Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Liberal England in 2013 - part 4

We've had part 1. We've had part 2. We've even had part 3.

But something is missing. So here is part 4.


Ad Lib magazine appears to have decided it can get along without me, but I did write a column for its first year mythologising the mighty Chief Whip:
“…and I can’t be in two places at one time,” I finished triumphantly. 
“Nonsense,” said the Chief Whip, “I do it all the time. Go back out and get him to vote.”
I explained who John Moore was for my younger readers and welcomed Norman Baker to the Home Office.

While gypsies stole our children, I said HS2 was an example of solutioneering.

Talking of railways, I found this wonderful footage of the last days of Melton Mowbray North.


I quoted Paddy Ashdown on the treatment of prisoners of war, Malcolm Saville in reply to Nick Clegg and Bryan Magee in reply to Boris Johnson.

The blogger Stuart Syvret was imprisoned on Jersey and I posted my music favourite music video of the year...


"There isn't any UKIP in Scotland. It's been wiped out," said its former chairman there. I asked if it would evolve into an English nationalist party.

I revealed how Peter Cook almost fought Hampstead for the Liberal Democrats and also the story of the Master Mind box.

Nick Clegg's inquiry into briefing against Vince Cable appeared to be making slow progress.

I praised Graeme Swann, despite his rather precipitous retirement and it turned out to be a rather M.R. James Christmas.

Reader's voice: Shouldn't there be a picture or a video or something?

Liberal England replies grudgingly: Oh, all right then.

You have until midnight to vote for your Headline of the Year

Look at the top right-hand corner of the blog or follow this link to cast your vote.

Remembering John Fortune

The comedian John Fortune has died. He was one of the pioneers of the satire boom of the early 1960s and later he and John Bird had their own short-lived situation comedy Well Anyway.

He and Bird found their greatest fame with Rory Bremner. Such was the uselessness of the Conservative opposition through most of the Blair and Brown years that the three of them sometimes seemed to be forming the official Opposition.

Here they are Bird and Fortune in 2008. It was John Fortune's turn to be George Parr and this week he was an adviser to Gordon Brown.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In praise of Dame Angela Lansbury

We seem to have run out of Liberal Democrat MPs to knight, so let me take a moment to congratulate Angela Lansbury on her honour.

She is the granddaughter of the Labour leader George Lansbury and also a kinswoman of the great Oliver Postgate and the Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull.

I am not a great fan of Murder She Wrote. I mean, how many nephews can one woman have? And how come they are always being unjustly accused of murder? There's no smoke without fire. That's what I say.

No, if you want to see Angela Lansbury at her best, try to catch her as Em, leader of a dance-hall troupe, in The Harvey Girls.

Or see you can see her on the London stage next year. At the age of 88 she will be playing Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.

Liberal England in 2013: part 3

Part 1 and part 2 have already been posted, so let's go back to the summer.


I discovered the Children's Receiving Home in Leicester and travelled to Weedon to see the Royal Ordnance Depot.

Back in the political world, I criticised Labour's opposition to private schools entering the state sector, pointed out that the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be able to choose their future coalition partners and said that David Howell's ignorance of the North of England was all too typical of our rulers.

Most important of all, there were floods in Market Harborough.


I welcomed the news about Peter Capaldi but argued that Doctor Who has problems.

Talking of fantasy, David Tredinnick wanted homeopathy for farm animals and Roger Helmer offered some distasteful views on girls and consent.

A busy weekend saw me encountering both Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings and a demonstration at Glebe Road, Little Bowden.


In Leicester, the final resting place of the bones of Richard III was thrown into confusion by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave and the spire of St Mary de Castro was found to be in a dangerous state.

Oh, and the sole Conservative member on Leicester City Council wrote me a guest post about the bullying of the sole Lib Dem member.

Back in Lib Dem land, Jeremy Browne entered the global race and I worried about parallels between us and the declining FDP in Germany.

Let's end this post with a music choice from this month: Fight for my country by the short-lived Birmingham supergroup Balls...

Six of the Best 409

"As the gap between Americans widens, the bonds that hold society together weaken. So, too, as more and more people lose faith in a system that seems inexorably stacked against them, and the 1 percent ascend to ever more distant heights, this vital element of our institutions and our way of life is eroding." Joseph Stiglitz, in the New York Times, looks at the importance of trust to society and economy and at how it is declining in modern-day America.

George Campbell Gosling looks at the extraordinary career of the pioneering woman doctor Cicely Williams.

Cllr Fraser Macpherson attends the unveiling of a memorial to the 59 victims of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.

"What no one now remembers is that ITV's Christmas programmes in 1977 were so unappetising that, when the schedules had been announced a few weeks earlier, several advertising agencies complained that they would have no audience for their commercials." Joe Moran discusses the heyday of the BBC's Morecambe and Wise.

Mental Floss introduces us to 12 old words that have survived as fossils in idiomatic expressions.

Piers Morgan was not brave to take on Brett Lee: he was idiotic and he was lucky that he did not get seriously hurt, says Peter Miller on Cricket Stats.

Rewilding Wales

More on the Cambrian Wildwood website.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Liberal England in 2013 - part 2

Part 1 was posted yesterday. On with part 2.


I offered some thoughts on the death of Margaret Thatcher and It emerged that "top bloggers" had been in discussion with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on how the legislation following the Leveson Report might affect bloggers.

Paddy Ashdown attacked Tory demonisation of the poor, while Lord Bonkers offered some characteristically humane words on the conviction of Chris Huhne:
Leave the sermons to the Reverend Hughes: what a chap needs at a time like this is a cake with a file in it.
I posted the video above, which shows colour footage of St John's Wood from the 1940s set to music by Georges Delerue.


Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell wrote me a guest post about political defections and I recalled being quoted on the Today programme: "Now we can sit back and watch the Tories go mad."

I quoted chunks from my favourite blog post of the year - "An anthropologist looks at the Liberal Democrats" - and gave my reaction to the Guardian's front page reporting the views of the killers of Lee Rigby: "Just because you murder someone, it doesn't mean your views are worth hearing."

