Sunday, December 04, 2022

Choir of King's College, Cambridge: God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

This is a carol I always enjoyed singing, but we need to get a couple of grammatical points straight. Because look at that comma: there are no "merry gentlemen" here.

Wikipedia says:

The historic meaning of the phrase "God rest you merry" is "may God grant you peace and happiness".

And if you see the title printed as "God rest ye..." then it's phoney archaism.

Wikipedia again:

"Ye" would never have been correct, because "ye" is a subjective (nominative) pronoun only, never an objective (accusative) pronoun.

Glad we've sorted that. It's what Christmas is all about.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Joy of Six 1094

"Its lasting value is in its revelation that the institutions of the Conservative Party and the British government are so decrepit that they can be hacked by someone like Liz Truss, as if they were merely Oxford student societies writ large." Lewis Baston reads Harry Cole and James Heale's biography of Liz Truss.

"A memory of Churchill only as an icon of anti-appeasement is a caricature, even if it was a caricature the man himself was complicit in creating. It reduces a man of many parts, and of many bargains, into a lovable bulldog." We need to save Churchill from his present-day admirers, argues Patrick Porter.

Nigel Warburton on why we need libraries: "Community libraries ... are, among other things, a democratic resource providing free access to information for all, including guided access to the internet for those who might otherwise be excluded."

Geoff Barton says we should listen to young people's views on education.

Richard Lester’s 1974 film Juggernaut trembled on the edge of being a political allegory for Britain in that decade, finds Simon Matthews: "There was something deeply ironic about Richard Lester – one of the key ringmasters of Swinging London – portraying the state of the nation in the 1970s. Doubly so, given the cast includes David Hemmings, he of Blow-Up and much else, expended here halfway through the film. How times change."

John Thomas takes us through this year's work on the remarkable Roman villa found beneath the fields of Rutland.

Dartmoor village could be home to one of 'world's most radioactive toilets'

Thanks to a nomination from a Liberal England reader, the Plymouth Herald wins our Headline of the Day Award.

As so often, things become less amusing when you read the story below.

Steve Winwood: Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand

In his best John Barleycorn Must Die voice, Steve Winwood casts a bit of a damper on proceedings. Like John Barleycorn, this song can be found on the Watersons' LP Frost and Fire.

Winwood's version appeared on A Very Special Christmas 3, a charity album produced in aid of the Special Olympics.

Mainly Norfolk tells us:

In the Journal of the Folk-Song Society for 1914 you will find a number of versions of Christmas Now Is Drawing Near At Hand, collected by Vaughan Williams and Sharp in various locations, but particularly in the West Midlands and counties adjoining Wales.

Friday, December 02, 2022

GUEST POST The Secret Diary of Charles Dickens aged 13¾

An exclusive extract from The Secret Diary of Charles Dickens aged 13¾ by Lee Jackson

Living in Johnson Street, Camden Town, young Charles yearns to make his way in the world. But he is constantly thwarted by his less-than-respectable family, particularly his endearing but spendthrift father...

Saturday 7th January
Mama going on and on about old Mrs Hathersage across the road, like some squawking parrot in petticoats. ‘Someone ought to go and befriend the poor old dear and perhaps her pretty little niece would also like the company …’ &c &c. Mama is possessed of a romantic humour and suspects that the old lady is a member of the aristocracy fallen upon hard times. I remarked that, in any case, I doubted that the niece was pretty or little – none of us have actually seen her – most likely she had great bulging eyes and a fat hairy chin. 

‘Putting eyes and chins to one side –’ said Fanny – 

‘I hope no-one is to be mutilated on my account,’ I interjected (v. droll!) –

‘I am,’ continued Fanny, regardless, ‘far too busy practising for my examination.’ 

Mama merely tutted and looked back at me.

I hurriedly replied – I confess, I do not quite know why – that I was also too busy because I was writing a play

Fanny laughed out loud, but Mama, after a moment’s reflection, was rather taken with the idea and very encouraging. She remarked that my Uncle John knows shorthand and her second cousin was a sign-writer, so perhaps literature runs in the family.

9 o’clock p.m.
I shall write a play. It cannot be that difficult.

Half past 9 o’clock p.m.
What shall I call it?

A quarter to 10 o’clock.
Mrs Fitzharris has appeared at our door ‘for a chin-wag’ (at this hour – it is hardly proper!). Papa is out but Mrs Fitzharris and Mama are now sitting in the drawing-room, all very snug and comfortable, drinking gin from our best little glasses. This will not end well. Mrs Fitzharris has a rather inflamed and flushed appearance at the best of times, and – if I am not very much mistaken – was quite merry before she crossed the threshold. She is now giggling uncontrollably and, by the sounds of it, bumping into our furniture. It is most unseemly in a female of her years and making it very difficult to start my play at all, which I am now thinking of entitling The Washer Women; or A Pickle in the Parlour.

