Letters: Perspectives on childhood

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Too 'cool' to look happy

Yesterday morning, walking down the main street of Frinton, I happened to look in the window of a national clothing retail chain. In the window was a large poster advertising children's wear, featuring full-length photographs of a boy and girl aged around seven and a boy and girl maybe aged 13 or 14. All four children had sulky, bored, disinterested looks on their faces.

Perhaps it's not "cool" to show children smiling these days. Perhaps the shop thinks it will sell more clothes by showing children with expressions on their faces that seem to say "Hey, don't mess with me; I've got street-cred by looking this way!"

I am saddened to see this advertising. I am an optimist and hope that this style of advertising of children's clothes doesn't say something about our society today.

Geoff Manning, Frinton on Sea, Essex

Taking delight in a hedge

I always enjoy Alex James's column, but I was really cheered by his observation of a hedge (2 September).

A few days ago I took my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson for a walk through a local woodland. We stopped in a clearing and he delighted in running around picking up all the exciting new things he found – an acorn, a chestnut, different mushrooms and so on. But every now and then he would stop dead and stand, just like Alex, looking around him and really observing what he saw and absorbing the atmosphere.

I thought at the time that it was such a shame that, as we get older, we lose this ability to observe, not just look at, what is around us and to take a delight in it. Alex showed me that this is not always the case. Thank you.

Louise Thomas, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

The charges against Blair

John Rentoul (Opinion, 1 September) asks why people hate Tony Blair. I prefer "despise". But the answer comes on many fronts.

Blair changed party rules to direct uncritical candidates into safe seats. This ensured a House of Assent, a Dead Sea Parliament.

Blair, less pluralist than Margaret Thatcher, ended Cabinet as a place for argument. He appointed enforcers like John Reid and Charles Clarke, careerists like Stephen Byers and Geoffrey Hoon and graceful office-holders like Jack Straw and David Miliband.

In foreign policy, he deferred reflexively to the United States, removing Robin Cook from the Foreign Office in response to US complaints.

He turned out legislation like the little porridge pot in the fairy story, swelling the statute book across uncharted shelves, turning regulation-breaches into crimes.

Indifferent to the damage done by addictive gambling, he spawned casinos and proposed a giant one which Gordon Brown killed.

Standing to the right of liberal Conservatives, Blair left the gap between rich and poor wider at his term-end than at John Major's.

Education was an adventure into pretence, soft subjects, soft marking, ignorance of science and languages and results like Weimar currency.

This law graduate so despised the philosophy of law as to seek 90-day detention. In the same spirit, he wanted us, potential suspects all, cyber-filed and carrying photo-iris identity cards. The Conservative-Liberal Coalition has scrapped all this, making it, despite that unwise Budget, the safer choice.

And then there was Iraq, the invasion not intended, by the most right-wing government in US history, to remove dangerous weapons nor, as Blair now shifts the argument, to save everyone from Saddam. There were no weapons, but Blair helped to make some up. Saddam was pretext, excuse and latterly, alibi. The war was undertaken in the spirit of a new doctrine, "the American Century", and to show unfriendly Arab countries what the US could, and well might, do to them.

Over the maimed and dead, Mr Blair now shows graceful and subdued regret and does it very beautifully.

Edward Pearce, Thormanby, North Yorkshire

No interview with Tony Blair is now complete without exhaustive attempts to secure new and deeper regrets and apologies over the Iraq war.

And these cannot just cover poor planning and tactical mistakes (sending too few troops, destroying too much infrastructure, neglecting to secure armouries and borders, disbanding the Iraqi army). No, Mr Blair must be made to "regret" sending a volunteer army to help oust a genocidal despot who had bombed and invaded his neighbours, repressed, tortured and gassed his opponents, stoked ethnic hatred and extreme Islamist and anti-western sentiment, torched oilfields; wrecked his country's economy, ignored UN resolutions, duped, bribed and expelled weapons inspectors and provoked sanctions that killed 100,000 innocent Iraqis annually.

Isn't Mr Blair now "sorry"" he ever thought it the lesser evil to try and replace blood-soaked tyranny with fledgling democracy?

Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

Nick Clegg's posturing on the legality of the Iraq war pleases Thomas Byrne (letter, 30 August). Mr Byrne then admits that the position of the Blair government regarding UN Security Council resolutions was "sound, if a bit underhand".

