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Wednesday 16 December 2009
Letters: Christmas celebrations
'PC' objections to public celebration of Christmas
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown scores a palpable hit when she urges Christians to contend for the values that determine Christian belief and behaviour ("Christians shouldn't be blaming others", 14 December). However she misses the point when she attacks supposed anti-PC sensitivities about Christmas.
I have never yet met a practising Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Jew who resented civic celebrations of Christian festivals or other open manifestations of Christian belief. However I do from time to time encounter public officials who have no personal religious faith (or – usually – knowledge or experience), who feel very uneasy about Christianity outside the safe confines of a church building.
As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suggests, Christian belief should have profound public impact, and not just in the form of school nativity plays. Yet charities and organisations with Christian commitment written into their founding documents often have to overcome massive official suspicion. Christians who explicitly relate their social engagement to their faith in the Son of God are considered dangerous.
This, rather than the naming of "winter lights", is the real scandal. What connects this serious issue to the trivialities that she mentions is that both are symptoms of a mindset that sees religious faith as solely a private matter. I guess that this mindset is as objectionable to a Muslim as it is to a Christian.
Canon Paddy Benson
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown totally misses the point. "It's PC gone mad" is not the cry of "grunters and moaners, hypocrites, dogmatists and self-righteous sinners", but of those ordinary men and women in this country who have a deep-seated mistrust of authority.
We have in Britain a long tradition of suspicion of those who would claim to rule over us, and of any interference they might dare to bring into our daily lives; it is this which leads to such cries. We don't mind if you want to celebrate your winter festivals at the same time as us, but woe betide any government that tells us we have to change our celebrations to accommodate yours. Multiculturalism, one of the greatest social ideas alive in Britain today, means your letting us enjoy our culture as well as our letting you enjoy yours, and allowing us to enjoy each other's, but only if and so far as we want to.
Andrew T Barnes
Cabin crew guard their privileges
As the general manager of British Airways cabin crew from 1978 to 1982, I negotiated a reduction of 22 per cent in their numbers. We reduced the crews on all aircraft, which were significantly above the legal minimum, and we redesigned service routines to cope. We also altered some of the more bizarre rostering privileges and revised daily allowances downwards.
All this was thrown away by the management under King and Marshall in the Eighties. Numbers expanded and pay and allowances rose out of control. Not only were crew levels restored but they were increased by superimposing unnecessary levels of supervision within each aircraft. It is no surprise that the cabin crew, who have always been surprisingly militant for an inherently right-wing community, should take extreme action to protect their privileged position. They have always tended to consider passengers a necessary inconvenience and their present action almost ranks as industrial terrorism.
They are indeed the best-paid and best-treated cabin crew in the world, and their comfortable existence is being threatened by their own action. Rather than accept somewhat lower rewards and the need to work harder, they may find that Mr Walsh decides to dispense with them altogether and franchise cabin service to an outside provider, as do some really efficient airlines.
I hesitate to mention in the same letter the behaviour of bankers and Members of Parliament, but greed seems to be a spreading contagion.
Thanks to BA staff going on strike, my Christmas was nearly ruined and has become £600 more expensive for our family.
My sister was due to fly back from the States with BA this Friday and return to Boston on 30 December. She couldn't come home if she didn't know whether she could get back.
My mum was almost in tears on the phone to me, as she hasn't seen my sister in ages and had been looking forward for months to us all being together for Christmas. We've spent almost £600 on a one-way ticket via Dublin back to Boston for her. Let's hope that Aer Lingus don't go on strike.
Do BA staff and unions not have any compassion or concern about the impact that they are having? I will never fly with them again. I hope that others will think twice before they do.
The holding to ransom of the population by trade unions is really outdated and unjust. The effects caused by strikes of groups such as railway, airline and postal staff are disproportionate to the dispute.
In the BA case, the extremely cynical threat to disrupt the enjoyment of the Christmas holiday for thousands of families is cruel beyond words. It is no coincidence that strikes are threatened at holiday times.
Surely it would be better that disputes which cannot be settled by direct negotiation should, by law, be referred to Acas, which would have the power to impose a just an legally binding settlement.
Guilty of taking a photograph
With the experience of photographer Grant Smith of being stopped and searched by under the Terrorism Act (9 December) we have reached the situation where a member of the public going about their lawful business is guilty until they prove themselves innocent. This can no longer be said to be a figment of the imagination of civil libertarians like myself.
The astonishing statement from the City of London police says Mr Smith was searched "in the absence of an explanation" of his photography, which was considered "apparently hostile behaviour". So it was up to him to justify why he was taking a photo, under pain of being considered a terrorist.