And, as the picture above shows, I visited the blacksmith's forge at the mouth of Blisworth canal tunnel.


They still speak of the Great Little Bowden Allotment Fire and I remember discovering the Green Men of Rawson Street in Leicester.

I enjoyed the Welland Valley Beer Festival and was puzzled by Liberty Hall in Northampton. Most of all, I enjoyed coming across the Imperial Typewriters building in Leicester and came across a cracking ghost sign in the same part of the city: "Guaranteed English Trapped Rabbits."

There was some politics too, I expect.

Later. Not quite politics, but Market Harborough was mentioned on The News Quiz...

The psychology of Open All Hours

Writing a student blog on the University of Leicester site, Tim Holyoake look at the Christmas reappearance of Open All Hours. (Tim is known to Lib Dems as the author of Just One More Ten Pence Piece....)

He says that in the context of my Occupational Psychology masters degree, a few things about this special episode struck him as interesting.

Among them is:
Granville’s personality appears to have undergone a radical change. He’s taken on the traits (and comically, the appearance) of Arkwright and is no longer the naive dreamer from the original series. While we’re talking fiction of course, I believe that this illustration makes an important point. 
For me, the balance of evidence is that personality is primarily and perhaps even entirely shaped by the situation someone finds themself in, rather than being an inherent and stable characteristic of that individual. In other words, if you peel the layers off the onion of an individual’s personality, you will never reach a central core – the ‘real’ person – because there isn’t one to find.
I think Tim is right here, even though I care about "the individual" as much as any Liberal. The moral is that, if individuals and individuality are to flourish, then we must campaign to bring about the social conditions that make it possible.

And the picture above? It comes from the JR James Archive at the University of Sheffield.

Plastic Bertrand: Ça Plane Pour Moi

A shock discovery. Plastic Bertrand did not really sing this - one of the key texts of Belgian punk and a top-10 record in the UK singles chart in the summer of 1978.

Wikipedia reveals:
In 2010, an expert appointed by a court stated that the voice of Lou Deprijck, the composer/producer of "Ça plane pour moi," on a record from 2006 is the same voice as on the original 1977 recording. "Today it appears from the report of the experts that the voice of 'Ça plane pour moi' is Lou Deprijck's voice," stated the newspaper La Dernière Heure on Monday, 26 July 2010. Plastic Bertrand previously disputed the allegation, but on 28 July 2010 the singer finally revealed that he is indeed not the singer of any of the songs in the first four albums released under the name Plastic Bertrand.
So here is Lou Deprijck singing in a language I now know to be Belgian.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The lesser pleasures of Kettering

Some pictures from my trip to Kettering today - it was easier to reach the bus stop across the road than walk into town.

Northampton Clown responds to criticism from Clowns International

Remember the Northampton Clown? Under an "Exclusive"label, the Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports:
Tony Eldridge, secretary of Clowns International which represents the entertainers in Britain, has said the Northampton Clown is “doing clowning no favours” ...
Mr Eldridge, whose clown name is Bluebottle, said...
Older reader's voice: "Was it 'You dirty rotten swine! You deaded me'?"

Liberal England replies patiently: No he said:
“The people behind it might see it as a bit of a laugh, but for the victims it can be a horrible experience.

“The fear of clowns – coulrophobia – is a real thing and some people will react very badly to this. Not to mention people who are elderly or vulnerable.

“This has nothing to do with clowning, it’s a small group of people with stupid views and it spoils the fun for everybody else.”

Mr Eldridge said most professional clowns followed a clown code of conduct which included not wearing their costume in public. 
You can see what he means: just ask the good people of King's Lynn.

But the Northampton Clown is having none of it. He told the Chronicle & Echo:
“I wave at people who spot me and they wave back and ask for a photo. I can’t help it if some one who sees me is afraid of clowns. My type of clowning is a positive thing and has brought a lot of happiness to many people who enjoy a bit of fun and mystery.

Liberal England in 2013 - part 1

If Lord Bonkers can look back on 2013 so can I. This is the first of four posts looking back at how this blog saw 2013.


The year began with Jeremy Browne telling us that being in government had been "a growing-up process for the Lib Dems". And in a post that was later picked up by Wired, I discussed how changing your vocabulary can convert your opponents.

I was still recollecting the previous summer's visit to Shropshire. The magnificent Wistanstow Village Hall turned out to be a palace built on chamber pots, while the photo above shows a memorial to three children who died in a hotel fire in Church Stretton in 1968.

Amid the month's blizzards, I asked why so many schools now close when it snows.

After discovering the songs of Nick Drake's mother, I commissioned a post on the politics of railway preservation from Joseph Boughey after seeing him on a television documentary. I was not too surprised that he turned out to be a former Young Liberal.


To the dismay of my sterner critics, railways proved to be a theme of this month too. I wrote of the plans for HS2:
If politics goes in cycles then this is pretty much where I came in. We are once again living in an age where the man in Whitehall knows best and environmental concerns are seen as the enthusiasms of an eccentric fringe.
I discovered a wonderful video of a pair of steam locomotives bursting out of Wing Tunnel in Rutland and found that the author of a book that was read to us at Boxmoor County Primary School - Peril on the Iron Road - was the father of the novelist Deborah Moggach.

Back in the political world, I suggested that Tim Mongomerie's appointment as comment editor of The Time was good news for Tim Mongomerie but bad news for David Cameron. And the photo above shows a Conservative press officer in the Eastleigh by-election reacting to a bon mot from the his candidate Maria Hutchings.


The month began with news that a Rutland aristocrat was employing a disgraced former Tory MP who had caned rent boys. Don't worry: it wasn't Lord Bonkers. And her involvement with poor Vicky Pryce saw Isabel Oakeshott win Email of the Week.

