Friday, May 27, 2022

So who was St Pancras?

 Jago Hazzard explains.

The Shropshire Hills shuttle bus service is cut again

I will get back to the Shropshire hills soon - if not this summer, then next. And when I do I shall use my favourite buses - the Shropshire Hills Shuttle.

They used to be called the Secret Hills Shuttle, but I guess the hills are better known these days. If they are not, it's no fault of mine.

I can remember when three different routes were timed to coincide at The Bridges pub at Ratlinghope, giving visitors a wonderful choice of destinations.

In 2012 it was possible to reach Much Wenlock, which has some claim to be the cradle of the modern Olympic movement, and I can recall dropping in on Aardvark Books at Brampton Bryan, which is in Herefordshire.

As in recent years, in 2022 there is only one route. And it has been cut back.

I can see why this has been done. Once the bus left Snailbeach and the remains of its lead mine, the ride back to Church Stretton was scenic but did not pass through anywhere people were likely to want to alight.

Now the bus turns back at the Stiperstones Inn (where I once posted a Britblog Round Up), which means it does not even reach Snailbeach.

I trust I shall still be able to walk there from the Stiperstones Inn (sorry if this is getting technical), but there are many people who cannot.

The decline in this bus service, which allows people access to these lovely hills without a car, is a measure of our decline as a nation since I stated vising the Shropshire hills 36 years ago.

Here endeth the first lesson.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nick Clegg proposed to Miriam on a Lincolnshire railway platform

Nick Clegg these days reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a new job and doesn't realise he is working for a Bond villain bent on world domination.

But he does feature in this blog's Trivial Fact of the Day.

Previewing a local by-election today in Lincolnshire, Andrew Teale writes:

Quarrington and Mareham is Sleaford’s southern ward, taking in the Quarrington and New Quarrington areas on the southern fringe of the town. Also here is Greylees, a large and very new housing development on the site of a former asylum next to Rauceby railway station. 

This station, which was built primarily to serve the former hospital, was where the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg proposed to his wife Miriam while they were waiting for a train to Sleaford.

Claudia Webbe's sentence cut so there will be no recall petition

Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East, today lost her appeal against a conviction for harassing a love rival. But her sentence was reduced to a community order for 80 hours' unpaid work with no custodial element, so there will be no recall petition.

She was elected for Labour in 2019. Though she was born in Leicester, many regarded the Islington councillor Webbe as a candidate imposed on the local party by the Corbyn leadership. 

Resigning from the Labour after her selection, the Leicester East constituency chair called it "a fix and a disgrace".

Webbe was expelled from Labour after her conviction and has since sat as an Independent.

Before she was elected in Leicester, Webbe - and I'm not making this up - was chair of the panel that oversees Labour’s disciplinary cases.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Evolutionary psychologist Dr Peter Gray on why children need the freedom to play

This is an enjoyable TEDx Talk - and it's always good to hear an expert endorse your prejudices.

The blurb for it on YouTube runs:

In this talk, Dr. Peter Gray compellingly brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children's freedom to play with other children, without adult direction.

Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. 

Based on his own and others' research, Dr. Gray documents why free play is essential for children's healthy social and emotional development and outlines steps through which we can bring free play back to children's lives.

I find evolutionary psychology compelling. It can tell you why children don't like spinach - it's because it would be dangerous if children liked bitter green things. They would poison themselves.

And I have heard Peter Gray explain why children never want to go to bed. It's because for most of our time on this planet there really have been monsters underneath it. Children want to stay with the adults because that's where safety is. After all, it's what we tell them the rest of the time.

But as a good Popperian I have to ask how you test these theories. Aren't they just plausible stories about our ancestors and hunter-gatherer society?

The Joy of Six 1052

Basic Income Conversation and Compass have published new research modelling a fiscally neutral basic income that could reverse the poverty and inequality rises of the last 45 years.

Maxim Osipov describes the journey of those, like him, who chose exile rather than remaining as their country invaded Ukraine: "On the way to the airport, you drove through Moscow. Although this is where you were born, where you studied and lived, it has long been enemy territory. Parting with people is hard, nearly impossible; parting with Moscow is easy." 

