Friday, February 16, 2018

Tom Baker reads Sredni Vashtar by Saki



As Chris Power once wrote in the Guardian:
What a strange bird Saki is. His stories, written between 1900 and his death at the Somme in 1916, bear the hallmarks of Oscar Wilde and Henry James, are as funny as Wilde, Wodehouse and Waugh, possess plotting exquisite enough to bear significant elaboration but rarely last longer than three pages, and are brought off with a wonderfully light touch, while presenting a disturbingly chilling portrait of humankind.

Adil Rashid gives up on red-ball cricket

Embed from Getty Images

This blog has followed Adil Rashid since he made his debut for Yorkshire  - overhyping young English spinners is part of what Liberal England is about.

So I was sorry to hear that he has decided to concentrate on white-ball cricket and give the County Championship and even tests a miss.

But Tim Wigmore has argued - persuasively - that he is not the first to do so and will not be the last:
If Rashid is exceptional, it is only because he was an international T20 player who had still been attempting to play Test cricket too. Of the 22 players in the last World Twenty20 final only six have played Tests since. And only three - Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali - have done so since 2016. 
The shift is being driven by money, of course: the huge financial rewards available in T20, especially for players from beyond the sport’s economic big three of Australia, England and India. 
With T20 leagues now ubiquitous, there is always a tournament, somewhere, to play in without players needing to be involved in the longer formats.

Tory Wandsworth to fine children for climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket

A Bertram Prance illustration for The Neglected Mountain by Malcolm Saville (detail)

I have remarked before - when writing about Leicestershire's hated sprout police - that Conservative councils are very keen on petty regulations. Often it is Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors who argue for freedom.

Take Wandsworth, which always used to be seen as the Thatcherites' flagship borough in London.

According to the Evening Standard:
It has always been seen as one of the most innocent of childhood pursuits, a rite-of-passage physical challenge fondly recalled in adult life. 
But now killjoy councillors in London are threatening a clampdown on tree climbing in dozens of public parks - with the threat of a £500 fine to back it up. 
Children in Wandsworth clambering up an oak or a maple without “reasonable excuse” will face the wrath of park police under a new set of rules governing behaviour in its 39 open spaces. 
Along with tree climbing, such traditional outdoor pursuits as kite flying or a knockabout game of cricket - along with other pursuits considered “annoying” to others - could fall foul of the regulations.
How to explain this?

I am reminded of the insight of The Age of Insecurity by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson: Thatcher set money free but left people more constrained by regulation.

Oncw again, I am driven to the conclusion that the problem with British Conservatives is that they are not Conservative enough. Climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket is precisely what a British Conservative should want children to be doing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Montgomery


This view of the town's Grade I listed church was taken from Montgomery Castle.

Councils, communities and a sense of place


A paper for the Local Government Information Unit by Janet Sillett looks at the elusive but important concept of 'a sense of place'.

She writes:
A place that works could be seen as one where the people who live there have a sense of affinity with it, and one where the past, the present and the future are connected: so that its history is part of what makes it special and the people who have lived there for a long time, but where it welcomes new people and communities, and embraces change. 
People can feel a sense of place about where they live physically, but also to a wider place such as a city or to their local community or even to organisations within it. People have attachments to their home, their neighbourhood and perhaps to their city, town, village and even to their region. 
As places globally become more like each other, preserving a sense of distinctiveness can be important. 
And she goes on to argue that by cultivating such a sense local authorities can facilitate a range of planning-related outcomes:

  • encouraging economic vitality
  • enhancing wellbeing
  • fostering engagement and a sense of belonging
  • enabling physical health

The paper is a long read, but I think this is an important subject and worth the time.

Of course, the question is how you reconcile the intangible concept of 'a sense of place' with the daily grind of planning decisions.

In Leicester I feel the council has shown too little concern for sense of place away from the city centre, allowing structures that help define their area - the Bowstring Bridge in Braunstone Gate; the Empire in Newfoundpool - to be razed without a contest.

If everything in the city beyond Richard III is student accommodation and supermarkets, there will be no sense of place at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Two lost Cheltenham stations


This short video from 1965 shows two lost stations.

Cheltenham Spa St James and Cheltenham Malvern Road were both closed to passengers and goods the following year.

