Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Wonder Stuff: The Size of a Cow

Let's start with the trivia. Miles Hunt, the guitarist and songwriter in The Wonder Stuff is the nephew of Bill Hunt, a horn player who followed Roy Wood through The Move, ELO and Wizzard.

And The Wonder Stuff shared those bands's West Midland heritage, coming out of Stourport at the same time as Pop Will Eat Itself. Members of both bands had already played together in once called From Eden.

The Wonder Stuff album everyone bought was Construction for the Modern Idiot, the last the band released before splitting in 1993 - they were to reform a few years later. But their best-loved single was this, and it comes from the earlier Never Loved Elvis.

Wikipedia quotes praise for The Size of a Cow:

Record Mirror made "The Size of a Cow" its single of the week upon release, with Peter Stanton's review describing the song as "a rampant jingly-jangly-organ affair that trips at a happier than happy pace".

Reviewing Never Loved Elvis in Vox, Keith Cameron described the song and "Caught In My Shadow" as "paragons of pop virtue", noting "huge melodic sweeps, artfully clever lyrics and nagging hummability".

Music & Media linked the song to contemporaneous singles by the Milltown Brothers, R.E.M. and Susanna Hoffs in what they heralded "the return of the classic pop tune".

Writing in 2017, Jon Bryan of Backseat Mafia described "The Size of a Cow" as "the equal, if not better, than almost any other guitar-pop song of the 90s".

Talk of "the return on the classic pop tune" puts you in mind of Britpop, and The Size of a Cow feels like an earthier, beerier essay in that genre. Most important of all, it still sounds good.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

A blue plaque at the Rushden home of H.E. Bates

I didn't have much time to explore Rushden - a Northamptonshire village that mushroomed into a major centre of the boot and shoe trade in the late nineteenth century - so I made straight for an attraction I already knew about.

This plaque is on the Rushden home of the novelist and short-story writer H.E. Bates. He was born in the town and educated at Kettering Grammar School.

Rushden appears in several of his works - notably the novel Love for Lydia - as Evensford, while his Uncle Silas stories are set in the Northamptonshire countryside.

But Bates's best known works, thanks to television adaptions, are the Pop Larkin books, and they are set in rural Kent.

The Joy of Six 1232

Lynton Crosby's divisive approach to politics has wedged the Conservative party into a corner from which they cannot escape, says Adam Bienkov.

Nearly three thousand prisoners are still serving indeterminate IPP - imprisonment for public protection - sentences, which are a relic of New Labour's authoritarianism. Alice Edwards, the UN special rapporteur on torture, explained the need for reform on the eve of an important vote in the Lords. In the event, peers agreed to the government amendments she supported.

Carol Nicholson discusses Richard Rorty's views on patriotism and how they mesh with his wider philosophy: "National pride, he argues, is analogous to self-respect and is as necessary for self-improvement. Both self-respect and patriotism are virtues found in an Aristotelian Golden Mean between the vices of excess and deficiency. Just as too much self-respect results in arrogance, and too little can lead to moral cowardice, an excess of patriotism can produce imperialism and bellicosity, and a lack of patriotism prohibits imaginative and effective political debate and deliberation about national policy."

Helen Day is interviewed about Ladybird Books: "The rarest book of all is thought to be an edition of How it Works: The Computer which was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence in the 1970s.  This book is believed to be the standard 1971 Ladybird book by this name, but with plain covers, intended to spare the blushes of the staff who might feel uncomfortable being seen reading a children’s book. But it is unlikely that one of these books will ever come to light as they were all believed to have been decommissioned and destroyed after a few years."

“I can't imagine Rock Guitar without Pete Townshend ... My playing owes so much to him. I'm not talking about the blues-influenced playing which also underpinned the evolution of 70s and 80s rock music - Townshend brought to the scene a blistering clang of super-amplified but not over-saturated chords - razor-edged monoliths crashing angrily through our brains, biting rhythmic hammer blows which would change the likes of me forever." Brian May on rock's debt to the Who guitarist.

Tim Rolls remembers the night Chelsea won their first European trophy - the Cup Winners' Cup in 1971: "[Hugh ]McIlvanney closed his article with a pithy observation. 'Chelsea reminded us in Athens that the highest rewards can still be won by flair and grace and boldness.' Indeed. Of the fourteen players who played a part in one or both games, seven (Bonetti, Boyle, Harris, Hollins, Hudson, Osgood and Houseman) had all come through the club’s junior system, a wonderful achievement."

