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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 21 December 2010
I am intrigued by our current idea that we should always be able to travel regardless of the weather, and if we cannot it is somebody's fault. We think we have the world under control, and then nature reminds us we have not. Life is so predictable normally that people are affronted when their plans are put out.
We complain that nothing is done, ignoring the fact that the snow that stops us getting out is also stopping the people trying to do the clearing. Nobody accepts that "the impossible takes a little longer".
We complain that the authorities are not ready, forgetting that a few years ago snow in winter was rare, and that if we really want more snow ploughs and gritting lorries on standby, our taxes will have to go up.
Rather than complain we should take the opportunity to settle somewhere cosy and wait for it to go away.
News reports have quoted comments by some of those unfortunate enough to be caught up in the logistical carnage at airports as stating that the conditions were comparable to a "war zone" or a "third-world refugee camp".
While I sympathise with their predicament and would be as distressed as they are if I was in the same position, I'm quite certain that their surroundings are not affected by exchanges of weapon fire or the destruction of buildings, and that people are not being killed or seriously injured, there is a reasonable chance of fresh water supplies, food, interior shelter, heating, light, sanitation and electricity, and the threat of disease is also absent.
I can only hope that those kind of extreme, hugely overstated quotes are due to the obvious stress of the situation rather than a complete ignorance about what the conditions in war zones or refugee camps are really like.
Estimates from the insurer Royal Sun Alliance have put the cost of the weather to the economy at £1bn per day (report, 20 December).
It is quite insane that Britain suffers such enormous losses whenever heavy snow falls. Costs of £1bn a day would easily pay for providing adequate machinery for clearing airport runways and snowploughs for clearing major roads.
Legislation is also needed so that private drivers have to have winter tyres, as in many Scandinavian countries. The cost of purchasing snow tyres is minimal when faced with clogged roads, and supplies being undeliverable because of roads being blocked with cars that are not adequately prepared for icy conditions.
The argument is made that such weather conditions are rare, but so are many other conditions we insure against.
Yes, I well remember the winter of 1963 (letters, 17 December) and also the severe winter of 1947 when I attended an infants' school as a six-year-old. The main school had to close and we were housed in what, as far as I can recall, seemed to be a large shed with a coal-burning stove. It was in fact very cosy. We had to walk to school and on occasions had to burrow our way through high banks of drifted snow.
We were always expected to be on time and on one occasion a hapless pupil was caned for being five minutes late. Have we lost something, I wonder?
As a Clevelander (Ohio) living in England, I would like to thank you for the large centrefold photo of the ice-covered lighthouse in Lake Erie in (17 December). It reminded me of how harsh "real" winters can be – a suburb on the east side of Cleveland recently received 30 inches of snow – and how wimpish the English can be when a few inches of snow arrive.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
It is time that we took a leaf out of Germany's approach to clearing snow. In that country, each household and business is required to maintain a clear path to its property, including the boundary pavement. Citizens are liable to a fine if this is not carried out. For delivery people, paramedics, firemen and so on, life would certainly be helped if this became law in the UK.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
As my children and I slid into town on inch-thick ice on the pavement, I wondered why, in an age of global warming, cars still take priority in these snowy times.
The main roads are regularly treated and cars zoom by, while the pavements are left in an atrocious condition and many pedestrians choose to walk on the road.
Many elderly would not dare to walk out of their doors. Surely – however much it costs to pay someone to grit the pavements – it would be less than the cost of NHS treatment for broken hips?
Last February I went to the Arctic Circle. Minus 40 and everything ran on time. This weekend, Heathrow. Minus one and everything was cancelled.
I've now ordered a book, Teach Yourself Inuit, from Amazon. I'll probably get here in the spring.
Seaford, East Sussex
Student life of work and debt
Julie Burchill (16 December) has a very poor perception of what it is like to be a student. I did go to university (and am now a postgraduate student), as did most of my friends, and none of us spent three years just "boozing and bullshitting". Completing a degree requires an immense amount of hard work and commitment.
Lectures are intellectually demanding, tiring and require a great degree of concentration, and that is before the reading, research, essays, meetings etc. I resent the implication that students go to university to avoid hard work.
The aim of higher education is not simply to teach students subject-specific facts and skills. It also teaches them how to be objective, how to examine, analyse and construct arguments, and how to communicate effectively. Graduates may be considered better employees (for certain positions) because they have spent the time developing these skills.
The rise in tuition fees may not affect Charlie Gilmour personally. It will not affect me personally, but I still attended the demonstration in London on 9 December. I want to defend education – it is not about personal gain.
Depressingly, Julie Burchill may have a point about the value of some university education. However I don't think even a first-year undergraduate would get away with the implication that the erection of the Hammer and Sickle over the Reichstag was good news for Germany, when it opened "its heart to the Red Army".
That presumably would be the same Red Army that raped its way across eastern Germany and then entombed the country in half a century of misery, poverty and political repression. I suspect if you opened your heart to the Red Army in 1945 they'd probably eat it.
I was horrified to see in the House of Commons the case for mass student debt being put forward in "bank speak" when Vincent Cable, and the rest of the promoters, put the case for mass debt in terms of the "small amount" to be paid back each month. Not in terms of the absolute debt (typically £40,000) locked into commercial interest rates.
These large debts are inevitably going to have devastating consequences for very large numbers of young people. Many will end up not coping. Repayment-reminder letters will hit the doormat, then phone calls, then more severe threatening letters.
The Prime Minister and Home Secretary unreservedly condemn violence at the student-protest marches. But, notably, are oblivious to forms of commercial violence which they have now unleashed into the lives of millions of students.
The Labour Party appears to be promoting the idea of a graduate tax for English people instead of tuition fees. But is a graduate tax really what Ed Miliband is proposing? He does not intend to pay this new tax himself. Nor does the Labour Party intend to charge Nick Clegg and David Cameron for the free university education they had either.
