Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Empty Stage: John Piper's romantic vision of spirit, place and time



Rutland is notable for more than cats. Today I visited Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham and bought An Empty Stage - a video documentary about the artist John Piper.

Now archaeologists find a Roman cemetery under a Leicester car park

I used to feel a little sorry for developers in York: whenever they dug a hole to start building something they found a priceless piece of archaeology and were held up for months.

It's getting like that in Leicester now, as the Mercury reports:
The University of Leicester hit the headlines last year when it unearthed the remains of King Richard III which were buried under a city council car park. 
Now, archaeologists from the university have identified 13 sets of remains, thought to date back to about 300AD, at a car park in Oxford Street, near the Magazine. 
The site is believed to be a Roman burial ground and includes a number of personal items, such as rings, hairpins, belt buckles and remains of shoes. 
Project officer John Thomas said the site was significant because the team had found both Christian and Pagan graves. 
"We were surprised by this," he said. "It's quite a juxtaposition of traditions, so it may be that we've found an area of a cemetery where they mixed religious beliefs." 
The cemetery, which held the bodies of men and women of varying ages, lies outside the boundary of the old Roman town, as Christian burials were not permitted inside the walls. 
Among the finds was the skeleton of a young person with a ring with a Christian symbol etched into it.
A reminder that, like York, Leicester was a city in Roman times.

Cat of the Day visits Oakham


Monday, April 29, 2013

Liberal Democrat Party Political Broadcast for Thursday's council elections



Ever the loyalist, me.

Charles Masterman and British propaganda in World War I

Britain's propaganda campaign in World War I has been in the news recently because of the discovery of papers showing that A.A. Milne was one of the many writers involved.

The person initially in charge of that campaign was this blog's hero Charles Masterman. And an article in the Daily Telegraph by Alan Judd (which has somehow escaped the paper's firewall) mentions him at some length:
Milne’s MI7B was established in 1916 to help counter the effects of mounting war losses, industrial discontent, peace activists and German propaganda abroad. In fact, this was really the bureaucratic incorporation of an existing propaganda outfit set up by the journalist and Liberal Party politician, Charles Masterman. 
Formally called the War Propaganda Bureau, it was better known to those on the inside track as the Wellington House operation. In a brilliant exercise in improvisation, Masterman made effective use of his pre-war literary and artistic contacts to counter German propaganda in the US. He secretly sponsored books by reputable academics to send to influential Americans, and recruited writers such John Buchan, HG Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle. 
Within a month of the outbreak of war, Masterman had commissioned a book by his novelist friend Ford Madox Ford (who was in fact half-German), which was published six months later as When Blood is their Argument (a quote from Henry V – “For how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument”). This was not the crude German-bashing and flag-waving that seems to have made Milne unhappy, but a balanced and informed argument to the effect that the admirable German culture had been turned on its head by the ascendance of militarist Prussia. 
Ford followed it with another propaganda book, Between St Dennis and St George, a more discursive work stressing the value of French culture in opposing Prussian militarism. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up and translated by the French government. 
Masterman’s activities extended beyond such relatively esoteric propaganda, however. He did much to publicise the German atrocities in Belgium in late 1914 and early 1915. These, attested by refugees, contributed significantly to anti-German sentiment both here and abroad, though lurid stories of babies being bounced on bayonets proved counter-productive in the longer term. 
For much of the 20th century, tales of the Belgium atrocities were written off as exaggerations – overshadowed anyway by what came later in the Second World War – but recent research has shown that they happened. The shell-shocked refugees did not make them up. 
Masterman also ensured that the German execution of nurse Edith Cavell on the spurious grounds of spying caused widespread outrage, evidence of which is her statue facing Trafalgar Square. His operation helped Kitchener mobilise the population, too, originating the famous poster of two children posing the awkward question to their father, “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” 
It wasn’t only writers that were involved with Wellington House, but painters such as Paul Nash and Francis Dodd, too. 
Masterman also incurred the lasting enmity of successive Turkish governments by publicising the Armenian genocide.

The decline of backstreet shops

On Saturday I wrote about the decline of backstreet shops.

Talking Shop; An Oral History of Retailing in the Market Harborough Area During the 20th Century by Sam Mullins and David Stockdale gives us some figures for the town:
From 1900 to 1912 the number of suburban shops nearly trebled to thirty-five, and by 1922 a peak of thirty-seven had been reached. This number stayed roughly constant through the decades between the wars.
Today, though the town is much larger, the figure must be around half a dozen.

Six of the Best 347

Paul Goodman from Conservative Home joins David Cameron as he meets Tory workers on the campaign trail: "They respect the Prime Minister's office, clearly admire him, even like him - and seem to think that he's doing his best. But I get no sense, as I did when I used to watch Margaret Thatcher talking to party members, that they feel he's One of Us."

Where Worlds Collide finds that "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" anticipated the rise of UKIP way back in the 1970s.

Writing on Ceasefire, Robert Kazandjian explains why the battle to have the Armenian genocide of 1915 recognised matters.

"There is little sense in shouting against the wind, but the blog—the blog as a thematically or personally coherent space containing an individual's or a subject's specific interests, commitments, attitudes—was a great thing, and its decline is saddening." Blogging is so over, argues Marc Tracy on New Republic.

"If elected, Steve will attend every meeting, sub-committee, surgery and so on, but nevertheless will pledge to use all his basic expenses as a KCC councillor (approx. £12,000 p.a.) to support the celebration of the anniversary of Marcel Duchamp in Herne Bay." Steve Coombes - Duchampion is standing on a novel ticket in the Kent resort.

My Tonight from Shrewsbury on otters, saxophones and the town's railway bridge.

The Later Careers of Moderately Successful University Bowlers of the 1970s: 2. R. le Q. Savage

Backwatersman has a post about Leicestershire's recent defeat at the hands of the Leeds/Bradford MCC Universities XI. He explains why losing to a bunch of students is not the cause for shame that it would have been a few seasons ago.

In describing the sort of players turning out for these MCC Universities sides these days he says:
It’s all a very long way from the Wingfield-Digbys and R. le Q. Savages of yore (decent players though they both were).
You will recall that I found the Revd Andrew Wingfield-Digby holding a living in the pleasant suburbs of North Oxford a couple of summers ago.

But whatever, I hear you ask, became of R le Q. Savage?

A little googling provides the answer that he is a) a teacher and, b) married to the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Vic Marks adds:
He was a gifted bowler, who propelled fast off-breaks at about the same pace as Don Shepherd used to do. He was a very enthusiastic cricketer and quite an emotional one. I captained him for a couple of seasons in the Parks and I enjoyed the experience. But my guess is that Caroline controls him better.

