Monday, July 15, 2019

Market Harborough floods in 1958

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This photograph of the Square under water in 1959 has turned up on GettyImages.

I particularly like the road signs. The half-timbered building behind them was still there when I moved to the town in 1973, but was demolished soon afterwards.

City and county show new interest in reopening Leicester railway


Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council have put up £10,000 each towards the cost of an investigation of the feasibility of reopening the railway from Leicester to Coalville, Ashby and Burton upon Trent to passengers,

The leaders of the two councils are now calling on Derbyshire, Staffordshire and the borough and district council along the route to find the rest of the £60,000 the survey will cost.

The Leicester Mercury quotes the city's mayor Sir Peter Soulsby:
"The line is probably the line in the country with the best prospects of being re-opened for passengers. 
"Were it to ever happen it would be great for getting traffic off the city and county’s roads. It would be great for Leicester, Leicestershire and further afield."

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Britain's last industrial steam locomotives worked in Leicestershire



This extract from a 1988 BBC television programme shows steam locomotives still working the internal railway system at Castle Donington power station in Leicestershire.

I believe these were the last industrial steam locomotives to work in Britain. Preserved British Steam Locomotives suggests that one of them was still in use as late as 1990.

The power station closed in 1994. The site was later cleared and is now occupied by a Marks & Spencer distribution centre.

Beatrice Wishart to fight Shetland by-election for the Lib Dems

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Beatrice Wishart, depute convener of Shetland Islands Council, has been chosen as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the forthcoming Holyrood by-election for the islands.

It has been caused by Tavish Scott's resignation after 20 years in the Scottish parliament - he is going to take up a new job with Scottish Rugby.

Beatrice Wishart is a trustee of Women’s Aid in Shetland and is an active WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaigner.

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, told Shetland News:
"She’s a devoted campaigner and an attentive councillor. I have no doubt she will bring the same energy to defending Shetland’s interests that Tavish has over the last 20 years."

The Kinks: The Village Green Preservation Society



When Ray Davies introduces this as "a little-known album track" in 1973, he is telling the truth.

Because The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society failed to make the album charts when it was released in 1968.

Today it is regarded as his masterpiece.

As Andy Miller says in his little book on the album:
Year-by-year, it reveals new colours and new depths. It is not simply a snapshot of The Kinks at their peak, and not just an exhibit in the museum of classic rock, but a work whose relevance and perceptiveness grow more acute as the years pass and the shadows lengthen.

England vs Pakistan: The cricket world cup 40 years ago



Ten years ago I wrote about my memories of watching England's Headingley victory over Pakistan in the 1979 cricket world cup:
It was a typically seam-friendly Headingley wicket and England, batting first, made only 165 - the highest scorer was Graham Gooch with 33. I remember Sikander Bakht bowling very well for Pakistan. 
What followed was a display of the tactical genius of the England captain Mike Brearley. He had four frontline seamers and he bowled them out to take wickets. Mike Hendrick's figures were particularly good: 12-6-15-4. 
The game ended with Phil Edmonds and Geoff Boycott bowling at the Pakistani tale and England squeaked home, bowling them out for 151. 
A lesser captain - indeed almost any other captain - would have fitted Edmonds' overs in somewhere in the middle of the innings, taken the pressure off the Pakistani batsmen and lost the game.
I have found the highlights of that day on YouTube. It shows a different style of cricket to the one we shall see at Lord's later today: one much closer to the test game. But that may be in part a function of the superiority of ball over bat that day.

The video does show that my memories were more or less correct. Geoff Boycott did bowl at the death while wearing his cap.

Sadly though, my suggestion that he had it "turned back to front like Benny Hill's Fred Scuttle" turns out not to be correct.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Little-known Leicestershire and Rutland 1: Standing stones



Another video from Bob Trubshaw.

I once blogged about the Humber Stone, which features here.

On becoming exasperated with Heidi Allen

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So the Tiggers have changed their name again - they are now The Independents - and will be less of a party in future.

But there was another, less amusing, development involving Heidi Allen yesterday. She also announced the launch of Unite to Remain.

