Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ian Nairn visits Barnsley

Housing shortage: The problem is not councils but builders

Under-pressure Harborough District Council wants an urgent meeting with house builders in the area to ask them: “Can you build any faster?” 
The council has been asked to build 638 homes a year for the next five years. ... 
Both the ruling Conservatives and opposition Liberal Democrats say that the new Government-approved house-building figure is much too high. 
And the Conservatives add that even when enough planning applications are granted, they are completely in the hands of builders who move at a speed dictated by markets – not by local councils or the Government.
I suspect the situation in Harborough, as reported by the Harborough Mail, is typical.

Here, the council is now extremely reluctant to turn down any planning proposal lest the developer win an appeal and costs. This was certainly behind the approval of plans for an out-of-town Tesco here earlier this summer.

But however many new houses a council approves, it has no say in whether they are built or not. It follows that taking more planning powers from councils will not improve the supply of houses.

Instead, we need to get tough with developers who sit on undeveloped land. A tax sounds a good idea.

And why not give councils the powers to build houses that they used to enjoy? The last conventionally financed council houses in Market Harborough are called Jubilee Gardens because they were completed in 1977 - the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

XTC: The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead


A great song by Swindon's finest. The single of this was the first CD I ever bought - some time before I owned a CD player. (I knew it would come in.)

You can also find XTC's Love on a Farm Boy's Wages on this blog.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Arts Fresco returns to Market Harborough, 14 September


From the Arts Fresco website:
Once a year, on a day in September, Arts Fresco transforms Market Harborough to a magical playground of exotic and funny characters, colours and sounds. 
Giggles and cheer are echoing on the streets bringing the entire community together to share the inspiration of art. 
On Sunday, the 14th September 2014 Market Harborough will be filled with huge mystical creatures causing confusion among the people; should they run or follow? 
Come and see for yourselves…

Six of the Best 461

"The debate until now has been civilized - if shallow, dishonest and misguided. Divorces usually only get nasty when the lawyers are called in. If we call in the lawyers on September 19th, you can bet that there will be a backlash - much that we have taken for granted will be lost and bitterness and rancour will inevitably emerge - even in the most civilized divorces much is regretted." Cicero's Songs pleads with his fellow countrymen to reject Scottish independence.

Elwyn Watkins on Liberal Democrat Voice describes how one community in Rochdale took control to protect its children and young people.

Freethinking Economist makes some surprising discoveries in a biography of Roy Jenkins.

Who was Captain Swing? LibrarianShipwreck explains.

"Cook's presence at the top of the order - at least a Cook as demonstrably out of form as this - is impeding their hopes of progress." George Dobell on Cricinfo calls for changes to England's one-day international side.

Talking of cricket, the Lord's site shows us some weird and wonderful items from the MCC Museum (including Bob Wyatt's hip joint).

Douglas Carswell speaking in favour of open primaries



When you have finished laughing, remember that the 'political reform' section of the Coalition Agreement said:
We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years. These funds will be allocated to all political parties with seats in Parliament that they take up, in proportion to their share of the total vote in the last general election.
I think there is a lot to be said for this proposal, but nothing has been heard of it since 2010.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Stamford railway station


Taken last summer, when I also photographed the town's former Water Street station (later known as Stamford East).

Homophobic monks sighted in Brighton and Cambridge

On Wednesday I blogged about the sighting of a monk delivering homophobic leaflets in Market Harborough:
The leaflets were delivered to homes in Granville Street, Bath Street, Nithsdale Avenue, Claxton* Street and Northampton Road. 
One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “I saw the monk in Bath Street, followed by two angry people.”
It turns out that homophobic monks have also been sighted in Brighton and Cambridge.

Backwatersman has suggested on Twitter that, like Spring-heeled Jack, the homophobic monk may be a manifestation of our collective subconscious fears.

* Actually it's Caxton Street, after the pioneer of printing. There used to be a type foundry there.

