Letters: When things work brilliantly in Britain

Enough of this moaning – the UK works brilliantly
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The Independent Online

What a ridiculous letter from B E J Crombie (3 September) complaining that nothing works in the UK and that we rely too heavily on computers.

At nearly 60, and in a wheelchair due to degenerative MS, I have just returned from a five-week visit to Namibia with my wife, all arranged on-line. No direct flights meant a stop in Frankfurt – we were met at the door of the aircraft by a young lady with hand-held computer who knew my name and connecting flight and saw us to our seats.

The fantastic BA crew stowed my chair on the flight deck. On the way back we were met at Heathrow by a similar computer-informed lady who whipped us past immigration to the luggage carousel where our bags, checked in 24 hours earlier in Windhoek, were waiting for us.

Taxi waiting, we were home in minutes, avoiding holiday traffic by clever use of SatNav, a computerised device. Five weeks of held post, arranged on-line, was brought around by the postman, sorted and tied.

Next day, we were off to help aged in-laws prepare for a move. Father in-law collapsed in restaurant – an ambulance arrived in minutes, the hospital was able to call up his files – on computer – in seconds; after a brief stay, pacemaker checked, he was back home for move. All utilities were turned off and meters read as promised, the new assisted-living home was ready and waiting. Doctor, bank, dentist, Post Office benefits, all changed with no problems, thanks to well-trained staff and computers.

Try living in a tin hut on less than $1 a day with no electricity and no water – then very little really does work.

G M Teager

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Myths about Megrahi's release

Geoffrey Robertson's criticism of Megrahi's release (Opinion, 2 September) is based on unsupported assertions: that it is a triumph for state terrorism (no evidence offered); means more suffering for the victims (they're dead – presumably he means the families of the victims, but among the Scottish families there was support for his release); and a worldwide boost for the death penalty (again, no evidence offered).

Robertson also calls Megrahi an "unrepentant and cold-blooded murderer". Since Megrahi claimed to be innocent, and had an appeal pending, one could not expect him to be repentant.

Robertson would have had Megrahi die in prison. Then what? Ship the body back to Libya? What might the scenes at Tripoli airport have looked like, with the return of a martyr? State and other terrorism certainly would have had a boost.

David Humphrey

London W5

The Americans seem to believe in "Do as I say, not as I do". For many years in the USA money was collected for the IRA. Without that finance to purchase explosives and guns they would not have been able to commit as many atrocities as they did. These weapons killed considerably more innocent men, women and children than were lost on Pan Am flight 103.

Senator Kennedy and President Clinton played leading roles in obtaining the release of convicted killers belonging to that organisation without any consideration for the feelings of the bereaved. The Americans have a nerve, considering their past, to criticise Mr MacAskill.

William W Scott

North Berwick, East Lothian

Presumably Dominic Lawson ("If the Megrahi deal is justice, then we're all bananas", 1 September) thinks (a) Jesus was "bananas"; or (b) that he was politically naive; or (c) his teaching (Matthew 5: v7) has no relevance in the 21st century.

Ian K Watson


Like some modern-day Puck, Muammar Gaddafi seems determined to establish his role on the world stage as stirrer-in-chief. Not content with embarrassing the Labour government with revelations about the al-Megrahi release or offending everyone by inviting a war-crimes suspect and Somali pirate to his 40th-anniversary celebrations, he has also managed to put the Moroccan's noses out of joint. At the recent African Union summit he made reference to the need for self-determination for the Saharawi people of Western Sahara, a territory occupied illegally by Morocco for 34 years. He probably could hardly contain his mirth when the Moroccan delegation stormed out of the anniversary celebrations in protest over the presence of representatives of the Western Saharan government in exile, the Polisario Front.

Stefan Simanowitz

London NW3

Hare-brained ideas won't save planet

What's this I read: man-made eruptions? Iron filings in the oceans? Sulphate in the atmosphere? Heath-Robinson would be proud. This would be funny if it weren't being proposed by the Royal Society ("Man-made eruptions – Plan B in the battle for the planet", 2 September).

It's easy to see why these hare-brained schemes are so popular: they'll give scientists some juicy budgets, give politicians great sound-bites, and provide the oil industry with a fig-leaf and an alibi. These kinds of suggestions are extremely dangerous because they will (at best) bring only minimal benefit, while masking the real problem and lulling the public into a false sense of security.

The only solution to global warming is to massively and quickly reduce our CO2 emissions. Geo-engineering projects cannot replace the urgent and fundamental changes that need to be made to our consumerist behaviour.

Alan Searle


Your leading article (2 September) endorses geo-technology as "Plan B" for the environment. It should be Plan A, implemented side-by-side with technology for reducing carbon dependence. Consider the millions of people in India and China who are denied light, heat and refrigeration because they have no electricity. Who can deny them these basic services? But generating electricity for them means burning huge amounts of coal because coal is what they have and what is cheapest.

We cannot stop that happening, but we can work to mitigate the consequences by developing new geo-engineering solutions to check climate change. This country neglected and gave away its engineering expertise in nuclear power. Let us now lead in climate mitigation by making a major commitment to geo-technology.

