Friday, October 19, 2018

An Easter tradition at St Mary in Arden, Market Harborough

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This photograph has turned up on Getty Images with the caption "Graveside Hymn, Market Harborough."

As those houses in the background look like the bottom end of Great Bowden Road, the explanation for it is to be found on a page about the ruined church of St Mary in Arden:
A Service is still held here every Easter Saturday at 6.00pm, in accordance with the bequest of William Hubbard, whose gravestone is one of the few remaining in situ. In 1786 he left a rent-charge of one guinea to the church provided that ‘the Harborough singers’ sang the Easter hymn over his grave every year on Easter eve. The choir from St Dionysius church has continued this unbroken tradition for (at the time of writing) the last 225 years.
I will go along to see the fun one Easter.

In the mean time, there are some photographs of St Mary in Arden on this blog.

Charles Masterman and the pit-brow lasses

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Helen Pidd had an article in Sunday's Observer on an exhibition at Bishop Auckland Museum that celebrates the role of women in British coal mining.

This put me in mind of my favourite Edwardian Liberal, Charles Masterman, as he was the minister responsible for taking the Coal Mines Act of 1911 through the Commons.

Masterman's wife Lucy wrote about this episode in her biography of him:
The Coal Mines Act went through with little trouble except for a struggle to keep pit-brow lasses their right to work. Masterman had made enquiries into the question when he had been to Lancashire ... and had also received a deputation of the lasses themselves, sturdy, strapping girls obviously in far better health than the majority of factory of shop girls; and was determined they should not go. 
He laid down the principle: that women should not be forbidden any type of work unless it was proved to be (1) unhealthy, (2) in a situation dangerous to morals, (3) of a degrading and degraded character, and that a Parliament in which women were not represented should be chary of excluding them from any work they wished to do.

On refusing to be outraged at Nick Clegg's new job

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Nick Clegg stopped being deputy prime minister almost three-and-a-half years ago. By modern standards he has waited a couple of aeons before taking the corporate shilling.

Fairly or unfairly, Nick is unlikely to able to continue a career in British politics and is still too toxic to be of much help to the Liberal Democrats, so he does need to find something to do with his life.

And I suspect he was always cut out to be a Eurocrat or corporate insider than a campaigning politician.

As James Kirkup once wrote:
Politics is about arguments, about persuading people, by fair means or foul, to lend you their votes and their permission to rule. And this is what baffles Clegg.
The idea that a politician has used the prominence we have given them as a stepping stone to riches will never be an appealing one, but that may be a diminishing problem.

Now that the Tony Blair Playbook no longer contains all the answers (it says nothing about what to do in an economic crisis, for instance), politicians no longer have to be attractive young men with families.

So we will see retired politicians being left at a loose end after they leave written their memoirs.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Secrets of the Glasgow Subway



This is the third oldest underground railway system in the world. Only London and Budapest got there before Glasgow.

Six of the Best 823

"We need to reinstate the need for more leisure time as a political ideal and work on the sound evidence of its benefits rather than dismissing it as unaffordable." Darren Martin makes the case for a shorter working week.

Anne Applebaum on the murder of journalists across the globe: "The murders are the consequence of the clash between a 21st century technological revolution, which has made it possible to obtain and spread information in new ways, and a 21st century offshore banking revolution, which has made it possible to steal money in new ways, to hide it in new ways and to use it to maintain power."

Human Rights Watch is concerned about the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill: "The draft law punishes a single click on terrorist content online with up to 15 years in prison."

"On November 9, 1918, extra editions of newspapers flood the center of Berlin. One of them, from the socialist Vorwärts, falls into the hands of Käthe Kollwitz as she is strolling in the Tiergarten. 'The Kaiser has abdicated!' says the banner headline." Daniel Schönpflug looks at the artist and at Germany in defeat.

Curved or straight, the banana is at risk of dying. Matt Reynolds examines the race to reinvent it before it's too late.

Icy Sedgwick takes us along the old corpse roads.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Peter Sellers in The Optimists of Nine Elms



I remember seeing this clip from the 1973 film The Optimists of Nine Elms on Clapperboard, an excellent film programme for children that Chris Kelly introduced on ITV in those days.

Peter Sellers used to claim that his father had taught George Formby to play the ukulele, though I don't know the truth of that.

You can hear Martin Cathy and Dave Swarbrick performing I Haven't Told Her elsewhere on this blog.

