Friday, July 31, 2009

Ludlow Town Council back in the news

Things have gone quiet lately at this blog's favourite local authority. But Ludlow Town Council returned to the Shropshire Star today with the news that six current and former members have been cleared of breaching their code of conduct:

Their possible suspension was reported earlier this year, after a complaint that they had released confidential information to the press.

The tribunal heard all six had signed a statement condemning the “inappropriate management of public money by a member of staff at Ludlow Town Council”. They had also called for a police investigation.

Gary McKinnon: The passport as school uniform

Having a passport - and particularly a British passport - used to mean something:

Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
It said, in other words, "Don't mess with me. I've got the British government behind me."

These days it is hard to resist the impression that governments have more in common with each other than they do with their own people. Hence the enthusiasm for extradition, whether within Europe or across the Atlantic.

A passport now fulfils the function that school uniform once did. It tells the observer which authority they should complain to if they don't like your behaviour.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Should Nick Clegg stop being Mr Angry?

Any comment on the performance of a Liberal Democrat leader at prime minister's questions has to be prefaced with a recognition of just how hard the job is. Faced with a noisy, hostile house, and without a dispatch box to lean nonchalantly upon or much protection from the Speaker, it is close to impossible to shine.

Vince Cable scores with his lugubrious humour, but then he is not treated with the same lack of respect.

All that said, I wonder whether Nick Clegg's weekly display of synthetic anger has not reached its sell-by date. You may say that there is a lot to be angry about, but I am not sure that this approach is showing Nick to his best advantage - too often he threatens to topple over into petulance.

Nor does this punctual anger chime with the sober approach and limited ambitions of A Fresh Start for Britain.

The Economist article I quoted from earlier this evening begins by making a similar point:
Iconoclasm does not come easily to nice and privileged men: this seemed to be a lesson of Nick Clegg’s early efforts as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Staged parliamentary walkouts and other attempts to distinguish himself from the Conservatives’ David Cameron, the other well-scrubbed young leader on the opposition benches, were mocked as the work of a rookie trying too hard.
But it goes on to suggest that "Mr Clegg’s righteous ire should now be an asset".

I wonder. More light and shade, and a little humour, might show Nick to better effect. Perhaps he should try a new approach when the next parliamentary season opens?

Oswald Mosley in Market Harborough

Last Saturday I wrote about Market Harborough's home-grown Moseleyite candidate Noel Symington. But it seems that Mosley himself also visited the town.

I recently bought Mike Hutton's book Around Market Harborough Between the Wars. It is largely nostalgia porn - to which I am hugely susceptible - but there is also some interesting text.

Hutton writes:

There is no doubt that many among the upper class had a certain sympathy with Nazi Germany. A meeting held by Sir Oswald Moseley (sic), at the Assembly Rooms, suggests that the far-right policies also appealed to a far wider audience.

Some five hundred attended his firebrand address, given on behalf of the British Union and National Socialist Party. He spoke for almost two hours without interruption. The audience, who had paid 2s 6d on the door, were largely supportive. A heavy police contingent and a team of his own black-shirted henchmen ensured there was no trouble. Moseley (sic) left to long and enthusiastic applause.

This meeting took place in 1937.

The Economist on Nick Clegg

From the new Economist:
Mr Clegg influences politics in two ways that depend little on his party’s electoral showing, however. If the next election yields a hung parliament, the Lib Dems may enter government in coalition with either of the big parties. Even if they lose MPs (and many of their southern ones are vulnerable to the Tories), they need only hang on to third place for Mr Clegg to remain kingmaker-in-waiting.
This consideration doubtless plays a part in the government’s hints that it is pondering a referendum on a “fairer” voting system. The Lib Dems crave full-blown proportional representation but may decide the best chance of any reform lies with Labour.
Mr Clegg can also shift the political debate in his direction. His campaign on behalf of veteran Gurkhas, the Nepalese soldiers who serve Britain, forced a government u-turn in April. The decision of some Lib Dems to monitor police conduct during the G20 protests was seen as pretentious by many, but it was vindicated by events. Mr Clegg was also the first party leader to call for the resignation of Michael Martin, the former speaker of the House of Commons, who duly stood down in June.
His outrider status may prove as influential on matters of tax and spend. He has named government schemes he wants scrapped (baby bonds) or shrunk (the nuclear deterrent). The fiscal crisis may yet force the two big parties to be as specific.

Esther Rantzen launches her campaign in Luton South

Samuel Danks Waddy: An apology

In the last week's House Points I wrote that Samuel Danks Waddy was "MP for Barnstaple 1874-9, for Sheffield 1879-80 and for Edinburgh 1882-5".

I am afraid I short-changed him. If I had read my earlier posting on him properly I would have known that he was also MP for Brigg from 1886-94.

Sorry, Sam.

Space cheese lands in High Wycombe

The cheese that was unsuccessfully launched into space yesterday has fallen in Buckinghamshire.

The BBC reports:

The "interstellar cheddar" landed in Cressex - some 74 miles away - and was taken to High Wycombe police station on Wednesday night, the launch team said.

The wedge was still in one piece but the flight-recording camera had failed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Edwina Currie on Lembit Opik

Here.

Hansard 1909

The Croydonian has been running selections from the Hansard of 100 years ago. His latest trawl covers Dreadnoughts, Crete and condensed milk.

If you like that sort of thing, try the wit and wisdom of J.W. Logan from 1896 too.

Platform Souls by Nicholas Whittaker


In one of my much mourned (by me at least) columns for the New Statesman website I wrote that in a just world Nicholas Whittaker's Platform Souls would have done for trainspotting what Fever Pitch did for football.

The book was also a strong influence on Professor Strange when he gave his thoughts on trainspotting and autism.

I have just discovered that the whole of Platform Souls is available on the web, so you can enjoy it for yourself:

In December 1994 a man found guilty of stealing rare bird eggs was described by the prosecution as a kind of `railway spotter' - one more step in the demonisation process and a rather sinister one. It's one thing to make fun of a man for liking trains, but to use him as a stereotype for a criminal is surely dangerous.

The trouble is, people have never forgotten that Michael Sams, the infamous kidnapper/murderer, was a quiet man whose hobby was trainspotting. Such things sink into the collective subconscious and stay there...

Market Harborough on Sea

In Lord Bonkers' first ever Diary - or at least the first he dictated to me - there was the following entry:

Saturday

A quiet day at home dusting my library and worming the setters. My visit to Southport has led me to ponder the benefits that tourism can bring to a town. If all we hear of global warming and the threat to the ozone layer is true (although I have to say that we managed very well without one in my day, and who is to say that we were any the less happy for it?), soon much of Eastern England will be flooded and Market Harborough will awake one morning to find that it has become a seaside resort.

