Friday, February 15, 2019

Trevor Eve and Harry H. Corbett in Shoestring

This video is a bit murky, but it contains an extract from Shoestring that brings together two great television performers.

Before he played Harold Steptoe, Harry H. Corbett was a revered method actor - the British Brando. And Trevor Eve did not use to be angry all the time.

Eve also appeared in a film with Albert Steptoe - Wilfrid Brambell - but you will need IMDB to tell you which.

Six of the Best 850

We must rebuff the calls to scrap GCSEs and A levels, says Mark Lehain, because they ensure every child gets a broad and balanced education until 16.

In the 1960s British Black TV drama was sharp, hard-hitting and streets ahead of America. Steve Rose asks what happened to it.

Gillian Darley on a Tolstoyan commune in Essex.

Backwatersman reviews Stephen Fay and David Kynaston's biography of John Arlott and E.W. Swanton. The England opener Peter Richardson emerges as a hero for his teasing of the latter. He "continued to vex him by submitting accounts of the doings of fictitious public schools to 'The Cricketer' and comically blimpish letters in praise of Swanton to 'The Daily Telegraph'."

"Before viewing Harlequin ... it’s best to set aside the old-fashioned notions of 'good' and 'bad.' They just don't apply here. I've watched the film twice now, and I still have no idea if it's a 'good' film or not. But it is flat-out crazily entertaining, and I love it." Jim Donahue watches the film directed by David Hemmings and starring Robert Powell.

Caroline from Flickering Lamps shows us the turbulent history of Clerkenwell's Spa Fields

School strike for climate action: The Kids are Alright

I know we are supposed to believe that every single day in school is precious and one lost is never recovered, but that is bollocks.

It was great to see schoolchildren protesting about climate change today.

In an age when MPs behave like spiteful children, someone has to play the adult.

So farewell then Andrew Neil and This Week

It was announced today that Andrew Neil is giving up presenting This Week and the BBC is taking the opportunity to scrap the programme.

There was a time when I never missed This Week. The problem, as a confirmed hater of Question Time, was how to fill the 20 minutes between Newsnight ended and it began.

Then I got older and realised that I could go to bed and watch it on iPlayer the next day.

Then I gave up watching it at all.

There were always too many "funny" items that weren't funny - step forward Kevin Maguire and Quentin Letts.

But Andrew Neil is a better broadcaster than the Dimblebys added to John Humphrys and multiplied several times over.

OK so he has run with the hare and hunted with the hounds too much recently, but at his best he is peerless. The BBC should have made better use of him.

I remember, in the days when he was seen as a meritocrat from a humble background, Neil's forensic politeness forcing from Michael Gove the admission that his adoptive parents had paid for him to attend one of Scotland's most expensive private schools.

And This Week could be brilliant. I remember a riveting discussion of alcoholism with Shirley Williams and Rosie Boycott on the evening of the day that Charles Kennedy resigned as Liberal Democrat leader.

I used to grumble about its late-night slot, but maybe the BBC should have made a virtue of it and made it open ended - something along the lines of Channel 4's old After Dark.

If you keep politicians up late enough and lubricate them with Blue Nun, they start to tell the truth.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Pagan London 2: The Stanwell Cursus

The second is this series of videos looks at a prehistoric earthwork that is now partly beneath the runways of Heathrow.

My Liberator review of Jonathan Coe's Middle England

Having disposed of Lord Bonkers, I can post my review article on Jonathan Coe'e Midland England from the current Liberator.

These two photographs of Bridgnorth appear with it in the magazine, albeit it in black and white.

Middle England
Jonathan Coe
Viking, 2018, £16.99

I was taking a short holiday at the Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury and planning my days out – Ludlow or Much Wenlock? Ironbridge or Bishop’s Castle? – when the August 2011 riots broke out. The news of arson, looting and murder in London, Birmingham and Leicester came from a completely different country, but it is a country we are all living in today.

Perhaps the feeling that the times are out of joint and the certainties you grew up with no longer apply is an inevitable accompaniment of growing older, but English society and English politics have changed to an extraordinary degree in the last 10 years. It is that change and that sense of middle-aged disconnection that are the subject of Jonathan Coe’s new novel.

Middle England is the slightly unexpected sequel to The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle, and deals with the struggles of some of the cast of those novels living through the run up to and aftermath of the referendum on British membership of the European Union. The action of the novel takes place between April 2010 and September 2018, and I can be so precise because the action dated to a month and year throughout.

It finds Benjamin Trotter, the unheroic hero of the trilogy, living in a converted mill house on the banks of the Severn north of Shrewsbury. The towns and villages he passes through on the drive to or from his widowed father’s house – Bridgnorth, Alveley, Quatt, Much Wenlock and Cressage – are an incantation that runs through the book.