There's life in Adur Lib Dems yet

Having made Sunday's Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen with a post asking "Whatever happened to Adur Liberals?", I am pleased to report that there is still life in the party in that part of West Sussex.

A report in the Worthing Herald tells us about a debate in Lancing. What should be done about the town's former police station?

The paper says
Members of Lancing and Sompting Liberal Democrats released a statement last month calling on the council to provide social housing on the site. 
Doris Martin, chairman of the Lancing and Sompting Lib Dems, said: "We urge Adur District Council to pursue this objective vigorously. 
"We believe it would be a major lost opportunity if the site is sold off into the private sector for flats. 
"It seems to us that few suitable sites become available for a significant addition to the social housing stock and this opportunity needs to be grasped."
And if you were given a home on the site you could call in Dunploddin'.

Hares in the Euston Road


After live-tweeting an academic event at University College London for my day job yesterday, I needed a restorative pint on the way back to St Pancras.

I made my way through darkest Bloomsbury before coming across The Resting Hare on Woburn Walk.

It opened a year or two ago and its website explains how it got its name:
The architect behind Woburn Walk, Thomas Cubitt, noted the tameness of the hares on his early morning constitutional. After the opening of Woburn Walk, the newly laid paving stones became a magnet for the local hares, who could easily be seen late at night resting peacefully along the walk. 
Indeed, famous poet W. B. Yeats who lived on Woburn Walk in the 1920’s, wrote of "a handsome old grey hare taking rest" outside number 6. 
Development and increased traffic on the Euston Road had made the crossing too difficult for the hares, and by the start of the 1930s they had disappeared into history.
A remarkable story - and there used to be a pub called The Hare's Foot in nearby Goodge Street.

This week came news that myxomatosis - a disease introduced to Britain in 1953 to control the rabbit population, which it did only temporarily - has jumped the species barrier and is now infecting hares.

Nature is resilient and forgiving, but we do seem determined to trash it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Loughborough Derby Road station from above (1947)


Remember when I went to look for what remains of the old Loughborough Derby Road station and was taken for an explorer by two boys who probably were not ghosts?

This aerial photograph shows the station in 1947, when it had long closed to passengers but was still open for goods services.

It is halfway down the photo towards the right-hand side. You can clearly see the goods shed that still stands there and the low station buildings are next to the main road.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Six of the Best 822

Photo: Alan Light
Adam Bernard does not think much of Vince Cable's proposed changes to the Liberal Democrat constitution: "There is no practical way for the party to verify that each 'supporter' is a different person, let alone that they’re who they say they are. It is trivial for anyone to make a dozen or a hundred 'supporters'. It is near-impossible to weed them out."

"Our education service is poor value, poor quality and incredibly expensive. Successive governments have spent vast amounts of money on creating a National Curriculum; a vast bureaucracy and an expensive inspectorate. There is little sign, however, that the way we spend the money and what we do with children is in the long-term interests of them or our country." Whereas Richard Kemp strongly supports the new Lib Dem education policy.

The Conservatives' target seats are short of candidates, reports Mark Wallace.

Ailbhe Finn says our approach to mental health isn't working.

Do journalists pay too much attention to Twitter? Matthew Ingram thinks so.

"In an industry keen to ignore women once they get past middle age, the widowed Fletcher is something of a unlikely feminist icon." Tanya Jones celebrates Angela Lansbury and Murder She Wrote.

Haysi Fantayzee: John Wayne is Big Leggy



A harmless novelty song about cowboys? It was, after all, played on Saturday morning children's television.

Not quite.

Wikipedia quotes Jeremy Healy, the male singer, who wrote it:
It was an allegory for treatment of which the white settlers used, but on the Native American Indians. However, I wrote it like John Wayne having anal sex with a squaw. I thought this was hilarious!
It also quotes the lyrics.

Healy went on to be a sought-after producer and musical director, while Kate Garner has met equal success as a photographer and multi-media artist.

Their keyboard player, Paul Caplin, became a successful entrepreneur.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Steve Benbow and Tommy Eytle

My programme for Cinderella, the 1966 Christmas Panto at the Palace Theatre, Watford, had advertisements too.

Shortly after it arrived I tweeted this one with the words "#Watford nightlife 1966 style".

That turned out to be rather Emily Thornberry tweet, because Steve Benbow (1931-2006) and Tommy Eytle (1926-2007) were both considerable figures.