According to The New European:
The independent MP for South Cambridgeshire, who will lead the initiative, said the group will follow the blueprint of what is happening in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, where both Plaid Cymru and the Greens have agreed to stand aside in order to support the Liberal Democrat candidate, who is seen as having the best chance of defeating the Conservatives and bringing a seat to the Remain cause.
But the parties listed here are getting on very well with no help from Heidi Allen.

And when the Tiggers did involve themselves involved in a by-election - in Peterborough - it all turned shambolic.

Who can forget Gavin Shuker's explanation of why there was not a single Remain candidate?

He said:
"We all agreed to stand down any candidates we might field in favour of a genuinely independent, pro-'people's vote' and pro-remain candidate who had expressed an interest and intention to stand. 
"However, senior Labour figures, including senior figures campaigning for a people’s vote, made it clear they would strenuously disrupt the campaign and obstruct an independent candidate, driven by fears that it would harm their party in Peterborough."
If there is a vacancy for a group like Unite to Remain it is for one that can bring in the SNP and parts of the Labour Party. And for that task you do not want a recent Conservative MP.

Even then there are problems. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have clearly concluded that there way back to significance is to unite the Unionist vote in the seats we held until 2015. Working with the SNP will not be easy for them.

I agree with Nick Tyrone: the Tiggers should accept the way the tide is running and join the Lib Dems.

Heidi Allen should be aware that if she continues down her present path, she may well find South Cambridgeshire Lib Dems putting up against her at the next general election out of sheer exasperation.

Six of the Best 875

Benjamin Kentish asks why the voices of Jewish people are not heard more often in the debate on antisemitism.

"Losing weight, even with the help of the operation I had, remains the hardest thing I have ever done - and the thing I am most proud of. It is unacceptable that others should be put off from making positive choices about their own bodies by the judgement of our media and the lack of empathy in our society." Layla Moran on the obesity debate.

Olivia Norfolk says the roadside wildflower meadows springing up across the UK are helping wildlife in a big way.

Cressida Cowell, the new children's laureate, talks to Dave Speck.

Ice cream vans are in decline, finds Sirin Kale.

"Roll up, roll up, to the maddest, baddest, wildest, druggiest and most devil-tatted show on Earth!" Mark Beaumont looks back to 1968 and the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Spinney Hill Park, Leicester


Spinney Hill Park is a Victorian park that still remembers the farmland it once was.

Long ago entirely surrounded by housing, it now finds itself at the heart of the city's Muslim community.

There is a good history of it on the Parks & Gardens site.







Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Clapham Junction to Olympia and back in 1967



Alan Snowdon's blurb on YouTube explains:
In 1967 the only passenger trains on the West London Line were two round trips between Clapham Junction and Kensington (Olympia) each morning and afternoon rush hour. 
These were said to be provided for the staff of the Post Office Savings Bank which had be relocated in 1940 due to war damage. 
Although not advertised in the public timetables, anyone could buy a ticket to travel on this service. 
This film was shot during the last week in which this service was steam hauled.

Now the children of Bishop's Castle are protesting


Not two months ago, residents of Bishop's Castle blocked the A488 to protest against plans to scrap the Shrewsbury bus.

Now some of their children have staged a school climate strike.

Ten pupils from nursery, primary and high schools, reports the Shropshire Star, organised the protest to coincide with a visit by the town's Conservative MP.

Said one of the children:
"We are in the middle of a climate emergency created by adults but because we children can’t vote, politicians are ignoring us. The school strikes have given us a way to have our voices heard. It’s our planet that is being destroyed. And our future."
Later on Twitter...

Monday, July 08, 2019

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band have lost their name



Worrying news about the Bonzos:
The band, whose members are now in their seventies and eighties, say they discovered two years ago that “an entity” had registered their name as a figurative trademark without their consent or knowledge. 
They are now challenging the decision to grant it, because it means they will never be able to record an album or perform a concert under their name again. 
The surviving members - who are Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear, Neil Innes, “Legs” Larry Smith and Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell - say they are facing a lawsuit by the trademark owner who asserts the band does not own the name and that their attempt to win it back through the Intellectual Property Office ... tribunal service is a fraudulent act.
They have set up a site - The Bonzo Dog Banned - to raise the money to mount a legal challenge.

