Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Celebrate the centenary of Mary Webb's novel Gone to Earth


Each year the Shropshire villages of Stiperstones and Snailbeach hold their Beach Party.

As 2017 sees the centenary of Mary Webb's novel Gone to Earth, which is set in this part of the county, the event includes a screening of the film that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made from it.

There will also be a chance to visit Lordshill Baptist Chapel, which features in both the book and the film.

Daniel Hannan and Paddington Bear



Paddington came from Peru, made friends with his fellow migrant Mr Gruber and became a much-loved part of British life.

By contrast, in the words of Ian Jack behind the London Review of Books paywall:
The three young men – born in 1970 or 1971 – had certain similarities in their personal histories. Hannan and Carswell spent their childhoods in faraway, politically disturbed countries as the children of British expatriates: Hannan’s family had a poultry farm in Peru, while Carswell’s parents were doctors in Uganda. Hannan and Reckless boarded at Marlborough before Oxford. Carswell went to Charterhouse before UEA. 
To see them as a social ‘type’ might be stretching it; nevertheless they share a flashy certitude and know-all bumptiousness that might stem from their ambition, as outsiders in the muted social codes of England’s ancient universities and more expensive public schools, to make their mark. 
Hannan, after all, was the Vote Leave campaigner who stood on a desk and recited the St Crispin’s Day speech to his colleagues when the news came through of Leave’s victory, and perhaps to do that it helps to have been raised as a little Briton in Peru.
Whatever the truth of that, Hannan appears determined to make life less comfortable for Mr Gruber.

And if Mr and Mrs Brown took Paddington in today they could be imprisoned for 14 years.

Private Eye casts little fresh light on the martyrdom of Tim Farron

It is clear that we are not going to receive an explanation of the removal of Tim Farron from the party.

So I have been waiting for the new Private Eye to go on sale - outside London, that happens on the Wednesday.

But its article on Tim's defenestration does not tell us much more than we knew already - see this article from the time by Caron Lindsay, for instance.

It repeats the stories about Brian Paddick's resignation and the tweets from Liz Barker and Anthony Lester, then continues:
Later that afternoon a delegation peers - with Lord Pantsdown (sic) and Lord Newby, the Lib Dem leader in the Lords, reportedly among them - went to see Farron. Various versions of the meeting exist, with some sources insisting that "exceptional pressure" was placed on Farron. ... 
What was the sensational leverage the peers put on Farron to force his departure? No one would answer Lord Gnome's queries, and the Lib Dem press office insisted the whole story of the peers' visit was "just not true" - though a significant  number of well-placed sources in the party beg to differ.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lord Wenlock on the Derwent Valley Light Railway, 1981


I have posted my photographs of York Layerthorpe and Dunnington stations on the Derwent Valley Light Railway.

This is the third and last of my photographs of the line. I think it was taken in the spring of 1981, which was the line's last year of operation.

The locomotive shown is now at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, on whose site you can real all about its career:
This locomotive belongs to a class introduced in 1952, one of the first diesel types mass-produced by British Railways. D2298 itself was not built until October 1960, however, becoming one of a class that was to total 141 (D2200 - D2340; later known as class 04). The locomotives were ordered by BR from Drewry Car Co., who in turn had them built by other contractors. This particular machine was built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns of Newcastle, their works No. 8157 and Drewry No. 2679. 
D2298 was sent new to Lincoln and spent most of its time on BR working from there or Boston or Colwick depots. On 7 July 1968 the locomotive was sent to Gateshead but was withdrawn from service in December of that year after only eight years work. This was due to a change of BR freight policy, 'wagon load' traffic was gradually phased out in favour of block trains which do not require sorting in marshalling yards. Thus hundreds of engines like D2298 were withdrawn after very short working lives. 
D2298 was purchased from British Rail in April 1969 by the Derwent Valley Light Railway. ... At the DVLR, D2298 became No. 1 and received the name Lord Wenlock after the first chairman of the company. In 1982 it worked the very last passenger train on the DVLR, an enthusiasts special, afterwards being put up for sale. ...
In October 1982, No. 1 arrived at Quainton, having been purchased by a QRS member. It was put straight into service as No. 1 Lord Wenlock, but has since been repainted in the original BR green livery as D2298.
I have omitted a garbled history of the DVLR from that quotation.

