general was a great place: “I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”

Brian Cashinella, born May 24 1939, died November 5 2014

Football, advertising
‘Self-regulation of alcohol advertising isn’t working when it allows drink brands to dominate sporting events.’ Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

On Boxing Day millions of families will enjoy a full sporting calendar, either on TV or in person – a chance to spend quality time with family and friends. They will also see the countless alcohol marketing messages that go hand in hand with our national sports. In the UK, alcohol sponsorship is as commonplace as advertising for cereal or soap powder. Viewers of the World Cup this year, including millions of children and young people, saw one example of alcohol advertising for every minute of playing time. Shouldn’t our national sports be inspiring our children to lead healthy and positive lifestyles? It would be considered outrageous if high-profile teams such as Everton or Celtic were to become brand ambassadors for tobacco, and so why is it acceptable for alcohol?

Our children deserve a better future and we must take the opportunity to give it to them. Self-regulation of alcohol advertising isn’t working when it allows drink brands to dominate sporting events that attract children as well as adults, creating automatic associations between alcohol brands and sport that are cumulative, unconscious and built up over years. Evidence shows that exposure to alcohol advertising leads young people to drink more, and to drink at an earlier age.

Next year will be a year of change. The public supports restrictions on alcohol advertising and it’s time for the government to listen to the people rather than to big business. Let’s take action to protect our children by ensuring that the sports we watch promote healthy lifestyles and inspire participation, not a drinking culture. Let’s make alcohol sports sponsorship a thing of the past.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore chair, Alcohol Health Alliance UK
Professor Jane Dacre president, Royal College of Physicians
Dr J-P van Besouw president, Royal College of Anaesthetists
Dr Peter Carter chief executive, Royal College of Nursing
Professor Colin Drummond chair of Addictions Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Dr Clifford Mann president, College of Emergency Medicine
Shirley Cramer chief executive, Royal Society for Public Health
Dr Adrian Boyle chair, College of Emergency Medicine quality committee
Professor Frank Murray president, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Professor Robin Touquet vice-chairman, Medical Council on Alcohol
Dr Peter Rice chair, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP)
Eric Carlin director, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP)
Katherine Brown director, Institute of Alcohol Studies
Professor John Ashton president, UK Faculty of Public Health
Professor Jonathan Shepherd director, Violence Research Group, Cardiff University
Colin Shevills, director, Balance
Diane Goslar, patient representative, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Dr Chris Record consultant hepatologist, Newcastle upon Tyne
Dr Mark Bellis alcohol lead, UK Faculty of Public Health
Dr Kieran Moriarty CBE British Society of Gastroenterology
Professor Nick Sheron Population hepatology, University of Southampton
Paul Lincoln OBE chief executive officer, UK Health Forum
Professor Marsha Morgan reader in medicine and honorary consultant physician, UCL
Mariann Skar secretary general, Eurocare
Dr Evelyn Gillan chief executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland
Professor Martin McKee CBE president, EUPHA (European Public Health Association)
Nichola Coates chief executive, Faculty of Occupational Medicine
Professor Gerard Hastings University of Stirling
Dr Zulfiquar Mirza College of Emergency Medicine
Professor Rob Poole co-director, Centre For Mental Health and Society, Bangor University
Suzanne Costello chief executive officer, Alcohol Action Ireland
Jackie Ballard chief executive, Alcohol Concern
Andrew Langford chief executive, British Liver Trust
Professor Linda Bauld deputy director, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, and chair in behavioural research for cancer prevention, Cancer Research UK
Dr Andrew Fraser director of public health science, NHS Health Scotland
Professor Eileen Kaner director, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University

Downton abbey
Downton Abbey. ‘The drama possibly does not so much ‘implant falsely comforting memories of a better bygone era’ as, paradoxically, look forward to an age of genuine social liberalism,’ writes David Halpin

Julian Baggini’s suggestion (Opinion, 20 December) that consumerism, on which our economy depends, springs either from individual psychology or from the “system”, falls wide of the mark. This is because he appears to consider the “system” to be the economic structure, whereas the basis of “buy, buy, buy” is now deeply enshrined not only in our economy but at the very heart of our culture, our way of life, our values and beliefs. The market economy depends on us continuing to buy, so those wishing to sell us stuff have managed to convince us that, in order to be a successful member of the group, we need to look a certain way (we’ll then go out to buy cosmetics and the latest fashion), our houses should look a certain way (out with the old-fashioned kitchen and in with the new) and we should holiday in the most popular resorts (even hen and stag parties now have to be held in far-flung destinations). A massive media and advertising industry – using “celebrities” as examples of perfection – home in on two basic human instincts, the sex drive and the need to belong to the “group”, to keep us discontented and striving for perfection so that we continue to buy.

