Monday, August 20, 2018

North Kilworth and the landscape of middle-class affluence

When I blogged about the Erewash Canal at Long Eaton, I said I looked for shabby charm on the canals.

There is still some of that on the Grand Union at North Kilworth, but it is already dominated by the new marina that is being constructed there.

Like a modern golf course, this is the contrived landscape of middle-class affluence.

Such developments are inevitable given the popularity of canal cruising today, but they are hard to love. Perhaps it will look better when it is finished and hosting hundreds of boats.

My perceptions must be warped by having had childhood canal holidays in the days when they were still unusual and rather adventurous.

I remember this Leicester Line of the Grand Union in 1971 - my last middle-class summer for many years. It was choked with weed and my father had to stop the boat every few miles to free the propeller.

Later my stepfather was to moor his boat at North Kilworth, though I don't think I ever visited him there.

I had a chat with the woman in the office at the wharf there and played with the dog until it decided it had won the game and held on to the ball.

Is there a complex set of rules they play to which we have never worked out?


The Feathers in Ludlow has closed

Sad but not unexpected news from the Ludlow Advertiser:
One of the most iconic landmarks in Ludlow has closed with the loss of 16 jobs. 
The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow has closed its doors after going into administration. 
It is hoped that a buyer can be found and that the building can reopen again at some point as a hotel. 
Ongoing trading difficulties as the result of a legionnaires outbreak in 2017, meant that it was no longer viable for the business to remain open. The Company entered administration on Thursday, August 2.
The Feathers, with its spectacular half-timbering, is certainly is one of the town's most striking buildings. When I arranged to meet a friend there once I felt like I was in the opening chapter of an interwar thriller.

Conservative-run Northamptonshire splashed out on luxuries as its finances collapsed

Rushton Hall

Sarah Ward reports in the Northamptonshire Telegraph:
Northamptonshire County Council spent huge sums on corporate hospitality, string quartets and lavish events as it was heading towards its financial crisis. 
During 2015 when the state of the finances was becoming increasingly serious, the authority paid for a number of luxuries including £2,700 on a heritage dinner at Rushton Hall, £3,624 on a flypast at the Grafton Underwood memorial event and £4,500 on a marquee for an occasion at Boughton House, Kettering. 
It also spent £80,000 with Northampton Saints rugby club, which included the cost of a stadium hospitality box. 
The payments were made through NCC-owned company NEA Properties, which an internal council investigation has found had ‘minimal’ governance and documentation.
She goes on to explain that the money came from the sale of property to the University of Northampton. The bulk of the proceeds was returned to the council, but £120,000 was retained by NEA Properties.

The report quotes the Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Stanbra:
"There is some serious explaining that needs to be done here.
"I knew the company existed but I made the assumption that it was managing the resources properly and that all funds were coming back to the county council. 
"I certainly didn’t think they were spending money on hospitality boxes and on fly pasts at Grafton Underwood. 
"The money should not have spent on these things and of course I expect that minutes of the company meetings would have been taken and properly documented. 
"It is public money at the end of the day and it is completely wrong."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dr Smith meets The Master

One for the teenagers here as two television science fiction icons meet in a 1964 episode of The Third Man.

First we see Jonathan Harris who a year later began to play Dr Smith in Lost in Space. He and his rather camp enmity with the ship's robot were the high point of the show.

The two of them were certainly more interesting than the terminally dull Robinson family (even if one of them had been in The Sound of Music).

Then we find that the man Harry Lime has sent him to meet is played by Roger Delgado, the original and best Master in Doctor Who.

My Doctor was Jon Pertwee, but it was Delgado and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier who went a long way to making those years special.

The Shropshire Star marks the 60th anniversary of the Longmynd Adventure Camp

The Shropshire Star has an article on the Longmynd Adventure Camp, which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its foundation this year:
The young lads from underprivileged backgrounds in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and the Black Country, had never seen anything like it. 
Plonked in tents in the shadow of the Long Mynd, they washed in a brook, sang round a camp fire, roamed the countryside, played games, and generally enjoyed the fresh air.
I blogged about the camp back in 2010, when I exclaimed over how remarkable it was to find such an establishment just down the lane from the real-life models for Malcolm Saville's Witchend and Ingles Farm.

Writing this has reminded me that when I first discovered The Bog Visitor Centre on the other side of the hill there were still wooden tents in its yard, left over from the days when it had been some sort of outdoor activity centre.

And a letter from a former helper at the Longmynd Camp, quoted in the Shropshire Star, is unexpectedly moving:
"Dear Sir, As you can see by the above address [Her Majesty's Prison, The Dana, Shrewsbury] things have changed for me since our last meeting... I will always remember all the great songs we sang, especially your daughter Debbie's favourite, 'There's A Worm At The Bottom of the Garden.' Brilliant! ...
"I am sorry for letting you down Mr Williams."