Benbow's Guardian obituary said he was:
an inspiration to younger players. Davy Graham, whose guitar style affected those of Eric Clapton and Paul Simon, credits him as a primary influence: Benbow introduced him to Moroccan music he had heard while in the forces. Graham told the Guardian last year: "What he taught me was that you should never get stuck in one mode or style."
Eytle's Guardian obituary records that he:
played various society venues such as Esmeralda's Barn, a haunt of the Knightsbridge smart set, eventually taken over by the Krays. His irrepressible act was caught on film in two sequences from The Tommy Steele Story (1957) - with double bassist Chris O'Brien in a Caribbean setting, then fronting his own band on the London stage.
He late turned to acting and was best known for playing Jules Tavernier in EastEnders.

His older brother, Ernest Eytle, was the first West Indian summariser to broadcast on their test in England for the BBC. They were both friends of Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Six of the Best 821

Anne Applebaum says Viktor Orbán has duped the Brexiteers: "Whatever language about ‘European ideals’ or ‘Christianity’ Orbán’s disciples use at their government-sponsored think-tank events, in practice their destruction of institutions, including the media and the courts, has led directly to corruption and the entrenchment of their own power."

Do universities liberalise students? Paula Surridge says the connections between education and political behaviour should be studied.

Victoria Bateman thinks John Stuart Mill's ideas could save capitalism.

"Years before Seinfeld, Hancock’s Half Hour – a show about nothing. And like Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine and Kramer, the dysfunctional household of Hancock, Sid, Bill & Miss Pugh were amiable losers adrift, eccentric, a non-nuclear family in a world that revered gentility and respectability." Julian Dutton pays tribute to Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

Valerie Simadis talks to Sixties actor and musician Peter Noone.

The architect Fothergill Watson is best known for his work in Nottingham, but he was born in Mansfield. Lucy Brouwer takes us on a tour of that town, looking at what remains of his work.

Whatever happened to Adur Liberals?

We often talk about the churn in the Liberal Democrat vote - we may get a similar number of votes at two consecutive elections, but a lot of the people who voted for us at the first will not have voted for us second time round.

Do we also get a churn in the areas where we win power too?

When I was elected as a councillor back in the 1980s there were vanishingly few local authorities where the Liberal/SDP Alliance had overall control.

One authority we did run was Adur, a district council in West Sussex whose largest town is Shoreham-by-Sea.

I remember, at the urging of my Association of Liberal Councillors mailing, trying to persuade Harborough District Council to adopt a scheme for making sure that the homes of older residents were warm enough in winter that Adur had put in place.

Checking the relevant page on Wikipedia I find that, remarkably, the Alliance and then the Liberal Democrats had uninterrupted control of Adur between 1980 and 1999.

But something went terribly wrong after that. Today there are no Lib Dem councillors on Adur and a council by-election there this evening has no Lib Dem candidate.

A clue comes in the form of a news story from 2002 which says the Lib Dems had made a conscious decision not to field candidates in that years elections to allow them to regroup.

My guess is that Adur was won with classic Liberal Party community politics - as a compact, largely urban authority it would certainly have lent itself to such an approach.

But that approach takes a great deal of hard work and generally relies on a few driven individuals to make it work. If those individuals get tired or fall out or move away, the whole thing can fall apart.

Of course, there are see authorities that see no churn: the Lib Dems have run the London Borough of Sutton since 1986.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceBut I feel this churn in the areas where we do well is a real phenomenon and the biggest reason for it, our lack of an instinctive core vote, suggests it is related to the churn in the people who vote Lib Dem overall.

Independent councillor joins the Lib Dems in Telford


From the Shropshire Star:
Councillor Shana Roberts, who represents the Stirchley ward on Brookside and Stirchley Parish Council, has also been selected to be the Liberal Candidate for the Brookside ward in the 2019 borough council elections. 
She was originally elected in 2017 and is the current chair of local action project, Brookside Big Local.
The report goes on to quote Shana Roberts:
"After some soul searching I decided to go back to my Liberal Democrat roots and I have found a family of authentic, honest and driven people who give me hope. People who focus on the good they can do and not the bad that someone else does."
In August Labour lost control of Telford and Wrekin Council when one of their councillors joined the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Victoria: A Stamford ghost sign


This ghost sign is to be found in Stamford near Greyfriars Gatehouse.

What Pub reveals that The Victoria was a one-roomed pub originally known as the Parting Pot Inn. It changed its name for Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1886.

Our beliefs blind us to the logical validity of political arguments


There's an interesting post on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog that looks at how good we are at judging the logical validity of political arguments when we already have beliefs about the issue in question.

