Monday, September 26, 2016

Blow-Up, pareidolia and the grassy knoll

This is the latter part of the bewitching key sequence of Blow-Up. David Hemmings' unnamed photographer thinks he has spotted something suspicious in a photograph he has just taken.

He enlarges a detail again and again until he reveals a murder taking place, then goes to the park and duly finds a body.

On his return to the studio he finds the enlargements have been stolen, except for the very last. Shorn of its context, it reveals little more than a patter of light and shadows.

When he returns to the park for a second time the body has vanished.

In recent days I have been reading about the assassination of President Kennedy and it has made me think of Blow-Up.

Some of those who are dissatisfied with the official account that JFK was assassinated by a lone gunman - Lee Harvey Oswald - have seized upon a photograph taken at the moment the President received the fatal shot.

They claim that if the background is blown up at the right point it reveals the real assassin** ('Badge Man') on the famous grassy knoll. Some claim to be able to detect two or even three figures there.

I can now make out Badge Man, but only because I have seen so many fanciful renderings of that enlargement. In reality it reveals no more than David Hemmings remaining image. Blame pareidolia.

Once you go down the rabbit hold of conspiracy theories on JFK, there is now way back.

The Zapruder film (taken by a bystander and revealing the effect of the two shots that hit the President) was once taken as proof of a conspiracy. Today you will find many sites telling you it is part of that conspiracy - an obvious forgery made to cover the truth.

There mysteries that puzzle me about the affair. Could Oswald really have got from his sixth-floor perch to the first floor*** without anyone seeing him on the stairs in the short space of time available?

And why did the US authorities make so little of Oswald's connections with the Soviet Union and Cuba?

But stay away from the grassy knoll. That way lies madness.

* JFK's shooting is just about my first memory - I was three and just knew that something very grown up and important had happened.

** This links to a video that examines this claim. It does not show the short that killed JFK, which you can see online in the Zapruder film. We think we know all about violence in the cinema, but it is still hugely shocking to see a man shot in the head for real.

*** In British terms he had to get from fifth floor to the ground floor.

Alan Turing and Emlyn Hooson

On Friday BBC News reported that court files recording details of Alan Turing's convictions for homosexual acts have been put on display at Chester Town Hall.

As Helen Pickin-Jones, chair of Chester Pride, says in the BBC report:
"Just a few simple lines of text reveal the appalling treatment of one of our national heroes."
One of the documents displayed in Chester shows the mathematician admitted "acts of gross indecency" at a trial there in 1952.

Turing was working at the University of Manchester when he was arrested for having a relationship with 19-year-old Arnold Murray at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK.

The version of it on the BBC site has been cropped, but if you look at the full version on the Alan Turing: The Enigma website an interesting fact emerges.

Arnold Murray's defence counsel was E. Hooson. That was Emlyn Hooson, who went on to be Liberal MP for Montgomery between 1962 and 1979.

He appears to have defended his man by trying to place the blame on Turing. Dark days.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kate Nash: Foundations

If pop paints an accurate picture of youth culture, we have come a long way from "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

Foundations was kept from the top of the singles chart by Rihanna and her silly Umbrella in 2007.

Celebrating 50 years of Joe Orton's Loot in Leicester

I spent today at the New Walk museum and art gallery in Leicester for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's play Loot.

The play had first gone on a provincial tour with an extraordinary cast - Kenneth Williams, Duncan Mcrae, Ian McShane, Geraldine McEwan - but had not pleased its audiences and been beset by constant rewrites in an attempt to put things right.

Williams was a friend of Orton, but it is hard to see how he could ever have made a suitable Inspector Truscott.

Loot was rescued by a new production in Manchester and two veterans of it were in Leicester today. They were its director Braham Murray and cast member Michael Elwyn.

Murray had worked closely with Orton to reshape and rewrite they play and described him as a "shy, sweet man".

The Truscott in that production was Julian Chagrin, and when I chatted to them afterwards they were suitably impressed that I knew he had been one of the tennis players in Blow-Up. (I did not reveal my debt to Nicholas Whyte's enthusiasm  the Double Deckers, which led  me to that knowledge.)

