Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bromford Bridge: A railway poster for a lost racecourse

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Bromford Bridge racecourse was opened in 1894 and closed in 1965. Part of Castle Bromwich was then built on it.

This poster was issued by the  London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1938.

The evidence in the Rochdale child abuse inquiry is online

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One of the 13 individual strands that form the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse concerns Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale.

These are matters in which the former Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith is implicated.

The Rochdale strand finished hearing evidence last week and you can find transcripts of all the evidence on the inquiry website.

For a good summary of the evidence, see the article by Daniel De Simone and Jonathan Ali on BBC News.

Six of the Best 738

"Thirteen years ago two boys died after being restrained by staff in English prisons run by G4S and Serco. Both boys had been in care and lived in children’s homes."  Carolyne Willow campaigns for transparency on the use of restraint on children in custody.

Ian Martin says Yorkshire and the North of England suffer because of the hegemony of power and influence concentrated in London.

Urban trees are vital to our wellbeing, argues Eillie Anzilotti.

"The presenters of Front Row, the only arts magazine programme on the whole of BBC television, began their new assignments by announcing they could not be bothered with theatre." Nick Cohen on the BBC's apologetic arts coverage.

John Harris takes us back to Frestonia, a small corner of West London that declared its independence in 1977 - The Clash recorded much of Combat Rock there.

The first terrorist attack on the London Underground took place in 1883. Londonist has the story.

Jason Zadrozny cleared of all chages

At the 2010 general election the Liberal Democrat candidate Jason Zadrozny came within 192 votes of gaining the Ashfield constituency from Labour.

In the run up to the 2015 election he was arrested on child abuse charges.

Yesterday, 950 days later, he was cleared of all charges when the Crown Prosecution Service said no evidence would be presented against him.

Jason told BBC News:
"Justice has been done, I've said for two and a half years that I was absolutely not guilty. 
"It's the most horrible thing that anybody can be accused of."
And his solicitor, Matt Hayes, said:
"There was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. 
"That's the crown's view, our case is there's never been any evidence."
The BBC says that Jason has previously said he believes the allegations were politically motivated.

And he told the Nottingham Post that he will take legal action against Nottinghamshire Police.

Jason and the Lib Dem councillors in Ashfield have rebranded themselves as the Ashfield Independents since his arrest in 2015. They made an impressive gain in a local by-election only a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ned Ludd was an Anstey lad


We've all heard of the Luddites, but who was Ned Ludd after whom they were named?

Wikipedia says:
Supposedly, Ludd was a weaver from Anstey, near Leicester, England. In 1779, either after being whipped for idleness, or after being taunted by local youths, he smashed two knitting frames in what was described as a "fit of passion". This story is traceable to an article in The Nottingham Review on 20 December 1811, but there is no independent evidence of its truth.
Whatever the truth of it, there is now a road named after him in the centre of Anstey.

Today "Luddite" is used as a pejorative term for anyone who questions the introduction of new technology.

But an article by Richard Conniff for the Smithsonian Magazine suggests this is a libel:
As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves "were totally fine with machines," says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called "a fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labor practices. 
"They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods," says Binfield, "and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns."
He also says Ned Ludd never existed - try telling them that in Anstey.

It is interesting that those who are most dismissive of the Luddites are the same people who reject any notion that tyranny in Communist states can be excused because the regime was modernising the economy and society.

I reject it too, but then I have always had a sneaking regard for the Luddites.

Environmental protection from HS2 being stripped out in the North

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The proponents of HS2 have been assiduous in protecting the environment in the South of England - 29 per cent of the 140 mile-line from London to Birmingham will run through tunnels.

How is this being paid for? By stripping out environmental further north.

An article by Frances Perraudin, North of England reporter for the Guardian, quotes Jonathan Pile from Yorkshire against HS2:
"We’re getting this double standard, where they’re spending all the money down south, no problem, but when it’s the north they just expect us to lump it." ... 
He said the government was going back on its initial commitment to “minimise the local environmental impact of the new railway wherever possible by using tunnels, deep cuttings and existing transport corridors”.
It also quotes Jon Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth, as saying the figures would confirm a feeling in Yorkshire that there was "one rule for the Tory marginals in the south and a completely different rule for the north":
He said the train line would be wider than two motorways and, in some cases, would be placed on a platform 12 meters in the air. 
He said the fact that HS2 would not pay for parts of the route in Yorkshire to be in tunnels reinforced "the idea that the north is a place where they can save money, make cuts and leave communities damaged to the benefit of the south".
Back to Jonathan Pile:
"I think they have a view that we might be willing to put up with more and that the home counties are going to scream blue murder and, to some extend, there is something to that.
"We are post-industrial communities which have been used to industrial landscapes that the home counties wouldn’t be happy with. But this area has been restored to green belt now. It’s got a burgeoning leisure industry and it’s definitely as beautiful as the Chilterns."

Former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate forces the resignation of Australia's deputy prime minister

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Barnaby Joyce is the leader of National Party, the junior party in Australia's ruling coalition. But his election to the Australian parliament has been ruled invalid because he also holds New Zealand citizenship.

Under Australian law, those holding dual nationality are not eligible to stand for parliament.

Joyce is one of four Australian politicians whose election to parliament has been declared invalid on these grounds.

He can stand in the resultant by-election in his sear as he has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship. But in the mean time the coalition government, which has a majority of one, faces a difficult time.