"You might imagine that more conventional forms of modern therapy as delivered by a psychologist, counsellor or clinical social worker cannot be harmful because the treatments involve ‘just talking’. Regrettably, this is not the case." Yevgeny Botanovis, Alexander Williams and John Sakalukis on the drive to identify psychotherapeutic approaches that are not only ineffective but actively harmful.

The brainchild of Orkney-born musician Merlyn Driver, Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds is a multi-artist album inspired by the Eurasian curlew. Such celebrations inspire us to protect what we have, says Karen Lloyd.

Paul English reports on the search for the Glasgow Garden Festival: "A team of archaeologists is beginning an excavation in the only remaining part of the 120-acre site in search of touchstones evoking memories of the six-month festival that ran between spring and autumn in 1988." 

We all know  Margaret Rutherford's father murdered his own father (who was Tony Benn's great-grandfather) by banging him repeatedly on the head with a chamber-pot in Matlock. Matthew Sweet dives deep into the case.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Conservatives used to hate Winston Churchill

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There was a time when the Conservatives hated Winston Churchill. When Asquith asked the Tories to join a coalition government in 1915 their leader Andrew Bonar Law had only one condition: the Churchill should be removed from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Tories were no better disposed to him eight years later, judging by how the Tory Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported the party's disappointing showing in the 1923 general election:

Three Great "Advantages" 

It was by Unionist votes that the Liberals defeated the Parsee Communist, Mr. Saklatvala, in North Battersea. This, the defeat of Mr. Joseph King elsewhere, and the failure Mr. Churchill to gain West Leicester, are three great advantages the country and suffice to offset the return of that doctrinaire Liberal, Mr. Charles Masterman. A very advanced Labour man has snatched a seat from the Liberals Bethnal Green.

There are some interesting characters here. Shapurji Saklatvala had been elected in 1922 with Labour support and was to win Battersea North again without it in 1924 before losing in 1929. My mother, who grew up in Battersea, remembered there being a Communist Party shop there in the 1930s or perhaps during the war.

Joseph King was the defeated Labour candidate in York in 1923 after having sat as a Liberal in North Somerset from 1910 to 1918. He was sympathetic to the Bolshevik government in Moscow and published a book on the danger posed by Hitler as early as 1922.

Churchill and Masterman my readers will know. Churchill had fought Leicester West for the Liberal Party and lost, while Masterman had gained Manchester Rusholme - he was defeated there the following year.

And the "very advanced Labour man" must be Walter Windsor, who sat for Bethnal Green from 1923 to 1929, and from 1935 to 1945.

It is telling that Churchill is listed among such Tory bogeymen and that Masterman was too.

The Willow Brook flows through Leicester to the River Soar

The photo above shows the Willow Brook shortly after it has emerged from a culvert beneath a large roundabout on Leicester's Belgrave Road in a corner of the city centre still dominated by the inner ring road.

Below the roundabout Willow Brook joins the Grand Union Canal and, through it, the River Soar. It's formed by the Bushby Brook and the Evington Brook when they meet in Spinney Hills in the east of the city. There names tell you where they have come from.

The Willow Brook has been in the local news recently because of pollution problems. The city council has warned that:

Fly-tipping, litter and oil pollution are contaminating the water, harming wildlife habitats, polluting Leicester’s river and canal network and causing blockages that could increase the risk of flooding in the area.

Still the Willow Brook and the two streams that form it do open up the possibility of some urban river walks of the sort I post here by John Rogers. As he says, they can take you to parts of the city that you wouldn't otherwise see.

Finally, a word for the swan in the final photograph. I assume he was the partner of the one on the nest at the mouth of the Willow Brook - I'm afraid she's a bit of a white blob in the second photo. He was guarding her from a distance by hanging out with two anglers on the canal towpath.

I am happy to record that he did not break my or their arms with one blow of his wings.

Diving board at Richard Jefferies' Coate Water to be restored

Swindon Borough Council is to spend close to £150,000 to restore the Art Deco diving platform at Coate Water.

Wiltshire Live reports the news, gleefully adding the detail that the board is "covered in bird poo".

At this point I can do no better than repeat a post from 12 years ago:

Richard Jefferies, who his best remembered as a nature essayist but, almost in passing, invented post-apocalyptic science fiction (in After London) and the children's holiday adventure (in Bevis), was the subject (or victim) of my Masters dissertation.