And my younger readers may find this history of the band useful.

Six of the Best 874

Andrew Page gives his reaction to Plaid and the Greens' decision not to field candidates in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

"Dismissing an issue or challenge or complaint as being “politically correct” has become catchall for those who want to avoid discussing racism, sexism, and discrimination and who are willing to rebrand offensiveness as frankness." Edwin L. Battistella on the evolution of a concept.

William D. Cohan reviews a life of John F. Kennedy Jr.

Nicole Rudick on the way women science fiction writers are left out of the history of the genre.

"Four decades on, what started as a labour of love, before being duly assigned to the scrapheap by an indifferent movie industry, continues to be, even in the technological age, a touchstone of British pop culture, and a much-quoted icon of maverick filmmaking." A year on from Robin Hardy’s death, James Gent looks at his masterpiece The Wicker Man and its legacy.

BusAndTrainUser takes the Sunday-only 279 bus from Okehampton to Gunnislake.

Free Leicester briefing on the European Union


On Tuesday 16 July (7-8.30pm) the Leicestershire branch of the European Movement is offering an in-depth briefing on the European Union.

You will hear all about the EU's institutions, the Single Market, Agencies, law making, subsidiarity, peace and security, multi-tiered Europe and intended reforms.

The speaker will be Dr Carol Weaver and the meeting will take place at the Secular Hall on Humberstone Gate in Leicester.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Leicester ghost sign


This was a new find on my wander through Spinney Hills, North Evington or whatever you call that part of Leicester.

And I was pleased to find that my favourite ghost sign of all is still flourishing round the corner.

The Victorians did not photograph corpses as part of family groups

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One of the themes I return to is that the Victorians were less Victorian than we think.

They did not cover piano legs out of a misplaced sense of modesty - that was a joke they told about the straitlaced Americans - and they were a lot more laid back about male nudity than we were.

Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians is very good on our misunderstanding of the 19th century.

Of late a new myth has been spreading. It is that the Victorians photographed corpses as part of family groups. BBC News did its bit to help it circulate three years ago.

The Victorian Book of the Dead was damning:
The BBC should be ashamed of itself for printing a piece that looks like it had been researched on Buzzfeed or its ilk. 
The article claims as post-mortems photographs of persons who are patently not dead, states that an obvious pre-mortem of a dying woman has had its eyes painted open, does not cite sources except a single mention of an Australian library, and, most damningly, repeats a canard that has been refuted again and again, about the dead being propped in a standing position for a post-mortem photo.
It also points us to a site that debunks the idea of Victorian postmortem photos:
This website is dedicated to discrediting the myth of the stand alone Victorian postmortem photo.  It explores the reasons why so many intelligent people believe that life-like standing postmortem photos exist and it helps answer some questions that many people have about this fascinating subject.

Jon Pertwee: "A sort of British icon"



To celebrate Jon Pertwee's 100th birthday, Matthew Sweet chats to 'Gotham' star Sean Pertwee about his father's legacy as the third Doctor. The two of them were filming for an upcoming box set.

I can also recommend the documentary about Jon Pertwee's career that Sean has narrated for BBC Radio 4. Catch it while it is available.

Jon Pertwee was my Doctor and it was a great era, though Roger Delgado and the Brigadier had a great deal to do with that too.

Worzel Gummidge was also wonderful - at once comforting and unsettling.

I remember liking The Navy Lark as a small boy and it is now a staple of BBC Radio 4 Extra. I struggle with it today, but it is clear the audience was having a whale of a time.

Pertwee, who taught escape techniques for naval intelligence during the war, was a remarkable man and part of a remarkable generation.

Susan Maughan: Bobby's Girl


Consett used to be renowned for its huge steelworks belching red dust across the town - and Susan Maughan.
So began a 2004 article in the Chronicle.