Judge slams lawyer for wearing 'Harry Potter' outfit in court

The Daily Express wins Headline of the Day

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How public schools dominate British life and why it matters

Alexei Sayle explains...

Is Douglas Carswell trying to save his seat?

Nigel Farage has hailed Douglas Carswell's decision to resign his seat in the Commons and fight the resultant by-election as a Ukip candidate as "the noblest thing I've seen in British politics in my lifetime".

But is he right?

Could it even be that Carswell's decision results from a cool consideration of his own interests?

Because I have seen two pieces of evidence today that suggest Clacton is just about Ukip's best prospect at the next general election.

The first piece of evidence comes from Huffington Post:
According to research by professor Matthew Goodwin, from Nottingham University, and Manchester University's Rob Ford, Carswell's Clacton voters are the most Ukip-friendly in the entire country. 
Goodwin, co-author of the book Revolt On The Right, explained on his blog: "This is because the seat contains high concentrations of voters who are likely to be very receptive toward Nigel Farage: it has lots of pensioners, lots of voters without a degree, lots of voters with no educational qualifications and higher than average levels of economic disadvantage and unemployment. 
"UKIP tend to thrive in such communities --older, less well educated and insecure voters provide the ideal breeding ground for Farage's army. 
"Clacton is also very 'white', with high numbers of voters born in the country and few minorities, which again favours UKIP, who poll strongest in ethnically homogeneous areas."
The second from Cicero Elections:
In the 2010 General Election, UKIP didn’t enter a candidate to oppose Carswell, who won 22,867 votes. However, in the European elections, UKIP did turn up and absolutely stormed the polls, gaining 19,398 votes against the Tories’ 9,981. Winning almost 50% of the vote, UKIP performed better in Clacton than almost anywhere else in the country. It’s also worth noting that a further 1,500 people voted for other eurosceptic parties at the time. 
In the three months since the European elections, UKIP’s standing in the polls has not dropped and they have continued to do well in local elections in the South East of England.
So resigning as Conservative MP for Clacton to fight a by-election for Ukip may not be so noble after all.

No, the noblest resignation in Farage's lifetimes is probably that of Bruce Douglas Mann, who appalled his fellow defectors by resigning as Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden to fight a by-election as an SDP Alliance candidate when he knew he would almost certainly lose.

It didn't take BBC1 long to ruin The Great British Bake Off



Do you blame Diana or Iain, asks a poll on the Shropshire Star website. For once my favourite paper has got it wrong. As Ruby Tandoh says, the people to blame are The Great British Bake Off's editors.

The move to BBC1 was always likely to prove a challenge to a programme based on niceness. That is one quality that bright young things on their way up in the world of television have no time for. There has to be edginess. Jeopardy. People have to go on a journey.

So it was that last night's episode was edited in such a way as to produce a wholly spurious controversy. The result is that Diana has withdrawn from the programme.

Nothing is real on television - Diana's withdrawal puzzles me because I thought the episodes were recorded well in advance - but the beauty of The Great British Bake Off was that it lulled us into forgetting that for an hour.

The editors have ruined exactly what it was that people liked about the programme. On what planet was making Iain bring that bin up to the judges' table an acceptable idea?

There is only one way to save the programme. The technical challenge in next week's programme should involve baking its stupid editors in a pie.

Douglas Carswell was never a Conservative

Paul Goodman (with whom I was at university some centuries ago) writes on Conservative Home:
Douglas Carswell has never, as far as I know, been a Tory – that’s to say, a believer that authority in Britain originates from its institutions: the Monarchy, Crown in Parliament, the Church of England. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always been not exactly a Whig but certainly a radical.
But then I said much the same on Liberal England two years ago:
Large parts of the Conservative Party now model their approach on that adopted in America. Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, for instance, two of the more thoughtful new members of the party's right, owe little to traditional British conservatism and take many of their ideas from American libertarian circles. Some of their less intellectual colleagues have merely adopted the paranoid tone of Tea Party campaigning.
To be honest, that isn't exactly what I said. Before cutting and pasting I had to correct a typo and two grammatical errors. But my argument was sound.

