Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year: The January Man

I know this song from Martin Carthy's LP Landfall, but Moore's version is a good substitute.

Man bitten by shark at Tenbury Wells

As ever, the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser is first with news.

My cricket memory of 2009

Just posted on The Corridor.

Norman Baker and airport body scanners

I am puzzled by some words attributed to Norman Baker in a couple of today's newspapers.

In the Daily Telegraph, for instance, commenting on calls for full body scanners to be installed at British airports, he is quoted as saying:
“Once again the Department for Transport looks flat footed and the price is being paid by hundreds of thousands of people going through our airports."
I am not surprised to see Theresa Villiers junking the Tories' new-found libertarianism at the first prospect of political advantage, but is Norman really in favour of these scanners?

I should have thought that giving private companies and the security forces powers to look at everyone with their clothes off is just the sort of thing a good Liberal like him would be against. If you know more about his line, please let me know.

The last time this blog discussed these scanners it was to report that the authorities had concluded that their use with children would contravene child pornography laws.

Still, it would by just like government to make parents feel nervous about taking pictures of their own children in the bath while granting itself powers to do much as it likes

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Coffee Shop of the Year

Woods is in the Old Town of Swindon. It wins because:
  1. it does not allow pushchairs;
  2. this music was playing when I went there.

It's almost enough to make you move to Swindon.


Britblog Roundup 253

At Amused Cynicism (which is now billed as "The personal blog of the Campaigns Officer of Pirate Party UK").

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dear Gladstone

Today is Mr Gladstone's 200th birthday.

Liberal Burblings marked the day by posting a recording of the Grand Old Man's voice. It claims to be "remastered" but I am not sure it is any clearer than the original, which I have on a CD somewhere.

And Birkdale Focus reports the laying of a wreath at Gladstone's statue in St George's Hall, Liverpool.

As ever, let us leave the last word to Lord Bonkers:
The names of every great Liberal are to be found in the Visitors Book here at the Hall. As a boy I was dandled upon the knee of Mr Gladstone (a first-rate dandler, as I recall).

The fifth most popular Lib Dem blog

That's Liberal England, at least among readers of Iain Dale's Diary.

The Liberal England Year: Part 2

Part 1 was posted yesterday. We continue with...


I helpfully explained why parents cheat over school admissions and marked the death of John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash. (Those stories about rude names are not true, you know.)

Noel Symington, Market Harborough's Mosleyite soup magnate, turned out to be Whipplesnaith, the night climber of Cambridge.

And I recalled getting lost on Frog Island.


A full month.

Much to my readers' delight I took up what proved to be the lost cause of saving Leicester's Bowstring Bridge. I also discovered that there is curse attached to Lib Dem Voice's Lib Dem Blog of the Year Award. (Prophetically so. The following month I was not shortlisted in any category and their Blog of the Year promptly gave up.)

I discovered an unusual village cricket ground and suggested that Top Gear is really another programme in disguise.

As well as offering eight sceptical theses on moral rights I looked at the life of Petra, the Blue Peter dog.

Best of all, England won the Ashes at Sutton Bridge.


These were exciting times in Market Harborough. There was Arts Fresco, Hoards and History Day and a concert by Spencer Davis and the Animals. You can see why I had no time to come to the Lib Dem Conference.

I also found myself in dejection near Polly Toynbee.


I met a cool cat at Oakham station and explored the parallels between Tracey Emin and Tony Hancock.

In a bit of a scoop for this blog, I had a unique video giving Gordon Brown's views on Tony Blair. I argued that the BBC and his fellow Question Time panelists should have given Nick Griffin more rope.


The Tory leader of Harborough District Council dramatically resigned his seat. Meanwhile, I continued to be puzzled by the contradictions of Mark Oaten.

I took the Caledonian Sleeper to attend the Lib Dem bloggers' unconference in Edinburgh and Lord Bonkers gave an inside view of the party's attack unit.


Coming up to date, this month I have:
  • complained of the insolence of the lambs;
  • explained why privatised railways treat their customers like criminals;
  • revealed the new Lib Dem election poster.

An obituary of David Taylor

The best obituary of David Taylor in today's newspapers is the one by Tam Dalyell in the Independent:

In 2006, in my capacity as Father of the House of Commons, I was invited by the England Central Woodlands Project to open one of their new forest developments, part of which was in the North-West Leicestershire constituency.

David Taylor met me on site, and it immediately became apparent that he had an excellent rapport with both his constituents and the local and national forestry community.

Quite simply, he was not only respected, but loved – yes it is possible for a politician to be loved – by local people of many different party allegiances.

The only thing to add is that Dalyell was not so much the Father of the House as its eccentric uncle.

Harold Shipman: "Able to speak from deep personal experience"

Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of the Daily Mail. But you have to react to their story on Harold Shipman with a combination of indignation and laughter.

It seems that Dr Shipman, believed to be responsible for the death of anything up to 250 people, was a "keen member" of prison classes to help those coping with bereavement.

He even won praise for his contribution to the Living With Loss sessions. His tutor said:
"He had experienced a number of deaths in life and was able to speak from deep personal experience."
Somewhere here there is a profound truth about the vacuousness of the fashionable view that one should not be "judgemental". But right now I am too busy laughing to discuss it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sutton Bridge and The Golden Compass

That was a disappointment.

Having read everywhere that scenes for the film of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass were shot at Sutton Bridge, I have just sat through the DVD of it.

Though I liked the book, I wonder how realistic it was to try to make a film of it without radical simplification.

Nowhere does the bridge itself appear. There is a scene that could be the mouth of the Nene at high tide - I think I recognise the artificial island in the Wash - but that is it. For what it is worth, that scene comes when Lyra is on the barge having been rescued by the Gyptians.

