Friday, January 15, 2021

Can there be a 70 Up without Michael Apted?

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I remember an English lesson in the lower sixth when we had all watched 21 Up the evening before. The lesson was, for some reason, taken by the head of department rather than our usual teacher, and we spent all of it talking about the programme. Thanks to the wonder of Wikipedia I can date it to 10 May 1977.

Michael Apted, the man behind the Up programmes, died last week. Beginning with 7 Up in 1963, this series followed a series of people through their lives. It may have begun as an exercise in sociology, but it has turned into something extraordinary. What engaged me intellectually when I was 17 can now move me to tears because of the themes of promise, poor health and redemption that have developed.

A New York Times article asks if there can be a 70 Up without Apted. We all hope there can be - "70 and 7 do have a good symmetry," as one of his team says - but the article brings home that if the participants in the Up programmes have grown old then the team that made them has grown even older.

One of them, we are told, remembers:

“Every seven years we’d get a new commissioner and a new executive producer, and they all come into the program thinking they’re going to make some change. Michael saw them all off,” at first politely and then with a colourful two-word phrase.

Lakenheath: The least-used station in Suffolk

Superintendent: It's a country station, rather off the beaten track.

Will Hay: Oh, I don't mind, as long as it's near the railway.

Time for another of these engaging videos. Lakenheath station, Wikipedia tells us, lies some three miles north of the village and is not within convenient walking distance of any sizeable population. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rudolf Lehmann was Liberal MP for Harborough 1906-10

The opening of Penelope Fitzgerald's review of a 1998 biography of John Lehmann provides a potted biography of his father Rudolf:

The first volume of John Lehmann’s autobiography, published in 1955, starts:

"When I try to remember where my education in poetry began, the first image that comes to mind is that of my father’s library at the old family home of Fieldhead on the Thames. It is an autumn or winter evening after tea, for James the butler has been in to draw the blinds and close the curtains, and my father is reading under a green-shaded lamp."

He has said a good deal already – the little boy who wants to be like his father, the sheltered child who doesn’t need to know the time or even the season because James, the always reliable butler, deals with that, the illusion of a dedication to poetry. Adrian Wright, in this new biography, refers several times to Lehmann’s half-commitment (in spite of his energy) to the professional life he chose. Fieldhead was the magic enclosure to which, as an adult, he looked back, wishing that it might have been possible to sit there, watching and listening, all his life.

He came of a German-Jewish family, musical, hospitable, successful in business. His grandfather ended up in Scotland, by way of Huddersfield. His father, who built Field-head, was called to the Bar, edited the Daily News, and was returned as Liberal MP for Market Harborough. He was a dedicated rowing coach, and wrote quantities of light verse, often about rowing, for Punch. He married Alice Davis, a strong-minded New Englander, twenty years younger than himself. Their family consisted of three girls – Helen, the indulged Rosamond, Beatrix – and, at long last, the boy John.

Lehmann held Harborough for the Liberals in the landslide election of 1906 and held it until he stood down at the second election in 1910.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Six of the Best 989

Campaigners are urging the government to give poor families cash and not food vouchers, reports Vincent Wood.

"Trump disguised what he was doing by operating in plain sight, talking openly about his intent. He normalized his actions so people would accept them. I’ve been studying authoritarian regimes for three decades, and I know the signs of a coup when I see them." Fiona Hill believes in calling Trump's coup a coup.

Simon Wilson argues that it is not worth trying to recycle plastics.

Karen Liebreich on the othering of cyclists: "For some years people on bikes have been perceived as members of a different, lesser species, not deserving of the basic consideration or courtesy one would usually extend to an equal."

"In the early 1970s British television began to spread the idea that accessing and expressing your feelings was a good thing. Most documentaries still just observed people - or used them to make political or social points. But a number of factual programmes became channels for the new psychotherapeutic ideas." Adam Curtis offers a history of television and hugging.

John Lewis-Stempel names Richard Jefferies among five things that inspired his book The Running Hare.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lady Sybil Grant and the oldest treehouse in the world

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Lady Sybil Grant,. you may recall, "spent much time in a caravan or up a tree, communicating with her butler through a megaphone".

And this is the tree she spent her time up. It's on the Pitchford Estate in Shropshire and is claimed by them to be the oldest tree house in the world.

There's much more about Lady Sybil, daughter of the Liberal prime minster Lord Roseberry, from Epsom & Ewell History Explorer and on the Pitchford Estate site.

A 1960 film made to promote commercial traffic on the waterways

The blurb on YouTube explains:

This is an edited version of a film made in 1960 to show how British Waterways were upgrading their  broad waterways for more commercial traffic. At that time the container revolution had not really started, but within ten years container ports including inland container ports enabled goods to tranship quickly and without all the handling shown here.

At the heart of the film is a trip up the Trent with nice shots of Newark and a river freight depot at Nottingham.

Monday, January 11, 2021

"Welcome to the Brexit, sir." Remainers knew British drivers' sandwiches would be confiscated but reacted wrongly


The Independent reports:

Border officials have been confiscating sandwiches and other foodstuffs from drivers arriving in the Netherlands from the UK after Brexit, TV footage has revealed.

A Dutch TV clip showed a driver had his ham sandwiches taken away by border officials as he arrived – with one border guard joking: "Welcome to the Brexit, sir."

This development should not have come as a surprise.

In April 2019 The Scotsman warned:

Britons travelling to the EU will no longer be able to carry meat and dairy products with them in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission warned. 

EU Customs Commissioner Pierre Muscovici said the risk of a no-deal Brexit and major disruption was increasing, and said customs checks would "apply to all goods arriving from the UK". 

Tourists would be prevented from carrying British cheeses and meats with them to the continent.

A good point for Remain campaigners to make, you might think, but it didn't turn out that like.

As I blogged at the time:

Almost all the comment on this story I have seen from our side of the debate has been concerned with laughing at people who might want to take British food with them.

Some Remainers have gone on to list all the Continental foods they enjoy in a self-congratulatory way.

I stand by the conclusion to that post:

I am a Liberal. I want to be able to get on a train at St Pancras and take a pork pie anywhere I damn well please.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Introducing Lady Sybil Grant

A footnote in The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy (edited by Hugo Vickers) runs:

Lady Sybil Grant (1879-1955), eccentric daughter of 5th Earl of Roseberry. She was a writer and designed of ceramics. In later life, she spent much time in a caravan or up a tree, communicating with her butler through a megaphone.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Sir John Farr remembered

When we moved to Market Harborough in 1973 its Conservative MP was John Farr, who was to be knighted 11 years later. 

He once toured my school without speaking to a single student (or pupil as we may still have been then).

Sir John died in 1997 and was remembered like this in Chris Mullin's diary, later published as A Walk-On Part:

John Farr, a ruddy-faced knight of the Shires with whom I formed an unlikely alliance over the Birmingham Six, has died. He dropped dead while out grouse shooting, which I am sure he would regard as a good way to go.

I once asked whether his stand on the Birmingham bombings had caused problems with his Conservative colleagues. "Only from the lawyers - and they are all arseholes," he replied.

A difficult year: Lord Bonkers in 2020

Putting my life back in order will be more of an undertaking, but I can at least start returning Liberal England to normality. So let's begin by looking at what Lord Bonkers got up to last year.


The old boy was fully in support of Harry's decision to elope with Meghan Markle:

Congratulations to the Duke of Sussex for making it over the wall and quitting the Royal Family, together with his delightful wife and child.

In my experience his family are a ghastly crew – in my young day it was common knowledge that the Jack the Ripper murders had been committed by Queen Victoria – and he is well shot of them.


By now the coronavirus was affecting life on the Bonkers Hall Estate:

Meadowcroft has taken this damned virus badly, locking himself in his potting shed and  morning, noon and night. You may very well feel he is Going A Bit Far, but he is determined not to pass the virus on to his beloved geraniums. As I gaze out of the window I see Cook pushing slices of cheese on toast under the door. What a fine woman she is!


This month saw some characteristically forthright comments on the leading lights of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition years:
Whenever I questioned their actions, Clegg and Alexander assured me they were making Britain a better place to live. Yet now I find that the former has upped sticks to Seattle and the latter has fled to China. 

You may feel that rather gives the game away.


Lord Bonkers paid tribute to the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross:
Jamie Stone telephones, full of his plans for his new spaceport in Sutherland; no wonder they call him the Wernher von Braun of the Flow Country. 


I made a personal donation to the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved Orphans after publishing an inaccurate post about Sir Nicholas Clegg.


Readers were treated to my employer's recollections of the the Stilton strike of 1919 when the miners came out demanding better pay and Lloyd George sent the troops in:
I recall telling LG at the time that this was Going A Bit Far, but by then he only had ears for his new Conservative friends and the trade with Japan never recovered. Really, I wonder what they teach in school History classes nowadays.


Most scholars now accept the theory that the model for Bonkers Hall is Nevill Holt Hall near Medbourne in Leicestershire. 

So Liberal England was interested in the news that the 17-year-old son of the owner of Nevill Holt has received a garnt of £85,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund.

The lad is "patron" of Nevill Holt Opera, but I concluded that "it does sound more Darren Grimes than Peter Grimes".


Things were getting factitious in Rutland's alternative medicine sector:
Lunch with the High King of the Elves of Rockingham Forest, who tells me of their plans to help during the new lockdown: "We like to think of ourselves as putting the 'elf' into 'welfare'." ...

In the afternoon I call on the Wise Woman of Wing and purchase some of her herbal remedies as a precaution against the virus. "I’m much cheaper than those elves, dearie" she tells me, "and what’s more my shit works."


At the end of the year I took to reprinting Lord Bonkers' thoughts from 30 years ago, as his diaries have been appearing there that long.

Here he is on the 1990 Eastbourne by-election:

I presented myself bright and early at the committee rooms and was asked to drive some pensioners to the polls. A menial task for a man of my experience, you might think, but we Liberals are nothing if not democratic and I went about it with a will.

Fortunately, I had brought with me my collapsible travelling horsewhip and this eased matters considerably. the elderly voters made a terrible fuss and were constantly tripping over each other's Zimmer frames, but I got them all into the booths eventually.

Friday, January 08, 2021

London from the Regent's Canal in 1924

Click on the image above to new a gem on the British Film Institute site.

This 1924 film shows a journey through London along the Regent's Canal from the docks in Limehouse through east London, under Mile End Road, past Whitechapel, Kentish Town, King’s Cross, Camden Lock and London Zoo to Paddington basin.

There are good shots of trams and buses in the streets surrounding the canal too.

Six of the Best 988

Bruno Maçães says the attempted coup in Washington this week is further proof that we live in an age that is collapsing the distinction between fantasy and reality.

"Any story which depends on obtaining documents from US government sources will become impossibly dangerous. No British journalists would dare to handle it, let alone publish it." Writing before the unexpected verdict, Peter Oborne and Millie Cooke considered what the extradition of Julian Assange would have meant for journalism.

William Yang asks if the mass arrest of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong signals the beginning of the end for the territory's civil liberties.

Gillian Darley mourns Coventry's failure to cherish its modernist architecture.

"The jargon made you part of the country’s largest and least violent gang, the drifts of boys of all ages and social classes who gathered at the edge of cuttings, the ends of platforms and the mouths of tunnels: the fellowship of the number and the name." Ian Jack on the history of trainspotting.

"In St Mary’s Church, in the village of Frensham, Surrey, the strangest object can be found. Propped up on a tripod, near the pews, beneath the arched windows, in among all the other fittings you’d expect in an English country church, stands what appears to be a witch’s cauldron." David Castleton tells a strange story.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A memory of the days when you could explore Lubenham station

Lubenham railway station used to stand just to the north of this bridge at the western end of the village. It closed, along with the rest of the Market Harborough to Rugby line, in 1966.

It's all fenced off now, but in 1973 you could wander up what had been the station approach and explore its remains. What I remember most is that one of the platforms looked as though it had just been resurfaced.

And that may well have been done just before the station closed. Matthew Engel, in his history and survey of the state of Britain's railways Eleven Minutes Late, published in 2009, records an incident at another station on this line, Clifton Mill:

The departments of British Railways didn't talk to one another. David St John Thomas noted that some of the maddest acts of all came because the commercial and engineering departments failed to communicate.

"During the 1950s several branch lines were extensively relaid or resignalled shortly before closure. At one station - Clifton Mill [in Warwickshire] - the office was actually being enlarged to take a new stove, which had just arrived, two days before total closure."

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Dickie Attenborough, David Hemmings and Sunday League cricket

I caught the end of Only When I Larf on Talking Pictures TV when I got home from my mother's this evening. Based on a Len Deighton novel about jet-setting confidence tricksters, it starred Richard Attenborough, David Hemmings and Alexandra Stewart.

The theme has not been on television for years, but if the theme tune sounds strangely familiar to people of my vintage, it may be because it was also used to introduce BBC2's coverage of the early years of Sunday League cricket.

Wikipedia adds an interesting note:

Credited to Whistling Jack Smith, the record rose up the UK singles chart. When it was featured on Top of the Pops, actor Coby Wells was used to mime the whistling, and later toured as the public face of Whistling Jack Smith. (Wells' real name was Billy Moeller; a brother of Tommy Moeller, lead vocalist, guitarist, and pianist with Unit 4 + 2).

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Searching for the River Neckinger

John Rogers follows the course of another of London's lost rivers, the Neckinger.

The walk takes him through Elephant and Castle, Borough and Bermondsey to the Thames.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Sunday, January 03, 2021

GUEST POST Carry On up the Brexit

Stuart Whomsley on the psychodrama that was Brexit.

Ten years ago, Europe was not an issue for the vast majority of the people of the UK. The right wing created this psychodrama, created this problem, this crisis that was never there and now see themselves as the ones who have heroically solved it.  This represents a fine piece of manipulation.

However, we can start to consider this issue with the role of New Labour. I remember when Blair was still PM, my saying that though I thought it was the case that the UK needed migrants and they add to our society, the way Blair had overseen such a rapid arrival rate of migrants would stir up racism, as the UK was still a racist society. 

I was told at the time that the UK was not a racist society any more and there was nothing to worry about. Probably by the same people who were saying we were now a meritocracy, class conflict was over and everyone was becoming middle class.   

But migration was the impetuous to turn a fringe issue, our relationship with Europe into what it became.  It allowed Farage to sculpt UKIP into the cloaked racist anti migrant party that it became. And to turn it into the threat that it became to the Conservative party leading to Cameron putting the offer of a referendum in their manifesto, never thinking that he would win so well. 

Unfortunately the Sun did more than blow the bloody doors off Milliband's chances of winning in 2015 with its sandwich eating shot, so that Cameron won outright. Without the restraint of being in Coalition, no Clegg to hold him back, he was forced to hold the referendum as promised.  Well complacent Cameron feeling he was Mr Lucky messed up at that referendum, as we all know.

Johnson actually a pro-European saw that his only route to the job he so craved was to support Leave and to make sure Leave won. His charisma and affable clown persona helped push Leave over the line. Cameron at this point instead of showing character and fulfilling his responsibility and getting a deal and taking it through parliament instead went off in a huff to Chillax. 

May as the new PM immediately showed one of her flaws of character, that of not being able to work well with others, and decided to go it alone instead of taking a cross party approach to build a consensus Brexit. In a failure of self-confidence and judgement, thinking she did not have enough of a majority to get what she wanted through, when it would have turned out that she did, went to the polls.

At the polls she did so badly that now she was in the position where she did indeed not have the majority needed to get what she wanted through. She lost her majority by rather than playing safe and having a neutral manifesto that would focus on getting Brexit done instead put forward a reckless radical vote losing manifesto. Yet May still managed to put together a very shaky Brexit deal to put to a vote.

The sensible thing for pro-European MPs to have done at that time would have been to have cashed out on the May deal. But they did not.  For some it was the hope that kills you, the hope of a People’s vote that stopped them taking the option of the May deal. On the Labour side who knows what machinations were going on with the objective of bringing down Corbyn being prioritised over the European issue.

So in came the Johnson premiership on the mantra that he would get Brexit done and that as this was now the democratic will of the people, to do anything else would be an attack on democracy, an attack on The People.  How far we have come in ten years from our relationship with Europe being a marginal issue to it having been such a central and divisive one.

Brexit is now done, well sort of.  With vast amounts of money spent, with our national political life having been directed towards this issue above all others for four years, until the pandemic arrived, and with the union of the four nations put at risk, with a deal that does in fact look worse than the one we were in whilst part of the EU, the questions we now ask are:

  • Was it worth it?
  • What psychodrama will the UK head into next?
You can follow Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Six of the Best 987

The system is broken and it’s corrupt: liberals need to make fixing the system and rooting out corruption a key part of our message to voters. If we don’t, then who will?" Max Wilkinson says the latest peerage announcements are yet more evidence that the system is broken.

David Torrance looks at the Government of Ireland Act 1920. He argues that it "paved the way for the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today".

.Will Davies dissects the intellectual decline of the Spectator.

"The primary message that came through loud and clear from the respondents is that their children began to learn to read when removed from school because the pressure to read was reduced or removed." Peter Gray on how dyslexic children learn to read when removed from school.

"Ever since vaulting to fame, Rowling had sought the protection of some private realm. ... But her safest space had long been the one she found in writing. There, she knew all the secrets, ordained good and evil, and decided how everything would end." Molly Fischer offers a penetrating study of J.K. Rowling.

Tim Worthington remembers the days when the BBC would attempt to scare its young viewers to death: "In the early eighties, the Children’s Department had a go at producing their own Ghost Stories For Christmas, which in all honesty were only slightly less disturbing than their adult counterparts."

Friday, January 01, 2021

Benjamin Britten: A New Year Carol

It's can't be worse than 2020, can it?

There's an explanation of this carol on Mama Lisa's World.

Snailbeach is becoming central to the English music scene

Half Man Half Biscuit secured the village its place in music with Descent of the Stiperstones:

And so returning to the car at Snailbeach, I set off in the direction of Montgomery, where I was more than certain my need would be met by Bunner the chandler who sold everything.

Now Theo Williams, an artist based in South London, has gone further and taken to calling himself Snailbeach.

Perhaps he shares my love of the remains of lead mining?