Jake Arnott, whose novels I have enjoyed, talked about the background to Loot and in particular the figure of Harold Challenor, the police officer who inspired Truscott.

But the star of the day was Joe Orton's sister. Leonie Orton Barnett. She read from his letters, including one attacking Loot by his creation Edna Welthorpe.

She is about to publish her own story of gaining an education and becoming her brother's champion under the suitably Ortonesque title I Had It In Me.

The cover, featuring a photograph of her as a young woman, looks like a lost Smiths' single. Which is appropriate, as Morrissey is one of many later artists who have acknowledged Joe Orton's influence.

A mention, too, for Bernard Greaves, the co-author of that Liberal classic The Theory and Practice of Community Politics. I did not get a chance to speak to him, but he spoke movingly of the experience of being gay in the era of Loot.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Leicestershire county councillor leaves Labour after Jeremy Corbyn's re-election

One of the more notable names to have left the Labour Party today is the Leicestershire county councillor Leon Spence.

He has announced his decision in an article for Huffngton Post:
No one has to remain a member of Labour, should you disagree with the path the party is taking any member has the right to stop their support. Many decent Labour members did just that under Tony Blair, many others will take the same decision now. 
The time, for me at least, to stop supporting the party has come with the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn. 
I’ve never disliked Jeremy Corbyn, and although I deeply dislike some of the company that he keeps he seems a personable guy, but I firmly do not agree with the direction that he has taken Labour. 
I don’t like Jeremy’s approach to public services where dogma seems far more important than solutions, I don’t like his approach to defence or Britain’s position in the world, I don’t for one second believe he understands what motivates ordinary, hardworking people in communities like mine. 
I can’t ever see Jeremy as a Prime Minister leading our country in tough negotiations or at times of threat.
I wish all the people leaving Labour well, whether they decide to join the Liberal Democrats or not.

It must be an awful wrench to leave a party that has been an important part of your identity.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Petula Clark

As she revealed on Danny Baker's show last Saturday, Petula Clark sang on the Plastic Ono Band's 'Give Peace a Chance'.

You can read how it cane about in an old Guardian piece.

Petula Clark rang me once, you know.

Music in Leicester: A slideshow using a new Getty Images feature

Getty Images has introduced a new feature. You can choose five images, turn them into a slideshow and embed it in your blog.

So, to see if it works, here are five photographs of musicians in Leicester...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Disused railways stations in Sheffield

I remember Brightside from my journeys to and from York as a student. It survived until 1995, as did the nearby Attercliffe Road (which was a different station from the Attercliffe shown here).

In my student days too, the train from Sheffield to Penistone and Huddersfield ran through the disused Victoria station and up the Don Valley.

You tell young folk now and they won't believe you.

Six of the Best 628

The Bog
"There are those who dislike the term Left. I am not one. It is a short hand for those dissatisfied with the status quo. For a season it came, somewhat perversely, to mean political ideas that championed state ownership and regulation." Iain Brodie Brown attended the Social Liberal Forum's Brighton fringe meeting on the realignment of the left.

Dirk Singer offers two questions you should ask Labour MPs who suddenly oppose freedom of movement.

Donald Trump is the second coming of Joseph McCarthy, says Jelani Cobb.

"'Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch.' Those were the last words of a Scottish teacher who was murdered at Auschwitz for protecting Jewish schoolgirls, as revealed by the students who watched her being taken away to her death." Esther Addley tells the story of Jane Haining.

Michaelangelo Matos reviews '1966: The Year the Decade Exploded' by Jon Savage and 'Never a Dull Moment: 1971 - The Year That Rock Exploded' by David Hepworth.

Olly Parry-Jones visits The Bog. It's an abandoned mining village. In Shropshire.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Musical Ruth: The video

You've seen her in my photographs. Now enjoy her video.

Incidentally, her appearance on Britain's Got Talent shows what a sham that programme is. Ruth is no wannabee but an experienced artist.

Book her here.