Well I'm afraid it was a bit more than that. His assertion that Iraq's violation of Resolution 687 legitimised the right to use force under Resolution 678 is completely spurious. Individual members of the UN Security Council have no right to act upon SC resolutions independently. The only body with the authority to reopen or enforce SC resolutions is of course the Security Council itself. This clearly never happened.

Further, as Iraq possessed no banned WMDs, then it clearly wasn't in breach of any UN resolutions. The only nations who were in material breach of Resolution 1441 were the US and Britain, who ordered the weapons inspectors out before they could complete their mission.

Barry Constable, Dundee

Just to be clear, I don't think I was "deceived" by Tony Blair. I thought he was a smarmy right-wing snake-oil salesman when he stood for election as Labour Party leader, and I was right.

I didn't know he was going to use the British armed forces as sepoys in a developing US imperium, but I don't think he deceived me about it. He did deploy troops on the Iraq border in 2002 and only ask parliamentary approval for it in 2003; he did say he needed a UN Security Council resolution before sending troops into Iraq, didn't get it, and decided to send them anyway; but he didn't deceive me, because he's a weasel, and that's what weasels do.

Chris Lilly, London E14

So Blair needed a drink while he was PM. Well, as predicted by Karl Marx's theory of alienation, so, in record numbers, did the UK population.

Gavin Lewis, Manchester

Poles shame the monoglot UK

I read your article and subsequent letters on the sad state of language teaching in our schools as I came towards the end of a three-week holiday in Poland with my late husband's extended family.

I had the pleasure of a week at a Baltic spa resort with the two teenage boys of the family. The 17-year-old speaks fluent English with no hint of an accent and is also fluent in German. The 13-year-old has just passed the entrance test for the bilingual class at the Warsaw Junior High School, at which he will start this month. Many of his lessons will be in English, which he started to learn at the age of four at a state-run kindergarten; he will also now start to learn Spanish.

These bright lads, receiving a state education in one of the EU's poorer countries, are receiving a far better preparation for life in a competitive, global 21st-century economy than their peers in UK schools. We should be ashamed at how the move away from language teaching is harming the economic prospects of the UK as a whole and of our bright young people in particular.

Cllr Fran Oborski, Chair, National Executive committee, The Liberal Party, Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Moya St Leger hits the nail squarely on the head when she states that "the systematic teaching of English grammar was dropped from the state syllabus decades ago" (letter, 30 August).

When I took my first job as a French teacher at my old direct grant grammar school in 1961, I was told by a member of the English department: "It's your job as the modern languages teacher to teach grammar, not mine." I struggled over a long career to combat this attitude, but to no avail. I even heard teachers of English say things like "They lived in the same town as John and I" and "It was that idiot Smith whom I believe was at the bottom of it."

Is it any wonder that pupils in school shy away from the complexities of foreign languages when they haven't the foggiest idea of the grammatical basis of their own?

Incidentally, I come across similar howlers most weeks from professional writers in The Independent!

Don Lord, Penrith, Cumbria

Of the four European languages at my disposal I can read, write and converse in only one at an advanced level.

However, at standards that would not remotely get me a "qualification", the other three allow me to travel in parts of Europe (and the Americas) where little English is spoken; to catch a plane, train or bus, find a hotel or order a meal, enter a museum or gallery, and hold an unsophisticated conversation, and in doing so to learn a great deal.

By all means let those who think it will benefit them financially study a language at GCSE or A-level; as for me I'm off to learn to speak another badly.

Ross Kessel, Malborough, Devon

Forty years ago it was still possible to go to some universities (London, Leicester, and Hull) without having an O-level pass in a foreign language (letter, 1 September). In the case of Hull in particular this led to hundreds of exceptionally talented students applying to a university which they would never have otherwise considered.

Nudge students towards studying languages by all means, but avoid the perils of a Procrustean bed of absolute uniformity.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

Now, the angry generation

Robert Chesshyre is spot-on in his analysis of the advantages enjoyed by the "lucky generation" versus the problems faced by their children and grandchildren (Opinion, 28 August). However, I take issue with his conclusion that the solution lies in the lucky ones "implementing the idealism we professed in our youth".