11 o’clock p.m.
Have not started a play. Too late now.

Went downstairs. Mrs Fitzharris still talking very loudly to Mama about MEN who are CHEATS and KNAVES and LIARS, and listing ALL THE MEN SHE WOULD HAPPILY SEE HANGED.

I think that she has been disappointed in love. 

Quarter past 11 o’clock p.m.
Went back downstairs again, out of pure curiosity. Mrs Fitzharris slurring her words together – Mama, I will swear, was only pretending to understand her – and positively rolling around the room, like a skittle on the deck of a steamboat. It was a proper sight! Mama, however, looking rather fearful and timid.

Awful scenes. Papa has come home quite as merry as Mrs Fitzharris. They are now finishing the gin together. Mama has retreated to her bed. 

I went into the drawing-room and complained about the noise. I said that I expected that Shakespeare and Sheridan got a decent night’s sleep when they were starting out in life. Papa did not understand and made me tell them the joke about the empty vessel and the foolish Dutchman. Then neither of them laughed.

Two o’clock in the morning (!)
Mrs Fitzharris has finally stumbled off home. Papa is lying all crumpled and angular on the stairs, like a broken accordion. 

I think that I shall call my play The Neglectful Parents; or The Wages of Sin is Death.

The Secret Diary of Charles Dickens aged 13¾ is available on Kindle in the UK and the US.

You can find Lee Jackson online at The Dictionary of Victorian London.

Stunning victory for Lib Dems in Jeremy Hunt's constituency

Waverley is one of those local authorities whose whereabouts defeats me - I tend to confuse it with Waveney and think it's in East Anglia.

In fact, it is in Surrey and Godalming and Farnham are its largest towns. Much of it falls into the South West Surrey constituency, currently represented in parliament by the chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

Last night there was a by-election in what has traditionally been a save Conservative ward - see Andrew Teale's preview for the figures going back 20 years - of Waverley Borough Council, Chiddingfold and Dunsfold.

And the contest resulted in a stunning Liberal Democrat gain, with the party receiving two-thirds of the votes cast. Congratulations to David Busby and his team.

South West Surrey, currently was briefly in Lib Dem sights as a target after Sue Doughty won neighbouring Guildford in 2001. Looking at David's result, it may be again.

This morning came news of a second Lib Dem local by-election gain yesterday - this one really is in East Anglia.

Davis Sayers took the Gaywood North and Central ward of Norfolk County Council from the Conservatives. Congratulations to all concerned.

Angelo Branduardi: Merry We Will Be

Christmas feasting is meant to begin on Christmas Eve, not 1 December, but I promised you a mix of the sacred and secular.

Angelo Branduardi is an Italian singer-songwriter. I don't know if Merry We Will Be is any good, but it was issued in the UK as single in 1979 and I remember Terry Wogan playing it in the run up to Christmas that year. You see, I used to find Radio 2 a good neutral background for writing Philosophy essays.

I hadn't heard Merry We Will Be in more than 40 years when I thought of posting an Advent calendar and the songs I might include.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

The first newspaper mention of Steve Winwood

I've searched the British Newspaper Archive and this is the earliest mention I can find of Steve (or Stevie) Winwood. It comes from the Birmingham Mail for 3 December 1963.

The books say the Spencer Davis Group was originally called the Rhythm and Blues Quartet, but it seems that in practice two names were given prominence even above the name of the band.

Where space allows in small ads, the band's billing was:

Spencer Davies. Steve Winwood.
R & B Quartet

But here, where they had to get a second act in, just names were used. And at 15 years of age Steve Winwood already had his name above the name of the group too.

Spencer Davies, incidentally, dropped the i from his name so the English could pronounce it properly - a little like John Bongiovi becoming Jon Bon Jovi. There are later advertisements where he is still called Davies, but in this one he is already Davis.

When the band decided they needed a better name, the Spencer Davis Group was chosen in line with a jazz tradition of naming the band after its leader rather than its greatest virtuoso.

The books say the Winwood brothers liked the new name because Spencer, who enjoyed talking to the press, could do the interviews while they stayed in bed.

And, as it turned out, the Spencer Davis Group was a clever name in that in sounded sort of American and even sort of black. 