Reading the IMDB pages for The Golden Compass, it sounds a particularly fraught production. So it is no surprise that a lot of scenes were shot but ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Liberal England Year: Part 1

It is time to look back on 2009 - as it was recorded on this blog.


The first month of the year saw (a little depressingly) the best received House Points: David Miliband goes bananas.

The death of the former Labour MP Bert Hazell at the age of 101 led me to wonder who the oldest former Liberal MPs were. Though Clement Freud, who was in second place, died later in the year, the winner, George Mackie, is happily still with us. There was also some interesting debate on forgotten Liberal MPs of the 1960s in the comments.

I also discovered the longest-lived former MP of all: Theodore Cooke Taylor, Liberal Member for Radcliffe cum Farnworth in Lancashire from 1900 to 1918, who lived to be 102.

And I argued that official guidance on children and alcohol would make things worse - but then I am at an age when I believe official guidance makes most things worse.


I discussed the abolition of private life in the light of rows over a praying nurse and over Carol Thatcher and golliwogs.

I asked whether Australian soap operas cause multiple sclerosis and became very interested in a scandal in Pennsylvania where judges were taking bribes from the operators of private prisons to increase the number of juvenile offenders they locked up.

Oh, and I lost my column for the New Statesman website. The magazine has never really recovered.


A favourite story of an old headmaster of mine - about the same man being the model for both Christ and Judas - turned up in an unexpected place.

The same man (not the same same man, of course) also turned out to have been Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Wendover (as in "Bend over, Wendover") in the Jimmy Edwards film Bottoms Up.

I also discovered an important book for the history of public childcare in an unlikely place and loved the story of Christian the lion cub.


The month began with some thoughts on children and classical music.

Lord Bonkers went shooting squirrels with Rupert Redesdale while House Points looked at police harassment of photographers.

Throughout the year I have been following Stuart Syvret and his run ins with the Jersey authorities. (The national press lost interest in the island when the police investigations failed to produce children's bodies.) The strangest episode was when the police deleted the number of the Lib Dem MP John Hemming from Stuart's mobile before returning it.

Their plan did not work. Stuart is now living in exile in John's London home.


My question of the month was: Is Keynesian demand management politically possible?

I reproduced Professor Strange's views on trainspotting, autism and what it means to be normal and argued that the scandal over MPs' expenses was part of the fall out from the credit crunch.

Reminiscence of the month was the tale of how I sang on the West End stage with Danny La Rue. He died a couple of days after that posting was made. I do hope the two events were not connected.


House Points took aim at Tony Benn and also discussed corrupt elections in Bishop's Castle.

On another outing with my camera I discovered the prep school Gladstone's eldest son attended in Geddington.

My Sunday music videos continued throughout the year. One of my favourite discoveries was That's How Strong My Love Is by Creation - a band I had hardly heard of before.

Part 2 will follow tomorrow.

The traditional Bank Holiday Lolcat

What with the 26th being a Saturday...

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

The Box of Delights to be filmed

Writing about John Masefield yesterday I discovered that "The Box of Delights" is to be filmed.

Variety reports:
Brit Mike Newell will direct "The Box of Delights," based on John Masefield's classic 1930s children's novel about a boy entrusted with a magic box that allows him to travel through time.
Brit shingle Brilliant Films is funding development of the feature, which Frank Cottrell Boyce ("Millions") is adapting.
I am afraid Variety reports are like that.

Interestingly, Mike Newell is quoted as saying:
"I first heard 'Box of Delights' as a radio play on the BBC when I was a boy ... I was immediately seduced by the tingling, opening harp music and the fantastical, mysterious, magic story that followed."
I remember hearing The Box of Delights on the radio too and being utterly enchanted by it. But Newell is 18 years older than me, so his must have been a different play.

Much later: If the Wikipedia page is correct then Newell is remembering a 1955 production and I must be remembering one from as early as 1966. No wonder I was bowled over at the ago of 6. Bizarrely to modern tastes, Patricia Hayes played Kay Harker (a boy) in both versions.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Has Archbishop Cranmer been at the communion wine?

It's been an odd day at Archbishop Cranmer, usually one of the more thoughtful Conservative blogs - or at least as thoughtful as a consistent High Tory can allow himself to be.

He reprints David Cameron's "New Year message" in full and without comment, introducing him as "the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

The more arrogance like that we see from Conservatives, the greater the chance of Cameron failing to win the next election.

Far more odd is Cranmer's meditation on the White House Christmas tree. Through an excess of zeal in involving "community groups" the President has ended up with a decoration that includes a portrait of Chairman Mao - not someone whom I would want to commemorate on my tree either.

But in the course of his complaint Cranmer asserts that the Christmas tree has "returned to its pagan roots".

When has the Christmas tree been anything but pagan? It has never had a part in the Nativity story. Nor by placing a fairy on top are we commemorating a particularly painful martyrdom.

His conclusion is that:
Obama honouring Mao on a Holiday Tree is just a Communist glorifying a Communist.
Now this really puzzles me. If you are going to use your blog to retail the conventional US Republican nutjob view that Obama is a Communist, why bother to dress yourself up as a 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury?

I suggest the writer of this blog gives up the frocks, buys a rifle and heads for the wilds of Montana. He will find plenty of soulmates there.

My music videos for 2009

Here are the Sunday music videos I have chosen over the course of 2009.

Videos do tend to disappear from YouTube after a while. Where I have noticed this and been able to find a close equivalent, I have quietly made the substitution. But the moral is clear: enjoy these songs while you can.

I started choosing a Sunday music video when I finally got broadband access in October 2007. You can find my earlier choices in a posting from August of this year.