Friday, May 24, 2024

The two lost canal tunnels of Blisworth

Inspired by the research of Tony Marsh, Paul and Rebecca Whitewick travel to Northamptonshire and the Grand Union Canal to look for signs of two tunnel alignments at Blisworth that were begun and abandoned before the one we know today was completed.

They also find some remains of the railway that was used to ship goods over the hill before the tunnel opened.

There's more from Paul and Rebecca Whitewick about their railway and canal explorations on their website.

Tory election campaign hits an iceberg in Belfast's Titanic Quarter

Rishi Sunak's shambolic election campaign rolled into Belfast today and James McCarthy of Belfast Live was not impressed:

Having been informed by the Conservative Party that the visit would be taking place at a fourth-floor office block in the Titanic Quarter, reporters arrived to find no PM and no press conference.

After a flurry of frantic phone calls we were directed to a car park half a mile away from where we had been originally sent to and once again, there was no sign of the Prime Minister or his officials.

Several more phone calls and a WhatsApp location pin later, we were met by the Secretary of State's SPAD who walked us through an industrial complex to the waterfront. There, to our surprise, the Prime Minister was having the time of his life, zipping up and down the water on an electric speedboat, under the watchful eyes of the national media.

Having found the correct location, you would have been forgiven for thinking that all would go to plan from here on in, but in true Thick Of It style, it was like a clown running through a minefield.

While the national media captured the Prime Minister's aquatic adventure, local reporters were prevented from filming the Prime Minister disembarking the boat and eventually frogmarched to the other side of the road by the Conservative Party's press team to a location where we could merely watch on through a fence.

But McCarthy got his revenge when he was finally allowed to meet Sunak:

When I asked the Prime Minster if given that we were in the Titanic Quarter, if he was captaining a sinking ship, it may have elicited a smirk from the Secretary of State, but in reality, the Prime Minister's answers were full of the usual bluff and bluster.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

IN COLOUR: Wilson, Keppel and Betty at Dudley Hippodrome

"If anyone asked me why I continue to fight," said Lord Bonkers, "I should show them this."

"This" is a video of the beloved novelty dance act Wilson, Keppel and Betty rehearsing at Dudley Hippodrome in 1949.

Dudley Hippodrome was demolished last year after a long campaign to save it. The last star to perform their before it became a bingo club in 1974 was Roy Orbison. It must have looked great at night when those tall windows were still glazed.

And you can read about Wilson, Keppel and their various Bettys in an article by Luke McKernan. Here they are as we know them best.

Sunak takes questions from two "members of the public" who turn out to be Conservative councillors

Rishi Sunak is very bad at politics. So bad, it seems, that his handlers are afraid to let him meet any voters.

Here's Adam Bienkov for Byline Times:

Rishi Sunak has been accused of faking support for the Conservative party, after taking two questions from supposedly ordinary members of the public, who turned out to have been Conservative Councillors.

Broadcasters on Thursday morning carried footage of an individual wearing a hi-vis jacket, asking the Prime Minister a question about his Rwanda scheme, during an event at a warehouse in Derbyshire. 

The man told Sunak that “the biggest issue is going to be immigration over this election campaign” before asking him whether “your Rwanda plan is going to see results and stop the small boats coming.”

The Prime Minister thanked the man for his “important question.”

However, neither Sunak, nor broadcasters informed viewers that the man asking the question was actually Conservative Leicestershire County Councillor Ross Hills. 

Ross Hills represents the Mallory ward on the county council.  As Bienkov says, he is a dentist, but he wasn't anxious to talk when asked what he was doing at a biscuit warehouse.

Byline Times later identified a second hi-vis jacket-wearing man asking Sunak a question at the event as the Erewash Conservative councillor Ben Hall-Evans.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The King George V Bridge over the Trent at Keadby

I remember Scunthorpe. Coming from Doncaster by train, you crossed endless flat Lincolnshire fields until you rattled over the wide Trent at Keadby. Then. all of a sudden, you were in a large industrial town of steelworks and railway sidings.

Scunthorpe probably isn't what it was in those distant days, but the bridge still carries both road and rail traffic. And as this silent British Pathé video from 1933 shows, it used to be even more remarkable.

The National Transport Trust tells its story:

The King George V bridge was opened by King George V, the chairman of the Great Central Railway company and Lindsey County Council on 21 May 1916.