Coe means business here, which threatened to be disappointing to someone who enjoys his more fantastic register, as displayed most famously in What A Carve Up!, but Middle England is a funny book as well as a serious one.  Here is the Conservative spin doctor Nigel, a new character introduced in this book, who is presented throughout as a laidback admirer of Cameron. Until:
“Cameron,” said Nigel, his face twisting. “What a twat. What a grade-one, first-class, copper-bottomed arsehole. Sitting in his fucking shed writing his memoirs. Look at the mess he’s left behind. Everyone at each other’s throats. Foreigners being shouted at in the street. Being attacked on the bus and told to go back where they came from. Anyone who doesn’t toe the line being called traitors and enemies of the people. Cameron broke the country, Doug. He broke the country and ran away!”
Coe is fair to his characters – come to that, the paragraph above is entirely fair to David Cameron. So, while Benjamin’s father is not above the odd racist remark, his confusion when he finds that the Longbridge car factory is no longer there has the nobility of a Lear:
“Whatever happened to all that? It was bad enough when I was working here. Every man for himself, survival of the fittest, I’m all right Jack. That’s what was starting to take over. But now it’s even worse . . . fancy clothes and Prosecco bars and bloody . . . packets of salad. We’ve gone soft, that’s the problem. No wonder the rest of the world’s laughing at us.
It wasn’t laughing at us, of course, though it may be now.

What this episode does bring out is the way that support for Brexit was closely aligned with a distrust of the ethics and outward appearances of social liberalism. A review of the novel for Politics Means Politics by Chris Grey makes the same point, noting how, in the experience of many people, that liberalism too often consists in Them telling you what you cannot do:
In Middle England, this theme first appears when Sophie has to attend a speed awareness course … at which she meets one of the instructors, Ian, whom she subsequently marries. Amongst those attending, there is a palpable air of “righteous indignation” at being “picked on” so that the room “smelled of victimhood”.
In the middle of this national slide over the cliff came a bright spot: the 2012 London Olympics and their opening ceremony in particular. Thanks to Coe’s enthusiasm for dates, I can tell you it took place on Friday 27 July 2012.

The ceremony was as good as everyone said at the time, presenting a vision of Britain that was liberal, inclusive and true to its history. It was all the better for not trying to improve its audience, as the planners of the Millennium Dome had done under Blair. Then, one commentator suggested the Work Zone resembled nothing so much as a giant restart interview. Whatever that ceremony’s virtues, however, they have vanished without trace.

The closest parallel to this brief flourishing of a liberal Britain is the Festival of Britain in 1951. In a famous essay published a dozen years later, Michael Frayn wrote:
Festival Britain was the Britain of the radical middle-classes, the do-gooders; the readers of the News Chronicle, the Guardian, and the Observer; the signers of petitions; the backbone of the BBC. In short, the Herbivores, or gentle ruminants, who look out from the lush pastures which are their natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate creatures, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass.
And in making the Festival they earned the contempt of the Carnivores - the readers of the Daily Express; the Evelyn Waughs; the cast of the Directory of Directors - the members of the upper- and middle-classes who believe that if God had not wished them to prey on all smaller and weaker creatures without scruple he would not have made them as they are.
And the Carnivores soon had their revenge. By the autumn of 1951 their political wing, the Conservative Party, was back in power and Churchill ordered the Festival’s South Bank site to be cleared.

For Carnivores and Herbivores then, read Leave and Remain today. Perhaps Brexit has only brought into prominence a divide that has always been there, yet the impossibility of communication between political tribes and generations is one of the themes of Middle England and an urgent and important one at that. It is lent a sad irony by the way its characters’ lives are stuffed with phones, computers and all the technology for it they could ever need.

While Coe’s litany of Shropshire place names –  Bridgnorth, Alveley, Quatt, Much Wenlock and Cressage – chime with my August 2011 in the county, that month’s riots were not the first indication that the times were out of joint. I would now point to the patient queues I saw waiting to withdraw their savings from the local branch of Northern Rock during the 2007 Liberal Democrat Conference. Which suggests it is the credit crunch that lies at the root of our ills and that the vote for Brexit was only a symptom of the malady.

There will be other fictional takes on the extraordinary period through which we are living, but I doubt if many will combine seriousness of purpose with humour in the way that Coe does in Middle England. Sam Leith in the Guardian described it as “ great big Centrist Dad of a novel” and, to writers and reviewers of a certain age, that can be nothing but a compliment.

When the Conservatives insisted on Churchill's demotion before they would join a wartime coalition

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Yesterday we were debating Theresa May's habit of scraping the mould of the top of a jar of jam and then using it.

Today it is "Winston Churchill: Hero or villain?"

For what it is worth, I suspect May is right. We are too squeamish about food these days.

And Churchill? He was in many ways a flawed character, but I am glad he was there in 1940. Without him, it is unlikely that Nazism would have been destroyed.

