Thursday, May 28, 2015

Secrets Of The Overground part 1

"In this video (the first of two parts) we find a one-a-day train, an abandoned curve of track which could be re-instated, a disused viaduct, and show you where on the Overground you can pass through Zone 1 and not be charged for it."

Could a Devon and Cornwall XI become the 19th first-class county?

When people talk of reform of cricket's County Championship they normally have one thing in mind: a reduction in the number of first-class counties.

As Leicestershire and Northamptonshire would be prime candidates for a cull, this makes me nervous. (My house is in Leicestershire, but was in Northamptonshire when it was built.)

So it is good to read this article by Tim Wigmore:
ECB discussions about whether the County Championship could be extended to include 21 teams in three divisions of seven have stirred the interest of Ireland and Scotland, who are eager to consider any opportunities to join England and Wales' professional system. But even if agreements could be reached with both countries the ECB would still need to find a 21st Championship team - and that would mean persuading a Minor County to put their suspicions behind them and take the plunge. 
Twenty-three years after Durham became the 18th first-class county there might now be an opportunity for another minor county - or even two or three - to be elevated. The ECB's chairman Colin Graves is known to be intrigued about whether a national pyramid‎ is possible of the sort that broke down football's closed shop when the re-election system that largely protected the status quo was finally abandoned in 1986. 
The mood in cricket is much more conservative, with a number of leading minor counties doubting their potential to join the County Championship, but if the ECB take that route they could find salvation in the furthest south-west of the country where Cornwall and Devon officials believe they could potentially combine to field a joint side.
I am all in favour of the idea, and the parallels with Durham are encouraging. They may have started with ageing players brought in from other counties, but they soon started fielding quality young players born and bred in the county.

Today they are one of the strongest county teams and Chester-le-Street hosts tests.

When David Cameron crawled to Sepp Blatter

A news report from 2010, when England was bidding to host the 2018 World Cup.

Badger creeps through cat flap, opens fridge and steals Bakewell tart

And still they come. Metro wins Headline of the Day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Robert Herrick and Richard III

One of my favourite posts on this blog is one I wrote in June 2012. It ended:
And, somewhere under the paving stones, the body of Richard III may well be close by.
It did, and on 4 September 2012 they found it. Yet when I wrote those words I did not know that a dig was even planned.

As that post explains, the site of the monastery where Richard was buried was later occupied by a house and garden belonging to one of Leicester's leading citizens, Robert Herrick.

I have wondered ever since whether that Robert Herrick was related to the poet Robert Herrick.

After hearing a guide take a party round Leicester Cathedral on Saturday and chatting to her afterwards, I now know that Robert Herrick of Leicester was the uncle of the poet.

Take it away, nephew:
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

Flags lowered to half mast in memory of duck who lived for 25 years in Compton Martin pond

The Bristol Post waddles away with Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Disused railway stations in Shropshire

We had to reach Shropshire eventually.

Along the way we have visited Devon, Bedfordshire, North LincolnshireEast Sussex, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, CumbriaCambridgeshire, KentLincolnshireCornwallRutland and Northumberland.

Six of the Best 513

"Britain's main liberal party is probably about to elect an evangelical Christian as its leader. If you're someone who follows US politics, you may want to read that sentence back a couple of times to check you got it right." Christian Today on Tim Farron's faith and politics.

Martin Petts is supporting Tim, but he wants to see a second leadership election soon - one where the candidates do not have to be MPs.

"There was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden - love him or hate him - had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least 'translucency' and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary." Duncan Campbell reports from the Ditchley House conference on intelligence, security and privacy.

Jonathan Freedland pays tribute to Tony Judt.

Spitalfields Life photographs some of the area's buildings, 40 years after Dan Cruickshank led a campaign to save them.

The Leicester Mercury has a feature on the city's lost railway stations.

Seven MPs elected at the 1955 general election are still with us

Today is the 60th anniversary of the 1955 general election, won by the Conservatives under Anthony Eden.

The BBC Politics channel has announced that it will be showing the results programme this evening (though it is currently showing a live feed from Stormont).

Discussion on Twitter day seems to have concluded that seven MPs elected in 1955 are still with us:
John Eden (the nephew of Anthony Eden) and James Ramsden were already MPs, having both been elected at byelections the previous year.

Robin Chichester-Clark was one of the few members representing a Northern Ireland constituency to be a British government minister since the Government of Ireland Act 1920 - his PPS was Norman Tebbit.

When he was elected Tom Mitchell was serving a sentence in HM Prison Belfast following an IRA raid on British Army barracks in Omagh, County Tyrone.

Thanks in particular to @ConHistGrp and @AmIRightSir on Twitter.