Six of the Best 768

"I will be pushing as hard as I can for reform of our large aid agencies but I will defend what they do and the work of all decent aid workers with everything I’ve got." Peter Kyle talks sense on the Oxfam scandal.

Polly MacKenzie calls for an end to despair about British politics and for positive action instead.

"Once upon a time, I was a member of the Lib Dem's federal policy committee. I used to irritate Danny Alexander and other luminaries by claiming that Liberals had made no contribution to economic debate since John Maynard Keynes had breathed his last in 1946." David Boyle did - I heard him - but now he thinks things may be changing, if not in Britain.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein on the two years that shook Facebook: "the company ... realises now that it bears some of the responsibilities that a publisher does: for the care of its readers, and for the care of the truth."

"On the ground, the shockwaves of the mines were felt far more than heard, there was no bang, either on the Somme or in England as was claimed much later; but 8,000 feet above the battlefield the sound waves reached a pilot who had been warned to keep clear of La Boisselle but turned his machine to observe the detonations of Lochnagar and Y Sap." Simon Jones on the battle beneath no man's land in World War I.

Cinephilia & Beyond revisits David Lynch's dark masterpiece Blue Velvet.

Norman Baker has left the bus business

We have heard the latest about Norman Baker's music career, but what of the day job?

Brighton & Hove News tells us:
Just ten months after joining the Big Lemon, former Lewes MP Norman Baker is off to pursue a range of other interests including journalism, a music album and a top secret new book. 
Mr Baker joined the Brighton bus company in March last year, and says he has already achieved what he set out to do there. 
This includes winning new contracts, doubling the size of the team, helping launch the UK’s first solar-powered electric bus and winning Most Sustainable Business at the Sussex Business Awards.
It all sounds amicable as the website quotes the Big Lemon's founder and chief executive Tom Druitt:
“He has taken the organisation to the next level and we now have the opportunity to grow our impact far beyond what was previously possible. I wish Norman all the very best of luck in his future endeavours.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The pancake race at Olney


What with today being Shrove Tuesday, here is a photo of the finishing post from the pancake race held every year at Olney in Buckinghamshire.

A page on the history of the race says it dates back to 1445.

The film below shows the race in 1951 - no doubt still remembered as a classic. There is little evidence of pancake tossing: the women just pin back their ears and charge for the line.

But the history page says they must toss their pancake once at the start outside The Bull Inn and once at the finish by the church.

Stanley Baker, David McCallum and Violent Playground


Talking Pictures has just shown a film I have long wanted to see: Violent Playground from 1958.

Tipping My Fedora describes its genesis:
This story of juvenile delinquency in 1950s Liverpool was one of a series of topical dramas made by director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph from subjects ripped from the headlines. 
Since the 1940s they had alternated more commercial fare (including comedy vehicles for Peter Sellers and Benny Hill) with these properties that took on socially relevant themes with a (fairly) progressive outlook, shooting on location for a more realistic style. 
The best thing about Violent Playground is its star David McCallum, who went on to greater fame in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and other television series.

He is charismatic and dangerous. So dangerous that he ends up holding a school class at gunpoint. It was a surprise to see it on screen today and must have been shocking in 1958, even though the makers seem to have lost their nerve as two characters who might have died are both restored to health at the end.

The trouble is that the alternative presented to the delinquent lifestyle is so insipid. Athletics club with the headmaster after school just doesn't cut it.

Stanley Baker excelled as both criminals and tough cops in films of this era, but here is just made to look dull.

Besides McCallum the other great pleasure of the film are the Liverpool locations. It is a city that cannot take a bad photograph.

