Katherine Butler’s article “In that hour” (3 September) made me smile. I was brought up in the UK, the child of Irish parents from Tipperary. I remember their funerals for the healing power of the fun we had.
The bona fide Irish relatives – who have branded me a “plastic paddy” – turned up in colourful clothes and announced they were taking in a shopping trip while over in England.
At my mother’s funeral, we danced in the garden and even the bemused English guests were up for a reel or two. In the evening when the merriment had died down, the booze had worn off, and the grim return of grief started to seep back, my mother’s male cousin from Cork took me and my siblings to the pub and told us hilarious, outrageous jokes the whole evening.
“I want everyone dancing on my grave when it’s my time,” announced the comedian cousin we had met for the first time. We never saw him again, but the funerals of my parents were arguably the most enjoyable, therapeutic events I have experienced.
Finally I felt proud to be a “plastic paddy”.
Rose Kavanagh, Cambridge
Israel goes well beyond self-defence
Dominic Lawson (3 September) refers to Israel’s “ferociously single minded . . . self-defence” within the Middle East. If that were all there was to it, most critics of Israel would accept that necessity.
But, only too typically, I am afraid, of apologists for Israel’s conduct, Mr Lawson does not even make a passing reference to its fast ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and brutal siege of Gaza. The hard and accelerating reality is that Israel’s army is relentlessly colonising the Palestinian West Bank, to over 40 per cent of its land mass, and East Jerusalem. Gaza is constantly being besieged by land, sea and air. Self-defence, did he say?
Mr Lawson also purports to believe that to reach a resolution of this longstanding conflict would not even “help to solve all other conflicts in the region”. He also asserts that Muslims there “care very little, if at all, about the fate of the Palestinians”.
But having visited the region many times over the past decade, sometimes as part of a parliamentary delegation, I can say that Mr Lawson’s dogmatisms seem considerably at odds with what I observed and was told on the ground.
Furthermore, unwavering US and UK military, intelligence and economic support for Israel, regardless of its breaches of UN resolutions and international law, help to disbar us from playing the role of honest broker in Syria. A unilateral military incursion now would lack moral authority and prove tragically counter-productive.
Andrew Phillips , (Lord Phillips of Sudbury)
House of Lords
Dominic Lawson uses the tired old tactic of creating a straw man to shoot down. I have heard many hours of debate over Syria, but so far not one suggestion that Israel is the cause of the troubles there.
Of course there will be the odd Syrian official and other racists who will take any opportunity to attack Jews and Israel. But Lawson then goes on to use such examples of mindless anti-Semitism to attack other critics of Israel, such as Nigel Kennedy and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
As a coup de grâce against Waters he quotes the statement that he has “very many close Jewish friends”. If this is the case, why should Waters not say so, other than to avoid politically correct innuendos from the likes of Mr Lawson?
David Simmonds, Epping, Essex
Dominic Lawson’s attack on critics of Israel conforms to a standard formula: 1) Always state or imply that critics are anti-Semitic. 2) Never bring Israel’s own nuclear and WMD capability into the argument.
Michael Allen, Brighton
Minimum wage or free market
What nonsense you write about wages when you ask “at what level [the minimum wage] should be set” (leading article, 4 September).
Employers have got to cover costs and your desire to raise wages “voluntarily” must be accompanied by another desire for the customer to “voluntarily” pay more. Do you want purchasers and sellers to arrive at “voluntarily” agreed prices, no doubt arranged by a new publicly funded body? Leaving such matters to the market would be simpler and quicker and would achieve the same end.
If you directed your efforts to abolishing such organisations as the Resolution Foundation, our living standards would be raised. You have the wrong target.
G D Morris, Port Talbot
Increasing the minimum wage by legislation and trying to police it is a mug’s game. Better to admit that a living wage and mass immigration are mutually exclusive. Either curtail immigration, in which case the market will automatically raise unskilled wages, or let employers decide how many people to let in.