Paddy Ashdown blasts Tory demonisation of poor

Inside Housing reports a speech that the former Lib Dem leader made to the Chartered Institute of Housing south west conference in Torquay on Friday.

Paddy Ashdown said:
"The demonisation of the poor, which has been going on there is no doubt about that, is extremely unhelpful to the nation and very unhelpful in getting through these changes which I think are necessary and helpful to the country.
"And we will continue to fight that and continue in this government to restrain them [the Conservatives] from doing things that are either damaging to those that least able to bear the burdens or infringing our civil liberties."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Badfinger: Without You



After seeing The Zombies play Market Harborough a couple of years ago I wrote:
We discover popular music backwards as well as forwards ... I can remember my surprise at learning that Carlos Santana was not the writer of She's Not There. (I don't feel so bad after hearing Rod Argent telling the younger members of tonight's audience that his band recorded the original version of God Gave Rock and Roll to You.)
Yesterday I made another discovery of this sort. I remember Harry Nilsson's recording of "Without You" topping the singles' chart in 1972 and had always assumed it was his song.

Not so.

Yesterday's Independent had an article about the sad story of the band Badfinger. It began:
They were supposed to be the next Beatles; but a series of tragedies, mismanagement and “rock and roll rip-offs” left Badfinger little more than a sad footnote in musical history. 
But now the 1970s power-pop band are finally getting the recognition their fans believe they deserve, as the city of Swansea today unveils a blue plaque to troubled frontman Pete Ham, who committed suicide, aged 27. The plaque, close to the city’s railway station, will honour Ham as one of the region’s “finest musical talents”. 
At the peak of the band’s fame he played “Here Comes the Sun” at New York’s Madison Square Garden with George Harrison, but Ham is now largely remembered for writing a song – “Without You” – that Harry Nilsson, and Mariah Carey would later cover to global success.
Here are Badfinger performing "Without You", though the person who posted this on Youtube suggests they are miming.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meet Lemon Kelly by E.W. Hildick

Recreating your childhood ... used to take hard work and a lot of luck, but today you can do it at the click of a button.
That is what I said when discussing Peril on the Iron Road by Bruce Carter a couple of months ago.

Here is another book I suddenly remembered from my childhood - I think Meet Lemon Kelly was in my Christmas stocking one year in the late sixties.

A Hildick family history site tells us:
Edmund Wallace Hildick (1925-2001) emigrated to the USA and became a well-known author of mostly childrens fiction ... I have so far been unable to find out when he went to America but a record of his death gives his nationality as “Naturalised US Citizen” although he died in London in 2001.
His Wikipedia page tells us his intended audience was"tough, modern kids similar to the ones I teach". And the Guardian obituary of his illustrator Margery Gill says:
By the 1960s, Margery was a sought-after illustrator. Her realistic style suited the era of kitchen sink dramas.
Yet, looking at Meet Lemon Kelly, her drawings do not seem so far from the shorts-and-sandals world of Blyton and Saville.

Is the book any good? I don't know: I hardly dare read it. The danger in revisiting something you are nostalgic about is that you will find it is not as good as you remembered and spoil your memory of it.

Leicester council vote may help revive corner shops in the city


Going by the account I heard of it, the other day Leicester City Council's planning committee, in a fit of sentiment, ignored their own policies in order to allow a widowed mother to open a shop.

The Leicester Mercury account of the meeting bears this out and quotes the council planning chair Patrick Kitterick:
"I would caution councillors that if we give this approval we will have an absolute queue of people who want to open outside defined shopping areas. 
"This decision will have implications across Leicester. 
"In a week's time what do we say to someone who tells us they have a house in another street, or a factory in Green Lane Road, and ask can I have a shop?"
He is right about the dangers of allowing sentiment to override policy. I was no planning expert, but in my days on Harborough DC I knew that if you allowed a development in a rural area it was a good idea to grant the that permission to a named individual. Otherwise, you might find the cottage you had allowed for poor old Jethro the farmworker on the market as a holiday home a couple of months later.

But is Leicester's policy of allowing new shops only in "defined shopping areas" the right one?

I can recall, again in my days as a councillor, attending a housing conference where one of the speakers said something like:
"We used to be keen to get rid of what we called 'non-standard planning uses'. Only when it was too late did we realise that we had been talking about small businesses."
And, as one of the city councillors pointed out in this week's debate, these working-class housing developments were designed to have a shop on every corner. And the loss of these little shops, often run by a wife while her husband had a job outside the home, is one of the causes of the dwindling of working-class culture.

Indeed, when I worked in the Highfields of area during the Leicester South by-election of 2004, I was struck by how traditionally English this Muslim area was. There were still corner shops and children playing in the street.

The supermarkets have it too much their own way as it is. So, widow or no widow, I am pleased to see Leicester councillors subverting their own policies in this way.

A new reason for hope on Northern Ireland

I have avoided the row over the closure of children's heart surgery units in Leeds and even Leicester. Localism has its limits, and I suspect they fall short of state-of-the-art surgery.

But I cannot ignore a remarkable story that was in the Guardian a couple of days ago:
Children's heart surgery is to cease in Northern Ireland, with services moved south of the border to Dublin. 
The health service in Northern Ireland has recommended an all-island service, after a review concluded that heart surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was no longer sustainable. 
Last year a separate report said centres across the UK should each perform a minimum of 400 children's surgical procedures a year to maintain skills, and Belfast falls short of that number. 
It is expected that children who require surgery will travel to Our Lady's children's hospital in Dublin instead. Health ministers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic indicated on Thursday that they would approve the move.
And who is the Northern Ireland politician behind this move? It is Edwin Poots, the Democratic Unionist health minister in the Stormont executive.

The hope for Northern Ireland was not so much that politicians would answer the Irish question but that, with the added importance of Europe and the transnational imperative of the market, it would cease to matter so much.

If a Democratic Unionist is happy to co-operate with a Dublin hospital in this way, that hope may not be as realistic as it has sometimes seemed.

Six of the Best 346

"We've come so far recently. I fear more than anything that Liberal Youth will return to the days where the HE-centric executive committee spends time ‘partying’ at our national events rather than engaging with our first time attendees. Where the executive dismisses anyone who suggests an improvement. Where committee members spend more time networking with MPs than actually doing the jobs they've been elected to do." Fighting talk from Callum Morton on the future of Liberal Youth.

Liverpool's mayoralty has seen a first year of consistent failure, argues Richard Kemp.

"One cannot fail to be shocked by the way in which the Cumbrian police have dealt with those who leaked information to the press about the excessive expenses of their recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner." Cathy James, chief executive of the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work, stands up for the public interest on Inforrm's Blog.

What is the best way to encourage poor families to eat more fruit and vegetables. Amazingly, find The Lifestyle Elf, the answer is to reduce the price.

