Friday, May 31, 2013

Mill Hill and the canal basin, Market Harborough, in the 1970s



Between 1968 and the early 1990s, says Boatbuilders of Market Harborough, some 3000 steel canal boats were built by Springer Engineering.

This video shows one of them being built, transported to the town's canal basin and then fitted out and decorated. It dates from the 1970s (when Market Harborough's phone numbers had only four digits) and shows the basin before it was redeveloped and still had the shabby charm that attracted people to inland waterways in the first place.

Mill Hill has changed since this was shot too. In those days it was a backwater, hidden away behind Symington's corset factory. Though much of that factory had gone by the time I became a councillor, Mill Hill retained much of its old character and was one of my favourite parts of my ward.

But Springer's soon went and Mill Hill is now home to a lot of new housing.

Thanks, as so often, to @solarpilchard on Twitter.

Six of the Best 357

Gareth Epps welcomes a new report by the Liberal Democrats' race equality taskforce. He says it "the subject of a joint conference on Saturday in London held by Social Liberal Forum (London) and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD). The Conference features the party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes MP, Business Secretary Vince Cable MP and (among others) a former Premiership footballer and Show Racism The Red Card campaigner. (I’m saying a few words too, but don’t let that put you off)." More about the conference here.

Hurry over to the Libertine to see who won the Liberal Youth elections.

Obama, Merkel and all the other G8 illuminati are coming to Eniskillen for a G8 meeting, says Blood & Treasure, but what they will see is not the real town but "postmodern potemkinism".

"Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012 according to a recent study. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours. The report notes that it's possible that the real number could be much higher." Adam Hudson  writes on Alternet about the publication of the report "Operation Ghetto Storm".

Good Morning Britten previews the British Library exhibition "Poetry In Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten", which opened today and runs until 15 September.

"We are taking a walk today from Lochgelly, via Lumphinnans, to Cowdenbeath in search of Lawrence Storione, founder of the Anarchist Communist League in 1908." Why not tag along with The Fife Psychogeographical Collective?

Where that Nigel Farage for Sheffield Hallam rumour came from

Last night I attempted to pour cold water on the rumour that Nigel Farage will stand against Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam at the next general election.

What I did not know was where that rumour came from. So thanks to Asa Bennett for sending me the link to his post on LondonlovesBusiness (and for linking to this blog there too).

Asa writes:
Rumours about the UKIP leader’s Parliamentary intentions for Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat were set alight on Wednesday night when London cabbie Neil Johnson, after having one of Farage’s “inner circle” in the back of his cab, tweeted that “Nigel Farage is going up against Nick Clegg…” ... 
Speaking to LondonlovesBusiness.com on Twitter, Johnson said he had picked up the member of Farage’s team from Smith Square and took him to Paddington station. UKIP’s London presence is in Europe House on Smith Square, the current headquarters of the European Commission and the former HQ of the Tory party. 
According to Johnson, the Farage confidante explained that the UKIP leader’s potential challenge to Clegg would be a “no lose situation” as if he won he would become a “bigger hero”.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment



From Open Culture:
The geometric formalism of Renaissance painting and the serendipity of Surrealism were two key influences on Cartier-Bresson’s later work. A third came by accident, when he stumbled upon a reproduction of Martin Munkácsi‘s “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” 
The picture showed a group of African boys frolicking in the water. If the photographer had pressed the shutter a millisecond earlier or later, the magical, interlocking composition would not have existed. ”I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment,” Cartier-Bresson later said. He gave up painting and bought his first Leica. 
Over the next half century Cartier-Bresson would travel the world with a Leica in one hand, the strap twisted around his wrist, ready to fix eternity at any moment. Inwardly he held onto the spirit of Surrealism while outwardly calling himself a photojournalist. As a photojournalist he witnessed some of the biggest events of the 20th century. He was with Gandhi a few minutes before he was assassinated in 1948. He was in China when the communists took over in 1949. 
”He was the Tolstoy of photography,” said Richard Avedon shortly after Cartier-Bresson’s death in 2004 at the age of 95. “With profound humanity, he was the witness of the 20th Century.”

Nigel Farage to take on Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam?

There is a rumour going round cyberspace this evening that Nigel Farage is planning to stand against Nick Clegg at the next general election.

[Later. I now know where this rumour came from.]

I don't believe a word of it.

Research on this month's local elections showed that UKIP polled badly amongst graduates. And Sheffield Hallam is one of the constituencies with the most graduate voters.

But I do think I know what is behind this.

In 2008, before the last general election, I blogged about a rumour that Jeremy Clarkson was to be the Tory candidate in Hallam.

This is an example of Calder's Fourth Law of Politics: The more extreme a person's views, the more certain he or she will be that the majority of voters share them.

The fruitcakes, whether they are Conservative or UKIP activists, hate Nick Clegg. So, despite his 15,000 majority, they reason that everyone else must hate him too. And that all they need do to win Hallam is put up someone who shares their views.

If Farage stands anywhere, it will be somewhere like rural Lincolnshire not in sophisticated Sheffield Hallam.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Mike Hancock to meet Nick Clegg on Monday

Mike Hancock, Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, has been called in for an interview with Nick Clegg under party disciplinary procedures on Monday afternoon, says Chris Ship (the deputy political editor for ITV News) on Twitter.

Earlier today, during his regular LBC phone in, Nick Clegg said:
"As leader of the party, you have got to react when allegations of this seriousness are made, you can't just sit there on your hands.
"When I heard yesterday that court papers had been served for some very serious allegations - which I have to stress he denies completely, which when the police looked at it they didn't take further action, so I'm not prejudging that case - I immediately asked our chief whip to start disciplinary proceedings including the possibility of suspending the party whip. 
"The next step is that a meeting is held between myself, my deputy Simon Hughes, the chief whip (Alistair Carmichael) and Mike Hancock. We are hoping to do that today at the very earliest possible opportunity."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Cheese Boat at Stoke Bruerne


The Cheese Boat travels the canals of England selling Welsh cheeses and homemade chutneys. I met it at Stoke Bruerne on Saturday and can recommend the smoked cheddar.

Liberal Democrat statement on Mike Hancock MP

Paul Waugh on Politics Home says the party has issued the following statement this evening:
“Following Mike Hancock’s receipt of legal papers in a High Court civil action, Nick Clegg has asked the Chief Whip to convene an urgent meeting under the disciplinary procedures of the parliamentary party between Nick Clegg, Mike Hancock, Simon Hughes and the Chief Whip. 
“Mike Hancock strenuously denies the accusations. We are not pre-judging the outcome of the case, but given the seriousness of the allegations, Nick Clegg has instructed the Chief Whip to invoke the disciplinary procedures of the party.”

Happy Oak Apple Day from Barkby



Today, 29 May, is Oak Apple Day.

When I was in Barkby a couple of weeks ago I came across this mosaic, which the villagers have created to commemorate the day and the village's connections with Charles II and the English Civil War.

