29 December 2014 Updating

I tidy up and update some software, and fill in the terrible forms for Denplan. .

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight unnchanges, chicken for tea.


Jane Freilicher in her studio on Long Island

Jane Freilicher in her studio on Long Island Photo: GETTY

Jane Freilicher, who has died aged 90, was a painter who came to prominence with the New York School during the Fifties and later became Dustin Hoffman’s landlady.

In the mid-20th century her circle included painters such as Larry Rivers, Fairfield Porter and Joan Mitchell and the poets John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara. It was a heady milieu. Manhattan at that time was a melting pot of contemporary avant-garde cultural movements: Pop artists and abstract expressionists, jazz musicians and experimental actors, novelists and film directors, socialised, collaborated, had affairs, marriages, fist fights and ideological spats. At the hub of all this was Jane Freilicher, quietly painting her still lives and landscapes.

A representational painter, she revisited her subjects over and over again, producing multiple versions of specific views – most notably those from her Manhattan penthouse and her Long Island retreat – and studies of flowers, in particular peonies and pansies. Her work, she said, was touched by a “softly brushed, meditative lyric”. The musical reference was apt: she eloped at the age of 17 with a jazz pianist, became the lover of a saxophonist-turned-painter, married (secondly) an eccentric dancer, and inspired several poets to rhapsodise about her in verse.

She was born Jane Niederhoffer in Brooklyn on November 29 1924 and brought up in Brighton Beach. Creative expression was a family trait. Her mother was a musician; her father, a Spanish language translator, boasted of memorising Don Quixote (in Spanish) while commuting on the New York subway. She later recalled that she was drawn to art at an early age, “not for fame or achievement, but out of a romantic inclination to beautiful things”.

At the age of 17, shortly after graduating from high school, she eloped with the pianist Jack Freilicher. They married in 1941 but the marriage was annulled after five years. However, the union introduced her to a world of artistes, including Larry Rivers, the saxophonist in her husband’s band who later took up painting. The pair became lovers. “She has more integrity than anyone I have ever known,” wrote Rivers in his memoirs.

In the late Forties she studied painting at Brooklyn College tutored by the German abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman. “He was the high priest of Modern art,” she recalled, “yet his studio was very democratic.’’ She graduated from Brooklyn in 1947 and received her master’s degree from Columbia University.

By the early 1950s she was a fixture in the city’s bohemian community. Jane Freilicher and friends such as de Kooning, Kline and O’Hara would convene at an apartment on East 8th Street, where “there would be Friday night discussions and harangues, followed by partying and dancing”. She became the subject of poems by Koch and O’Hara. “Far at sea I once more capture / men and cities and whales in rain / Yet can’t make serious with my rapture / slyly thoughtful, smiling Jane,’’ O’Hara wrote.

Jane Freilicher’s ‘Jar of Forsythia’ (1990)

She spotted her second husband, Joseph Hazan, in a film called The Dogwood Maiden. Hazan was a classically-trained dancer, artist’s model, friend of Tennessee Williams and heir to a large Jewish clothing business. On their first date he took along his pet monkey, Geno. “My days as a party girl ended,” recalled Jane Freilicher in later life. The couple married in 1957 and built a house at Water Mill on Long Island, where she set up a studio and painted the local marshes, bays and potato fields.

While her work was anchored in the real world – “Realism is the only way I can do it,” she once stated – it was a representation viewed through an idiosyncratic eye. She embraced a particularly bright, elemental palette of turquoises, lime greens, corncob yellow and summery blues. While her influences were distinctly French, in particular the canvasses of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse created half a century earlier, her closest artistic touchstones were perhaps David Hockney’s Yorkshire views and the seascapes of the Scottish Colourists.

Jane Freilicher’s ‘Farm Scene’ (1963)

In the mid-1960s she contributed prints and drawings (of river views and floral studies) to The Paris Review, where editors judged that “the complex temperament of her painting prevents its being assigned to a single movement or group”. Such was her fate. Her subtle expressionism was not of its time. She was dismissed as “a domestic painter” while the art world lauded the abstraction of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. “I couldn’t find a kernel in that kind of painting to split open,” she said. Instead she persisted with her “lively blur” of colour and light, acknowledging that her paintings were “deviant enough to explain why I was not rising through the ranks”.

In addition to their Long Island home, the couple bought a large house in Greenwich Village where they rented out rooms. Their tenants included Angela Lansbury, Barbara Harris and Dustin Hoffman. In early 1970, unbeknown to the couple, members of the radical Left-wing organisation the Weather Underground had begun using the town house next door as a bomb-making factory. On March 6 that year the activists accidentally detonated one of their nail bombs, destroying the building and part of Freilicher’s house. At the time of the bombing Hoffman was living in an apartment in her home.

Jane Freilicher’s ‘Flowers on Blue’ (2003)

In 2005 Jane Freilicher was awarded a gold medal for painting by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In October this year her longtime New York gallery, Tibor de Nagy, staged a retrospective of her prints and works on paper.

Although her work was often eclipsed by that of her contemporaries, Jane Freilicher remained upbeat: “I liked not having the demands made on me a big career would have made,” she said in later life. “It allowed me a certain freedom to fool around.”

Her husband died in 2012, and she is survived by their daughter, the painter Elizabeth Hazan.

Jane Freilicher, born November 29 1924, died December 9 2014


Delivery vans parked at a closed City Link depot, 26 December 2014.
Delivery vans parked at a closed City Link depot, 26 December 2014. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

One of the City Link subcontractors mentioned in your report (26 December) had been working for the company through an agency for the past three years. It’s unclear when reports mention “nearly 3,000 staff” whether these are employees or agency staff. If politicians really wonder why the productivity of UK workers is so poor, why crucial skills are in such short supply, and why income tax revenues are unexpectedly low, they should look at the practice of long-term employment of subcontractors through agencies. Workers have the overhead of agencies taking a minimum of 15% of their wages. They pay far lower tax than employees, but the employer is paying no sick pay, no benefits and provides no training. Agencies are taking the money that used to go to the exchequer, workers have their benefits eroded and employers find it cheaper to bring in workers from abroad than to train up local staff.

When the BBC talks about becoming more competitive by putting work out to tender, it is simply looking to replace trained staff by using companies that hire contractors for a particular role. No one will provide the training that has been the hallmark of the BBC. The same thing is happening in the NHS, and in schools and care homes up and down the country. Every second-rate humanities graduate is going into “recruitment” and the finances are normally concealed from both employers and employees. Labour and the unions should unite to fight the erosion of working conditions through agency working, to incentivise companies to employ and train staff directly, and to ensure an agency’s terms and conditions are clearly visible to all concerned.
David Vail

• I object to you using the euphemism “letting staff go” when the proper term is sacked. “Letting people go” implies workers want to leave and the company are reluctant to see them depart. The Guardian should not use this language.
Philip Clayton


The persecution of Christians around the world in the name of religion is a reflection of the poor state of religious freedom in too many countries (Editorial, 26 December). A report this year showed that 60% of the world’s countries were experiencing a serious decline in religious freedom, where minorities endure violence and discrimination. The way of judging any civilisation is how it treats its minorities. We should heed the great political philosopher Karl Popper, who advocated “in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant”. Popper explained: “We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
Zaki Cooper

• The 2003 Iraq invasion was indeed a disaster for Christians in the Middle East. Syria under Assad was, according to William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain (1997), the safest place for Christians to practise their religion. This safety has virtually disappeared.