In preparation for this day, I urge a local councillor of my acquaintance to persuade the Council to build a pier and lay in a generous stock of peppermint rock. Perhaps the time has come when I should consider taking my Gladstone's Patent Gentleman's Bathing Suit out of its mothballs?

As ever, the old brute saw further than the rest of us. For yesterday there came a report from the Harborough Mail:

A trip to the seaside will be on offer in landlocked Harborough next week as a beach is brought to the town centre.

The Square will undergo a transformation next Wednesday as part of a big family fun day.

The Harborough By the Sea event is being held from 10am until 4pm and will feature sandcastle competitions and prizes for finding hidden treasure tokens in the sand.

Unfortunately I shall be too busy with the day job to take part, but I am sure Lord B will be there.

Vince Cable calls for big banks to be broken up

Sage words from the Lib Dem shadow chancellor on BBC Newsnight Scotland yesterday:

Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable has said large banks such as Lloyds and RBS should be broken up as they pose too great a risk to the taxpayer. ...

Mr Cable said it was unhealthy to have banks of that scale.

He said they should be split up before they are returned to private ownership.

He also criticised the combination of ordinary banking, such as business lending and mortgage payments, and so-called casino banking

"These two things should not co-exist in the same institution ....

"It is highly unstable. It means the British taxpayer is underwriting very dangerous high-risk activities, so for that reason alone they should be split up."

Why is the Labour government so timid when this is clearly what ought to be done?

Total Politics best blogs poll closes soon

Time is running out if you haven't yet voted in the Total Politics poll for 2009.

Here is a reminder of the rules:

You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).

Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.

You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com.

Only vote once.

Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.

Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.

All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

If you have your own blog, please do encourage your readers to take part. Last year, more than 80 blogs did so. We hope this year it will be far more than that. BUT, DO NOT list ten blogs you think your readers should vote for. Any duplicate voting of this nature will be disallowed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheese in space bid fails

From the Daily Mail:

"We think it's somewhere in the East of England - possibly in Essex or Hertfordshire", said Dom Lane, of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers' Group. "We wanted to take a photograph of a piece of cheddar floating majestically in the firmament with the curve of the Earth below it."

How Big Brother will end




Good news for those of us hope Western civilisation may yet be saved. The Guardian website reports that the current series of Big Brother is the least watched of any of its 10 seasons so far.

My hope is that the series will do so badly that Endemol, the company that produces it, will go out of business before it is over. This will leave the remaining housemates marooned, waiting for supplies of food that never arrive.

This way, Big Brother will end with starvation and cannibalism being beamed out to the world, but there will be no one left who is interested enough to watch it.

James Roberston Justice quiz: The winner

I had hoped to report the draw live from the Bonkers Arms again, but it turned out that it had already been booked by the local branch of the L. T. Hobhouse Appreciation Society. So we shall make do with posting the answers and the winner here.

Thank you to everyone who entered. First the answers.

You were asked to identify five films in which James Robertson Justice (JRJ) appeared:

1. A story of British heroism with a celebrated score by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Scott of the Antarctic

2. In this Ealing Comedy JRJ, spoke the great line: "It's a well-known medical fact that some men are born two drinks below par."

Whisky Galore!

3. This lesser-known Ealing Comedy starred a small boy called William Fox who grew up to be James Fox - and Billie Piper's father in law. (JRJ appeared under the pseudonym Seamus Mòr na Feusag.)

The Magnet

4. In this film JRJ asked "You - what's the bleeding time" and Dirk Bogarde replied "Ten past ten, sir."

Doctor in the House

5. A classic family musical that also featured Stanley Unwin, Max Wall and Benny Hill.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Most people got them right, though a couple insisted on squeezing The Guns of Navarone in somewhere.

The only obscure film among the five is The Magnet, one of the less celebrated Ealing comedies. You can watch the whole film on this website. It all seems rather twee now, but there are some fascinating shots of Liverpool and New Brighton in 1950.

James Robertson Justice makes a brief appearance early on as a tramp. He appeared as Seamus Mòr na Feusag (Big James with the beard) because he was a Labour candidate for North Angus and Mearns in the 1950 general election.

And now for the winner...

Robin Young

Congratulations to him and commiserations to everyone else who entered.

The good news is that I already have the prizes for my next quiz...

Farewell to Sybil the Downing Street cat

Sad news this evening: Alistair Darling's cat Sybil has died following a short illness.

As this blog showed back in 2007 she had black and white fur - a combination much favoured in the Darling family.

And at least she died a natural death, unlike Humphrey who was cruelly murdered by Cherie Blair.

Britblog Roundup 232

Now posted at Amused Cynicism.

James Robertson Justice has left the building





My latest quiz has now closed.

Thank you to everyone who entered. The winner will be announced on Liberal England this evening.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lord Lester: My GOAT hell

Lib Dem peer Anthony Lester has an article in tomorrow's Guardian about his unhappy period as an adviser to Jack Straw:

Apart from being unpaid and independent, none of my conditions of appointment was met. I and my gifted team worked with a junior minister, Michael Wills, and a team of able and loyal civil servants. I saw Straw rarely to discuss policy. I was not given some key papers in sufficient time to have an input.

I was never invited to attend a meeting across government departments, still less to attend a cabinet committee. My advice was received politely, but it was unacceptable to a conservative justice secretary preoccupied with the crisis in our prisons and tinkering with Lords reform.

Lost on Frog Island

I first visited Leicester at the age of 11 in 1971. We were on a family canal holiday (which was quite intrepid in those days) and had moored in the city one evening in what I now know to be the Frog Island area.

My mother and I set off for a walk. I seem to recall that she was distracted by the Saxon St Nicholas Church, but for whatever reason we became lost. It was a landscape of river and canal - the Grand Union and the Soar both run through Leicester, sometimes parallel, sometimes flowing into one another - of factory chimneys and railway viaducts.

Eventually we found a taxi office and described the pub and bridge where our boat was moored. The driver recognised it and took us back there.

I was back at Frog Island on Saturday - on the way from All Saints to the city farm. And it is a changed landscape.

The river and canal are still there, but the factories are largely derelict. And, if the picture to the right shows the pub where our boat was, that has closed too. Just down the road The Friar Tuck and The Old Robin Hood face one another across the street with boarded windows. Nothing Merry there.

And the railway has gone. It was the old Great Central route, which had lost its final passenger service (Nottingham Arkwright Street to Rugby Central) only a couple of years before. The website Great Central Railway Through Leicester documents its last days of operating and the subsequent demolition. If you like railway history the site is well worth exploring as there are photos of the line at Nottingham, Lutterworth and Rugby too.

I have worked in Leicester for the last 20 years. These days I seldom get lost there.

How will Nick Clegg sell the pupil premium?

The Liberal Democrat leader told the Independent the other day that at the next election "Our shopping list of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter".