This Scherzer rolling lift bridge carrying both road and rail traffic across the River Trent was built between 1912 and 1916 by the Great Central Railway to replace a previous swing bridge built by the South Yorkshire Railway in 1861-64. It carries a double track rail line on the southern side, and the twin carriageway A18 road on the north side.

Its 163ft electricity powered bascule (lifting span) was one of the first of its type in Britain and when built, was the largest in Europe. Designed by James Ball and C A Rowlandson and built by contractors Sir William Arrol & Co. it has three main spans and two approach spans. The western main span was the one that lifted. The Scherzer bascule rolled and rotated on counterbalance. It was electrically powered, originally by a large storage battery fed by petrol-driven generators housed in the engine room beneath the east approach span. This was later modified to mains electricity.

The bridge has not been lifted since 1956. It was widened and the headroom increased in 1960 and the bascule was fixed in position.

Tories bundle Sky News journalist out of PM's campaign launch

What with Sunak's announcement in the rain and this, the Tories have played a blinder today.

The Joy of Six 1231

"I was 20 the first time I was prescribed antidepressants. I had gone to the doctors during January in rainy, miserable Manchester complaining of flu. Somehow, I came out of the appointment having been diagnosed with depression and prescribed a course of SSRIs. But in fact I didn’t have a mood disorder, and I didn’t need to go on medication." Lucy Kenningham on why almost one in four adults are being prescribed antidepressants.

Simon Nixon asks how long it will be before Britons wake up to the national disaster that is unfolding in the stock market. "Around the world, stock market indices are being drive to new highs by what the Financial Times recently described as a global investor “risk reset” reflecting growing confidence in the global recovery. ... The exception is Britain, where the FTSE 100 is up just 2.4 per cent."

"Britain is home to hundreds of apple varieties, at least 30 in Sussex alone. Yet even in peak apple season, you are more likely to find apples imported from Europe, New Zealand and South Africa in your local supermarket." Ali Ghanimi looks for ways be can do better.

Oliver Keens says technological change means children are losing their independent access to music.

Adam Scovell watches Hidden City, Stephen Poliakoff's directorial debut: "As a thriller shot through with an interest in the forgotten parts of the capital, in many ways Hidden City taps into the unfolding trends of the period for psychogeography – the wandering fascination with urban environments first defined by Guy Debord."

"Only once, on the eve of the Old Trafford Ashes Test in 1977, did Brearley successfully twist Underwood’s arm by showing him hand-drawn diagrams of field placings that the England skipper insisted would be in play should he consider changing his angle of attack. By game time, after some convincing, Deadly was on board. He took 6-66, the old devil." Phil Walker pays his tribute to Derek Underwood.

Labour is reinforcing the Lib Dem claim that they "can't win here!"

From LabourList today

Labour has approximately 100 general election candidates left to publicly announce ... despite the party twice accelerating its selection process.

The fact around one in six Constituency Labour Parties has no candidate, dozens more have only been recently announced and some CLPs have felt left in the dark have all sparked controversy.

Many members have voiced their frustration, given the lack of a focal point for campaigning and attacks by the Lib Dems in what Labour has called its “non-battleground” seats.

Given that convincing voters that "Labour Can't Win Here" is central to our campaign in target seats, this does seem a remarkably generous approach by Labour, whatever their reason for taking it.

And, thinking of today's speculation, they will be poorly placed if a snap election is called.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Podcast: Big cats on the loose in Britain

Rick Minter, with his customary calm reasonableness, takes us through the evidence that there are big cats living wild in the British countryside.

Minter runs the Big Cat Conversations podcast, which I recommend to those with an interest in this rabbit hole, but here he's appearing on The Bearded Tit's Podcast.

You may scoff, but remember this Liberal England post from a few days ago.

Stiperstones post office to close this month

BBC News reports:

Four outreach post offices in south Shropshire are set to close this month.

Marton, Longden, Stiperstones and Wentnor only open for a few hours each week.

But the Post Office has said the services will cease due to "very low customer usage".

The report quotes the Lib Dem councillor Heather Kidd, whose ward includes Marton:

"The pub's gone, the village shop's gone, there's nowhere else to gather.

"It's a focal point for everyone to come together and have a coffee and touch base once a week." 

It's does make you wonder how the rural poor and elderly manage to live these days.

For a Malcolm Saville reader, it's tempting to identify Stiperstones post office with Jenny Harman's home in the Lone Pine Club stories, Barton Beach post office.

