Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Later. Nick Robinson says that the Daily Telegraph says that Tony Blair says that Gordon Brown drove him to drink in his latter days as PM.
The other day Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond wrote to council leaders calling on them to reduce the number of signs, railings, bollards and advertising hoardings.
Monday, August 30, 2010
In a powerful post, Anna Raccoon spares a thought for the plight of Crispin Blunt's wife: "There is no self determination for her. No expression of a hard won freedom to be the person she always thought she should be. There are no ‘Rejection Pride’ marches snaking through city centres in celebration of her new lifestyle, no Fireman will be threatened with the sack for not handing out leaflets admiring her ‘choice’ in life – for she did not make a choice."
PogoWasRight.org says that US schools are grooming children for a surveillance state.
A fascinating New York Times article looks at the debate over whether the language we speak governs the way that we see the world.
Diamond Geezer mourns another of London's lost rivers - Pudding Mill River, sacrificed to the construction of the Olympic stadium.
"Hundreds of ancient sites have been discovered by aerial surveys, thanks to a dry start to the summer," reports BBC News.
leapt to the defence of his parliamentary assistant following reports she is under investigation by MI5 over possible links with Russian intelligence.Verily, you could not make it up.
As the blurb puts it:
In this groundbreaking survey of more than a century of music making in the British Isles, Rob Young investigates how the idea of folk has been handed down and transformed by successive generations - song collectors, composers, Marxist revivalists, folk-rockers, psychedelic voyagers, free festival-goers, experimental pop stars and electronic innovators.
In a sweeping panorama of Albion’s soundscape that takes in the pioneer spirit of Cecil Sharp; the pastoral classicism of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Peter Warlock; the industrial folk revival of Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd; the folk-rock of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Shirley Collins, John Martyn and Pentangle; the bucolic psychedelia of The Incredible String Band, The Beatles and Pink Floyd; the acid folk of Comus, Forest, Mr Fox and Trees; The Wicker Man and occult folklore; the early Glastonbury and Stonehenge festivals; and the visionary pop of Kate Bush, Julian Cope and Talk Talk, Electric Eden maps out a native British musical voice that reflects the complex relationships between town and country, progress and nostalgia, radicalism and conservatism.
An attempt to isolate the ‘Britishness’ of British music - a wild combination of pagan echoes, spiritual quest, imaginative time-travel, pastoral innocence and electrified creativity - Electric Eden will be treasured by anyone interested in the tangled story of Britain’s folk music and Arcadian dreams.
After writing that post I came across this news story from The Herts Advertiser:
I shall be surprised is the only Liberal Democrat who supports the establishment of a local free school.
Support has flooded in for a couple trying to establish a new state-funded primary school in St Albans.
More than 70 people have already signed a petition backing Fawzia Topan and Tim Hodgson’s plans to open a school for four to 11-year-olds under the Montessori ethos, which they already use to run a popular private nursery in Hatfield Road.
Local councillors, St Albans MP Anne Main and 2010 Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Sandy Walkington have also got behind the idea after meetings with the husband and wife team, who are using new coalition government legislation which allows individuals to open schools if there is a proven need.
"I think the tax burden is necessary as a significant contribution to getting the country's finances in order ... So it will have to stay at that level for quite some time."But is that too optimistic?
For some time Michael Portillo has been saying on This Week that he believes if will be difficult politically for the Coalition to make spending cuts on the scale it is planning.
If that is right, and cutting the deficit remains the priority, then not only will there be no tax cuts, tax rates will have to increase.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Both these groups of almshouses were established by Henry Howard, First Earl of Northampton, and there is a third at Greenwich.
This time I was not seized by the warden and given a guided tour, and the Trinity Hospital in Clun has some 19th century additions. But the gardens are lovely.
So I was pleased to see John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, writing an article for Liberal Democrat Voice in which he argues that "Liberal Democrats can act to reduce the deficit and be positive about the role of the democratic state".
That is quite right and I am pleased to see John saying it. However, I am less happy about something else he says:
The trouble starts when those on the right start to regard the democratic state itself as some sort of alien monster that has sprung into existence on its own, independently of its citizens. Then ‘rolling back the state’ is identified as freeing and empowering citizens – as though we can always achieve the same individually as we can collectively.
It is precisely because of poor accountability – a distorted voting system, limited devolution and huge swathes of public services run by quangos – that people disassociate their aspirations from those of their state.
I do not regard that state as an "alien monster" and our Liberal Democrat concern with democratic reform - the thing that unites all shades of opinion within the party - suggests that we all accept that it is not about to wither away.