All Songs Considered discovers that The Zombies, or at least Rod Argent and Colin Bluntsone, are still flourishing.

Brighton & Hove, Film and Cinema has an article on the many films that have been shot in those towns (which now make up one city).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Major new dig planned in Leicester's Richard III car park


At the start of the month I blogged about the plans of University of Leicester archaeologists to return to the car park where they found the skeleton of Richard III last September.

Now the Leicester Mercury has written more about this new dig:
A Victorian wall which separates the former Alderman Newton Grammar School from the city council car park, in New Street, will have to be removed in order for the second excavation to take place. As the wall is attached to the buildings at 6-8 St Martin's – which are listed – special consent needs to be sought for its removal. 
Mr Buckley said: "We're waiting to hear about listed building consent which would allow us to remove part of a wall which covers the friary church where the tomb is buried." 
The city council has said if consent is granted, it would reinstate much of the wall as part of its development of a Richard III visitor attraction in the former Alderman Newton Grammar School, due to open in time for the reinterment of the king at Leicester Cathedral next year.
Not only that. In the course of the dig that found Richard, the archaeologists found a 600-year-old, lead-lined stone coffin. For reasons the paper does not make entirely clear, they believe it houses the remains of a 14th-century knight, Sir William Moton:
The tomb is one of four graves discovered during the first Greyfriars dig and the university is in the process of applying for an exhumation order from the Ministry of Justice, which would detail where the remains are reinterred following the dig. 
The university team will examine in more detail the church of the friary, where the knight's tomb and Richard III's grave were found. 
There are plans to open up the site to members of the public and install a viewing platform for visitors to watch the team while they dig.
Meanwhile, on a planet far away, reports the Hinckley Times:
Relatives of Richard III are set to take their fight to have the king buried at York Minster to the courts.

Sir Edward Garnier wins Liberal Villain of the Week




Each week the thinktank Centre Forum chooses its Liberal Hero of the Week and, more sporadically, its Liberal Villain of the Week.

And this week's Villain is none other than my own MP, Sir Edward Garnier QC MP. He wins the award for his attempts to thwart reform of Britain's libel laws.

Considering how often Centre Forum makes a Conservative MP its Hero, this is condemnation indeed.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Angela Eagle flies too low

How do we increase turnout in British elections?

Perhaps the parties could abandon their increasingly technocratic pursuit of swing voters in a select group of seats? As Mrs Thatcher's funeral games reminded us, it is not so long since British politics involved big ideas and was merely a career for a narrow elite. And in those days the turnout was significantly higher.

That is not the solution that Angela Eagle, Labour's shadow leader of the house, favours. In a speech to the Hansard Society this week she said:
"We should consider incentives for voting. How about entering everyone who voted into a lottery?"
That was not the only part of her speech that smelt of contempt for the voters. She also suggested "simplifying the legislative process so that the interested citizen can more easily understand and engage with it".

That's right. We can't have proper checks on the government because the voters just won't understand them.

The irony is that Labour began by arguing that the workers ought to run their own industries. After a century of their policies being put into practice they now believe the workers cannot possibly understand the parliamentary process and have to be bribed with the prospect of a lottery win to get them to vote.

A footnote on chess

Parliament is or was full of people who were chess champions in childhood. The careers of Rachel Reeves and Evan Harris passed me by, but I do recall the days when the Eagle sisters were a force in the junior game.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Reopening the Wensleydale Railway



From the Wensleydale Railway website:
The Railway in Wensleydale is a remarkable survivor. Having lost its passenger services in 1954, and almost half its route mileage by the early 1960s, the line survived until 1992 by carrying limestone to the smelters on Teesside. When that traffic finished, the MOD decided to use the line for the occasional transport of military vehicles, something which continues to this day, and this kept the line alive long enough for the Wensleydale Railway Association (formed in 1990) to build support and eventually form a company to take a 100 year lease on the 22 miles of line from Northallerton to Redmire. 
The line reopened to passenger traffic from Leeming Bar to Leyburn in 2003, and the following year the section to Redmire was also opened. The line now serves Leeming Bar, Bedale , Finghall Lane, Leyburn and Redmire, a distance of 16 miles. In 2013 we expect to open the line to a new station at Northallerton West which will give us a first, temporary, presence in the County Town, and Scruton will also open as the first intermediate stop on this section. Passenger services will then run for 22 miles, and we will have put something back which has been missing for almost 50 years. 
In the longer term, we intend to rebuild the line west of Redmire to Castle Bolton, Aysgarth, Hawes and eventually Garsdale on the famous Settle to Carlisle Railway.
There were occasional Dalesrail excursion trains from York to Redmile in the 1970s and early 80s. I travelled on one while a student. It was St George's Day, 1981, and there had been an unseasonable fall of snow. It was impossible to see the tracks in front of the train and we were lucky it ran at all.

Lib Dem snooper's charter victory is great, but we must be vigilant

The news that Nick Clegg has vetoed the Communications Data Bill - or snooper's charter - as currently drafted is hugely welcome, and together with this week's reform of the libel law, has done much to restore my faith in the Liberal Democats as a liberal party.

It is particularly welcome if you read the briefing activists were given on this bill a year ago. I find I said at the time that:
My first impression was that it had been produced by a child who had been allowed too much Sunny D. Random phrases are underlined or rendered in bold and some get both treatments.
There does seem to be a pattern here of progress being made only after Lib Dem activists have risen against their leadership.

Think of libel reform, where only 10 days ago a "Liberal Democrat spokesman" was blithely telling the Independent:
"Unfortunately we are in a Coalition and this was one of those areas where we could not get our Conservative colleagues to agree with us."
After that poor Tim Farron was monstered on Twitter, Julian Huppert went to work and substantial reform of the libel law was secured - though I never quite grasped why we didn't simply vote for the full reform package in the Commons to begin with.

And this patter predates Nick Clegg's leadership. Donnachadh McCarthy has an article in the current Liberator recalling how Charles Kennedy was effectively bounced into opposing the invasion of Iraq.

The wisest comment on today's events I have seen is this tweet:
And that means that the danger has not gone away. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and all that.

At least it is encouraging to read the comments below the Conservative Home article by Michael Ellis, the Tory MP for Northampton North. He relies on much the same arguments as the original Lib Dem briefing and they are little better received by that blog's readers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Colour film of St John's Wood from the late 1940s



And set to music by Georges Delerue too.

