Monday, April 30, 2007

BritBlog Roundup 115

The good news is that the latest selection of the best in British blogging can be found at poons.

The bad news is that the link to my posting on the Church of England and child abuse does not work.

Later. Now it does work. Thanks, Dave.

All Saints Margaret Street

I was in London today and took the chance to visit one of its most remarkable churches.

All Saints Margaret Street can be found a couple of blocks behind John Lewis's Oxford Street store. It occupies a cramped site, yet the architect William Butterfield was able to make it feel spacious while also fitting in a vicarage and choir school.

Apart from the spire (which led me to discover the church last summer) the exterior is unremarkable without close study, but the interior is spectacular. When you open the door - which is never locked -you are assailed by smoky clouds of incense - intensely holy, but with notes of bacon somewhere underneath.

And then your eyes get used to the subdued light and begin to take in the rich decoration. The church's own website describes it as "a kaleidoscope of coloured tiles, brick, painting and gilding".

All Saints was completed in 1859 and soon became London's unofficial cathedral of High Anglicanism. It is so High that it makes the Pope look like a Strict Baptist.

The choir school lasted until 1968. It was attended by the young Laurence Olivier and William Lloyd Webber (the father of Andrew and Julian) was organist and choir master at All Saints between 1939 and 1948.

If you are still feeling holy, try my posting on Southwell Minster.

Lembit's caravan of love

A new hazard threatens holiday motorists this summer. You may get stuck behind a Cheeky Girl.

The Pandora column in this morning's Independent reported:
Margaret Beckett will soon have a rival MP vying for her title as Westminster's patron saint of caravanning.

He is Lembit Opik, the Cheeky Girl enthusiast and increasingly bizarre frontbencher for the Liberal Democrats.

Opik has told friends he's due to take delivery of a swish new customised motor home which he plans to use for summer holidays with his girlfriend Gabriela Irimia. The pair apparently spotted it when Opik recently opened a mobile home exhibition in Shrewsbury for Salop Leisure.

"It's a bloody great monster of thing. Lembit's really excited about it," says a chum. "He and Gaby are planning to tootle round the UK in it during the summer break for a month or so. Gaby can't wait. In fact the whole idea of buying one was her idea."
Readers of the Shropshire Star will know all about this exhibition already.

The latest from the Ministry of Fish

Ben Bradshaw has been working hard on our behalf:

The government is to call for a Europe-wide system for tracking fish ...

The tracking system would help regulate fishing by allowing fish to be traced "from the moment they are caught to when they are served on a customer's plate" - says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

More British earthquakes

Following Saturday's earthquake in Kent, I have been reading Wikipedia.

The most powerful earthquake measured in Britain was the 1931 Dogger Bank quake. This reached 6.1 on the Richter scale.

The most destructive quake took place around Colchester in 1884. A lot of buildings were damaged and it appears that between three and five people died.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Earthquakes in Kent

Yesterday's tremor was not the worst the county has seen.

As this page shows, there were much more serious ones in 1382 and 1580.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Further underneath Edinburgh

Further to this posting, it turns out that there is another tunnel under the city.

The abandoned railway tunnel some characters enter in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street really exists.

Friday, April 27, 2007

“Think of the poor whiting, Bill”

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. As it turned out, Maclean's bill was not debated today but will reappear next month. The Guardian explains the machinations behind this.

I knew I should have written more about fish.

Dodgy questions

Last Thursday’s environment questions provided a chance to catch up with the career of Ben Bradshaw. And the bad news for Bradshaw watchers is that he is still the Minister for Fish.

You imagine him cornering the prime minister in the lobby and talking about his ambitions for the Treasury or the Foreign Office. And Tony Blair says: “Er, it’s Bill isn’t it? We need you at Fish, Bill. I can’t change things at the moment. Not when the haddock negotiations are at such a delicate stage.”

Which is why Bradshaw finds himself still answering questions on long-lining off Lowestoft and the by-catch regulations for skate and dogfish.

Will he do any better under Gordon Brown. With the Firth of Forth filling up with raw sewage, I doubt it. “Think of the poor whiting, Bill.”


The next day saw Norman Baker and Simon Hughes thwart David Maclean’s attempt to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act by talking until it ran out of time and went to the back to the queue.

Except there was no queue. Remarkably, the authorities decided that no other private member’s bill was ready to go before the House. The result is that if you get your Lib Dem News on Friday morning Norman and Simon may be doing it all over again even as you read this.

Some might say that Simon will still be speaking if you are reading this on Monday afternoon, but you won’t find cheap cracks like that in this column.

Maclean, of course, is a former Tory minister, but it was notable how many prominent Labour MPs supported him, including Tessa Jowell and both Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s bag-carriers.

This is typical of Labour. In their long years in opposition they became intellectually converted to what you might call the Charter 88 agenda - devolution, proportional representation, freedom of information - but they soon got cold feet in power.

Devolution went through, but Labour promised not to use its extra taxation powers in Scotland. PR was forgotten as soon as they saw the size of their majority.

Now they are having doubts about freedom of information. A backbench bill does not get this far without government approval.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stick it up your mitre

Peter Halliday, a former choir master, was jailed for 30 months after today after admitting sex offences against boys in the 1980s.

The lead story on the morning's news was the Church of England's decision not to report him to the police when complaints were first made in 1990.

The BBC quotes David Wilcox, the Bishop of Chichester, who was party to the decision in the days when he was Bishop of Dorking (not a see you often hear about). He defends the Church's actions in the following terms:

"I believe that we sought to act in the best interests - not only of the Church, but of the family and of everybody concerned at that time."

