Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lost bookshops and Iain Sinclair in Stamford

In Stamford the other day I mourned the loss of secondhand bookshops. I could think of three that have disappeared from the town (though one of them has moved to Uppingham). These days, when most trade in books is done online, there is less point in paying the rent on a shop.

Another of those lost shops was to be found in the Wharf Road part of town. I seem to remember an old warehouse that you entered from the yard at the rear.

When you don't visit town often the buildings tend to shuffle themselves, making individual shops hard to find. But I am pretty sure that the warehouse has been demolished and the site redeveloped. I suspect the modern flats beside the Welland in the photograph above stand on that site.

My reason for blogging about the shop is that I suspect it has been immortalised in Iain Sinclair's 1987 novel White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, where the narrator and three other bookdealers descend upon 'Steynford':
Mossy Noonmann's bookshop, if we afford it the courtesy of that title, was probably the only one open in the whole of the Midlands, from Wolverhampton to Boston, and out into the North Sea. And he was the least likely proprietor. How he come here nobody knew and few cared to guess. ... 
Noonmann was a New Yorker, veteran of Peace Eye Bookstore, who, not fancying an engagement in South East Asia in the mid-60s, had returned to the Europe of his forefathers by way of Liverpool, then, briefly the centre of the universe. A single evening disproved this conceit: Noonmann found a mattress in Westbourne Grove. 
There were minor misunderstandings over rent books, social security paperwork, import/export regulations concerning self-administered resins from the Middle East; there was a misplaced briefcase of ounces, and Mossy decided to hit the road. 
Two hours up the A1 and the Camberwell-domiciled holder of a Heavy Goods Vehicle Licence was ready to turn it in rather than carry Mossy another mile. He walked down the hill into Steynford. He's been there ever since, and never walked so far again.
One must allow for Sinclairian exaggeration (and avoid libel suits), but I remember the proprietor of my bookshop as a large, shambling American who rather fits this description.

And if the shop was as decrepit as Sinclair painted it, it is no surprise that is has long since been demolished.

Layla Moran questions some of Vince Cable's party reforms

Embed from Getty Images

The conventional wisdom holds that once a political leader starts to talk about standing down, he or she is drained of authority.

In the case of Vince Cable (whom I have always rather admired as a political operator) the conventional wisdom is being proved right.

Suddenly he looks his age and his leadership is being openly questioned.

Business Insider (which normally gets its Liberal Democrats stories from 12-year-old workers at party HQ) has an interview with Layla Moran:
Moran said that while she supported "really well-respected" non-MPs from inside the movement leading the party — like councillors, or parliamentarians from Scotland or Wales  — she did not want a "celebrity" to get the job. 
"I have concerns about a celebrity coming into the party and saying they're going to lead us to the promised land," she said. "If they weren't a Lib Dem before, why the hell would they want to be now?" 
"The party, in general, would be really sceptical if that happened." 
Asked whether she would support an MP formerly of another party taking control of the Lib Dems — like Labour's Chuka Umunna, who is frequently tipped to walk away from his party — Moran said: "Absolutely not."
I sense there is widespread support for the idea of Lib Dem 'Supporters', though debate over the privileges that status should bring with it.

As I have blogged, successful parties naturally attract a wider circle of people who wish them well but do not want to join.

Of course, there is no guarantee the process will work the other way round. Attracting that wider circle first will not necessarily lead to success.

I am a sceptic about a leader from outside the parliamentary party, while the idea of allowing people to stand for the party as soon as they join is surely aimed at making things easier for MPs of other parties who decide to join us.

There was another problem with Vince's announcement that he will be standing down. He said he would go when Brexit is "resolved or stopped".

The idea that Brexit can be resolved quickly is a Leaver fantasy. And that fantasy fuels the voters who say they cannot understand why the governments hasn't "just got on with it".

Vince should not have given this fantasy any credence,

If he waits until Brexit is resolved he will be Lib Dem leader for decades.

Six of the Best 818

"One thing I heard a few times at Liberal Democrat Conference was an assertion along the lines of 'most people are centrists, therefore they’ll want to join us and vote for us if we just give them a chance'." Nick Barlow unpicks this centrist fallacy.