Unfortunately, Baggini’s solution that the answer is not to “buy less but buy better” also misses the mark and has just a hint of the ivory tower. True, fair trade is now much more mainstream and resistance to chains is growing, but buying “better” is a luxury only the rich can afford. Free-range chicken and shopping in independent stores is beyond the budget of most families and the fastest-growing supermarkets are the cheapest.
Eileen Peck
Benfleet, Essex

Polly Toynbee’s critique (What if Downton Abbey told the truth about Britain?, 23 December) is unoriginal and maybe a tad condescending. It has become almost a truism of conventional criticism that this period drama is anachronistic. But Polly shouldn’t think that, unlike her, most of those who view and enjoy it don’t realise this. Indeed, there is the strong likelihood that many viewers derive pleasure from the goings-on at Downton because they anticipate unconsciously the better world it portrays – one in which people of varying backgrounds and economic circumstances are able to get along with each other in pleasurable equanimity. To that extent, the drama possibly does not so much “implant falsely comforting memories of a better bygone era” as, paradoxically, look forward to an age of genuine social liberalism. The ways in which Downton’s messages are interpreted by those who regularly watch it may therefore be more intelligent and progressive than Polly thinks.
David Halpin

There were people as Polly describes, but by far the majority of the landed aristocracy were concerned for their servants and tenants, if paternalistic by today’s standards. Hard physical labour was a fact of domestic life at all levels of society until the 1950s. The attitudes Polly describes are more those of 2014 than 1924.
Jon Chamberlain
Faringdon, Oxfordshire

There is much sense in George Monbiot’s piece on the horrors of industrialised meat production (Eating meat is not a right, it’s a gift. Save it for Christmas, 17 December), but I feel he should revert to his subtler, Fairlie-inspired revision of meat as a “benign extravagance”. To abandon his intellectual equanimity, in the face of the industry’s predictably mendacious misrepresentation of his views, is to capitulate at a time when plural, smaller voices (led by organisations such as the Slow Food Movement, and Compassion in World Farming, and consumers of meat themselves) are harmonising demands for better, more compassionate, extensive farming, slaughtering and labelling of animals and meat products. And yes, he is damned right that greater awareness concerning the provenance and realities of meat production should be promoted – including the sort of farm and abattoir visits he recommends. Those of us who advocate the ethical production of meat are “outraged” (to use his word), not by exposure to such realities but, on the contrary, by parts of the food industry’s deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform and mislabel.

His current prognosis, which sees the direction of global, agricultural development as bleak and catastrophic, is limited in its persuasiveness by being too deterministic, polarising and alienating, and likely to repel consumers’ attention away from an understanding of the issues he advocates, not attract it.
Ian Rasmussen
University of Chester

I was glad to see Helen Albans’ letter (22 December) following your article (15 December) about the Sheffield area pub carol singing. In the early 70s, I bought a record featuring some of these carols, produced locally by Bradfield Choral Society in aid of the Richard Fund, which supported the then pioneering work of Dr Zachary and others at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in treating spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Included were two of the pieces mentioned in the article: The Christmas Tree, and the “sweet bells” chorus to While Shepherds Watched. Recently, I was looking into the genesis of this record, but could find no trace of it, nor of the Richard Fund or its successors. Should any of your readers have any clues, I’d be very glad to hear about them.
Malcolm Stringer
Nettleham, Lincoln


The Guardian and Observer offices. Photograph: Alicia Canter

Liz Forgan is right to say “the views of the staff are very important” (Guardian and Observer journalists to get vote on next editor-in-chief, 19 December). What plans are in place for a similar indicative ballot among readers? If nothing is yet planned, I’d suggest that each of the shortlisted candidates is required to write a letter to readers about how they would fulfil the role. These would then be published, anonymously, and readers invited to vote and/or comment. The Scott Trust would gather valuable feedback about how readers want the Guardian to develop; and the interview panel would be informed of readers’ priorities when making this vital appointment.
Richard Stainton
Whitstable, Kent