So what they are proposing is not a tax on graduates. Rather, it is tuition fees, but called something else. Changing the name of something doesn't really address the problem.
Michael Rosenthal is spot on (Letters, 15 December): Cameron, Clegg and the other millionaires who rule us by right rather than mandate want to deprive the plebs of the cultural and intellectual heritage of our species. And we need to reclaim it now.
In 18th- and 19th-century Ireland, when the poorer classes were excluded from education by penal laws and poverty, educated people sought to teach their local communities in unofficial establishments known as "hedge schools". As a poor boy from Ireland who was able to attend university in the late 1970s and return as a lecturer, I suggest it is time we start up our own "hedge universities" here in England's green and pleasant land.
Senior Lecturer, School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology
Manchester Metropolitan University
Bring back joy of the terraces
You report on the call from supporters for standing areas in football stadiums (9 December). In 2005 Roy Hattersley, a lifelong supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, wrote to me about the Hillsborough report when I was researching standing and crowd densities in theatres and stadia: "The Lord Chief Justice told me that the obligation to introduce all-seater stadia had been included in his report after pressure from both the Government and the Football Association. The Government needed an alternative bright idea to enable it to back away from the unworkable notion of only allowing registered club members into the grounds, and the football authorities wanted the extra revenues which flow from seating – the extra costs can be borne by the different sort of customer it attracts."
Areas, and hence revenues, can be measured. After Hillsborough, the difference between the old stranding and the new seating densities approaches three times. Entry prices have increased in real terms to between six and 10 times what had been paid for standing. The extra revenue has been huge.
Standing on unsegregated terraces was, like National Service, a part of social cement. My 6d boy's ticket at Easter Road or Tynecastle in the 1950s translates into £2 in 2010. To what major ground can a teenager go for £2 today? Fans have an overwhelming case on costs.
On safety grounds better designs benefiting from the German experience and better policing would bring back the joy of the terraces. Standing is making a comeback both in the mosh pits of pop concerts and among the groundlings at Shakespeare's Globe, where 600 young and old stand for three hours paying £5, a sixth of what the rich pay seated behind them.
Futile fines for mixed-sex wards
The Health Secretary's decision to fine hospitals for mixed-sex wards is poorly judged. With hospitals operating with over 100-per-cent bed-occupancy rates in some cases, its effect will be that patients are shuffled between wards to avoid fines, which is bad for their medical care and bad for hospital infection rates.
Respecting patients' dignity is vitally important to inspire their confidence, but it cannot be achieved safely without ensuring adequate hospital capacity, which must be the first priority.
Fines are ludicrous – nobody believes that patient care is improved by cutting funds, and fines will not improve the prospects of achieving the segregation that is desired.
A B S Ball
Volunteers face official prying
The letters about Criminal Records Bureau checks (16 December) reminded me of my application for a voluntary post at my local library. As I would have been visiting the housebound, I didn't mind being asked if I had a criminal record (I haven't), but I did object to the next six pages of the most personal questions. I tore up the form.
I've just realised that I neglected to have a CRB check done on Father Christmas, who came to the school children's party. Luckily Ofsted didn't choose to inspect the school that day, as I would have been failed automatically.
Simon Altmann's suggestion (Letters, 9 December) that contemporary poetry is generally only readable by other poets is clearly thoughtful, but, I think, quite wrong. A wide variety of poetry is – and should be – written and published in Britain today. If Mr Altmann would like to see examples of poems which, I hope, might appeal to many readers, I would advise him to try the latest collections by the poets Sophie Hannah, Jenny Joseph and Carol Rumens, together with (hearteningly) the first collection from a younger poet, Tom Warner.
Behind the arras
I'm not going to be taking up Peter Forster's suggestion of bribing Talbot Church for an audience behind an arras (letters, 15 December), not after what happened to poor old Polonius.
Turned to ashes
I knew it! We started crowing too soon. Never underestimate an Australian's will to win and England's glass jaw.
Perspectives on WikiLeaks
What makes it right to steal information?
The elevation of Julian Assange to sainthood by celebrities such as Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger, Ken Loach and hordes of adoring WikiLeaks addicts, only underlines how morality in modern society has been turned on its head.
The fact is that Assange has made public confidential information that was stolen by a disaffected member of the US armed forces. By any standard, the theft of that information was a criminal offence and in making it public Assange is guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal. In that, Assange is no different from a fence who sells a burglar's loot.
The odious Assange and his misguided disciples would be the first to scream if somebody hacked into their private files and made them public.
Defence policy put to the test
The WikiLeak showing that Nato had secret plans to reinforce Poland and the Baltic states in case of a Russian attack undermines Mr Cameron and Dr Fox's cost-driven defence review that will result in the scrapping of up to 50 per cent of the UK's heavy armour and artillery by 2015.
Mr Cameron assures us that the UK will be able to meet all of its military commitments and that there is no longer a requirement to keep conventional infantry forces with their armour and artillery in northern Europe, as there is no longer a threat.
An armed attack on one Nato member is considered an attack on all, and all members have an obligation to respond. Did the defence review consider the UK's Nato commitments?
By 2015 the UK will not have the capability to participate in a defence of Poland or the Baltic states. Like aircraft carriers which cannot be put to sea without aircraft, conventional infantry forces cannot be put on the 21st-century battlefield without the support of heavy armour and artillery.
George D Lewis
The new journalism
I was shocked to read Mary Dejevsky's column (10 December) in which she says WikiLeaks have released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, as this falsehood is being used to cast WikiLeaks' actions as somehow distinct from journalism. Instead, only a few thousand have been published, with co-ordinated redaction with their newspaper partners.
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