How we beat the volcano
We have just returned from Frankfurt airport using six trains and a ferry.
I would like to thank all the wonderful people to helped to get us home, especially the employees of Deutsche Bahn, who tried to organise train routes through Europe, and the train manager of the last train to Brussels who encouraged people who were only travelling to Cologne and Bonn to get off the train so that the long-distance travellers could get on.
Other Belgian train officials organised taxis and hotels at 1am and a hotel manager booked us in at 2am and had breakfast for us at 5.30am. They were all wonderful. We left Frankfurt at 19.00 on Friday and were home at 16.30 on Saturday.
It is a shame that the goodwill stopped at Calais ferry terminal, where foot passengers were charged 65 euros, the same price of a single train fare from Dover to Wolverhampton.
So the proof of the worth of the EU is an impressive list of co-ordinated actions to repatriate the stranded people, provide food and shelter and emergency transport to demonstrate how the EU helps its citizens (Podium, 19 April).
Unfortunately, what we actually got was the French putting an immediate stop to the initiative from Dan Snow and his flotilla for fear of upsetting the ferry operators. What hope is there for the EU now?
Chaos in the air? I don't think so. As far as I am concerned the sky is unusually clear and beautiful, unscarred by polluting noisy monsters of the sky. With reduced noise levels here in sunny Devon, I can't imagine how much better the environment is in the considerable chunk of the UK blighted by nearby airports.
The silver lining on this volcanic cloud may be our realisation of the cost of dependence on needless luxuries brought in by air as well as environmentally destructive holidaying.
More holiday in the UK? Less food imported from abroad? Higher levels of self-sufficiency? (With all the jobs these would bring.) Bad news for the multinationals, but sounds good to me.
Dr Colin Bannon
Following the recent disruption to air travel, I find myself out of pocket, due to what I have been informed is an "act of God". In order to avoid future financial embarrassment, please could you recommend an atheist travel insurance company?
Seaview, Isle of Wight
Lib Dem kind of eccentricity
Michael Gove states: "The greater degree of scrutiny these [the Liberal Democrats'] policies have, the more people will realise that [they] are outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric." Similar sentiments have been expressed by Douglas Alexander.
One must wonder whether the thought ever crossed Mr Gove's and Mr Alexander's minds that parts of the electorate may already have scrutinised the policies of all mainstream parties and drawn the conclusion that at a time of crisis the policies of the Lib Dems may in fact be exactly what we need.
If we a bit earlier had scrutinised the policies of the other (until now) main parties, perchance we would not have been in as deep a mess as we are now.
S U Sjolin
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Bruce Anderson's invective against the Liberal Democrats (19 April) must be the desperation of the doomed. "Do not be taken in by Clegg's 'niceness' " he warns. Why should I not be? After all, I am taken in by Brown's "boorishness" and Cameron's "slipperiness".
Horsham, West Sussex
Standing against the Speaker
The "decades-old convention that none of the main parties puts up a candidate in the Speaker's seat" (Election 2010, 16 April) is a complete myth.
Since the Second World War every former Tory MP bar one who has stood for re-election after becoming Speaker has faced opposition from at least one of the main parties and usually both. On the last occasion, in June 1987, Labour polled more than 11,000 votes, and the SDP/Liberal Alliance over 8,000 in Speaker Weatherill's Croydon seat. Since then there has been no ex-Tory Speaker for them to oppose.
At this election the Conservatives should have adopted the other parties' convention and put up a candidate against John Bercow, who defected to Labour in all but name in order to become Speaker. Since then, he has lowered his office even further in public esteem, which, coming after Speaker Martin, might have been thought impossible.
Why spelling went wrong
Andrew Morton (letter, 15 April) is right to believe that making English spelling perfectly phonetic would encounter some difficulties. This is, however, no excuse for not trying to make it substantially better.
Reducing some of the most blatant English spelling anomalies, such as ouch – touch; fiend – friend; ear - early would not even be difficult. Such abuses of the alphabetic principle help to ensure that around 100,000 English 16-year-olds finish their education each year nearly as ignorant as they started it 11 years earlier. Even a small reduction in gratuitously irregular and difficult spellings would lead to a substantial decrease in their number.
Many English words were earlier spelt much better (erly, frend, bild, iland, thare). They were changed mainly in the 16th century, during the first printing of English bibles, because they were printed abroad, by printers who spoke no English. By the end of the 16th century English spelling had become so muddled that many people called for improvements. This resulted in substantial shedding of surplus letters, especially on Civil War pamphlets (1642-9). The likes of "inne anne olde worlde shoppe" were trimmed to "in an old world shop".
Sadly, conservative reaction arrested this culling before the job was finished (have, give, imagine). Johnson's dictionary of 1755 stopped all further improvement.
Now that we are beginning to understand that highly irregular spelling is a barrier to improving overall educational attainment, there is urgent need to re-examine the soundness of English spelling.
On a recent visit to Bath Abbey, I saw an inscription in "honor" of a deceased gentleman. If we could write "honor" in 1750, why can't we write it today? After all, we no longer write "mirrour" and "horrour" as Dr Johnson told us to.
Please can someone explain how, if the spelling of English is simplified, pupils taught by such a method would be able to read anything written before such a change was made?
Don't teach to the Sats test
A boycott of Sats tests by headteachers would be missing the target. A Sats test is a short snapshot of a pupil's ability to answer some questions. Nowhere does it state that teachers have to spend weeks coaching pupils in how to pass them.
It is the headteachers who instruct their teachers to coach the pupils to pass the tests. By proposing to boycott the tests, the headteachers are giving us the worst of all worlds; the wasted time and stress in preparing for tests, without offering any feedback on progress.