However, even in some future Lib Dem utopia with PR and proper local control of public services, I would be wary of talking about the state having aspirations. People have aspirations - often widely differing aspirations - and it is the role of the modern state to allow them to live in harmony while seeking to fulfill those aspirations.
To attribute aspirations to the state or to argue that it can meet all human ambitions strikes me a sort of Hegelian state worship. Rather than encourage reform, it tends to mystify the nature of government, which is a tendency that will appeal to traditional Conservatives but should not appeal to us.
The debate on the state that Liberal Democrats should be having is that outlined by Ronald Dworkin:
The practical problem is this: there are certain things we all want government to do. We want government, for instance, to select methods of education, to sponsor culture, and to do much else that looks, on the surface, like endorsing one set of personal values against another and therefore contradicting liberalism.
It is very important for liberals to develop a theory that would make a distinction here between enriching the choices available to people and enforcing a choice upon people.
The crucial idea, it seems to me, is the idea of imagination. The liberal is concerned to expand imagination without imposing any particular choice upon imagination.
But I've simply named a problem. I haven't met it. It does seem to me that liberalism is rather weak at this point and needs a theory of education and a theory of culture-support that it does not have.
* It was William Cobbett who pointed out that we have the Crown Jewels but a National Debt.
Born in America to an English mother and a Serbian father, and coming to England at the age of 13, Lene Lovich enjoyed a varied career before becoming a New Wave icon. According to Wikipedia:
She is best remembered today for "Lucky Number", which was halfway between punk and a novelty hit. This later single was not so successful.
attended several art schools, busked around the London Underground and appeared in cabaret clubs as an "Oriental" dancer. She also travelled to Spain, where she visited Salvador Dalí in his home.
She played acoustic rock music around London, sang in the mass choir of a show called Quintessence at the Royal Albert Hall, played a soldier in Arthur Brown's show, worked as a "go-go" dancer with the Radio One Roadshow, toured Italy with a West Indian soul band, and played saxophone for Bob Flag's Balloon and Banana Band and for an all-girl cabaret trio, The Sensations.
She recorded screams for horror films, wrote lyrics for French disco star Cerrone (including the sci-fi dance smash "Supernature", later recorded by Lovich herself) and worked with various fringe theatre groups.
She was also one of thousands of audience members invited to sing along at the 1972 Lanchester Arts Festival at the Locarno Ballroom in Coventry when Chuck Berry recorded "My Ding-a-Ling" for Chess Records.
As I found when thinking out my views for that column, this is a complex question. And I have not been an elected councillor for nearly 20 years, which might affect my views too.
But I joined the Liberal Party, and later transferred to the Liberal Democrats, because I believed that Labour’s philosophy was too centralised, too top-down and took little account of the diversity of human needs and character. As I once said in a Guardian piece, we must have an education policy that helps people understand how our view of the world differs from Labour’s.
Certainly, passing the motion on “Free Schools and Academies” that is on the agenda (see p.30) for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool next month will not inspire anybody beyond the readership of the Guardian’s Education supplement.
Its complaint that setting up new schools would be “prejudicial to the efficient use of resources in an age of austerity” has a flavour of the debate over tractor production in Bulgaria circa 1962.
Its complaint that these new schools would depress educational outcomes for pupils in general is tendentious.
And its demand that academies should have only observer status on the Schools Forum “as they have placed themselves outside the democratic system for the funding of education” is mean-spirited and self-contradictory.
If the movers believe that cohesive administration of the education system is so important, then they should be doing all they can to bring different kinds of school together.
Finally, I am sceptical of the idea of conference calling on “all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option”. If parents are living in an area with poor schools and no immediate prospect of change, I think they should investigate the possibility of setting up new schools.
I also suspect that some local Liberal Democrats will support them. We are not used to being ordered about by Conference in this way and we should not allow ourselves to become used to it.
Incidentally, I commend Niklas for the grace he is displaying when replying to some unpleasant comments on his Lib Dem Voice piece.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Another newsreel from British Pathe, showing the Liberal Party leader's marriage to Caroline Allpass in May 1968.
Caroline Allpass was to die in a car crash two years later. Jeremy Thorpe later married Marion Stein, the former Countess of Harewood.
Many thanks to Unmann-Wittering Blog for introducing me to this, er, remarkable film.
The Old Grammar School in King's Norton won the BBC's Restoration competition a few years ago and I bought my first SLR camera in the Great Western Arcade a year or two after this footage was shot. But for the most part, Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham is calculated to put anyone off visiting the city.