On a happier note, in Highgate, a predominantly Muslim area in Birmingham, at least 30 Muslims attended the midnight mass service in St Alban’s church and took part in wishing us a merry Christmas, some going up to the altar for a blessing. I pray that this fine gesture will become widespread.
David Craig
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

• If Herod, King of Judea, sent his soldiers to murder baby Jesus, then the Romans did not rule Judea and could not have been “threatened by Christmas” at the time (Loose canon, 27 December). The idea that later on a preacher too insignificant to come to the attention of a single Roman historian, who exhorted his followers to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, represented such a “threat to the stability of the state that the Romans executed him” is hardly any less absurd. Even the gospels are clear that Pilate, a Roman prefect who otherwise relentlessly persecuted the Jews, found no grounds for executing Jesus (John 18:38). “The Chinese” may well feel threatened by the festival the University in Xi’an described as “western kitsch” (Report,, 25 December) – but “Christmas” was no threat to the Romans.
Peter McKenna

• Giles Fraser says: “Christianity is an aggressive religion that has long historical form in picking fights and toppling dictatorships”. Which ones, Giles?
David Rainbird
Wallasey, Wirral

• Neither theologians, artists nor Christians seem to appreciate that there are various sorts of stable. Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity (Jesus was not born in a stable but in a family home, theologian says, 24 December) shows a stable as westerners think of it – a free-standing, roofed, rectangular structure above ground – whereas the spot claimed to be Jesus’s birthplace beneath the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, is in a scoop into solid limestone at the base of a cave.

This exists within a subterranean complex of caves and passages, now known from archaeological excavation to extend east and southeast of the church. This was an area of civil occupation before the first church was built; and some of the “family homes” that stood there would have had rock-cut cellars that could have had many uses, including being a stable. The Rev Ian Paul is therefore drawing a false dichotomy in claiming that, because Jesus was born in a “family home”, he could not have been born in a stable.

Pastoralists still struggling to survive in the hills south of Hebron live in traditional family homes carved out of rock, with accommodation characteristically consisting of a living area with open hearth, surrounded by sleeping quarters and, at the rear, storage cells and a cave-stable. The best one I saw had a hole in the roof at ground level, through which animal feed was dropped. Livestock are overwintered in such stables.
Peter Fowler

• It is futile to try to locate the place (and time) of Jesus’s birth by referring to Biblical texts. It is quite clear that the New Testament writers either knew nothing about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth or thought they were irrelevant. Neither the earliest writers, Saint Paul and Saint Mark, nor Saint John mention them at all. Saint Matthew and Saint Luke used considerable and very different “poetic licence” in their efforts to have Jesus born in Bethlehem (City of David) in the face of the knowledge that he grew up in Nazareth. It is also evident that Luke’s original gospel began at what is now chapter three, and that he added the birth and infancy narratives of chapters one and two subsequently; perhaps after coming across Matthew’s gospel. The circumstances of his birth are irrelevant to Jesus’s good news.
Rev Dr Jeyan Anketell
Modern Church, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Labour’s idea to create “pop-up courts” in town halls and civic buildings (Report, 26 December) is a good one. Local justice has been destroyed in many areas, due to the closure of magistrates courts. The MP Simon Reevell recently pointed out that someone from Wensleydale trying to get to their nearest court in Northallerton for a morning hearing would not get there till after midday if they used the local bus service. Courts need to be nearer the communities they serve, and local control should be restored to them. Before 2003, when magistrates courts committees were abolished, magistrates controlled the administration of their local courts. Now it is centralised and neither magistrates, nor councillors, nor local people have any real say in how local justice is administered. If pop-up courts are to succeed, local people need to run local courts.
Penelope Gibbs
Director, Transform Justice 

• Earlier this year the Guardian printed my letter attacking the coalition government for suggesting pop–up courts so as to reduce the number of courts and undoubtedly sell the buildings off. Sadiq Khan has now stolen this idea. The idea is Kafkaesque, absurd and will remove the gravitas that emanates from the justice system. I suggest maybe the politicians try selling Westminster Palace, 10 Downing Street and other buildings used by the legislature, as the gravitas they are supposed to have has completely disappeared. The Commons, the Lords, the parliamentary committees and the cabinet could pop up in various places where they would not be remote from the people.

Besides, if Sadiq Khan and the Labour party were serious about removing the remoteness of the justice system, then they should abolish the fees in the employment tribunals and sort out the legal aid problem which is denying loads of innocent people access to the justice system.
Phil Cosgrove

After reading the letters (26 December) about Alan Rusbridger’s successor as editor-in-chief of the Guardian and allowing us to have a say, I think the point has been missed. We all want the Guardian to flourish, in which case the most important electorate would be potential new readers, not loyal ones. I believe the employees of the paper are probably most in touch and able to advise the Scott Trust, otherwise a hardcore of non-representative readers would steer the paper into a cul de sac, in the way our political parties are now detached from the wider electorate.
Martin Cooper
Bromley, Kent

• Perhaps your new year resolution might be to temper your language. The topsplash headline “Labour faces Scotland bloodbath” (27 December) is sordidly attention-grabbing and inappropriate – and not becoming of any serious newspaper. “Resounding defeat” would be more appropriate. Sometimes there really are bloodbaths: what language would you use then?
Dr Susan Treagus

• My grandfather was a Liverpool corporation gas lamplighter throughout the austerity of the 1920s and 30s. Along with his sunset and sunrise duties, he was required to go out around midnight to turn lamps down or off to save gas, before going out again to turn them up before dawn to light the streets for those on their way to work. Plus ça change (Letters, 27 December)?
Gerard Morgan

• Robert Nowell is incorrect to claim that if there is a need to cull foxes, hunting is the way to do it (Letters, 27 December). During foot and mouth disease in 2000-01, hunting completely stopped for 10 months and researchers found there was actually a slight decline in the fox population (Nature, Vol. 419, 5/9/02, p34).
Christopher Clayton
Chester, Cheshire

• I was overjoyed to see that 36 – over a third – of the 100 bestselling books of 2014 were children’s books (24 December), including eight of the Top 10. Does this mean that children’s books will now be given the weekly review slots in the Guardian and Observer which they so richly deserve?
Teresa Heapy @theapy

• Despite the snowy scenes not so far away, winter’s not in Somerset; picked raspberries today.
Theresa Graham
Clevedon, Somerset

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras at the Greek parliament in Athens, 23 December 2014.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras at the Greek parliament in Athens, 23 December 2014. Photograph: Yannis Kolesidis/EPA

Owen Jones’s excellent article on the political situation in Greece was, sadly, too optimistic (Greece’s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU, 22 December). The prospect of the first “radical leftwing” government assuming power in the EU is, I fear, only a remote possibility, not because Syriza’s policies do not attract sufficient support in Greece but because austerity in Europe is now clearly judged to be much more important than democracy; the chances of an imminent general election taking place in Greece are remote. Only if Greek MPs fail to elect the government candidate as president will an election be called, and as the Greek prime minister equates this failure with “political turmoil”, everything possible is being done to ensure the candidate becomes the new head of state (Greek election uncertainty fuels concern over eurozone stability, 18 December).

Bribes of €2m-€3m are being offered to ensure votes are cast “correctly”; seven leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are being allowed to participate in the election, even though they have been imprisoned for using their fascist group “as a front to run a criminal organisation”; and, as Jones reported, veiled threats are being made, to Greek politicians and people, by the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The fact that the likely victor of the election is a party committed to ending austerity and to ruling Greece on behalf of its people, not its banks and financial interests, explains why, in Jones’s words, “a democratic challenge to economic madness” is being “strangled to death”.

Ironic, isn’t it, that when politicians attempt to justify their needless wars, the “threat to democracy” is viewed as having paramount importance, but when democracy in Europe is threatened because it could result in a national government favouring anti-austerity policies, no mainstream politician bats an eyelid?
Bernie Evans


It was good to learn that the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, Aaqil Ahmed, believes that the BBC should do more for minority faiths, and that he defended his position by quoting the census showing 4.4 per cent of people affirming Islam as their religion (“BBC’s head of religion says more beliefs must be reflected”, 27 December).

However, he rejected the need for an atheist point of view, despite the census showing 25.7 per cent of people not claiming a religion. Most religions have opinions on ethical issues, and these opinions are often intrinsic to the religion. However, ethics is much bigger than that, and many of the 25.7 per cent have strong ethical views.

It is therefore time he changed his job title to just “head of religion” and left the ethical debates to someone else who can give a balanced point of view.

Steve Horsfield

Hoby, Leicestershire


Will the BBC’s head of religion and ethics live up to his job title by acting to end the ban on atheists and agnostics contributing to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day? This kind of broadcast apartheid might be justified if religious belief simply equated to virtue, but too much evidence – child massacres and murdered aid-workers – proves otherwise.

Peter Brooker

West Wickham, Kent


David Cameron again celebrates “our Christian values” in his Christmas message. But the values he clearly admires – tolerance, understanding, charity – should not be attached to one religious group, as they are almost universal and were aspired to many years before the birth of Christ.

And I am afraid our Christian values are not much in evidence when questions of immigration, gay marriage and treatment of the mentally ill arise. But for the PM I suppose any opportunity for an early election pitch has to be taken.

Professor Brian S Everitt

London SE19

Tories choose to destroy services

Danny Alexander says that “the Tory agenda to keep reducing public spending beyond what is necessary would result in the wilful destruction of important parts of our public services” (“Osborne savaged by his closest ally in the Coalition”, 24 December).

I’ve got news for you, Mr Alexander: it has already happened; you just need to get out more. It has always been an ideological choice of the Tories to do this. There were other options but the Tories decided that the weak, poor and vulnerable would suffer the most; and you, Mr Alexander, have gone along with this.

It is no use objecting now. Anyone would think there was an election due.

Barry Norman

Bradford, West Yorkshire


Now that Danny Alexander has so completely and so publicly rejected the Government’s entire economic strategy, I take it the Liberal Democrats will join Labour in pledging to vote down next March’s Finance Bill? Pretty please?

Ted Bruning

St Neots, Cambridgeshire


Your editorial, “Bad policy, good politics” (23 December) summarised the criticisms of the Government as “ritualistic booing” which will not make a difference. What will make a difference, however, if we all ask the candidates at the general election in May three questions:

How many people are sleeping rough in your constituency?

How many people are collecting food from food banks?

What are you going to do about the above?

All of us should put these questions to each candidate, by every means possible, such as local media and local meetings.

Your columns have made us face these issues. Let us make the politicians face them as well, in the glare of publicity.

William Robert Haines



There was a delicious juxtaposition in the recent anti-porn law protests outside the Palace of Westminster. While those protesting outside consented to face-sitting and aggressive whipping, those MP deficit-dominatrixes in the original House of Pain are gearing up to deliver another round of non-consensual and painful public spending cuts to prove which party is tough enough to deal with the deficit at the next election.

Ian McKenzie


Fight back against the gropers

Why wouldn’t Nigel Glover be angry at the suggestive approaches made to his daughters by “drunken louts” (letter, 27 December)? That men behave this way is disgusting. But they occasionally do.

The man grabbing his daughter’s crotch in Clapham should have been deterred with a swift knee in the gonads; the taxi driver’s number should have been taken and reported to his employers and the police; the deeply boring man in the bar should have been rebuffed whilst Mr Glover’s daughter joined her smoking friends, and finally, I suggest the carrot should have been snapped.

I’m at a loss to understand why Mr Glover feels his daughters’ education and erudition would have protected them from this sort of behaviour.  Time they “man up”, take control of their lives and stop moaning to Daddy.

Jennifer Towland



Nigel Glover rightly complains about the boorish and loutish sexualised behaviour of some men towards young women. While they are fortunately in the minority, men generally have lost the art of flirtation and of engaging in humorous verbal foreplay.

It is all too unsubtle and basic, and displays not only a lack of respect for women but a complete failure to understand that women appreciate compliments and courtship but not animal behaviour.

Roger L Davey



Quick, early death? Yes, please

Rosie Millard (27 December) raises the question of whether we should wag our fingers at those who are fat and suggests that the last social taboo, “the elephant in the room”, is obesity. But surely the real elephant in the room is death.

The decision was taken some years ago by the League of Friends of our local hospital that 10 defibrillators should be installed at various places in our community to ensure that if anyone dropped down with a coronary thrombosis they could be immediately resuscitated by a passer-by.

When I publicly suggested that those of us of a certain age, who might think that this was a good way to go and might not wish to be brought back to life, should be provided by the Friends with brass labels we could wear around our necks while out shopping with the words “Please do not resuscitate” there was outrage.

At least obesity shortens life, for the reasons that Rose Millard outlines. Hands up those who do not wish to end their days incontinent, arthritic and demented in an old people’s home.

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough,  Wiltshire

End this archaic honours nonsense

Having been put off my porridge by the image of David  Mellor and his partner on the front page (22 December) my mind turned to more seasonal themes such as meritocracy, egalitarianism, dinners at No 10 and New Year Honours lists.

Surely there is no real benefit to the common man from anyone getting a knighthood or peerage because they have supported some dodgy manifesto or have come from the “right” gene pool.

Has the time come to abolish our honours system and the Lords altogether? Countless other countries seem to do very well without such archaic nonsense.

I am sure that those who really do make a selfless contribution to healthcare, society, sport or innovation will be grown-up enough not to need a gong or an ermine robe plus expenses to keep doing what they do.

Marc Buffery

Upper Rissington, Gloucestershire

Finsbury Park train nightmare

If East Coast Trains had re-routed some services via Peterborough and Cambridge, customers could have changed to and from the London Underground at Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale stations, thereby relieving the congestion at Finsbury Park on Saturday.

But to succeed, such an arrangement would require giving customers a constant stream of accurate, up-to-date information, which appears not to be the policy of East Coast Trains.

Francis Roads

London E18

Cruel charade of the hunting snobs

The hunting lobby’s Boxing Day charades (“The tradition that refuses to die”, 27 December) are a useful reminder to the rest of us that an election victory for David Cameron would mean the re-legalisation  of this cruelty to wild animals, conducted for  the sake of kicks and snobbery.

Christopher Clayton

Waverton, Cheshire


Sir, Standing on Finsbury Park station on Saturday afternoon it was clear that the disruption from the late-finishing engineering works, which had closed King’s Cross, was made far worse by the combined incompetence of Network Rail, East Coast trains and British Transport Police. Arriving at 2pm to meet an elderly relative travelling from the north of England, I managed to secure an official escort through the large crowds outside the station only to find the platforms deserted, a train for Inverness leaving only half full, and incoming services stacking up outside, not allowed to enter due to “overcrowding”, itself only resolvable by allowing these trains in to clear the backlog of waiting passengers. Eventually some form of system was put in place, but only after thousands had been needlessly delayed, standing outside in the cold or trapped on waiting trains for up to three hours.

If one thinks of the great events of this nation’s past, such as the mass evacuation of children from cities at the outbreak of war in 1939, or the onward despatch of troops returning from Dunkirk in 1940, in which the railways organised thousands of extra trains at a moment’s notice, one shudders to think what would happen if they were called upon to perform a similar role today with Network Rail in charge.

Harry Grayson

London W1

Sir, Multiple mistakes, not acts of God, led to the failure to reopen King’s Cross on Saturday and the consequent misery. However, Network Rail’s vacuous assertion that it had a recovery plan completely lacked credibility. Worse, the solution for passengers to travel to Finsbury Park was ridiculous, given that the station clearly lacked the capacity to handle the number of passengers involved.

That alone, in my view, justifies the dismissal of Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne.

Patrick Allan


Sir, The scenes of misery and chaos at Finsbury Park station were avoidable. Across the road from King’s Cross is St Pancras, a main line that provides a viable connection to East Coast services north of Doncaster. Yet National Rail was deterring King’s Cross travellers from taking that option by stating that their tickets would not accepted.

The transport minister has a duty to inform us why train operating companies cannot pull together in times of adversity and get passengers to their destinations on the day that they booked to travel.

Charles M Wrigley

Leafield, Oxon

Sir, I despair of winter travel in the UK — and of this government’s wrongheaded view that reforming the state means shrinking its size rather than improving its utility.

My son, his wife and his seven- year-old daughter made the journey from Canada to Cumbria for Christmas. A perfect seven-hour flight from Toronto to Heathrow, followed by a delayed West Coast train journey that could only get them as far as Preston. They then had to be collected by car for the final leg of the journey to the South Lakes.

Being accustomed to Canadian winters, they could not believe news headlines here predicting travel chaos because of 4cm of snow. The return journey to London by hired car has taken them an hour longer than their seven-hour return flight.

The conclusion is that Christmas travel in the UK is too risky for a family with young children; the government is unwilling to invest sufficiently in transport infrastructure.

Mike Gibbons

Cartmel, Cumbria

Sir, Many years ago when I worked as a railwayman it was common for early-morning signalmen to oversleep. This caused train cancellations and delays, which were always blamed on “electrical failure”.

I would dearly like to know whether there has been any absenteeism at King’s Cross over the past few days.

Sir, I travelled from Edinburgh by train on Saturday and witnessed the chaos at Peterborough, where all the trains to King’s Cross terminated. A railwayman commented, “Why be surprised? It’s Christmas. These major works should not be scheduled at a time when nobody wants to work . . . ”

David Housden

Elton, Cambs

AJ Gerra

London W4

Sir, According to your poll (Dec 26), the BBC is struggling to make its case for the licence fee. As anyone who has ever complained to the BBC about its output will know, the corporation has an unchallengeable belief in both its high quality and unquestionable taste. Such an organisation can surely have no doubt therefore that if its fee was paid by user-subscription (via set-top box for example) there would be no significant loss of revenue.

Doug Clark

Currie, Midlothian

Sir, Paul Pensom (letter, Dec 26) understates the subtle complexity underlying the brief description of Grendel’s mother in Beowulf. Decades of debate have revolved around her description in the Old English manuscript as “ides aglæcwif”. Far from being merely “female” as Pensom states, this phrase has been interpreted as meaning anything ranging from an old hag, through a sea-monster, to a valkyrie-like fighting deity. Free translations by modern writers have ranged from the clumsily academic “ugly troll-lady” (Richard M Trask) to the sublimely poetic “monstrous hell bride” (Seamus Heaney).

Dr Christopher Goulding

Newcastle upon Tyne

Sir, Surely the real issue is not with girls’ or boys’ voices (letters, Dec 26) but with the next line down. No one in their right mind would choose a hooty counter-tenor over a mellifluous mezzo, but the one is authentic the other is not. If female voices are introduced counter-tenors will inevitably disappear. An ancient sound world will vanish.

Michael Stennett

Yoxford, Suffolk

Sir, It really does not matter one jot how anyone replies to an invitation as long as it is done promptly and with grace (report, Dec 26). An email, a note on the post, a phone call or any other appropriate method with a friendly message is all that is required. Why does anyone take any notice of this nonsense other than to show they belong to the “right” group of people?

Angela Patey


Sir, Your identification (Dec 27) of Nigel Farage as Briton of the Year is extraordinary. He and his party have undoubtedly changed the political landscape and responded to electorate concerns in a way that none of the other parties have understood. However, the behaviours and attitudes of both he and the party he leads are often ill-informed and unpleasant.

I am proud to live in a country where people such as Mr Farage can express views with which many vehemently disagree. I would defend his right to hold these views.

I’m sure many readers would prefer an individual who embodies “British” qualities. My nomination would be William Pooley, the nurse who caught ebola in Sierra Leone, came home to recover and then went back. Real acts of bravery and selflessness as opposed to buffoonery and bigotry.

Melanie Bird

Modbury, Devon


Ministers are launching a fresh crackdown on the compensation charges – which ultimately end up on customers’ bills - and are threatening to force power companies to reduce the cost of the payments

Concerns have been raised over the cost of running wind farms in Britain Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, writes that his policies are “keeping bills lower, keeping the lights on and cutting emissions”.

Energy bills would be even lower if the energy efficiency savings he refers to weren’t being offset by the high cost of setting up and running the unreliable wind farms that he champions. In order to “keep the lights on”, thousands of operators with stand-by diesel generators are essentially being bribed to switch them on in order to avoid catastrophic blackouts across Britain when wind power fails.

In order to reduce global CO2 emissions dramatically, the West and developing nations will have to build hundreds of nuclear power stations, close down older fossil fuel-fired power stations and install hugely expensive carbon capture and storage facilities on those that remain in operation. The cost of doing this would be enormous.

In any case, whether CO2 emissions are, or are not, causing catastrophic global warming is still debatable.

Jim Allan
Fellow, Energy Institute (retd)
Hartlepool, Durham

SIR – Having spent my whole working life within the electricity supply industry, I found it hard to believe how little the author of the letter headlined “Cost of going green” seemed to understand of how an electricity supply system works.

All was explained when I saw that it was written by Ed Davey.

Bernard Longstaff
Cheddar, Somerset

SIR – Mr Davey’s assurances on energy costs remind me a little of “Comical Ali”, the former Iraqi minister of information, who assured journalists that the Americans had been driven back even as their tanks were entering Baghdad.

Rev Philip Foster
Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

SIR – The world’s population continues to rise; poorer nations are adopting energy-intensive Western lifestyles; and new coal-fired power stations are being built. Annual global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, more than two decades after we started to talk about cutting them.

Government promises to cut emissions are hollow. The lifestyle changes that would be required for nations to achieve adequate cuts in emissions are politically impossible for governments to implement. And we are not going to leave massive quantities of accessible fossil fuels in the ground.

We need to invest in carbon scrubbing, reforestation and research into artificial ways to cool the planet (geo-engineering). And we need to do it quickly, if we are to prevent crop failures, flooding, animal and plant extinctions and mass human migration.

Richard Mountford
Hildenborough, Kent

SIR – I find it extremely difficult to follow and comprehend arguments for or against the existence of global warming.

It seems the mountains of facts and figures can be used to prove the case for either side. The layman has little hope of being able to come to a definitive conclusion.

I M Williams
Four Oaks, Warwickshire

SIR – Either Ed Davey or Christopher Booker is deluded.

I know which one my money is on.

Robert Chatterton
Caythorpe, Lincolnshire

SIR – Why can’t the Government stop piling ever more green subsidies on to our already excessive electricity bills? While Britain is still so heavily in debt, why don’t we cut back on wasteful foreign aid? Why does nobody seem able do anything to stem the continuing flood of unskilled immigrants that is depressing wages, increasing unemployment and overwhelming our amenities and services?

If the main parties can find credible solutions to issues like these, their problems with Ukip will be over.

David Watt
Brentwood, Essex

Open discussion of living with dementia


SIR – The Mental Health Foundation welcomes Joan Bakewell’s call (“Something to sing about for dementia sufferers”) for more discussion about dementia and for society as a whole to become more open and understanding about the condition.

However, in both her Telegraph column and on her Radio 4 programme Joan Bakewell refers to “dementia sufferers”. People with dementia prefer to be known as those “living with dementia”.

As the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) recently stated: “The language we use to talk about dementia influences how people with dementia are viewed and also how they feel about themselves. People with dementia prefer words and descriptions that are accurate, balanced and respectful.”

“Sufferers” was not one of those words.

Toby Williamson
Head of Later Life
The Mental Health Foundation
London SE1

SIR – Andrea Sutcliffe, from the Care Quality Commission, argues that Britain does not care enough about older people.

Any example of care that falls below standard is one too many, but we need to consider the best way to reward staff who are doing an extremely challenging and difficult job very well. Due to chronic underfunding of social care, many carers are not paid fairly and this makes it impossible to create a stable, professional, well-trained and motivated workforce.

Putting more resources into social care ultimately saves money for the NHS by keeping older people well and cared for in their own home or a care home and not in a costly hospital bed.

Mike Padgham
Chair, Independent Care Group
Eastfield, North Yorkshire

Supervising abortions

SIR – Max Pemberton is right to be concerned about the Supreme Court decision that denied two Glasgow midwives the right to exercise their freedom of conscience, which is enshrined in the 1967 Abortion Act, by opting out of supervising other members of staff caring for women who are undergoing abortions.

This case also casts doubt on the rights of doctors not to be involved in the referral process. Some advocates of abortion argue that doctors with conscientious objections should nevertheless refer women to doctors with no such objections. This suggests that the “right to choose” in fact means that doctors and other medical personnel should have no choice at all in the matter.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

Deadly friends

SIR – Nigel Henson highlights some of the absurd euphemisms used during war. Can there be anything more obscene and less appropriate than “killed by friendly fire”?

Gordon Macniven
London SW17

Lords spiritual

SIR – Since, as Cole Moreton points out, Roman Catholics constitute a roughly equal proportion of churchgoers in England to Anglican worshippers, why are there 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords but no Catholic ones?

The Church of England’s position as the established church may allow it certain privileges, but let us not forget that the former Chief Rabbi has been elevated to the peerage, so why not also the Archbishop of Westminster or his retired predecessor?

The Christian contingent of the Lords should be more representative of the churchgoing population.

Matt Showering

Latest EU fishing regulations are simply wasteful

A fisherman throws cod caught in the English channel back into the sea (Alamy)

SIR – Having long been amazed at the inanity of the European Union fishing quotas, I was really pleased to catch part of a recent news bulletin that announced the end of the ridiculous obligation for fishermen to throw dead fish that are excess to quotas back into the sea.

Alas, I then read that fishermen now have to land all fish caught, but, incredibly, take any excess to landfill sites. Why not let the fishing industry land and sell all fish caught, and, if over quota, knock the excess off the following trip’s quota? Surely anything is better than simply throwing away perfectly good fish.

Allan Dockerty
Eccleston, Lancashire

SIR – When (not if) Britain leaves the European Union, fishing quotas will be a thing of the past and we will be able to reclaim our fishing ground, just as Iceland did.

We will then be able to rebuild our fishing industry, which will be worth billions of pounds and thousands of jobs. Britain will no longer be dependent on other countries for cod and other fish trawled in the North Sea.

Don Roberts
Prenton, Wirral

Unfair denial of winter fuel help to expats

SIR – I have paid income tax, National Insurance and various other levies the British government has asked of me over the years. I am now in receipt of a state pension.

However, I live in France, which seems to be sufficient grounds to prevent my receipt of the winter fuel allowance.

Is this fair? I thought I had bought this right by paying my way throughout my working life.

Mary-Louise Boardman
Olonzac, Hérault, France

SIR – I agree that expats living in hot climates that enjoy temperate winters shouldn’t get winter fuel allowance. However I have friends – one of whom is ex-RAF – who live in Brittany, where the winters are freezing. They live there because they can’t afford to live in Britain.

Bill Thompson
Frankby, Wirral

SIR – The issue of winter fuel payments being denied to British expats in France is also relevent to those of us resident in Cyprus.

During the summer Cyprus is sunny and very warm, but in the winter we experience months of cold, as well as heavy rain, wind, hail and snow. We all need heating in our homes.

Letters were sent to the British Department for Work and Pensions, pointing out the inadequacy of their assessments for this allowance. This correspondence received scant attention, if not dismissal.

A mistake has been made and it should be admitted and addressed.

Clive Turner
Paphos, Cyprus

Please hold the line

SIR – It is not just the HMRC helpline that is slow. When trying to follow up an application to open an account for a small company with Lloyds Bank, I found that it took an average of 23 minutes (five minutes longer than when calling the HMRC helpline) to get a reply.

I would eventually get through to someone, but on no occasion did anyone call back as agreed. In the end I gave up.

Michael Symons
Cheveley, Cambridgeshire

Knock, knock

SIR – Politicians frequently claim support for their views based on what they’re hearing “on the doorstep”. Whose doorsteps are these?

Around here, we have about as much chance of a visit from Lord Lucan or Elvis Presley as from a politician – unless they want our vote in an imminent election, of course.

Carolyn Kirby
Swansea, Glamorgan

Barred from the Bard

Roger Allam playing Falstaff in Henry IV part one at the Globe Theatre (Alastair Muir)

SIR – I eagerly await a European Union ruling on an actor failing to secure the part of Falstaff on the grounds that he is too thin (“EU court rules that fatness ‘can constitute a disability’”).

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hampshire


SIR – The sexiest voice I’ve ever heard (“The women’s voices that make men feel all tingly – and why”) belongs to a lady working at Stornoway Coastguard, who renders live firing latitudes and longitudes unmissable, and makes one feel like going to south east Iceland just to see how rough it is.

Mark Prior
Cownhill, Plymouth

Globe and Mail:

Harper gears up to run against history

Stephen Harper will enter 2015 fighting his political opponents, of course, but more important, he will be fighting history.

Since Louis St. Laurent took office in late 1948, prime ministers with majority governments have never lasted more than 11 years in office before defeat or resignation. Their average time in office: seven years.

If Mr. Harper sticks to his own election timing law, Canadians will vote in October, 2015, by which time the prime minister will have been in office for nine years, eight months.

Think of the prime ministers with majorities since 1968. Pierre Trudeau served 11 years (1968 to 1979) before being defeated. Brian Mulroney served a bit less than nine years before resigning. Jean Chrétien was prime minister for 10 years and a month before resigning.

By next fall, Mr. Harper will be around the cusp of when recent history suggests prime ministers leave office, either because the electorate boots them from office (Mr. Trudeau), because they sense they cannot win again (Mr. Mulroney), or because they cannot hold the party together (Mr. Chrétien).

Mr. Harper obviously senses he can win again, and he faces no internal party threat. What would remove him from office, therefore, would not be his sense of looming defeat or internal party strife – no, he would have to be defeated in an election. If history is any guide, defeat becomes more likely the longer a prime minister tempts fate, which this one is doing by asking for another mandate after almost a decade in office.

The most powerful anti-government sentiment in any democracy is the oldest adage in politics: “Time for a change.” The economy can be reasonably sound, the political alternative untried, even shaky, the government experienced and able, but when the largest parts of the public settle on the ill-defined but powerful notion that the time has come to change, there isn’t much the incumbents can do.

The tide comes in and those incumbents go out. It might be cruel and unjust, but it’s also democracy’s greatest safeguard against the arrogance of power.

Other democracies codify time in office: two four-year terms (the United States), one six-year term (Mexico), two five-year terms (France, Poland). British parliamentary systems let a prime minister carry on as long as he or she commands the confidence of the Commons, with elections every four or five years.

Without term limits, recent Canadian history suggests a kind of limit by convention. After a decade or so, the electorate arises, puts its hands in a “T” formation and says “Time’s up.”

In Mr. Harper’s case, about 60 per cent of the electorate made the “T” sign long ago, but he can win another majority under our first-past-the-post system with about 40 per cent of the vote. He did it in 2011. He obviously feels he can do it again, or quite likely he wouldn’t try.

He has an unshakable core vote of 30 to 32 per cent of the electorate. These people skew older, rural, male, western Canadian – and they vote. The Conservatives know how to mobilize them.

They have also identified minority groups – Jews, Tamils, Ukrainians – and tied Canadian foreign policy to the interests of these slices of the electorate. They have large amounts of government money in the form of tax cuts and government advertising to direct at other slices of the electorate: single-income families with stay-at-home mothers, parents with kids in athletic programs. And they have a large series of targeted spending announcements yet to be made, on top of the dozens and dozens already made.

In this, Canadians see an immense contradiction in the Harper government. The government cuts all kinds of government services, slices taxes (which costs the treasury), preaches the virtues of a smaller state and expresses determination to balance the budget – all while sending Mr. Harper and his ministers across the country announcing new spending programs and projects.

With all these advantages, and with many more attack ads yet to be unleashed against the Liberals and their leader, Justin Trudeau, can the Conservatives win again? They only need 40 per cent, remember, and beyond Quebec, the opposition is divided three ways: Liberals, New Democrats and Greens.

Quite likely, the Conservatives fear their opponents less than the rhythms of history.



Irish Times:

Sir, – Simon Carswell’s article on Shannon Airport and renditions (“Bush assured Irish State Shannon not used for rendition flights”, December 22nd) provides an important insight into the concerns that two former Irish ministers had in relation to the CIA’s torture and renditions programme.

Dermot Ahern was minister for foreign affairs and Michael McDowell was minister for justice when a report by Dick Marty for the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe identified Ireland and Shannon as a stopover point for rendition flights. Nonetheless the government failed to take decisive action, apart, it would seem, from asking the US government if it was taking prisoners through Shannon. The US government’s response to such questions can hardly have been a surprise to the ministers.

US officials or politicians were unlikely to divulge the extent of their illegal programme to another government, particularly if they were confident that their assurances would satisfy that government.

An even better outcome for US officials would be the opportunity to use an airport like Shannon unimpeded, confident in the knowledge that their aircraft would not be inspected.

This is exactly what happened, despite the minister for justice at the time being, in his own words, utterly hostile to the torture and abuse of people.

There were options that could have been employed apart from banning all American flights to Shannon, although if that was deemed necessary to stop the crime of torture then it should have been done.

