Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wimbledon swine flu: Sick as Travis Parrott

The Daily Mail reports that three players at Wimbledon have gone down with swine flu:
The three, who are all believed to be getting better, are closely inter-connected. They are world number 29 doubles player Michal Mertinak, his fellow Slovakian, world number 22 Filip Polasek, and 25th-ranked American Travis Parrott.
Later. But see this correction.

Chris Huhne on the culture of policing

Writing on Lib Dem Voice, Stephen Tall has noticed a point that I have made before. When Nick Clegg promises to scrap ID cuts he says that the money will be used to cut taxes. But when Chris Huhne promises to scrap ID cuts he says that the money will be used to put more bobbies on the beat.

I raised this point with Chris Huhne when I interviewed him earlier this year, saying it was hard to believe we are an underpoliced society when you are at Westminster. There every doorway seems to harbour two armed officers.

Chris's reply was that, if you make international comparisons, then Britain does have too few police. I was struck by his observation that when the police patrol in pairs they tend to talk to each other rather than to the public.

This need to change the culture of policing is at the heart of the case for having more police officers. Stephen assumes that anyone making this call must hold the view that more police employed will mean more criminals caught and punished. But those who disagree with his view need not be as simplistic as he assumes.

The culture of policing was in everyone's mind when I spoke to Chris. We met just after the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demonstration.

As Chris said, there are concerns that the Met's Territorial Support Group has inherited some of the DNA of the old Special Patrol Group.

Hitler in Bridgnorth

Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson

The Shropshire Star reported the other day that the Severn Valley Railway has introduced some regulations to cover its 1940s weekend because someone turned up in a previous year dressed as Adolf Hitler. The Severn Valley line runs from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth.

This reminded me of a Daily Telegraph report from 2005:

The headquarters of Nazi Britain after Adolf Hitler's planned invasion was identified yesterday as a quiet market town in Shropshire.

At first glance, Bridgnorth may not be the most obvious choice as the Führer's base for establishing his brave new world, but secret documents strongly suggest that that is what he had in mind ...

Experts believe that Hitler picked the town because it lies inland away from the urbanised West Midlands, was geographically in the middle of England and had an air base nearby.

Richard Westwood-Brookes, the documents expert for the auctioneers Mullock Madeley, said: "My jaw dropped when I saw the papers."

He said that some were from 1941, casting doubt on the popular belief that Hitler abandoned all plans to invade the country after the Battle of Britain the previous year.

On a happier note, you can find some photographs from the Severn Valley Railway event on the Star's website. And you can visit the railway's website too.

So should MPs be allowed to have outside jobs?

The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is that it is up to the voters.

Just as the answer to the misuse of MPs' expenses it to require them to publish their claims, so the answer to concerns over their having jobs away from Westminster is to require them to declare these earnings and how much time they spend working for other employers.

I do have doubts over the traditional assumption that it is possible to do a good job as an MP while pursuing a career at the bar. Equally, I see no problem in John Hemming devoting four hours a month to the companies he founded before he was an MP.

But then I believe that there are too many lawyers in parliament and not enough businessmen.

Ultimately, though, it is up to the voters to decide. They may decide that it is better to have a good MP without outside interests than a mediocre one who is wholly dedicated to the task.

I am reminded of the Southampton fan who called a phone in at the time that Bruce Grobbelaar was on trial over match-fixing accusations.

He said: "I would rather have Grobbelaar trying to lose than Dave Beasant trying to win."

Keeping cool with the TUC

At the 2007 Lib Dem Conference I wrote a piece on the stalls for Comment is Free:
By common consent, the most generous stall is the one run by the Trades Union Congress. It is handing out classy home office sets, including a fan that runs off your computer as you write.
I got out my fan today. It still works and is keeping me cool as I write this.

Thank you, brothers.

J. L. Carr and St Faith's, Newton in the Willows

A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of The Last Englishman - Byron Rogers' biography of J. L. Carr. A Yorkshireman, Carr was a primary school headmaster from Kettering who had great success late in his life as a novelist and publisher of eccentric small books.

One chapter of the biography deals with Carr's attempt to save the Medieval church of St Faith's at Newton - Newton in the Willows, if you prefer its more romantic name - near Geddington. When he discovered it in the 1960s it was in the process of being closed down by the diocese of Peterborough. The fittings were moved to other churches or stolen by intruders and the interior was further damaged by archaeological excavations.

Thanks to Carr's efforts the building was saved and is now a field centre, run by a charitable trust. I approached it across the fields from Geddington last Saturday and found everything padlocked when I arrived. Even when an operating church is locked you are allowed to sit in the porch to shelter - I have even been taken home and given a cup of tea by a woman doing the flowers.

Newton was also the site of a great house owned by the Treshams - whom we met recently at Rushton - but the only thing left from that estate is the 17th century dovecote near the church.

There is another, darker story from Newton in the Willows: the story of the Newton Rebels:
1607 was just a few years into the reign of James I. Times were hard. Harvests had been poor, the weather bad, and the population was growing. Food was expensive and hard to come by. The enclosure of common land by local landowners, especially the Treshams of Rushton, a notorious Roman Catholic family – hard up since the involvement of Frances in the Powder Treason only two years earlier - and their cousins at Newton, was the last straw.
Trouble had been building up in Northamptonshire since May Eve, probably after a few drinks to celebrate May Day, a traditional festival which also marked the beginning of the season when animals had been permitted to graze on the common land in nearby Rockingham Forest.
Discontent spread across north Northamptonshire, and to Leicestershire and Warwickshire throughout May. The events at Newton were the culmination of the Midlands Revolt when King James feared that after hearing reports of 3000 at Hillmorton in Warwickshire and 5000 at Cotesbach in Leicestershire, the situation was becoming out of control. A gibbet was set up in the city of Leicester as a warning not to get involved. It was torn down by the people.
The protesters called themselves diggers and levellers – terms that would be more familiar when heard again in the Civil War.
Over 1000 peasants gathered from Rockingham Forest - men, women and children - led by Captain Pouch. He was a tinker whose real name was John Reynoldes. He claimed to have authority from the kingdom of Heaven and to have a pouch which contained "that which shall keep you from all harm". Following the events of 8 June, it was found to contain nothing more than a piece of green cheese.

The armed bands formed of local men were reluctant to be involved and the gentry had to rely on their own servants to support them. The rebels refused to obey the orders to disperse, and continued to pull down hedges and fill in the enclosing ditches. The King's proclamation was read twice. Still the rebels refused to give way.

Finally, the gentry and their troops charged, and over 40 peasants were killed. Prisoners were taken, imprisoned in St Faith's Church, and the ringleaders tried, hanged and quartered. Their quarters were hung in towns across Northamptonshire as a clear message.

At St Faith's today there is a memorial to the men who were executed: "May their souls rest in peace."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Norwich North by-election to he held on 23 July

More from the BBC.

