Thursday, December 08, 2016

York in colour in 1950

Click on the still above to go to the British Film Institute site and let Eric Hall be your guide.

York looks fine here and I am pleased to see the sign of Pickering's bookshop in The Shambles, which was still there when I was a student.

But then my student days the city are nearer to the year this film was shot than they are to the present day.

How old we have all grown!

Reconstructing Robert the Bruce's spider

Researchers from universities in Glasgow and Liverpool have reconstructed the face of Scotland's warrior king Robert the Bruce, says BBC News.

Lord Bonkers tells me that researchers from the University of Rutland at Belvoir have done the same for his spider.

It was found in a store room at the Rutland National Museum, Oakham, earlier this year.

Does Jacob Rees-Mogg want Britain to be governed by pot plants?

A pot plant yesterday
Jacob Rees-Mogg was eloquent in the House yesterday afternoon:
Those who are appealing now to parliamentary scrutiny are in fact rejecting an Act passed through this House, and worse, they are rejecting our employers - our bosses, our liege lords - the British people, who decided this matter for us.
But was he right?

This new Rees-Mogg Doctrine is a rejection of the central tenet of representative democracy - that, in the words of Edmund Burke:
"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
Which is odd, because Conservatives have always been keen to claim Burke as their philosophical inspiration (even if you wonder how many had actually read him).

But the real problem with the Rees-Mogg Docrtine is that I doubt Rees-Mogg believes a word of it.

Here's why.

Back in 2006 the Conservatives were criticised because so many of their parliamentary candidates came from privileged backgrounds.

This is how the Independent reported Rees-Mogg's response:
One of the leading members of the David Cameron generation of new Tories created a storm yesterday by comparing people who were not privately educated and did not go to Oxford or Cambridge universities to "potted plants". 
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who will be fighting one of the Tories' target seats at the next election, also gave the impression that he thinks that anyone educated in the state sector is incapable of writing an "articulate" letter.
And that, I suspect, is what he still believes today.

If you put those words together with the Rees-Moff Doctrine, it follows that he wants Britain to be governed by pot plants.

But I suspect that Rees-Mogg does not believe a word of that doctrine. He has adopted it, not because he believes in the wisdom of the people, but because he sees them as easily duped.

Pot plants, they are. People who didn't go to public schools.

Please note that I have written this post without laughing at Rees-Mogg for his poshness...

Advent Calendar 8: Severn Valley Railway

A train pulls into Northwood Halt.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Stafford to Wellington and Crewe to Wellington: Two long-forgotten Shropshire lines

Lovely footage of these two lines and their intermediate stations shot in their final days in the 1960s.

Holden Webster explored the remains of the remains of the Coalport to Wellington line, which we glimpse here, in videos that have appeared on this blog.

All in all, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Wellington is not the junction it once was.

Is Chris Grayling going to reduce Market Harborough's train service for party advantage?

I fear the answer may well be yes.

Yesterday I blogged about the postponement of the access improvements at Market Harborough station.

In that post I went on to discuss the promise of better train services that Chris Grayling has made to Kettering and Corby,

When, earlier on yesterday, I asked on Twitter if this would mean poorer services for Market Harborough - and I suspect it will - someone replied that this was the price we pay for living in a safe seat.

I smiled at the time, but today it became clear that Grayling does make decisions on railway services based, not on the interests of passengers or the industry, but on what is good for the Conservative Party.

A letter he wrote to Boris Johnson, then the Mayor of London, explaining why he would not agree to Transport for London taking over suburban services said it was:
because I would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor. Obviously, similar concerns apply over a future Labour government as well...
All credit to the chairman of the transport select committee for his reaction:
Conservative MP Bob Neill ... said the views expressed in the letter - which was leaked to the Evening Standard - meant Mr Grayling was "unfit for office" and "acted for party political reasons". 
He also said the Transport Secretary had "compromised his position and should resign". 
Mr Neill added it was dishonest when Mr Grayling told MPs his decision was for financial reasons.
Kettering and Corby are seen as Conservative- Labour marginals. Labour gained both 1997, holding Kettering until 2005 and Corby until 2010.

Corby was even held briefly again by Labour after Louise Mensch walked out on the constituency in 2012.

Given that we now know that Grayling will used railway policy to boost the Conservative Party, it is no surprise to see those towns being given preferential treatment.

The answer in Harborough is for anti-Conservative voters to unite behind the Liberal Democrats and scare them as much as they are scared in Kettering and Corby.