But I remember Saville's younger son, the Revd Jeremy Saville, telling a meeting of the Malcolm Saville Society that he did not think his father had visited the Stiperstones when he wrote the first book he set there (Seven White Gates, 1944). The book's eerie atmosphere owed a lot to his reading of Mary Webb.

In any case, I suspect Stiperstones was less a village in those days than a scattered hillside township of former miners' smallholdings.

Let's end with a picture of me at Stiperstones post office 30 years ago almost to the day.

Monday, May 20, 2024

"Russophobia": When PM Boris Johnson used a favourite Putin propaganda trope

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Putin’s regime does not tolerate dissent. It has responded by increasingly repressive measures to prevent criticism (or even reporting the truth about the war) in the media or on the streets.

Unable to use draconian Russian laws to muzzle critics abroad they have a different approach.

Kremlin spin doctors resurrected the word ‘russophobia’ to create a myth that anyone criticising Putin’s actions must be prejudiced against Russia and Russians.  It is used to denigrate anyone who points out violations of international agreements, criticises violations of human rights and freedoms or, condemns the brutal assault on Ukraine.

When the Kremlin has no better argument to use it shouts ‘russophobia’ like a term of playground abuse.

That was Sian MacLeod, Britain's ambassador to Serbia, writing on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development website a couple of years ago.

When I read her article The Myth of Russophobia the other day, I was struck by it. Not because I had seen the world 'russophobia' in many suspicious tweets, but because I had heard it used by a British prime minister.

It was Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons the month before MacLeod wrote her article.

Adam Bienkov takes up the tale:

Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced limited sanctions against Russian banks and individuals, saying that he was determined to “clamp down on Russian money in the UK”.

However, when repeatedly pushed in the House of Commons to extend this new “clampdown” to donors to the Conservative Party, Johnson refused.

Asked why his party had accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the wife of one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former ministers, Johnson insisted that all donors to the party were born in the UK. He then suggested that those attempting to raise the issue were guilty of “Russophobia”.

“What I don’t think we should see… listening to some of the contributions this morning, we should not allow our indignation, our rage at what is happening in Ukraine to spill over into casual Russophobia, Mr Speaker”, the Prime Minister said.

I wonder who briefed him before this debate? It doesn't sound like it was the Foreign Office.

Bradgate Park named as a new National Nature Reserve

Good news from the Leicester Mercury:

Leicestershire’s Bradgate Park, which inspired a young Sir David Attenborough and his love of all things nature, has been named a new National Nature Reserve. The beloved beauty spot, near Newtown Linford, was granted the coveted status as part of ongoing celebrations to mark King Charles III’s coronation.

The site, which spans 439 hectares, is home to rare fossils of early marine life forms from the Precambrian Period more than half a billion years ago. The fossils, known as the Ediacaran biota, can only be found in Bradgate Park. Their discovery helped revolutionise people’s understanding of how life evolved on Earth.

Alongside its rich history spanning the ages, Bradgate Park is also known for its wildlife, including deer. important grassland habitats and some of the only remaining heath in the area. The park also includes the remains of the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey.

Bradgate Park’s new National Nature Reserve status also extends to the nearby Swithland Wood reserve, which includes the former Swithland Slate quarries. The site is home to the rare ‘Charnwood spider’ as well as other important wildlife including Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Bradgate Park belonged to the Grey family until the 19th century. In 1928 it was bought by bought by a local businessman and Charles Bennion who gave it "in perpetuity to the people of Leicestershire". It is now administered by a charitable trust, whose trustees are nominated by Leicestershire County Council, Leicester City Council and the National Trust.

Just as Market Harborough people's first instinct on a sunny Saturday is to head for Foxton Locks, so in Leicester they go to Bradgate Park.

The Stiperstones, incidentally, were proposed as another of these new national reserves earlier this year.

The real reason for the Tories assault on universities? Educated people are less likely to vote for them

They dress it up in concerns about immigration and academic quality, but I suspect there's a more fundamental reason for the Conservatives' current war on the universities.

You can find it in a research paper published by the Social Market Foundation:

The education divide has played a decisive role in recent votes in the UK. Education is one of the strongest predictors of Brexit preferences, with school leavers and graduates overwhelmingly backing Leave and Remain respectively. The Conservatives’ increased vote share in 2017 and 2019 was also driven by a near doubling of support among school leavers between 2015 and 2019.
This is a new development - before 2016, school leavers were more likely to vote Labour in every election since 1979, while graduates have tended to vote Conservative.

