1 Febuary 2015 Quiet

A quiet day 1 book sold nothing much happens.


Squadron Leader Harvey Sweetman

Squadron Leader Harvey Sweetman

Squadron Leader Harvey Sweetman, who has died aged 93, was one of the most successful fighter pilots against the V-1 flying bomb, accounting for 11 of them during the autumn of 1944.

By June 1944, he had already achieved a number of successes in the air against enemy aircraft when the Germans opened their campaign against London by launching the V-1 rocket-propelled flying bomb. An air defence system of anti-aircraft guns, balloons and fighter aircraft was established over south-east England to combat the “terror weapon”, and a concentrated bombing offensive was mounted against the launching sites.

Sweetman flew the powerful Tempest fighter with No 486 (RNZAF) Squadron, operating from a landing ground at Newchurch near Ashford in Kent. He achieved his first success on June 16 1944 over Hythe. Within three days he had destroyed two more and by mid-July his tally had risen to nine, with one shared with another pilot.

Attacking the flying bomb was a high-risk activity: the V-1 was likely to explode and shed debris in front of the attacking fighter. Sweetman’s penultimate victory was achieved in dramatic fashion. Despite shooting off one of his target’s stubby wings as well as its engine, the V-1 did not explode and reached Hastings before finally crashing. His 11th, and final, V-1 victory came on August 9, after which he was promoted to squadron leader and made CO of No 3 Squadron. He was only 22.

Harvey Nelson Sweetman was born in Matamata, New Zealand, on October 10 1921. He was educated at Matamata District high school, where he became captain of the school’s first cricketing 11 and its swimming champion. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in April 1940. Immediately after completing his training in November 1940 he joined many other young New Zealand pilots and headed for Britain where he trained as a fighter pilot.

In March 1941 he joined No 485 (RNZAF) Squadron as one of its founder members. Flying a Spitfire, on August 29 he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Belgium during a bomber escort mission. During the “Channel Dash” by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in mid-February 1942, No 485 provided an escort for a bomber force and Sweetman shared in the destruction of another Bf 109.

A month later he joined the newly formed No 486 (RNZAF) Squadron and soon helped to destroy a German bomber during a night sortie over the Wash. One of the enemy aircraft’s airscrews was salvaged to adorn the squadron’s dispersal hut. Over the next few months Sweetman damaged three enemy aircraft and probably destroyed a fourth. The Auckland Star described him as a “forceful, straight-shooting pilot”.

On April 9 he helped shoot down a Focke-Wulf 190. A week later, his luck nearly ran out when the engine of his Typhoon kept cutting out during a sweep over Le Havre. He nursed the aircraft back over the English Channel, having jettisoned the door and the canopy, ready to bale out. He managed to clear the cliffs at 100ft and crash land in a potato field near Selsey Bill. A month later he was awarded the DFC.

For a six-month rest he joined Hawker Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He returned to No 486 in February 1944 as a flight commander at the time the squadron was re-equipping with the Tempest. He led fighter sweeps over northern France before going into action against the V-1s.

Sweetman was in command of No 3 Squadron when it moved on to the continent to provide bomber escort and ground attack sorties in support of the advancing Allied ground forces. At the end of November he damaged a Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter on the ground.

Sweetman returned to New Zealand in 1946, when he was appointed the chief flying instructor at the RNZAF pilot training school at Ohakea.

Harvey Sweetman’s wife, Gwen, and five sons survive him.

Squadron Leader Harvey Sweetman, born October 10 1921, died January 15 2014


Will Hutton addresses the problems of inequality in our society.
Will Hutton addresses the problems of inequality in our society. Photograph: Anna Gordon for the Observer

Reading Will Hutton on inequality and the over-empowered and overpaid corporate and financial elite, I can’t help thinking that we are really failing these people (“For capitalism to survive and prosper it must reinvent itself”, Comment). For any other addiction: alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc – addicts are never treated by getting ever more and more and more quantities of whatever it is they crave.

Isn’t it time avarice was recognised as the mental disorder it surely is and these people were given adequate counselling? If enough is as good as plenty and “he for whom enough is too little, nothing is ever enough”, then those receiving six- or seven-figure salaries with bonuses will be forever wanting more.

Couldn’t some body of economists draw up advisory salaries to ensure a sufficiently impressive lifestyle enforced by law and then make intensive therapy mandatory for anyone who thinks they want/need/deserve more than that? Incidentally, this could create jobs for counsellors.

Siobhan O’Tierney


Saker Nusseibeh seeks to gild the problems of capitalist investment by outlining the aspiration of an investment strategy not founded on short-term returns (“All economic activity needs a moral compass”, Comment). But he only skims the surface of the tasks such as remedying the distortions of personal expenditure priorities imposed by the current national housing market.

If the bill for housing benefit is to be reduced and houses are to become affordable it can only be by a massive investment in building enough houses to meet the need from whatever source: government, pension funds or private investors. This would be an ethically founded investment decision that would considerably reduce the price of, and “value” of, the housing stock that is currently subject to mortgage debt.

Banks and building societies would be confronted with negative equity that would demand a write-off. It is because this cannot be faced that investment in housing cannot be incentivised and will not be promoted even by “ethically motivated” investment funds. This illustrates the weakness of his presentation of an acceptable face to capitalism.

Neil Leighton



Will Hutton, in the extract from his latest book, criticises Britain for “… the unwillingness to find ways of investing in ourselves…” (New Review). In his Q&A, he praises Britain’s universities and then suggests that, if he could go shopping, he’d take a bit of Silicon Valley, elements of German banking, Nordic corporate ownership, the Dutch and Danish welfare system and the Swiss approach to lifetime learning. The rest of Hutton’s sentence reads: “… while we look so regularly to foreigners to revive our industries or build our infrastructure”.

Britain’s shortcomings in all these areas arose and have been maintained under a succession of governments of both major parties, with cabinet ministers and with the assistance of a civil service educated by these “excellent institutions”. A prescient text reads: “A fish rots from the head.”

Hutton accurately identifies Britain’s principal weakness. We all know the nation is failing its own population. We all know inequality has grown to an unsustainable level. We all know we need to change our existing structures. But the response is always the same. What we do works; you change what you do! In Britain, the resistance to change starts at the head; intellectually, politically and economically. Socially, the resistance to change is driven by  fear.

