Sir: Matthew Parris’s proposal that marriage be abolished, and civil partnerships installed in its place, is absurd (‘The term “marriage” needs to be untangled’, 7 July). This would not simplify the ambiguous connotations that the word ‘marriage’ has come to hold; rather, it would diminish its importance at a time when it is greatly needed. Committed and legally recognised relationships are a salient component of a functioning society: providing a stable environment in which to raise children, and serve as a welcome source of privacy in an era where such a concept is scarce. However, the distinctive quality of matrimony — at least in a Christian sense — is that it is a sacrament: the establishment of a covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.
If Britain were to replace marriage with a secular alternative, one of the features that defines our country as Christian would be relinquished. Civil partnerships would grant the state greater influence in private life, while paving the way for aspects of our culture and history — which have formed much of the social and moral basis for modern society — to be fully abolished. Those who value such matters ought to be intransigent on this issue.
The childcare crisis
Sir: Tanya Gold’s statement that there is an au pair drought in the UK (‘A cry for help’, 30 June) is something of an understatement. Au pairs have long been the secret weapon of the middle classes. Private nannies are largely the domain of the very wealthy, whilst the majority of families make use of day nurseries and a dwindling childminder market, recently stripped of many capable souls who have buckled under the weight of Ofsted.
Ms Gold may be ‘grateful that my son is now at school’, but who drops him off and picks him up? If pre-school childcare options in the UK are costly and random at best, then wrap-around care options for school-aged children are a shambles. As she says herself: ‘No one really seems to care about childcare in Britain, and a bad situation has got worse.’
Successive governments have urged women back into the workplace after childbirth, and many would argue that it’s a necessity, not a choice. But the practicalities have been ignored and, like the welfare state which is now openly propped up by an army of volunteers, the vital issue of caring for our children is a silent crisis running through every strata of society. Families who can afford private care may bemoan the dearth of Europeans, but many more are running out of affordable options. Perhaps the au pair drought might serve as a wake-up call…
Whistle or sing?
Sir: Simon Barnes gets taken to task by Jane Manly for writing of ‘the laid-back whistling of the blackbird’ (Letters, 30 June), but he’s in good company. Dylan Thomas in ‘Poem in October’ writes of:
…the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder…
Bad boys of rugby
Sir: Gavin Mortimer’s article on the decline in good behaviour among rugby players (‘Bad sports’, 7 July) suggests the possible influence of anabolic steroids in the game. I played league for my grammar school and then union for Sheffield University Medical School Rugby Club 2nd XV for a couple of years in the 1970s. Back then, I never saw any unbridled aggression, except on the field, as part of the game.
Mortimer’s article states that some players’ aggression is now being taken off the field and on to the streets. There are examples here in the United States, where I now live, of police officers, soldiers and sportsmen becoming addicted to muscle enhancing medications, which help them to ‘bulk up’. Soccer players are more likely to be lean, as they require speed rather than Herculean strength. Some rugby players, on the other hand, look more like American football players, who despite a stringent testing programme still occasionally turn up positive for performance enhancing drugs. If this is the case, can the damage they are doing to their bodies be worth it in the long term?
Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico
Cutting the verges
Sir: I’m sure Isabel Hardman (‘Keep off the grass’, 7 July) is right about grass verges on country roads. They are cut far too often (certainly in Norfolk) and at the wrong time of year. The same goes for hedge cutting. I don’t, however, think this should apply to the grass verges within urban areas, where the main issue is to preserve them from being used for car parking. The grass verges and carefully spaced trees in our towns are designed to be part of a formal urban landscape. The trees should to be properly pruned and the grass regularly cut. It so happens that Norwich City Council, for various reasons, have neglected their grass verges in the past few years. It’s a pity that money spent on needlessly cutting country verges can’t be used to properly maintain those in urban areas.
We like driving
Sir: Christian Wolmar’s excellent demolition of the case for driverless cars (‘False start’, 7 July) overlooked one other significant barrier to their uptake: most people quite like driving their cars.