If you want a snappy history of the line, try the Derwent Valley Light Railway site - a short section of line has been reopened in connection with the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.

How Reg Varney ruined Britain



Fifty years ago, reports the Shropshire Star's business section, the first withdrawal from a bank cash machine was made. In those days it was known as an ATM - automated teller machine,

And it was made at a branch of Barclay's in Enfield by the comedian Reg Varney.

He was even trending on Twitter today, nine years after his death, because of it.

But is this anniversary to celebrate?

In what is probably the greatest post in the history of blogging, Stumbling and Mumbling pointed out:
The invention of the ATM helped make it much easier to get cash out of the bank. This fall in shoe leather costs for technological reasons offset part of the normal cost of inflation, which helped make people less intolerant of it. Is it really a coincidence that inflation began to rise as the cash point machine, as popularized by Mr Varney, became more widely used? I think not. 
There’s a second effect of its spread, however, which has only become appreciated in light of the rise in behavioural economics. 
The easier availability of cash has reduced one constraint on our spending. Before Mr Varney used the cash point, impulse buying of good or sessions down the pub were constrained by the fact that cash was hard to obtain. After that fateful day, however, the constraint came down.
But I am afraid Reg Varney's culpability does not stop there.

As the same post reminds us:
His portrayal of Stan Butler did much to perpetuate the image of the 1970s worker as a bone-idle work-dodger; we forget today just how enormously popular On the Buses was. And this in turn might subconsciously have contributed to the popularity of Thatcherism. How many of those who, when asked by Tories in 1979 whether the working class had become too big for its boots, conjured up a picture of Stan Butler and so voted for Thatcher?
That is surely right. As I once wrote myself:
Even at the time, Blakey was my favourite character. And I don't know if it is age, my experience of public transport or our post-Thatcher society, but I cannot help noticing today that the passengers counted for nothing in On the Buses. 
Just at Alexander Mackenderick, the director of Whisky Galore!, sympathised with Captain Waggett, the representative of English officialdom who attempted to round up the whisky rescued from the wreck of the S.S. Cabinet Minister, so I now see Blakey as the hero of On the Buses and its spin-off films.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Joan and Eric White in Kelmarsh churchyard


I wrote the other day that
Most of the people I was on the council with have died and had roads named after them.
But I did not expect to come across two of them in the churchyard at Kelmarsh on Saturday.

Joan and Eric White were the power couple of Market Harborough politics. Conservative councillors, they were the last survivors of an era in which the interests of its shopkeepers had dominated the town.

My experience of them was the opposite of the general perception. I found Joan frosty and soon concluded that she did not approve of Liberals or people in their twenties being elected to Harborough District Council.

By contrast, I often chatted with Eric at meetings. Perhaps he had mellowed, and by then Joan was ill and I suspect he was glad of someone to talk to about it.

As far as I know, there is not a road in Market Harborough named after the Whites. Perhaps there should be?

Later. Thanks to the person on Twitter who told me that one of the new roads off Glebe Road - part of the controversial development on the old Bricky Tip - is named White Crescent.

Theresa May on that DUP deal

Hatred of the old is the last respectable prejudice


Gerontophobia unites Borisites concerned for Davis’s wellbeing and Brexit-minded haters of “senile dinosaur” Michael Heseltine, with progressive young humorists and their below-the-line supporters, for whom ("fat" and "ugly" being trickier to deploy these days) the insult that cannot be improved by the prefix "old" has yet to be invented.
says Catherine Bennett in a rambling defence of the idea that Vince Cable should stand for the Liberal Democrat leadership.

Or as I wrote in Liberal Democrat News after the resignation of Ming Campbell from that post:
It must also be admitted that Ming could sometimes appear a rather elderly 66 - quite understandably, in view of his illness a few years ago. But the way he was ridiculed for his age tells us something unpleasant about modern British society. It suggests we no longer have any respect for age, wisdom or dignity. 
I think in particular of the Mock the Week show that went out in September just after our Conference. This is the BBC2 programme where five leading comedians and Russell Howard improvise comedy based on the week‘s headlines. 
For 10 or 15 minutes they unleashed a tirade against Ming, all of it based on the assumption there is something inherently funny about being old. If they had attacked a woman or someone who was gay or black in the same way they would never have worked for the BBC again.
All of which is a way of saying that I am very happy that Vince is standing for the party leadership.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Yeovil Pen Mill and Yeovil Town in 1956



As every schoolboy used to know, Yeovil has two stations: Pen Mill and Junction.

