Letters: Perspectives on the perils of cycling

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The Independent Online

End this battle between angels and demons

One reason why, as Rod Auton says, many London cyclists resemble a "sect" conducting a "crusade" (letter, 27 April) is that for such individuals the ride itself has become more important than the journey.

For them London's sclerotic road system is one big adrenaline-high aerobic playground , a challenge, made all the more exciting by an opponent, an enemy even, fuelling the perception of themselves as a threatened minority. They forget that most people are or have at some time been a "cyclist".

Acceptance and compromise are not part of the moral armoury of the fanatic, but they are essential to the safety of our roads. Not all drivers are demons, and not all cyclists are on the side of the angels. A campaign to establish mutually agreed codes of conduct, particularly in regard to signalling of intent, from both car and bicycle, would be a good starting point.

The cyclist's turn of the head and backward glance is no substitute for a proper hand signal and is as dangerous as a driver's failing to indicate or cutting in on a left-hand turn. Same roads, same rules.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

A mirror that could save many lives

Cycling in London is dangerous. On average one cyclist is killed every month. More needs to be done to improve certain stretches and crossroads across the capital.

A close friend of mine was involved in an accident only days after she had bought a bicycle to use in and around London. She was crushed to death in an accident with an articulated lorry on 5 April at a very busy and unforgiving crossroads in Camden which is part of the stretch also known as "Death Mile". She was Paula Jurek and was only 20 years old.

This accident has reopened the cycle safety debate in London. One solution is the trixie mirror installed on traffic signal heads to enable HGVs to see down the side of their vehicles, which is used in Switzerland and Germany to great effect.

Why are they so scarce in London?

Peter Lyall, London SW15

A day of joy, and shame

I think we might well see two entirely different occasions on Friday.

It is a great and hugely uplifting occasion, with the pageantry and cheering millions, broadcast to billions around the globe. Hugely impressive, what a nation can collectively achieve, reminding us all there is great happiness in great occasions when we can all join in and celebrate.

But then there is a much darker side – mass unemployment again in our country and millions of young couples working hard yet struggling to afford a first home let alone a lavish wedding.

We can collectively put on one of the greatest public spectacles on planet earth but we cannot achieve full employment, cannot provide an equitable financial infrastructure that enables all our young people to achieve their dreams and their longings.

On one view a great spectacle of happiness, on another an obscene display of super-wealth at the pinnacle of a society that in centuries of kings and queens still utterly fails to create anything even remotely like fairness and opportunity for all.

Jeff Williams, Poole

As one who spent his youth railing against the Royal Family and refusing to stand for the National Anthem, I was given pause for thought some years ago by persistent rumours that the Queen had held Margaret Thatcher in contempt.

Now that Brown and Blair have been excluded from the royal wedding guest list my transition to monarchist is complete, and on Friday I shall be glued to the TV, cheering and waving the flag with the best of them.

Geoff Woolf, Shenfield, Essex

So we are to laud those strangers from all parts of the world who have arrived in Westminster to camp out ahead of a significant gathering of the world's leading dignitaries. And yet so much effort has been expended to evict Brian Haw from Parliament Square through his nine years of peaceful protest.

Adrian Jordan, Birmingham

Two people, whom I don't know, are getting married today. That's nice.

Rod Dorling, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

The ethics of kiss-and-tell

Julie Burchill finds it morally repugnant that only men take out gagging orders (28 April).

Surely she is unnecessarily sexist. It appears to be only women who want to kiss and tell, a major reason for gagging orders being sought.

As a journalist I defend their right to tell their stories, but I begin to think that it may be a female characteristic, and one which is deeply unattractive.

Tina Rowe, Ilchester, Somerset

Is it really so obvious that one party to an affair should able to betray the other publicly (and often for payment) with impunity, never mind the wider consequences?

Is it really so obvious that a prostitute, having provided services and taken a fee, should then be able to earn more by betraying her or his client to a newspaper, again never mind the wider consequences?

The media are in danger of claiming, on this issue, a monopoly of the truth: a very dangerous position to take.

Chris Bolger, Stoke-on-Trent

I do not understand how someone could be prosecuted successfully for publishing a story covered by a super-injunction, when what sets such an injunction apart is that we cannot be told it exists.

