Sunday, June 16, 2024

Mdou Moctar: Imouhar

New Musical Express approves of this 2024 single:

The track opens with a restrained, deep groove before erupting into a searing, ’60s-flavoured electric guitar frenzy, with Moctar and band cutting loose for the bulk of the track’s running time.

Moctar is thought to be one of the last people who can write in Tamasheq, and the language is considered to be at risk of dying out.

“People here are just using French,” the musician has said. "They’re starting to forget their own language. We feel like in a hundred years no one will speak good Tamasheq, and that’s so scary for us."

The blurb on this official music video explains further:

Imouhar is the Tuareg equivalent to "brother" or "comrade.” It’s a familial way to say “Tuareg people” that expresses a shared bond.

Imouhar is a track from Mdou Moctar's album Funeral for Justice. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "The sort of places our schoolfriends’ parents live"

Oh dear, Lord B. doesn't sound happy with the Liberal Democrats' general election strategy. Me? I'll be happy if it produces some new MPs to become characters in his diaries.


To Vincent Square for a meeting of Ed Davey’s campaign team. Freddie and Fiona explain that in the past we have made the mistake of winning too many votes. This time, our efforts will be concentrated in the more pleasant of the Home Counties – “the sort of places our schoolfriends’ parents live”. 

I suggest that we look instead to Farron and his conversion of the mint cake workers of Kendal to Liberalism for inspiration, but it’s clear F&F have Davey’s ear.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Joy of Six 1237

Nick Cohen criticises collaborationist journalism: "Instead of a robust defence of democratic debate, we have had writers for the Financial Times opining that: 'A time will come when politicians can tell voters that Brexit was a turkey of an idea, that it makes Britain poorer than it needs to be, that it doesn’t even work as an immigration-cutting retreat from the world. That time isn’t far off. But it isn’t now.' The job of the collaborator here is not to ask hard questions but to police debate by saying that hard questions, or indeed any questions, are an inopportune tactic."

"While it's easy to dismiss something as amorphous as an improvement in quality of life, the dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities makes a stark case for what is often initially an unpopular measure. In Graz the number of accidents leading to serious injuries has dropped by 24 percent, despite an increase in the number of residents and traffic volume." Kaja Šeruga on moves to reduce the speed of traffic in many European cities.

"The state of our county courts has a direct and profound effect on the daily lives of millions of people. It is not just worthy to include it in manifestos but a potential vote-winner." John Hyde asks why the state of civil justice isn't an election issue.

Hugh Morris on how the Chair of Arts Council England threatened to cut £3.2 million of Welsh National Opera funding after music director Tomáš Hanus spoke out about the company’s financial difficulties.

Popular television programmes and general elections sometimes collide. Philip Cowley and Matthew Bailey investigate.

Balladeer's Blog reads After London by Richard Jefferies: "The Thames and Severn Rivers have backed up, forming a large central lake in England. What was once London is a toxic marsh so deadly to human life that its gases and vapors, when carried by the winds, kill or drive mad humans exposed to them."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Convent of Our Lady of the Ballot Boxes

Lord Bonkers has resumed command upon his return from Africa. I've a feeling we've had an entry about Well-Behaved Orphans being photographed for candidates' election addresses before, but as it presumably happens at every general election, I stand astonished at my own moderation.

I'm always pleased to see nuns appearing here, particularly as these ones aren't immediately devoured by wild beasts. I've a feeling the Convent of Our Lady of the Ballot Boxes may prove to have legs.


Not surprisingly, the calling of a general election has turned things upside down on the Estate. In particular, my Home for Well-Behaved Orphans is besieged by political candidates of all stripes and sexes looking for a photogenic child or two to appear in the family photograph on their leaflets. (Any male candidate who wants a wife for the photo is referred to the Convent of Our Lady of the Ballot Boxes in a particularly remote part of High Leicestershire.) 

I do hope Matron has been off the gin in my absence, because her record-keeping can be a little slapdash. As a result, the 2005 general election saw the same child appear on leaflets in three neighbouring East Anglian constituencies, while in a Lowland seat the Labour and SNP candidates had been blessed with identical identical twins.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Friday, June 14, 2024

Steve Coogan film on the finding of Richard III defamed former University of Leicester official

From the Guardian website today:

The portrayal of a former university official in Steve Coogan’s film about the discovery of the remains of Richard III is defamatory, a high court judge has ruled.