4 January The Byrds: Mr Tambourine Man
11 January Martha and the Muffins: Echo Beach
18 January Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood: Little Wing
25 January Neil Young: Sugar Mountain

1 February Whippersnapper: The Hard Times of Old England
8 February Blind Faith: Under my Thumb
15 February Small Faces: Itchycoo Park
22 February Traffic: Paper Sun

1 March Matt Monro: We're Gonna Change the World
8 March Carla Bruni: Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
15 March Elvis Costello: Radio Radio
22 March The Jam: And Your Bird Can Sing
29 March Rolling Stones: Let's Spend the Night Together

5 April Rezillos: Top of the Pops
12 April Eurythmics: When the Day Goes Down
19 April Eric Burdon and the Animals: Colored Rain
26 April Manfred Mann: Semi-detatched Suburban Mr James

3 May Nick Drake: River Man
10 May Monks: Cuckoo
17 May Lisa Hannigan: I Don't Know
24 May They Might Be Giants: Birdhouse in Your Soul
31 May Noel Harrison: The Windmills of Your Mind

7 June Millie: My Boy Lollipop
14 June Spencer Davis Group: Keep on Running
21 June Eddie and The Hot Rods: Do Anything you Wanna do
28 June Creation: That's How Strong my Love is

5 July Half Man Half Biscuit: Fuckin' 'Ell it's Fred Titmus
12 July Psalm 79 from the Isle of Lewis
19 July Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
26 July Duckworth Lewis Method: Gentlemen and Players

2 August Rick Nelson: Garden Party
9 August Focus: Sylvia
16 August Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood: Can't Find My Way Home
23 August XTC: Love on a Farm Boy's Wages
30 August Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band: Hunting Tigers Out In India

6 September 10cc: Wall Street Shuffle
13 September Dusty Springfield: I Just Don't Know What to do With Myself
20 September Spencer Davis Group: Dust My Blues
27 September Nico: I'm not saying

4 October Clifford T. Ward: Home Thoughts from Abroad
11 October David Byrne: Nothing but Flowers
18 October David Bowie: This is not America
25 October Traffic: Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

1 November Procul Harum: Pandora's Box
8 November Carly Simon: It Was So Easy Then
15 November Chris Farlowe: Out of Time
22 November Runrig: Skye
29 November The Seekers: Georgy Girl

6 December David Hemmings: Anathea
13 December Boomtown Rats: Rat Trap
20 December Hazel O'Connor: Will You
27 December Steve Winwood: Can't Find My Way Home

Now to put them in alphabetical order...

Steve Winwood: Can't Find My Way Home

Having managed to connect Steve Winwood with John Masefield, I may as well follow my obsession and choose this as today's music video.

This recent solo acoustic version of "Can't Find My Way Home" turned up on YouTube and Steve Winwood's website the other day. It gives you the opportunity to compare this performance to one he gave over 40 years ago with Blind Faith, for whom he wrote the song, at a free concert in Hyde Park. That sort of thing never used to be possible in popular music.

I chose another version of this, by Winwood and Eric Clapton from the 2007 Crossroads guitar festival, earlier this year. The two are playing some dates in Britain next year, but the ticket prices are terribly steep.

John Masefield, Traffic and Aston Tirrold

One notable influence on the counter-culture of the 1960s was children's literature.

Sometimes this is shown explicitly, as in the Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit; sometimes tragically, as in the drowning of Brian Jones at Cotchford Farm, where A.A. Milne had written the Winnie the Pooh books; and sometimes in passing, as in Steve Winwood's observation that Traffic's life at their famous cottage was "like William and the Outlaws".

That cottage was near the village of Aston Tirrold, which reveals another connection.

John Masefield's The Midnight Folk was published in 1927. Though largely forgotten today (its sequel The Box of Delights is better remembered because of a television adaptation in the 1980s), it was very influential on the following generation of children's writers. My hero T.H. White certainly acknowledged this debt.

And, as Wikipeida tells us, The Midnight Folk is "about a boy, Kay Harker, who sets out to discover what became of a fortune stolen from his sea-faring great grandfather Aston Tirrold Harker".

At the time he wrote the book Masefield lived at Boars Hill near Oxford, some 10 miles from Aston Tirrold.

David Taylor MP has died

From the Leicester Mercury:
North West Leicestershire MP David Taylor has died suddenly.

Mr Taylor was enjoying a walk with his family at Calke Abbey, in Derbyshire, yesterday when he suffered a massive heart attack.

He was taken to Queens Hospital, in Burton-on-Trent, but medics were unable to save him.
I am sorry to hear this: Taylor always seemed one of the more good-natured MPs and has strong local roots.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gucci riots: The police should let them fight

The Daily Mail reports:

Fights broke out at some of Britain’s top stores yesterday as shoppers jostled for the best bargains at Boxing Day sales.

Police had to be called to Gucci’s flagship store in Knightsbridge, West London, after a fracas just before the doors opened at 10am, and there were also scuffles in Milton Keynes.

According to shoppers at Gucci, where £500 handbags, shoes and other goods were being sold at half price, a police van and four patrol cars raced to the scene after reports of punches being thrown.

All very depressing. Personally, I feel that if the sort of people who fall out over designer handbags are fighting, they should be allowed to inflict as much damage on one another as possible.

Captain Clegg: The movie

Just before Christmas I suggested that the 1962 Hammer film Captain Clegg could provide a new poster for the Liberal Democrats and inspiration to its leader on enforcing party discipline.

A tweet from Duncan Stott kindly points out that the whole film is available on YouTube. I can't embed it, but part 1 is here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Party discipline: Clegg gets tough

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Back in August one of my Sunday music videos featured a Bonzos song from the 1960s children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Thanks to LoveFilm I have now watched the discs mentioned in the comments on that post.

