Saturday, November 17, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Vince Fibre-Optic, Farmer Swarbrook, Zsa Zsa Poltergeist

I've done the new Liberator. I have done Radical Bulletin. Which means I can put this off no longer.

It is time to spend another week at Bonkers Hall. Take it away your lordship...


To the Bonkers' Arms, where I join the regulars in setting the world to rights. We note that Vince Cable has announced he is open to the idea of changing the name of the Liberal Democrats: but what if he is looking at things, as our American cousins would have it, backasswards? What if it is Vince Cable’s name that is the one that should be changed?

We proceed to suggest a range of names he might be called instead. I elect myself secretary of the meeting and endeavour to record them on the back of a Smithson & Greaves beermat. Here is the list, though I will not swear to have captured them all:

Vince Fibre-Optic, Mabel Cable, Vince Thrust,  Prince Vince, Father Ibadulla, Wild Willy Birkenshaw, Rear Admiral Tufty Blenkiron, Chief Rabbi O’Toole, The Widow Ganderpoke, Zsa Zsa Poltergeist, Binky Balderstone, Bingo Edmeades, Armitage the Musical Seal, Tufty Snellgrove, Peggy Inverarity and her Harmonica Rascalettes, The Very Revd Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, Farmer Swarbrook, Queen Salote of Tonga, Oscar Mild, Mad Jock Racionzer.

I have every confidence that a winning name is in there somewhere.

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

The new railway alignment at Market Harborough takes shape

Works continues on straightening the railway through Market Harborough station.

Part of the northbound platform has been boarded off. Soon the newly aligned platforms will start taking shape behind those boards.

Meanwhile, you can now see the route that the realigned tracks will take through the old station car park and beyond. At present that alignment is home to an impressive horde of earth-moving plant.

They are working on the railway bridge over Rockingham Road too. The road has been closed for a week now and trains will be diverted around Market Harborough and over the Welland Viaduct tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Day trips to the Continent from Lydd Airport in 1967

Writing about Malcolm Saville and Lydd Airport a few years ago, I said:
I have a guide book to Rye, the relic of a family holiday in a caravan on Winchelsea Beach in 1967 - yes, readers, I remember the Summer of Love. In it there is a British United Air Ferries advertisement featuring return trips to Ostend and Le Touquet for 71/-.
And here is that very ad. There's more about British United Air Ferries on Wikipedia.

Why they are calling Nick Clegg "the Bionic Man"

City Insider in the Financial Times points out that Nick Clegg is old enough to remember the 1970s television series about a former astronaut-turned-secret agent called Colonel Steve Austin.

Austin had had various body parts replaced by 'bionic' implants, giving him superhuman speed and vision.

Insider continues:
The title of the show was The Six Million Dollar Man. That’s what others approached as contenders for the Facebook role of head of global affairs told City Insider was on offer: $1m as basic pay plus at least $5m in stock.
Nice work if you can get it. Me? I voted for Brian Niblett.

Radical Bulletin tells you what's really going on in the Lib Dems

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Each issue of Liberator contains  Radical Bulletin. Named after a defunct publication that we absorbed long ago, it contains news about the Liberal Democrats you will not find anywhere else.

Radical Bulletin in the new issue of Liberator tells you more about the hole that has appeared in the party's finances and about the party's reaction to Vince Cable's ideas for reforming it.

You will also find some light relief:
The annual Pink News awards saw Vince Cable give a heartfelt speech on the appalling treatment LGBT asylum seekers experience in the UK. 
He then went on to present the prize for the best TV programme which turned out to be A Very English Scandal. 
Thus the audience was treated to the leader of the Lib Dems presenting an award to a programme about one of his predecessors trying and failing to commit a murder.
Subscribe to Liberator here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The lost pubs of Minsterley

When I started visiting Shropshire more than 30 years ago there were three pubs in Minsterley. You can see them all in this aerial photograph from 1947.

The pub that is still open today is the Crown & Sceptre, which is in the bottom left-hand corner.

In the top left corner is the pub I knew as the Bridge Hotel, but may still have been known as The Miners' Arms when the photo was taken - they were lead miners in this part of the world. The building is still there, but it is now a private house.

And in the centre of the picture is the Bath Arms Hotel, which has been demolished and replaced with new housing.

The new issue of Liberator is out

The new issue of the radical Liberal magazine Liberator is with subscribers.

In it you find the usual mix of articles, reviews and inside information on what is going on in the Liberal Democrats.

Two of the articles are free to download as pdfs from the Liberator website:
  • Sarah Green says the party can't go on being diverted from its political tasks by internal reforms and financial squalls
  • Richard Kemp says it is wrong and pointless to be moderate about deprivation when the Lib Dems have the policies need - if only they knew it.
Lord Bonkers interjects: Aren't you going to tell them about my diary?

Liberal England replies: Yes, but first I am going to tell them how to subscribe to Liberator.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Prince Charles as Bluebottle

A 70th birthday tribute.

Petition to bring back Market Harborough's Church Street Christmas lights gains over 1000 signatures in a day

There is a petition on calling on Harborough District Council to get its act together and see that the usual Christmas lights go up in Church Street, Market Harborough. (I blogged about this controversy yesterday.)

Already it has gained more than a thousand signatures - mine is one of them.

As the explanation that accompanies the petition says:
Church Street is a lovely small street in Harborough that's full of independent businesses who work hard all year round in the town. The Christmas Lights have been a beautiful feature in Church Street for many years, with lots of customers coming to the street especially to see them. 
As a street we are really upset to hear that the Christmas lights will no longer be decorating our street and hope that the council can put a plan in place to put up the lights this year.
Sign the petition yourself.

Lib Dems to meet again on Thursday to discuss party's finanaces

As I blogged last week, an emergency Liberal Democrat board meeting took place last night to discuss the state of the party's finances.

PoliticsHome reports that the board will meet again tomorrow, as the meeting broke up at 10.15 without getting through the agenda.

As to what happened there:
At the meeting last night, board members discussed party spending priorities and budgets for the next three years, during an exchange that overran by some two hours. 
“It was very lengthy, it was tense and it was heated at points - but there is some positive stuff coming out of it at least,” one board member told PoliticsHome. 
“It was focused on how we get through what has happened and how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again. The conversations about individuals and their future will come along once we’ve sorted all of this out.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

No Christmas lights in Church Street, Market Harborough, this year

First things first. My old friend Phil Knowles - here in the Leicester Mercury - wins our Quote of the Day Award:
A council has been accused of cancelling Christmas in part of a Leicestershire town. 
Councillor Phil Knowles, who is leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition has spoken out after Harborough District Council announced it would not be putting Christmas lights up in Church Street in Market Harborough. 
The council has said that no festive lights will be positioned in the busy town centre street because electrical supply points and fixing brackets no longer meet regulations. 
Coun Knowles, who represents Great Bowden and Arden on the council, said: "It is elf and safety gone mad."
It may have been an open goal, but he put it away with aplomb.

Really, this is a sad story. For as long as I can remember the lights in Church Street have been a highlight of Christmas in Market Harborough. This year there won't be any.

Why not?

The Conservative leader of the council says:
"This year’s festive lighting scheme will not extend to Church Street due to the existing electrical and physical infrastructure no longer complying with current regulations – as well as challenges relating to the installation of new brackets, eyebolts and new power supplies to accommodate the cross-street festive lighting."
I am with Phil:
"We need to know why these fittings were not repaired in time for this Christmas period. We need to know if these fittings can be fixed in time to gets lights up on this street."

Monday, November 12, 2018

A walk down the Brampton Valley Way

The Brampton Valley Way, which runs for 14 from Market Harborough to the edge of Northampton, follows the route of a railway line that closed in 1981. I was on the last train and have a few photos from that day that I will post on this blog sometime.

Over the years the hedges have grown larger and the path narrower, which makes if feel less like and old railway.