"Things were very different then. I think that we make the mistake of trying to read back what we now know and how we now do things."

Behind this defence lurks the idea that child abuse is a recent discovery. This is nonsense, and I have written a book chapter (hem, hem) arguing just this point. And vicar-and-choirboy stories have been a staple of the News of the World for as long as anyone can remember.

It is particularly bizarre to argue that we did not know much about the sexual abuse of children in 1990. In those days it was something close to a national obsession. It had been put at the top of the agenda in 1986 by Esther Rantzen's ChildWatch programme and the subsequent launch of ChildLine.

This is was followed by a new Children Act in 1989. And in 1991 social workers were raiding homes in Orkney to rescue children from satanic abuse.

I started working for The Psychologist magazine in 1988. As I recall, people wrote about little else but the sexual abuse of children in those days.

It is therefore ludicrous for the Bishop to pretend that no one knew much about this sort of abuse in 1990.

Yes, concerns about child abuse can often do more harm than good.

Yes, there is something depressing about the way we can no longer conceive of an Innocent friendship between an adult and a child.

But if you have serious concerns that a child is being abused then you should report them to the police. That is true today. It was true in 1990. And it was true in 1890.

Headline of the Day

This is what we pay the licence fee for:
Hi-De-Hi actor finds hidden bomb

The ghost of Sid James

The great Sid James died on 26 April 1976 - that's 31 years ago today. As Ron Drew's Theatre Page tells it:
He was playing in a comedy called "The Mating Game". Sid came on stage said a line, sat on the sofa but did not reply to the next cue. Olga Lowe who was sitting next to him thought it was a gag (for which Sid James was renowned) and started to ad lib, but soon realised that something was amiss. The curtain was brought down and the audience asked 'Is there a doctor in the house?' The audience also thinking it part of the plot greeted this with laughter and the question had to be repeated in earnest. Eventually a doctor responded, called an ambulance and Sid was then found to be dead from a heart attack.
But that may not be the end of the story. To quote Wikipedia:
Later it was rumoured that his ghost was in the dressing room he occupied on the night of his death; after one experience during a gig there, the comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Adil Rashid: The legend grows

Last season I got very excited about the young Yorkshire batsman and leg-spinner Adil Rashid. After a quiet tour with England A over the winter, he is back in the headlines:
Adil Rashid again shone with the ball for Yorkshire but Durham showed plenty of fight at Headingley. Dale Benkenstein held the visitors together, following his century against Worcestershire with a battling 83 as the top order stuttered against Darren Gough and Tim Bresnan. However, when Benkenstein and Callum Thorp fell in consecutive deliveries to Rashid the innings stood at an unimpressive 207 for 8. Ottis Gibson and Graham Onions swung lustily adding 57 before Gough broke through, while Rashid claimed his fifth wicket when he ended the innings by removing Gibson.
A little caution is needed, as a lot of county batsmen play leg-spin badly. Ian Salisbury has enjoyed a successful career with Sussex and Surrey, but generally looked well out of his depth in test cricket.

Even so, I expect Adil Rashid will be playing for England before too long.

Political stories of the day

Well, some of them:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Defending MC Nuts

A couple of weeks ago Have I Got News For You had great fun with Cumbria Tourism's new attempt to promote the Lake District. This involved having the rapper MC Nuts dress up as Squirrel Nutkin to deliver a rap version of Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

Not Saussure has the video and adds:
And aren’t people always complaining that rap music concentrates too much on themes to do with guns, violence and drugs? Well, surely this is a step in the right direction.
Besides, I am very fond of the Divine Comedy's settings of the Lucy poems.

Boris Yeltsin: An appreciation

Mr Yeltsin was often criticised during his lifetime for paving the way for wealth oligarchs and alleged corruption in capitalist Russia.
How true. And as a life-long Chelsea fan, I think I should offer him my sincere thanks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

David Maclean's bill rises from the dead

Last Friday a group of MPs, including Norman Baker, Simon Hughes and David Winnick, did great work in talking out David Maclean's bill to exempt MPs from freedom of information legislation. It was sent to the back of the queue of private members' bills.

Except there is no queue.

The BBC reports:

A bill which would exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act is to be debated again - a week after its critics thought they had killed it off.

Opponents "talked out" the private member's bill introduced by former Tory chief whip David Maclean last week.

But since no other private bills are ready for debate, it will return to the Commons on Friday.

Let's hope the lads are up for the return leg this Friday.

St George's Day

Dave Hill asks why the English don't make more of an effort to celebrate St George's Day. I suspect we are far too polite.

If you do want to celebrate the day, it seems Salisbury is the place to go.

Hot Ginger and Dynamite takes a more jaundiced view:
tonight I’ll probably go to the pub, scowl at moaners and then honour St George in the way he would have wanted, by killing an iguana with a foundue (sic.) fork.

Lewes Arms: Victory confirmed

Stonch has left a comment on an earlier story of mine. It links to a posting on his own blog which confirms that the customers of the Lewes Arms have won their campaign to have Harvey's restored to the pub.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Underneath Edinburgh

It's not just Bath and Reading: it turns out that Edinburgh is riddled with old tunnels too.

Walk over Ribblehead viaduct

The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line have been given permission by Network Rail to organise an event for people to walk across the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct.

Picture borrowed from

Foyled again

Having welcomed the return of Foyle's War last week, I found this evening that it had disappeared again.

Its replacement was a new vehicle for Stephen Fry. My worst fears were confirmed when the first actor to appear on screen was Tony Slattery.

BritBlog Roundup

You can find a fortnight's worth of the best in British blogging over at the home of Mr Eugenides.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

TV film of the week: The League of Gentlemen

Forget Tubbs, Papa Lazarou and Royston Vasey. The League of Gentlemen is a British heist picture from 1960, directed by Basil Dearden.

Jack Hawkins is Colonel Hyde, cashiered from the Army after 25 years of service and bearing a grudge because of it. He revenges himself by planning the perfect bank robbery.

He recruits former Army colleagues to help him, each of whom is struggling to survive in the civilian world and needs the money.

Hyde appears to have planned the perfect crime. But no plan is ever quite as perfect as it seems, and when one former comrade too many turns up...

We are supposed to think of the 1950s as an irredeemably dull decade. People sat around waiting for the 1960s, the Beatles, and the invention of sexual intercourse. This film suggests that it was a lot more interesting than that. Yes, there is dissatisfaction with the contemporary scene, but it springs from a sense that the spivs have supplanted the men who won the war.

Hyde is lost in the post-war world; the military virtues he exemplifies are no longer wanted. His recruits are doing worse, trapped in awful marriages, tied to failing businesses or disgraced. One is obviously gay, and that in a film released a year before another Basil Dearden film, Victim, which is supposed to be the first time the subject was broached in a British film.

The League of Gentlemen works as a thriller - you become engrossed in the details of the bank job and hope the gang will get away with it but it is also very funny.

The cast is terrific. Hawkins himself gives the finest performance I have seen from him and he is supported by Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Brian Forbes (and thus, by contractual obligation, Nannette Newman).

Look out too for a comic turn from Robert Coote as Bunny Warren and for a brief appearance by a young Oliver Reed - a very camp dancer who has double-booked the room Hyde needs to plan his robbery.

The League of Gentlemen is on Channel 4 at 12:30 p.m. on Monday 23 April.

Friday, April 20, 2007

We might as well have sent Freddie Flintoff on a Pedalo

My House Points from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Silly skirmishes

It’s typical of the lack of excitement around Gordon Brown that Des Browne is among his closest allies. Nick Brown used to be another. Under Brown, brown will be the new brown. It won’t be a surprise to see Old Abram and Sweet Georgia in a Brown cabinet too.

Monday was meant to be the day the Tories forced Des Browne to resign, but it never looked like happening. In part it was because, unimpressive though Browne was (“I have expressed a degree of regret that can be equated with an apology”), Liam Fox was little better.

But it was more because of the other events that happened that day. Set against the Virginia shootings and the first inquest into the death of British servicemen in Iraq, the affair felt tawdry and insignificant.

OK, so the appearance of the released sailors’ stories in the tabloids was not edifying, even if there are precedents going back to the young Winston Churchill.

Mind you, I bet Churchill never complained that his iPod has been taken away or that his captors had called him “Mr Bean”. His present-day equivalents gave the impression they had just come out of the Big Brother house, something Des Browne accentuated by referring to them “young people” throughout.

If this aspect of the affair has any deeper meaning it is in displaying one of the contradictions of Blairism. We have a prime minister who intervenes all over the world but at home promotes a society that disparages the military virtues.

Towering over this debate were two far more important matters. The first is why our sailors were captured so easily. Either the planning of this operation was inadequate or our forces in Iraq are woefully underequipped. And we still have not got our boats back from the Iranians.

By the sound of it, we might as well have sent Freddie Flintoff on a Pedalo.

The second is that it displayed again the folly of our intervention in Iraq. The Iraq/Iran border is ill defined and has long been in dispute. Now we find ourselves policing it.

The Tories should not worry about Des Browne and the tabloids. They should ask themselves why it was that they ever supported Bush and Blair’s Iraq war.

Blair to resign on 9 May?

The First Post - "the online daily magazine" - has been getting very excited about this story from The Mole, its "Downing Street insider":
Tony Blair will finally announce his departure to the media on Wednesday May 9, triggering the Labour leadership succession. Weather permitting, he will tell us his decision on the Downing Street lawn.

The Mole can exclusively reveal that senior cabinet ministers including John Prescott are already clearing their diaries. It will be just over eight months after the rebellion, by Labour ministerial aides and MPs, that precipitated Blair's decision to go.

A May 9 announcement will mean Blair leaving Number 10 for the last time at the end of June, 10 years and eight weeks after taking office.

Blair will be able to attend his final EU and G8 summits before going. The disappointment will be that he will not be able to match Thatcher's 11 and a half years as PM.
The Mole calculates that Gordon Brown (for it will be he) will take over as prime minister early in July.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Can we have our boats back please?

There is some gallows humour to be had from Monday's questions about the HMS Cornwall incident in the Lords:
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the value of the boats now illegally held by the Iranians is upwards of £1 million? Can he be more specific about exactly what pressures are being put on that vile regime to return that property to us?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I can confirm that the total amount involved in the 2004 incident and the incident that took place recently is approximately that quoted by my noble friend. We will continue to put full pressure on the Iranian Government on this and other matters relating to their international commitments. We do that through multilateral efforts. I believe that the rapid progress we made in securing the release of our 15 personnel shows that those multilateral efforts have an effect.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, has there been any response from the Iranian Government to our approaches for the return of this equipment?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, there have been responses, but they have not been satisfactory. The equipment has not been returned.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, is it usual for naval personnel to carry iPods when actively engaged as members of a boarding party?

Lord Drayson: No, my Lords, it is not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Opening Pair of the Day

Nice to see Hutton and Compton opening the innings for Middlesex.

That's Ben (grandson of Len) and Nick (grandson of Denis).

A new service from Pink Dog

The Lib Dem blogosphere's favourite hound writes:
Being on holiday, it means I've actually got time to read Alex "reassuringly extensive" Wilcock's blog postings in full. All this has given me an idea. I'm going to launch a new service on this blog - "The Reduced Wilcock". I'll read his full postings and boil them down to one paragraph and one sentence versions. I do the reading so you don't have to.

Paddy Ashdown's new job

The BBC reports:

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown is to head a review of parading in Northern Ireland, it has been announced.

NI Secretary Peter Hain said Lord Ashdown would bring great "expertise and credibility" to the job.

Lord Ashdown - a former international high representative for Bosnia - was raised in Northern Ireland.

The government promised an independent review of parading in the St Andrews Agreement.

Lord Ashdown and his review team will begin their work in May, with a view to reporting to the government in 2008.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

EU ministers to criminalise Holocaust denial

The Financial Times website has a depressing story this evening - one that has been coming for some time:

Laws that make denying or trivialising the Holocaust a criminal offence punishable by jail sentences will be introduced across the European Union, according to a proposal expecting to win backing from ministers Thursday.

Offenders will face up to three years in jail under the proposed legislation, which will also apply to inciting violence against ethnic, religious or national groups.

Diplomats in Brussels voiced confidence on Tuesday that the controversial plan, which has been the subject of heated debate for six years, will be endorsed by member states

Why depressing?

Firstly, because I am a Liberal and believe that the truth emerges through free debate. I have written more about this in the past.

Secondly, because - as ever - those who put forward such bans purport to act from the highest motives, but in reality are just as pragmatic as the rest of us. The story says it will be an offence to deny the Rwandan genocide but not the Armenian genocide. Why? Because EU members do not want to upset Turkey.

But what the passing of this proposal will really show is the EU has lost its way. The great insight of the Manchester school of Liberalism in the 19th century was that trade enabled people from very different cultures to work together harmoniously and thus increased understanding between them.

The European project nowadays seems to believe that unless countries have precisely the same values and enshrine those values in laws like this one, then they cannot trade at all. That is clearly nonsense.

And why does it matter if Malta and Luxembourg have different laws on Holocaust denial? Who is harmed by this?

Dinner at the Campbell-Bannermans

BBC Four's Edwardian season, and its emphasis on food in particular - I can't get the channel but it is impossible to avoid the trailers - has reminded me of a quotation to be found on my anthology blog Serendib:
Campbell-Bannerman weighed almost 20 stone, as did his wife. He once described his favourite menu as mutton broth, fresh herring or salmon, haggis, roast mutton, grouse, apple tart and strawberries, and he finished every meal with gingerbread and butter.
But if we are talking of C-B we must also quote his wonderful answer to the question "What is Liberalism?", which I have given here before:
I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Stumbling and Mumbling on managerialism

He's right, you know:

I reckon there was a bit of truth in the managerialist assualt on professional autonomy. Soldiers were sometimes bullies; teachers sometimes pederasts and alcholics, doctors arrogant charlatans (sometimes whilst being good soliders, teachers and doctors). And "professional judgment" can sometimes mean mere guesswork.

What's offensive about managerialism, however, is that it overweights this small truth and supplants professional judgment with spurious judgments of its own.

Worse still, there's a nasty totalitarian strand in managerialism - the belief that all areas of society should be subordinated to a single organizing ideology.

And worst of all, there's something deeply ignoble about the goods of effectiveness. There's nothing more pathetic or contemptible than seeing a grown man lust for money and power. Managerialism seeks to impose this contemptibility upon us all. And it seems to be succeeding.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The future of Irish cricket

Ireland's victory over Bangladesh today can only be good for cricket. And it would have been an awful anticlimax if they had qualified for the Super 8 stage and then lost every game.

If cricket is to carry on developing in Ireland then one thing that will have to be sorted out is that country's relationship with England. It will be hard for the game to develop further there is any good young player they produce follows Ed Joyce in ceasing to play for them and joining England instead.

One reason that 15-a-side rugby has not developed further in the South Sea islands is that their best players are liable to migrate to New Zealand and play for the All Blacks. It won't do Irish cricket any good either if the same process continues with England.

Nor should it necessarily be seen as limiting the opportunities open to Irish players. It is very arguable that Graham Hick would have enjoyed a more successful test career if he had made his debut for Zimbabwe at an early age. As it was, he waited around for years to qualify for England, by which time he found it hard to alter his technique when it was found wanting at the highest level.

Welcome back Foyle's War

The period detail, interesting stories and quality acting lift this ITV series well above most TV crime shows.

The wonderful Honeysuckle Weeks is instantly believable as the sort of gal who won the war. And Michael Kitchen demonstrates Martin Shaw's First Theorem of Acting: men can look better 30 years on, providing they lose their 1970s hairstyle.

Meet Shropshire Star

He loves nothing better than diving into the pages of the Shropshire Star and rolling around in ecstasy.

Not me, you booby: I mean this cockatiel.

Squadron Leader Neville Duke

There was a tremendous obituary in yesterday's Guardian:
The test pilot Neville Duke, who has died aged 85, was an icon of the New Elizabethan Britain of the 1950s. At the dawn of the television era, when media personalities were born within black and white newsreels, picture weeklies and smudgy tabloids, the former Royal Air Force squadron leader had the celebrity of sportsmen such as Stanley Matthews, movie actors such as Dirk Bogarde, or the conquerors of Everest. It was a form of celebrity almost unimaginable now, built not only on Duke's performance as a test flier but on his record as a wartime fighter ace.
I suspect that Duke's career was at least in part the inspiration behind the 1952 film The Sound Barrier. This celebrated the brief period after the Second World War when Britain led the world in jet aviation, though the obituary suggests that period had already passed by the time the film was made. It also mentions a disaster at the 1952 Farnborough Air Show that seems to have disappeared from popular memory.

As ever, though, the best obituary was in the Daily Telegraph.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Norman Baker: Was Robin Cook murdered?

You may recall that one of the projects that Norman Baker devoted himself to after leaving the Lib Dem front bench was investigating the death of David Kelly.

That is not the only death he has suspicions about. The Brighton Argus reports that Norman has doubts about the death of Robin Cook too:
Mr Baker has signed a book deal to explain in greater detail his findings on Dr Kelly's death and he expects to publish it later this year.

But the MP insists he will continue to investigate.

He has nagging doubts about the official line taken over the recent Navy hostages taken in Iran and over the death of Robin Cook, the MP who resigned in protest at the Iraq war.

He said: "Robin Cook was on Ministry of Defence land, I believe, when he died and certainly I have doubts over what happened."

There are those, of course, who doubt Norman Baker's theories.

But for every person out there who does there are an equal number for whom the MP has become a beacon of truth in an increasingly murky world.
Thanks to UK Daily Pundit, who also points us to an old posting on Shaphan.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Badly behaved children are the new gardening

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

The earlier column in question is this one, but I am not sure this week's effort makes much sense without Matthew Huntbach's letter. Maybe I'll post it here one day.

Child care

With the Commons in recess I have a chance to give Matthew Huntbach's letter (LDN, 30 March) the attention it deserves. Matthew was objecting to my column from the week before, where I made a passing and unfavourable mention of Beverley Hughes 'national curriculum for the under fives'.

Matthew was more impressed with it. He said it was "a sensible summary of the cognitive development we should observe in a growing child". He also complained that we have "moved to a juvenile culture based on instant gratification and sensationalism" and that parents suffer from a lack of guidance.

I can’t agree with that last point. As I wrote here a couple of years ago, for television producers, badly behaved children are the new gardening. Parents are deluged with guidance. The trouble is that it is so contradictory.

But I do agree with Matthew about the infantilisation of society. It's the kind of thing I grumble about on my blog. So we are really arguing over whether government intervention is likely to make things better or worse. If you think parents lack confidence, should government fill the vacuum? Or will spreading the idea that childcare is the state’s business undermine that confidence even further?

And what will be done with all the information that this new ‘curriculum' gathers. It is easy to imagine politicians using it to announce that, under Labour, babies are discovering their toes earlier than ever. It is less easy to picture it being used to help individual children.

We know that, despite the extra resources, our schools are still depressingly bad at teaching children to read. We also know that the experience of youngsters in public care is a national disgrace. Tying up childcare workers in an endless information-gathering exercise will not help them use their skills to give extra help where it is needed.

Perhaps things are simpler with younger age groups. Perhaps I have read too many psychology papers in my day job. But I also doubt whether what constitutes normal development is such a simple matter.

If you had said 50 years ago that a small boy was "always on the go" it would have been praise. Today it is a popular definition of a psychiatric disorder that is treated with drugs.

The Caldon Canal in colour

I have written a couple of times recently about the Caldon Canal in Staffordshire.

Jim Shead's article Canal to Nowhere has some good photographs of this beautiful waterway.

Local beers for local people

I have been writing about the campaign to have the local Harvey's beers restored to the Lewes Arms.

A story in today Shropshire Star suggests this may be a more widespread problem. It celebrates the fact that it is now possible to buy the beers brewed by Hanby Ales of Wem in a pub in, er, Wem.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Around the blogs: Cultured Liberal Democrats

Like everyone else, I have been out delivering. But even at this time of year life is not all Focus leaflets and letterboxes for Liberal Democrats, as a journey round our blogs shows.

Jonathan Fryer writes about T. E. Lawrence. Cicero writes about Bruce Chatwin (who would have liked to have been Lawrence). Clowns to the Left of Me has been to the National Theatre.

Most impressively of all, Eric Avebury points us to the Edward II blog. This does what is says on the tin, and examines the events, issues and personalities of that monarch's reign. As every schoolboy used to know, it lasted from 1307 to 1327.

It is the only blog I have seen that invites you to vote for your favourite and least favourite Medieval kings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lord Bonkers: Yet another diary

Here is the old boy's contribution to the April Liberator. You can find an archive of these diaries on his own website.

I must apologise for my unwonted absence from these columns in February, though I was pleased to see that the amusing young people at Liberator magazine had the good sense to reprint some of my more informative diary entries – I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. I have been gratified, too, by the cards, flowers and jars of calves’ foot jelly that have arrived by every post, and only this morning Meadowcroft brought me a pineapple from his glasshouse. As a rule I enjoy robust – even rude – health, and I have long attributed this to my mother having Nurse dip me in the Spring of Immortality that bubbles from the mountainside about the Birchcliffe Centre in Hebden Bridge when I was still an infant. Unfortunately, the silly goose held me by a part of my anatomy whilst she bathed me, with the result that nowadays it sometimes gives me gyp. You will be pleased to learn, however, that my strength is fast returning: only this morning I walked unaided to the village school to hear the children sing selections from the work of T. H. Green.

Whilst laid up in bed, I heard our own Dr Evan Harris on the modern wireless defending scientists’ production of chimera – or is it pronounced chimera? One never knows – that is, hybrids between man and rabbit. I am not surprised. When last helping at an election in Oxford, I noticed that the bulk of our election literature was being delivered by creatures that walked upon their hind legs and sported long floppy ears. One simply handed them a map and a bundle of leaflets, and off they went lippity, lippity. I asked Harris if there would be any problem in my getting a few of these fellows to deliver in Rutland, but he assured me that they breed like rabbits.

What a boon these mobile telephones are! One must, however, remember to leave them switched on. At Harrogate, for instance, I obtained a copy of Sir Menzies’s speech just as he reached the rostrum. Scanning it quickly, I found it to contain some nonsense about Gordon Brown embracing liberal democracy, with not a mention of Proportional Representation – a subject without which no speaker ever roused an audience. As he was not far into things, I naturally prepared to give him a bell and suggest some rather more suitable material. Just as I was dialling his number, the delightful Elspeth informed me that she had just told him to turn his phone off – with results that were only too clear from the following day’s newspapers.

Quite the saddest event of the year so far has been the ending of the engagement between the delightful Sian Lloyd and our own Lembit Öpik. The Member for Montgomery, you will have read, has instead taken up with one of the Cheeky Girls, though I am not convinced that even he could say which one with any confidence. One must be wary of continually harking back to the ‘Good Old Days’, but I have to say that I cannot recall having trouble of this sort with Clement Davies and the Beverley Sisters. I am sure we all wish Miss Lloyd all the best, and I have to say that if I were her and, in the course of my meteorological researches, spied an asteroid heading for Lembit’s head, I should not mention it.

Advised by my doctor that I should not overtax my strength, I spend the day in bed, dictating letters, sending orders to Meadowcroft and so forth. Quite an exhausting day.

I am pleased to see the Irish cricket team doing so well at the World Cup; indeed, one wonders whether poor Ed Joyce did the right thing by throwing in his lot with England rather than continue to appear for his native land. Joyce, incidentally, comes from a distinguished cricketing family. One thinks of James Joyce, who was the author of Useless (which, I must confess, I was never able to finish) and an accomplished cover point. I fear, however, that William Joyce’s achievements as a lower middle order batsman have been quite eclipsed by his treachery during the Second World War, when he earned himself the soubriquet ‘Lord Haw Haw’. (By coincidence, I was known in my younger days as ‘Lord Ha-Ha’ because of my love for landscape gardening). No such obloquy should be attached to Ed Joyce’s mother Joyce Joyce , who was for many years a mainstay of the Irish women’s team.

And so to St Asquith’s for a Service of Thanksgiving for my recovery. People are Terribly Kind.

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

The river, a steam railway, but no road

What with Easter and everything I forgot to post last week's House Points column. Mind you, a lot of it can be found in an earlier posting on this blog.

There is more about the reopening of the canal to Uttoxeter here. And Chris Huhne's campaign is here.

Rural rants

Agricultural subsidies are the very devil. They impoverish the third world while ruining the countryside. And that is when they are working properly.

Our government has added to this damage an inefficiency all its own. As a select committee report published last week found, Margaret Beckett’s handling of the Single Payments Scheme was an "embarrassing failure", but neither she nor her senior officials have been held accountable for the money squandered.

The Foreign Secretary writes: "The dogs bark but the caravan moves on."

We saw more of the damage that this failure has inflicted during a Westminster Hall debate held about the time the committee report came out. It concerned canals in the West Midlands and was initiated by Charlotte Atkins, the Labour MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.

The revival of the inland waterways has been one of the quiet triumphs of the past few decades. My family used to take canal holidays when I was little, and I remember reading then of the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow canals – waterways that once crossed the Pennines but were now lost beyond recall. Today both are open to boats again.

But this success is under threat. One of the ways the government is paying for the Single Payments fiasco is by slashing the funding for British Waterways. Chris Huhne has been running a Canal Cuts Are Nuts campaign to protest against this policy and cavalcades of boaters have been mounting demonstrations across the canal system.

In her debate, Charlotte Atkins made it clear just how bad things may become. She spoke of the Caldon Canal, which was reopened by volunteers in the 1970s and of the threat that the same people would live to see it closed again.

If the Caldon is lost, it will be a tragedy. It begins in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent and ends in the beautiful Churnet valley. Parts are so remote that the canal is accompanied by the river, a steam railway, but no road.

Another generation of volunteers would like to reopen the remainder of the canal past Alton Towers to Uttoxeter. But government inefficiency and the way it concentrates rural funding on agribusiness means this may never happen and threatens the survival of the existing waterway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

You don't have to be Jewish

There was a bizarre item in the People column in the Guardian today. I quote it in full:
Tracy-Ann Oberman, the actor who played Chrissie in EastEnders, once refused to wear a crucifix for the part. They didn't realise she is Jewish: "I said: 'I am not doing that. My mum would have a heart attack. I would have thought it was blindingly obvious, if only from my curly hair," she told jCast, for the Jewish Community Centre with the Jewish Chronicle.
Would the Guardian be so approving of a Christian actor who refused to play a Jewish character? Since when has having curly hair been an infallible sign that you are Jewish?

Beyond that, this shows a strange attitude towards the acting profession. I remember that Thora Hird once became exasperated with an interviewer who insisted on exploring the parallels between her own life and the lonely characters she played in Alan Bennett's monologues.

"I pretend, love," she finally said. "It's what they pay me for."

Why visit Rugeley?

Colin Ross reports the welcome news that the Lib Dems have retained control of Rugeley Town Council, even if it is because 16 0f the 19 councillors have been returned unopposed.

My chief memory of Rugeley is that it is the only place that a ticket clerk has ever tried to dissuade me from travelling to. It was back in the early 1980s and I was trying to buy a return from Lichfield Trent Valley to Rugeley Trent Valley. "You don't want to go there," he said. "There's nothing there."

But it was famous in the 19th century - as the home of Palmer the Poisoner.

Monday, April 09, 2007

George Cole: Living history

I am watching Diamond Geezer, which is a piece of nonsense put together for David Jason to star in. But what has struck me is the appearance of George Cole, still apparently hale and hearty at the age of almost 82.

It is worth recording what a piece of living British cinema history Cole is. Many people will remember him from Minder in the 1980s or as Flash Harry in the St Trinian's films before that. But his career goes back much further.

His first adult role was in the Powell and Pressburger film Gone to Earth in 1950. This was not their greatest, but you won't find me objecting to something filmed in the Shropshire hills in glorious Technicolor. Before that he appeared as the Boy in Olivier's wartime Henry V.

The only comparable figure I can think of who is still working is James Fox, who starred in his own Ealing Comedy (The Magnet) as a child and later in two of the defining films of the 1960s - The Servant and Performance.

Victory at the Lewes Arms?

It looks as though the locals have won their campaign to have Harvey's beers returned to the Lewes Arms.

The Publican reports:
Greene King is expected to bow to consumer pressure and reinstate Harvey’s Best Bitter into Sussex pub the Lewes Arms, following a vociferous campaign by locals.

Adam Collett, marketing director for Greene King's managed pubs, acknowledged his company had “underestimated the strength of feeling which led to many locals boycotting what was once a great British pub. As a result, it has lost some of its character and greatness.”

Although he defended Greene King's right to remove the beer from the pub “and, where we choose, not to sell rival beers”, he admitted the group "did not fully appreciate its special position in Lewes as the former ‘Brewery Tap’, or take into account its history and traditions”.
More news at Lewes Today and on the Friends of the Lewes Arms website.

BritBlog Roundup

This week's selection can be found at Philobiblon.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Against conscription in education

A new collective blog - Educational Conscription - has been set up to protest against Alan Johnson's plans to force teenagers to stay in education or training until the age of 18, with the aid of sanctions like ‘education Asbos’ and fixed-penalty fines.

Not Saussure is good on this too.

Bottle kicking and hare pie scrambling

We know how to celebrate Easter here in Leicestershire.

Hobby clubs: How "child protection" harms children

The Manifesto Club has published a new report under this title:
The government claims that CRB checks and other child protection measures are for young people's good. A new Manifesto Club report examines the case of hobby clubs, and shows that the main result of these measures has been to exclude the young.

Several clubs have closed their doors to under-18s; and teenagers have been turned away from clubs if their parents would not accompany them. Adults have become wary of helping young people, with some coaches refusing to coach children.
For more links on the malign influence of "child protection" see an earlier posting on this blog.

The Scottish Tories: Beyond satire

Iain Dale writes:
If reports are true the Scottish Conservative Party is to be given its freedom to go its own way. It is likely to be called the Unionist Party.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Little brother is watching you

John Reid's campaign to make Britain more like the Soviet Union he so admired in his youth is gathering pace with the introduction of talking CCTV cameras.

As the BBC says, the cameras are already in operation in Middlesbrough, and are to be installed in Southwark, Barking and Dagenham, in London, Reading, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington at the cost of half a million pounds.

Lib Dem bloggers have risen against the idea - Edis Bevan has the links - but it remains to be seen whether Lib Dem councils will have any scruples about operating them.

In true totalitarian style, the young are being recruited to harangue their elders. Competitions are to be held in local schools so that children cab become the voice of the cameras. The ARCH blog looks at some of the important questions that are being ignored in the process.

Lembit goes to law

From Monday's Pandora column in the Independent:
Opik is unhappy about a report that appeared over the weekend linking him with a controversial reality TV show called Killing the Cheeky Girls.

The article, which appeared in the Sunday Express, claimed that Opik was to appear on a show, which aims to trick contestants into believing they have murdered the Z-list pop duo.

"I'm very angry," he tells me. "I'm not in the show and I told the paper when they phoned up that I wasn't involved. I'm now taking legal advice and will be considering legal action as well as reporting them to the Press Complaints Commission.

"It's so distasteful to suggest I'd be involved in anything like this."
Yes, imagine people's chagrin when they realise they haven't murdered the Cheeky Girls.

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me

This line, spoken by Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo, has rightly been voted the funniest one-liner in movie history. Sky Movies, whose website gives the top 10 in the voting, polled over 1000 people.

Incidentally, this line was not written by Talbot Rothwell, the credited screenwriter for the film, but by Frank Muir and Denis Norden.

As Wikipedia records, Rothwell was struggling to meet his deadline, so Muir and Norden gave him some old scripts from their radio series Take It From Here that included skits on ancient Rome. One of them included the immortal line.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Murder at Bonkers Hall

The court case which has been transfixing us here in the Welland Valley has reached a conclusion.

The bungalow where the murders took place is part of the Nevill Holt Estate, which some literary historians have identified with the home of my old friend Lord Bonkers.

But I am sure you would not find That Sort Of Thing taking place at Bonkers Hall.

Look there at cigarette-end smouldering on a border

The decision to implement a ban on smoking in public places in Wales some months before it comes into effect in England has had some strange consequences, reports the Shropshire Star:
For pub-goers and landlords on the border in Llanymynech, it has drawn a line down the village, with The Dolphin Inn - in Wales - smoke-free, while at the Cross Keys Hotel - in England - people can still enjoy a cigarette.
This situation has the makings of a minor Ealing Comedy.