Churchill, of course, was a Liberal for a while and at the forefront of the Asquith government's social reforms.

Those Conservatives who have been claiming a monopoly on him today should remember what happened in 1915, when Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and Asquith wanted a coalition government to prosecute the war:
A new coalition was needed to bolster confidence. But the Conservatives were deeply hostile to Churchill and demanded his resignation. Backed into a corner, Asquith had no choice but to agree, and on the 15 November the resignation was confirmed. 
Demoted to the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the hurt and demoralised Winston resigned from the government altogether and left for the Western Front.
Talking of Conservatives who do not understand Churchill, here is Richard Evans' magisterial demolition of Boris Johnson's biography of the great man.

Daniel Kawczynski climbs down over Marshall Aid tweet

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As ever, the Shropshire Star is first with the news:
Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski has apologised and admitted he was incorrect in stating that Great Britain did not receive aid under the Marshall Plan after the Second World War.
The paper goes on to quote him:
"It has been pointed out to me by eminent academics/professors and senior researchers in the House of Commons Library that Britain did receive aid under the Marshall Plan. 
"The line in my tweet which stated that Britain did not benefit was therefore inaccurate.
"I would like to apologise for putting this inaccurate sentence within my tweet."
If you are getting the sense that this is a heavily qualified apology, you are right.

Kawczynski continues:
My own personal conviction however remains that the massive loans that Britain had to take out during the war from America outweighed the benefits of the aid received. 
"On December 31, 2006, Britain made a final payment of about $83m (£45.5m) and thereby discharged the last of its war loans from the US. By the end of Second World War Britain had amassed an immense debt of £21 billion. 
"I have asked the House of Commons Library for their assessment of what the £21 billion from that era is in today’s money."
So Kawczynski won't change. His sense of victimhood will remain and find a different grievance to attach itself to. Which is odd in someone born in 1972.

Gemma Collins' Dancing on Ice fall 'caused by RAF ghosts from Second World War'

The Evening Standard flies off with our Headline
 of the Day Award. Wizard.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Leicester end of the Ivanhoe Line

It does not show the city's best side, but this footage was taken from the cab of a locomotive traversing the start of the freight-only line from Leicester to Burton upon Trent - the Ivanhoe Line.

It is notable how much derelict railway land there is alongside it.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The islanders of Rutland Water

And so our week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close with the old boy defending the tribes of the Upper Welland Valley against some shameful stereotyping.


Guidebooks advise tourists to give the islands on Rutland Water a wide berth lest they be eaten. I am no keener on being boiled in a pot while a bouquet garni floats past my nose than the next man, or indeed woman, but I must say I have always found the inhabitants good fellows In Their Own Way.

Some authorities claim they are related to the primitive tribes of the Upper Welland Valley, but from my conversations with them on committee room practice and the LBW law, I would say their beliefs have more in common with those of the Church of Rutland.

Even so, I am concerned to hear over sherry after Divine Service at St Asquith’s that the Revd Hughes’s curate Farron is determined to go on a mission to these islands. The last thing we want at this time of year is to have to defend a by-election.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

There is a mosque in Craven Arms

There is an Orthodox monastery beneath the Stiperstones. There is a Buddhist retreat in White Grit.

Now, it transpires, there is a mosque in Craven Arms.

Its imam, Sohayb Peerbhai, told the Shropshire Star:
"We serve a large portion of the Shropshire hills. We have members of our community that come from Church Stretton, Ludlow, Knighton, Clee Hill, Cleobury Mortimer and Hereford, as there’s no mosque in Hereford."

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Tyburn: Walking one of London's lost rivers

Our guide is John Rogers, who also showed us The Walbrook.

The Tyburn Angling Society was included in an early Six of the Best on this blog.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Stilton Riots of 1819

When it comes to ABBA, I realised not long ago that the one I had always though was Benny was Bjorn. And vice versa.

If this court case had gone ahead, Lord Bonkers would have got to know them better than I did.


I still maintain that my great grandfather was fully justified in his decision to call out the militia to quell the Stilton Riots of 1819, but my sympathies are instinctively with those campaigning to widen the franchise. Why, I sat through Ken Loach’s Peterloo the other day, even though I generally find his stuff Rather Hard Work.

It happens that in the early 1970s that I myself wrote a musical called Peterloo! – I added the exclamation mark having noticed the success of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! some years before.

My show, it has to be admitted, was not a great success, but I was proud of its theme song. Imagine my fury when I travelled to Brighton to attend the Eurovision Song Contest a year or two later, only to find that song had been stolen by a bunch of Swedes. They tried to hide their plagiarism by changing its title to Waterloo, but I was not fooled for a moment.

I consulted my solicitors, but eventually decided not to pursue an action.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Little support for Tory plan to scrap Leicestershire's district councils

Nick Rushton, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, has a dream. He wants to abolish all the county's district councils and run everything from County Hall in Glenfield.