One commitment that will survive:
His party's "unique selling point" will be education. So his plans to bring in a "pupil premium" to steer state support to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to cut class sizes are sacrosanct.
How unique a selling point education will prove at the election remains to be seen. Education spending has been central to the justification of the New Labour project and - come to think of it - Paddy Ashdown took it up with enthusiasm in the early years of his leadership 20 years ago.

For that reason the pupil premium is rapidly acquiring talismanic significance for the Lib Dems in general and for Nick Clegg's leadership in particular, not least because Nick otherwise fought quite a policy-free campaign when winning the party leadership.

So there are two important questions for the party to answer. What precisely is the party proposing and how we are going to sell it to the electorate.

These days others are far more versed in Lib Dem policy than I am, but I am now aware that we have set out a pupil premium scheme in any detail. The most substantial piece of work that Nick has produced is Learning From Europe: Lessons in Education, a pamphlet he wrote with Richard Grayson back in 2002.

I praised Learning from Europe during the past party leadership campaign:
It is not a rehearsal of Liberal Democrat pieties: it is realistic about the failings of our current system and open to new thinking, particularly - as the title suggests - from other European nations.
But the pamphlet does not amount to a fully worked out scheme or pretend to. It asks as many questions as it answers. Does anyone know of any work that has been done on the pupil premium since?

And then there is the question of how we will sell the pupil premium. In another newspaper interview, this one with the Guardian before last year's party conference, Nick said:
A special £2bn fund to target spending on the most disadvantaged children in schools through a pupil premium will be hard to sell to the middle classes, Clegg admits.
If you look at the enthusiastic way universities recruit overseas students because they pay higher fees, then it may well be that the pupil premium would encourage schools to recruit children from poorer backgrounds.

But what will happen if popular schools in leafy suburbs start excluding children from middle class families in order to take children from working class families who bring more funding with them? And, other things being equal, this is what would happen if the pupil premium were successful.

How would that play with parents in leafy, middle class suburbs? This matters because these are just the sort of areas which tend to elect Liberal Democrat MPs. It happens that Sheffield Hallam is a very good example of this kind of seat.

Perhaps the clue to an answer lies in the phrase "other things being equal". We need to change other things too. We need a wider choice of schools and of different kinds of school in particular. Only then will the only choice in education cease to be a stark one between a good school and a bad one.

But how are we to bring this wider range of different types of schools about?

Harry Potter beaten by guinea pigs

That J. K. Rowling has a weird imagination.

Anyway, congratulations to the Press Association for winning Headline of the Day.

Final call for James Robertson Justice quiz

My latest quiz closes at 23:59 tonight.

To be in with a chance of winning James Hogg's biography of James Robertson Justice (henceforth JRJ), identify these five films in which JRJ appeared and e-mail me the answers:

1. A story of British heroism with a celebrated score by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

2. In this Ealing Comedy JRJ, spoke the great line: "It's a well-known medical fact that some men are born two drinks below par."

3. This lesser-known Ealing Comedy starred a small boy called William Fox who grew up to be James Fox - and Billie Piper's father in law. (JRJ appeared under the pseudonym Seamus Mòr na Feusag.)

4. In this film JRJ asked "You - what's the bleeding time" and Dirk Bogarde replied "Ten past ten, sir."

5. A classic family musical that also featured Stanley Unwin, Max Wall and Benny Hill.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Norwich North was a triumph for Rennardism

There has been a lot of debate in the Lib Dem blogosphere about the our performance in the Norwich North and whether it represents the end of the road for Rennardism. By Rennardism is meant our traditional way of fighting by-elections: delivering colossal quantities of leaflets, playing up local causes and grievances... you know the sort of thing.

What the participants in that debate are missing is the fact that Norwich North was a triumph for Rennardism: it's just that it was not the Liberal Democrats who were using the technique.

First there was the quantity of paper delivered. On the day before polling Norfolk Blogger reported his estimate of how many pieces of literature the parties had delivered. Yes, the Liberal Democrats were leading, having put out 14 leaflets (with two of them being delivered by Freepost). But the Tories were only one leaflet behind (again with two going out by Freepost).

Then there was the content of the leaflets. Take a look at this polling day leaflet - again from the recently indispensable Norfolk Blogger...

Does it look familiar? I am sure I have delivered Liberal Democrat leaflets that are almost identical to this.

For years Liberals have talked of "community politics" as though it were a distinct ideology, but I wonder if we weren't kidding ourselves. Wasn't it just a set of techniques that any party can use?

Years ago I served on some cross-county committee with a Conservative councillor from Charnwood. In those days Charnwood Tories tended to be young, bright and hard-line Thatcherites. He told me that they all used the campaign guides from the Association of Liberal Councillors because they were the best.

And then there is localism. Political Betting has an informative posting and debate on the Liberal Democrats' recent performances in Westminster by-elections.

One comment from Ted is particularly to the point here:
One of the lessons the Conservatives took from Liberal/Lib Dem successes was to select early and get candidates to develop their constituency presence, supported by the noble Lord’s target seats financing. So Chloe had been campaigning already for 18 months. 
Oddly though the LDs have a policy of re-selecting for by-elections (in itself appearing as judgement on their poor original choice) while also making a point of localism, always attacking the likely rival on residence, job or something that will make them appear “other”. In April Pond they selected a candidate with Norwich connections but who was new to the constituency and open to the very attacks that usually mark a Lib Dem campaign. 
In Henley they selected Stephen Kearney, who had been very active as a Plymouth Lib Dem and kicked out a local woman candidate. In Crewe Elizabeth Shenton, a councillor ion Newcastle Under Lyme was chosen but yet the LDs attacked Timpson for living outside the constituency. 
The standard playbook does seem exhausted now - the rivals have learnt the lessons and how to counter-attack, there are alternative vehicles for protest.
So it is not that Rennardism was tried in Norwich and found wanting. It is more that the Tories implemented it more effectively than we did.

The truth is that the traditional Lib Dem by-election techniques are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. I have met candidates who believe that if you deliver enough leaflets and enough newspapers then you are bound to win a constituency. Yes, you do need to make that sort of effort, particularly as we are the third party nationally, but you also need a high profile in the press and in the community.

We also need some clear, distinctive and popular policies, which brings us back to the problems with A Fresh Start for Britain.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The Duckworth Lewis Method: Gentlemen and Players



This weekend finds England ahead in the Ashes series. In case this happy state of affairs doesn't continue, now is a good time to enjoy The Duckworth Lewis Method, seen here playing live at Tower Records, Dublin.