Britain is ruled by a bluffocracy

There's a good article by James Ball and James Greenway in the Spectator this week.

They write:
Any time we see a politician fail, or an idiotic policy collapse as it passes through parliament - which these days seems like a regular occurrence - we are left with a familiar feeling. That this screw-up is the result of a chancer at work. Someone who has, at the very best, a shallow understanding of the country they’re trying to govern. Someone who knew how to come up with a headline-grabbing idea, and how to make it sound convincing and radical - but didn’t ever have the faintest idea how to implement it. 
What we see perhaps less often is that the UK has - for a variety of cultural, social, and economic reasons - set up our public life so that the chancers are best suited to the system, and are most likely to rise to the top.
You can hear them talking about the ideas in their article on the latest Spectator Podcast.

Swinging Blue Jeans: You're No Good

Merseybeat Nostalgia remembers:
The Bluegenes as they where known in the early years, formed in 1957 and, like most Liverpool groups, started out playing skiffle. They progressed from playing dance halls and church halls to the Cavern Club combining skiffle with trad-jazz. 
In 1961, Cavern DJ BobWooler, compiled a Top 10 list of the best Liverpool groups, he placed The Beatles at No.1 but beneath his list he added ‘excluding the Bluegenes, they are beyond comparison, in a class of their own’.
Today the Swingng Blue Jeans are mostly remembered for their two big British hits: Hippy Hippy Shake from 1963 and this from the following year.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Six of the Best 812

"And it was certainly a dramatic landslide – with diners in the National Liberal Club dancing on the tables as victory after victory was reported." Mark Pack on the 1906 Liberal landslide.

ConservativeHome is a hotbed of Conservative Islamophobia, says Simon Childs.

Adam Segal looks at the prospect of China becoming a cyber super-power: "If this happens, the Internet will be less global and less open. A major part of it will run Chinese applications over Chinese-made hardware. And Beijing will reap the economic, diplomatic, national security, and intelligence benefits that once flowed to Washington."

What went wrong with the Ben Stokes trial? The Secret Barrister explains.

JohnBoy pays tribute to the publisher John Calder: "John, who has died at the age of 91, was in his late twenties in the late 1950s when let in the light on dreary post-war Britain with his publication of a flood of progressive foreign writers and became the scourge of its conservative literary establishment in the process."

You can watch Elvis Costello and his band Flip City playing in 1974 on Open Culture.

North Kilworth beyond the main road

I don't know if it is more true of this part of the world than anywhere else, but in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire the centre of villages are often bypassed by the main roads.

I am not thinking of modern bypasses, just the A roads that were established a couple of centuries ago.

Take North Kilworth. I have always known it as a pub and a few houses on the way to the M1, But having used at Google Street View the other evening, I realised there was much more to see.

So I caught the 58 bus - one of Harborough's three threatened services - there today and took these photographs.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Gumley: Historic and a little mysterious

Gumley lies eleven miles south-east of Leicester at the eastern end of a ridge of hills which runs from Husbands Bosworth through Mowsley and Laughton, north of the Welland valley.
So says the Victoria County History of Leicestershire.

That hill is impressive in itself, but there is all sorts of history up there too.

There are the remains of a motte castle (though its precise age and purpose are debated), somewhere here too a synod took place in 749, called by King Aethelbald of Mercia.

And round about 1800 the village was reshaped to please the owners of the now-demolished Gumley Hall. The main street once ran to the doors of St Helen's church and, says the Victoria County History, there were houses on the land beside it now occupied by woods.

Somewhere to explore more closely - if they don't scrap the 44 bus to Foxton.

‘It’s getting out of hand’ - More than 200 chickens are taking over a Norfolk housing estate

A chicken yesterday

The Eastern Daily Press wins our Headline of the Day Award.

I have been asked to point out that the judges also enjoyed the complaint from a resident that "the chickens are always crossing the road".

It would have been a very poor result if we hadn't gained Knaresborough last night

There were three local by-elections last night and in one them the Liberal Democrats gained the seat from the Conservatives.

So a good night for us then? .

Each Thursday Andrew Teale published wonderfully detailed previews of that week's by-elections. So let's have a look at last night's results in the light of his preview.

There was a by-election in the Gwynfi ward of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, but the Liberal Democrats did not field a candidate.

Andrew Teale gives the results for the ward going back to 1983 and there has never been a Lib Dem (or Liberal or SDP) candidate in all that time, so our no-show last night was no surprise.

Incidentally, the Conservatives have not fielded a candidate in Gwynfi since 1983 either. Last night they did and got 4 votes. The seat was gained from Labour by an Independent.

The second by-election was in the East ward of Bury Council and it was a comfortable hold for Labour.

There was a Lib Dem candidate for the first time since 2011, and he came fifth with 2.2 per cent of the vote.