Legend has it that they had to make a promotional film to persuade white American radio stations that they should be playing them.

Former Brexit Party Westminster candidate gains Surrey County Council seat for the Lib Dems

Is it just me or are Wednesday by-elections becoming a little more common? Whatever the truth of that, there was one yesterday in a ward of Surrey County Council and it saw a Liberal Democrat gain. Congratulations to Harry Bopari and his team in Sunbury Common and Ashford Common.

To form a full appreciation of the significance of the week's local by-election results you have to read the previews written by Andrew Teale. He wrote a special one for yesterday's contest and you can learn a number of things from it.

The first is that Sunbury Common and Ashford Common was held by the Lib Dems between 2013 and 2017. 

Our victory in 2013 was a bit of a fluke, in that Ukip and the Conservatives split a large right-wing vote almost evenly in second and third places, but studying the results of previous contests in a ward can sometimes reveal that a trumpeted Lib Dem gain has done no more than get us back where we were a few years ago.

It would be interesting to know the results in this corner of Surrey before 2013, but as Andrew does not include them I assume there have been boundary changes.

He does, however, include information that suggests this was indeed a ward we should have looked to gain with the national polls as they are:
The Lib Dems, however, do have a base on Spelthorne council in the Sunbury Common half of the division; in 2019 this ward returned two Lib Dems and an ex-Lib Dem independent.
Second, our new councillor has an unusual political background for a Lib Dem councillor:
The Lib Dems have made the intriguing selection of Harry Boparai, who works for BA at Heathrow; I say “intriguing” because Boparai was a Conservative candidate in the neighbouring London Borough of Hounslow at the 2018 local elections before standing in the 2019 general election as the Brexit Party candidate for Hayes and Harlington. 
He was originally supposed to stand in December 2019 here in Spelthorne, before the Brexit Party party withdrew from Conservative-held seats. You don’t see many Brexit Party to Lib Dem defectors, but it takes all sorts to make a world.
And it takes all sorts of people to make a successful political party, so I shall not be questioning his selection.

The third thing we learn is whose constituency includes Sunbury Common and Ashford Common:
The local MP is Kwasi Kwarteng, and I must admit that when this vacancy came up I was looking forward to describing this by-election as the first of his chancellorship within his constituency. Oh dear.
Andrew has produced his usual Thursday preview for today's contests, which include a parliamentary by-election in Chester.

Ely Cathedral Choir: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

So I thought I would make a musical advent calendar here - 24 favourite pieces of Christmas music, both sacred and secular.

This hymn of longing for redemption was first published in Germany in 1710, says Wikipedia, though it has been claimed to be much older than that. It found its way, in translation, into English hymnals in the middle of the 19th century.

And the tune with which the words are now firmly associated has its origins in 15th-century France.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Munira Wilson scores with Word Cup reference at PMQs

Called to ask Rishi Sunak a question on free school meals at today's prime minister's questions, Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, was ready with a killer topical reference.

I suppose the real problem with parents who struggle to feed their children is that they lack aspiration. Otherwise, they would be sending those children to expensive private schools.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Popper did and didn't say about the paradox of intolerance

I’m pleased to see Karl Popper back in fashion. Because he was an important critic of Marxist thought, he has generally lumped in with Conservative thinkers by the left and so ignored by the people who should read him.

But there is a danger that those who like the sound of Popper from the image above, but have read no more of him, will misunderstand him. 

And I don’t just mean that they will take him for a twinkly-eyed professor like Shorofsky in Fame. In reality, Popper was, by all accounts, not an easy man to deal with. His students were given to renaming his best known book The Open Society and its Enemies as The Open Society by one of its Enemies.

No the danger is that the image dos not tell you the insight that the free criticism of ideas is vital for both the conduct of science and the maintenance of political liberty is at the heart of Popper’s philosophy. He makes an unlikely champion of censorship. 

Popper’s formulation of the paradox of tolerance is found in chapter seven of The Open Society and Its Enemies, which deals with Plato’s treatment of political leadership in The Republic.

In this discussion Popper identifies two paradoxes: the paradox of freedom and the paradox of sovereignty.

The paradox of freedom shows the dangers of defining democracy as the implementation of the will in the people. For the people may choose to give power to a tyrant and, as Popper comments, this is not just a theoretical possibility: “it has happened a number of times.”

Plato sees this paradox as undermining the case for democracy. Popper prefers to defend it by offering a more pragmatic definition of it. He suggests that a democratic government is one that can be got rid of via institutional means rather than bloodshed.

