Wednesday, November 15, 2006


THE fountain pen, complete with leaky nibs, bursting cartridges and indelibly stained shirts, is making a compulsory comeback in a last-ditch attempt to save the nation's handwriting. The spread of vowel-free text messages among the young and the rise of grammarless e-mails across all age ranges is leaving children, university students and even teachers unable to write legibly by hand.

But now a leading independent school has ordered pupils aged nine and over to write only with fountain pens. Bryan Lewis, the headmaster of The Mary Erskine & Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh, believes that his pupils' educational attainment and sense of self-worth will all benefit. "All teachers who join our junior school are taught a handwriting style by my colleagues and they, in turn, teach all our children the same style," Mr Lewis said. "They are helped by our insistence that children from primary 5 onwards write in fountain pen. "Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not-insignificant bonus of developing children's selfesteem."

Mr Lewis's policy is likely to be well-received by those in authority. Tony Blair is a fountain-pen user and has been known to give heavyweight Churchill pens as gifts. The Prime Minister, who was educated in the Scottish private school system, writes all his speeches in longhand with a favourite fountain pen before passing them to his secretaries to be typed.

At Mr Blair's end of the market, fountain pen sales are reportedly booming. Purveyors of expensive jewellery such as Bulgari and Chopard are starting to produce luxury pens.

It is widely accepted that the use of the fountain pen, necessarily slower and more deliberate than the ballpoint or rollerpen, produces more elegant handwriting. Those who write for a living tend to profess affection for the fountain pen. In Eighteenth, the poet, Kate Bingham, praised the "low-tech simplicity" of the instrument and recalled the excitement of watching "the tip of a new pen touch its first white sheet, the hand behind solemn and quivering, unsure whether to doodle or draw or let the nib try for itself, licking the page in thirsty blue-black stripes". John Banville, the Booker prize-winning Irish author, also prefers to use a fountain pen. He has been reported as saying that "a fountain pen is about the right speed. A machine goes too fast. It goes faster than I can think."

But the fall of the fountain pen from common usage was once widely welcomed because of its association with ruined school uniforms, messy pages and classroom squabbles. In the days when fountain pens were widespread, was there ever a pupil whose school blazer did not have a giant inky map all over the lining or a blue puddle in the top pocket? The fountain pen was also a favourite weapon of the naughty schoolboy. The nib could be used to jab other pupils and some models, especially those which filled from bottles by pistons or levers, were ideal for squirting ink. The more primitive dip-in types also made crude darts. But the favourite of every schoolboy was the ink pellet - the blotting-paper-and-ink device detested by every teacher.

Mr Lewis is adamant that the return of pen and ink will have positive results for his pupils. The demise of the fountain pen and handwriting went hand-in-hand, he argues, with the rise of "progressive" teaching methods. He added: "Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression. From that time generations of children were no longer taught to write properly. They couldn't recognise the importance of spelling, to read with expression and understanding, and to master numbers. "In many cases the pupils of that era are now today's teachers. They can hardly be expected to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills when they went through childhood either unaware of, or indifferent to, rules of grammar and spelling."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has lamented that the standard of handwriting on some exam papers was so poor that its markers could not read them. A spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education said: "Good spelling, handwriting, grammar and punctuation make for confident use of language and smooth communication."


A straight-talking black bishop of the church of England

The Archbishop of York has launched a withering attack on BBC bias, the chattering classes and the consumerism surrounding Christmas. Dr John Sentamu also questioned the right of Muslim women to wear the veil in public, saying it did not "conform to norms of decency". Dr Sentamu, who ranks second in the Anglican church hierarchy, used an interview to rail against what he described as the destruction of Britain's Christian heritage by the wilfulness of the chattering classes.

Some of his strongest comments were reserved for the BBC, which he claimed was biased against the Church of England. "We get more knocks. They can do to us what they dare not do to the Muslims," he said. "We are fair game because they can get away with it. We don't go down there and say, `We are going to bomb your place.' It is not within our nature."

The Ugandan-born cleric, 57, said that Britain's minorities could not expect society to be reconfigured around them. When asked whether it was right for Muslim women in Britain to wear the full veil in every aspect of their lives he replied: "Muslim scholars would say three things. First, does it conform to norms of decency? Secondly, does it render you more secure? And thirdly, what kind of Islam are you projecting by wearing it? "I think in the British context it renders you less secure because you stick out and it brings you unwelcome attention. On the first question, I don't think it does conform.

"You know, when I visit Orthodox synagogues I never take a cross. When I go into Muslim mosques I take it off. When I go into a Sikh temple I cover my head. And I can't simply say, `Take me as I am, whether you like it or not'." "I think the thing is in British society you can wear what you want, but you can't expect British society to be reconfigured around you. No minority can expect to impose this on the public or civic life."

