Wednesday, January 31, 2018

See Rutland in 1957


Click on the image above to view this film on the British Film Institute site.

There's no commentary, but you will see Uppingham and Oakham, Stoke Dry church, the sculptures at Exton (which was more than I could when I went there) and the turf maze at Wing.

New Ware wine bar 'would lead to more graveyard sex', residents warn

The Hertfordshire Mercury provides our Headline of the Day.

New light on the suspension of two Lib Dem members of City of York Council's executive?


The City of York Council is run by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

This week the leader of the council, David Carr, was ousted as leader of the Conservative Group.

He has been succeeded as group leader by Ian Gillies, though he is not yet the leader of the council as it is subject to a vote at full council.

York's daily paper The Press says Ian Gillies will:
review the case of two Lib Dem councillors who were suspended from City of York Council's executive by David Carr. 
Cllr Ian Gillies, the new Conservative leader who is set to become council leader next month, was responding to a question from The Press about the futures of Cllrs Keith Aspden and Nigel Ayre following the ousting of Cllr Carr as Tory leader.
This affair has always been a little mysterious, as the allegations against the two Lib Dem councillors have never been made public.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe Press does say North Yorkshire Police have announced they will not be investigating them.

Perhaps more light will now be shed on this murky affair?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Three Tuns Brewery, Bishop's Castle, in 1977


Since I first discovered Bishop's Castle the Three Tuns has been extended and it is now a separate business from the brewery.

This short news report shows them and the town as they were in 1977.

Six of the Best 764

"By definition, once we have no campaigning in a majority of seats our organisation atrophies and we lose the deliverers, canvassers and all the local workers in those seats. Then, at the following election, the number of workers available to go to target seats dwindles away and the strategy doesn’t even work for target seats." Michael Meadowcroft argues that targeting has mortally wounded the Liberal Democrats.

Frances Coppola explains how Carillion used a British government scheme to rip off its suppliers.

A lost opportunity? Rail Magazine on the closed March to Spalding line, which I travelled on as a student.

"The song has been endlessly analysed; it’s intentionally ambiguous and the meanings are still up for debate.  But let’s take a stab at it line by line." Yeoman Lowbrow has another look at Don McLean's American Pie.

James Dilley, an experimental archaeologist and specialist in European prehistory, has been to see Early Man - Aardman’s latest animated adventure

"Moondial taps into that area of the brain which operates purely on instinct and won't rest until every square inch of your body is covered in goosebumps." Curious British Telly celebrates the 1988 children's series.

Monday, January 29, 2018

"I think we will stay": Vince Cable on Brexit

“It’s only a matter of time before we come back in Montgomeryshire. It was a Lib Dem stronghold – we will be back.”
That's what Vince Cable told a meeting at Welshpool Town Hall on Saturday.

The Shropshire Star has a video of him speaking at the event and quotes his views on Brexit:
“The split between leave and remain hasn’t changed very much. It’s moved a little bit towards people who think leaving is a bad idea, but it’s not shifted a great deal. 
"If they were to set for another vote, this time on the facts, it will be for about Christmas time. 
"I think once people are clearer about what Brexit means, a lot of the negatives that were not really brought out in the last campaign, I think we will stay."
I knew having a photo of Welshpool Town Hall would come in useful one day.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The railway from Hastings to Ashford: Part 2



The waiting is over. On Thursday evening I posted part 1 of a video about the Hastings to Ashford line.

Here is the second and final part.

Another memory from that holiday at Winchelsea Beach in 1967.

My parents told me that I should not pick up any metal object I found on the beach.

That was because it was only 22 years after the end of the Second World War when the beach would have been mined.

And here I am well into the 21st century.

Would you like to write a guest post for Liberal England?


I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

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

The Left Banke: Just Walk Away Renée



In Britain we know Just Walk Away Renée from the great Four Tops version.

But theirs was not the original recording of the song and nor did they have the original or biggest hit with it across most of the world.

Just Walk Away Renée was written by Michael Brown, Bob Calilli, and Tony Sansone for the band The Left Banke. Brown, then aged 16, was a member of the band and played harpsichord on this recording.

Released in July 1966, the band's version reached number 5 in the US singles chart but was not a hit in Britain.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Alexei Sayle explains why Blair and Brown were like a comedy double act

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Today's Guardian has an article by Simon Parkin about comedy double acts and how they break up.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Lee and Herring. Newman and Baddiel. They are all there.

I was reminded of an old column by Alexei Sayle, where he discussed the same subject.

It dates from 2005, and it contains an observation on the politics of the day so penetrating that I remember it today.

For Sayle wrote:
In trying to fathom the personal dynamic that exists between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it occurs to me that the closest show business equivalent is that funny business version of the abusive marriage - the comedy double act.
Over the years I have studied double acts. Although I have always been a lone-wolf solo act, the original Comic Strip Club touring line-up was me, and three pairs of comedians. So I have always been well placed to witness the internal affinities and tensions that power these co-dependent comedy relationships. 
In the early days, they start out in hope and a deep and profound friendship. After all, the members of a double act will spend a lot more time with each other than they'll spend with their partners and families. In the early days there is also an equality between the two performers, but then, as they start to become successful, things almost always begin to go wrong. 
From my experience, one member of the double act inevitably begins to get more attention than the other. The neglected one may indeed be less talented, or they may just be less fashionable, or less adept at smooching journalists. 
Whatever the reason, they begin to sink into bitterness and rancour, while the performer who's regarded as the talented one starts to believe that they are truly better than their partner and begins to adopt a "I can't help it if I'm more talented" attitude. They start to waste a great deal of time fighting with each other, to gain tiny crumbs of status over their sidekick. 
But there is also poison contained within the unhappy realisation that maybe the two of them still need each other, they both fear and suspect that there is some gestalt that exists, that what they do together is greater than the sum of its parts. 
The result is that they are locked into working night and day with somebody they now hate.
As his short stories have shown, Sayle is a remarkably good writer.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Six of the Best 763

"On the 19th of January a group of men described as being of a certain calibre and dressed up like Penguins filed into one of the most expensive hotels in the country feeling mightily pleased with themselves." Jane Chelliah argues that the President's Club members' sense of entitlement was class based.

It isn't public versus private, it is small versus big, says David Boyle.

Nick Wates on the Battle of Tolmers Square - with the help of some remarkable photographs. In the 1970s these Camden properties were occupied after the council attempted to evict local residents and sell the land off to property developers.

Amanda Ripley discovers that it is not easy being a child prodigy.

"Le Guin never stopped insisting on the beauty and subversive power of the imagination. Fantasy and speculation weren’t only about invention; they were about challenging the established order." Julie Phillips celebrates the subversive imagination of Ursula Le Guin.

"The circumstances of productive boredom and limited horizons that gave him his vocation have gone, and will not return."  Andrew Harrison pays tribute to Mark E. Smith.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The railway from Hastings to Ashford: Part 1



In 1967 my family had a caravan holiday at Winchelsea Beach in Sussex. And I do remember the summer of love: All You Need is Love by the Beatles and (rather less cool) Up, Up and Away by the Johnny Mann Singers were always playing.

What I also remember, on the journey there, is that people were on the train at Ashford collecting signatures on a petition to save the line across Romney Marsh to Hastings.

It worked. The line is still open today.

This is the first part of a film made in 1987 that will tell you all about it and also about the branch to Dungeness.

Two prominent Lib Dems join the Labour Party (and a third is rejected)

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In the past few days I have seen reports of two prominent Liberal Democrats leaving us for the Labour Party.
  • Stephen Knight, a long-serving councillor in Richmond upon Thames who has also been a member of the London Authority in his time.
  • Chris Foote Wood, a veteran councillor and parliamentary and Euro candidate perhaps best known for being Victoria Wood's brother.
Like local by-elections, these defections are close to meaningless individually but can form a significant pattern over time.

And if good people are giving up on the Liberal Democrats then we should be worried at the pattern we currently see.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Mind you, changing parties is not as easy as it sounds.

Darren Fower, a Lib Dem councillor in Peterborough who thought he had joined Labour, has been told by its constituency party that he is not welcome.

Norman Lamb on the NHS in crisis



Read more about the Liberal Democrat campaign to save our NHS.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Naked man arrested in Adam and Eve Street


Only in Market Harborough:
Police arrested a naked man in a town centre street at lunchtime today. 
Officers were called after members of the public saw the man walking about in Adam and Eve Street, in Market Harborough.
The Leicester Mercury has the bare essentials.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fresh light on the siege of Weston-under-Redcastle



Many thanks to a reader for sending me the image below and alerting me to this video.

I blogged about the siege of Weston of Weston-under-Redcastle a few years ago and attracted some interesting comments from people with family connections to the events of 1968 in the Shropshire village.

The newsreel commentary here makes it sound more serious than the article I quoted in that first post as it tells us the gunman had his wife and four children with him for the 17 days of the siege.

We used to think that not rushing into such situations with guns blazing was the British way of doing things and thus superior.

In 1975 the authorities spent a week persuading a Provisional IRA gang holed up in a London flat to give themselves up and release their hostages.

Then in 1980 the BBC interrupted the snooker to show us the SAS storming the Iranian embassy and the modern world was born.

Why Enid Blyton is responsible for Brexit

When someone tried to blame Ladybird Books for the rise of Daniel Hannan, I waded in to defend them. Because Ladybird were probably the most progressive publishers of children's book of their era.

I ended that post with:
There are other children's books you can blame for the Brexit cast of mind - see my own exposé of Enid Blyton's proto fascism on the Guardian website - but Ladybird Books are innocent (in more than one sense of the word).
But Ella Risbridger had already pinned the blame for Brexit in an article for Prospect:
The Famous Five rarely face any kind of consequences. For anything. The Famous Five do what they want. The Famous Five go where they like. Footpath signs are nothing to them. They just turn up; sometimes pay the farmer a courtesy visit to inform him they’ll be building fires and trampling his heather into beds; ask the farmer’s wife (always the wife!) for a bag of buns and a bottle of ginger beer; and on they go. Sometimes they pay for the buns. More often the farmer’s wife is so happy to see such cheerfully-entitled little prodigies that she hands the buns over free of charge. 
In exchange, the Five will chase any other trespassers off the farmer’s land, or out of the mysterious mines, or wherever they happen to be. “Trespassers”? I mean: “gypsies,” “tinkers,” swarthy-looking strangers, people who work for the circus, people with non-RP accents, people who don’t speak English, foreigners in general. That sort of thing. 
We can go anywhere, you see, but we’ve got to keep the foreigners out. The political parallel is so glaringly obvious, when you look at it, that you can’t stop looking at it.
And she concludes:
White, middle-class English people in their fifties grew up on Blyton’s portrayal of a world built exclusively for them, and grew into a world far more diverse, difficult, and interesting. You see where the disconnect comes from: a sense of unfulfilled entitlement, subsequent resentment, and dangerously flawed leaps in logic. If the diverse world lacks this kind of childhood, then the diverse world is to blame; if we made the world less diverse, we would be enabling that kind of childhood.
I grew up on the books of Malcolm Saville, who offered a more benign, one-nation Tory version of that world.

He did not, for instance, share Enid Blyton's racist take on gypsies. As I once blogged:
It is not just that the Gypsies Reuben and Miranda are good characters in the early Lone Pine stories: it is that you can tell other characters worth by their attitudes towards them. Good characters like the Gypsies, but the baddies hate them.
So thanks a bunch, Enid.

Lib Dem peers swear the most

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Something from the i newspaper to make us all proud:
Lib Dems are the most foul-mouthed peers in the House of Lords on Twitter, according to new research revealed exclusively to i. 
Six of the top 10 “sweary peers” are Lib Dems, with Baroness Sarah Ludford leading the pack with 51 profanities in 2017. 
It’s a pretty admirable feat given that peers only managed to score 287 swears between them across the whole year.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Cutting access to Latin affects social mobility

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Sad news from the Yorkshire Post:
A North Yorkshire school where Latin has been on the curriculum for more than 600 years is to stop teaching the classical language for the first time in its history due to funding restrictions. 
Latin will be notably absent when Richmond School – which was founded as Richmond Grammar School in the 14th century – announces its new GCSE programme on Tuesday.
Sad,, because as I once wrote:
It happens that I went to a comprehensive in Hertfordshire where everyone did Latin in the second year (or Year 8, as I think the young people say these days). It had recently ceased being a grammar school - and a very traditional grammar school at that, because we were still wearing school caps in the early 1970s - but it was a comprehensive ... 
And I am grateful that I did study Latin there, because when I got the chance to take Latin O level up here in Leicestershire a few I jumped at it. And studying it taught me the grammar I was not learning in English and awakened an interest in the Classical world, two factors that led to my studying Philosophy at university.
English grammar is taught formally these days, but I suspect there is something in the words of the school's former lead teacher for Latin and classics, as quoted by the Post:
"Cutting access to Latin affects social mobility. It is very hard to get access to Latin and the classics anywhere outside of London and the south east of England. That has a knock-on effect on access to university degrees, especially at the leading universities."

Northamptonshire woman launches new wedding venue where guests can have pictures taken with llamas


Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

Sorry about the illustration. It was the best I could do.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Six of the Best 762

Rob Marchant says the Labour Party needs to talk about Momentum and antisemitism: "Moderates everywhere should be concerned, not least because they are now at the start of a long process of being gradually squeezed out, constituency by constituency."

In America the far right is using cyberharassment against academics. Joshua Cuevas will tell you all about it.

"Within six years Salford had 200 play streets. The pilot was so successful that they were passed into English law and 700 were created across England and Wales by the 1950s. But by the 1980s they were all but forgotten."  Neal Keeling rediscovers the play streets of Salford.

Andy Boddington, in an extraordinary post, writes about his stroke and stay in hospital.

"When I was growing up in a little terraced house in Leicester, there would be beamed into our living room telly a glimpse of an impossible glamorous world filled with fast cars, frightening gangsters and one unimaginably stylish and exotic central character – Jason King." Sean O'Grady pays tribute to Peter Wyngarde.

Simon Brackenborough explores the music and troubled life of Malcolm Arnold.

Middlesbrough fan arrested for allegedly urinating in QPR keeper's water bottle

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ESPN wins our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

Doop: Doop



Back in the 1990s there was an ITV rival to Top of the Pops in the shape of The Chart Show.

It was screened on Saturday mornings and - for better or worse - I associate it with this record, which reached number one in the UK in 1994..

Doop were a Dutch techno group and I remember an interview at the time where they said the record grew out of their noticing how close mellow house music was getting to 1920s dance music.

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 have 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.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceYou 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.
And:
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."