A Leicester Mercury article from last year quotes Angela Barnett from the Barkby Local History Group explaining what it shows:
"The mosaic features Thomas Marshall, the son of a Barkby blacksmith, who was born in 1621. 
"Marshall showed so much promise that Francis Foe, the vicar of St Mary's Church, Barkby, between 1633 and 1662, took on his education. 
"Marshall went to Oxford University at a young age, where he became a celebrated scholar, and later a Fellow of Lincoln College. 
"He fought in Charles I's army before fleeing to Holland and, in 1681, after years in exile he was made Chaplain in Ordinary to Charles II ...
"The mosaic also depicts the coat of arms of the Pochin family, of Barkby Hall. "Thomas Pochin, 1618-1693, sat in the Long Parliament as MP for Leicester. 
"Despite his service in Cromwell's New Model Army, he adroitly welcomed the return of Charles from exile and was rewarded for his new-found loyalty."

Lord Bonkers writes for Liberator's blog



I am delighted when Jo Swinson arrives at the Hall this morning, passing through Rutland on ministerial business. After insisting that she join me for a second breakfast, I take her to visit my own Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.
Find out what happened on Liberator's blog.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Secrets of the District Line



Geoff Marshall shares his favourite bits of Tube trivia from the District Line. In which ticket hall can you find a swastika? Which station changes name from one platform to the next? Where does the Underground go over the Overground?

Thanks to Londonist.

Charles Dickens anticipates The Apprentice contestants laughing at Suralan's jokes

From chapter 7 of David Copperfield:
An unhappy culprit, found guilty of imperfect exercise, approaches at his command. The culprit falters excuses and professes a determination to do better to-morrow. Mr. Creakle cuts a joke before he beats him, and we laugh at it, - miserable little dogs, we laugh, with our visages as white as ashes, and our hearts sinking into our boots.

The glory days of Channel 4: Remembering "After Dark"



"Channel 4 in the 1980s is widely credited with breathing fresh life into British television, particularly in comedy, drama, youth programming and scheduling," says Mark Duguid, Senior Curator (Archive Online) of the BFI National Archive.

As quoted on the Open Media website, he continues:
Less often acknowledged is the extent of innovation in the channel's non-fiction output, which included opinionated current affairs documentaries .... One of the most successful innovations was also the simplest: a late-night, open-ended discussion programme treating a single topic in detail, with no filmed reports, aggressive interviewers, studio audience, political soundbites, computer graphics or video effects.
If this show is remembered at all, it is for a drunken appearance by Oliver Reed. But that is a travesty. Because the programme Duguid is talking about, "After Dark", was proof that talking heads can make the most thrilling television of all.

Open Media shows that the series ran on Channel 4 between 1987 and 1991, with specials being shown as late as 1997. There was also a revival of the format on BBC4 in 2003.

It wasn't just that the format was exciting: it was that the participants were so good. Surfing through them, my favourite is the programme on football screened on 15 May 1987. Its participants included both the philosopher A.J. Ayer and John Fashanu.

The show above on freemasonry last three hours - I do not suggest you watch it all - but it is worth sampling the contributions of T. Dan Smith. He was the Labour boss of Newcastle upon Tyne who ended up in prison and was one of the inspirations for the television drama "Our Friends in the North". You can read about him in an old issue of Lobster.

In the days when I was on the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee I was invited to a Channel 4 breakfast. I took the opportunity to remark what a shame it was that "After Dark" was no longer running.

"Oh," he said airily, "we like to end formats before they become jaded" and I let it pass.

What I should have said, of course, was something like:
"Jaded? Jaded? I suppose those stupid programmes you show on Saturday evenings now aren’t jaded? Britain’s 100 greatest comedy sketches. Britain’s 100 greatest reality outtakes. Britain’s 100 greatest 100 greatest programmes. A load of comedians you have never heard of saying things like “Spacehoppers: What were they about?” and “Blue Peter was for posh kids: We watched Magpie.” And Paul bloody Ross too! Do you think that isn’t jaded, you with your poncy Oxbridge education and your achingly fashionable clothes? Well, do you? Do you?"
Then I could have forced one of his own croissants up his nose.

It is annoying how often one thinks of a witty retort only when it is too late to use it.

Thanks to The Needle for the link to the episode of After Dark.

Lib Dem councillor rescues calf from badger sett

This is Cornwall reports:
A Cornish farmer found himself forced to break the law after a calf fell neck deep into a badger sett. 
Jim Candy, who is also a Liberal Democrat member of Cornwall Council, said he realised the action could land him in trouble with both the police and the RSPCA. 
However, he said the welfare of the cattle on Trerieve, his organic farm near Looe, must come first.
There's more about Jim Candy and his farm on the Trerieve Organic Farm site.

Six of the Best 356

"The UK court’s  judgment will have a chilling effect on free speech on Twitter and will likely devolve into an era of social media self-censorship for Twitter users, particularly in the UK. A form of libel chill, or, perhaps 'Twitter Chill'." Charon QC looks at the aftermath of McAlpine v. Bercow.

Mary Reid on Liberal Democrat Voice visits the battlefield at Culloden and considers its lessons for the Scottish independence debate.

Mark Thompson offers three reasons why he hates self-checkout machines.

"The London School Board built some 400 schools in the thirty years of its existence.  Together, they represent one of municipalism’s outstanding achievements.  Individually, they remain impressive both as architecture and symbol." Municipal Dreams looks at these 'sermons in brick'.

SomeBeans reviews James Hamilton-Patterson's "Empire of the Clouds" - "subtitled When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World, [it] is the story of the British aircraft industry in the 20 years or so following the Second World War".

Vanity Fair has a slideshow of artworks by Carol Bove on the last unopened stretch of Manhattan's High Line Park.

30ft wicker man to be burnt in the Shropshire hills

As a frequent visitor to that part of the world, I am not wholly surprised.

The wicker man, says the Shropshire Star, will be set alight as part of the Sin-Eater Festival, which is being held at The Bridges in Ratlinghope from 21-23 June. This promises two dozen musical acts "plus morris dancing, craft workshops, music workshops, photography workshops, performance art, nature walks, films and loads and loads of real ale!"

But why is it called the 'Sin-Eater Festival'?

You're not a regular reader, are you?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blisworth canal tunnel


Just north of Stoke Bruerne you will find Blisworth tunnel - at 3,076 yards the third longest tunnel on the British canal system.

Its construction, which began in 1793, was attended with all sorts of problems - a tramway ran over the hill to connect the two sections of canal until it was opened in 1805. At first boats were legged through the tunnel; later steam tugs were introduced, but then better ventilation had to be introduced because of the deadly fumes.

The building by the tunnel mouth is an old forge and store for these tugs. It is once more in use as a blacksmith's forge, operated by Bob Nightingale.

The State of Nature and human well-being


Almost two thirds of British species have declined in the past 50 years and one in 10 faces the risk of extinction from our shores, according to an extensive new report into the state of Britain's nature.
That was the Independent reporting the publication of the State of Nature report last week - you can download the whole thing from the RSPB website.

Though there are some bright points, such as the return of otters to many of our rivers, the trend is clear and depressing. Because I am convinced that enjoyment of nature is central to human well-being - see an article I wrote for Mind's magazine some years ago.

Love of the countryside used to be one of the tenets of British Conservatism (read a little Stanley Baldwin if you doubt me), but that was long ago abandoned in favour of the idea that the chief end of life is making money.