Martin London



North Wales

So 22-year-old Alex Beaton would vote Green in an ideal world, was once a Lib Dem and, without giving a single thought to the remaining mainstream party, says he will now probably vote Tory. I can’t think of a more telling indictment of both our electoral structure and the Labour party, which is now a corrupt irrelevancy for Alexes of all ages.
Gavin Lewis

John Harris thinks that power may lie with the people on election day. But if 90% of the electorate changed sides, chose assorted fragments, spoiled their papers or stayed away, “They” would still get in. Socialists, liberals and immigrants should back the Greens en bloc, and everyone else should vote Ukip. That would wake up Westminster.
David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk

Julie Walters is spot on: education is the key to social mobility. The grants system used to mean that a student could study anywhere in the UK; now, anyone without parents or a job to subsidise them is limited. This will be fine until the effects permeate the arts, and they lose all diversity, honesty and authenticity.
On theguardian.com

The lack of social mobility in our acting profession is why there are so many costume dramas. Compare the TV coming out of the US with what’s being made in the UK. British drama is becoming a theme park.
On theguardian.com

I used to get offered tea when I was a postman, but never the loo, so by the time my round finished I was often in a desperate state. I had a regular wee spot in the shrubbery of one garden, but that was deciduous, so in winter I was in full view.

On theguardian.com

Like Sophie Heawood, I was written off academically only to feel a sense of indignation and go on to get a master’s. Rather than hatred, it is often injustice that fuels us.
Rossana Dowsett
On theguardian.com

Helen Pidd’s review of the new Yaris was funny and down-to-earth. Most importantly, her comments were based on experience, which means you trust her judgment.
David Whitty

Marks & Spencer was criticised for its dinosaur pyjamas “for boys”. Aren’t you just as guilty with your “men’s” rucksacks? I fancied many of the bags and see nothing masculine about them.
Eve Hahn
Edgware, London

How old is the person who illustrates Molly Ringwald’s column? Last week is the second time people in their 50s or 60s have been represented with stooped, elderly people who might be in their 90s.
Gayle Wade
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Enrique Pena Nieto
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, at the National Palace in Mexico City. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

I am writing regarding the story “It could have easily been us killed that night. But we are not scared any more’” (World news). The tragic events that led to the crimes perpetrated against a group of students in the city of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero have shocked and saddened all Mexicans. The atrocities spurred unprecedented search and investigation operations, all of them open to national and international scrutiny. You focus only on the testimony of two people who witnessed a fraction of the events.

You downplay the fact that 97 people implicated in the case have been apprehended, proving that these tragic events have been met with decisive action. You also fail to distinguish between “state and criminal forces” and local municipal police and criminal groups and make the mistake of equating “disappeared” to “missing” people, the latter of which occur in large numbers in most countries. You also published an opinion piece entitled “Britain’s welcome for president is worrying” regarding the upcoming state visit by the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Your piece is based on unproved and defamatory statements sourced from the Mexican magazine Proceso, wrongly labelled as “evidence”.

We are painfully aware that there is a long way to go to strengthen the rule of law in areas of Mexico. President Peña Nieto has been receptive to international co-operation in the Iguala case, including kind offers from the EU and the UK. Mexican authorities have worked closely with the UK to address issues such as transnational organised crime. The president’s visit to the UK will increase co-operation in this matter.

Diego Gómez Pickering

Mexican ambassador to the UK

London W1

Stop dissing the kids

The Observer Magazine explored “Secrets of the teenage brain” and asked: “Why are teenagers such moody, lazy, selfish nightmares?” Try deleting “teenagers” and insert “Jews”, “blacks” or “gays” and it becomes apparent how discriminatory this sentence is. It is amazing that young people seem to be the last group that it is all right to make such wild generalisations about.

Nick Frost

Professor of social work

Leeds Beckett University

Pensioners, please don’t panic

I was disappointed to see my remarks about the forthcoming new pension freedoms reported out of context (“Fears of pension chaos in run-up to general election”, News).

My comments, misinterpreted as “warning” people to delay exercising their new rights lest there be “pension chaos”, were intended as words of reassurance that the new rights are being implemented for the long term. People will not have to rush to take advantage of their new options because they will be here for good. The government’s preparations for this year’s pension changes are very much on track. That said, given that choosing how to use a pension pot is a long-term financial decision and that the industry is likely to create new products throughout 2015, many people will wish to bide their time rather than act on day one.

Steve Webb MP

Minister for pensions

Department for Work and Pensions

London SW1

This struck the wrong chord

Euan Ferguson shows admirable musical knowledge in his review of the The Eichmann Show (the New Review, 11 January). I found it a very worthy drama. But I did not like the use of Henryk Górecki’s music. It was gratuitous. The text used in the second movement of his Third Symphony was that of 18-year-old Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, incarcerated on 25 September 1944. It read: “Oh Mamma, do not cry. Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always.”

In concert performances of the work, some of the audience will freely associate the music with the memory of this particular atrocity. In a docudrama of this calibre on this subject the association is ill-chosen. This music was not written until 16 years after the event and is therefore non-diegetic. Those at the trial would have watched in respectful silence, as we should have been allowed to do. I write music for documentaries and am aware of the dilemma of what to score and not to score.

Howard Davidson

Professor of composition for screen

Royal College of Music

Engraved on the groove

George “Porky” Peckham (“Beneath the tracks”, the New Review) may have popularised the “run-off groove” message in the 1970s, but those of us who collect original US singles on Phil Spector’s Philles label have long known about such messages. Between late 1962 and the summer of 1963, at least 10 Philles 45s came with “Phil and Annette”, the names of Spector and his first wife, in the “run-off groove”.

The last time I can find this legend is on the B-side of the first Philles single by the Ronettes. Lead singer Ronnie Bennett became Spector’s second wife. When working for Apple Records in the late 1960s, Spector ensured that “Phil and Ronnie” appeared on US copies of Lennon’s single Instant Karma.

In the late 1970s, Rodney Bingenheimer, groupie, DJ and West Coast legend, released a single under the name Rodney and the Brunettes. The “run-off groove” bore the message: “Phil will kill.”

Tim Hannan



Barry Norman's communist grandfather, Isaac Norman, known as Red Ike, speaking outside Carlisle town hall.
Barry Norman’s communist grandfather, Isaac Norman, known as Red Ike, speaking outside Carlisle town hall.

Snapshot: My communist grandfather, Red Ike

This is a photograph of my grandfather, Isaac Norman, who passed away in 1969, aged 70. He worked on the railway for most of his life, as many did in Carlisle. He was widely known as Red Ike and stood in local elections several times for the Communist party.

He is standing at the steps of the Carlisle Cross and in the background is the town hall clock. People were allowed to speak at meetings at the Cross and my father says Ike would read all the papers on a Sunday and then prepare his speech.