Write a guest post for Liberal England


This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. So far 31 have appeared.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post for Liberal England yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

  • An economic liberal case for a consumer-driven economy - Matt Burrows
  • John Locke and Wrington - Lisa Harding
  • Spelling out the reason to vote Liberal Democrat - Andrew Brown
  • Tommie Smith - The man behind the image - Matt Roebuck
  • Don’t make the dull middle class go to university - Dr Anonymous
  • House of Lords reform in a 1950s whodunnit - Charles Beaumont
  • The difficulty of getting started in farming - Joshua Metcalfe
  • Why the British say no to new builds - Amy Fowler
  • The uncertain politics of railway preservation - Joseph Boughey
  • How Liberal Democrats can help fight for privacy rights in Europe - Peter Bradwell
  • Six of the Best 345

    "Rumours persist that the Government is going to try to sneak the Communications Data Bill into the Queen’s Speech. There are so many reasons this is a bad thing it’s hard to know where to begin ... but the whole idea of the bill is what I've previously described as a ‘Despot’s Dream’, allowing the authorities free rein to monitor everything any of us does on the internet, to profile us in every detail." Paul Bernal on the lack of consultation behind the likely resurrection of the snooper's charter.

    The New Statesman interviews Duwayne Brooks 20 years on from the murder of his friend Stephen Lawrence.

    "Wellesley Road has become a symbol for me of the failures of local government to rise to the challenge of local economic development, to understand where the money flowing through their the local economy actually goes, and find ways of keeping it for longer." David Boyle considers the significance of a Croydon thoroughfare on the NewStart magazine site.

    Open Culture has a video of the last days of Leo Tolstoy.

    "She was admired by women, desired by men, painted by Whistler, praised by Twain, close friends with Oscar Wilde and Prime Minister William Gladstone, and most famously was the lover of, amongst others, Albert Edward (Berty), Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII." The Legends of London celebrates the career of Lillie Langry.

    IanVisits takes up an unfashionable cause - the rebuilt Euston station: "Just as St Pancras and King’s Cross are being restored to their Victorian grandeur, why shouldn’t Euston be cleaned up and restored at least superficially to the vast open spaces and clean lines it enjoyed in the 1970s?"

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    HS2 will result in poorer train services for the East Midlands


    There is a tremendous post about the folly that is HS2 on Jones the Planner:
    HS2 is not a good idea; in fact it is a catastrophically bad idea and a fatal distraction from what really needs to be done to improve our railway system. I have always been suspicious of grands projets which seem to be strongly related to male pride (or inadequacy) and national chauvinism. If the Frogs have got TGV and RER then we must have them too or we are not pissing high enough up the wall of international prestige. 
    This extremely grand projet has been parachuted in as a solution without any serious analysis or debate about what the problem is or any honest evaluation of alternatives. Worst of all there is no effective scrutiny as the job has been outsourced to a private company, HS2 Ltd, which is not run by train spotters exactly but by single minded enthusiasts. It is wholly owned by the DfT - what a very modern way of doing things. The justification for HS2 is now being sold and spun to us by a bunch of consultants that we end up paying very handsomely for.
    The temptation is to quote the whole thing, but let me fast forward to a passage of particular concern to those of us who live in the East Midlands:
    However the HS2 business case claims that 80% of passengers from Nottingham will transfer from MML to HS2, and to help this heroic punt come true, hidden in with the small print, you find the assumption that direct trains from the new Nottingham Hub to St Pancras will be cut by half. Well, that will do a lot for city centre competitiveness, I don’t think. 
    So actually Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield get a worse train service to their city centres, where most people want to be, than they do now - but great if you want to drive to a Parkway station. Leicester, a city of some half a million people will no longer have a mainline service as such. It is bizarre if not surprising that a project which started with the aim of boosting provincial cities should end up promoting plans which will hugely undermine city centres and urban economies and positively promote exurban motorway sprawl.
    The answer, of course, is to devolve decision-making power so that the people who live in the East Midlands make the decisions. Then we would not see billions wasted on making things worse for many of them.

    Happy St George's Day to all our readers


    Or you could listen to Richard Thompson.

    Potato trailer stuck in mud near Church Stretton

    The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser, by introducing us to the gritty reality of life in rural Shropshire, wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Monday, April 22, 2013

    All That Mighty Heart: London in 1962



    Back in May of 2010 I included a link to the blog Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop and a post about the 1962 film All That Mighty Heart in a Six of the Best. Looking for something else, I rediscovered that post and the film the other day.

    The post describes All That Mighty Heart well:
    A day-in-the-life film about London shot on a hot summer day in 1962 full of gleaming red buses driven by men with shiny Brylcreemed hair, pretty young housewives in modern new shopping centres, tennis at Wimbledon, cricket at Lords, kids enjoying a day at London Zoo and making sandcastles on the banks of the Thames (really!), all shot in vibrant you-never-had-it-so-good colour.
    And the London Transport Museum site tells us it was the last film shot by "Oscar-winning David Watkin" for British Transport Films before he graduated to features. It also points to the soundtrack of radio programmes to mark the progress of the day.

    All That Mighty Heart presents what John Major once described as his aim - "a country at ease with itself". It's not just that Fred Trueman is opening the bowling at Lord's and John Arlott is describing him: it's that the film shows a world where calm authority (and more in the shape of NCOs than an office class) is in charge and people are free to work and play.

    We are taught to regard Britain in the early 1960s as a repressed country waiting impatiently for the Beatles. But as presented here, it looks an appealing place.

    You could described All That Mighty Heart as a Conservative film, except that this uncomplicated enjoyment of the world we find ourselves in is precisely the quality that modern Conservatism has lost.

    Not just a trainspotting film then.

    In Our Time: The Putney Debates

    Last week's In Our Time dealt with the Putney Debates of 1647. Like all editions of this excellent series, it will be permanently available on the BBC website.

    A website devoted to the Putney Debates explains the background:
    From the 28th October to 9th November 1647, soldiers and officers of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, including civilian representation, held discussions on the constitution and future of England. 
    Should they continue to negotiate a settlement with the defeated King Charles I? Should there even be a King or Lords? Should suffrage (a civil right to vote, known as the franchise) be limited to property-holders? Would democratic changes lead to anarchy? 
    This historic event saw ordinary soldiers take on their generals to argue for greater democracy and provided a platform for 'common people' to make their voices heard. These debates, forced by the Levellers, paved the way for many of the civil liberties we value today.
    The picture above shows Rainsborough Gardens in Market Harborough - named after Colonel Rainsborough, the most senior office to take the side of the common soldiers in these debates:
    "The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he … I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."

    Leicester's ruling Labour group sacks its whip

    We have seen Barbara Potter calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty and being banned from a city primary school.

    Last week came the news that she has been ousted as the whip of the ruling Labour group on Leicester City Council.

    The Leicester Mercury says a source had told it that her style has not been going down well with fellow councillors in recent months.

    You surprise me.