Back in 2004, Andrew Teale records, the only Lib Dem candidate polled over a thousand votes at the council elections in this three-member ward.

The third by-election was in the Knaresborough ward of North Yorkshire County Council and it was here that we made our gain.

Looking at Andrew Teale's preview, however, you find that the Lib Dems held this seat from 2005 to 2017. In other words, it was a ward we could win even during the Coalition.

Which suggests that if we had not gained Knaresborough last night it would have been a sign that we were making no sort of a recovery at all. 

So perhaps we should not get too carried away by this result.

Let me repeat what I wrote in February:
I love to see the Lib Dems gaining seats in local by-elections and tweet the results as eagerly as anyone. 
But, as I have blogged before, we must beware of confirmation bias – our tendency to notice evidence that supports our view (say, that there is a Lib Dem revival taking place) and pass rapidly over evidence that does not. 
I suspect this bias explains why we Lib Dems were disappointed by last year’s general election result and even more why we were shocked when we lost seats in the local elections the month before.
None of this is to detract in any way from the efforts of Lib Dem activists in Knaresborough or anywhere else, who work so hard for these results.

Though, as Simon Titley used to point out, the fact that we have to work so hard to remind our voters that they usually vote for us is a sign of weakness not strength. We have little core support and thus few safe seats.

Let me end on a happier note by saying how much I like Knaresborough. I took the photograph of it above when, many years ago, I was a student at York.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Rediscovering the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway

A journey along the alignment of the former narrow-gauge railway between Barnstaple and Lynton to discover what remains of this line 83 years after its closure.

The line now has an active restoration society.

And while we are talking about it, see my own photograph of Barnstaple Town in 1982.

Lembit Opik will have to use the bars in space now

Photo by Nicolas Gras on Unsplash

He may be the new prime minister of space, but Lembit Opik is having a less happy time of it down here on Earth.

The Daily Mail reports that he has been stripped of his parliamentary pass after breaking the rules about bringing guests into the Palace of Westminster.

As Lembit tried something a little similar at a Liberator disco the first time I ever met him, this does not come as a complete surprise.

What may be a surprise is the Mail's revelation that former MPs who have been convicted of criminal offences, or had to replay large sums received in expenses, hold such passes.

Bishop's Castle Railway weighbridge to be restored

Good news from the Shropshire Star:
The Bishop's Castle Railway Society has started work on the weighbridge building with plans to turn it into a community hub for public use. 
Originally built in 1865, the building is situated in the yard of Charles Ransford & Sons timber, and was home to railway offices and a weighbridge facility. 
Plans have been drawn up to preserve the weighbridge mechanism and restore the building as near to its original state as possible.
I blogged about the railway society's plans a year ago. They are now coming to fruition thanks to a grant from the heritage lottery fund.

Judging by the photo in the Shropshire Star today, the site has already been tidied up since I was there last.

Your move, Gumley.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gumley is Leicestershire's Bishop's Castle

I have worked out why I like Gumley so much: it reminds me of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire.

Both settlements have a long main street that runs uphill to a building that is no longer there.

In Bishop's Castle it is the castle: in Gumley it is Gumley Hall.

When I was in Gumley on Saturday I noticed that a couple of the large houses on its only street were looking run down.

That is a shame, but it gives it something else in common with its Shropshire cousin.

One of the things I have always liked about Bishop's Castle is that it is not too perfect.

You will get a run of chocolate-box 18th-century houses and then there will be one patched up with corrugated iron. My mother says this is what Bath was like in the 1950s.

Another of the things I like about it is its pubs. And Gumley can complement that too.

In past years The Bell in Gumley has not seemed welcoming. It was always closed when you passed it and had signs up telling you all the things you couldn't do there. But on Saturday it was open, friendly and appeared to be thriving.

And there is one thing Gumley has that Bishop's Castle doesn't: a green telephone box.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Great Chess Movie (1982)

When this documentary was made in chess was dominated by the Soviet Union and world championship matches were hate-filled affairs between the model Soviet citizen Anatoly Karpov and the dissident Victor Korchnoi.

No one foresaw the collapse of the Communist system, though the games of a teenager called Garry Kasparov were already attracting attention around the world and computers were beginning to pose a threat to all but the strongest players.

The film provides a great picture of chess in that era and its leading personalities.

And there is a sad moment for English chess fans right at the start. The name card right at the 1981 Lone Pine tournament saying "Wells, England" is for Ian Wells.

Regarded as our best prospect after Nigel Short, he was to drown the following year aged only 17.