But not all is as it seems, as Getintothis explains:
All interior shots in the film were taken at Pinewood studios as were much of the exteriors but there are key Liverpool locations running throughout. As with many Liverpool movies, including Letter to Brezhnev (1985) and Waterfront (1950) the opening titles feature the iconic Mersey and the Liver buildings before the action moves further inland. 
Shots of typically working class kids playing around terraces and tenements dominate the sequence that culminates in a shot of the almost completed Anglican Cathedral towering over a bombsite.Truman’s investigations into small time theft by the local nippers puts him back on the trail of the firefly arsonist, the case we see him relieved of at the start of the film. His investigations take him to Gerard Gardens, home of Johnny Murphy played by David McCallum,
And:
 It is disappointing that so many of the key locations are actually shot in London, including the school despite the name Scotland Road School above the entrance. 
There are still enough Liverpool locations to spot however; in a sequence where Johnny leaps from a hotel window, the action takes place on School Lane. The window is on the first floor at the back of what is now Primark, facing the Bluecoat and has not changed. You can clearly see down School Lane towards what is now Liverpool One.
Gerard Gardens was the not the hatching ground for delinquency the film makes it seem. When it was built in the 1930s it was distinctly superior council accommodation and its residents fought a long rearguard battle before it was demolished in 1987.

Other pleasures in the film include John Slater as a police sergeant, foreshadowing his role as Sgt Stone in Z-Cars a few years later. Stratford Johns is also supposed to have a minor role in the film, but I failed to spot him.

And among McCallum's gang you will find Melvyn Hayes and a boy called Fred Fowell. After a spell in a minor Merseybeat band he emerged in the 1970s as the comedian Freddie Starr.

If you want to see Violent Playground then keep an eye on the Talking Pictures schedules. And - who knows? - you may even find the whole thing on Youtube.

Wittgenstein warns against grappling with donkeys on Twitter

A new Wittgenstein aphorism has been found in the margins of a book he used to own, Julian Baggini reported in a tweet yesterday.

It runs: “If you grapple with every donkey you easily become one yourself.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was still the strongest influence on British philosophy when I did my degree at York, though his star has waned since then. His later work was rich in aphorisms of this sort.

Here he was foreseeing Twitter in this one and counselling us not to spend our time arguing with random strangers with foolish views.

I have stopped myself doing it. At most I will look at the replies to a tweet I strongly disagree with and like a few that have expressed my disagreement for me.

There are lots of sensible and interesting people on Twitter. Take the advice of Uncle Ludwig and spend your time engaging with them.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Safeguarding the Leaves of Southwell



Southwell Minister in Nottinghamshire is one of England's finest cathedrals and perhaps its least known.

The stone carvings in the Chapter House are its glory. In 1945 they were the subject of a short book by Nikolaus Pevsner with photographs by F.L. Attenborough, the principal of University College, Leicester and father of Sir Dickie and Sir David.

Now The Leaves of Southwell project is seeking to safeguard them for the future:
The fluid carvings of plants, animals and green men found within the Chapter House - known collectively as ‘The Leaves of Southwell’ - are of quite exceptional quality and regarded as the best example of 13th century naturalistic carving in the United Kingdom. An example of global importance currently at risk. Seventy years since Pevsner wrote his booklet, they deserve fresh appreciation. 
They need protection from leaking roofs and lack appropriate heating and environmental controls. In addition, with modern lighting (there is none at present) and an imaginative interpretation scheme, the Leaves of Southwell can be made much more accessible and widely known to future generations. It is our belief that they represent not only wonderful heritage but also an extraordinary resource today.  
We're delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded us an initial grant of £352,697 to develop the project in a way that will protect, interpret and better present the medieval carvings. 
A further grant of £2.2m to implement our plans is contingent on the success of the development phase. Thanks to generous pledges and gifts we are but £180,000 short of target.
The film above will tell you more about the project and the appeal of the carvings,

Norman Baker goes solo with Staying Blue

We all know Norman Baker as the lead singer of the Reform Club.

Now Angel Air announces that his first solo album will be released early in April:
"Staying Blue" is his first solo effort and is an eclectic mix of blues, country, jazz and folk songs. 
The album’s opening track is “Shipping Forecast” with a wonderful blend of folk/sea shanty. Norman can write a song and sing the heck out of it. This album showcases elite musicianship and really enjoyable songwriting.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Cromford sign


To be found at the village's canal basin.

The culling of cash machines in rural areas

A woman on her mobile partly obscures what used to be the only cashpoint in the Shropshire hills

When I started walking in the Shropshire hills there was only one cashpoint in the area.

It was at one of the banks in Church Stretton, so a short holiday had to be planned so it took in a visit to the town.

Yes, some pubs in more remote areas would cash cheques, but you could not rely on it.

