6 January 2015 Childrens books
Mary a little better mussels for lunch. Sharland comes to call.
Alla Sizova was a Soviet ballerina who danced with Nureyev just before he defected and was part of a golden generation at the Kirov
Alla Sizova, the Soviet ballerina, who has died in St Petersburg aged 75, sprang to instant fame at the age of 18 when performing with her classmate Rudolf Nureyev in a school graduation film . Performing the Le Corsaire duet, the teenage Nureyev prowled and leapt like a hungry panther and Sizova was dubbed “the flying Sizova” as she soared into jumps that seemed to hover mid-air. The two prodigies were immediately hired into the Kirov Ballet as soloists, skipping the usual corps de ballet start.
Paradoxically, Nureyev thoroughly disliked his partner, dismissing her as “cold and dull”. When the Kirov administration allocated them an apartment together, he declared that if it was an attempt to marry him off to her, it would fail. Both dancers moved family members into the two rooms with them, to ensure that they did not cross paths too often when they were off-duty, even as their on-stage miracles of lightness, grace and athletic dynamism together were assumed to reflect a mutual respect.
Nureyev’s low opinion of his partner was not shared by the British, when Alla Sizova and her remarkable generation at the Kirov were first unveiled in the West on their celebrated tour in 1961. On June 16 that year, as the company flew on to London from their opening venue, Paris, Nureyev – who was being sent home for antisocial behaviour – had defected.
Alla Sizova, like Nureyev’s colleagues, had no idea what had happened, but as his partner she found herself under suspicion. Back in St Petersburg her mother was confronted by KGB officers and put in such fear for her daughter that the experience resulted in her spending weeks in a psychiatric hospital.
However, the young ballerina, although having to make her debut in The Sleeping Beauty on the Covent Garden stage, in which she should have been partnered by Nureyev, conquered her anxieties to give a glowing performance. The eminent critic Clive Barnes wrote that the joyful 21-year-old was “rather more to the English taste than her colleagues”, and showed “all the incipient nobility of a coming prima ballerina. Her extensions seemed to travel up to infinity and beyond in a curiously poetic and non-athletic manner… I find it difficult to envisage a more remarkable debut in the greatest ballerina role of the classic repertory.”
Alla Sizova with Nureyev in in Le Corsaire, Leningrad, circa 1958
On return to the USSR, Sizova was asked to condemn Nureyev, but stated that on the contrary she admired his “strength of will and fearlessness” in pursuing “his artistic growth”, though she could not understand what he would find in the West with its inferior ballet training. She went on to become one of the nation’s quartet of superstar ballerinas, alongside Irina Kolpakova, Alla Osipenko and Natalia Makarova, her captivating charm and virtuosic brilliance being soon enriched with a touching expressiveness that would be noted approvingly on subsequent Kirov tours to London in the 1970s.
Sizova suffered long treatment for a spinal injury, reportedly linked to her landings from spectacular jumps, which caused her to miss the 1966 tour to London. Having lost Nureyev as her partner (his name was erased from records at the time), she created an equally famous pairing with the brilliant Yuri Soloviev, whose jumps were more refined than the forceful Nureyev’s. It was said that Soloviev and Sizova showed the ultimate possible in the Kirov’s classical training, a fusion of natural gifts and stylistic polish.
Sizova suffered no jealousy from her peers: Makarova, her contemporary, praised her “enticing radiance”, and the older Kolpakova, regarded as the leading classical stylist of this golden group, once told an American interviewer that when someone had told her he preferred Sizova in a role to her, “that hurt. It made me want to do better.”
Alla Ivanovna Sizova was born in Moscow on September 22 1939. Her family moved to Leningrad and she studied at the prestigious Vaganova ballet school, where according to another of her classmates, Valery Panov, the young girl was known as the “ugly duckling”, an “anaemic-looking complainer with red eyes and a voice that nagged whenever she stopped crying”. Panov would acknowledge that she was “a striking example of the caterpillar who becomes a ballerina butterfly”.
Regardless of the good opinion of the boys in her class, Sizova sped into the Kirov Ballet, performing 14 major roles in her first three years. Her lightness, musicality and Kirov delicacy made her a supreme Giselle as well as Masha in Vasily Vainonen’s traditional The Nutcracker, and with her growing talent for showing vulnerability she also became a touching Juliet, Katerina in The Stone Flower and Maria in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. The Kirov’s choreographers showered her with new roles, ranging from the leading part in Igor Belsky’s powerful tribute to Russian wartime suffering set to Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, to story heroines such as Konstantin Sergeyev’s Cinderella and Ophelia in his Hamlet, and Princess Rose in Oleg Vinogradov’s The Prince of the Pagodas (using Britten’s score), among other creations, many not seen in the West.
As well as her legendary partnerships with Nureyev and Soloviev, she also brought all her technical brilliance and gaiety to performances with the marvellous young Mikhail Baryshnikov in Don Quixote that are still said to have set the Kirov’s standard in that ballet.
In 1983 Alla Sizova was awarded the top Soviet honour, People’s Artist of the USSR. She last performed in the Kirov’s version of Les Sylphides (called Chopiniana) at the age of 53, but latterly her life became unhappier. Her husband, the television sports producer Mikhail Serebrennikov, had died while covering the Moscow Olympics of 1980, leaving her with their only son.
In 1991 she moved with the son to the US to work alongside her Kirov colleague Oleg Vinogradov at his new Kirov Academy, Washington, where she was a much-loved teacher of American ballerinas. But in 2004 she returned to Russia after her son unexpectedly died while fishing.
