Boxing Day

A quiet Boxing day and after what seems ages I sell a book! Only 0.84p Profit! But at least its money.

Mary a little better. Rabbit for tea.



Peter Underwood

Peter Underwood

Peter Underwood, who has died aged 91, was the author of some 50 books with titles such as Ghosts and How to See Them and Nights in Haunted Houses; Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of the great author and a keen student of the supernatural, once described him as “the Sherlock Holmes of psychical research”.

During a life dedicated to investigating ghouls and spooks of all shapes and sizes, Underwood identified nine different varieties of ghost, namely elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects. He had something of a talent for categorisation; Where the Ghosts Walk, for example, published last year and described as a “definitive guide to the haunted places of Britain”, provided a digest of ghosts grouped by location – including Napoleon searching for somewhere to land his invasion along Lulworth Cove.

Underwood described ghosts as probably being “the surviving emotional memories of people who are no longer present” or “the result of some natural recording mechanism”. Of their existence, however, he had no doubt. “The evidence for appearances of dead and living people cannot be explained within our known laws [and] is quite overwhelming,” he claimed. In his book No Common Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost-Hunter (1983), Underwood suggested that 98 per cent of the reports of hauntings were likely to have rational explanations, but that he was most interested in the two per cent that could be genuine.

One of his best-known investigations concerned a famous haunting of the 1930s at Borley Rectory on the Essex/Suffolk border. The large Gothic-style house was said to have been haunted since it was built in the 1860s, but things took a more sinister turn in 1928 when the wife of a new rector who was cleaning out a cupboard came across a brown paper package containing the skull of a young woman.

Subsequently the family reported strange happenings, including the ringing of servant bells which had been disconnected, lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. The family fled Borley the following year, but things only seemed to get worse after the arrival in 1930 of the Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne and daughter Adelaide. In addition to bell-ringings, there were windows shattering, the throwing of stones and bottles, and mysterious messages on the walls. On one occasion Marianne claimed to have been physically thrown from her bed; on another Adelaide was attacked by “something horrible” and locked in a room with no key.

The building became known as “the most haunted house in England” after the celebrated psychic researcher Harry Price (who had lived at the rectory for a year in 1937-38) published a book about it in 1940. After Price’s death in 1948, however, members of the Society for Psychical Research investigated his claims and concluded that many of the phenomena he described had been faked, either by Price himself, or by Marianne Foyster (who later admitted that she had been having an affair with the lodger and had used paranormal excuses to cover up their trysts).

Over a period of years Underwood, a protégé of Price and executor of his estate, claimed to have traced and personally interviewed almost every living person connected with the rectory. He came to the conclusion that at least some of the phenomena were genuine, and fiercely defended Price against accusations of fraud.

Borley Rectory

If Underwood was not, perhaps, sufficiently doubting to satisfy the sceptics, he claimed to have a nose for charlatanry. On one occasion the writer Dennis Wheatley gave him a graphic description of a “psychometry” session hosted by Joan Grant, a writer famed for her “far memory” books, in which she would go into a trance and dictate scenes from her past lives to whichever of her three husbands happened to be around at the time. Wheatley described how a stark naked Joan began to talk in the person of an ancient Egyptian, “glistening and quivering in ecstasy… writhing and contorting her body sensually in tune with the administration of his hands”. Wheatley was convinced by the performance. Underwood was not.

In 1994, however, Underwood became caught up in some genuinely mysterious goings-on when police arrived to question Bill Bellars, a 75-year-old retired naval officer, Loch Ness monster expert and honorary treasurer of the Ghost Club of Britain (founded in 1862), of which Underwood had been president, following an anonymous tip-off that club members were really part of an IRA cell. Bellars had been planning to lead an all-night investigation at a haunted abbey in Hampshire, and it took him an afternoon to convince police officers that he was up to nothing more sinister than looking for 16th-century Cistercian monks.

The ghost hunt eventually went ahead as planned, but the mystery of the tipster’s identity was never solved. Nor did Bellars ever discover the source of abusive calls he claimed he had been getting at home. However, it was noted that the previous year Underwood had been ousted from the presidency after 33 years in the post by members who had allegedly become fed up with his “autocratic” ways and who accused him of using the club’s name to help sell his books. “He really ran it to suit his own commercial interests,” Bellars was quoted as saying.

Underwood denied any connection to the phone calls or the IRA incident, but Bellars’s description of the final showdown struck an appropriately supernatural note: “I said my piece, then he went purple in the face, just blew a top. Then he vanished.”

Peter Underwood was born on May 16 1923 at Letchworth Garden City into a family of Plymouth Brethren. He claimed to have had his first paranormal experience at the age of nine when he saw the ghost of his father, who had died earlier the same day, standing at the bottom of his bed. His interest in hauntings was further stimulated on visits to his grandparents’ supposedly haunted house in Herefordshire, and by Harry Price, whom he met through the Ghost Club.

