Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hares in William Cowper's garden

Another photo from Olney.

David Cameron's constituency office calls out police to deal with the Bishop of Oxford

From the Independent:
David Cameron’s constituency office has come under fire for calling the police on the Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Hebden as they attempted to present him with an open letter on food poverty. 
Their letter, part of the End Hunger Fast campaign, was signed by 42 Anglican bishops and more than 600 clerics and called on the three party leaders to work with the parliamentary inquiry into food poverty to implement its recommendations. 
However, despite David Cameron’s Witney office expecting their visit, they were barred from presenting the letter and instead greeted by three police officers.
I guess this 'Christian country' thing must be a work in progress.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An angel in ivy

Photographed in Olney churchyard on Saturday.

Six of the Best 433

Mark Pack has made a great find among the British Pathé videos newly available on Youtube: a campaign report on the 1969 Islington North by-election.

Jesse Norman MP writes about the Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott for the New Statesman.

"If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do." Dark thoughts from Paul Kingsnorth in Orion Magazine.

Ken Early on Slate asks if David Moyes is to blame for the collapse of Manchester United. Or is it all Sir Alex Ferguson’s fault?

Pavilion Opinions says that being a defender of Kevin Pietersen is like being a teenage Smiths fan.

In Search of Space has been to the only town in Britain with an exclamation mark - Westward Ho!

Dolphin chosen to fight Torridge and West Devon

Paula Dolphin has been selected to fight Torridge and West Devon for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

The North Devon Gazette quotes the chair of the Lib Dem constituency branch Trevor Johns:
“We are delighted to have selected Paula Dolphin as our candidate. 
“She has a record of delivery in her area and will make an excellent MP for this area. We all look forward to campaigning with her.”
The seat was held by the Liberal Democrats between 1995 (when Emma Nicholson changed parties) and 2005.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

British Pathé films on Youtube: HMP Gartree opens in 1966

I have long been a fan of the British Pathé site and have sometimes sent you off to watch films there.

The good news is that 85,000 of its films are now available on Youtube, which means I can embed them on this blog.

This one shows HMP Gartree, which is situated a couple of miles from Market Harborough on a World War II airfield, at its opening in 1966. Note the hopeful tone of the commentary and that nowhere does the argument that the chief purpose of prison is to protect society appear.

Patrick Mercer MP resigns the Conservative whip

From Sky News this evening:
Former Tory frontbencher Patrick Mercer has announced he is quitting Parliament amid allegations he broke rules on lobbying. 
The MP for Newark said he was resigning the Tory whip immediately "to save my party embarrassment". 
He also made clear he will not stand at the next general election, due in 2015. 
The move comes after a joint investigation by The Telegraph and the BBC's Panorama programme into an alleged lobbying scandal. 
It is believed the allegations about Mr Mercer relate to "cash-for-questions" about Fiji and its suspension from the Commonwealth.

Nirvana: The Man Who Sold the World

The Man Who Sold the World is a David Bowie song which, a little improbably, was brought to the British singles chart in 1974 by Lulu.

I like this Nirvana version, which I heard playing in the little shop at Market Harborough station the other day while I waited for my coffee. Grunge did for American rock what punk did for British rock in its day: purged it of bombast for a little while.

Former whip quits Leicester's ruling Labour group

Last week Barbara Potter, until recently the whip of the ruling Labour group on Leicester City Council, resigned from the party.

The Leicester Mercury reported that she announced her resignation in a letter to the East Midlands Labour Party and will seek re-election as an independent next year:
In her letter, Coun Potter, who will now sit as an independent member, wrote: 
"I regret this action but feel I have been given little choice. "I have been a staunch Labour Party supporter for all my adult life."
She said she had never felt prouder than when she won her seat for the party in 2007, but added: "It is not me who has changed, it is the party, and not for the better.
"I hope that the Labour Party will change but I feel that it is losing its direction."
It is fair to say that Potter has been a controversial figure for some while. She had previously stepped aside from the Labour group because she faces a charge of perverting the course of justice arising with a dispute with a former partner - a charge which she denies.

She has also been banned from a primary school in her ward and in November 2011 she announced her support for the death penalty:
"Bring it on. Give these murderers the option of the noose, the electric chair or lethal injection."
Leicester's Labour establishment has reacted to her resignation with characteristic generosity:
A Labour group source told the Mercury: "Coun Potter is abrasive and I'm glad she is going. 
"She thinks everything is about her and she has an overinflated opinion of how popular she is.
"She thinks she'll win as an independent. She's not got a chance."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

William Cowper's summerhouse and pet hares

The home of the poet William Cowper in the centre of Olney is now a museum devoted to him and is friend John Newton, who wrote the words to "Amazing Grace".

In the garden you will find the summerhouse where Cowper did much of his writing. And across the road in the town square you will find a wicker sculpture inspired by Cowper and his three pet hares.

Over to John Stuart Mill, recalling his famous education:
Cowper’s short poems I read with some pleasure, but never got into the longer ones; and nothing in the two volumes interested me like the prose account of his three hares.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Humber Stone, Leicester

This is the Humber Stone, which stands beside a roundabout on Leicester's ring road.

