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Saturday 4 August 2012
Letters: Wiggins wins - and suddenly Brits love a cyclist
Suddenly the Brits all love a cyclist! The hypocrisy of the Great British public is breathtaking – a public I constantly hear vilifying cyclists as the devil incarnate. As a car driver and pedestrian I'd never dare cycle – too many mad, bad and dangerous car drivers about who could kill me far too easily. Cyclists are loved only when they win something that the British feel they can glory in. Perhaps to help would-be cyclists, Bradley Wiggins will be allowed to point out this anomaly.
Allan Ramsay (letters, 24 July) is right to remind us of the charge-sheet against those motorists whose negligence and aggression have contributed to the injuries and deaths of so many British cyclists. But such negativity must have been nurtured somewhere. If we're to build on Bradley Wiggins's magnificent victories and start according UK cyclists the same respect as that enjoyed by their continental counterparts, certain shrill, reactionary commentators need to turn down the volume.
Let's begin at the petrolheads' act of worship, Top Gear. With vocal contempt for cyclists long a fundamental part of Jeremy Clarkson's brand, it's fair to assume that the similar malice acted out on the road by some of his congregants is the by-product. Now that bike riders have discovered a friend in David Cameron, can we dare hope that cycling's newest fanboy will have a quiet word with his asinine pal over the next Chipping Norton barbecue?
Having been a motorcyclist since 1978, I have legally been obliged to wear a helmet all of my riding life. During this time I have heard every single excuse and reason that Owen Jones (3 August) quotes regarding why cyclists should not be made to wear helmets, in relation to motorcycle helmets; all of which are proven time and time again to be completely erroneous.
No, helmets do not save lives in every circumstance. But it is worth remembering that when tin helmets were introduced in the trenches in the 1914-18 war, the number of injured soldiers being admitted to hospital with head injuries rose dramatically. Prior to the introduction of protective helmets those same soldiers would have been taken directly to the mortuary.
As a central London firefighter and cyclist for 10 years the vast majority of cyclist (not to mention pedestrian) injuries and fatalities I have attended involved large vehicles – buses, coaches, lorries, mostly at junctions, all at low speed.
Size always wins in a collision and helmets make very little difference against a lorry. While we have vehicles of 40 tonnes sharing intimate road space with vehicles of 70-80kg we are creating the potential for tragedy every day.
My journeys around the capital, both cycling and driving fire engines, are full of heart-stopping moments when I see cyclists taking huge risks, often without seeming to realise. Fault here is irrelevant; there is no point in being in the right and dead where to have held back and taken a safer road position would have avoided the risk altogether. It amazes me that people continue to ride up or wait on the inside of large vehicles at junctions.
Cycling rates declined when helmet laws were introduced in Australia. To quote from one study: "In Melbourne, surveys were conducted pre-law in May 1990 and post-law in May 1991, at the same 64 sites and same observation times. Counts of child and adult cyclists declined by 42 per cent and 29 per cent respectively."
Why should film industry take the blame for killers?
Harvey Weinstein believes that Hollywood cannot "shirk responsibility" for the recent Colorado shooting (report, 28 July). But why is the film industry to blame? Theatrical plays were once blamed for violence and the downfall of morality. In the 1950s it was comic books and music. Then it was TV and video games, then the internet, and now we are supposed to hold Hollywood responsible for killings that occurred at a cinema.
One could equally blame the Bible for all wrongs in society. Perhaps the Old Testament "should tone down the violence": genocide, murder, torture, child killing, incest, rape, deviant sex … it makes movies like Pulp Fiction look tame.
No reasonable individual would commit mass murder just because they saw it on screen. The fault does not lie with the film-makers.
Man behind crisis in South Sudan
The unfolding humanitarian refugee crisis in South Sudan is a man-made disaster (report, 23 July); the man to blame is President Bashir of Sudan. Many of the refugees from the Blue Nile region in Sudan have escaped what have been described as the worst war crimes since Darfur. But the war in that region is not over. In fact the conflicts in Blue Nile and Darfur are not separate. Along with the attacks on Nuba people in South Kordofan, they are all part of an insidious plan by Bashir to create an ethnically and religiously pure Arab-Islamist state. By focusing on one region and conflict at a time, we cannot address the problems that Bashir is causing in Sudan and also its new neighbour to the south. The international community must seek a comprehensive settlement within Sudan which empowers all the marginalised regions of Sudan and guarantees minority and religious rights. Until this is achieved, Bashir can continue making man-made disasters which affect not only his country, but others in the region as well.