Richard Taylor, a former deputy registrar at the University of Leicester, is suing Coogan, the production company Baby Cow and the distributors Pathe.

He claims the 2022 movie The Lost King shows his character, played by Lee Ingleby, behaving in an “abominable way” towards the amateur historian Philippa Langley, played by Sally Hawkins, who spearheaded the dig.

Taylor claims the film shows him taking credit for himself and the university that was rightfully Langley’s for the 2012 discovery of Richard III’s remains in a Leicester car park more than 500 years after the king’s death.

The defendants denied that the film portrayed such a “saint and sinner” narrative but, in a judgment published on Friday, Judge Lewis said its portrayal of the former university employee was defamatory.

You can download the full judgment.

I didn't see The Lost King because I sensed it would annoy me too much, but from everything I have read about it this seems the right verdict.

The finding of Richard III was a fine example of archaeology enthusing the wider community and did not deserve such a misleading portrayal.

On being a member of the Four Tops in an insane place

There was a headline on Sky News the other day:

Four Tops star says hospital put him in straitjacket and ordered psychological examination after not believing he was famous singer

I thought it too serious for my Headline of the Day Award, though 'funny' headlines often stop being funny if you think about them for more than a moment.

But this story did make me think of several things.

The first was a description of Shelton Hospital, Shrewsbury, in the 1960s:
The hospital consumed 865 pints of milk per day. The grounds were infested with feral cats, which were a source of ringworm. There was a single post box, by the front door, for patients, staff and the hospital itself, which was often full to overflowing, meaning that letters often went missing. Nurses smoked constantly, in part to block out Shelton all-pervading smell: of a house locked up for years, in which stray animals had occasionally come to piss. The kitchen had a butcher with an attitude problem and the laundry sometimes went wrong, meaning that patients were forced to wear socks shrunk to half their normal size.
That comes from Sam Knight's book The Premonitions Bureau, which I still heartily recommend, and I first quoted it in a column I wrote for the the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Yes, mental hospitals are strange and intimidating places, particularly the old county asylums like Shelton. 

I once went to meet a psychologist at Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn, in the course of my old day job. The signage for the clinical psychology department ran out before I got there, so I had to ask someone the way. 

I had visions of the conversation going: "I'm from the British Psychological Society." "Of course you are, dear. Come with me." (When I told this story back at the office, my colleagues kindly said they would have denied all knowledge of me if the hospital had rung them up.)

So how do you show you are sane in such a strange place? Alexander Morris, who is the lead singer of the current incarnation of the Four Tops, struggled to do it and I think I would have too.

But don't just take our word for it. Here is the beginning of the abstract of a famous paper on the subject - the second thing the headline made me think of:
It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals. The hospital itself imposes a special environment in which the meanings of behavior can easily be misunderstood. The consequences to patients hospitalized in such an environment - the powerlessness, depersonalization, segregation, mortification, and self-labeling - seem undoubtedly countertherapeutic.
That paper is On Being Sane in Insane Places by David l. Rosenhan, which was published in Science in 1973.

The paper itself is behind a paywall, but you can read a more lay account of the experiment it describes by Rosenham on The Wayback Machine. And that experiment has its own Wikipedia entry - Rosenhan experiment:
In the first part, psychiatrically sane people said they heard hallucinations, to get admitted to a psychiatric ward. This was done to test how the psychiatric hospitals would react. The second part was the reverse. Rosenhan told the hospitals, he would send fake patients. But he did not send any fake patients.

The results of the study were very controversial. When Rosenhan sent the people, the hospitals were unable to detect them. On the other hand, when he told them he had sent some patients, but really did not, the hospitals recognised a large number of fake patients. The study said that it was impossible to tell a difference between the sane and the insane.
And the third thing the headline made me think of was a story about a therapeutic poetry study group in a hospital on the Isle of Wight where an elderly patient rightly declared that, years before, he had written one of the poems they were studying.

I found it in a piece by a hero of this blog, Iain Sinclair:
[David] Gascoyne's rescue, his return to life in the suburban house on the Isle of Wight, was brokered by two remarkable people. Judy Lewis, a vet's estranged wife, who read his "September Sun: 1947" to a depressed group at Whitecroft Hospital, provoked the previously mute writer to speech. "I am the poet." "Yes, dear. I'm sure you are." But it was true. He was the poet and it was always 1947. He became a living quotation recovered from a midden of fragments: "All our trash to cinders bring." There was to be a notable late flowering for the willowy and disconsolate figure in the bow tie, the time traveller from the 30s. Gascoyne married Judy. He had found his loving companion and chauffeur.
You can read more about David Gascoyne in his Wikipedia entry.