Controversy over secret courts found Tom McNally in Wonderland, while I faced up to the depredations of Cyril Smith - a subject which other Lib Dem bloggers avoided (probably because they are too young to remember him).

I spent most of the year failing to review Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? by David Boyle, but I discovered that an article of mine for the Journal of Liberal History - Searching for Paddy Logan - is now freely available.

Reader: [Shifts feet nervously.]

Liberal England: What is it?

Reader: Don't get me wrong: I love this feature. The thought of three more parts to come fills we with an almost erotic pleasure. But couldn't we have another photograph?

Liberal England. Oh, all right them. Here is Roger Helmer of UKIP and the East Midlands hard at work in the European parliament...

A Podcast to the Curious - a treat for M.R. James enthusiasts

This is turning out to be rather an M.R. James Christmas. So let me recommend A Podcast to the Curious:
Each episode your humble hosts Will Ross and Mike Taylor will be tackling a different M.R James story, providing a commentary on the story and discussing its themes and form interlaced with readings from the story. Along the way we hope to include discussion on stage, screen and radio adaptations of James’ stories, information on James’ life and interests as well as on the legions of authors who were inspired by him.
In fact their latest podcast looks at Mark Gatiss's adaptation of The Tractate Middoth and his documentary on James, which was shown immediately afterwards. I rather share their judgement that the documentary was better than the adaptation.

For a more typical podcast from the series try Lost Hearts - I blogged about the 1973 television adaptation of this on Boxing Day.

Talking of M.R. James, last year the Guardian recommended the boxed set Ghost Stories for Christmas, which contains all the adaptations of his tales from the 1970s:
These are some of the finest moments of British TV, from the era when our airwaves were the envy of the world. The stories were helmed by documentary director Lawrence Gordon Clark, who shot them all on film and on location, so there are no jarring cuts to the harsh video or flimsy sets that one associates with British TV of the time: they play like highly accomplished short films. 
Their powerful scares and creeping unease are as potent now as they were decades ago.
And, through the podcast, I have come across the website Ghosts & Scholars, which is dedicated to academic studies of these tales.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang locations

I see that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was on this afternoon, so I have an excuse for posting this video.

You will have had more than enough of the film's theme song by the end of it, but the location of The Scrumptious Sweet Co. is particularly interesting.

Lord Bonkers' adventures in 2013

I have just posted a survey of his lordship's activities over the past year on Liberator's blog.

Six of the Best 408

It's time to expose UKIP, says Issan Ghazni on Liberal Democrat Voice.

In the Guardian, Larry Elliott talks to the former West German premier Helmut Schmidt, who was first interviewed by the Manchester Guardian 81 years ago: "Britain has a problem which that will make itself felt in the next 15-20 years. In the 19th century it was the most advanced engineering nation in the world. Now it has more or less given up on engineering and replaced it with finance."

Campaigners for sex workers face bullying and bad data, says Belinda Brooks-Gordon on The Conversation.

Lowell Monke, writing for Orion Magazine, asks if it is time to unplug our schools. "To a large degree, American schools were invented out of a need to heat up children’s access to media. From the seventeenth century through the first half of the twentieth, schools were places children went to gain entry into the world of symbols. The abstract character of the texts and numbers found in schools complemented the intensely physical character of life outside."

Matter of Facts looks at parliament's attempts to ban Christmas during the Commonwealth. Religious correctness gone mad, I call it.

Rummage through The Archives of Raunds Town CC and you will find that the late Peter O'Toole once played cricket there.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Lost Hearts

The BBC shop in Leicester is a dangerous place. It is hard to visit without coming away with armfuls of DVDs from your youth.

Months ago I bought a boxed set of the corporation's Ghost Stories for Christmas. With some modern extras, it is made up of the M.R. James adaptations that were a feature of the festive season in the 1970s.

I had not summoned up the courage to watch any of them, so when Christmas Eve came along I thought it was time to be a man. I watched Lost Hearts from 1973, reasoning that it must be 40 years to the day since I saw it last - and also that, as I had survived it at the age of 13, I ought to be able to cope with it now.

It turns out, in fact, that it was shown on Christmas Day that year (as Slade gloried in their victory over Wizzard) - a mark of just how important these ghost stories were back in the day.

Lost Hearts was the second ghost story M.R. James wrote and it is not typical of his style. Forget the uncanny figures seen at the corner of our vision: the ghosts here are seen in the noonday sun. They appear in the first minute of the TV adaptation, which is entirely true to the spirit of the story.

As the director Lawrence Gordon Clark said in his interview with Mark Gatiss, James gives you wonderful scope for filming English landscapes and English buildings. And he took full advantage of it: I would love to know where he found the cupula, with its stained glass roof and wary cherubs.

Like all good boxed sets, this one has an accompanying booklet. In it, says Cathode Ray Tube, Gordon Clark:
denies the oft-made reading that the film is about child abuse and claims he wouldn't have made it if he felt that was the sub-text. He rather sees it as 'about the monsters that children fear' and 'one of the great nightmares that your father or mother may turn into an ogre or a witch'.
Well, maybe. But the boy in the story, Stephen, has been taken in by an elderly distant cousin who consumes children's hearts in an attempt to win immortal life for himself. It is hard not to see child abuse as one of the subjects of the story and adaptation.

The cousin is played with prancing glee by Joseph O'Conor. He was Mr Brownlow in the film of Oliver! and thus provides an interesting piece of intertextuality and a reminder that elderly bachelors may not be as benevolent as Dickens liked to hope.

Stephen was played by Simon Gipps-Kent, a child actor who was everywhere in the 1970s and died from what sounds like a drugs overdose in 1987 at the age of 28,. Yet a site devoted to his career is struggling to find out much about his life or death. That is spooky too.

Is Dickens bigger than Jesus now?

We are frequently told we should remember the true meaning of Christmas. But the Nativity story, for all its charm, does not point much of a moral to modern readers. Fast forward to the crucifixion and, in many hands, you read of a human sacrifice to appease an angry god.