New Alan Bennett play looks at Britten and Auden

While I consider a posting on the parallels between Michael Jackson and Benjamin Britten, The Prague Post brings news that Alan Bennett has written a play on the relationship between Britten and the poet W. H. Auden.

Called "The Habit of Art", it will star Michael Gambon, Alex Jennings and Frances de la Tour and open at the National Theatre. It will also be broadcast to selected cinemas as part of the theatre's NT Live programme.

Concierge Desk explains a little more about the play:
The play tells the story of an imagined meeting as Auden and Britten meet in the 1960s towards the end of their lives. The two had worked together on the documentary ‘Night Mail’ and the operetta ‘Paul Bunyan’ but fell out with each other in the 1940s.
And Playbill will tell you more about NT live.

Hot weather is good news for the vineyards of Market Harborough

Today's Leicester Mercury says:

Vineyard owners are keeping their fingers crossed for a bumper crop in the county this year following forecasts of a hot summer.

Wet summers in the past two years have seen some vineyards producing only a quarter of their best crop – or less.

Now, owners say the recent hot spells mixed with wet weather have produced excellent growing conditions.

It goes on to report:
David Bates, who has run Welland Valley Vineyard, at Marston Trussell, near Market Harborough, for 20 years, said: "The portents are there for a good crop, but you never count your chickens."
Welland Valley Vineyard has its own website, but I can't see where the chickens come into it.

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire

Another gem from the British Pathe website is this film of Stokesay Castle from 1936, complete with a commentary from Mr Cholmondeley-Warner.

Except that, apart from the tasteful conversion of part of the gatehouse to include a teashop, Stokesay looks exactly the same today as it did 60 years ago.

As the English Heritage page for Stokesay says:
Stokesay Castle is quite simply the finest and best preserved fortified medieval manor house in England. Set in peaceful countryside near the Welsh border, the castle, timber-framed gatehouse and parish church form an unforgettably picturesque group.
You can find Stokesay Castle on the A49 in Shropshire, just south of Craven Arms.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

BBC Radio 4's "Westminster Hour": Edited by idiots?

Some airhead on Radio 4's "Westminster Hour" has just told listeners that the Liberal Democrats "hold the balance of power" in Sheffield and Newcastle.

No we don't. We run both cities outright. And the Conservatives do not have a single councillor in either of them.

You would hope there would be someone on what is supposed to be a specialist political programme who would know this. Obviously not.

We asked the BBC for a comment, but they were all out buying flowers for Jonathan Ross.

Later. The programme broadcast an apology for this a couple of months later.

Britblog Roundup 228

This week's roundup comes from the Cafe des Tilleuls in Autun, Burgundy, and Philobiblon.

Britain's oldest Olympian dies aged 100

From BBC News:
Britain's oldest Olympian Godfrey Rampling, who won medals at the 1932 and 1936 Games in Los Angeles and Berlin, has died at the age of 100.
Rampling was a member of the Great Britain 4x400m relay teams which won silver in 1932 and gold in 1936.

And, trivia fans will be pleased to learn, he was the father of the actress Charlotte Rampling.

But was Michael Jackson any good?

Does Michael Jackson's music begin to justify the extraordinary degree of attention that has been paid to his death?

I think not.

He was clearly outstandingly talented as a boy, and next to the Osmonds the Jackson 5 sounded like the Amadeus Quartet. But they were pretty much in the Motown mainstream, and if you like late Motown then Stevie Wonder is greatly to be preferred.

I liked his Off the Wall album. It was at the time the best-selling album by a Black artist ever. And it showcased Michael Jackson as good-looking, stylish young Black man.

But after that something terrible happened to his music as well as to his face.

Thriller was simply not an album for grown ups. Aided by the rise of MTV and the pop video, Jackson's music was from then on aimed principally at children.

The former child star Mark Lester is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: "He always told me he wrote his songs for the age group of ten to 14."

It showed.

Certainly, it seems that those most affected by Michael Jackson's death are those who were children when Thriller came out.

Still, de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est, as they say on Radio 1.

The Eleanor cross at Geddington

Yesterday I wrote that Geddington has the best surviving Eleanor cross.

But what is an Eleanor cross? I hear you ask.

Eleanor of Castile was the wife of King Edward I of England. She died at Harby in Nottinghamshire in 1290. Edward followed her body to its burial in Westminster Abbey, and erected memorial crosses at the site of each overnight stop.

Originally there were 12 Eleanor crosses. They were at Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing. Today only three - Northampton, Waltham and Geddington - surivive in any significant form.

Here is a photograph of the Geddington cross from yesterday.

Creation: That's How Strong My Love Is

A few months ago I bought a couple of DVDs at a record fair in Leicester. They contained performances by British bands from the 1960s German television show "Beat Beat Beat". And most of them have found their way on to Youtube if you look.

This is one of the best of those performances.

Creation were a highly regarded group of the period who never quite found the success they deserved.

And they were innovative too. Kenny Pickett, the singer here, would paint canvasses with aerosol paint during their stage show and then set fire to them. Eddie Phillips was using a violin bow on his guitar before Jimmy Page (or Nigel Tufnell).

Pickett did eventually achieve chart succes: he was the co-writer of Clive Dunn's no. 1 single "Grandad".

But I prefer this one.

Doctors and nurses and praying for patients

Nich Starling, the Norfolk Blogger - indeed, the Norfolk Blogger - is concerned that:

a large number of doctors who want to be able to talk to patients about God and their faith ... are lobbying the GMC to allow them to do so.

He writes:

I put my faith in the doctor and years of medical training. What I don't want is a doctor giving me the impression that he or she really does not have the skills to deal with my problem and instead relies on "divine intervention".
I hope the GMC will realise that a doctor espousing praying is akin to telling a patient to "keep your fingers crossed" and gives patients no confidence in the ability of the doctor.
I am not sure this latter point is true as a matter of fact: I would not be surprised to learn that many of the best doctors are practising Christians or follow some other faith.

But more importantly, I think Nich is ducking the central question here.

Offering to pray for someone can be kind, patronising, threatening, reassuring, presumptuous, thoughtful or silly, depending upon the situation and the two people involved.

The question is whether we think that a centrally determined and imposed code of conduct can account for all the subtleties here or whether we are happy to trust the judgement of the people involved.

Because we are Liberals we prefer the latter course of action, don't we?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

William Henry Gladstone went to prep school in Geddington

For some time I have been planning a visit to Geddington in Northamptonshire, which was at the heart of the old Rockingham Forest, because it has the best surviving Eleanor cross and connections with the novelist J. L. Carr.

My interest was piqued even further when I read the following on a website devoted to the village:
In the mid 19th Century The Vicarage was extended to become a boarding school and boasts among its pupils William Gladstone who later became the Liberal Prime Minister.
When I asked Lord Bonkers about this he said it rang true, reasoning that the young William Ewart Gladstone had must have learnt the fundamentals of Liberalism from the elves of Rockingham Forest.

I was not so sure. The biographies all agree that Gladstone was first educated at Seaforth, before being sent to Eton at the age of 11.