But there used to be a third: Yeovil Town. It was in the centre of the town, on a site not occupied by a supermarket.

This short clip shows trains at Pen Mill, Yeovil Town and on the line that ran between them.

There's much more of this sort of thing at Unseen Steam.

George Orwell's adopted son was brought up by Tolstoyans

One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.
So wrote George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier.

You wouldn’t include “feminist” in a list like that today, but otherwise it still seems fair comment.

So I was amused to learn from this morning's From Our Home Correspondent that Richard Blair, Orwell's adopted son, lived with relatives at a Tolstoyan commune in Gloucestershire after Orwell's death.

Richard Blair has written about those days for The Orwell Society.

That segment starts at 13:00, but the whole thing is worth listening to. There is a sobering piece on diabetes and a very Edsmithian one by Ed Smith on cricket captaincy.

The Boo Radleys: Wake up Boo!



Wikipedia elucidates:
Despite critical acclaim and a cult fanbase, the Boo Radleys were still largely unknown to the general public by the time the Britpop phenomenon broke into the mainstream in 1995. 
This changed when the band released the upbeat single "Wake Up Boo!" in the spring of that year. It made the Top 10 in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 9. The single remained on the chart for two months, by far the band's longest run for any of its singles ... [Martin] Carr describes writing the song watching The Big Breakfast after a night on acid.
The Boo Radleys were around well before Britpop, but this reminds us that the phenomenon happened under John Major, not Tony Blair.

Recent commentators have often got that wrong, just as they do not realise that punk was a reaction to Jim Callaghan's government not Margaret Thatcher's.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

In which I have lunch in a Buddhist cafe in Kelmarsh


"I shall go back to the Buddhist cafe one day when it is open," I wrote four years ago.

Today I did just that, and very good it was too. There were more people there when I arrived than these photos make it seem.

You can find the World Peace Cafe just off the main road in Kelmarsh. It is run by the Nagarjuna Kadampa Meditation Centre.

It will be closed next weekend, but there is a fete on the Saturday.




Six of the Best 702

The Liberal Democrats went backwards in every English and Welsh seat they defended, Richard Holden on Conservative Home has some analysis we should all read.

David Runciman looks at this month's general election: "The Labour Party managed to park Brexit as an issue by acknowledging it as a fact while hinting that anything was still possible. This allowed the party to focus on other issues, above all on the growing public dissatisfaction with austerity, and to draw attention to the contrasting personalities of the two leaders."

Jerry Hayes puts the boot into the Conservative Party.

"Any good modern therapist working with children ... knows that discipline, limits and unconditional love, not medication, are what children really need, not drugs." Redmond O'Hanlon contrasts French and American approaches to ADHD.

Peter Wrigley on The Archers and the taxation of land.

A lonely grave in Lydd leads Flickering Lamps to speculate on a connection with the family of the last Tsar of Russia.

Leicestershire's PCC features in Trivial Fact of the Day



Thanks to The Police Gazette on Twitter for pointing this out.

Willie Bach, police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland and former member of Harborough District Council,* is a great nephew of Emmeline Pankhurst,

* After my time. Most of the people I was on the council with have died and had roads named after them.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Derwent Valley Railway's Dunnington Station in 1981


On Monday I posted a photo of York Layerthorpe station in 1981.

Here is one of Dunnington Station, taken the same year (maybe the same day). It stood at what was the other end of the Derwent Valley Light Railway in that year - its last year of operation.

How the establishment covered up for a bishop who sexually abused boys and young men



An independent review by Dame Moira Gibb into the Church of England's response to the activites of Bishop Peter Ball was published yesterday.