More and more, it seems to me, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with its message of redemption in this life, provides the morality of this season.

Dickens was a devout Christian himself and his faith was the grounding for his belief in social reform. Yet strip away the very pagan spirit world of the Carol and you have an extremely practical faith to live by.

Over to Marley's ghost:
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. 
"Business!" cried the ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
So the true meaning of Christmas becomes a story about Christmas. That's not just modern: it's postmodern.

Alexei Sayle on revolutionary biscuits

M.R. James features in Trivial Fact of the Day

My curiosity piqued by Mark Gatiss's excellent documentary on Montague Rhodes James, I looked up the late Robert Rhodes James. He was Conservative MP for Cambridge from 1976 to 1992.

And it turns out that they are related. M.R. James was the uncle of Robert Rhodes James.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas to all my readers

Report on Mike Hancock's conduct emerges

From today's Guardian:
A previously unpublished independent report has found evidence that veteran Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock sexually assaulted and harassed a constituent and made "unwelcome sexual approaches", the Guardian can reveal. 
Nigel Pascoe QC, a leading barrister in sexual crime cases, interviewed Hancock's accuser at length at the request of Portsmouth city council and concluded in August that there was evidence of sexual advances made by Hancock and that the MP was fully aware of his alleged victim's mental health problems. 
Pascoe also examined dozens of texts sent by Hancock to his accuser over a nine-month period from October 2009.
The report has not been published by the council, but a redacted version was sent to the constituent last week.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas is Charity

Smashy and Nicey remind us of the real meaning of Christmas.

Vote for your Headline of the Year

The judges have drawn up a shortlist of a dozen of my best Headlines of the Day from 2013. Now you can choose my Headline of the Year by voting in the poll I have set up in the right-hand column.

Voting will close as 2013 does.

In praise of Graeme Swann

I love spin bowling. When I was a teenager I used to catch the coach to Northampton to watch Bishen Bedi and pretend that I understood the way he thought batsmen out.

Because a large part of the spin bowler's art consists in getting into the batsman's mind. I remember Graeme Swann at Lord's last summer: in the Australian second innings he turned a ball square in his first over and terrified the batsmen so much that he took two wickets with dead straight deliveries shortly afterwards.

Which brings us to Swann's retirement.

To deal first with the timing of it, if Swann feels he is no longer fit enough to bowl effectively throughout a five-day test match then he is right to say so. In an earlier age he would have had to stay on for the good of the team, but in the age of jet travel and development squads there is no reason for him to do so. Any modern rugby fan will know that a play who insists on staying on when he is injured is a liability not a hero

So let us praise Graeme Swann not bury him.

In last night's Six of the Best I linked to a good tribute to him in Nouse, the York student paper. And there is a brilliant one the Guardian today by Vic Marks:
This is a far from the ideal way to go but his sudden exit should not disguise a brilliant and unexpected England career. Remember he toured South Africa in 1999 as a bumptious 20 year old; he succeeded only in getting up many noses and was then ostracised for almost a decade. By 2008 he knew his trade yet no one anticipated that he would make such an impact. Conventional finger spinners were as out of fashion as hula hoops. They provided insufficient mystery for modern batsmen with their mighty cudgels. 
Swann soon demonstrated that this theory required modification for several reasons: he spun the ball more than most finger-spinners; he was braver than most, too, since he would bowl a more attacking line to right-handers.
Not only was Swann the best England spinner since Derek Underwood, he was also a great slip catcher and a useful batsman who scored runs quickly if the opposition did not get him early on.

More than that, he was the heart of the team and did much to make what could be rather a dour outfit more likeable.

As Vic Marks says:
Off the field he was generally a delight. In the press room there was always a tinge of relief when it was announced that Swann was on his way. He shunned the usual banalities, could rarely resist that one-liner and generally provided good copy, though nothing quite so sensational as his revelation of retirement in this weekend's Sun on Sunday. 
England will be a duller, weaker side without him.
Soon, no doubt, we shall see Swann as a commentator on cricket and quite possibly a media personality more widely. But before we do, let us celebrate his achievement as a test cricketer:
Despite the suddenness of his retirement ... his legacy is secure. Only Derek Underwood among the spinners took more wickets for England. Along the way Swann surpassed Laker, Lock, Titmus, Emburey, Edmonds and Illingworth. He would have settled for that at the beginning of December 2008 when, in his 30th year, he had yet to play a Test.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Six of the Best 407

"You could say capitalism is a means to an end, the end being lifting humanity out of poverty in order to enable it to lead the good life. That’s the essential point. The idea that we grow forever and ever seems to me a form of insanity because economic growth is, after all, only a means to wellbeing." Robert Skidelsky is interviewed by the British Politics and Policy at LSE Blog.

Mark Thompson offers an article template for any politico who has been outraged by anything - think The Molesworth Self-Adjusting Thank You Letter.

Caught by the River remembers the forgotten genius of Ian Nairn.

"A great many of his photos depict holidaymakers and day-trippers determinedly eating in the most unlikely or unpromising circumstances." That's How the Light Gets In reviews "Only in England" - the Science Museum's exhibition of the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr.

My Tonight from Shrewsbury has an appreciation of the town's Castle Gates Library.

"A player like Graeme Swann comes about once in a lifetime and we should be grateful we were the generation of fans who got to experience his career." Beth Jakubowski, writing for the University of York student newspaper Nouse, pays tribute to the England spinner who announced his retirements

Nigel Farage angry at minister’s ‘finger up bottom slur’

The Metro wins our Headline of the Day Award.

How is Nick Clegg's inquiry into briefing against Vince Cable coming along?

Back in September, during the Liberal Democrats' autumn conference, the Observer announced:
Nick Clegg has launched an inquiry into claims that aides have been involved in a "dirty tricks" campaign against his leadership rival Vince Cable. 
The Liberal Democrat leader is investigating an allegation that members of the media have been briefed with erroneous information damaging Cable's position in the party. 
The move followed an angry complaint from an MP during a meeting of the parliamentary party at last week's Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.
I suggested at the time that there was no need for an inquiry - "Can't Nick just tell his people to stop doing it?"