Keith Flett (Letters, 23 December) suggests readers might be given a say in the choice of Alan Rusbridger’s successor. While matters of experience and competence can largely be determined by perusal of CVs, the deal-breaker questions a great many readers would like to put to candidates are: did you support the paper’s endorsement of the Lib Dems at the last election?; and would you be likely to do the same?
Root Cartwright
Radlett, Hertfordshire

As Keith Flett helpfully suggests, voting for the position of editor of your newspaper might be more democratic if readers all had a vote, just as long as the votes were not to be allocated based upon the number of letters published in said paper by said correspondent.
Gareth Pritchard
Daventry, Northamptonshire

A wall chart of all the runners and riders would help readers to make an informed decision.
Alex May

Your article, which purports to be a factual account of my remarks, is a travesty of what I actually said (Top Tory wants bigger role for private firms in NHS, 23 December). I was not talking about private firms, but about public-service mutuals, a programme begun under the Labour government, supported by Chris Ham of the King’s Fund and members of all the major political parties. All the healthcare mutuals that have spun out to form new organisations – including Inclusion Healthcare, to which the article refers – have chosen to be not-for-profit, so to describe them as “private firms” gives a misleading impression. These are social enterprises driven by a strong public-service ethos. It is an infantilisation of our political discourse to present my support for this cross-party programme as a “Tories privatising the NHS” story.
Francis Maude MP
Minister for the Cabinet Office

• In an article published in the Lancet on 24 January 1987, my husband, Mikael Grut, pointed out that there were then some 69,000 cold-related deaths a year in England and Wales. This amounted to 12% of all deaths – a much higher percentage than in countries with colder winters, such as Canada (4%) and the then Soviet Union (6%). The percentage is lower in England and Wales today, because of the spread of central heating, but it is still very high.

On Wednesday in prime minister’s questions, the MP Liz McKinnes mentioned a figure for cold-related deaths last year of more than 18,000 (actually 200 more) in England and Wales. Later the prime minister bragged about the £160bn set aside for armaments over the next 10 years, and said Britain had the largest arms budget in the EU and the second largest in Nato. Add that to the ring-fenced aid for use abroad, and one wonders when Britain will realise that it is no longer threatened by anything except terrorism, brought about by Bush and Blair. That needs a different form of fighting. Our money is needed on the home front to fight hunger and death here.
Marina Grut

In his appreciation of Billie Whitelaw (Billie Whitelaw, Beckett’s inspiration, dies at 82, 22 December), Michael Billington mentions her playing boy’s parts on the radio at the start of her career. I doubt if I am the only reader with fond memories of her performances in the Bunkle adventures on Children’s Hour in the 1940s, in which Billie played the hero. Memories which are evoked whenever I hear the signature music, Elgar’s Chanson de Matin.
David McBrien
Maidenhead, Berkshire

• When I was a student in Florence in 1971, I went to see Woodstock. The Italian version of the film had subtitles. As Joe Cocker was belting out “I get by with a little help from my friends”, the subtitles said (in Italian): “I’m so happy for the help I get from my mother” – which seemed to have lost something in translation (Obituary, 24 December).
Dr Ben Timmis

• Mark Lewinski claims (Letters, 23, December): “There is no such thing as an innocent comedy depicting revolution in a real-life authoritarian state.” Has he never seen Carry on Pimpernel?
Jeremy Muldowney

• What kind of newspaper has the Guardian become when its reporter says that a rural inn’s bedroom has “familiar flaws – UHT milk, packet biscuits, fixed-head shower?” (British boltholes, Travel 20 December). These items in a bedroom do not seem like flaws to me. Does Tony Naylor always expect a fridge, a jug of fresh milk and biscuits offered by a member of staff at his beck and call? Who is paying for his accommodation and travel?
Livia MacDonald
Morpeth, Northumberland

• I was fascinated to read (Obituary, 22 December) of Jane Bown’s method of lighting her photographs by “indirect sunlight from a north-facing widow”. Did she always take one with her? How did she get them to stand still long enough?
George Wolfe
Hope Valley, Derbyshire

• Methane on Mars (Why methane on Mars has reignited our quest for life on other planets, 20 December). Must be the Moon Pigs.
John Timmis
Barnstaple, Devon

A self-portrait taken in a mirror.
A self-portrait taken in a mirror. Photograph: Jane Bown

Peter Barnes writes: In 2009 the Open University awarded Jane Bown an honorary degree, and it was my privilege to present her for it. In my speech I noted that the OU was celebrating the 40th anniversary of its foundation in 1969, which in turn was the 20th anniversary of the appearance of Jane’s first photographic portrait in The Observer – that of Bertrand Russell, in 1949.