If the head-teachers want to make a point and provide a benefit at the same time, rather than boycott the tests they should simply refuse to coach the children in the tests. If every school did this, the tests would still allow comparisons between schools to be made, but without the time, tedium, narrow focus and alleged stress of coaching.
All it needs is for the teaching profession to trust their colleagues in other schools or classes not to coach. That'll happen when?
What about our crooked banks?
We now hear that Goldman Sachs is being charged with fraud. At the time of the credit crunch all sorts of stories of fraud and malpractice, here in the UK, not just in the USA, were printed in The Independent and the Financial Times. One bank was rumoured to be overloading rotten securities into investment vehicles which they quickly sold off to unsuspecting investors.
When is the UK justice system going to act? We don't even have an inquiry into it all, let alone prosecutions. The moral bankruptcy the Prime Minister complains about is here in the UK also. Do we have to wait once again until US federal courts extradite British felons to the US for trial and conviction?
The snobbery engineers face
I, too, am an electronics design engineer from the manufacturing sector, and Ian Quayle's references to the class-based social snobbery that exists towards the engineering profession are accurate (letter, 16 April). Radio 4's recent competition entitled So You Want to Be a Scientist is a good example of this. No chance of R4 hosting a competition entitled So You Want to Be an Engineer.
The salaries paid to UK engineers in the manufacturing sector are low compared with those in the medical and legal professions because engineers have to survive in a competitive world economy. For example, once a UK company is the victim of a predatory takeover – with production and intellectual property exported to China – then the R&D engineers are left with little, if any, salary negotiating powers.
Dr Lawrence Jones
Biopsies for prostate cancer
Jeremy Laurance's article on Nice identifying potential cost savings (13 April) is welcome and constructive. We at Pelican Cancer Foundation, a small charity funding research in to prostate cancer treatment, agree that the current patient pathway seems unnecessarily aggressive for the majority of men.
The prostate remains the only organ that still has a "blind" biopsy and, at the moment, all patients with a raised PSA (prostate specific antigen), a notoriously inaccurate test for prostate cancer, are sent for a biopsy. This is invasive, costly and carries a small risk of infection, and reaches only 75 per cent of the gland. In effect, such tests are stabbing for results.
It has been established that a large proportion of prostate cancers will never grow or threaten a man's life. We believe that advanced MRI sequences can successfully identify clinically important lesions – ignoring smaller insignificant growths and reducing the number of men having a biopsy.
Further developments in this area, as Pelican are pursuing, provide a map of the whole prostate for a more accurate biopsy for those fewer men who need it, and help minimise patient discomfort and cost to the health service.
Pelican Cancer Foundation
Still burying bad news
Controlled timing by Government of release of reports from independent advisory committees to suit political objectives has once again been exposed. ("Critical alcohol review hidden by mephedrone row", 19 April).
Delay in releasing reports of findings produced by expert scientific committees distorts proper systematic review of what is currently known on a topic of public interest, and can lead to the public being misled, as well as to hasty, imperfect governmental decision-making.
Scrutiny of lists of government reports awaiting publication reveals a huge backlog. Authors should forcefully query reasons for delay.
(Honorary Visiting Fellow, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester)
I am a constituent in west Oxfordshire and have just received David Cameron's election leaflet, which contains no fewer than eight photos of the man himself. Is this a record?
Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire
We have the perfect answer to Jason Robertson's worries about foxes eating voles (letter, 19 April). Be kind to both of them – give the foxes vegetarian meals. Our local friendly fox pops in regularly to enjoy a bowl of sultanas.
It's obvious that what we all need is a volcanological change of wind, and a political wind of change.
Perspectives on a new politics
The party's over – if we vote to end it
The very fact that the leaders of the three "main" political parties are taking part in televised showcases (they cannot be called debates) tells us everything we need to know about general elections in Britain. It is now assumed that, with a handful of exceptions, votes will be cast not for local candidates, but for the party leaders. More fools, us, for going along with this.
There is no way out of the political morass into which Britain has been sinking steadily for decades unless the electorate wakes up on polling day and votes, everywhere, for any serious local candidate and not for those who are standing as political party clones.
Party politics are killing our democracy, with the inescapable tangle of political debts sought, owed and paid; the suppression of individual thought; open invitations to corruption and undue influence as a result of the money they need in order to run their party machines and campaigns. And, perhaps worst of all, the strikingly incompetent nonentities that the present system throws to the top of the heap as government ministers.
The party's over. Send serious independent MPs to Parliament, and, as soon as possible after that, have Parliament arrange for us to have a written constitution whose first clause will be to separate the legislature from the executive. A new system would ensure that MPs cannot be ministers, ministers cannot be MPs and a massively reduced number of national departments of state would be run by people recruited and appointed from the best of the best, accountable to a parliament that is independent in every sense.
The mixture as before will be as bitter and unhealthy for Britain as it is now. We have to move in a completely new political direction.
Clegg rises above the name-calling
In the first TV debate Nick Clegg went from the wallflower to the guy strutting his stuff in "Saturday Night Fever". According to the latest BPIX poll, he came across as honest, intelligent and more charismatic than the other two leaders.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron have only themselves to blame for being perceived as "typical bloody politicians" in the eyes of voters. Week after week the two of them have devoted their time to name-calling and character assassination. They have trashed each other to such an extent that a good part of the electorate now regards the pair as tarnished.
Of course, Labour and Conservative aides won't be looking for ways to polish-up their respective leaders – they'll be looking for dirt to take the shine off Clegg. They haven't grasped the fact that the voters have tired of the mudslinging, the spin, the outright lies and the greed of self-serving politicians
Regardless of the election outcome, Clegg has brought a more grown-up behaviour to politics.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
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