Plastic ducks cause A4042 hold-ups near Abergavenny

Thanks to a reader for nominating BBC News for my Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Steam and diesel at Shrewsbury in 1967



You can also watch a video of the former Great Western mainline from Birmingham Snow Hill to Shrewsbury in this era.

The homophobic monk of Market Harborough


Northampton has its clown: Market Harborough, it seems, has a homophobic monk.

The Leicester Mercury reports:
A man dressed in a monk’s habit has posted “vile” homophobic leaflets through doors in Leicestershire. 
Police have launched a hate crime investigation into the incident, which happened on Tuesday afternoon in part of Market Harborough. 
Several people have complained about the leaflets which claimed homosexuality was a sin, immoral, a pathological condition and the work of “the Devil”. 
It also claimed homosexuality was “directly linked to pagan idolatry and its attendant depravity” and that events such as Leicester Pride were “lewd occasions”.
The paper goes on to tell us:
The leaflets were delivered to homes in Granville Street, Bath Street, Nithsdale Avenue, Claxton Street and Northampton Road. 
One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “I saw the monk in Bath Street, followed by two angry people.”

A guide to the underside of Rotherham politics



Offering "robust scrutiny of all things political in and around Rotherham," the website Rotherham Politics is indispensable reading this week.

Its archives go back to 2008.

Happy eighth birthday to Liberal Democrat Voice

Stephen Tall tells us that today is Liberal Democrat Voice's eighth birthday. Many happy returns.

Looking through my own archives, I find that I was saying nice things about it as early as 14 September 2006:
Welcome and congratulations to Liberal Democrat Voice, which already seems to be establishing itself as the place for Lib Dem discussion on the net. Natural selection operates pretty ruthlessly there, so it is obviously doing a lot right.
And that remains true today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beat School (1961)



We should all be grateful to Sam Holler for tweeting this video. As he says: "Everything about this 1960s alternative school is delightful and hilarious. Best clip ever."

One mystery is where the school was. The commentary on the video says Burgess Hill in Hertfordshire, but I can find no such settlement.

There is a Burgess Hill in West Sussex, of course, and also an area of Hampstead with that name. Maybe it was in one of those? - someone may recognise the building.

As Dangerous Minds says:
Like the best of the British Pathe clips, this short clip on Burgess Hill Beat School leaves you wanting to know more. What happened to the school? Did the experiment of a Beat School work? What did these children grow up to do? Where are they now? It would make for an interesting documentary on BBC 4, and one hopes a dozen researchers are penning such a proposal right now.
We may be surprised at the outcome. The painter Augustus John's children were raised among bohemian squalor, but one of his sons insisted on being sent to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and ended up as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John.

Six of the Best 460

Viktor Orban
"Descriptions matter, I’m not saying they don’t – but when the politics of language pushes the rest aside, it seems to me that what it does most of all is remind us of our own powerlessness." David Boyle discusses the absence of big issues from today's politics.

Ian Ridley on why he still wants to see a change of Liberal Democrat leader.

"To be black and interact with the police is a scary thing. The fear doesn't have to come from any kind of historical antagonism, which, trust me, would be enough; it can also come from many data points of personal experience, collected over time. Almost all black men have these close-call-style stories, and we collect and mostly keep them to ourselves until one of us is killed." Lanre Akinsiku writes on the experience of being a young Black man in America for Gawker.

Amy Brouillette on Foreign Policy explains why Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has transformed himself from a dissident compatriot of Vaclav Havel to a would-be Vladimir Putin.

Atlas Obscura takes us on a tour of the secret libraries of London.