Alla Sizova, born September 22 1939, died November 23 2014
Martin Kettle (English radicalism needs to recapture the spirit of Blake, 2 January) is so right that progressive politics is these days instrumentalist and lacking in vision – if anyone was in any doubt about the truth of this, they just needed to read the adjacent article by Ed Balls (Osborne is at the margins, Labour is the centre ground, 2 January). Where can we look for such a progressive vision? Kettle suggests that for William Blake politics is a form of religious faith, and it is instructive to hear Justin Welby, in his new year message, talk of sacrifice and self-giving, turning outwards and bringing hope to the poor and suffering of the world, arguably plagiarised from Jesus’s own words in Luke (4:18-19). How might this vision play out in practical politics? Can I suggest raising taxes on the better off and diverting resources to the poor, ill and needy of this country and the wider world? Some of this of course Ed Balls was suggesting as Labour policy, and perhaps all Labour needs to do is to marry policy with the proclamation of a vision – and so engage both the soul and brain of the electorate.
• Martin Kettle’s point that William Blake was not someone you’d want running today’s railways or NHS is sound. Yet from 1976 to 1983, Blake was helping to run British Rail. It was during these years that BR’s chairman, Sir Peter Parker, maintained his long-standing devotion to Blake’s poetry and painting. From 1997 until his death in 2002, Parker was president of the Blake Society. A radio documentary on the life of Blake scholar Kathleen Raine said Parker “won’t go near the negotiating table without a copy [of Blake’s work] close at hand”. Might this add weight to Kettle’s suggestion that, through Blake’s vision, the realms of the practical and the imagination might come together in a “progressive organism”?
• How moving for Martin Kettle to remind us of the power and importance of political imagination and vision in these immensely unstable times. Had he chosen a later period to look at the emergence of “politics as a form of religious faith”, he might have alighted on the Independent Labour party. Among the many names who come to mind here are Keir Hardie and Philip Snowden (whatever his later failings at the Treasury), the first a Scot who for many years was MP for a Welsh constituency, the second a Yorkshireman. You could also include the middle-class Katherine Bruce Glasier, whose speeches profoundly moved her audiences. Or the working-class Hannah Mitchell, suffrage campaigner and Manchester councillor, who had only two weeks’ schooling. They all embodied vision and ethics in their politics.
Any progressive politics today would be enriched if, among other sources, it draws from this rich ILP tradition.
• It was as a student, reading Bronowski’s A Man Without a Mask, that I met William Blake, and he has been my companion for the last 60 years. Blake not merely had an imagination and was a dreamer, as Martin Kettle says; he also possessed a blazing anger. And it is that anger, at injustice, at cruelty, at abuse of power, that we in Albion need. As his contemporary Francisco Goya put it: “Divine Justice, do not spare them!” It is the voice of anger that needs to speak for Britain.
West Kirby, Wirral
• As EP Thompson noted, William Blake belonged to a “long popular tradition” which was not just visionary but also concerned with opposing the monarchy and organised religion. Martin Kettle may well have a point that reclaiming Blake is one way to forge anew a genuine English radical tradition, but it would be one considerably to the left of what passes for official politics in 2015.
• Imagination and vision are essential, as Martin Kettle says. But to describe the current state of Scottish political thinking as one that broadly reflects the view that Scotland’s problems will be solved by throwing off the English yoke is wrong. I voted for a “progressive” Labour party in UK elections for 50 years, but am unlikely to do so again. This in part because of its stance on the referendum, but mainly because it appears unable or unwilling to articulate an economic vision based on something other than global capitalism as currently practised. People see wages falling in real terms and their conditions of employment being reduced by employers drawing on the larger EU pool of labour. Some misleadingly translate this into a question of immigration or EU membership, rather than face up to the downside of globalisation and ensure that the global market works for the many not the few. In an independent Scotland the case for radical alternatives would be argued against a backdrop free from the needs of London as a global financial centre, from “special relationships” and from an unrealistic view of our place in the world.
Annan, Dumfries and Galloway
Isn’t it time we stopped using the word “migrant” to describe people risking their lives to flee a war that has killed 200,000 Syrians, wounded millions (physically and mentally), and made millions more homeless (Vessel abandoned with 450 migrants on board, 3 January)? Surely they are refugees and/or asylum seekers. Defining them otherwise turns them into cannon fodder for our own economic, political and racial xenophobes.
Kings Green, Worcestershire
• Ian Bostridge’s reflections on “crossovers” between classical and popular performance (Cold comfort, Review, 2 January) remind me of the surprising example in Richard Whorf’s film It Happened in Brooklyn: Sinatra singing an English version of Don Giovanni’s Là Ci Darem la Mano. Quirky, but not at all unpleasant.
• Bill Gabbett (Letters, 3 December) refers to English public school boys who (some people think) “won the Battle of Britain”. Just for the record, of the 3,000 fighter pilots recorded as having flown sorties in that encounter, 600 (20%) were known to have attended a public school.
• Young independent filmmakers Shut Out The Light have produced a powerful short film Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Letters, 1 January), which they have been touring and is available via their website.
Dr Nicola Wilson
University of Reading
• Mary Gildea calls for an experiment where the country is run by non-male people (Letters, 5 January). We ran that experiment – we called it Thatcherism – and we’re still paying for it now.
Southwick, West Sussex
• A few years ago I passed a sign outside a church in Bradford: “Prayer – the original Wi-Fi” (Lloyd Webber calls for Wi-Fi for all churches, 5 January).