Want a guide to making your voice heard on the proposed changes to the Lib Dem membership and constitution? Paul Walter is your man.

Antonio Garcia Martinez says Silicon Valley's economics are fuelling a new caste system: "One of the most refreshing things about living in Europe (or small towns in the rural US) is  knowing that the poor aren’t condemned to a completely separate, and inferior, life. Your place in the world isn’t wholly defined by wealth. The story is rather different in San Francisco."

"Like a shooting star, Willkie burned brightly, if briefly, over this country’s political landscape, leaving behind an astonishing legacy of bipartisanship that had an outsize impact on the outcome of the war." Lynne Olson reviews a biography of Wendell Willkie, the unsuccessful Republican challenger to FDR in 1940.

Alex Evans argues that we should address political polarisation as a clinical psychologist would help the traumatised.

Richard Bratby shares tales of UFOs and mysterious big cats from Cannock Chase.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Watch a talk by the real Frank Abagnale

Remember Catch Me If You Can?

Here the real-life Frank Abagnale - the character played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio - talks about his life and career.

Herbert Morris, Loughborough, from the canal towpath

Last time I blogged about the threatened Herbert Morris industrial buildings in Loughborough, a commenter recommended the view from the canal towpath.
He was right and here it is.

Back to the siege of Weston-under-Redcastle

Veteran Shropshire journalist Frank Fuller has never worn his siege tie in 50 years and is not about to start now. 
It was produced to mark an event in September 1968 which went down in British history. 
"It was the longest siege in British police history, and I think that still holds good today," said Frank, 88, of Market Drayton.
I have blogged about the siege of Weston-under-Redcastle  before. .

An article in the Shropshire Star tells the story again, with some quotes from people who were involved.

I like to think that the comments on my first post on the siege are even more enlightening.

Where the Grantham Canal joined the Trent

Having got a taste for canals joining the Trent - at Shardlow and Long Eaton - I though I would seek out the point where the Nottingham Canal did so.

I did so, but on the opposite bank of the river I found something even more interesting: the remains of the lock where the Grantham Canal reached the Trent. It stands in the shadow of the Brian Clough Stand at Nottingham Forest's City Ground.

The short stretch of canal that remains above the lock was today covered by a lurid bloom of algae.

Miles to the east, strides are being made with the restoration of the Grantham, which was formally closed in 1936, but its route through West Bridgford to the Trent is lost under road schemes. Another cut will have to be made if boats are again to reach the Vale of Belvoir and Grantham.

You can read about this waterway and its restoration on The Grantham Canal Society website.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hobhouse puts a bangin' donk on it: The new Liberator Songbook

Down at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, the Glee Club is under way.

At Lord Bonkers' insistence, I am reproducing his foreword to the new Liberator Songbook.

For myself, I am more excited at having contributed a new verse to 'Exmoor Bah T'at'.

Bonkers Hall
Tel. Rutland 7

There was a faint tang of autumn in the air when I walked my estate this morning, so it must be time to contribute a foreword to the new Liberator Songbook.

I write these lines with a heavy heart as I heard only the other day of the sad death of Aretha Franklin. Many have praised her recording of ‘Respect’, but it was all the more remarkable to those of us who knew that she was a lifelong sufferer from dyslexia.

One must move with the times, so let me recall my own involvement in the second summer of love. (I am told that I was involved in the first, but have no memory of it.)

This was the era of house music. Like all successful genres, it developed many varieties. There was acid house, funky house, diva house, country house (particularly popular here in Rutland) and, my own favourite, hob house.

It was named in honour of that great Liberal thinker L.T. Hobhouse, who had already inspired the celebrated single by Madness.

Today we are in the fortunate position of having a member of the Hobhouse clan in the Commons. I am told the family willingness to "put a bangin' donk on it" played no small part in her capture of Bath.

I hope to hear the string trio playing hob house next time I take tea in the city’s celebrated Pump Room.

Enjoy the Glee Club, but when you sing 'Exmoor Bah T'at' please spare a thought for poor Rinka. I always found her charming company and she did not deserve her fate.

