I WAS one of the firefighters who attended the recent fire at Buckingham Palace during the jubilee. This fire was a small affair and quickly extinguished.
However, fire crews stayed for several hours employed in salvage operations. This gave us a rare opportunity to wonder at the millions of pounds worth of fine art and furnishings owned by the royal family. The walls truly glitter with gold. There are Rubens and Raphaels galore. The floors are covered in thick red pile, and everywhere is filled with Italianate marble statues.
There are also golden settees big enough to seat eight adults. The scene of the fire was near a servant's room, and the contrast could not be greater. Servants don't even have their own washing facilities or toilet. They have to share such things with several others.
Instead of acres of space, the servants have mean rooms about 15 feet by 15 feet with a single bed, a wooden cupboard and a set of drawers. While there we bumped into some of the palace staff, who complained of low wages and non-existent employment rights-it is illegal to sue the queen for wrongful dismissal, or anything else for that matter.
Many people celebrated the jubilee. What I saw confirmed that the royals live in a completely different world to the rest of us and know nothing about ordinary people's lives, and that we have nothing in common with them.
US-style justice-2,000 people held in jail without trial
AHMED BENSOUDA, a member of the anti-authoritarian collective Unity and Struggle in the US, was detained by the FBI on Thursday 30 May. This is part of Bush and Ashcroft's witchhunt of Arab immigrants and activists in the US since 11 September. Ahmed is 22 years old. He's active in Palestine solidarity work and has participated in anti-racist campaigns.
We have no idea of the reason for Ahmed's detention. At first the authorities would not even confirm that they had detained him. Immigration and Nationality Service agents briefly brought Ahmed back to his apartment, supposedly to 'collect clothes'. He was handcuffed and shackled. Several of Ahmed's friends were there while Ahmed was back. His friends reported that Ahmed seemed 'out of it' and 'uncommunicative'.
Ahmed said that he had been given no opportunity to contact anyone. He was then taken away again by the agents, who claimed they plan on deporting him. Ahmed is a United Arab Emirates citizen. He is in the US legally and all of his papers are in good order.
So it is unclear on what grounds Ahmed is being threatened with deportation, or if it's even the real reason for his detention. Demonstrations have taken place demanding the immediate release of Ahmed Bensouda and the 2,000 people detained in the US without cause. For more information go to www.ucimc.org
Elderly care homes crisis
CARE OF the elderly needs a rethink. The vast numbers of beds lost belonged to social services and the health service. The care of Alzheimer's recommends 15 bed units, but nursing homes are increasing in size.
The closure of small nursing and residential units is due to trying to cut costs. Closures of small units throw away valuable resources and create large institutions.
These closures have an impact on other groups of people needing care homes, like the young disabled and people with mental illness and learning disabilities. In theory all cases of mental illness should be treated for free-this is not the case when age is involved.
Local government spends huge amounts on care homes for the elderly. Should we not be asking where that money goes? How is it spent?
The average carer is a 40 year old female. What help is given to the carers looking after relatives and those carers employed in the industry? This is an issue of grave urgency, and needs more public discussion followed by action.
PATRICK COOPER-DUFFY, Ealing
A game of two halves
IT IS virtually impossible to escape the mania around the World Cup. And in a way I can relate to the great feeling of belonging and camaraderie. It is how we feel on our demos-united in our common cause and focused on victory.
But the negative side of the World Cup keeps rearing its ugly head-the commercialism of football, the play on patriotism, the wanton display of St George's flags.
The BNP is lurking in the background preying on the young and disaffected. Football isn't just a sport. It is a money-spinning yarn exploiting working class supporters.
Enjoy it if you must. But see it for what it is-the product of a society steeped in competition, sexism, racism and patriarchy. I could never cheer for England. We will be rooting for Ireland-aligning ourselves with the people there who have fought against the English for their freedom
PAULINE WHEAT-BOWEN, Huddersfield
Let them enter
THE HOME secretary's intention to tighten up laws against so called 'bogus' asylum seekers stinks of hypocrisy. In the first quarter of the year the biggest group of asylum seekers were 2,840 Iraqis. These applicants are fleeing British-supported sanctions which have devastated Iraq.
The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that nearly 6,000 children under the age of five die every month due to lack of proper medicine or sanitation. Add that to the terrorism of daily RAF and US bombing, and I think an Iraqi has a good reason for seeking asylum.
The second biggest group of asylum seekers are from Afghanistan. The US bombing campaign killed 3,767 civilians in the first two months. Britain must let them all in. It's the least we can do for having helped destroy their countries.
STUART McCABE, Glasgow
PFI pilfering our schools
ACCORDING TO last April's Budget, government spending on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects is to soar to £25 billion in the next three years. West Sussex PFI projects for schools are big business. Private developers and banks often hammer out highly profitable and notoriously secretive deals.
The massive educational disruption suffered by the children is of little consequence to these companies. PFI influence in state education is shown by this month's resignation of David Monger, the deputy director of education at West Sussex, to join WS Atkins. A joint venture by WS Atkins and Innisfree is all set to design, build, finance and operate PFI schools.
It raises serious questions. These are questions we must answer quickly-for the sake of the children.
RICHARD SYMONDS, Ifield
IT SEEMS to be ok to make a noise in celebration of the monarchy, but otherwise we must be quiet and subservient. Policemen knocked at my door saying they had a complaint about my loud music. It was Jubilee Monday and I had been playing Billy Bragg's 'Take Down the Union Jack' and the Sex Pistols. It's sad that monarchists feel so threatened by words and music.
A TREMEET, Harrow
GREAT-HERE'S my copy of this week's Socialist Worker. Where's the coverage of what's going on in Belfast? Socialist politics are the only way to break down sectarian divisions.
How can you make a convincing case if the socialist newspaper you support doesn't even mention what's going on?
L VAN TINTEREN, England