My father, Ivor, and his twin brother, Ramon (they were named after Ivor Novello and Ramon Novarro), tell many tales about Red Ike. One evening they returned home without him. When my grandmother asked where he was, they had to tell her he had been locked up in the bridewell – an old name for a police cell. When they had arrived at the Cross, the Blackshirts (fascists) were already speaking there and Ike had tried to stop them. Among the Blackshirts at some meetings were William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) and his wife Margaret, who was from Carlisle.

My father also remembers acting as a lookout for Ike when he climbed one of the huge gasometers near where they lived. Ike’s intention was to paint the CND symbol and Ban the Bomb on the gas holder, but he dropped the paintbrush. He came down but was terrified and did not go back up. In 1966, Ike started to write his autobiography but, unfortunately, did not get to finish it.

Ike volunteered for the International Brigade to go and fight the fascists in Spain but because he had children, he was not allowed to go. He did go to Russia twice with other railwaymen as they were entitled to free rail travel.

My grandmother, Frances, outlived Ike by 32 years. He had lost his first wife in childbirth and also a son, who drowned in the local river. My grandmother was over 100 when she died in 2001 and we found out recently that she was one of the few people in Britain ever to have given birth to three sets of twins. The first set died soon after birth, but that is another story, as she was not married then.

I regret that my grandfather died when I was only 15. I would have loved to spend time talking politics with him over a pint or three.

Barry Norman

Playlist: A song that captures my mother’s smile

Here Without You by 3 Doors Down

“A hundred days have made me older since the last time that I saw your pretty face / A thousand lights had made me colder / and I don’t think I can look at this the same …”

I do not think there is any better song than this to capture the essence of our relationship. I still remember (and will for ever) your ever-smiling face which gave me courage when I felt down in the dumps and was the prime reason I had the happiest childhood a boy can ever have (though I may not have appreciated it properly at the time), a face that was still smiling even in the last few hours of your life.

That day at the hospital, only two of the numerous people were smiling – you and me. We both knew we would have to leave the person we loved like no other and both did our best to suppress our emotions so that the other would not feel sad. That was the first time in my life that I prayed really hard, but you left all the same.

Today, when I look back, more than a decade later, I realise that all my basic values come from you. I can never take any action that has a bad feeling associated with it and can never take it upon myself to harm anyone knowingly. I think you still live inside me as my shield of conscience.

Trust me, all the people who loved you – your family, your friends, your students, your colleagues – anyone who knew you – remember your wonderful, disarming smile, a smile that gave them strength, a smile that told them to believe.

You taught me my philosophy of life, a philosophy that makes me strong, that makes me look at the world in an altogether different light. You taught me that everything is transient, including yourself so we must enjoy what we have in this moment, for it can be taken away the next. With this philosophy, you have opened the doors of life for me – I had always been a shy, solemn and selfish kid (I’m sure I gave you lots of tough times) who was too much focused on himself.

I still believe you are there with me and you look over me all the time. In fact, I feel much safer now because I am sure you are sitting somewhere near God telling Him all the time: “Don’t let anything happen to my son.”

Thank you, Mom, for everything. You will always remain the most special person in my life.

Piyal Mukherjee

We love to eat: Sugary brioche in the south of France

140ml milk
500g strong white flour
10g yeast
1 tbsp salt
55g caster sugar
6 eggs
250g butter
Sugar crystals

Sugary brioche.

Sugary brioche.

Mix the milk, flour, yeast, salt, sugar and five of the eggs thoroughly to make a smooth dough. Then add in the butter until it is all completely mixed. Cover the dough and leave in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, cut the dough into pieces and shape into balls. Leave it somewhere warm to rise for an hour. Beat an egg and brush the top of each brioche with it. Scatter sugar crystals generously over them, then bake for around 20 minutes at 200C/gas mark 6, until they are well-risen and golden brown. Eat the brioches warm from the oven, either on their own or with raspberry jam.

In 1962, my great-grandparents drove down to the south of France to find a holiday house for their retirement. They bought a tumble-down shepherd’s hut, dug a well , planted lots of oak trees to create some shade and installed gas lamps.

They carried on living there until well into their 90s and it has passed to my grandparents. The house now has mains water, electricity and a swimming pool and the oak trees are enormous. We go there every summer and the one thing we always have to eat, and which has not changed over the years, is sugary brioche.

Every morning we walk to the village bakery and pick them up for our breakfast. We eat them outside our favourite cafe, which looks out on to the square, and have them with café au lait (for my parents) and orange pressé for my brother and me.

This recipe is our attempt to recreate them at home, but I will always associate them with sunny mornings in the south of France.

Anya Clark

So 22-year-old Alex Beaton would vote Green in an ideal world, was once a Lib Dem and, without giving a single thought to the remaining mainstream party, says he will now probably vote Tory. I can’t think of a more telling indictment of both our electoral structure and the Labour party, which is now a corrupt irrelevancy for Alexes of all ages.
Gavin Lewis

John Harris thinks that power may lie with the people on election day. But if 90% of the electorate changed sides, chose assorted fragments, spoiled their papers or stayed away, “They” would still get in. Socialists, liberals and immigrants should back the Greens en bloc, and everyone else should vote Ukip. That would wake up Westminster.
David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk

Julie Walters is spot on: education is the key to social mobility. The grants system used to mean that a student could study anywhere in the UK; now, anyone without parents or a job to subsidise them is limited. This will be fine until the effects permeate the arts, and they lose all diversity, honesty and authenticity.
On theguardian.com

The lack of social mobility in our acting profession is why there are so many costume dramas. Compare the TV coming out of the US with what’s being made in the UK. British drama is becoming a theme park.
On theguardian.com

I used to get offered tea when I was a postman, but never the loo, so by the time my round finished I was often in a desperate state. I had a regular wee spot in the shrubbery of one garden, but that was deciduous, so in winter I was in full view.

On theguardian.com

Like Sophie Heawood, I was written off academically only to feel a sense of indignation and go on to get a master’s. Rather than hatred, it is often injustice that fuels us.
Rossana Dowsett
On theguardian.com

Helen Pidd’s review of the new Yaris was funny and down-to-earth. Most importantly, her comments were based on experience, which means you trust her judgment.
David Whitty

Marks & Spencer was criticised for its dinosaur pyjamas “for boys”. Aren’t you just as guilty with your “men’s” rucksacks? I fancied many of the bags and see nothing masculine about them.
Eve Hahn
Edgware, London

How old is the person who illustrates Molly Ringwald’s column? Last week is the second time people in their 50s or 60s have been represented with stooped, elderly people who might be in their 90s.
Gayle Wade
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk




“We were heavily briefed,” says Dr Toby Dodge (“What the six wise men told Tony Blair, 25 January). “They said, ‘Don’t tell him [Blair] not to do it. He has already made up his mind.’”