It can be done. In 2005 we came within less than 4000 votes of winning Harborough.

Douglas Carswell is a special snowflake

Douglas Carswell, Ukip's only MP, sent a tweet ridiculing the judges during Gina Miller's original Article 50 court case. I replied asking what he proposed putting in the place of an independent judiciary.

I didn't get a reply. I didn't really expect to.

Now I find he has blocked me.

It's odd. Ukip pretend to believe in robust debate - no time for political correctness and all that - but the reality is that they are incredibly thin skinned.

Poor Douglas, it seems, is a special snowflake who must never hear an opposing view.

So what did he want to put in place of an independent judiciary? I can think of three alternatives that might attract him.

  1. All judges to be appointed by the prime minister and dismissed on the sport if they make a politically inconvenient ruling.
  2. All trials to be settled by referendums, with buses plastered with lies touring the country during the campaign.
  3. All judgments to be delivered from a dais by Paul Nuttall in full Ukip uniform while his minions (inc. D. Carswell) sit adoring at his feet, only to break into three hours of spontaneous applause when his peroration is complete.
Now I guess I'll never know which it is.

Tory and Lib Dem press offices in red hot bantz war

This Telegraph article has all the action.

And this is a good point to say that the Liberal Democrat Press Office Twitter account has been in particularly perky form these past few weeks.

Keep it up, chaps.

Advent Calendar 7: The sheep of Paternoster Square

This sculpture by Elisabeth Frink can be found near St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Six of the Best 648

"His answers to Marr was like me at the despatch box pissed out of my skull at the Oxford Union. And I have done that a few times. But I am not the Foreign Secretary." Jerry Hayes on Boris Johnson there.

Peter Wrigley has been to see I am Daniel Blake.

"Those harking back to 'when Britain was great' perhaps forget that it was also characterised by our opening our doors to those in need." Barbara Fox draws parallels between wartime evacuation and the plight of refugees today.

As diggers move in to demolish 200-year-old buildings on Dalston Lane, Katharina Schöffmann and Russell Parton look back at the campaign to save them.

Andy Paciorek offers a paean to Peter Vaughan, who died today,

"When it comes, it seems unlikely the renaissance of this country’s spin bowling will be brought about by doosras, carrom balls or flippers. This is England – so it’s far more likely it will be someone landing the ball on the stumps, ball after ball." James Coyne meets Somerset's Jack Leach, who may just be the man to do it.

REVEALED... How the Tories chased their voters in Richmond Park

This is still as funny as it was when it first appeared.

It's those moments of peace and birdsong at the start that do it.

Access improvements at Market Harborough station postponed

In November the transport minister Paul Maynard refused to confirm that the Midland main line will be electrified north of Kettering.

Today came news that as a result the long-promised access improvements at Market Harborough station have been postponed.

The news is contained in a letter from Maynard to Sir Edward Garnier, the Conservative MP for Harborough. You will find the letter on Sir Edward's website, though he has not been moved to offer a comment on it.

We will see more disappointing news like this around the country as HS2 eats up all the funding for rail investment.

What may be more bad news for Harborough travellers came today in the form of an answer from Chris Grayling.

According to BBC News:
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is promising to launch what he calls a "proper, dedicated commuter" rail service linking Kettering, Corby and London by 2020 ... 
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said change would start to come when the franchise - currently operated by East Midlands Trains - was renewed in 2018. 
He said that rather than passengers from Northamptonshire having to board trains coming from the further north down to London, they would have a service originating from Corby and Kettering.
Unless Grayling is going to pay for more trains and someone is going to conjure up more paths, that sounds to me like a recipe for fewer services going north of Kettering and calling at Market Harborough.

Advent Calendar 6: Leicester

Taken a couple of hours before University of Leicester archaeologists found the skeleton of Richard III.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Rye and Camber Tramway

This was one of the many idiosyncratic lines around the country owned by Colonel Stephens.

The blurb for this film on Youtube gives its history:
The line was built to convey golfers to the Rye Golf Club and ran from Rye station to the golf club. 
In 1908 the first extension to Camber Sands station was opened and the intermediate station renamed "Golf Links". Camber terminal was moved to a more accessible site and a tea hut was opened at the end of summer 1938, but this only used for a few months as the war intervened the next year. 
Although initially quite successful, increasing competition from automobile and bus transport eventually caused the tramway to enter a gradual economic decline, as was the case with many small railways. 
Passenger service was ended at the outbreak of World War II but it was extensively used by the Government to convey parts for the P.L.U.T.O. (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) project for which a special siding leading to a new pier near Golf Links Station was constructed by Canadian troops. 
The line was in such a run-down a condition by the end of the war that it was deemed irrecoverable and was sold for scrap in 1947. The Rye & Camber Tramways Co. Ltd was liquidated in February 1949
Trivia fans may be interested to know that the Colonel's first names were Holman Fred.