The Shropshire Star has a story about plans to reduce the number of cashpoints across the country:
The closing of cashpoints could potentially hit the smaller and more rural areas of Shropshire, with a number of towns already left without banks and only one cash machine available for miles. 
Megan Prince, who owns Ironbridge Bookshop, said: "It is a bit of a shame, as I know cash is a bit of a thing of the past now, but it is important to have cash available in small tourist towns as there are a lot of small independent businesses and not all of them take card payments or only take them over a certain amount.
You can do more without cash than you could 30 years ago, but it sounds as though things are coming full circle.

TISM: (He'll never be an) Ol' Man River



TISM stands for This Is Serious Mum and is pronounced "tis-um". They were an alternative, anonymous Australian band who flourished in the Eighties and Nineties.

This song, which was recorded in 1995, satirises our obsession with celebrity deaths and manages to foretell the death of Michael Jackson years in advance.

River was River Phoenix. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, he killed himself with drugs in 1993.

He had been a successful child actor, notably in Stand By Me, and was making his way in adult roles. Despite his squeaky clean image, he had long been struggling with drink and drugs.

Several of the roles he had been due to play were given after his death to Leonardo DiCaprio, with results we see around us to this day.

Oh, and if you are worried that TISM are not playing any instruments in the video above, here they are playing the same song on traditional Greek instruments.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Open day at a drained Foxton Locks


At Foxton near Market Harborough the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal descends a hillside by means of two flights of five staircase locks.

The locks are currently drained for maintenance and this weekend you can visit them and walk in areas that are usually under deep water. You can, for instance, see the paddles that are raised to let water into the locks from the side pounds used at Foxton.

I went today and took these photographs in the rain. I also learnt that rather being cut into the hillside, the locks were largely built on the surface and then had earth heaped up against them.

It is notable that the brick floor of the chambers probably dates from 1814 when they were opened and that the piece of metalwork at the bottom of one of them is the work of an early 19th-century blacksmith.








Six of the Best 767

A hard border would be a disaster for Northern Ireland, argues Naomi Long.

Chris Grey offers a new angle on the Brexit debacle: "The whole situation is beginning to resemble the plot of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, with Jack being the Brexit Ultras, the mythical Beast being the EU, Ralph being, perhaps, Theresa May, and the Conch being the Referendum result. Remainers play the role of Simon, whilst the British people have to be cast as poor old Piggy. Alas, there seems as yet to be no one to take the part of the adult who arrives to rescue the children and chide them for their un-British, brutal behaviour."

The BBC should repeat Shoulder to Shoulder, their 1974 drama series on the struggle for women's suffrage, say Janet McCabe and Vicky Ball.

Jonathan Coe on film-makers' obsession with the doomed British sailor Donald Crowhurst.

"'There’s a writer in England called … er, Peter Ackroyd,' David Bowie said in a short film he made in 2003, 'who wrote a book called … Hawksmoor I think it was. Wasn’t it? Yeah.'" Anna Aslanyan reads it 33 years on.

"This landscape has seen a lot, it has seen multiple religious settlements, a village grow up and gradually recede. A church consecrated and centuries later deconsecrated." William Tregaskes visits Lancaut beside the River Wye near Chepstow.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Christopher Hitchens and JFK



Oliver Stone's film JFK was released at the end of 1991 and gave rise to this overmanned Late Show panel.

Christopher Hitchens and Pierre Salinger (who appears to be in the process of turning into Bernard Ingham) are no longer with us, but Anthony Summers and D.M. Thomas still are.

But the 1990s (my favourite decade) are a long way away and it is a surprise to find that the latter published a novel as recently as 2014.

A couple of thoughts on this clip.

The first is that talking heads make great television as long as their owners are interesting enough.

The second is that I believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the only gunman in Dealey Plaza that day, but if he was put up to it by anyone it was surely the KGB. He had, after all, gone to live in the Soviet Unon and then come back to the USA.

Anyway, the best book I know on Kennedy's assassination (which is probably my first memory) is A Cruel and Shocking Act by Philip Shenon.

Summers' discovery that no one had talked to many of the witnesses in 1963 chimes with the theme of that book.

Meanwhile, Sarah Dunant is going strong as a historical novelist.

Sign Layla Moran's petition to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824

I have signed Layla's petition. I hope you will sign it too, whichever party you belong to.