The fact that Joyce had broken electoral law was a Melbourne-based blogger by the name of William Summers.

His blog seems to be down, but you can find him on Twitter.

He told BBC News:
"I was never out to get the deputy prime minister. I've always said he shouldn't lose his seat. But, if you are going to have this rule, you have got to treat everyone the same."
In earlier life Summers was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Norfolk North West at the 2010 general election, when he beat Labour into third place. Between 2005 and 2008 he worked in Norman Lamb's parliamentary office.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Barlow and Watt investigate Jack the Ripper



Charlie Barlow, played by Stratford Johns, was television's most famous policeman in the Sixties and early Seventies.

He appeared in Z Cars, Softly Softly and Softly Softly: Task Force, and a number of spin-off series.

The most imaginative of those spin-offs involved Barlow and his long-term sidekick John Watt, played by Frank Windsor, investigating the Jack the Ripper murders. (Harry Hawkins must have been busy elsewhere.)

It was broadcast in colour even though this was 1973, but the version available online is in black and white.

This clip gave wide exposure to the theory that the murders were the result of a Masonic conspiracy to cover up a scandal in the Royal Family.

Joseph Sickert was really Joseph Gorman and almost certainly not the painter Walter Sickert's illegitimate or adopted son. He certainly was a fantasist.

Yet the idea of a Masonic conspiracy caught the public imagination. It was fully developed by Stephen Knight in his Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution and inspired the film Murder by Decree.

Should the Lib Dems have exposed Jared O'Mara?


Miriam Gonzalez Durantez revealed on Peston this morning that her husband Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats knew about the allegations against Jared O'Mara before June's general election.

Mark Pack suggests that we should have made use of this knowledge during the campaign in Sheffield Hallam:
Taking care over when to criticise the personality of an opponent is wise. But when you have evidence about issues as serious as sexism and homophobia and the person in question is bidding to become an MP, then – if you have solid evidence – raising them I would even go so far as to say is necessary. Democracy requires the cases for and against candidates, parties and policies to be put before the public.
Liberals tend to fight shy of this sort of campaigning - "When they go low, we go high" - but Mark is right. It can be your duty to reveal your opponents deficiencies if they are sufficiently serious.

I do not trust the idea that it is only what Tony Benn used to call the "ishoos" that matter. So many political questions arrive out of clear blue sky that the character of the people you elect to tackle them is immensely important.

And if you know your opponent has a bad character, you should say so.

Baxter Dury: Miami


When I went to university in 1978 all the cool kids had a copy of Ian Dury's debut album New Boots and Panties!!, which had been released by Stiff Records the previous year.

A five-year-old Baxter Dury was photographed for the its cover alongside his father.

Forty years on, Baxter is an artist in his own right. Miami is a track from his fifth album, Prince of Tears, which was released this summer.

Writing about Harper Simon, I suggested that it may not be possible to avoid sounding like your famous parent. I see I employed an observation about Liam Botham's bowling action to prove my point.
The Dury's may be a different matter. The film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll suggested that Ian had been a rather middle-class child and had adopted his cockney geezer image as a carapace to protect him from the world.

His biography on Wikipedia rather bears this out, though the film threw the idea away when it got the chance to cast the biggest geezer of them all, Ray Winstone, as his father.

So is Baxter Dury's image a calculated copy of his father or the just the style that comes to him most naturally?

I don't know, but I like this record.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Jonathan Meades on the Plagiarist in the Kitchen



An hour of Meadesian goodness as the great man discusses his recent cookery book.

Should John Humphrys retire from Today?

The Today programme this morning, which featured Michael Gove's deeply unfunny joke about Harvey Weinstien, was a self-congratulatory affair marking its 60th birthday.

I gave up listening to Today once I acquired a digital radio and discovered the old comedies on Radio 4 Extra, which are a much better way to start the day.

It's not just that the news is so depressing these days: I find I was moaning about Today in Liberal Democrat News years ago.

One of the many problems with Today is John Humphrys. Too often his interviewing his based on his prejudices, which became tedious years ago.

It is tempting to attribute this to his age, but I suspect he has always been like that. So let's just say that the team of presenters needs to be refreshed and Humphrys is the first candidate to stand down.

Anyway, Humphrys' longevity in the role reminds me of a story about Alistair Cooke and Letter from America.

When I was a teenager Cooke was regularly held up as an example of a great broadcaster, but he always struck me as on old bore.

It seems the BBC agreed with me. Legend has it that in the 1970s an executive was dispatched to New York to take Cooke to dinner and broach the subject of his retirement.

He bottled it, with the result that Letter from America ran until a few weeks before Cooke died in 2004 at the age of 95.

It sounds an apocryphal tale, but John Osman names the BBC man involved as the producer Alastair Osborne.

The packhorse bridge at Anstey


Anstey lies outside the boundaries of Leicester, on the way to Bradgate Park.It used to be an industrial village, but most of the factories have been razed and had houses built on their sites.

This medieval packhorse bridge spanning the Rothley Brook stands on what was once the main road to Leicester, close to the centre of the village.




Friday, October 27, 2017

Kibworth Harcourt windmill is on Historic England’s At Risk Register


It's not just the Turret Gateway at Leicester Castle that has seen better days.

The Leicester Mercury has the full list of county buildings on Historic England’s new Heritage at Risk Register.

Among them is the windmill at Kibworth Harcourt, which is suffering the ravages of time and now requires comprehensive repairs.