As I said, Alexander Morris is the current lead singer with the Four Tops, but I've gone back to the band's glory years for my choice of video above.

I'm not sure his predecessor would have faired any better though:
"We've got a patient here who says he's Levi Stubbs." 
"Sure, and I'm Sam Cooke."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I imagine he found Africa pleasantly civilised after that

The new issue of Liberator - that's Liberator 423 - is on the magazine website. You can download it as a pdf free of charge.

Which means, you lucky people, that it's time to spend another week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

We find him returning from Africa to the news that a general election has been called.


Well, I got back just in time, didn’t I? 

Someone tipped me off that the government was offering a free holiday in Rwanda with plenty of spending money, so I put my hand up sharpish. It turned out that they were paying just for the outward flight, which was rather mean, but when the time came to head back to Rutland, I met an old Africa hand who took me by flying boat to Lourenço Marques, and I caught a jet home from there. 

The local firewater was potent and reasonably priced, so I arranged to have a few crates shipped over here – they should arrive at Oakham Quay in time to stiffen the sinews of Liberal Democrat canvassers in the final weeks of the campaign. 

The Wise Woman of Wing furnished me with a letter of introduction to a witch doctor of her acquaintance; he proved to be an Old Malburian – I imagine he found Africa pleasantly civilised after that. He kindly gave me some jackal bones with which to charm returning officers who look as though they are about to agree to a Conservative agent’s request for a recount. The accompanying dance is already sweeping the nightspots of Rutland.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The London Necropolis Railway's station at Waterloo is for sale

The London Necropolis Railway carried the deceased and their mourners from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Its original station at Waterloo was demolished when the number of lines into the mainline station was increased. The second station opened in 1900 and operated until it was damaged by wartime bombinig in 1941.

Its platforms and railway sidings were demolished long ago, but the company's headquarters o the site remain, and this is the building you can bid for.

The company also had two stations at Brookwood - one for Church of England customers and one for Nonconformists. According to Wikipedia, they have had an interesting afterlife:
The site of North station has significantly changed. The ornate mausoleum of Sharif Al-Hussein Ben Ali (d. 1998) stands directly opposite the remains of the platform. The operators of the Shia Islamic section have planted Leylandii along its boundary, which includes the platform of North station. Unless the trees are removed, the remains of the station will ultimately become hidden and destroyed by overgrowth. 
The land surrounding the site of South station and the station's two Anglican chapels was redundant following the closure of the railway. As part of the London Necropolis Act 1956 the LNC obtained parliamentary consent to convert the disused original Anglican chapel into a crematorium, using the newer chapel for funeral services and the station building for coffin storage and as a refreshment room for those attending cremations. Suffering cash flow problems and distracted by a succession of hostile takeover bids, the LNC management never proceeded with the scheme and the buildings fell into disuse. The station building was demolished after being damaged by a fire in 1972, although the platform remained intact.

Since 1982 the site of South station has been owned by the St. Edward Brotherhood, and forms part of a Russian Orthodox monastery. The original Anglican chapel is used as a visitor's centre and living quarters for the monastery, while the larger Anglican chapel built in 1908–09 immediately north of the station is now the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Edward the Martyr, and houses the relics and shrine of Edward the Martyr, king of England from 975 to 978 AD. The site of the former station buildings is now the main monastery building, while the platform itself remains intact and now marks the boundary of the monastic enclosure.
You can support Jago's videos via his Patreon page.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Post Office Scandal: A blog that keeps you up to date with the inquiry and other developments

Yesterday saw two eminent lawyers appearing in front of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry: Anthony de Garr Robinson KC and Lord Grabiner KC.

This gives me a chance to recommend the entertaining blog on the inquiry written by Nick Wallis, whose reporting did much to bring the scandal to light.

Here are his two posts on the day. First de Garr Robinson:

Poor old Tony Robinson, just trying to make an honest crust defending his client, whilst being misled by his instructing solicitors (Womble Bond Dickinson), his client’s supplier (Fujitsu) or possibly even his client – the Post Office!