But there are two trends on the other side of politics that have been bad news for the countryside too.

One, which I have written before, is the way the green movement has chosen to argue from the threat of environmental catastrophe rather than deploy the more nebulous arguments about nature and well-being.

As I once wrote in Liberal Democrat News:
Years ago environmentalists decided their only hope was to scare us half to death. Peak oil and global warming are just the latest in a list of dooms. The result has been to make many people terrified of the natural world. The environment is all around us (you cannot argue with that) and it is out to get us.
The second piece of bad news is that way that anyone opposed to austerity demands that the government builds its way out of the recession, whether with HS2 or new housing.

It isn't just that this call ignores the natural world: it's that anyone who makes that argument is held in contempt. 'Nimby' is the very worst insult such people can throw at their critics.

There may be some good news in the shape of two books that have been published recently. These are Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding by George Monbiot and Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape by Jay Griffiths.

Judging by the reviews, I would find their arguments congenial. I may even have to read them.

Ludlow Town Council "beleaguered" and "in meltdown"

I have not blogged about Ludlow Town Council lately, but it seems it is just as dysfunctional as ever.

The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser reports:
Ludlow Town Council is in ‘meltdown’ according to outgoing mayor Tony Pound who has called for it to be dissolved. 
And he dropped a bombshell on the beleaguered council by saying he’s quitting his seat, following his failure to win another term as mayor, and warning the authority faces a financial crisis. 
His resignation along with his daughter Mandy Phillips, from the two Clee View seats, leaves the town council with just seven members none of them elected. 
At a heated annual meeting Mr Pound was defeated by five votes to four for the role as mayor for the coming year. 
The authority now faces having to try to co-opt eight new members.

The Day Today covers broadcasting restrictions on terrorist sympathisers

MP warns that UKIP are outflanking the Conservatives on homeopathy

I was about to say you couldn't make it up. Then I saw that the MP quoted in this Leicester Mercury report is David Tredinnick.

So it's pretty much what you would expect.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Doctor Who commits murder at Richard III's behest

The snoopers' charter unites the Labservatives

From BBC News this afternoon:
Labour and the Conservatives could unite to push through the controversial communications bill despite Lib Dem objections, a former Tory leader says. 
The bill, allowing the monitoring of all UK citizens' internet use, was dropped after a split in the coalition. 
But Lord Howard said David Cameron had "to act in the national interest" following the Woolwich murder. 
Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that "if he [the PM] wants a communications bill, we'll help him get it through". 
Mr Miliband told the Commons earlier this month that if Mr Cameron was being forced to drop certain policies because of "people behind him" - his own backbenchers - then Labour would step in.

Bettye LaVette: No Time To Live



Many British groups of the 1960s began by more or less copying records by Black American artists. Typically, even if they wrote their own singles, their albums would consist of these cover versions. And this is true even of the groups we think of as including the most creative songwriters, such as the Zombies and the Kinks.

One of the best records in this class is the Spencer Davis Group's Let Me Down Easy - in fact I am surprised to find it has never featured here when so many other Steve Winwood performances have. This performance of Let Me Down Easy was more or less a copy of the original US recording by Betty LaVette.

The good news is that Betty LaVette is still performing. More than that, she has reversed the flow of musical history by recording Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which is an album of her covers of songs by British groups - The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin and so on.

So here after Steve Winwood singing Betty Lavette is Betty Lavette singing Steve Winwood. No Time to Live, which he wrote with Jim Capaldi, can be found on Traffic's second LP, er, Traffic.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Steam at Perth in the 1960s



If you don't like trains - and there is a diesel locomotive here too - just enjoy the music.

Stoke Bruerne



Today I went to a village which, by my best calculations, I first visited 48 years ago and last visited 42 years ago: Stoke Bruerne near Towcester in Northamptonshire.

When I was a little boy my family used to take canal holidays - which was quite daring in those days. And Stoke Bruerne is not only on the Grand Union but also home to a canal museum. That museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which must mean that it had been open only a couple of years when I first visited it.

I did not go round the museum today, though I did have a coffee there when I arrived, because buses to Stoke Bruerne are few. But there was still much to enjoy: two canalside pubs (I recommend The Boat Inn), boats and locks to watch, a twee craft shop and a tea garden.

There is even an Indian restaurant, which I suspect was not there in 1965 or 1971. I was so taken with it that I first read this narrow boat's name as 'Indian Chef', reasoning it must be a tribute to the owner of Spice of Bruerne. (The museum is the taller building in the background - an old corn mill.)

One day I will visit the museum again, but in the mean time here is a piece of village and canal history from before even my time: Sister Mary Ward.

Friday, May 24, 2013

French Dressing: Ken Russell on Herne Bay pier



This video is suggested to me by @sxybio on Twitter, who is on a roll having previously sent me the story about the giant badger terrorising schoolgirls in Kent.

It is fascinating for two reasons. First, because it consists of scenes from French Dressing, which was the first film Ken Russell directed. (Later. The first video I posted here has disappeared, but I have found another scene from the film to post.)

Despite the presence of the kitchen-sink heroes James Booth and Roy Kinnear, it is a comedy and one inspired by Jean Vigo and Jacques Tati. The French influence is strengthened by the composer of the film's score, George Delerue. He also provided the music behind the film of St John's Wood in the 1940s that I posted recently.

And it is fascinating because it was filmed on Herne Bay pier, which is no longer there having been demolished in 1980.

For another old film shot on a long-vanished pier, see Barmacle Bill and Hunstanton.

Six of the Best 355

"What I don't tolerate, is the idea that people paid to perform marriages by the public purse should be able to pick and choose who they want to marry. This amendment was put forward, not because any great number of registrars actually had an issue, but because it was a way for the right wing to argue against Equal Marriage without being called up on their homophobia. What I don't tolerate, is our Party President's view that gay people shouldn't be allowed to have the audacity to demand that a public servant do the job they're paid to do." So Sam said... gets it right on the equal marriage vote.

Chris Gilson, on the British Politics and Policy at LSE Blog, considers how the Coalition may be brought to an end.

Love and Garbage blogged about newspapers and dignity in 2011. His words are even more relevant today.

Chris Cocking looks at the use of the world 'panic' in accounts of the Hillsborough disaster.

Dads are not idiots, says Dad Pride.

"Her books show a similarly eclectic spirit. 'The Unsophisticated Arts' combines chapters on tattooing and the seaside, amusement arcades and taxidermy, each illustrated with a mixture of photographs, line drawings and paintings. It is disorderly, intensely personal and obsessive, but at the same time the book  hangs together perfectly." James Russell on the reissue of a Barbara Jones book from 1951.

Why the Liberal Democrats should pay their interns

It's time for the Liberal Democrats to pay their interns, say a list of Liberal Youth types in an open letter to the party's president, Tim Farron, published on Liberal Democrat Voice.

And they are right.

I have reached an age where I am remarkably relaxed about young people not being paid. But, as the letter says:
This is about minimising barriers, one of which is affordability. Some of us have worked in the past as unpaid interns; we know that sometimes people are happy to work for free, or feel they have to in order break into a profession. This doesn’t make it right, and it is not an option for many people.
This is a much better argument than the one Jo Swinson used when writing about unpaid interns in the public relations industry earlier this month. To her it was a question of ending exploitation.