The chief interest in these episodes today lies in seeing Michael Palin, David Jason, Terry Jones and Eric Idle when they were all ridiculously young. The sketches, a mix of silliness and satire on television conventions, appealed to the youthful studio audience, to judge by the laughter on the soundtrack.

I know that I used to watch this show because I remember the slapstick serial Captain Fantastic, which featured Jason and Denise Coffey. I remember it as being rather scary, but then I must have been seven or eight when I last saw it.

Though Do Not Adjust Your Set is an important piece of comedy history, because of its obvious role in the evolution of Monty Python, its chief interest today probably lies in the appearance of the Bonzos.

Not only did the band perform songs like "Hunting Tigers", they made up the numbers in sketches where they were needed. You see them briefly at the end of this one and, together with the whole cast, in The Two of Us. And Eric Idle sings with them on the theme song to Captain Fantastic.

Britblog Roundup 252

With Mr Eugenides.

New Liberal Democrat election poster revealed

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TV debates: Let's not be beastly to the Nationalists

Writing about the prospect of debates between the party leaders back in September, I said:

The arrangements under which the party gets close to equal treatment with the two main parties during election campaigns were hard won. If Sky TV is allowed to tear them up (if there is more than one debate, will Nick Clegg be invited to all of them?) we are unlikely to gain from it.

As far as the media are concerned, the story is Labour vs Tory, Brown vs Cameron. The Lib Dems and Nick Clegg are a distraction to this and if they can sideline us they will.

We seem to have avoided this danger (well done to the Lib Dem negotiators for getting us equal treatment), but I do not feel we should gloat about it too much. So I have limited enthusiasm for my fellow Lib Dem bloggers' triumphalist reaction to the Nationalists' complaints that they have been excluded from the debates.

Liberal Revolution talks of PC/SNP and other whingers. And Stuart Bonar, who is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman for Plymouth Moor View - which turns out to be a constituency and not a guest house, as I first thought - asks What exactly do the Scot Nats or Plaid Cymru have to say to Plymouth?

Ultimately, I think the decision to exclude the Nationalists from the debates broadcast across Britain is the right one. But in victory magnanimity, there but for the Grace of God and don't count your chickens before they are hatched.

Mystery blonde at Bonkers House

Most literary scholars now accept that Nevill Holt in Leicestershire is the model for Bonkers Hall. And I have commented before on certain parallels between the careers of Lord Bonkers and Nevill Holt's current owner David Ross.

You may also recall that his lordship's diaries occasionally mention Bonkers House in Belgrave Square. Which makes the following news story all the more fascinating:

A millionaire Tory donor and close friend of David Cameron is to face police questioning within the next few days over a mysterious fracas involving a young Eastern European woman.

The blonde Lithuanian made an allegation of assault after calling police in the early hours of Friday to the Belgravia home of David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse.

The question now is whether Mr Ross owns an equivalent to Lord Bonkers' Highland home Brig o'Dread.

D.H. Lawrence visits the Stiperstones

Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson

From St Mawr, published in 1925:

They came at last, trotting in file along a narrow track between heather, along the saddle of the hill, to where the knot of pale granite suddenly cropped out. It was one of those places where the spirit of aboriginal England still lingers, the old savage England, whose last blood still flows in a few Englishmen, Welshmen, Cornishmen. The rocks, whitish with weather of all the ages, jutted against the blue August sky, heavy with age-moulded roundnesses.

Lewis stayed below with the horses, the party scrambled rather awkwardly, in their riding boots, up the foot-worn boulders. At length they stood in the place called the Chair, looking west, west towards Wales, that rolled in golden folds upwards. It was neither impressive nor a very picturesque landscape: the hollow valley with farms, and the rather bare upheaval of hills, slopes with corn and moor and pasture, rising like a barricade, seemingly high, slantingly. Yet it had a strange effect on the imagination.

I am not convinced there are any "roundnesses" on the Stiperstones, and I don't know what Mary Webb thought of his trespassing on her manor, but I am glad Lawrence wrote about the place.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Test players born in non test-playing countries

I have just posted a little cricket trivia on The Corridor.

The Offence

It's time to catch up with what the nice people at LoveFilm have been sending me.

The Offence, a 1972 film starring Sean Connery, is often included in lists of British films that deserved to be better known, but I found it disappointing. Its origins in a stage play were too apparent in the long scenes with lots of dialogue and little cinematic imagination. It came close to refuting my belief that no British film can be without interest, if only for the street scenes.

More than that, the central idea that a police officer can be so corrupted by the horrors he has witnessed that he ends up having more in common with criminals than the rest of society, is not the shock it is intended to be.

Worth watching if your expectations are not as high as mine were.

Party leaders to debate on television: Bad for the Lib Dems?

Back in September I posted some reasons why I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of televised debates between the party leaders at the next general election.

News has come today that those debates are indeed to take place: I see no reason to change what I wrote then, though "We should not assume that televised debates will be good for the Liberal Democrats" would be a more accurate, but less arresting, headline.

Considering the question in less partisan terms than I did in September, it strikes me that these debates will accelerate the trend towards a more presidential system here in Britain. For that reason, I do not welcome the development.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Strictly Come Dancing: Paul Tyler puts down Lords questions

Is Paul Tyler trying to be the Bob Russell of the upper house? News comes that the Lib Dem peer has put down Lords questions on the final of Strictly Come Dancing.