Then I came across Monica Raynes book Geddington As It Was and the mystery was solved. She quotes A. C. Ainger's Eton 60 Years Ago from 1917 on the school at Geddington Vicarage (Ainger was himself a pupil):
The school undoubtedly stood high in popular favour; it was always full and there was a strong flavour of aristocracy about it ... Nearly all the boys went to Eton ... Among the pupils were one cabinet minister, Lord Gladstone (son of the Mr Gladstone); two bishops, Augustus Legge of Lichfield and Edward Talbot of Winchester; three admirals, Charles Scott, Walter Kerr and Arthur Moore; and two generals, Ralph Kerr and Neville Lyttleton.
I suspect the interpolation about "the Mr Gladstone" comes from Monica Raynes rather than Ainger, but there is still enough here to interest a good Liberal.

William Henry Gladstone was the Grand Old Man's eldest son and himself an MP for 20 years. He sat for Chester, Whitby and East Worcestershire. He also played football for Scotland in an unofficial international against England.

And Neville Lyttelton (not Lyttleton) was the father in law of my favourite Edwardian Liberal Charles Masterman.

Monica Raynes further quotes Ainger on the Geddington school:
There were only twenty pupils, so that personal supervision was easy enough; we were well fed, lodged and looked after - I believe that in the twenty years or so of the school's existence no inmate of it died.
Perhaps that sets the bar a little low for modern tastes, but it may be wiser to treat it as a reminder of the greater fragility of life, young life in particular, in the 19th century.

The school was owned by the Revd William Montagu Higginson Church. In his The Rise of the English Prep School, Donald Leinster-Mackay writes:
Perhaps the reason why the school kept by the Rev. William Montagu Church at Geddington, near Kettering in Northamptonshire, was shortlived was that he was unable to control his temper, despite the school's being patronized by the sons of nobility.
Google Books does not let you see the footnote referring to Church's temper, but we know that the school lasted for 20 years. And as far as I can make out from other snippets on Google Books - and that is rapidly emerging as an important academic skill - Church moved to a new living in Norfolk and educated some of Gladstone's other sons there. So this speculation may be wide of the mark though, it it were true, it would place Church in a great tradition of prep school headmasters.

Anyway, I went to Geddington today and my photograph shows (I hope) the wing Church added to what was then the vicarage to house his pupils. The school closed when he left the village in 1861.

More on The Duckworth Lewis Method

This morning's issue of The Times has an interview with Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh, aka Duckworth and Lewis of The Duckworth Lewis Method:

Here is a taste of Jiggery Pokery, a Noël Coward-style song about the famous ball delivered by the great Australian bowler Shane Warne that bamboozled Mike Gatting in 1993:

“I took the crease to great applause and focused on me dinner/ I knew that I had little cause to fear their young leg spinner.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quiz: Win A Useful Fiction by Patrick Hannan

As promised, here is the new Liberal England prize quiz. This time there are two copies of Patrick Hannan's new book A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy to be won.

Just e-mail me the answers to the following five questions:

  1. After whom is the Barnett formula named?

  2. Who wrote:

    "We are bought and sold for English gold -
    What a parcel of rogues in a nation."

  3. In which year did the people of North East England vote against the establishment of a regional assembly in a referendum?

  4. Who said of Enoch Powell:

    "Poor Enoch! Driven mad by the remorselessness of his own logic."

  5. Which MP is currently 326th in the line of succession to the British throne.

Entries close at 23:59 on Tuesday 7 July 2009 and the winners will be drawn by Lord Bonkers (despite my experience last time).

This quiz is not open to employees of the Bonkers Hall Estate, nor to current or former inmates of the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.

The election of John Bercow as Speaker

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. What is really wrong about electing Bercow as Speaker, of course, is that he is younger than I am.

Traduced Tory

Spare a thought for Sir George Young. He has now lost the Speakership twice for partisan reasons. Nine years ago he failed to win because government backbenchers were determined that a Labour House should have a Labour speaker. Now he has lost to John Bercow because those same Labour MPs anticipate a Tory landslide and want a Speaker who will be thorn in David Cameron’s side.

But then many Liberal Democrat MPs voted for Bercow too. They believe he will prove a reformer.

They would be wrong to place too much emphasis on the fact that Bercow is a relatively youthful Speaker. It’s not so long since we had a young family man at 10 Downing Street – and look how he ended up.

Nor should they be too excited by his decision to dispense with most of the Speaker’s traditional dress. The flummery at Westminster can be irritating, but it’s hardly the most serious problem the British political system faces.

Bercow is saying the right things. He has talked of “an agenda for reform, for renewal, for revitalisation and for the reassertion of the core values of this great institution in the context of the 21st century".

Even so, you fear his recipe for reconnecting parliament with the public involves one J. Bercow appearing on television with great regularity.

What the he must do is help the Commons begin the process of reining in the executive. In particular, the timetabling of business must be taken out of the hands of the government and put in the hands of a committee of the House. At present too many laws goes through without being debated at all.

And if that means less legislation, that would be no bad thing.

How much power the Speaker has to do this remains to be seen. Bercow may have an uphill task to convince those who see his political odyssey from the far right of the Tories to the shores of New Labour as pure opportunism.

There is, incidentally, another reason why Sir George Young lost, and it tells you a lot about Labour backbenchers. They could forgive Bercow for being the former secretary of the Monday club's immigration and repatriation committee, but they could not forgive Young for being an Old Etonian.

Leicester Curve pays tribute to Michael Jackson's "heart stopping" music

Earlier today Curve, Leicester's new arts centre, was promoting its forthcoming Michael Jackson 51 show as a "high energy tribute show to Michael Jackson jam-packed with heart stopping music".

I wonder why they changed it?

See the Google cache if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Top Gear presenters are not boys

This time last year I complained that the BBC kept calling the presenters of Top Gear "boys".

In this year's the trailer they are played by boys.

Why is the BBC so determined that we should see Jeremy Clarkson, the little one and the other one as lovable scamps?

David Tredinnick’s esoteric expense claims

Liberal Democrat Voice has already reported that David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth in Leicestershire, has claimed £210 for astrology software from, it appears, “Crucial Astro Tools” and £300 for tuition from the same company to learn how to use it.

This is not the only esoteric expense claim he has made.

Monday's Leicester Mercury reported that in 2006 the Commons fees office rejected a £125 claim from Tredinnick for attending a seminar on intimate relationships run by an acquaintance of his. The event, says the Mercury, was advertised as teaching how to "honour the female and also the male essence and the importance of celebrating each".

The paper quotes Tredinnick defence:

Defending his claim for going on a course that offered to teach about the "deep passions of our intimate relationships", the Tory MP said that half of the people in Hinckley and Bosworth who came to him for help had found themselves in difficulty because of relationship issues.

Mr Tredinnick said he believed too much information had been hidden in the official publication of expenses documents.

He said: "What I was trying to do was look at how people get into trouble in domestic situations, what causes domestic violence and what drives some people to that.