After leaving school, Underwood joined the publishers J M Dent in Letchworth, which would publish many of his books. He continued to work for the firm during and after the Second World War – a serious chest ailment rendered him unfit for active service.

Peter Underwood’s ghost hunting kit

The departure of Underwood from the Ghost Club caused it to split in two, Bellars leading a rump “Ghost Club” with (at least according to Underwood) about 80 per cent of the membership leaving to form a Ghost Club Society with Underwood as life president. According to Underwood’s website, however, the society, too, seems to have run into trouble in recent years, and Underwood was reported to be “in the process of completely reforming the Ghost Club Society [with] a new Council and complete reorganisation”.

A fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he also served as president of the Unitarian Society for Psychical Studies and was a life member of the Vampire Research Society.

As well as writing, Underwood broadcast extensively on television and radio and lectured around the world. His last book, Haunted London, was published last year.

Underwood’s wife, Joyce, died in 2003. He is survived by their son and daughter.

Peter Underwood, born May 16 1923, died November 26 2014


Members of the Old Surrey Burstow
Members of the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt on 26 December 2014. Since a ban stopped fox hunting with hounds, hunts continued with dogs chasing down a pre-laid scented trail instead of a fox. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

Melissa Kite accuses her opponents of stereotyping those who hunt (Leave us ‘toffs’ to hunt legally in peace, 23 December) and implies objections to hunting were always about class war by people “unacquainted with the natural world in all its rugged vitality”. May I just challenge that equally stereotyped view. I grew up on a farm. My father bred beef cattle, which, unlike the cruelly treated animals Ms Kite refers to, grazed out all summer and in winter were kept warm in barns where they were fed (for some reason at 6am) the hay and turnips produced, by backbreaking work, from our stony little holding.

When ready for sale, the cattle were taken to be quickly and humanely slaughtered and were used as food, sold locally. When a fox tried to break into the hen house, my father shot it. Nothing romantic here, and an acceptance of both life and death in its raw reality. But, equally, a respect for the animals and the environment which never involved the pursuit or killing of any creature for sport and excitement.

I do not care what background hunt participants come from, or how wealthy they are. I simply condemn their need to stimulate themselves by terrorising animals. Sorry, Ms Kite, please do not presume to know my reasons for opposing your “sport”. They are simply as stated, and your claims of class war are just a self-deluding way to dismiss arguments you cannot directly refute.
Jill Wallis
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

• May I make one or two observations in response to Melissa Kite’s piece? Firstly, the law is entirely ignored round here, and hunters hunt foxes with impunity, untroubled by any attention from the police. It might as well be repealed for what use it is, which is none at all. Secondly, it is a little rich to read complaints of class war, when that is exactly what Ms Kite’s government has been gleefully and sadistically waging against the poor for the past few years. Since many of the hunters I have encountered have been loutishly ill-mannered, unpleasant and, dare I say, ostentatiously uncivilised, you could argue that they make a very fitting class enemy. Or do Ms Kite and her sort prefer their wars to be entirely one-sided?
Michael Rosenthal
Banbury, Oxfordshire

• In her plea for fox-hunting to be made legal once more, Melissa Kite omits the one telling argument for her case: that, given the need to cull foxes, hunting is the most humane way of doing so. The fox is either dead or alive, not (as can happen if shot) wounded and left to die slowly and painfully. She also skates over the other aspect: riding to hounds is great fun, but it is rather expensive. These days, I imagine, keeping a horse at livery would cost someone the best part of £10,000 a year, and then on top of that would be the hunt subscription.
Robert Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• Melissa Kite is wrong to bring class into the hunting debate – it is simply about cruelty. The chasing of a fox by a pack of hounds until it is almost dying from exhaustion and then to be torn apart by the hounds is not sport. The fox, vermin or not, has no chance once cornered by a baying pack. If this is sport and the enjoyment is gained from riding across the countryside on horseback, then why not chase a runner leaving a scent trail. The scent does not need to be a fox, as the hounds will chase any scent they have been trained to. If this is a class issue and hunting a sport, then why was dog fighting, bear-baiting, etc banned? For the simple reason: they are cruel.
Ian Hickinbottom
Montgomery, Powys

• Melissa Kite is entirely welcome, if she so wishes, to get up early, dress smartly, climb aboard a good horse and hurtle over hedges – on Boxing Day or any other day of the year. It is entirely feasible for her to do all these things without pursuing, terrifying and killing a sentient being in the process.
Pam Lunn
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

• With over 35 years of wildlife and countryside management experience, I feel I am allowed to ask why the RSPB is acting with dogmatic inconsistency on hen harriers. If a species is limited in its range and achieves a predetermined density in some areas, it is logical to relocate some individuals to low-density areas of suitable habitat. The RSPB has gained great experience in doing this work with other large raptors ie red kites and white-tailed sea eagles. It and other organisations are also involved with other species such as black grouse, grey partridges and red squirrels. Why has the RSPB got objections to using the relocation of hen harriers, as proposed in Defra’s plans for the bird, to improve its conservation status in England?

