It is deeply depressing to pick up your newspaper and read nothing but relentless gloom. Naturally the function of the press is to report the news. But one also looks to a journal such as yours to go beyond the immediate headlines.
Of course we're in the grips of a serious recession. A collapsing economy with jobs being shed in their thousands. But in the midst of this gloom there is a fantastic opportunity for Britain. With the loss of value in the pound we certainly can't outspend our competition; we can however out-think them. The future of this country is in its creativity. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to capitalise on this. It is now 30 per cent cheaper to create in the UK.
From computer game animators, musicians, film-makers to product designers. For our fine artists, graphic designers and even our business, advertising. Britain is seen as a centre of excellence. With the decline in our currency we can now offer these services with unprecedented value. Surely we should be looking to the boost this gives our creative industries.
Financial institutions have sold our country short. Creativity has constantly been our saviour. Never more so than today.
Sir John Hegarty
Worldwide Creative Director
Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London E14
Do you call this a fall of snow?
"A Day to Remember" screams your headline (3 February). Why? Because of a few inches of snow that lasted barely a day. What a bunch of wimps you are!
I remember when we regularly had heavy snow falls every winter that lasted for days, if not weeks. No schools, factories or offices closed, transport didn't grind to a halt, nobody stayed indoors because it was a bit cold or slippery underfoot. We just got on with life.
I remember as a teenager in the 1970s cycling through snow a foot deep to deliver newspapers to a neighbouring village. Our ageing school bus managed to get us to school every day without fail, despite having to negotiate five miles of narrow country lanes. The railways managed to transport thousands of passengers through all kinds of weather, without severe delays. Factories, shops and schools remained open in the most extreme conditions because people made the effort to get to where they should be.
Now, a small amount of snow is classed as a major disaster because the over-pampered under-40s don't want to get cold and wet, and will use any excuse imaginable to get out of having to go to sit behind a desk in a comfy office to do what they laughingly refer to as "work". Wimps!
T J Honeybone
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
As a Swede and fellow Viking, having lived on this island for 18 years, I did not recognise the picture Stina Backer was depicting of England ("Why does a little snow cause such chaos?" 3 February).
Did the pessimistic Ms Backer make it out at all on Monday? I witnessed a day when despite the initial chaos parents and children were playing in the snow, laughed through snowball fights, sleighed in the parks and built imaginative snowmen as pictured in your newspaper next to Ms Backer's article.
With regards to Ms Backer's worst fear of being "stuck on this island", I believe that flights to Sweden have resumed today. One way tickets start from below £100.
Marie Lindblad Hill
I agree entirely with Stina Backer: the preparedness of this country for snow falls is pathetic. I drove a hire van all the way from Paris to Birmingham on Monday with no difficulty. The depth of snow in Paris and northern France didn't seem to be much different to what fell in London, but the roads and public transport were moving normally.
I overheard a comment at the station this morning which summed it up for me: "It was terrible, I slipped and slid my way to the station this morning and nearly fell over twice." I walked to the same station with no difficulty at all. He was wearing lightweight trainers: I had heavy boots.
In Tuesday's edition Mary Dejevsky thought that the rare sight of adults and children playing together (courtesy of a heavy snowfall) highlighted the relative invisibility of the conventional family group in Britain compared with our European neighbours. This, the Children's Society suggests in a recent report, is due to "excessive individualism" on the part of parents.
Turn the page and Thomas Sutcliffe, citing the same report and the same snowfall, suggests that this is less to do with "selfishness" and more to do with a "confused attempt to do the best by one's family".' Clearly this was the wrong kind of snow.
Since the media seem determined to portray the recent snow as though it were an unprecedented natural disaster, perhaps I might propose a new word to use to describe it, in place of the dreadful "snow event" so beloved of weather forecasters. From now on, let's refer to it as the tsnownami. I think that would give it the edge of drama the broadcasters have been so desperately striving to achieve.
Benefits of the Severn barrage
The article concerning the proposed Severn Barrage claimed that the project would destroy vast areas of mudflats and marshes, which are vital feeding grounds for tens of thousands of wading birds (27 January). Yes, the mudflats would disappear, but only to be replaced by another marine environment with its own ecological characteristics, a change that could have untold benefits, as witnessed by the burgeoning flora and fauna on the embankments of new roads.
Also, is it not just such an environment that will be created on the east coast of England as the sea-level rise floods the low-lying land, which was previously mud flats and marshes. The quoted figure of 69,000 bird visitors each winter, while obviously significant, hardly seems sufficient to justify abandonment of such an important project. The birds will just go elsewhere – they are very flexible – and steps could be incorporated into the barrage to allow passage of salmon.