Education is the strongest predictor of voters’ social values - graduates tend to hold more liberal values while school leavers tend to have more authoritarian views. It also predicts social identities, as graduates are more likely to identify as middle class and European, whereas school leavers tend to identify as working class and with local and national identities.

That's right: people who study at university are less likely to vote Conservative.

If this seems too simplistic - almost a conspiracy theory - then look at this 2016 Independent article where Nick Clegg talks about the politics of the Coalition cabinet:
The Conservatives refused to build more social housing because they worried it would create more Labour voters, Nick Clegg has said. 
Speaking ahead of the release of his new book, Politics Between the Extremes, the former Deputy Prime Minister said top figures on David Cameron’s team viewed housing as a “petri dish”. 
“It would have been in a Quad meeting, so either Cameron or Osborne. One of them – I honestly can’t remember whom – looked genuinely nonplussed and said, ‘I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters.’ They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters. It was unbelievable,” he said.
If party advantage dictated Tory housing policy, then it can dictate their education policy too. And the Social Market Foundation paper forecast that, if current trends continue, graduates will outnumber school leavers by 2031.

That paper, incidentally, may also give a rationale for current Liberal Democrat strategy:
Steeply rising graduate vote shares in ‘blue wall’ seats in the London commuter belt present new opportunities for the Liberal Democrats to build a geographically and demographically coherent heartland.
The blue wall is a flexible concept indeed if it can encompass London suburbs, but I'd rather bet on education than ignorance.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Hear Josh Babarinde and Roz Savage talk about becoming a parliamentary candidate on The Rundown podcast

The latest edition of The Rundown podcast from Politics Home looks at candidate selection and features two Liberal Democrats.

They are Josh Babarinde, who will fight Eastbourne for us at the next election, and Roz Savage, who will fight South Cotswolds.

Also taking part are a Conservative candidate and the veteran political journalist Michael Crick, who keeps a close eye on the subject.

The Joy of Six 1230

"These British-induced uprootings - the emigration from India, the three million African slaves transported on British ships across the Atlantic, the millions who left Ireland after the 1840s Famine - permanently changed the world’s human geography. The empire changed global ecology too." Neal Ascherson reviews Empireworld: How British Imperialism Has Shaped the Globe by Sathnam Sanghera.

Laleh Ispahani and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf argue that: "Reproductive rights do not exist in a vacuum. Bodily autonomy is inextricably linked to the integrity and durability of the body politic - with threats to one reinforcing threats to the other."

"Next Monday [that's tomorrow] the Infected Blood Inquiry will release its report on the failures that led to more than 30,000 people being infected with deadly viruses, between 1970 and 1991, due to contaminated blood products. Attention will focus on how much NHS leaders and government officials knew about the risks being taken, as well as attempts to prevent families raising awareness of the issue." Sam Freedman tries to identify the injustices ITV will be making dramas about in 2030.

Frances Coppola looks into the shadowy offshore conglomerate that owns LBC.

Rob Baker on 1956, they year of the Suez Crisis, The Entertainer and the Angry Young Men.

"The English rapper and producer had heard a Reading Festival audience shouting his lyrics from his newly released debut album for the very first time. Where others might feel vindicated, Skinner was spooked. It was a warning to take his craft seriously." Fergal Kinney revisits The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free.

Frumious Bandersnatch: Hearts To Cry

OK so I chose this mostly for the band's name, but the song is enjoyable and, like the name, very late-Sixties California.

And Frumious Bandersnatch did have an interesting afterlife. After they split in 1969, having recorded just one EP, four members joined the Steve Miller Band. Later, in 1973, one of the four and the band's manager became founder members of Journey.

So they were far from shunned.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Major Healey and Captain Jenkins at the 1945 Labour Conference

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Major Denis Healey and Captain Roy Jenkins photographed on the seafront with fellow delegates during the Labour Party conference in Blackpool, May 1945. This photo was published in the 9 June 1945 issue of Picture Post.

A little on the wartime careers on their wartime careers from Wikipedia.

Denis Healey

After graduation, Healey served in the Second World War as a gunner in the Royal Artillery before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in April 1941. Serving with the Royal Engineers, he saw action in the North African campaign, the Allied invasion of Sicily (1943) and the Italian campaign (1943–1945) and was the military landing officer ("beach master") for the British assault brigade at Anzio in 1944. He was twice mentioned in dispatches during this campaign.