No sign of any action to save Northampton's Eleanor Cross

I last blogged about the struggle to save Northampton's Eleanor Cross a year ago and there has been no good news since.
The Pipeline covered this slow-motion crisis today:
In spite of the cross being listed on the borough’s asset register, through the Winter of 2017/2018 the borough council was still arguing with Northampton County Council, disputing who actually owned the Grade 1 listed monument and was thus legally responsible for paying for the repairs. 
In November 2017, in a move which critics took as a further attempt to postpone having to commit cash for the repairs, the council chose to go with the recommendations of one of its own staff, Building Control Officer Lee Hunter, who suggested that the works could be postponed safely, rather than with the conclusions of the independent experts. 
In the spring of this year Northampton Borough Council finally admitted that it had responsibility for the Eleanor Cross and submitted a grant application to Historic England.

The Pipeline continues:
However, since the first week in May nothing further appears to have happened, while the cross appears to have suffered the further damage shown in photographs published this week on Social Media, including on the Save Our Eleanor Cross Facebook group and now here in thePipeLine.
The website contacted Historic England to ask when work would finally begin, but was referred back to the council.

Having spoken to the council, the Pipeline concludes:
Apart from the appointment of an, unnamed, lead adviser, to add to the extensive advice NBC has already had from Cliveden Conservation, Stress UK and Historic England, the Northampton Eleanor Cross is effectively no closer to repair work actually commencing than it was almost a year ago in October 2017.
It even suggests that the council intends to delay the necessary restoration work for much longer.

Given the council's poor record on preserving the town's heritage recently, it is hard to feel optimistic for the monument's future.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Waiting for the end of an over at Gumley

When you follow the lane past Saddington reservoir you climb a wooded hill and emerge above the village of Gumley.

On that high ground you will find the village cricket ground, which I blogged about nine years ago.

There was a match in progress, allowing me to show you the measures used to control traffic on the very minor road that crosses the field of play.

The way the ground blends into the open countryside, and the village war memorial beside it, give you the feeling that you are looking at a painting. It would fall halfway between the Symbolists and David Inshaw.

Six of the Best 811

"At many junctures in the book, the ability to think historically deserts its author. He describes men such as Hitler as 'short' when their height (5ft 8in in his case) exactly matched the average height of European men at the time; and he describes Churchill as a 'Victorian Whig', though the Whigs’ attitude to the state in legislation such as the 1834 Poor Law was entirely different to Churchill’s." In 2014 Richard J. Evans wrote an enjoyable scathing review of Boris Johnson's study of Winston Churchill.

Oz Katerji looks at the reaction to Israel's rescue of the White Helmets from Assad's Syria.

"Susan and Colin of the Weirdstone Trilogy walk the same paths that Garner walked with his father; around the Edge, up to Stormy Point and past the various wells that litter the path." Adam Scovell looks at the use of landscape in Alan Garner's fiction.

Being Donald Bradman's son was such a burden that for a while John Bradman changed his surname to Bradsen. Belinda Hawkins and Wendy Page meet the family of the greatest batsman cricket has seen.

Philip Wilkinson has found another tin tabernacle. It's at Halse near Brackley.

An Egyptian city built for Cecil B, DeMille is emerging from the Californian sand. Katya Cengel reports.

Important news on the Leicester Class 27

The Class 27 that has been in the sidings at Knighton Junction, a mile south of Leicester, all summer has moved on.

No longer will the tracklaying machines have to listen to its tales of the Scottish Highlands and hauling the Tilbury boat train.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who gave me this news over the weekend. It is now to be found at the UK Rail Leasing depot just north of Leicester station.

I checked as I passed Knighton this evening and, sure enough, the Class 27 was gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Elven archers and Well-Behaved Orphans

And so, as piracy is driven from the Rutland Union Canal (and from the hills of High Leicestershire more generally), we bid farewell to Lord Bonkers and his many friends and helpers.


What a battle it was! The pirates were assailed from all sides by elven archers and Well-Behaved Orphans with catapults. Then they faced close combat from gamekeepers armed with orchard doughties and badgers armed with powerful jaws.

Eventually, Cook freed herself from her bonds and (before untying Jo Swinson, Layla Moran and Paddy Ashplant) fetched the pirate captain a fearful blow over the head with her soup ladle. After that the fight rather went out of them.

I have not enjoyed a holiday so much in years. Not only that: with a spot of restoration the Rutland Union Canal will make ideal cruising for the more adventurous boater. I think a horse-drawn hotel boat would also prove popular, but I shall pick my moment before suggesting it to Alfred.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

The M&S stores in Northampton and Kettering closed yesterday

Yesterday the Marks & Spencer stores in Kettering and Northampton closed for the last time.

Maybe M&S is not the flagship it used to be for a high street, but I fear these closures will hit both towns.

Northampton seems to have a lot of empty shops these days, while Kettering had been going up in the world with better townscaping and the odd chain restaurant appearing.

When the closures were announced a few weeks ago I went to Kettering to take these photos. I bought some socks and found the store was as busy as ever.