Over-50s, Iraq and others

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M&S recognises spending power of over-50 age group

M&S recognises spending power of over-50 age group

Sir: Commentators on the current financial difficulties of Marks & Spencer take the company to task for its inability successfully to cater for the extremely fickle clothing tastes of the youngest consumers (Janet Street Porter, for example, 15 April). None seems to mention the potential of exploiting the recognised large spending power of the 50-and-over age group.

As a member of this growing proportion of the female population, my observations suggest that a large majority of my contemporaries find "granny" a term of affection rather than opprobrium and regard cosmetic surgery as a pathetic triumph of hope over experience. Accepting that age has changed the shape of our bodies as well as our tastes, we don't try to squeeze ourselves into bizarre designer-type fashions, preferring to dress in a way that we find attractive, comfortable, practical and becoming to our years.

Visiting Marks & Spencer's clothing shop for the first time in nearly two years, I was delighted to find that alongside items for the young the company has resumed its offer of a good selection of such "elderly" items as unwired and unpadded bras, and trousers with pockets and elasticated waistbands.

If Marks & Spencer intends to regard the "grey pound" as a regular and useful source of revenue, I'm sure I won't be alone in resuming my regular custom.

Girton, Cambridgeshire

Hand Iraq over to UN peace-keepers

Sir: We are in deep trouble in Iraq when Tony Blair and George Bush show so little understanding of the reasons behind the current insurrection ("Bush and Blair: Things can only get better", 17 April).

While most Iraqis are glad Saddam is gone, they dislike their country being under foreign military control. Almost everyone, except Bush and Blair, realises that Western occupation and heavy-handed repression are provoking the nationalist backlash and fuelling popular support for guerrilla attacks.

So long as Western soldiers remain in Iraq, the hand over of so-called sovereignty on 30 June will do little to dampen the emerging national liberation struggle. Because the interim Iraqi administration is going to be dependent on American military protection for its survival, it will be dismissed by many Iraqis as a US puppet regime. This will exacerbate, not diminish, the nationalist uprising.

The action most likely to restore peace and stability to Iraq is the withdrawal of Western forces. To maintain security and guarantee free and fair elections, Western troops could be replaced by UN peace-keepers, drawn from Arab, Muslim and other Third World countries. This would prevent Saddam loyalists and Islamic fundamentalists seizing power, and defuse worldwide Muslim anger at the Western occupation of Islamic land.

London SE1

Sir: Bush and Blair talk of the handover of power to Iraq on 30 June. However, the US plans to establish a number of military bases in Iraq which will be used to enforce the planned restructuring and will create a strategic stronghold in the Middle East.

Iraq will be moving towards a culture of privatisation involving the rewriting of its laws to make it favourable for international investment. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) selected by Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority is the body for brokering this policy.

The ongoing terrible events in Iraq point to the disenfranchisement of many Iraqi people from this process, since the members of the IGC are unelected and not representative. It is also plain that the handover of power will be to those who have bought into the process of Western neo-liberalisation.

Up until now the most dramatic demonstration of Western liberation and democracy has been negative: either by force and firepower, or by subterfuge, the loss of life and the absence of national security.

We must demonstrate to the Iraqi people that we are genuinely committed to rebuilding Iraq with their consent, and not in our own image and interests.


Sir: In your editorial of 12 April ("The memo trail that leads to the Oval office"), you wrote that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's National Security Adviser, "herself had let perhaps the biggest cat out of the bag when she revealed to the commission that the long-suppressed title of the secret memo was 'Bin Laden determined to strike in US', even though she had insisted until then that the intelligence assessment pointed only to attacks abroad."

Jane Corbin's book, The Base, was published in 2002. In it, she wrote: "Bush had just finished going through his PDB, the Presidential Daily Briefing. It made for worrying reading with its headline 'Bin Laden determined to strike in the US', and its analysis that al-Qa'ida hoped to 'bring the fight to America'."

Some cat; some bag!


ID cards in Europe

Sir: In Germany and several other European countries citizens have long been obliged to carry ID cards. Although obviously the matter would only be put to the test if one's ID could not be produced to a police officer, my impression is that no one here finds this a problem. On the contrary, because the credit-card size ID cards verify one's appearance and home address, they streamline many everyday tasks, from renting videos to crossing internal EU borders.

Is the discomfort about ID cards simply another symptom of traditional Anglo-Saxon resistance to Continental customs? Except during the Second World War, ID cards have also never been issued in America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, despite the determined efforts of their respective governments.

Freiburg, Germany

Culture at the BBC

Sir: Humphrey Burton rightly laments the absence of opera, ballet and music from BBC2 (letter, 15 April). None were present over Easter when the schedules were solidly philistine; indeed, there was little indication that the long weekend had anything other than a secular significance.

I believe the low level of cultural ambition at the BBC reflects the poor quality of its senior management. Top management sets the tone, and it is now pretty low. To be fair, as far as the visual arts are concerned, there are programmes of quality on BBC Four. But opera and ballet, for which the public pays in its taxes, is scandalously under-represented by the BBC (also funded by the public), and great visiting orchestras and musicians are completely neglected. We are being cheated.