The Guardian reports that Ricky Whittle (who turns out to be the losing finalist and an actor in Hollyoaks) has called for the voting figures in the programme's final to be released. The report continues:

The actor was backed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tyler, who has tabled parliamentary questions on the subject, and said: "It's completely ludicrous to claim that the Corporation shouldn't make clear how well each couple did in the Strictly final.

"The technology is there, so why the smoke and mirrors?

"Surely if you ask the public to ring in, it's in the public's interest to know the full result."

Tyler has also called for the Freedom of Information Act to be update to expose the BBC to full public scrutiny.

Hazel O'Connor: Will You

Punk goddesses should not lower themselves to take party in reality television. A few years ago Granada Television had a series called Hit Me Baby One More Time in which pop acts from the past competed for the chance to issue a new single. It was won by Shakin' Stevens with Tiffany and Chesney Hawkes in his wake.

One of the unsuccessful contestants was Hazel O'Connor, who would undoubtedly have eaten the presenter, Vernon Kay, for breakfast in her heyday.

This is her finest hour - a song from the film Breaking Glass, in which she starred. The contrast between the tongue-tied lyrics and the passionate sax makes it an outstanding song.

There is another Youtube video of O'Connor performing this, but they won't let me embed it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Market Harborough in the snow

The photo above shows Little Bowden recreation ground and the neighbouring allotments this morning.

Unlike the reindeer last night, some people managed to make it to the town centre this morning. Please insert your own joke about elf and safety here.

Ironic Christmas News Story of the Day

From the Harborough Mail website:
An event in Harborough featuring real reindeer tonight (Friday) has been cancelled due to the snow.

Liberal England book quiz: Twenty opening sentences

A little fun for the Christmas season. Below are the opening sentences of 20 works of fiction (a handful of them written for children). Please leave the title and author in the comments below. I shall fill the answers in as they are guessed.

The winner gets tea at Bonkers Hall (terms and conditions apply).

The opening sentences

1. Marley was dead: to begin with.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

2. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology.
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
3. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
5. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
Middlemarch by George Eliot

6. They changed trains at Shrewsbury.
Mystery at Witchend by Malcolm Saville
7. Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

8. "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay
9. A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
10. As the manager of the Performance sits before the curtain on the boards and looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place.
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
11. There were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

12. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking Thirteen.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
13. The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
14. When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

15. One morning a large wooden case was brought to the farmhouse, and Bevis, impatient to see what was in it, ran for the hard chisel and the hammer, and would not consent to put off the work of undoing it for a moment.
Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies
16. Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
17. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
18. The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.
The Man who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

19. He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher – the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling

20. The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged: and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Malcolm Turnbull and George Lansbury

Malcolm Turnbull, recently deposed as leader of the Australian Liberal Party, turns out to be the great-grandson of Arthur Lansbury, who was the brother of George Lansbury, the leader of the British Labour Party.

This makes him a kinsman of the actress Angela Lansbury and the late Oliver Postgate.

Friday, December 18, 2009

House Points: 2009 Awards

When your postman finally makes it through the snow, you will find that this week's House Points contains this column from me.

Annual awards

I have just returned from this year’s House Points Awards. It was a great night for The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which walked off with two prizes.

It won Most Pompous Quotation in a Press Release following a rescue by Gloucestershire’s fire service. “Whilst no one likes to see a duck suffering,” said the release, “animal rescue is not the central job of the fire service. In this case there were no emergency calls pending, but calls can crop up at the last minute which could be much more pressing than the rescue of a duck.”

The Alliance also won Most Amusing Pressure Group of the Year. News that one of its directors lives in a Loire farmhouse and has not paid British tax for years had the audience falling about.

Court Injunction of the Year was won by Mr Justice Eady. I’d like to tell you more about it, but it would be against the injunction.

Commons Written Question of the Year went to Tim Farron for his concern at “the introduction of the 500kg cod lottery draw”. It’s easy to laugh, but this is a serious matter. Just ask the inshore fishing industry.

Besides, once cod take up gambling there’s no knowing where it will end. Today a lottery: tomorrow a poker school.

The final award – Most Bizarre Anecdote in Hansard – was won by Liz Barker:

Many, many years ago ... a very good friend of mine, Mr Roger Hayes, left school and went to work as a horticultural trainee for a London council.

One afternoon in the summer he was working away, doing his job in the potting shed, when there was an almighty bang outside the window. He looked out to see flames shooting 30 feet into the air.

He dialled 999 and asked for the fire brigade. It was all going very well until the lady from the emergency services asked him what exactly was on fire. He had to confess that some months earlier, the circus had come to town and had gifted to the local authority three tonnes of exotic animal dung.

Roger Hayes is a former Liberal candidate for Kingston and this story of his is well known in Liberator circles. We never thought it would be heard in the Lords.

"Housing After the Crunch" again

Writing on Comment is Free, Shaun Spiers from the Campaign to Protect Rural England is enthusiastic about the John Healey speech I attended last week:

I remember going round fringe meetings at the 2008 party conferences, making the case for a more stable housing market. A year on, I had given up hope. The two main parties' aim for housing seemed to be a return to a new housing bubble as quickly as possible.

Healey's speech invites the country to consider whether we really want to return to years of excessive house price inflation, followed by a crash, followed by another boom with all the social and environmental consequences that entails.

He also provides a link to the full text of Healey's speech.

Bishopsgate Institute

A couple of years ago, writing about the long-vanished Broad Street station in London, I said:
I played chess for Richmond & Twickenham in the London League, and the matches took place at the Bishopsgate Institute. I used to get the last train back around the North London line to Kew. Somehow I trusted the published timetable more than the Tube, even though the train took a circuitous route via Brondesbury and Willesden Junction.
English Buildings has a photograph of the Institute's remarkable fa├žade, which it was hard to appreciate to the full on those dark winter evenings.