But as Simon Titley pointed out on Liberator's blog:
The problem with interns in the PR industry is less the exploitation of interns than the exploitation of the PR industry. 
Most PR interns come from wealthy families and are privately educated. Their parents subsidise them by providing housing and income. Anyone without that sort of support would find it difficult to survive unpaid anywhere, let alone in central London where the PR industry is concentrated. 
This is the main reason why the PR industry (especially the big agencies) is dominated by the products of public schools, and young people from more modest backgrounds find it so difficult to break in. (Interestingly, the people from more modest backgrounds who do break into PR tend to do so later in life at a more senior level, having first done a proper job). 
The main benefit of tackling the problem of interns will therefore not be to end ‘exploitation’. It will be to force the PR industry to conduct entry-level recruitment more on the basis of merit than privilege.
In a way it is a bit unfair to pick on the poor old Liberal Democrats when this is a society-wide problem. But the party does need to tackle it before we go the way of the PR industry.

Or perhaps we have. I remember taking part in one of the phone conferences with Lib Dem ministers' special advisers that the party sometimes usefully organises. On putting the phone down my chief impression was how upper class everyone had sounded - and I am usually the last person to worry about things like that.

If we don't change things soon, Nick Clegg will soon be the least posh person in his own office.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just because you murder someone, it doesn't mean your views are worth hearing

The front page of today's Guardian is the worst I have ever seen on any newspaper. Why the Guardian wants to turn itself into a propaganda sheet for a murderer, I cannot imagine.

When you are over the anger, two possible explanations suggest themselves.

One is that this is an example of the sort of self-hatred that Western liberals can fall prey to and that Christopher Hitchens used to complain. Hurt us because we deserve it, the paper thinks its readers will say.

The other is that we tend to assume that their must be something remarkable about someone who commits such a grotesque crime and that his view must therefore be listening to.

That is a fallacy, as Munira Mirza showed when writing of the videos the 'martyrdom videos' the 7/7 bombers left behind them:
What we see in these videos are not soldiers in a war, but self-righteous young men who believe that their own moral certainty absolves them of the need to explain themselves properly. 
Nobody elected Khan or Tanweer. As far as we know, they did not have relations with anyone in Palestine, Bosnia or Chechnya. Indeed, these two men did not even bother to ask their family, friends or neighbours what they thought. 
At the local mosque near where three of the bombers grew up, one of the committee members, Muhboob Hussein, reacted with anger to 7/7: ‘This is not Islam, this is not jihad, these people are not Muslim. This man [Khan] never came to our mosque....’ 
Obviously, Khan or Tanweer did not show much interest in trying to win people over to their worldview - they thought that ‘democratically elected governments’ had less claim to act on behalf of people than they did.
And we saw just the same contempt for democratic government from the idiot presented on the front page of today's Guardian.

When I blogged about Mirza's article at the time, someone left a comment reminding me of a prophetic piece by Ian Buruma that began:
Does masturbation lead to suicide bombing? One would think not. There is no more direct link to suicide bombing than there is to blindness or schizophrenia. But there may be a connection between sexual inadequacy or frustration and the pull towards violent extremism.
Almost as depressing as the Guardian front page was the discussion of the Woolwich murder on Newsnight yesterday evening. One participant, the impressive Maajid Nawaz, spoke of the need for a Western narrative to challenge the world-view of Islamism. But you only had to look at the people with him to see there was little chance we would hear it last night.

There was John Reid who, as a Communist while the Soviet Union was the greatest tyranny on this planet, never bought into the Western narrative in the first place and is now employed by the security industry - though Newsnight never reminds of us during his frequent appearances. And there was Alex Carlile, a Liberal Democrat who long ago threw in his lot with the most repressive elements of Labourism.

And, sure enough, both Reid and Carlile told us that the most important thing is that we give the state more power to inspect the affairs of law-abiding citizens and weaken the safeguards for those it accuses of crime.

If that is the first reaction of those we are supposed to regard as statesmen, then you can see how weak the West's belief in its own values has become.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Scarthin Books, Cromford



Scarthin Books is one of Britain's great bookshops, but only one of the many reasons for visiting Cromford in Derbyshire.

Enid Blyton wins Book Title of the Day


Giant badger 'causing hysteria' at Folkestone School for Girls

Kent Online wins our Headline of the Day.

Thanks to @ColinW on Twitter.

Tory deputy leader on Hinckley & Bosworth joins the Lib Dems

John Moore, deputy leader of the Conservative group on Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council in Leicestershire, has left the Conservatives and joined the Liberal Democrats, reports the Hinckley & Bosworth Lib Dems site.

In a letter to Conservative officials he said: ""Over the last 12 or more months I have found it increasingly difficult to recognise, on a national basis, the Party I have supported for the last 50 years."

Lib Dem Council Leader Stuart Bray says, "We are delighted to welcome John to the Lib Dem Group. I have worked with him over the past 6 years on Burbage Parish Council and latterly the Borough Council and have always found him a man of great integrity who cares passionately about Burbage and the area as a whole. John is a great asset to our group on the Borough and Parish Councils."

This means the political make-up of the council now stands at 19 Liberal Democrats, 14 Conservatives (including one who is currently "suspended") and 1 Labour.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lies on the London Underground

Mike Bell to fight Weston-Super-Mare for the Lib Dems

From the Bristol Post:
Weston-Super-Mare Liberal Democrats have selected local councillor and businessman Mike Bell as their new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC). 
Mike was the party's candidate at the last General Election in 2010, increasing the Lib Dem vote by nearly 3,000 ... 
Conservative John Penrose won the seat in 2010 with 23,356 votes, Mike Bell came second with 20,665.
The seat had a Lib Dem MP (Brian Cotter) between 1997 and 2005.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Six of the Best 354

The View from the Hills offers 14 thoughts on British politics after three years of the Coalition.

"It was a gorgeously sunny and calm day yesterday afternoon on the south west coast of Wales. 13,000ft above sea level, somewhere above Swansea Airport, I was sitting hunched up in a 'plane, ready to free-fall back to Earth!" Read what happened next to Mark Cole - and he is quoted in the current Private Eye.

Ballots & Bullets finds that children with politically engaged parents are more likely to deviate from their parents’ political views.

Delia Smith is quite right to criticise TV cookery shows such as MasterChef for intimidating aspiring cooks, and to claim that Britain has lost its grip on home cooking, says Simon Titley on Liberator's blog.

"Euphemia Penman was a remarkable individual who rose to become one of the most respected managers in the emergent tram systems of late-Victorian London. In the period, given the social conventions of the time, this was without a doubt a remarkable feat for a woman." Read more about her on Turnip Rail.

Taxi has photographs of SS Ayrfield, which has become an abandoned floating forest in Homebush Bay, Sydney.

Woman trapped hand in drain cover searching for marble

Congratuations to the Stamford & Rutland Mercury on winning my Headline of the Day Award.

The Liberal Democrats won the Harborough constituency in the county elections

Lewis Baston has analysed this month's county elections results for the Fabian Society. He concludes that "these elections were not a vote of confidence in any party".