I am afraid that those with memories of what Michael Grade did to music and the arts during his days at Channel 4 will have felt misgivings at the rejoicing expressed in your leader column (3 April), now that he is back as the new BBC chairman. And unfortunately the Governors, as guardians of the public interest, have in the past proved to be useless.

BBC Music Talks producer, 1959-90
London NW6

Mechanised country

Sir: Jill Deane of North Yorkshire conveys her disillusionment with the noisy mechanised countryside today (letter, 16 April). Given John Prescott's obsession with concrete and tarmac, she will soon be out of her misery. The Deputy Prime Minister seems to think we should hand over the countryside to developers for hundreds of thousands of houses, industrial parks and hypermarkets.

On one trip to that most British of institutions, Marks & Spencer's, I noted that our apples come from Argentina and France, honey from Canada or New Zealand, tomatoes and spinach from Spain and disgusting-tasting chicken from Denmark. Our farmed fish has been declared unsafe to eat.

Forget WMD: if the terrorists wanted to kill us off, they need only block our imports for a week.

London NW3

Meat hygiene

Sir: Ian Dougall puts the demise of many abattoirs down to "Britain's left-wing fascist environmental health officers" (letter, 17 April). I think Mr Dougall will find that EU slaughter directives (translated into UK statute) are enforced by the Meat Hygiene Service and not EHOs.

I am an EHO and do not consider myself in anyway a fascist, nor have I met any colleagues with fascist-like traits. I do agree with his sentiments on the demise of many smaller abattoirs, unable to survive the vast increase in EU rulings on meat hygiene. In the past, the spreading out of abattoirs reduced the distance that food travelled and also reduced the chance of widespread outbreaks of disease, which are generally associated with larger factory-type slaughterhouses.

Blame Brussels and Westminster rather than your local ratcatcher.

Wivenhoe, Essex

Adoption choices

Sir: In 1978 I became a teenage mother and gave up my daughter for adoption. Of course I have regretted giving up my child, but have had to accept that what is done is done. One way I have been able to come to terms with my action is in thinking that, however barbaric closed adoption is for the birth mother, my daughter and her adoptive family were able, by my permanent exclusion from her life, to bond as a real family.

I believe my daughter owes me nothing, and I am reconciled to the possibility that I might never get to see her again. However, I do believe that the couple who were privileged enough to be chosen as her new parents do owe me something. Out of common humanity, and maybe even gratitude, I would very much appreciate knowing if she is alive and well, how she is getting on with her life, if she has any need for a family medical history, etc. A photo would be cherished. They might also consider the part they could play in preparing and guiding my daughter in seeking contact with her now extended birth family - rather than just hoping it will never happen while they are alive. I would never wish to exclude them from that process.

Finally, I welcome the new proposals. For too long birth families have been considered "dangerous". Social workers have scrutinised the letters I have left in their hands for my daughter - just in case there was anything damaging in them. This is especially painful when the adoption was for social and religious reasons rather than neglect or abuse.

Clitheroe, Lancashire

Sir: Why is it an "archaic view" that adoption should be a final separation (letter, 16 April)? There is no substantive evidence that a majority of adopted people desire to contact their birth parent(s), that the majority of birth parents desire to contact the adult who grew from the child they gave up to be adopted, or that when contact is made it invariably has a happy outcome.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 does not take into account the "needs" of all the parties concerned. It gives the adopted person the privilege of an avenue to solicit contact.

In the past, couples made their decision to adopt in the belief that the child they were going to devote much of their life to was theirs, and the birth parents were not likely to suddenly reappear at some future date offering to provide "explanations" to the child as to why he or she was given up for adoption. The recent proposals seek to change the rules which were in place when parents took their decision to adopt. Whatever may be the justification for changing the rules for future adoptions, there is no case for making the changes retrospective.

Your correspondent's case for change is not helped by her failure to take account of the fact that people who adopted children in the past also have wishes and desires, and may not view with equanimity the prospect of someone who is, in truth, a complete stranger intruding into the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Rochdale, Lancashire

Post Office queues

Sir: David Mills, the chief executive of the Post Office, is surely joking when he claims that queuing at his branches "is a social experience for most people" (Business, 17 April). Four of my local post offices have closed in just over a year, causing longer journeys to those still open, and longer queues once there. Post Office queues have been a problem for decades. Mr Mills has got his priorities wrong.

Redhill, Surrey

Axis of power

Sir: Listening to the end of the joint Bush-Blair press conference on Friday the final exchange stunned me. Mr Bush thanked Mr Blair: "Good work Prime Minister". Mr Blair responded: "Thank you Sir." There can be no clearer indication of the power balance in this relationship. No British leader should display inferiority to an American president. What would have been wrong with responding: "Thank you Mr President" - treating Bush as an equal rather than a superior?

Milton Keynes

Captured soldier

Sir: I was astonished by reports of a US soldier who was taken "hostage" in Iraq. I always understood that soldiers captured in a war were PoWs.


Chained tortoise

Sir: Regarding Rolf Clayton's elderly tortoises (letter, 16 April), just last week the tortoise at Powderham Castle in Devon died aged 160 years.

Last year he was living chained in the garden - so he wouldn't escape, presumably.

London E14

Up and down

Sir: A sign (letter, 10 April, etc) at Tottenham Court Road underground station, detailing repairs to an escalator, read: "Escalator Works". Clearly it did not.

Edgware, Middlesex