Sunday, December 31, 2006
The January Man
The January man he walks the road
In woollen coat and boots of leather
The February man still shakes the snow
From off his hair and blows his hands
The man of March he sees the Spring and
Wonders what the year will bring
And hopes for better weather
Through April rains the man comes down
To watch the birds come in to share the summer
The man of May stands very still
Watching the children dance away the day
In June the man inside the man is young
And wants to lend a hand
And grins at each new colour
And in July the man in cotton shirt
He sits and thinks on being idle
The August man in thousands take the road
To watch the sea and find the sun
September man is standing near
To saddle up another the year
And Autumn is his bridle
The man of new October takes the reins
And early frost is on his shoulder
The poor November man sees fire and rain
And snow and mist and wintery gale
December man looks through the snow
To let eleven brothers know
They’re all a little older
And the January man comes round again
In woollen coat and boots of leather
To take another turn and walk along the icy road he knows so well
For the January man is here for
Starting each and every year
Along the road for ever
After writing the item on football in Rutland I discovered that the Pukka Pies people are one of the major shareholders in Leicester City. That explains a lot.
You will often find me in New York, perhaps enjoying a Nick Harvey Wallbanger in one of Manhattan’s more exclusive bars. A few days ago I visited a club where the famed comedian Woody Allen has been known to appear and, sure enough, he turned up that evening. Some of you will be familiar with Allen’s work because our own Dr Evan Harris regularly recites one of his monologues word for word at the Glee Club. Funnily enough, Allen’s party piece consisted in a word for word recitation of one of Dr Harris’s Conference speeches. The audience joined in and a good time was had by all. Yet, was it just me, or did I gain the impression that my fellow revellers had heard this particular turn a little too often?
Catching up with business after my sojourn in America, I call in at Cowley Street to give Lord Rennard the benefit of my advice. Whilst there I pass the kitchen and find Miss Fearn busy rubbing in. She tells me that she is baking a cake for our erstwhile benefactor Mr Michael Brown. I reply that I find this a fitting gesture: if a chap stumps up a couple of million for your party, the least you can do when he finds himself in the jug is send him the occasional Genoa cake or Victoria sponge. Amongst the dried fruit and candied peel I notice a sturdy metal file: Miss Fearn has always been blessed with sound common sense and a warm heart.
A highlight of our party’s Conference are the early morning prayer meetings organised by the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. I seldom attend them myself, being occupied with the eggs and b at that hour, but those who do assure me that their outstanding feature is the virtuoso performance put in upon the organ by none other than our own Professor Webb. Hearing of this, I have long tried to persuade him to come to the Hall to play upon my own steam instrument, which was installed by my grandfather to mark the arrival of Gladstone’s first ministry. Webb finally accepted my invitation last week, and I have had men stoking the boilers ever since to ensure a fine head of steam. Whilst I tucked into the kedgeree this morning Webb serenaded me with a selection of favourites: "Kumbaya", "We Shall Overcome", "D’ye Ken John Peel?" and so forth. I had just requested "The Land" when a low rumbling noise was heard. I urged Webb to ignore it, and was waving my napkin in lieu of a ballot in my hand, when the organ exploded. Fortunately. no one was hurt, although Webb sported a blackened face when we finally dug him out of the wreckage. The result is that I have given up the day to telephoning for estimates to have the blessed contraption repaired.
The talk nowadays is all of "road pricing"; here in Rutland we have been doing it for years. It happens that in order to drive between our little nation’s two principal cities - Oakham and Uppingham - it is necessary to cross a narrow neck of the Bonkers Estate, and in order to dissuade people from undertaking unnecessary journeys, I levy a toll on each vehicle passing that way. I am not one to blow my own trumpet (as my regular readers will know), but I can claim to have been concerned about this global warming business for longer than most: after all, I have been charging a toll for years.
Perhaps because of my efforts to combat global warming, the day dawns cold and blustery; I therefore resolve to spend it in my Library amongst my papers. I soon turn up an old issue of the Radio Times carrying an article on the programme "I am Rather Well Known. May I Leave Now Please?" Though long forgotten, this was quite the thing in its day and frequently challenged "What’s My Line" and "Muffin the Mule" for pride of place in the ratings. IARWKMILNP (as it was popularly known) featured a number of celebrities of the day staying in a country house and suffering various indignities - an unsuitable choice of wine with the fish course, being obliged to go for a country walk when they would have been quite happy with the newspaper - to the amusement of the viewing millions. It was quite a coup when I was able to arrange for Clement Davies, then Liberal leader, to take part in the programme. That year the other contestants included such luminaries as Sherpa Tensing, Pat Smythe the show jumper, Gilbert Harding, Dame Anna Neagle and Wally Hammond. Unfortunately, poor Clement was voted out in the first round when the viewers‘ postcards were counted; I have always suspected low dealing from Muffin the Mule’s agent, as he had hoped that his client would take part. Nevertheless, our victory in the Torrington by-election came shortly after IARWKMILNP was shown, and I flatter myself that the show played no small part in it.