Kingston Stert, Oxfordshire
Reading the lists of “honours refuseniks” (Editorial, 3 January) I am struck by how admirable they are: some of our best painters, novelists and playwrights, to name but a few. They deserve to be honoured, and perhaps refusal is honour enough. But how about an honour that does not come from the establishment, let alone the British empire or royal family? The ABC (Admirable British Citizen) should be offered to all refuseniks. Those who accept would vote for a nomination committee from among their number. Those who have already accepted empire honours should have the opportunity to be considered for an ABC. The committee would consider nominations from anyone. It would be elected, by the body of ABCs, every two years. One small but significant step towards a British democracy.
Sir, Ross Clark fails to recognise the evidence linking the removal of lead from petrol with the fall in violent crime (“Murders are down and we don’t know why”, Jan 3). Lead burden is most dangerous in utero and infancy, so high levels of exposure can be expected to manifest themselves in dysfunctional behaviour among teenagers and young adults 20 years later. In the US, lead was removed from petrol in the late Seventies and violent crime fell dramatically in the Nineties. In the UK lead was removed between 1985 and 1995 and we are seeing the benefits two decades later.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones FRCP FRCPath
Former chairman, Campaign for Lead Free Air
Letters: Air crash investigations are hindered by out-of-date black box technology
Training pilots and tracing aircraft; commuters paying the price; in defence of Horrible History; and Tom Jones’s kind of motor
SIR – The limitations of black box flight recorder technology, which dates back to the Sixties, are all too evident when aircraft are lost at sea. This has been demonstrated by the Air France flight 447 in 2009, the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in 2014 and AirAsia flight QZ8501 at the end of last year.
The potential of satellite technology has long since rendered these flight recorders obsolete. The US Navy has used ejectable recorders, which transmit position, since 1993. An upgrade of airliner flight recorders seems long overdue.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
SIR – Initial investigations into the AirAsia crash suggest that the pilot “ascended sharply to avoid a storm”. As a retired Boeing 747-400 captain, I have to question the wisdom of this decision.
Storm clouds can extend to above 50,000ft in equatorial latitudes; most modern passenger jets can’t climb that high. Extreme levels of turbulence may render the aircraft out of control and the only option would be descent. Autopilots may well disengage or command a descent that the crew did not demand. Confusion and panic can result in a complete loss of spatial awareness as the aircraft starts to descend into the very weather that was being avoided.
Bad weather should always be avoided laterally, not vertically. We should never try to out-climb Mother Nature.
SIR – With all due respect to Mr Ord-Hume for his profound knowledge of aircraft design and great contribution to aviation, I cannot help feeling that he is dwelling on the past.
Training pilots in today’s full motion simulators exposes them to the complete range of conceivable emergencies and malfunctions. Inevitably, there will be those who become complacent and rely too heavily on automated systems – but these are the types who will benefit most from simulator training.
SIR – I had the good fortune to serve in the Royal Air Force during the early days of the jet era. Many hours in the air were spent practising for technical failures, fires and deteriorating weather conditions. The result was an instinctive ability to fly the aeroplane manually and without all the technical advantages that pilots expect to enjoy today.
Many airlines now offer cut-price fares. I believe they can only do this at the expense of pilot training. The airlines have a moral responsibility to ensure that their crews have the innate ability to revert to flying by basic principles. Flight safety cannot be sacrificed for commercial expediency.
J J Mudford
Plaistow, West Sussex
SIR – The Tories’ proposal to cap public-sector severance packages is long overdue. MPs should also review their own termination packages, especially for those who resign under dubious circumstances and then pick up a handsome pay-off, courtesy of the taxpayer.
SIR – In the interests of fairness, bonuses paid to bankers and CEOs should be similarly capped. We are all paying in austerity measures for casino banking, and shareholders are paying the lucrative packages of CEOs.
Cost of commuting
SIR – Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, says that if people choose to commute by rail they have to accept the fares charged (report, January 3).
Most people do not choose to commute; they have no option because they can’t get houses near where they work and they can’t get jobs near where they live.
SIR – Does Mr McLoughlin really think that anyone chooses to spend a significant part of their life crammed into overcrowded transport as a lifestyle option? Does he also not understand that commuters are part of the taxpaying public who fund the railway systems?
Lynne M Collins
It’s time Britain placed more value on its milk
SIR – We have seen two of our local dairy farmers give up in the past two years, so we no longer get our thrice-weekly delivery in glass bottles.
Milk is part of the mainstay of our daily diet. Why is it so undervalued and the producer so downtrodden?
Our beautiful countryside will soon be covered with yet more houses, while meadows full of grazing cows will be a distant memory.
SIR – Tesco is not the only culprit. Asda is currently selling a container of four pints of semi-skimmed milk for just 89 pence.
SIR – I now pay Dairycrest 95 pence for a pint of organic milk delivered to my door. Something is very wrong with this.
SIR – Most shoppers would have little idea what they pay per litre of milk. Retail prices could easily be increased by three to four pence per litre, and few would notice or care. This would be more acceptable to the producer yet still represent fantastic value for the consumer.
As retail price maintenance has long been illegal, it is only the supermarkets that can rescue this dire situation.
SIR – A few years ago, bread was simply a cheap, white-sliced basket-filler, but it has undergone a marketing revolution to become a high-quality, high-priced nutritious food.
We need to take a fresh look at milk and transform the perception of it from cheap white liquid into wholesome staple food. And we need to act fast, or fresh British milk might become a thing of the past.
Out in the cold
SIR – Your report “ ’Now or never’ to save HMS Victory” (January 3) is a timely wake-up call to the nation.