When was the last time in history that a privileged class voluntarily gave up any of its power and property to benefit those less advantaged? No, the solution, if there is one, lies in the rising generation realising that they are the victims of an almighty generational con trick and – oh dear! – getting a bit angry about it. Not that I see any signs of that happening yet – perhaps the easy availability of credit has delayed the realisation of how poor their prospects (on the whole) are.

Still, the rising generation have one considerable advantage. If you could choose today between being a 20-year-old (albeit skint) or a 58-year-old (like me) even with the undeniable advantages of belonging to Robert Chesshyre's gilded generation – which would you choose?

Me too. Yes, youth does have its advantages, not the least of which is unbounded optimism.

John Everitt, Hampton, Middlesex

Thrifty Hague deserves thanks

With all the brouhaha about MPs' expenses, surely the right thing for all ministers to do is share a twin room and thus spare the public purse. William Hague should be championed, not vilified, for his economy.

Furthermore, if Mr Hague really were gay and wanted to conceal it, he would undoubtedly have booked himself into a room of his own, and probably one with a double rather than a single, so that he could indulge in the activities that the press seem so keen to pin on him.

Peter Rimmer, London EC2

It's no one else's business, but if a prominent politician were to have an "improper" relationship that he wished to keep secret, he wouldn't openly share a room with the person in question. Would he?

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire

William Hague gay? Fourteen pints a day and with his dress sense? Please!

Michael J J Day, Settle, North Yorkshire

Not playing the game

Your correspondents (letters, 1 September) described the "three deliberate no-balls" incident as "in purely cricketing terms trivial" and "actions which had absolutely no bearing on the result of the Test".

Well, that is the way it turned out, but each no-ball could have resulted in seven runs being added to England's total, and many a Test match has been won or lost by fewer.

If the public can't believe that each and every cricketer is wholeheartedly trying to win, then whoever eventually wins will be of little interest.

Should the cricketers be found guilty, then the penalty must be serious

Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Those who complain of over-reaction to the cricket no-ball issue should remember that although the bowling of three no-balls in itself is unlikely to be influential on the result of a match, it could be the thin end of a very big wedge.

If a player is willing to cheat by deliberately bowling a no-ball, and is paid to do so, it is a small step for him to then be persuaded to do something more sinister that could have a real effect on the game's result. Indeed, that could already have happened in the Test series that has just ended.

The whole episode is yet another example of how money has such a corrosive effect on a sport.

Stephen Knipe, Bourne, Lincolnshire

Forced out by benefit cut

If, as I believe, a large percentage of housing benefit payments are made to working people rather than the unemployed, under the Government's policy of reducing the monthly payments many of these hard-working families could find themselves forced out of the homes they have occupied for years. Those on benefits cannot make the same choices as other people.

I cannot accept either that families or individuals who have lived in an area that happens to be expensive, maybe for generations, should be forced to move away to somewhere "more suitable" to their impoverished status, thereby losing contact with their roots and other family members.

Perhaps if the minister for welfare reform looked at the extortionate rents charged by many private landlords, in London and elsewhere in the south-east in particular, he would see that even the one- and two-bedroom benefit rates are way below the market prices being charged by many – which effectively means that these rates will be hugely impoverishing many.

A A Morrison, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

The diary of Betsy Wynne

The account of Elizabeth (Betsy) Wynne's diaries covering the Napoleonic period (31 August) made fascinating reading, and I very much look forward to Dr Chalus's biography.

However, I feel that the article gave the misleading impression that the diaries had been practically unknown, rather like the Boswell papers before the 1930s. Far from containing a "few extracts", the Oxford World Classics hardback in my possession (published 1952) has 568 pages. This was in turn based on a three- volume edition published between 1935 and 1940, and edited by the diarist's great-great granddaughter, Anne Freemantle.

John Whitton, Exeter

Notable life?

Does the the death of Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, really merit a two-page obituary in your paper (31 August)? Born into great wealth, he bought a marshy island in the West Indies, enjoyed himself by dressing up, might have married the Queen's sister and . . . er . . . that's about it. A useless life unworthy of any lengthy comment.

Mick Morris, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Stig surprise

So now we know who the Stig is. Well, I wasn't really bothered, but suddenly I've become bothered because the BBC used thousands of pounds of our licence money in legal fees to fight to protect the identity of a car driver, who had already told millions of people on the internet weeks ago.

S T Vaughan, Birmingham

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