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    Joe Jackson: Nocturne no. 4



    Joe Jackson has had a long career encompassing many styles of music - his new-wave period It's Different for Girls, a brilliant song, was an early choice of mine here.

    Jackson's 1994 Album "Night Music" was not well received, and I did not greatly care for the songs on it myself, but I did like the classically influenced instrumental pieces. I used to listen to this one in particular late at night when I could not sleep.

    Six of the Best 344

    "It's like buses: you wait all your life for this kind of coverage for a book you've written and then, suddenly, two of them come along and you can't link to them to spread the word." David Boyle on the joys and frustrations of getting extensive coverage of his new book behind The Times and Sunday Times paywall.

    Jonathan Fryer on the decline of the Green Party.

    Over the past 11 years, according to Defence for Children International, some 7,500 children have been detained in Israeli prisons and detention facilities. +972 Magazine has interviews with some of them.

    On 18 April 1930 the BBC announced that there was no news. The Questing Vole wishes it would do it more often.

    Dave Rattigan's Facebook page has some then and now photographs of the Bradford locations used in the film Billy Liar.

    "Martin Amis thought chess was an unmasterable game, but the machines are proving him wrong. Cricket, with all of its variations and oddities, its geographical sweep, its luck and its superstitions, its weather and its deadly psychology, actually might be. But some of its deeper mysteries are being revealed, and new kinds of machines are emerging to play it." The Old Batsman writes on the growing role of biomechanics and statistical analysis in cricket.

    Saturday, April 20, 2013

    Kibworth Harcourt windmill



    I had lunch at Boboli in Kibworth Harcourt today with my Liberator colleague Simon Titley.

    Here is a photograph of the windmill just outside the village that I took a couple of springs ago.

    Newspaper Graphic of the Day

    Have a look at how the Northampton Chronicle & Echo has illustrated its story "Thieves jailed for £57k Lego theft from Watford Gap".

    Ed Miliband evades Tony Blair

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    Sir Graham Watson MEP on Guantánamo

    Richard III and the treatment of scoliosis



    Spare a thought for the young Richard: according to this podcast from the University of Leicester, it was no picnic having scoliosis in the late Middle Ages:
    Dr Mary Ann Lund ... who has a special interest in medicine in history, says some of the treatments for scoliosis practised in the late medieval period would have themselves caused people with the condition a lot of anguish. 
    The remains of Richard III discovered by University of Leicester archaeologists revealed that the King suffered from severe scoliosis, which he probably developed in early adolescence. Scoliosis – a lateral or side-to-side curvature of the spine – can be a very painful condition to live with. 
    Among the “cures” practised was traction – the same principle on which “the Rack” worked as an instrument of torture. 
    The patient would be tied under the armpits and round the legs. The ropes were then pulled at either end, often on a wooden roller, to stretch the patient’s spine. 
    The treatment would probably have only been available to those who could afford it.
    If you listen, note the mention of Church Langton's Polydore Virgil.

    Thursday, April 18, 2013

    John Peel interviews Sandy Denny

    Michael Gove talks nonsense on the history of school holidays

    From the Independent website this evening:
    Schoolchildren must have shorter holidays and spend more time each day in the classroom so Britain is not disadvantaged in the global economic race, Michael Gove demanded yesterday. 
    The Education Secretary warned that the current school timetable is out of date and only fit for the agricultural economy of the 19th century – where children had to have long summer holidays to help in the fields
    I have more time for Gove than is usual in Liberal Democrat circles. I support the idea of allowing new providers to open state schools and the teaching unions' arguments against his idea that children should, you know, acquire knowledge from their schooling were merely embarrassing.

    But a moment's thought will show that Gove's claim about the origin of the long summer school holiday is nonsense. The schools go back in early September (and even late August here in Leicestershire) just as the harvest is taking place.

    An article by Adi Bloom from the TES back in 2009 fills in the details:
    It is as regular a fixture of the school calendar as results day: the annual outcry over the length of the summer holidays. Each year, critics bemoan the irrelevance of a system based on farmers’ need to have their children free to help with the harvest. 
    But Jacob Middleton, a historian at London University’s Birkbeck College, said this is myth: school summer holidays have nothing to do with the agricultural calendar. 
    By the late 18th century, English farms were largely mechanised. Smallholdings were increasingly rare, and inventions such as the threshing machine made it easier to harvest hundreds of acres. “There wasn’t enough work for all the adult men,” Mr Middleton said. “And the Factory Act in the 1830s put increasing restrictions on children in work. So it’s extremely unlikely that children were working.”
    It's almost as if the man who thinks himself qualified to dictate what every schoolchild should learn about history hasn't bothered to do any research and just repeated a tired and invalid old argument!

    This determination to abolish the long summer holidays has never been attractive to me - we heard a lot of it in the early days of New Labour too.

    It arises from two unhealthy trends in modern British society. The first is a lack of faith in our own culture and institutions. Just as David Cameron told us we had to give Margaret Thatcher a state funeral or other countries would think it strange of us, so we have to look over our shoulder at other countries as we decide when our children should go to school.

    A robust belief in British institutions and the British people used to be on of the more attractive features of Conservatism. That belief is long dead - as the bright young Tory things who wrote Britannia Unchained demonstrated.

    The other unhealthy trend is that children cannot possibly fill their time constructively unless they are marshalled by adults. Left to their own devices they will get into trouble, turn feral or be abducted,

    So the argument that we should have long summer holidays because children enjoy them is nowhere heard.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    The River Anker: Nuneaton's hidden waterway

    Stratford Johns as Charlie Barlow

    It's not just being an old fogey that makes me enjoy watching vintage drama: I enjoy it because of the time writers used to be given to tell the story. No doubt money is tight and the audience only a click away from departing, but where producers still have the courage to give that time the results can still be enthralling - as Broadchurch has shown.

    BBC4 is currently showing I, Claudius, one of the greatest of all vintage television dramas. And last night's episode gave a welcome central role of one of the forgotten giants of 1960s' television: Stratford Johns.

    His BFI Screenonline profile will tell you all about him:
    Stratford Johns' ruthless, blunt and aggressive detective, Charlie Barlow, first seen in Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), was so convincing that members of the public frequently mistook Johns for the real thing and asked him for help, while West Yorkshire Police asked him to appear in their television recruitment advertisements ... 
    A deliberately tougher portrait of the modern police than the contemporary Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-78), Z Cars became a sensation, with Johns' iconic presence a key factor. Tired of seeing television detectives portrayed as bumbling and ineffective, Johns played Detective Inspector Barlow as an abrasive bully who used verbal and physical intimidation to get results; this was an entirely new television policeman, who became a template for many 'maverick' detectives to follow.
    The early Z cars episodes are before my time, but I do remember Softly, Softly (the series which featured Johns as Barlow in the late sixties). If you watching Endeavour then you will have seen an echo of the more palatable parts of Barlow's character in Roger Allam's Chief Inspector Fred Thursday.