As Jane was unable to attend a regular degree congregation, the presentation took place in the living room of her home in Alton, Hampshire, in front of family and friends. In the early 19th century the house had been owned by the brother of Jane Austen, so the author herself would once have sat in that room. Jane on Jane: what a photograph that would have made.

Ken Thomson writes: When Jane Bown came in to Channel 4 to photograph one of our stars for The Observer, we were naturally interested in seeing her at work. She turned up carrying a shopping bag from which she extracted her camera. Her one request was for an Anglepoise lamp, which we found. Jane aimed it at the subject, put the top of her hand in the light, worked out the exposure and took the shot – no light meter, no assistants with strobe lights or silver umbrellas. She then popped her camera back into the bag and left. Of course, it was a brilliant photograph.


Sir, Again we have the canard that girls’ voices are somehow different from — and therefore inferior to — boys’ voices in the context of church music, as referred to in the correspondence from Mrs CT Crowle (Letters, Dec 23). Surely the difference is entirely in the training.

Anyone familiar with the choral music scene in Cambridge in the late 1950s would be well aware that the boys of St John’s under George Guest made an entirely different, edgy, so-called “continental” sound to those of David Willcocks’s King’s choir who were trained to sound pure and “English”.

This difference was far greater — as was indeed the sound of continental boys’ choirs — than that now heard between separate boys’ and girls’ choirs.

Any difference would easily be erased by integrating boys and girls — of the same age range — within one single choir under one single trainer.

The reason this does not happen is, I suspect, far more down to cultural rather than musical considerations and does the church no credit at all.

Malcolm Bowden
Horringer, Suffolk

Sir, The letters on who has the purest voice — boys or girls — is for fanatics.

We have here in Salisbury the first cathedral girls’ choir in the country singing alternate days with the boys — except on special days when they sing antiphonally.

The sounds are indeed different, as are peaches and nectarines. Both are wonderful but just slightly different.

Purity in the sine wave sense does not come into it; both voices are
given their timbre or quality by the harmonics. A pure sine wave is a sorry and dull thing indeed, as is pure alcohol compared with a fine claret.

Dr JA Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wiltshire

Sir, Like Exeter, Salisbury has both a boys’ and a girls’ choir, with the same lay clerks for both; indeed, Salisbury was the first cathedral to do this, more than 20 years ago. If one cannot see the children, it is often impossible to tell which choir is singing on a particular day.

Earlier this year, I went on tour to France with both of the Salisbury choirs, which were, unusually, singing together. We sang Allegri’s Miserere in six concerts, with the top part being sung by a girl during each of the concerts.

I have been involved in cathedral music all my life, and whatever Mrs Crowle might assert, I have never heard the work sung better, or with more purity of sound.

The addition of girls’ voices has enriched the English choral tradition. It is the voice that matters, not the gender of its owner.

Crispin Morton
Sir, I disagree with Mrs Crowle. As a former treble I agree that there is an exceptional purity in boys’ voices, but one of the recordings I have of Allegri’s Miserere has women taking the high parts; it is also sublime.

Neil Jones
London SE24

Anyone elated at the prospect of the UK spending £6 billion to fix 18 million potholes should go to see how they manage elsewhere in Europe.

Driving through northern France we saw no sign anywhere of potholes needing repair. All the roads are well cambered and well surfaced, leaving nowhere for harsh winters to penetrate and break the surfaces apart.

They also have the good sense not to dig trenches in their roads to access the utility networks which instead are housed in accessible ducts built with the roads. The upheavals of the roads which are a daily feature of British life are unknown there.

The same applies in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere. If only we could learn from our neighbours who manage their roads so much better.

Christopher Daws
Malmesbury, Wilts

Sir, Why has it taken an approaching election to prompt action on a problem that has been a menace to all road users for most of this parliament? If damage to vehicles caused by potholes was added to annual road tax, then mine would be well over £1,500. I would rather that my tax had been used to maintain the roads, as it should have been.

Michael Hirst
Pangbourne, Berks

Sir, It may be true that the Christmas period sees half the usual number of passengers, but it is a fair assumption that their journeys are at least doubly important to them (“Cancelled trains, roadworks and weather bombs on way”, Dec 23).

A week of engineering works in the summer, announced well in advance, would inconvenience more people a lot less seriously.