This is assessed by your reporter thus: “So there was no chance of stopping the invasion, or the UK joining it, but what was at stake that morning was the aftermath.”

The “six wise men”, it would seem, were not sufficiently wise to counsel heavily against UK involvement. To accept the “heavily briefed” premise that UK involvement in the war was inevitable was a monumental blunder. The tenor of the article is that at least four of the “six wise men” believed that the invasion should not go ahead, with or without UK involvement, based on their perception of the repercussions alone. If that truly was their opinion, they should have forcefully expressed it and not restricted themselves to arguments about the least worse aftermath.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk

Leicester MP Liz Kendall may well have a strong chance of replacing Ed Miliband as Labour leader in the event of the party losing the coming election (“Kendall emerges as fresh rival to Miliband”, 25 January).

Her comments that when it comes to reforming the NHS “what matters is what works” prompts the question, works for whom? The reforms pushed through by the current Government have benefited private enterprise, not patients. The last thing the Labour Party needs is a leader who sees him or herself as a keeper of the Blairite flame.

What the party needs instead is a leader with values based on an understanding of Labour’s history and the people the party represents, and the courage to turn those into concrete policies. Defending the NHS, the creation of which is one of Labour’s proudest achievements, would be a good place to start.

Adam Colclough

Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire

Your article “25 years – The Independent on Sunday” (25 January), stated that BAE Systems “is more likely to be cutting jobs than creating them these days”. In fact, this year alone BAE Systems will recruit a record 782 apprentices in the UK and 287 graduates; with 275 apprentice and graduate vacancies available in our military aircraft business alone. Furthermore, our commitment to the “Movement to Work” youth unemployment initiative has led to us providing full-time employment to 20 young people to date and we expect to take on many more. We are also recruiting hundreds of experienced engineers and project managers in the UK for our cyber security and submarines businesses.

John Whelan

UK HR director, BAE Systems plc

Your article entitled “100 Days to go”  (25 January) says that it is a “Countdown to a six party election”. Wrong. Plaid Cymru has three MPs, Ukip has two, and the Greens one. Your political editor should wake up and understand, not for the first time, that Wales does exist, and recognise Plaid Cymru as probably the most effective small party in Westminster.

Michael Williams

Tenby, Pembrokeshire.

Isis will stand firm as long as its enemies fail to find a common plan, says Patrick Cockburn (25 January), without suggesting what that plan might be.

If an organisation like Isis threatened to gain ground in the UK the British army would be sent out to eradicate it. The Syrian army should be doing the same job. They cannot do so because, in addition to fighting Isis they are fighting a deadly proxy war with America and its regional allies.

America should give up the idea of deposing Assad and cut off support to all rebel groups. In tandem with that it should work with Russia to bring pressure to bear on Assad to ensure that human rights abuses are brought to an end. Then the Syrian army, with help if necessary, can quickly eradicate Isis from Syria, making them much easier to deal with in Iraq. Is there any other way?

Brendan O’Brien

London N2



David Cameron meets King Salman of Saudi Arabia. His predecessor, King Abdullah, was considered by some to be a divisive force in the Middle East David Cameron meets King Salman of Saudi Arabia. His predecessor, King Abdullah, was considered by some to be a divisive force in the Middle East (AP)

A vote of no confidence for proportional representation

ONE of the purposes of an election is to enable voters to change the government if they wish to (“Fragmented Britain needs a better way to vote”, News Review, last week). This purpose is not well served by Vernon Bogdanor’s advocacy of proportional representation (PR). In many systems of PR the vote is for political parties, not for individual MPs.

The outcome, as in Austria, Holland and many other countries, is usually a small shift in emphasis between centre-left and centre-right parties, so there is a slight shuffling of portfolios. After a time the electorate gets desperate at this immobility and starts to move to the extremes, as we now see across Europe and especially in Greece.

The British system enables the electorate to vote for one party or another and to give its leader a clear mandate, a process we are used to and that serves us well. The result of PR in the UK for the European parliament is that almost no one knows or cares who their MEP is — an outcome Bogdanor surely does not support.
Anthony Pick, Newbury


A superb piece. Of the 13 candidates in last year’s Rochester and Strood by-election there were three main runners. To have voted for the others would have been a wasted ballot, so I went for Ukip as a protest against voting.
Rod Atkin , Strood, Kent

Urging caution on alliance with Saudis

DESPITE James Rubin’s pro-Saudi Arabia stance in “The Saudis can be brutal but it’s our backs they are covering” (Comment, last week), King Abdullah helped to destabilise the Middle East by playing the sectarian card against the “apostate” Shi’ites.

He facilitated the emergence in Syria and Iraq of Isis and would have had the West go to war with Iran rather than seek a rapprochement. Western powers joined him in seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s secular regime, the far lesser evil.
Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


The hubris of Rubin’s article is typical of countless American governments. He mentions how well the late Saudi king got on with the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. No wonder. When the latter was asked whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of US sanctions were worth it, she replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”

I think this says why American foreign policy has been the cause of so much trouble around the world: it deems some lives more precious than others.
Paul Harty, Mqabba, Malta

Ofsted inspections less than satisfactory

THE excellent column by Camilla Cavendish laid bare Ofsted’s inadequacies (“Do come in, bumbling Inspector Ofsted, the school was expecting you”, Comment, last week). My own experiences with this crew (it went through various guises during my 37-year teaching career) never rose above the irritating, engendered constant eyeball-rolling and was invariably infuriating.

On one occasion the inspector averred that as only 14 of a discussion group had spoken, the remaining seven clearly knew nothing and cared less. I more or less forced him to repeat this facile observation to the assembly, whereupon one of the silent ones shot to her feet unbidden and roundly lambasted him, pointing out that she was naturally reticent, did not enjoy speaking out and was dubious as to whether that state of affairs would ever change, before ending her tirade with the damning statement that to equate silence with ignorance was idiocy. She sat down to a round of applause. The official grudgingly revealed he had never taught but had been drafted in from business.

I welcome Ofsted’s unannounced visits. All too often I witnessed colleagues driven to near-hysteria by an impending inspection.
Andrew Cobb, Bath


As a one-time Ofsted inspector, and having visited several hundred primary schools, I’ve never known a good teacher’s career broken by the stress of an inspection — indeed quite the reverse, as high quality is recognised.

Effective schools do not have to spend time repainting, photocopying or improving safety and security. Nor do they “ensure that the two most difficult ADHD children were not in the classroom”, which is a clear contravention of the inspection process.

Schools that find such actions necessary are exactly those that need inspecting.
John Bayliss, Solihull

Losing weight and regaining dignity

AT LAST some straight talking on tackling obesity (“Fat chance of solving the obesity problem if we keep blaming others”, Comment, last week).