Sheffield Labour Party fails in attempt to jail opposition councillor

A tree yesterday
You might think that the Sheffield Labour Party had got itself into enough trouble by selecting Jared O'Mara as a parliamentary candidate, but it was not content to leave things at that.

Today, a hearing took place at which the Labour-dominated city council sought to have a Green member of the authority convicted of breaching an injunction preventing her from demonstrating against its absurd PFI contract.

That contract is seeing healthy trees felled across the city.

If convicted, the Green councillor Alison Teal could have faced two years in prison. The good news is that the court decided she had not breached the injunction.

According to the Guardian:
Afterwards, Teal accused Sheffield council of behaving like bullies. She castigated the authority for using public money to try to put her in prison, saying their pursuit of her for peaceful protest was "frightening for democracy2.
She is right.

We sometimes talk lightly about Labour's "one-party states", but this is no joke.

Having opposition politicians imprisoned is just how tyrannies operate.

Meanwhile, for a good analysis of Labour in Sheffield got itself into such a mess over its PFI contract, read George Monbiot.

York Liberal Democrats back devolution for the whole of Yorkshire

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Good news from The Press:
Councillors in York have backed a Yorkshire devolution deal covering the biggest possible geography, despite pushes from the Tory group to abandon the "One Yorkshire" bid in favour of a smaller "Greater Yorkshire" deal. 
Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors together out-voted the Conservatives on the ruling administration, and approved a motion which "recognises the potential advantages of a 'One Yorkshire' deal." 
The "One Yorkshire" proposals sprang out of talks over the summer between 17 local authorities across Yorkshire, but has not been backed by ministers because of an earlier deal struck with councils in South Yorkshire.
As Matthew Engel once pointed out, central government monkeys about with local government boundaries in a way the US States would never tolerate. It is a reminder of how centralised Britain is.

Therefore supporting the resurrection of the whole of Yorkshire is a reassertion of democracy and identity, not just an exercise in nostalgia.

Though, of course, in modern time Yorkshire was always split into three ridings for local government purposes. York, incidentally, was never part of any of them.

The Greater Yorkshire deal in South Yorkshire was meant to bring in parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire too, but those councils pulled out of it. Now the whole thing seems to have fallen apart.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Withnail and I 30 years on



A discussion with one of the film's stars Richard E. Grant and its director Bruce Robinson.

The interviewer even looks like Uncle Monty.

Could the Liberal Democrats win a Sheffield Hallam by-election?

© Ashley Dace
The Yorkshire Post reports:
The Lib Dems have brought forward their selection process to find a new candidate for Sheffield Hallam in response to the suspension of the sitting Labour MP Jared O'Mara. 
The move follows further allegations of sexist and misogynistic comments posted by Mr O'Mara on internet forums prior to his election.
It goes on to say that there are five Lib Dems have put themselves for the nomination, but Nick Clegg is not among them.

I am sure Labour will do all they can to avoid a by-election, but could the Lib Dems win it if it were held?

Before you answer that question, you need to take two factors on board:
  • Sheffield Hallam is not a blasted wasteland of whippets and feral children. It is an affluent seat with one of the most educated electorates outside the Lib Dem belt in South-West London. I believe that when he won it for the Lib Dems in 1997, Richard Allan achieved the biggest swing against the Tories anywhere in that remarkable general election. Up until then it had been regarded as a safe Conservative seat.
  • The constituency does not have as high student vote as people think. The 2010 boundary changes moved many students into the Sheffield Central constituency.
There is a good analysis of Hallam on the All That's Left site, though it was written for the 2015 general election and so does not mention Jared O'Mara's victory there.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLater. The secretary of the Lib Dem Yorkshire and the Humber region tells me that the Hallam selection process was already underway - it has not been brought forward because of the revelations about Jared O'Mara.

Still, you can prove anything with facts.

The Turret Gateway at Leicester Castle needs repair


Historic England has placed the Turret Gateway at Leicester Castle to its Heritage at Risk register for 2017, reports the Leicester Mercury.

It sounds as the though the city council has the repairs in hand, but I was interested by the quote from the chairman of Leicester Civic Society:
"It is, of course, just a fragment of a much larger four-storey gateway which controlled access to the castle. 
"It used to have a house above it and was very imposing. 
"It is widely, and incorrectly, assumed that it was largely destroyed in the fighting in the city during the Civil War. 
"Actually it survived that and stood until the 1830s. 
"It was destroyed in an election riot, a Chartist riot, when it was burned down leaving just what you can see today."
According to a pamphlet on the castle to be found on the University of Leicester site, it was destroyed in 1832.

That was a little early for the Chartists and the pamphlet says the cause was "an election squabble".

I suspect the gateway was ruined in riots connected with the passing of the Great Reform Act. The same sort of squabble that saw Nottingham Castle burnt down.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On the path to the Yealm ferry


I took this at the start of my fourth summer holiday walking the South West Coast Path. By my calculation that was in 1997 and I set out that morning from Wembury near Plymouth.

I took the ferry across the Yealm, but when you reach the next estuary you have to wade.

Six of the Best 737

Helen Belcher writes to the Today programme about transphobia.

Mark Hobbs on an unexpected story from Iran: "Many of Isfahan’s Polish children remained in the city for the duration of the War. Later on they departed for new lives in East Africa, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Memoirs shared by the Polish diaspora indicate a fond regard for their time in Iran, and for Isfahan in particular which, for many, will always be remembered as 'the city of Polish children'."