On Saturday I walked its first mile or two to reach a new cafe in a tent off the main road in Great Oxendon, passing the occasional dog-walker, enjoying the autumnal afternoon and later the dramatic skies,

As you may recall, I saw a remarkable rainbow before I got there.

Hearings on Lord Janner put back until February 2020

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The Leicester Mercury reported earlier this month that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) will not now hold its public hearing into child sexual abuse allegations against the former Leicester MP Greville Janner until 2020.

This, says the IICSA, is because new lines of inquiry have emerged in the Independent Police Complaints Commission's investigation of Leicestershire Police's response to the allegations against Janner.

When the hearings do take place, the IICSA website reveals that they will investigate the allegations of Lord Janner and then, if it finds some or all of them to be well founded, consider:
  • the adequacy and propriety of law enforcement investigations and prosecutorial decisions relating to allegations falling within paragraph 1 above, including whether any public authority hindered or prevented the effective investigation and/or prosecution of allegations of child sexual abuse by Lord Janner;
  • the extent to which Leicestershire County Council was aware of the allegations of abuse and the adequacy of its response;
  • the extent to which the Labour Party, government departments, and/or the security and intelligence agencies were aware of the allegations of abuse and, if so, the adequacy of their response;
  • the extent to which any other public or private institution may have failed in its duty to protect children from sexual abuse;
  • whether the Kirkwood inquiry was conducted adequately and whether the mission of any mention of Lord Janner in the Kirkwood report was appropriate.
In light of those investigations the Inquiry will publish a report setting out its findings and recommendations to improve child protection and safeguarding in England and Wales.

The IICSA is being largely ignored by the media, even though it has already led to the resignation of one council leader, but I suspect the hearings on Lord Janner will attract renewed attention.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six of the Best 830

William Wallace says Britain's security depends upon our co-operation with others. He also reveals that his father served in the Gordon Highlanders in the first world war. I had a great uncle who did the same.

"The BBC is an Anglican broadcaster, which faces the same conflict of purpose. It follows the highest journalistic standards, yet it feels it must also reflect the national mood. Britain voted to leave the EU. The nation spoke, and in respecting 'the people’s verdict,' the BBC has done what every enemy of free inquiry wants reporters to do." Nick Cohen shows how the BBC has lost the plot on Brexit.

Damon Linker reviews a book by Max Boot, a conservative who has left the Republican Party in disgust over Donald Trump.

"Over the last ten years, research has demonstrated the importance of creative practice in the arts and humanities. They can help maintain health, provide ways of breaking down social barriers and expressing and understanding experiences and emotions, and assist in developing trust, identities, shared understanding and more compassionate communities." Paul Crawford argues that the arts are a shadow health service.

James Oliver revisits the controversy over video nasties from the 1980s.

In 1916 5000 people watched Jack Hobbs faced Sydney Barnes in the Bradford League. Crispin Andrews examines the first world war and cricket politics.

Listen to James Hawes on the history of Germany

James Hawes is one of my favourite contemporary novelists. His Speak for England, as well as being hugely enjoyable in its own right, can claim to have anticipated Brexit.

He is also a historian. I can recommend his The Shortest History of Germany - and not only because it does what is says on the dustwrapper.

The unified Germany of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he argues, was largely the result of conquest by Prussia. And Prussia was a military state with a  very different outlook from the emerging democracies of Western Europe.

It was Germany's - and Europe's - tragedy that the new nation took on the semi-colonial practices of Prussia.

You can hear Hawes discussing the history of Germany in a podcast with Dan Snow.

Market Harborough to Northampton bus service to be halved

By the time I had finished chasing rainbows at Great Oxendon yesterday, it was threatening to get dark. So I abandoned my plan to walk home and caught the bus instead.

Even before I checked the timetable, I knew there wouldn't be too long to wait. There are two buses an hour between Northampton and Market Harborough.

That is soon to change. 