As leading counsel for the Post Office in the Horizon Issues trial during Bates v Post Office, de Garr Robinson regularly seemed to be on the receiving end of duff information, which he took at face value and dutifully represented to to the High Court as fact. This, as he described in his witness statement, was sub-optimal. Recalling the first such occasion, he wrote:

"I had unintentionally misled the court. As will be clear from the rest this statement, this was not the first occasion on which such a thing happened, and nor was it the last. It is a horrifying experience."

And here's Grabiner:

Up until this point in his evidence, Lord Grabiner had been acting with courtesy and politeness. Something seemed to change. Grabiner replied:

"Well what Lord Neuberger thought, I think you’d better ask him about. I can’t really climb into his mind beyond what he has said in communications that we have between ourselves that I’ve made full disclosure of."

As Grabiner and the Inquiry well knows, Lord Neuberger is not being called to give evidence, possibly to spare such a senior person from being embarrassed by his actions.

Lord Neuberger, a former president of the Supreme Court and sometime Master of the Rolls, had given rather gung-ho advice to the Post Office, urging it to challenge the impartiality of the judge in the class action by sub-postmasters that it was defending. The challenge failed.

I'm reminded of Gladstone's observation that former prime ministers are "like untethered rafts drifting around harbours - a menace to shipping".

Nick Wallis writes on his blog:

If you want to stay on top of what is happening with the scandal and are able to make a small (or large) donation, you will be added to the 'secret; email – an irregular and sometimes irreverent newsletter which will give you the inside track on what is happening around this story.

There are now many hundreds of subscribers to the secret email, which started in 2018, just before the first trial in the Bates v Post Office High Court litigation.

More details here.

Ed Davey bets a pint of cider that one of his Somerset candidates will win a larger majority than him

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This just in from The Midsomer Norton, Radstock & District Journal with the Chew Valley & Wrington Vale Gazette:

Ms Dyke triumphed in the Somerton and Frome by-election almost a year ago, ending up with a larger parliamentary majority than her party leader.

The two made a light-hearted bet during the visit, with whoever ends up with the larger majority buying the other “a good pint of Somerset cider” once the dust has settled.

Mr Davey retained his seat at the 2019 general election with a majority of 10,489 – while Ms Dyke achieved a 29 per cent in the by-election to win David Warburton’s former seat by 11,008 votes.

When asked whether she could end up with a larger majority than Mr Davey this time around, Ms Dyke responded jovially: “I’m going to him give him a good run for his money.”

Mr Davey replied: “That’s a great competition – shall we shake on that? Whoever wins buys the other a good pint of Somerset cider.”

I'm not sure that the newspaper's headline, which I have sort of borrowed, has understood their wager correctly, but I'm not going to type out that title again.

Midsomer Norton and Radstock, it seems strange to report now, where once centres of coal mining.

And even living in an idyllic village in Somerset in the 1950s, my mother would see a bus draw up in the late afternoon and men with coal-blackened faces emerge, coming home from a shift down the mine. Coal mining went on in the county until 1973.

The Joy of Six 1236

"But the personal consequences for Rafiq have been just as severe. Since the moment he stepped before the digital, culture, media and sport ... committee, he has faced relentless abuse, attacks and death threats. 'My life changed over that hour and 45 minutes,' he says in his soft Barnsley accent. His new memoir, It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism, recounts some of the worst moments: the human excrement left on his parents' lawn, the chain-wielding man who stalked his house in the middle of the night." Azeem Rafiq talks to Emma John about racism, cricket and why he had to leave Britain.

Simon James welcomes the way the Liberal Democrat manifesto puts arts education at the centre of the party's plans for culture.

Liam O'Farrell went to a talk by John Rogers on his new book about London: "Rogers delves into the city’s ancient history following a chance conversation with a Pearly Punk King on the rooftop of the old Foyles building. This encounter takes him through Epping Forest to the prehistory of London in the Upper Lea Valley, unearthing Bronze Age burial mounds and their significance in understanding London’s historical roots and its enduring connection to its past."

"Putting Peter Grimes on stage was not as straightforward as it might have been. Initially, the story, scenario and the characters underwent substantial changes in the early stages of drafting. At first, Britten had Grimes murdering his apprentices rather than being at worst negligent, and Grimes originally goes mad in the marshes and dies there." Georg Predota looks back to 1945 and the Saddler's Wells premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera.

Ian Vince goes in search of ley lines. " What [Alfred] Watkins saw convinced him that there was a grid of secret lines in the Herefordshire countryside; a network of mounds, hummocks and tumps, moats, megaliths and camps that coalesced to form the nodes of a prehistoric track system."