The second paradox Popper identifies is the paradox of sovereignty. This turns out to be the other side of the coin of Douglas Adams’ observation that:

It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

For Popper writes that all theories of sovereignty are paradoxical: 

For instance, we may have selected ‘the wisest’ or ‘the best’ as a ruler. But ‘the wisest’ in his wisdom may find that not he but ‘the best ‘ should rule, and the best in his goodness may perhaps decide that ‘the majority’ should rule.

which brings us back to the paradox of freedom. 

Or as Douglas Adams might have put it: “the people most suited to rule will, ipso facto, not wish to do so.”

The paradox of tolerance is discussed in a footnote on this discussion of paradoxes. There Popper writes:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. 

 In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. 

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

So what do we make of all this?

Putting Popper’s brand on the paradox of tolerance risks going too far. He was not the first to identify it and, though he admits its validity, it is not central to his argument in The Open Society and Its Enemies.

Popper is concerned that the opponents of tolerance may resort to violence, not that they may express intolerant views.

Popper’s first instinct when faced with such people is to “counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”.

Where he does support the suppression of the intolerant is in the face of threats of violence and threats to overthrow of the state or system of government. Following Popper’s formulation, it would, for instance, have been fully justifiable to act against those planning the attack on the Capitol in Washington in January 2021.

But most people I see using this image are citing Popper merely in support of silencing people whose views they do not unlike – whose views they find intolerant.

You may think Popper took the danger posed by such people too lightly, but you will have to argue for that position from your own resources, because Popper would not have supported you.

'There appears to be a dog in court!': Lawyer's barking mad pet crashes Shrewsbury hearing

As it so often does, the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

And it has given me an excuse for posting another clip from Crown Court.

Monday, November 28, 2022

A stretch of the Market Harborough to Rugby line was electrified

The viaduct in this video once carried a loop line built so trains coming off the Market Harborough line into Rugby station did not cross the West Coast Main Line on the level.

What I didn't know until I watched this is that the line from Rugby to Clifton Mill, the first station on the line to Harborough, was electrified. 

This, says Warwickshire Railways, was to allow electric locomotives coming off southbound trains at Rugby to get back to the north end of the station to take over diesel-hauled trains from Euston without holding up traffic.

If this is getting too complicated, then just enjoy the footage of the viaduct.

The line from Market Harborough to Rugby closed in 1966.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Joy of Six 1093

"The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which has housed more than 100,000 people in Britain since the start of the war, is now at risk of collapse. Without early and drastic intervention, the scheme will compound rather than ease the suffering of the Ukrainian families it was meant to help." Keir Giles explains what has gone wrong with the government's effort to help war refugees from Ukraine.

Eleanor Rylance remembers helping a young mother of two children living in appalling housing conditions: "We should be viewing this as a national scandal, not demonising young and vulnerable people living in terrible housing stock."

The Guardian interviews the clinical psychologist Richard Bentall, a penetrating critic of conventional views of mental illness.

Gale Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer explode five myths that fuel the rejection of science.

"Morgan was superficially a 'swinging London' movie – made by a man who was, to the best of my knowledge, not heavily involved in the hedonism of the time: his main hobbies were gardening, collecting art and playing bridge. Yet he and writer David Mercer tapped into the fierce debates, associated with the radical psychiatrist RD Laing, about whether insanity can sometimes be a “rational” response to a mad world." Matthew Reisz on his father Karel's contribution to post-war British cinema.

The Britten Pears Archive examines the composer's rich creative relationship with the boys' choir from the state-sector Wandsworth School.

Lindisfarne: Meet Me on the Corner

Younger readers will know Lindisfarne, if they know them at all, for making a record with Gazza and for Christmas concerts that have a reputation for being a bit Jimmy Five Bellies.

But it wasn't always like that. At the start of the Seventies they were a highly regarded band with a talent for producing catchy singles with a folk rock tinge.

As well as Meet Me on the Corner there was Lady Eleanor and, though it wasn't hit, Fog on the Tyne, which came to be their best-known song (with or without help from Gazza).

English rock rarely celebrates English places, but not only is Fog on the Tyne inspired by local geography, but so is the name of the band itself.

The only other English bands I can think of who chose such names were Fotheringay (though the village name was chosen for its connection with Mary Queen of Scots and the modern spelling is Fotheringhay) and, sort of, The Merseybeats.

No doubt there are others...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

How No Room at the Inn launched John Osborne's theatre career

If you thought you'd heard the last of No Room at the Inn, you were mistaken.

This was the play by Joan Temple that, like Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, was inspired by the death of Dennis O'Neill, a 12-year-old foster child, in 1945.