"Bearing in mind the amount of casework I do, I thought this would be quite sensible."

It is no more ridiculous than a lot of claims that were passed by the fees office.

A duck writes: I resent that.

Coming soon: A chance to win A Useful Fiction by Patrick Hannan

It's time for another Liberal England quiz.

This time there are two copies of Patrick Hannan's new book A Useful Fiction: Adventures in British Democracy as prizes.

The questions will be posted on this blog within a couple of days.

Council threatens to repossess Labour MPs' home

Yes, the apostrophe is in the right place.

From the BBC News website:

Married Labour MPs Ann and Alan Keen have been given a month to stop their local council repossessing their home 10 miles from the House of Commons.

The pair's expenses have been in the spotlight after they claimed £137,679 for a second home near Parliament.

In a letter seen by the BBC, Hounslow Council tells the couple "urgent action" is needed to explain why their main home in Brentford is unoccupied.
The Keens have not responded to BBC requests for a comment.
In addition, the Keens are not thought to have responded to the council's letter, sent last week.
A source at the council - which is run by the Conservatives - told the BBC that the Brentford property had remained empty for seven months.
Andrew Dakers, the Liberal Democrat councillor for the area, who is also its prospective Parliamentary candidate, has told the BBC that the windows at the back of the Keens main home were boarded up and that there was paint splashed on the inside of the upstairs windows.

Back from the Dead: The Return of Spinal Tap

The BBC has a 60-minute interview with this seminal rock band ahead of the release of their new LP Back from the Dead.

Thanks to Harry on Crooked Timber.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Clegg: Lib Dems can overtake Labour

George Parker writes in the Financial Times:

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, believes his party can overtake Labour at the next election, as “big things can happen” when a government is defeated in the battle of ideas and loses touch with the public.

In a bullishly confident interview, Mr Clegg said on Tuesday it was “not beyond the realms of possibility” that his party could push Labour into third place and become the official opposition to a David Cameron government.

He said his party was in the ideological ascendant against an outdated Labour party and the Lib Dems were planning an offensive in seats in towns and cities in northern England that were previously considered unwinnable.

Climbing the bell tower at Lydbury North

When I was in Shropshire recently I visited Lydbury North and its church St Michael and All Angels - follow the link for some excellent photographs.

It's a large church for a small village and is particularly interesting as it is cruciform in shape and has two side chapels. One of these is used for Roman Catholic services. You would not guess this from its austere decor, but you might from the lingering scent of incense.

At the west end is the door to the bell tower. I tried this and found it open, so I went in.

Soon I heard someone coming down the ladder to see what was going on. As he appeared, I tried my best Basil Fawlty "just checking the walls" act.

He turned out to be a local clockmaker who was doing some work on the church clock. He asked me up the tower so I climbed to see the clock on the first floor and the bells on the second - trying hard not to think of The Nine Tailors when I got there.

Whenever I see a church tower now I shall think of the great weight of metal it contains and hope they are securely held when I enter it.

There was an odd postscript to this story.

The following day the Shropshire Star placards in Bishop's Castle - the neighbouring settlement to Lydbury North - talked about a man being injured in a "clock tower plunge".

The story did not, as I at first feared, involve my friend from Lydbury North. Instead, it turned out that a Mr Ron Davies had been injured in a fall in the clock tower at Bishop's Castle town hall after finding a body there.

I felt that this comment in the story:
One resident in the town, who did not want to be named, said Mr Davies was a “very nice man”.
captures the innocence of rural Shropshire.

All the news from Norwich North

The By-Elections blog has all the latest news from the campaign.

This includes an estimate of how Norwich North voted in the recent county elections:

Con 11357 41.3%
Lab 5059 18.4%
LD 4682 17.0%
Grn 4465 16.2%
UKIP 1704 6.2%
BNP 228 0.8%

Trivial Fact of the Day with Bernard Manning

It was said on Radio 4 last night and is in Wikipedia so it must be true...

Bernard Manning guarded Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison after the end of World War II.

Monday, June 22, 2009

So farewell then Private Sponge

Colin Bean, best known for playing Private Sponge in Dad's Army, has died in Wigan at the age of 82.

What John Bercow's victory tells us about the Labour Party

Most Labour MPs would rather vote for a former secretary of the Monday club's immigration and repatriation committee than for an Old Etonian.

The alpacas of Rushton

After visiting Rushton Triangular Lodge, I explored the village of Rushton itself. The bridleway heading off towards Kettering was so inviting that I had to take that too.

On the way I met these delightful creatures. I think they are alpacas, shorn for the summer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Richard Shepherd should be the new Speaker

So who should be the new Speaker?

When Michael Martin became won the last contest, his election broke the unofficial compact that the Commons would alternate between Labour and Tory Speakers. The Labour front bench was happy to support Sir George Young, but there was a strong feeling on the back benches that a Labour House should have a Labour Speaker.

Three Labour Speakers in a row would be too much. That is not quite the same things as saying that it the Tories turn. I think Alan Beith would do a good job; certainly, he has the right ideas about reforming the Commons. But I cannot see him winning anything like enough support from the other parties.

If it does have to be a Tory, I know whom I am backing. John Bercow, in his eagerness to win the role, reminds me of no one so much as Michael Martin. That is not a good precedent. I also fear that he would interpret reconnecting the public with the Commons as meaning he should be on television all the time.

Anne Widdecombe would be better, but not a lot better. I sometimes wonder if she exists at all if there is not a journalist or camera in the room. And if she won we would have to go through the whole thing again after the next election.

The person I would back for Speaker is Richard Shepherd. He has an unimpeachable record on civil liberties and would be an instinctive supporter of backbenchers against the executive. He sometimes gives the impression of feeling things too deeply to be entirely coherent, but he would be my choice.$

Eddie & The Hot Rods: Do Anything You Wanna Do

In Shropshire last week I kept seeing posters for a gig by Eddie and the Hot Rods. Looking at the band's website, it must have been for the one in Worthen back in May.

Worthen is a village to the west of the Stiperstones, right on the border with Wales. It is obviously a good place for music: I know someone who put on a concert by Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, there a few years ago.

Anyway, this from 1977 is Eddie and the Hot Rods' finest hour. They manage to squeeze an awful lot of melody into a three-minute single - too much for the punk ethos of the day.

Still, it's a great record. At least, I thought it was when I was 17. Only later do you realise that most people cannot do anything they wanna do.

Iain Dale should apologise to April Pond

There is a bizarre post on Iain Dale's Diary at the moment.

In it, Iain reports the decision of Norwich North Liberal Democrats to adopt April Pond, currently PPC for the Broadlands constituency, as candidate for the forthcoming by-election.

He writes:

I always thought the LibDems could be a bit dim, but they've really gone and done it now. April Pond is their candidate for the new Norfolk seat of Broadland. Or she was. Today Norwich North LibDems have selected her as their candidate for the Norwich North by-election.