Healey became an MBE in 1945. He left the service with the rank of Major. He declined an offer to remain in the army, with the rank of Lieutenant colonel, as part of the team researching the history of the Italian campaign under Colonel David Hunt. He also decided against taking up a senior scholarship at Balliol, which might have led to an academic career.

Roy Jenkins

During the Second World War, Jenkins received his officer training at Alton Towers and was posted to the 55th West Somerset Yeomanry at West Lavington, Wiltshire. Through the influence of his father, in April 1944, Jenkins was sent to Bletchley Park to work as a codebreaker; while there he befriended the historian Asa Briggs.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Top Post Office lawyer refuses to appear before Horizon IT Inquiry

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One of the key legal figures in the later years of the Post Office scandal is refusing to appear at the public inquiry into it, reports Law Gazette.

Jane MacLeod, who was the organisation's chief in-house lawyer between 2015 and 2019, was due to appear as a witness next month to explain her role in the civil litigation that fully exposed the scandal.

But today the counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer KC, told another witness before the inquiry: "We are not going to hear from her. She lives abroad and won’t co-operate."

The Law Gazette report tells us:

MacLeod was head of the Post Office legal team during the Bates v Post Office litigation and is believed to have advised chairman Tim Parker not to share the review authored by Treasury lawyer Jonathan Swift KC. This review had found ‘real issues’ for the Post Office.

MacLeod told the BBC earlier this year that she could not comment on papers showing the Post Office knew its defence in the Bates litigation was untrue. She said at the time that she supported the ongoing public inquiry and was assisting it. She added that while the inquiry was ongoing ‘I do not think it is appropriate to comment at this time’.

If you had asked MacLeod to justify her large salary while at the Post Office, she would have talked about the responsibility her job involved. But when she is actually asked to bear some responsibility, we don't see her cowardly arse for dust.

And this has been true of many senior Post Office executives who have appeared before the inquiry. "I don't recall" and "I don't remember" are the phrases that have been most often heard. One lawyer claimed not to know the standard of proof required in criminal cases,

Really it has been the modern business corporation, with its absurd difference in pay and status between those at the top and the rest of its employees and its secrecy, that has been in the dock at the inquiry. Why does it allow such awful people to prosper.

This is something to remember when Paul Vennells appears before the inquiry from Wednesday to Friday of next week. Sure, I'll be laying stocks of popcorn and rotten vegetables, but the issues at stake there go deeper than a few individuals, however unpleasant they are.

DNA from big cat found on sheep's carcass in Cumbria

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Well now.

BBC Countryfile reports:

An undisclosed Cumbrian hill farm is the location for the first ever positive identification of big cat DNA taken from a carcass.

In October last year, Cumbrian resident Sharon Larkin-Snowden came across the carcass and disturbed the animal that had been feeding on it.

Larkin-Snowden told big cat expert Rick Minter’s Big Cat Conversations podcast that the carcass was clearly still fresh and that only some of the internal organs had been consumed.

“To my right, I saw something black running, and assumed it was a sheepdog,” she said. “Then I did a double take and realised it was a black cat. It ran towards a stone wall, stopped and then jumped the wall. It was big – the size of a German shepherd dog.”

Larkin-Snowden took swabs from the sheep’s nose and back and front legs, and they were sent to a laboratory at the University of Warwick which specialises in testing for big cat DNA run by Prof Robin Allaby.

Allaby told BBC Countryfile Magazine they were able to make a positive identification of DNA belonging to a cat from the Panthera genus. This includes five species – lion, leopard, tiger, jaguar and snow leopard, but only two – leopard and jaguar – that have melanistic (black) forms as seen by Larkin-Snowden. 

You can hear Sharon Larkin-Snowden interviewed in the latest edition of Rick Minter's Big Cat Conversations podcast.

This is not the first time big cat DNA has been found in the English countryside. As the Countryfile report says, in 2022 black hair found snagged on a barbed-wire fence after a sheep attack on a Gloucestershire farm was identified as belonging to a big cat. The BBC's Discover Wildlife site says it was found to be a 99.9 per cent match to the leopard Panthera Pardus.

The picture that Big Cat Conversations has painted over the years is that farmers know the big cats are out there but they don't make a fuss about it. 

This is because the cats generally take deer, the sort of species they evolved to predate, which can be a nuisance to farmers if there are too many of them. It's also because farmers don't want nutters turning up to shoot the cats or officialdom snooping round their farms.

If too much firm evidence like this Cumbrian DNA is discovered, this happy picture could be put at risk.