As his father was the artist Frederic George Stephens, one of the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he must have been named after Holman Hunt.

Michael Gove and the trahison des clercs

It wasn't fashionable even then, but I had time for Michael Gove while he was education secretary.

His Kulturkampf against the teaching profession was unnecessarily aggressive and that eventually cost him his job, but he was on to something.

Under Blair and Brown the dominant narrative was that teaching was better than ever before, children were working harder than ever before and this was reflected in ever improving exam results.

Anyone who questioned this narrative, perhaps hesitantly introducing the concept of grade inflation, was ridiculed.

And that was as true of Liberal Democrat circles as any other. I knew that Gove was getting somewhere when a speaker mentioned grade inflation a couple of years into the Coalition and was rewarded with a smattering of applause.

So, if only because of my advancing age, I was up for admiring Gove as a champion of rigour in education.

But he changed all that with one remark.

The remark in question was Gove's “the people of this country have had enough of experts and organisations with acronyms saying they know better.”

Overnight the champion of academic rigour became the champion of popular ignorance and I lost all time for him.

Maybe Nick Cohen is right and Gove was just behaving like a columnist.

One week a piece in favour of academic rigour feels right. The next, short of inspiration, you contradict yourself and write one laughing at experts.

It makes good copy, but don't expect us to take you seriously as a politician.

Labour is pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit and neutral on it

During the Richmond Park campaign the Labour candidate tweeted:
But if you look at the poster above (thanks to Daniel Lewis) you will see that their candidates in Sleaford promosies "a Brexit that works for Britain".

Confused? You will be.

Today Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott refused to say whether the party believed should be given a vote over the triggering of Article 50.

So that's Labour. Anti-Brexit, pro-Brexit or neutral on it, depending who you listen to.

Advent Calendar 5: Bishop's Castle

Just a cat looking into your soul. Nothing to see here.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Six of the Best 647

Richard Morris shows that the argument that people do not vote against their own economic interests is wrong because it relies upon an inadequate understanding of human psychology.

He witnessed Kristallnacht and then had to suffer Jonathan Ross. Roger Lewis on the harrowing, inspiring life of Andrew Sachs.

The Gentle Author mourns the closure of Whitechapel Bell Foundry: "Every time I walked past the ancient foundry walls (the oldest manufacturing company in the land – founded in 1570), I wondered about the alchemical mystery of bellfounding taking place inside."

"This is a grim tale, with its sweaty, dirty, horror brought home to us perhaps more than any other Doctor Who story by the raw emotion of our heroes." Alex Wilcock is our guide to An Unearthly Child, the first ever Doctor Who story.

Christopher Beanland remembers the maglev trains that once served Birmingham Airport.

What did Market Harborough children play with in the 16th and 17th century? Colm on Irish Archaeology has the answer.

Talk Talk: Today

Another choice inspired by the repeats of Top of the Pops from 1982.

This still sounds good, and has a very early-1980s sound and even a meaningful video - though it's hard to say quite what it means.

Later Talk Talk dropped their synthesiser player and changed their musical style, even having Steve Winwood play Hammond organ on a couple of album tracks.

A Guardian piece on them by Graeme Thomson from 2012 said:
Confusing, mysterious, beautiful and – at least until recently – largely overlooked, Talk Talk's journey from early 80s synth-pop to late 80s post-rock has resulted in a diffuse and tangled legacy. 
Tracing the line from perky hit singles such as Today, Talk Talk, It's My Life and Life's What You Make It to their final albums, 1988's Spirit of Eden and 1991's Laughing Stock, is to discover that a clearly defined path has gradually disappeared into a thicket of brambles and honeysuckle.
But he also said:
It's taken two decades, but their music has started permeating the wider culture.

Advent Calendar 4: Market Harborough

Little Bowden, actually.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, 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.

Advent Calendar 3: Jericho, Oxford

This is St Barnabas Church in Jericho, Oxford, and the Oxford Canal.

Despite what Inspectot Morse and Lewis would have you believe, it is a desirable part of the city.