    Click here to see Johns as Barlow. Explore the video a little further and you will find the young Brian Blessed as a constable.

    So famous was Stratford Johns' portrayal of Barlow that he sometimes found it hard to get other roles. Good as he was in I, Claudius, what I would really like to see is a repeat of his portrayal of the eponymous Brond from the 1987 Channel 4 drama.

    Six of the Best 343

    "Josh Dixon was brave enough to confront conference as a Lib Dem, arguing that the party’s heart is still in the right place and Labour were just as bad on education. He received a thunderous applause and no heckling." On the Libertine, Rich Clare describes his experience as a delegate at the National Union of Students' conference.

    On the day of her funeral, The View from the Hills offers a clear-eyed verdict on the economic and political legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

    A briefing from 20's Plenty explains that school safety zones should not be a priority - children benefit far more from a community-wide 20mph speed limit.

    Eye Magazine (no relation) looks at the way Private Eye is laid out. Like the jokes, this has hardly changed in 50 years.

    "In recent times we have seen two more spinners return from England involvement, apparently unable to bowl as they had previously. David Wainwright, crowd favourite and hero of many a rearguard battle, seemed to have 'lost' his action at the start of the 2010 season. The previous September, he had saved us from relegation with a wonderful all-round performance at Hove; now he was out of the side and drifting towards Derbyshire." ESPN cricinfo blogger Dave Morton marks the start of the domestic cricket season by questioning the effects of our national coaches.

    English Buildings discovers another of those corrugated-iron churches that so please this blog. This one is in Kilburn and a cathedral of the breed.

    Friendly ferret found in Morcott

    We float down the Welland to read the Rutland & Stamford Mercury and our Headline of the Day:

    Friendly ferret found in Morcott

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    A Future On Rail (1957)

    Nick Clegg's outspoken opposition to libel laws as deputy prime minister

    Yesterday I wrote a post contrasting Nick Clegg's opposition to our current libel laws with this week's partial retreat on reform.

    If you were Nick's defence counsel you might argue that since becoming deputy prime minister he has found that these matters are more complicated than he once thought. After all, the article I quoted was written back in January 2010.

    But this evening I came across an article that Nick wrote for the Guardian in March 2011 when he had been deputy PM for almost a year.

    And if anything, it is more outspoken still:
    These are laws that tip the balance in favour of vested interests, that allow journalists and academics to be bullied into silence, to be kept quiet by the fear of ruinous legal battles with big business or wealthy individuals. 
    London is the number one destination for libel tourism, where foreign claimants bring cases against foreign defendants to our courts – even when the connection with England is tenuous at best. It is a farce that has prompted Barack Obama to legislate to protect his citizens from rulings in our courts. 
    These laws make a mockery of British justice. They kill debate and smother scientific inquiry. They undermine our moral authority as we seek to promote the values of an open society in other parts of the world. 
    And it is ordinary people who really suffer: protecting their interests means ensuring corruption can be unearthed and charlatans exposed. Of course, individual citizens must be able to protect their reputations from false and damaging claims, and we cannot allow companies to be the victims of damaging, untrue and malicious statements. 
    But from the humble blogger to the consumer watchdog, corporate whistleblower, medical researcher, or roving reporter, public-spirited voices must be heard.
    I am genuinely puzzled by Nick's retreat on civil liberies and, in particular, puzzled at how he imagines he appears to the voters who care about such issues. As I argued yesterday, he once went out of his way to attract their support.

    Once again, backbench Lib Dem MPs are doing honourable work trying to limit the damage to the law and to the reputation of the party. But we need leadership on these issues, and Nick Clegg appears to have gone missing in action.

    J.W. Logan and his cricket ground at East Langton


    Thanks to the good offices of my Liberator colleague Kiron Reid, a booklet with the enticing title Country House Cricket Grounds of Leicestershire and Rutland arrived in the post this morning. As I hoped, it contains a good section on J.W. Logan and his ground at East Langton.

    That section tells us:
    J.W. Logan, Liberal MP for Harborough for about 25 years, laid out East Langton for his two sons and the pitch was the best in Leicestershire apart from the County ground. He was a great supporter of Leicestershire cricket, and President of the County Club from 1905 to 1908 ... 
    The ground is rather small, lending itself to large scores and is located some way from the Grange. Originally typical Leicestershire ridge and furrow, great quantities of soil were transported by Mr Logan from excavations carried out when the new railway was built ... 
    Leicestershire Club and Ground had annual fixtures from 1900 to 1905, as did Leicestershire Ivanhoe. Owing to ill health Mr Logan closed his ground in 1907 and the small pavilion was given to the Market Harborough club who still use it as a tea pavilion. 
    The entry goes on to say that the ground reverted to grazing land after that until it was remade by Colonel Hignett in 1935 and today it is once more one of the finest grounds in the district.

    For more on its charms, read Down at Third Man:
    On the roadside, in the gloaming, between high trees, he spots the spectre of an enchanted cricket ground. Passing by in an instant he is certain that he has seen the mythic cricket ground that all lovers of the game believe one day they will stumble on.

    Big Ben to fall silent: The Bercows explain

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Knowle and Dorridge in 1963

    Libel reform: Nick Clegg lets down another group he previously courted

    Nick Clegg on libel reform in January 2010:
    "Libel tourism is making a mockery of British justice," Mr Clegg will say. In one case, a US academic was successfully sued for £130,000 by a Saudi businessman in an English court, even though the defamatory book sold just 23 copies in Britain over the internet. 
    "I am deeply concerned about the stifling effect English libel laws are having on scientific debate," Mr Clegg will say. "Scientists must be allowed to question claims fearlessly – especially those that relate to medical care, environmental damage and public safety – if we are to protect ourselves against poor research, phoney treatments and vested corporate interests."
    From the Independent website this evening:
    The Government is to block plans to reform Britain’s “chilling” libel laws and to prevent large companies from silencing their critics with the threat of being sued.
    The attempt by ministers to water down the Defamation Bill when it returns to the House of Commons tomorrow was condemned by academics, scientists and libel reformers. They warned it would allow big companies to continue to “hound” their critics with the threat of crippling libel fees and cement Britain’s reputation as the defamation capital of the world... 
    A Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party would be instructing their MPs to vote with the Government. “Unfortunately we are in a Coalition and this was one of those areas where we could not get our Conservative colleagues to agree with us,” he said.
    This pattern seems all too well established. Nick courts an interest group with almost exaggerated language - think students or civil libertarians who oppose secret courts - only to let them down when he gets the chance to do something about it in government.

    I do not think people would mind being let down quite so much if Nick had not originally been so good at convincing them of his support for their cause.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: What Chris Huhne needs

    And so another week with Rutland's most popular fictional peer draws to a close.

    Sunday

    I have heard a lot of people pointing morals over the fall 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.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Six of the Best 342

    Mark Thompson poses seven awkward questions for the Liberal Democrats.

    "Being tribal involves the unmitigated vilification of the Lib Dems as accomplices in the Tory cuts. Being tactical would involve the quiet encouragement of Labour supporters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems in marginal seats where Labour stands no chance." LabourList urges its readers to choose tactics over tribalism.

    Max Atkinson discusses the making of Margaret Thatcher.

    While Ballots & Bullets debates the political meaning of the Wizard of Oz in the light of her death.

    "It’s kind of humbling to know that music that inspired me to get my ears pierced multiple times and to buy Doc Martens inspired these women to the kind of social protest that gets you thrown in prison." Betsy Phillips examines the power of Pussy Riot's feminism on Think Progress.

    "Driving on the M6 past Penrith, from the comfort of your car it is possible to spot one of the largest prehistoric monuments in northern Britain, Mayburgh Rings henge monument." Read all about it on The Urban Prehistorian.

    Elections cancelled in Bishop's Castle


    From the Shropshire Star:
    Elections have been cancelled in a Shropshire town – after the mayor and another long-serving member declined to put themselves forward as candidates again. 
    Keith Pinches, who has worn the chains in Bishop’s Castle for the past four years, and the town’s longest-serving councillor Dr St John Penney – who has been a member of Bishop’s Castle Town Council for 46 years – have decided not to stand again. 
    The remaining 10 candidates will now be co-opted onto the council without the need for a public vote. An election had been pencilled in for May 2 if there had been enough candidates standing but it has now been cancelled.
    It was not like this in the 17th century: then Bishop's Castle was a notorious rotten borough and the selling of their votes was the chief source of income of many townspeople.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: "They’ll never take... our freedom! MOO!"

    Saturday

    This secret courts business is getting very worrying as Clegg seems quite set on the idea. Many politicians get like this when they first meet the top brass of the secret service: they go native and start spouting whatever the spies want them to. I have never been so impressed by these types because, in my young day, every spy I knew later turned out to have been working for the Soviet Union, and I don’t suppose much has changed since then.

    Still at Brig o’Dread, my Caledonian home, after the launch of the Ming Campbell, I learn that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are to debate secret courts this very day. I am not, strictly speaking, entitled to speak or vote at their conferences, but writing about Buttercup yesterday has given me an idea. Reasoning that the Scots would not turn away one of their own, I hire a Highland cow costume – you know the ones: they are pretty with long eyelashes, rather like the young Margaret Wintringham. Such a costume takes two, of course, but fortunately I have brought Meadowcroft with me to look at my tatties and neeps.

    So after a practice during which Meadowcroft complains (a) about having to be the rear half and (b) that his udders are “befangled” by a bush we trample, we hurry to Dundee, undergo the necessary formalities and are sent on to the stage with a hearty slap on the rump – Meadowcroft’s rump to be strictly accurate.

    I flatter myself that the speech is well received and I am particularly pleased with my peroration: “Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take... our freedom! MOO!” (I added that last bit because I could see the chair leafing through standing orders with a frown, but I do not think it detracted from my argument.)

    Indeed, the motion against secret courts was passed almost nem con and a rather flushed Meadowcroft and I drive back to Brig o’Dread, the job well done. Our Auld Johnston will be well deserved this evening.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    The Tornados: Telstar



    Telstar is known to be Margaret Thatcher's favourite pop record, though I cannot find where she said this. It was not during her appearance on Desert Island Discs.

    When choosing The Shadows' Wonderful Land I suggested that tune shared a quality of "innocent optimism" with Telstar. That is not a quality one easily associates with Margaret Thatcher.

    If you have seen Telstar: The Joe Meek Story you will know Telstar reached number one in the UK and America, but that the money from these sales was held up by a law suit brought by a French composer. claimed that Telstar owed too much to his music for the film "Austerlitx".

    The webpages for True Blue: A musical about Margaret Thatcher draws a political lesson from this:
    In a nutshell there is the Thatcher ethos at home and abroad; British ingenuity and small business chutzpah is appreciated in America but strangled by the envious French. The whole of her foreign policy was guided by such instincts and the memory of Joe Meek.

    Why I shan't be writing to my MP on libel reform

    Robert Sharp, the head of campaigns and communications for English PEN, has a good post on Liberal Democrat Voice about a new threat to the prospects for reform of the law of libel.

    He says:
    No sooner had the proposed law been liberated, after being taken hostage by Leveson negotiations, than Conservative MPs have begun messing with crucial free speech provisions.
    One has tabled an amendment seeking to remove a crucial clause from the Defamation Bill that places limits on corporations’ use of the libel laws.

    Robert explains:
    Such a law would have discouraged the crippling libel cases brought by Big Pharma against Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. It would have helped Simon Singh. It would stop the costly ‘lawfare’ waged by the extractive industries around the world against human rights groups like Global Witness. It would stop scientists and doctors from having to decide whether to speak out for their patients and risk selling their house in order to pay legal fees… Or keep their mouths shut. 
    The clause is an entirely sensible provision that was recommended by the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, and the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, chaired by former Tory Party chairman Lord Mawhinney. 
    Crucially, it is Liberal Democrat Party policy, and was in the 2010 manifesto that elected 57 Lib Dem MPs.
    He goes on to urge Lib Dem activists to contact Nick Clegg and ask him to "stand up to the corporate libel bullies" and deliver a policy on which the general election campaign was fought. He also hopes they will contact their MPs, asking them to oppose Sir Edward’s attack on the Defamation Bill.

    Robert is right. Libel reform is long overdue. More than that, granting rights to corporate bodies has always seemed to me the worse kind of Hegelian romantic nonsense - just the sort of thing good Anglo-Saxon jurists should be sceptical about.

    And even if you do think it is a good idea, Robert assures us that the clause the Tory MP wants to remove does not bar corporations from suing entirely: it just asks that they show financial loss before they do so. He describes it as an objective and measurable test for companies, who "after all do not have feelings".

    Sadly, there is little point in my writing to my MP on this matter. Why? Because Sir Edward Garnier QC MP, sometime leading libel barrister, member for Harborough and thus my MP, is the man behind the amendment which Robert so deplores.

    Saturday, April 13, 2013

    The closing of the Wye Valley Lines, 1959



    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Buttercup pulls it off

    Friday

    This trouble about people passing off horsemeat as beef has put me in mind of one of my more successful seasons on the turf. A filly by the name of Buttercup won me several races, even though there were raised eyebrows at Uttoxeter and Plumpton when she won by a distance. There was even talk of my being “warned off” – at least I think that is what they said.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    "Top bloggers" in secret talks with Department for Culture, Media and Sport

    I agree with Martin Robbins.

    On Tuesday, so Sunny Hundal, Stephen Tall and William Perrin tell us, a number of bloggers met representatives of the  Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss how the legislation following the Leveson Report will affect bloggers.

    We don't know who else was there and we don't know what they said when they got there. As Martin suggests in one of his many tweets on the subject, if a blogger finds himself or herself tangling with the law in future, the argument "a group of people you had no part in choosing and whose identity you may not know raised no objection to this" will not be an impressive one.

    Thanks to their relative openness on the subject, we know that Sunny, Stephen and William were there. And in a tweet Sunny said those present were "mostly bloggers who run top blogs. But one or two lone bloggers." But beyond that we don't know and when Martin Robbins asked the DCMS it declined to tell him.

    What Sunny, Stephen and William say is useful, but if blogging were really the edgy, collegiate activity we used to think it then more would have leaked out or people would have declined to co-operate with this exercise in the first place. Perhaps the silent participants felt flattered to be asked?

    Still, it does make you wonder why the government thinks blogging is worth regulating if bloggers are won over so easily.

    Elsewhere, Hacked Off have elected themselves as our representative. But we didn't choose them either, did we?

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Derelict Blobbyland



    In yesterday's Six of the Best I linked to a post with photographs of the derelict Blobbyland at Cricket St Thomas in Somerset.

    That post, on 28 Days Later, also has this video of the site.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ming Campbell is brought out of mothballs

    Thursday

    A grey morning on the coast of Fife. When the strategy of asking McNally to insult party members failed (as I said it would), Clegg decided an article had to be written for Liberal Democrat Voice defending his ridiculous decision to support secret courts. There was only one thing for it: Sir Walter Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP would have to be got out of mothballs and launched from Rosyth.

    It is a magnificent sight as Ming takes to the water again, urged on by Elspeth – the only woman I have ever met who could have gone fifteen rounds with the first Lady Bonkers – and amid much hauling of ropes and creaking of rivets, and is born down the Firth of Forth on the turning tide.

    “He’s no been the same since Jutland,” remarks one observer with mordant wit. “Since the Battle of the Nile, you mean,” returns another, pawkily.

    People can be so unfair.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Doctors of the Dark Side: Physicians, psychologists and torture



    One of the sessions at the British Psychological Society (my employers) Annual Conference in Harrogate this week featured excerpts from the documentary Doctors of the Dark Side and a panel discussion with Dr Karen Kitchener, a former Chair of the American Psychological Association's ethics committee, and Frank
    Margison, chair of the trustees of Freedom from Torture.

    The video above is a nine-minute introduction to the role of physicians and psychologists in the detainee torture programme. It suggests how new US state legislation could stop this post-9/11 misuse of healthcare professionals and secure them as a force for torture prevention. It is made with excerpts and additional footage from Doctors of the Dark Side,

    Independent notices the Lib Dems' strong performance in local by-elections

    Chris Mead writes on the paper's website today:
    No seats changed hands in the latest council by-elections but the Liberal Democrats had the strongest voting boost. 
    They comfortably defended a Wigmore seat at Luton Borough and came from nowhere to take second place at Lascelles, Darlington. 
    After a string of by-election gains since last November, the Lib Dems can face the 2 May 2 (sic) and unitary authority polls with greater confidence than in any main contests since they went into the Coalition.
    But he goes on to point out that, because these seats were last contested in 2009 when an unpopular Labour government was still in power, the party still faces a loss of seats in May.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Clegg unveils his winning tactic

    Wednesday

    Down to Brighton at the Spring Conference of the Liberal Democrats the other day, I ran into Clegg. “How do you propose winning this vote on secret courts?” I asked him. “The party is dead set against them – rightly so, I might add,” I added.

    “Oh that’s easy,” he returned. “I am going to get Tom McNally to insult everybody.”

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Six of the Best 341

    Cllr James Baker is speaking against the 'snoopers' charter' at an Open Rights Group meeting in Manchester on Saturday.

    Chuka Umunna does not impress Mark Pack: "Someone with real leadership ability, and not just a Wikipedia entry talking about it, would have behaved very differently."

    David Hencke argues the Association of Chief Police Officers' proposed ban on announcing arrests will be an own goal for justice.

    "Vets from the British Veterinary Zoological Society who work with wild and exotic animals have publicly questioned the government's badger culling policy and the British Veterinary Association's support for badger culling," reports Farming Online.

    Brick Fetish outlines the history of interlocking building bricks for children.

    "Located in the sunny (That's a lie) south UK, and hidden in the precision manicured grounds of lakes and gardens in Cricket St Thomas is a forgotten childhood relic being left to crumble. All those familiar with the Noel Edmonds Houseparty show running in the 1990's will remember Mr Blobby as the shows ridiculous mascot. Mr Blobby's house was an attraction some children may have been lucky enough to visit in the short time it was open. The park closed in 1999 and since then has been left to the elements." 28 Days Later has photos of the ruins -  "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    DSM-5: Medicalising grief?



    One of the live debates in mental health at the moment concerns the new edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

    Many argue that its multiplication of the number of psychiatric disorders represents a medicalising of normal human emotions such as grief.

    This BBC Radio 4 programme gives a good introduction to the debate.

    Rotten Borough: Grantham in the 1930s

    Having argued the other day that we are in danger of overestimating the role of Margaret Thatcher in the changes of the 1980s, I am becoming increasingly irritated by the overblown plans to mark her death.

    As a corrective, let me recall the book Rotten Borough by Oliver Anderson.

    Anderson's Independent obituary tells the story:
    Oliver Anderson was at the centre of a considerable furore when, in 1937, he wrote a satire on provincial life under the pen-name Julian Pine. 
    The book, Rotten Borough, was withdrawn by the publisher after just three weeks under threat of a string of libel writs, instigated by, among others, the then Lord Brownlow, a close friend of the Duke of Windsor. 
    The Rotten Borough affair, which achieved national status, with Anderson being pursued around the country by the pride of Fleet Street, would have passed into history, were it not for the fact that the town at the centre of the excitement was Grantham, birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, and that a leading character in the novel was a local grocer and town councillor, identified by many in the 1980s with the benefit of hindsight as the then Prime Minister's late father. 
    As a result Rotten Borough was republished in 1989 under the author's true name and created considerable interest.
    The obituary goes on to say that Anderson always denied that Alderman Roberts was one of the targets of his satire. And I bought Rotten Borough when it was reissued and was sad to find it was near unreadable.

    But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?