Peter Smith, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Miseries of monogamy

There is considerable evidence that mankind is not always a monogamous animal. Many people have affairs and stay with their families. It is often not the affair that damages the relationship but the society-engendered outrage and indignation.

Pair-bonding, mutual support and stable families are certainly beneficial, but if you love someone, you must also be willing sometimes to let them go, rather than claim them as your own exclusive property. The expectation of exclusivity in marriage is ethically and pragmatically unsound and can create considerable misery.

If two people are going to throw in their lot together, they need a legal framework. But that is mainly because if the whole thing does fall apart, anger causes them to behave badly. Is it not perverse to celebrate this unfortunate necessity by having a lavish wedding?

If we, as a society, were able to acknowledge that not all people are always monogamous, and that they should not be expected to be, then there might be fewer children of broken homes, less prurient curiosity about private lives and fewer injunctions (super or otherwise) against publication of matters irrelevant to the public interest.

And there might be less unseemly ballyhoo about the wedding of a member of the monarchy.

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire

Curriculum lets pupils down

Professor Richard Pring and his colleagues (letter: "Academies fail the Ebac test", 26 April) are right to draw attention for the failure of academy schools to provide pupils with a broad and balanced education as defined by the Ebac.

The main reason has been the pressure academies have been under to achieve a rapid improvement in their 5A*-C score and their knowledge that such improvement was easily achievable by switching from established subjects such as geography, history and a modern foreign language into more vocational ones. Only 30 per cent of 14-years-olds in English schools now study history, slightly fewer geography. Such a policy might have had some justification if the vocational courses led anywhere. However, as the Wolf Report made clear two months ago too many are worthless.

Without history and geography young people will not be able to make sense of the human and natural world in which they live, how it evolved and how it may become. By their choice of curriculum, many academies have contributed to a two-tier education system. The new crop of academies will not in itself change this. Schools which take the idea of a general education seriously and thus maximise the opportunities of their pupils will remain sought-after, while others, including many academies, will stay focused too narrowly on points scores at the expense of pupils' life-chances.

The merit of the Ebac is that it should cause every school to review seriously its curriculum and the importance of fundamental subjects like history and geography for all pupils.

David Lambert, Chief Executive, the Geographical Association

Martin Roberts, Fellow of the Historical Association and member of the Better History Group, Sheffield

Of course "Academies fail the Ebac test". The inevitable consequence of GCSE benchmarks, league tables and a punitive inspection regime was the wholesale introduction by many schools in deprived areas of vocational qualifications, often at the expense of humanities and languages.

For many of us it was curriculum development through fear, with the pressure of Ofsted and a succession of initiatives from Education Secretaries replacing meaningful debate about what constitutes an appropriate curriculum. Now we have Michael Gove adopting much of the worst of Labour's education policy and at the same time resolving the issue of the failure of the academies by encouraging schools deemed "excellent" to join their ranks. Once again schools in deprived areas without the benefits of Academy status and struggling with a one-size-fits-all curriculum will become the whipping boys of Ofsted.

After 38 years of involvement in developing an curriculum for disparate groups of young people, the last 12 as a curriculum deputy head in an urban comprehensive school, I can't say I am sorry to have retired. I shan't be holding my breath waiting for some intelligent debate about the school curriculum either.

Vic Jay, Tetney, Lincolnshire

Paying off the pirates

While Colin Burke (letter, 26 April) alludes to the fledgling USA's first two external wars, against the Pasha of Tripoli, he gives no indication of the circumstances.

During the 18th century the powers of Europe paid copious protection money to buy off the Barbary Pirates, under the guise of treaties. Once the American colonies became independent they were no longer covered by the British subscription and were regarded as fair game. Thomas Jefferson, while ambassador in Paris, received heart-rending letters from the captain of one of the ships held captive. Jefferson and John Adams, the ambassador in London, tried to negotiate a "treaty" with the Tripolitanian ambassador, but the USA was effectively bankrupt and could not provide the protection money or ransom its citizens.

Under President George Washington 15 per cent of the US budget was devoted to buying off the pirates. It is not surprising that the USA decided that war might be the cheaper option.