Police investigating Greville Janner seized film and videos

From today's Leicester Mercury:
Leicestershire Police has made its first move in its legal bid to overturn a decision to not put Greville Janner on trial for alleged sexual abuse of children. 
The force today wrote to the director of public prosecutions, (DPP), – who last month ruled out taking action against the 86-year-old peer because of his ill-health – to explain why it believes the allegations should be tested in court. 
The DPP, Alison Saunders, has 14 days to respond to the force's submission and to say whether she intends to reverse or stick by her decision. 
In a statement issued this morning, the force said: "Subject to her response, the force reserves its right to seek a judicial review of the decision.
The report goes on to give details of the investigation of the allegations against Greville Janner (which he and his family deny):
Last month, Leicestershire Police revealed it had launched an investigation, codenamed Operation Enamel, in 2013 and traced 25 people who allege that they were sexually abused by the former Labour MP for Leicester West as long ago as 1970. 
Officers spoke to more than 2,000 people and took 442 statements. 
About 600 items seized as part of the investigation included cine film and videos, police said.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Vanished Leicester: Trinity Church School, Regent Road

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The University of Leicester Special Collections say this building was in Regent Street, but I suspect it occupied the corner of Regent Road and Duke Street.

The photograph was taken in 1971.

Time for the Liberal Democrats to end their obsession with raising the personal allowance

When Gordon Brown was still prime minister, the Liberal Democrat emphasis on raising the personal allowance served us well.

As I once blogged:
One of the problems Labour regularly runs into is that, despite its rhetoric, it is difficult to make the rich pay more. Of course, there are things you can do, such as taxing property rather than income, but the result is that increased public spending tends to increase the burden on lower earners until they become unwilling to bear it.
But time has moved on - I suspect it had already moved when I wrote that in 2012 - and I do not think this flagship policy serves us well today.

First a minor point. Raising the personal allowance is only a mechanism and a crude one at that. It does lighten the burden  on low-earning taxpayers, but it also lightens the burden on high-earning taxpayers. Even if reducing the tax burden on the low-paid remains your aim, you should be open to the possibility of their being a more effective or elegant way of achieving it.

But there is a deeper problem with tax cuts. As soon as the Coalition was formed the Lib Dems accepted the Conservative narrative. Britain's economy was in danger of going the same way as Greece because public spending was too high.

Once we had accepted the need for severe austerity, raising the personal allowance was in danger of looking nonsensical. Governments afraid of going the way of Greece because of the public-sector deficit do not tax cuts: they increase them. Just ask the people of Greece. The old and the new Liberal Democrat economic stories did not fit together.

Finally, this policy does not fit with the new realities of life the Liberal Democrats. It is hard to see a short-term  future for us that does not include a great deal of local campaigning, and those campaigns are bound to involve standing up for local services against cuts in central government funding. (Remember the worst of such cuts are yet to be felt.)

If we are calling for more public spending locally, then calling for lower taxes at Westminster would stretch even out reputation for saying different things to different audiences.

So it's time for some new Liberal Democrat thinking on the economy.

Buskers 'face £1,000 fine for not smiling' under new town centre protection order

The Evening Standard wins our Headline of the Day Award for this account of developments in Oxford.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The making of The Singing Detective

Lyndon Davies played the young Philip Marlowe in The Singing Detective with a heartbreaking shaved-above-the-ears haircut.

He went on to enjoy an acting career for a while on the strength of it, notably in the Sharpe series of TV movies.

Here he remembers the making of the Dennis Potter series.

Later. And here is the finished scene from the final episode of The Singing Detective.

"He would come and show us magic tricks and tell us to make sure our parents voted for him"

As the Leicester Mercury reported on Friday, Peter Farrands, a former teacher and scout master who sexually abused two schoolboys, has been jailed for seven years.

One of the victims, Robert Gibb, has waived his anonymity:
The court heard Gibb eventually told the defendant to stop the abuse when he was 13, and told his parents who complained to the headmaster – but he dismissed the boy as a liar. 
The defendant, headmaster and scout commissioner then visited Mr Gibb's family. 
The defendant begged them to take the matter no further, saying his wife would leave him.
This is a sickening demonstration of how the authorities used to collude to cover up abuse.

Farrands' case has attracted interest because of speculation that he is somehow connected with Greville Janner, the former Leicester MP against whom allegations of abuse have been made. (He and his family have always denied them.)

According to the Daily Mirror:
A spokeswoman for Leicestershire police refused to be drawn on whether the case is linked to Operation Enamel, the investigation into the Labour peer. 
She said: "As Operation Enamel is an ongoing investigation we would not identify any parties involved – victims, witnesses or suspects."
Robert Gibb remembers Janner:
"He would come and show us magic tricks and tell us to make sure our parents voted for him. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but looking back now it doesn’t look good."