Philip Wilkinson, who writes the blog, also has some sensible things to say about the current attitude towards those of us who like to photograph buildings from time to time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So farewell then Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones, star of the greatest film ever made in Shropshire, has died at the age of 90. Her obituary is in the Daily Telegraph.

The photograph above (borrowed from the marvellous Powell & Pressburger tribute site) shows her as Hazel Woodus in the 1950 film Gone to Earth. It was based on a novel by the Shropshire novelist Mary Webb and shot in some of the places where she set the book.

All of which makes me rather embarrassed that I once wrote on the New Statesman website:

it has put me in mind of Gone to Earth – the film that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger shot round here from the book by the Shropshire novelist Mary Webb.

In it the heroine, played by Jennifer Jones, is torn between David Farrar's hard-riding squire and Cyril Cusack's sexless minister. It is rather like Tess of the D'Urbervilles with more interesting geology.

Jones’s character Hazel Woodus is a half-wild child of nature given to skipping barefoot over the hills and consulting the book of charms left her by her gypsy mother. When she weds Cusack, she takes her tame fox up the aisle with her on a lead. Later, in an attempt to save the creature from Farrar's hounds, she plunges down a mineshaft with it in her arms.

The general opinion locally was that it served her right.

The Libel Reform Campaign

To Index on Censorship and English PEN it has become increasingly clear that English libel law and the use of ‘super-injunctions’ are having a profoundly negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and abroad.

Writers such as Simon Singh, and respected current affairs programme Newsnight, have found themselves facing defamation suits, whilst human rights campaigners are often forced to edit and retract articles in the face of potential libel action.

We need to persuade politicians from all the political parties to commit to reform of our unjust libel laws.

Now visit their website.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ros Scott visits Market Harborough

I was down in London at the time, but Ros Scott visited Market Harborough last week.

We took her to see the Focsa depot at Great Bowden. We know how to give a girl a good time up here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Newsnight report on Trafigura

Carter Ruck and Trafigura are at it again, so...

No Sandi Toksvig on Cambridge shortlist

It seems it was just press speculation. The shortlist to be the next Liberal Democrat candidate for Cambridge is:
  • Tim Bick
  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon
  • Rod Cantrill
  • Julian Huppert
  • Sian Reid
  • Julie Smith
Cambridge News has more about each of them.

The most enthusiastic press speculation came from the East Anglian Daily Times:

Casting their net to find a successor to one term MP David Howarth in Cambridge, starry eyed Liberal Democrats have alighted on broadcaster, comedienne and children's story writer Sandi Toksvig and human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti.
Probably because either would have made a better story as candidate than a competent local councillor.

There was, however, a certain wistful quality to the denial Toksvig issued in The Times earlier this month:

There has been some speculation that, with David Howarth departing as MP from the safe Liberal Democrat seat of Cambridge, Toksvig may stand: “Sadly, that’s nonsense,” she says. “But had it been in five years’ time, it might well be that I would have said, ‘Yes’.

I want to retire from showing off but I don’t want to retire from doing something useful with my life. So I’m not saying it’s out of the question that I may have a political career in the future. Or I might work full-time for a charity.”

So watch this space.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Mutualism and free schools

Let's be generous and welcome a couple of initiatives from the other parties.

In this morning's Guardian Tessa Jowell had an article trailing the Progress lecture she gave this evening:

on the supply side, we need to do more than hold up the model of the relentlessly managed plc. We should look instead at other successful ways of delivering goods and services. There are important lessons to be learned from studying how the Co-op and John Lewis work, companies owned, respectively, by their customers and their staff.

Public services exist to serve, and are paid for by, the public, so it is the public that has the right to influence how those services are delivered, to build shared responsibility for them, and improve them by harnessing the efforts of both professionals and those they serve.

Indeed, can we really expect citizens to take on greater responsibility for their own health, learning, and environmental impact, if public services fail to give them the right to shape the ways in which they deliver them? We can. By bringing users, employees, and others together as mutual members of the provider organisation we can successfully get to grips with the supply side of public service.

All good stuff, and let's not spoil it by asking why her government has done so little to further this agenda after 12 years in office. Note too that this is a Labour minister solemnly pointing out that "the relentlessly managed plc" is not the only possible model of organisation. Whatever happened to socialism.

On the Tory side, I take similar encouragement from the Guardian report that:
Hundreds of parent groups have come forward to set up schools under Conservative plans to overhaul the education system which could see new community-run primaries and secondaries given the go-ahead within months of a change of government, figures seen by the Guardian reveal.
If this policy is to have any point then the Tories are going to have to give up their plans to decide centrally how children should be taught and even what they should wear. But I am pleased it appears to proving popular.

Those who oppose it should beware of taking the John Prescott line:
"If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."

Lords Speech of the Week

Well done to Liz Barker for retailing a Roger Hayes anecdote familiar in Liberator circles in the House of Lords:

Many, many years ago-about 30 years ago-a very good friend of mine, Mr Roger Hayes, left school and went to work as a horticultural trainee for a London council.

One afternoon in the summer he was working away, doing his job in the potting shed, when there was an almighty bang outside the window. He looked out to see flames shooting 30 feet into the air.

He dialled 999 and asked for the fire brigade. It was all going very well until the lady from the emergency services asked him what exactly was on fire. He had to confess that some months earlier, the circus had come to town and had gifted to the local authority three tonnes of exotic animal dung.

It had rested there in the yard at the park and, over time, the methane within it had accumulated to the point at which it spontaneously combusted and was about to set off another major fire.

I think I know how the noble Lord is going to answer about why lion faeces gets a mention in these regulations. That is a true story.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ryan Giggs: A worthy winner?

