Sunday, August 07, 2022

Watch Michael Sandel on the tyranny of merit

From the YouTube blurb:

What accounts for our polarized public life, and how can we begin to heal it? Political philosopher Michael Sandel offers a surprising answer: those who have flourished need to look in the mirror. 

He explores how "meritocratic hubris" leads many to believe their success is their own doing and to look down on those who haven't made it, provoking resentment and inflaming the divide between "winners" and "losers" in the new economy. 

Hear why we need to reconsider the meaning of success and recognize the role of luck in order to create a less rancorous, more generous civic life.

And here is perhaps the key paragraph of the talk (which I've split in two):

Encouraging people to go to college is a good thing. Broadening access for those who can't afford it is even better. But this is not a solution to inequality. 

We should focus less on arming people for meritocratic combat, and focus more on making life better for people who lack a diploma but who make essential contributions to our society.

Liz Truss's leadership campaign is being run from a Westminster house owned by a former private secretary to Enoch Powell

A couple of week's ago the Guardian took us Inside Team Truss.

The one interesting thing I learnt from this article - and thanks to the reader who pointed it out to me - is that Truss's campaign is being run from a Westminster townhouse owned by the Conservative peer Greville Howard, who was private secretary to Enoch Powell between 1968 and 1970.

Beyond that. it's largely gush. 

We're told of one team member:
"She’s as dry as a pancake but got a great policy head," said one Tory source.
And before we've finished wondering why this Tory source thinks a pancake is proverbially dry, we've been told that one of the two people directing "strategic communications" is a former media adviser to Prince Andrew.

But no political journalist is going to slag off the backroom staff of a possible future prime minister. Because these may well turn out to be, for years to come, the very people this journalist needs to take her calls.

Two weeks on, we know that Truss's campaign has been run in a harebrained manner unrivalled in modern times - unless it is by the campaign being fought by her rival Rishi Sunak.

The Mark Five: Baby What's Wrong

The blurb for this on YouTube says:

The old Jimmy Reed blues number vamped up by Scotland's Mark Five. At a time when the big London-based record companies ignored talent over the border, the lads protest-marched from Edinburgh to London which resulted in a Fontana signing. This one 45 sold so poorly they called it a day. Singer Manny Charlton eventually joined Scots rockers Nazareth.

That's one version of the story. I prefer the one I got from the Scotsman:

January 1963 ...

The Mark Five, featuring Manny Charlton who later plays in Nazareth, walk from Edinburgh to London, hitching a ride whenever photographers were not present. The walk is a publicity stunt to protest about the lack of record companies coming to Scotland to see Scottish bands, and a ploy to demand a record deal.

They are met in Market Harborough by a record company executive and offered a contract. The Mark Five release a version of the Isley Brothers' Tango but are soon dropped by the label.

It appears that Tango was the A-side and this was on the reverse. Anyway, it appears today as a tribute to Manny Charlton, who died last month. He enjoyed success with Nazareth in the 1970s.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

If you think I'm obsessed with Malcolm Saville...

I made an extraordinary discovery on YouTube the other evening. 

Hinckley's Red River Theatre Group has posted two plays that each show us the current-day lives of the characters from one of Malcolm Saville's lesser-known and gentler series of children's books.

Return to Nettleford catches up with Elizabeth the vicar's daughter, Sally and Paul at the Wise Owl bookshop and the rest of the gang.

But things are not going well in Nettleford. No one goes to church any more and the Wise Owl is on its last legs.

This reminds me of Flip Chart Rick's sobering account of what will have happened to Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley since their television heyday.

I've not finished it yet, but I hope there will be a happy ending. Malcolm Saville would certainly have given us one.

I'm also halfway through Susan and Bill Refreshed.

The Susan and Bill books were set in a new town, but the attempt to be up to date was rather undercut by the illustrations. They were drawn by E.H. Shepherd, Saville's neighbour and walking partner in Guildford, so recall children's classics rather than anything modern.