Professor D E Newland

Ickleton, Cambridgeshire

Boys are natural risk takers

I readily accept that girls are more diligent than boys and that the examination goal posts do get shifted (letters, 1 September).

It needs to be remembered that the introduction of coursework was itself a radical shift. About 15 years ago I found myself teaching GCSE English based on 100-per-cent folder work. It produced some fine material, and was a sound preparation for A-level, but it did suit girls better than boys. While boys are naturally risk-takers who progress by sudden leaps, girls are more cautious and move forward by the process of accrescence.

Leave examinations aside and you will soon see the great disservice modern education has conferred upon today's children – and boys in particular. The current fixation with health and safety and its awful effect of paralysing the desire in our teachers to encourage adventure (and necessarily some danger) in their charges has sad consequences for all young people.

While their teachers remain cowed at home or in the safe zone of the classroom (threatened by either absurd numbers of risk-assessment forms, litigation or censure) the young find dangers and risks of their own.

Charles Court

Perth, Scotland

Forgotten heroes of the Merchant Navy

You shamefully overlook the contribution made to Britain's war effort by the Merchant Navy ("The day we went to war, 70 years on", 3 September). The worse as 3 September is celebrated by merchant seamen as Merchant Navy Day, in recognition of the fact that merchant seafarers were among the first British casualties of the war with the sinking of the liner Athenia on that date in 1939.

The British Merchant Navy lost a greater proportion of its number – some 30,000 men – than any of the armed services, yet is routinely ignored by the media who apparently forget that without the dedication of these volunteer, civilian seamen the war would surely have been lost. There would have been no raw materials to build armaments, no fuel to drive industry and the war machine, and, most importantly of all, no food supplies for Britain to feed her people.

Terence Roy Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Dominic Shelmerdine (Letters, 4 September) complains that Russia still occupies eastern Poland after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of August 1939. Actually, the former parts of eastern Poland that are excluded from that country are now in Belarus and Ukraine, not Russia.

Dr Richard Carter

London SW15

Why no mention of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36, when in a sense it all started, with the use of poison gas, and the collapse of the League of Nations?

Richard Pankhurst

London NW3

Thin thighs and medical nonsense

Your report on research into the link between thigh circumference and premature heart disease (4 September) made me want to weep.

I am in my early 50s, have always exercised regularly, eaten sensibly and drunk (mostly) within government guidelines. I don't smoke, and I use sunscreen. My BMI is 23 and my waist circumference is healthy. Sadly all this is as nought, because my thighs are too thin. I would have hoped that this was due to thrice-weekly visits to the gym, and to the fact that I am only 5'3" tall, rather than to "lower than normal muscle mass".

Is it a wonder that as a nation we have stopped listening to the relentless flow of medical advice issuing forth from various august bodies when so much contradictory and incomplete research is placed in the public domain?

Kathy Moyse

Cobham, Surrey

Carbon doublespeak

In his attack on "double speak" Johann Hari (Opinion, 2 September) did not cite the phrase "reduce one's carbon footprint", used by many politicians and most newspapers. For nearly all of us, this simply means "use less electricity, gas, petrol and oil". Why don't we say this? Is it because we don't want to upset the utility companies?

MJ Cooper

Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

Diplomas' image

The Big Question (2 September) asked "Are Diplomas working and what can be done to improve them?" So why did it contain a graphic dealing with "Neets" ("not in employment, education or training") entitled "Lost generation"? The only inference one can make is that Diplomas are only for the low-achievers, the unemployable and the disaffected. One way to improve Diplomas would be to stop this stereotyping that pre-judges the future of, and the sort of learners involved in, Diplomas. The message should be that Diplomas are for everyone and are a welcome addition to the education landscape.

Martin Rolfe

Newton Abbot, Devon

Stressed police

Why on earth, as the largest employer in the UK, has the government got staff working so much overtime ("Half of senior police say they are stressed and depressed", 4 September). With the country about to experience record unemployment levels, surely it would make sense to recruit more police officers and completely ban overtime in government jobs. With GCSE and A-level passes again at record levels, we are hardly lacking in able candidates.

Granville Stout

Leigh, Lancashire

Teacher training

Mary Wakefield's research into teaching was below par (Opinion, 22 August). She claims: "The only academic credential you need to train to be a teacher is a C grade at GCSE in English and maths." Not so. To gain a teacher-training place, you need a degree. Almost two thirds now doing so have a 2:1, compared to around half 10 years ago. Teaching is difficult. The majority of teachers are doing a fantastic job in the classroom and deserve praise, not ill-informed comment.

Mike Watkins

Training and Development Agency for Schools, London SW1

Cricket on film

Any self-respecting fan of the Carry On series would have noticed that Carry On – Follow That Camel has yet to be mentioned as a film which features cricket in its opening and closing scenes. In addition it is the reason the hero, played by Jim Dale, opts to join the Foreign Legion.

T Honeybone