As The Times explained last month:
Neil Hannon, better known as the cerebral lead singer of the Divine Comedy, and Thomas Walsh, of the Irish band Pugwash, have just released the first pop album entirely devoted to the sport of cricket, to coincide with the start of the Ashes series. It contains one song that dissects a single ball bowled by Shane Warne. The album is called The Duckworth Lewis Method. It is barking mad, and brilliant.
I don't know about brilliant, but it is all great fun and this is one of the more immediately appealing tunes.
Two Irishman writing songs about cricket? Maybe it's not so surprising these days when England has developed a habit of poaching Ireland's best players.
And the same Times article explains:
Hannon is the son of a Northern Irish Protestant bishop and Walsh grew up in Catholic Dublin, where he painted stumps on the wall of the Kellogg’s factory by his house. “The local sport was hurling and they’d take your face off,” Walsh says. “It was just an excuse for controlled violence, so I took to cricket to be contrary.” A courageous move in Ireland at that time.

Brit Noir season in New York

Should you find yourself over in New York over the next few weeks, you may be interested in the Brit Noir season at Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street.

Maybe it's stretching a bit to call all these noir (why Tiger Bay and not Hunted?) but the stills on the webpage are great and a gratifyingly high proportion of these films star Eric Portman.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Labour MPs will force by-elections to drive Gordon Brown out

Or so the Mail on Sunday claims:

Well-placed sources say that a number of Labour MPs are prepared to sacrifice themselves as part of a 'guerrilla campaign' against the Prime Minister.

They include some older MPs who are prepared to bring forward their decision to retire at the next Election and others who believe they have been victimised by party chiefs over their expenses.

Will Labour eat itself?

More and more, Gordon Brown's determination to become leader without a contest looks like the decisive mistake of his career.

Gorse Hill City Farm, Leicester

Gorse Hill City Farm is a couple of miles from the centre of Leicester. I was there this afternoon...














John Barrett to stand down in Edinburgh West

John Barrett is to stand down as MP for Edinburgh West at the next election, announces The Scotsman (and lost of Lib Dem blogs too).

As a service to ambitious young activists attracted by "the second largest Lib Dem majority in the whole of the UK after Charles Kennedy," here is a good site for finding accommodation in Edinburgh.

All Saints, Leicester

There was a report in the Daily Telegraph last year saying that the Churches Conservation Trust blamed the urban road schemes of the 1960s and 1970s for the decline in congregations.

It quoted Crispin Truman, the Trust's chief executive, as saying:

"Dwindling congregations is often cited as the reason churches are closed, but they are actually being destroyed because planning authorities came up with thoughtless road schemes that physically cut them off from their communities," he said.

"We think about the disastrous impact 60s tower blocks have had on skylines, but we should think of these road schemes in the same way."

I am sure there is more to the decline of church going than that (and I am not sure about his grammar either), but he certainly has a point.

In Leicester the ring road cut off a number of churches from the city centre, and one of them has fallen out of use as a result.

All Saints, Leicester, is unusual in that it is an urban church looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. The Trust more usually takes care of churches in villages where there is not the wealth or interest to look after them.

The Trust's website describes All Saints thus:

Standing beside the main road from the north-west, All Saints is a large church and one of five surviving from the mediaeval town, with a tower intriguingly sited at its north-east corner. The fabric dates from the 12th to 19th centuries and includes a Norman west doorway, fine mediaeval roofs in both aisles and a chancel rebuilt in red brick in 1829. There are a number of interesting fittings and the richly carved circular font is 13th century.
I was passing All Saints today and found it open with someone on hand to talk to visitors. As he said, the fact that brick was being used in the early 19th century suggests that it was not a wealthy parish even then.

The chancel was closed off in the 1960s. It has since been partly converted into a kitchen and lavatories, but there is still a fine 18th century monument, complete with cherubs.

The nave was used for regular worship until the 1980s and remains consecrated. The occasional service still takes place, including an annual one on All Saints Day. There are some interesting furnishings that survived the four years between the end of regular services and the church being taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust.

My photograph shows the tower of All Saints rising above the neighbouring brick buildings.

Noel Symington and The Night Climbers of Cambridge

Two years ago Oleander Press republished The Night Climbers of Cambridge. The company's website describes it as follows:
The Night Climbers of Cambridge was first published in October 1937 with a second edition rapidly following in November of the same year. Reprinted in 1952, the book has since been unavailable and has built up a cult following with copies of either edition becoming increasingly rare. 
Authored under the pseudonym Whipplesnaith it recounts the courageous (or foolhardy) nocturnal exploits of a group of students climbing the ancient university and town buildings of Cambridge. 
These daring stegophilic feats, including such heights as the Fitzwilliam Museum and the venerable King's College Chapel, were recorded with prehistoric photographic paraphernalia carried aloft over battlements, up chimneys and down drain-pipes. The climbers all this while trying, with mixed results, to avoid detection by the 'Minions of Authority': university proctors, Bulldogs and, of course, the local 'Roberts'... 
The result is a fascinating, humorous and, at times, adrenalin-inducing adventure providing a rare glimpse into a side of Cambridge that has always been enshrouded by darkness.
It all sounds great fun. Such amusing young gentlemen!

The book has a blog and even a Twitter account devoted to it. More than that, you can find the full text of the 1953 edition online for free, and it is indeed hard to resist chapter titles like "South Face of Caius" and "Diagram of the Escape from Marks and Spencers".

The book is credited to "Whipplesnaith". Some sources suggest that it was the work of more than one hand, but all agree that the prime mover behind it was one Noel Howard Symington.

Symington is a familiar name to us here in Market Harborough.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries the family owned the two most important factories in the town. One made corsets and the other soups and other packet foods - there is a website that will tell you all about the Symington family's business ventures.

But the Symington family did have a black sheep. Noel Symington stood for Harborough in the 1950 as an independent Mosleyite candidate, winning 273 votes. In 1958 he was to produce the book "Return to Responsibility: A New Concept of the Case for Fascism in the Post-War World". The book was published by Earlibra of Market Harborough, a firm otherwise unknown to the literary world.

So are the author of The Night Climbers of Cambridge and Harborough's Mosleyite candidate the same person?

I was going to argue that they were, because two Noel Howard Symingtons would be too much of a coincidence. Then I found InsectNation, which confirmed my suspicion:
In the somewhat “heady” university atmosphere, I was not unduly surprised, in January ‘37, apparently on Wilfred Noyce’s recommendation, to be approached by a recent graduate of King’s college, Noel Symington who, while an undergraduate, had done some roof climbing, and had evolved the idea of producing a book based largely on flashlight photos of climbers in action on University buildings, and was looking for climbers to help put his idea into practice. 
I had never climbed buildings in daylight, let alone in the dark, but I was intrigued by the invitation, which I accepted, and soon began to help plan operations and to enlist further volunteers. 
Noel’s father owned the well-established firm of “Symington’s Soups” of Market Harborough, so sufficient funds were available to cover the quite considerable costs involved, due, particularly to the flashlight equipment required.
Besides Night Climbers and Return to Responsibility, Noel Symington did publish a third book. It was called A Drop of Water and was published by Wellandside (Photographics) Ltd of Market Harborough in 1970.