Again, I am halfway through this and hopeful that things will turn out well.

I've no idea who wrote these plays, but they know their Malcolm Saville. When two characters in Return to Nettleford discuss possible honeymoon destinations, they reel off the locations of the Lone Pine books.

Backstreet fantasy: The Clare Street Drill Hall, Northampton

I should have gone to Braunston yesterday, which is a Northamptonshire canal village that, with some justification, calls itself the "Heart of the Waterways". But the vital bus was cancelled - blame Brexit or Covid - so I spent the day wandering the back streets of Northampton instead.

At one point a slightly Toy Town turret appeared in the distance. Eventually, it turned out to be the Clare Street Drill Hall, though the building looks far grander than that name makes it sound.

Wikipedia tells us the it was designed "in the Fortress Gothic Revival Style" and opened in 1859 as the headquarters of the 1st Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteer Corps.

That entry goes on to detail its varied and diminishing uses since. It's a reminder of both Northampton's importance as a centre and the decline in numbers of the British Army.

Anyway, this sort of backstreet fantasy is just what I enjoy coming across.

Later. It used to be even more fantastic.

Farewell to Judith Durham

Judith Durham, the lead singer of The Seekers, has died in Melbourne at the age of 79.

The Seekers, were an Australian group who played pop tinged with folk, and enjoyed enormous success in Britain in the 1960s.

They won the New Musical Express poll for the best new group of 1964, were heavily played by Radio Caroline and had two UK no. 1 hits and three other top 3 singles before they returned to Australia in 1968. They were also the first Australian group to have major his in the US.

One of their members, Bruce Woodley, co-wrote songs with Paul Simon, who was around on the UK folk scene at the time.

But through it all it was Judith Durham's voice that made them distinctive. This performance is taken from their farewell (to Britain) concert, which I remember watching on television in July 1968.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Roman Leicester wasn't built in a day 1

What with one thing and another, it's been two years since I posted something from this series. So let's carry on the with the first part of its treatment of Roman Leicester.

The blurb from Jim Butler's Hidden Histories channel on YouTube says:

Leicester's transformation from Iron Age settlement to Roman Civitas Capital didn't happen overnight. This film charts the evolution of the Roman Town from its earliest days to the middle of the occupation, using the amazing archaeology discovered to highlight key events and people.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Inside the mind of a former conspiracist

From the blurb for this podcast in the Conspiracy Games & Countergames series:

For 15 years Brent Lee not only believed in conspiracy theories but helped produce and popularize them. Today, he warns others about both the danger and the appeal of conspiratorial world-building.

We have been taught to imagine that people fall into the proverbial "rabbit hole" because of isolation, idiocy and paranoia. But in this interview, Brent explains how he and many others came to it from through critical thinking, scepticism towards the operations of social power and empathy with those who were suffering.

We explore with him why he stayed in the conspiracy world thanks, in part, to the sense of righteous community it provided. And we cover how the right-wing weaponization of conspiracy theories in the mid-2010s triggered Brent’s exit from the community. Today, motivated by contrition for what he helped create and compassion for those who, like him, are taken in, he dedicates his time to helping those inside and outside conspiracy worlds understand and challenge them.

This is a valuable podcast because it brings out that people can be led to belief in conspiracy theories through intellectual curiosity.

The modern left is too prone to believe that anyone who disagrees with it must be stupid.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Joy of Six 1066

"The Conservatives of today are possessed of a small idea: that they should be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want (to whoever they want), and that the rest of us should not just accept this but facilitate and celebrate them." Alan Finlayson watches the Conservative leadership election.

Andrew Screen says Edge of Darkness owes a tremendous amount to Bob Peck: "On his death from cancer in April 1999, at the age of only fifty three, Edge of Darkness was not only one of the most ambitious British television productions, but also the most critically acclaimed and successful ratings grabbers the BBC ever produced."