I was there a few years ago, and I think the fence was there because of the controversial redevelopment of Jericho's boatyard, See Paul Kingsnorth's Real England for more on this.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Peter Ackroyd on A Box of Delights

Thanks to Phil Norman for tweeting this earlier in the week.

Porn DVD man is new national UKIP welfare spokesman

Congratulations to Leicestershire's David Sprason on being appointed UKIP's national spokesman on welfare and social policy.

Regular readers will recall that, while still a Conservative, he stepped down as deputy leader of the county council after a DVD entitled She Likes It Rough was found in his council-issued PC.

David Mackintosh MP under new pressure in Northampton South

I have covered the saga of David Mackintosh (Conservative MP for Northampton South and former leader of the Borough Council) and the town's Sixfields Stadium before.

See these posts from November 2015 and July of this year.

Now comes news that, in the worlds of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo:
Executive committee members of Northampton South Conservative Association say MP David Mackintosh’s role in the bungled Sixfields loan deal and his “refusal to accept criticism” has damaged the reputation of the local party.
Tonight the executive committee of the association is debating this motion:
“The Executive Committee meeting expresses its disappointment and its concerns over the conduct of...David Mackintosh in respect to the loan made whilst Leader of Northampton Borough Council to Northampton Town Football Club and to Mr Mackintosh’s refusal to accept criticism of his conduct contained in the PwC report.”
The paper says Mr Mackintosh has issued a short statement saying: "I am happy to answer any questions the local party might have about the loan."

Yesterday, it also printed the forceful front page you see above.

Advent Calendar 2: Boughton, Northamptonshire

He stands atop of the gate pillars at Boughton Hall, on the edge of the village.

The other pillar has an equally fine griffin.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Disused railway stations in Highland

The poet Burns writes:
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

In praise of Beat the Street

Before the cool kids tired of Pokemon Go I wrote:
It is good to see children out on a summer evening exploring the streets and seeing things the adults around them cannot.
I had similar feelings when reading this story on the Guardian website today:
It is drizzling and cold in Salford, but a class of eight- and nine-year-olds from Lewis Street school in Patricroft are buzzing as their teachers lead them down the streets of terraced houses between classes. They stride through a park, dodging an abandoned car seat, to swipe lanyards against three street sensors before returning to lessons. 
It’s called “going fobbing” in Salford – walking or cycling to sensors on lampposts all round the city and swiping them to get points. It’s part of a health and community building scheme called Beat The Street ... and it’s taken Lewis Street by storm.
In short, Beat the Street is an urban equivalent of geocaching.

The Guardian goes on to quote Rachael Hall, the school’s sports coach:
"I’ve never known anything like it – children are going out walking every evening and weekend. Teaching assistants take the children out at lunchtime three times a week and take whole classes out twice a week. I’ve had parents telling me how happy they are to be spending time with their children going fobbing rather than sitting in front of the TV."
And the evidence isn't just anecdotal.

A case study from Public Health England says:
Beat the Street projects deliver meaningful changes in population physical activity levels with more than 200,000 people participating in 2016 so far. 
On average, across all Beat the Street projects, the proportion of people meeting the physical activity guidelines increased from 40% to 50%. In 2015, 1 out of every 7 adults said they were inactive at the start of Beat the Street. By the end of Beat the Street, 78% of these people reported that they had become more active. After about 6 months, we estimate that about half of the people who became more active continued to be more active.
Beat the Street is welcome, not only because it encourages children and adults to be more active, but also because, as Pokemon Go did, it normalises the idea that children should be out exploring their local community.

As I once argued in a published essay - The Problem with Children Today - child obesity and their lack of freedom to roam are linked problems. Beat the Street tackles both.

World chess championship: A rare 2016 defeat for Vladimir Putin

The European referendum and the American Presidential election went his way, but last night Vladimir Putin's man failed to win the world chess championship.

After their 12-game match was tied, Magnus Carlsen retained his title by beating the challenger Sergey Karjakin in a four-game play off at a much faster time limit.

It led to exciting chess - Carlsen finished the play off by sacrificing his queen to force mate - but that is like settling a drawn Ashes series with a Twenty20 game.

The play in the match proper was not exciting, and this was because it was too short. If you lose one of the early games in a 12-game match, it is hard to come back. The result was that neither player was willing to take risks.

Think of football, where the 'golden goal' (a rule change under which the first game in extra time ended the match) led to defensive play because conceding would knock you out of the tournament.

A 24-game match, which is what Fischer and Spassky played in the most famous world title contest ever, would be more likely to lead to aggressive chess.