It begins as a work of philosophy, its short paragraphs perhaps influenced by Wittgenstein's Tractatus (though perhaps its content is less inspired):
Wherever we can, we try to indicate the wider setting with a capital letter. Do not raise your hat in awe to each new capital. The bath is flat; the ocean is Not Flat. A circle is round; a sphere is Round. This loses its awe if we say that a sphere is spherical, and it is also more exact. But we must say Round until we have a word for spherical.
Soon it turns into a strange sort of poetry book with numerous stanzas with only two or three words:
Strike two
tennis balls
with equal
forward velocity,
giving one
undercut, and
the other
top spin.
The ball
with top
spin will
strike the
ground first.
This effect
can only
come from
their rates
of rotation.
I bought my copy of A Drop of Water years ago at a secondhand furniture shop that also had a shelf of books from house clearances. I had always thought it purely of local interest, but now I could advertise it as "By the author of The Night Climbers of Cambridge".

Another reminder: James Robertson Justice quiz

Liberal England is currently running a quiz with a copy of James Hogg's biography of James Robertson Justice as a prize.

The questions are here and the quiz closes at 23:59 on Monday 27 July 2009.

Motorbar.com says of the book:

With a complete Filmography and eight pages of colour photographs and with black-and-white photographs throughout, James Robertson Justice: "What's the Bleeding Time?" is a superb biography that cele-brates the secret life and glittering career of one of British cinema's most recognisable personalities. As Ken Annakin says, in his Afterword:"…this book is a fine tribute".

Through detailed research and original interviews this biography un-ravels, for the first time, the myriad complexities of one of Britain's best-loved actors. Fully illustrated with over 100 rare photos, this 208-page book is a 'must-buy' for fans of classic British films and is packed with lots of information about the actor.

Tinchy Stryder and Norman Lamb

I am sure my readers all know who Tinchy Stryder is, but I had better point out that Norman Lamb is the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk.

Anyway, there is an article about their unlikely collaboration in this morning's Guardian:
Lamb ... is not the first parliamentarian to invite a rapper to the Commons, nor is he the first MP to express an opinion about British hip-hop: there was the former culture secretary, Kim Howells, who derided the briefly popular but trouble-prone So Solid Crew as "idiot macho rappers", while David Cameron managed to get himself embroiled in a slanging match with Lethal Bizzle over whether his lyrics glorified gun crime. But it is safe to say Lamb is the first MP to remortgage his home to finance a rapper's career.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Random thoughts on the Norwich North result

First of all, the result suggests that the scandal over MPs' expenses is already fading into memory.

The Conservatives, despite being as deeply mired as anyone else, had no difficulty winning the seat. More than that, Ian Gibson (who was deselected over his own claims) emerged as a popular hero amid widespread claims that he would have won if he had stood as an independent. And the most plausible anti-party candidate, Craig Murray, failed to make much of an impact.

The result was a triumph for the Conservatives, but it is hard to be too enthusiastic about their candidate. Chloe Smith, though she did her best to hide it, is a wonk from Conservative head office. She is a female Miliband. She even looks like a female Miliband.

Labour's performance was a disaster, reminding them uncomfortably of the days when they hardly held a seat south and east of that mythical line from the Severn to the Wash. By succumbing to swine flu their candidate made himself the embodiment of this government's decline.

The Liberal Democrats worked incredibly hard and could not quite manage to stand still. No doubt a longer campaign would have suited them and enabled them to overtake Labour, but we still need to have a long, hard think about what we now offer that could possibly excite the voters. A Fresh Start for Britain does not promise to be much help.

It was a good result for UKIP, suggesting that they will now be a presence in elections at all levels. I suspect they are mopping up a lot of disaffected traditional Labour voters at present, but in the long run this may pose a threat to the Conservatives.

The Greens will be disappointed by their showing. Could it be that, though everyone feels warm to them, being presented with Green policies in an election campaign puts people off them? Still they did win an impressive local by-election in Hove yesterday.

And the Libertarian Party put up an 18-year-old and got 36 votes. The revolution may have to be postponed.

John Ryan and Captain Pugwash

Ten years ago I was down in Rye - no doubt it was something to do with Malcolm Saville - and went into a bookshop there. I saw a display of Captain Pugwash books and told the owner how much I admired John Ryan's work. "He was in here five minutes ago," he replied, "you could have met him."

John Ryan died today aged 88. I am too young to recall Captain Pugwash's heyday: I discovered him as an adult through Ryan's picture books. But I do have fond memories of Sir Prancelot from the early 1970s.

Pugwash war revived in the 1990s. This was in the days when I did not have a television, but I did see an episode at someone else's house. The animation had been jazzed up and modern sensibilities had dictated that the Captain should have a Black crewman. But he was as stupid as the other pirates, so that was fine.

What did matter was that Tom the cabin boy had been given a voice. In the books (and, I believe the original television series, Tom was always the hero and always "said nothing"). Presumably in order to signal to the hoped-for American audience that Tom was a good character, he had an Irish accent.

One other thing has to be mentioned in connection with Captain Pugwash: the myth that the stories contained all sorts of obscenities. Seaman Stains, Master Bates, Roger the Cabin Boy... You know the sort of thing.

Snopes.com confirms that these stories are nonsense, suggesting that the jokes are far older than Pugwash. ("Pugwash" isn't rude either, incidentally.) It also quotes a Guardian apology from 1991:
In the Young Guardian of September 13 we stated that the Captain Pugwash cartoon series featured characters called Seaman Staines and Master Bates, and for that reason the series had never been repeated by the BBC. We accept that it is untrue that there ever were any such characters. Furthermore, the series continues to be shown on television and on video. We apologize to Mr. Ryan, the creator, writer and artist of the Captain Pugwash films and books. We have agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.
"Young" Guardian? "In the Young Guardian"? No wonder the country is in the state it is. Give our young the original Pugwash, not sniggering like this.

House Points: The Olympics, school choirs and Samuel Danks Waddy

Today's House Points arguable finds me a little demob happy. This is my last column of the parliamentary season.

Incidentally, when I was at primary school in Hemel Hempstead we sang for no one more eminent than Potten End Women's Institute. We got a good tea, though.

Bercow's big tent

Bad news from Olympic questions on Monday: Tessa Jowell is talking about “investment” again. And we all know what that means under Labour.

This time the government is making good the shortfall in private sector contributions to the media centre and athletes’ village. It all comes out of the contingency fund, apparently, so it doesn’t really count.

Still, if anyone can make a mess of selling property in London – assuming it will be possible to sell houses again by the time the Games have taken place – it is national government.

A clue to the mind-set of those putting on the Olympics came in a Spectator diary written a few weeks ago by Roger Mosey, the man in charge of the BBC’s preparations. He blithely wrote: “£9bn is a lot of money, but the government is offering £220bn of gilts to cover our debt in this financial year alone.”

So spending £220bn on bailing out the banks means we need worry less about the cost of the Olympics? If they gave medals for bending logic....