"This isn’t a problem of a place lost in the midst of time either — confusion set in barely a day after the event. The report of the defeat near the village of Dadlington that first reached Yorkist loyalists in the North referred to the king’s death at the “Battle of Redemore”. Nowadays, nobody even knows where Redemore was." Fergus Butler-Gallie visits Bosworth Field.

About SE11 travels back to 1971, when The Who and Rod Stewart rocked The Oval.

The Old Oak Estate in Hammersmith was once described as the London County Council’s "finest contribution to the revival of English domestic architecture". Municipal Dreams takes us there.

A London Inheritance finds what used to be the Saville Theatre, where I once sang with Danny La Rue.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Follow the Willow Brook beneath the Midland main line in Leicester

We left the Willow Brook as it disappeared towards the Midland main line after the Cobden Street bridge.

You have to be intrepid and in a group to follow it under the railway, so thanks to the Walk About Wazzock and the rest of the crew.

Because the culvert they take us through is extraordinary. It's much larger than I expected and perhaps and indication that the Willow Brook could be fearsome before it was tamed by flood prevention work.

As the commentary keeps saying, it looks like a railway tunnel. The Great Northern Railway line to Leicester Belgrave Road did cross under the Midland near here, but I have photographed the spot and it is nothing like so impressive as this conduit. Still, I'll post those photos one day.

These explorers start where I left off, at the Cobden Street end of the conduit. The amount of greenery they find there proves that the last photo in my pervious post does not show the conduit's portal.

There are more photos of the culvert, including one of a shaft coming down from above complete with rungs for hands and feet, on the Derelict Places site.

So it's over to me again now and one day soon I shall pick up the Willow Brook as near to the eastern portal of the conduit as I can and see where it takes me.

The Spectator tries to have fun with Liz Truss's Lib Dem past again, but she made more sense in those days

Liz Truss once suggested that "the age of criminal responsibility should come to us with the right to vote" in an article titled "So why can't kids have the vote?"

tweets James Heale, the editor of the Spectator's diary column.

He leads us to another gentile attempt to embarrass Truss over her Liberal Democat past. This time the item is mainly about an article she wrote for Free Radical - then the organ of the party's youth wing.

Maybe it will outrage Spectator readers and Conservative members, but this article (reposted here to annoy the Man) seems to me to make a perfectly arguable case.

Certainly, our current age of criminal responsibility (10) and voting age (18), both of which concern a young person's ability to navigate the adult world, are much too far apart.

Where you set the voting age is not just a reflection of what young people are like, but also of what you think they should be like. And I believe that, for the health of our democracy, young people should be interested in politics by the time they are 16 and that giving them the vote at that age will encourage this.

Meanwhile, we need to look at our age of criminal responsibility, which is how by international standards.

Remember, too, that if a child of 10 or more is charged with a serious crime then they will be tried before a jury in an adult court.

And, yes, at this point I am going to recommend again the BBC  Responsible Child, which looks at this issue. It won an International Emmy, as did its young lead Billy Barratt.

Believing a 10-year-old can understand such proceedings and meaningfully instruct counsel seems to me rather sillier than suggesting they should be given the vote.

Liz Truss's idea of a consistent age of majority at 16 was a creditable attempt to sort out the mess we have made of things and one to which we Lib Dems might return.

Paul Rodgers and Bruce Thomas were in the same band

Is it just because I'm older now that I think popular culture doesn't evolve as quickly as it used to?

I don't think it is entirely. Compare 1961 and 1971 and you might as well be comparing two different planets. Compare 2012 and 2022 and the differences are much more subtle, even if I'm not the best person to spot them.

The reason for this preamble is that I have found another conjunction of musicians from the Sixties and Seventies who feel like they come from different eras. Let's give it my Trivial Fact of the Day Award.

In the past I have blogged about Billy Fury singing David Bowie and about Helen Shapiro and Marc Bolan and Richard Thompson and Hugh Cornwell being in bands together at school.

So here goes with the new example. Paul Rodgers came to fame at the turn of the Seventies as the lead singer of Free. His first band, formed in his home town of Middlesbrough, was The Roadrunners, which also included Bruce Thomas, later the bass player in Elvis Costello's band The Attractions.

