Letters: Putting the clocks back

Lighting up the argument over whether to change the clocks
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Sir: Your leading article "Time's Up" (29 October) serves to perpetuate some popular misconceptions. We do not "fiddle about" with time when we put clocks back in autumn, but when we change them in spring. GMT is based on the premise, accepted since ancient times, that it is midday when the sun appears at its highest. Greenwich was chosen as the UK's place of observation because it is near the capital. But almost all of the UK lies west of London. If, when we look at the map of Europe, we run our eyes along longitudes 5 or 6 west, we can see why we share a time zone with Portugal and the Irish Republic rather than with Germany and France.

Your proposal for the adoption of a British Standard Time, to remain ahead of GMT , was actually tried, from 1968-71. We all hated those black winter mornings, especially in the north and west, and the experiment was dropped. In any case, we were in phase with the near-continent for only half the year: our neighbours also change their clocks in autumn and spring.



Sir: I couldn't agree more with your leading article calling for the scrapping of winter time. If, however, we have to have it, do we have to have so much of it? It starts only 52 days before the shortest day, yet after the winter solstice we have to wait another 95 days before it ends - a month and a half more. If we applied this logic to the start, winter time would begin in September.



Sir: Now is the winter of our discontent made reality by being precipitated into the depression of afternoon gloom and dark; the personal clocks and sleep patterns of babies and all put out of kilter; thousands of man hours in homes and institutions spent changing the clocks, and businesses left out of sync with most of Europe. Time is long overdue to end this needless, archaic stupidity.



Smoking rules will kill off village pubs

Sir: In the Eighties a lot of pubs started selling food to make ends meet. This has become more prevalent in rural areas as the struggle for survival has become harder. And now many people enjoy going out to village pubs at weekends for good food in an enjoyable atmosphere. Most village pubs have adopted the standard whereby you can't smoke where food is being served, but locals can still enjoy a cigarette or cigar with their drink if they so choose.

This government has recognised how important village pubs are to rural communities and the financial problems they are under by the entitlement of 50 per cent Business Rates Relief, with relief on the remainder at the discretion of local authorities. Even with this assistance most rural pubs are struggling and need every bit of income they can get. They should be allowed to continue with their current arrangements for serving food and allowing smoking in certain areas.

The introduction of legislation to satisfy the pious middle classes who have nothing better to do than tell other people how to live their lives will be the death of virtually all single village pubs and the death of many rural communities. This act of wanton vandalism will destroy the pubs where many enjoy going for a meal at weekends and will do nothing to stop people smoking while having a drink, in future it'll just be done at home. By the time this legislation is reviewed a lot of villages will have lost their only public house and community meeting point.



Sir: As a keen supporter of the pub as part of the British culture and a reformed smoker, I have discovered that the beer tastes better when you don't smoke and when you are not surrounded by smokers. Moreover, I have become aware, by not smoking, that some beers are better than others. I now go to pubs which serve only "good beers" and, amazingly, I find that I am very happy with smaller quantities of these good beers.



Sir: This summer, my friend died of lung cancer, a few months after diagnosis. She had smoked briefly as a student three decades ago. My 19-year-old daughter Eleanor, a student who does not smoke, got a job in a pub after a long search for local work. The air in the pub is blue with smoke. Despite what Adrian Durrant says (letter 28 October), Eleanor did not have any real choice. I do not understand why pubs and clubs are not to be treated like any other workplace. I fear for my daughter's future health.



St Helena airport will halt decline

Sir: The article by Robin Stummer and Daniel Howden, "The Battle for St Helena" (20 October), gave undue weight to a vocal but small minority on the island.

St Helena is an island of great charm and dramatic beauty. Its heyday was in time of Napoleon's captivity and of sailing ships. There is a wealth of historical buildings and constructions from that period. However, the "battle" cannot only be about preserving a time capsule in the middle of the South Atlantic for the enjoyment of a few (800 tourists in 2004).

In many ways the battle is also about the survival of the island. The dependency on access by sea means that the island has been in terminal decline. Around 10 per cent of the 2002 population of 4,357 have voted with their feet and found employment in the UK, the Falkland Islands and on Ascension Island. The result is an ageing population on St Helena.

Most "Saints" accept that the airport planned for 2010 is the only way to arrest this decline and to move away from aid dependency on the UK. It will be a challenge to preserve all that is best on the island in terms of its culture, countryside, low crime rate, historic built environment, ecology and close-knit community. This is why, in addition to the funding of the airport, St Helena is receiving assistance to carry out environmental and social impact assessments, advice on a tourism strategy and marketing and an investor policy. Practical help is also being given to help St Helena improve its land registry, and land management.

St Helena is confident that it can develop a tourism which respects and preserves its heritage and ecology.



Shell-shocked men of the Great War

Sir: It would indeed be to the Defence Secretary, John Reid's credit if he showed a different attitude from his predecessor to the case of Private Harry Farr, the shell-shocked soldier shot for cowardice in the First World War (Editorial, 25 October).