"On that day, almost 35,000 Allied soldiers landed at Kiska ready to overpower the Japanese. As they stormed the beaches, braced for heavy casualties, they noticed something unexpected: No one was fighting back." Ella Morton on Slate reveals the strange wartime history of an Aleutians island.

The guardian of the Jordan would have got his paws wet


A couple of days ago I posted a photograph of a cat sitting on the stones at the mouth of the River Jordan.

This is a photo of the same spot after two days of rain. (It also shows the larger River Welland and the railway bridge over it.) The guardian of the Jordan would have got his paws wet if he had tried it today.

Still, I am pleased to have met the Jordan's genius loci.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Girl guides ‘accidentally plant deadly flowers’ in Royal Wootton Bassett park



Metro wins Headline of the Day.

How England can win the cricket world cup

As the rain fell at Bristol this morning, Vic Marks, Michael Vaughan and Graeme Swann explained what is wrong with England's approach to one-day internationals and what can do to put it right.

It is riveting listening for any cricket fan, so catch the podcast of it on the Test Match Special website before it disappears. You have a week.

If you reading this after it has gone, let me recommend Down at Third Man. I suspect the Squire will agree with the pundits' prescription.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Farewell to Sir Richard Attenborough



Sir Richard Attenborough, a great son of Leicester, has died at the age of 90.

One of his best performances was as Pinkie in the Boulting Brothers' 1947 film of Brighton Rock.

Scrap Thought for the Day and bring back Compline

I have been listening to Radio Four's Thought for the Day for decades, and in all that time (leaving aside a few jokes from Rabbi Blue) there has been only one of these homilies that was worth listening to.

It was by, I think, Rosemary Hartill, who was then the BBC's religious affairs correspondent. She spoke of the tedium of assemblies in secondary schools and of keeping your eyes open to show you did not believe a word of it. Most of us have been there.

If religion in secondary school was a New Testament affair, then at primary school it was very much an Old Testament affair. God was a god of vengeance who might just conceivably take your side against the headmistress. Most of us have been there too.

But apart from that, Thought for the Day is remarkably unmemorable. I can't imagine it has anything to say to most believers. It certainly has nothing to say to this wistful unbeliever.

Radio Four used to have a programme that did speak to me. Every Sunday evening it broadcast the order of Compline, sung by the BBC singers.

The plainchant was moving in itself, and the words...!
Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour : whom resist, stedfast in the faith.
You don't get stuff like that on Thought for the Day.

So my proposal is that Radio Four should scrap thought for the day and bring back Compline on Sunday evenings. As each takes 15 minutes, it is rather an elegant proposal.

The central problem with Thought for the Day is that the contributors have nothing much to say. And somewhere there too is the mistaken idea that, if only Christians took away all the poetry and bells and smells and mumbo jumbo and poetry, then what would be left would be reason and everyone would belief.

But, of course, the central problems for Christians is that their creed is not true and it is only the poetry that makes it appeal.

As Gregory Bateson pointed out in the 1960s, Roman Catholics gave up conducting its services in Latin just at the point that young people took up chanting in Sanskrit.

The SNP's ludicrous position on a currency for Scotland

I can think of two good positions Scottish nationalists could adopt on the currency their country should have after independence.

They could say that Scotland would be a prosperous country in its own right and have its own successful currency.

Or they could say that Scotland would be a modern European nation and naturally adopt the Euro as its currency.

Though I distrust nationalism as a political philosophy, I can see the appeal in both these arguments.

I can see no appeal in the Scottish government's position that it would adopt the UK pound as its currency after independence.

Yes, it could do that: a number of Central American banana republics use the US dollar without any official sanction from Washington. But I do not see them as a promising model for a newly independent Scotland.

The idea that Scotland will use the pound smacks of the sort of inferiority complex that independence should be intended to overcome. It reminds me of a young child insisting on trailing along with an older brother and his friends: "You can't stop me and if you try I will tell Mum on you."