Susan Maugham had one big hit: a cover of Marcie Blane's Bobby'a Girl that got her to number three in the UK singles chart in 1963.

She stayed in the business as a singer and actor, appearing on television with Rod Hull and Emu in the 1980s.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Tory leadership election latest

Political satire 1977 style

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So there I was listening to Radio 4 Extra and an episode of The Burkiss Way which I probably heard when it was first broadcast in 1977.

When (at 09:36) this happened:
Robin Day: Well, Mr Novelty, the question I must put to you is this. Who dreamt up this whole toad idea in the first place? 
Liberal candidate: Well, it were our party's economics expert. 
Robin Day: Pardoe? 
Liberal candidate: I SAID IT WERE OUR PARTY'S ECONOMIC EXPERT.
They don't write them like that any more. It's up there with the Two Ronnies' joke about boundary changes in the Scottish Border and David Steel being upset at losing his Peebles.

That one turned up in Lord Bonkers' diary one day and I cannot promise that this one won't too.

Another tin tabernacle in Leicester


It's always a good day when you find a new tin tabernacle. This one is near the Evington Road in Leicester.

There is no signage to say who uses it now, but whoever it is has spent money to make it secure from vandals and burglars.

But I have found a tantalising clue to its history in a Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society paper about St James the Greater, the large Romanesque church on the London Road, from 1986:
There is a strong tradition in the church which has been passed down from older members of the congregation, that the building which stands in Dore Road, the Millicent Morris Memorial Hall, was the temporary church rebuilt in Dore Road when the stone church was erected. 
The two photographs which survive of the temporary church, one inside and the other outside, show that there are significant differences in the plan of the two buildings and it seems unlikely that if the temporary church was moved it was not erected in exactly the same manner. 
It has not been possible to inspect the inside of the Dore Road building to see if there are any similarities and so for the moment no firm conclusions can be drawn about the fate of the temporary church and the possible link with the structure in Dore Road. 
There are other stories linking the Dore Road building with St Philip's, but the brief history of the church (Scott, 1984) states that the 'tin church' came from St Michael's, Belgrave. 
Research is being undertaken by the Order of Women Freemasons who use the Dore Road building, and they may eventually discover the origins of that building.
A bit of googling shows that the women masons still use the building, so I am may drop them a line to see if their research reached a firm conclusion.



Engelbert Humperdinck 'camping in living room' after huge earthquake hits California



The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award.

There is also a good second mention in the report: "The Please Release Me singer...".

Best of all, I get a chance to post my favourite Engelbert track again.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Count Arthur Strong performs Deck of Cards



I once saw Count Arthur Strong live at the Leicester Comedy Festival.

For my money, he is better on stage than on television or radio. It is these scrambled memories of a showbiz past that make him great.

Phil Bennion MEP at the Three Tuns, Bishop's Castle


Phil Bennion, newly returned as a Liberal Democrat MEP for the West Midlands, was the guest speaker at a Bishop's Castle Lib Dems lunch today.

Naturally, it was held at the Three Tuns.

The Shropshire Star tells us what he said:
"Leaving the single market would have profound consequences. Most of our economy has been built around the single market for 30 years, from manufacturing to farming. 
"Losing our biggest market will cause a glut of lamb, so the price will collapse, meaning sheep farmers will soon go bankrupt. Dairy will also be severely affected. 
"Farmers will not be able to sell very much if they have to pay a 40 per cent export tariff. If we Brexit without a replacement for the Single Farm Payment, livelihoods will be gone. And if you read Michael Gove's Agriculture Bill, as I have, you will see that no replacement is intended."
He said much more, so do read the report in the Star.

Six of the Best 873

"Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve voted for Ed Davey to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats." Tim Holyoake explains why.

Ruby Chow attended the ALDC's three-day Kickstart event in Staffordshire.

Jennifer Williams is a superb writer: "It is a place where a strong identity fights to flourish under layer upon layer of economic bad fortune. Consequently, Oldham’s experience can tell us an awful lot about the ferocious currents swirling through our national politics."

"Massive reforestation isn’t a pipe dream and it can have real benefits for people," say Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis.