Certainly, Savalas did not go to Birmingham. As Unmann-Wittering explains, he got no nearer than the de Wolfe studios in London:
This wonderful short film was produced as a 'quota quickie', i.e. the mandatory UK produced element of a cinema programme in the days when audiences expected a package of entertainment, not just one mega long, mega loud film and a massive drink that costs a tenner.The exciting news is that there are two more Telly Savalas travelogues to come.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The reception he had received was "quite different in different parts of the country," he told the Times. "There is a particularly acute anxiety about the future at the moment in some of the big northern cities. I think it's principally because people remember the 1980s as a particularly vicious recession for them and their families."The article also quotes Mike Hancock as saying that Nick faces a "sticky" party conference.
Speak for yourself, Mr Hancock.
Lynne Featherstone writes about the Coalition government's decision to outlaw wheelclamping on private land: "As soon as I became a Home Office minister with wheel clamping as part of my portfolio, I was deluged by letters from other MPs (representing their constituents) asking when we would do something about rogue clampers."
"The Russians call it Kompromat - the use by the state of sexual accusations to destroy a public figure. When I was attacked in this way by the government I worked for, Uzbek dissidents smiled at me, shook their heads and said "Kompromat". They were used to it from the Soviet and Uzbek governments. They found it rather amusing to find that Western governments did it too." Craig Murray thinks he knows what is behind the accusations against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Blood and Treasure harvests the insights of Listening to Britain, a compilation of reports on domestic morale produced by the Ministry of Information in 1940: "Mr Attlee’s cap is depressing picturegoers." "Amongst all classes, dislike of Belgians is growing." "Glasgow is generally bewildered."
England's batting collapse this morning has little consequence for the Ashes this winter, argues The Corridor. Phew!
That seen has now turned up on Youtube...
Besides Edith Evans there is a late performance by Eric Portman. He even shares the screen in one scene with Leonard Rossiter - two of my very favourite actors together ...
Rossiter steals any scene he appear in, and how ever good he is there is always a note of Rigsby in there somewhere too.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
This Independent article from 1993 gives the details:
He bought the spectacular mansion of Burley-on-the Hill in Rutland for about pounds 7m - without its 2,000-acre estate. He intended to turn the house into a hotel. He subsequently paid pounds 2m for extra land for golf courses, but his business collapsed before these could be developed. For him, as for many others, the 'estate' followed the private helicopter as the ultimate symbol of success.
It is headed:
Coast Guard Auxiliary Leaders Meet in Arizona Desert
Which recalls this exchange from Casablanca:
Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
Plotlands? The London Grid for Learning Redbridge page explains:
During the 1890's, agriculture declined because of a series of poor harvests and cheap grain imports from America. Fields were sold off to land agents, who auctioned them off as small plots.
After the First World War, the British Government promised 'a land fit for heroes' and building one's own home in the countryside was encouraged. Later, the Depression of the 1930s drove people to settle in the Plotlands and build themselves a place to live.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
This evening I walk by the shore, trying to ignore the entwining tones of clarinet and vuvuzela.
Suddenly Ruttie rears from the water with what can only be described as a spoony look on her face: goo-goo eyes isn’t the half of it. She lollops across the field, making a beeline for the Hall and it is all I can do to keep up with her. Skirting the cricket pitch in front of the old place (she is nothing if not a lady) Ruttie bursts into the my walled garden and then into the kitchen garden.
With a beatific smile upon her face she leaps into the air and lands smack upon the potting shed amid an appalling sound of splintering wood. I do hope Meadowcroft and the Paramount Chief are all right.
Earlier this week
imagine our surprise to hear from both Aston Martin and Jaguar that one of the nation's most admired liberals spent much of yesterday getting his kicks from a range of Britain's finest supercars
Despite having been a Labour hack in his teenage days, John Harris shows every sign of understanding Liberal Democrats and of rather liking us.
Yes, this year's Lib Dem conference will have its moments. The comprehensive spending review and January's VAT rise will jangle nerves, and there remain two big mysteries: what happens if the AV referendum is lost, and how – or whether – the coalition will decouple before a 2015 election.
But here is what far too many people are missing: that even if the most malign accounts are true and the party has been hijacked by a free market clique, the fact that it has delivered power will probably be more than enough to keep a lid on any trouble. Before Labour people get far too carried away, they ought to remember that until very recently, that was their story too.
The arguments in favour of the cards were varied and weak, but the most absurd of all must have been that used by the Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods. We must have identity cards, she has consistently argued, because administering them will make jobs in her Durham constituency.