The Archbishop's comments put him at odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who has defended the right of Muslim women to wear the full veil, arguing that it would be politically dangerous to ban visible signs of faith.

Dr Sentamu's views on society's rejection of Christian heritage will probably be shared by the majority of the Church's senior clerics. He criticised the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, highlighting the recent arrival of a Chinese cargo ship laden with consumer items. Dr Sentamu said that Christmas should be a more charitable occasion. "Do we need those toys?" he asked. "I would suggest that this Advent we should be eating less and not spending so much. Give up a little bit and find charities that give clean water.

"Also, support our farmers, buy more products from this country, If you lose farmers, you are going to lose this green and pleasant land."

Perhaps his strongest criticism was reserved for those who rejected the country's Christian heritage. The Archbishop, who had trained as a lawyer in Uganda before fleeing Idi Amin's rule in 1974, said: "When I was in Uganda, everything that was British was the best. If you went to a shop to buy a ruler, you looked for one that said `Made in Britain'. But now this country disbelieves itself in an amazing way. "It almost dislikes its own culture. It doesn't realise that the arts, music, buildings have grown out of a strong Christian tradition. John Betjeman would be shocked that the nation is not interested in helping preserve these things."

He claimed in an interview with today's Daily Mail that the urban liberal elite were to blame. "They see themselves as holding the flag for Britain and that Britain is definitely secular and atheist. I want them to have their say, but not to lord it over the rest of us."

Dr Sentamu also said that parental neglect of children was leading to children's behavioural problems that could not be blamed on schools. "Once children have reached 11 and you have not been with them, then you have lost them. That is the difference between what happens in a Jewish home or a Muslim home, where the raising of children is paramount," he said.


"We get more knocks. They can do to us what they dare not do to the Muslims. We are fair game because they can get away with it. We don't go down there and say, `We are going to bomb your place'. It is not within our nature."


"I think the thing is in British society you can wear what you want, but you can't expect British society to be reconfigured around you. No minority can expect to impose this on the public or civic life."


"They see themselves as holding the flag for Britain and that Britain is definitely secular and atheist. I want them to have their say, but not to lord it over the rest of us."


Christian charity bans Christmas themed children's gifts

Christian charity Samaritan's Purse fears anything relating to Jesus may offend Muslims

It is a Christian charity bringing Christmas cheer to needy children abroad. So its decision to ban Jesus, God and anything else connected with its own faith has been greeted with little short of puzzlement. Operation Christmas Child, run by the charity Samaritan's Purse, sends festive packages to deprived youngsters in countries ravaged by war and famine. Donors are asked to pack shoeboxes with a cuddly toy, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and flannel, notepads, colouring books and crayons - but nothing to do with Christmas. Stories from the Bible, images of Jesus and any other Christian literature are expressely forbidden - in case Muslims are offended.

Yesterday the charity's policy of censoring its own faith was described as political correctness gone mad. Last Christmas, Britons filled 1.13 million shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse to send to children abroad. But Barbara Hill, who works at the worldwide charity's UK headquarters in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, said: "Anything we find in the boxes which has a religious nature will be removed. "If a box was opened by a Muslim child in a Muslim country they may be offended so we try to avoid religious images." The charity has also banned war-related items such as Action Man-type figures, as well as chocolate and cake.

Yesterday the policy was condemned as "bizarre". John Midgley, cofounder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: "It seems extraordinary that a Christian charity is so concerned about political correctness that it is banning itself from its own core values. "We have members from all faiths who would be appalled at this patronising sort of attitude." Mike Slade, the Rural Dean of Locking, Somerset, added: "Personally I think it is a great shame that we can't share the gift of Christmas which comes from the Christian faith with children all over the world. "I think a number of Muslim people would respect Christians sharing their faith as they would accept respect from us. Political correctness is increasingly creeping into many spheres of life. We are very sad to hear about this."

A Church of England spokesman said: "We are very clear that in Britain, Muslims are not offended by Christians celebrating Christmas." But he added: "In other parts of the world, in Muslim countries, if Muslims have strong values that would regard this as a hostile act, it is different. "Ideally, a child would receive a present with a Madonna and Child card, but if that is not possible, it is more important than the aid gets through than the Christian message."

The appeal sends shoe boxes from Britain to children in countries including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Romania, Serbia, Sudan and Mozambique. Although no Christian literature is included in the boxes, the charity does separately distribute Christmas stories from the Bible and encourages Bible study in areas where it gives toys out. A spokesman for Samaritan's Purse, which was introduced to Britain by evangelist Billy Graham and is run internationally by his son Franklin, said: "Christianity motivates many of our supporters to help children in need. We are a Christian charity and that's about helping people. "But it's our policy not to put religious, political or military items in boxes which go to areas of different cultures. "All shoeboxes are checked in the UK warehouses in case someone has ignored the instruction and put such an item into a shoebox and, if found, any such item is removed."