Instead of criticising gamekeepers and blocking this aspect of the hen harrier recovery plan, I hope the RSPB lets other qualified organisations get on and make a success of it.
Peter Giles
Clacton, Essex

The claim by community secretary Eric Pickles that a “phenomenal amount” of money is saved by switching off street lights (Report, 22 December) is fallacious. There is a demonstrable positive correlation between night accidents and street lighting. Research by the Road Research Laboratory showed that improvements in street lighting at 64 sites resulted in an average reduction of 30% in night accidents and a reduction of 45% in accidents involving personal injury. Cost-benefit accident savings from improved street lighting demonstrate annual savings greater than the cost of energy consumed. Savings are not direct credits to the lighting authorities, but are of benefit to the community as a whole, and to the NHS in having to treat fewer victims of road accidents.
Vivian Jones

• Here in the Aggborough and Spennells ward of Kidderminster, we are a pilot area for a Conservative county council initiative that has seen a reduction in street lighting, with two out of three streetlights turned off after midnight. In October, this area experienced five cases of criminal damage (same month last year, none), eight instances of violent crime (last year, two) and six thefts from motor cars (last year, none). Residents drew their own conclusions at a subsequent noisy and frustrated Pact (Partners and Communities Together) meeting – a West Mercia police initiative. It’s most disturbing to read that the police are likely to face a yet further reduction in numbers.
David Collins
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

• The Campaign to Protect Rural England says we should reduce street lighting to better appreciate the lovely starry skies. That might be all very well in the countryside, but here in urban areas, while it is true there is a lot of light pollution, there is also a high crime rate.I’ll stick to astronomy picture of the day on my phone.
Roger Greatorex

Mandy Rice Davies could reasonably claim to be a friend of Mrs Thatcher. After all, Thatcherism was an extension of the kind of hypocrisy and self-seeking greed that the Profumo affair best summed up and temporarily ended (Report, 20 December). There were the victims, like Christine Keeler, a much more genuine ingenue than Rice-Davies, and Stephen Ward, who the state determined to break. Then there were the beneficiaries like Mandy Rice-Davies, who got the wealth and Belgravia address she wanted and, ultimately, Profumo himself, who was readmitted to the ranks of the great and good through his “charitable work”. Now we can see the affair as a short period when the curtain was lifted and we were allowed to see the greed, irresponsibility and sexual mores of a ruling class that still punished homosexuality, prostitution and unmarried mothers. And now through its media and narrowly based politics encourages us to hate people on benefits, immigrants, disabled people and anyone else with little power or money.
Professor Peter Beresford
Brunel University London

I am currently preparing a number of screenplays. One advocates violent jihad. Another is profoundly offensive towards every minority group known to woman. Another features a gang-rape of Her Majesty the Queen. And of course there is a fourth in which both Barack Obama and David Cameron suffer assassination. I take it I may hope for the loudly vocal support of the western media and the cinema-going public (Sony U-turn to allow Christmas screenings of The Interview, 24 December).
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

The anti-Americanism in your letters has reached xenophobic levels. The most recent examples, in unanimous defence of poor, put-upon North Korea (23 December) finally infuriated me sufficiently to write to you. Poor, stupid Sony. Your correspondents, pre-war, would have found the appeasing tones of the Daily Mail more congenial. How “stupid” of Chaplin to make The Great Dictator. It might have offended Hitler.
Mike Elsam
Maidenhead, Berkshire

Has a Sony publicity wonk taken home a special Christmas bonus this year? It seems the entire world from President Obama down has been plugging this film, which no doubt will be fully released in due course and make a lot more money than it would otherwise have done.
Ian Troughton
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sport promotes another drinking culture besides alcohol (Letters, 26 December), one directly involving and targeting children. So-called sports drinks and their marketing are central to football and other high-profile sports. Sports stars aren’t just paid to sup them on the pitch or wear branded clothing. They also grant exclusive interviews and content to the media in association with the manufacturers. These sugary drinks, often containing caffeine, are presented as essential for participation in physical activity and sport. They’re sold in all sports centres. As we’ve become more aware of the harms of too much sugar, manufacturers are rebranding soft drinks, advertising them with misleading health claims and bogus science. Sport has more than one drink problem.
Dr Alex May

My thanks to John Loosley (Letters, 22 December) for mentioning Luton Town’s move to pay its staff a living wage. In fact, they were the first club to do so. Chelsea have come second. Hopefully, this will encourage more clubs to pay their staff a living wage, not just crazy money to the players. The time has now come for a full review of players’ salaries, especially in these days of austerity. Players seem to be totally unaffected by the crisis. Just to add more embarrassment to Premier League players, Luton Town also contributes to the local foodbank fund. Do the Chelsea players do that, I wonder?
Keith Cox
Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire

What would the rugby Premiership landscape look like if the salary cap were abolished (Sport, 23 December)? Very like football’s Barclays Premier League, with but a handful of clubs “buying” all the honours and an ever rising tide of on-the-field “gamesmanship”.
Ben Ramsbottom
Beckermet, Cumbria

John O’Malley writes: In July 1966, Chris Holmes joined a small group of us on a study trip of workers’ control in what was then Yugoslavia. We travelled in an uncomfortable minibus, camping overnight. Not everything went to plan. We were deported from Yugoslavia, but only after playing cricket under Chris’s supervision in the police station car park, and ended up in southern Italy. Chris enchanted the girls in a childrens’ home in Alberabello, Puglia, by reciting one of Aesop’s fables in immaculate German.

On our return to the UK, Chris came to live in the house of the Notting Hill Community Workshop, west London, and combined his full-time job with John Laing with being a core member of the team that launched the Notting Hill Summer Project in 1967. Its activities included a massive housing survey carried out by volunteer students.

Chris moved to manage the TocH house in Notting Hill Gate for a couple of years, and found a place for the Notting Hill Community Press in the basement. Into the 1970s he was a significant figure in the Notting Hill community movement and helped establish a range of innovative programmes including the first Law Centre and activities under the elevated Westway.




Sir, Peter Saunders (letter, Dec 22) suggests that our worries about the effect the proposed Stonehenge tunnel will have on the archaeology found at Blick Mead are “hyperbole”. We feel we have entirely reasonable archaeological concerns.

The biggest land take for the tunnel will be for the entrance and exit cuttings, as large extended areas either side of the tunnel entrances are needed for the emergency services and control, etc. The placing of the tunnel portals means that the cutting for the eastern entrance to the tunnel will be situated close to Blick Mead — probably no more than a hunter gatherer’s stone throw away from it.

In our view the changes caused to the water table by the draining required for the cutting, as well as by the 1.8mile tunnel, which in effect creates a concrete dam, are likely to degrade and destroy the organic artefacts at Blick Mead, which will be crucial for new dating and appreciation of the Stonehenge World Heritage landscape. As it is, the Blick Mead spring has a radio carbon date range of 7596-4695 BC, the longest continuous spread of Mesolithic dates in Europe, and with our latest discovery of the encampment dated to 4246BC, it also contains a unique snapshot of a transitional point between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic.

David Jacques
Senior research fellow, Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham

Sir, There is nothing unique about the Mesolithic site near Stonehenge (report, Dec 20, and letter, Dec 22) because there is a huge site all around the world-famous Star Carr in North Yorkshire. Environmental conditions there have preserved many aspects of Mesolithic life that are not normally found elsewhere. To many of us who know this area, it is every bit as exciting archaeologically as Salisbury Plain.

Dr Nicholas Riall
Calne, Wilts

Sir, Never mind the “tunnel to the Ice Age”. Learned disagreements between environmentalists and antiquarians have already delayed the provision of a proper road between London and the far southwest for half a century. They should be allowed to do so no longer, before west Cornwall, once a powerhouse of Britain’s industrial wealth, and now one of the poorest areas in Europe, finally decays into a mere theme park cum film set.

There should be a time limit of six months on these inter-intellectual discussions, and an assurance that bulldozers will be on site before next autumn. Let us get our priorities right before the last Cornishman is forced to leave his native land because there is nothing for him to earn and nowhere for him to live.

Richard Giles
Lympstone, Devon

Sir, I am an elderly person who has travelled on the A303 on numerous occasions — and hopefully will continue so to do. When driving down the slight incline towards Stonehenge from the direction of Andover, the biggest thrill for me, and anyone else on the A303, is the marvellous view of those proud stones standing majestically to the right of the road.

I have long been of the opinion that English Heritage only wants a tunnel in order that the likes of myself should be deprived of this view because we don’t pay their high entrance fees.

There is ample room for another carriageway either side of the A303 on the grass verge, which would be far less expensive than a tunnel.

Sheila A Duffin
Andover, Hants

Sir, I am surprised that in the heated debate about whether to build a bypass around or tunnel under Stonehenge no one has suggested the obvious solution: move the monument itself.

Salisbury Plain is huge and could easily accommodate Stonehenge elsewhere, in a location more easily accessible and with better visibility. Moving the stones would be quicker and cheaper than any compatible road scheme and would enable the A303 to be widened, thus removing the bottleneck. It would also facilitate a major archaeological investigation of the site and its environs.