Association football is not what it was, what with all these foreign millionaires taking over. Chelsea is in the hands of a fellow called Abramovich who made his fortune buying and selling polonium; West Ham has just been purchased by an Icelandic biscuit magnate; Aston Villa has been sold to an American called "Randy Lerner" (what can the board have been thinking of?) In Rutland these matters are on a more stable footing, with the teams having remained in the control of the moguls of the pork pie and Stilton industries. This has done much for their financial stability over the years, though perhaps less for the players’ waistlines. So it is that today I travel to watch the Oakham Dynamos, only to see them soundly defeated.
I read that one of Blair’s confidants is feeling rather sore at being hauled in for questioning by the boys in blue and hopes to live to see the Prime Minister himself enjoying hospitality under similar circumstances. One of the best things about being the possessor of a well-established peerage is that one does not live in fear of Scotland Yard’s finest knocking on one’s door and demanding to know how one came by it. I am proud to say that my ancestor William de Bon Coeur came over with the Conqueror (even if some historians maintain that he was obliged to return to Normandy shortly afterwards).
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder.
Friday, December 29, 2006
I rhapsodised about A Canterbury Tale, complained about the sums the BBC was paying to Jonathan Ross and Chris Moyles and disclosed my 10 most overrated films.
A possible saviour of English cricket was glimpsed. We did not know then how much he would soon be needed. Meanwhile I questioned the validity of Charles Kennedy's attempt to present himself as a man of strong opinions who had been neutered by the system and exposed the connections between John Reid's authoritarianism and his youthful Communism.
A couple of Guardian articles got it wrong on race and the government's contortions over choice in education found it supporting sectarianism in Northern Ireland. I had an article on Charles Kennedy printed by the Guardian's Comment is Free.
PC Basha was in the news for no good reason, while I discovered the story of the first school shooting (a bombing in fact) and more of the history of Bonkers Hall.
This month saw the death of my stepfather, since when blogging has been lighter. Nevertheless, Lord Bonkers helped me out and there was the story of David James MP and the Loch Ness Monster.
A parent complained about a swearing teddy bear from Shropshire and I pointed out one of the reasons why England are losing in Australia. And there was always Lembit to cheer us up.
This blog is not without influence: on 6 January I wrote Charles Kennedy must resign and on 7 January Charles Kennedy resigns. I was also inspired by the travails of Oaten to write a survey of past Liberal scandals. By the time it appeared Simon Hughes was in the Mulligatawny too.
I explained why I voted for Chris Huhne as leader. Much good it did him, though nothing that has happened since has persuaded me that this was the wrong way to vote. Mostly, though, I was concerned with Miss Marple.
A new Lib Dem star was born. Not Ming, you booby, but Elspeth. Me? I questioned government support for elite athletes and visited the New Art Gallery, Walsall.
Badgers threatened democracy in Southend, I wrote about the first car bomb and the BBC showed The Lost World of Friese-Greene.
A full month: I contributed to The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze and wrote several postings on education - the best of them largely a quotation from John Stuart Mill. I also had a go at both Polly Toynbee and David Aaronovitch and recalled the lost hobby of MP spotting.
I discovered the unexpected educational history of David Lammy, helped in the Bromley by-election and might have been killed by the Shropshire Star.
Part 2 this way.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
"Now they are all on their knees",
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know",
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Today the fount of all useful knowledge says:
Liberal Democrat leaders in Mid Wales have called off a meeting with Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik over national publicity surrounding his personal life.Mind you:
In a statement, they said they were “fully satisfied” that the end of his relationship with TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd, and his new affair with Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia, was “entirely private”, and had “no political implications”.
But in Newtown, members of the public shouted “cheeky cheeky” at Mr Opik as he walked up Broad Street in the town centre yesterday.
Friday, December 22, 2006
He ends on a thoughtful note:
one wonders what Dickens would have made of the regular sight in London or New York of happy audiences leaving the movie theater after a seasonal showing of Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol and carefully stepping over the beggars on the sidewalk.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
When a woman donned the burka in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan she became just another blue sheet drifting through the streets, indistinguishable from all the other women; a nobody, a non-person, just as the Taliban desired it. But when a woman in Britain puts on the hijab or niqab or burka, she immediately stands out from the crowd and turns heads.