Was Ryan Giggs a worthy winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year? It wasn't a ridiculous result, as in the years when Zara Phillips and, even more, Princess Anne won, but it still seemed a strange decision to me.

Giggs has been a stalwart member of a hugely successful side, but then so have Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. No one has ever suggested that they should be shortlisted for the award.

My impression is that while Giggs has been a very good player, he never became quite the great one - the next George Best or Bobby Charlton - it seemed he might in his early years. His decision (or his club's) that he should play for Wales rather than England - and not very often at that - may have a lot to do with that.

There is also the point that Alex Ferguson's understandable insistence on keeping him away from the media in those early years has meant that Giggs has never had much of a public profile. Shouldn't the Sports Personality of the Year have more of a personality?

I am not a great fan of motor sport but Jensen Button's story - the golden boy whose career seemed to be dwindling who suddenly came good as part of an improbable team - is far more compelling.

Sandi Toksvig to fight Cambridge for Lib Dems?

An intriguing snippet from Cambridge News:
The Lib Dems plan to announce their candidate in the middle of January, with speculation mounting that broadcaster/comic Sandi Toksvig might stand.

There are also calls among the city’s Lib Dems for the former Girton College student to take over from Mr Howarth, according to party sources.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lord Bonkers blogs live from Copenhagen again

"It is absolutely freezing here."

Blog Headline of the Day

Well done to Nick Perry for Hastings & Rye for:

Lib Dems in Parliament question DEFRA over cod lottery

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boomtown Rats: Rat Trap

Dame Edna once said of Mother Teresa: "She does a lot for charity, but she's let herself go, hasn't she?"

You could say much the same of Bob Geldof. Before he started saving the world from hunger he made some great records. Though looking at this now, even allowing for the fact that the performance is clearly being mimed, he does come over as a bit of a poseur.

"Rat Trap" reminds me of my university days. Enjoy.

Waterloo Tearoom, near Market Harborough

Walk south along the Brampton Valley Way from Market Harborough and after a mile or two you come to the Waterloo Tearoom. It is part of a leisure development involving chalets and fishing lakes that wasn't there a few years ago.

According to its website:

We offer the quintessential English tearoom experience. Situated next to rolling fields in our sympathetically converted Dutch Barn with a lovely large conservatory seating area available as well so you can enjoy the countryside views no matter what the weather. Come treat yourself to a delicious cream tea or a light lunch (homemade soups, baked potatoes and quiches) or our hearty freshly made dish of the day.

The Tearoom also now has a licenced bar so you can enjoy a glass of wine or pint of beer with your meal.

It also has Wi-fi, so I may just blog from there one day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

House Points: Smarter government

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Not credit worthy

You know what people have been saying about this government? How it has centralised everything. How it has set up far too many quangos. How it has tied everyone up in red tape. How it has been paying people at the top ridiculously high salaries.

Well, it turns out that those people were right all along. The chief secretary to the treasury says so.

Liam Byrne came to the Commons on Monday to make a statement on “smarter government”. He promised a 20 per cent cut in civil service costs and that he would personally review salaries over £150,000. He promised efficiency savings, with further savings of £500m to come from a cull of quangos. And there was to be a vast jumble sale of government assets: the Tote, the student loan book, the Dartford crossing, British Waterways.

He wasn’t just proposing to sell the family silver: he was going to see what he could get for the parlourmaids in the slave markets of the Levant.

As Vince Cable said when replying, there is a problem with ministers announcing efficiency savings and expecting to receive credit for it. If they knew there was inefficiency, why haven’t they dealt with it already?

Beyond that, the sense that the approach that has dominated the Blair and Brown has reached the end of the road was palpable. It was puzzling to hear Labour loyalists welcoming Byrne’s new approach: where have they been for the past 12 years?

The Liberal alternative to Labour’s command economy of targets and league table is the local control of services. Labour supporters will tell you that this would lead to inequality and injustice. But when central government accumulates so much power it is bound to be exercised in an arbitrary way. Inequality and injustice are endemic in the current system.


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Hansard back to 1803 now being available on the net. I said the website was owned by “a company called Millbank Systems”.

It turns out that Millbank Systems is not a company but a site where a group working within Parliament tries out new web projects. If they are all as useful as this one, then it will be worth watching.

Lord Bonkers blogs live from Copenhagen

"Could I have another one of those delicious pastries please?"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Exclusive photo: Repairs to Quentin Davies' second home

Headline of the Day

And it's from Rutland!

The Leicester Mercury wins it for:

Policeman's rabbit impersonation rescues pet dog

The Taxpayers' Alliance comments: While no one likes to see a dog suffering, impersonating rabbits is not the central job of the police service.

Vince Cable on the pre-Budget report

General Electric's chief executive attacks "meanness and greed" of business leaders

Writing in the Finacial Times this morning, Francesco Guerrera reports a remarkable speech made at West Point military academy by Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric:
"We are at the end of a difficult generation of business leadership ... tough-mindedness, a good trait, was replaced by meanness and greed, both terrible traits," said Mr Immelt, who succeeded Jack Welch, one of the toughest leaders of his generation, at the helm of the US conglomerate. "Rewards became perverted. The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability."
Immelt also said:
"The bottom 25 per cent of the American population is poorer than they were 25 years ago. That is just wrong ... Ethically, leaders do share a common responsibility to narrow the gap between the weak and the strong."
Meanwhile in London, bankers responded to Alistair Darling's plans to tax their bonuses.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The shorter Shaun Halfpenny

I didn't insist that children wore goggles to play conkers, but I was right to do so.