"If you're anywhere near Peterborough, do visit if you can. We went on a sunny Tuesday morning in early summer. We had the site to ourselves, to wander around and marvel. The sheep trotted past and took shelter under the trees. Fish splashed in the fen; I heard a cuckoo. It was easy almost to imagine oneself back in the past..." says Katherine Langrish of Flag Fen.

"We begin in the Lace Market, an area once famous for being the center of the world’s lace production. Nowadays it’s full of curving brick buildings and cobbled streets, and I can’t help wandering down every little lane I find." A Lady in London visits Nottingham.

Mimi Matthews examines the connection between spinsters and cats in the Victorian era.

"It is no small burden to possess something as valuable as Mitchell’s talent, and it meant that this girl from the Canadian prairie would be in the world, whether she liked it or not." Dan Chiasson celebrates the genius of Joni Mitchell.

Two Leicester pubs under threat from university development


At the end of last year I blogged the good news that Leicester City Council had refused developers permission to demolish the 1920s Black Boy pub in Albion Street and build a seven-storey block of flats.

Developers being developers, they have appealed against the decision. You can read an account of what sounds a testy hearing in the Leicester Mercury.

Today came news that another city pub is under threat. This time its the eccentric Dry Dock, a landlocked boat, on Freemen’s Common.

The University of Leicester wants to redevelop the area and build new accommodation blocks up to 15 storeys high and a multi-storey car park.

These days the city's two universities, and the commercial developers building student accommodation seem to be the major forces in the reshaping of the city - and not always for the best.

The University of Leicester dominates the south of the city and De Montfort University dominates the west - just ask the ghost of the Pump and Tap.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The bridges at Irtlhingborough from the Nene



Remember how taken I was with the bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough? The concrete viaduct from the 1930s and its little medieval companion.

Well, whether you remember it or not, I can assure you I was.

This video shows the bridges from the point of view of a boat on the river. We are in the company of a grumpy skipper who wrongly believes the medieval bridge is "just for show".

It must have been here that my mother and late stepfather, in their cruising days, once had to wait several days for the Nene to go down before they could get under the smaller bridge.

Fort William community building named after Charles Kennedy

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BBC News reports that a former school in Fort William has been reopened as a community centre and named after the former Liberal Democrat leader.

It quotes the SNP Highland councillor Blair Allan, who proposed it be called the Charles Kennedy Building:
"Charles Kennedy was educated in Fort William and throughout his career was hard working and dedicated to the communities he represented. 
"I think it is very fitting that the new offices which will serve the local community well for many years to come be named in his honour and I would like to thank his family for giving their support."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Norman Bowler on John Minton



One of my early heroes was Detective Sergeant (eventually Detective Chief Inspector) Harry Hawkins in Softly, Softly and then Softly, Softly: Task Force.

He was played for a decade from 1966 by Norman Bowler, who turned up many years later as Frank Tate in Emmerdale.

Before Softly Softly, Bowler was an artist's model and bodybuilder. He was a member of the Soho set alongside John Minton, Francis Bacon and Daniel Farson. He married the model and writer Henrietta Moraes.

Here he shares his memories of Minton.

"The following programme may be an ice-pick in your brain"

Don’t worry: this is not about students. And it’s certainly not about Cambridge University. But I have been thinking about trigger warnings.

Late on Saturday evening BBC2 broadcast the film In OurName. Its blurb on iPlayer describes it thus:
On returning home from Iraq, British soldier Suzy struggles to readjust to normal life. Haunted by memories of the death of an Iraqi child, she becomes obsessed with the safety of her own daughter and becomes increasingly paranoid and scared of everything around her. Meanwhile, husband Mark, also a squaddie who served in Iraq, turns out to have serious problems of his own.
I didn’t watch it, but it sound like a serious attempt to look at important issues in modern Britain. And at least it’s not another romcom or British gangster film.

What I did see were the warning before it began. We were told that In Our Name contained:
  • very strong language
  • some sexual content
  • prolonged violence
  • some upsetting scenes

My first, flippant, reaction was to wonder what they though viewers wanted from a Saturday night film.

Since then I have been wandering what effect this proliferation of trigger warnings has on viewers.

You can say that their appearance is a sign that broadcasters, the BBC in particular, have more concern for them these days. I suspect it has at least as much to do with fear of litigation or being monstered by pressure groups – we’ve all seen W1A.

But I think of the time when some filmmakers set out to upset, or at least discomfort, viewers.

As Wikipedia says of Cathy Come Home from 1966:
The play broached issues that were not then widely discussed in the popular media, such as homelessness, unemployment and the rights of mothers to keep their own children. It was watched by 12 million people – a quarter of the British population at the time – on its first broadcast. Its hard-hitting subject matter and highly realistic documentary style, new to British television, created a huge impact on its audience. 
One commentator called it "an ice-pick in the brain of all who saw it". The play produced a storm of phone calls to the BBC, and discussion in Parliament. For years afterwards Carol White was stopped in the street by people pressing money into her hand, convinced she must be actually homeless.
Should it have been preceded by a warning? What would the effect have if it had been? Would it have had fewer viewers and less impact?

No doubt part of this is my nostalgia for an era 10 years Cathy Come Home when a marxist Play for Today could attract a similar audience, though even I recognise that this was largely because there was not much else to watch.