His birthplace near Swindon now houses a museum devoted to his life and works. New readers should start with this guest post on Jefferies and Coate by Rebecca Welshman.

The museum stands next to Coate Water, a reservoir constructed in 1822 to provide water for the Wilts & Berks Canal. In Bevis it features as a boyhood paradise and in After London is transformed into a vast inland sea.

When the canal closed in 1914 Coate Water was turned into a park to serve the town of Swindon. Memory Lane at Coate Water describes its use in the 20th century:

Visitors to the park were charged an entrance fee and a variety of small wooden buildings around the lake provided boating and changing facilities. A wooden diving platform was built in 1921 and there was wooden staging separating the swimming and diving areas of the lake. Later a full size swimming pool and a children's paddling pool were added although today the swimming pool has been filled in and changed to a children's paddling pool and the original paddling pool has been filled with sand and turned into a play area for children. 

By 1935, the 'Art Deco' Diving board provided a nationally renowned platform for diving competitions and the lake was also regularly used for regattas and water polo. 

Although swimming in the lake was stopped due to public health and safety concerns in 1958, the diving board can still be seen today and has become a local landmark associated with the park and its history.

The diving board, occupied by the lake's more daring waterfowl, is indeed the landmark that most strikes visitors to Coate today. The video above describes Sophie Hart's ambitions to see it preserved.

I had to use the Wayback Machine to find Memory Lane at Coate Water again, but Sophie Hart's video is still where it ever was.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

A milestone on Belgrave Gate, Leicester

They say you should always look up in town, because the upper floors of shops tend to reveal more about their history, but sometimes it pays to look down.

I spotted this milestone on the front of a shop when I was walking up Belgrave Gate in the centre of Leicester on Friday.

What is it doing there? 

Leicester City Council's local heritage asset register explains:

A rare example of a milestone within the city, dating to the 19th century the milestone is a replacement for a Roman milestone that was discovered in 1771 near Thurmaston and positioned at the Belgrave Gate junction c. 1783, being removed in 1844 and now on display in Jewry Wall Museum. 

The current milestone is of cast iron construction and is engraved ‘TO LONDON 98, HARBORO 15, LOUGHB’RO 11’.

Andrew Symonds was picked to play cricket for England A

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Andrew Symonds, who played test and one-day cricket for Australia between 1998 and 2009, died in a car crash in North Queensland last week aged 46.

His Guardian obituary reminded me of something I had forgotten: it was once hoped that Symonds would play cricket for England.

For he was born in Birmingham and taken to Australia by his adoptive parents when he was three months old.

In 1995, at the age of 19, he came back to England to play for Gloucestershire and did enough in his first season to be voted young player of the year by both the Cricket Writers' Club and the Professional Cricketers' Association.

Qualified for England by birth, he was chosen to tour Pakistan that winter as part of the England A team. But he made it clear that his future lay with Australia and declined the selection.

Strangelove: Beautiful Alone

Time for another number from my favourite not-exactly-obscure-but-didn't-have-the-success-they-deserved Nineties band.

In the past I have chosen Time for the Rest of Your Life (Q magazine's single of the year in 1995) and Elin's Photograph.

Beautiful Alone was as good as it got for Strangelove in terms of singles chart success: it reached no. 35 in 1996.

Patrick Duff, Strangelove's lead singer, did not enjoy the duties his music brought with it. He told the Guardian they year:

In Britain, how you come across in the press is ridiculously important to your chances of success, and even though we had received a lot of support, I couldn’t help but think when I read my interviews that I was somewhat inadequate; I seemed unable to communicate what my songs really meant. Also, I would take the slightest criticism in the press as proof of this. I would be deeply hurt and throw myself into drug and alcohol binges.

Other bands who were doing well all seemed to have singers with a very different personality than my own. Or was it that they could feign that they were cocky, self-confident and content in a shallow sort of a way without a glimmer of self-doubt? I knew our songs were genuinely different and genuinely good, but I couldn’t just seem to strut around like a walking advertising board for them - it seemed crass. I stopped reading any music papers and told my manager I couldn’t do interviews.

Strangelove split in 1998, with guitarist and keyboard player Alex Lee enjoying the most successful later career. But Patrick Duff is still around and is playing The Camden Chapel in August.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Methodist chapel in Stiperstones village to become home for Ukrainian family

A little-used Methodist chapel in Stiperstones village is being converted into a home for a refugee family from Ukraine, reports BBC News.