As David Hencke says:
It is a grim story only coming light after the former Bishop of Gloucester was successfully prosecuted and jailed in 2015 after a career of physically and sexually abusing and exploiting boys and young men, including some who were particularly vulnerable.
He goes on:
Equally culpable, though not an abuser, is Michael Ball, his twin brother and former Bishop of Truro, who ran a campaign after his brother had been given a caution for abusing Todd in 1993 to rehabilitate him using every type of pressure he could find. 
None of the authorities, with the exception of Sussex police, come out of this well, Neither the Church, Lambeth Palace, Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It is litany of failed responsibility among those in power and also the misuse of power and reputation to protect the powerful. 
Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church for his own sexual gratification. It is not clear even now at 85 whether he shows any remorse as he refused to co-operate with Dame Moira’s inquiry.
One worrying aspect of this affair was the way George Carey, then the Archbishop of Canterbury involved himself in it.

As Hencke says:
Lord Carey emerges as a very weak character in this sorry saga. On the one level he is aware of Ball’s transgressions and tries to investigate, on another level he intervenes with the aim, whatever he says in a letter to Gloucestershire’s chief constable, to prevent a public trial of a Bishop by just issuing a caution. 
In the end this is done in return for his resignation as bishop. It is here that Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which now admits its mistake, are totally at fault.
Hencke goes on speculate on whether Ball would today be able to be openly gay or whether he was always a predatory abuser.

One angle that neither Hencke nor the report - which you can read in full online - explores is the role of Baroness Butler-Sloss, who led a review of Ball's conduct on behalf of the diocese of Chichester.

You can hear her in the audio above trying to persuade one of his victims not to name Ball on the grounds that "the press would love a Bishop".

As I wrote when I first posted this audio:
I am not a believer in conspiracy theories - you don't have to be when evidence of the extraordinary unwillingness of the establishment to see Bishop Ball suffer for his crimes is openly available.

Ed Davey: Ed Balls ate my homework

This morning someone tweeted a link to an interview Ed Davey gave when he joined the cabinet in 2012.

As well as telling the story of his extraordinary bravery in rescuing a woman from the tracks at Clapham Junction, it gives us an insight into Ed's schooldays.

He was head boy at the private Nottingham High School and one of his near contemporaries there was Ed Balls (whose father was a great campaigner for comprehensive education).

Ed Davey recalls:
"Ed Balls was in the year below me. I lent him my O-level history notes and he never gave them back."

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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The woods at Delapre Abbey


When I set off to photograph Northampton's Eleanor Cross I imagined a hot uphill walk beside the London Road.

But that road turned out to be fringed by woodland, so I could make my way along shaded paths.

These woods are part of the Delapre Abbey estate and this part of it became somewhat degraded after the second world war. A notice explains that they are being restored to how they would have been in the late 1930s.

The abbey itself is still undergoing restoration work, but - importantly - the cafe was open on Saturday.






Six of the Best 701

Canterbury Cathedral
Michael Mullaney analyses the Liberal Democrat performance in this month's general election: "Whilst increasing our MPs, and having four narrow misses, we have at this election still suffered a further loss of second places, a further loss of deposits, and a continuing fallback in large parts of Britain, particularly the North, the Midlands and Wales."

Political bots are poisoning democracy, say Hadley Newman and Kevin O'Gorman.

Gavin Stamp says we should not expect England great cathedrals to look after themselves.

"The spare performances ... add to the album’s intimacy, sparking a revealing listen that at times comes off like something maybe you shouldn’t be hearing. There are confessions, slipped-out secrets and the sense that the heart on display here was temporarily caught off guard." Michael Gallucci pays tribute to Joni Mitchell's album Blue.

"Are you a cavalier or roundhead?" Huw Turbervill revisits the tensions between David Gower and Graham Gooch. Me? I loved both of them.

Brian Sayle climbs Cadair Idris.

And finally a musical bonus...

Norman Lamb shows why he should have stood for the Liberal Democrat leadership



Norman Lamb contributed an article to the Guardian website under the headline 'Why I won’t be the Lib Dems’ next leader'.