"Hamer’s use of locations throughout the film is distinctive and surprisingly gothic at times. From seemingly innocuous suburbia and Edwardian retreats to country seats, castles and villages, the breadth of locations gives the film a visual strength above its more studio-bound peers." Adam Scovell revisits the locations use in the 1949 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Lib Dems have learnt one of the lessons of the EU referendum

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One thing that struck me during the EU referendum was how much better the Leave campaign was at staging events and stunts that appealed to the media. All we had to offer was George Osborne threatening to put your taxes up.

I wrote that two years ago, defending the Show Boris the Door stunt with which we celebrated Richard Foord's victory in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

Since then, cheesy Liberal Democrat stunts to mark by-election victories have become a thing - and a thing the media expect and are happy to photograph.

That lesson has been carried over into the general election in the shape of Ed Davey's daily death-defying feats.

Not only do these provide good images for the media, they give Ed a chance to talk about the Lib Dem policies that have inspired them.

And those images are all of Ed surrounded by happy people, which is surely more appealing than the ring of mourners that now surrounds Rishi Sunak wherever he goes.

As to Keir Starmer, it seems that Lord Bonkers' description of the Labour leader - "like Ed Davey without the pizzazz" - was spot on.

Talking of Lord Bonkers, he suggested to me over dinner last night that we should end our campaign by firing Ed Davey from a canon "to demonstrate that the other parties have no one of his calibre".

The Lib Dems may win more seats than us on 4 July say Tories

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Who says? The Conservative Party, that's who.

Here's Christian Calgie on the Express website this afternoon:

The Conservative Party is currently spending around £2,300 on four adverts, which include a graph suggesting the party could fall to just 57 seats, its worst result in its near-300-year history.

Meanwhile they warn Labour could win 490 seats, with the Liberal Democrats becoming the official opposition with 61 seats.

Up to 200,000 Facebook users so far have seen the advert, which aims to warn those flirting with Reform UK not to let Keir Starmer win a landslide majority.

The ad VoiceOver warns: “The more votes for Reform, the LibDems, or anyone else, will hand Labour 100 extra seats, giving Keir Starmer the largest majority Labour have ever had”.

It's a sign of how desperate the Conservatives are, because anyone served the ad is likely to conclude that they have given up any hope of winning.

And it has the whiff of a tactic that is too clever by half and could backfire.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Glenda Jackson interviewed by Mavis Nicholson in 1973

Here's another treat from the archive of Mavis Nicholson interviews on YouTube: Glenda Jackson in her prime.

Green Party deputy is former hypnotherapist who said he could help women increase their breast size

The Telegraph wins our Headline of the Day Award, though the judges did feel the paper should have made it clear that it was the Green Party's deputy leader who once made the claim.

You can see the story that follows it elsewhere online.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Bishop's Castle is the best place in the UK to live as a single parent

This just in from the Shropshire Star:

Ranked highly for its affordability and environment to raise a family, Bishop’s Castle has been named as the best place in the UK to live as a single parent.

The ranking was conducted by family law specialists, Richard Nelson LLP which looked at seven key factors including average house price, salary, council tax rate, the proportion of Ofsted rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools and nurseries, cost of electricity, crime rate and amount of public green space.

I'm not planning to start a family, but I shall finally get back to Shropshire later this summer.

The Joy of Six 1235

Liz Gerard says that newspapers coverage of Sunak's retreat from the beaches of Normandy has been desperately inadequate: "The Mirror aside, every one of them missed or misinterpreted the biggest gaffe of the election campaign so far. And at the same time rendered meaningless all the reams of newsprint dedicated to saying how much we respect and owe to those D-Day heroes."

"I have lost count of the number of examples from previous cases where a house parent has received complaints of abuse by another house parent, but done nothing to take the complaint further. The point is that the offence of failing to report by someone in a position of care of children should be on the basis of 'reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed', rather than 'observed recognised indicators of child sexual abuse'." Peter Garsden is not impressed by the government's response to the recommendations on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

"It is moments of sudden change, for example, the case of Cirencester Park, that provide us with the opportunity to look beyond the status quo towards alternative models of access and ownership of the natural world." Henry Snowball looks at the wider questions raised by the Bathurst Estate's act of shutting public access behind a ticket booth.