Though it opened as recently 1993, Perkins Beach Methodist Chapel no longer has a worshipping congregation. Of late it has been used primarily as a retreat and conference centre.

One of the people involved in the conversion project told the BBC:

"We are united in our determination to rescue a traumatised family and look after them here in safety,"

In the 19th century the lead-mining communities in this part of Shropshire were an island of Liberalism and Noncomformity in a largely Tory and Anglican shire, so they were well supplied with chapels.

One reason for this is that many miners came up from Cornwall to work in Shropshire because the tin mining industry in their native county was in decline.

The website Shropshire Noncomformist Chapels has historical notes and photographs from across the county. It lists many current and former chapels in the lead-mining area.

Later. There's a JustGiving page hoping to raise £500 to support this project.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The derelict Corah factory site in Leicester

When I was at a loss for something to photograph in my early days with a digital camera, I used to turn to the Leicester Mercury to see what the city council was proposing to pull down or allow to be pulled down. Then I would go and record it before it was too late.

In recent weeks the newspaper has been concerned with the future of the massive and largely derelict Corah site. 

As a Mercury article explains:

The slogan “Leicester clothes the world” reflected the civic pride and confidence in the economic strength of our city’s manufacturing industry.

Established in 1830, Nathaniel Corah and Sons epitomised the industrial landscape of Leicester, growing to become the largest producer of knitwear in Europe. It was the first clothing partner of Marks & Spencer, widely-accepted to have been instrumental to their success.

Corah's use of the St Margaret’s label inspired Marks & Spencer to run their own St Michael line for over 80 years. One of the major employers in Leicester, Corah had 1,000 workers in 1900, and by the 1960s, had expanded to 6,500.

The company became known for its commitment to good working conditions, training schemes and was one of the first companies in the country to offer paid holidays. 

But Corah's closed in the 1990s and, while some small businesses are based in and around the site, much of it now lies derelict.

The plans for redevelopment would save the fa├žade of the main building and a couple of chimneys at the edge of the site. Leicester Civic Society is disappointed in the plans, while some of the people interviewed for a vox pop piece in the Mercury dutifully came up with the word - "eyesore" - the newspapers use for such occasions.

More interestingly, some of the remaining businesses are dance studios and gyms and struggling to find suitable premises elsewhere.

Anyway, the Corah site is wonderful: full of the industrial dereliction that I love to photograph. And I even found a plaque recording a bit of its history hidden in its deepest recesses.

John Shuttleworth cave concert abandoned due to cliff rescue

The judges didn't need to send out for more coffee today.

Well done, BBC News.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Westminster Gazette pays tribute to Charles Masterman at his death in 1927

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This how the Liberal newspaper The Westminster Gazette noticed the death of Charles Masterman in 1927:

The death of Mr. Charles Masterman ends a career which had brilliant promise, considerable achievement, and more than its share of the accidents of political mischance. 

All who knew him will recall, as a gift outshining many others in a versatile array, a spirit of gay courage in confronting life which made him one of the most friendly personalities of our day. If his humour became rather caustic, almost sardonic. it remained good humour. 

He kept the faith of Liberalism against the temptation to seek a larger career on the Labour side. He was a democratic Liberal who hoped that there would be a junction between the Labour Right and the Liberal Left. He worked for this in the 1923 Parliament. 

His book, "The Condition of England," was the best broad survey of social England written before the Liberal revival in 1906, and his best journalism. 

As a Minister he did most of the solid work which produced the Insurance system, improved factory conditions, and established the standard of the minimum wage to be found in the Trade Boards Act 

Perhaps he was too waywardly poised to have become a Prime Minister, for which many of his qualities would have fitted him, but few politicians have done more to advance "the condition of the people" problem.

As the best days of Harborough's own J.W. Logan were in the 1890s, Charles Masterman is my favourite Edwardian Liberal. 

Everyone should have a favourite Edwardian Liberal.

Another Rutland by-election is coming

It's all happening in England's smallest county: there's going to be another by-election.

Oakham Hub News reports the resignation of Ian Razzell, one of the members for the Oakham South Ward. He was elected as a Conservative in 2019, but earlier this month announced that he had left the group to sit as an Independent.

He was the council's armed forces champion and has told Oakham News Hub:

"Principally, the values and standards of a 37 year career in the Army are binary and at odds with the actions and plans of a number of elected members."

The by-election has not yet been called.

You would need the combined services of a Kremlinologist and an expert in irrational numbers to fully understand Rutland politics these days.

But as far as I can make out, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats at Rutland Council's 2019 all-out elections. Since then, defections and by-election defeats have seen their group shrink to 6.

The other two councillors for Oakham South are Liberal Democrats, and we won a by-election there in August of last year by polling two-thirds of the votes cast.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Joy of Six 1051

Charlotte Tobitt explains why the Tory MP arrested on suspicion of rape has not been named in the media.

Liam Thorp on the errors that have led to Liverpool City Council's electricity bill going up by millions of pounds: "The report ... really needs to be read to be believed. It charts a remarkable catalogue of mistakes, failures and communication bypasses that have somehow led this cash-strapped council, already under government intervention, to add a further £5 million onto its electricity bill and potentially cost the city, its schools and its fire service a total added cost of £16 million."

"The term neurodiversity was coined in 1988 by Australian sociologist Judy Singer. It means that neurological differences should be recognised and respected. Rather than using drugs to change the behaviour associated with disorders, such as ADHD and autism, society should be more accommodating of neurologically diverse people." Matthew Smith asks what the future holds for Ritalin, the drug with a long and varied history that has latterly been used to treat attention problems in children.

"Profits grew. Participation slumped. The latest figures show it dropped by 25 per cent in the first five years Harrison was in the job. And that was before the pandemic, when it plummeted again." Andy Bull marks the departure of Tom Harrison, chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

"Train Landscape shows us the interior of a third class railway compartment done out in the livery of the Southern Railway, circa 1939, an interior Ravilious has drawn with loving attention to detail. It isn’t just any compartment, but a specific one, with saggy seat cushions and a window sash that is worn with use. We’re in a specific location too, passing beneath the white horse carved into the hillside above the Wiltshire town of Westbury." James Russell contributed an essay to the catalogue of the Eric Ravilous exhibition in Winchester that has just closed.

William Cook meets Bernard Cribbins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Up Caledonian Road to Copenhagen Fields with John Rogers

John Rogers takes us on another London walk. This time it's from Gray's Inn Road up the Caledonian Road to Caledonian Park in Islington.

I was in Housmans bookshop [09:00] the other week and emerged with a novel by Rose Macaulay. I still haven't got the hang of this "left wing" thing.

A note of caution on the prospects for a progressive alliance: We are bad at predicting our own behaviour

Best for Britain is proud of its opinion poll, which forecasts how people would vote given various scenarios where parties co-operate with one another at the next general election.

Most Liberal Democrat and Green voters would vote Labour if their parties stood down, their findings say. Equally, Labour voters would mostly be happy to vote Lib Dem or Green.

It looks easy, doesn't it?

As Freddie and Fiona once put it to Lord Bonkers:

"All we need do ... is change the Labour Party constitution, have all the parties agree a common manifesto and then get them to stand down wherever we think they should."

But then F&F aren't old enough to remember the Alliance and what it is like when the Conservatives and the press are looking for divisions to exploit. It would be far worse now with more parties involved and what Lord Bonkers would call "the electric social media".

There is another problem with this poll. Most opinion polls ask people how they would vote if there were an election today. This one asked them how they would vote in a year or two's time given a number of different conditions,

The problem is that we are poor at predicting our own behaviour. As a post on the Research Digest blog once expressed it:

Psychologists have identified an important reason why our insight into our own psyches is so poor. Emily Balcetis and David Dunning found that when predicting our own behaviour, we fail to take the influence of the situation into account. 
By contrast, when predicting the behaviour of others, we correctly factor in the influence of the circumstances. This means that we’re instinctually good social psychologists but at the same time we’re poor self-psychologists.
So this sort of polling is unlikely to provide the proof that Best for Britain thinks it has. They might, however, do better if they ask people how they think their neighbours would react faced with these conditions.

For instance, I would not resent a progressive alliance as a way of denying people choice, but I suspect many possible anti-Tory voters would.