No wonder burglaries, rapes, muggings and gang violence are failing to get the police attention they deserve when two police cars and a riot van with a total of seven police officers raced to the scene of this serious criminal threat.
This arrogance and incompetence by the Met police must be reined in by City Hall and Alan Johnson. Vital public support for the police, and their budgets, is put under severe strain by this kind of incident.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP (Liberal Democrat, London)
I wonder how long it will be before the police demand a ban on photography within a five-mile radius of any Olympic venue during the Games?
Tuition fees in Scotland
I suspect that Michael Ghirelli (Letters, 2 December) is right that any UK-wide referendum would result in a majority for Scottish independence. One important issue, however, that might be considered in any debate on the Scottish White Paper is the need for a devolved or independent legislature not to discriminate against residents in other parts of the UK. The Scottish Parliament's method of abolishing tuition fees at Scottish universities is a case in point.
Tuition fees of Scottish students are paid for by the Scottish Awards Agency, which also pays the fees of students from the European Union. The Agency will not pay for the tuition fees of students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland. UK taxpayers' money is therefore being used to give free university education in Scotland to Europeans from outside the UK, but not to UK residents outside Scotland.
I have particular sympathy for prospective students from Northern Ireland, which has close geographical and historic ties with Scotland, who do not qualify for free higher education in Scotland, while those from the Republic of Ireland do.
If the Scots are granted independence then those in the rest of the UK will qualify as EU residents and will get free tuition.
John E Orton
Hungry babies at the theatre
Recent reports of audience behaviour including continual loud talking, use of mobile phones and projectile vomiting would seem to place Angela Elliott's wish to breastfeed her four-month old baby in the theatre (letter, 11 December) as part of a growing trend in audience involvement.
But she should remember that the rest of the audience have come to see Aladdin, not a distracting display of maternal care.
And what pleasure or benefit does she think a baby is going to get from two and a half hours of loud music, screaming children and flashing lights? It'll terrify the poor thing, who will probably bawl its head off, to the distraction of everyone else.
No, Ms Elliott should stay at home with her baby for a couple of Christmases. Her elder children who can go to the pantomime with their father or grandparents. They'll all love it.
Angela Elliott's experience of being forbidden to take a baby to the theatre isn't typical.
Last week I watched a big family group in the audience for Horrid Henry – Live and Horrid! at the Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester. While the older kids rocked in the aisles with Dad, their eight-week-old baby brother slept soundly in his mother's arms. It never crossed the mind of any member of staff that breastfeeding would be a problem – and it wasn't.
And breastfeeding makes a lot less mess than ice-cream.
E M Jones
Marple, Greater Manchester
Tax breaks for parents at home
Catherine von Ruhland (letters, 10 December) wonders why "singletons – wholly dependent on one income – [should] subsidise other people's relationships", under proposals from the Conservatives.
As it happens, the people whom Mr Cameron wishes to help – those who are part of a married couple with just one party in the formal workforce – are currently dependent on half an income (or less if children are factored in).
Furthermore, in view of reports which highlight the absence of parents at home as being at the root of children's unhappiness and subsequent anti-social behaviour, the overall benefits to society of this reform – which will reward many who choose to bring up their own children instead of formally joining the workforce – seem hard to deny.
I hope someone is inventing a very large, very humiliating Stupidity Award for the perpetrators of the Circle Line revision (report, 15 December). What will it take for common sense to be restored? Will the well-deserved good reputation of Transport for London ever recover?
Michael K Baldwin recalls hay-box cookery (letter, 15 December). In the early 1900s, my father, then a don at Trinity College, Cambridge, bought and used a commercially built oak-panelled "fireless cooker" or "hay box" with two compartments. In the 1930s during our family holidays, this was used almost every day for a month, to provide our cooked hot evening meal. I regret not using it now; it has been ousted from the kitchen by an Aga cooker.
Don't talk and drive
I totally agree with Clifford Evans that anyone simultaneously driving and using a phone is an utter menace and should be heavily penalised (letter, 14 December). However, if the service providers can indeed detect that a call is from or to a mobile in a moving vehicle, then before I lose my licence for regular offending I hope they can also determine that it's my wife who answers my phone while I drive, and vice-versa.
Too many crackers
Every year we have some crackers left over after Christmas lunch. We put them away, and then we buy another box. This means we have a mixed set on the table and a few more to save for the next year, and so on for ever. If crackers were sold in smaller packs – packets of two or three – you would be able to buy just the right number every year.
For those bothered by having their birthday on an inconvenient date such as Christmas Day, 29 February or New Year's Day (letters, 10, 14 December), I would suggest simply changing it to a convenient official birthday, as the Queen does. Who cares anyway? You can then save your real one for legal documents.
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