Mind you, in that era if you went to the theatre you risked being harangued by the cast for being bourgeois and going to the theatre. We can’t go back to those days and I am not sure I would want to.


But I do think it is worth asking whether trigger warnings reduce the audience for challenging work and, if so, whether that is a price worth paying for making sure viewers feel comfortable.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Six of the Best 736

Chairman Meow
Chris Dillow explains why a new centre party would likely fail: "Political parties are powerful brands that have been built up over decades. This loyalty doesn’t only attract millions of voters. It means that members stick with the party through thick and thin, even if they profoundly disagree with their policies and leaders."

Good news. Cicero's Songs is back with a post on Estonia.

Nicole Vassell on the experience of the few Black students who do make it to Oxford or Cambridge.

The Pledge of Allegiance in American schools was promoted by a man who made a fortune selling pricey flags to schoolchildren, reports Andrew Belonksy.

"There’s books and biographies. Friends of friends of someone who knew them and they’re the ‘experts’ that write about John’s life. After John died, stories about our family became wild and he’s no longer around to do anything. I thought I’ve got to do something." Kelly Maile talks to Julia Baird, John Lennon's sister.

The Pub Curmudgeon tours the pubs of Leicester and even meets Chairman Meow.

The shorter Sajid Javid

We don't encourage reliance on experts, particularly foreign experts, in this school. We will now sing the national anthem and if I catch any boy not singing loud enough he will be beaten.

Jon Boden: All the Stars are Coming Out Tonight



M Magazine interviewed Jon Boden last week:
‘The future of folk is hanging in the balance, and is in danger of turning into just another branch of the performing arts… passively consumed by the audience rather than being a participatory social art form,’ warns Jon Boden, ex-frontman, composer and arranger with Bellowhead. 
As a leading light in the British folk scene, over the years he’s added to our nation’s canon while also exhuming forgotten works for contemporary audiences. 
It’s an endeavour that has seen him pick up many plaudits along the way, not least from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, which has bestowed him with 12 statues for his efforts.
Since Bellowhead’s official split last year, Jon’s been working on the follow-up to his 2009 solo album Songs From the Floodplain,  with the stunning results landing on 6 October. 
Called Afterglow, it’s a concept album – and part of a trilogy inspired by post-apocalyptic literature and a post-oil future.
Post-apocalyptic and post-oil were very much in the air in the late 1970s. You can find them, for instance, in Jethro Tull's 1979 LP Stormwatch, which is the darkest and least remembered of their folk-rock trilogy.

All the Stars are Coming Out Tonight is my Sunday music video. It comes from Boden's new album Afterglow.

I have chosen it, not only because it sounds good, but also because Boden told M Magazine:
Literary inspirations were many and various! After London by Richard Jefferies is a touchstone...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Railway Mania Bar at the Royal Station Hotel, York



One of my watering holes when I was a student at York was the Railway Mania Bar at the Royal Station Hotel (now called The Principal York for some reason).

After a day out on the railways, we would retire there to drink keg Old Peculier. I have never found it being served anywhere else.

Years later I stayed at the hotel in the course of my day job. I found that the bar, which was in the basement and reached by external stairs, had long since been converted into a gym.

Put it down to privatisation: the Royal York Hotel was run by the publicly owned British Transport Hotels until 1983. It was a different world, kids.

But the Railway Mania Bar is not quite forgotten. A short segment of Anthony Burton's 1980 television series was filmed there.

It's a wonder I am not to be seen in the background.

Stephen Reicher on the psychology of authoritarian populism



This an audio recording of Professor Stephen Reicher's lecture on the psychology of authoritarian populism that I attended last month.

As I blogged when I got home that evening:
Professor Reicher's argument that if we are to understand the appeal of Donald Trump (and of other authoritarian populists) we have to get away from the idea that the people who voted for him are merely wicked or stupid.
It is worth taking the time to listen to it. His arguments are obviously relevant to winning the debate on Brexit.

Matthew Engel on the existential crisis of cricket (and me on the President of the MCC's buttocks)

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Matthew Engel has a magnificent polemic on the state of cricket in today's Guardian:
This is not the game that enraptured me when I was six years old. Nor the game I have written about happily for much of my adult life. 
I don’t care about the St Lucia Zouks. And I won’t care about whatever names the 12-year‑olds in marketing invent for the new made-up teams when the existing English Twenty20 is engulfed by yet another new competition in the years ahead. 
This wretched idea was sold to the county chairmen by bribery – an annual £1.3m sweetener per county – with a tacit undercurrent of threat.
My only interest – in common with many other cricket lovers – is the hope that the damnable thing is a total flop and that we can somehow save the game I once adored, and still love more than the people who have seized control of it.
Do read the whole thing.

You can argue that Twenty20 has led to batsmen being more aggressive and even inventing new shots. And leg spin has returned - if only because every bowler gets caned now.

But there have been greater losses. Few batsmen now seem equipped technically or mentally to play a substantial defensive innings. And I have heard Graeme Swann say that a spinner who has grown up keeping things tight in limited overs cricket has no idea how to take wickets if he is thrown the ball in the fourth innings of a first class match.

At the heart of cricket's crisis - and Peter Tinniswood's Brigadier did once accuse Engel of fomenting revolution in concert with Vic Marks - is money.