It reports research by Vladimíra Čavojová at the Slovak Academy of Sciences and her colleagues, who recruited 387 participants (mainly university students) in Slovakia and Poland.

The researchers first assessed the students' views on abortion, which is a topical and contentious issue in both countries. They then presented them with 36 syllogisms – formal logical arguments that come in the form of three statements. The students had to judge whether the third statement, the conclusion of the argument, followed logically from the first two.

Some of the syllogisms were on neutral subjects, but others had a conclusion that was relevant to the abortion debate - some were pro-life and some were pro-choice.

The Research Digest post says:
Čavojová and her team found that the participants’ existing attitudes to abortion interfered with their powers of logical reasoning – the size of this effect was modest but statistically significant. 
Mainly the participants had trouble accepting as logical those valid syllogisms that contradicted their existing beliefs, and similarly they found it difficult to reject as illogical those invalid syllogisms that conformed with their beliefs. This seemed to be particularly the case for participants with more pro-life attitudes.
One intriguing point is that this bias was actually higher among students with previous experience of training in logic.*

The researchers suggest their results "show why debates about controversial issues often seem so futile”.

* Formal logic, like chess opening theory and the Romanov Tsars of Russia, is one of the things I used to know a fair bit about but have now largely forgotten.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Diana Rigg on The Avengers



Five decades since she first appeared as Emma Peel in The Avengers, says the blurb on YouTube, fans of the show still approach Dame Diana Rigg to express their gratitude.

Here she joins BFI curator Dick Fiddy to reflect on the influence of Peel on real-life women and acting with Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry.

East Midlands Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference


East Midlands Liberal Democrats are holding their autumn regional conference in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, on Saturday 3 November.

Click here to book a place or book a stall.

That page also has details of a local party dinner taking place that evening at nearby West Haddon.

The welcome return of utopian economic thinking

Suddenly people are questioning the idea that the future involves all of working harder for ever and ever.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said recently:
"In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. 
"So, for the 21st century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone. It’s time to share the wealth from new technology, not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves."
Sian Berry, co-leader of the Greens, said at their conference earlier this month:
"It’s time to shift away from the culture which sees us work harder and harder for longer and longer, often without reward or satisfaction. And to recognise that true freedom will only be found when people have more control of their time and how it is spent. 
"That is why Greens want the next Budget, and every future Budget, to include a new economic indicator that measures people’s leisure time."
And the philosopher Kate Soper has called for an 'alternative hedonism':
Most politicians and business leaders seem likewise incapable of thinking ‘outside the box’ of consumerism.
Obsessed as they are with economic growth and GDP,  they do not invite the electorate to think about other ideas of progress and prosperity, and are more than happy for advertisers to retain their monopoly over the imagery and representation of pleasure and the ‘good life’. 
Even the left-wing critics of capitalism have been more bothered about the inequalities of access and distribution it creates than about the ways it confines us to market-driven ways of living.
I would want to read the small print before I endorsed her ideas, but she is right to point out how the narrow is the strip of ground usually occupied by economic debate in Britain.

And this has consequences. Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership because none of his rivals had anything interesting to say or much to say at all. And he, when you get beyond the noise on social media, was offering what was not much more than a conventional social democratic programme.

I welcome this flowering of utopian economic thinking. It's proponents have to make the sums work if they are to be taken seriously, but when I am told such ideas would bankrupt industry I recall what Charles Dickens wrote in Hard Times:
Surely there never was such fragile china-ware as that of which the millers of Coketown were made. Handle them never so lightly, and they fell to pieces with such ease that you might suspect them of having been flawed before. They were ruined, when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined, when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone.
And, I must ask, what would utopian Liberal Democrat ideas look like? It feels an awful long time since we had any.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Nottingham Canal joins the Trent at Meadow Lane Lock


You can get on to the towpath by Nottingham Station, and from there it is a mile to where the Nottingham Canal meets the Trent at West Bridgford.

The final lock down into the river is Meadow Lane Lock, which is close to Notts County's ground and opposite Nottingham Forests' City Ground on the other bank.

If you like photographs of canals joining the Trent, see the:






Two barks for the Wooferendum

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In the run up to the day the idea of a 'Woofeendum' sounded rather twee.

But it generated some appealing images for the media, which is something Remainers have not been very good at. Fun as they are, marches risk being interesting only to those who go one them.

It is also striking how much more effective pro-EU campaigning has been since it fell from the hands of the professionals - David Cameron and George Osborne, Ryan Coetzee and Will Straw CBE - and into the hands of those who really care about it.