As long as the SNP holds to this position, I shall conclude that, deep down, they do not really want independence but would rather taunt the English.

A cat guards the mouth of the River Jordan


Regular readers will know that Little Bowden's River Jordan can sometimes be a mighty torrent - just look at the damage it can do.

This evening, however, it had dwindled to a trickle and this black cat took advantage of the fact to sit on the stones in its course just before it enters the Welland by Market Harborough station.

Kate Bush: Moving



As I wrote yesterday of my love for Kate Bush's first LP The Kick Inside, here is the first track from it - whale song and all.

Two other tracks from the album - The Man with the Child in his Eyes and The Kick Inside - have featured here before.

This performance of Moving at the Hammersmith Odeon is taken from 1979 and her (until Tuesday) only concert tour.

Waiting 35 years makes the build up to the new Doctor Who look a bit tame, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kate Bush and the acceleration of time as you grow older



Having watched the BBC documentary on Kate Bush last night, I naturally called in at HMV in Leicester on the way back from visiting my mother in hospital to buy a copy of her 50 Words for Snow.

I got talking with the young man on the till.

He asked if I had seen the documentary. I said I had, but that for me her first LP would always be the most important.

"Was that 1979?"

"No," I said, "1978."

In fact, as I could have told him, it was February 1978.

For a few years in your teens, every month feels different and you are acutely aware of changing trends and fashions.

My misfortune was that, for me, the years when this was true for me coincided with the reign of glam rock in the singles chart and then that odd period when we listened to novelty hits like Kung Fu Fighting and waited impatiently for punk.

I know most hits from the 1980s, but because this was my decade of political activism, I know them from the pub after canvassing or council meetings. So I can struggle to tell you what they are called.

After that it is all a blur and it is hard to know which decade a song come from.

But for a few years in the Seventies I was cool, even if the singles chart was not.

Demolition of the New Walk Centre, Leicester


In December 2011 Sir Peter Soulsby told BBC Radio Leicester that the New Walk Centre, which housed the City Council's offices, was to be demolished.

In that post I quoted a demolition expert as saying that the roads surrounding the offices could be partially shut for up to five months while the two blocks are demolished.

I passed the New Walk Centre today. Council staff have long since been decanted to different buildings across the city and demolition work has begun, but so far, though the site is boarded off, you can still use all the streets that surround it.

Sparks in the 1970s



Now listen to This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Six of the Best 459

David Higgerson rightly criticises the Local Government Association for its press campaign rubbishing freedom of information legislation.

Moscow dreamt of transforming southeastern Ukraine into a client state, but the Kremlin's plans are fraying as Kiev pushes back, says Anna Nemtsova on Foreign Policy.

"I really fear that higher education is moving down a slippery slope where the fetish for the best ratings and indicators ensures that we merely hold student’s hands, rather than ignite interest in their own studies," says Alister Scott on The Conversation.

Dave Cooper writes on Echoes of the Past about falling in love with Kate Bush at the age of 5: "Usually my pocket money was spent entirely on sweets or an occasional ice lolly, but I didn't mind in the least that the last month's worth of accrued funds were all spent on a record instead - after all, it was the Angel Lady. This probably set an important precedent for me, as the vast majority of my 'pocket money' has been spent on music ever since."

The Beatles want to sexually hypnotise you into Communism, warns Amber Frost on Dangerous Minds.

"What gives this book staying power is the fact that it inspired better books by later authors, and that it is the first to set out the post-apocalyptic coming-of-age formula that still defines much of the genre more than a century later." The Finch & Pea on After London by Richard Jefferies - "the first modern post-apocalypse novel".

Baby penguin at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre is back on its feet thanks to special trousers

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to York's The Press.

Broad Street station, London



Looking at this photo, it is remarkable that this forgotten London terminus survived for another 14 years after it was taken in 1972.

I can remember, on a summer Saturday in 1983 or 1984, being the only passenger on a train when it arrived here.