But what do the people of the county think of the idea?

Not much, judging by a survey conducted by Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, one of the authorities that Rushton wants to scrap.

Out of the 477 responses received, 424 opposed Rushton's idea. Another plan, which would see two councils covering the whole country, was also decisively rejected.

Oadby and Wigston, which has been run by the Liberal Democrats since 1991, is entitled to take this as a vote of confidence.

But I am pleased at the vote for another reason.

If, when I joined the Liberal Party 40 years ago,  you had asked me why I did not support Labour, I suspect I would have said something about it believing too much in centralisation and the idea that big is beautiful.

Yet, in the years since them, those attitudes have been every bit as much typical of the Conservative Party. I am still enough of a Liberal to be glad when they are rejected by voters.

Monday, February 11, 2019

John Bercow on Crackerjack

The best news in today's BBC announcement about children's television was that The Demon Headmaster is to be remade with a super head of an academy school as the villain.

But the media was more interested in the reappearance of Crackerjack after 35 years.

I don't suppose it will match the glory days of Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze, but at least young people will know how to respond when you say "Crackerjack".

And today's publicity has reminded me of the existence of this clip from the programme.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Clegg's new job

Hang on in there everybody. The end of the week is in sight.


Who should I bump into in London today but our own Nick Clegg? Curious to know what he is doing with himself these days, I treat him to lunch at one of my clubs.

He turns out to be full of his new job, telling me how Satan’s chief operating officer Mephistopheles called him while he was walking in the Alps last summer and invited him to fly to Hell to meet Satan himself. "I said to them, if you're prepared to let me into the inner circle, in the black box, and give me real authority, then I'm interested."

Clegg describes Satan to me as "a shy guy" and "thoughtful", before adding: "The thing that persuaded me to do it is Satan and  Mephistopheles asking the right questions for the right reasons – about things like the barrier between free speech and prohibited content, wellbeing of children, integrity of elections, AI and giving people control over their data."

Let us put churlish thoughts aside and hope that Clegg can do for Satan what he did for the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Dominic Shellard: The man from De Montfort says goodbye

Absolute scenes at Leicester's other university.

On Friday the Leicester Mercury that Sir Ian Blatchford, the chair of De Montfort University's board of governors, resigned back in November.

Today it was announced that Dominic Shellard, the university's vice chancellor had left his £350,000-a-year post.

And then it was revealed that The Office for Students is investigating "regulatory matters" at De Montfort.

This one, if local rumour is anything to go by, will run and run.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Northampton St. John's Street station from above in 1934

The photographs in the Britain from Above collection are great if you are hunting for long-vanished railway stations.

Have a look at the bottom of this 1934 short of Northampton town centre and you will see a railway station.

It is Northampton St. John's Street:
The station was a large elegant building of a light sandy-coloured limestone was constructed above street level on red brick arches with retaining walls which carried the line above Cattle Market Road as it meandered southwards past Northampton Cattle Market and then across the River Nene. 
An imposing train shed covered the central part of the two platforms. 
Northampton St. John's Street was the northern terminus of the Midland Railway's line from Bedford between 1872 and 1939.

It was closed as a cost-cutting measure by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and its services were diverted services to Northampton Castle, which is the town's station that remains open today.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Delivering Focus by drone near Gatwick

Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that yesterday's diary entry came from Thursday and today comes from Wednesday.

A mistake on my part? Not at all.

Though most villages in Rutland now use the Gregorian calendar, it is a local version that can vary in important respects from the calendar used in the rest of the world. 

This is but one example: Lord Bonkers has more than once been involved in an unfortunate confusion of dates with HM Revenue & Customs arising from the same cause.


If we Liberals are to return to government before we grow much older, it behoves us to make full use of today’s modern technology. Thus it is that you find me in Sussex for the maiden flight of the Bonkers Patent Delivery Drone.

If all goes well, it will fly from door to door, dropping off the latest issue of Focus. More than that, if anyone is in the habit of refusing delivery, it will lie in wait behind the hedge until he goes out. Why, it could be the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus of the 21st century!

When I discovered that the village I had chosen for this trial lies close to Gatwick Airport, I feared that the coming and going of jets would turn flying my new invention into something of a challenge. I can report, however, that the skies have been empty for some hours now, which has made things much easier than I had expected.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Mr Bloe: Groovin` with Mr Bloe

Isn't this great? Groovin' with Mr Blue reached number 2 in the UK singles chart in the summer of 1970, but I have no memory of it.

The track has a complicated history, as explained by Wikipedia. It was originally a B side recorded by the American band Wind. The BBC once played the wrong side and a British producer heard it and wanted to release it as a single over here.

He could not get the rights, so he recruited a band of session players to record a new version. Despite the fact that they included Elton John on piano, he was not happy with the result and tried again. That second British version is the one here - there's more about this complicated history on The One and Only.