The government could have sought to identify aircraft and operators that were linked to renditions and were using Shannon Airport. Indeed the government cannot have been unaware of the many landings by suspected rendition aircraft. In 2005 Amnesty International provided flight logs to it showing that six aircraft known to have been used by the CIA for renditions made some 800 flights in or out of European airspace, including 50 landings at Shannon. In 2006 a series of further reports emerged documenting the use of Shannon by CIA-operated aircraft, and highlighting the consequent risk that it was being used in rendition circuits.

From 2004 onwards local activists made repeated requests to the Garda to search suspected rendition aircraft that had landed or were expected to land at Shannon.

The government could have enacted legislation to permit random searches of these suspect aircraft. It could have improved the systems for collecting information on unscheduled civilian aircraft landings. And it could also have improved the oversight and control procedures so that aircraft operating as civilian aircraft but engaged in state activities were identified as such. None of this was done, and the CIA was allowed to continue to operate its brutal kidnapping and torture networks. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – A group of young people choosing to spend their Christmas holidays fundraising for worthy causes should be commended and not criticised, regardless of whether their school is fee-paying (“Is a school sleepout the best way to raise awareness of homelessness?”, Opinion, December 23rd).

Rosita Boland would be better served joining the students during the Belvedere College sleepout to shake a bucket than attempting to detract from the efforts of a charitable cause that has raised hundreds of thousands of euro during its 31 years. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article on the students from Dublin’s Belvedere College who hold an annual city centre sleepout to highlight homelessness and raise funds for the Peter McVerry Trust and other homeless charities brought back some memories.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) Society when I was a student in University College Dublin. UCD’s SVP Society is one of the most active and charitable groups I know, with the most passionate and selfless members. As part of UCD SVP, I participated in a sleepout held on campus outside the library. An amazing amount of people participated in this event for its first two years when I attended, and I believe that, not unlike the annual Belvedere College sleepout, it has grown year upon year.

Early in the evening, there was a party atmosphere. Groups of society members and their many friends recruited to take part were sitting around listening to music and chatting. One evening, there was a film screened at the sleepout area. While this entertainment made the experience in the evening more enjoyable, that was not its aim. The society was trying to entice as many students to take part in the sleepout in order to raise funds and awareness for those who live this experience day to day.

When night fell, however, the atmosphere changed. We, like the Belvedere students, had brought our own sleeping bags, mats and plenty of warm clothing. Despite our “comforts”, my night sleeping out was far from comfortable. The cold crept into your bones from the bitter concrete on which we lay. Though we were sheltered somewhat from the covered concourse under which we tried to sleep, the November wind still found its way into a sleeping bag. Constant foot traffic, even in the dead of night from students making their way home from nights out, made it impossible to catch some sleep. The whole experience made us realise that hardship, for some people, is life.

The UCD SVP sleepout has become an annual event, and includes buskers, clothing drives and fundraising. It has been successful in raising money, awareness and items such as food and clothing. It is run in conjunction with a number of other one-off or regular activities conducted by the society, such as soup-runs in the inner city, homework clubs for disadvantaged children and fundraising events at major holidays throughout the year such as Hallowe’en or St Valentine’s Day.

While the sleepout is the most high-profile event of the year, as no student can ignore hundreds of their peers sleeping outside the library on the main walkway through campus, the UCD SVP society never stops its tireless work for those in need. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – Minister of State for Disability Kathleen Lynch, the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) have all expressed shock at the treatment of residents at a Mayo nursing home as revealed in an RTÉ documentary, and well they should as it is a shameful occurrence. We clearly need to take steps to ensure that such disgraceful activities do not take place elsewhere.

However, a degree of prudence and common sense needs to be applied to achieve this. Many HSE managers and Hiqa operatives are in their current posts because they disliked frontline patient contact, while enjoying attendance at meetings and obligatory bureaucratic box-ticking. Given this, there is a danger that the response to the current scandal will simply result in the transformation of well-run, homely environments to cold, institutionalised facilities that meet all of Hiqa’s new standards. – Yours, etc,


Head of Psychiatry,

University College Cork.

Sir, – The Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers was disappointed by the Arts Council’s decision to reduce its funding (by 84 per cent) to the long-established publisher the O’Brien Press. The O’Brien Press has an excellent reputation not only for publishing high-quality Irish writing and illustration but also for launching many new authors’ and illustrators’ careers, including Oisín McGann, Marita Conlon-McKenna and Alan Nolan, to name but a few.

In fact, the O’Brien Press first published our current Laureate na nÓg, Eoin Colfer, and the first Laureate na nÓg, Siobhán Parkinson. The company has published award-winning titles that have been used in schools and studied in universities throughout the country and that continue to be favourites in many households at home and abroad. Every year, it promotes Irish titles at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and sells foreign rights, including French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

As well as fostering the work of writers, illustrators, photographers, journalists, historians and researchers, the company has also employed people in the publishing industry as editors, proofreaders and indexers, both in-house and freelance, for 40 years.

It would not have been possible for the O’Brien Press to take so many risks on new, predominantly unknown, Irish authors and illustrators, nor to support the infrastructure that has made publication of their works possible, without funding from the Arts Council. For this reason, the 84 per cent cut to the O’Brien Press’s annual funding should be reversed. – Yours, etc,
























Association of Freelance

Editors, Proofreaders

and Indexers,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – As foxhunts and coursing clubs subject wildlife to unspeakable abuse over the festive season, the Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports is hopeful, for the first time in years, that a change in the political landscape in the coming months may signal the beginning of the end for these barbaric activities. With opinion polls showing a high level of support for Independents, we believe that the next Dáil will have a majority of TDs opposed to hare coursing and foxhunting, and that the vice-like grip that the bloodsport lobby has had on our politicians will at last be broken.

Already in the past year we have seen two more TDs elected, Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger, both of whom oppose hare coursing and foxhunting.

At present, the Animal Health and Welfare Act contains special exemptions for hare coursing and foxhunting, which specifically exempt these appalling practises from abolition. Instead of protecting wildlife, the Act effectively protects the rights and interests of the people who subject hares and foxes to indefensible cruelty.

But change is coming. We are confident that many of the politicians who support organised animal cruelty posing as “sport” will be swept away in the upcoming election, which could come at any time given the tense climate of political uncertainty and instability. – Yours, etc,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I am moved to write in response to Claire Micks’s article “The parents’ dilemma: sick child versus expectant boss” (December 16th).

As a society how have we come to the point where the needs of employers take precedence over those of our small children? How can any woman’s job (or that of her partner’s, as he has equal responsibility here), regardless of how important or well paid, be felt to be more important than the needs of a child?

Like many stay-at-home mothers, I have sacrificed many things to be able to look after my children in their own home, well or sick.

Whatever I may have sacrificed financially or in terms of career I will never regret, as clearly the choice to work provides parents with choices which to me would be unendurable. The idea of dropping a feverish child in the early morning to a creche is unthinkable. How has this become the norm?