But an inquiry it was. Yet I have seen nothing since about who is conducting the inquiry and when it is to report.

It is a good thing I am such a trusting person. Otherwise I might question whether this inquiry exists at all.

I was reminded of Nick's inquiry when I read Charlotte Henry's examination of the candidates for the Lib Dem deputy leadership for the Spectator:
As another well placed source put it, it’s ‘about the politics of the big four or five,’ and why would Clegg’s team allow someone close to Cable into the role, when they’ve “spent 18 months putting him in his box”?
We can congratulate Charlotte on being so well connected, but it seems the people around Nick Clegg have not changed their spots.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Dantalian's Chariot: Madman Running Through the Fields

Andy Summers from The Police will be 71 on New Year's Eve. That may sound strange, but he had a long career before he met Sting, and this is one of the highlights from it.

Summers (or Somers as he spelt it for a while) formed Dantalian's Chariot with his friend Zoot Money, and this song of their is now regarded as one of the key songs of Britsh psychedelia in the 1960s.

After Dantalian's Chariot Summers and Money joined Eric Burdon in a later incarnation of The Animals. They have already featured here on Colored Rain.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Watson Fothergill of Nottingham

In Nottingham looking for the Five Leaves Bookshop last Saturday, I came across this piece of Victorian fantasy.

It turned out to be the offices of the local architect Watson Fothergill, who was responsible for many buildings in the city and beyond.

Among them are the former home of the Nottingham Express, with its busts of Gladstone, Cobden and Bright and plaque to the memory of Graham Greene, who used to work there as a journalist.

Greville Janner's London home searched by Leicestershire police

There were rumours circulating on Twitter last night that Lord Janner, the former Labour MP for Leicester West, had been arrested.

I was not going to repeat them without an authoritative source (remember silly Sally Bercow?), but now the story has made the newspapers.

In fact Lord Janner has not been arrested, but his London home has been searched by Leicestershire police.

As the Ham & High tells it:
Leicestershire Police officers searched a luxury flat belonging to Lord Greville Janner, 85, in West Heath Road on Monday and Tuesday. 
A spokesman for the force said officers had travelled to Hampstead to carry out the searches earlier this week as part of a probe into historic child sex offences alleged to have taken place in the Leicestershire area. 
No arrests have been made as part of the investigation and no one has been interviewed by police.
The ITV site quotes the following statement made on behalf of Lord Janner:
"Lord Janner has not been arrested but has been assisting the Police with their enquiries. We are not able to make any further comment at this time."

Liberal Democrats gain seat in Lincolnshire by-election

Lesley Rollings gained a seat on Lincolnshire County Council from the Conservatives last night.

The voting figures in the Scotter Rural ward were:

Liberal Democrat - 746 (49.2% +26.3)
Conservative - 348 (23.6% -18.4)
UKIP - 264 (17.9% -7.1)
Independent - 137 (9.3% +9.3)

Congratulations to Lesley and her team for a tremendous campaign.

Perhaps more significant than the defeat of the Conservatives was the failure of UKIP. As their own website said:
We came second in this division in May without putting out a leaflet, so we do stand a chance of winning these seats.
There was also a by-election in the Scotter ward of West Lindsey District Council (which forms part of the larger county ward) last night. I shall post the result here when I have it.

Later. The result in the West Lindsey District Council by-election was:

Independent 529
Conservative 219
Liberal Democrat 148
UKIP 138

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Otters on the River Welland in Market Harborough

In January of last year I linked to a murky video of otters on the River Welland in the centre of Market Harborough.

Now the Harborough Mail has linked to a much clearer video of two of the creatures on the river behind Lidl. As this is the way I walk to and from the station, I shall keep an eye out for them. I have already photographed a heron there.

One thing worries me. In the first video one of the otters was playing with a beer bottle. In the new one the two otters are fighting.

This is a decent town and we don't want incomers who are going to affect the value of our homes.

Merry Christmas from your Conservative council

You know all those right-wing bloggers and columnists who like to attack the left for being too politically correct to celebrate Christmas properly?

I wonder if any of them will have the courage to condemn the Conservative-run Hammersmith & Fulham Council for sending this appalling card to their tenants.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Twickenham to Teddington by trolleybus

The video shows the first day of operation of this route - 16 May 1931. Thirty-one years later it saw the last trolleybuses to run in London.

David Cameron: "No ifs, no buts, no third runway"

Time to repeat an image from September of last year. This was one of Justine Greening's leaflets at the last general election.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Northampton Past and Present 1

I have come across a series of short videos (cut from one longer film) about the history and buildings of Northampton. They were shot in 1992, so their past and present has become past and past.

Rob, who made the film, warns: "Unless you have an interest in Northampton, or in history, you may find them a bit heavy-going." But I am sure we all have those interests here.

This first video shows you more of the last days of the Emporium Arcade, which Ian Nairn also witnessed.

Six of the Best 406

Activist Post explains why 500 innocent Americans are shot dead by the police each year.

It is completely unacceptable for children to be placed in adult mental health wards, says Aled  Roberts on Freedom Central.

Matthew Taylor (not the former Lib Dem MP) passes on two accounts of the baleful effect of the current inspection regime for schools: "Understand that any sixth form discussion of a complex topic, which lasted longer than a few minutes, would be graded as unsatisfactory, because the boxes could not be ticked for the inspector."

"I see the current small, but growing, community of archaeological bloggers as so many militant moles who are mining away at the foundations of those loathsome ivory towers that were erected in the ‘50s and 60s to keep our fascinating subject above and beyond the aspirations of ordinary people. Who knows, but with luck we’ll soon bring them crashing to the ground." The mighty Francis Pryor makes his contribution to the archaeology blogging festival.

"Decorations were hung on Christmas Eve (it was considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas)." The Jane Austen Giftshop tells us about Christmas in the old girl's day.

John McGowan, on Discursive of Tunbridge Wells, celebrates the work of the writer and illustrator Shirley Hughes: "Hughes is as accurate a witness to childhood as any psychologist, and it’s this quality that characterises the greatest children’s fiction."

Artificial leg prompts ‘paedophile panic’ at swimming pool and evacuation of children

Metro wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Mission accomplished in Afghanistan?

David Cameron announced today that our mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished.

But was he right? Come to that, what was our mission there?

I found the answer in an old House Points column of mine from Liberal Democrat News. In March 2006 I wrote:
Now British troops are off to Afghanistan again. At Monday’s defence questions John Reid confirmed there are currently around 1600 there, and this will increase to around 5700. 
Why are they going? Reid described their task as establishing democracy, ending terrorism, achieving security in the south of Afghanistan, helping the Afghan economy and dealing with poppy destruction. He did not say what they are doing after lunch.
A little research tells me that I was writing about defence questions on 27 February 2006.

The list of tasks was not a direct quote from John Reid, then the secretary of state, but were put into his mouth by James Gray.

I am not sure I would want anything of Mr Gray's put into my mouth, but Reid did not demur from them.

So, no, our mission in Afghanistan has not been achieved, but that is no reflection on our forces or David Camerson - even if he was stupid to use George W. Bush's glib phrase.

No, it is a reflection on the absurd ideas the last Labour government had when it sent troops there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Little Walter: Jump

Little Walter was the great Chicago blues harmonica player, appearing as a member of the band or as a session musician on many recordings by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters. It was his sound that many of the British R&B groups of the 1960s were seeking to emulate.

Here is playing in 1967 with, looking very relaxed, Hound Dog Taylor on guitar.

By all accounts Little Walter was mean as a coyote that had missed its breakfast and died from the effects of a street fight and hard living.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham

It takes courage to open a new bookshop today: there is only a Waterstones left in Leicester (though we still have a Waterstones and an independent bookshop here in Market Harborough). So when I heard that the Five Leaves Publications had opened a shop in Nottingham, I determined to visit the next time I was in the city.

I was there today and was not disappointed. The Five Leaves Bookshop is in an alley near the Council House and well worth a visit.

Like the Five Leaves Publications list, the shop has a left-wing feel, but it is widely interpreted. One of the best things the Five Leaves Press has done is keep alive the voices of distinctive figures like Richard Boston and Ray Gosling, who would otherwise have been forgotten.

It has also played a central part in the revival of interest in Ian Nairn by publishing the study of his career by Gillian Darley and David McKie - Ian Nairn: Words in Place.

Incidentally, Left Lion tells us that when the head of Five Leaves, Ross Bradshaw, came to Nottingham in 1979 it had five radical bookshops.

The last days of the Bedford to Cambridge line

On Thursday I blogged about plans to reopen the railway line from Bedford to Cambridge.

These photographs, which show the last days of that line in the late 1960s and its decay through the 1970s, were taken by Malcolm Thomas. The music is Argier by Mike Oldfield.

The climate of Tolkien's Shire resembles that of Leicestershire

There was some press coverage earlier this week for an academic paper from climate scientists from the University of Bristol who had used computer modelling to see what the climate of Tolkien's Middle Earth would have been like.

The university website has a press release on the research and also links to the full paper. There you will read:
The main findings concerning Middle Earth are that:
  • The climate of Middle Earth has a similar distribution to that of Western Europe and North Africa.
  • Mordor has an inhospitable climate, even ignoring the effects of Sauron - hot and dry with little vegetation. 
  • Ships sailing for the Undying Lands in the West set off from the Grey Havens due to the prevailing winds in that region. 
  • Much of Middle Earth would have been covered in dense forest if the landscape had not been altered by dragons, orcs, wizards etc
  • Lincolnshire or Leicestershire in the UK, or near Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand, have an annual-average climate very similar to that of The Shire. 
  • Los Angeles and western Texas in the USA, and Alice Springs in Australia, have an annual-average climate very similar to that of Mordor
The message is clear: come to Leicestershire for your elf's sake.

Friday, December 13, 2013

News Story of the Day comes from Finedon

Well done to the Northamptonshire Telegraph:
Ken’s Diner in Finedon closes 
An authentic American restaurant has closed and relocated to the States.
You can see what happened. The owners spent 18 months in search of that elusive authenticity until someone put his finger on the problem. They were in Finedon.

The Market Harborough floods of July 2013

Remember the Market Harborough floods in July? Well, they were very popular on this blog at the time.

Here is a video of the town centre that evening, complete with a commentary in Polish.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Six of the Best 405

The Liberal Democrats are unpopular, but things can change argues Neil Monnery: "Labour now lead the polls just ten years after going into a very unpopular war and five odd years after overseeing the tanking of the economy. They are doing that with a leader who has zero personality or political nous and a shadow Chancellor who is, to be frank, vastly out of his depth. That says a great deal about how politics can ebb and flow...."

Ian Smart on the wide appeal of the Anti-Apartheid movement and how he didn't meet Nelson Mandela.

"When Mandela donned a Springbok jersey and walked onto the field to congratulate the captain, Francois Pienaar, not only was he making a sporting gesture, but reaching deep into the heart of white South Africa. Implicit in his gesture was a reassurance that he would value the things that whites held dear and seek to accommodate their interests, alongside others." Angela Gilchrist writes for Discursive of Tunbridge Wells on her time as a young journalist in South Africa and the process of national reconciliation.

Information Right and Wrongs reminds us that children can refuse to have their fingerprints taken for internal school systems.

Landscapism visits the Uffington White Horse and Wayland's Smithy.

"From here we conducted a quick march down Oxford Street, dodging the throng of Christmas shoppers, and into Soho Square for another reading from Jerusalem." Richly Evocative joins a walk taking in a variety of sites associated with the artist and visionary poet William Blake.

Progress on reopening of the Oxford to Cambridge line

Good news from the Oxford Mail:
The Department for Transport has given its support to plans for the reopening of a rail link between Oxford and Cambridge and says it is now starting work on the proposal.
Oxford to Bletchley is open for most of its length but for freight only; Bletchley to Bedord has a passenger service; and Bedford to Cambridge closed in 1967 and has been built on in places. You can read about the proposals to revive and rebuild the line on the East West Rail website.

And there's more good news in the Coventry Telegraph: a new station is to be built in Kenilworth.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

St Giles Cheese, Northampton

It is pleasing to find a shop on the internet, travel there and find it is just as good as you hoped it would be.

From the St Giles Cheese website:
Hi, we are Steve & Caroline Ward and we opened St Giles Cheese in July 2010. On returning from France we became frustrated at just how poor the availability of good cheese (and bread, wine & pretty much everything else) was in the UK. So we set about jumping in headlong with very little research and no food retail experience!! Twelve weeks later the doors of our little emporium opened. 
Our plan was (and still is) simple: to source some of the amazing cheeses from around Great Britain and Europe that are not freely available in the supermarkets. From the best West Country cheddars to fresh goats cheese from France, each one of our cheeses has been selected by us for its quality and flavour. 
We soon realised if we applied this ‘Best is Best’ principle to all our products we could offer our customers a real alternative choice to the bland homogenised fodder found on the Supermarket shelves.

GUEST POST Politic360: Mending online political discussion

Jason Brown is launching Politic360, a new social media platform for political discussion
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1” - Godwin's law
Right now political discussion on the internet is broken. If you don’t believe me head over to any of the top political blogs, be it left wing or right wing, and read some of the comments on some of the posts, it won’t be long before you find slurs, insults and lies.

Facebook and Twitter are no better, both act more like an echo chamber than a platform for meaningful and thoughtful discussion. Rather than encourage engagement in politics they have the opposite effect and drive people away from engaging in discussions around the issues and policies that are close to their heart.

Politic360 aims to fix this broken system. Born out of a personal need, Politic360 will connect people through their ideas and opinions rather than their existing social networks, and allow them to speak out without fear of catching the flak.

While existing social media platforms are a bad place to host a meaningful discussion, social media is an excellent way to engage people. Because of this Politic360 has social sharing tools tightly integrated. Users will be able to create a topic for discussion or engage in a discussion already trending and then share every discussion topic, every post, and every comment through multiple social media outlets, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to enhance the distribution.

As well as a platform for discussion and debate it is hoped Politic360 will become a tool for people to learn and educate themselves on political issues.

There are issues that the media doesn’t cover that are important, especially at the community level, so Politic360 is also a great platform to create awareness of the issues within local communities that matter. Politic360 will help educate the public because they will be exposed to passionate, unbiased debates rather than be at the receiving end of biased stories.

You can sign-up to Politic360 and get early access to the beta version, follow it on Twitter and like it on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

David Heath to promote new laws to control spying agencies

Tomorrow's Guardian says that the former Liberal Democrat minister David Heath is to demand new laws to make sure Britain's spying agencies do not intercept calls or email data without a specific warrant:
He told the Guardian there were gaps in legislation governing the intelligence services that had to be closed, and called for the UK to follow America's example in looking at how to address the issue.
The report goes on to say that Heath attempt to bring in a new bill from the backbenches will have cross-party support. The paper names Labour's Tom Watson, the Conservative former diplomat Rory Stewart, Caroline Lucas, of the Greens, Elfyn Llwyd, the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, and Simon Hughes.

Certainly, something needs to be done in the light of recent revelations. Parliament, or at least the dimmer Conservative backbenchers, appears to believe that all we need do is prosecute the Guardian.

But then, under Labour, Blair's deceit over Iraq was set aside in favour of a campaign against the BBC.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Greyfriars Bus Station, Northampton, will close in March

So said the Northampton Chronicle & Echo last month, though their is now a row over who will pay for the subsequent demolition. I suggest a public subscription - it would do well:
Greyfriars opened in April 1976 at a cost of £7.2 million. 
By May 1976 the bus station was already labelled a ‘white elephant’. 
In August 1976, the station was described as ‘the worst mistake in Northampton’s history’. 
In 1997, Barclaycard moved out of offices above the station. 
In 2005, Grand Designs presenter, Kevin McCloud called the station ‘the mouth of hell’. 
In 2007, the car park above the station closed because chemicals were leaking on to cars. Sewage was also leaking through the roof. 
In 2009 a woman died after being hit by a bus in the station. A man died in similar circumstances in 2004.
I took some photos there today to give you a flavour of the place.

Meanwhile Northampton's new North Gate bus station is taking shape, above ground, in Sheep Street.

Trenton Oldfield wins his appeal and can stay in the UK

I was pleased to see Trenton Oldfield win his appeal against effective deportation from the United Kingdom.

His protest at last year's Boat Race was foolish - though Lord Bonkers took the long view - but that pales when set against Theresa May's vindictive decision to deny him the visa he needed to stay in the country.

Were Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms doomed from the start?

Iain Duncan Smith will face the Commons welfare and pensions committee over the problems with the introduction of his universal credit later today. Like most such occasions, it will probably prove a damp squib. The format of the meetings and the inadequacy of individual MPs' questioning mean witnesses are rarely forced into a damaging admissions.

But IDS's reform are in trouble. And, thinking about why that might be, I was reminded of an interview Vince Cable gave to a group of Liberal Democrat bloggers  in 2007.

Writing it up for my House Points column in the party newspaper, I described Vince's view of Gordon Brown:
Brown is in love with the power of the state and blind to its limitations. So schemes like tax credits begin with the best of intentions but founder on the inflexibility of bureaucracy and the complexity of people’s lives.
And maybe that is the problem with IDS too.

The universal credit is an appealing idea - John Pardoe always talked about bringing the tax and benefit systems together when he was the Liberal Party's economic spokesman in the 1970s - but maybe it too cannot cope with the inflexibility and complexity of our lives.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Six of the Best 404

Peter Black, quoting Toby Young, criticises Labour's record on education (and much else) in Wales: "Parental choice in Wales is limited to deciding whether to send a child to a school where lessons are taught in English or Welsh. The country has indulged in ... 'producerism's last hurrah'. Hardly surprising, then, that 26 per cent of the Welsh population over 16 have no recognised qualifications, according to the 2011 census."

Freedom from Command and Control has fun with councils' straplines.

"The old school headmasters were right; it is both desirable and possible to build character," says Stumbling and Mumbling.

Amy Jane Barnes on finds the Chinese community in Leicester is older than some sources suggest.

"It opened a month before Disneyland, but the years have not been so kind to this haven of kitsch. Now it lays abandoned, lonely and forgotten. Like all those Yuletide wishes you made under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree." Roadtrippers visits two abandoned Santa villages in the United States.

Christopher Orr in The Atlantic resists those who would make Richard Curtis's film a beloved holiday classic: "But Love Actually is exceptional in that it is not merely, like so many other entries in the genre, unromantic. Rather, it is emphatically, almost shockingly, anti-romantic."

Mighty Baby: House Without Windows

Martin Stone hopped, pre-dawn, through the Cheshire street market, scavenging books. Winklepickers, tourniquet trousers, mildewed beret, bulging swagbag: Blind Pew impersonated by Max Wall. Cigarette grafted to trembling, prehensile fingers, he was an anthology of retro fashion. And in his wake there shimmered a vortex of gossip and, amazingly, goodwill. The stallholders, having been swiftly dispossessed of their choicest treasures, reminisced so wistfully about him that he was granted a prematurely posthumous status. His regular disappearances were eagerly anticipated: nobody speaking to him could believe he was actually there. Conversation seemed to be post-synchronised. If I now revisit Ron with his cargo of competitively priced publishers' "seconds", the first thing he'll say is: "Any news of Martin? Lovely feller."
Before he profiled the bookscout Martin Stone for the Independent in 1995, Iain Sinclair had lightly fictionalised him as Nicholas Lane in his dark and fizzing 1987 novel White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.

But before that, before he became a legendary finder of rare and lost books, Martin Stone had a musical career. He played guitar with a number of bands, notably Mighty Baby. They played the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and Glastonbury in 1971. The track above is taken from their first LP, also called Mighty Baby, which was issued in 1969.

And Stone still plays. White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings was published in Uppingham by Goldmark. And on Youtube you can find a video of Martin Stone and Friends playing at the Goldmark Gallery there in 2011.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The last day of Birmingham Corporation Tramways

The last of Birmingham's once extensive tramway system closed on 4 July 1953.

Soon trams will return to the city centre.

Peter Cook nearly fought Hampstead for the Liberal Democrats

One of the perks of helping out with Liberal Democrat News at the party's conference was that I got to talk about The Archers with Jock Gallagher, who used to edit the programme, and comedy with Adrian Slade.

Adrian was the man who auditioned Peter Cook for the Cambridge Footlights. I remember him saying that Cook was the funniest person he had ever met. You would spend the whole evening with him laughing, but the next morning you wouldn't be able to remember what it was he had said.

Today I picked up a copy Something Like Fire: Peter Cook Remembered. Edited by his wife Lin, it contains tributes to Cook by many people who knew him.

One of those people is Adrian Slade, and he tells a story about Cook I had not heard before:
He had always felt more at home with the Liberals than any other party and he told me that he relished the idea of taking on Glenda Jackson, who had just become Labour candidate for Hampstead. The Hampstead Liberal Democrat candidacy was still vacant and for a short time he was on the verge of being persuaded by me to put himself forward for the next general election (1992). Discussions had become almost official when a new project intervened and he backed away. It would have been an intriguing and explosive contest.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Forget your bear and hare: My favourite advert this Christmas

1970s nostaligia: The Protectors

I have spent chunks of the past two days wrestling with public transport and losing, so here is some 1970s nostalgia to cheer me up. To be honest, I have much clearer memories of the theme song than I do of the series itself.

The Protectors was unusual in being a Gerry Anderson series that had nothing to do with puppets or science fiction. It starred Robert Vaughn (searching even then for the lost vowel in his name) and Nyree Dawn Porter (famous in those days for The Forsyte Saga).

Fifty-two episodes were made between 1972 and 1974. According to TV Heaven:
Written by the top TV scriptwriters of the day, The Protectors scripts were of a frequently high calibre, set against a backdrop of glamorous locations and told at a cracking pace. In typical Gerry Anderson style, the introduction sequence featured car chases, punch-ups and explosions and the ending had a stirring theme tune, ‘Avenues and Alleyways’, which became a top forty hit (charting at number 37) for Tony Christie and until 2005 it remained the singers longest-running chart hit.
You can hear the full song - and see Christie in front of some very 1972 decor - on Youtube. The video above shows the opening and closing titles of the show.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Bishop's Castle: "That despicable mass of rottenness"

I once wrote in my House Points column for the much-missed Liberal Democrat News:
The steep main street of Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire runs from the site of the long-vanished castle down to a church with a Norman tower. 
At the top of that street is a collection of fine Georgian houses. When you discover how they were paid for, you realise there is nothing new about political corruption. 
Before the Great Reform Act of 1832 Bishop’s Castle was a notorious rotten borough. Despite having fewer than a hundred electors for much of its history, the town returned two MPs. (There were worse cases: Old Sarum – a hilltop above Salisbury – had two MPs and no residents at all.) 
Not surprisingly, this situation led to corruption. But it did not take the form we generally imagine when we think of the elections of past centuries. This was not a case of candidates plying voters with free drink and then dragging them off to the polls. 
Instead, the electors of Bishop’s Castle realised their votes were of great value to would-be MPs and sold them for hard cash.
Which is why, in an 1832 article welcoming the Great Reform Act, the Spectator described the town as "that despicable mass of rottenness".