Which gives me an excuse to post this immaculate performance again.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Bernard Cribbins and T.H. White

There was an unexpected detail in the fine tribute to Bernard Cribbins that Russell T. Davies wrote:

He knew everyone! He'd talk about the Beatles and David Niven, and how he once sat on the stairs at a party impersonating bird calls with T H White. Then he'd add, "I said to Ashley Banjo last week…"

It's hard to imagine the reclusive White as a fixture at showbiz parties. This encounter must have taken place after the musical Camelot was made from his sequence of novels The Once and Future King and he was taken up by Julie Andrews.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Arts Fresco is coming back to the streets of Market Harborough on 11 September

Great news! Arts Fresco returns in full on Sunday 11 September 2022.

As the Arts Fresco website explains:

Often described as a 'mini Fringe festival', Market Harborough's Arts Fresco is a free street theatre festival, that for one day every September, transforms the town centre into the biggest street arts festival in the Midlands.

When Covid hit, we had to leave the roaming dinosaurs, mad chefs and wheelie bins that drive themselves back in their own crazy world, and move to a virtual festival. However for 2022, we're back where we belong - on the streets of Market Harborough.

You can hear Neil Kitson, chair of the organising committee, talk about the plans for this year on HFM News.

The photos on this page are ones I have taken at Arts Fresco over the years.

The Jaynetts: Sally, Go 'Round the Roses

With its layered sound and elusive lyrics, this was a no. 2 hit for the Bronx-based girl group the Jaynetts in September 1963.

They were famously due to take part in an edition of American Bandstand to be broadcast from Dallas, Texas, on the evening on 22 November that year.

But it never went out, because President Kennedy had been assassinated in the city earlier that day. Maybe that's one reason why the Jaynetts remained as one-hit wonders.

Wikipedia (with lots of references) says of Sally, Go 'Round the Roses:

Sally, Go 'Round the Roses was unlike other pop songs of the day, with a spooky, even ominous, musical ambiance heightened by the sometimes odd and opaque lyrics, which gave the song a mysterious feeling that probably accounted in part for its popularity, and which has led to speculation on the meaning of the song. 
Sally. Go 'Round the Roses could be interpreted as a conventional song of heartbreak over cheating, or it could be – and has been – seen as alluding to deeper matters, including drug use, illegitimate motherhood, madness, suicide, or, most especially, lesbianism.

The song can be about all those and all of them at once. That's why people sometimes choose to write poems and song lyrics rather than committee reports.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Dreams and numinous landscapes: How Malcolm Saville made his stories strange

The other day I wrote about how Alan Garner ran up against the limitations of children's holiday fiction. I should also have emphasised that Susan Cooper's attempt to vault over them in Over Sea, Under Stone is not wholly successful.

But maybe that school of writing is more interesting than I made it seem. Certainly, its Ur text, Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies, is shot through with nature mysticism.

And the landscapes authors choose are often numinous or have come to be accepted as so by readers. My own childhood favourite Malcolm Saville set stories in Sussex and on Romney Marsh, territory already sanctified by Kipling and Russell Thorndike.

He also, as I may have mentioned, set stories in the Shropshire hills where the presiding genius was Mary Webb. 

Malcolm Saville knew Church Stretton and the Long Mynd before he started writing his stories, but I once heard his son, the late Revd Jeremy Saville, tell a meeting he was sure Malcolm had not visited the Stiperstones when he wrote Seven White Gates (1944), the first book he set there. 

So its distinctive atmosphere came from a reading of Webb's novels, which is why we find Jenny and Peter (Petronella) encountering the Wild Hunt on the Stiperstones during World War II:

Then the atmosphere became cold and clammy as the fog swirled round them. suddenly Jenny gave a stifled little scream and pointed up the track which led to the mines. Shadowy in the thickening mist, the two girls seemed to see a figure on horseback waving ghostly arms but no sound of hooves came to their straining ears. Then far away on the hilltop, it seemed to Peter that tiny, gnome-like figures flitted in uncanny procession. 