I have never understood how the most iconic naval vessel in the world is still parked outdoors at the mercy of the elements. Surely, in this age of glass and steel, a suitable structure can be crafted to bring Victory in from the rain.
SIR – I have to disagree with Robert Peal, who says that the Horrible Histories series has “turned study of the past into a joke”. The Birmingham Stage Company has been producing Horrible Histories live on stage for 10 years, regularly sending children out of the theatre buzzing with questions about the history they’ve seen. Families who write to us are astonished at how fascinated their children have become by the subject. Our touring shows are two hours long, debunking the growing myth that children can’t concentrate.
The fact that Terry Deary’s books have made history a medium for entertainment should be welcomed as the perfect vehicle for getting children to love the story of how we got here and who we are.
Manager, Birmingham Stage Company
SIR – Horrible Histories are not textbooks to be “studied”. Students read these books of their own free will and anyone who accuses the franchise of “dumbing-down” history is, frankly, a snob.
Deary presents history in a quicker and more enjoyable way than Robert Peal’s beloved Seventies schoolbooks. Volumes such as The Groovy Greeks and The Slimy Stuarts aren’t supposed to be academic, but interesting for children to read.
SIR – Our two privately educated daughters, both with 2:1 degrees, disagreed with my assertion that history is now only narrowly taught and is dumbed down.
I challenged them with “Who was Joan of Arc?” The reply of “Noah’s wife” left me feeling I had won a hollow victory.
For Benson’s Lucia, a Bentley simply wouldn’t do
Georgie Pillson strolls with Mapp and Lucia in the BBC television adaptation (BBC / Nick Briggs )
SIR – No matter how splendid the BBC’s television adaptation of E F Benson’s great Mapp and Lucia novels, in one respect it is defective.
In the programme, Lucia has a Bentley motor car, of the sporting sort made by W O Bentley before Rolls-Royce took over his firm in 1931. This is completely wrong – Lucia would never have had such a brutal, “masculine” machine.
Indeed, in Mapp and Lucia, Benson states explicitly three times that Lucia had a Rolls-Royce. For example, in Chapter Two: “ ’We must ask where the house is,’ said Lucia, leaning out of the window of her Rolls-Royce.”
Those of us who drive Rolls-Royces need the record to be put straight.
War and Peace
SIR – I enjoyed the BBC radio broadcast of War and Peace. When I first read the book, aged 16, I struggled with the Russian names, so I was pleased to hear them correctly pronounced. The characters became real for me as I listened and followed them through their struggles.
In a year when we will be remembering all those who died in the Napoleonic wars, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago, I thought the broadcast was a very courageous step for the BBC to take.
SIR – January 1 was not the most convenient day to listen to the complete reading of War and Peace. My telephone rang so many times with friends wishing me a Happy New Year that the exercise had to be abandoned.
Good things come in…
SIR – I recently received a cardboard box from a well-known retailer stuffed with three bags of protective padding. The box measured 648 cubic inches and contained a camera memory card measuring 1/8 cubic inch.
Is this a record for wasted space?
Southwater, West Sussex
SIR – Upon acquiring a new washing machine recently I was intrigued to see that it boasted a “Baby Cycle”.
As the drum holds a 9kg load, presumably it could accommodate a fairly large infant.
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
My, my, my car
SIR – Our car came with the registration YYY 41M and was immediately christened Delilah.
Globe and Mail:
P. Whitney Lackenbauer is a fellow of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute and associate professor and chair of the department of history at St. Jerome’s University; Adam Lajeunesse is a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jerome’s University and a research associate of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary
In October, 2013, the Danish bulk carrier Nordic Orion completed the first ever commercial transit of the Northwest Passage. After decades of melt, the once impenetrable Northwest Passage seemed to be on the verge of becoming a viable sea-route. This prospect resurrected longstanding fears of what heightened shipping activity could mean for Canadian sovereignty. Would a navigable passage encourage other countries or shipping companies to challenge Canada’s position on our Arctic internal waters?
Behind sensationalist headlines and some over-zealous punditry, the reality of Arctic shipping is far less dramatic. There were no commercial transits of the passage in 2014. Heavy ice effectively cancelled the shipping season.
Variability from year to year, and even from day to day, will continue to make scheduling a transit through the Canadian Arctic both difficult and dangerous. International shipping is a business built on tight schedules, and schedules are hard to keep when a ship’s speed and route cannot be predicted with a high degree of certainty.
In spite of nearly seventy years of modern exploration and mapping, Canada’s Arctic sea-routes are still dangerously uncharted. At present, only 12 per cent of the region is mapped to modern standards – a deficiency starkly demonstrated by the 2010 grounding of the cruise ship Clipper Adventure in Coronation Gulf, about 100 km east of Kugluktuk, Nunavut.
These factors, along with high insurance costs, limited navigational aids, and a complete lack of salvage and repair infrastructure, make regular shipping through the Canadian Arctic an uncertain proposition. Although there will be more Nordic Orions in the years to come, they are likely to be niche voyages and government-supported operations, not the uncontrollable flood of transarctic shipping that still dominates popular imagery.
The future of Arctic shipping is likely to remain destinational traffic, made up of resource carriers, resupply ships, and cruise liners moving in and out of – not through – Canada’s Arctic waters. Rather than undermining Canadian sovereignty, these vessels confirm it.
Canada considers the Northwest Passage as historic internal waters, a position in law that requires the acquiescence of foreign entities interested in the region. While this recognition has been hard to win from foreign states, it will be easier to secure from private corporations operating in Canada’s waters. Why, after all, would any company with business interests in Canada risk challenging sovereignty and precipitating popular and political backlash?
