There must be some people feeling a sense of trepidation as the reality of life without work kicks in. Drawing your last pay packet these days is not a pleasant experience; you are surplus to requirements, and no longer have a reason to get out of bed in the mornings.
The despair you feel after an hour on the phone to the Job Centre, trying to answer probing questions on personal and financial matters that you would not normally discuss with your best friend, leaves you wanting to crawl into a hole and die.
I lost my job in October, after 12 weeks off recovering from an operation, but I wasn't too worried. I am still looking for another job, worrying if, at the age of 59, I am finally on the scrap-heap, after 44 years of work. Early retirement is not an option. I am going to have to rely solely on the state pension when it comes along in May.
I have given up worrying about money now, because over the past 10 years I have been downshifting. I have been reducing the amount of hours I've been working, which reduced my income, and I have budgeted my spending accordingly, and I feel great. Now I know how to live within my means.
Don't despair if you have lost your job; there is life after money. Get a notebook, list all your outgoings, then delete everything you don't need. I saved £135 per year when I dumped the telly. If you have a garden, you have time to grow your own vegetables; it saves a fortune. I have been doing it for two years and live off my garden all summer.
Changing your life can be daunting; it was so cosy and comfortable before, now it is all upside down. But hey, all is not lost; you just need to look at things a little differently.
Burton upon Stather, North Lincolnshire
Israel's leaders lose moral compass
Adrian Hamilton's comment that the Gaza bombing "is in the interest of all parties concerned" (1 January) hits the nail on the head, but does not drive it in far enough. The present Israeli leadership, with its nonsensical justication of the bombing, which makes fools and cowards of Western leaders, now occupies the same moral low ground as Hamas.
Take the key Israeli justification for bombing Hamas sites, which actually works against Israel, though our leaders wouldn't be indelicate enough to say so. Israel's military and political leaders point out that Hamas puts these sites among the Palestinian civilian population, yet, with this knowledge, they continue the bombing. So, since this apparently needs spelling out, Israel is deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians, women and children and, like Hamas, considers them expendable to the cause.
Israel purports to be the oasis of civilised democracy in the region and has recently agreed to closer links with the EU. The bombardments of Gaza and, previously, southern Lebanon, show that Israel's leaders have lost their moral compass (while their US and British counterparts mislaid theirs over Iraq). The targeting of civilians is not civilised: it's barbaric.
On New Year's Day, 2009, two excellent articles on the Middle East, one by Adrian Hamilton and the other by Robert Fisk, give ample reason for continuing to read The Independent through 2009. Both expose the sophism of Mr Miliband and our representative in the Security Council, and indeed, that of Messrs Blair and Brown.
Wouldn't it have made a refreshing change if your commentators could have reported on how our government has acknowledged its complicity in the genocide in Gaza, that it wished to apologise to all Palestinians because our government has been bluffing itself and the UK electorate that it can act as an honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that it acknowledges that UK (and US) foreign policy in the Middle East, and in Palestine in particular, is a disaster?
It would have been so refreshing had both Messrs Hamilton and Fisk been able to report that the US and the UK were going to take firm action against Israel to begin mending our relationship with the Arab world? Until Messrs Fisk and Hamilton can write this, and until we prevent Israel from living by the sword, we in the UK will increasingly bear the consequences.
You claim that Gaza is "the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world" (Comment, 30 December). According to the US Census Bureau's 2008 Statistical Abstract, Gaza is less densely populated than Gibraltar, Singapore, Hong Kong, Monaco and Macau. In fact, Macau (population 453,000) is four times more densely populated (42,271 per square mile) than Gaza (10,665 per square mile).
The idea of Gaza as the most densely populated place in the world is a propaganda fabrication with a very clear underlying logic. Meshing the images of densely populated neighbourhoods in Gaza – and which place lacks such neighbourhoods? – with scenes of poverty conjures up the idea that Palestinians lack land and resources.
If you believe that, it is a small jump to the conclusion that Israel should be giving Palestinians both. In fact, Gaza has been in Arab control for years, and the territories conquered by Israel in 1967 would be enough to maintain a large Palestinian population that was industrious, prudentially managed, well-governed and, above all, peaceful.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Despite objections from Israel, for the past six months a humanitarian aid ship has been sailing regularly between Cyprus and the Gaza Strip. It has carried mainly medical supplies and a few otherwise stranded passengers. Unfortunately, this link with Gaza has now been broken, after the ship was attacked by the Israeli navy last week.
If the European Union is serious about relieving the suffering in Gaza it should take over the sailing of this route immediately. To appease Israel, the EU would ensure that the cargos are solely peaceful, but rather like the Berlin airlift in 1948, the route would provide a humanitarian lifeline between Gaza and the outside world.
Dr Michael Paraskos
The killing in Gaza need never have happened. We in the West, including Israel, who know about these things must tell the Arabs: "You don't understand democracy, therefore you cannot hold elections. Even if they are seen as free and fair, we will not consider them legitimate. We will decide who we are able to talk to and you must see that these people are appointed as your leaders. If you don't do what we suggest, we will bomb the hell out of you." It is as simple as that.