******

John Bercow passed one early test. As part of the campaign against water companies’ higher charges on community groups for surface water drainage, some brave soul decided to bring 100 cub scouts to Westminster. But the Commons authorities said no because cubs are too young to vote. Bercow lifted this ban and allowed them to meet in Westminster Hall.

On Monday we learned of a new challenge. For the past four years school choirs from Hemel Hempstead have entertained MPs, and staff over lunch in the run-up to Christmas. In future, says the local MP, this will be banned as it inconveniences people.

Youth groups in Hemel are having a bad run. Last Christmas a shopping centre banned Brownies from carol singing because they are a “fire hazard”. Yet I know of no evidence they are any more flammable than the rest of us.

Mr Speaker should overturn this ban too.

******

This has been a depressing political season, but Liberal history always cheers me up. In recent days I have become interested in a gentleman who was MP for Barnstaple 1874-9, for Sheffield 1879-80 and for Edinburgh 1882-5.

The reason he makes me so cheerful?

It’s his name: Samuel Danks Waddy.

CCTV cameras in school lavatories

There has been a row this week over the decision of a school in Norwich to install CCTV cameras to monitor the sink area in the lavatories.

The Times reported that:
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights organisation Liberty, said that the measure would serve only to prepare children for a lifetime of intrusive surveillance.
I reported similar concerns in 2007 over a school that was taking children's fingerprints. The headmaster defended the practice on the grounds that it was "preparing pupils for a world in which terrorism was rife, and their privacy would be further invaded".

The defence offered by the head in Norwich is equally striking. Len Holman, the head of Angel Road Junior School, said that pupils had requested the cameras.

At one time the fact that an idea had been put forward by children would have been a reason for adults to reconsider it. Now it is taken as a knock-down argument in its favour. Odd.

Rural Britain stripped of all services

Later. Looking for Bishop's Castle dial-a-ride? Try 01588 638350.

Writing on the New Statesman website last year I declared:
Rural England has been laid waste by the rich. Just look at the names of their houses: The Old Rectory. The Old Bakehouse. The Old Red Lion.
Last week I had dinner with a company director who had just moved from The Old Stables to The Old Watermill.
Somewhere behind this façade - Marie Antoinette’s play dairy brought to the market by Kirsty Allsopp - is a smokier, more productive landscape. And I am determined to see it peopled again.
Since then the process has only got worse.

At the start of the month the Shropshire Star published a sad article looking at how the villages affected are getting on a year after the closure of 13 rural post offices. The place names are an incantation to me:
Lydbury North has been replaced by an outreach service. These skeleton services are run by people like Brian Simmonds, postmaster at Pontesbury, who travels around local village halls and even people’s houses, plugging in his portable equipment.
Brian himself runs outreach services in Worthen, Wentnor, Stiperstones, Marton and Acton Burnell, where it has been a year of change for the post office and its users.
Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury, is the unique position of being a tiny village but with almost 400 international students on the doorstep from Concord College.
Postmistress Rose Jackson says: “It’s very frustrating, I’ve had to turn business away. I cannot do packages over 6kg and students have got to get a taxi into Shrewsbury to send one. The amount of things I can’t do – foreign currency, insurance packages, I cannot sell postal orders and I cannot accept payment by cheque. I can’t even do fishing licences which we used to do a lot of.”
A year on, Rose now views the post office as “doing a service to the community” and that the scaling back of the service was “not well thought out”.
In some places the effect has been far worse:
Better than nothing’ might be the mantra of communities that at least offer some post office services, but the repercussions of closures are being severely felt 12 months on for the likes of Pam Jennings.
After 27 years, her post office in Aston on Clun was closed on August 18, 2008, a date that sticks in her head as the beginning of a slow decline in her other business – her shop.
“One without the other – a shop without a post office – is hopeless,” says Pam indicating an empty shelf that was once a busy counter.
“People would come in and spend money in the shop, or come in and spend money at the post office. I could still do trade because people come in with parcels and say ‘I thought you were still a post office’. But it’s hopeless. We used to be open 9am to 5.30pm five days a week plus Saturdays. Now I close the shop at lunchtime, but I might close altogether soon.”
Now comes news that many of the bus services in south Shropshire have disappeared. Yesterday the Star reported:
Three Shropshire bus services were ending today after last-ditch negotiations to save them failed. The routes were commercial services operated by Horrocks bus company.
The firm said at the beginning of July it could not make them viable.
The withdrawal of the 860, 773 and 745 routes means there is now no bus service from Bishop’s Castle to Wellington and no service from Bishop’s Castle and Clun to Newtown or Ludlow.
Residents appealed to Shropshire Council to subsidise the service, but discussions between Horrocks and the council failed to find a solution.
Resident Margaret Wilson described the move as “ridiculous”. She said that the services were “very popular” and regularly used with a lot of local people.
Which leaves no buses from Clun at all, apart from the weekend shuttle service for walkers.

So how are the poor, the elderly and those without cars meant to survive in rural England? Soon it will be nothing but a playground for the rich.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Fresh Start for Britain smells a little stale

Last night I fully intended to write a post on A Fresh Start for Britain. The trouble is that reading it - or as much of it as you are allowed to read on the website without sending in your email address - left me feeling uninspired.

And reading Nick Clegg's interview in the Independent left me terminally uninspired.

Of course, Nick is right to say that the economic crisis means that whoever wins the next election will have to cut public spending sharply. In fact, I suspect they will have to cut it more sharply than most commentators have begun to grasp.

But I was deeply puzzled to read that:

Mr Clegg issued a wake-up call to a party which has traditionally had a long shopping list of policies but been less convincing about how it would pay for them. Such an approach was fine for "an era of plenty", he argued, but would no longer carry conviction in times of "austerity".
Puzzled, because this is the complete reverse of the truth. At recent elections the Liberal Democrat manifesto has been scrupulously costed. Like Alex Wilcock I shall be charitable and assume that Nick is having words put into his mouth here.

But what depressed me was that from reading neither the interview nor the Fresh Start was it possible to gain an idea of who the Liberal Democrats think they will appeal to at the next election.

What about students? We won a several university seats at the last election and hope to win several more. But the pledge on abolishing tuition fees appears to be one of those headed for the party's back burner.

What about pensioners? At the last election much of our campaign seemed to be aimed at them, even though (as Simon Titley once pointed out in a Liberator article I cannot locate at present) the Lib Dems do worse among them than any other group. Now, free personal care and a higher basic state pension are headed for that crowded back burner too.

Maybe this is taking too narrow an approach. Forget sectional interests: think of wider philosophical themes.

Are the Liberal Democrats the party who support local community facilities and oppose centralisation and giantism? Not enough to spend money on saving rural post office any more.

Are we the party that cares above all for liberty? That is what I would tell people, but there is precious little about freedom on the Fresh Start website.

