Letters: Chaotic buildings

Chaotic buildings reflect the mental state of the nation
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The Independent Online

Your pictures (9 July) of Frank Gehry's building on the Serpentine looks like a "still" from a high-speed film of a simple flat-roofed shed supported on four columns and four perimeter beams frozen halfway through falling down. The glass ceiling is about to shatter on the contents below, frozen for a moment before the crisis by the remains of the rafters. The main beams are rocking and about to tumble.

There is nothing shocking or surprising about this collapse; anyone can see that the "original" was inadequate and badly built and its demise in this way was entirely to be expected. It is a cartoon of our times.

When I began my career in design in the late Sixties one of my mentors told me that we can tell a great deal about the mental state of a nation from the buildings it creates, the clothes it wears and the cars it drives. What does this tell us about ourselves today? Our cars are almost uniformly dull and grey (you might call them "silver", but grey is grey). Our dress is disrespectful and lazy (you might call it "dressing down" but lazy is lazy). Now the buildings our leaders in taste are pointing out as our best are images of failure: Gehry's pavilion and Libeskind's War Museum.

Does this tell us that we have lost pride in ourselves, and that we see the world around us as grey, hopeless and crashing out of control?

Mike Bell


Sorry Mr Cameron, poverty made us fat

What planet is David Cameron on? The poor need to be taught what to eat to lose weight? There is surely a connection between poverty and obesity – you have only to walk around a supermarket to see it – lean protein, vegetables, fruit, wholegrain bread and fruit juices are all more expensive than cheap white bread, pizzas, sausages, supermarket cola etc.

I'm a single mum of two and used to work and have a good lifestyle. Because of health and family problems I have been on benefits for two years but I don't drink, I don't smoke and we don't go out for meals or have holidays any more. As a family we are poor and getting poorer but we have also got fatter – we can't afford to exercise in a pleasurable or social way such as swimming or joining a gym, though it is still free – if dangerous – to walk the streets.

We live in a rural location and can no longer afford the petrol to drive to a supermarket to buy food and in any case an offer of "spend £60 save £6" is meaningless when there is only £10 left in your account for the weekly shop. I know what we should be eating and try my best to give my children good lean protein but a medium chicken that would have cost £2.65 a year ago is now being sold locally at £5.65.

Maybe Cameron does not see the unemployed and/or overweight as his demographic – maybe he is right – this overweight, unemployed (even if only temporarily) voter will not soon be voting for someone so patently out of touch with the disadvantaged of this country or so lacking in basic humanity.

Valerie Skinner


Arabella Weir (Opinion, 9 July) is being much too hard on David Cameron, and exceedingly patronising to the inhabitants of Glasgow East and similar areas, when she claims that large numbers of people have no choice about being fat. Is she saying that if you come from a deprived background you are incapable of making rational health and lifestyle choices?

Anyone, whether they come from Glasgow East or West Kensington, can choose whether or not they eat too much, smoke, drink excessively – or even at all – or take exercise. The idea that poorer people do not have access to decent food is also false. Supermarkets have their detractors but you can certainly buy healthy vegetables, fruit and meat from them at reasonable prices. Whether or not you know how to cook them might be another question, but there are few people who cannot learn how.

Weir may think that if you come from a "low" socio-economic group and are "under-educated" you are somehow trapped for ever, but there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who have come from just such a background and are now doing very nicely. There are some people who are overweight because of medical problems, but for the rest David Cameron is right – whether you are fat or not is largely up to you.

R J Hoskin

Banbury, Oxfordshire

My Second World War years were spent in a council house alongside a Birmingham factory making tanks; life was not without its stresses with nights spent routinely in air-raid shelters. Obesity among rich or poor was rare because energy-dense foods were rationed and fast-food outlets, crisps, and sweetened soft drinks were absent. I am not sure that we exercised more than my grandchildren do today; moreover as Ms Weir has discovered, exercise is an overrated commodity in producing weight loss, though valuable for fitness and health.

I subsequently spent some 26 years as a physician running a diabetic clinic for 2,000 patients in a socially deprived Black Country area. Most patients were overweight, at least at diagnosis. However lovable the patients, it was depressing when one encountered a negative approach to advice and an implied resistance to change with comments such as "I never eat breakfast"; "I can't stand brown bread"; "I tried drinking tea without sugar, and I'd rather go without tea altogether"; "skimmed milk is just like water"; "I've never liked vegetables", followed by "I stopped smoking once, but I was so irritable my partner made me start again". In a busy clinic, after several such patients, it was tempting to point out realities. "Digging your grave with your knife and fork" springs to mind.

Dr Barrie Smith


David Cameron may have just committed political suicide for calling a spade a spade.

In my 18 years as a therapist, it has become excruciatingly obvious that our National Health Service does not encourage us as a society to take any responsibility for what are clearly our choices, and our actions.

There are some people who suffer from obesity due to a glandular imbalance, or other medical condition, but most obese people simply have little self-control and bad eating habits, habits which ultimately cost the NHS and society at large a lot of money.

When you take a shot at someone, the loudest shrieks usually follow a direct hit. After this bullseye, expect the most noise from those most unwilling to take any responsibility for themselves.

If Mr Cameron goes on like this, I might even vote for him.

Robert Brayley-Hodgetts

Brighton, East Sussex

Seascape with wind turbines

It was great to see The Independent giving decent coverage of the unnecessary controversy over the Cape Wind project in the USA (report, 4 July). I have spent much time out in Cape Cod and it bewilders me just why such a noble and vital initiative still meets such opposition from wealthy residents. Ted Kennedy displays liberal attitudes in many things, but his stance on the windmills is nimbyish and bizarre.