A service update from Stagecoach says it has been through a 
process of reviewing its entire bus network across the Midlands. Over this period detailed analysis has taken place to review passenger numbers on each route and ways of tackling services which are not commercially viable.
And when you get to the detail, the update says:
On Mondays to Saturdays service X7 will run hourly between Leicester - Market Harborough - Brixworth - Northampton - Milton Keynes. 
Additional journeys will run between Leicester and Market Harborough & between Brixworth and Northampton to provide two buses an hour on these sections of route during most of the day. 
The X6 & X7 combine to provide two buses an hour between Northampton, Grange Park and Milton Keynes.
In other words, there will continue to be two buses an hour on the route except between Market Harborough and Northampton (or, more precisely, between Market Harborough and Brixworth).

This is a commercial decision by Stagecoach and there is, of course, no prospect of Northamptonshire County Council stepping in to maintain the service.

Shirley Bassey: Burn My Candle

This is Shirley Bassey aged 19 and she is amazing.

Burn My Candle was deemed so suggestive by the BBC that they refused to play it. You can see their point.

Remarkably, it was written by Ross Parker, who had co-written the wartime standards "There'll Always Be an England" and "We'll Meet Again".

Maybe the 1950s were more exciting than we think?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A rainbow at Great Oxendon

I had planned to go into Leicester and watch Mike Leigh's Peterloo. But the trains had been replaced by buses and, at least between the showers, it was a golden late autumn day.

So instead I walked along the Brampton Valley Way (the old Market Harborough to Northampton railway) to try out a new cafe at Great Oxendon.

Judging by the rainbow that appeared, the President of the Immortals approved of my decision.

The final photo here, despite my playing about with it, does not capture the extraordinary effect produced by the last, broad scrap of the rainbow over the trees.

Friday, November 09, 2018

When the Monastery in Rye was a pottery

In 2014 the Monastery in Conduit Hill, Rye, was up for sale. The Rye & Battle Observer told us:
The Monastery building was once ear-marked as potential site for a new theatre by the Fletcher Group but the Group is now set to open a new two screen cinema in the former Further Education Centre in Lion Street later this year. ... 
In 1903, the then Vicar of Rye, the Rev. Howes, interested himself in the chapel building, and proposed its conversion into a Church House. It had been the Salvation Army Barracks for some time. 
During the last war it was used for community events, dances and films.
The paper also said that the Monastery was once a pottery, and my 1967 Rye guidebook shows it was right.

The Young Liberals were infiltrated by an undercover police officer

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (gedditt!!???!!) reported back in March:
A new spycop has been named – Special Demonstration Squad officer ‘Michael Scott’ infiltrated the Young Liberals, Anti-Apartheid Movement, and Workers Revolutionary Party, 1971-76.
It's hard not to feel nostalgic for the days when the secret state thought the Liberal Party worth keeping under surveillance.

Six of the Best 829

"Brexit has been a sobering experience for believers in Britain's constitutional arrangements. While in principle we have parliamentary sovereignty, in practice we have an over-powerful executive." Alexandra Runswick on how 'the will of the people' shattered our constitution.

Sam Knight explains how the Conservatives bankrupted Northamptonshire: "The plan ... involved cutting the number of staff directly employed by the county from four thousand to a hundred and fifty. At the same time, officials set up a number of external companies to look after the county’s old people and neglected children. The companies would, in theory, turn a profit. The project cost millions of pounds and never got off the ground."

Wearing the poppy has always been a political act. Sam Edwards sets out its history.

"I had another reason to fear psychiatry; the usual alarmist warning to anyone who misbehaved in the 'fifties and 'sixties was, 'You’ll end up in Saint Nick's,' the bin on Great Yarmouth sea front. And an imposing place that was. My beloved grandma spent two nights there – but more of that later." Why Craig Newnes has written a book on electroconvulsive therapy.

We need to take action to stop Sheffield architecture being destroyed, says Owen Hatherley.

Graham Duff looks back over 45 years of Lindsay Anderson's brilliant film O Lucky Man!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fleet House: A threatened Leicester ghost sign

This is Fleet House in Fleet Street, Leicester, which was the headquarters of British Steam Specialties Lrd until a few years ago.

