Great article by Howard Jacobson (27 December), and I share the same angst. I too have been conned, at Victoria railway station in London, by a seemingly very distressed, well-dressed lady who said she lived in Belgravia and had got locked out of her home.
If I had refused I would still be wondering two years later if I should have given her the money. I now know she was a con, as she did not return the money to my office address the next day, and the phone number and address she gave me did not exist – she was very clever.
But now I often give blunt refusals when asked for help as the embarrassment of being conned floods back. What to do?
Women on the front line
The opening of further frontline combat roles to women in the British Army is a welcome step forward against arbitrary discrimination.
The load which can be backpacked varies greatly from man to man and from woman to woman. Numerous conflicts have demonstrated that even a relatively low limit does not necessarily render a person militarily ineffective.
Mixing within the infantry may even have some impact on a culture of chauvinism which can make it difficult for ex-soldiers to reintegrate within modern civilian social and family life.
It is not unreasonable, however, to wonder what would happen if and when we again need mass mobilisation or even conscription; that is something which can be dismissed as impossible only until it actually happens.
Would this new option for the few then become an obligation for the many? Or will we be pushed back into gender stereotypes, with women again singing “We don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go”?
Some of the greatest progress towards gender equality was made in response to women’s contributions in each of two world wars; wars in which the burden of being killed or maimed in action continued to fall, overwhelmingly, upon men.
How long a period of equality would it take before men will no longer accept this as their natural lot?
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Is Emin’s ‘Bed’ just a bed?
A couple of years ago, in a gallery in Margate, I saw an indifferent black-and-white photo going for about £70. Next to it was an exact reproduction of the same photograph, signed on the border in marker pen by Tracey Emin (though it wasn’t taken by her); that was going for £1,500.
Should I worry about the suggestion that her My Bed might not be the original bed that she occupied?
Surely what’s important with such marketed artists is not the concept (we’ve known for some time that anything can be art), nor the skill involved (hmm!), nor the workmanship, (somebody else’s), but the connection to celebrity the piece affords. It’s like watching the Kardashians – you wonder why people pay to do it, but they do!
Rather than generate editorials like yours of 29 December, however tongue-in-cheek, we should be allowed quietly to enjoy the fact that someone would fork-out £2.55m for this bed, however authentic, or not. I’m sure Tracey laughs all the way to the bank.
In the meantime, I console myself with the fact that I have four possible Emin copies in my house – two of them doubles!
A way to repair the housing market
Although Philip Goldenberg (letter, 26 December) makes a good point that adding more bands to the current council tax system would be far simpler and more effective than Labour’s proposed mansion tax, neither will do anything to improve our dysfunctional housing market.
The central issue is how to increase supply in line with demand. This can best be addressed by introducing a land value tax (LVT) which would give those holding land with planning permission the choice of paying the tax (and thereby increasing government revenues) or increasing the supply of housing (and thereby reducing price inflation).
Only a government in league with large landowners and developers would see this as a bad idea.
When she was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put a lot of energy into enabling and persuading tenants to become home-owners. David Cameron has put that policy into reverse, making it almost impossible for workers to buy.
His government has built too few houses, forcing up prices and enabling private landlords to make fortunes through high rents. Many of the few new houses are being bought by foreigners and massive numbers of houses that are available for sale are being bought by the rich (or those with access to loans) in order to cash in on the vast difference between the returns on rents and alternative financial options.
House prices are beyond the reach of all but the highest paid; even those with good earnings are finding that the high rent levels are preventing them for saving enough for a deposit.
Not only is the Government destroying the prospect of so many buying their own home, it is impeding the recovery of the economy by allowing a vast proportion of earnings to be diverted from trade to private landlords.
A B Crews
Sex pests put to flight
I agree with Jennifer Towland (letter, 29 December) that Nigel Glover’s polite daughters need to toughen up their response to loutish males. Such men rely on a timid female reaction, and one way to discomfit them is to retaliate in kind.
To rude personal remarks, ignore the face and scrutinise the crotch, as if studying (inferior) goods for sale, then accompany various negative gestures – head-shaking, dismissive hand-flapping – with a loud “No chance. Not a hope.” I have seen apparently confident older men withdraw hastily from such treatment.
Long-distance Morris dance
So the Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men came to visit us in Washington, Tyne and Wear (“A costume drama that rings a bell”, 27 December)?
It would have been nice of them to come so far for our entertainment, but I think it more likely they were at Washington near Steyning, West Sussex.
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
Why were rail passengers left stranded?
Your editorial of 29 December suggests that rail maintenance should not happen at Christmas, but you don’t suggest an alternative. Do you think it should be done during the working week, inconveniencing thousands of workers?
The real scandal of Saturday’s closure of King’s Cross station was the failure to suggest alternatives. People for Yorkshire and farther north should have been told to go to St Pancras and change at Derby. Only local passengers needed to go to Finsbury Park.
Network Rail needs to explain the lack of advice not the need to do repairs.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Your correspondent Francis Roads (letter, 29 December) wonders why East Coast Trains (EC) didn’t divert some of their trains via Cambridge to Tottenham to relieve the pressure at Finsbury Park. There are four reasons why this didn’t happen.
First, most of EC’s trains are electric, and the line from Peterborough to Ely has no overhead wires. EC has no diesel locos of its own, so would have had to hire one from a rail freight company (something not necessary under British Rail).
Second, it’s doubtful whether any of EC’s drivers have the required route knowledge, so EC would have had to hire a pilotman.
One consequence of privatisation has been that drivers now have much narrower route knowledge than was the case with BR, so there are many fewer diversions over alternative routes. Privatisation has made the rail system much less flexible.
Third, at least going to Finsbury Park the trains were on their normal train paths, but going via Cambridge they would have had to fit in with the normal services to Stansted airport and Liverpool Street, and would have disrupted those services.
Fourth, what would have happened to the East Coast trains when they got to Tottenham – back to Edinburgh?
Ian K Watson
I was surprised to read your editorial on the problems at King’s Cross and Paddington. Surely you are aware that Network Rail is a nationalised concern in all but name. Therefore government ministers have overall responsibilities for these problems – not that they will be in any hurry to admit this!