If we do not take significant measures to halt, and hopefully reverse, global warming, the sea level rises will be so great that the mudflats in the Severn Estuary would cease to exist. The alternative to generating the 8Gw of electricity proposed for the barrage would be about 2,000 offshore wind turbines, but would there be objections to those on the grounds that they would be a danger to sea birds? Or two nuclear power stations, and who wants those if they can be avoided?
Mankind has got itself into the present environmental mess by taking the easy, "most economic" (cheapest) route. We now have to accept that hard economic and environmental decisions have to be made to hopefully stabilise and recover the situation.
A question of cruelty
Louise Robertson of the League Against Cruel Sports is misleading (letters, 20 January). The poll her organisation commissioned from Ipsos-MORI did not ask: "Do you think fox hunting should be made legal again?" It asked: "Now a question about sports where animals are set on other animals to fight or kill them. These activities are currently illegal in the United Kingdom. For each one I read out, please tell me whether you think it should or should not be made legal again." The list included dog-fighting and badger-baiting, as well as fox-hunting.
In comparison, a poll by Ipsos-MORI for the BBC in 2005, which did not include the above description of hunting or any comparison with cruel activities that have quite rightly been prohibited, found that less than half the population supported a ban on hunting.
Countryside Alliance, London SE11
Foreign goods for British workers
I have some sympathy with the people striking about importation of "foreign" workers into the construction industry, but I imagine that the objectors will have travelled to the protests in imported vehicles, called their friends on imported mobile phones and watched the evening news reports on imported televisions.
The protesters have singled out one area to express shrill indignation while ignoring the fact that every time we buy imported goods we steal another job from a UK worker. I note that nobody is up in arms at the huge number of Eastern European and Portuguese workers currently struggling in mud and sub-zero temperatures out in the fields to keep the supermarkets supplied with cheap fresh vegetables. Nobody is clamouring for those jobs.
It seems to me that these people want to have their cake and eat it too.
Your leading article "We must resist the temptation to resort to protectionism' (31 January) confuses localisation with protectionism.
Sustainability, most notably in relation to climate change, necessitates a reversal of globalisation for many key economic activities. For decades international trade and travel has been subsidised by the availability of fossil fuels priced on extraction costs only, externalising all other costs – most for future generations to deal with.
The benefits of globalisation are short-term and illusory: they result less from competition than from the relocation of industries to low-cost centres and the attendant reduction in social, environmental, and other developed-world overheads.
Your comment that the Total refinery controversy graphically illustrates the pluses and minuses of globalisation is therefore, in another sense, correct. It cannot, on any true-cost accounting basis, be of any net marginal benefit to import labour from Italy, with all that this implies in terms of frequent air travel, provision of temporary housing, infrastructure and services, as well as the social-services costs of local unemployment.
If this latest bout of British xenophobia spreads to continental Europe, and our European partners also decide to send home all foreign workers, I hope the unions are prepared for the competition they will suddenly be facing from an influx of highly skilled, productive and motivated British workers.
What a relief to read Terence Blacker commenting about society's obsession with money (3 February). As well as the Lottery, numerous quiz shows feed the fantasy of an immediate cash windfall delivering instant happiness. Why do we have to encounter an economic crisis before basic truths about lasting happiness may actually be listened to?
The new LBJ?
I have a horrible fear that history may soon repeat itself. Is President Karzai of Afghanistan today's equivalent of the equally unpopular first President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, whom the US effectively removed from power in 1963? And will Obama lead the US, and her allies, into the same quagmire in Afghanistan as President Johnson did in Vietnam? If so, the new US President's vision of a Great Society is as doomed as LBJ's became.
David Attenborough is off-target, blaming Genesis for the exploitation of nature (31 January). At the Synod of Whitby in 664, power politics gave victory to Roman Christianity over Celtic Christianity. Straining at the gnats of the date of Easter and the shape of tonsures, the Church swallowed the camel, giving priority to humans over nature in Roman theology, over the Celtic tradition which recognised the holistic truth in which humanity and nature are interdependent.
Canon Christopher Hall
Private schools for all
James Gratrex is correct to write that hard work and meritocracy should drive Oxbridge applications (letters, 29 January). As a fellow state-school student, I suggest that the way to deliver a private-school level of education to all would be privatisation. Ending the state monopoly would open up choice, be no more expensive (with vouchers) and deliver better results through greater accountability, focus and incentives for students. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, but it works. The public's scepticism is irrational.
Christ Church, Oxford
Pound in your pocket
You report that Britain's economy is forecast by the IMF to shrink by 2.8 per cent (29 January). You also report that one in 40 pound coins is fake, which is also 2.5 per cent. Isn't the solution obvious?