So I am left wondering what the intended audience is for our new approach.

Talk of "tough choices" could have an appeal in the austere new climate. Except that it is not at all clear that we are going to make any such choices.

The Independent says that Nick:
He announced two rules that will govern his party's policies: no spending commitments without cuts elsewhere to fund them, and, similarly, no promises of tax cuts without increases in other taxes.
Yes that sounds tough. But think about it.

We are saying that we will not change the level of taxation in the economy. And we will not change the level of public spending. That sounds more like ducking hard choices to me than taking them.

And isn't it churlish not to add a word of congratulation to Messrs Brown and Darling if we believe they have got things so exactly right?

I expect a battle over tuition fees at Bournemouth and I hope that the leadership is defeated in it. But that will only be a token.

The deeper problem is the lack of ideology in the Liberal Democrats. I thought the same when Engage, the new Lib Dem policy network, was launched. I will never oppose debate and discussion in the party, but were are the deeper beliefs that should inform that policy?

Without them you end up with something like Fresh Start - a selection of moderate, sensible views with no particular pull on the attention or support of the wider public.

Knotweed crumble and custard

From the BBC Cornwall pages comes a novel way of dealing with this invasive species:

Harvesting and eating Japanese Knotweed could be the best biological way to control the "nightmare" weed, a woman in Cornwall has said.

Caroline Davey from St Buryan said the shoots of the plant, which taste like rhubarb, can be used in jams, chutneys, crumbles, pies and even cocktails.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lord Malloch Brown explains his position on helicopters and Afghanistan





Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but, yeah.

Reminder: James Robertson Justice quiz

Liberal England is currently running a quiz with a copy of James Hogg's biography of James Robertson Justice as a prize. The questions are here and the quiz closes at 23:59 on Monday 27 July 2009.

The book was reviewed in the Spectator by Roger Lewis:

Delving into Justice’s private life has disclosed marvellous lies and mysteries, starting with the professional Scottishness. Justice was actually born in south London and raised in Bromley. He played rugby for Beckenham alongside Johnny Cradock, future husband of the fearless Fanny.

Justice’s decision to adopt the Robertson tartan may have had to do with a battle with his father, a mining engineer, who actively detested the Scots, ‘found them conceited and maudlin and scorned their humour, hated the bagpipes and mocked Burns Night’. It would be one of Justice’s amorous ploys to strip down to his sporran and play Mozart on the bagpipes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desperate Romantics

I rather enjoyed that. It was at least a marvelous change to see Victorians presented as young and energetic and sexy. For far too long we have been in thrall to the Bloomsbury view of them.

As one of my alter egos, Professor Strange, once wrote:

The Victorians do not get a good press these days. A random trawl of the Internet finds the American AIDS Czarina complaining of a ‘Victorian society that misrepresents information, denies sexuality early, denies homosexuality particularly in teens, and leaves people abandoned with no place to go.’ A sermon tells us that ‘Thanks to the 1960s, we have given up Victorian hypocrisy when it comes to ourselves.’ And a journalist announces that ‘Victorianism today is generally interpreted to mean little more than an atmosphere of sexual repression and hypocrisy’.

Well, I knew Victorians; I worked with Victorians; Victorians were friends of mine. (Indeed, I cannot wholly rule out the possibility that I was a Victorian myself.) And I do not believe that they were any more repressed or hypocritical than we are today.

Yet this libel persists. So much so, that many otherwise intelligent people are convinced that the Victorians were so afraid of the power of sexuality that they felt obliged to cover up the legs of their pianos. Perhaps you believe it too?

If you want to form a more balanced view of 19th century Britain I recommend Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians.

Incidentally, during the programme several people landed on the blog after searching for John Ruskin pubic hair.

Devon Malcolm and Jason Gillespie playing for Brixworth

A few weeks ago I reported that the former England fast bowler Devon Malcolm now opens the bowling for the large Northamptonshire village of Brixworth.

His new ball partner isn't bad either. It is Jason Gillespie, who was bowling for Australia only four years ago.

It didn't stop Brixworth losing to Finedon Dolben the other week though. According to the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, they are "fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table".

Dog survives plunge down Shropshire mineshaft

Listen carefully and you can hear the familiar sound of an animal plunging down an abandoned Shropshire mineshaft.

This time it is a two-year-old Patterdale terrier called Tess, and the good news is that she survived her fall. The Shropshire Star has a video and also a selection of photographs of the rescue.

Then go to Flickr for a good photograph of the mineshaft in question. It is the former lead mine at Old Grit. Note the remains of the engine house and the Stiperstones ridge in the background.

Leicester schools replacing caretakers with Group 4 Securicor

From the Leicester Mercury comes final confirmation that the world has gone mad:

A private security firm has taken over caretaker duties in four city secondary schools.

G4S, formerly known as Group 4 Securicor, is being paid to carry out jobs such as maintaining the building, looking after the grounds, ensuring safety and keeping schools secure.

School staff who notice a problem, such as damage in a classroom, now log the issue with a call centre.

It signals the end of the traditional school caretaker, who for decades was an important figure answerable to the head teacher and employed locally.

And don't take comfort in the fact that only four schools are affected. All Leicester secondary schools are expected to change to employing the security firm over the next few years.

If you want to understand the full absurdity of the scheme, listen to Stephen Trebble of the Leicester Miller Education Company, which builds and maintains schools in the city under the government's Building Schools for the Future Initiative:

“The schools now call a free phone number to log a problem and can track the response. We think it’s better because if, for example, a light bulb has blown, teachers can report it and get on with teaching.

“There will still be the opportunity, such as if a pupil has been sick or something has been spilt, when the clean-up work can be carried out urgently.

“But it will still be logged with the helpdesk just to make sure it has been dealt with.”

The security of Leicester schools at night will naturally be ensured by CCTV cameras monitored from Manchester.

Note how Labour's instinct to centralise everything, seen in Building Schools for the Future, combines with the Tory instinct to privatise everything that moves - even authority figures like school caretakers, who are just the sort of authority figures a thinking Conservative would want to preserve.

And note that they combine in a war, not only on common sense, but on the local community provision that Liberals instinctively favour.

I am reminded of the reaction of Guy Crouchback, hero of Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arms trilogy, on hearing of the Nazi-Soviet pact:

The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Long Affray and The Towers of Trebizond

Over the past couple of days Liberal Democrat Voice has posted (part 1 and part 2) several bloggers' summer reading recommendations. My own choices are in part 2 and I thought I would tell you a little more about them here.

My first choice - The Long Affray by Harry Hopkins - was one of a number of rural history books reviewed by John Patrick in the November 1987 issue of History Today. He wrote:

Rider Haggard hated poachers, describing them as 'cowardly villains recruited from among the worst characters in the neighbourhood'. He would have had little time for Harry Hopkins's The Long Affray (PaperMac).