Michael Brown
Highbridge, Somerset

Sir, As a former Conservative candidate in Sheffield Hallam in 2001, I wholeheartedly agree with your leader (“Clegg in Peril”, Dec 23). Nick Clegg has not only put country before party but has often brought a breath of sense to policy making, particularly on tax, civil liberties and Europe. His return as MP and the continuance of the coalition for another five years would not only be the best result for Hallam and the country but would save the Conservative party from the self-destruction on which some on its right seem intent.

John Harthman

Sir, The article by David Willetts (“May’s mean-spirited plan will damage Britain”, Opinion, Dec 23) outlines brilliantly the strange ambivalence of the UK’s attitude to overseas students. We need their money and, even more importantly, we need the academic quality and stimulus that they can bring. Yet for students whom I know in India, the process of gaining entry for further study in the UK is made as forbidding and unwelcoming as possible for many of the brightest and best, and poorest.

David Summerscale
London SW1

Sir, I was interested to read (Dec 22, and letters, Dec 24) that a £500,000 lorry has been provided in Bristol to treat binge drinkers. Your report includes: “We ask them where they live and who their friends and family are so we can get in touch with them and reassure them that they’re OK” and that “they are able to sleep off the alcohol, drink water and warm up before being collected by friends or relatives or being sober enough to safely make their way home”.

These are just the kind of services offered free by Street Pastors in towns across the UK. I note that in Bristol eight patients were helped on the Friday and six on the Saturday. Here in Cheltenham, Street Pastors have provided similar care to thousands of people in the past five years — all without the aid of a £500,000 truck.

Howard Bartlett
Secretary, Cheltenham Street Pastors

Sir, Perhaps we can now put to bed the myth that Mandy Rice-Davies (obituary, Dec 20) coined the phrase “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

My fellow pupils and I would regularly use this phrase, with slight variations (She, They) to suit the occasion in the girls’ school playground in the 1940s. We considered this to be a remarkably clever put-down; at least we can claim to be in good company.

Mavis Parsons
Hucknall, Notts

Sir, Derwent May needn’t go to northwest Britain to see pintail ducks in large numbers (Feather report, Dec 20). This most beautiful bird can be seen in abundance — there are up to 200 — on the Stour estuary from Mistley to Harwich. Indeed, at Copperas Bay, Wrabness, a week ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of watching a couple of dozen pairs of pintail cruising gently up and down about 20 yards from the water’s edge. There was a lovely mixture of pintail, widgeon, brent and Canada geese, with redshank and even a solitary curlew running along the mud.

Dr John Owen
Colchester, Essex

What, exactly, does QED stand for? The answer is not quite what you might think…

Sir, Leslie Watmore (letter, Dec 23) says that his maths master would have said “QED”. My maths master, who lost a leg fighting in the First World War, encouraged us to write QED at the end of our maths prep, preferably not because Quod Erat Demonstrandum but hopefully because “Quite Easily Done”.

Tim Mynott

I too share Phillip Collins’s wish for a glorified title — and have had some success to this end

Sir, In the same vein as Phillip Collins’s wish for a glorified title (Notebook, Dec 23), I successfully managed to get my daughters to call me “Dear Darling Daddy, Illustrious Sir, Your Majesty the Quing” for a while. I suggested that they get their children to address me as such, but it seems the best my grandchildren are prepared to call me is “Buppy”, a corruption of Grumpy. I trust the youngsters’ wisdom and am more than happy with it.
Nicholas Attwater
Epsom, Surrey

Wellington was losing until he was saved by the arrival of Field Marshal Blücher and the Prussians…

Sir, It was of course (as I’m sure you really know) not Wellington who won the battle of Waterloo (report, Dec 26). He was losing until saved by the arrival of Field Marshal Blücher and the Prussians. The highly inaccurate and somewhat tendentious reports that were sent at the time became solidified in British school history.

Maybe it is now time to correct that.

Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski

Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Given the pressure on police resources, why did it take eight officers to deal with one washed-up seal?

Sir, Senior police officers frequently remind us that their “resources” (ie, numbers of police officers) are fully stretched and no further cuts are possible without a serious effect on their ability to do their job. Your report on the seal washed up 17 miles from shore (Dec 23) shows that a shortage of “resources” has not yet affected the Merseyside force. There were at least eight officers pictured in your photograph, all watching as firefighters rescued the poor, lost seal. Or were they needed to protect the public from this dangerous animal?

Sir Patrick Cable-Alexander

Worthing, W Sussex

Public safety is likely to be compromised if security cameras are abandoned

Sir, You report that a police force which serves county and industrial towns and extensive rural areas has abandoned the use of surveillance cameras (Dec 22). At the time CCTV was being installed across the UK my research group took the opportunity to evaluate its effectiveness in tackling violence in UK towns and cities with and without these systems. The conclusions were clear: surveillance led to more offences being identified, faster and more frequent police intervention in arguments and fights, and fewer people injured in violence treated in accident and emergency departments.