And she did not give up after the general election. Here she is, as quoted by the Durham Times from 12 June 2010, writing to her Liberal Democrat opponent in that contest, Carol Woods:
She concluded by calling on Carol to apologise to her and the people of Durham.
“During the election campaign, you accused me, amongst many other things, of scaremongering about your party’s plans to scrap the voluntary ID cards scheme and the impact this would have on jobs in Durham.
“Unfortunately, my fears have proved to be entirely justified as the Tory/Lib Dem Government, in one of its first policy announcements, have said that more than 60 jobs at the Durham Passport Office will be axed.
“Indeed, given that the Government seems intent on also abolishing the next phase of biometric passports, the job losses could end up being even worse.”
Blackman-Woods resembles the Liverpool MP General Tarleton who, on 15 February 1805, told the House:
There are in Liverpool alone above 10,000 persons completely engaged in the slave trade, besides countless numbers affected and benefited by it. I have received instructions from my constituents to oppose Mr Wilberforce's intentions with all my power.The General Tarleton is now in name of an inn near Knaresborough. I doubt anyone will ever go for a pint at The Old Roberta Blackman-Woods.
This is one of my favourite preserved lines, not least because it forms a useful link between two towns.
Mind you, the Shropshire Star was recently speculating about the route being extended northwards from Bridgnorth to Ironbridge.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I think this rather farfetched: if I had had any reason to think that Ruttie knows Latin I should have sought her assistance when I was a schoolboy. Believe me: a chap needed all the help he could get with the dratted language in those days. Anyway, I acknowledge his letter with a postcard and forward the whole thing to the Professor of Cryptozoology at the University of Rutland.
Then Meadowcroft appears, muttering and cursing. It transpires, as best I can make out, that something has been “a-trampling his botanicals” around the potting shed and snapped his hollyhocks clean off.
In the midst of all this, the telephone is brought to me and I find the Deputy Prime Minister on the other end – he often calls when in want of advice. Today he is worried that he is in a bit of a fix: committed to five years of coalition with a Conservative Party committed to taking bread from the mouths of widows and orphans and all that.
I am able to reassure him that it is often possible to get out of what appear to be a quite impossible predicament. Why, I tell him, I once saw the great Houdini! The fellow had himself bound hand and foot and then sewn into a mailbag which was wreathed in chains and hung upside down in a tank of water.
Just as I am telling him how the illusionist got out of it, I drop the receiver. By the time I retrieve it from under the sideboard, Clegg has gone.
Earlier this week
Simon Goldie considers the similarities and tensions between liberalism and mutualism.
"I have resolved to take every opportunity to promote, purchase and indeed consume Moldovan wine, whenever and wherever possible. It is a tough job but someone has to do it," says Gauge Opinion. He is doing it because Moldova is being bullied by Russia because of its determination to tell the truth about the Soviet regime.
The Cat's Meat Shop shows us a remarkable Victorian anticipation of the internet - and its disadvantages: "Solitude would become impossible. The bliss of ignorance would be at an end. We should come near that most miserable of all conceivable conditions, of being able to oversee and overhear all that is being done or said concerning us all over London! Every bore's finger would be always on one's button; every intruder's hand on one's knocker; every good-natured friend's lips in one's ear."
The burden of being an ageing customer in record shops is considered by Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop.
The Boston Globe has some stunning colour photographs of the Russian Empire before the Revolution. The one I have, er, borrowed shows a group of Jewish children and their teacher in Samarkand (which is in modern Uzbekistan).
...puts me in mind of this.
You mention Weekend World there. You’re quite critical of yourself in your autobiography on that. Was it something that you felt instantly uncomfortable with?
Yeah. I felt instantly uncomfortable with it when I started. I thought, and I suppose everyone does, that after a while you’d get better at it but I found after two years I still wasn’t getting better at it and our ratings were dropping. I don’t think I was a flop. What I failed to be was the new Brian Walden. The programme itself was probably out of date. The concept was arthritic and old-fashioned. I think a really sensational presenter could have given it a new life and I just wasn’t doing that. I just wasn’t sensational.
Don’t you think nowadays there ought to be something like that on television? There is no longer any inquisitive interview that lasts longer than 10 minutes.
But would anybody watch it? If you want a presentation about something that develops an argument carefully and thoughtfully, is television the best medium in which to do it? No, I think people watch things like Weekend World because there wasn’t anything else to watch. They learned to appreciate its strengths and they developed the patience you need, but modern viewers don’t have that patience and why should they?