Alex Massie debunks the mythology that has built up around George Orwell's stay on Jura, the Hebridean island where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

"With the exception of Potter’s 1986 masterpiece The Singing Detective - which is now generally available on BBC iPlayer - the writer’s output is scattered to the winds of out-of-print and costly DVD editions or lo-fi stints on YouTube." Fergal Kinney on what remains of Dennis Potter.

Hadley Mears discovers the fascinating and varied life of Maria Rasputin, the daughter of Russia's greatest love machine.

Alan Barton: July '69

This is a track from Barton's 1991 album Precious. If the lyrics remind you strongly of Candle in the Wind, that's because July '69 (a Nigel Tufnellesque title, it has to be admitted) is a tribute to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

That makes the pipes on it appropriate - they're just the sort of unexpected instrument Jones used to bring to Stones tracks - but we are still left waiting for a big, power-ballad chorus that never comes.

So why have I chosen it?

Colin Gibb of Black Lace died the other day, and I was naturally reminded of a favourite piece of trivia. It was that one of the members of the band was the nephew of Jeremy Thorpe's co-accused George Deakin.

When I searched online, a worryingly large proportion of the results consisted of my repeating the story. But I know I didn't invent the tale: I got it from the reliable Twitter account Top of the Pops Facts.

So I did a little research and found that the story is indeed true, but that Deakin's nephew in the band was not Colin Gibb but Alan Barton.

The proof is in an amusingly garbled account of the Thorpe affair to be found in the book And Then Came Agadoo: Black Lace by another member of the band, Terry Dobson:

I quote, preserving Dobson's innovative punctuation:
Alan's Uncle George, George Deakin to the British public has a bit of a history to his name. 
Alan's family are from South Wales and in the business of providing gaming machines to clubs and pubs around the area, Alan's mum and Grandmother both work for the business owned by Uncle George... 
An attempt had been made to assassinate Jeremy Thorpe the Liberal Party leader during 1978, an accusation made that George had put up the money for the hired gun to do his dirty work... 
A lengthy court case followed, George seen on the televisions news programme wearing a different designer suit every single day of the trial, it had caught the eye of the press and TV producers alike.... so much so they had a competition between them to guess what he would be wearing or they would cheekily ask him what style and colour suit he would be dressed in the following day! 
When the trial eventually ended the jury acquitted George without charge clearing him off the offence of providing money to the would be assassin...
A plot to assassinate Jeremy Thorpe? I am reminded of Auberon Waugh's comment:
Poor Jeremy. He is his own worst enemy, but with friends like these he really has no need of himself. The only remaining mystery is why the Liberal Party policy committee decided to murder Scott rather than Jeremy.
Back to Alan Barton. 

After his time with Black Lace, which included singing the UK's Eurovision entry in 1979 as well as all those awful party records, Barton joined Smokie in 1986 as their lead singer. It's his voice on the version of Living Next Door to Alice that they recorded with Roy 'Chubby' Brown.

Smokie were a Chinn and Chapman creation who had a few hits in the Seventies and toured Europe successfully for many years after that. He died, aged 41, when the band's bus crashed in a hailstorm near Cologne.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Giles Watling vs Nigel Farage in 1964

Before he entered parliament, Giles Watling, the Conservative MP for Clacton, was an actor. His most prominent role was Oswald, the vicar in Bread.

And before he was an adult actor, he was a child actor. At the age of 11 or so, he played Malcolm Gideon, son of John Gregson's Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard, in the television series Gideon Way. The series is now a staple of Talking Pictures TV.

One of the best episodes of Gideon's Way was The 'V' Men, which dealt with a right-wing demagogue and the problems he and his supporters caused for the police.

In that episode, young Malcolm Gideon is fighting a school election and watches the demagogue for tips.

I have posted this clip before, but it seems newly relevant. I hope his childhood experiences will help Giles Watling in the weeks to come.

J.L. Austin: The philosopher who made D-Day possible

J.L. Austin - John Langshaw Austin - was a hugely influential figure in British philosophy in the 1950s, more through his teaching at Oxford than through his limited publications. If you want to explore this side of him, there is a good entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

But Austin, who was only 48 when he died, had another career. He was the officer who brought together the intelligence that made the Normandy landings possible.