Waging Peace, London W2
UK construction in decline
The decline in construction was a scary 5.2 per cent in the third quarter (report, 25 July) and is a key indicator of why we are in a deepening double-dip recession.
When the Tories and Lib Dems took over in May 2010 they put construction projects on hold. This included the Building Schools for the Future programme. In my constituency we were hit by the scrapping of BSF and there were no reprieves. But the Coalition also reviewed the Thornton Relief Road, a £30m project which had been approved by Labour.
Now, two years later, Sefton council has a Labour majority for the first time and has finally put the project on track. But the two-year delay has meant the construction industry has reduced its capacity in response to the massive cuts in government projects. Projects such as BSF and the Thornton Relief Road will be key to growing the economy and producing jobs. The question is whether firms have survived and whether the skilled workforce is still available.
Bill Esterson MP
(Labour, Sefton Central), House of Commons, London SW1
Women and children first
Steve Connor questions the existence of the maritime principle of "women and children first" (31 July). In February 1941 SS Anchises was crippled by bombs in the Western approaches. My mother, 12-year-old sister and I were entrusted to the first lifeboat away. Kept afloat by our cargo of Malaysian crude rubber, the captain stayed on board overnight sending Maydays; he boarded the last lifeboat. HMS Kingcup homed in on the Maydays and found his lifeboat first. The novice crew of the recently commissioned Flower Class corvette secured the lifeboat so tightly that the heavy swell crushed it against the hull; the duffle-coated captain was drowned. The crew learnt their lesson. After 30 hours drifting away from Anchises the last lifeboat to be rescued by the Kingcup was ours. I live to tell the tale, though at the time "women and children first" was an ambivalent privilege.
Canon Christopher Hall
The lusts of men of a certain age
In commenting on the eminent 68-year-old Professor Paul Frampton's foolish pursuit of a 24-year-old model, Terence Blacker (31 July) says that men over a certain age are blind "to the fact that they no longer have the slightest sexual attraction for women". For women of 24, Terence and Paul, women of 24!
I don't find this sorry tale "heart-wrenching". Are the rest of us women invisible? This is a predominantly Anglo-Saxon attitude; at the age of 54, I married an Italian of 59 and discovered that he and his male friends and relatives thought it perfectly normal to love, appreciate and encourage women of their own age.
Don't take Boris so seriously
I refused to vote for Boris in 2008 because I feared he'd put up fares and in 2012 because he did. However, to describe him as "amoral (an adulterer)... arguably racist" as Michael Rosenthal does (Letters, 1 August) exposes one as more than arguably a prude and killjoy. Many of our great leaders were "adulterers"; should Palmerston, Nelson, Wellington and Lloyd George have been driven from public life? I think not. His "piccaninnies" remark was a joke – people are far too sensitive these days.
I'm not so sure that Boris Johnson has proved such an inspirational mayor for the Olympics. His negative messages about the impact of the Games on London's public-transport system have had an effect on the life of the capital not dissimilar to what you might expect from the return of the bubonic plague.
Ocean-going nuclear bunker
The royal yacht Britannia was never more than a floating royal palace. Although it could be used as a hospital ship, the patrician-dominated government of the day believed the royal family needed its own sea-going nuclear bunker despite the need for austerity. Worryingly, we now have a similarly patrician government that defers to the royals while being quite willing to put missiles on the roofs of us poor plebs. Why can't there be Rapier missiles or a bunker at Buckingham Palace? It would be cheaper than a new yacht, and acknowledge that people have had to make sacrifices.
I note in NBC's televised coverage of the 2012 Olympics (2 August) that the commentators have repeated complaints by beach volleyball competitors that the sand on the courts at Horses Guards is "too deep". Having been raised at the beach in southern California, I would like to remind both players and announcers that the name of the game is "beach volleyball"!
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