Devoutly Christian MP Ann Widdecombe said: "Either this is being done in the name of Christ or it isn't. This is Christmas, a Christian festival. If it's being done for Christmas, there is no reason on earth why they should not have Christian symbols." Last year, Lambeth Council in South London renamed its Christmas street decorations 'Winter Lights' to avoid offending non-Christians, while several years ago, Birmingham City Council notoriously rebranded the Christmas holidays 'Winterval'.


Britain's latest "human rights" nonsense

ALMOST 200 criminals who were forced to stop taking drugs in jail have won payouts of up to œ5,000 each from the Prison Service. The awards were made after the Home Office "reluctantly" settled out of court a test case brought by six inmates. The payouts will go to 198 applicants and not just the six involved in the test case who alleged that "cold turkey" withdrawal treatment forced upon them amounted to assault.

The Home Office defended the decision to settle the case out of court, which was taken on the advice of Government lawyers who warned that the Prison Service was likely to lose. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "It was decided, however reluctantly, to settle these cases in order to minimise costs to the taxpayer. "These cases concern action against medical practice in prison which dates back to the early 1990s."

Six inmates and former inmates who used heroin and other opiates were granted leave to sue the Home Office in a test case this year. They alleged that the "cold turkey" withdrawal they were forced to undergo amounted to assault.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said the case set a disastrous precedent and accused John Reid, the Home Secretary, of failing to protect the public. Mr Davis said: "Presumably the Government does not want to be embarrassed by losing such a case under its own human rights legislation. "Drugs are a scourge on society and completely undermine all our other efforts to fight crime. By doing this Mr Reid would be letting down the taxpayer, the victims of these offenders and the drug addicts themselves. The precedent would be disastrous."

Ann Widdecombe, the Tory former Prisons Minister, said: "It is an insult to every victim and every law-abiding person. "As far as I'm concerned there is no human right to continue a drug habit when you go to prison. This Prison Service will be paying out money it should not be."

The prisoners were bringing the action based on trespass, because they say that they did not consent to the treatment, and for alleged clinical negligence. The criminals also claimed breaches under Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which ban discrimination, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Article 8, which enshrines the right to respect for private life.



If the green campaigners manage to change the habits of the nation, it will be popcorn and fruit, not glittering baubles, dangling from the branches of Christmas trees this year. Traditional tree decorations are all under fire from environmental campaigners attempting to change the colour of Christmas from white to green. Even the fairy will be missing, as she has been condemned as an eco-hazard. Campaigners want the fairies, stars, tinsel and baubles that usually adorn the tree to be replaced with edible decorations that can be given to the birds when Christmas is over. And forget about the annual trip to see grandma. For a really green Christmas the car should be left in the garage and "kith and kin" wished seasons greetings over the internet.

Tree lights, cards and wrapping paper are also targeted as wasteful in the guidance on how to have a green Christmas. Advice contained in the Green Guide to Christmas urges the public to use fewer lights, turn off those that remain during the day and to recycle Christmas cards. Wrapping paper could, the guide suggests, be replaced with tin foil that can be used later in the kitchen, or with old newspapers, magazines or brown paper. Artificial trees ought to be eschewed in favour of the real thing. "Our favourite option is to buy a new fir tree with its roots still attached from an ecologically sustainable source and plant it in your garden after Christmas," says the report issued by Green Guide. "Do this every year until you have a mini forest in your backyard." They recognised that planting rows of trees over the years was not feasible for all householders but said that unwanted firs could be composted in the new year.

Of tree and other decorations, they say: "Many of the decorations available in high street stores have been treated chemically to colour the paper or are made out of nonbiodegradable substances. "Avoid anything which cannot be recycled or has not been made from recycled materials. Use edible tree decorations that can be given to garden birds afterwards, like popcorn and cranberry strings."

Amid growing concerns about global warming being caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the guide urges restraint on energy consumption. "Increasingly there are options for you to both reduce the amount of energy you use and to seek out more sustainable sources," it says. "What really lies at the heart of the issue is the need for us to make a cultural change. We need to stop assuming that we can go on as we are indefinitely."

Muslim leaders joined their Christian counterparts yesterday in criticising politicians and town hall leaders who want to play down Christmas. The Christian Muslim Forum said that right-wing extremism was being fuelled by attempts to remove religion from the festival, such as Birmingham's decision to rename its celebrations Winterval. The forum said: "The desire to secularise religious festivals is offensive to both of our communities. Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society unthinkingly become recuiting agents for the extreme Right."


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