Monday, August 31, 2009

Britblog Roundup 237

Over at Is there more to life than shoes?

The inexhaustible negativity of the teaching unions

There was a report in the Guardian today about plans to set up a new generation of technical schools.

I am instinctively in favour of this move, because it suggests a recognition that different children and young people have different needs and interests, but what really struck me was the comments of the National Union of Teachers head of education.

John Bangs said:

"I just hope they are not a precursor to introducing selection at 14. Baker has an undoubted interest in the needs of kids whom he believes ought to be involved in some kind of occupational work and training. But I think everyone has to be careful we don't entrench the classic vocational and academic divide.

"There is a concern that they will be pigeonholing students far too early All kids need to know how to use and apply and problem solve, and not just some kids. … If country is going to be rally really successful then using and applying knowledge is where it should be at."

This is just one example, of course, but the teaching unions seemed to be instinctively opposed to every new development in education. I am tempted to call it adolescent nihilism, but all too often they resemble a tired five-year old. "No. No. No."

This leaves them in the paradoxical position of believing that every educational measure introduced in the last 10, 20 or 30 years has been a mistake, yet the system is now at such a peak of perfection that any change to it must be opposed.

The sea above the Earth

The historical novelist Vaughan Wilkins must have had a huge following in the 1950s. At one time every secondhand bookshop in the country had a copy of the World Books edition of Fanfare for a Witch.

For that reason, almost as a joke in fact, I started collecting his other books. Now I even have a couple of signed first editions.

One of those other books by Wilkins is his anthology of odd historical snippets Endless Prelude. It contains the following from 1212 by Gervase of Tilbury:
In our own time there befell a marvellous but well-known event to prove how the upper sea lieth above us. 
One a certain holy-day after High Mass, the folk were thronging forth from the parish church, on a morning so misty that it made a sort of twilight. On a stone tomb within the churchyard they found an anchor fixed, with its cable stretched tight and hanging down from the air. 
While they were disputing among themselves of this matter, they saw at length the rope move as though men were labouring to weigh anchor. When, therefore, for all this straining at the rope, the anchor yet clung to the tomb, they heard through the foggy air as though it had been the cries of sailors labouring with all their might to raise an anchor from the deep. 
Soon, when they found their labour to be in vain, they sent down one of their fellows, who, as skilfully as any shipman of our own, appeared hanging to the rope and descending with alternate interchange of hands. 
When he had torn the anchor from the tomb, he was, however, caught by the bystanders, in whose arms he gave up the ghost, suffocated by the breath of our gross air, as a shipwrecked mariner is suffocated in the sea. 
His fellows above, after an hour's delay, cut the cable, let the anchor, and sailed away.
In memory of this event the iron bands of the doors of that church were forged from that anchor; which bands are there still for all men to see.
Unfortunately, this account does not say where the church was.

The edition of Gervase's work available on Google Books says that such airships were a common feature in Celtic legend.

Put them down as a Medieval version of the phantom airships that flourished at the opening of the last century.

Nick Clegg's holiday is not the Liberal Democrats' problem

James Graham had a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site over the weekend complaining that Nick Clegg had gone on holiday in August.

But Nick has to take a holiday some time and it is not as if we don't have plenty of other people - Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Charles Kennedy, Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams - whom the press would be very happy to interview instead. Besides, it is hard to think of a quieter political month than August.

Or did James have it in mind that Nick should repeat Jeremy Thorpe's 1974 hovercraft visits to the beaches of Southern England?

True, only a couple of months Nick was calling for the summer recess to be cancelled, but that seemed a little foolish even at the time. What was important was the Liberal Democrat proposals for reforming the Commons, not treating MPs like naughty schoolboys to curry favour with the press and public.

The real problem for the Liberal Democrats is that when we are invited on to television programmes, in August or any other month, we don't always have enough of interest to say.

Take the recent coverage of exam results and truancy figures. What have we given David Laws to say? That we think primary school standards are important and that we think truancy is a bad thing. Little there to woo people away from Labour of the Tories.

Perhaps if we all took more hoidays we would have the time to work out ideas that would inspire the voters?

The River Nene lighthouses, Sutton Bridge

Last week I showed you one of the ornamental lighthouses at the mouth of the River Nene near Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.