Reviewing a new biography of Austin - J.L. Austin: Philosopher and D-Day Intelligence Officer by M.W. Rowe. - in the London Review of Books, Thomas Nagel writes:

 In March 1942 Austin was promoted to captain, left MI14 and was appointed head of the Advanced Intelligence Section of General Headquarters, with this purpose. 
‘Although it was not evident at the time,’ Rowe writes,

Austin’s appointment would have far-reaching consequences, as this tiny section of six or seven men would become, in the words of one of his future deputies, [Austin’s] ‘little empire’. Growing vastly in size and efficiency, the section would frequently change its name ... its quarters ... its purpose (acquiring information about the French coast, discovering information about the armies defending Germany); and its country (England, France, Germany). But it would be led by Austin alone and to great effect throughout the conflict. I know of no other personal fiefdom in Second World War British Intelligence with such an important, long and varied history.

The group was known informally as the Martians, and retained its separateness even when in 1944 it became part of SHAEF, the joint British-American command for Operation Overlord, headed by General Eisenhower. ‘Estimates of the section’s final number of personnel vary,’ Rowe says, ‘but it was somewhere between three hundred and just under five hundred.’ 
The group performed multiple tasks. One was to ‘compile an archive of all coastal intelligence – to a depth of thirty miles – which might be relevant to an invasion. Its specialist field of study was man-made defensive features – gun positions, mortars, anti-tank obstacles, pillboxes, observation posts etc – but its other task was to synthesise and disseminate information from other intelligence agencies.’ 
The data came partly from aerial photographs, in whose interpretation Austin became legendary; from French resistance networks, whose voluminous transmissions by clandestine courier and carrier pigeon were invaluable; and from secret commando raids. And Austin was cleared to receive Ultra, the signals intelligence intercepted by the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. 
His unit also developed detailed analysis of the beaches along the French coast: their gradients, tidal boundaries, the character of the sand, what was under it and what weight it would support, the reefs and rocky barriers – everything relevant to the possibility of landing heavy armour and heavily armed troops. And it maintained an up-to-date tabulation of the numbers, quality, equipment and leadership of the German defensive units on the coast, or close enough to reach it within a few days in the event of an invasion. 
As Rowe writes, ‘Austin’s section synthesised and disseminated information from multiple agencies,’ becoming the unit with ‘the most complete overview of the entire intelligence picture. And because the section prepared intelligence briefing packs for raids and reconnaissance missions, it also became the intelligence organisation which had the closest links with fighting units. Both factors ensured the Martians became the hub, the nerve centre, of invasion intelligence.’

Never underestimate how practical philosophers can be.

Keith Vaz returns under the One Leicester banner

To no one's great surprise, Keith Vaz has announced he is to fight his old seat of Leicester East at the general election.

Vaz represented Leicester East from 1987 to 2019. but lost the Labour whip and was suspended from the Commons for six months following a scandal involving male prostitutes cocaine and industrial washing machines. He did not stand at the 2019 general election.

If you have a free evening, it's worth reading the Controversies section of Vaz's Wikipedia entry.

Vaz will stand under the One Leicester banner, which is used by dissident Labour people protesting against the hegemony in the city of the elected mayor Peter Soulsby. Vaz's candidacy will do nothing for their credibility.

Vaz will be one of two former Labour members for the seat fighting Leicester East this time. Claudia Webbe, a Corbynite who was parachuted in following Vaz's demise and elected in 2019, was later convicted of harassment and no longer has the Labour whip herself. She will stand as an Independent.

This is an area where the Conservatives made gains in the city council elections last time, but they have only just selected a candidate. And do not underestimate the excellent Liberal Democrat candidate, Zuffar Haq.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

GUEST POST Singing the songs of the Cambrian Railway

Eric Loveland Heath has turned his fascination with the Cambrian Railway into a CD of songs.

I’ve lived near to railways much of my life. As a young child, I remember crossing a bridge near to my home in Clapham, south London, which spanned a fair number of lines, each running strictly parallel. I was fascinated by these, and the trains which ran along them, often running up to it if I heard a train coming, or standing for a while trying to catch sight of one before it passed underneath, the first seeds of a lifetime interest in railways and their trains.

When my family moved to Snailbeach in rural Shropshire, our gardenponte backed onto the old Snailbeach District Railways line, which was by then little more than a track down towards a field. Originally it linked the lead mine at Snailbeach with the main line at Pontesbury, however by 1950 all traffic had ceased, with the remaining locomotives cut up for scrap. 