Jenny turned and wailed into Peter's shoulder. 

"Peter. It's true. It's them. They're riding again. What shall we do, Peter? We must hide our eyes. We mustn't even see them. Don't look, Peter."

Saville had another way of making his stories: the dream. His characters (in the three I've remembered off the top of my head all girls) can see the past or the future in dreams.

So, in the opening chapter of The Secret of Grey Walls (1947), Peter, before she had ever met Penny, has a dream that foretells the adventure they and the rest of the children are to share:

Peter began to see the dream country through which she was running. First, she realized that everything around her was cold and grey, but the light was so weird that she could not tell whether it was day or night. ... 

She turned her head and, with a sudden shock, saw that she was not alone. A few yards to her left  a girl of about her own age was running with her, and as, in her dream, Peter looked at the with curiosity, the girl turned towards her and have her a friendly smile. ... 

Then the girl at her side broke the spell by stepping forward a few paces to where they could see, between the trees, a rough cart-track, winding downhill. She clutched Peter's arm and pointed ahead, and suddenly Peter felt that the ugly, grey-walled house squatting in the hollow below them was one of the things for which she had been searching.

Later in the series, in Treasure at Amorys (1964), Penny herself has an extraordinary dream in which she witnesses a Mithraic ritual from Roman times:

The torch-bearers were now lining each side of the central aisle, and although she was surrounded by soldiers somehow she could see the faces of those in white robes who were taking their places between them. But they weren't faces. Not ordinary faces. Their heads were enormous and inhuman. One was beaked like a raven with a great mop of hair, another was a snarling lion and several others, the most frightening of all, were completely blank.

It's no surprise that a Mithraic temple is later found under the grounds of the house where the children are staying.

And late in his career, in one of his less popular series, a Saville heroine had another, less frightening, dream of Roman Britain. Here is Lucy's dream in The Roman Treasure Mystery (1973):

She was alone and not frightened. Happy and at peace. She heard the sound of running water and of a sweet voice  singing words that she did not understand. ... 

Then, in her dream, she was almost overwhelmed by the desire to hurry through the trees to meet the singer with the silver voice. Now she knew that the singer was a boy and suddenly, with a feeling of indescribable joy she saw him, standing between the trees in a pool of moonlight waiting for her. 

A boy of about her own age dressed in a white tunic. His arms and legs were bare and he held his head high as he sang. Then he looked towards her and smiled, and at that moment she was sure that she would never forget the beauty of his face.

So Malcolm Saville could make his stories strange when he wanted, which might just make him the master of the children's holiday adventure I thought him when I was 10.

The Spectator uncovers more of Liz Truss's Lib Dem past

Steerpike of the Spectator has got hold of a leaflet Liz Truss put out when she made an unsuccessful attempt to be elected treasurer of Lib Dem Youth and Students, which was then the party's youth wing.

He writes:

Underneath a headline which proclaims 'Elizabeth Truss for Treasurer' it lists her skills as an 'experienced community campaigner' and a 'founder member of the Leeds North East Young Liberal Democrats.'

It notes her maiden speech 'calling for the party to practice [sic] what it preaches' at the Torquay Federal Conference and even boasts an endorsement from-then leader Paddy Ashdown: 'Elizabeth is a good debater and is utterly fearless.' 

Longtime Lib Dem activist Kiron Reid also predicted that 'Liz will be a determined treasurer and lively member of the executive.'

I've reproduced the leaflet here with no one's permission. Meanwhile, Kiron will be investigated by the Liberator editorial collective for suspected counter-revolutionary activity.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Joy of Six 1065

Russia’s war in Ukraine is a genocide. It's not just a land grab but a bid to expunge a nation, argues Kristina Hook.

Giles Wilkes finds himself increasingly uncertain about the desirability of economic growth: "What is the right approach to value, for example, all the incomes that were generated in the ecosystem around a busted cryptocurrency? It now turns out it was just a few thousand fools throwing real or fake money at one another, consulting, meeting, emailing, writing software, and now it is all bust. Was it real GDP at the time, and now not? Never real in the first place?"

"This was Britain as a rich, diverse, multicultural, imaginative, inventive nation comfortable with its identity and capable of reconciling its contradictions. We were traditional yet modern. We were powerful yet caring. We were orderly yet anarchic. We had a vast back catalogue of world-changing culture from which to draw. We knew how to put on a good show. And we had a sense of humour." Steve Rose asks if the 2012 Olympics the last gasp of liberal Britain.

Terry Eagleton plays with the word "character" and considers Boris Johnson as a character in literary fiction: "It helps to be a character to scramble into power, but you need to have character to stay there."

"It’s not just the case that if Mady Villiers had gone to pretty much any other state school in Essex, she would never have played for England. It’s that more than likely she wouldn’t have played at all." Phil Walker investigates whether cricket is becoming even more elitist.

"When footbridges and underpasses cease to be cared for, when the gardens become overgrown, and the concrete sickens, the shine can go off a new town pretty fast." Ray Newman looks at how post-war British new towns have been depicted on film.

How an 18th-century chimney sweep's boy helped Coleen Rooney win the Wagatha Christie case

I suspect it was that too-conveniently lost mobile phone that did for Rebekah Vardy.

As the Guardian report says:

The judge was highly critical of the loss of key communications in the case. She said it was not believable that Watt accidentally dropped her mobile phone in the North Sea shortly after a legal request was made to search its WhatsApp messages.

But then:

There was widespread mockery in court of the loss of potentially crucial evidence by Vardy and those around her. Rooney’s lawyers invoked a legal precedent from 1722 to argue that, in the absence of evidence, the judge should assume the worst.

And if you follow the link to find the 1722 precedent, you arrive at this:

Owing to the absence of direct evidence, Rooney’s legal defence has relied on a 300-year-old court ruling, Armory v Delamirie, involving a young chimney sweep who found a piece of jewellery while cleaning a fireplace. When the sweep had it valued, a jeweller surreptitiously removed the gems, leaving behind a number of empty sockets.

The 1722 legal ruling set a precedent that if the court can tell that evidence is missing, then the assumption should be that what is missing is of the highest possible value that would fit. 

This, I believe, is one of those cases, like the one with the snail and the bottle of ginger beer, that all law students learn.

It's real importance lies not in the assumption about the missing stones, but in the assumption that the finder of property has a legal claim over it until a better one comes along. So the sweep's boy Armory may have been an unlikely owner of jewellery, but he had a better claim to it than the jeweller (in fact it was his apprentice) who filched the precious stones.

Much is known about "Delamirie", who was in reality Paul de Lamerie, who has been described as "the greatest silversmith working in England in the 18th century".

But what of the boy Armory?

A website maintained by Professor Eben Moglen of  Columbia University quotes the legal historian A.W. Brian Simpson:

I’ve tried to find out more information about [Armory v. Delamirie], but so far I’ve got nowhere. I’m still trying. But the trouble is that if the people in the case are poor, they tend to leave no trace in historical records. 
So if you do a case involving fairly wealthy people, you often find information. It’s easier to find information in the nineteenth century, because there are extensive newspaper reports. They often give very detailed accounts of litigation, so you get a lot of information from them, but the further back you go, the more difficult it gets. . . 
It’s such a strange case. I mean, here’s this chimney sweep boy, they were the lowest of the low, somehow suing – who paid for his lawyer? He’s suing the most distinguished silversmith of the early eighteenth century. The defendant’s work now sells for a million dollars an item. And yet we don’t know anything about how the case happened . . . 
I’ve [tried to get information on the case] intermittently for years, but I haven’t gotten anywhere. History is sometimes just hopeless. Sometimes you just have to give up.

But whoever Amoey was and however old he was, Coleen Rooney owes him her deep thanks.