As a regular rail-user, it was a pity to see your headline “Full steam ahead for high-speed rail” (7 January) ruined by the negative leading article, “Too easily seduced by the glamour of highspeed rail”. You ought to be givingthe green light to investing in Britain’s dated rail infrastructure, with only a pathetic 70 miles of dedicated high-speed rail track.
France took the bold decision to invest billions in its own TGV high-speed rail network years ago. Now you can travel comfortably and safely from Lille to Marseille in four and a half hours. Ourprizes are more jobs in the underemployed construction industry, economic growth at a timeBritain so desperately needs it and an eventual boost for the economy of the North of Englandin bringing it closer to its markets in the rest of Europe.
There are always winners and losers in every major infrastructure decision. Britain was a leader in innovative engineering andstate of the art rail infrastructure in the 19th century: it’s time for this country to begin to reassert that position in the 21st century. Full speed ahead now, please.
We must be mad to be willing to spend £32bn just to save 20 minutes travelling between London to Birmingham. The problem of overcrowding can easily be solved by converting the usually first-class half-empty carriages into second class. Suchmonies should be spend to far greater benefit on improvements to local services. Just two examples: my local First Capital Connect Services are usually late andfrequently and unexpectedly cancelled at great inconvenience.
I often travel from Barnet to Northwood in London. By public transport, I have to allow one and a half hours for the eight miles, longer than it takes to travel the 100 miles from London to Birmingham. At weekends, when there are frequent engineering works the journey would take up to three hours, about the time a horse and carriage would take before the age of steam.
Harry M Jacobi
I applaud Simon Calder for his arguments that railways, includingHS2, would probably be more popular or efficient if they connected population centres of varioussizes to make it easier and more environmentally friendly forpeople to move about. Thetrain (with or without passengers from either end of the journey only) can be really fast only if it avoids exactly these “congestion zones”.
I strongly disagree with Simon Calder. The point of HS2 is to provide fast services to Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds and Edinburgh, without stopping at large towns. The West and East Coast main lines already provide good services to the towns. Incidently, it is not widely known that Maidstone does not have a station on HS1 between Ebbsfleet and Ashford, a decision made at the planning stage. ButI agree that the timetable for constructing HS2 does seem to be incredibly slow.
What about those who want to die but are too ill? Suicide is not a crime in this country (report, 1 January): if I want to commit suicide tonight I can, whether I am terminally or chronically ill, or physically extremely fit but just don’t want to live anymore. As it happens, I don’t want to end my life at present.
But, if I were to become severely disabled, say, paralysed from my neck down, I probably would like to. Guess what, I won’t be able to because of my disability, and, unlike all the other care and help I need which will be provided as a matter of course, nobody will be able to help me. How unfair and discriminatory is that?
How can it be justified that ablebodied people can put an end to their lives freely and without discussion, but those who are unlucky enough to need physical help cannot?
Do we really think that Stephen Hawking can’t make up his own mind? Who needs that freedom to make a decision most: those who can but don’t “need” to, or those who would dearly like to but can’t?
Unless we start to think with reason about what the real issues are, we will forever be embroiled in emotive details. (Why 12 months? Why not 13, if I am in severe pain? How will you know whether I want to help my mother because I love her so much or because I want her antique teapot?)
Hove, East Sussex
The Commission on Assisted Dying seems to have concluded that the bar should be lifted on a home-grown Dignitas at nine months from the end. Death is not like parturition: it can hardly be so precisely predicted.
Jeremy Lawrance cites several cases where assisted death was wanted in this country but secured only through Dignitas abroad. This wealth-related privilege has had a disproportionate media coverage. The debate is not about dying but about control.
Assisted death is chosen only by those whose misfortune it is to have been struck down by disabilities or diseases that make living too distressing to contemplate. What we all want to control is the manner of our death. Good terminal care should make the suicide option – as it is in practice now – largely irrelevant, as unneeded as it is generally unobtainable.
My husband died in May of an aggressive, inoperable cancer. It was a struggle to persuade the system to let him come home, and it needed energy and family support to co-ordinate the state provisions, which were good. His death was dignified, acceptable and assisted by morphine to control his pain. People we know have died recently of motor-neurone disease, cancer, heart failure and old age. In most cases, the partners and family were involved, supportive and effective in organising supplementary care. A failure in care and pain-control made one death really distressing.