Let's make an assumption that she loses - after all, the LibDems have never really done anything in Norwich North in the past and always come third, so it's a reasonable assumption. What does she do then? Go crawling back to Broadland LibDems and beg for them to have her back? What on earth will Broadland voters make of her whoring herself across Norfolk?

As more than one of the commenter on the post points out, Broadlands is a constituency drawn up under the new Parliamentary boundaries and will be contested for the first time at the next general election. It contains wards that are in the current Norwich North. It is therefore entirely reasonable for April Pond to fight the by-election.

And even if Iain thinks that April should not fight the seat, what possible justification is there for describing her as "whoring herself across Norfolk"?

It is rude and sexist. Iain should withdraw it and apologise.

In an attempt at a defence, Iain writes elsewhere in the posting:
It's an unwritten rule in politics that once you are selected for a seat, you stick with it. Imagine in 2004 if I had abandoned North Norfolk to apply for the then vacant seat of Tunbridge Wells.
But there was no by-election in Tunbridge Wells, and Tunbridge Wells and North Norfolk have no wards in common. So the parallel is simply invalid.

And, given the result Iain achieved in Norfolk, I imagine many people would have been glad if he had gone off to Kent.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Britblog Roundup 227

Edited by Trixy at Is there more to life than shoes?

Observer: Blair pushed Brown to hold Iraq war inquiry in private

The Sunday papers don't have the greatest lead stories this morning, but this is the best.

The Observer reports:
Tony Blair urged Gordon Brown to hold the independent inquiry into the Iraq war in secret because he feared that he would be subjected to a "show trial" if it were opened to the public, the Observer can reveal.

The revelation that the former prime minister, who led the country to war in March 2003, had intervened will fuel the anger of MPs, peers, military leaders and former civil servants, who were appalled by Brown's decision last week to order the investigation to be conducted behind closed doors.

The papers also quotes Nick Clegg as saying:
If this is true about Blair demanding secrecy, it is simply outrageous that an inquiry into the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez is being muzzled to suit the individual needs of the man who took us to war - Tony Blair."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rushton Triangular Lodge

Ever since I moved to Market Harborough in 1973 I have been passing the Triangular Lodge on the train and thinking "I must visit it one day". Today I did.

Rushton Triangular Lodge was built in the 1590s by Sir Thomas Tresham, who had been imprisoned for his Roman Catholic beliefs. It is dominated by the number three, which is symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

It has three storeys and three walls, each thirty-three feet long and with three windows and three gables. The exterior also features biblical quotations together with numbers; some of the numbers remain mysterious in their meaning.

Rushton Triangular Lodge is often called a folly, but in fact it had a practical purpose too. It was a warrener's lodge - the Treshams had extensive rabbit warrens to provide meat and fur.

The lodge stands beside the road from Desborough to Rushton. In railway terms, it is between Market Harborough and Kettering.

It is looked after by English Heritage, and the man in the cabin there will sell you an outstandingly good guide to it written by Mark Girouard. He sells no refreshments beyond bottles of water, but there is a good pub in Rushton village.

You can find more history and photographs on Bashing Secularism, and everything2 discusses the building's symbolism and numerology.

Those Lib Dem expense claims in full

The Daily Telegraph has a handy summary of expense claims by Liberal Democrat MPs and peers.

The Elms, Market Harborough: Training young women for domestic service in Australia

Earlier this week Paul Walter drew our attention to the British Pathe website and some of its Liberal footage. Passing his discovery on, I mentioned a video of Sir Archibald Sinclair.

I have been exploring the Pathe website and, naturally, searched for films on Market Harborough.

I found film of the 1958 floods in the town.

I found film of Jack Gardner from 1950. Gardner was the British and Empire heavyweight boxing champion and, until the advent of Martin Johnson, the town's most celebrated sporting son.

I found priceless coverage of the first Inland Waterways Association rally, held at Market Harborough canal basin in 1950.

And I found footage of the Duchess of York (later to be Queen Elizabeth and then the Queen Mother) visiting the town in 1927 to open a "training hostel for women household workers for Australia".

Which sent me off to do some research...

The Duchess may not have been there to open the establishment, as an Australian government website suggests:
British women and girls were encouraged to migrate to Australia to support its development as domestic servants and as wives and mothers – between 1926 and 1930 the Australian and British governments jointly funded a specialised centre, the first of its kind, at Market Harborough, England, to train women for domestic service prior to migration to Australia.

You can even see pictures of the place towards then of this PDF of the pamphlet Australia invites the British domestic girl from 1929.

But the establishment did not close in 1930. A Commons written answer from 1931 reveals that there were five government-run establishments for training domestic servants. They included The Elms, Market Harborough.

Today The Elms is known as Brooke House and occupied by a college that specialises in giving overseas teenagers British qualifications. We called it a "crammer" when I was at school up the road, but that may have been unfair.

When I was a councillor in the 1980s one of my fellow Liberals reported canvassing an old lady who mentioned disparagingly that one of the Tory candidates has attended an establishment in the town that trained girls to be servants. It must have been The Elms.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Police involvment will be good for expenses debate

The news that the police are to investigate a small number of the most serious allegations is welcome.

Without prejudging these investigations or any subsequent legal action, it is to these cases that public and press attention should be directed. they have become lost in a thicket of detail, and people have become too concerned with increasingly petty individual claims.

For the future, the best defence is to compel MPs to publish their expense claims - without the black ink slathered over them.

Police examine Michael Brown donation to Lib Dems

Michael Crick was trying to make Liberal Democrat blood run cold on Newsnight earlier this evening, and now the story is on the BBC News website:

Police are investigating money laundering allegations over the Liberal Democrats' acceptance of £2.4m from a donor later convicted of fraud.

Michael Brown's donation hugely boosted the party's 2005 election campaign, the BBC's Newsnight programme said.

Mr Brown was convicted of fraud in 2008 but vanished before being sentenced to seven years in jail last month.

The party said its auditors were "satisfied that we do not need to make provision for repayment".

Mr Brown's victims say the Liberal Democrats were using their stolen money.

The Duckworth Lewis Method

An album of songs about cricket by Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy? That's too good to be true.

But it is true. Spin magazine reports:

Hannon has collaborated with Tom Walsh of fellow (but less well-known) sprightly Dublin popsters Pugwash on a project called ‘The Duckworth Lewis Method.’ And it is rather good: 12 genuinely good tunes that just happen to be about surreal cricketing topics.

There’s a song from the point of view of Mike Gatting as he faces up to Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century (’Jiggery Pokery’); there’s a song about going on the hippy trail to Pakistan in a Camper Van with the express intent of meeting Javed Miandad (’Meeting Mr Miandad’); while ‘The Age of Revolution’ seems to cover former Empire countries beating England at their own game and the upsurge of pyjama cricket: “Always denied entry by the English gentry/now we’re driving Bentleys and playing Twenty20.”

There is a website devoted to the album and a full review on Airstrip One.