The harmonica was played by Harry Pitch, who coached John Lennon before the Beatles recorded Love Me Do and later played the theme tunes to both Shoestring and Last of the Summer Wine.

Wikipedia says:
The lack of an obvious performer made the recording mysterious and it became a favourite of Morrissey who was then 11 years old.
And you can hear it was an influence on The Housemartins' The Mighty Ship. someone should write a book on the Northernness of Northern Soul.

An Oundle bus stop

Looking for my photograph of Oundle's North Bridge the other day, I also came across this one of a bus stop in the town.

Meanwhile, councils are warning that thousands of bus routes are at risk of being scrapped because of the cost of the free bus pass scheme. 

But that is only a problem because of the reduction in government funding of local authorities.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Saucy Baroness Scott

With the cancellation of Seaborne Freight's contract yesterday, shares in Rutland Ferries will probably rise further when the Oakham Exchange opens on Monday morning. Did the old boy know something we didn't?


A blowy day on Rutland Water as I join the crowds thronging Oakham Quay to watch the day’s ferry sail for the Hook of Holland. The Empress of Rutland is certainly a fine vessel, and it happens that my majority shareholding in Rutland Ferries has proved something of a goldmine of late.

I had a phone call from one Grayling (he managed to cut himself off twice during our conversation and sounded as though he had got his head stuck in the wastepaper basket at one point) asking if I had any ferries to spare. I told him I had, partly to stop him crying and partly because of the extraordinary sum he dropped into our conversation.

If I am honest, the Saucy Baroness Scott has been in dry dock for a couple of years, while the First Lady Bonkers has been grounded on the mudflats beyond the harbour bar for longer than that. Still, I did not get the impression that this Grayling is the sort who investigates the goods he buys too closely.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

A blue plaque for Richard Jefferies at Coate

Good news from the Swindon Advertiser:
A blue plaque to pay tribute to the Swindon-born poet Richard Jefferies is being planned for 2019. 
The museum and place where the poet was born, which was recently re-thatched by Swindon Borough Council costing £30,000, may soon have a new addition to its walls.
They may have said  it twice, but Jefferies was not a poet.

He is most celebrated as a nature essayist, but I am more interested in his Bevis, which was a huge influence on the holiday adventure genre of children's books, and After London, which was an early work of post-apocalyptic science fiction.

Anyway, my photograph shows the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate in Swindon.

Laughing women plaster sanitary towels over car in bizarre late night incident

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, Teesside Live wins Headline of the Day.

Friday, February 08, 2019

A video in support of the reopening of the Ivanhoe Line

The campaign to reopen this line exists as a Facebook group, but it is a closed one. I will never understand Facebook.

Anyway, this freight-only line was meant to be reopened to passengers with plenty of intermediate stations in the 1990s, but the funding never materialised.

Another page on the line tells us that it is the longest freight-only line in the country and that Coalville is one of the largest towns in the country with no railway station.

Enjoy the video, though it is noticeable that there are more trees after you leave the National Forest.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Curled up with the Wise Woman of Wing

The Library at Bonkers Hall is a place of wonder, with many volumes unknown anywhere else. And, incidentally, there really was a Wise Woman of Wing.


What better, on a cold winter’s day, than curling up by the Library fire with a good book? My choice today is the new Almanac from the Wise Woman of Wing; I buy it for its herb lore and racing tips.

I turn eagerly to its predictions for 2019 to see how this Brexit hoo-hah will turn out, but find that foreseeing this is beyond even her powers.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week...

Tory UFO expert wants to be in charge of Leicestershire's police

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This blog used to have great fun with Rupert Matthews, the wannabee Tory MEP who believed that "the evidence for UFOs and for the humanoid creatures linked to them is pretty compelling".

In July 2017 he finally got his wish and things went quiet.

But he will soon need a new job, hence this report in the Leicester Mercury:
Three Conservatives are in the running to try to win back the seat of Leicestershire police and crime commissioner from Labour. 
The next PCC election will be held in May 2020 and the Tories are due to select their candidate next month. 
Deputy leader of Melton Borough Council Leigh Higgins, East Midlands MEP Rupert Matthews, and Leicestershire County Council cabinet member Blake Pain have been shortlisted for the candidacy.
It makes you wonder what the long list looked like.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Remembering Sir Paddy Ashplant

Look, I'm sorry but I can't put this off any longer. The February issue of Liberator is out, which means it is time to spend another week with Lord Bonkers. See you on the other side.


The obituaries will tell you how Sir Paddy Ashplant fused the community politics promoted by the Association of Liberal Councillors with his expertise in jungle warfare to win a string of by-elections and raise the Liberal Democrats from the ruins of Steel’s grand strategy.