To achieve a living wage requires curtailing unskilled immigration from inside an ever-expanding EU as well as without. But an end to importing cheap labour has a “democratic” downside. It will involve a transfer of purchasing power from the more numerous and more likely-to-vote middle class to the less numerous and less likely-to-vote working class, as menial jobs that cannot be outsourced abroad become more costly.
Our mainstream political parties would probably find this electorally unacceptable, although for anyone concerned about national cohesiveness it should be a price worth paying.
Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
Why farmers back the badger cull
It is quite wrong to say that the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is pouring all its efforts into promoting and trying to justify a badger cull to help tackle bovine TB (letter, 3 September).
The NFU has always said that every available tool must be used to eradicate this terrible disease. These tools include improved cattle testing, stringent cattle movement controls, better biosecurity and vaccination of both cattle and badgers, as well as a targeted cull of wildlife in areas where bovine TB is endemic.
Farmers are fully supportive of vaccines for both badgers and cattle, but all the experts agree that vaccination is not, and will not be, a “silver bullet”. There is no vaccine available to protect cattle, and best estimates from the European Commission suggest it will be 10 years before a licensed vaccine is available.
Similarly, vaccinating badgers is not a viable alternative at present. It is of no use at all if a badger already has bovine TB, and it is logistically challenging and, as a result, costly.
Bovine TB is devastating farming families across the country and resulted in more than 38,000 cattle being slaughtered in Great Britain last year. The best scientific evidence available, and the experience of other countries, shows that employing all the available measures at the same time can have a significant impact.
The NFU wants to see healthy badgers, healthy cattle and a healthy countryside. That is why we need to use everything available to help eradicate this devastating disease.
Martin Haworth, Director of Policy, NFU, Warwickshire
London’s ‘death ray’ building
Reading your report on the focusing of the sun’s rays by the “walkie talkie” building in Fenchurch Street, London (3 September), I was particularly taken by the architect’s comment that the building had been designed to “respect the City’s historic character, following the contour of the river and the medieval streets that bound the site, while further contributing to the evolution of the high-rise building type”.
We live and learn, don’t we? There was I thinking that it looked like just another high-rise slab block, only one that was bent over a bit so that it could act as a sort of “death ray” for cars parked nearby. Well well well! I suppose that architects know best.
John Cooper, Forest Hill, London
Now to reclaim the language
Now that, thanks to Parliament, the Special Relationship is apparently over, it is time to purge the English language of some of the Americanisms that have crept in.
I mean, “cookbook” for “cookery book”, “swim pool” for “swimming pool” etc. and cigarette “butt” for “end”. ( I confess I can understand the US objection to “fag end”). Worst of all is the fatuous “ass” for the fine old English word ”arse”. Let us strike a blow for Anglo-Saxon freedom!
Peter Metcalfe, Stevenage, Hertfordshire
White queen of Egypt
Sorry to be a geek, but I’ve got a thing for history. In your Ben Affleck story (“Like a Batman out of hell?”, 4 September) it says that Rouben Mamoulian wanted an African-American actress to play Cleopatra. Strangely, Cleopatra wasn’t black at all, she was Greek/Macedonian, descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals.
Richard Denhamm Farnborough, Hampshire
Much is made of the Chinese taste for shark’s fin and the consequential decline of the species (report, 3 September). Yet no one mentions the British fondness for skate wings, which are essentially the same thing, and our waters have seen a huge decline in ray stocks as a result
David Buttery, Douglas, Isle of Man
Your account of Seamus Heaney’s funeral (3 September) reports that “The cortege was headed by a lone piper”. Why are pipers always “lone”? We never hear of a lone guitarist, or a lone violinist. Maybe piping is a peculiarly solitary occupation, in that nobody wants to get too close.
John Smurthwaite, Leeds
Not like us
Rupert Fast (letter, 3 September) wonders if “top bankers, Premier League footballers, successful company directors, chief executives of councils, quangos and big charities” opt for the state school system. I hope not. I wouldn’t want my children picking up bad habits from the unsuitable offspring of people like that.
Alison Sutherland, Kirkwall, Orkney