The Israeli authorities have closed the crossing points from Israel to the Gaza Strip to journalists, despite protest to the Israeli Courts by The Foreign Press Association. As a result, and in contrast to the Israeli-Lebanon war in 2006, there has been a lack of BBC news coverage of the effects of the Israeli bombing of the people of Gaza.
When the BBC is prevented from reporting in Zimbabwe and Burma it properly reminds listeners of the censorship and the barriers that it poses to full and balanced news coverage. Why is it not doing so now ?
But although the politics may be complicated ("Pure politics is driving this war", 1 January) the outcome in Gaza is the same. In massacres chillingly reminiscent of the Nazi reprisals on Lidice, Oradour, the Warsaw ghetto and countless other places in Poland and Russia, a ruthless and powerful oppressor state, convinced of its own superiority, is determined to crush by violent means any opposition to its illegal seizure and occupation of another country. Then, America and Britain led the fight against such injustice; today they are on the side of the oppressors.
Lexicon was the British Scrabble
Alfred Butts, inventor of Scrabble, failed in the USA, in the early 1930s, with his board-less word game Lexico ("The sublime joy of Scrabble", 15 December) but in Britain, Messrs John Waddington had patented Lexicon, with playing card-sized letters, each of which had a numeric value (the final "n" would have been worth eight points).
The book of rules gives helpful advice on how to organise "Lexicon Drives": tables to be arranged to accommodate four players each, with a steward for every 10 tables. Born in the year the patent was taken out, 1933, I know our family pack was in constant use up to the 1950s.
Care for elderly is sub-standard
I was very moved by Johann Hari's account of his elderly grandmother and difficulties in obtaining quality care for her (Comment, 26 December). I have had to get care for an elderly neighbour who has been left at home, with carers visiting three times a day, and left alone for hours on end.
The care of many elderly wards and homes is sub-standard, as is care in the community, partly due to the 1992 Community Care Act which separated personal care from health, so district nurses were no longer supervising this need.
Many elderly people receive no care at night and are dependent on friends and neighbours to help out. These unpaid carers plug gaps that social and health services are leaving, and get little recognition and support. When someone develops dementia their personality is altered and their response unpredictable, which is often reason for lack of visitors.
There is no simple answer, aside from making care homes more open and part of wider society. Valuing care workers by improved salaries and training would be a great step forward, but in the present economic climate this is unlikely to happen without intense lobbying.
Planning a new eco-disaster
Just as the evidence for a cooling planet becomes undeniable, your headline on "Plan B" (2 January) cheered me up no end. What humour, what jest! A whole array of harebrained "solutions" to a problem that doesn't exist. Jobs for the boys, that's what we need in a recession.
But have a look at just one, the proposal to pump up cold water from the ocean bottom to bury the surface waters and the CO7 in it, and in the same stroke of genius mucking up the temperature stratification. Now there's an ecological disaster in the making if there ever was one.
Have they gone completely off their trolleys?
Dr Eduard J Zuiderwijk
Bar Hill, Cambridge
Bash at Bible
The Revd Wright is right in suggesting evolution does not disprove the existence of God (letters, 2 January). But it does disprove the truth of the Bible, which is the only "evidence" for the existence of God. Therefore God and unicorns are equally probable.
Egged into Easter
My Waitrose store had chocolate eggs on sale on 1 January. I may be old-fashioned in thinking eggs are associated with Easter. So how come Cadbury thinks they belong before the end of the Christmas season? Even the Waitrose people seem to have no sense of liturgical sequence. If we allow the egregious anticipation of Easter, we surely should have had pancakes (Shrove Tuesday) and hot-cross buns (Good Friday) before we got to the chocolate eggs? Has the great God of consumerism eclipsed Christianity as the faith of the global market?
Days of defeat
When the Grand Old Duke of York failed in 1794 ("Red-faced royal", 1 January), it should not have represented the great shock your article suggests because "when the British went into battle against the French in those days, they expected to win". Only the year before, England lost to Napoleon at Toulon. And if in 1794 "there were plenty of people alive who could remember Wolfe's conquest of Quebec" in 1759, a great many more could hark back to the more recent American War of Independence being decided by Yorktown's surrender.
Your article "Whoops, that was close ..." (31 December) says Napoleon's ailments, notably his haemorrhoids, caused a delay to the start of the Battle of Waterloo. Although an entertaining concept, it is false. The delay was caused by torrential rain the day before which turned the battlefield into a morass, thus preventing the artillery from manoeuvring. The guns were a key part of the French forces and to launch an attack without them was unthinkable. Napoleon had to wait for the ground to drainsufficiently before he could move (as it were).
Poundland may be having a sale (letters, 2 January), but what concerns me more is that, after the recent reduction in VAT, why are they not now known as "98pland"?