That is where our energy and taxes should be concentrated: hospice care, Macmillan Nurses, district nurses, where possible, home deaths and training in the care of the terminally ill. And every NHS pamphlet should be engraved, “Thou shalt not strive officiously to keep alive”.
Your report says, “The priority must be a natural end to life”. Yes it is, if your care is fine for those who want this and it can be pain-free. But we no longer have a natural end to life. People are living longer than the three score and ten, because medical advances have made this possible. Women used to die in childbirth and frequently from diseases which are now curable.
Dignity in Dying does not demand a change in the law. It tries to persuade the Government that it would be a humane thing to legalise dignity in dying, so that people can choose this, if that is what they wish, with suitable safeguards in law which would protect vulnerable people suffering pressure to end their lives or being in fear of being an emotional or financial burden to others. That is what we mean by suitable safeguards.
Because we are living longer, it is predicted that some people alive today will live to be 120. Would we wish to be kept alive for so many years, in pain or very disabled? It is better to give people the choice and use our medical services to help those who can be helped, because, financially, this is going to be a very large burden keeping people alive who do not wish it.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
I do not see why anyone should feel pressured if it became legal for anyone terminally ill or unable to look after themselves/bedridden/ incontinent/incurably-in-pain to decide to end their lives. If I find myself in that situation, I would love to have a party for my friends and family, say goodbye and go.
Different view of‘cubbing’ Ailsa Dijksman’s description of what she calls “cubbing” (letters, 4 January) bears no resemblance to the happy memories I have of riding off before dawn on my pony, the countryside shrouded in autumnal mist, to a cub-hunting meet.
The idea seemed to be to surround a patch of woodland, a covert, to encourage hounds to get on close terms with any litter of nearly full-grown cubs that might be hanging around. The fittest of the young foxes would break out into the open and not be followed whereas any weak ones might well be killed, instantly, by the hounds. The foxhounds were only imitating what a pack of wolves might once have done to their smaller relatives. Any dog of reasonable size will need no encouragement to attack a fox. My bull mastiff, on hearing a hen being seized outside my window one summer day, hotly pursued the thieving red rascal up the hillside. I have never thrown her a cub.
Today’s politically correct climate has resulted in cub-hunting being renamed autumn hunting and of course, legally and correctly, an artificial trail has to be laid and no foxes killed. This just means there is more work for the gamekeepers to do, dispatching litters of foxes in their earths before the shooting season starts, which is not selective and less beneficial for the species.
Picking a better post office I was about to be charged £6.20 to post a card to the USA because I missed the last posting day for Christmas. I declined, sending it normal post. It arrived on time. Last week, I was told it would cost £38 to send a parcel to my mother in Holland. I removed a few items, estimating it would cost about £20. I went to another post office which charged just £7. Next time I am unhappy with one post office, I will just try another.
Date culprit I blame the 1968 film 2001 A Space Odyssey, (that was “Two thousand and one”) for getting this millennium off on the wrong foot (letters, 4 January). All the cinema publicity and trailers phrased the title this way. It should, of course, have been Twenty-oh-one A Space Odyssey. We would have been spared all this controversy.
Bovey Tracey, Devon
He is no hero I have just one issue concerning Tony Paterson’s well-informed article on Hungary (7 January). The xenophobic and anti- Semitic Istvan Csurka is not “regarded as a national hero” by most Hungarians. Most Hungarians remember what the late Prime Minister Jozsef Antall said in 1992, that Csurka was an informer for the Hungarian secret police.
Emeritus Fellow, Darwin College, Cambridge
No hang about Mexico’s Baluarte Bridge is not a suspension bridge (7 January). It is a cable-stayed bridge, with each length of deck stayed back to the supporting pylon. Suspension bridge decks are supported on hangers connected to the main (suspension) cables.
Last words Robert Readman (letters, 7 January), is correct about the inadvertent (or perhaps not) humour of sub-titles. Towards the end of the New Year episode of EastEnders, they said, “Pat croaks”. A few seconds later, she did.
Great Ayton, North Yorkshire