Muff Winwood to be crowned an A&R icon

Good news for Spencer Davis Group enthusiasts from Music Business Worldwide:
Mervyn ‘Muff’ Winwood will receive the prestigious A&R Icon gong at The A&R Awards in association with Abbey Road Studios on the evening of Wednesday, November 2. 
The prize recognises ‘a remarkable individual whose momentous professional feats continue to inspire the UK A&R community’ – a description which perfectly suits the former CBS, Sony Music and Island Records exec.
Muff Winwood, the bass player with the Spencers and Steve's older brother, went on to have a great career on the other side of the microphone.

The website quotes a couple of tributes to him.

Elton John says:
“Muff Winwood is without doubt one of the greatest A&R men in the history of British music. 
“He introduced me and millions of others to countless new talent. He was SO supportive of his acts. 
“He was unbelievably helpful to me and Bernie in our early days which was invaluable and something I will never forget.”
And Mark Knopfler says:
“Muff was hard-working, straightforward and easy to work with and the album was recorded and mixed inside three weeks. 
“I can still hear his Birmingham accent coming over the talk back after a take: ‘If we can’t make a record out of that we’re all custards.’ I still use that one now. 
“Congratulations on the award, Muff, and thank you for everything you’ve done for so many in music.”
All of which is a good excuse to listen to this...

A video of Tim Farron's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference

The other day I quoted from Tim Farron's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Here is a video of the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Iain Sinclair on William Blake's radicalism

Iain Sinclair explores the historical background to William Blake's radical writings.

This video was filmed at Vauxhall in 2014.

Six of the Best 627

Peter Carrol reviews Ed Balls' memoirs.

"Lib Dem Glee Club is without a doubt, the weirdest event in British politics." Mikey Smith of the Daily Mirror ventures into the belly of the beast.

Roger Hermiston says the Liberal Democrats ignore one of their more recent heroes: Sir Archibald Sinclair. "Ultimately his legacy might well be, like Clegg, that he led the Liberals on a downward electoral path, but his is a compelling story, and there is much to chew over and admire in his years at the top of British political life."

Pop culture has worn out Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, explains Nick Murray.

Mark Cunliffe remembers Thick as Thieves, a 1974 TV sit com starring Bob Hoskins and John Thaw.

"There was always a hint of the West Country lumberjack to Trescothick's batting, defined by hefty forearms, scythes through the off side and a stubborn reticence to move his feet. But his runs underpinned England's progress to their 2005 summit." Tim Wigmore celebrates Marcus Trescothick.

Lethal 4-hour-erection-causing spiders spill out of bunch of ASDA bananas

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, The Register wins out Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Liz Leffman is the Lib Dem candidate for the Witney by-election

The BBC's Peter Henley has just tweeted that Liz Leffman, who fought the seat at the 2005 general election, is to be the Liberal Democrat candidate at next month's by-election.

You can read all about Liz on the party website.

More photographs from Arts Fresco 2016

Arts Fresco wasn't just Musical Ruth, so here are some more photographs from the day.

I even indulged in some audience participation with The Notional Trust.

Tim Farron's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference today

The party website has the full text of Tim Farron's speech:
So I was in what you might call a reflective mood when I began the meeting. 
There were perhaps 70 people there. Most of them had voted to leave. And most of them pretty much fitted my demographic. 
They weren’t mostly die-hards. I reckon, honestly, that three quarters of them could have been persuaded to vote Remain up until about two or three weeks out. 
One guy said that the clincher for him was George Osborne’s ‘punishment budget’. 
And when he said that, pretty much the whole room chipped in and agreed with him. 
There was near universal acknowledgement that this had been the pivotal moment. 
Here was this guy, George Osborne, who they didn’t really like. 
And who they felt didn’t really like them. 
And he’d appeared on the telly bullying them into doing something they weren’t sure they wanted to do. 
And they reacted.
Later. Watch the video here.

The "right to be forgotten" spreads its tentacles

It's a while since I wrote about the "right to be forgotten" - you can find my earlier posts on the subject by following that link.

Today's Guardian carries a report that reminds us how it came about and reveals that the courts are increasing its reach:
Ever since the European court ordered Google to delist a 16-year-old article about a bankruptcy, web watchers have wondered how the ‘right to be forgotten’ would evolve. 
Mario Costeja González’s ‘Data and Goliath’ victory in 2014 in Spain has meant that human concepts of fairness are now applied to Google Search, which is subject to European data protection laws. 
But there are now worrying new signs from Europe that the right is being applied directly against news websites and not just search engines.
The author, Athalie Matthews, concludes:
Consequently, in Italy at least, ‘the right to be forgotten’ now has a new meaning: the right to remove inconvenient journalism from archives after two years. 
This surely cannot be right. If it was, everyone would demand deletions from news websites and online journalism would be decimated.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator songbook

With the Glee Club about to get underway at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, it is time to share this with you...

Bonkers Hall
Tel. Rutland 7

Are we downhearted, fellow Liberal Democrats? No we are not!

Every day brings news of fresh triumphs. Why, only last week I read on Liberal Democrat Voice that we had come second in a parish council election in Cropwell Bishop.

With our clear stance on Europe – exemplified by that splendid new group ‘I’m As Much In Favour Of The EU As The Next Man But Did You See The Referendum Result In My Constituency?’ – I have no doubt that we shall return to government before we grow much older.

So we have good reason to sing tonight.

Just look at the pitiful opposition we face. The prime minister resembles the ink monitor in a particularly savage girls’ grammar school, while her chancellor must be the most insignificant figure to occupy 11 Downing Street since… What was the fellow’s name?

Someone asked me the other day what I thought of Brexit. I replied that I had always found his plays Terribly Dull. All that stuff about peasants and then an actor shouts at you just as you are dozing off.

Now it seems we need three ministers to deal with the fellow. I can’t see the point myself, but if he is so important why put the three stooges in charge?

And then there is the Labour Party. Can you see Corbyn and ‘Semtex’ McDonnell carrying Middle England?

I cannot either. Come to that, I can’t even see them carrying their own MPs.

So be of good cheer, fellow Liberal Democrats, and sing your hearts out.

The book before you contains all the songs you need to enjoy the Glee Club – many of them printed in a different order from last year’s edition.

The only sour note is the omission of that popular Rutland anthem ‘Hurrah for Lord Bonkers’, which is traditionally sung by the Well-Behaved Orphans when they are brought to St Asquith’s to return thanks to their benefactor.

The first verse runs:
"Hurrah for Lord Bonkers,
Who feeds us on gruel;
He’s ever so jolly
And not at all cruel."
Still, I suppose it will have to do.

Big Brother is watching you - but you don't take any notice

Remember this poster? I came across it on a bright January day this year when I visited Rothwell.

I thought of it when I read this post on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog:
Imagine there was an honesty box in your coffee room at work, do you think it would make any difference to your behaviour if there was poster of staring eyes on the wall? 
A hugely influential study published in 2006 suggested that it would – that feeling watched, even by a picture of eyes rather than an actual person, increases people’s honesty. In fact, in the study, donations to the box were an average three-fold larger in the presence of an eye poster rather than a picture of flowers. 
The finding even inspired the West Midlands Police in the UK to launch a poster campaign featuring staring eyes and the strapline “We’ve got our eyes on criminals”.
I suspect this study also inspired the poster I photographed in Rothwell.

Trouble is, attempts to replicate the 2006 study have failed. Not only that. As the Research Digest says:
two meta-analyses combined the data from over 50 studies involving collectively tens of thousands of participants and found no evidence overall that watching eyes boost people’s generosity.
So not only was that poster distasteful in its use of Big Brother imagery, it may well have beeen ineffective at changing behaviour too.

Revd J. P. Martin, the Uncle Books and Quentin Blake

An exhibition and conference that celebrate the Revd J.P. Martin's Uncle books are to be held next month at the New Room, The Horsefair, Bristol.

The exhibition will run from 7 to 22 October. It will explore the links between Methodism and publishing in Bristol, celebrate the Uncle books and mark the achievements of the Martin/Currey family, particularly the involvement of James Currey in the African Writers Series.

The theme ‘Writing and Publishing in Bristol’ will run through both the exhibition and a free one-day conference on Saturday 15 October.

Further details can be found on the New Room website.

I am pleased to see these events being held. The other day I came across a new book on Quentin Blake that does not even mention Uncle.

Nicola Horlick jins the Liberal Democrats over Brexit

Judging by the stats for this blog, there is a hunger among my readers for good news about the Liberal Democrats.

So try this story from the Evening Standard for size:
City “superwoman” Nicola Horlick today backed the Liberal Democrats to lead the battle against Brexit and launched a stinging attack on Cabinet minister Liam Fox. 
The financier and mother-of-six has previously shied away from taking sides in the political arena. 
But she says she was stung into speaking out after a “barrage” of abuse on Twitter for warning of the perils of Britain quitting the EU.
The paper does not say she has joined the party, but she could not be clearer in her support:
"I urge all who voted Remain to re-kindle the passion of the protests that followed the vote ... For those who want us to stay in Europe and, at the very least, in the single market, the Liberal Democrats are the obvious choice."
I also like her:
"I find it hard to understand how anyone who cares about Britain’s economic prosperity could remain a Tory."
Later. Nicola Horlick has joined the Liberal Democrats.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lib Dems could take back Cambridge under new boundary proposals

That's the headline on an article on the website of Varsity, which styles itself "cambridge’s leading student newspaper".

Looking at the Boundary Commission proposals for the Cambridge constituency, its author Harry Curtis says:
If enacted, they would introduce voters in the Queen Edith’s ward in the south of Cambridge – which contains Homerton College and Addenbrooke’s Hospital – and the Milton ward, northwest of the city to the constituency. 
Local election results from the newly added wards suggest that the proposed boundaries will change the balance of power in the city’s politics. 
Current Labour MP, Daniel Zeichner took the seat last year by 599 votes, a majority that could be wiped out by the newly included areas where the Liberal Democrats polled 1,298 more votes than Labour in the 2015 local elections.

Musical Ruth at Arts Fresco 2016

Despite our differences, I hope we can agree that there is nothing - absolutely nothing - as funny as a man dressed as a nun driving a motorised piano.

There was other stuff at Arts Fresco. No doubt I shall show it to you one day.

Madness: Mr Apples

I am told that when Madness played this, their new single, in Hyde Park last week they dedicated it to Keith Vaz.

I can't think why.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ivan Massow joins the Liberal Democrats

Good news from the Financial Times:
Ivan Massow has been a flatmate of Michael Gove, an admirer of David Cameron and, briefly, a chaperone for Margaret Thatcher. The entrepreneur and philanthropist even aspired to be the Conservative candidate for mayor of London. 
But now he is a Liberal Democrat. His defection is the first of what Tim Farron’s party hopes will be a stream of centrist recruits — motivated by a pro-EU outlook, fiscal moderation and the apparent end of the Tory party’s Cameron era. 
“They are really nice people. It is such a change from the Tory party,” said Mr Massow, whose business successes included offering financial services to gay people.
The Lib Dem website quotes him too:
"After seeing the Lib Dems’ work in Coalition, and seeing them step up to the responsibilities of government, I felt I had more in common with them. I hadn’t realised the Lib Dems could be a party of government before Coalition – and I know they took a huge hit for doing it – but I think they proved themselves and were a great party for the economy and a great help for business."

Enjoy Arts Fresco in Market Harborough tomorrow

Tomorrow sees the annual Arts Fresco event takes place here in Market Harborough.

Full details on the event's website:
Often described as a 'mini Fringe festival', Market Harborough's Arts Fresco is a free street theatre festival, that for one day every September, transforms the town centre into the biggest street arts festival in the Midlands. 
Every year thousands of people flock to Market Harborough to wander the streets, mingling with roaming dinosaurs, mad chefs and wheelie bins that drive themselves. 
Performers from all over Europe take part, from big names in the world of street theatre to unknown artists looking to build their careers, with many of them coming back again and again.