Unfortunately, police records seriously underestimate violence, perpetuating errors from studies which rely on this poor measure of effectiveness. NHS injury records are also needed.

Not surprisingly, deploying scores of CCTV cameras in areas where the risk of violence is high increases the police detection of violence. This facilitates early intervention, which prevents incidents from escalating.

There may be opportunities to save money by limiting periods when CCTV cameras are monitored,but public safety is likely to be compromised, and NHS and compensation costs increased, if cameras are abandoned.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd

Cardiff University

Sir, I was interested to see Anthony Jenkins’ view of waymarking in new buildings (letter, Dec 22). As the former head of a national sign company, we fought many battles because so often sign requirements were underestimated by the architect when main contracts were drawn up.

Adequate circulation signs make buildings work — something that architects, in my experience, managed repeatedly to ignore.

Timothy Burnham
Ticehurst, E Sussex



Should those who eat too much and exercise too little be given special treatment?

Should those who eat too much and exercise too little be given special treatment?

SIR – The latest ruling by the European Court of Justice that obesity can constitute a disability must surely have persuaded any doubters that it is time we left the EU.

This ruling will cost British industry millions of pounds. There will always be a minority of people who are obese as a result of a medical condition, and through no fault of their own, who should be dealt with individually and sympathetically, but I fear they will lose out once again due to their being included with those whose condition is a result of excessive eating and insufficient exercise.

While this ruling will bring much more work to the legal profession and increase pressure on our courts, the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill.

Philip Gurr
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

SIR – How far will the EU go to test the patience of the British people and their collective common sense? The next edict is surely to register indolence as a disability, followed by ignorance, then apathy. Who knows where it might end after that?

Peter Gilmartin

SIR – I should have thought a better description might be “self-harming”, rather than “disabled”.

David J Hartshorn
Badby, Northamptonshire

SIR – When I was in the Royal Air Force, anyone who became sunburnt and thereby landed themselves in the sick bay unable to work was put on a charge and severely reprimanded.

Surely any individual unable to perform his or her duties at work as a result of obesity should be the one being sued.

Robert Ward
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Within any legal constraints, what employer is not going to do everything within his power to avoid employing an obese applicant?

Adrian Brown
Wellswood, Devon

SIR – When we have finished establishing rights for the obese, I wonder if a thought could be spared for the rights of the abnormally tall.

Legislation insisting that all door lintels should be at least 6ft 6in from the ground would be a good start.

C J Driver
Northiam, East Sussex

SIR – Is there a lawyer out there willing to take my case?

As a man measuring 6ft 5in with a BMI of 40-something, I have been unable to find any racing stable that will take me on as a flat-race jockey.

Discrimination, surely?

Robert Langford
Keresley, Warwickshire

Futile border controls

SIR – The notion that human beings can be treated at airports like inanimate objects, for purposes of immigration control, is laughable.

People move of their own volition, tell lies about their identity and don’t respond well to having to report their every move to the state. Nor do they respond favourably to queuing at immigration control, even for the simplest identity check, such as matching person to passport. Reliable technology is hard to find. Ask anyone who has tried to use the automated gates at Gatwick border control.

Successive governments have tinkered with border controls to ill effect. The likelihood of the introduction of exit controls by April is nil. Airports will not readily give up valuable retail estate to the Government for the operation of a control that is of no interest to them.

And when we did operate an embarkation check, its purpose was not the identification of UK citizens intent on jihad, but an increasingly futile attempt to count out those who had been counted in by the completion of entry and exit cards. Given the millions of journeys in and out of the UK, such a system, even electronic, is doomed to failure.

This Government is intent on reducing the size and cost of the state. Successful control can no longer be achieved by the hugely costly one-to-one interface. A targeted, intelligence-led approach, which picks out likely offenders, will inevitably look too much like the police state that no right-thinking person wants, overlaid as it would have to be with some pretty robust, and some might say unacceptable, deportation policies.

In other words, neither way will work. Let’s learn to live with it and stop kidding ourselves that we can have an effective border wall.

James Munro
Ashurst Wood, West Sussex

Fairway foul play

SIR – Princess Alexandra – later Edward VII’s queen – enjoyed her own version of golf. According to the courtier Sir Frederick Ponsonby, “she confused it with hockey, and was under the impression that one had to prevent the opponent putting the ball in the hole… She also thought that the person who got into the hole first, won it, and asked me to hurry up and run between the strokes.”

For us non-golfers, her ideas would certainly make the game more interesting.

Rupert Godfrey
Devizes, Wiltshire

Doctors being sued

SIR – As joint editors preparing the fifth edition of the legal textbook Clinical Negligence, we join the concern voiced about the Medical Innovation Bill.