John Healey: "Housing After the Crunch"

Earlier this evening I ventured into the belly of the ancestral enemies of radical liberals. I attended a lecture organised by the Fabian Society. It was given, under the title "Housing After the Crunch", by John Healey, the Minister for Housing and Planning.

I seemed to have been invited as a token blogger, but I was keen to attend because housing was my main interest in the far-off days when I was a local councillor.

Healey arrived late because he had to vote in a Commons division. When he did get there he was accompanied by a Malcolm and several Ollies.

Disappointingly, I found I agreed with much of what he had to say. It was a speech that would have been warmly applauded if it had been given by one of our MPs at a Liberal Democrat Conference, down to the frequent digs at the Tories. Personally, I found them rather cheap, but that won't stop me using them one day.

Healey made a good point in saying that housing should be a far more important issue in British politics than it is at present. It is becoming increasingly hard to get a foothold on the property ladder and most of those who manage to do so are helped by their parents. If nothing is done about this society will continue to grow more unequal.

The meat of Healey's speech was concerned with what the "new normal" of housing will look like.

He forecast that the public sector will have a greater role to play in future. The percentage of people owning their own homes had fallen from 71 to 68 over the past decade and was falling even before the credit crunch.

People will have a wider choice of tenure - owner, renting in the public sector, renting from a third sector provider - and they will enjoy flexibility of tenure over their lifetimes even in the same property.

There will be more working families and lower and middle earners in social housing, which will lose any stigma as a result.

Houses will be greener, warmer and have a smaller carbon footprint.

All this, Healey said, will require a stronger role for the state - an observation that was greeted with little noises of pleasure all around me. A smaller state would lead not to a greater society but a meaner society.

When it comes to housing, Healey is right. There is certainly a role for government in ensuring fair dealing between landlord and tenant and enforcing decent standards. And he was careful to say that state action need not mean national plans - local authorities have an important role to play.

He even said that recent changes to the law mean that councils will keep 100 per cent of the proceeds if any newly built houses are sold off under the right to buy. This was not the case back in the eighties when I was chaired Harborough Districts housing management committee. I also seem to recall that you had to get government permission to build new houses (which was not forthcoming) and pay off debt at the same time.

Perhaps housing still brings out my inner local councillor, but it was an appealing picture. What was less clear is how we get there from here, particularly when there is to be such a squeeze on public spending.

Can anyone recommend something good to read on Lib Dem housing policy? Something that goes beyond not allowing second homes in rural areas?

Trampolining pigs: An apology

A couple of days ago I reported that three trampolining pigs from Shropshire are to appear on Britain's Got Talent.

A moment's reflection would have told me that such an outlandish story could not possibly be true.

As a later report in the Shropshire Star makes clear, only one of the pigs uses the trampoline.

The other two dance.

Quentin Blake exhibition opens Sunday 13 December

News reaches us from the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder Street, Westminster:

On Sunday 13 December we celebrate the opening of our new exhibition, "Only Young Twice: The Lively Art of Quentin Blake".

The show contains 94 new works by Britain's most beloved illustrator, largely drawn from recent commissions, and displays all his characteristic flair, invention and wit. It is an essential exhibition for anybody who has grown up with, and delighted in Quentin Blake's enchanting illustrations.

A 28 page, fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition is available from the gallery, priced at £5 (P&P £1 UK, £2 Europe, £3 World).

The Sunday itself will be a family day of fun, music by 'The Jelly Rollers', art, books and vast bowls of sweets, so please feel encouraged to visit with as many children as you can manage!

The great man himself will be at the gallery on the day, from 10-12am, and then from 2-4pm. He will be signing his newly published books, and looks forward to seeing friends, new and old.

Signed copies of these books will be available from the gallery, and can be posted to you if you so require.

The really exciting news is that those books include two of the Uncle books by the Revd J.P. Martin.

The exhibition runs until Saturday 9 January 2010.

Rupert Everett to play Jeremy Thorpe

Down in London for the day job, I pick up a copy of the Evening Standard. An interview with Rupert Everett catches my eye:
what is really exciting him now is his next film project, in which he will play Jeremy Thorpe, the former Liberal leader accused and acquitted of conspiring to murder his alleged lover, Norman Scott. The film, which is planned for the BBC, will hand Everett, he hopes, his first award-winning role.
But what really catches my eye is the way this interview is billed:
The star of St Trinian’s on his bond with his father, losing his looks, and gaining a plum role as an infamous MP ‘bender’...

The state of the Scottish blogosphere

Doctor Vee explains the recent stooshies and scrimashes, as I believe they are termed.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Lord Bonkers reviews "Saving Energy in the Nick Clegg Household"

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:

Isn't this new Electric Youtube clever? Terribly Clever? I wonder who thought of it?

Anyway, while I am proud to see that young Clegg is Doing His Bit, I can't help thinking that he is missing a trick.

It happens that I had the pleasure of dining chez Clegg over the summer and was charmed by his three young sons. So much energy!

It was a shame to see it going to waste, so in my letter of thanks to the Cleggs I suggested that he install a treadmill. I note, howeverm that he makes no mention of one in this moving video and fear that my words fell on stony ground.

What's that you say? "Wouldn't it be cruel?"

To you I have but one thing to say: Think of the poor polar bears.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coate Water Miniature Railway

Today's strangest story is the news that Swindon is to be twinned with Walt Disney World. The Wiltshire town has an interesting history, but it is hard to see that it has much in common with a Florida theme park.

When I visited Swindon this summer its centre consisted largely of vacant plots. It seemed that the regeneration company had gone bust after completing phase 1 of its ambitious plans.

On a happier note, there is a miniature railway at Coate Water near the Richard Jefferies Museum. The blog Old Steamers has some news about it.