Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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

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

The blurb for it on YouTube runs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of Six 1052

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Conservatives used to hate Winston Churchill

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

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

Three Great "Advantages" 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Willow Brook flows through Leicester to the River Soar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Diving board at Richard Jefferies' Coate Water to be restored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2022

A milestone on Belgrave Gate, Leicester

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

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

What is it doing there? 

Leicester City Council's local heritage asset register explains:

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

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

Andrew Symonds was picked to play cricket for England A

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

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

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

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

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

Strangelove: Beautiful Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Methodist chapel in Stiperstones village to become home for Ukrainian family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 20, 2022

The derelict Corah factory site in Leicester

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

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

As a Mercury article explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






John Shuttleworth cave concert abandoned due to cliff rescue



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

Well done, BBC News.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone should have a favourite Edwardian Liberal.

Another Rutland by-election is coming

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

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

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

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

The by-election has not yet been called.

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Joy of Six 1051

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

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

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

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

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

William Cook meets Bernard Cribbins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Up Caledonian Road to Copenhagen Fields with John Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

It looks easy, doesn't it?

As Freddie and Fiona once put it to Lord Bonkers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cuckoos, lapwings and curlews in the Shropshire Hills

And I can't remember the last time I heard a cuckoo, yet when I was a child you expected to hear one on any spring or summer walk.

The cuckoo is not the only bird that is disappearing from Shropshire. When Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Club (the thinking child's Famous Five) formulated its rules at its camp on the Long Mynd, the members found it natural to adopt the cry of the peewit (or lapwing) as their secret signal.

I knew the late Robert Smart, who had been a friend of Saville's and published several books of walks in the Shropshire Hills. The last time we met he told me he hadn't seen a lapwing on the Mynd for years. That must take us back to the turn of this century.

The only place I have seen Lapwings is the Outer Hebrides. The are entertaining birds - tumbling yet slightly pompous with it - that remind you of Dickensian clerks.

But the bird that really makes me think of the Shropshire hills is the curlew. When I started visiting the Stiperstones in the 1980s, the bird's haunting cry told me that I was getting near the summit ridge.

Today the curlew is in danger of going the same way as the lapwing, but there are people working to save it.

The film below threatens to be overwhelmingly sad, but hold on for a more hopeful ending.

But it's a sad fact that 50 years or more of environmental activism have not been enough to save what used to be everyday birds in these hills.

Christopher Hitchens saw through Vladimir Putin from the start

Here's The Hitch answering a question at the University of Western Ontario on 8 March 2005.

Unlike many commentators, he saw Putin for what he was right from the start.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The first night of Oliver!

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Oliver! is the great British musical. I regard that as a statement of fact rather than an opinion.

Legend has it that the opening night audience went wild, but what did the critics make of it?

Well, our old friend J.C. Trewin loved it. Writing for the Birmingham Daily Post on Friday 1 July 1960, the day after Oliver's premiere he confirmed the legend:

"May Dickens forgive me!" said Lionel Bart as he took that surprising thing, an author's call, at the end of Oliver! to-night. He came upon the stage of the New Theatre after the most triumphant reception a musical play, and a British play at that, has had in years.

As for himself:

After the twentieth call we knew what the first-night audience thought. I fancy that Dickensians will forgive Mr. Bart. exclamation mark and all. I repeat, this is not a night for pedantic analysis. You have either to surrender to it or to carp. Personally. I have not found it hard to surrender.

He names the songs from show that he think will prove most popular: I'd Do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me and Oom-Papah. 

Maybe it's just because of Ron Moody's performance of them in the film, but today I think first of Reviewing the Situation and Pick a Pocket or Two. 

Who Will Buy?, with its street cries, is in many ways the most interesting, while the least interesting, Food Glorious Food, was the one BBC Radio played to death for a couple of decades.

And this is what Trewin had to say about the cast:

Fagin is presumably allowed to get away. Something, of course. may happen to him later; but that it not in Mr. Bart's scheme, and we could not wish that much would happen to the old fence as Ron Moody presents him, in a fantastic-grotesque performance that is suited exactly to Oliver! if it is not entirely Dickensian ....

But this is not a time to consider the acting too closely. though such a major part as Georgia Brown's Nancy has full spirit. Keith Hamshere is meltingly Oliver. and a sketch of the undertaker's wife by Sonia Fraser. late of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, would aid any production. 

Ron Moody we all know. Georgia Brown is generally acknowledged as being a better Nancy than the film's Shani Wallis, though it's hard not to wish that Carol Reed's wish to cast Shirley Bassey had been granted by the money men.

Sonia Fraser had a long career in theatre and was a friend and collaborator of Miriam Margolyes. Keith Hamshere lasted over a year before he grew to tall to play Oliver, then made a couple of films and gave up acting to become one of the leading stills photographers in the film industry.

The Joy of Six 1050

"Those that claim to be the party of clever economics and fiscal responsibility would do well to remember this simple truth: the square root of fuck all is always going to be absolutely fuck all, no matter how creatively you’re told to to dice it." Jack Monroe asks why elected representatives and salaried journalists and presenters are trying to undermine the ten-year career and credibility of a food blogger.

Andrew Adonis reviews Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper: "In place of Kuper’s plan, I would instead introduce a different 'levelling-up' reform challenge for Oxford. It needs to radically broaden the social intake of its state school recruitment, which today is too largely drawn from grammar schools, sixth-form colleges and academies in London and the southeast".

Helena Horton on ambitious plans to rewild London.

Neal Ascherson is always worth reading: here he discusses the history of the extraordinary Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

"Tragically, he was discovered, captured, and deported during a raid in Toulouse in 1944 - first to Drancy, then to Auschwitz, and finally Kaunas-Reval in Lithuania. Of hundreds of people captured in Toulouse that day, only a handful survived. They perished without a trace." Janet Horvath says we should not forget the cellist and composer Pál Hermann.

"It was a big car park, but it was in bad shape. So in 2010, the Trinity Square high rise car park, an iconic brutalist building that dominated Gateshead’s skyline in the 1970s, was demolished, and a part of British film history was gone. Though not before the canny council sold tinned lumps of rubble to film fans for £5.00 a go." Tim Pelan watches Mike Hodges' 1971 film Get Carter.

Aldous Harding: Fever

Aldous Harding is a New Zealand artist now based in Cardiff. A 2019 Guardian review of a concert by her said:

In the years since 2014, when her self-titled debut came out in her native New Zealand, Harding has become cult-famous for her intense performances. They draw attention to the fact of their own artifice and have garnered comparisons to uncompromising auteurs such as Kate Bush.

Harding has a punk rock stare and, on her stool, she adopts cowboy postures that would be called manspreading if they happened on the London underground. When she sings, she is legion: Harding can sound like a child, like Joanna Newsom, or a dissipated émigré such as Nico.