If anyone feels moved to pass round a collection for Barnstaple Dogs Home, it would be A Very Nice Gesture.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Remembering Dudley Sutton

Dudley Sutton should be remembered for so much more than Lovejoy.

The British Film Institute - click on the still above to view the video - has footage of a Q&A session about Ken Russell’s The Devils.

Taking part with Sutton are actors Georgina Hale, Gemma Jones and Murray Melvin, and editor Mike Bradsell.

Melvin describes the experience of visiting Loudun, where the events of The Devils took place, while Sutton recalls working with Derek Jarman, the designer of the film’s sets.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Alfred returns from his Focus round

I am not sure Alfred, whom we last saw hauling the Flower of Rutland, has quite got with Vince Cable's new plan for the Liberal Democrats.

With this we finish another week at Bonkers Hall.

Driving along the lanes to inspect some property in a distant village, I encounter Alfred the carthorse trudging in the opposite direction. I surmise he has been delivering Focus.

Endeavouring to strike up a conversation, I say: "I hear Gina Miller doesn’t want to be leader of the Liberal Democrats." "I've not heard of her," replies Alfred "is she a party member?" "No." "Well," he returns, "that’s just as well then, isn’t it?"

Straightening the railway through Market Harborough

Time to see how they are getting on with straightening the railway through Market Harborough.

The HST in the photograph above is using the existing rails and the Midland arch of the bridge. Already we can see that when the work is complete trains will used the LNWR arch instead.

Once trains between Northampton and Nottingham (via Melton Mowbray North) and between Rugby and Peterborough used  rails that ran under it.

A little way north of Market Harborough the St Pancras main line climbs to a flyover across the LNWR trackbed. 

In the 1970s there was talking of a more radical straightening scheme that would see the flyover removed, but it will survive the current work.

Closer to Market Harborough station the vegetation and lineside bank has been cut back to make room for the new tracks.

The first photograph was taken from the slightly rickety footbridge by Great Bowden recreation ground. You can see it in some of the later ones.

Insecure Men: I Don't Wanna Dance (With My Baby)

This is from Insecure Men's first LP. They were formed by Saul Adamczewski from Fat White Family and Ben Romans-Hopcraft from Childhood - I gather both bands are popular with the young people.

Admaczewski pays tribute to his new bandmate on the Fat Possum Records site:
Saul explains that he has been round Ben his whole life: "I was always trying to corrupt Ben and his twin brother, to try and get them to bunk off primary school in Herne Hill but they never would."
And he remains incorruptible to this day: "Ben is very centred, calm, rational and nice – which is what makes our relationship work because he’s everything I'm lacking."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Benjamin Britten’s 'Darren Grimes'

Lord Bonkers often tells me the story of how he was at an Aldeburgh Festival concert when the hall was inundated by the sea. He snatched up a double bass as it floated past and paddled himself to safety, accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the piano.


To the Royal Opera House, Oakham. The first Lady Bonkers was a great Wagnerian, and when I returned from business at the House would often greet me in the guise of Brünnhilde – “Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha!” and so forth.

The evening’s entertainment is Benjamin Britten’s ‘Darren Grimes’, which tells the story of a Suffolk fisherman who wins the bad opinion of his fellows and takes up politics as a career instead. There he falls into bad company and is fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission before putting to sea in his boat and never being seen again.

There is a lesson there that I trust all Young Liberals will take to heart.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Trent Cottages, Long Eaton, waiting for HS2 and demolition

Long Eaton is a railway town. It is crossed by a confusion of lines, some used only by goods trains, and level crossings are common.

Today, with passenger services diverted because of major improvements being undertaken at Derby station and a train derailed on the Leicester to Birmingham line, it was more confusing than usual.

Long Eaton has had stations on several sites. The one that currently carries its name is not well placed - there used to be one right in the town centre, but that line now has no scheduled passenger service.

One day soon it may be affected by the railway even more. It is planned that the HS2 line will cross the town on a high viaduct. Long Eaton is far from the Home Counties where a fortune is being spent on limiting the line's visual and aural impact.