What they will not tell you is how my domestic staff loved his visits (Cook would frequently announced that he made her “come over all unnecessary”); how he stood his round in the Bonkers’ Arms and entertained the locals with his favourite joke; how he allowed the Well-Behaved Orphans to question him for hours about his time in the Special Boat Service (they were always particularly interested in the escape techniques he had been taught lest he be captured by the enemy).

We know that because such have been there will be such again, though not for us. I fear his passing cast something of a pall over Christmas here at the Hall, but we must carry on the fight for Liberalism because it is What He Would Have Wanted.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Six of the Best 849

Populists like to blame elites, but from Israel to Britain to the United States their crusade against hardworking civil servants is undermining the foundations of democracy, argues Shalom Lipner.

A creeping trend of anti-immigrant educational material is worming its way into the curriculum, portraying EU migrants as outsiders and criminals, says Tanja Bueltmann,

Gary Younge is right to be critical of Liam Neeson: "Neeson is angry and upset and decides to invest his rage in the collective punishment of a group of people based on the colour of their skin. It is perhaps now clearer to some why the early 21st century needed a movement called Black Lives Matter."

Simon Sherry and Martin M. Smith discuss what they learnt from their study of perfectionism: "This epidemic of perfectionism in modern western societies is a serious, even deadly, problem. Perfectionism is robustly linked in the research to anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders and suicide."

Writing for the Conservative site Bright Blue, Tom Chapman defends the 1998 Human Right Act,

Tom Holland on what he learnt from Ladybird Books and L. du Garde Peach.

The season FA Cup ties were played over two legs

Embed from Getty Images

Our Trivial Fact of the Day comes from Brian Glanville's obituary of Arthur Turner, who played for Charlton in the 1946 final against Derby County but never played for them in the league.

Glanville writes:
As it was too soon to resurrect a proper league programme for 1945-46, the main focus of that first postwar season fell on the FA Cup, with ties extended into two-legged affairs to spin out the excitement.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Children born to black GIs and British women in World War II

Professor Lucy Bland, in an inaugural lecture at Anglia Ruskin University, looks at a fascinating episode in Britain's social and racial history.

Money found for repairs to Oundle's North Bridge

Northamptonshire has been subject to a Conservative double whammy of central government cuts and local mismanagement.

So it is a relief to hear that the Department of Transport has allocated £1.3m to repairing the North Bridge over the Nene at Oundle.

At present, I am told, the Corby bus tales passengers on "a crazy magical mystery bus tour" around the town, adding 20 minutes to the journey.

Should you find yourself at the North Bridge, I can recommend the Nene Valley Brewery and the Tap and Kitchen.

The new Liberator is out - become a subscriber

The new Liberator is with subscribers and carries a selection of tributes to Paddy Ashdown

You can find a couple of articles from it - one by Tony Greaves and another giving views of Brexit Britain from abroad - on the magazine's website.

I have contributed an article-length review of Jonathan Coe's Middle England and, of course, Lord Bonkers has sent in his latest diary.

If you turn to Radical Bulletin, the magazine's gossip and inside news section, you will read about the runners and riders to succeed Sal Brinton as party president.

Then there's Your Liberal Britain's decision to uncouple itself from the party and the attempts to thwart openness about what is discussed at Federal Board.

Can you afford to miss out on all this? Subscribe to Liberator.

York couple launch Million Dollar Vegan campaign to turn Pope vegan

Well done to The Press, winners of our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

George Smiley in West Bridgford

This is Lady Bay Bridge over the Trent. You can find it a little way downstream of Trent Bridge cricket ground.

It used to be a railway bridge, carrying trains on the Midland's fast route from St Pancras to Nottingham, which ran via Kettering, Corby, Oakham and Melton Mowbray. The last train crossed it in 1968.

In the early 1980s the bridge was converted to carry road traffic, but before that happened it starred in a celebrated television drama.

At the end of John le Carré's Smiley's People, the Soviet spymaster Karla, disguised as a labourer, defects to the West using a bridge that connect East and West Berlin.

The BBC's 1982 television was filmed on location across Europe, but this climactic scene was shot in Nottinghamshire on the Lady Bay Bridge.

You can see its finest hour in the clip below.

Six of the Best 848

The Liberal Democrats must be at the forefront of a British Green New Deal, argues Daniel Willis.

"The most frightening examples were those that used violent language like “traitor” and “sabotage”, because they contribute to the normalising of that kind of discourse that led to Jo Cox’s death." Penny Andrewes looks at online memes attacking Yvette Cooper.

Hari Kunzru does not spare us: "Britain is a country under self-inflicted stress, gripped by fear of the unknown. Remainers and Leavers - two tribes that have taken on the mythic stature of Roundheads and Cavaliers in a second civil war - are clinging together like drowning swimmers, each side convinced that the other is provoking an epochal disaster, neither side understanding why the other won’t submit to its version of reason and allow itself to be guided back to the surface."

Margaret Talbot says Donald Trump's deep unfamiliarity with the lives of working Americans may create opportunities for the Democrats.

"I can’t believe I’m out and about. Somewhere along the way, I lost half my colon and gained a huge respect for the expertise that has saved my life. I feel fragile and as ever, the Long Mynd is my local cure." Andrew Fusek Peters, who.takes wonderful photographs of the Shropshire Hills, writes about being diagnosed with cancer.

Zachary Snowdon Smith shows how the moves always get chess wrong.

Leicester mural commemorating Claudio Ranieri removed

The Leicester Mercury reports:
Almost three years after Leicester City's momentous Premier League win in 2016, a mural which was put up to celebrate the win has been taken down. 
The image on the corner of Bath Lane, which depicts ex-LCFC manager Claudio Ranieri, was removed in sections this morning.
It happens I was in that part of town last weekend and photographed the mural.

Lib Dems fight the latest cuts to Market Harborough's buses

Today's Leicester Mercury reports:
Reductions to Arriva's X3 service between Market Harborough and Leicester will mean that for six hours in the middle of the day no buses will drop off or pick people up from the Southern Estate stop going in or out of Leicester. 
Changes to the timetable will see buses into the city centre calling at the Southern Estate stop at 5.47, 6.57, 8.24, 9.37 and 10.02. There will then be no buses until 15.59. There is then almost a two-and-a-half hour gap before the last bus into Leicester leaves the stop at 18.28.
The result is that stops which currently see 26 buses calling every weekday with be left with just seven.

My old friend Phil Knowles, leader of the opposition Lib Dem group on Harborough District Council, is quoted by the Mercury:
"There are some stops that for most of the day will not have any kind of service. 
"This isn’t a commercial issue, it’s a social one. 
"Residents are deeply worried about this, we’ve had a number of concerns about bus services lately and this has come out of the blue, it was completely unexpected. 
"On top of this there are question marks hanging over bus services provided by County Hall which also won’t help us here in a rural market town."
The service around the Southern Estate used to be provided by the Kettering bus and would probably be best provided by a town service using a much smaller vehicle. But that is not what we are being offered.

These are Jeremy Corbyn's real views on the European Union

I blogged last week:
Jeremy Corbyn is, as he has always been, opposed to British membership of the European Union.
If you doubted me, have a look at the video above.

It's not just that Corbyn clearly has no time for the EU: it's that his conspiracist views have more in common with those of Nigel Farage than they do with the Labour's mainstream or with the liberally minded young voters who turned to him at the last election.

I don't blame them for being deceived. As I wrote in the same post, you have to be pushing 60 to remember when the Labour left was last a force.

I do blame Corbyn for deceiving them.

Monday, February 04, 2019

National Festival and Rally of Boats at Market Harborough, 1950

The Inland Waterways Association held its first national rally at Market Harborough in 1950.

This film was shot there and includes some nice shots of the canal basin.

Then the action moves on to Foxton and some unidentified locations.

You may also be interested in film of a boat making its way to the rally from Oxford.

Suspending Jason Holder is the latest move in the authorities' war on test cricket

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On Saturday the West Indie beat England in little more than two days.

On Sunday it was announced that their captain Jason Holder would be suspended for the third and final test in the series because of the team's slow over rate.

This is not a joke.

Holder and his rejuvenation of the West Indies team is about the best news in cricket at the moment, so I take this ban as the latest move in the authorities' campaign to destroy test cricket.

In the words of the saintly Vic Marks:
In grim confirmation that the world is indeed prey to nitpicking jobsworths capable only of reading the manual rather than delivering commonsense West Indies’ captain, Jason Holder, has been suspended from the last Test in St Lucia because of his side’s slow over rate in the Antigua Test, which finished with more than two days to spare. This is a cruel and ridiculous corollary to a famous victory, which provokes a mixture of sympathy and disbelief.
The obsession with the over rate has infected Test Match Special to such an extent that the programme sometimes becomes intolerable. Too many of its team give the impression that they share Dave Podmore's view that the less time you spend hanging round cricket grounds the better.

Sure, they would like knock off a six sharp, but there are worse ways of earning a living,

When I tweeted an observation along this replies as a reply to Jonathan Agnew, he quote tweeted me t his followers with an incredulous "Really??"

Cricket fans are nice people and I have only had to block one person as a result. And I have received support for my views.

There are plenty who do care about the over rate, but I get the impression that their real complaint is that it is now so expensive to go to a test match in England.

I would support moves to limit the number of minor interruptions to play, but (as Vic Marks once pointed out) days in which all the overs are bowled by six generally seem to involve 240 runs being scored for the loss of three wickets and be instantly forgettable.

The most important point is that made by Tony Crozier back in the 1980s: you would rather watch 15 overs an hour of Holding and Marshall than 18 overs of medium pace.

I doubt there were many West Indies fans in Antigua who cared what the over rate was.

Shropshire Star under attack for its coverage of Daniel Kawczynski

My favourite newspaper has been getting it in the neck.

The Shropshire Star's report on Daniel Kawcynski's lie about Marshall Aid has been attacked on Twitter all day for its failure to say that the MP was wrong.

That report has been updated at least once today and now contains both a quote from a history lecturer contradicting Kawczynski and a link to the interview where he put the phone down rather than defend himself.

But it's all still a bit BBC - reporting the row rather than stating the truth and balancing the views of an expert with those of an idiot.

Come on Shropshire Star, you are better than this.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A walk down the ruins of Nottingham's Long Stairs

Read more about the city's lost stairways in a Nottingham Post article.

Daniel Kawczynski runs away when questioned about his lie

Wikipedia turns us all into experts, so I can reveal that Britain was the greatest beneficiary of the US Marshall Aid programme that helped reconstruct Europe after the second world war.

Which makes this tweet from Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, troubling:
You could at first have put it down to ignorance, but Kawczynski has had his error pointed out to him by numerous people and declined to delete or qualify his tweet.

And when challenged over it by a Talk Radio presenter he first tried to change the subject and then put the phone down. The clip is at the top of this post.

Which means we have to regard Kawczynski's tweet as a deliberate lie and one intended to stir up hostility against other European democracies. Troubling indeed.

Prince Buster: Madness

Prince Buster's real name, rather wonderfully, was Cecil Bustamente Campbell.

He had an enormous influence on the development of ska, rocksteady and reggae in Jamaica, and those styles are now part of the global musical palate.

The British band Madness took its name from this band and their first single was a tribute to Prince Buster with a cover of this on the B-side.

They later had a hit with another of his songs: One Step Beyond.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Stourpaine and Durweston Halt in 1982

Stourpaine and Durweston Halt stood on the Somerset and Dorset main line between Blandford Forum and Shillingstone.

It opened in 1928 and closed in 1956, a decade before the whole line went.

I took these photographs of its remains in the summer of 1982.

Paddy Ashdown in MI6

While paying tribute to his friend Paddy Ashdown for the New European, Denis MacShane lets slip more detail than I have hitherto seen in a mainstream outlet about the former Lib Dem leader's role in MI6:
Ashdown was a former Royal Marine officer with a fair bit of the clipped voice captain in his manner, as well as a secret addiction to smoking. After a tour in Northern Ireland he left the army to work for MI6 and was the link-man between the UK and the Swiss for the highly secret cold war Operation Gladio. This set up arms and supplies caches all over Western Europe ready to be activated if the Red Army swarmed in, as many feared between 1950 and 1990.
Keep it under your hat.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lembit Opik's robots get stuck in the snow

A reader forwarded me this tweet, adding some remarkable information about the company whose robots these are. (The photo, incidentally, is by Mickila Thomasina Travis.)

You see, they are owned by Starship Technologies of Milton Keynes. And who is that company's head of public affairs (UK)?

Step forward the former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik.

Well, he is good at getting publicity, even if he has at times threatened to test the aphorism that there is no such thing as bad publicity to destruction.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Pagan London 1: Old and New Pagans

A new series from Londonist. Looks promising.

British child migrants sent to Australia offered £20,000 compensation

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It does not sound a fortune, but more vindication for the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse comes in the shape of this Guardian report:
Child migrants from Britain sent thousands of miles from home to Australia in what was described as a "misguided" programme are to be given £20,000 (A$36,000) in compensation by the British government. 
Under the programme, more than 130,000 children were sent to a "better life" in former British colonies, mainly Australia and Canada, from the 1920s to the 1970s. 
The children, aged between three and 14, often faced a life of servitude and hard labour in foster homes. The majority came from deprived backgrounds and were already in some form of social or charitable care. Many ended up on remote farms, or in state-run orphanages and church-run institutions. 
They were often separated from siblings and some were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

Six of the Best 847

What are the polls telling us about a snap election? Public Policy and the Past has some answers.

Tom Arms examines the dangers of "anti-Elite" politics.

"Stop and search is deeply toxic, especially when people feel that they are being stopped because of their class or ethnicity. Our research suggests that it is a critical part of the social process whereby riots occur. Unless we stop seeing stop and search as a solution rather than part of the problem, they will happen again." The psychologist John Drury says current policies are storing up trouble.

"I often joke that out of all the councillors on Basildon Borough Council, I have been picked up the most by the police. This is not because I have committed any crime, but because when I was in mental health crisis, the police were the only people who cared." Andrew Gordon tells his story.

"Spat out of the far end of Absolute Beginners, my heart was beating fast. I could still see the colours, hear the beat, and the roar of the Vespa. I felt 20 again. I wanted to go out on to the streets and do something to make things better." Ray Newman reads Colin MacInnes’s 1959 novel.

Tim Worthington on the day Chris Morris's Blue Jam was taken off air.