It has long been recognised that most of those servicemen executed for desertion, cowardice or "falling asleep on duty" did not merit the summary sentence meted out to them. To recognise and rectify the injustice of Private Farr's and other such cases would not set a bad example to today's soldiers; on the contrary, it would signal the difference between the military leaders of those days and the commanders of today who have a better understanding the men and women under their command.

Most importantly, it is not a pardon that is needed, because a pardon is sought for a wrong committed, and when granted, is an act of grace. What these men deserve, belatedly and posthumously, is exoneration.



A new power to tackle swearing

Sir: It is time for an idea to sort out one of the beautiful game's less beautiful aspects. How many of us have felt embarrassment and revulsion at the sight of magical footballers behaving like ignorant, foul-mouthed louts. Picked up and zoomed onto the television screens in our homes and sports bars, the twisted grimaces of the vastly overpaid Premiership players, as they hurl a torrent of abuse at referees, opponents or spectators, do not reflect a picture that football should want to present to the world.

The rules need sorting out, and the referee needs to know what to do about improper conduct and how to make it clear to players, crowd and viewers what is happening. We need a new offence: Conduct on the field of play bringing the game into disrepute. Punishment would be banishment to a sin bin - ten minutes at a time off the field. Clarity would be ensured the use of a blue card, carried by the referee in addition to the standard yellow and red cards.

Let's get loutish behaviour out of our game and off our football fields. Let's improve the role-model our football idols provide for children and other soccer players everywhere.



Socialist schooling not given a chance

Sir: The comprehensive system of secondary education is rather like Christianity: it is not that it has been tried and found wanting; it just hasn't been tried.

With a sizeable minority of our children now in private education and a considerable number of others at faith schools and state grammars we have a patchwork of provision which can hardly be said to be egalitarian.

Back in the 1960s Harold Wilson's government began to work towards a socially just school system. Even Mrs Thatcher, when education secretary, made a contribution. Blair, however, interested only in keeping the support of the Daily Mail readers, is quite prepared to return to the old system of grant maintained schools and forget about equality.

It is not surprising the Labour left despair on this issue, as indeed on so much else. It must be a question of how long real socialists can stay in the party as it is presently constituted.



Having too much faith in science

Sir: Your correspondent Michael O'Hare (letter, 27 October) claims that science is infallible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific theory is by its very nature fallible; Einstein once claimed that "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong".

The point Paul Connor was making (letter, 26 October) was that modern science is not omnicompetent as a source of wisdom - the lesson of a Nazi Germany based upon Darwinistic ideas is sufficient to demonstrate that.



Oxfam fighting for 'trade justice'

Sir: The article on the Make Poverty History campaign (26 October) made many valid points, particularly in its the criticism of the Live8 concerts. However, the labelling of Oxfam as a "right wing" NGO and the accusation that Oxfam offers "free-trade solutions to Third World poverty" is an insult to the commitment and passion of Oxfam's staff and activists. Is it not progressive to advocate making trade fair so that it lifts millions of people out of poverty?

We'll see who's forgotten about Make Poverty History when thousands of Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid and other Coalition activists turn up this week to lobby parliament, calling for trade justice - not free trade.




Torture and terrorism

Sir: With regard to the article by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan (27 October), I would much rather accept the risk of being blown up by a terrorist here than share the Government's responsibility for sending people abroad to be tortured. The chance of being killed in a terrorist act must be about a hundredth that of dying in a road accident, but I would feel the same if the risk were much higher.



Growing our own food

Sir: Your story about global warming (28 October), with the prospects of increasing drought in Europe's Mediterranean countries and greater forestation for us in Northern Europe, suggests that France's determination to maintain the Common Agricultural Policy may be more far-sighted than Tony Blair's thinking on the subject. Thierry Breton, France's finance minister, has been talking of "food security" becoming increasingly important in a world of 9 to 10 billion people. Agriculture, he says, surely rightly, in this rapidly changing world is not a "market" like any other.



Will's wardrobe

Sir: The Grafton portrait is judged not to be the young Shakespeare mainly because of his posh clothes (report, 28 October). The truth is that to the present day actors often borrow finery from the theatre wardrobe, or from more affluent friends, when posing for publicity pictures or attending an audition or opening. Surely our ambitious Stratford lad would have done the same?



Funny foreigners

Sir: Dave Brown's cartoons would be no less sharp and funny if his foreign politicians, such as Chirac and Berlusconi, spoke in normal English, not Carry On-style comedy accents ("E sez 'e 'az a way to resolve a troubled union", 28 October). Or does he think that being foreign is in itself something ridiculous?



Undeserved fame

Sir: I enjoyed reading Clive James's piece "Save us from Celebrity" (28 October). New words accepted into the language reflect changes in our society, so why not call the so-called celebrities with no exceptional achievements "nonebrities".



World-wide failure

Sir: Susan Tomes (letter, 28 October) was probably correct in saying that "men are crap at running the world". The tragedy is that women would be just as bad.



Divine instruction

Sir: Will Scooter's defence be: "God told me to do it"?