Dog caught riding neighbour's one-eyed pony in the middle of the night






Thanks to a nomination from a reader, our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Independent.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Ponies on Lundy Island


I've twice been to Lundy Island.

I took a day trip from Ilfracombe when I was walking the coastal path in 1988 and spent New Year there in 2000, when I took this photograph.

An attempt to do the same thing a year or two later was defeated by the weather, but that possibility is almost part of the island's charm.

One of the great things about Lundy is the night skies. As you are 12 miles out in the Bristol Channel with no street lighting, they are overpowering.

Seeing the stars there (and on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry) led me to form my theory that there was a correlation between the spread of street lighting and the decline of religion.

Jo Swinson 1 John Humphrys 0



Liberal Democrats were not the only people to enjoy it this morning when Jo Swinson neatly turned the tables on John Humphrys.

His tone of wounder impatience in reply did him no favours.

As I blogged last year:
One of the many problems with Today is John Humphrys. Too often his interviewing his based on his prejudices, which became tedious years ago. 
It is tempting to attribute this to his age, but I suspect he has always been like that. So let's just say that the team of presenters needs to be refreshed and Humphrys is the first candidate to stand down.
Here his failure to grasp that undervaluing of women when it comes to pay might be part of a wider problem in how they are treated did him no favours either.

Part of the trouble is that Westminster is run as though it were occupied by hundreds of small businesses, with each MP employs a small handful of people.

Sarah Olney has spoken about how hard it was to put an office together when she won her by-election and then make them all its staff redundant when she lost at the general election.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoicePeople who work for MPs at Westminster should be employed by the House authorities. They could make sure they have in place the sort of policies against harassment and bullying that the rest of us have with for years.

Jonathan Meades' eulogy for Gavin Stamp

The death of the architectural historian and journalist Gavin Stamp at the start of last month was widely mourned.

Jonathan Meades wrote a eulogy for his funeral and the London Review of Books has printed it:
Doctrinaire modernists armed with ancient progressive pieties were still just about in the ascendant in those days: to concern oneself, as Gavin did, with what a building actually looked like and what effect its presence might have on its surroundings was reckoned to be the height of frivolity, a sort of apostasy. 
The doctrinaire see what they believe in, the latitudinarian believe in what they see. Gavin looked. He had no programme, no theory, no ideology, little interest in movements or taxonomies. 
According to Nabokov there is only one school of writing – the school of talent. That is what Gavin increasingly believed about architecture. He found merit in the neglected and the threadbare and the jokey as well as in monuments of high seriousness.
It is almost as if Meades were writing a eulogy for himself.

Man accused of bomb hoax on train at Hinckley claimed he actually said 'bum', court told


Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Leicester Mercury.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Texas Schoolbook Suppository

From BBC News:
A councillor suspended by her party for saying US president Donald Trump should be beheaded has been reinstated. 
Laura Benson posted on Facebook she hoped Mr Trump would be assassinated for allowing remains of legally-hunted elephants into the US. 
Liberal Democrat party leaders said her remarks were "extremely tasteless".
God knows what those party leaders will make of Lord Bonkers' comments here.

They should remember, however, the old saw that it is better to have an eccentric peer inside the tent than outside the tent accompanied by trained militiamen, elven archers and Well-Behaved Orphans armed with catapults.

Anyway, today's entry completes are latest visit to Bonkers Hall.

The Texas Schoolbook Suppository

I should have known a main with that hairstyle would turn out to be untrustworthy. This morning I learn that Trump has cancelled his visit on a perfectly bogus pretext. My old friend Obama could not have sold the US embassy in Grosvenor Square if he had wanted to, for the very good reason that the Americans never owned it in the first place. It remains firmly in the hands of the Duke of Westminster.

As my regular readers will know, I am not a vengeful man, but I am forced to conclude that Trump has Gone Too Far and Something Must Be Done. So I am urging my American friends to arrange a Presidential visit to Dallas, the home of the fearsome Texas Schoolbook Suppository. It did for poor Jack Kennedy and I have no doubt that it would do for Trump too.

And the mooning? I suggest we save that until the Duke of Rutland is asked to open a village fete that I had rather had my eye on myself.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary