Thursday, May 06, 2021

Snoring Somerset dormouse stuns National Trust rangers

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ITV News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Click on the link to be stunned yourself.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

James Graham looks back at the AV referendum 10 years on

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James Graham has written a cracking post looking back at the referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for British general elections.

This took place on 5 May 2011 and its staging formed part of the Coalition agreement. Unfortunately, it turned out that no one had any idea how to argue for AV because, as James confirms, no one much believed in the system.

I can't remember a single poster or slogan from the pro-AV campaign. I can't even remember voting in the referendum, though I suppose I must have done.

Anyway, here are a few highlights from James's post, but do hurry over to Quaequam Blog! and read the whole thing:

It was genuinely surprising to me that in the run up to the EU referendum, no-one from the Remain campaign ever approached me about my thoughts on what they should and should not do. Perhaps this is ego talking, but I’m not aware of anyone in the campaign being approached.

It seemed remarkable to me that no-one seemed to think they had anything to learn from us. But then, if I was a Cameron-supporting Tory who had been on the No to AV side and was aware of what a brutally effective campaign that had been, I would have moved the earth to avoid holding a second national referendum in the first place. It isn’t just the Lib Dems who were guilty of hubris.


I’m not writing this to especially condemn the man – there has been far too much water under the bridge since – but it seems very weird to me the degree to which Lord Sharkey‘s role in the campaign has been downplayed and even airbrushed out of history. ... And yet it was my recollection that every single significant appointment or campaign decision had been made by him. No one has ever challenged this as far as I know. He’s just been essentially erased.


My career weirdly mirrors Nick Tyrone’s. While the AV referendum was the finishing of my political career, it was the making of his. He went from an obscure film producer who just happened to be the husband of Nick Clegg’s Director of Policy, to the head of the Radix think tank. He fell out with the Lib Dems pretty quickly post-2015 as the party sought to distance itself from the “coalicious” period and these days has very much positioned himself in the same right wing circles as Matthew Elliot.


Tuesday, May 04, 2021

There's nothing wrong with calling our national flag the Union Jack

It's featured in Doctor Who, and the last person I heard making the claim was Jim Davidson.

I don't know where the idea that it's wrong to call the UK's national flag the Union Jack comes from - on no evidemce. I suspect QI - but it's bollocks.

If you don't believe me, talk to Cdr Bruce Nicolls OBE RN (Retd) of the Flag Institute:

It is sometimes claimed that the Union Flag should be described as the Union Jack only when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From its earliest days, the Admiralty often referred to the flag – however it was used – as the Union Jack. 

In 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that either name could be used officially. And in 1908 the UK Parliament approved this verdict, stating that ‘the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag’.

Cdr Nicholls's article featured in a Six of the Best here long ago. I still enjoy collecting links for this feature, but I find its name increasingly embarrassing.

Does anyone have a better idea for something to call it?

Monday, May 03, 2021

Alex Andreou on the need to give Leavers the space to change their minds

There's a really good contribution to the latest Oh God, What Now? podcast by Alex Andreou,

I liked it so much that I transcribed it, but if you click on player above you can listen to him making it:

We are never going to get the Damascene conversion en masse that we crave – “we” as in Remainers. There’s never going to be that moment where Nigel Farage is marched naked down the street with Naomi [Smith] following him ringing a big bell going “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

It’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to get that satisfaction outside our fantasy world.

And when actually it does happen, the vast majority of Remainers’ reaction is to go: “Why did you vote for it then you wanker?” You know, to punish the people who publicly change their mind.

So here’s what need to happen. What we need to do is to create create the space – the intellectual space – for people to change their mind in the privacy of the polling booth.

They don’t have to publicly admit it. They don’t have to make some grand apology: “You were right. We were wrong. Badly done on us.” We just have to give them enough reasons and enough space to U-turn n the privacy of the polling booth, just between them a piece of paper and a pencil.

Oh God, What Now? is the new name for the old Remainiacs podcast,

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sandy Denny: Whispering Grass

My main present for Christmas 1973 was a cassette recorder and I was soon busy taping music off the radio. I remember recording the year's top 60 singles, stopping the tape every time Peters and Lee put in an appearance.

And I remember taping a snatch of this record from a trailer for a Radio One programme. Looking at BBC Genome, it must have been for the edition of Sounds on Sunday broadcast on 6 January 1974.

I had no idea what the song was or who the singer was, but I thought it was wonderful.

Whispering Grass was made famous by The Ink Spots in the 1940s and was to reach the top of the charts in 1975 thanks to  Windsor Davies and Don Estelle.

These two were playing their characters from the comedy It Ain't Half Hot Mum. One day I will write a post offering a limited defence of that show.

Later, like all sensible people, I came to worship Sandy Denny's singing. Despite the appearance of biographies, though, her life and character remain opaque.

Six of the Best 1006

Rafael Behr says there is only one thing certain in the court of King Boris: it will all end badly: "Johnson is driven by a restless sense of his own entitlement to be at the apex of power and a conviction, supported by evidence gathered on his journey to the top, that rules are a trap to catch weaker men and honour is a plastic trophy that losers award themselves in consolation for unfulfilled ambition."

"The unreadable in pursuit of the unelectable" Mic Wright deconstructs my old classmate Allison Pearson's interview with Laurence Fox.

Ian Sanjay Patel is interviewed about his book We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire.

Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, reports Alison Flood.

"Aunt Lucy gets to see firsthand that Paddington is okay and know he is loved and being cared for with the utmost sincerity. It’s all one can ever hope for when they have to give a child up for adoption." Mike X. Nichols says the two Paddington films get a lot right about adoption.

"One of the key British films of the 1950s, Pool of London was far out ahead of the crowd in tackling racial issues on screen. This classic dockside noir was directed by Basil Dearden." Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in the film to see what remains.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

London's Lost Railways: Woodside and South Croydon

Geoff Marshall, who produces the Least Used Station videos I sometimes post here, has started a new series: London's Lost Railways.

The first of these takes us to Croydon and the remains of the Woodside and South Croydon Joint Railway.

Friday, April 30, 2021

What does success in 6 May's elections look like for the Lib Dems?

Prospect thinks it knows:

Win at least 16 per cent of projected Britain-wide vote share
Gain more council seats than they lose

Win at least 10 per cent of constituency vote in elections to the 

Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (8 per cent in both elections last time)

These goals are depressingly modest and the third, judging by the opinion polls, looks out of reach.

But we also need to male some spectacular advances that suggest there are new parliamentary seats within our grasp at the next general election,

It is such successes that keep us going and that feature in emails from Liberal Democrat HQ.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

‘WW2 bomb’ found in Bavarian forest was sex toy, say officials

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A reader tweets me and the Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Of course, it could have been an unexploded WW2 bomb and a sex toy: 

Lord Bonkers is uncharacteristically reticent about the part he played in defeating Hitler, but I seem to recall some stories along these lines one evening when the Auld Johnston (that most prized of Highland malts) came out.

Michael Meadowcroft's Guardian obituary of Jonathan Fryer

The former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft has written an obituary of Jonathan Fryer for the Guardian:

Jonathan Fryer, who has died aged 70 of a brain tumour, was a foreign correspondent and writer whose broadcasts from a total of 162 countries made his a familiar voice on BBC Radio. 

He also wrote about history and lectured on international politics, and spent more than half a century as a Liberal and later Liberal Democrat activist and candidate.

But the obituary is more than a list of achievements:

Jonathan was adopted at the age of 18 months by Rosemary and Harold Fryer. He had an exceptionally difficult childhood – his father, a Manchester businessman, sexually abused him. 

At primary school he fared badly, and his regimented early years at Manchester grammar school, studying subjects that he found uncongenial, led to failed examinations until one teacher fostered his interest in literature, geography and languages. He then won an open exhibition to St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, to study geography.

Forcing himself to be independent before he went to Oxford, Jonathan fulfilled his determination to get away from his father by travelling overland to Vietnam during the war there, partly funding his journey and stay by persuading Brian Redhead, then editor of the Manchester Evening News, to pay him for articles sent back to the paper. 

His experiences led him to switch to Oriental studies with Chinese and Japanese when he finally arrived at university.

Jonathan Fryer published an account of his childhood, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, in 2016.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Lib Dems set to gain Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberals Democrats, has said the party is set to gain the Cathiness, Sutherland and Ross seat in next month's Holyrood election.

The John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier quotes "party polling" from the Lib Dems that shows their candidate Molly Nolan is just three points behind the sitting SNP member. The figures are SCP 37.2 per cent, Lib Dems 34.2 per cent.

Rennie told the paper:

"We know we can win this, we can take out a Scottish Government minister – who I don’t think has served the community particularly well on the list – and we can bring in Molly Nolan."

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross covers much the same territory as the Westminster seat held for the Lib Dems by Jamie Stone.

The photo above shows Thurso Castle. Now ruined, it was the boyhood home of Sir Archibald Sinclair, who led the Liberal Party between 1935 and 1945.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Walking the River Roding from Barking to Creekmouth

Another London walk in the company of John Rogers.

His blurb on YouTube describes the route:

A walk from Barking to Creekmouth along west bank of the River Roding.

Picking up the west side of the River Roding following my previous walk with Paul Powlesland of the River Roding Trust (and Friends of the River Roding). This river walk starts at Barking Town Centre and continues through Town Quay and Fresh Wharf to Hand Trough Creek. 
From here the route takes us through Wall End and beneath Alfred's Way on the A13 to the Creekmouth Nature Reserve and Jenkins Lane Sewage Treatment works - the end of the Northern Outfall Sewer. The walk ends next to the confluence of the River Roding and River Thames.

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

Six of the Best 1005

Anne Applebaum says Alexei Navalny is showing the world what courage means: "Nothing is secret about the poisoning, false trial, or harsh imprisonment of Navalny. Like the multiple attempts to murder him, these things are playing out in public, in the open, for everyone to see."

"For 48 hours, soccer stood on the brink. Fans took to the streets. Players broke into open revolt. Chaos stalked the game’s corridors of power, unleashing a shock wave that resonated around the world, from Manchester to Manila, Barcelona to Beijing, and Liverpool to Los Angeles." Tariq Panja and Rory Smith on how the Super League fell apart.

T.J. Coati explains what's wrong with Secure Schools.

In 1982 the South African government bombed Islington. James Morris has the story.

"A fascinating essay by Tom Holland describes a mysterious artefact which may show a West Indian slave playing cricket and then follows C L R James in analysing cricket as a pathway to equality." Richard Heller and Peter Oborne argue that the new Wisden is a global record of war, plague, racism and environmental change.

Jessica Pickens looks bacj at juvenile Oscars - 12 were awarded between 1935 and 1961.