The odd thing is that, beyond the opening observation that Norman has "just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat," the article read as though he was announcing his decision to stand for the Liberal Democrat leadership.
He writes:
We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power – something that Liberals should understand. The European Union is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic, yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.
And:
I want the Liberal Democrats to use our potentially pivotal position in parliament to force cross-party working on the profound challenges we face: not just the Brexit negotiations, but how we secure the future of the NHS and our care system.
And:
In my work as a health minister in the coalition, I became more and more outraged by the way people with mental ill health and those with learning disability and autism are treated by the state. So often I heard stories of people being ignored, not listened to. 
The dad of a patient at Winterbourne View (the care home where abuse of residents was exposed by Panorama), who told me he felt guilty because there was nothing he could do for his son: no one would listen to his complaints. The teenage girl with autism held in an institution for over two years, treated like an animal. No one would listen to her family’s pleas. I helped get her out and she now leads a good life – but one minister can’t intervene in every case.
I suppose the reason Norman is not standing is that he feels his views on Europe are too far from the party mainstream.

But there is a lot in his article I agree with, while Norman's difficulties over Europe seems to me symptomatic of a deeper problem for the Liberal Democrats.

Our revival on councils and then in parliament was built on the voters' perception that Liberals (and the Liberal Democrats) were the ones who would stand up for local people - perhaps particularly in wards and towns that tended to get the rough end of political decisions.

More recently, we have also rather fancied ourselves as the party of the liberal establishment - the party of technocrats and lawyers.

There is an obvious tension between these two identities and one that is most apparent in the traditional Liberal strongholds in the South West and in Norman's own North Norfolk seat, which has much in common with them.

If Norman had stood, we would have been more likely to face up to our split identity. I am not sure I would have voted for him, but he would certainly have made for a more enlightening contest.

Middlesbrough firm selling model railway figures of couples having sex

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, the Middlesbrough Gazette wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Northampton ghost sign


You can find this on the south side of the Nene close to site of the old Northampton Bridge Street railway station.

It is hard to read, but could end "Coal and Cattle Station".

Six of the Best 700

Vince Cable has announced that he is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

"Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of the men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no say in shaping or determining their own destinies." Richard Smith rediscovers a 1972 speech by Jimmy Reid.

Adrienne LaFrance explains why "at this chaotic moment in global politics, conspiracy theories seem to have seeped out from the edges of society and flooded into mainstream political discourse".

Research into the damage done by firearms is suppressed in the United States, reports David Hemenway.

Remember the retired naval office who fired off salutes in Mary Poppins? Laura Reynolds visits the real-life model for his house in Hampstead.

"Maybe cats will continue to defy domestication. They could carve out a place as one of the only animals to befriend humans without ever falling completely under our control." Annalee Newitz finds that a study of ancient and modern cat genomes has revealed an unusual history.

Monday, June 19, 2017

York Layerthorpe station in 1981


I once blogged about the Derwent Valley Railway (DVR):
When I was an undergraduate at York, the bus from the university into the city used to cross a bridge over an overgrown single-track railway. 
This was the Derwent Valley Light Railway, which in those days ran from Layerthorpe in the city for four miles out to Dunnington. When it opened in 1913 it had run almost to Selby: in 1981 it was to close altogether. 
One day I walked the line to Dunnington and back. Though it shows track that had long gone by then, the video above gives a good idea of the way the line looked in its final years. So decrepit was it that I was surprised when I met a very mixed freight train coming the other way.
That video has disappeared from YouTube, but I have found three photographs I took that day. I think it was in 1981, the last year of the DVR's operation.

This is the first, showing the line's York terminus at Layerthorpe. As with a lot of my shots from those days, there is too much empty foreground, and here the gents' loo receives undue prominence. Still it's nice to have found it.

The DVR was privately owned, but connected to the British Rail system via the Foss Islands Branch, which ran from a junction with the York to Scarborough line to Layerthorpe.

That branch too closed in 1988 when Rowntree's switched to using road transport.

Hay Meadow Festival at The Bog, Shropshire, on 24 June


This sounds fun in a gentle sort of way:
A fun filled family day to celebrate wildflower meadows and their wealth of wildlife. FREE ENTRY, everyone welcome! 
We have a packed programme of activities planned. These include guided meadow walks, family bug hunts, and the launch of the new Stiperstones Butterfly Trail. 
Try your hand at scything, or show off your scything skills in the competition arena, along with hay bale lobbing and hayrick building. Alternatively, head for the arts & crafts tent where you’ll find lots of hay to play and create with.
Full details on the Stiperstones & Cordon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme site.

Tory MP uses Grenfell Tower debate to attack firefighters' union

[Later. The BBC kindly tweeted a clip of this exchange, so I have now embedded it above.]

Those watching the East Midland segment of Sunday Politics yesterday lunchtime will have seen a debate on the lessons of Grenfell Tower between Heather Wheeler (Conservative MP for South Derbyshire) and Toby Perkins (Labour MP for Chesterfield).

When Perkins suggested that the disaster has something to do with cuts to local authority spending Wheeler was outraged.

And when Perkins started to quote figures from the Fire Brigades Union, we were treated to this outburst:
"Well they would. The word is in the clue (sic) 'union', mate. That's the clue."
Note that Wheeler was so angry at the mention of the firefighters' union that she could not get her words in the right order.

To use the aftermath of Grenfell Tower as the occasion for an attack on the firefighters' union is outrageous and Wheeler should apologise.

You can watch the exchange yourself on the BBC iPlayer. The discussion on Grenfell Tower begins at 40:45.

To end on a more sweet-smelling note, here is how the residents of the area around Grenfell Tower treat their firefighters.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Six of the Best 699

"Grenfell Tower should mark a point of no return. No return to the frenzied deregulation, cost-cutting and rampant inequality of the last four decades. These are not new evils. They have been lurking for many years. But it took the light of a burning building for the whole nation to see them." Jonathan Freedland says this disaster must be a turning point.

And Henry Porter says it has become a metaphor for Britain's year from hell.

Alwyn Turner looks at the appeal of revolutionary violence to the ageing Labour left: "When the Tories and their friends in Fleet Street attacked the current Labour leadership for past association with terrorists and enemies of the country, it wasn’t a smear campaign; it was an admittedly lurid but essentially truthful account. It may not have had the impact on the general election that was intended, but the facts remain."

Politics meets neuropsychology as Jerry Useem finds that leaders tend to lose mental capacities - most notably for reading other people - that were essential to their rise.

"The murky water of Dunwich conceals so much: not just porpoises but old merchant houses and graves and churches and even, perhaps most astonishingly of all, an ancient aqueduct." Tom Cox visits Britain's lost city.

Millie Thom on the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

Back to Northampton's Eleanor Cross


Having blogged last month that Northampton's Eleanor Cross was in danger, I thought I had better take a look.

I was having a stiffener yesterday lunchtime, prior to undertaking the walk up the hill to the cross, when the news came via Twitter that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has granted consent for repairs to be made to it.

When I got there the only sign to the untutored eye that something is amiss was that plants had established themselves within it.

Reader's voice: But what is an Eleanor Cross?

Liberal England replies: You will find the answer here.





Politics and class in Kensington



This is from a Liberal Democrat News column I wrote in November 1999, before most of my readers were born.

I had been down to Kensington and Chelsea to give me something to write about help in a by-election. The Conservative candidate was Michael Portillo.

Sent out canvassing, I found that few residents were in:
So instead I talked to a council workman who was sweeping up the leaves. He soon explained my difficulty: "They'll all be at their places in the country." He also pointed out a house that had just had a million pounds spent on it. It hadn't been bought for a million, you understand, just renovated. 
"Mind you," he went on, "this is a funny area. You've got judges living here, and junkies down the road." 
"Judges and junkies: I like that," I said, thinking I might steal the line for this column.
"Judges and junkies in juxtaposition," he replied, effortlessly topping it. 
And he was right; it is a funny area. Politics in Kensington and Chelsea remains polarised on class lines to an extent you rarely see nowadays. Not a single council ward has changed hands here since 1982.

Paul Simon: Take me to the Mardi Gras



I got an unexpected invitation to a party last night.

The music had already been chosen, but someone asked what tracks I would choose to drink beer to on a summer evening.

I think this would be one of them.

Later. After posting this I came across the blog Every Single Paul Simon Song and its post on Take me to the Mardi Gras:
It is a gossamer breeze, a tall glass of cool iced tea, and a hammock on a beach. It is about escaping to a place of music (the whole first verse) and warmth, both physical-- "You can wear your summer clothes"-- and emotional-- "You can mingle in the street." It almost seems to be more about Aruba or Provence than raucous, randy New Orleans.