The construction of HS2 - though I would not bet your house on track being laid north of Birmingham any time soon - will also see the demolition of Trent Cottages, which stand next to the old Trent Power Box beside the main line to Nottingham.

I notice them every time I catch a train there, and today I found my way to them on foot.

Long Eaton's most remarkable station was Trent, which stood a little way outside the town. The Midland Railway had a habit of building large junction stations in the middle of nowhere.

I had always assumed that it was sited at Trent Cottages, but the Trent Station site locates it further out of Long Eaton.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Orphans on the line

A happy glimpse of life on the Bonkers Hall Estate (whatever Ofsted says).


Like many landowners, I have built a narrow-gauge railway to carry produce and fertiliser about my estate. Some years ago I hit upon the happy idea of allowing the Well-Behaved Orphans to run it for me. This morning, having business with Matron, I decided to take the train and see what sort of a fist they are making of it.

The train I intended to catch was cancelled and the one after it was delayed because of “lineside equipment failure in the Kitchen Garden area”. Not only that: despite having shelled out a tidy sum for a ticket, I was obliged to stand the whole way to the Orphanage.

If one little girl had not tipped me the wink that it was cheaper to buy a ticket as far as Home Farm and then buy another one from there to my destination, I should have paid even more. Yet when I complained the Orphans assured me that they had closely studied how the privatised railways are run and copied them in every detail.

That set me to thinking: should I bid for the Thameslink franchise? I know Matron has strong views on bedtimes and coal smuts, but the Well-Behaved Orphans can hardly make a worse fist of it than the mob running it now.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Six of the Best 817

Jane Chelliah fears we are about to see the hollowing out of the Liberal Democrats.

"Devolution must be democratic, and all authorities must have a democratically-elected assembly.  Devolution should be downwards from Central Government, not taking decisions or responsibilities away from local government." On a happier note, Tim Pickstone introduces the policy paper on Power for People and Communities that will be debated at Conference.

Eric Klinenberg says public libraries are being neglected just when we need them most.

"Popper emphasized that he had known all the titans of twentieth-century science: Einstein, Schrodinger, Heisenberg." John Horgan remembers a challenging meeting with the philosopher Karl Popper.

"There can be few better books about fighting men in all their bravery, terror and shame." Ian Jack reviews Our Boys by Helen Parr.

Graham Gouldman is interviewed by the Ace Records Podcast.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A plaque for a Grand National winner in Loughborough

There is one of Leicestershire County Council's green plaques on the wall of a house close to Loughborough railway station.

On close inspection it turns out to have been put up in honour of a horse.

Sunloch, who won the Grand National in 1914, was stabled at the house to which it is attached.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Trouble at Belvoir Castle

From time to time I have suspected Lord Bonkers of being jealous of the Duke of Rutland. How else to explain a diary entry like this?


Did you see that the Duke of Rutland has been asking actors to work for nothing? Not exactly cricket, is it? Every artiste appearing in the Bonkers Hall pageant this autumn, which will re-enact that fine actor Roger Livesey’s victory in the 1985 Brecon and Radnor by-election, will be paid at full Equity rates.

I am not one to pass on gossip, but I heard a most interesting story in the Bonkers’ Arms this evening. A tradesman was making deliveries to the Duke’s home Belvoir Castle – you may know it: it commands the surrounding countryside in rather a flashy way – when he lost control of his white van and careered towards the castle’s walls. Fearing the worst, he covered his face and prepared for impact. Which Never Came. It turned out that the walls were as flimsy as anything and he had driven straight through them without coming to any harm.

Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that the Duke of Rutland is so poor that he is secretly selling the stones of his castle to the building trade and replacing them with cardboard, but shouldn’t he come forward and clear the matter up?

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Call for a proper debate on Vince Cable's reforms

And no one will be ‘bounced’ into sudden, controversial, decisions; I envisage a consultation at conference and, then, any consequent changes will take place through the party’s constitutional mechanisms.
That's Vince Cable writing in the new issue of Liberator.

His is one of two article you can download from that page, The other is by Caron Lindsay, taking issue with the immigration policy paper that will be debated at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton.