Our children are not a nuisance, they are not an inconvenience. The needs of the workplace should not take precedence over theirs. Happy, healthy, well-balanced children are the future of this country. Not multinationals, corporations or employers and not our own fulfilment. – Yours, etc,



Co Wexford.

Sir, – A conservation report finds that our native curlews, whose cry filled the land in my young days, are down to 98 breeding pairs (“Another Life”, Michael Viney, December 13th).

Before weather forecasting broadcasts became widespread, country people believed that the plaintive cry of the bird was a sign that rain was coming. The silence of this brown wader of moor and heath is deafening largely because of intensification of farming. At stake is the environment. Let us manage portions of our land more sympathetically for our wildlife. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

As Michael Viney says, “Let’s not throw away what’s left of it”. – Yours, etc,



Co Roscommon.

Sir, – CDC Armstrong (December 16th) finds it “still odder” that O’Brian should have chosen the surname “Palafox” for an 18th-century Irish Protestant in his early novel The Golden Ocean, pointing out that Palafox was an Aragonese name, rather than Irish. A clue may lie in the fact that Mr Palafox is characterised in the book as being from around Sligo, where his father was a Church of Ireland minister. Also in Sligo around that era were the Pollexfen family, prominent ship-owners and merchants, and familiar because of their connections with the Yeats family. In casting around for a name, O’Brian may have thought to himself “Pollexfen, Palafox”? Perhaps? – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – In welcoming the plans to redevelop the Boland’s Mill site in Dublin, let us hope that public access will be provided along the water’s edge like that on the other side of the road at Grand Canal Dock. A gated development without public access would be a lost opportunity to create a sense of community in this pleasantly developing area. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – To quote Steven Wright, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time”. – Yours, etc,


Westport, Co Mayo.

Irish Independent:

Tom Gilmartin arriving at the Mahon Tribunal at Dublin Castle in 2004
Tom Gilmartin arriving at the Mahon Tribunal at Dublin Castle in 2004

I am a man getting on in years, but I have always taken a keen interest in the affairs of the nation and country that I love.

As a former public and civil servant I have been aghast at the levels of cronyism and patronage which I have observed over the years.

I have also been extremely concerned at the social and educational patterns and the injustices and lack of organisation which promoted divisions in our society.

I have recently read Dr Elaine Byrne’s ‘A Crooked Heart: Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010’, and about Tom Gilmartin and the account of his treatment at the hands of the inept and insensitive politicians and officials he was forced to deal with. The Desmond O’Malley memoir also gave an insightful account of politics and politicians. We have also witnessed the developments at the tribunals over many years, and wondered at the levels of accountability by those involved.

A number of politicians sat around Cabinet tables and displayed a seeming indifference to injustice. They never spoke out, but instead went along with the system.

All of these people have played a part in where we now are.

I believe that this history explains electoral patterns today, a public abhorrence of past stewardship. But it was not just the politicians. During this time there was a damning silence from many powerful institutions and people who also went along with what was happening.

Displays of extravagant wealth in public life should always be treated with suspicion. How many civil servants, soldiers, guards, nurses, doctors who serve the country throughout their lives get to live in Dublin 4?

Harry Mulhern,

Kilbarrack, Dublin 5


Known unknowns

Over my lifetime the economy has run in cycles – three or four good years followed by the equivalent in bad ones. But a problem arises when one unpredicted good or bad year comes in the midst of either cycle. This sets up doubt, throwing the economy into turbulence. In that case, the whole thing becomes like a roulette game.

Bloomberg has drawn attention to the fact that none of the 17 economists it polled in 2013 believed that oil prices would take such a drop in 2014. The same people also forecast a booming bond market and that share prices would slide. Three wrongs couldn’t make a right.

Who predicted, at Christmas 2013, that a strong reigning Government would descend into a year of complete instability and the country would become almost ungovernable? Did I believe this time last year that three of my closest neighbours and friends would now be dead?

Why are bookmakers such as Paddy Power and Ladbrokes among the most successful firms on the stock exchange? Simply because they are aware that people think they know everything, while really they know very little in the end. “The future’s not ours to see.”

My advice for success in 2015 is to work on gut instinct. Whatever your mind thought or project is, analyse it thoroughly. And, only when you are completely satisfied, stick with it and follow it through.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary


What is meant by racism?

I don’t know about all this clever stuff called “racism” by those who are miffed at someone else’s use of language and become outraged and offended – usually for others – when a choice of words become the latest “racist” attack on a person, usually African or Asian, but not exclusively.

It is my belief that it is impossible to describe one human being as being racist towards another of the same species. We are all of the same race – the human race.

It ought to be commonplace to call an offender “continent-ist” when disparaging language is employed to decry or accuse someone from another hemisphere. There are five of those which we generally call continents… with a few lesser lumps of land getting roped in, depending on who you are talking to.

If you want, use some other form of words to emphasise the perceived slight one uses when referring to another nationality. For example: “colourist” to describe verbal abuse of a white or black person – ‘Africa-ist; Asia-ist; Europe-ist; America-ist; and Australia-ist, covers most of the world where we see most action and life as we know it.

Why not outlaw the over-used term “racist” and “racism” altogether?

To anyone who feels this is an attack on their nationality, colour, or place of birth, be assured it cannot be said to be “racist”. I am one of you.

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork


Bad signs for Leo Varadkar

For ages I have wondered how on Earth somebody like Enda Kenny got to run a multi-billion euro, multi-million person enterprise called Ireland. When he gave Leo Varadkar – his only remotely competent alternative – the shambolic department of health to run I realised that our leader was extremely cunning. We do not have a modern functional department of health. We have a badly organised, unnecessarily centralised, illness service. Thus, entirely logically, the population is getting sicker and sicker and the organisation simply cannot handle it. Mr Varadkar is doomed.

Richard Barton

Tinahely, Co Wicklow


The Pope’s criticism

Pope Francis recently delivered a long critical rant to his employees. He certainly listed a long catalogue of faults. Did he never read the parable about casting the first stone? Or, more pertinently, did he never recall the words of an eminent religious leader who, in a similar context, declared “Who am I to judge?”

Eric Conway

Navan, Co Meath


A second chance at housing

If I remember correctly, the obligation on house builders to provide social or less expensive units in each project did not relate solely to supply. An important second objective related to better social integration. Within any new development there was to be at least 20pc social housing.

That objective was frustrated by the willingness of local authorities to accept cash settlements from developers in lieu of such housing.

The Government’s new initiative offers a chance to revive this objective.

They must establish and publish conditions to be met in all new planning approvals to ensure that they contribute to social integration of housing.

Where projects involve private and social housing then building must proceed at the same pace on both aspects.

Otherwise, we’ll end up again with cash settlements so beloved by local authorities.

John F Jordan

Killiney, Co Dublin


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


You Can't Spell "Literature" without "T&A"

%d bloggers like this: