Monday, February 22, 2021

Norman Baker on the rural buses

The former Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker turned up in an item on rural bus services on Farming Today last week - the item starts at 6:05.

Now the adviser to the Campaign for Better Transport, Norman calls for a reform of the funding of bus services to prevent further cuts.

St Leonards man told to take down ‘Eiffel Tower’ in front garden - pictures

The Hastings & St Leonards Observer wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Six of the Best 995

Martin Barrow argues that the privatisation of children’s services is bad for children and bad for taxpayers.

Charlie Brooker and Adam Curtis discuss Curtis' new six-part BBC series 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World'.

"In the suburbs of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia, the problem isn't that the children do not play in their front yards; the problem is that they don't even play in their backyards. And it is not because those backyards are unsafe but because their parents could be deemed 'neglectful' simply for allowing their children to go outside beyond their direct purview." Bridget Foley says childhood independence is on the verge of extinction in America.

Tim Dee celebrates the achievements of the environmental writer Richard Mabey.

"We had Moore, Hurst and Peters at their peak and the incomparable Gordon Banks in goal. Extravagant young talents like Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson and Charlie George were also on tap, so what could possibly go wrong?" Brian Penn looks back at England's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

Robert Andrews on the hunt for the medieval fa├žade of Wakefield's bridge chapel.

John Rogers on London’s Little Italy and the Legends of Islington

John Rogers describes this walk on YouTube:

A walk through London's Little Italy up to the fields of Islington, starting at Chancery Lane Station on High Holborn. We go into the curious anomaly of Ely Place, owned by the Bishops of Ely and once technically part of Cambridgeshire. We visit the Old Mitre Pub where Sir Christopher Hatton danced with Elizabeth I. 

The walking tour goes along Hatton Garden, the centre of Britain's diamond trade, and into Leather Lane Market. The walk through Little Italy takes us in search of Fagin's den in Saffron Hill, a place visited by Charles Dickens who drank in the One Tun pub. We walk along Hatton Wall into Portpool Lane where the Kings Ditch ran and through the Bourne Estate.

The heart of London's Little Italy lay in the streets falling away from Clerkenwell Road into the Fleet Valley - Back Hill, Eyre Street Hill, Herbal Hill. From here we go up Crawford Passage to Coldbath Square and Mount Pleasant. We stroll through Spa Fields - now Exmouth Market and Wilmington Square where Merlin was said to have a cave in the heart of the hill. The Merlin's Cave Tavern stood in Merlin House on the site of Charles Rowan House. 

Next we walk through Lloyd Square to Percy Circus where Lenin stayed in 1905. Back on Amwell Street we recount E.O Gordon's powerful mythology of London at the head of the Pen Ton Mound, now the New River Head Upper Reservoir on Claremont Square. Passing down Penton Street our walk ends at White Conduit House, once a celebrated pleasure garden and the true home of cricket.

Thirty years ago Liberator was put together on a Saturday and the day began with a cooked breakfast at a cafe in Leather Lane. Those were the days.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Leicester's Home for Penitent Females has been listed

Good news from The Victorian Society:

Following an application by the Leicester Group of the Victorian Society, Historic England have recognised the importance of the former “Home for Penitent Females” on Stoneygate Road in Leicester by granting it Grade II listed status.

You can read more about the Home on this blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sir Arthur Comyns-Carr and the coast of China

Plashing Vole has fun with the reduced standing of the Liberal Democrats:

Which reminds me of a story about an old Liberal Party assembly.

Here is Paddy Ashdown telling it in his leader's speech to our 1993 spring conference:

It is almost exactly forty years ago that David Steel’s predecessor, Foreign Affairs Spokesman Sir Arthur Comyns-Carr QC, complete in wing collar and side-boots, opened his speech at the Liberal Assembly here in Torquay with the immortal words…

‘I do not wish to say anything which might endanger the security of Quemoy and Matsu off the coast of China.’

But in 1993 we could smile at the Liberal Party of the 1950s. Because Paddy went on to observe:

Well I hope that the large number of foreign diplomats and visitors we have at our Conference today is an indication that what we say today is perhaps taken rather more seriously.

I doubt we will have many diplomates present when the Lib Dems are again able to hold a traditional party conference. We are closer to the Liberal Party of the 1950s than we care to admit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Island Gardens and North Greenwich: Two abandoned stations in the same place

Another engaging video from Jago Hazzard. He has a Patreon, you know.

I have clear memories of the original Island Gardens station from delivering for the Liberals in a controversial Isle of Dogs by-election.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Why everyone hated Don Revie's Leeds

Embed from Getty Images

I have been reading The Bonnie Prince - the autobiography of my first footballing hero Charlie Cooke. No replica kits in those days: my Mum just sewed a number 7 on to the back of a plain blue football shirt and I was him.

Cooke was a key member of the Chelsea side that beat Leeds United in the 1970 FA Cup final replay. And in his book he explains one reason why there was such an edge to the tie:

We seethed at Leeds's referee intimidation, endless whining and gamesmanship, which they had raised to an art from in the last few years under Don Revie. It would be an exaggeration, but not a big one, to say we definitely felt we had right on our side. 

Bremner and Giles, both small guys, and Hunter in the middle of the field were involved just about every stoppage and argument and hissy fit there was. It was like clockwork. 

The ref would make a decision, it would be disputed, and he would suddenly be surrounded by a bunch of white shirts, almost always including a bleating Bremner, Giles and Hunter, and sometimes, when he thought they needed some assistance, Big Jack Charlton, with his pointy elbows and towering presence, the veins bulging in his long neck. 

It was understandable that referees got worn down by it. They all did, eventually. It's only human.

The photo above shows Peter Osgood scoring Chelsea's equaliser in the Old Trafford replay. His diving header was made after a wonderful chip by Charlie Cooke.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Six of the Best 994

The Liberal Democrats are making the same mistake that doomed the Liberals a century ago, argues Nick Barlow.

Ian Dunt says liberals can redefine national pride and reclaim the flag from nationalists: "Liberal patriotism ... It starts and ends with the individual. It is a personal love story which springs from within, not a slab of uniformity imposed from above. It therefore cares about every individual in the country."

Dominic Dyer on the politics of the badger cull.

"Next Thursday 18 February 2021, it will have been eight years since the town walls fell at the back of St Laurence’s. There is no sign of the repairs beginning this year." Andy Boddington suggests Ludlow’s collapsed town wall should be registered as a Monumental Failure and become a tourist attraction.

Chris Orton offers an appreciation of Moondial, the BBC children's drama series from 1988: "Children’s drama in this era was thought-provoking and intelligent, with real care and attention made during the productions. The BBC seemed to go to great lengths to produce high quality programmes that made children think, entertained them and which didn’t belittle them."

"She loved to perch herself on or near a windowsill, surveying the outdoors for hours. It strikes me now how quintessentially feline that behaviour is: a docile carnivore balanced on the border of a human home, alone and content, yet with all its senses tuned to the world beyond." Ferris Jabr asks if cats are really domesticated.

£1.85m restoration for railway viaduct between Porthmadog and Minffordd

Rail Advent reports:

Network Rail has announced that restoration work on the Traeth Mawr Viaduct begun on Saturday 13th February.

As part of a multi-million project to upgrade the Cambrian Line, Network Rail has chosen Traeth Mawr to help improve the overall line.

The work will take place over a nine-day closure of the railway.

Work will include the replacement of wooden timbers, which Network Rail says is the main priority.

And why am I passing this on? Because I once got eaten alive by mosquitos taking a photo of this very viaduct, that's why.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary from the February 2021 Liberator

Liberator 405 - the February 2021 issue - has been posted on the magazine's website.

So it's time to enjoy Lord Bonkers' latest diary.

Ignorance indignantly pointed out that he had come second in Committee Room Theory and Practice only last term

You will by now have read of my detention by the police of Atherton, CA, on Christmas morning: I will admit that if the Attorney General of California had not turned out to an old golfing chum of the Governor of New Rutland then things might have got distinctly hairy for your humble diarist. So let me take a little time to explain what led to this unfortunate incident.

Some of my oldest friends and I have for some time been concerned for what, at the risk of sounding high falutin’, one might term Nick Clegg’s immortal soul. From having served the noble cause of Liberalism he has turned to the dark side and now serves Mammon. I do not have the Facebook, but I am told it is where the planet’s bad hats and ne’er-do-wells congregate to plot their mischief – and the aforementioned Clegg makes a good screw from promoting it.

After reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (surely he is our greatest novelist?) I hit upon the idea of staging an intervention. I would see to it that the ghosts of Liberalism Past, Liberalism Present and Liberalism Future appeared to Clegg on the night of Christmas Eve, leaving him feeling pretty small and open to being won back by the forces of light. I rather hoped, for instance, that he might volunteer to take on one of the more challenging Focus rounds in the Bonkers Hall ward.

So it was that my party took the red-eye from Rutland International Airport to San Francisco while the rest of the nation was watching Christmas movies on their electric televisions. With me were Meadowcroft and two Well-Behaved Orphans, along with some gamekeepers to help with scenery changes and a few of the Elves of Rockingham Forest to provide ghostly music. “We call them ‘Aeolian cadences’” one of them replied sniffily when I mentioned this. 

In retrospect, it was a mistake to allow Meadowcroft to dress up as the ghost of Liberalism Past: I should have stuck with my original plan of playing the part myself and quoting extensively from the speeches of William Ewart Gladstone. (I should have steered clear of the works of T.H. Green as they would only have sent Clegg back to sleep.) For as soon as Meadowcroft set eyes on Clegg, far from presenting tableaux of our party’s history, he shouted “You be the young varmint who incinemerated my little darlin’s” and went at him with an orchard doughty that he had somehow smuggled through customs. He was referring to an unfortunate incident in which a teenaged Clegg set fire to the glasshouse at the Hall which housed Meadowcroft’s cherished collection of cacti – the old boy had gathered them in the arid south of Rutland on his days off. Well, he had Clegg double digging for a year to pay for the damage, but I suspect a youth from the wrong side of the GNR&LNWR Joint would have been off to the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School before his trainers touched the ground.

It may have been at that point that Miriam called the feds, but our next scene was not a success either. I had intended to bring home to Clegg the importance of spending on education and social welfare by having Well-Behaved Orphans labelled ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ appear before him. When it came to it, however, Ignorance indignantly pointed out that he had come second in Committee Room Theory and Practice only last term and was still doing so when the rozzers called a halt to proceedings. So it was off to the hoosegow for all of us.


Little has changed in my absence: the village is still under lockdown, with the Bonkers’ Arms presenting a particularly sad picture. How I miss its windows glowing with light and the sound of merry chatter! If it weren’t for the secret passage from the Hall that emerges in the pub’s cellar, where I occasionally enjoy a Rutland egg – and you can’t get a more substantial meal than that – and a pint of Smithson & Greaves Norther Bitter, I would feel far more despondent. I am bearing the closure of St Asquith’s, however, with fortitude.


A quiet day in my Library, looking over my precious collection of Classical Latin manuscripts. You will be familiar with the story about Caligula making his horse a senator, but you will never have seen one of the Focus leaflets the horse put out. They reveal that he was assiduous at carrying out casework, while his slogan “It’s a One-Horse Race” show a sharp mind for electoral tactics. So those modern historians who suggest that by bestowing a high public office on his horse, Caligula was showing his underlings that their work was so meaningless an animal could do it, have got it entirely wrong. Incidentally, one of my own horses was once elected to Market Harborough Rural District Council after agreeing to stand as a paper candidate. While I will admit to putting out a leaflet in his name, I suspect his election had more to do with the racing tips he supplied to anyone who stopped by his field for a chat.


This morning, still recovering from my West Coast adventures, I walked by the shore of Rutland Water and was rewarded with one of nature’s most remarkable phenomena. All at once the surface of the lake was boiling with fish. They danced upon their tales, clapped one another on the back and sang in joyful voices. For Rutland fish are happy fish, perhaps most of all because no foreign trawler has ever found its way here from the North Sea. It is a difficult passage and not one to be attempted without first engaging the services of an experienced pilot. I imagine the prospect of being caught and eaten is no more attractive than that of being imprisoned while wearing an orange jump suit, so I joined the fishy chorus to celebrate my deliverance.

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