This book, based largely on original sources, tells the story of the long-drawn-out war between landowners and poachers, and the efforts of such men as Cobbett and Bright to reform the game laws.

It is a lively, stimulating, committed book. The author is clearly outraged by the plight of the rural poor and the lengths to which landowners would go to pre- serve their game.

The evidence inevitably gives a biased picture. Prosecuted poachers figure in the records. Landowners – if there were any – who allowed labourers to take their game do not. Sometimes, too, Mr Hopkins lays indignation on with a trowel, and he perhaps overstates the wider importance of the conflict between the poachers and the preservers of game. But it is a worthwhile account of an otherwise neglected topic.

By one of those coincidences, the next book Patrick discusses in the article is by Keith Snell, who supervised my Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies.

My second choice was The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. The introduction Jan Morris (PDF file) wrote for a recent American edition of the book captures its appeal and explains its background well:

For although this is a very funny novel, witty, satirical, and sometimes downright farcical—a book to be read throughout for sheer pleasure—nevertheless it is a sad book too. It rides above its own comedy. It is a novel, a travel book, an entertainment, but it is also, I think, covertly confessional.

High-spirited, sociable, well off, Rose Macaulay lived and died a spinster, but not because she wanted to. The highly educated and extremely clever daughter of a schoolmaster, she had for many years been the lover of a married man, and this had led to her estrangement from the Anglican Church. Her lover had died in 1942, but if there is some trace of bitterness to her portrait of the Reverend the Honourable bigot, even a touch of cruelty, it is perhaps because she had felt betrayed or abandoned by such men of God.

By the time she published The Towers of Trebizond, in her seventy-seventh year, she had in fact been rescued from disillusionment, and returned to Anglicanism, by another clergyman, the Reverend J. H. C. Johnson—their correspondence was posthumously published in the 1960s. It seems unkind to say so, but without her lapse in faith this subtle and paradoxical novel would have been a far lesser work.

The sadness and loneliness that now and then informs its bubbly humor, the suggestions of quest that become ever stronger as the story proceeds, undoubtedly spring from her own spiritual and romantic unease, and give the book its profounder stature.

Samuel Danks Waddy

It has taken a while to get all the judges together, but we can now award Name of the 19th Century. And the winner is...

Samuel Danks Waddy.

Anna Raccoon, to whom this blog will be eternally grateful, has rediscovered him.

Wikipedia will tell you a little more about his career:

He was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Barnstaple, Devon on 3 February 1874 but resigned this seat in December 1879 to stand in a by-election in the Sheffield constituency, taking the seat on 21 December 1879. However he held the Sheffield seat for less than four months, being voted out by just 40 votes on 3 April 1880.

He was elected as MP for Edinburgh in 1882, and when that seat was abolished, he contested, but lost, the new Hallam seat at the 1885 general election.

On 7 July 1886, at the 1886 general election, he was elected as MP for the Brigg constituency in Lincolnshire. He held the seat until 1894 when he was appointed Recorder of Sheffield.

Britblog Roundup 231

...has the Redemption Blues.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues



Today I have mostly been to prison.

My mother has been a probation volunteer at Gartree Prison near Market Harborough for many years. Today I went with her to Stocken Prison in Rutland to meet one of her old boys.

I can't recommend prison life, but we did have a tour of Bonkers country on the way.

And the experience has inspired today's music choice. I have always loved the primitive guitar break in this.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ricky Ponting meets the Rutland alligator

Another week at Bonkers Hall draws to its close.

Sunday

In Leicester this afternoon I come upon a party of disconsolate young men sporting hats with corks dangling from the brim. They turn out to be the Australian cricket team, at a loose end after being ejected from that dreadful “Twenty20” cricket tournament. I point them to the library and art gallery and, when those suggestions fail to please, suggest they come back to the Hall for a cup of tea and some practice.

I am unable to raise an XI at such short notice, but am happy to have Meadowcroft erect some nets for them. It happens that the Queen’s Own Rutland Highlanders are training with live ammunition in the field next door and that the Rutland alligators are in playful mood. The last I see of the Australian captain, he is running into the distance with two of them gripping the seat of his trousers in their jaws.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Previously on Lord Bonkers' Diary

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Northampton & Lamport Railway


Pitsford and Brampton my arse. This is Little Bowden Crossing signal box.

It used to stand at the end of my road and, although it had gone by the time it had moved here, the rails were still in the road where the level crossing had been. I can still hear the noise cars made rattling over them in my mind's ear.

This afternoon I visited the Northampton & Lamport Railway, where the box has been relocated and renamed. They have a mile or so of track to the south of Brixworth and, as their name suggests, plans to extend it along the route of the former Market Harborough to Northampton line.

To my surprise it was not open to the public on a Saturday in July, but it does open on Sundays and there are a couple of weekend events coming up. A Vintage Gathering on 25/26 July and Ivor the Engine on 1/2 August.

And perhaps the absence of trains in steam and volunteers made things easier for the inquisitive photographer? The Lamport & Northampton has a pleasing selection of steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock.


As I wrote last week, the route of this old railway is now the occupied by the Brampton Valley Way - a footpath and cycle path. But the railway seems to coexist amicably with it - a lesson to people who oppose railway reopenings elsewhere when the trackbed is now a cycle path.


The old stationmaster's house at Pitsford and Brampton has been converted into a pub called the Brampton Halt. I found it surprisingly charmless and headed for the Spencer Arms up the road at Chapel Brampton.

That is Spencer as in Lady Di - the family seat of Althorp (even the Spencers have now given up pronouncing it All-trup) is only a couple of miles away.

When I came out there was a trap with two grooms trotting past. I assumed they were on their way to a wedding, but maybe life in Spencer country is always like this?

Win James Robertson Justice

...or at least his biography, in the latest Liberal England quiz.

James Robertson Justice (1907-75; henceforth JRJ) was a British film actor, famous for his portrayal of the fearsome Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor films of the 1950s and 60s. He was much else besides: a professional racing driver, a soldier in the Spanish civil war, a Labour parliamentary candidate, falconry tutor to the young Prince Charles.

To win James Hogg's biography of JRJ (only one prize this time, I am afraid) just identify these five films in which he appeared.

1. A story of British heroism with a celebrated score by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

2. In this Ealing Comedy JRJ, spoke the great line: "It's a well-known medical fact that some men are born two drinks below par."

3. This lesser-known Ealing Comedy starred a small boy called William Fox who grew up to be James Fox - and Billie Piper's father in law. (JRJ appeared under the pseudonym Seamus Mòr na Feusag.)

4. In this film JRJ asked "You - what's the bleeding time" and Dirk Bogarde replied "Ten past ten, sir."

5. A classic family musical that also featured Stanley Unwin, Max Wall and Benny Hill.

Please e-mail me your answers. The quiz closes at 23:59 on Monday 27 July 2009.