Letters: Humiliated by the self-service checkout

These letters appear in the Wednesday 19th March edition of the Independent

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Many thanks for publishing Brendan Sharp’s apposite piece on those dreadful supermarket self-service machines (18 March). I have been humiliated many times by the wretched machines either not working properly or ordering me to “take your bag” when I’ve not yet finished my shopping.

Let me add yet another Post Irrational Techno Torture to his PITT list:  Naming All Vegetables! I am 77: one of those oldies (thanks, too, for not calling me The Elderly) whose memory is now wonky. I like those green veggies that the Americans call zucchini.

So I press the Veg & Fruit label – and then go through the 60-odd names listed to get the real English word. Usually I can’t find it and am forced instead to go home with a bag of measly carrots.

But now I know I am not alone!

Gerry Popplestone, London SW9

Brendan Sharp’s piece on the proliferation of self-service checkouts confirms what many customers already know, from bitter experience.

Subjecting yourself to one of these snotty, patronising robots can leave you traumatised for the rest of the day, humiliated by an “unexpected item” in the “bagging area” (that would be my boot), burning with the fumbling shame of being helped by a harassed member of staff, then dispatched by an insincere and overbearing “voice”, like some errant kid.

The solution is to politely decline to use the machine, and, if no normal till is open, to ask a member of staff to conduct the entire operation on your behalf, thereby avoiding all contact with the ghastly thing. This ensures peace of mind and a gainful staff-customer ratio, and sends a clear message to the heartless automatons who came up with the idea in the first place.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

Europe: voice of the people silenced

You say (editorial, 13 March) that David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU is a foolish one. Why is it foolish for the British people to be allowed to decide for themselves how they wish to be governed?

Nowhere else in the democratic world is this most basic of political freedoms denied by the political elite to its people. In the UK, we are told with all the arrogance and condescension that politicians can muster that we can’t have a referendum, or (very rarely) only have one on their gracious terms.

It is time for a referendum on the EU to be held so that the UK can plan ahead with certainty, whether in or out of the EU. Prevarication by politicians and the fear of a “no” vote are damaging this country.

The clamour for a vote will not go away, and denying the people one will only compound the problem.

D Stewart, London N2

No parties for England’s hazy saint

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish people all over the world, and the annual cry goes up: “Why don’t we English celebrate St George’s Day like that?” I can think of at least one very good reason.

St Patrick, despite all the spurious legends which surround him, was a real, identifiable person who made a distinct contribution to the lives of the people of Ireland, once you ignore the inconvenient fact that he was born in the part of Britain now called England.

St George is a lot more hazy. It is difficult to distinguish fact from fantasy in what passes for his life story: he had no connection whatsoever with this part of the world, and he seems to have been chosen as patron saint of England simply because his emblem, a red cross on a white background, made a pretty design to decorate the armour of English soldiers fighting in the Crusades. Not much to celebrate there, is there?

John Williams, West Wittering, West Sussex

Are these families too hard-working?

Controversial as these questions may seem, why is the Government intent on encouraging both parents of young children to go out to paid work (“Osborne to woo the family vote with £2,000 per child Budget sweetener”, 18 March)? Might it not just possibly be better for children to combine schooldays with seeing more of their parents? 

Might it not be better for parents to recognise their freedom of choice in having children and hence being responsible for their upbringing? Are not the childless unemployed and those with grown-up children more in need of the jobs? 

Indeed, are we really saying that parents earning up to £300,000 a year between them are more deserving by way of state benefits than those unable to find work, yet getting their benefits cut?

Peter Cave, London W1

Slaughter of the wild salmon

Jenny Scobie (letter, 14 March) is very selective in considering threats to wild Scottish salmon. She fails to mention that anglers caught and killed 22,682 wild salmon in 2012 (the last year for which data is available) in the name of sport. These were all adult breeding fish that had returned to Scotland’s rivers to spawn but were prevented from doing so.

If the numbers of salmon killed by anglers is totalled back to 2002, as Jenny Scobie does to make escapes look even worse, then over 300,000 wild spawning salmon have been slaughtered by anglers. Such slaughter is deemed to be conservation by the angling fraternity.

Dr Martin Jaffa, Callander McDowell, Manchester

Logical reasons to enjoy maths

I was rather appalled to see that your instructions for Super Sudoku contain the lines “There is no maths involved. You solve the puzzle with reasoning  and logic.”

As a professional mathematician I would like to point out to you that the whole point of mathematics is reasoning and logic, whereas you seem to imply that mathematics is nothing but soulless arithmetic involving numbers. This is both misleading to your readers and offensive to anyone who knows any mathematics.

Dr Constanze Roitzheim, Lecturer in Mathematics, University of Kent

Did Turner’s eyesight fail?

On examining the  Turner paintings shown in The Independent (“Debunking myth of Turner ‘madness’ ”, 14 March), it strikes me that the images could be the result of Turner suffering from macular degeneration, which destroys the central vision in elderly people. Are there any opthalmologists out there, to confirm if this could be the case?

Liz White, Sowerby Bridge,  West Yorkshire

Folly of US and EU heightens dangers in Ukraine

Ukraine has as much chance of ruling Crimea as Lord North had of governing the 13 colonies. Indeed, if the Crimean parliament has broken international law then so did the founding fathers of the US with the Declaration of Independence.

Fortunately, the ruling of my Professor at Cambridge long ago, Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, blows apart the rubbish being spouted by the US and the EU. He was quite clear that when a “revolutionary” government had effective control of a territory (as the Crimean parliament clearly has), it was entitled to international recognition. On his personal advice, Attlee had just recognised Mao as the ruler of China.

After the expulsion of the lawful president, the new “revolutionary” government in Kiev is similarly entitled to recognition of the territory it effectively rules, but that does not include Crimea.

The monumental folly of the EU and the US makes Ukraine’s twin tasks infinitely more difficult. They are the protection of the Tatar and Ukrainian minorities in Crimea from discrimination and, much more seriously, a pacific solution to the potential catastrophic dispute over Kharkiv and Donetsk.

The implied EU/US “guarantee” to Ukraine recalls Neville Chamberlain’s guarantee to rescue Poland. In the event in September 1939 he was powerless to give Poland any help at all.

The loony sanctions parallel those imposed on Italy in 1935. The only result was that Mussolini promptly abandoned the Stresa front against Hitler and attacked us in 1940.

Sadly the EU and the US have lost the chance to offer their good offices to solve the twin problems. At best, they have probably triggered disruption of trade, so we shall all suffer from a check to the economic recovery. The best policy now would be total silence by the western powers while UN officials do what they can to preserve the peace. Our leaders are useless. The future relies on President Putin acting with tolerance and moderation. Our prayers should go with him.

Derek J Cole, Newbury, Berkshire

Is there any similarity between the vote of the people of Crimea to revert to its 1954 position as a part of Russia and the vote of the people of the Falklands to remain under British sovereignty?

Richard Tarleton, Oakham, Rutland

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