More on William Hanbury and Church Langton

I looked up William Hanbury in Guy Paget and Lionel Irvine's Leicestershire from the Robert Hale County Books series.

They write:

In 1758 Mr Hanbury exhibited his first proposals for his charities. The exordium was:

"It will be no difficulty to pick out a society of honest and worthy men whose virtue and probity will render them truly respectable, and apply whatever is entrusted to their care to the glory of God, and the good of mankind."

To this he adds in his book a footnote:

"Here I must own myself to have been mistaken; for I soon found it to be the most difficult thing in the world."

Nick Clegg interviewed in Norwich Evening News

The Liberal Democrat leader was in Norwich last night for a question and answer session with a public audience:

Mr Clegg spoke for about 90 minutes and took about 30 questions from the audience ranging from withdrawal from the European Union to how to prevent another financial crisis.

The biggest cheer came when Mr Clegg responded to a question from a man who called for the nationalisation of the city's rail and bus service.

Mr Clegg said that “50pc of train journeys” he had travelled on from Norwich to London had been delayed, while Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, who chaired the meeting, suggested he had been lucky.

Mr Clegg called for both services to be brought back into public control, but warned of the costs of renegotiating the contracts to do it.

He was also interviewed by the Norwich Evening News.

House Points: Bishop's Castle shows there is nothing new about poltical corruption

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News was clearly influenced by my recent break in Shropshire.

The Tale of "The Honest Burgess"

I have just spent a few days in one of my favourite English towns. The steep main street of Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire runs from the site of the long-vanished castle down to a church with a Norman tower.

At the top of that street is a collection of fine Georgian houses. When you discover how they were paid for, you realise there is nothing new about political corruption.

Before the Great Reform Act of 1832 Bishop’s Castle was a notorious rotten borough. Despite having fewer than a hundred electors for much of its history, the town returned two MPs. (There were worse cases: Old Sarum – a hilltop above Salisbury – had two MPs and no residents at all.)

Not surprisingly, this situation led to corruption. But it did not take the form we generally imagine when we think of the elections of past centuries. This was not a case of candidates plying voters with free drink and then dragging them off to the polls.

Instead, the electors of Bishop’s Castle realised their votes were of great value to would-be MPs and sold them for hard cash.

In 1726 one defeated candidate was able to prove that, of the 52 people who voted for his rival, 51 had received bribes. At the 1802 election the price of a single vote was £25 – more than most people earned in a year. Hence all those fine Georgian houses.

Not everyone succumbed. Bishop’s Castle churchyard contains the grave of Matthew Marston – “The Honest Burgess”. His tombstone records that his “steady and uncorrupt conduct presents an example to his brother Burgesses for perpetual imitation, and a useful lesson to the Parliamentary Representatives of the Borough, that Opulence and Power cannot alone secure independent suffrage”.

The town’s political history does contain more honourable episodes. During the English Civil War Bishop’s Castle and neighbouring Clun raised a force of Clubmen to defend the two boroughs against anyone who attacked them. They described themselves as "standing out against both sides, neither for the King nor Parliament, but only for the preservation of their own lives and fortunes".

And today Bishop’s Castle gives its name to a large rural ward of Shropshire County Council. It is held by the Liberal Democrats.

Iain Sinclair on Peter Ackroyd

In the new London Review of Books Iain Sinclair reviews Peter Ackroyd's book Thames: Sacred River:

Peter Ackroyd begins at source, the first trickle, Cotswold springs. He opens with a Gradgrinding deluge of facts: length, comparison with other rivers, number of bridges, average flow, velocity of current. Then moves rapidly to ‘river as metaphor’. So that the two tendencies, the empirical and the poetic, coexist, informing and challenging each other, striking examples found to confirm flights of fancy.

And all the time he is walking, from limestone causeway to salt marshes, but keeping the accidents and epiphanies of these private excursions out of his narrative.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood interviewed

Clapton and Winwood are currently touring in America. In the Studio has an interview with them (with more to come, apparently) by one Redbeard.

Redbeard: How has the music business changed since you first released Blind Faith with Eric Clapton forty years ago?

Steve Winwood: Well you see in the old days, the heads of record companies used to be mavericks kind of. They didn’t have to please stockholders. They were mavericks. The deals weren’t good, but... they would take chances with records. They were music lovers they would listen to music and they would take chances... They were kind of like venture capitalists. And they were usually playboy types or eccentrics.

So, I mean, though, now as record companies are slowly devouring each other and becoming one or two or three, big ones. They can no longer afford to be mavericks. It’s too dangerous. They’ve got stockholders and shareholders to satisfy. And so, I think that’s affecting to a certain degree, to what degree I’m not quite sure, but certainly to some degree it is affecting the music that is coming out. I think there is no doubt about that.

There is a lot of other interesting material on the site too.

Britblog Roundup 226

While I was away the latest edition was posted by Charles Crawford.

Following the recent elections, it has a strong European theme.

Snailbeach District Railways

I have been known to mention this Shropshire mineral railway from time to time, so here are a couple of my own photos of its remains.

Both are taken at the Snailbeach end of the line. They show the former engine shed and the tracks disappearing into the undergrowth.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A video of Sir Archibald Sinclair

Many thanks to Paul Walter at Liberal Burblings for pointing us to the British Pathe website.

Paul has flagged up several videos of Liberal interest. Here is another: a speech by Sir Archibald Sinclair from the 1945 election campaign.

Kitty Ussher resigns as minister

The BBC reports tonight:

Treasury minister Kitty Ussher has quit the government after further questions were raised about her expenses.

Ms Ussher took the step amid reports she flipped the designation of her second home shortly before selling it in 2007, avoiding capital gains tax.

Ms Ussher denied she did anything wrong and said she was stepping aside to prevent the government embarrassment.

Later. There is more on the Daily Telegraph site.

My five favourite political dramas

While I was away Stephen Tall at Liberal Democrat Voice tagged me for a meme on my five favourite political dramas.

My television viewing has been uneven over the years- I did not even own a set for several years in the 1990s - but here are my five choices in no particular order. You will see that I have interpreted "political drama" liberally.

Life on Mars

My most recent choice. It was telling that despite the sympathetic role given to John Simm it was Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt who emerged as the popular hero.

Could this be a recognition that today we concentrate upon codes of behaviour and language, whereas in the 1970s left-wing politicians saw progress as involving the material conditions of people's lives?

Maybe not, but it was a great series.

State of Play

I missed most of the final episode because I had done something terrible to the template of this blog, and they never quite succeeded in making the MP character as attractive as we were meant to find him.

Still, it was a superb cast and you can give Bill Nighy a lot of other performances for his starring role in this.


I have written about this series before. Edward Woodward played a crusading journalist in a future dystopia. (Yes, I can remember when 1990 was the future.) There were two series, one shown in 1977 and one in 1978.

Interestingly, the dystopia had a socialist feel to it. This was born, no doubt, of disenchantment with the Labour government of the day. But the determination of the government in 1990 to bring in compulsory identity cards still felt thoroughly unEnglish.