Some say the village of Humberstone got its name from the stone, but it may be that the stone's modern name comes from the village as it has had other names - Hell Stone, Holy Stone, Hoston and Holston.

This Was Leicestershire will give you the Humber Stone's geology and history:
So what is the Humber Stone, speaking geologically? It is probably an “erratic”; a large block of rock transported by the action of glaciers and plonked down, now out of place, when the ice retreated. This would have happened about 440,000 years ago, during the Anglian Ice Age, when Leicester was traversed by swathes of thick ice. The rock is syenite granite, the nearest source of which is Mountsorrel, five-and-a-half miles away.
A modern visitor to the Humber Stone will only see the top of the nine feet-high stone. The Humber Stone was fully exposed in 1881, for a geologist’s report, and the findings were documented by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Stone was described as being pentagonal in shape, with a heavily grooved top and vertical sides. The report states that the grooves were created after the block was deposited – by artificial as well as natural causes.
With names like the Hell Stone and the Holy Stone in the air, we could be in one of those 1970s supernatural children' TV series. So it is not a surprise that the website goes on to say:
“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”.
Getting from Humberstone to the Humber Stone proved harder than I had expected. There was no safe path beside the ring road and a couple of attempts to get there across the fields had to be aborted.

So I took a slight detour through the suburb of new Hamilton, which is named after a lost medieval village built over the last 20 years. It was pleasant enough, but there was no one about and, in particular, no children playing out. That was spooky too.

Incidentally, the construction of the ring road may have revealed and destroyed something significant. A comment on This Was Leicestershire recalls:
My late uncle who lived in the village told me that during the work for the new road and roundabout quite a few other large stones were simply tossed aside by the JCBs so we will never know if the Humber stone was actually part of a stone circle.

On the Record: The best opening titles for a political programme ever

On the Record was broadcast at Sunday lunchtime between 1988 and 2002.

You cannot beat Big Ben* turning into a crocodile and laying waste the country as a symbol of the political process.

The only thing wrong with these titles is that a member of the Dimbleby family turns up when they are over. And On the Record replaced an earlier programme in this slot, This Week, Next Week, which was introduced by the other brother.

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England: Long ago, the negatives of certain incriminating photographs of Lord Reith fell into the hands of Richard Dimbleby. We are still paying the price for his indiscretions almost 80 years later.

* I know, I know.

John Harris: London has become a citadel, sealed off from the rest of Britain

This John Harris article from earlier in the week is worth a read:
What is Nigel Farage's entire act if not a huge raspberry blown at the values and privileges of the more elevated parts of the capital, and most loudly heard from counties such as Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Hampshire and Lincolnshire? 
Plenty of numbers suggest that people there are right to be angry. In Ukip's heartland of the east of England, for instance, people talk endlessly about the state of the roads and railways and how difficult it is to get around. At the last count annual transport spending there was put at £30 per head; in London it was £2,600. 
Think about all this and you begin to arrive at a political theory of everything. In Peter Oborne's prescient book The Triumph of the Political Class (2007), he nailed the cliques that have taken over the three main political parties as follows: 
"Their outlook is often metropolitan and London-based. They perceive life through the eyes of an affluent member of London's middle and upper-middle classes. This converts them into a separate, privileged elite, isolated from the aspirations and problems of provincial, rural and suburban Britain." 
Quite so, and if its insane cost of living makes London a closed shop to all but the most privileged, this will only get worse.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Leicestershire signpost

Taken at Laughton last May.

Austin Mitchell, Europe and Brian Clough

Austin Mitchell has announced that he will retire as MP for Great Grimsby at next year's general election.

The BBC describes him as a "veteran" MP, but I remember when he was first elected to parliament.

It was April 1977 and Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives were carrying all before them. On the same day, 28 April, they won a by-election in Ashfield, a seat which Labour had won with a majority of 22,915 at the previous election.

But Austin Mitchell managed to retain Grimsby for Labour, though the majority he was defending only 6,982.

One reason for this was the different reasons for the by-elections. Grimsby was called because of the death of Tony Crosland, who was the foreign secretary and a respected constituency MP. Ashfield was called because the sitting MP, David Marquand, had gone off to work for Roy Jenkins in Brussels.

Mitchell was also helped by his fame as a local television presenter, but the chief reason for his victory against the odds was the campaign he ran.

In a town that has been badly affected by the common fisheries policy, he ran an impassioned campaign against Britain's membership of the European Economic Community.

Not that this was less than two years after the British people had voted 2:1 to remain in the EEC in a national referendum.

It is a lesson to those who argue that a referendum would settle the question of Britain's membership of the European Union "once and for all". And it also supports the idea that UKIP's natural supporters today are Labour voters who have seen no benefit from globalisation.

Though his man of the people act was part of Mitchell's appeal in the by-election, he had spent eight years in New Zealand lecturing in History and Sociology.

In the late 1960s he joined Yorkshire Television were his finest hour was this confrontation between Don Revie and Brian Clough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thomas Tertius Paget in Laughton and Humberstone

A couple of years ago I visited Laughton, a village a few miles to the west of Market Harborough:
A large house across the road turns out to have been a Wesleyan chapel for a couple of decades in the 19th century. And I am pleased that my guess that the initials "T.T.P." in the brickwork meant that it had once belonged to Thomas Tertius Paget, Liberal MP for South Leicestershire (1867-8, 1880-5) and Harborough (1885-6), turned out to be correct.
Sadly, it turns out that I did not photograph the old chapel - just the initials.

I found two more instances of T.T.P. on Saturday. The first was on a cottage at the entrance to Humberstone Park: the second was in a cottage in the middle of Humberstone, next to its dismal 1960s pub.

More striking were the initials I found on some cottages on the other side of the ring road - they would once have been in fields beyond the edge of the village.

The Pager family had sold the Hall by 1926, but maybe they had retained ownership of the farms on the estate and G.W.P. was a descendant of T.T.P.

Later. If the letters are C.W.P. rather than G.W.P., then I suspect they stand for Sir Cecil Walter Paget. He is not a direct descendant of Thomas Tertius, but he is from the same Paget family.

The Discreet Charm of Cyril Smith

Thanks to Spotlight on Abuse for reproducing this letter from Social Work Today (10 May 1977).

The biggest fruitcake in the East Midlands?

This title is held by Roger Helmer - try his views on rape and the age of consent if you doubt me.

But a powerful challenger has emerged in the shape of one of his fellow candidates on the UKIP list for the East Midlands at next month's Euro elections,

Step forward Nigel Wickens...

That's right: he believes that Putin's attempt to reassemble Russia's crumbling empire is somehow the EU's fault.

Perhaps it something to do with being christened "Nigel"?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cat of the Day

Today's winner is Teddy from Leicester, who makes good use of a bird table.

Nick Clegg on Cyril Smith: "It was like that when I got here"

Asked at his press conference yesterday about the allegations of serial child abuse against Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg said he had known nothing of them when he paid tribute to Smith on his 80th birthday as a "beacon" and an "inspiration" on his 80th birthday in 2008:
"Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed – in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology, it is – as my party has made quite clear – not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware."
Personally, I have known about the allegations against Smith since a considerably milder version of them appeared in Private Eye in 1979. As I once wrote, I have always assumed they were true.

Nick says he never heard them, and we must believe them. But the fact that there was no one in his inner circle to mention it to him does support the view (held by old farts like me) that he has surrounded himself with a group of bright young things with no great knowledge of the party.

I don't think Nick's response on Cyril Smith is successful, and the reason it doesn't tells us a lot about the problems he now faces.

During the television debates in the last general election campaign he could present himself as a young outsider without political baggage. He tries to do it here, but it does not work.

Nick Clegg is seen as a politician like any other who makes compromises and does not always tell the truth. The mishandling of tuition fees - I could never quite work out whether he was apologising for making that promise or for breaking it - hastened the process, but it was inevitable that it would take place.

And those of us who still like Nick now expect a bit more from him. He is a longstanding party leader and deputy prime minister. Answering with a touch of the petulance he is prone too and modelling your reply on Homer Simpson - "It was like that when I got here" - won't do any more.

Nick's failure to come to terms with this change in the way he is seen by the public was one of the reasons he did not do better in his debates with Nigel Farage. And unless he does come to terms with it, he will struggle if there are televised debates at the next election too.

As to Cyril Smith, it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel, who was both chief whip and leader of the Liberal Party.

Over to you, Dave.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Police appeal after naked man browses in charity shop

Headline of the Day goes to This is Wiltshire.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Humberstone Park tram shelter, Leicester

You can find several of these large shelters scattered across the city. They were built at the far ends of Leicester's various tram routes.

There is even one, says Leicester Trams, that was put up to serve a line that was never built.

Six of the Best 432

The next Liberal Democrat leader must come from the party's left, says Leicestershire's own Mathew Hulbert on The Staggers, the New Statesman's rolling politics blog.

"Given that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for invading Crimea was to prevent 'Nazis' from coming to power in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that his regime is growing closer by the month to extreme right-wing parties across Europe." Mitchell A. Orenstein writes for Foreign Affairs on the close links between Putin and the far-right in Europe.

The Needle has a guest post by Richard Scorer on his book on the English Catholic Church and child abuse.

Meanwhile in Shropshire, reports Andy Boddington, the funding for Ludlow's proposed Buttercross Museum is under threat.

Declaration Game visits the Cotswold Cricket Museum in Stow-on-the-Wold.

28DaysLater has some extraordinary photos from its exploration of the tunnel that takes the Willowbrook under the Midland Mainline north of Leicester station.

Konrad Adenauer invented the vegetarian sausage

My Trivial Fact of the Day comes from a BBC News feature on "10 inventions that owe their success to World War One".

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Next

Alex Harvey was voted Scotland's answer to Tommy Steel and his band once opened for an early version of the Beatles, but he found fame as the front man of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the 1970s before his early death. The band is still going today without him.

Next is a Jacques Brel song - see him perform it here. It is best known to British audiences through the version by Scott Walker, but as Walker sounds like a god rather than a skinny recruit, you suspect he had nothing to worry about in the showers.