France Gall: Poupée de cire, poupée de son

While are heads are still full of Eurovision, here is one of the contest's more interesting winners.

"Poupée de cire, poupée de son" was the Luxembourg entry in 1965. It was written by Serge Gainsbourg, whose protégé Gall was.

Wikipedia is enlightening about the song:
As is common with Gainsbourg's lyrics, the words are filled with double meanings, wordplay, and puns. The title can be translated as "wax doll, rag doll" (a floppy doll stuffed with bran or chaff) or as "wax doll, sound doll" (with implications that Gall is a "singing doll" controlled by Gainsbourg). 
Sylvie Simmons wrote that the song is about "the ironies and incongruities inherent in baby pop"—that "the songs young people turn to for help in their first attempts at discovering what life and love are about are sung by people too young and inexperienced themselves to be of much assistance, and condemned by their celebrity to be unlikely to soon find out."
And if Gall is not securely in tune all the way through her winning performance, doesn't that just add to our sense of her as an ingénue?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The tomb of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

I decided to let the fuss die down before I paid my respects again to Richard III. Last time I saw him, on my birthday, his coffin was display in Leicester Cathedral.

Today I saw his tomb, which seems to me to get the balance between modernity and heritage just right, and to avoid canonising a controversial figure.

The Cathedral has been remodelled inside to give Richard prominence and it looks better as a result. It used to be rather compentalised but now feels spacious.

The building is a largely 19th century reconstruction of a medieval church, yet it looked remarkably attractive throughout the television coverage of Richard's burial.

And some pleasing Pagan touches have survived all this rebuilding and restoration.

Six of the Best 512

"Labour activists were receiving emails beseeching them to go and help in the marginal seat of South Ribble (which Labour failed to take) but choose instead to work their socks off in Southport where the only outcome which they could hope to achieve would be to reduce the Lib Dem vote and let the Tory in." Iain Brodie Browne takes Labour tribalism to task.

The floggings will continue until morale improves - or something like that. Caron Lindsay is rightly outraged by an email sent to the party's candidates straight after the debacle of 7 May.

Britain has resigned as a world power, says Fareed Zakaria.

Adam Gopnik explains the crumbling of America's infrastructure.

"What, then, took the gold out of British detective fiction? P.D. James points to the simple fact that the police got better at their job. Both she and Ruth Rendell, the two recently deceased queens of the genre, observed the fact by making their series heroes professional flatfoots." John Sutherland on the demise of amateur sleuth in crime fiction.

Jamie Ross pays tribute to Balustrade Lanyard, who died this week.

Cheating husband leaves mistress sex tape on North Yorkshire bus

York's The Press wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Which route was it? I hear you ask.

The Press reports:
The bag containing the evidence of his infidelity was left on a number 17 bus, a circular route from Scarborough town centre to nearby villages Eastfield and Osgodby.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Monkey on the car"

I had intended to write a post this evening laying out how the Liberal Democrats can recover their fortunes.

Instead I have posted this...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Down Street underground station

"Down Street is an abandoned station on the Piccadilly line, which TfL is considering opening up to the public. We got to explore it, one of the many 'ghost' stations on the network, discovering stairs that haven't been used for decades, a World War Two typing pool... and is that Winston Churchill's old bath?"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How tobacco firms woo parliamentarians

An investigation published by The British Medical Journal this evening looks at the way the tobacco industry seeks to influence parliamentarians.

It shows that, since 2010, 38 MPs - 29 Conservatives, eight Labour, and one independent - have accepted over £60,000 worth of tobacco industry hospitality, including tickets to the Chelsea flower show, high profile sporting events and rock concerts.

More than half of these MPs are from constituencies where the number of smoking related deaths exceeds the national average of 289 per 100,000.

Read the full report on the BMJ website.

Disused railway stations in Northumberland

If you like This Sort of Thing there's Devon, Bedfordshire, North LincolnshireEast Sussex, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, CumbriaCambridgeshire, KentLincolnshireCornwall and Rutland.


Yes, Rutland.

Confused peacock called Felix tries to squeeze through cat flap at Aberdeenshire house

The Herald wins Headline of the Day for this account of life in Inverurie.

Thanks to Jo Swinson on Twitter.

Happy Birthday John Stuart Mill

The great Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill was born in Rodney Street, Pentonville, on 20 May 1806.