What moral does this pose for dealing with the Somali pirates? Up till now the strategy seems to be to patrol the sea lanes and pay the ransoms. As a former anti-submarine warfare officer, I would urge the immediate introduction of convoy. Convoy protects shipping, not empty sea. It was used intensively to protect British shipping in the 18th century. Whether the shipowners are ready for the discipline of convoy is another matter.

Frank Donald, Edinburgh

Enough Scottish monarchs?

Donald MacLeod (letter, 26 April) is wrong to claim that James I and VI was King of Great Britain even if the king himself sometimes said he was. James was king of three separate kingdoms, each with its own parliament. The union between England and Scotland didn't take place until 1707, long after James's death in 1625. The union of Great Britain and Ireland was even later – 1801.

When there is finally a referendum in England and Wales to discover that we don't want these unions to continue, perhaps the Scots can be persuaded to take their royal family with them as they begin a new life as an independent Celtic Tiger.

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Few killed in nuclear 'disaster'

There have been many stories in the media regarding the potential "meltdown" at Fukushima, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

Your report "Mass land-and-sea search to recover bodies still missing from tsunami" (25 April) indicates 14,300 known dead and a further 12,000 missing. The deaths caused by the nuclear power station are (relatively) insignificant compared with the overall death toll. Why, then, have the media put so much emphasis on this minor (in terms of human life) incident?

In the history of nuclear power the worst disaster has been Chernobyl (1986) resulting in a death toll of 56 (including 47 immediately involved), and, in a lifetime, an estimated 4,000. The other, much quoted, nuclear "disaster" was Three Mile Island (1979) – this resulted in no verifiable immediate deaths and few (if any) resultant long-term deaths. The death rates attributable to other energy forms are vastly greater.

There is an almost pathological reaction to nuclear power – to the detriment of our country becoming both "greener" and energy self-sufficient. Part of this is due to the green movement being unable to take a rational view but there is also an obvious influence from vested interests. Why have you not run a story which says, basically, there is no real problem and that there never really was?

Roy Hicks, Bristol

Students want value for money

Universities may have overlooked one important factor likely to emerge from their wish to charge maximum fees: the impact on undergraduate teaching expectations.

Students will now be expecting value for money and will question the worth of any course, even the most prestigious, that offers limited contact hours per week, overcrowded lectures and weak teaching. Undergraduates are often critical of the quality of delivery in comparison with their previous schools and this may result in more complaints. Absentee "big name" professors and courses that use untrained postgraduates to teach could well receive the most criticism.

Until now, universities have been largely judged on the outputs of their research and some will find it deeply unsettling when the spotlight falls on the quality of their undergraduate teaching.

Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive Officer, The Independent Schools Association, Saffron Walden, Essex

Speculation in food prices

David Prosser characterises our concern over the impact of financial speculation on food prices as simple bank bashing (27 April). Changes in global production and demand may explain some food price rises, but cannot account for the dramatic spikes and crashes witnessed across most major agricultural commodity markets in recent years.

Increased price volatility has corresponded directly with the massive jump in speculative trading by financial institutions such as Barclays. According to Barclays' own analysis, the first quarter of this year saw a record £7.1bn inflow into agricultural commodity markets, up from £2.1bn in 2007.

The role of commodity derivatives trading in ratcheting up food and oil prices has been established by academic economists, UN agencies, NGOs, market analysts and industry participants.

Julian Oram, Head of Policy, World Development Movement, London, SW9

Next big thing

The single most important issue facing the United States today is this: is Donald Trump's hair fake? Is Trump's hair natural born or is it a toupee, elaborately coiffed? Forget the national debt, Libya, Afghanistan and Medicare. Trump must prove that his hair is real – that is the most important issue of our time. If he does not present actual physical proof, that shows he is not qualified to be leader of the Free World.

Robert Sather, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Yes, calm down

It's Angela Eagle who should apologise for screeching at the Prime Minister at the top of her lungs, not David Cameron for saying "Calm down, dear." The Labour Party are a humourless lot at the best of times, so it's no surprise they want an apology. Just for imitating Michael Winner!

John Lawrence, Maastricht, Netherlands