Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Prince Charles as Bluebottle

A 70th birthday tribute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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

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

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

Why not?

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

A walk down the Brampton Valley Way

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

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

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

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

Hearings on Lord Janner put back until February 2020

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six of the Best 830

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to James Hawes on the history of Germany

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

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

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

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

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

Market Harborough to Northampton bus service to be halved

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

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

That is soon to change. 

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

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

Shirley Bassey: Burn My Candle

This is Shirley Bassey aged 19 and she is amazing.

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

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

Maybe the 1950s were more exciting than we think?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A rainbow at Great Oxendon

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2018

When the Monastery in Rye was a pottery

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

The Young Liberals were infiltrated by an undercover police officer

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

Six of the Best 829

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fleet House: A threatened Leicester ghost sign

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

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

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

So enjoy the buildings signs while you can.

Should South Shropshire be a national park?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lib Dems call emergency board meeting for Tuesday

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

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

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

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

More churches at risk placed on Historic England's register

St Peter's, Belgrave

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

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

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

What is to be done?

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Cheating scandal at Shropshire chess tournament

There's another chess story in the Shropshire Star. This one is not about the death of a stalwart of the game in the county but about a teenager being expelled from a tournament there for receiving electronic assistance:
The teenager was taking part in the inaugural Four Nations Chess League international congress in Telford and racked up an astonishing – and ultimately judged literally incredible – eight straight wins in the first eight rounds of the nine-round competition. 
The schoolboy from Surrey was in the lowest section, for players with an international Fide rating of 1825 or below. ... 
But despite a personal rating of a very modest 1286, the competitor was not only beating much stronger opposition but blowing them out of the water. 
His lead as the final round approached was already unassailable, but he was not given an opponent. 
Chief arbiter Alex Holowczak said: “During a routine anti-cheating check a player was found to have used electronic means to assist them with their games. That player was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Players who are receiving computer assistance are usually not hard to spot. Either, as in this case, they suddenly start playing way above their usual strength, or they play in a very unhuman fashion. They will go in for an apparently risky sacrifice in a position when they are already well on top. Any normal player nurses such an advantage home to score a calm win.

Let's end with the good news.

The Star says:
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceOn a more positive note, the Telford venue for the first-ever event, held at the Park Inn in the town centre, came through with flying colours, and the international competition attracted 10 Grandmasters – surely a record for any Shropshire chess competition – among a total of 109 entries across three sections.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A Market Harborough Green Man

Look what I noticed the other day - and near the railway station too.

Vic Marks provides our Trivial Fact of the Day

Embed from Getty Images

Today Ben Foakes made his England test debut, becoming the side's third different wicketkeeper in consecutive tests. Jos Butler kept in the fourth test against India this summer and Jonny Bairstow in the fifth.

In the Guardian Vic Marks reveals that "this has not happened since 1963 when AC Smith was followed by Keith Andrew and Jim Parks".

Foakes rescued England with his batting and is 87 not out overnight, so we now have yet another natural number 7 batsman to accommodate. Half our current team should be batting there and three of them want to keep wicket.

But if he gets a run in the side it may bring about the thing all England fans want to see: a team containing Stokes, Woakes and Foakes.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Harborough would now vote Remain

This evening Channel 4 screened Brexit: What The Nation Really Thinks, suggesting there has been a significant shift in public opinion from Leave to Remain.

So much so that 54 per cent of the population would vote Remain if there were a second referendum.

Of course, before there were a second referendum there would have to be a campaign and Remain would have to make its case far more effectively than it managed to last time. There would be the same problem of outside interests trying to affect the result too.

Still, that is a significant shift in opinion.

The polling was done Survation, who has made the results for each local authority available.

They show that the Leave vote in Harborough has fallen from 50.75 per cent at the referendum to 47.06 per cent now.

A small change, but one, of course, that changes Harborough from a Leave area to a Remain one.

Other local authorities in Leicestershire have shown larger swings.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Up the road in Liberal Democrat Oadby & Wigston, the Leave vote has fallen from 54.58 per cent to 48.61. And in Charnwood (which is centered on Loughborough) it has fallen from 53.81 to 47.62.

Street art in Leicester's cultural quarter

So there I was in Leicester's cultural quarter, taking pictures of the streets around the Phoenix arts centre (where I saw The Little Stranger the other day).

I got talking with someone who enthused about the street art around us. Picturesque decay is more my bag, but I can see the quality and the fun in much of it here.

Giant lizard rescued in wheelbarrow from Nottingham Cattle Market fire

NottinghamshireLive wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The cattle market is close to Notts County's ground and Meadow Lane Lock, where the Nottingham Canal joins the Trent.

According to the BBC News report, the fire brigade "had problems with the water pressure from the fire hydrants and had to use a high pressure pump to get water from the canal".

That report also says:
The only injury reported was one man - who was reportedly bitten by a snake while moving livestock from the exotic pet business.
Which explains the headline.