Sadly, Vince's advisers* have not read his article, because there has been an awful lot of bouncing going on.

Members of the public are already being invited to register their interest in becoming Liberal Democrat Supporters, even though the party's constitution recognises no such status.

Meanwhile, the 'consultation' emails members have received from the party have more to do with gaining assent for the proposals than seeking.

And over on Liberal Democrat Voice there has been a stream of articles from party bigwigs telling us we must support Vince's proposals.

So I am pleased to see they have also published an article by Jennie Rigg calling for a proper debate on the proposals.

We need it, not because the current Lib Dem constitution is perfect or because we should be afraid of change. We need it because the proposals themselves are unlikely to be perfect and need to be properly debated to see if they can be improved upon.

It's all in Karl Popper.

* I like the tradition of blaming 'advisers' when you are unhappy with the leader. Parliament was complaining about Charles I's advisers right up to the point they cut his head off.

The Liberal Democrats new immigration policy will not appeal to Remain voters

The Liberal Democrats dream of becoming the party that represents the 48 per cent of the electorate who voted Remain.

But what policies should such a party have? The same question would face a new party that expressed this ambition.

Research by Christina Pagel and Christabel Cooper suggests it is not an easy one to answer.

They surveyed 7000 UK voters to rank 13 challenges for the UK in order of importance to them. Having analysed the results, they write:
Using this data, we examined whether the numbers add up for a new party – and what such a party might stand for. 
First off, we can debunk the notion of united Remainers: we found three distinct groups that, apart from not caring about immigration, have very different priorities. 
We call the first group ‘left wing Remainers’ – they prioritise reducing inequality, improving housing, jobs and public services. They do not care much about control over laws and regulations, independent trade or ensuring economic growth. 
The second group we call ‘Liberal Democrat’ types, who prioritise the economy above all, then jobs and housing. They also are not at all concerned with control over regulations and trade. 
The third group we label ‘sovereignty liberals’ - they prioritise the economy, control over laws and regulations, and independent trade but do not care about immigration - and least of all about inequality.
You can quibble about the label 'Liberal Democrat' for that second group, but the important message here is that their is no simple policy programme or clever act of positioning that will unite all Remain voters behind one party.

At the very least, there is a lot more thinking to be done.

But there is another important message here and it's in that throwaway phrase "apart from not caring about immigration".

That's right: the one thing Remain voters have in common (apart from having voted Remain) is that are not worried by immigration.

And what are the Liberal Democrats doing at their conference? Proposing to adopt a new, stricter immigration policy.

You can read Jo Swinson promoting that policy - and some critical comments on her article - on Liberal Democrat Voice.

I have long thought that one of the Lib Dems' fundamental problems is that we have no clear idea of who it is we are trying to attract. "We can win anywhere" has its downside too.

Our new immigration policy is nothing to do with an ambition to unite moderates, centrists or Remain voters. It is about not upsetting more conservative voters in the handful of constituencies that we hold.

We are trapped in the wide gap between where we are and where we dream of being.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Aylestone Village and Earl Russell

Yesterday I defeated the weather and explored Aylestone village.

The first time I tried was the day I found C.P. Snow's birthplace, which is some way from the village proper. It was in the middle of the heatwave and for reason I decided to head for Clarendon Park - perhaps because from a distance it always looks like a shining city on a hill.

After that walk I had a pint (well, 2/3 of a pint - it was that kind of bar) of a cold, keg, craft beer with American hops. It tasted so wonderful that I may spend the rest of my life trying to experience it again.

The second time I got as far as Anthony Burgess's local, the Black Horse, and had to admit defeat from the rain - it was the day the heatwave broke.

This time I made it. Until well into the 19th century, Aylestone was a farming village owned by the Dukes of Rutland.

Aylestone Hall and its stables are still there, now converted into flats, and there are a few cottages and the former village school.

There is also the serpentine and largely terraced Earl Russell Street, which links the village to the main Aylestone Road.

As it was built the year after his death, I assume this was a tribute to the first Earl, better know as Lord John Russell and twice a Liberal prime minister.

I also went on to Aylestone Meadows for another look at its medieval packhorse bridge.