A childhood spent in a haze of cigarette smoke
Sir: I enjoyed James Walton's nostalgic look at the smoking era (29 June). As a small child I didn't have the vocabulary to describe my parents as addicted to tobacco but, in the war, if I was sent for cigarettes (yes, they sent you for them then) and there were none in stock I dreaded coming back because of the disappointment and swearing. I begged my father to hold his cigarette away from me in the cinema although I loved the smell of pipe smoke on the bowling green.
The smoking ban is not all good because the children of smokers can expect to suffer more at home than anywhere else. I hope that they do not have the lifetime's curse of anosmia as I did. I now have it under control because I do not go where there is cigarette smoke.
STOCKPORT, GREATER MANCHESTER
Sir: What a ridiculous and emotionally indulgent letter from Mr Phil Griffin (28 June) in praise of smoke-filled pubs.
As a real ale enthusiast I have been frequenting pubs since the Sixties and as far as I am concerned, the ban can't come soon enough. I am sick and tired of coming home from my local stinking of other people's stale smoke because some smoker believes that it is their right. What about my right to breathe clean air?
In Ireland there are plenty of pubs which have retained their great atmosphere since the smoking ban so there is no reason why that should not apply here. My wife and I will continue to frequent the great old pubs in Brighton after 1 July and will raise a glass to not having to breathe foul air.
PAUL R BARRETT
Wider access to the best schools
Sir: This week the proper role which independent schools can and, we believe, should play as part of the educational provision of this country is now at long last starting to become clearer.
The UK is at the bottom of the league for social mobility in the developed world. Education is the key not only to social mobility but also to increasing productivity which will be the only way the UK can flourish economically in a future of intense global competition. Its independent schools are recognised as the best schools in the world (according to Unesco, as highlighted by the Sutton Trust.) Educating only 7 per cent of the nation's children, they dominate (or rather secure the future of) science, engineering, maths and languages at school and university level.
There is very little access to the best schools for children from low-income families. This is wrong and many of us in independent day schools want to put this right. We do not want to go back to old systems or artificial ways, but rather we are open to innovative ideas and discussion.
Governments seek to offer diversity and choice. Independent schools can offer diversity and choice by opening up academic pathways, which is our specialism, for children who want it and would benefit from it funded by the state at the same cost as in the maintained sector. What a great public benefit that would be! Let us hope that old prejudices can be discarded and a sensible dialogue can now begin.
HEADMISTRESS, BROMLEY HIGH SCHOOL (GDST) SARAH EVANS
HEADMISTRESS, KING EDWARD'S HIGH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, BIRMINGHAM MICHAEL GIBBONS HEADMASTER, QUEEN ELIZABETH'S GRAMMAR SCHOOL, WAKEFIELD BARRY MARTIN HEADMASTER, HAMPTON SCHOOL CHRISTOPHER RAY HIGH MASTER, THE MANCHESTER GRAMMAR SCHOOL STEPHEN SMITH HEADMASTER, BEDFORD MODERN SCHOOL DAVID MASCORD HEAD, BRISTOL GRAMMAR SCHOOL FOR THE FORUM OF INDEPENDENT DAY SCHOOLS
Dearer food may be good news for Africa
Sir: Your report on rising food prices (23 June) fails to acknowledge fully the complexity of the issue. The relation between farm-gate prices, global commodity prices and retail prices is far from straightforward. Prices received by British farmers have increased by only 5 per cent in the last 20 years, while retail prices have risen by over 50 per cent.
Similarly, the impact of increases in commodity prices on retail prices will depend on regional and national manufacturing and retail conditions. Faced with the same developments in global commodity markets, UK food inflation rose in April to 6 per cent while it remained at 2.5 per cent in the eurozone.
Food prices are rising, but food has never been cheaper in real terms and people have never spent less on food. Sixty years ago, an average British family spent more than one third of its income on food; this has now dropped to less than one tenth. Given the limited contribution of food expenditure to overall inflation, over-the-top reports about the impact of "agflation" seem misplaced.
Your Malthusian view of the impact of food prices rises on developing countries ignores the opportunity it provides to bring previously fallow land (where production is currently uneconomic) into production. Indeed, African farming leaders have publicly welcomed the opportunities, in terms of increased production and income, it represents. For exporter developing countries, increased prices provide an opportunity for a much needed rise in income. Indeed, it seems ironic that while much criticism has focused in the past on the use of export subsidies by the EU and their impact on the developing world through the lowering of commodity prices, the desirability of a rise in commodity prices is now being called into question.
New dynamics (growing world population, rising incomes and climate change) are indeed impacting global markets, presenting us with challenges but also with opportunities that should not be ignored.
PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS UNION, STONELEIGH PARK, WARWICKSHIRE
To win at tennis, we need more courts
Sir: Paul Newman touched on the heart of the problem with British tennis (The Big Question, 28 June) but didn't really make the point.
Where they still exist, public tennis courts in this country are virtually unplayable. Their surfaces are uneven, nets are missing or full of holes. It is impossible for youngsters to develop their strokes if they practise on poor surfaces. Unlike football, where Brazilian street kids gain their skills because of the uneven surfaces, you can't learn to hit a tennis ball properly if every bounce is different. Just look at the histrionics at Wimbledon when a player gets the occasional bad bounce.
With no public facilities worth playing on, children are forced to learn to play at clubs where there is great pressure on the courts at evenings and weekends. Furthermore, most small clubs simply can't afford the coaching facilities needed to bring on developing talent. If you are a parent with a child with real potential then you're going to be faced with huge expense compared with parents whose children are good at other sports.
The LTA and the public sport bodies simply are not investing enough money in tennis. The paucity of British tennis facilities was brought home to me when flying to Stockholm. From the air, Sweden appeared to consist mainly of forests and tennis courts; in England, the lack of tennis courts dotting the landscape was striking.
US tax law makes donors feel good
Sir: Andy McSmith asks: "Why do wealthy Americans donate so much to charity and rich Britons so little?" (The Big Question, 27 June). Think about the psychology of giving. For most philanthropists, generosity is a competitive business, and even anonymous donors obtain a private glow of satisfaction.
Both feelgood factors are rewarded more by American tax law than British. An American philanthropist feels good twice over, once when he makes out a nice ostentatious cheque for, say, 50,000 to charity, and again when he gets a nice big tax refund. His British colleague who wants to give 50,000 writes a measly cheque for 39,000, the charity claims back 22 per cent of the tax, making up the 50,000, and the donor reclaims the remaining 18 per cent of higher rate tax (8560.98).
Both benefactors have truly donated 50,000, but 39,000 makes the British donor feel and sound meaner, and he never has the satisfaction of seeing the tax-refund cheque, which goes straight to the charity. The British system is a mess, complicated to calculate (I may even have got the details wrong) and unrewarding to the donor. Maybe if we imitated American tax law our rich people would imitate American generosity.
Weapons for the battle of ideas
Sir: I feel sure that Bruce Anderson thinks of himself as the centre/right voice which gives balance to your excellent paper. But the implication of his piece "The age of post-imperial confusion" (26 June) is dangerously radical. If our chief enemies are to be found in the world of ideas and beliefs then what are we doing replacing Trident at vast expense?
We need to be spending as much or more on theologians and economic aid to undermine and disarm our real and potential enemies. The theologians to penetrate the false version of Islam which inspires terrorism, and aid to give work, training and dignity to the despairing millions. The smartest munitions are those that fire the heart and fill the belly.
Terror at the top of new PM's agenda
Sir: A new British Prime Minister brings with him a great hope for a new foreign policy. Depressingly, terrorist attacks such as that attempted in central London in the early hours of Friday morning are one sure way to ensure that doesn't happen.
Sir: Among the variety of questions and advice recently addressed to the new Prime Minister, the generous tax savings enjoyed by foreign multimillionaires who have a home in London seem to have escaped notice. Revising some of these perks through changes in taxation deserves priority, particularly in the current socio-political situation where the rich grow richer and the poor, alas, stay poor.
Sir: Does The Independent think that women make up just 10 per cent of the population? How else can one explain the fact that there was one woman among the 10 people invited to give advice to the new man at No 10 ("A manifesto for Gordon Brown", 28 June)? That may also explain why there was no "advice" about childcare, employment rights, pensions, social care, housing, social inclusion and other key topics.
PROFESSOR JAN PAHL
Sir: Sarah Brown is described as "Modest, genteel and ladylike" (Letters, 29 June). So, that's what the women of Britain must now aspire to be. No wonder there are so few of them in the new Cabinet.
BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: Johann Hari (28 June) has a pop at "the right-wing press" for doing to Harriet Harman what they don't do to male politicians, namely, "laying into her hair, her accent, her fingernails."
Really? What about Prescott's pudding-bowl and his accent? Or Heseltine's hair, or Hague's and Duncan Smith's lack of it? Is Mick "Gorbals" Martin a woman, then? And I don't think it is "sexist" for Quentin Letts to call Ms Harman a "hectoring, bleating, finger-wagging nanny" any more than it is sexist to liken Tony Blair to an Anglican priest.
Sir: I have just read Ben Russell's assertion that the Miliband brothers are the first brothers to sit together in the cabinet since 1929 (report, 29 June). They aren't. My father, John Silkin (Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food), sat with my uncle Sam Silkin (Attorney General), in both Harold Wilson's last cabinet and Jim Callaghan's, which ended in 1979.
Sir: I am devastated by the news that Michael Parkinson CBE is to retire, as he has not yet interviewed me. What can replace his spur to great achievement? May I beg suggestions for activities I can undertake forthwith, in order to qualify for inclusion in his last series.
Too many people
Sir: Three cheers to Chris Rapley for sparking the debate on overpopulation (Extra, 27 June). As he clearly states, it is the last taboo even among environmentalists. I recently tried to get a view from Friends of the Earth but even they did not consider it a priority. This matter needs to be spoken about openly when organisations like the EU are actively encouraging an increased birthrate.
Sir: In his otherwise very kind review of Das Rheingold at Longborough (27 June), Roderic Dunnett said "Most of the supposed gold proved to be inexplicably red." Had he referred to the text of Loge's narration where he describes Alberic's renunciation of woman's love for the gold, he would have found that the gold is described by Loge as rotes gold, translated by Newman as "ruddy gold" and by Deryck Cooke in "I Saw the World End" as "red gold". So Wagner's text supports the colour used.
MICHAEL DE NAVARRO QC
TRUSTEE, LONGBOROUGH FESTIVAL OPERA, WORCESTERSHIRE
Sir: You open champagne by twisting the bottle and holding the cork steady because if you did it the other way, you'd have to take your hand off the cork to continue twisting it (letters, 25 June). Then it would sometimes pop off and hit you in the eye, as it would be held in by less cork than when you started. It's nothing to do with the space/time continuum at all.
Sticks and stones
Sir: Will Self seems to have resorted to playground name-calling in his article about fell runners (23 June). We've done nowt to you Will, but since you've taken that pre-teen tone, then you're an ugly smelly idiot as well.
(SPAVINOUS WIFE OF FERAL, FAECAL-SMELLING, FELLRUNNING GOATIE: TOP MARKS FOR ALLITERATION WILL!), SHEFFIELDReuse content