They would also be significantly cheaper, with double the hours of daylight in which to accomplish them, and no need to pay double or triple time to staff working on national holidays.

Simon Boas
London NW6

Sir, The writers (letters, Dec 23) are mistaken. Obesity has not been found to be a disability by the European Court of Justice. Someone who is obese may be disabled as per the definition contained in the Equality Act 2010, but is not necessarily so. As with many conditions, it depends on the severity, the duration and the effect on day-to-day life. Furthermore, in my view, obesity should be an excluded condition in the same way that alcoholism is; both being self-inflicted.
Belinda Lester
Employment solicitor, London N10

Sir , What a different experience we had to Tim Bell (“Christmas with the Thatchers was no fun”, Dec 23). When my husband worked in the No 10 Policy Unit, we were invited to Boxing Day lunch as a family. The Thatchers could not have been more hospitable. Ian Gow’s wife played carols on the grand piano; each child was photographed in front of the tree, and my son Leo could not resist sliding on the polished floor, earning a rebuke from Mrs T. After lunch, Around the World in 80 Days was shown to the children while the adults enjoyed a tour of Chequers with a slightly tipsy Denis. On leaving we were given a small Chequers box. It is still thriving in our garden where a wren makes its nest every year.

Janet Duguid
London W12

Sir, Tim Bell’s description of Christmas at Chequers makes me very relieved that he is neither my friend nor my adviser.
edward macfetridge
Cubbington, Warwickshire

Globe and Mail


Canada’s all about energy … to send elsewhere



Globe editorial

This Christmas, beware the rise of the drones

While Toronto struggles to raise the money to pay for much-needed transit upgrades, British Columbia and Metro Vancouver have officially come to terms on a novel way past the stew of nimbyism, political to-and-froing and generalized inertia that so often derails progress on this critical issue.

The answer is a referendum on a yes-or-no question to accept a sales tax of 0.5 per cent on most goods or services sold or delivered in Metro Vancouver. The province and the mayors agreed on the wording of the question last week. Ballots will be sent out on March 16 and must be returned by mail by May 29. The province is picking up the tab.

The estimated $250-million per year raised by a Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, as it would be named, would help cover maintenance and improvements to roads, bridges, mass transit and pedestrian walkways throughout the region’s chronically clogged arteries.

This is a great plan, well worth emulating. The province and its largest urban area are co-operating on one of the most critical files for any city – that of providing a modern transit system that meets the needs of residents without choking either productivity or lungs. As a sales tax collected in Metro Vancouver, its payers would include tourists and anyone who commutes from outside the region for work or play, which is only fair.

Above all, by holding a referendum, the mayors and the province are letting voters choose their future. Early polling suggests they will vote yes. They should. If they don’t, the issue will remain a football in the hands of punt-happy politicians. You only have to look to Toronto’s paralysis to see where that leads.

Santa Claus leaves for his annual Christmas journey from the Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland December 23, 2014.  REUTERS/Laura Haapamaki/Lehtikuva
Santa Claus leaves for his annual Christmas journey from the Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland December 23, 2014. REUTERS/Laura Haapamaki/Lehtikuva

While I appreciate Philip O’Neill’s views on the place of organised religion at Christmas (Irish Independent, Letters, December 23), any attempt to remove the Christian belief from Christmas should be strongly resisted.

Of particular contention is Mr O’Neill’s assertion that Christmas is and should be something celebrated by the religious and non-religious alike, on the basis of the celebration of the winter solstice that preceded it.

The simple fact is that schools don’t close because of the winter solstice. The civil service does not shut down in awe of the longest night of the year. Cribs and mangers have not sprung up all over the country to celebrate the Sun swinging in its lowest arc in the sky. In fact, depending on the day that the winter solstice falls on in any given year, it may have no particular significance whatsoever.

The celebration of Christmas is because of the massive number of practising Christians in this country to whom December 25 is important, and, rightly or wrongly, the special place previously given to Christianity (specifically Catholicism) in our Constitution on the basis of that widespread devotion.

Generally, Newgrange and Stonehenge have precious little to do with it. In spite of that, if you do not believe in the divinity of the man whose death sparked the world’s largest religion, you are of course more than welcome to give gifts, eat turkey, take days off work and even sing a spiritually neutral carol or two.

But please do not do so while siphoning credit for the occasion and denying its true, religious significance in Ireland.