"The value of play is not in the added value it brings though, it’s in the sense of freedom and fun that it has itself. In a time when young people (and their teachers) are being measured more and more both students and school staff really need some kind of counterbalance." Lucy Maddox makes the case for playtime at school and beyond.

Sarah Larson makes filming with Jim Jarmusch sound a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Blackburn locks in 1965


The oldest of the Inland Waterways Association bulletins I bought at Foxton Saturday dates from 1965.

That was the year the IWA held its National Rally of Boats at Blackburn on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

The photograph above shows two Thames cruisers descending Blackburn locks. The one below shows the locks today.

This bulletin also contains an obituary of James Chuter Ede, the former Labour home secretary. A vice-president of the IWA, he had his own canal boat: the "famous Brown Duck".

Former Shrewsbury Ukip candidate claims he was spied on by MI5


It's like I always say: the Shropshire Star has the best stories.
Shropshire UKIP activists were targeted by MI5 spooks during the 2001 general election campaign, according to a new book written by one of the party's candidates.
Henry Curteis, whose autobiography encompasses the worlds of politics, business, and the paranormal, claims that MI5 bugged phones, tried to infiltrate the local party, and the State intercepted UKIP's mail in Shrewsbury. 
He says that, exhausted at the end of the campaign – he came fourth in the Shrewsbury & Atcham seat with 1,620 votes – he went on a long holiday to Italy, only to discover somebody had been sent to tail him.
That result suggests the deep state need not have worried too much about Mr Curteis.

Mr Curteis's book grew out of a wish to set down the stories about a friend called Dickie Major. Very Ukip,

But he joined the Conservative Party soon after the spooks had thwarted his attempt to win Shrewsbury.

By 2003 he was leading an attempt do deselect Michael Portillo in Kensington and Chelsea.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The Leicestershire Wolds



Years ago I explored this upland region of the county by taking the train to Barrow upon Soar and then walking east to Melton Mowbray.

Here Bob Trubshaw sets out its history and topography.

Full restoration of the Waverley Route under consideration

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The Waverley Route, a mainline railway from Carlisle to Edinburgh through the Scottish Borders, was closed in 1969. The local opposition to the move was led by a young local MP called David Steel.

In 2015, 31 miles of the route from Edinburgh to Tweedbank near Galashiels was reopened as the Borders Railway.

Now come news from the International Railway Journal that the funding is in place for a feasibility study of the full reopening of the line from Tweedbank through Hawick to Carlisle.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Life at Blakemoorgate, a lost settlement on the Stiperstones



The Stiperstones were originally a landscape of small settlements, with many 'squatter' cottages occupied by lead miners and their families.

The cottages at Blakemoorgate were inhabited until the 1950s and have recently been conserved. These recordings come from the 'sound box' for visitors now to be found in the restored cottages.

You can read more about life at Snailbeach in the 1950s in a guest post on this blog.

Six of the Best 872

"He had a modest even self-effacing manner and invariably had a smile on his face and a chuckle in his greeting, but his Liberal commitment was deep and his impact on the party’s organisation and strength was significant indeed for over half a century." Tony Greaves pays tribute to Geoff Tordoff.

"Since journalists mostly get their sense of the political conversation from Twitter and it is dominated by younger and more fire-breathing types, political perceptions and depictions of the Democrats in the media have come to reflect their priorities." Michael Tomasky on the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination

Andew Lund visits Oslo, the city that banned cars: "The city is investing heavily in upgrades of its tram and bus network and is converting all its buses and ferries to electric power. Many residents comment that they’ve noticed an improvement in air quality, particularly during the colder winter months."

Nabanita Das watches the England vs India world cup game with the cricket fans of Leicester's Belgrave Road.

Kent Black interviews Ian Anderson about the 50-year history of Jethro Tull.

Ailish Sinclair takes us over the sea to Skye.

The Palace of Westminster needs renewal in more ways than one



Catherine Slessor wrote in the Observer about the "fussy, frivolous neo-gothic wedding cake" that is the  Palace of Westminster.