Elsewhere in Shropshire:
The Malthouse in Ironbridge will be introducing the pub smoking ban on Good Friday even though the ban will not be compulsory in England until July 1 ...

“Although the official pub smoking ban doesn’t come into force until July, we decided to bring our ban forward because so many of our customers were asking us to do so,” he said.
It has been clear for some years that the tide is running against smoking in pubs, and the Malthhouse is far from alone in banning smoking at the request of its customers.

Which raises the question of whether a government ban is needed at all. Those who support such a ban point to research on passive smoking, but that research has always seemed a little too convenient to their cause to be entirely trustworthy.

I would not go so far as one drinker from Llanymynech:
It’s terrible. Freedom of choice has gone. I go to the Dolphin but I shan’t again, and when it comes in the Cross Keys I won’t be coming here either. I will stay at home and smoke.
But I find it hard to get too enthusiastic about banning anything.

Monday, April 02, 2007

April is not the cruelest month

Here is the Common Ground page on seasonal fruit and vegetables, seasonal dishes, observations of customs and the natural world for this month.

March in Liberal England

Last month was a record one for visitors to this blog, at last beating the extraordinary spike that accompanied the decline and fall of Charles Kennedy in January 2006.

Two stories in particular helped to boost visitor totals. The first was Lord Goldsmith and his injunction. The second was the death of poor Bob Woolmer.

A sad reflection on human nature is that in the past few days most of the people who have arrived here because of the latter story have been searching for Bob Woolmer jokes.

Well, you are wasting your time. You won't find any reference here to the Jamaican Bob-slaying team.

God save little shops, china cups and virginity

Matt Davies appears to have succeeded with his long-running campaign to keep The Kinks memorabilia at the Clissold Arms in his Haringey ward.

Why dirt makes us happy

Back in 2004 I wrote an article for Open Mind magazine on the idea that experience of the natural world is good for our mental well-being.

Today the BBC website takes it one further. it's not just "the sunlight and the pure wind" that are good for us: it is dirt too:
Lead researcher Dr Chris Lowry said: "These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health.

"They also leave us wondering if we shouldn't all spend more time playing in the dirt."
It's a pity that the environmental movement has invested so much of its effort in making us terrified of the natural world.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

BritBlog Roundup 111

Welcome to Liberal England for this week's BritBlog Roundup. As it is no. 111, I have asked the cricket umpire David Shepherd to jiggle about on one leg while I put it together.

Thank you to everyone who made nominations. There were so many that I have not had to add any of my own. In fact, where someone suggested more than one posting from the same blog, I just chose one of them.

To work...

The topic of the week has been the seizure of British sailors by the Iranians. Cape to Rio thinks they could have done with some good old-fashioned Naval pattern cutlasses, while Freedom and Whisky sees a sinister conspiracy behind the affair.

Back home there has been a lot of excitement about the new sport of downhill skiing on Tube escalators. Bread and Circuses has the story. Also in London, Diamond Geezer reports on the War on Starbucks and Onionbagblog on a popular uprising in Brixton.

In the world of books, As a Dodo parodies the litigation over The Da Vinci Code, which ended this week, a very clever and exciting place for words to live offers a sobering account of the difficulties of getting published and pandemian suggests a magazine that really ought to exist.

Meanwhile at the theatre, the Grumpy Old Bookman has been to see Rick Mayall in The New Statesman. Alan B'stard is now a key member of Blair's cabinet, of course, but our reviewer did not enjoy the play.

About now my attempts at grouping links thematically are threatening to break down. So let's notice the call by Philobiblon for a feminist archaeology and a vignette of life in France from petite anglaise before moving on to politics.

First, the environment. An Englishman's Castle offers what may just be an important contribution to the climate change debate. Sajjad Karim MEP is bemused that the EU charges duty on imports of energy-efficient light bulbs.

Now for Liberalism. Chase me Ladies... comes to the defence of the creed:
Nor do I understand why she calls the man a "liberal", as if hippies defecating on flags were John Stuart Mill's idea.
And Stephen Tall looks at the success of present-day Lib Dem MPs at getting noticed by the media.

Elsewhere in politics, Tim Worstall (he's the Daddy) looks at UK precautions against terrorism which apply everywhere except, er, Northern Ireland. Not Saussure mourns the collateral damage from the War on Drugs.

Blood & Treasure suggests, surely rightly, that New Labour would not have abolished slavery so much as modernised it:
We need a new slavery – a slavery capable of adapting to the challenges of the global economy. A slavery fit for purpose in the fast changing 19th century. A slavery for the many, not the few.

Also to humourous effect, Rachel in North London considers the state of the Home Office.

Between the Hammer and the Anvil sees the forces of unreason massing; Peter Black AM is interested in politicians' use of Facebook - apparently it's something the young people enjoy.

Central News wants to elect the BBC bosses and Suzblog considers the fallout from a (white) councillor dressing up as Nelson Mandela.

If the wickedness of the world is getting you down, try taking solace in nature. Living for Disco may have encountered a leopard, but life is gentler in Lancashire, where The Ribble Cycle Diaries tell us that the Ribble coast and wetlands are now a regional park.

And you can always enjoy the Bean Sprouts recipe for nettle soup - "delicious, terribly fashionable and also free".

Next week's Roundup will materialise at Philolbion. As ever, please send your nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thank you, Mr Shepherd.