Anthony Burgess's novel 1985, which was published in 1978, explored similar territory.

I, Claudius

This adaptation of Robert Graves' novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God enjoyed enormous popularity in 1976. It explained the operation of dynastic politics and starred just about every British actor of the period you have heard of, up to and including Christopher Biggins as Nero.

An honourable mention to another historical drama of the period, The Devil's Crown, which dealt with Henry II and his sons. It was just as good but is less well remembered.


In this 1987 drama a young John Hannah is out jogging in Glasgow. He stops on a bridge over the Clyde to get his breath back and talks to a small boy who is leaning over the parapet.

Stratford Johns, Britain's most famous TV policeman only a few years before, enters the frame. With one hand, and without breaking step, he tips the boy into river, winks at Hannah and the camera and walks out of the shot. It is the most outrageous opening to any television drama, ever.

I remember the plot of Brond as being horribly complicated and involving Irish Republican and Scottish Nationalist terrorism. Brond himself, the character played by Johns, was a criminal mastermind with supernatural overtones.

Notes from the Geek Show quotes some of Brond's dialogue as he discusses an archetypal Scottish soldier:

He’s fought against Napoleon, and in the Crimea. In the last war he fought in the desert. In 1916 he fought on the dry plains of the Somme and drowned in its mud when winter came. Kenya, Korea –- he’s been there. He’s still in Ireland. And only last week he came back from a little group of islands in the South Atlantic. And every time he came home, he found things were worse that when he’s gone away – but he had never learned to fight for himself.
The Marksman, a revenge tragedy set in the drugs trade of contemporary Liverpool, was another great drama from this year, but I am getting too far from politics.

House Points: Last week's PMQs

This is my House Points column from last Friday's Liberal Democrat News.

I was at home last Wednesday and thought that writing about prime minister's questions was a pretty cool idea. As it turned out a) it was an exceptionally dull PMQs and b) someone phoned me just after noon.

Questions, questions

I settled down in front of the television with beer and crisps to watch prime minister’s questions. It would, I reasoned, provide more entertainment than England vs Andorra.

But I was wrong. There were too many planted questions from Labour backbenchers – does Sir Gerald Kaufman have nothing better to do with his time? – and the party leaders were determined to talk past one another.

David Cameron didn’t want to mention spending cuts, much as Basil Fawlty did not want to mention the war. Instead he wanted to pillory Gordon Brown for talking about constitutional and electoral reform.

Granted, Brown’s late conversion to the subject is clearly born of party interest, but it is extraordinary that Cameron has learned nothing from the past few weeks. How can he have emerged from the storm of duck houses, flipping and non-existent mortgages with the belief that nothing about our system of government must change?

Instead it was left to more minor figures to shed light on our current malaise.

Mark Harper complained about cuts in regional funding for business. Gordon Brown tries to imply that politics is now a choice between Labour “investment” (as he always calls public spending) and Tory cuts. In fact, there will be spending cuts whoever is in power.

Eric Illsley complained that a college in his Barnsley constituency is insolvent because the Learning and Skills Council has ended its funding for the Building Colleges for the Future programme. Again this reveals the increasing pressure on public spending, but it also shows the perils of centralisation.

Whitehall has taken over the further education sector, which used to be a rich patchwork of local authority and voluntary provision. The result has been increasingly arbitrary decisions of the sort that have left Barnsley College with a demolished new building and no money to replace it.

Our own Sir Robert Smith pointed to the problems that low interest rates are causing for older people living on their savings. Shouldn’t they still be able to get relief on Council Tax?

In return, Gordon Brown listed all the benefits pensioners get. In other words, the government takes their money away in taxes and then gives it back in benefits. Very Labour.

A lost railway in the Shropshire hills

Whilst in Shropshire - at The Bog, to be precise - I bought a copy of Michael Shaw's new book The Lead, Copper and Barytes Mines of Shropshire. How could I resist a title like that?

On page 58 he writes:

If the Snailbeach Railway was a very minor line, the last of the three lines developed is positively shadowy.

Prior to the First World War Cothercott mine had a steep tramway from their principal mining area to the roadside loading dock and later mill site. In 1920, after much heated debate with the County Council over the damage their road locomotives were causing and the delays to their own shipments due to the state of the roads, they decided to connect the line to the mainline railway at Dorrington some 4 miles away.

About a mile of the line was built towards Castle Pulverbatch before either money ran out, the receiver stopped the work or the success of petrol lorries rendered the line unnecessary.

A little googling produces the above photograph of the route by Andrew Wood.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nick Clegg, Trident and the faint aroma of hand-woven yoghurt

From the BBC News website:

Nick Clegg has called for the Trident nuclear deterrent to be scrapped, saying it is too expensive and no longer meets the UK's defence needs.

The Lib Dem leader is the most senior politician to say Trident should not be renewed when it expires in 2024.

The UK still needed a deterrent, he told the BBC, but a "like for like" replacement was out of the question.

Well done, Nick.

He is right to oppose the renewal of Trident. And he is right to use the arguments he has. During the last Liberal Democrat leadership election, when Chris Huhne made this call and Nick Clegg opposed it, I wrote:

Traditionally, Liberals who have opposed Trident have used two arguments.

The first is that nukes are really, really awful and if only you knew how really, really awful they are you would agree with me.

It does not occur to them that their opponents may know just as much about nuclear weapons as they do.

The second is that if Britain gives up its independent nuclear weapons then it will set an example that other countries will follow because they are so impressed by our superior morality.

To which the only possible answer is "bollocks".

Or, to put it more politely, Britain's scrapping of Trident would have not effect on anyone. Which, come to think of it, is a good argument for scrapping it.

I also said that Lib Dem defence policy should not consist in repeating CND platitudes from 50 years ago. It should lose what I called "the faint aroma of hand-woven yoghurt".

Incidentally, after Chris Huhne had lost his first Lib Dem leadership election I pointed out that many of his policy positions in that contest were becoming party policy. The same things seems to be happening after his second defeat.

I am home from Shropshire

Normal blogging - or as close to normal as it gets here - will now resume.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Professor Strange: Dr Barnardo and the emigration of children

I have previously given you Professor Strange's research into trainspotting and autism and the Victorians and modesty. This, his first column, is from October 2003 and looks at the dark side of Dr Barnardo.

The secret that never was

They don’t let me out of College much these days, so I spend my time feeding the ravens and exploring the less-frequented shelves of the library.

The other day I was reading the blurb of a book from 1994 which dealt with Barnardo’s and other charities’ practice of resettling orphaned children in Australia and Canada. It began:
In 1986 the author, an ordinary Nottingham social worker and mother of two received a letter from a woman asking for help to trace her parents. She claimed that at the age of four she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British Government. Margaret Humphreys replied that she must be mistaken, yet curiosity drove her to investigate the case.
And eventually she wrote Empty Cradles, winning such reviews as “The secrets of the lost children of Britain may never have been revealed if it had not been for Margaret Humphreys” from the Sunday Times. The Independent said it was “a story that defies belief”.