It is the Islamist equivalent of becoming a goth and going out in public with jet black hair and garish black make-up: you know people will gawp at you and wonder about you. That is partly why you do it. Those who claim that young British Muslims' penchant for putting on the veil shows the rising influence of radical Islamism, of outdated, archaic beliefs, are missing the point. The fashion for the veil is very contemporary indeed.
Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik is to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat officials following nationwide publicity surrounding the new love in his life.And adds a little ominously:
Increasingly people in Montgomeryshire have been voicing concern in recent months that their MP was making headlines in national newspapers for reasons other than his political work.My title, of course, is taken from the Cheeky Girls' classic "The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)".
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
But I am nothing next to Scott Murray in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Gloriously photographed by Larry Pizer and with an unforgettably haunting score from Georges Delerue, this film is near perfect. Bogarde has never been so compelling or sinister, a group of child actors never so uniformly stellar. Tender, bittersweet and unlikely to ever be forgotten, this is one of the finest films ever made.
I don't intend to stop writing this blog, but may not be able to post as often as I used to.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Carrying the banner
I was never a member of CND, even in its second heyday in the 1980s. But I did end up carrying the Richmond banner on a march.
That was because I had been out recruiting Liberal members. One charming family asked me in, offered me a sherry and, though they declined to join the party, made a donation. We fell to discussing the forthcoming march. I said that I had some sympathy for CND but did not support all its views. They convinced me that you didn’t have to like everything about an organisation to march with it. Kew was like that.
What worried me about CND then was its conviction that if Britain gave up its nuclear weapons we would set a moral example to the rest of the world. That attitude always seemed a leftover from the Empire. Britain getting rid of its weapons would not have made a blind bit of difference to anyone.
Which brings us to Monday’s statement on Trident by Tony Blair. I don’t buy the argument that Britain giving up its nuclear weapons will influence other nations. If I were the dictator of a rogue state – and I have had offers – determined to have nuclear weapons, I would not be influenced by what Britain did either way.
For Liberal Democrats there are two questions to be answered and our apparent new policy of cutting back the warheads and waiting to see what happens does not really engage with either of them.
The first is whether we think Trident too expensive because we see a greater need for troops and conventional weapons in the future. The answer to that depends on how we see Britain’s role in the world. Under Paddy Ashdown we were all in favour of intervention overseas to safeguard human rights. Now we are more sceptical.
The second question is whether we could sell that idea of unilateral nuclear disarmament to the British people. Blair certainly decided that it could not be done – he threw away his CND badge and invented New Labour. And it has been suggested to me that the working party that drew up our new policy on Trident was more afraid of the Daily Telegraph than Britain’s enemies.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Two-nil down, England must think about changing their team. Yet their next match is little better than a beer match - a two-day game in which an England Invitation XI will play another invitation team. And the England side will include three retired players: Alec Stewart, Robin Smith and Adam Hollioake. This is hardly a fixture calculated to give England's fringe players serious practice. And the picture was hardly better before the first test.
It didn't used to be like this. I have in front of me Mike Brearley's book on his 1978-9 tour of Australia when his side beat a weakened Australia 5-1. Before the first test that year England played four four-day matches and there were more later in the tour, including one against Western Australia in which England were bowled out for 144 and 126 but still won by 140 runs.
A few years later this was still the norm. Someone told the young Phil DeFreitas not to go on the tour simply for the experience but to try to force his way into the test team. He did try and succeeded, forming part of England's opening attack last time we won in Australia.
Quite how someone like Liam Plunkett could set himself to make the test team is hard to see. There are simply no serious matches for him to play in.
This is not a sinister Australian plot. It is just one more way in which commercialisation threatens to ruin sport. Which TV station wants to show England vs New South Wales when they could be televising another one-day international?
As we turn a corner into the road where he grew up with his parents, two brothers, two sisters and plenty of playmates, he recalls his childhood. "We knew all the neighbours and everybody looked out for one another," he saysThe whole article is in accord with the grazed knees and jumpers for goalposts ethos of this blog.
Most neighbourhoods are no longer like that, he admits, "which helps to explain why fear is spreading among adults about those children who are out on the streets, particularly the older ones. When I go on to estates, people complain about youngsters [but they are] doing nothing more than they themselves did at that age. Kids have always been noisy, just as teenagers have always 'hung around'. It only becomes frightening when you don't know them or their parents."
Rob was a stalwart of the old Liberal Party and, though I met him at the Lib Dem Conference a couple of years ago, I believe he is now a Liberal councillor in Kidderminster.