Lord Woolf recently said in Parliament: “The progress of the Bill has been a remarkable example of this House at its very best.” The reality is different. The Bill’s purpose is to promote responsible medical innovation by protecting doctors from being sued for negligence. Lord Woolf wrote in the Telegraph on April 24: “What I do know about, from sitting as a judge, are the cases where doctors are sued for negligence because they have innovated.” What are these cases? We are not aware of such cases.

The Bill’s supporters have not provided any evidence that doctors are deterred from innovation by the threat of litigation. Parliamentary scrutiny requires solid evidence.

Dr Michael J Powers QC
Dr Anthony Barton

London WC2

Good beer, bad price

SIR – In many areas, there has been a growth in pubs serving excellent cask beers from small breweries. My local always has a hand-pumped ale from the Kite brewery in Llantrisant.

The problem is that, to make a living, the landlord of this pubco inn, because of its price controls, has to charge £3.40 a pint for beer of 4.2 per cent alcohol. The other day I was able to buy four 500ml bottles of my favourite bottle-conditioned beer, at 6.5 per cent alcohol, in my local supermarket for £5, or £1.42 a pint.

David Hawkridge
Ogmore-by-Sea, Glamorgan

Fewer cars in London

SIR – When London’s congestion charge was introduced in 2003, traffic and congestion had reached severe levels. In the last 11 years the charge has reduced vehicles entering the zone by 60,000 per day.

It has contributed to an unprecedented shift from car use to public and other forms of sustainable transport. The £1.2 billion net revenue has been invested straight into the capital’s transport infrastructure.

Leon Daniels
Managing Director, Surface Transport
Transport for London
London SW1

The reality of country life without enough buses

The Grade II listed bus shelter at Farmington, Gloucestershire, built in 1951 (Alamy)

SIR – I visit my mother when I can. She does not drive and lives alone, aged 84, in a small village in Warwickshire, about five miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.

The public transport consists of just two buses every week, running on Tuesdays and Fridays. The return leg allows for a maximum of two hours at Stratford, and the route does not go anywhere near the main supermarket. In practice this means that travellers get to spend just over an hour in the town. Weekly shopping is out of the question, and lunch is pie in the sky.

This is the truth of rural life, and perhaps the metropolitan elite concerned with travel and communications might like to pay heed.

Alan Kibblewhite
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – The village of South Petherton in Somerset has had a bank since 1806. Despite its population of 3,500, and footfall declining at less than half the national rate, RBS has said it will close the NatWest branch – the only bank there – in January as its usage is in the “bottom 10 per cent”. RBS will enhance services at the post office in lieu, but this will not meet the needs of businesses nor of most customers. Six months ago, RBS closed the bank in nearby Martock, advising clients to use Petherton instead.

If a village or small town loses its bank, then its shops and businesses will lose trade, as customers are forced to travel to the nearest large town. The decision condemns the village to the fate of a dormitory serving Yeovil.

Vince Cable has spoken recently of the banks’ pledge to maintain “the last bank in town”. If the Coalition has any intention of supporting a thriving rural community, then now is the time to remind them of that.

Peter Kidner
South Petherton, Somerset

Dreaming of a return to the quiet carriage

SIR – I will pay good money to any company that can come up with a device that discreetly blocks the mobile signal of those passengers who assume that their phones will only work on public transport if spoken into loudly enough to be audible to the driver – or that the details of their ghastly lives are of the slightest interest to anyone else.

I exclude the old gentleman on the bus to Chesterfield the other day, who gave the assembled passengers “’Owart tha? Ashall sithee at thy owse” at a hundred decibels.

Thee, thou, thy – precious.

Victor Launert
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

SIR – During a recent visit to Tynemouth Castle on the far Northumberland coast, I was amazed to find a full 4G phone signal. In Milton Keynes there is barely 3G.

Is O2 trying to tell us something?

Barrie Mellars
Oving, Buckinghamshire

You are here

SIR – I appreciate that this is the time of year when people tell tales of the vagaries of our postal system, but this card arrived for us; only one day later than standard first-class delivery.

Particularly impressive since our postcode actually begins with HR2.

Melanie Williams
Craswall, Herefordshire

Globe and Mail


The world’s a better place. Dare to toast your fortune

Irish Times


Irish Independent

The Salthill promenade
The Salthill promenade

As we celebrate the birth of Christ I wish to share my feeling of peace with all mankind.

My day started off volunteering with the COPE Galway Christmas day swim. It was my second year doing this. The morning started off a little overcast before the sun finally broke through illuminating all living things. People of all shapes and sizes from the very young to the elderly braved the cold Atlantic waters all in the aim of a little fun and to support a local charity. There was a brilliant atmosphere as people queued up to register and collect their souvenir T shirts. The Mayor of Galway even popped along and individually shook hands with all volunteers.

Later I drove along the Prom. At this stage the sun was spreading it’s golden light from a clear blue sky. There were scores of people perambulating along taking advantage of the break from the blustery drizzly days of late. There is no where on earth as beautiful as Salthill on a sunny day whatever the time of year.

