The bullet wound
in the back
of his head
I am puzzled by the comments of Andrew Hook (5 April) on the death of Willie McRae which he attributes to a car accident, and makes no mention of the bullet wound in the back of his head, or to the several strange circumstances of his death.
I personally interviewed a close friend of Willie's – John McGill of Kilmarnock – whose car was shot at a few days before Willie's death. He immediately called lawyer Willie, who seemed to have a good idea what was going on. That was just a minor incident, but together with several others it indicates that McRae's death was extremely suspicious.
It was sad to see Jill Stephenson (4 April) join the gadarene rush of well-heeled professionals denouncing universal benefits such as the free bus pass for the elderly. Universal benefits have the advantage that they can be enjoyed without having to 'fiddle around with' complex application forms or access a pensioner-unfriendly website.
The Poverty Site has shown that 33% of pensioner households entitled to pension credit did not claim it, that 40% of such housholds entitled to council tax benefit did not claim it, and that 15% of such households did not claim it. Means testing, as anyone old enough to remember the thirties will tell you, penalises and stigmatises the poorest. Jill's cunning plan to focus on wealthier pensioners may sound rather different from the Geddes Axe but it will require some kind of bureaucratic procedure to establish who is eligible for her wealthy swipe card and who is not. It sounds like means testing as administered by Waitrose.
My conviction about the value of universal benefits was established during my years of working with woman mature students. There were periods of time when the universal child benefit was the only source of income they had to feed their children, to heat their homes and to find their way to college to improve their qualifications. They weren't magicians; they were women who understood how to make the best of their time on this planet far more than our politicians seem able to do. I recently wrote to Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper lamenting the failure of their party to defend the universal child benefit system but didn't even get an acknowledgement.
It was not universal benefits which caused our current economic crisis and their removal is not going to take us out of the crisis. I would be prepared to re-consider my views once a Robin Hood tax on bank profits has been introduced but, as for now, means testing, however it is dressed up, is just a way of making the poor poorer than they already are.
I am appalled by Kenneth Roy's article on Cornton Vale (5 April) and must thank him sincerely for its existence. I worked as a prison visitor for Polmont when it was a YOI and know the insides of jails. It was the prison staff that got me down. The same when I worked in the education department and as a one-to-one with a soon-to-leave lifer at Saughton. There were a few altruistic young prison staff but they had all the goodness beaten out of them as early as it could be done. It is the lack of education of the staff that prevents improvement. I have failed to get others in positions of authority to agree with me on this or even to do anything about it. As I left the service many years ago I assumed it was a bit better – I am very disappointed to read it is still as rotten.
There was a fascinating vignette near the end of the second round of this year's Masters golf championship. The 52-year-old Freddie Couples held the lead, and was long inside the clubhouse. The American television commentators were pleased with this but full of angst about Tiger's swing and intrigued by Mickelson's fight back from bouts of wayward play. Their European colour complements, Faldo and Feherty, spoke reverently about this being the first Masters championship since the death of Seve Ballesteros, and how fine it would be if one of the Spanish contingent could win it.
In the midst of all this Tom Watson was playing the 18th hole, requiring some divine intervention if he was to avoid the cut and somehow qualify for the last two days of the tournament. He didn't get it, and he knew he was out of the tournament.
But Watson is not revered for nothing by those who know their golf and who recognise character. He was playing in a group of three which contained a young Japanese player by the name of Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama had shot the lowest score for an amateur and had qualified to play in the final two rounds of the tournament.
On the 18th green Watson extended his hand to Matsuyama, and then to Matsuyama's caddy, who was an older Japanese gentleman. Then Watson took a step back and bowed. It was done quietly and simply – almost imperceptibly – and without any ostentation; so much so that the commentators didn't register it at all. But the caddy did. He immediately returned the etiquette, and the brief glimpse we had of his face showed that he was greatly moved by Watson's gesture.
Little things like that speak of the most profound things.
Warning. Don't get caught speeding in Effingham County, Georgia, (was there ever a place better named?) as did Jose Maria Olazabal Manterola, our Ryder Cup captain. If you do, they will fine you a significant amount of money, but much worse, they will take your mugshot and post it on their website, between someone done for public intoxication and another charged with, but not convicted of, five offences, including escape, burglary and public indecency. There it can be lifted and used by any newspaper in the world, including what used to be the Daily Telegraph and (inevitably) the Daily Mail. Another small example of what can happen when a nation declines to ratify international treaties on human rights.
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