Roger Daltrey's fish farm was in Rutland

We know that Lord Bonkers was an early champion of the Rutbeat sound and that the real David Watts (the one we all wish we could be like) came from Rutland.

Now, thanks to Ned Rutland on Twitter, comes further evidence of the little county's central place in musical history.

The other day I pointed out that "Roger Daltrey didn't die before he got old: he bought a fish farm."

And that fish farm, or at least one of the fish farms Daltrey, owned was Horn Mill Trout Farm on the Gwash in Rutland.

Advent Calendar 1: White Grit engine house

In my day we didn't get chocolates in our Advent calendars. We got little pictures - perhaps a drum or a ball - with the highlight being the Holy Family behind the final (double) window,

And we were happy.

Inspired by that I am doing a Advent calendar with my own photographs this year. Some will have appeared here before, but I shall also use it as a chance to present new ones.

We begin with an old favourites - I just wish I had taken it as a landscape shot.

It shows the ruined engine house at White Grit in Shropshire, with the crest of Bromlow Callow behind it in the distance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Six of the Best 646

"During moments of national trauma, the public turns to the BBC for shared experience and understanding," says Ioan Marc Jones He examines the different ways the corporation handled Aberfan and Orgreave.

No one should be given a psychiatric diagnosis at a distance, argues Hannah Jane Parkinson - not even Donald Trump. And she's right.

Gillian Mawson blogs about her new book on evacuees during World War II: "Newspapers described court cases involving families, who, for various reasons, refused to keep evacuees. The Stockport Advertiser stated, ‘Mr and Mrs Jones of Offerton were charged with refusing to accept an evacuee. The clerk pointed out to the couple that it was unpatriotic of them and they were fined.'"

As I write this, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin are deciding who is world champion with a series of speed games - it's like settling the Ashes with a Twenty20 match. Anyway, Carol Matlack examines the sport's inability to lose its political ties to tyrants.

"There’s a whole swath of early tracks that are missed by an audience that we think started at Dark Side of the Moon." Pink Floyd's Nick Mason is interviewed by Frank Mastropolo.

Benjamin Breen reads The Star Rover, the strange last book by Jack London.

Zac Goldsmith is hit by his own car and loses his trousers

From the Evening Standard today:
Zac Goldsmith limped into the last hustings of the Richmond Park by-election an hour late after being struck by his own car. 
The former London mayoral candidate was not badly hurt but his trousers were “shredded” when a volunteer driving his car clipped him while they were out canvassing. 
The collision in New Malden happened as he was due on stage at the Richmond Society’s hustings - his last chance to debate publicly with his by-election rival, 
Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. Arriving an hour late after going home to change, he said he was “so sorry” for missing the start of such an “extraordinarily important event”.
Like Tim Hall, I am reminded of Monty Python and the Upper Class Twit of the Year Show.

"And Oliver has run himself over. What a great twit!"

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The secret of Lord Bonkers' long life

Lord Bonkers attributes his continued rude health to his annual trips to bathe in the Spring of Eternal Life that bursts from the hillside above the former headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge.

That, and a cordial sold to him by the Elves of Rockingham Forest.

But maybe it also has something to do with being born in Rutland?

A report in the Daily Mail today begins:
Rutland is the place to be if you want a long healthy life, according to new figures. 
Baby boys born in the quiet East Mids county can expect to be in good health for more time than anywhere else in the country.
It also ranks fifth for healthy life expectancy among girls, though they do best to be born in Orkney.

Why are we so surprised that Kate Bush likes Theresa May?

A wealthy woman in her late fifties approves of Theresa May.

It is hardly a shock, is it?

But because we are used to people in the creative arts expressing identikit left-wing views, Kate Bush's comments today shocked many.

Should they have been such a surprise?

Rock has been around a long time. Older artists have audiences that have grown up and grown old with them. All concerned are now a bit too long in the tooth to be worried about sticking it to The Man.

Roger Daltrey didn't die before he got old: he bought a fish farm.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood re-established their musical alliance after two decades when they played at a Countryside Alliance event.

So I still think Kate Bush is wonderful even if she thinks Theresa May is wonderful.

Ukip AM wants the Irish government to apply for EU funds to improve roads in Wales

Oh dear. Even among the ranks of Ukip elected representatives, David Rowlands AM stands out for his foolishness.

But he is right about one thing. Road improvements in one country can help the economy of another.

Which is why Britain should belong to the European Union.