In the evening after stuffing myself at a friend’s house I decided to go for a walk. It was the first time I had walked through Salthill in the evening on Christmas day since the day ” I wandered alone in a desolate city” as I wrote later of the time I spent Christmas day on my own many years previously. I thought of the feeling of peace I had and how this contrasted so starkly with that low point in my life.

As one year finishes and the days lengthen we should all remember that sometimes the only thing that might keep us going is hope. Nothing motivates us like that most basic life force. No matter how hopeless things may appear at a certain time, tomorrow is another day.

Tommy Roddy, Salthill


No goodwill in video games

I felt for the children who got their longed for Xboxes – let’s face it, Santa can’t give those to every boy and girl.

They took them out of their wrapping and plugged them in, only to discover that some nut-job with a gripe against the US most probably, has rendered them unplayable.

Messing with the dreams of a child is a pretty low kind of warfare.

But then again, what type of warfare is noble? And how life-affirming are those Playstation games? I’ve watched the kids exploding zombies and mowing down battalions for hours. It seems to me that our increasingly connected world is hard-wired for something other than peace and goodwill to all men.

R Connelley, Co Galway


Difficult decisions for doctors

Doctors in Ireland have had no problems practising good clinical decision -making in the 31 years since the Eighth Amendment was passed in 1983. Many would view that it is entirely consistent with their role in life to preserve life (though not at all costs) and relieve suffering. What doctors do have a problem with, though, is legislation which allows the termination of a life for psychosocial reasons (threat of suicide) and it is precisely this “Protection of Life” Bill for which Peter Boylan and his colleague Rhona Mahony argued so passionately at the Oireachtas hearing.

It is the socio-political interference inherent in this Bill (which all the major medical organisations voted strongly against despite the testimony given by Dr Boylan and Dr Mahony) which we can see is now undermining doctors’ confidence to make decisions based on good medicine (the recent failure to terminate life-support in a pregnant woman).

Since Dr Boylan was one of the most influential figures influencing politicians and the media during the debate on the Protection of Life Bill his coming out now to criticise the Eighth Amendment for this present situation is nothing short of astounding.

There will always be difficult decisions to be made in medicine and Dr Boylan’s role in bringing in a Bill which permits psychosocial grounds for the termination of life has served to make life much more difficult for doctors and their patients as we can see from this recent case.

Dr Therese Boyle, Dochas Centre, North Circular Rd, Dublin 7


A tragedy with no silver lining

Firstly, I would like to send my regards to the family. I am so sorry about this situation and so close to Christmas.

Secondly, there is something I don’t understand. The girl is brain dead and nothing can be done for her, but I do recall last year the case of a woman, 15 weeks pregnant and brain dead, in Hungary, that was artificially kept alive until week 27 to deliver a healthy baby. I don’t say that one life has more rights than another, the case here is that one life is definitely gone and there is a chance for another live to be born.

I am not an extremist pro-life or anything like that. But if there is the possibility of something good coming out of this tragedy, why not take the chance?

Lisa Brown, Balbriggan, Co Dublin


Cultures of conformity

Recent revelations have heightened our awareness of the vulnerability of people in care.

A number of psychological experiments have been designed to investigate what happens when people have power over others. For instance, in the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971), psychologically healthy volunteers were divided into “guards” and “inmates” in a mock prison. Scheduled to run for two weeks, the experiment had to be halted after 6 days as the “guards” became so abusive and sadistic and the “inmates” so craven and submissive.

In Milgram’s obedience experiments (1963) researchers could persuade volunteers to administer severe electric shocks to other volunteers who appeared to be failing a simple memory test (the shocks were actually fake and the recipients were actors).

In Asch’s conformity experiments (1952), about 30pc of volunteers changed their original opinion in order to conform to the majority view in a small group.

These results indicate that rather than being innate to the individual, the nature of our behaviour can be dramatically influenced by the conditions around us. In the absence of accountability, ordinary people can, and often do, behave in ways that they themselves are later shocked by.

Abuses of power in institutions such as the banks, the Church, care homes and the Gardai illustrate the predictable consequences of lack of accountability. We need robust systems that ensure oversight and transparency and that guarantee the protection of whistleblowers. These need to be embedded in organisational cultures that value respect, compassion, equity and integrity, perspectives that we can never afford to take for granted.

Maeve Halpin, 126 Ranelagh, Dublin 6


God help them

There used to be a street jingle: Christmas is coming The goose is getting fat please put a penny in the poor man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God help you.

Walking through Dublin over the Christmas I saw a lot of people who didn’t appear to have a ha’penny.

I thought it must make the work of people like Brother Kevin and Fr Peter McVerry all the more difficult, and all the more essential.

T G Gavin, Killiney, Co Dublin

Irish Independent




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