Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Quiraing, Skye

Taken on a holiday in 1999.

Wikipedia explains:
The Quiraing (in Gaelic: A' Chuith-Raing) is a landslip on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach, the northernmost summit of the Trotternish on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. 
The whole of the Trotternish Ridge escarpment was formed by a great series of landslips; the Quiraing is the only part of the slip still moving - the road at its base, near Flodigarry, requires repairs each year.

The bass player Jim Rodford has died

Jim Rodford, a founder member of Argent, a member of The Kinks for many years and a member of The Zombies in recent years, has died.

Rod Argent writes on The Zombies facebook page:
It is with deep sadness that I learned this morning that my dear cousin and lifelong friend, Jim Rodford, died this morning after a fall on the stairs. More details are not yet known about the exact cause of death. 
Jim was not only a magnificent bass player, but also from the first inextricably bound to the story of The Zombies. An enormous enabler for us. He was actually the first person ever to be asked to join the band, way back in 1961. 
Because he was in the top St.Albans band of the time (The Bluetones), he turned us down at first, but from day one helped us chart our course. He loaned us The Bluestones' state of the art gear for our very first rehearsal, arranged the rehearsal space, and even showed Hugh the first kick and snare drum pattern our original drummer ever learned. 
He was responsible for the first song I ever wrote (for The Bluetones - which they recorded); the person who organised most of our early gigs, and the very first person outside the group ever to hear - and pass judgement on - our first record, "She's Not There"(he loved it). 
Years later, he became founder member, with me, of Argent; and then, for eighteen years, throughout a hugely successful American period for them, was bass player for The Kinks. ... 
Jim was a wonderful person, loved by everybody. When Colin and I, shocked and hardly able to talk, shared the news this morning, Colin said " I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him..." 
He will be unbelievably missed. Goodnight and God Bless dear friend. - Rod x
I heard Jim Rodford play when the Zombies came to Market Harborough in 2011. He is in the centre of the rather indistinct photograph above.

Listen to Hold Your Head Up by Argent.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Jeremy Clarkson, Mitch Mitchell and Jennings

You may know the radio quiz The Unbelievable Truth, in which the panelists try to smuggle facts past their fellow contestants in the middle of an apparently comic or nonsensical talk.

It's enjoyable enough, though those taking part are generally drawn from the Radio 4 blokey comedians list. The chair, inevitably, is David Mitchell.

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The other day I spotted one of the facts: Jeremy Clarkson had taken part in radio adaptations of the Jennings books when he was a boy.

I was sure that I had featured it here as a piece of trivia, but it seems it has not.

A BBC News profile of Clarkson tells the story (and also has a photo of him with Anthony Buckeridge from this time):
Clarkson first worked for the BBC aged 12, playing the role of Atkinson in the radio adaptation of the Jennings novels, Anthony Buckeridge's tales of life at the fictional Linbury Court preparatory school. The role did not last long. 
"Why did it come to an end?" Top Gear co-host Richard Hammond once asked in an interview on LBC Radio. "He will have done something stupid, obviously." The truth was actually more prosaic. Clarkson's voice broke. Uttering schoolboy slang like "wizard" and "blinko" did not work in baritone.
The photograph above is taken from an earlier television adaptation of the books. Jennings (on the left) is played by John Mitchell.

As we have seen before, he grew up to be Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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Six of the Best 761

"What do those of us who support Remain offer the Left Behind?  Remember that the highest votes for the Leave campaign came in England’s declining industrial towns, and in the county and seaside towns that have also lost out from economic and social transformation." William Wallace asks an important question.

Lucy Johnson pays tribute to her grandfather Gruff Evans (Lord Evans of Claughton).

"It is hard now to imagine any circumstances under which Trump, who reportedly hoped to ride with Queen Elizabeth II in a gold-plated carriage, could travel to London without inciting massive protests." Isobel Thompson on the American President's feud with Britain.

"Gather round and pay attention my Millennial friends while Grandad takes you on a trip into the past. Yes you’ve seen Friends and decided it’s shit, but back then Central Perk wasn’t at…. well.. the centre of the known universe – Britain was.  Even the Americans admitted it." Otto English writes in praise of the 1990s.

Andrew Hickey argues that "if we want social media to be fun again, there needs to be a concerted effort to rebuild the web, and to make it once again a collection of independent sites producing idiosyncratic, individual, pieces of writing or images that can be linked to and discussed".

The case for landscape punk is made by Gary Budden.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Watch the amazing dancing straw bear

I saw the straw bear dance and caper, led by his keeper and followed by musicians playing his own loping tune.
So I wrote on Saturday night after attending Whittlesey's straw bear festival. In this short clip from the 2015 festival you can hear the turn for yourself.

What I have not worked out is why the bear sometimes has two little bears with him and sometimes only one.

I suppose with all that dancing he must get peckish.

Will the collapse of Carillion kibosh rail improvements at Market Harborough?

The straightening of the railway through Market Harborough and the improvement of the station were in the hands of a company called Carillion. You may have heard of them.

So far they have demolished an old goods shed and got a long way with constructing a new car park so that rails can be laid across the land occupied by the current one.

How will Carillion's collapse affect the project?

The Leicester Mercury reports that a Network Rail spokeswoman was "unable" to comment on Market Harborough.

It does, however, quote a general statement on the planned Midland main line improvements that gets slightly less encouraging every time you read it:
Carillion’s work for Network Rail continues for the time being as Network Rail works with the official receiver and special manager to ensure the continuity of its project work. 
Passengers can be reassured that their services will be running as normal today as Carillion’s work for Network Rail does not involve the day-to-day running of the railway. 
Our aim is to ensure, as far as possible, that this news has as little impact as possible on our projects to grow and expand the railway network.
More and more, I feel that the problem the railways face is not so much that they were privatised as the baroque structure that privatisation left them with.

If he was determined to sell off the railways, then John Major's initial instinct to recreate the Big Four railway companies that existed between 1923 and 1947, and owned both the trains and the track, was surely the right one.

Oadby and Wigston councillor resigns the Conservative whip

From Anne Bond's Facebook page:
Just to remind everyone, I resigned the Conservative Whip on Oadby and Wigston Borough Council.I shall be sitting as an Independent Councillor till May 2019. 
This saddens me as I worked over 40yrs for Harborough Conservative Association, unfortunately I had to do this as there are certain people who are part of Association who I do not trust, and I cannot live my life wondering what she will do next, or who he will listen to, its a shame they refused to do the decent thing and meet me to discuss the issues!!
Anne Bond sits for the the Oadby St Peters ward. Her resignation of the Tory whip means Oadby and Wigston Borough Councillor now has 20 Liberal Democrat members, 4 Conservatives and 2 Indpendents.

We gained what had been the only Labour seat in a by-election last September.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mark Gatiss: "I rather like being a freak"

Mark Gatiss, says the blurb on the British Film Institute YouTube channel, talks to the Radio Times's Alison Graham about growing up with ghost stories, revamping Baker Street for a new generation and how his obsession with the grotesque is really just a love for humanity in all its wonky forms.

Six of the Best 760

Peter Wrigley asks some pointed questions on the collapse of Carillion.

"Families who have never worked a day in their lives having 4 or 5 kids and the rest of us having 1 or 2 means it's not long before we’re drowning in a vast sea of unemployed wasters that we pay to keep!" Alex Spence introduces us to Ben Bradley, the new Conservative MP for Mansfield.

Mark Little welcomes the end of news in the Facebook news feed.

Gavin Stamp, architectural historian and campaigner died at the end of 2017. Here, in an article published in July, he discusses what we can learn from the homes architects designed for themselves.

"It does seem, from the outside, as though this warped dynamic is no accident, that it is designed to be unstable and that managers are not meant to get too comfortable in the dugout." Game of the People asks if the constant instability at Chelsea is there by design.

Farran Smith Nehme pays tribute to the French actress Michèle Morgan.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Whittlesea station: Alight for the straw bear

Whittlesey does not just the straw bear: it also has a rather desolate railway station with staggered platforms, a signal box and a level crossing. It also favours the older spelling of the town's name.

As Wikipedia says:
All the original station buildings are long demolished, and only the two platforms remain. Unlike many railway crossings, the gates are not automatic and are still opened and closed by hand by a person who sits in a small hut-like building by the crossing.
You can see the station in more prosperous days in the Peterborough Images Archive.

At least it did a good trade on Saturday.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Going North? St Pancras

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A 1910 poster for the Midland Railway by Fred Taylor.

Will the next Lib Dem leadership election be between two women?

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Tom Peck of the Independent has noticed the impact that Layla Moran, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has made:
That it is Layla Moran’s name and no one else’s doing the rounds is because she is articulate, extremely intelligent, easy company, and she absolutely screams Lib Dem ... 
She is young (she’s 35), she’s a teacher, she’s got a constituency full of academics in Oxford West and Abingdon, she has a Palestinian mother and a father who was a diplomat for the EU
The article talks up Layla's credentials as a future Lib Dem leader. Given that Vince Cable's heir presumptive up to now has been Jo Swinson, this does raise the prospect that the party's next leadership election will be between two women.

That would be immensely welcome given our poor record on gender equality in the past. There were no women Lib Dem cabinet minsters in the Coalition, for instance.

Me? I voted for Jackie Ballard back in 1999.

Anyway, Tom Peck spoke to the inevitable "leading party insider", who comes to much the same conclusion:
He said the party faithful is “crying out for a woman leader” and that it would be a “straight fight” between Moran and the current deputy, Jo Swinson, though first one or the other would have to decide if they want it. 
“She is telegenic, she is articulate, she is young. She has brought fresh ideas, vigour, dedication, she is a proper campaigner. She has taken a seat that very few people thought we would win in 2017 – against a pretty good Conservative ...
“And don’t forget, roughly two thirds of Lib Dem members now are post 2016 joiners. They will have seen Layla rise, from being one of them, to being one of the most high-profile people in the party. 
“They don’t want some ex-Spad [special adviser]. Some London person. They want one of their own. That is what Layla is.”

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: Smell of Incense

Wonderful stuff from 1968 that turned up on BBC Radio 6 Music the other day.

"Despite the heady atmosphere," says Wikipedia, "the group insists the recording, along with their other self-penned material, was not composed under the influence of LSD."

Read more about The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, one of whom went on to produce the Osmonds.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cambridge to Oxford by train in 1967

There are great hopes that the railway line between Cambridge and Bedford will be reopened as part of the East West Rail project.

This film shows the line in 1967. We follow a train from Cambridge to the old Bedford St Johns station. Missing out the stretch to Bletchley, which remains open to passengers, we then see a few shots of the train reaching Oxford. That stretch of the line remains open to freight.

This line was not recommended for closure by Beeching and had recently received investment in the form of a flyover across the King's Cross main line at Sandy.

After that the video shows the death throes of the Great Central - a working between the forgotten stations of Rugby Central and Nottingham Arkwright Street.

I posted some photographs of the remains of Leicester Central in 2015.

Shropshire suffers under Conservative cuts

The sacked health minister Philip Dunne was booed and heckled at a local meeting recently, for hiding behind his ministerial role as a pretext for abandoning constituents (of whom I’m one) to the ravages of NHS cuts. His callous comments on Monday, undermining the NHS beds crisis by suggesting sick patients can sit on seats in A&E, came as no surprise to me.
"Let them eat cake" was an old joke in 1789 and history has unfairly attached it to the traduced Marie Antoinette. But Philip Dunne really did say that.

The paragraph above comes from a powerful Guardian article by Tess Finch-Lees.

She goes on to write about the effect of government cuts on Shropshire:
Babies are dying avoidable deaths in this affluent county. Last year, Jeremy Hunt ordered a review of a cluster of baby deaths. At least seven babies’ deaths between September 2014 and May 2016 have already been ruled avoidable. The tragic, heartbreaking loss of little lives before they’ve even begun. The parents of some of those babies have told me they despair that cuts to maternity services means lessons are not being learned and more babies could die unnecessarily as a result.
If a pensioner has a fall on the streets of Ludlow, it is not unusual to wait more than an hour for an ambulance, whatever the weather. Then it’s another hour to A&E. Assuming you’re still alive, there may (or may not) be a chair for you to sit on. 
Worst-case scenario, you’re dead on arrival, in which case, you’ll be taken directly to the onsite mortuary which has benefited from a £1.4m investment. This should have coincided with the axing of one of the county’s A&E units ... They tried to play us off against each other: “Choose one or the other.” We united as a community, across political and geographical boundaries and replied: “Both.” If both A&Es are already drowning and unable to cope, how can removing one be safe?
On a similar theme, see my 2013 post Ludlow: Hunger in the foodie capital of England.

Watching the straw bear dance through Whittlesey

Last year I read an account of the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey that described the bear as seeming to draw the winter sun along behind him. I had to see that for myself.

But there was no sun today - just a damp, Fenland cold that enters the bones. I shouldn't be surprised if I have caught the ague.

Yet I am pleased I went to Whittlesey (the festival website prefers the older spelling Whittlesea), which is a small town near Peterborough.

I saw the straw bear dance and caper, led by his keeper and followed by musicians playing his own loping tune.

And it turned out that Whittlesey, like Play School, has a big bear and a little bear.

Beyond that the day is a festival of dancing. There were the inevitable morris dancers, but also clog dancers (almost military in their noise and precision) and mysterious molly dancers.

The festival is a modern revival of a Plough Monday tradition that was suppressed around the turn of the 20th century.

I am all in favour of inventing ancient traditions: the Victorians did it all the time.

Anyway, the history page on the festival site will tell you more about this. It also appears from Twitter that there was a stabbing during the event/

I got out just in time.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Six of the Best 759

Jeremy Corbyn has always been in favour of taking Britain out of the EEC and then the EU, says Mark Pack - and he gives numerous links to prove it.

Tony Wright shows that we are increasingly being governed by people with little experience of the world beyond politics: "As I heard someone express this recently: 'if they have never had to worry about paying the gas bill how can they represent people like me?' This can easily become the perception that it is only the game of politics itself that they are interested in, and the rewards that go with it, rather than any wider purpose."

Melvyn Bragg writes about his 40 years of making the arts available to all. I learnt a lot from his Read All About It when I was at school.

"A half-century has passed since the bewildered college graduate Benjamin Braddock, played with star-making originality by a then largely unknown Dustin Hoffman, floated, directionless, in his parents’ glassy Beverly Hills pool, and was told (by someone of his Parents’ Generation) that the future lay in 'plastics'." Lisa Schwarzbaum on how The Graduate became the touchstone of a generation.

Meanwhile back in Britain, eurobutnottrash reviews a biography of Larry Grayson.

The Old Batsman reviews this winter's Ashes series: "For England there is an alien hostility to cricket down under that is starting to feel insurmountable. Australia's unrepentant mercilessness in everything from conditions to the media should chill them most of all."

Why the US does not own its Grosvenor Square embassy

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This Donald Trump tweet contains an extraordinary density of lies even for him:
The decision to move to a newly built embassy south of the Thames was taken in 2008 when George W. Bush was President.

And he didn't sell the Grosvenor Square building, because it is the only US embassy in the world that is not owned by the US government.

londinoupolis explains this anomaly. He says the Americans:
asked the Duke of Westminster, who owned Grosvenor Square, how much they would have to pay to buy the freehold of the land.  However, what they did not know is that the Grosvenor family never sell. 
Their vast wealth is based precisely on this simple fact; they own their 300 acres of central London including most of Belgravia and Mayfair, not to mention land holdings all over the world. All the houses and offices on this land are leased; their freeholds are never sold. 
When the Americans were told the news, they insisted that that was unacceptable, therefore petitioning to Parliament in order to force the Duke to sell. Nevertheless the Grosvenor family did not comply with any pressure.
The Duke did suggest a deal whereby the lands his ancestors lost in America at the time of Independence should be returned to him in return for the freehold of the Grosvenor Square site.

As those lands consisted of most of Maine and New York, his offer was declined

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Concern over Northamptonshire County Council's stewardship of the John Clare archive

There was a letter in the Guardian today from some of the literary great and good expressing concern at plans to downgrade Northampton's central library:
This library is home to many a unique resource pertaining to Northamptonshire history and culture, but we are specifically concerned about the John Clare collection – arguably the world’s greatest archive of the poet’s manuscripts, of his books, and of a wide collection of unique ephemera and publications by or about Clare. The collection is used by international scholars and artists of all kinds, and has been a hub and stimulus of activity in response to this increasingly significant poet for many decades. 
The collection at Northampton has always been maintained by expert, attentive, scholarly librarians, who do their level best with scant resources to make this publicly owned archive available to readers and researchers of all kinds. Our central concern here is that – given the size of the cuts planned, and the loss of staff and expertise delivered by all of the council’s options – there will be a permanently detrimental effect upon the care and curation of the Clare collection. 
John Clare's literary stock has been rising and rising for years. You can read all about him on the John Clare Society website.

All local authorities are facing enormous financial pressure, but it is notable that yesterday Sajid Javid announced an inquiry into the finances of the Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council, which runs the library.

Meanwhile, a police investigation of a loan made by Northampton Borough Council (also run by the Tories) to the town's football club continues.

Two points on Tim Farron and Christianity

I made two points on Twitter about Tim Farron's recantation of his view on gay sex that seem worth repeating here.

The first is in that interview, as he often does, Tim told hid interviewers "what Christians believe".

But there are, says Wikipedia, more than two billion Christians around the world. They vary from the Russian Orthodox church to the Wee Frees of the Western Isles.

It is simply wrong to suggest that they all share the conclusions of Tim's slightly home-made Evangelical faith. 

Christians believe all sorts of things and, in Britain at least, many of them are more relaxed about gay sex than Tim appears to be.

The second point is that Tim said in the interview that Christianity is always "radical and counter-cultural".

Not in England it isn't. 

We have an established church and bishops sit in the House of Lords - and you can't get less counter-cultural than that.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAgain, Tim is talking about his particular variety of the faith, not Christianity as a whole.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

David Nobbs and Jonathan Coe discuss the writing of comedy

Skip the first five and a half minutes of this video and you will find a discussion between the British comic writers David Nobbs and Jonathan Coe.

It was recorded in Barcelona in 2014. David Nobbs died the following year.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Hope for St Saviour's, Leicester

I have long had a thing about this remarkable closed Leicester church, which stands in an area of the city with a large Muslim population.

A report in the Leicester Mercury from last summer tells you more about it before bringing some good news:
"St Saviour’s was completed in 1877. It was the last and greatest of four churches in Leicester by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is listed Grade II*. 
"It is a vast red brick church with a nave seating one thousand, the timber roof of which is outstanding. 
"The adjoining church rooms were constructed in 1883 and are the work of the distinguished Leicester architect Stockdale Harrison. 
"They are locally listed. 
"In 2006, St Saviour’s was closed and abandoned by the diocese of Leicester. There has been trespass and severe damage to the pulpit and window glass. 
"The church rooms are in a very poor condition. 
"Leicester Civic Society has been deeply concerned about St Saviour’s for the past 11 years and has had several meetings with the Church Commissioners. 
"But, as we have said previously, Leicester is a city of remarkable rebirths and we were recently invited to by the Church Commissioners to meet them and representatives of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in St Saviour’s. 
"It is the intention of RCCG to purchase both the church and church rooms and restore them to their original functions, the latter being a new neighbourhood centre. 
"This is extremely welcome news and Leicester. 
"We wish RCCG well in their herculean task and look forward eagerly to yet another historic church being removed from the Historic England Register.”
The video above shows the church and gives more details of RCCG's plans.

Layla Moran says don't stop the music

An Oxford MP has backed a proposed law which could protect venues like the city's Cellar bar from harmful development. 
Layla Moran is supporting a bill which would force developers to take nearby small businesses into account in their plans. 
For music venues it could see housing developers made to pay for soundproofing at the venue to cut the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise. 
In cases like the Cellar, which faced eviction, the new law could force a landlord to offer compensation.
This, from the Oxford Mail, is a good local campaign for Layla Moran as she defends a music venue in the city.

But it is also an example of a much wider problem. A Guardian article from 2015 reported the closure of the Black Swan club in Sheffield:
It has joined many other famous venues, including Leicester’s Princess Charlotte, Leeds’ Duchess of York and Dudley’s JB’s, in shutting its doors. In central London, large-scale redevelopment projects have seen the closure of Madame Jo Jo’s and the Astoria and the relocation of the 12 Bar Club; Camden has witnessed the closure of the Purple Turtle and the Stillery. 
Several other Camden venues and Oxford Street’s 100 Club are said to be threatened. So, too, are a number of venues outside the capital, notably Southampton’s the Joiners, the Tunbridge Wells Forum, Exeter’s Cavern, Hull’s Adelphi and Manchester’s Band on the Wall. 
Reasons for the closures are manifold, but a common concern is the increasingly hostile environment for many venues. The pressure to build more housing has seen blocks of flats built next to clubs, causing a rise in noise-abatement notices that can cost thousands of pounds to contest.
The bill Layla is supporting is John Spellar's The Planning (Agent of Change) Bill. Read more about it on the Music Venue Trust website.

In which Liberal England is quoted (but not acknowledged) on the Today programme

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This morning's Today programme ended with an item looking forward to today's government reshuffle. (It starts at 1:23:44 on this recording if you are that interested.)

At one point, suggesting that the reshuffle would have little effect because most people know so little about politics, Tim Shipman from the Sunday Times says brightly:
"I was very struck the other day on an episode of Pointless..."
and then goes on to quote exactly the figures I blogged on Saturday.

Ideas can occur to people independently, as shown by the fact Alwyn Turner made the same point about Pointless more than four years before my first post on the subject.

So maybe Tim Shipman did come across a repeat of just that episode of Pointless on an obscure channel and carefully noted down the same figures.

But, Occam's razor and all that, I rather suspect he got them from this blog.

Thanks to the people on Twitter who alerted me to this.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Parson Latham’s Hospital, Oundle

From the Parson Latham’s Hospital website:
Parson Latham’s Hospital is an Almshouse managed by a board of Trustees situated in the heart of Oundle, an historic market town in East Northamptonshire. 
A charitable organisation established in the 1600s, it offers independent living for up to 11 senior Residents in an adapted Grade I listed building with a beautiful garden.

Stubby Kaye: Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat

Yes I remember the Sixties: the Beatles in the charts, Saturday Morning Club, Simon Dee.

But the music I remember being played incessantly in those days did not come from the great British groups of the era. It came from the big musicals.

Turn on the radio and the odds were you would hear 'Get Me to the Church On Time' from My Fair Lady, 'If I Were a Rich Man' from Fiddler on the Roof or 'Food, glorious Food' from Oliver!

I came to dislike them intensely just because I had heard them so much.

There were some songs from the shows I liked. I had a friend at school from a hippyish family whose parents had the cast album from Hair. Being cool kids, we always played it.

And I remember hearing two songs from musicals on the radio for the first time and thinking they were wonderful.

One was 'Jubilation T. Cornpone' from Li'l Abner and the other was this one from Guys and Dolls.

Both, I later discovered, had been sung by the great Stubby Kaye.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

A Weston by Welland road sign

At least it could still be found in that Northamptonshire village when I photographed it in 2013.

The League of Gentlemen talk about their recent series

Recorded at BFI Southbank on 12 December last year.

As they discuss the real-life inspiration from some of their characters, I should mention that the Legz Akimbo Theatre Company (or someone very like them) came to my school in 1974.

Chapter and verse from Pointless on how little interest most people take in politics

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A couple of days ago I wrote that the television quiz Pointless reminds us how little most people know about politics.

After I had done so, the admirable Alwyn Turner sent me the link to a post he wrote back in 2013 making the same point:
An edition of the TV game show Pointless this week had a round based on 100 people naming as many politicians as they could remember who had served in the Labour cabinets of either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. That is, any cabinet member between 1997 and 2010 ...
It's not a scientifically selected sample, but even so the results suggest just how completely uninterested in politics the public are.
Top of the list was John Prescott, named by just 15 out of the 100 people. Then came:
Ed Miliband - 13 out of 100
Ed Balls - 13 out of 100
David Miliband - 12 out of 100
Jack Straw - 7 out of 100
Alistair Darling - 7 out of 100
Peter Mandelson - 4 out of 100
David Blunkett - 4 out of 100
Clare Short - 2 out of 100
Mo Mowlam - 1 out of 100
Margaret Beckett - 1 out of 100 
We never found out whether my nominee, Ivor Richard, made it into the pointless category, because there were simply too many names to go through. But amongst those who rated not a single mention were: Andrew Adonis, Andy Burnham, Jack Cunningham, Charlie Falconer, Patricia Hewitt, Derry Irvine, Donald Dewar, Frank Dobson, Geoff Hoon, Margaret Jay, Alan Milburn and James Purnell.
Alwyn rounded off his post by quoting from Pamela Hansford Johnson's 1962 novel An Error of Judgement:
"Could it really be that I am the only person in the world bored stiff, bored pallid, by politics?" a character asks, and is immediately put straight by another: "'No, we all are, those of us who aren't politicians. That's why we're the prey of the silly men, the posturing men. They don't get bored, not ever. We are the victims of their professional excitement."

Friday, January 05, 2018

Wood, Flower. Concrete.

Taken with my camera last May.

Six of the Best 758

Kirsten Johnson sees loneliness as a political problem: "Loneliness is a huge problem, but much of the solution lies in small, local solutions. To give one example, one of my villages came together to buy an old chapel which is now called The Hub. It is a space for coffee mornings, clubs, exercise classes and toddler groups. The Hub has combatted loneliness on many different levels."

"The number of people who have had their lives turned upside down by these accusations grows every day." Amelia Tate explains how the alt-right wields and weaponises accusations of paedophilia.

"Whether in the city or in the suburbs, I believe we’re not meant to raise children in nuclear families without the support of a community. We’re simply not wired for it," says Frederic Laloux.

Christopher J. Ferguson and Cathy Faye on the long history of panic over children and entertainment technology.

English cricket is in danger of breeding and encouraging mediocrity, says George Dobell.

What lies beneath New York? Andrew Berman takes us to the city's forgotten and hidden graveyards.

Former Eastenders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman slams 'pretentious' restaurant after husband accidentally eats napkin

Thanks to the Evening Standard, we have our Headline of the Day.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Hunted (1952): Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley

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Tomorrow night at 22:20 Talking Pictures (Freeview 81) is showing the 1952 British film Hunted.

Thrill at an unshaven Dirk Bogarde on the wrong side of the law.

Break your heart at Jon Whiteley, the best British child star of the era.

Enjoy some great industrial landscapes, particularly in the Potteries.

As the blog Discovering Dirk Bogarde says:
The film starts off with a little boy (Jon Whiteley) running away from a burning house. He runs into an abandoned basement and finds Dirk Bogarde standing next to a dead body. Dirk Bogarde abducts the boy and sets out on the lam. 
The film is very dark and definitely has that distinct British post-war cynicism. But it's also incredibly touching. The little boy is an orphan, abused by his adoptive father. Dirk is a sailor with an unfaithful wife and a family that cares more about keeping up appearances than his own well being. Both neglected and hurt, the two forge an unlikely bond throughout the course of the film. 
I really love movies that show the human side of people who commit crimes. Too often a murderer or thief is portrayed in a completely evil light, with no reason, conscience or feeling. In this film, we see how Dirk Bogarde's character was led to commit his crime because of circumstances and environment, because of pride and honor. At heart, he is really a softy who just wanted a fairy-tale sort of life with the woman he loved.
Jon Whiteley, because he was retired early by his parents, avoided the unhappy fate of many child stars.

Growing up to become an art historian, he has worked at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for decades.

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The Campbell/Clegg pact in the 2006 Lib Dem leadership contest

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Mark Pack's latest Liberal Democrat Newswire (not yet in the newletter's archive) recalls the 2007 leadership election between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne.

As it reminds us, Huhne might well have won if the pile of postal votes that arrived late had been counted.

Mark describes the two contenders:
The pair had been close friends and fellow MEPs; both were elected to Parliament for the first time in 2005. 
Strains in their friendship had surfaced when Chris Huhne had a tilt at the party leadership in 2006 after Charles Kennedy had stood down; Menzies Campbell had won, while Nick Clegg had sat the contest out. 
A year and a half later, Clegg and Huhne were direct opponents.
Blogging about Sarah Teather, I once recalled the 2006 contest:
At the first hustings ... she and Nick Clegg went everywhere together, apparently both unwilling to let Ming Campbell out of their sight - young cardinals bigging up an elderly candidate for Pope.
As Ming's leadership was not a success and rarely looked like being a success, this showed poor judgement on Nick's part. As I said at the time, he should have stood in that 2006 contest.

That post also reminds us that there was something of a pact between Nick and Ming at the time.

In the midst of the campaign, Ming told the Daily Telegraph that Nick would at some stage be "a very powerful candidate for the leadership".

As I said sternly in that post, "the next-leadership-but-one is not in Ming's gift".

It all seems a long time ago, but history tends to get rewritten if those who were around at the time do not write it down.

Does Pointless tell us something about why we voted for Brexit?

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Perhaps we are starting to feel we have had enough of Pointless, but it is a good quiz show.

This is not least because it requires contestants to be knowledgeable. You might think that all quizzes do that, but not so.

Pointless is almost a mirror image of Family Fortunes, which rewarded contestants for being average not for being clever.

Yet there are two subjects where Pointless contestants generally know little and find the thought they might know something to be so unreasonable as to be amusing.

One is British politics and the other is geography.

Maybe this shows us some gaps in what is taught in schools. Maybe it shows the decline of hobbies like stamp collecting and trainspotting that taught you where places are.

At least being a travelling supporter of a football club still teaches you that.

And I wonder if, deep down, these gaps in knowledge tell us something about the reasons the public voted for Brexit.

Later. I have written a second post with an example of this lack of political knowledge.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

A portrait of the British film industry in 1973

The British film industry was in a bad way in the 1970s. Notoriously, the highest grossing British film of 1971 was On the Buses.

By middle of the decade only such TV spin offs and sex comedies were being made. In those years some quite distinguished actors appeared in some very undistinguished films.

But some people were still trying in 1973, as a contemporary documentary on the BBC iPlayer shows. Click on the still above to watch The Big Screen there.

Two of Britain's leading film directors of the period - John Schlesinger and Gerald Thomas, whose Carry On films were also declining into sex comedies by then - are interviewed. They talk about the anxiety, hopes and risks experienced by those involved in the film industry. 

We also see four films in production:
As it is the 1970s there is some gratuitous female nudity and everyone smokes all the time. But there are also some shots of street scenes and film studios that now have documentary value.

Six of the Best 757

"Like many Jewish journalists who reported on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, I spent the 2016 election being harassed by a motley crew of internet racists who coalesced around the future president. They sent me threats, photoshopped me into gas chambers and hurled an uncreative array of anti-Semitic slurs my way." Yair Rosenberg on why he helped create a bot to challenge Nazis on Twitter - and on how Twitter sided with the Nazis.

The philosopher Michel Foucault’s work on power matters now more than ever argues Colin Koopman.

Emerging Technology from the arXiv presents evidence that online dating is influencing levels of interracial marriage and even the stability of marriage itself.

No Country for Old Men pays tribute to Gavin Stamp.

"Death pops up throughout the film but, essentially, it is marked with a ritual within the landscape." Adam Scovell examines Peter Greenaway's 1988 film Drowning by Numbers.

Rob Parsons tries to account for the inconsistency of the England cricket team: "Over the last few years, I have often heard commentators say after a bad match that England haven’t become a bad side overnight. I have never heard them say the opposite after a good match – you don’t become a good side overnight."

Evening Standard says Lib Dems could gain Richmond and Kingston in May's London borough elections

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Joe Murphy, political editor of the Evening Standard, has written a story about 'Tory election expert' Lord Hayward's predictions for May's London borough elections.

Of most interest to Liberal Democrat readers will be these two sentences:
The Conservatives look certain to be beaten in Kingston by the Liberal Democrats, who have grown stronger in the area.
The Tories face a tough fight to hold off the Liberal Democrats in Richmond, where Zac Goldsmith won back his seat by 45 votes in the general election.
He later quotes Lord Hayward's own views:
The peer added that Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable would “need to do well” to beat the Tories in Richmond and predicted that the Lib Dems could lose seats in Sutton, the sole London borough under third-party control.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceOf course, we also want to see the Lib Dems regaining a foothold on councils across London. At present our councillors are drawn almost entirely from affluent South-West London.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Setting out gingerly across the Tay Bridge

When I was a student at York there was a train that left at two in the morning for Edinburgh. A couple of friends and I decided that, after finals, we would catch it.

And so we did. I remember wandering around Edinburgh in the very early morning sun and then dozing for the rest of the day.

We got as far as Aberdeen, and this photograph must have been taken on that day in 1981. It shows my train setting out gingerly across the Tay Bridge. In those days it was commonplace to lean out of a train window and take a photograph.

The stubs of piers in the water beside it are the remains of the first bridge. This failed catastrophically in 1879, killing all 74 or 75 people aboard a train that was crossing it at the time. I am always aware of this when I make the crossing.

The disaster and their deaths were immortalised in the poem by Willliam McGonagall:
Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.
And so on.

The Tay Bridge was one of the five favourite bridges I once chose on this blog. (What are yours?)

As I wrote then:
When you take a train across it this does not feel like a bridge over a river or even an estuary. It feels like a bridge over the open sea.

James Davidson 1927-2017

At the time of his death last summer, James Davidson was the oldest surviving Liberal MP. Yet few Lib Dem members my age or younger knew anything about him.

Which was a shame, because he lived a remarkable life.

Davidson, who represented West Aberdeenshire between 1966 and 1970, is profiled in a BBC News feature on MPs who died in 2017.

And that feature refers us to his Scotsman obituary, where you can read more about him:
As he once observed, with a considerable degree of understatement, life is full of surprises – none more so than finding yourself on the wrong end of a Kalashnikov, dancing with the Queen and two princesses or being mooted as a potential leader of the Liberal Party. 
For James Davidson the first came courtesy of a period in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, by which time he had already served King George VI and family as a naval officer, the latter followed his election as MP for West Aberdeenshire. 
In a brilliantly multi-faceted life he also became a hill farmer, television presenter, organiser of Scotland’s premier agricultural event The Royal Highland Show, climbed the Eiger and was a single parent to three young children.
It goes on tell us more about his days in Moscow:
The handsome 25-year-old lived in a dacha in the Perlovka forest, constantly tailed and in the glare of anti-Western propaganda. His encounter with a Kalashnikov-toting soldier came one Sunday afternoon when, during a forest walk, he was held at gunpoint until 3am, accused of entering an unmarked forbidden zone and of being an “unacceptable” person. 
In Russia he saw Stalin both alive and lying in state, travelled widely taking discreet photos, including images of submarine construction on the Volga, and married Kit Jamieson, the beautiful secretary to the Canadian ChargĂ© d’Affaires. In 1954 they were the first westerners since the Second World War to leave the Soviet Union via the Trans-Siberian Railway and Nakhodka, shadowed incessantly by an operative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

'Fare-dodger' gets penis stuck in ticket barriers at Covent Garden Tube station

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The Evening Standard wins Headline of the Day on New Year's Day.