As I wrote in my Liberal Democrat News column as long ago as 2004:
People think the cricket authorities are stuffy, but really they are the most shamelessly commercial administrators of all. There are now logos on the players' clothing and painted on the field of play. For the right price you could probably get your company's slogan tattooed on the President of the MCC's buttocks.
Engel asks:
When did you last see a group of children (public schools and Asian community partially excepted) playing cricket without an adult?
For me, I think it was in the summer of 2005 as England finally won back the Ashes and the authorities decided to sell the rights to screen future tests to Sky.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lauren and Giles Cheatle

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The things you discover when you Google obscure county cricketers from the 1970s:
In many ways, Lauren Cheatle’s life is like that of a typical Australian teenager: school, study, exams, friendships. 
Except Cheatle’s life during the six months since she burst onto the international cricket scene in late January has been anything but typical. 
The 17-year-old has logged plenty of frequent flyer points since that first Twenty20 at the MCG in late January, with the left-arm quick travelling to New Zealand and India with the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars and attending a training camp with the Sydney Thunder in Dubai.
Lauren Cheatle is the daughter of the former Sussex and Surrey left-arm spinner Giles Cheatle.

Norman Baker's new electric bus - and a Reform Club song



The former Liberal Democrat MP and transport minister Norman Baker, you may recall, is now the managing director of Brighton's Big Lemon bus company.

The city's newspaper The Argus caught up with the firm last month:
The Optare Solo EV has spent the last month on trial with Brighton-based bus company Big Lemon. 
Big Lemon MD Norman Baker has praised the new electric bus. 
He said: “Our mission is to enable everyone to get around their community in an affordable, enjoyable and environmentally-sustainable way and it would seem the Solo EV has delivered just that. 
“We have been extremely impressed with the Solo EV and all our drivers have loved driving it. 
“The feedback from passengers has been extremely positive with many commenting how quiet, comfortable and smooth the Solo EV is.”
Time for a song from Norman Baker and his band The Reform Club. I wonder who this song is about?

Leicester City legend Gary Lineker WILL wear pants after nude ad row


The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Award.

My paparazzo photograph shows an uncharacteristically fully clothed Gary Lineker at Leicester station.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crosskeys Bridge at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire



I have had an affection for the Crosskeys Bridge at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire ever since we won the Ashes there in 2009.

This is a good video of it in operation with an equally  good backing track - Human by Rag'n'Bone Man.

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Arron Banks, the self-styled ‘bad boy’ who bankrolled the Leave campaign appears to have exaggerated his wealth. So, ask Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell, how did he pay for his Brexit spree?

David Boyle on the way monopolies no longer seem to concern us: "I'm not sure why the forces of Liberalism worldwide should have abandoned their most important economic doctrine."

"I have been speaking and writing about misogyny in Tower Hamlets for a long time – now feels like the right time to put something more comprehensive on the record," says Rachael Saunders.

"I really wish it was clearer that I am just one among many of the ‘unseen’ and smart people, who get these programmes onscreen." Mary Beard reminds us who really makes a television documentary.

Tristin Hopper on Up Against It, the film script Joe Orton wrote for the Beatles. Commissioned at the band’s height, it featured the Fab Four assassinating a female PM, sparking a brutal civil war and engaging in group sex.

Clare Wadd searches South London for a scene painted by Camille Pissarro 146 years ago.

Jonathan Meades after dinner

The Times Literary Supplement has published a speech Jonathan Meades gave in the summer to the annual dinner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

A couple of morsels:
The last time I attended this dinner, thirteen years ago, the speaker was the late Robert Hughes. In contrast to Casson he was supremely indifferent to whether or not he was liked. Hughes evidently considered that a writer who is not causing offence is a writer who is not doing his or her job. The volume of disconsolate muttering that Hughes provoked in this room might be taken as a sign that he was doing his job.
And
Satire is not to be confused with parody, which is a mere lark. Satire is didactic. It’s a sharp jolt. It’s often cruel. It’s meant to hurt. As Swift said, it is intended to vex rather than divert. It is, if you like, secular blasphemy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Vince Cable: Government must tackle personal debt crisis

The Liberal Democrat leader has written an article for the Independent calling on Theresa May to act on the level of personal debt in Britain.

He writes:
Weak growth and falling real wages mean living standards are only being maintained through personal borrowing, growing by 10 per cent a year. 
Recent Bank of England figures show unsecured debt (credit card spending and personal loans) growing at four times the rate of mortgage debt, while the household savings rate is at a historic low. 
Hence the recent news that total unsecured debt has surpassed £200bn, the amount it climbed to just before the financial crisis a decade ago. 
High levels of personal debt increase the vulnerability of financial institutions to economic shocks, as the Governor of the Bank of England has warned, and when interest rates rise again, many individuals will struggle to cope. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

St Pancras in the 1960s



Some precious footage of this great London station.

Though passengers for the East Midlands are no longer its first concern, the restoration of St Pancras seems like a miracle to those of us who knew it 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vince Cable says the government has left pubs in the lurch


The Sun quoted Vince Cable's condemnation of the government's failure to provide the business rate relief it has promised them the other day.

The Liberal Democrat leader was commenting on the party's own research showing that 4500 pubs across England have been left out of pocket and lacking any funding from the government since the revaluation of rates.

Vince said:
"Thousands of pubs faced with crippling tax hikes are being left in the lurch by this government. 
"This rushed scheme has been plagued with problems from the start. Local councils have had to deal with software glitches, a lack of clear guidance from ministers and little time to prepare. 
"Pubs form the bedrock of local communities across the country, but many now worry they will have to close their doors. 
"Instead of this temporary sticking plaster, we need to properly protect pubs by capping business rate rises at 12.5 per cent."
Many voters who supported Brexit did so because they had a sense that British culture was somehow under threat.

One of the most valuable institutions of that culture is the pub, yet this Brexit government appears perfectly happy to allow it to perish.

Which suggests that Brexit will not provide its supporters with what they wanted from it.

The railways want you to travel to London and nowhere else

Melton Mowbray station - a long way from Cambridge
On Saturday I had an enjoyable day in Cambridge with some old Liberator friends.

But if anyone doubts that the railway network in England is dominated by the needs of London, they should try making a journey from West to East like this.

Market Harborough and Cambridge are 48 miles apart. To get there from there you first have to travel north to Leicester and then take a train to Cambridge.

Because that train takes a circuitous route via Peterborough and the connection at Leicester is not very good, the journey takes two hours and 40 minutes. That is an average speed of 18 mph.

After an hour you are at Melton Mowbray station and further from Cambridge than when you started.

In fact it would be as quick to reach Cambridge via St Pancras and King's Cross, though you would travel more than twice the distance.

There used to be better cross-country alternatives, but none survived Doctor Beeching.

There was a line from Rugby to Peterborough via Market Harborough, but that was closed because it did not go through any other places of any size.

There was a branch from Kettering that reached Cambridge via Thrapston, Huntingdon and St Ives. You can see trains on the final stretch between St Ives and Cambridge elsewhere on this blog. Today the trackbed is occupied by a guided busway.

And there was a line from Bedford to Cambridge, which may one day be reopened as part of the East West Rail project.

My conclusion: if you have to travel across country in England, take a good book with you.

Scenes from Brexit Britain 1

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It's 2023 and members of the Grayling Youth are growing vegetables to save the need for expensive imports.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Railway poster for a forgotten county

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Reviewing Engel's England, I concluded:
Local boundaries have been rubbed out or redrawn in a way that would be simply unthinkable in the more federal United States. My jigsaw, for instance, can be dated to between 1965, when Huntingdonshire absorbed the Soke of Peterborough, and 1974, when it was itself absorbed into Cambridgeshire. 
Some counties have resisted their erasure from history, notably Yorkshire (the largest) and Rutland (the smallest). Elsewhere Berkshire is fading from memory and no one seems to have heard of Huntingdonshire at all. 
Soon it will be as lost as the Cotswold county of Winchcombeshire from the 10th and 11th centuries.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Winston Churchill

One of the great tweets from James there.

Sir Peter Tapsell (who is still with us) was Conservative MP for Nottingham West between 1959 and 1964, and for Horncastle (1966-83), East Lindsey (1983-97) and Louth and Horncastle (1997-2015). He was Father of the House between 2010 and 2015.

William Wither Beach was also a Conservative. He sat for North Hampshire between 1857 and 1885, and for Andover between 1885 and 1901.

He too was Father of the House, dying while holding that title when he was run over by a cab.

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Will Dyer was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow at this year's general election.

One of the last interviews the philosopher Richard Rorty gave was to Robert Harrison for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Talking of philosophy, Peter Worley believes it should be at the centre of education: "So, what is a suitably philosophical spirit and how can it be taught? I would suggest that it is not merely responding to a problem or question but doing so reflectively and using reason to progress."

"Everybody now spoke as though at last, after decades of shock therapy, debilitating or addicting drug treatment and a stigma that psychoanalysis had done little to dispel, the late twentieth century had simply discovered a cure for depression." Brian Dillon remembers the central place Prozac briefly held in our culture.

"We Are the Martians is everything we hoped it would be and possibly even more." Folk Horror Revival reviews a tribute to Nigel Kneale.

Rob Baker on Ted Lewis, his Brit Noir novel Jack’s Return Home and the film Get Carter.

Robert Wyatt: Heaps of Sheeps



Robert Wyatt is a sort of Gandalf of the music scene, but I find a little of his voice goes a long way.

I prefer, for instance, Elvis Costello's version of Shipbuilding to Wyatt's, though I'm not sure the cool kids would agree with me.

This track I do like though. It comes from Robert Wyatt's 1997 album Shleep, It is a collaboration with Brian Eno.

Trivial note. Robert Wyatt is the half brother of the actor Julian Glover, Their mother Honor Wyatt, a friend on the novelist Barbara Pym, adapted several of Malcolm Saville's children's books for BBC radio.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

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"Being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body has effects. Girls and women are socialised into internalising the outside view of their bodies." Clinical psychologist Jay Watts on what men like Harvey Weinstein do to all women.

Eduardo Porter explains why big cities are thriving and smaller ones are being left behind: "Opportunity in the information era has clustered in dense urban enclaves where high-tech businesses can tap into rich pools of skilled and creative people."

Flo Clucas explains why we need more statues of women.

"If more women walked alone, then we wouldn’t be alone. Let’s regender our community spaces by doing something shocking: taking a walk." Romany Reagan likes walking alone in cemeteries.

"A load of OAPs came to the first recording thing thinking it was a circus, and they saw sketches with a dead body in a binbag and undertakers and God knows what, the atmosphere was amazing!" We Are Cult talks to Barry Cryer about being Monty Python's warm-up act and much else.

Matt Brown visits the various candidates for the source of the Thames.

Philip Hammond should remember who his real enemy is

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It may have been a slip of the tongue or it may have been an attempt to placate the headbangers who now dictate Conservative policy.

Either way, calling European negotiators "the enemy" has made the claim that Hammond is the sole grown up in a cabinet of muppets and vegetables less convincing.

And he should remember who his real enemy is.

One of my favourite pieces of political wisdom goes something like this:
A keen new Conservative MP was sitting in the house, staring intently at the Labour benches. 
"What're you doin', young Tompkins?" asked an old buffer, sitting down next to him. 
"Staring at the enemy, sir." 
"No, that's the opposition. The enemy is on this side."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The River Severn through Shrewsbury



Much of the Severn through Shrewsbury is surprisingly rural. Meanwhile, the large institutional building of Shrewsbury School looks like the former foundling hospital and workhouse that it is.

Me? I finished Peter Parker's Housman Country in a pub by the river and then caught the train home.





David Laws nearly resigned over 30 hours free childcare policy

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Speaking at the Schools Northeast Summit in Newcastle today, the former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws said free childcare for working parents operates as "negative early years' premium" benefiting the wealthy.

He also said it almost prompted him to resign from the Coalition.

According to the TES, he told the event:
"I think it’s utterly nuts to have.. an early years offer where the children of two investment bankers can get a 30-hour provision and the children from very disadvantaged backgrounds get 15."
David Laws also said:
"It’s ironic that all of the debate in Westminster and the big announcement at the Conservative Party conference recently was all about subsiding higher education more – we spend a truckload of money as a country on HE. 
"On the other hand we have an early years system which compared with other countries is underfunded, which pays its staff significantly less than other developed countries and as a consequence has a much lower qualified staff." 
Mr Laws added that previous early years reforms had mainly focused on "improving access to childcare, with a back to work agenda, rather than improving the quality of early years education".
The 30 hours free childcare was in the Conservatives' 2015 general election manifesto. The Lib Dems had resisted its introduction under the Coalition.

As David Laws explained today, it was designed to trump Labour's offer of 25 hours free care at that election.

Its implementation since the Conservatives' 2015 victory has been beset with problems.

Ruth Bright calls on the Lib Dems to apologise over Cyril Smith

The Chief Executive of Rochdale Council has apologised for letting down the victims of Cyril Smith. It is time that the Liberal Democrats, as successor party to the Liberal Party made an apology to the victims too.
So says Ruth Bright, former councillor in Southwark and parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East, on Liberal Democrat Voice.

She goes on to detail the action she wants to see from party:
An apology from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats that the party was unknowingly used as a front for Smith’s respectability. 
An inquiry into any remaining evidence about him within the party. 
A direction to the pastoral care officer to support any party activists who wish to talk about their own experiences with Smith. 
A direction that all references to Smith be removed from the Rochdale Lib Dems website (which has an extraordinary archive with cheery references to his 80th birthday and other events),
Every loyal to the party, Lib Dem Voice (which has disabled comments on Ruth's post) adds without comment the party's response to the Cyril Smith affair.

This states:
His actions were not known or condoned by the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats.
But that is not true. Anyone in the Liberal Party who read Private Eye would have been familiar with the allegations.

As I blogged in 2012:
I first heard of the allegations against Cyril Smith when I read them in Private Eye in 1979. The Eye had picked them up from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP - those were the days when any self-respecting town had an 'alternative' newspaper). ...
My instinct has always been to assume that they were true, if only because I could not see why anyone would trouble to invent anything so tawdry - he "'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks" - about someone who was then only a local politician.
Of course, I did not know the allegations were true in 1979, and what was printed in Private Eye was a tame version of what has since emerged.

But those later developments cannot have come as too much of a shock to many people at the top of the party.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Leicestershire Conservatives condemn "Clunky, heavy, slow and smelly" bi-mode trains


When the government cancelled the electrification of the Midland main line north of Kettering we were promised new 'bi-mode' trains. These would take power from the wires as far as Kettering and then switch to diesel power.

But Nick Rushton, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, is not impressed.

According to the Leicester Mercury, he told a recent council cabinet meeting:
"I am disappointed we are getting so-called bi-mode trains. 
"They are clunky, they are heavy they are slow and they are smelly. 
"We expected to be treated better when the day after cancellation they [the Government] could find £25 billion for Cross Rail in London."
It could be worse than that.

Theresa May, in an interview she gave to the East Midlands section of Sunday Politics - one of numerous media appearances her office had her make during the Tory Conference, thus wrecking her voice and her set-piece speech - referred to them as "bio-mode" trains.

When I asked on Twitter what this meant, someone suggested they would run on bullshit.

Now that really would be smelly.

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Ed Thornley on the prospects for the Liberal Democrats in the North of England.

"I waited patiently for my turn to come. You don’t know if you will speak until your name gets called so all I could do was sit and hope." Ryan Lailvaux made his first speech to Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth last month.

"To be of the radical centre does not, it seems to me, mean the kind of tiptoeing towards little tweaks to the system here and there, especially when the global economic system is designed to create billionaires and to enslave the rest of us, little by little." David Boyle demonstrates how to be a radical centrist without being a centrist dad.

Kate Raworth reminds us that the game of Monopoly was invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism.

"I do now suspect that, a couple of miles off the Irish boats, we housed a Magdalene Laundry of our own here in Liverpool." Ronnie Hughes has been researching a dark episode of local history.

Simon Williams surveys his career from James Bellamy to Lillian Bellamy.