After No Room at the Inn had cleaned up in the West End, it went on a national tour, though without its star, the awe-inspiring Freda Jackson.

As there were so many children in the cast, the company needed a tutor for them to make up for the schooling they were missing. 

That role was taken by a young man keen on a career in the theatre - he even fancied writing plays. And he used it as a route to becoming an assistant stage manager and then a member of the cast.

His name? John Osborne. He was the archetypal Angry Young Man of the Fifties and the author of the epoch-making play Look Back in Anger.

Counsels' opinions on the Lib Dem definition of transphobia

One of Mark Pack's initiative in his first term as Liberal Democrat president was to ask the party's disciplinary subgroup to produce a definition of transphobia.

It was duly produced and adopted by the party. You can find the text and links to useful additional material in a Lib Dem Voice post from 2020.

Since the definition was adopted, doubt has been expressed about how legally watertight it would prove if the party were to use it as the basis for disciplinary action.

For that reason the party has commissioned an opinion from Guy Vassall-Adams KC, You can read it online together with the supplementary advice that he was later asked to submit.

A member of the party's' board commissioned a second opinion from Karon Monaghan KC and this can also be found online.

I'm not aware that these links have appeared on a Lib Dem blog yet, so I have posted them here.

Newspaper reports tensions between Lib Dem councillors and party executive in Derby

An investigation is under way into allegations made by the executive committee of Derby's Liberal Democrats, which has led to the resignation of committee members. The resigned committee has written and appealed to senior figures in the Liberal Democrat Party urging them to take control of Derby City Liberal Democrats "to avoid further damage to party reputation, as well as its mental and physical well-being of its members".

So Derbyshire Live (the website for the Derby Telegraph) reported earlier this week.

The paper says the committee's letter lists eighteen grievances and it prints seven of them.

Its report ends:

Derbyshire Live approached Councillor Ruth Skelton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Derby City Council, who referred us to the press office at national party headquarters.

A press statement said: "There are investigations underway and we cannot comment pending those being completed."

Derbyshire Live has also approached the resigning committee for any further comment.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Joy of Six 1092

"Since February, an isolated former RAF base near the village of Manston, in Kent, has been used by the Home Office to warehouse migrants reaching England’s southeastern shores on small boats. These are desperate people fleeing conflict, persecution, immiseration, environmental degradation and other crises. Most of them claim asylum. They all deserve better." Joseph Maggs argues that Manston refugee camp is a "politically manufactured crisis": the foreseeable result of government policy towards the vast majority of the global poor who are unable to access "safe and legal routes" to the UK.  

Stephen Glenn explains why he is not watching the Qatar World Cup.

George Cunningham on the challenges facing the Lib Dems' federal international relations committee. He lists getting the party leadership back on track concerning Europe among them.

Social media accounts from far beyond the city stoked tensions between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester at the time of this autumn's riots, says The Indian Express

"Many of the songs were suggested to the band by A.L. Lloyd, the self-taught folklorist who went on to become co-founder and artistic director of Topic Records and co-compile The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs with Vaughan Williams. Mike Waterson once called him "a guru to us"; Lloyd also directed the subject matter of their songs. "We sang one and he said, 'Mm, we shan’t use that one. It’s too subservient.'" Judge Rogers on The Watersons and the re-release of their album Frost and Fire.

Bobby Seal presents a list of his favourite psychogeography books of 2022.

Harborough's Neil O'Brien stars in the Guardian's Commons sketch

This morning Labour's Angela Rayner asked an urgent question to the minister for the cabinet office on the procurement of personal protective equipment during the Covid pandemic.

But it wasn't that minister who came to the Commons to answer it: it was a junior minister from the Department of Health and Social Care, Harborough's own Neil O'Brien.

Why he got the gig I don't know, but John Crace in the Guardian suggests:

His schoolboy error had been to answer his phone.

And boy does Crace have fun with him:

So it was a queasy-looking O’Brien who turned up for the UQ. A man who looked as if he had spent the previous couple of hours throwing up rather than trying to prepare some answers.

Having watched his performance on Commons TV (it starts at 10:37:16) I can confirm that this is unfair, but only a little. O'Brien is not an commanding  performer at the despatch box.

And the government's performance on procuring PPI isn't impressive either. If it had cut corners to secure supply from established providers of PPE, that would have been entirely understandable. 

But contracts were given to people with no record in the field, some of them with worrying political connections, and much of what it bought turned out to be unusable.

There are many questions to be answered here and O'Brien gave convincing ones to few of them.