Derelict Places has photographs of the surprisingly contemporary interior and records that the company was bought out by Travis Perkins and moved to a new head office closer to the M1.

This part of the city is up for redevelopment, and a Leicester Mercury article from earlier this year reveals the disappointing news that Fleet House could be a victim of it.

So enjoy the buildings signs while you can.

Should South Shropshire be a national park?

The idea that South Shropshire should be a national park seems to be gaining momentum.

The Shropshire Star reports that the man tasked by Michael Gove with look at whether any new parks should be created, thinks so.

Julian Glover, a former speechwriter for David Cameron and the first person to commission me to write for the Guardian, says:
"I know Shropshire very well. 
"I partly grew up in the Shropshire Hills, and they are as beautiful as anywhere in a national park."
Indeed they are. Someone once described them to me as being like the Lake District without all the visitors.

Andy Boddington, the Lib Dem councillor from Ludlow, also supports the idea.

He writes on his blog:
We live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. We have so much beauty surrounding us that we often forget its there. It is ordinary to us but astonishing to people who come here. 
My view is that national park will be beneficial for South Shropshire. It will promote the economy. But there could be downsides like too many visitors or rising house price. There could be upsides like more affordable housing. More businesses within and around the national park.
And he concludes:
My view is that we should at that point submit a bid for national park status. 
A national park that stretches from Ironbridge to the Mortimer Forest. Embracing the Titterstone Clee, the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones, Bishop’s Castle and Clun.
He urges people in the county to attend a debate organised by the Shropshire Council's Ludlow and Clee local joint committee on 29 November.

I welcome the idea, but I can think at once of a couple of problems that need to be tackled if it is to be a success.

The first is affordable housing. When I discovered the county more than 30 years ago I used to wonder at how cheap houses were. Then the weekending classes discovered the restaurants of Ludlow and everything changed.

Two years ago it was announced that Hope primary school near the Stiperstones was to close. Heather Kidd, the Lib Dem councillor for the ward, saw no alternative because young families cannot could to move to the area - see her comment on that post too.

The second issue is bus services, which being cut in Shropshire just as they are everywhere else.

The Secret Hills shuttle bus that runs at weekends is a shadow of what it was a few years ago, when you could use it to reach Bishop's Castle, Clun and Much Wenlock.

And the bus from Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle is under threat of withdrawal.

I support the idea of giving my favourite landscape national park status, but unless something is done about these and other issues in the area, I am not sure how much it will really achieve.

Lib Dems call emergency board meeting for Tuesday

PoliticsHome reports a development in the story about redundancies at Lib Dem head office that broke last week:
Lib Dem bosses have been summoned to an emergency board meeting amid a financial crisis in the party that is set to see up to quarter of staff laid off. 
Board members are expecting an “angry” exchange of views at the summit next week, with some blaming the current turmoil on bungled financial management.
The meeting, called by the party's president Sal Brinton, will take place on Tuesday evening.

In an article for Lib Dem Voice last week, Nick Harvey (the party's chief executive and former MP for North Devon) spoke of a "reorganisation" and of politics being a cyclical business where parties consolidate after an election and later build up for the next.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceHowever, sources quoted by PoliticsHome suggest bad financial planning is to blame for the redundancies.

That is in line with the rumours I heard before this story broke.

More churches at risk placed on Historic England's register

St Peter's, Belgrave

Five Leicestershire churches have been added to its list of at-risk heritage buildings by Historic England.

They are, says the Leicester Mercury, St Peter’s Church in Belgrave, Leicester, and little-used village churches in Loddington, Owston, Garthorpe and Great Stretton.

Over in Shropshire a further five churches have been added: Alberbury, Newscastle on Clun, Stockton, Worthen and Condover.

What is to be done?

It is easier to imagine a new use being found for an urban church like St Peter's, Belgrave, than it is for churches in remote villages. But even St Peter's has been on the market for a long time now.

I wonder, too, if any of these additions to the list is due to the theft of lead from the church's roof. this is now an epidemic in rural areas.