Rather than fixating on the political ramifications of Arctic shipping through a sovereignty lens, the government can better serve Canadians by focusing on the practical requirements of developing and maintaining safe sea routes. There remains much to be done in hydrographic surveying, building marine infrastructure, and enhancing search and rescue capabilities.
Investments in these areas will help to ensure that future shipping is safe and beneficial for Inuit, whose traditional hunting-grounds and highways will have to double as transit routes for resource carriers and cruise liners. These priorities lay at the heart of Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council and its Northern Strategy. They are also priorities for Inuit, as the Inuit Circumpolar Council has documented in recent studies like The Sea Ice is Our Highway (2009) and The Sea Ice Never Stops (2014).
It is important to note that Inuit, despite their concerns about the human and environmental impacts of shipping, generally look forward to the prospect of increased maritime activity. More shipping will reduce the costs of supplies and improve standards of living in a region where limited resupply options have led to $7 litres of milk and $40 packs of diapers. Alleviating Canada’s highest levels of unemployment is equally important, and good paying jobs in the resource sector are predicated on cost-effective access to these resources and an ability to carry them to market. The risks inherent in Arctic shipping must therefore be considered alongside these new opportunities as well.
When it comes to the prospect of shipping activity in the Canadian Arctic, safety and security – not defence or sovereignty – should be primary areas of focus. The long-standing questions of sovereignty and jurisdiction are well managed and, as counterintuitive as it may seem, more activity is only likely to strengthen Canada’s position.
While the Northwest Passage is unlikely to emerge as a new international sea route, Canada will have to prepare for increased destinational traffic. As such, new investments in marine infrastructure and monitoring will be necessary to mitigate many of the dangers inherent in Arctic operations. However, if managed properly, this shipping could be a powerful enabler for northern development and all the regional benefits that would flow from it.
Sir, – Lucinda Creighton and her band of merry men are even more out of touch with reality than the current ruling elite. She should spend more time worrying about her own fragile chances of re-election than trying to offer a backward, conservative vision of a country no one wants to see exist. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – John Leahy of Reboot Ireland says “This new movement will embrace the views of rural Ireland” (“Lucinda Creighton joined by Eddie Hobbs in new party”, January 2nd). That’s great. As an atheistic, socialist supporter of a woman’s right to choose and living in rural Ireland, I look forward to seeing my views reflected in the party’s manifesto. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If this new party is to adhere to its aversion to the whip system, the formulation of policies is unnecessary. Each member of the party who is elected to the Oireachtas will be guided by his or her own view on any proposed legislation, with the interesting exception of Finance Bills. For instance, one member may be convinced that nuclear power is desirable, another may abhor such a notion; another member may strongly believe in the unselfish patriotism of small business people and that they should be afforded every opportunity to flourish, while another may regard them as money-grubbing chancers.
If there is then to be a free vote in order to respect the opposing views of such members, why bother with policies at all?
As to the Finance Bills, I am quite bewildered that such proposed legislation, which impinges so directly on our well-being, is not deemed to be a matter of individual conscience. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We now know that Lucinda Creighton and others are setting up a new political party that wants to make Ireland “a great place to innovate, to grow, to build and expand a small business”.
This sounds very like Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael, which wants to make Ireland “the best little country in the world in which to do business”.
I am sure these are worthy, if similar, aspirations but I look in vain for a political party that wants to make Ireland the best little country in the world to be born in, the best little country in the world to be sick in, the best little country in the world to be disabled in, the best little country in the world to grow old in, the best little country in the world to be educated in, the best little country in the world to be an immigrant in, the best little country in the world for equality, the best society in the world.
It is clear that these reasonable aspirations are beyond the imaginations of Lucinda Creighton, Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Gerry Adams, Micheál Martin and most, if not all, of their colleagues in Leinster House. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A nameless new party ranging about for members and supporters, with a Corkman, Eddie Hobbs, at the top table. What better working title than the Nemocratic Rangers? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Lucinda Creighton has announced that a new political party will be launched “within eight weeks”. The new party does not yet have a name. Based on what Ms Creighton has said to date, may I suggest that the party be called “Profit before People”? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Reboot. Start PDs/Libertas 2.0. Press the usual buttons to continue. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – So Lucinda Creighton has finally made her move to establish a new party. While I cannot see anything new in her position on economic matters which distinguishes her from the other right-of-centre parties in this State, I do wholeheartedly agree with the new party’s focus on political reform.
Ms Creighton is now in position to push for the most practical way to make a serious start at this reform in a way she could hardly have done as an Independent. This is to change radically the Irish electoral system. It is the current PR-STV system that is delivering the localist and clientelist politics that even after the disasters that have befallen this country after 2008 is continuing to do so much damage.
And things are going to get worse. If successive opinion polls as well as the local and recent byelections are any indication, the current system is going to produce such a high number of Independents in the next Dáil that forming a stable government may only become possible if local interests are privileged even more over the common good.
There are excellent alternative systems on offer, perhaps the best a mixed system of first past the post and party lists (also known as additional members system or personalised proportional representation), which Scotland, New Zealand and Québec all introduced over the last 10 years and Germany has had since 1949.
One consequence of a new system along these lines would be the likely elimination of Independent candidates at national level, which in my view would be one of its most beneficial side-effects as it would force all those intelligent and competent voices among the Independents into parties, into negotiations and compromises, and into national responsibility. I trust this ambition also underlies Ms Creighton’s venture.
Coupled with real meaningful decentralisation and devolution of power to local authorities, the new electoral system will actually deliver what it is currently only pretending to deliver, national politicians for national politics and local politicians for local politics.
I sincerely hope Ms Creighton will aim to make a real difference to the way politics is conducted in this country and give the issue of electoral reform the focus it deserves in the run-up to the next general election.
Or is it really the immutable law of Irish politics that disaster has to strike first before politicians and citizens wake up? – Yours, etc,
Ballina, Co Tipperary.
Sir, – A terrible rebooty is born. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – My enjoyment of the opening part of the Haughey story was diminished by the necessity of identifying politicians by their hairstyles. Myself and my wife spent more time arguing about who was who than following the storyline. For the opening instalment, could the makers not have briefly provided the characters’ names with a small strapline or subtitle? – Yours, etc,
Mullagh, Co Cavan.
Sir, – I enjoyed the Charlie drama thoroughly and commend all those involved, particularly the actors and writer, for their efforts. The fact that I enjoyed the show is all the more remarkable in that I had forgotten what a depressing dump this country was in the 1980s. – Yours, etc,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Well that’s my nominee for best wig sorted. Joking aside, Aidan Gillen was excellent. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Prof Ronan Fanning’s lucid opinion piece (“Why should we mark 100 years since the Rising?”, Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd) reminds me of an exchange of correspondence which I had with the late Dr Garret FitzGerald in the Letters column of this newspaper in 2006, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Rising. We discussed precisely the point that Prof Fanning has highlighted, viz, that in Dr FitzGerald’s opinion, we got out from under the clutches of the British proto-welfare state just in time, else we would have been seduced by such as a proper health service, social welfare provision, decent public infrastructure, investment in education, mitigation of clerical domination, and so forth.
It brings into focus the fundamental question as to what the purpose of independence was – and, indeed, is. If it was to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number, then it was, by virtually any measure, a spectacular failure. Ireland was amongst the top European nations in terms of relative prosperity in the early 1900s. Half a century later, despite avoiding direct involvement in the second World War, we had slipped badly back relative to other countries. Again, if the purpose of independence was to achieve political “freedom” and the dawning of a new polity, then it could be argued that we merely swapped a British-run centralised Dublin Castle administration for an even more centralised Irish-run one – one which, moreover, enthusiastically used the machinery of the previous regime.
Perhaps we rather enjoyed the warm glow of being screwed by native politicians rather than by foreign ones.
Our so-called sovereignty was always, and still is, an illusion. As soon as we achieved it, we began surrendering it. A most important illustration of this was the failure to establish our own independent currency policy until 1979, when the link with sterling was broken. We then promptly exchanged oversight by the treasury in London for that by our gallant allies in Europe. A cultural and social abjection to Rome from the 1920s was followed by a similar subservience to the US and colonisation by its multinationals.
Latterly, we have become no more than a province of the EU and the ECB, not Ireland “secure in its perception of its sovereignty”, as Prof Fanning claims, and bailouts that Dr FitzGerald seemed to think would have subverted our pure desire for “freedom” in the first place. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Prof Ronan Fanning’s piece on the centenary of 1916 is shot through with contradictions. He begins by complaining about the “self-indulgent whatiffery” of the commemoration last year of the centenary of the Home Rule Bill and asserts that recognising the historical reality of the violence that accompanied the Irish revolution is not to approve of it. True enough, but he then seeks to justify that violence, citing Dr Garret FitzGerald’s argument that without it Ireland would not have become sovereign and independent as soon as it did and might well have ended up like Northern Ireland or rejected early membership of the EU. If that is not “whatiffery” then I don’t know what is.
The problem is that not everyone agrees – nor did they at the time – with the violent secessionism that led to Irish independence or that its consequences were as benign as Prof Fanning suggests. There are plenty of people who believe, as I do, that there was a peaceful, democratic and constitutional alternative in 1916, just as there was in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles of the 1960s-1990s.
Unlike Prof Fanning, the Irish Government seems intent on an even-handed commemoration of 1916 that will recognise and respect different points of view. This is not the “politically correct mania for inclusiveness” derided by Prof Fanning but essential for the pluralistic society that is contemporary Ireland. – Yours, etc,
School of History,
University College Cork.
Sir, – Stephen Collins seems to be consumed with fear at the prospect of a surge in support for Independents, Sinn Féin and smaller parties at the next general election (“New party will fuel narrative that all is to change – utterly”, Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd). He believes voters who consider the consequences of such a result may come to their senses and “pull back from the brink”, instead of landing the country in apparent “political chaos”.
Mr Collins obviously has not given thought to the view advanced by one Minister in an article in the same paper, “Varadkar sees splintering of support”. Mr Varadkar predicts the fragmentation of Irish politics at the next election, similar to the situation which exists in the Benelux and Nordic countries, where no party has anything close to an overall majority. However, even a country like Belgium, which went five months without a government last year, did not experience the “political chaos” to which Mr Collins refers.
Mr Collins needs to stop giving the impression that such a vast chasm exists between the views of our main political parties. Is he not aware that Sinn Féin has just agreed a deal in the North which will result in the privatisation of many public assets and a mass layoff of public servants? Despite many of the party’s slogans, Mr Collins must accept that Sinn Féin’s populist appeal is put to one side once government beckons.
What Mr Collins fails to address is the constraints which the EU will impose on any future government, between the deficit break, the debt-to-GDP ratio and the proposed banking union. On closer inspection, the choices available to voters in this country at the next election do not offer any real alternative. Those who really pull the strings over in Brussels have the eventualities covered. – Yours, etc,
SEÁN Ó DEORÁIN,
Clondalkin, Dublin 22.
Sir, – Further to your editorial “Dereliction and decay” (January 3rd), it is not just in central Dublin that the problem of derelict buildings exists. Within 300 metres of where I live there are three abandoned and derelict dwellings. The centre of this otherwise picturesque village is blighted by the burned-out remains of a hotel.
I have been in contact with Dr Tom Cavanagh of Irish Business against Litter (IBAL), who has taken an interest in the problem of derelict buildings nationally, and I understand that he has been in contact with the Department of the Environment about the matter.
What’s wrong with Irish consciousness? Do we as a people want to live continuously in the presence of squalor? – Yours, etc,
BRENDAN F LOGUE,
Sir, – To start in the teaching profession and become registered with the Teaching Council, the aspiring teacher pays out a €90 registration fee, a €200 teacher education qualification assessment and €100 for one curricular subject assessment. Additional assessments are optional at a fee of €100 per subject, yet many teachers at a postprimary level teach more than one subject. Translation costs for documents, foreign police vetting, postage, etc, are all borne by the unemployed aspiring teacher. All in all the aspiring teacher can pay over €400 in his or her quest for registration. Féilte, the Teaching Council’s festival (where no expense was spared), was in stark contrast to the misery and stress in the lives of young aspiring teachers in their tortuous quest to become registered. And after all this, where are the jobs? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Tom Neville (January 2nd) states that he can think of “no truly independent TD and cannot think of a single policy ideal held by an independent which is not shared by one (or more) of the parties”.
Really? How about Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Michael Fitzmaurice and Stephen Donnelly? What parties were they affiliated with?
What about Ming’s support for cannabis legalisation, or the opposition to the needlessly restrictive party whip systems that the major parties use? I don’t recall any of the parties getting behind those positions. – Yours, etc,
TOMÁS M CREAMER,
An Irishman’s Diary: Jack Harte on William Meredith’s pilgrimage to Yeats’s Sligo
‘I am 87, and I am in Ireland. I am a happy man’
He was an icon of world literature. Former poet laureate of the United States, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and just about every other accolade worth acquiring. Intimate friend and confidante of Robert Frost and WH Auden. John Berryman dedicated one of his “Dream Songs” to him.
His friendship and interaction with the other major American poets of the 20th century was legendary, including Richard Wilbur, Robert Lowell, James Merrill and many many more.
And he was sitting across the room from me at a writers’ conference in Sofia in 2005. He had a special relationship with Bulgaria, having visited that country many times during the cold war, and having introduced many Bulgarian poets to the US public both in person and through the translation of their work.
William Meredith had a gift for friendship. And he radiated what I can describe only as an aura of humanity. He was in a wheelchair, having had to claw his way back to some mobility and some command of his speech after an extremely severe stroke 22 years earlier. Yet he attended every session of the conference, and also joined in the informal sessions in the lounge of the hotel every evening.
And one of those evenings I was sitting beside him. For want of a better opener, I asked him if he had ever been to Ireland. I was surprised not only by the answer but also by the emotion that welled up in his eyes.
“No”, he said, “and I have always intended to visit Ireland. Yeats was my favourite poet.”
“What age are you now, William?” I asked.
He laughed. “I am 86.”
“Don’t you think it is time you made the trip?” I joked.
He laughed too.
“I am from Co Sligo,” I said. “So if you come, I will give you the guided tour of Yeats’s country.”
I thought no more of it. Such invitations are cheap currency at writers’ conferences. However, shortly after the conference, I had an email from Richard Harteis, William’s life-long partner and fellow poet. Richard had been heroic in carrying William through the trauma of the stroke, and through his rehab. And he was still ensuring that William led a full and happy life.
“If we could take you up on the invitation to visit Ireland,” he said, “it really would be the fulfilment of a life’s dream for William.”
I organised invitations for them to give readings at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin and at the Yeats Memorial Building in Sligo. That enabled Richard to secure sponsorship from the US state department for the visit. And in the summer of 2006 they arrived.
William was beaming. Every time I looked at him, his face lit up, and he said over and over: “I am 87, and I am in Ireland. I am a happy man.”
After the reading in the Writers’ Centre we headed west where I hosted them in my little cottage near Easkey. And from there we explored all the places associated with Yeats – the Lake Isle of Innisfree, Glencar Waterfall, Lissadell, etc.
But I also wanted him to see the place where Yeats watched the “Wild Swans at Coole”. William had written his own poem about Yeats and the swans, noting that if they flew off lover by lover, there was one left out – the 59th. It was a wet windy day that we took the trip to Coole. The lake is quite a distance from the site of Lady Gregory’s house and there is a nice walkway to it. However for a wheelchair pushing through oozy mud, it was a challenge.
But we were determined to reach it even if we had to carry William on our backs, and William delighted in the visceral determination to reach the place he had already visited in his imagination. We got there. The swan count was three, but William was nevertheless a happy man.
The following summer I was to join William on a reading tour in Connecticut. However he was now in hospital, and, tragically, my visit to New London was to say farewell. He died a few days after I returned to Ireland.
A documentary film that was compiled to celebrate his lifetime achievement ended with a beautiful photo of William sitting inside the window of Thoor Ballylee, with a beaming smile, and I could see what was on his lips. “I am 87, and I am in Ireland. I am a happy man.”
How Charlie Haughey made my father’s day
Let me tell you about the day I visited Charlie Haughey in his house, Abbeville in Kinsealy, Co Dublin.
My father was about to turn 80 years of age. As usual, I had my head wrecked with trying to think of something different for him as a present. I had gone through the ties, shirts, jumpers, technology stuff and just wanted something different for him. I knew over the years he had been a great supporter of Fianna Fail so I decided to write to Charlie Haughey and see would he meet my father for his 80th birthday.
My colleagues laughed at me in my place of work in the HSE in Thomas Street and said that could never happen. I had a gut feeling that it could.
So I wrote and told Charlie about my father’s support of him and the Fianna Fail party and I registered it just to be sure he got it.
A few days later I got a call to the office from Charlie’s secretary, inviting my father, my father’s friend, my son and myself to meet him in his beautiful house.
In the meantime, I phoned Rom Massey undertakers in the Coombe and told them where I was going, and I asked them for a limo to drive my father to Kinsealy. Well, as true Dubs they pulled out all the stops, and threw in a chauffeur as well, all for a meagre sum. I was amazed at their generosity. As the Lord says “Ask and you shall receive”!
Of course, this was a surprise. As we drove towards Kinsealy, he thought we were visiting my sister in Malahide. When ever we were passing Charlie’s house my father always said: “Let’s call in to Charlie for a cuppa”. I dearly hoped he would say it on that day. Well, true to form, he did. The surprise and shock that was on his face when we drove down Kinsealy Lane was second to none. I had, of course, tipped the driver to turn.
Charlie came down the steps to welcome us when we arrived. It certainly was a treat. He welcomed us into his vast mansion, which was replete with antiques. He was so kind to my father and to all of us, regaling us with stories about Dublin, Sean Lemass and Eamon de Valera. He had us in stitches.
We took many photos of him and my father and I treasured them.
Ms Terry Healy
Kill, Co Kildare
The people have had enough
In trying to further discredit participants who have taken part in the wave of recent protests across the country the government have tried to label them as members of Sinn Fein.
In fact very few, if any, of the protests have been organised by Sinn Fein.
This is because Sinn Fein seem to be happy to observe from the wings without any real involvement, and appear to be reaping the political benefits created by others.
It is my experience that the vast majority of the protesters range from middle-age to elderly pensioners, really genuine decent people who have had enough of being downtrodden and talked down to by the political elite while they and their children are expected to live on the crumbs from the masters’ table while the golden circles and the cosseted elite continue to be catered for.
Many of the people that the Government are now trying to discredit are the very people who put their trust in the promises made by Enda Kenny at the last election, but alas, they were misled.
They are people who certainly could not be labelled as fascists, unless Enda wishes to label past Fine Gael supporters as fascists.
They are a people who see their Government pandering to bankers, bond holders and the wealthy elite.
They see a country where the cost of balancing the books is being disproportionally borne by the lower to middle-income levels of society.
This is being done through cuts in benefits and services and regressive taxes and charges, without any regard for the resultant social consequences involved.
They see a country where the minimum wage has become the new standard, while those dictating the laws are on super-star salaries and benefits along with guaranteed gold-plated pensions.
They see a country where its people are saddled with an odious banking debt not of their making, but created by the greed of self-serving politicians and others.
They see a country where the traditional parties have betrayed its people down the years so that those politicians can continue to stay on the political gravy train and the government jet.
The reality is that this Government expects the ordinary people to not live, but to barely exist.
The government promised a political revolution involving change and openness. They can blame themselves for the present situation.
Templeglantine, Co Limerick
Famine sitcom plans
Critics of plans to develop a sitcom based on the tragedy of the Great Famine should see the hilarious 1968 film ‘The Producers’, written and directed by Mel Brooks, about an attempt to stage a play called ‘Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden’.
Mel Brooks, who is Jewish, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
As Lord Byron observed in ‘Don Juan’: “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘Tis that I may not weep.”
Dr John Doherty
Gaoth Dobhair, Co Dhun na nGall
No thanks, Lucinda and co
It seems the “re-boot” is to be put into Ireland, again, by yet another right-wing, conservative movement. Perhaps Lucinda Creighton’s group should adopt the slogan “times are a-changin-back” as her party’s rallying call. There would seem to be two evident foundation principles.
First, the Creighton doctrine, which suggests that elected members of parliament should have a free conscience on private morality, so long as it’s a right wing and conservative one. Second, the Hobbs doctrine, that we didn’t do enough damage to the country by giving the free market Progressive Democrats several years of placing rapacious capitalism at the heart of public policy – leave this floating voter cold. No thanks, Lucinda Creighton. No thanks, Eddies Hobbs.
Please go and join any one of the number of established right-wing political movements here. May I suggest Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, or the so-called Labour Party, as entirely suitable homes for your political and social outlook? And, please, put your egos away before they explode and do even more damage to our country.
With reference to your editorial (January 2) ‘Realism needed in relation to pay’ could I just say in the words of the old adage “It’s all very well trying to remember that we first set out to drain the swamp, but right now we are up to our arses in alligators”.
Mike J Moore
Kingscourt, Co Cavan
Gay marriage referendum
The people of Ireland are being asked to vote on gay marriage this May. The vast majority of Irish people are not gay, and the outcome of this referendum has no effect on their lives. I fear people will not turn out to vote, but I urge them to make the small effort.
There is a high risk of gay marriage being rejected. Not because the Irish people are against it, but because of low voter turnout. A ‘No’ vote will be a huge knock to the gay people and families of Ireland who deserve this basic civil right in their own country. Let’s do it for them.
Please Ireland, commit now to casting your vote in the May referendum.
Donal O Conghaile
Boyle, Co Roscommon