His name gave rise to one of Lord Bonkers' favourite birds - an honour it shares with the hamwee.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
As you would expect, there's lots of good stuff to enjoy. The Carnival also has a home page.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Now news reaches us that he has been resting since then with a stress fracture of his back. It doesn't sound too serious, but we hope the saviour of English cricket will be fully fit again soon.
We shall have to win back the Ashes in 2009.
Monday, December 04, 2006
To mark this anniversary, Tony Palmer's Prix Italia-winning documentary about Britten, "A Time There Was", has been released on DVD.
Digitally restored, it features a wealth of performance extracts and interviews with a host of Britten's friends and colleagues, including Leonard Bernstein, Imogen Holst, Janet Baker and Peter Pears, as well as his siblings, staff and Aldeburgh associates.
In today's Guardian she tells the Plain English Campaign what it can do with its Golden Bull award. She rightly argues that the campaign is guilty of ignorance and crude anti-intellectualism.
The last I heard a working party was drawing up a new policy to bring to FPC. Someone suggested to me that it was not clear from its proceedings whether the party was more worried about the threat from international terrorism or the threat from the Daily Telegraph.
Second, the performance of the Conservative benches in the Commons today showed that the party has learnt nothing from its error over the Iraq war. They seemed outraged that the Liberal Democrats were disagreeing with a Labour government - a strange position for a Conservative to hold.
Deep down the Conservatives still believe that this government is insufficiently pro-American and that one day the people will turn to them as a result. Yet I suspect that the voters who are going to desert Labour next time because Tony Blair has not been close enough to George W. Bush form a very select group.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
A relative of Labour icon Aneurin Bevan will fight his old seat as a Tory in next year's Welsh assembly election.
Great-great-nephew Thomas Goodhead, 24, an Oxford law student, will be Blaenau Gwent Conservative candidate in May.
Stephane Dion, a former environment minister who entered politics a decade ago to fight separatism in his native province of Quebec, won the Liberal Party of Canada's leadership race today.
Dion beat former Harvard University academic Michael Ignatieff, the race's front-runner throughout the nine-month campaign, on the fourth ballot.
Conservative leader David Cameron has told his party it must back his drive to modernise or face a fourth consecutive general election defeat.Obviously, Cameron feels obliged to play down the difficulty of the task he faces in bringing the Conservatives back to power. If he is to become prime minister, it is overwhelmingly likely that it will take him two elections to get there.
The really hard thing for him will be to avoid being knifed by his party after he loses the first of those elections.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Adam Ingram, the defence minister, had to defend British forces’ use of cluster bombs last week. Martin Caton, the Labour MP for Gower, used an adjournment debate to call on the government to support international moves to ban the weapons.
You can see why. A cluster bomb contains anything up to 2000 bomblets, many of which fail to explode at the time and can maim and kill civilians years afterwards. People are still dying in Vietnam from bombs dropped by the Americans. In Kosovo unexploded bomblets have caused more deaths than landmines. As many as 70 per cent of the bomblets dropped by Israel on Lebanon may have failed to explode, and Hezbullah used them against civilian targets in Israel too.
Ingram began by complaining about something Willie Rennie had said at prime minister’s questions. Willie had claimed that Ingram “strongly advocated” the use of cluster bombs.
Given the enthusiasm with which Ingram went on to defend their use, it is hard to see what he was complaining about. Besides, I doubt that Lib Dem MPs had forgotten his performance at the first defence questions of this new parliament.
Then Tim Farron had asked why the government was refusing to support a ban. In reply Ingram has asked where it would end. Did Farron want British troops to have no weapons at all?
If that doesn’t win this year’s Most Stupid Reply by a Minister Award there will be a stewards’ inquiry.
Ingram is not the most attractive figure on the government front bench. Thinking of him, it is hard not to remember the end of Animal Farm. You will recall there was a terrible row when Napoleon and Mr Pilkington simultaneously played the ace of spades: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Both must have looked like Adam Ingram.
And beyond his porcine qualities, Ingram’s performance in Caton’s adjournment debate tells us something important about the way this government has lost the plot. Once Labour ministers were photographed on the beach at party conference, taking part in the campaign against land mines.
Today they are opposing the same pressure groups by defending the use of cluster bombs.
Not that everything to do with teddy bears in Shropshire this is week is so amusing. On Monday the Merrythought factory in Ironbridge - Britain's answer to Steiff - closed down.
Storm over ’swearing’ toy
Bosses at a Shropshire toy-making factory have defended a talking teddy bear which a customer accused of swearing.
Supermarket giant Tesco pulled the bears from the shelves at one of its Midland megastores after a customer complained.
Tesco chiefs have been investigating the claim to ensure it was a one-off. But bosses at Telford-based Golden Bears are adamant the toy does not swear.