Margaret Humphreys and her reviewers would have been less amazed if they had read Philip Bean and Joy Melville’s Lost Children of the Empire, published in 1989, or Gillian Wagner’s Children of the Empire from 1982.

These two books, dealing with the much same material, were also promoted and reviewed as though they were revealing a long-buried secret, but a little research shows it was nothing of the sort.

Britain began sending children aboard in the 17th century and the practice continued until as recently as 1967. It was done on a massive scale – 3264 children were sent to Canada alone in 1905 – and was widely discussed.

You will find accounts of child emigration in the Curtis Report of 1946, the document which revolutionised childcare after the War, and official delegations went to see how children sent to Australia (1952) and Canada (1924) were faring. Every biography of Dr Barnardo deals with the subject at length, whether it is a near-hagiography like J. Wesley Bready’s Doctor Barnardo: Physician, pioneer, prophet from 1930 or a more balanced modern work like June Rose’s For the Sake of the Children from 1987.

And sending waifs and strays abroad was always controversial. A succession of murders and suicides in Canada kept the subject in the headlines there and back in Britain, thanks to Horatio Bottomley’s John Bull magazine.

Nor was Dr Barnardo himself free from controversy. More than one parent went to court in an attempt to secure the return of children who had been sent overseas. Strangely these children always seemed to have been adopted by wealthy but eccentric figures who made it a condition of the arrangement that their identities would never been revealed.

One mother, a Mrs Gossage, fought the good doctor all the way to the House of Lords and won her case, but she never saw her son Henry again.

We know this, the ravens and I, but if I am invited to conferences I get excited and wave my arms about too much. That is why they don’t let me out of College much these days.

An interview with Malcolm Saville

Longstanding readers will know of my affection for the children's writer Malcolm Saville (1901-1982). In particular, my early reading paved the way for my adult love of the Shropshire hills.

Bear Alley shares my enthusiasm and has brought together a number of links concerned with Saville's work.

In particular, this interview that Malcolm Saville gave to Books for Keeps in 1980.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spencer Davis Group: Keep on Running

Last week I gave you Millie, Chris Blackwell's first hit in Britain. That gives me the excuse to feature the next act he signed. Yes, it's Spencer Davis Group time again.

"Keep on Running" reached number 1 in the British charts in January 1966, when the band's lead singer and guitarist (and Hammond organ player) Steve Winwood was 17.

This is a live version from the following year, recorded just before the Spencer Davis Group split.
Thanks to the subtitles, I can reveal that the Finnish for "keep on running" is senkun juokset.

Lottery, the first winner of the Grand National

A final posting from my recent visit to East Langton and Church Langton.

A few years ago, approaching East Langton across the fields from Market Harborough, I came across this pillar. When I got home I did some Googling and discovered why it is there.

The Thoroughbred Heritage website (scroll down as the horse we are interested in is the son of the other Lottery that the page is mostly about) tells the story of Lottery:

In 1839 Lottery won the Grand National (Grand Liverpool), then a race for even weights. In 1840, within the span of a month, he ran six times in steeplechases held in widely separated areas of the country, to which he was walked; all the races were over four miles, and he carried 12-0 in all but one, Cheltenham, where he carried 13 st. - 3 lbs. Of the six races, he won four, at Leamington, Northampton, Cheltenham, and Stratford; the other two were Fakenham and Liverpool, where he fell, as did several other horses, at the stone wall.

A very tough and game horse, his career spanned eight seasons, during which he won five hurdle races and sixteen steeplechases. He was so successful that course clerks wrote rules to specifically cripple him with handicaps, such as at Liverpool in 1841 and 1842, wherein it was specified that the winner of the Cheltenham Steeplechase of 1840 (e.g. Lottery) would be required to carry an additional 18 pounds (in this race was pulled up). At Horncastle the race was "Open to all horses except Mr. Elmore's Lottery."

As another page on that site says, this monument was erected in 1886, long after Lottery's death, and it is uncertain if it notes an earlier grave for him. But it is known he spent his later years at Astley Grange Farm Stud, East Langton.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

From the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Pace writes, "I think what they really mean is that you can just run the water for a couple of seconds before going back to to goofing off in the break room."

Many more signs like this on the blog.

Some vintage Lord Bonkers

Wit and wisdom from Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

On the first Gulf War (March 1991)

Yesterday's melancholy has abated and I am now determined to do something to end this dreadful war. Miss Fearn, with her warm heart, is knitting cosies "for the poor camels", but I feel that I am yet capable of playing a larger part.

However, one must take care not to tread on others' toes - I recall the distinctly frosty reception I was given when I turned up at Greenham Common with my bell tent to lend my support to the ladies camping there. This is an injustice that still rankles, for I was always a staunch supporter of women's suffrage. Was I not the first to salute the courage of Miss Emily Davison in throwing herself under the King's horse at Epsom - even though I had managed to back the beast at distinctly favourable odds?

The launch of the Harrogate lifeboat (September 1999)

A dreadful storm this evening. The sky is the colour of Messrs Postlethwaite's Blue Black India Ink (with which, as it happens, I am writing these very words), and it is only because of the distant beam of Knaresborough lighthouse that I am able to find my way back to the hotel. Later, after a stiffener of Auld Johnston, I walk by the shore - the locals have long since barred their shutters and bolted their doors - and watch as the Harrogate lifeboat is launched. There is a crash of thunder and a cry of "God save any soul on The Stray tonight" goes up.

Then, as if by a miracle, a familiar figure in sou'wester and oilskins rows into sight. It is, of course, my old friend David Rendel, the finest oar in the House. Better still, he has with him two picnickers who were cut off by the tide. "You look just like Grace Darling," I call across to him. "Nonsense," he shouts back, "Grace had a bushy black beard. And don't call me 'darling'."

Proving a point with Thor Heyerdahl (July 2002)

I was sad to read of the death of my old friend Thor Heyerdahl. No one gives him much thought now, but in his day he was Quite The Thing. If he thought a set of chaps in one place had come from another place then he jolly well set out to prove it. He was not afraid to sail a papyrus raft from Easter Island to Egypt (or perhaps it was the other way round?) if that would aid him in his pursuit of the truth. It happened that some years ago I had a dispute with the Duke of Rutland over the boundary of our estates. I shall not bore you with the details here: suffice to say I was clearly in the right.

Nevertheless, to prove my point at Law I had to demonstrate that my ancestors has settled the northern shores of Rutland Water. With Heyerdahl's help I was able to construct a vessel from Stilton rinds and recreate their voyage. There was a spring tide running and Ruttie was in playful mood, but we made landfall and the Duke settled out of court.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another holiday Lolcat

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

It's not a Bank Holiday, but I'm on holiday.

An enamel sign from Brixworth

Yes, Brixworth still has its workhouse and Saxon church, but in many ways this is my favourite photograph from last Saturday.

It is on a building that has clearly not been a public library for many years.