Because of the website it was written for it is chiefly concerned with the fortunes of the Labour Party, but it will still interest all politicos.

And I was particularly interested in this sentence:
The Lib Dems were ahead in some seats that were Tory in 2010, such as South East Cornwall, Oxford West & Abingdon, Winchester, St Albans, Watford and Harborough.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

An explanation of the Liberal Democrat position on a European referendum

On looking through past posts on this blog I find that I provided just such an explanation as long ago as 2007 when Ming Campbell was still leader of the Liberal Democrats:
I have been asked – all polite and requesty – by Ming the Merciflold to explain to you our new polytito on the European Unibode. 
Though confdentimost, conference, if there’s a mercifold one in that marriage, it’s Elspeth. Indeedy-ho! 
Now historibold, which is of the oldest, we have the European wars. Schlesswig versy Holstein. Alsace versy Lorraine. And all huffalo dowder until the Congress of Viennit with the replay at Villy Park next Tuesday. 
In 1945 there is a new thorcus. All the natiomost of Europe join together in a peacy. 
And from this we have the joy of the Eurovision song contest. All boom and bangit with Sandy Shore, Cliff Richibold – there’s a falolloper – and the Bucksy Fizz. 
This, of course, is the home of the Norveige nul points – and sulky up the fijord ever since. 
Fundamold to this new Europe is the swap and trade it. At first we have it all back and forward across the borders with “please have your passy portit open for inspection”. 
And this is of a great waste of time, with estimate have it and 20 billion Euro a year – and that’s without the countit and the declimly point in the wrong place! 
Unfortumost – all shame and sobit – the Britly people are not keen and soldy. What they ask of the Britly passport? What of the pound and perch and of the Queen and reignit herself? 
Hear their cryimost: give me bendy bananas or death and end it! 
For this Ming has a new thorcus – ingenimost though it is. We have the referendium. 
A refererndium – moreover and extramost – not on the Constitutioner but on the whole goddam Euroimost shooting match. 
In or out, matey? That’s the question. We can’t shakeabout any longer, despite the poply song with the knees up and bunting. 
So how is run and work it, this referendium? All puzzlibod, I hear you. 
Here in Britly we have a tradition of the firsty past the post. Or as we say, the cross and stuffit. 
We Libby Dems have a prefer of the PR. And not only that, but the single and transfer it in the multimember too. 
Here we have the long ballot and the placey of the one with the favourite and two and threep – and add 07 if you want Brian to stay in the kitchy, indeedy ho! 
With the referendium the words on the bally paper – the precise and askit of the question – becomes of the importimost. 
And conference I can reveal to you – alone and exclusimost – the verbatim and word for word of it. 
And I quotey:
“Have you stopped beaty of the wife and stay in Europe. Or do you want to lose your job and employit with the folly of a no?” 
If we don’t mention of the bendy banana we’ll be home and squeakit with that one.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tories begin defecting to Ukip over 'loons' slur

The Daily Telegraph wins my Headline of the Day Award - paywall or no paywall - and quite possibly my Headline of the Year Award too.

Lord Huron: The Man Who Lives Forever



Lord Huron, says Wikipeida, are an American indie folk band based in Los Angeles. Their debut album, Lonesome Dreams, was released in 2012 and this is the opening track being performed at a Seattle radio station. I like the guitars entwining with the Eastern percussion.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway: "Perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth..."



The narrow-gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway opened in May 1898. It was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1922 and closed in 1935.

This video shows Lyd, a replica of one of the locomotives that worked the line, running on the small stretch of the line that has been opened near Woody Bay.

There are plans to reopen the line from there to Lynton and eventually to Barnstaple as well. You can read about them on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway website.

Nigel Farage's difficulties in Scotland

I know this blog is chiefly concerned with Shropshire and railways and photographs of churches, but if you look hard enough there are some quite prophetic political posts here too.

Back in February I pointed out that UKIP's policy platform consist of a ragbag of issues designed to reflect the worldview of angry white men of a certain age.

I then went on to say:
But there is another issue that appeals to this demographic. 
Unionism used to be the Conservatives' trump card. It won them a majority of Scottish MPs in the 1950s, which is something that it is near impossible to believe now. 
Not only is Unionism less effective as a policy: the Conservatives are not that keen on it any more ... 
And if you ask an angry white man of a certain age what he thinks of the Union he will most likely tell you (if he lives in Southern England, as so many of them do) that he is fed up with paying for services in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that are better than the ones he can use himself. 
If the Scots want independence, he will likely continue, let them have it and see how much they enjoy paying the full cost of those services themselves. 
Which makes me wonder how long the UK will stay in UKIP. Their target voters are not keen on it at all.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Billesdon Coplow


"Billesdon Coplow is a wooded knoll, 625 ft. high, and is a conspicuous landmark in east Leicestershire," says the Victoria County History. "To the south it is visible for 20 miles."

There is something the split in its centre that has always reminded me of a freshly baked loaf. And on Saturday, as I was trudging across the fields from Barkby to Beeby, it was certainly conspicuous to the South East, though not half as close as the zoom lens makes it appear.

Today's Commons debate on mental health

Last year the Commons held an historic backbench debate on mental health. Historic not just because it tackled what was once almost a taboo subject, but also because a number of MPs spoke about their own mental health problems.

The two most prominent were Charles Walker and Kevan Jones - so much so that in today's debate Jones said that they had become "the Eric and Ernie of the mental health conference circuit". (He added: "I leave it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House to discern which of us is Eric and which is Ernie.")

Today Charles Walker again made a significant contribution:
I remain terribly concerned about psychosis and schizophrenia. I mentioned a few minutes ago that anyone with a diagnosis of psychosis or schizophrenia is likely to be unemployed. If one is not unemployed at the time, one will end up unemployed. Life expectancy, which has already been mentioned today, can be up to 20 years shorter than for someone who does not have that diagnosis. That is not acceptable in a civilised society and should not be tolerated. I have spoken about this before in an Adjournment debate and I want to revisit it because it is so important. 
My concern, having talked to people who care for loved ones with schizophrenia—sons, daughters, mothers or fathers - is that sometimes the NHS is more interested in managing the illness than with the overall health needs of the patient. Symptoms are managed down so that patients do not make a nuisance of themselves and take up time, but when one stands back and looks at them, they are desperately unhappy. It does not matter if they are smoking 70 or 80 cigarettes a day, because they are not making a nuisance of themselves. It does not matter if they weigh 20 to 25 stone, because they are not making a nuisance of themselves. It does matter, however, because that patient is slowly killing himself or herself and we have to address that.

Four Lib Dem MPs in top 14 of private members' bills ballot

Most of the publicity about today's private members bills' ballot has concerned James Wharton and his intention to promote the Conservative Party's Euro referendum bill.

But you may be interested to learn that four Liberal Democrat MPs came in the top 14 of the ballot:

9. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
11. Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West)
13. Mark Williams (Ceredigion)
14. Sir Malcom Bruce (Gordon)

Even Sir Robert is probably just too low in the list to have a realistic chance of getting a bill all the way to the statute book, but who knows?

