Sir: I live in a grotty part of London W11. A lot of elderly people live here. We have Freedom Passes on London Transport. Every now and then we have to renew them. Unlike my daughter, who is disabled and therefore can renew her travel pass at the town hall, I am merely elderly and must renew mine at a post office. But all the post offices in my usual shopping area have been closed. Going to a post office is now a separate expedition. The queues are so long I take a book.
Over the past few days, and equipped with my pass, my passport and a recent gas bill, I have queued at three post offices, for the sticker that will renew my Freedom Pass. None of them had stickers. It had not occurred to any of them to place a notice in an obvious place, to say so. I have queued for 17 minutes, four minutes and 19 minutes respectively, before being told they had no stickers. The four-minute wait was brief because a public-spirited queue member told us that post office was not big enough to stock stickers.
So I used my emergency pre-pay Oyster and took a bus to Notting Hill Gate where, we had been assured, there is a branch big enough to have stickers. There I queued for 19 minutes until a much-harried clerk asked me to read a small card, on which he had written that there were no stickers until Tuesday or Friday. It had not occurred to them to place it in the window.
There used to be a business principle that if you knew an event was going to happen, like Christmas, you made preparations. But even this is now beyond an organisation which not only closes branches where they are most needed, but fails to stock items for when they are most needed.
But then I am just another grumpy old woman.
Self-important IOC blamed for protests
Sir: The protests surrounding the Olympic torch are regrettable but understandable. For so long, the self-aggrandisement by what should be a sporting organisation has crossed several lines of appropriateness. The style of rhetoric emerging from the International Olympic Committee seems at times to be a hybrid of the UN, the Nobel Committee and Tony Blair on his maddest of days.
Wittering about world peace, universal harmony and the unity of nations sits very poorly with later protestations that the Olympics is just about sport. That they seem to think the Olympic flame is symbolic of a whole raft of this self-important nonsense is the reason it attracts protests. Does the World Cup have pretentious ceremonies awash with theatrical frippery and cod significance? No. Does it suffer endless protests and boycotts? No.
Handcross, West Sussex
Sir: Have I been watching too much Dr Who? Otherwise, how can I explain hearing a senior police officer declare that his prime duty during Sunday's events in London was "to protect the Torch", as though it were some ancient totem of an arcane religion to which only members of the Met and their blue-suited Chinese Torch Squad were privy. I'm sure I saw Jack Harkness in the crowd. I'd never thought myself so suggestible.
Snizort, by Portree, Isle of Skye
Sir: How silly, how stupid was this massive attempt to protect the Olympic flame when people are dying in Tibet in their attempt to hold the flaming torch of democracy in their own hands?
I have heard enough of this rubbish about sport and politics. Fighting for the freedom of your country is not politics, it is called survival. Tibetans are dying for their country and Tessa Jowell and her tawdry sports personalities should be ashamed of themselves.
Newhaven, East Sussex
Sir: Did anyone else notice that huge gang of thugs running through London beating up lots of people on Sunday? I'm told it had nothing to do with politics: so why did they end up reporting to the Prime Minister after causing mayhem across the city?
Southend on Sea, Essex
Sir: I greatly enjoyed the new Olympic sport on television (6 April) in which one team attempted to carry a torch across London while their opponents attempted to put the flame out. I look forward to watching this sport in Beijing and wish the UK team, led by Sir Steven Redgrave, good luck.
Bring back ourpolitical debate
Sir: Johann Hari rightly laments the almost complete collapse of meaningful political debate in the British broadcast media. And it is striking that this trend coincides with vastly increased voter alienation and a rejection of party politics, because, "They're all the same".
If the ordinary person no longer has access to an informed discussion of relevant political issues, such as the Tories' proposals to abolish tax credits, as Mr Hari mentions, those who do bother to vote do so in deplorable ignorance. It is a shaming dereliction of duty by the BBC to abandon sensible mainstream political programming.
The generation drip-fed 24-hour "news highlights" already will have no idea or understanding of the political context and history of most current affairs. Instead, the BBC and commercial broadcasters choose to marginalise and scupper any serious attempt to engage in intelligent, thoughtful political programming. We are steadily moving towards the US broadcast model of shriekingly biased and shallow ranting. Is that now BBC policy?
Sir: Johann Hari is wrong when he says ITV has "cut away almost all its political coverage outside the nightly news".
Last year, we broadcast 388 hours of national and international news; over 250 hours of regional news across 17 dedicated services; and 84 hours of current affairs. And that's not including the news and current affairs strands on ITV.com and the 12 broadband news services on ITV Local.
Director of Group Corporate Affairs, ITV plc, London WC1
Grand National a blood sport
Sir: The hype is over and the Grand National has been put back in its stable for another year. Unfortunately, three horses were killed at the Aintree course, In The High Grass and Time To Sell, in the Topham Trophy, last Friday, and McKelvey in the Grand National. That makes 38 horses killed at the Aintree meeting in the past 11 years.
This isn't horse racing, it's a blood sport. It's a virtual certainty that every year some horse will die as a result of racing at Aintree. An industry that says the welfare of its horses is at the top of its list seems incapable of protecting some horses from a death sentence at Aintree.