To mark the day, let me point you to an article I wrote about the old boy for Liberator some years ago:
It seems we have become obsessed by Mill’s harm principle. Yet it is only a small part of On Liberty: the essence of that work is not concerned with curbing liberty at all but is a glorious hymn in favour of its expansion. 
Writing in Prospect magazine last year, Richard Reeves put it well: 
for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual. "He who lets the world… choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life. 
Or as The Levellers said more recently: "There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own."
As it was to turn out, Reeves was a very good Mill scholar but less skilled as a special adviser to Nick Clegg.

The Guardian praises Norman Lamb's record as a minister

Norman Lamb, says the Guardian's David Brindle, will go down in the annals of social care as a good, arguably very good, minister:
Once in post, Lamb threw himself into the role with gusto. He combined a heavy Westminster workload – not least ensuring passage of the watershed Care Act – with a remorseless programme of visits to observe care practice and engage with professionals, carers and people who use services. He always seemed accessible: approached by strangers on the train from his North Norfolk constituency to London, he would happily set aside his papers and chat. 
Ray James, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, says: “Norman combined insight and integrity to help ensure a landmark piece of social care legislation was delivered with people across the sector. The time he took to listen to those working at the frontline was always invaluable and appreciated. He can look back knowing that he made a difference.” 
One difference that Lamb undoubtedly made, or at least helped in no small part to make, was the greatly enhanced profile of mental health. Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, describes him as “a fantastic advocate” who was clearly passionate about the cause. “As minister, he was involved in a number of key drives to improve mental health services, from the crisis care concordat to the introduction of the first waiting times and access standards for mental health.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How we're priming some kids for college — and others for prison

Another talk from the TED site:
In the United States, two institutions guide teenagers on the journey to adulthood: college and prison. Sociologist Alice Goffman spent six years in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood and saw first-hand how teenagers of African-American and Latino backgrounds are funneled down the path to prison - sometimes starting with relatively minor infractions. In an impassioned talk she asks, "Why are we offering only handcuffs and jail time?"

What can the Liberal Democrats offer all those new members?

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.
Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne 

Back in 2008 the Liberal Democrats' Party Reform Commission, chaired by Christopher Bones, filed its report.

In his executive summary Bones wrote about how Liberal Democrat members saw their party:
membership was defined by one respondent to the Commission as joining a "leaflet delivery cult", by another as "just being asked for cash by Chris Rennard".
Later, in what has some claim to the greatest blog post ever written, Fred Carver took this analysis many steps further:
Campaigners have a strict uniform which consists of looking as scruffy as possible. In part this is to signify their indispensability (much as the U boat commanders of the Kriegsmarine did); in part this is because they spend half their life fixing broken printers. Campaigners are responsible for the electoral success of the party and, as such, look down upon anyone (such as researchers and candidates) who aren't. 
Campaigners also have nothing to do with policy and, as such, are looked down upon by anyone (such as researchers and candidates) who do. 
About half a campaigner’s job is logistical management – the basic strategy being to batter your electoral opponent into submission by sheer volume of literature. Thus the best campaigners are those that do not make the better the enemy of the good, and always prioritise quantity over quantity. 
The other half of a campaigner’s job is graphic design. For this reason most campaigners are terrible graphic designers. 
Campaigners work around 90 hours a week and there is a machismo culture around who can do the longest hours. Unsurprisingly Campaigners live on a diet of nicotine, alcohol, coffee, and anything with lots of sugar in it. Perhaps surprisingly Campaigners have not yet discovered crystal meth
I thought of these posts when I heard about all those new Liberal Democrat members - 13,000 and counting since the debacle of 7 May.

Some are old members rejoining, but most are new to the party. What do they expect to find when they join us?

A clue to the answer can be found in the survey of new members the party has published. As well as gathering demographic data, the party asked them what they would be interested in doing for or in the Liberal Democrats.

The most popular answer, beating 'Volunteering in your local area' into second place, was 'Helping make policy'.

Looking back at my post on the Bones Commission, I find that I had limited time for the idea that the party could change from the donation-and-leaflet-delivering model.

No doubt the fightback will involve a lot of traditional activism, but I hope it will not only involve that.

If the Liberal Democrats are to have a future - if we are to deserve a future - then it will not be enough to serve the community and exploit localised grievances. We must also have something coherent to say on important issues that face the country as a whole.

We are lucky in that there will be plenty of national campaigns for us to fight that will unite the party - support for membership of the European Union and opposition to the Snoopers' Charter are too obvious examples.

But there will be harder issues for us to tackle and we will need to be able to show potential supporters a clear and appealing Liberal approach to them.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
More and more mindless activism will not save the Liberal Democrats: we have to become a thinking party too.

Teenage boys who smoke cannabis end up four inches shorter

Metro wins our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Lord Bonkers adds: It seems my housemaster was right after all.