Hypocrisy turned green in Britain last week. Prince Charles and Prime Minister Gordon Brown came in for media criticism for taking separate, private aircraft to Copenhagen for the global environment meet. By using private planes, both produced more carbon emissions — blamed for global warming — than would have been generated by taking commercial flights.
The prince used the £1,019-an-hour Queen’s Flight so he could deliver a keynote speech to the conference, flying back after less than three hours. The Prime Minister chartered a 185-seat Airbus to take him and 20 aides for their four-day trip.
Carbon Footprint Limited, an emissions monitoring company in England, said the prince’s round trip would have produced around 6.4 tons of carbon dioxide — 5.2 tons more than if he had used a commercial flight. It estimated that the amount of CO2 generated by Brown’s flight is likely to be double that of the prince’s.
The Prime Minister’s Office was quick to reply, a source claiming Brown “could not find enough seats” on any of the 16 scheduled flights from London. A Downing Street spokesman said the carbon produced by Brown’s plane would be ‘offset’. He did not, however, say how.
Plastic will be the only money in the UK if a top body of British banks votes to do away with cheques.
The board of the UK Payments Council, the body for setting payment strategy in Britain, is discussing whether to set a date of 2018 for winding up the cheque clearing system.
Many British supermarkets, high street retailers and petrol stations have already stopped accepting cheques. But cheques are still a popular form of payment among elderly people — there are 6.4 million over-65s — many of whom have never accessed the Internet or handled a credit card.
The use of cheques has fallen drastically in the past 10 years as more people handle money electronically, by direct debit or with debit and credit cards. Last year, around 3.8 million cheques were written everyday in Britain, compared to a peak of 10.9 million in 1990.
The oldest surviving cheque in Britain was written in 1659, according to the council and made out for £400 (equivalent to around £42,000 today). In those days, cheques were exchanged informally in coffee houses. It was not until 1833 that the first clearing house was built in London to exchange cheques.
Cheques have all but disappeared in Sweden and Norway and their use is under review in Ireland, South Africa and Australia.
The Sunday Times has exposed a fraud by some colleges involved in conducting fake exercises for immigrants to learn English and obtain a certificate to that effect so that they can apply for permanent settlement in Britain. At one such college in Birmingham, immigrants come to ‘buy’ English language certificates even though many of them cannot speak the language.
The system was introduced by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, where certificates should be awarded only to migrants who have undergone lengthy language and citizenship classes and proved they can speak English “to a workable level”.
In a telephone conversation recorded by the newspaper, an assessor at the Birmingham centre said no coursework was needed before a candidate took the test. For a fee of £250, she said, candidates could arrive at the centre next Monday and take a two or three-hour exam. The certificate would be sent to them six weeks later.
There is no problem even if a candidate did not speak any English. The candidates are given answers to the exam questions beforehand. They note the answers in their mother tongues like Punjabi or Urdu. These notes are then read out by them to sound like English in the live oral exam. There is a compulsory audio recording of the oral examination which cannot, however, detect how some candidates are reading from carefully prepared crib sheets.
Home Office guidelines also say that candidates should receive between 200 and 450 hours of tuition before taking a 45-minute test. But the Sunday Times reporter, posing as an immigrant whose wife spoke only Punjabi, was told by staff at one college in Birmingham that candidates did not have to take any course or speak any English to pass the test.
Action has been taken against the errant college. But the newspaper claims there are still scores of them.
What does wholesome school education mean? Top grades, learning foreign languages, excelling in sports and debating, editing a school magazine, to name a few. But for girls at Malvern St James School in Worcester, England, it also means learning how to drink.
The school is known for excellence, but the girls thought the school should also teach them how to drink. They reasoned that if they knew how to discern whether a vintage had legs or a full body or grace notes of radish, perhaps they would not become binge drinkers like so many teenagers of their generation. So began one of Britain’s youngest wine-tasting clubs and perhaps the first attempt to educate school pupils in the pleasures of wine drinking.
On some Sunday evenings, sixth-formers gather in a drawing room in Lawnside, a building in the school — where George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar attended tea parties in the 1930s. They sip wine, taking notes on the provenance, bouquet and colour. They cover a range of wines and clarets of different vintages. Sometimes they are joined by boys from neighbouring schools — recently they drank with a former pupil who is now a master of wine and a local Worcester wine importer.