Leicester summer season to celebrate Richard III

News reaches me from Leicester City Council of plans for a summer season of Richard III-themed events and activities in the city:
Leicester's Guildhall, which is home to the current exhibition Richard III: Leicester's Search for a King, will host talks from some of the key archaeologists and researchers involved in the astonishing discovery of King Richard's body. 
Visitors will also be able to relive the nail-biting televised press conference at which the discovery was confirmed, as well as savouring the two Channel 4 documentaries following the dig, at special screenings in the Guildhall. 
Younger visitors can make the most of a programme of half-term holiday activities, including making medieval helmets, swords, shields and clay castles. 
A specially-commissioned play will explore the rise and fall of Richard III in "Now is the Winter of our Discontent", while heritage re-enactment group Conflict 1485 Bosworth will thrill visitors with examples of the armour, weaponry and soldiers which would have fought at Bosworth Field itself. 
In the nearby cathedral, a series of Dean's Discussions will see some of the key academics and specialists in the discovery and identification of Richard's remains talking about their painstaking work. 
Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park will host a series of guided walks and exhibitions over the summer, and Blue Badge guides will take visitors on walks through Leicester's most historic places. 
The University of Leicester will also open its doors for a day of Richard III-themed activities, ranging from lectures, displays and workshops, through to face-painting and magic shows for younger visitors. 
Events will culminate in August with a series of activities marking the anniversary of King Richard's death and burial. These include an annual battlefield re-enactment, family events in the cathedral grounds and a commemorative evensong concert at Leicester Cathedral on August 22 - the anniversary of the battle.
It all sounds great. Why not bring your nephews?

Six of the Best 353

"The Conservative party today is a puritanical beast, railing against the iniquities of the world but struggling to find solutions. Like 16th-century puritans, today’s Tories take comfort in purity and isolation and want nothing to do with the murky waters of compromise politics." Giles Marshall asks how many Conservatives truly want to resist UKIP on the Tory Reform Group's Egremont blog.

"Childhood trauma and abuse is the smoking of psychiatry. As a risk factor for mental illness it is comparable to how smoking a pack of cigarettes per day increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease." So says psychiatrist Simon Hatcher in a guest post on The Mental Elf.

Stephen Tall enjoys "This House" at the National Theatre.

"An important clue to understanding what went wrong can found in the reaction of the museum and its architect to Wednesday’s decision. In a series of angry statements the blame was pinned on ‘naive’ councillors and rabid conservationists. There was no soul-searching, no self-analysis, no sense of mea culpa."  Campaign to Save the Marquis analyses its unexpected victory over developers in Hoxton.

Gabriel Byng argues on Huffington Post that the sale of Britain's churches should cause an international outcry.

Ken Loach's "The Spirit of '45" bad history and worse politics, says David Hayes on Inside Story.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership


Good news from the Shropshire Hills AONB website:
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has confirmed a grant of £1.35 million to the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, which aims to safeguard the special qualities of the countryside. This is excellent news for the local area and for everyone, including the many volunteers, who helped to prepare the bid over the last twelve months. 
The Scheme, which will cover an area of just under 200sq km defined by a rich industrial heritage as well as earlier prehistoric and medieval history, aims to conserve and restore historic and wildlife sites, help communities take part and learn about the landscape and its heritage, and improve access and training opportunities in local heritage skills.
My photograph, taken at The Bog, shows Corndon Hill over the border in Wales.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Village Sleeps Again (1962)



It's a while since we have had a Look at Life film, so hear is The Village Sleeps Again from 1962 on the building of bypasses.

As it turns out, the film is more about towns than villages and is notable for the cavalier attitude displayed towards urban clearance, the half-timbered house in Exeter and its mouse apart.

But there is some appealing footage of Markyate in Hertfordshire and Stilton in Huntingdonshire (as it then was) towards the end.

Sir Edward Garnier tries to shut down fake Twitter account

Harborough's own Sir Edward Garnier QC MP is trying to get Twitter to close a fake account being run in his name.

The existence of such an account must be irritating and could be politically damaging, though the most striking thing about @EdwardGarnier is how very dull it is. There is some justice in the MP's suggestion, quoted in the Leicester Mercury, that the hoaxer should "get a life and go and do something useful instead".

But I was disappointed by some other words of his quoted in the article:
"I have never had a Twitter account and have no intention of having one."
Why not? It's a great way of keeping in touch with constituents, explaining what you do as an MP and tapping into others' expertise.

Later. This tweeter, however, does not pretend to be Sir Edward.

Does the UK suffer by not taking part in Eurovision semi finals?

The first Eurovision semi final takes place this evening. As one of the major contributors to the European Broadcasting Union the United Kingdom is guaranteed a place in the final, but do we miss out by not taking part it the semis?

A paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society last month suggest we do, if only to a small extent.

Diarmuid Verrier from Sheffield Hallam University found that taking part in the semi-final stage of the contest can result in an entrant moving up the leaderboard by one place.

He pointed out all of the winners since 2004 - barring Germany - have appeared in the semi-finals, which indicates 'mere exposure' to something they have seen previously can result in more positive feelings towards it.

"Although political voting and, hopefully, a decent tune will always play a part in how Eurovision contests are decided, this research suggests a third influence in the contest," he added.

However, political voting probably plays a larger part in the final outcome, which is also bad news for the UK. As Terry Wogan once put it: "We've invaded too many countries and everyone hates us."

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, May 13, 2013

Jo Grimond and the Soviet invasion of Shetland

Chris Glew on Estonian World tells the story of Erich Teayn, a crewman on a Soviet factory ship who, on the night of 25 June 1958, commandeered a motor boat and made his bid for freedom in the West by landing on Shetland:
He had realised that his journey wouldn’t be easy and might even be dangerous, but he hadn’t counted on 30 of his Russian crew-mates giving chase, hoping to foil his escape. In choosing a faster boat, he managed to land slightly ahead of his pursuers, on the ragged coast near the small village of Walls, West Shetland. 
Teayn spent five hours trekking through bare and treeless terrain in the late daylight with the Russian crew scouring the area, looking for any trace of their former colleague. He eventually stumbled upon the cottage of a local crofter, David Fraser and his son.
The Soviets searched the island seeking Teayn and passed within 50 yards of the cottage where he was hiding:
he two police sergeants arrested Teayn under the Aliens Act (he was an illegal immigrant, after all) and took him back to Lerwick, where he was placed in custody. 
The next day, the three senior Russian commanders of the fishing fleet landed in Lerwick to demand Teayn’s transfer to their custody. The Provost and senior police officer were both on leave and despite their apparent politeness and friendly manner, the police refused them all access to Teayn.
The affair was raised in the Commons by Jo Grimond, the local MP and leader of the Liberal Party. And Erich Teayn was last heard of living with an Estonian family in Shipley and looking for work.

Rain stops play at Barkby



My favourite book at the moment - Country House Cricket Grounds of Leicestershire and Rutland by E.E. Snow - records that cricket has been played at Barkby Hall since at least 1846 and that the ground is still under the patronage of the Pochin family.

This probably explains the appealing mixture of the modern - the electronic scoreboard - and the quaint - two trees standing in the field of play.