Killian Foley-Walsh, Kilkenny


Splurge is over for another year

Having ransacked the city to get my hands on the precious and irreplaceable items on which the happiness of our household depends this Christmas, I returned home a shell of my former being.

Of course, Santa would do his bit; but there was still enough to require two trips to town that sorely tested the hinges of the car boot as I strained to close it on top of the multi-coloured parcels.

Now, a day after the consumer carnival, I am invited to make my way into the fray to meet the challenge of the sales. I work through the items that now lie discarded across the living-room floor. They have already become a testament to the ghost of Christmas past.

Packaging and ribbons flow from the bin, and those gleaming sugar plum dreams that danced in all their heads have come true as far as possible. That’s the thing about all this Christmas stuff – still it was special to have everyone around again. It is of course a long way from ‘A dream born in a herdman’s stable, and the secret scripture of the poor.’

The splurge is over, and an unearned fortune has been expended on a guaranteed festive Christmas.

Please God, we’ll get to go again next year; and thank God we got a chance to do it this year.

C O’Brien, Greystones, Co Wicklow


Learning how to say ‘No’

I read Donna Hartnett’s piece on how difficult she finds it to budget at Christmas and I have the answer. It’s a word my mother taught me to say early in life and it goes like this: ‘No!’

It can be said ‘NO!!!’, or ‘no’ or in a million different ways. No child is entitled to have every shiny thing they see or to go to winter wonderlands that are clearly outside their parents’ budgets. Instead, there are libraries, parks and lots of other amazing places. Bear in mind the words ‘you can’t always get what you want’. The use of the word ‘No’ along with suitable addition and subtraction will keep Ms Hartnett’s budget in line.

SE Lydon, Wilton, Cork


Learning from Pope’s message

Pope Francis is the leader of over one billion Christians. In his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia of cardinals, bishops and priests who run the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church, he called on them “to improve and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fully realise its mission”.

The dangers of working too hard and succumbing to gossip can be found in every office, the Pope said, urging people to be more joyful, saying how much good a “dose of humour” would be.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful new year’s resolution if ‘our curia’ – the Irish Government – had a get together, analysed Pope Francis’s address and saw how applicable and beneficial parts of its content could be for them? Terms like ‘improve’, ‘grow in communion’, ‘realise its mission’, ‘gossip’, ‘dose of good humour’ all come to mind.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary


Jesus told the Apostles to go and teach all nations. They did their best to carry out his orders, especially Paul, “the least (and best) of them all”.

However, in a relatively short time, their successors forgot his instructions and turned the Church into a replica of the Roman Empire, which it copied and replaced.

Pope Francis is the very first Church leader in history to question and challenge this arrangement. His recent straight-talking to the Church’s governing body implies that he sees the entire present system must be radically reformed, even to the point of moving it out of Rome.

The Church is bogged down in the Vatican. The thinking is still pedestrian and parochial. The Roman Catholic Church is a gross misnomer for Christ’s Church, which belongs, by his mission, to the whole human race. It has reached only one-sixth of the world’s population in 2000 years. And by the way, why, I wonder, has the Irish media in general met this astounding papal break from tradition with such deafening silence?

Name and address with editor


The great health debate

I refer to your article ‘Our greedy lifestyles are now cutting life expectancy gains’. (Irish Independent, December 19).

It is a salient point and a sobering thought as we venture through this festive season. I note that in the annual state of the nation report that while we live longer “the pace of improvement has slowed”. Many continue to have an unhealthy lifestyle punctuated by drinking and smoking. I feel nutrition needs to be at the forefront of medical research for all our major ailments – heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. It seems an understudied area in Ireland; a broader analysis of the holistic medical requirements of patients is needed.

Unfortunately, we have learnt that statins tend to reduce the enzyme CoQ10 while many other drugs deplete magnesium; magnesium is essential not just for the bones and teeth, but for the activation of several enzymes and for the functioning of the heart. CoQ10 functions as an antioxidant, tends to decrease with age and may be low already in many people with serious medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart problems.

Further studies are needed in Ireland in this area. It is plausible that many people who develop serious medical conditions survive longer with a greater holistic regard for the importance of nutrition and a balanced use of vitamins and minerals. While chemotherapy has saved many lives, it is a difficult treatment – especially for the elderly. A broader vision is needed. Debate is always welcome in many aspects of our lives. I would like to see the medical profession taking this into consideration more, as future generations will thank them.

Naomi Kloss, Coolballow, Wexford

Irish Independent


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