Whether we like it or not, wind power is essential for the future and, although the Cape is seen as a millionaires' playground, for the majority of its year-round residents, this is far from the truth. Food and fuel prices are much higher there than elsewhere in New England, survival is based on seasonal tourism, and anything that can support a healthier, more positive energy future should be embraced.

I couldn't agree more with Barbara Hill in that sitting on the wonderful Cape beaches and seeing the energy future in the shape of windmills on the horizon is the perfect marriage between nature and technology.

Alan Dorey

Verwood, Dorset

John Hutton's go-ahead for new coal-fired power stations (report, 1 July) assumes that the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology needed to reduce emissions is at a more developed stage than it is.

Although it is hoped that CCS could remove up to 90 per cent of the polluting carbon, the technology is untried and untested. If the government proceeds with an expansion of coal-powered plants now, it will jeopardise the centrepiece of its own climate policy, the EU emissions trading scheme.

IPPR's new report "After the coal rush: assessing policy options for coal-fired electricity generation" shows that the ambitious EU emissions reduction goal of 21 per cent by 2020 for the power sector and heavy industry is endangered by proposals for seven new coal plants in the UK and up to 75 across Europe.

If the UK is to keep its international leadership role on climate change, the Government should propose a Europe-wide freeze on coal investment of at least two years. It should also expand its welcome investment in a CCS development programme, to include another demonstration project.

Matthew Lockwood

Institute for Public Policy Research, London WC2

There's no sin in homosexuality

From where does Mark Lilly get his idea (letter, 5 July) that liberal Anglicans see homosexuality as "only a minor sin"?

It's in the nature of liberalism to allow many, often contradictory, views of what constitutes a sin, or any other theological issue for that matter, so I can't presume to speak for liberal Anglicans in general. But what I do know from experience, and from my membership of the Modern Churchpeople's Union, which has been promoting a liberal, intelligent, reflective approach to such matters for more than 100 years, is that my fellow members do not regard homosexuality as a sin, minor or otherwise, nor as in any sense "reprehensible".

At the MCU's annual conference, Bishop Gene Robinson will be a welcome guest as he and leading liberal theologians from all over the world debate the future of Anglicanism. That future will surely depend on being true to its past: not as a narrow, exclusive sect, but as an open and welcoming community of sinners, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Betsy Grey

Askrigg, North Yorkshire

The traditionalists in the Church of England trying to hold back the changes urgently need to deal with the realities of modern society; in calling on the Bible for their authority, they are acting like tribal elders out of their time.

We criticise fundamentalist Muslim leaders for a similar attitude but although they are consistent in trying to maintain their values in daily life, western society has slowly but surely moved on to the point where the intransigent attitude of the traditionalists has become irrelevant.

In fact, it is time for the Roman Catholic Church also to start facing reality and serving the needs of the people rather than trying to keep them in line with pointless prohibitions.

James Snowden


Mysteries of the Swedish bedroom

I note that in the survey of married Swedes aged over 70, 68 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women reported "continuing to have sex" (9 July). This means that, unless the sexually active older Swedish women tend to be polyandrous, 12 per cent of these old men are unfaithful, liars, or both. Personally, I would prefer to believe that these men have lied to the survey, possibly for reasons of bravado, than to believe that such a large proportion of them are cheating on their wives.

Peter Janikoun

Maidenhead, Berkshire

The best thing about over-70 women "enjoying more sex than ever" is that it stops them knitting those awful jumpers.

Alan Aitchison

Wakefield, West Yorkshire


Ministerial grammar

Justin Brett (letter, 10 July) correctly points out that Jim Knight (letters, 9 July) incorrectly used the word "myself" in the sentence "Neither myself nor my colleague, Ed Balls, have ever referred to failing schools". Fowler's Modern English Usage also points out that "neither... nor..." takes a singular verb when the items mentioned are in the singular. The sentence, therefore, should read "Neither I nor my colleague, Ed Balls, has ever referred to failing schools." Two grammatical errors in 13 words seem to indicate failing advisers, at least.

Roy Tipping


If Messrs Knight and Balls are right in saying they don't have a hit list, how will they know which schools to help with the £400m they have set aside?

Alan Davies

Kingswinford, West Midlands

Brazilian names

I read the "The name game" (9 July) with interest. Unusual names are a long-established tradition in Latin America and I have been shown around on my visits there by guides who answer to Rommel, Washington and Edilberto. Brazil even boasts a guitarist-composer called Baden Powell.

Rosemary Morlin


The joy of dishes

Dennis Davis recommends we forgo dishwashers, televisions and mobile phones so as to live real rather than vicarious lives (letters, 9 July). Not only do my wife and I wash and dry dishes side by side, but we are down at the river every morning bashing our laundry on the rocks too. Before dawn of course, after which we must head for the pits, licking the road clean on our way. The camaraderie makes it all worthwhile.

John Pedersen

Totnes, Devon

Does no one sell big rubber gloves with long cuffs? It's cleaning lavatory bowls that truly separates the men from the girls.

Alan Batchelor


Ethical hunters

Contrary to what John Walsh suggests (7 July), there is nothing wrong with hunting for pleasure. That is so long as harm is not caused to the quarry species from an animal-welfare point of view, or a wildlife-management point of view. The human beings concerned must also behave themselves. The special respect the ethical hunter has for the quarry species often contributes to its survival, the survival of its habitat and that of other wildlife.

Dominic Webber

Heathfield, East Sussex