While it undergoes a £4bn restoration, it will he housed in Richmond House on Whitehall. the building will be gutted so that a replica of the current Commons chamber can be fitted inside.

Which means that the oblong shape and the two sides of the house glaring at one another will be maintained.

As Slessor says:
 Doubtless MPs will find it comforting, a green leather umbilicus connecting them with the ailing mothership, but it does seem like another missed opportunity to experiment with alternative layouts and explore different ways of conducting debate. 
Both the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments have embraced the continental hemicycle without mishap, and the tone of their encounters seems more civilised for it.
Other nations have used the need to renew their parliament building as an opportunity for modernisation. But::
Hopelessly infatuated with a Victorian vision of itself, Britain seems set on the opposite course, committed to painstakingly licking Barry and Pugin’s decaying wedding cake back into shape.
The video above, from the University of Sheffield's Sir Bernard Crick Centre, makes much the same case.

My own solution of the Palace of Westminster to fall into decay - "Imagine how much more attractive it would be as a ruin alive with feral cats, buddleias and fragments of Gothic tracery" - and having parliament meet at Arkwright's Mill in Cromford remains underexplored.

Monday, July 01, 2019

In Our Time on Karl Popper



You can find a complete archive of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time programmes on the BBC website and it's a wonderful thing to explore.

This discussion is a good introduction to Popper's thought.

The restored engine shed on Northampton University's new campus


I said last week that the Northampton University's new Waterside Campus includes "a bonus to lovers of railway history".

And here it is.

This restored engine shed is home to the university's student union.

I first mentioned it on this blog in 2014 when I explored the derelict land where the campus now stands:
Somewhere in the middle of it there is a "rare and little altered example of a Midland Railway locomotive shed". All the security fencing makes it impossible to photograph at the moment, but I hope it will be retained and restored as part of the redevelopment here.
And in 2016 I blogged about the news that the shed was to home to the student union, borrowing a photo from their website that showed it in its derelict state.

It is a welcome inclusion on the campus and you can read more about it on its own website.




Michael Winstanley and Anna Ford star in Trivial Fact of the Day

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Yesterday I blogged about the Liberal MP Dr Michael Winstantley.

Today I can reveal in my Trivial Fact of the Day that he was the uncle of the newsreader Anna Ford.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Liberal MP Dr Michael Winstanley makes the case for canals

At Foxton yesterday I bought a fistful of Inland Waterways Association (IWA) bulletins from the 1960s and 70s at the canal museum there, reasoning they would provide some interesting snippets for this blog.

I did not expect to find a Liberal MP quoted and photographed in them, but I did.

Here is Dr Michael Winstanley (in the centre of the photograph above) at the IWA's 1970 conference Waterways in the Urban Scene:
The second day began with a session on 'Amenity Uses', introduce by Dr Michael Winstanley, M.P., who explained his involvement with canals as triple one: From a personal boating interest; as a medical man anxious to increase the use of water-based recreation and the relaxing open air atmosphere of canals; and politically, where waterways were part of a national heritage that every politician ought to cherish. "It is our duty to get people off the roads."
Michael Winstanley was MP for Cheadle between 1964-66 and for Hazel Grove between February and October 1974.

The Cheadle seat he represented took in much the same area as the Hazel Grove we know today.

I shall be voting for Ed Davey

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Andrew Rawnsley, while recognising what an important figure the winner may turn out to be, complains that the current contest for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats is "as exciting as a bowl of tofu":
The audience in a lecture theatre at the London School of Economics asks thoughtful questions. The rivals, taking it in turn to answer, are unfailingly courteous towards each other. 
There is no shouting, interrupting or name-calling. I have heard ruder conversations between nuns. 
When one contestant speaks, the other spends a lot of time nodding along in agreement. They even smile at each other’s tepid jokes.
I have suggested in the past that the customary niceness of our leadership contests may not serve the party well.

In 2015 neither Tim Farron's views on gay sex, which were to hamper us at the 2017 general election, nor Norman Lamb's views on Europe, which might well have proved more of a burden, were subject to scrutiny.

And back in 2007, Nick Clegg was outraged when Chris Huhne pointed out that he held views on public spending that were at odds with those of the bulk of Lib Dem members.

That turned out to be very important in 2010.

The niceness and lack of disagreement this time has made it hard to decide between Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. But I have made up my mind to vote for Ed.

The reason is that I am clearer about what I would be getting from his leadership. The emphasis on the environment and belief in the Lib Dems as standard-bearers for Liberalism speaks to me and has been laid out in some detail.

Jo, by contrast, speaks of "a liberal movement" and says we must "transform the economy so it works for people and the planet".

The former may well mean no more than the handful of local pacts I supported in a post the other day, but I fear it may mean a grand strategy that falls flat. Call it David Steel Syndrome.

And the latter could appeal to me, but I have little idea of what it would mean in practice. How would party policy have to change to make it a reality? I have tried to find out but I don't know.

Jo Swinson's campaign has operated at a level of abstractness that worries me. If you want to see the difference between the two candidates, take a look at the questions Liberator put to them.

One asked if, in the event of Brexit taking place, we should become the party of "back in" the EU.

Ed said yes. Jo told us how important it is we fight Brexit, almost got round to saying yes, but then went back to telling us how important it is that we fight Brexit.

This lack of detail in Jo's answers throws me back on looking at her personality, and that has never quite appealed to me as much as obviously does to some people in the party.

In fact, I find the attitude of some of her supporters online rather grating, though it would be wrong to let that affect how I vote.

I voted for Jackie Ballard as Lib Dem leader back in 1999 and looked forward to voting for Layla Moran this time, so I am sorry not to be voting for a woman.

But it's Ed Davey for me. Better the angel you know.

Hoyt Axton: Evangelina



I remember this as a staple of Radio 2 in the days when I was looking for a gentle station to write my essays to at York.

With their parallel between water and love, I have always suspected the lyrics of profundity.

Hoyt Axton was a successful singer and songwriter in the country and folk fields. His Della and the Dealer was hit in the UK in 1980.

Trivia fans will want to know that his mother co-wrote Heartbreak Hotel for Elvis.

Andrew Hickey tells her story:
Mae Axton was an odd figure. She was an English teacher who had a sideline as a freelance journalist. One day she was asked by a magazine she was freelancing for to write a story about hillbilly music, a subject about which she knew nothing. 
She went to Nashville to interview the singer Minnie Pearl, and while she was working on her story, Pearl introduced her to Fred Rose, the co-owner of Acuff-Rose Publishing, the biggest publishing company in country music. And Pearl, for some reason, told Rose that Mae, who had never written a song in her life, was a songwriter. 
Rose said that he needed a new novelty song for a recording session for the singer Dub Dickerson that afternoon, and asked Mae to write him one. And so, all of a sudden, Mae Axton was a songwriter, and she eventually wrote over two hundred songs.
He also tells me that Elvis went on to record some of Hoyt Axton's songs, giving them a unique mother-and-son double.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Foxton Locks in the sun


Living in Market Harborough, my instinct on a hot day is to head for Foxton Locks.

I did it today and even managed a mad-dogs-and-Englishmen walk across the fields to the Bell at Gumley.

Foxton, of course, is where the 1985 Liberal Assembly was organised from. The green track in the last photograph here was then the road access to the bottom of the locks.










Brecon and Radnorshire and Nigel Tufnell

With a by-election taking place Brecon and Radnorshire, I have naturally been thinking of the 1985 by-election in Brecon and Radnor, as it was then called.

That contest was caused by the death of the sitting Conservative Tom Hooson, who was a cousin of Emlyn Hooson, the former Liberal MP for neighbouring Montgomery.

Tom Hooson had gained the seat at the 1979 general election, but for 40 years before that it had been held by Labour.

So, in contrast to the contest taking place there at the moment, the 1985 by-was a fight between Labour and the Liberals.

I was between engagement sat the time and so was able to spent several days in Brecon and Radnor. On polling day I was in Cwmtwrch near Ystradgynlais.

Situated at the very north of the Valleys, it was a strongly Labour area. One of my memories of the day is having a gang of small boys practically fighting each other for the honour of delivering my Liberal leaflets in a close where every house had a Labour poster.

Elsewhere in the constituency the demographics were different and the landscape was stunning.
I have heard that Lloyd George got a mention in some of our leaflets, which reminds me of a story I have told here before:
A young Liberal activist was telling at a polling station out in the wilds somewhere, when an elderly farmer turned up. 
"What are you doing?" he asked. "I always take the numbers for the Liberals."
It turned out that for years the farmer had come along on polling day, collected numbers for a couple of hours and then taken them home with him. 
It represented a folk memory of Lloyd George's day. Any Liberal organisation in the area had long since disappeared. All the was left was the ancestral knowledge that taking numbers somehow helped the party.
Labour had held Brecon and Radnor for the 40 years up to 1979 because they had won a by-election there in 1939. It took place on 1 August, just as this year’s contest will.

At the 1935 general election Labour lost to a National Government supporting Conservative. It’s candidate was Leslie Haden-Guest, the father of the diplomat, dance and choreographer Peter Haden-Guest.

And Peter was the father of the actor Christopher Guest, best known for playing Nigel Tufnell in Spinal Tap.

As Leslie Haden-Guest had been made a hereditary peer in 1950 and the title had passed down to Christopher, Nigel Tufnell was a member of the House of Lords for three years before Tony Blair’s reforms removed most of the hereditaries in 1999.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Northampton University's new Waterside Campus


Photographing the ruins of Northampton power station five summers ago, I wrote:
Soon it will be an attractive university campus full of bright young things ... living exciting lives and driving knowledge and the economy on. 
"Ah," I shall tell them, "but you should have seen it when it was a derelict power station."
I went back there a few weeks ago to take a look at Northampton University's new Waterside Campus and, sure enough, the first thing I came across was an open air performance of The Taming of the Shrew.

Anyway, here are its buildings. It turns out that the site of the power station is largely occupied by sports pitches, though it also home to the dubious-sounding International Leather Centre.

The land the university buildings are on was an Avon cosmetics factory until it was demolished at the end of 2010.

There is a bonus for lovers of railway history on the campus that I shall share with you another day.

So, for now, let's end with a reminder that Northampton had a university in the 13th century.






In praise of Summer of the Rockets



Well that was fun. Perhaps the plot did not live up to the extraordinary atmosphere and visual style of Summer of the Rockets, but then how could it?

At least I spotted that Ronald Pickup's line in the opening episode and the dead rabbit Peter Firth kept the boys from seeing were both significant, even if the baddies did seem remarkably tolerant of photograph.

And the move from the dreadful Fifties - all racism and corporal punishment - to the liberated Sixties was less clichéd than many other dramatist would have made it appear.

One reason this series was better than much of Stephen Poliakoff's recent work was that it was more personal. The Petrukhin family's story owed much to his own.

Of late he has been trying to retell the story of The Great Gatsby, much as Stephen King has built a career on producing books that Ray Bradbury has already written.

The cast of Summer of the Rockets was uniformly excellent, so let me praise someone who has not been widely noticed. Linus Roache convinced as the likeable Tory MP and war hero with the fascist core.

So much so that I struggled to believe the happy ending with which we were presented.

Six of the Best 871

"Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas." Isaac Chotiner interviews the lawyers who went to see them.

The stickiest points in the Brexit negotiations, including the Northern Ireland backstop and the decision to trigger Article 50 so early, reveal that Britain never really understood how the European Union works, argues N. Piers Ludlow.

Sophie Scott warned three years ago that we should stop laughing at politicians like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

Reclaiming the city was a prominent theme at this year's Sheffield documentary festival, reports Caitlin Quinlan.

Mike Jay explains why psychedelic culture remains the preserve of privileged white men.

"In 1970 and 1971 Chelsea made headlines because of their football and their trophies. Positive on-pitch headlines ebbed away as less than positive on- and off-pitch headlines became more prevalent." Tim Rolls is publishing a history of the club's decline and fall in the 1970s.