A truer reflection of what the Grand National meeting means would be if the bookies took bets on which horses were to die. Punters could pick their horse; the race and the fence at which the horse would die at, with such odds that a dead horse could make someone a fortune.
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Mistaken aboutthe semi-colon
Sir: As one who has made it a personal crusade, over 40 years of teaching, to educate children on the correct use of the semi-colon, I was alarmed to read Bethan Marshall's declaration on punctuation (4 April), beloved of many English teachers, that the semi-colon merely "allows us to breathe a little more easily mid-sentence", aka, "a longer pause than a comma but not as long as a full stop".
This mistaken definition of the semi-colon ignores its true function, which is, as Philip Hensher points out, to intervene between two grammatically complete sentences (I think he may mean main clauses) closely related in sense. The semi-colon can also, to great effect, act as a separator in lengthy, extended-subject descriptions; Dickens was a master of this, as a reading of his description of the marshes at the beginning of Great Expectations demonstrates. Dr Marshall also states that punctuation doesn't really matter: it changes, and it's the meaning that counts. Without accurate punctuation, the meaning itself will change, and there is something truly elegant and beautiful about prose accurately punctuated.
I have successfully taught several generations of pupils to understand punctuation devices, not least the semi-colon, and they have produced better-written pieces because of it, and they've also enjoyed mastering such skills.
I do note that when Dr Marshall goes into explanatory prose, her punctuation becomes conventional. There are times when one should use precision and follow the rules; clarity of meaning demands it.
Susan I Harr
Hull, East Yorkshire
Sir: From time to time, I use a street in Pontypool which is called, on one side, St James' Field, and on the other side, St James Field.
These names mean different things, and I always regret that the burghers of Pontypool have not been in the front row demonstrating consistency and awareness of our language in this example.
Professor M J Sewell
University of Reading
Labour's tax change penalises the many
Sir: This Labour government has now announced the abolition of the lowest tax band, 10 per cent, therefore we all now pay at least 20 per cent. The 22 per cent rate has now been reduced to 20 per cent so that what was the lowest income group will have to pay considerably more in tax and the higher earners will pay less.
Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution states: "to realise our true potential and for all of us, a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of many and not the few". Here in Middlesbrough, every chair and vice-chair of every council committee is a Labour councillor: that's their idea of sharing power. It's a Labour-controlled council, yet there are several employees earning well over £100,000.
I read recently of a vacancy for a consultant surgeon in Wales and the salary offered was £80,000.
Independent councillor, Middlesbrough
Sir: I gather the 10p tax band was abolished a year ago, but has only just taken effect. Presumably, the MPs and newspaper editorial writers who are sounding off against this now were even more outraged at the time?
Or, despite the copious analysis of budgets, did they then think it was a great idea and have only just discovered the truth? There seems to be a lot of spilt milk around, and post-event crying.
Sir: First Gordon Brown alienates those on low incomes by scrapping the 10 per cent tax band. Then he rubs salt into the wound by choosing a "live webcast", a medium unaffordable to (or even unknown to) many of those on low incomes, as a means of "hearing the people's priorities". Just what planet is this man on?
Choose ethicaloption for Africa
Sir: It is true that "even multi-nationals employ locals" (Dominic Lawson, 1 April), but they do so at appallingly low rates. Their motive is to extract as much profit from the relationship as possible, regardless of any social and environmental consequences. It is better to buy from African social enterprises which return profit to the community, supporting healthcare and education. This is the meaning of "produced ethically".
We should support the Soil Association for taking this principled stance. UK producers are constrained to follow European law in protecting workers' rights. In effect, therefore, it is more a case of levelling the playing field.
Out by centuries
Sir: In your feature on Aztec fractions (5 April), your use of Teotihuacan as an illustration shows a lack of knowledge on Meso-american history. Teotihuacan was abandoned by about 650, many centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico.
Love is in the air
Sir: Deborah Orr (Comment, 5 April) should come to Yorkshire, especially Sheffield, if she wishes to experience the widespread use of "love" as a mode of address. I am pleased that many attempts to suppress the word as being offensive seem to have failed. In Sheffield, the term is used widely between people of both sexes, whether of the same sex or different. Last week, after I showed my transport pass to a male tram conductor, plastered with tattoos, he said: "Thanks, love."
Art of leadership
Sir: The report about women leaders in the arts (2 April) failed to mention some women in important arts posts, including Kathryn McDowell, managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Judith Isherwood, chief executive of the Cardiff Millennium Centre and Louise Mitchell, director of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the City Halls. These successful women redress the balance somewhat.
Managing Director, London Mozart Players, Croydon, Surrey
Where there's smoke ...
Sir: Have I got this right? The expensive experts on the Drugs Advisory Committee have told our unexpert substitute PM that cannabis should stay as a class C drug. This was recently found to be a far less dangerous drug than alcohol or tobacco, which kill, but Mr Brown is to ignore this advice and insist the killers are the only ones we can have. Couldn't be him trying to look tough and revive his flagging poll results, could it ?
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Sir: Howard Jacobson (Comment, 5 April 2008) complains that the Arts Council is impertinent in asking for sexual orientation. To respond to the West Dorset District Council's Car Park User Satisfaction Survey (sic), I have to disclose not only my sexual orientation but also my ethnic origin, my religion and my gender, intelligence no doubt indispensable to the improvement of our local car parks.