Six of the Best 352

"The big questions I'd like to hear answers to from people in politics and/or the media is what the point of such strange venues is and whose idea was it to 'neutralise' the political speech - politicians, their advisors or the media? I'd also quite like to know why a supermarket chain (Morrisons) has become the venue of choice for leading Conservative politicians." Max Atkinson mourns the further decline of political oratory in Britain.

Disgruntled Radical has some good arguments against a referendum on our membership of the European Union.

"We need to say to people, 'Use Facebook yes… Try all of the channels of communication available to you, but it’s good old-fashioned communication on the doorstep that voters value the most'." Polichic... explains why Facebook won't win you an election.

Commander Chris Hadfield proves he is the coolest astronaut ever by singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in space, says blastr.

Days after Hitler’s suicide a group of American soldiers, French prisoners and German soldiers defended an Austrian castle against an SS division - the only time Germans and Allies fought together in World War II. Andrew Roberts tells the story for The Daily Beast.

Richly Evocative enjoys the Parkland Walk, which occupies the trackbed of the old line from Finsbury Park to Highgate.

Conservative backbenchers are scribbling on the constitution

I have just watched Jacob Rees-Mogg trying to defend the absurdity of Conservative backbenchers voting to amend their own government's Queen's speech.

But then respect for the constitution, which used to be a hallmark of Conservatism, has pretty much been thrown out of the window. Forget Burke and representative democracy: the reaction of modern Conservative MPs when they find themselves part of a minority in the Commons, is to demand a referendum.

The latest example, reports the Guardian, is over the Coalition's plans to bring in equal marriage.

Political Animal reminded us on Twitter earlier today that Margaret Thatcher once quoted with approval Clement Attlee's argument that the referendums "a device of dictators and demagogues". He was right and so was she.

Tory backbenchers opposed AV and the reform of the Lords (even though the latter was in their own manifesto), but they are quite ready to trash the constitution if they think it is to their advantage.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bryan Forbes: More than The Stepford Wives

When Bryan Forbes died last week the headlines described his as "Stepford Wives Director Bryan Forbes".

I found that odd, because I suspect he was more celebrated in Britain for two films he made here at the start of the 1960s.

I wrote about The League of Gentlemen from 1960 a few years ago:
We are supposed to think of the 1950s as an irredeemably dull decade. People sat around waiting for the 1960s, the Beatles and the invention of sexual intercourse. This film suggests that it was a lot more interesting than that. Yes, there is dissatisfaction with the contemporary scene, but it springs from a sense that the spivs have supplanted the men who won the war. 
Hyde is lost in the post-war world; the military virtues he exemplifies are no longer wanted. His recruits are doing worse, trapped in awful marriages, tied to failing businesses or disgraced. One is obviously gay, and that in a film released a year before another Basil Dearden film, Victim, which is supposed to be the first time the subject was broached in a British film. 
The League of Gentlemen works as a thriller - you become engrossed in the details of the bank job and hope the gang will get away with it but it is also very funny. 
As I went on to say, the cast is terrific and Jack Hawkins gives a superb performance. You are utterly convinced that he has commanded men in battle.

Bryan Forbes starred in The League of Gentlemen and also wrote the script. If anything, the film's trailer sells it short...



A year later Forbes directed Whistle Down the Wind. It could have been insufferably twee, particularly when you add in the point that the trailer below skips over - the children believe that Alan Bates' character is Jesus.

Yet, despite Haley Mills' usual studied wide-eyed innocence and intermittent Lancashire accent, it works and seems to have haunted a lot of people who were young in the 1960s.

So these two films have a lot more to interest the British viewer than did the later The Stepford Wives.

The Richard Jefferies Museum, Swindon



For more on Jefferies (about whom I wrote my MA dissertation) see this Liberal England guest post by Rebecca Welshman.

The siege of Weston-under-Redcastle

I look forward to Fridays because that is the day the Shropshire Star published a new selection of vintage photographs.

One of this week's selection shows Superintendent Bob Landers of Wellington Police holding a revolver and crouched behind a riot shield during what the caption describes as "the longest peacetime siege in British history". This took place at the Shropshire village of Weston-under-Redcastle in September and October 1968.

An old Birmingham Post & Mail story tells the full story:
Deranged farmer John James was holed up for 17 days with a rusty shotgun in a derelict cottage near Weston-under-Redcastle, a village in rural Shropshire, in 1968. 
His hostage, a woman, brought it to an end when she threw his gun out of a window as he slept - allowing the police and army to move in. 
But this was not before he had knocked out an army tank which had ventured too close. 
It was a huge humiliation for the military commander at the scene. 
He had sought refuge after being challenged by the police over the illegal possession of a firearm - and successfully held his besiegers at bay for more than two weeks. 
Reporters covering the event lived in an array of colourful tents, ran two football teams and produced a daily newspaper. 
Afterwards, an Arthur Daley type reporter on the scene arranged for a commemorative tie to be produced. It bore the figure 17 and the icon of a red castle. 
And, as this Glasgow Herald report of his trial shows, James was sent to Broadmoor hospital.

Just another one of those stories that must have been a sensation at the time but must have been long forgotten.

Night Beds: Ramona



When picking the Night Beds as their new band of the day last year, the Guardian explained the background to their first album. It explained that the band's singer Winston Yellen had
rented an isolated pre-civil war home – previously owned by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash – in Hendersonville on the outskirts of Nashville. There, immersed in the history of the house and region, he spent 10 months writing songs and recording them at the local Brown Owl studio.
The paper also said (in so many words) that the result was the sort of album that would appeal to sad old gits like me.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Beeby Tub without a pub


This is All Saints, Beeby, or 'Beeby Tub', a few miles east of Leicester. Britain Express explains its strange vestigial spire as follows:
The story goes that two stone masons who were brothers were responsible for building the steeple. They quarrelled while at work, and both fell to their deaths from atop the tower. After that the spire was never finished, but was simply capped. The oddly shaped spire became known as 'Beeby's Tub'. An old rhyme tells the story of the legend:
Beeby Tub without a pub,
A church without a spire.
Two brothers fought and broke their backs
And so ‘twas built no higher.
The leaflet I picked up in the church offers a more prosaic explanation: the money ran out. And it is easy to imagine money being short at Beeby. The rhyme itself says there is no pub, Pevsner (who calls All Saints "an unfortunate church") talks of the scattered houses and farms near the church as the "shrunken medieval village of Beeby and when the church's chancel was rebuilt in the late 19th century it was done in brick.

And Pevsner is rather harsh. The interior contains box pews and some remarkable corbels commissioned by the Revd George Calvert, who was here from 1818 to 1865. My leaflet suggests these represent Calvert's idea of what medieval corbels ought to look like. The skull and bones here is one of them.

All Saints is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, but when I arrived it was unlocked. Two miles away across the fields Barkby church, still in the hands of the Church of England, was locked, barred and bolted when I tried the door.

While I was at Beeby a man arrived on a motorbike to tend one of the graves in the churchyard. He said he had grown up here and that he and some friends had found the key to the tower and would often climb to its battlements.

As I waited for the bus back to Leicester I read an ominous notice about a consultation over the withdrawal of little-used services.

David Cameron has lost control of the Conservative Party

If you want to know how much influence David Cameron still has over the Conservative Party, read this opening paragraph from tomorrow's Observer:
David Cameron has ordered his ministers to abstain in a pivotal Commons vote on a future EU referendum next week, in a blow to his Eurosceptic colleagues.
That's right: his ministers are going to abstain on an attempt to amend the Queen's speech and this is seen as a blow, not to Cameron, but to his critics because those ministers are not going even further.

I don't think anyone could give direction to the rabble the Conservative Party has become. David Cameron certainly can't.

Richard Bentall: Why society drives you mad



The clinical psychologist Professor Richard Bentall from the University of Bangor, author of Madness Explained and Doctoring the Mind, offers a critique of the medical model of mental distress.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A relic of Stamford's railway history


We have seen Stamford Water Street or Stamford East. When it was open, the town's other station was known as Stamford Town.

Stamford Town is still open today as plain Stamford - platform 1 for trains to Peterborough, platform 2 for trains to Leicester.

But when you are there it is obvious that there used to be a third platform, which must have served trains to Seaton. This was a station on the Market Harborough to Peterborough line which was also the junction for the branch to Uppingham. It stood almost beneath the mighty Welland viaduct.

The site of Seaton station is now occupied by a scrapyard, but at one time - out in the lush Welland valley - it must have been almost idyllic.

And the line to Stamford has its place in railway history.

R. Davies and M.D. Grant, in their Forgotten Railways: Chilterns and Cotwolds, write:
On 4 October [1965] the Seaton to Stamford shuttle changed from steam to diesel; for its last week it had been the sole-surviving steam push-and-pull train in Britain.
Trains between Stamford and Seaton ceased on 6 June 1966, but if you look in the undergrowth behind the lost platform at Stamford you will still find its name spelt out.

Michael Gove, Michael Rosen and grammar

There is a row going on between Michael Gove and Michael Rosen. Yet he idea of an opposition between good grammar is largely spurious: the writers I know who are most interested in grammar are also the most creative.

But I am haunted by a piece I read in, I think, the UK Press Gazette some years ago. A journalist described going into an inner-city comprehensive to run a journalism workshop. He found the children were all he hoped they would be: sparky and curious about the world around them.

All went well until he asked them to write a trial article.

The problem was not so much that their spelling and grammar was poor: it was they could not see this might be a problem if they wanted to pursue a career as a journalist.

Which must be one of the reasons why now just three per cent of junior journalists have working-class parents.

Six of the Best 351

"The key difference between conventional politicians and populists is not hatred - you don't have to hate to be a populist.  It is the understanding that our institutions are no longer effective." David Boyle, on The Real Blog, offers a six-point (well, five-point) plan for a Liberal populism.

Jon Wilkinson explains how to vote Liberal Democrat with a clear conscience.

The New Atlantis website tells us about the shameful treatment of the people of the Chagos Islands.

"Wyndham Colliery had closed at the beginning of that year – he had long retired. But despite the economic devastation, until he died he counted the day of the pit’s closure as one of the happiest in his life. ‘It was a filthy place. No man should spend his working life on his knees." Rowan Davies writes about her grandfather on her Nonsuch blog.

Ryan Gilbey marks the 50th anniversary of John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar on his New Statesman blog.

"Rock is above all a theatrical form. English rockers have been particularly good at this, partly because many of them, including Bowie himself, have drawn inspiration from the rich tradition of music hall theater. If Chuck Berry was a godfather of British rock, so was the vaudevillian Max Miller, the 'cheeky chappie', in his daisy-patterned suits." Ian Buruma discusses the career of David Bowie for the New York Review of Books.

Heritage lottery grant for the Richard Jefferies Museum


Good news from Swindon Link:
One of Swindon’s historic gems is about to get a boost after being told it is to receive a £30,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). 
The Richard Jefferies Museum, home of local Victorian writer and naturalist, has been given the grant to help develop a dedicated Trust and breathe new life into this important local landmark.
The report goes on to quote John Price, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society, whom I met when I visited the museum in 2009:
"Society members is [sic] delighted to hear of the success of the HLF bid, and looks forward to working with the Trust to make the Museum at Coate more accessible to Swindonians and visitors to the Town. It is a most important literary jewel that we have done our best to make available to all, but have been limited by time, money, and availability of volunteers to take responsibility for opening the house more regularly."

Nottinghamshire Police cop Headline of the Day

For their splendidly poker faced:

Mr and Mrs Speed profited from amphetamines

Thanks to Alex Foster.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

A new Eleanor Cross at Stamford


I have been to Geddington and Hardingstone in Northamptonshire to see two of the three surviving Eleanor Crosses - the third is at Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire.

Stamford is the site of one of the vanished crosses and a fragment of its cross used to be on show in the town museum. Now the museum has closed, the best place to try is the library.

But when I was in Stamford on Monday I found that it has a new Eleanor cross. The website Stonebtb explains:
It hasn't been the easiest of transitions from commission to construction but Wolfgang Buttress' Ketton limestone and bronze reinterpretation of the Eleanor Cross that once stood in Stamford has finally been unveiled as the centrepiece of the town's £1.3million Gateway project. 
The scheme has pedestrianised Red Lion Square and the Sheep Market parts of the East Midlands town. The areas were previously used for car parking. The narrow streets and lanes between the historic stone buildings of the town are one of its attractions, but they don't leave a lot of room for car parking, so losing some of the space that existed for it was not universally popular. 
However, those who wanted to see an Eleanor Cross return to a public area of the town have won the day and on a Saturday in May Wolfgang Buttress, who designed the cross and its associated Clipsham benches and milestone, the masons who produced them (Pierre Bidaud, Ana Ruiz Agüi and Regis Chaperon) and their guests celebrated with Champagne the fact that the cross was finally in place.
The site of the original Eleanor Cross at Stamford has been the subject of much debate, but the best theory seems to be that it stood on a hill by the Great North Road to the south of the town - much as the cross at Hardingstone stands in relation to Northampton.

Jo Swinson and Shirley Williams on what needs to change at Westminster

The House Magazine has a joint interview with these two leading Liberal Democrats on  the challenges of being a female politician, what has changed in the last 50 years, and what still needs to change:
Jo Swinson: Some things have changed for the better. Obviously we now have 146 women MPs – still nowhere near enough by the way, but we have significantly more. Women don’t feel they can’t attack other women in the chamber on a political basis. I don’t think that there are as many personal attacks and I often find that if you look at the environment at Women and Equalities questions, and debates on international development, you tend to get more women in the chamber. The committee I've just finished sitting on, the Children and Families Bill, was a majority of women which is the first time I've ever seen that. And it’s not that you always agree, but women disagree in a slightly different way ... 
Shirley Williams: I should add that the House of Lords is a much easier place to be a woman in. There’s a very fixed ethos of politeness. There’s a gentle hiss if people are rude to one another. They don’t like at all people that personally attack other people. That encourages women in particular and it may be why there are quite a few women from ethnic minorities in the Lords. That measures what is still wrong with some of the attitudes and approaches in the Commons.
I also like Shirley's comment on the old Lady Members' Room:
It had an ironing board in it, much used by Mrs Thatcher who was very keen on ironing. The funny thing was, that was about all it had. It had a sofa in case you felt faint and it had an ironing board.