Since late November, I have lost more than a stone, dropped three waist sizes and feel much fitter. How? Eating less, eating healthier food and taking more exercise. I have also spent less, giving the lie to healthier eating being more expensive.

I’m still overweight, so the regime continues. Not a diet, but a change in lifestyle. I’ve been fat most of my adult life. The only person doing something or likely to do something about it is me. Well done Gillian Bowditch for saying what obese people need to hear.

Gerald Hope, Glasgow


Don’t be fooled that new tobacco packaging will increase the volume of illicit product (“Warning that ‘plain packaging’ will boost tobacco black market”, Mark Macaskill, News, last week).

This is purely an alarmist claim from the tobacco industry and its supporters. Official statistics from Australia, where so-called plain packs are already in use, show illicit tobacco has not increased.

The latest expert opinion from HMRC referred to by UK junior health minister Jane Ellison as she announced the move to bring forward plain packs legislation, concludes the move will have no impact on the level of counterfeit product. They retain the security features of current packaging and are no easier to copy.

MPs will soon vote on standardised packaging legislation and must not be deflected from supporting a crucial health measure.

Sheila Duffy

Chief executive, ASH Scotland, Edinburgh

A&E is right to open doors to all comers

WHERE would your correspondent Robin Pooley draw the line on admitting “self-inflicted cases” to A&E (“Weeding out drunks would patch up A&E waiting times”, Letters, last week)? Should we also turn away those with smoking-related symptoms, or perhaps sportsmen who choose to play rugby instead of tiddlywinks on a Saturday afternoon and arrive with injuries sustained in a game, or anybody in a car accident that was perhaps caused by their reckless driving? The NHS supports many people who arrive at A&E with what could be described as self-inflicted conditions.
Elizabeth Meatyard (former nurse), Thames Ditton, Surrey


One of the reasons intoxicated patients clog up overworked hospital casualty units is simple — the risk-averse blame culture afflicting our public services. A few decades ago a drunk was regarded — rightly or wrongly — as just a drunk and treated accordingly. In medical terms, however, a drunk is a dangerously ill person suffering from acute alcohol poisoning and requires immediate medical care. Neither the police nor the NHS wishes to be blamed for any deterioration — or worse — in the patient’s condition; hence the reluctance to take such individuals into custody, or to refuse or delay medical attention.

Of course the proper way to remedy this situation would be to hold the recovered inebriate fully and publicly to account for the cost of their care and for the delays and other consequences to those patients whose ailments were not self-inflicted. In practice this would seldom be achievable.
David Solomon Police Inspector (retired), St Albans


Last week’s editorial “Fruitcakes come in from the fringe” surprised and disappointed me. To associate the Scottish National party (SNP) with the other political factions mentioned under the fruitcake heading does it a huge disservice. The SNP has been in power in Scotland since 2007 and in 2011 gained 45.4% of the total votes cast there. To state that Nicola Sturgeon was put on this earth “to irritate English voters” is a poor reflection on her political career. She has been an integral part of the Scottish political scene for many years and deserves more respect.
Alastair McCall, Glasgow


Daniel Johnson’s defence of Thomas More is misplaced (“Mantel swings her axe at the wrong head”, News Review, last week). The saint and former lord chancellor did indeed exhibit learning and some tenderness, particularly in his relationship with his daughter, but compassion is not a word that can ever be applied to him. He presided over the burning to death of six so-called heretics and tortured in his home those he suspected of heresy. In at least one case he wrote words that exulted in the agony of the condemned man who had been consumed by the flames. He was responsible for the mass burning of books. He was a person of principle, all right; the only problem was that he embraced the wrong principles.
Seamus McKenna, Dublin 14


France may well claim to be deploying an additional 15,000 security personnel to guard schools, train stations and cultural sites after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, but there is little sign of increased alertness at the Spanish-French border on the Mediterranean coast. Last week I crossed the frontier one day heading north and heading south the next day and there were no border personnel from either nation.
Robin Adrian Flood, Catalonia


In the development of air-traffic control systems, your article suggests that safety, efficiency and the ability to give precedence to high-value customers will be prime objectives (“Smart skies to let ‘gold card’ flyers land first”, News, January 18). There was no mention of the alleviation of noise and pollution suffered by so many who live near airports (steeper glide paths, for example). This is yet another pointer that we sleepwalk towards horrendous levels of inequality in our unrepresentative democracy.
James Cornhill, Brentford, London


Many thanks for letting your readers know about a possible new Jamie and Jools Oliver baby (“Superfit Jools eyes up 5th child”, News, January 18). May I suggest a national primary school competition to choose the name? After all, the winning entry couldn’t be half as daft as the ones given to the four previous arrivals.
Adam Manktelow, Greenhithe, Kent


Max Hastings in his review of Peter Fitzsimons’s book Gallipoli states that New Zealanders in both world wars “were perhaps the finest of all allied fighters” without giving any further explanation for this utterance (“Bloodbath on the beaches”, Books, last week). Surely this is because New Zealanders, like Australians and Canadians, were all volunteers who signed up to fight, unlike conscript Britons. In the days when this country fielded a volunteer army it was equal to any in the world.
Barry Marsden, Eldwick, West Yorkshire


Rod Liddle cites Phil Collins as an example of an upper-middle-class pop star (“Pop music needs working-class heroes — not James Blunt” , Comment, last week). Collins hails from Hounslow, in west London, his father worked in insurance, his mother was a theatrical agent and he didn’t go to public school. I suspect Liddle got him confused with his former Genesis colleague Peter Gabriel, who is from Godalming, in Surrey, and attended Charterhouse public school.
Jon Tout, Altrincham, Greater Manchester


No, no, no — hares are not abundant up here in Scotland; our beautiful mountain hares are common only in the east and there are worries over their sustainability (“Florence Knight’s hare pappardelle”, Magazine, last week). They are a taste we can do without, and indeed I have yet to see a recipe — Knight’s included — where the pile of other ingredients and super-long cooking time would not suggest an old shoe could replace the creature. If hares have to justify their existence, then they can give us a lot more pleasure visually in the field than stuffed down our throats. What next — larks’ tongues?
Margaret Clarke, Edinburgh


Katie Glass, writing about her friend Cressida Bonas (“See ya, Harry — Cressida was always too cool to be a consort”, News Review, January 18) has clearly forgotten that “party-loving” Prince Harry was a combatant for his country in Afghanistan, excelled in his aircrew training, walked with wounded soldiers on a polar expedition and brought the Invictus Games to the UK.
Lorraine Buckley, Great Fransham, Norfolk
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to complaints@sunday-times.co.uk or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.


Meg Cabot, author, 48; Don Everly, singer, 78; Terry Jones, comic actor, 73; Eleanor Laing, deputy Commons Speaker, 57; Laura Marling, singer, 25; Peter Sallis, actor, 94; Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, 50; Harry Styles, singer, 21; Sir Peter Tapsell, MP and father of the House of Commons, 85; Stuart Whitman, actor, 87


1851 novelist Mary Shelley dies; 1930 first Times crossword published; 1953 storms and floods in eastern England kill 307 people and leave 30,000 homeless; 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 14-year exile; 2003 space shuttle Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew



An investigation by The Telegraph reveals that the amount spent by the NHS on private and voluntary services to provide 999 care has risen from £24m to £56m in three years

Ambulance services are struggling to keep up with insatiable demand Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The single most obvious symptom of our failing health system is the crisis in ambulance services now overwhelmed by apparently insatiable demand. The 999 service obliges ambulances to deliver patients to hospital trusts, bypassing GPs, who are overwhelmed by bureaucracy.

Those who abuse the 999 system suffer no penalty, and inevitably the system fails those patients with actual life-threatening conditions. It is costly and in dire need of reform, but I fear change is unlikely owing to a lack of political will.

The family doctor service was effectively dismantled in 2004 with the introduction of the appalling out-of-hours services. Following instructions from NHS managers most GP practices now have a recorded message saying: “If your condition is life threatening please hang up and dial 999.”

GPs could offer a range of procedures to save lives and reduce costs to the taxpayer, but until patients are discouraged from abusing a free service and doctors are freed from micromanagement and box-ticking exercises, the rate of early retirements among GPs will only increase.

Dr Timothy Peters
London SE1

SIR – My wife and I are both GPs working between 30 and 40 hours a week each.

There are huge disincentives to working more than this. What is needed is an incremental pay scale so that net pay per hour is higher as the number of hours worked increases. As matters stand with the tax system, the more hours you work the less you earn per hour.

Give doctors an incentive to work harder and fewer will seek alternative work, go abroad or choose early retirement.

Dr Alexander Barber
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – I work in a large general practice in London. Recently I saw a young woman who had gone to A&E with a headache. Although not requiring admission, she was told by the attending doctor that she needed an early MRI scan. Rather than ordering this himself he told the patient to see her GP to obtain a referral, presumably to contain costs. Given the pressure on general practices, our A&E colleagues need to find ways to save such patients from having to consult their GPs.

Dr Lance Saker
London N3

SIR – GPs can ration treatment by using an appointment system, while A&E is open all hours with treatment on demand. A GP surgery may proudly display long opening hours, but often no doctor is on duty or patients booked in, so it is deserted.

GP surgeries should abolish appointment systems and become the first point of contact for anyone feeling unwell. At the moment in most cases before an ambulance is sent, mobile first responders are dispatched to assess the patient. This is work that the local GP should be doing.

Phil Williams
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

The best school exams


SIR – You are right that independent schools such as Eton and Harrow should not be punished for pursuing rigour. It is plainly absurd that the Prime Minister’s alma mater should find itself at the bottom of the league tables.

I fear Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, has been badly advised. Last year the IGCSE had 760,000 entries, from 5,000 schools in 144 countries. Why are state school pupils in Britain penalised for taking an exam used by some of the best schools around the world?

Schools say they offer the IGCSE because it is the best preparation for university – feedback that is echoed by admissions tutors. If the Department for Education advisers are so confident that schools will switch back to the “new world-class GCSEs” from IGCSEs, they should encourage real competition in a “race to the top”, rather than try to rig the race.

Simon Lebus
Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

SIR – Nicky Morgan’s ill-informed remarks, coming so soon after the exoneration of her department by its own permanent secretary of any serious failings in regard to warnings about extremist infiltration of schools, show us that the Department for Education is at least in full control of one thing: its own ministers.

Until English education is released from the dead hand of that department, there is no prospect of our education system recovering from more than four decades of ill-advised interventions.

Richard Rex

Three-parent families

SIR – Mitochondrial donation raises important ethical questions on which the Church of England can be expected to take a view.

But it is remarkable that the Church has pronounced that there has been insufficient scientific study without first asking the Newcastle University scientists who lead this research, the families who stand to benefit, or the Wellcome Trust, which funds it, to explain the science to the Archbishop’s Council.

The Church appears to have ignored the unprecedented independent scrutiny of scientific, ethical and public opinion about mitochondrial donation conducted over the past seven years. All these reviews have revealed broad support, which is why the Government has proposed regulations that would allow families affected by terrible mitochondrial diseases to benefit.

When they vote on Tuesday, we hope that MPs will place appropriate weight on the conclusions of this internationally admired process for independently assessing scientific, ethical and public views.

Dr Jeremy Farrar
Director, The Wellcome Trust
London NW1

Desperate refugees fleeing by boat from Syria

SIR – This week Roman Kent, a survivor of the Holocaust, said: “You should never be a bystander”. This week too, my daughter Emily emailed me from Cyprus, where she is working with Syrian refugees.

Emily wrote: “Today was difficult – no breakfast or lunch, only dinner for them.

“Their stories broke me today. They are desperate and I feel so desperate as well, since I can’t help them get what they want or what they need. Every door is closed to refugees and, sadly, many of them have left loved ones behind in war-ravaged Syria. They live in constant fear that they will never see them again. One woman told me today that her husband had never met their three-year-old daughter – thanks to the war, he has only seen her in photographs.

“Every day they ask me for a solution, and the reality is there is no solution for these separated families. Some travel for six months, crossing several countries to reach Cyprus; now they wait, searching for a smuggler who will take them out of Cyprus, and they hope that God will help them find their families.

“They are scared to travel again by boat. It takes five days to travel from Cyprus to Turkey. The younger children don’t really know what’s going on, but children aged five and older are filled with dread: they have vivid memories of being rescued from a sinking boat off the coast of northern Cyprus. The parents reassure them, but they are equally scared. Still, dying at sea is a risk they are prepared to take to find their loved ones again.

“The world needs to face the reality of the situation. The camp closes this week. But how can the government legally just throw these people out on the street? No one has an answer for them, so they put their faith in Allah. But I have lost faith.”

Cécile Irving-Swift
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Not just the yellow car


SIR – I feel very sorry for photographers intending to produce an idyllic picture of Arlington Row.

Even if the errant yellow car wasn’t present, in the image accompanying the article there is a satellite TV dish, at least one chimney-mounted aerial pole and part of an overhead cable. For the true historical perfectionist the cast-iron gutters would have to go, as would the asphalt road surface – neither of which would have been present in the 14th century when the row was built.

Nigel Searle
Woking, Surrey

Churchill’s legacy

SIR – We may be interested to be reminded of Churchill’s mistakes during his political career (Letters, January 24), but if he had not been prime minister during the Second World War then we would not be here discussing the matter.

Surely we must all be grateful for his role in securing our freedom and, for once, let sleeping dogs lie.

Jackie Perkins
Whitstable, Kent

World-class service

SIR – Far greater importance should be given to the BBC World Service. Funding should be guaranteed by the Government.

Unbiased views are desperately needed in a world of spin and censorship – in particular to counter the Chinese and Russians versions of events and to comment accurately on terrorism.

Terry Ralph
Camberley, Surrey

Closely guarded secret


SIR – Grenadier Guards officers on Queen’s Guard at St James’s Palace were permitted to use the swimming pool in the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall.

I recall that the only means of transporting one’s swimming trunks while wearing the ceremonial uniform of tunic, sword and bearskin was to conceal them inside the last (Letters, January 30).

Philip Wright
London SW11

Tamper-proof names

SIR – My wife is also named Anne (Letters, January 30). The last letter is frequently left off her name when she receives written replies from various organisations. She is also often addressed as Annie.

It is not a tamper-proof name.

Rev Christopher Roberts
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – My parents gave me a name they thought couldn’t be shortened. Then along came Only Fools and Horses.

Derek Epps
New Milton, Hampshire

When low-flying aircraft meet high-flying fish

Close encounter: a view of the underside of a ray found in the seas around Indonesia (AFP/Getty Images)

SIR – Your photograph, in Tuesday’s paper, of a Munk’s devil ray soaring out of the sea reminded me of the time when, during the Indonesia confrontation in the Sixties, I was flying a low-level patrol in a Hunter, a single-seat day fighter.

My leader and I had coasted out from our base in Sarawak and had settled into our regular battle formation at a height which was slightly lower than that authorised. Suddenly, a huge stingray reared up out of the water barely 10 yards from my aircraft and at the same height, but fortunately offset enough to miss my port wing.

We all know of aircraft having bird-strikes, but I’ve often wondered if I’m the only pilot who so nearly had a fish-strike.

Ian Dick
Lherm, Haute-Garonne, France

Two’s company. . .

SIR – A restaurant near us is offering diners on Valentine’s Day a free bottle of prosecco – for parties of four.

Andy Bradshaw
Guildford, Surrey


Globe and Mail:


Another round of low-dollar dreams

Irish Times:

The voice of Ireland – An Irishman’s Diary about Margaret Barry and Alan Lomax

‘Blessed with the decibel levels of a foghorn, she bypassed the microphones and sang from the front of stage, to general acclaim’

Margaret Barry and Brendan Behan in 1961. Photograph: Gordon Standing Margaret Barry and Brendan Behan in 1961. Photograph: Gordon Standing

I never witnessed the phenomenon that was “street singer” Margaret Barry in action. She died in 1989, and her performing heyday had long passed by then. But I do know she visited my home town at least once, as she did most towns in Ireland, and that it marked a milestone in her career.

She mentioned it in an interview with this paper’s Irishman’s Diarist in 1959, while promoting another landmark event, her debut in Dublin’s Theatre Royal. Then, describing her early years, travelling from fair to fair with her banjo, she said: “I bought my first bicycle at Carrickmacross for 17 shillin’. When I made more money I got a better one.”

In fact, although born in Cork city in 1917, to a family of what would then have been called tinkers, Barry seems to have had enjoyed a special relationship with Ireland’s northeast. Her favourite ballad was The Turfman from Ardee, and she spent the last years of her life in Banbridge, Co Down.

Also, one of the most evocative descriptions of her I’ve read was from an edition of Breffni Blue, the Cavan GAA yearbook, some years ago. The writer, one Brendan Murray, remembered her performing at the fair in Shercock way back in 1946, and holding a crowd spellbound for two hours.

My favourite part of his story concerned the approach at one point of a local garda, who happened to be a Corkman, and who it was feared might move the crowd on. But either sensing an ethnic bond, or tipped off about the officer’s origins, Barry promptly launched into a ballad about emigrating from Cork.

After listening to which, and temporarily transported from his lonely exile in Ulster, the garda said “Good girl” and presented Barry with a half-crown – a staggering tip then, especially in Cavan.

It was in the northeast too – at a fair in Dundalk this time – that Barry was spotted by the great American folklorist and music collector Alan Lomax. Having already scoured his native country for its most authentic musical voices, recording them for posterity, he embarked in 1951 on a project to do the same throughout Europe and beyond, starting here.

And in Dundalk, his 500lb tape machine captured Barry’s performance of She Moved Through the Fair, an ultra-authentic version of the song, from a woman who had moved through more fairs than most.

It might be overstating it to say, as the Irishman’s Diarist did, that Barry was “discovered” by Lomax. She was doing well enough for herself beforehand, what with 17-shilling bicycles and all. But he certainly helped her to another level. From his base in London, he later summoned her to perform at the Royal Festival Hall, so that she went from entertaining mobile crowds at noisy Irish street fairs to a seated audience of 3,600, listening in reverent silence.

She also had to do this while missing her four front teeth. But undaunted, and being blessed with the decibel levels of a foghorn, she bypassed the microphones and sang from the front of stage, to general acclaim. After England, she went to America, also to great success. And from then on, she could afford not just better bicycles, but other trappings of fame, including dentures.

Barry was just one of countless singers recorded by Lomax, who in the process of preserving so many songs and voices that might otherwise have disappeared, became one of the most influential figures in 20th-century music.

He pointed the way for Bob Dylan, among others, and helped launch not just the folk music revival, but also that catch-all record shop category “world music”.

In fact, the project he began in 1951, the “World Library of Folk and Primitive Music” has since expanded to multiple volumes, countries, and continents. But collaborating with another great music collector, Seamus Ennis, Lomax paid Ireland the considerable compliment of being Volume 1.

The fruits of their combined labours have been called, in the title of Colm Sands’s BBC radio documentary, The First LP in Ireland. Along with Barry, it featured performances by Ennis, Elizabeth Cronin, Mickey Doherty and many others, and included one now almost extinct genre, the “keening” song. To subsequent generations of musicians, the collection has been almost a sacred text.

Margaret Barry’s exact date of birth is unrecorded – at least anywhere I’ve seen. Birthdays may have been excess baggage for Travellers of her era, anyway. But Alan Lomax, the man who first committed her to tape, was of course suitably well archived himself. He was born, in Austin, Texas, 100 years ago today.

Irish Independent:

Sir – In his article in last week’s Sunday Independent, ‘A price for coming out and a price for not coming out’, Donal Lynch explains some of the reasons why people who are gay do not come out.

He wonders why Leo Varadker has come out at 36 and says that although he is the same age as the Minister, he had been out for nearly two decades.

Mr Lynch says “as far as I was concerned, being gay was cool and hip.” I’m sure there are many people like him who come to accept their sexuality easily -but for others it is a much more difficult process.

Leo Varadker stated when asked by Miriam O’Callaghan if there was a part of him that didn’t want to accept that he was gay: “Yeah I guess so. Yeah, I think that’s probably the truth.”

Coming to accept one’s sexuality is a unique and often difficult experience for each LGBT person. Unfortunately LGBT young people are at least three times more likely to attempt suicide as their non-LGBT counterparts. While a young person may struggle with internal conflicts these can be added to enormously by homophobia and societal attitudes in general.

When I was a teenager homosexual acts were illegal in this country and today worldwide, gay people suffer from state-sanctioned discrimination in many countries. In a few months time we will be given the opportunity to allow same-sex couples to marry, the same rights afforded to heterosexual people.

Hopefully this referendum will be passed and young people can see that whatever internal struggles they may be going through, as a society we value them the same as heterosexual people.

Tommy Roddy,


Same sex poll is mis-named

Sir – The naming of the referendum on same-sex “marriage” as the “Marriage Equality Referendum”

is flawed and prejudicial to the running of a fair, transparent and balanced poll. This disingenuous effort to affect the outcome merely succeeds in subverting democracy.

It is a phenomenon we have come to expect from the taxpayer-funded RTE and the heavily agenda-ised Irish media but – it is alarming to see it coming from government ministers.

Who decided the title for this referendum ? An impartial judge, an internationally respected legislator – or merely certain members of the Irish Cabinet ?

The ploy is so childish that it might just backfire. Oops ! I forgot ! It is not actually about what is best for children.

It is all about the wishes of the LGBT community.

Goodbye democracy.

Colm McCormack,

Co Cavan

No marriage for gay people

Sir – I enjoyed reading Claire Mc Cormack’s article (Sunday Independent, 25 January) – ‘I’m 28 and I still derive great strength from attending Mass’. I was delighted that someone under 30 years of age still got that feeling.

Sunday Mass back when I was 28, a good while ago, was just the same. Sunday was the best day of the week and our best clothes and shoes were gleaming for Holy Mass. I had a vivid imagination, so, at Mass, I felt that I was a soldier of Jesus Christ and dare anyone hurt him I would be there to stop them with my spear.

At many a Sunday Mass in the Oblate Fathers in Inchicore where I attended as a child, the missionary priest would be celebrating mass. He would be bashing the pulpit and shouting “you’re not listening you mothers to the Word of God.” He never gave out to the men – as they would have not listened to him.

“No, you are all thinking ‘Did I leave the gas on too high for the Sunday roast?’ and ‘Will it burn?’.” And he shouted and bashed the pulpit.

“Shame on you all! God knows your thoughts. He knows what you are thinking.” There was not much preached then about the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. God was more an ogre. This used frighten me that God knew what I was thinking.

Shame on the priest, I say.

He didn’t have to buy or cook the Sunday dinner. He joined the other priests for a massive Sunday dinner served to him on a gilded plate. Neither would he have to feed a large family or wash the dishes afterwards. He was probably right at what the mothers were thinking but he frightened the living daylights out of me at 10 years of age.

I’m glad Claire that you derive solace from Sunday Mass, as I do. Mass can give so much peace to everyone and to thank God every week is a wonderful thing.

I would love now that priests got up on a Sunday morning and banged the pulpit and awakened us all. Maybe get up and thump the pulpit about the meaning of marriage. Maybe thump the pulpit and say gays or homosexuals cannot marry. Let their relationship be called something else.

Marriage is between a man and a women who may create children and not between two men or two women. Why let lesbians or homosexuals rob us of the meaning and the word marriage. They already have stolen the word “gay”.

Ms Terry Healy,

Kill, Co Kildare

Gay marriage is different

Sir – Eilis O’Hanlon in her article – ‘It’s not a debate if one side can’t speak’ (Sunday Independent, 25 January) rightly argues that opponents of gay marriage must feel able to share their views without the fear of being labelled prejudiced.

Many reasonable people believe the traditional definition of marriage does not require changing to ensure the rights of gay people.

Logically, I find the argument that there is no difference between gay and traditional marriage makes no sense, as any dictionary will confirm. Arguing that gay marriage is not the same as a traditional marriage does not disrespect the rights of gay people if the State ensures the same legal protections to all relationships.

The alternative to agreeing that there is no difference will surely require the State to treat all married couples of any gender the same in all circumstances – which may have some unintended consequences.

Frank Browne,


Dublin 16

Who knows where Putin will stop

Sir – After reading Willie Kealy’s article about Putin and Ukraine, (Sunday Independent, Jan 25), I understand the concerns about the possibility of world war.

But I can not understand why Mr Putin has decided to support with weapons people in Ukraine who are pro-Russian, and why Russian troops are killing innocent people to try to dominate the world and re-draw borders.

Every time Mr Putin perceives a threat from democracy, he starts a war. He did it in Georgia 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. Can anyone say where he will stop?

Obama is a weak president and he will probably do what Mr Kealy suggests in his article and in the process, give up on the people of Ukraine. Can anyone guarantee when that happens that Mr Putin won’t start a new war in the Baltic countries – and they are in NATO?

Don’t forget the Russian population is dominant in some of these regions as well, so it will be easy to use propaganda to make an excuse for aggression.

What Mr Putin is doing is called bullying. Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons. Would Russia attack it if it had not?

Natasha Buckley,

(former citizen of Lugansk region of Ukraine,)

Carrigaline, Co Cork

More damage to Oireachtas name

Sir – Once more reputational damage has been done to the integrity of the Oireachtas.

Revelations that FG Deputy Michelle Mulherin confirmed she made mobile phone calls to Kenya between 2011 and 2013 at a cost of €2,000 but is prepared to repay the cost to the taxpayer, renders her claim that the calls were not of a personal nature ridiculous.

If these calls were part of her parliamentary duties, why would she offer to repay the cost to the State?

Inflicting further damage on our parliament was the cronyism of the disgraced former minister Michael Lowry who engaged in a squalid attempt to influence the Taoiseach in the re-appointment of an out-going member of the board of the National Transport Authority.

It was not surprising, but no less sordid, that Mr Lowry told RTÉ’s News At One programme that these issues would not be uncommon or unusual, “that it happens in the Dáil all the time”.

Tom Cooper,

Templeogue, Dublin 6

Sunday Independent

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