Some 10 years later, we moved down into the valley, and once again I could hear the trundle of passing trains, looping through Yockleton only a mile or so in the distance, on their way to Shrewsbury or Mid Wales. I sometimes used to run or ride my bike down to the crossing there, the vision of every child who has seen public information films on the matter – STOP LOOK LISTEN – and what would happen if you did not.

Where I live now, the same line passes along the other side of the valley from my house. This is the ‘Cambrian Line’, which splits at Dovey Junction and leads either to Aberystwyth or along the Cambrian Coast Line to Pwhelli. It’s an epic journey (around 3 ½ hours) with much of it spent facing the sea, the huge curve of Cardigan Bay ever present as it bends towards the Llŷn Peninsula. For much of this journey, the line remains exposed, and while flooding is a common issue, occasionally the line itself is washed away. 

Only recently it was closed for a number of months in order to renovate the famous viaduct at Barmouth. At these times, as with much of life around the communities which span this line’s route, journeys are made by bus. 

At best, the line itself has a bi-hourly service, which is less conducive to travel than hopping on and off a bus. A proposed hourly timetable for the summer months only has brought little cheer, as it gives the impression that such a service is only needed when the tourists come.

I’ve been fascinated by this line whenever I’ve travelled along it. You can walk from Barmouth, across the viaduct, passing the pretty station at Morfa Mawddach (formerly Barmouth Junction) which stands at the head of the Mawddach Trail – itself a former railway line – which leads down the estuary, terminating at Dolgellau. 

If you decide to continue along the coast, you’ll reach Fairbourne, a village built by an Englishman where no Welshman would. Currently the inhabitants of this low swept village find themselves in a quandary, as the piles of giant stones placed to protect it from the sea are not seen as viable, with the suggestion that the entire place could be “decommissioned” and returned entirely to the salt marsh.

Often journeys along the ‘Cambrian’ give glimpses into the lives lived through these trains (currently Class 158 DMUs which are due to be replaced in the coming years). I’ve seen someone get on with a pig, and another with a chicken. I’ve watched a schoolkid get off the train at one of the tiny halts along its route, get into her dad’s Land Rover and power up the side of a hill. 

In the summer the trains are hot and crowded with tourists, in the winter you can watch solitary seabirds feed amongst the marshes. At Dovey Junction, on the Aberystwyth line, you can observe an Osprey on its perch at the nearby Dovey Osprey Project.

When I learned that the Class 158s were to be replaced, in the midst of lockdown, my heart sank somewhat. I’ve watched these old workhorses more than half my life. I’ve sat on countless and watched a few (in their green Arriva Trains Wales livery) blend into the distant landscape, lit only by their tail lights, and wanted to capture this feeling, and this curious and tenuous line along which these trains run.

Eventually this formed into a collection of songs, marrying these thoughts with the harsh reality of coastal erosion, with its effects on landscape and community, entitled ‘Cambrian’. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of, from the artwork to the songs themselves, it was pieced together at home with my partner Victoria over the last few years.

‘Cambrian’ is released tomorrow, Friday 7 July, on Wayside & Woodland Recordings, available through their Bandcamp site on CD (in a beautifully printed digipak sleeve) and as a digital download. 

On Friday they will also be premiering the official video for the title track ‘Cambrian’, drawn from archive Hi8 footage recorded over many years at locations along the line.

You can follow Eric Loveland Heath on Twitter and Instagram.

The British Establishment is a House of Straw

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The witness before the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry these past two days has been has been Alice Perkins, who was chair of the Post Office board between 2011 and 2015.

She also became a director of the BBC in 2014, which made her position ticklish when Panorama began investigating the Horizon scandal.

As John Sweeney, journalist and now Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton Coldfield, wrote in Byline Times in January, this mean that in May, June and July 2015, Perkins had:

lived with the mother of all conflicts of interest. I have trawled through the relevant BBC minutes for that period and I can find no declaration of it.

But I'm not alleging any wrongdoing here. Having listened to Perkins before the inquiry, I am sure that she will have simply forgotten that she was a director of the BBC.

Yes, she followed the pattern for appearing before the inquiry that was established by Post Office leaders. In a really tight corner, blame you underlings, and otherwise claim you don't remember.

If the Post Office is at all typical of the standard of British management, then this inquiry has laid bare a major reason for our poor economic performance.

Alice Perkins is married to Jack Straw, and is the mother of Will Straw CBE, mastermind of the useless Office Remain campaign in the EU referendum.