Take Back Parliament:
brings together a coalition of different groups and organisations in the call for fair votes. They include Unlock Democracy. Electoral Reform Society, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, NUS, Ekkelsia and others.
The town trail leafleft said:
It took me more like four and a half hours, but that did include stopping for a haircut in the Low Town which not every visitor will do.
The influence of the past is all around the visitor to an historic town such as Bridgnorth. The medieval castle, Victorian shop fronts, steam railway, elegant promenade, river-port and timber-framed house and inns are all encountered in this study "on the ground" of the rich and varied history of the town.
The Trail starts from the library but can be joined at any point on the route. It can be completed in about an hour, but more time will be needed if every feature is explored in full.
The town has two significant churches, both in remarkable settings. The wide St Leonard's (medieval but practically rebuilt in the 19th century) is placed in something close to a cathedral close. Thomas Telford's St Mary Magdalene closes off a fine Georgian street - and was aligned North-South to achieve this.
The best restaurant I found during my stay in Bridgnorth was Bambers; the best pubs were the Black Boy on the Cartway and the Railwayman's Arms at the Severn Valley Railway station.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Eventually conversation turns to other subjects – England’s failure in the World Cup, the fortunes of this new coalition government and whether it might be possible to farm psychic octopi on Rutland Water (“Why not ask them?” I suggest) – and then it is time for the quiz. I have set a particularly sporting set of questions on Liberal by-election candidates of the 1970s and a good time is had by all. By the time the contest is over, the lovely Hazel Grove had called “last orders” and, after a chorus of “The Land”, it is time to have myself driven home.
Earlier this week
Richard Dimbleby's penis gourd
You can read the whole issue for free on the Cambridge Journals website.
According to Editor in Chief Jeffrey C. Isaac: “The November 2010 midterm elections will be widely considered a gauge of President Obama’s political standing, and it seems appropriate for a flagship journal of the American Political Science Association to focus attention on the controversies surrounding the Obama Presidency, which occupy the attention of the US, as well as a world whose fate is bound up with that of the US.”
Jennifer Hochschild’s and Vesla Weaver‘s “There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama: The Policy and Politics of American Multiculturalism,” analyzes the relationships between identity classifications and civic status in the US, linking the symbolism of Obama’s election to changes in Americans’ self-understanding of race.
Peter Dreier and Christopher R. Martin’s “How ACORN Was Framed: Political Controversy and Media Agenda-Setting,” looks at the ways in which conservative media outlets represented the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now [ACORN] as a symbol of left-wing corruption and “socialist” power-grabbing, destroying the organization and tarnishing the reputation of activist community organizing (and, indirectly, of the President, who had himself worked for ACORN).
A series of essays also address the Obama Administration’s handling of the financial crisis. Lawrence R. Jacobs and Desmond S. King write on “Varieties of Obamism”; Suzanne Mettler and Daniel Carpenter each write on bureaucratic politics and obstacles to policy reform; Dorian T. Warren analyzes the American labor movement in the age of Obama; and Jacob S. Hacker, a participant in health policy debates, discusses “The Road to Somewhere: Why Health Reform Happened, Or Why Political Scientists Who Write about Public Policy Shouldn’t Assume They Know How to Shape It.”
There is a little more about him on The Rumi Foundation website.
Verjee owns Thomas Goode, the Mayfair store, and is apparently friends with the likes of Elton John and Lord Snowdon. He qualified as a barrister before launching the first UK franchise of Domino’s Pizza in the 1980s.
He has a CBE for charitable work and is the son of Jimmy Verjee, well-known as a philanthropist in Uganda. Verjee has also been a shareholder in Watford football club although it is not clear whether that is still the case.
Another example is the show Undercover Boss, where a highly paid manager is shown in a good light. Because the programme can be less beneficial for the less well-paid workers involved, as the Watford Observer shows:
As he lived at the hotel, he has lost his home too.
When hotel handyman Michael Doherty was asked if he wanted to star in a TV documentary he jumped at the chance, believing it would be “a bit of a laugh” – a chance to get his face on the telly and raise a few laughs with his mates.
What he never imagined, however, was that his brief brush with fame would get him the sack.
Carl Minns - Thoughts from Hull finds proof of Labour's "reckless behaviour" in its last year of office.
The contrast between Leicester's "trophy" regeneration successes and the more shabby parts of the city has struck me -and Only in Leicester. His solution is a "sustained city-wide effort to reduce the levels of grime, graffiti, dereliction, litter, street clutter, etc - the things that everyone rightly moans about and which harm civic pride. I don't just mean city council controlled spaces either. A sharper stick needs to be used to prod private land owners to tidy up derelict areas, maintain heritage buildings, prevent fly tipping and remove rubbish. There are legal instruments such as Urgent Works Notices, Amenity Notices and even ASBOs at the council's disposal if they have the nerve to use them. There are also more gentle approaches such as community litter-picks and community reporting of issues."
And three links on blogging. Social Media Today has some tips for writing compelling blog posts. They are a little cheesy, but you may find some useful ideas here.
Blogging can be a hotbed of litigation, warns the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.
And the city of Philadelphia is trying to sting bloggers $300 for a "business privilege license", says the Washington Examiner.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
This time his lordship has eschewed a strict daily account of his affairs and employed a looser format in its place.
Lions pad across the parched grassland as a Paramount Chief of the Zulus hefts his assegai.
Near me were a couple who appeared to be living out of carrier bags. She was feeding the wildfowl on the river - ducks, geese and a lone swan that tried hard to imply it was above such things - and he had the inevitable dog on a length of string. Impressively, when it threatened to become too interested in the crowd of birds that had gathered, he spoke to it firmly and it settled down again.
And she was impressive too for her confidence and for making sure that the bread was fairly shared. When one of the geese sneaked up behind her to take a piece from her hand, I swear that she smacked its bottom.
I heard this playing on a tape in the bar of an otherwise undistinguished hotel in Wales. Maybe you had to be there, because it is less impressive now I have got home. Still, I have decided to go with it and there was another good song on that tape that I shall choose another Sunday.
Wikipedia says the song was written by Reginald Hall, who was Fats Domino's brother-in-law, but that Fats turned it down.
There is more about Joe Jones at allmusic.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
An interesting new campaigning technique has emerged. Writing on Lib Dem Voice, Sara Bedford reveals that Nick Norman has won a seat on Seaford Town Council while on honeymoon.
Kevin Feltham writes about the campaign that resisted the Co-op's plans to build an "eco-town" in the Leicestershire countryside near Stoughton.
Alexei Sayle tells us: "There will be a big extract from my memoir in the Sunday Times Magazine this Sunday the 22nd. Apart from extracts from the book there are also family photos of me as a child which even I find perplexing as to how that sweet looking infant grew up into me."
Before his retirement John had been a carpet layer. In fact he had laid most of the carpets in the old people's bungalows in the ward. Our canvassing there consisted of his introducing me to the residents and telling them to vote for me.
As far as we could tell, most of them did. Sometimes local politics is very simple.
Before the war John had been a stable lad at Melton Mowbray. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, used to hunt there, knew him by name and always asked after him.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
My hotel room has a print depicting vignettes of "Life on Board HM Training Ship Exmouth". I take it as a reminder that, however bad the service may be, life could be a lot worse.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
What I do have a problem with is the continued use of the term "tsar" or "czar" for this sort of role.
It is redolent of the worst of Blairism. Discussion and honest disagreement are seen as weakeness or expensive luxuries: solutions must be forced through from the centre. Critics must be trodden under the hooves of Cossack cavalry, sent for the knout... or at least not listened to.
If there is a justification for this sort of role it is that modern government is now so byzantine, so complex that it is impossible for anyone to get anything done.
But the answer is good old-fashioned reform, not giving people overpowerful roles with silly titles.
Peter Black highlights a report in the Western Mail: "The NHS in England faces a total bill of £65bn for new hospitals built under the private finance initiative (PFI). It seems that some NHS trusts have been left with annual 'mortgage' repayments accounting for more than 10% of their turnover."
The Italian MEP Mario Borghezio has called on the EU to fund and establish a "European UFO centre" and demanded the backing of the European Parliament for the plan, according to the Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats blog.
Why was there so much fuss about Naomi Campbell and her diamond? asks Blognor Regis.
English Buildings visits Abingdon Town Hall: "Although it is made of traditional ingredients, combining the old market-hall concept with Classical details and the familiar hipped roof, it still manages to surprise and impress: there is nothing quite like it."
And Down at Third Man drinks in The Inn at Whitewell - a pub kept by the former Oxford University and Lancashire cricketer Dick Bowman until his death a few years ago: "The Inn is exactly as Third Man imagines Squire Weston’s pile to have been. It sits on a
Sunday, August 15, 2010
This morning I got off the Shrewsbury bus at White Grit and walked here via Squilver and The Bog. You don't get place names like that anywhere else.
Skittles still thrives* and the pub still has its free internet scheme. It's not just a hotspot: they will hand you a laptop over the bar.
The beer is good and they serve food all day, every day. In fact the place is so good and so remote that I am afraid I may have imagined it.
In just the same way, Bishop's Castle - two pubs that brew their own beer, the best second-hand classical record shop I know - is surely too good to be true. One day I shall turn up there and find just a bare, green hillside.
* I am told that Skittles turned up at the kitchen door one day, was fed duck and decided to stay and serve as pub cat. Well, you would.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
- Leicester's Phoenix Square needs a £250,000 council bail-out, less than a year after the film and digital media centre opened.
- Vandals cause chaos for thousands of passengers after starting a fire that destroyed signal cabling between Market Harborough and Leicester.
- A Conservative county councillor and cabinet member has been charged with assault.
But more than that, I was astounded to see that playgrounds are funded by national government. What exactly do local councils do nowadays? A new playground should be within the competency and funding ability of a parish council, let alone a district or county. It is a mark of what a centralised society Britain has become.
I should not have overlooked the last Labour government's Playbuilder scheme. It was announced on that rather queasy occasion when Ed Balls and Andy Burnham shared a rotating swing at an adventure playground.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
As Wikipedia says, the white marble sculpture by Edward Onslow Ford shows a "reclining nude and dead Shelley washed up on the shore at Viareggio in Italy after his drowning".
The irorny is that Shelley was expelled from University College for publishing his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.
In the late 1800s small settlements began to spread up the hills and across the common land on the Stiperstones above Snailbeach ...All this will be familiar to readers of Malcolm Saville's Not Scartlet But Gold, but as you will see from the BBC pages, there is now a scheme to restore a couple of these cottages.
Mr Cooter said they were called Squatters' cottages: "The idea was that if you could build a house on the common land overnight and have smoke coming out of the chimney then you could live in it ...
Many of the houses have disintegrated since they were abandoned when the lead mines closed.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
He is not someone you would want to upset, so here is a link to the new Ron "Chopper" Harris blog.
This morning I caught a bus to Banbury and then fulfilled a long-held ambition by catching a Wrexham & Shropshire train to Shrewsbury. (I will add a picture to this posting one day, but the machine here is not keen on my uploading photographs to my Photobucket account.)
The Wrexham & Shropshire is the Titfield Thunderbolt of the privatised railway system. Their trains are only four carriages long (though there is a locomotive at each end) and the refreshments have a home-made feel to them as though they were made the night before by the driver's mother.
Even the route the service takes is eccentric. It has to use a curve behind the Birmingham City ground to get off the former Great Western lines and into New Street, and then it travels to Wolverhampton via the outskirts of Walsall rather than the direct route.
It is English in a slightly mediocre way. Captain Mainwaring, county cricket, John Major... you know the sort of thing. I feel very at home with it.
But travelling this way involves a treat that every passenger should experience at least once in a lifetime: trundling through Birmingham New Street without stopping.
Later. Photograph duly added. Diamond Geezer also travelled this way recently, but I have to record that the Wrexham & Shropshire's managing director is issuing ominous "use it or lose it" warnings in the Shropshire Star.
In all honesty, this photograph makes it look more attractive than it really is. The house, 20 Northmoor Road, may look back to the Arts and Crafts movement, but it also looks forward to 1930s council housing.
The Tolkien family lived here between 1930 and 1947. Before that they lived for a few years at no. 22, which is just visible among the foliage.
More on the subject can be found at Tolkien's Oxford.
Monday, August 09, 2010
I used to cycle the lanes of Leicestershire in a "Nuclear Power? No Thanks" T-shirt, but I think such an announcement has been inevitable for some time now. Ever since, in fact, the environmental movement embraced the concept of man-made global warming with such enthusiasm. Whatever the science says, you have to admit this has been a remarkably convenient truth for them.
If you rule out new coal-fired power stations - whatever happened to the fluidised-bed technology we were all so keen on in the 1980s, incidentally? - then it is inevitable that the looming energy gap will be filled in part by new nuclear stations.
Chris's decision to lift the ban on local authorities selling energy generated from green sources to the National Grid is to be welcomed unreservedly, but it is hard to see these technologies filling this gap on their own.
In truth, the economic arguments against nuclear power were always stronger than the safety ones. So I am reassured that Chris appears still to be ruling out any public subsidy for the industry.
It is remarkable that the two industries that can be most sure of high and constant demand - agriculture and energy - are also the industries most heavily subsidised by government. Surely they are the ones that should need subsidy least?
As she reminds us, Vince Cable is "widely tipped as the minister most likely to resign from the coalition". Vince's own words suggest this is unlikely:
"According to the papers," as he says himself, "I'm miserable, alienated, and on the brink of resignation." For many Labour voters – and a lot of disillusioned Lib Dems too – Cable's resignation would represent some sort of moral triumph, or at the very least, a return to politics as normal. "But that's simply not where I am," he says.In fact what we have now is politics as normal - or at least politics as it was before Tony Blair became prime minister. A Cabinet of strong personalities with sometimes differing views is just what we should expect.
I also suspect that the differences within the two Coalition parties, Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, will ultimately prove more significant than the differences between the parties.
So my own tip for the first resignation would be a Tory right-winger like Liam Fox.
I am told that when the first Morse book was written it was a rather seedy area. Now it is what estate agents call a highly sought-after residential area and has house prices to match. That does not mean there is no crime there, of course.
Jericho is made up of a tight little grid of Victorian terraces. It is beside the Oxford Canal and dominated by the tall campanile of St Barnabas. (Campanile fans will also enjoy the stables at Gumley Hall.)
In December of last year, in a House Points column, I wrote about the campaign to save Castlemill Boatyard in Jericho. Then I said that things looked hopeful for the campaign.
Since then, I am was sorry to hear, permission for redevelopment has been given (I am told that the developers won an appeal against the council refusal to grant it) and work did start. Then the development company went bust, with the result that the boatyard has gone but the site is derelict and boarded off from the public.
The centre of Swindon was in a similar state, and for the same reason, when I visited it last summer. Does anyone know if progress has been made there?
After I had ordered a drink the man at the bar next to me said: "Is it Jonathan? Jonathan Calder?"
It turned out that I was and he turned out to be the former Liberal Democrat Voice stalwart Richard Huzzey.
I spent the evening with him, his fiancée and friends. We went for a curry and came second in a pub quiz. Very enjoyable and very Oxford.
Last year I got a lunch invitation through Twitter while I was on my literary pilgrimage to Swindon. These social media really can make us more sociable.
This Motown classic reached number 5 in the UK singles chart in 1969, though the recording dates from 1967. It was meant to be my Sunday music video, but because I scheduled it wrongly it will have to my Monday music video.
A site about the Isley Brothers has a couple of excellent trivial facts:
- They employed Elton John as a keyboardist during their 1964 UK tour;
- Their 1966 single "Testify" features the first recorded appearance of guitarist Jimmy James, later known as Jimi Hendrix.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
This is St Andrew's church. According to Wikipedia it was consecrated in 1907, which is a little later than I had guessed. It is not particularly distinguished as a building, but what interested me was the identity of the vicar.
For it is Andrew Wingfield-Digby, a stalwart of the Oxford University cricket team in the 1970s. All told he took 97 first-class wickets @ 33.87 - a highly creditable record for a university bowler. He also, says Cricinfo, played for Dorset, a minor county, for over a decade.
In 1989 Ted Dexter, then the chairman of the selectors, appointed him as spiritual advisor to the England team. In that era it was a role that would have tried any man's vocation.
At my first ever parliamentary by-election (Birmingham Northfield in 1982) one of the Liberal Party's professional agents kept a room full of envelope stuffers entertained with his tales. I still recall his retailing of someone's observation on the Dorset social scene:
Try this report by Patrick Wintour in yesterday's paper:
David Cameron plans to press ahead with an expensive shift in treatment for drug addicts, towards residential programmes and away from the use of methadone as a substitute licensed drug."Expensive." Isn't he sweet?
Saturday, August 07, 2010
Si Brahim El Glaoui, the oldest son of the pasha of Marrakech. They were married in secret because she thought that a marriage would harm her Hollywood career.In the event that career did not last long, but she went on to have a succesful career as a writer and in television.
When I was very young there were three imported television series that were shown in every school holiday: Belle and Sebastian, White Horses and Robinson Crusoe.
Belle and Sebastian was adapted by Aubry from her own novel. It's young star Medhi turns out to have been aubry and El Glaoui's son.
Looking at the opening now, there is more than a hint of 'Allo 'Allo about the long narration that follows the titles. "I shall say this only once." You could also here Mehdi piping a song over the close of each episode.
Then there was White Horses. The song was credited to "Jacky", who was in reality Jackie Lee. She reached the top 10 with it and later had a hit with the theme song from Rupert.
The opening titles of White Horses are on Youtube, but cannot be embedded. I am not sure I would want to wake up and find a horse's head sticking throught the window like that. Anyway, here is the song...
And then there was Robinson Crusoe. The flashback to his earlier life you got in the middle of every episode was boring, but the music was wonderful - though you don't get much of it here...