Here is a photograph of the pair of them in the trees on either side of the river. The righthand one is the East lighthouse, Peter Scott's home in the 1930s. It is shown close up in the second photograph.

Bank Holiday Lolcat

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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band: Hunting Tigers Out In India

If you doubt that Western civilisation is in decline - and may well collapse altogether by next Tuesday - just look at what we give our children to watch.

I am just too old to be nostalgic about Tiswas. It seemed to me to be imbued with the idea that not much professionalism or imagination was required because "it was only for children". Just throw another custard pie or bucket of water and that will do.

Later we gave our children dross like Dick and Dom.

I belong to a luckier generation because they made Do Not Adjust Your Set to watch. As one tribute site explains:
Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin all wrote and starred in the children's show "Do Not Adjust Your Set" for Thames TV and Rediffusion just before Python. The cast was rounded out by David Jason and Denise Coffey, and the animated Terry Gilliam donated some films to the second series, but what got most notice was the musical madness of Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes, Roger Ruskin-Spear, Rodney Slater, Dennis Cowan, and Legs Larry Smith, collectively known as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Wikipedia has the facts:
was a children's television series produced originally by Rediffusion, London, then by the fledgling Thames Television for British commercial television channel ITV from 26 December 1967 to 14 May 1969.
This Bonzos performance is taken from the film and introduced by Terry Jones. The LP version of this song has goodness gracious me Indian accents that are absent here, but a viewing of Look Out There's a Monster Coming suggests that the band were not overburdened with political correctness. Yes that is Michael Palin and David Jason at the start.

David Jason was almost cast as Corporal Jones in Dad's Army and rather expected to be asked to join the Monty Python team. His eventual success was hard earned.

The incomparable Viv Stanshall, the leader of the Bonzos, was a friend of this blog's hero Steve Winwood. He wrote lyrics for several Winwood songs, including the title track of the Arc of a Diver LP that launched Winwood's solo success in the 1980s, and there are rumours that he and Winwood recorded far more songs than have ever been released. In return, Winwood helped with Stanshall's LPs Teddy Boys Don't Knit and Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The witches of Husbands Bosworth

There is a good village trail leaflet (pdf) available for Husbands Bosworth, but it barely mentions the building above. It is the Roman Catholic chapel next to Bosworth Hall.

I do not know if it is open to the public, but I explored it today. Unfortunately, there was a wedding on, which prevented me studying the interior. Really, if they are going to keep holding services in churches it will make things very difficult for me.

Bosworth Hall brings to mind the darkest episode in the village's history - the execution of nine witches in 1616. John Smith, the young grandson of Erasmus Smith who then owned the hall, was possessed by demons and the women had been called in to exorcise them. When they failed they were sentenced to death.

Were the women blamed for causing the boy's illness all along or were they wise women called in to heal him who were only suspected after he failed to recover?

Later that year a further six women from Husbands Bosworth were sentenced to hang, but they were reprieved. Five were released but the sixth had already died in prison in Leicester.

To the modern reader it sounds as though the boy was suffering from epilepsy, but a website on paganism and wicca tells a different story:

King James I heard about this while he was traveling through Leicester and had the boy brought to him so he could question the juvenile accuser. Smith confessed that he feigned the fits because he liked the attention.

The King asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to further question the boy in order to validate that no witchcraft was involved and that Smith told him the truth. The Archbishop agreed with both. Five women were released; one died in jail.

King James was enraged at the judges who presided over the trials, Sir Randolph Crew and Sir Henry Winch, and publicly condemned them for their decisions. The monarch gave Ben Johnson, a famous contemporary playwright, permission to write about the judges to further rebuke them. The play was titled The Devil is an Ass.

This resulted in other judges becoming wary of accusations of witchcraft without corroboration, especially when the complainants were children.

This posting is dedicated to Charlotte Gore.

Crowland Abbey

Another photograph from my recent travels. The Crowland Abbey (originally Croyland Abbey) website explains its unfortunate early history:

Croyland Abbey was a monastery of the Benedictine Order in Lincolnshire, sixteen miles from Stamford and thirteen from Peterborough. It was founded in memory of St. Guthlac, early in the eighth century, by Ethelbald, King of Mercia, but was entirely destroyed and the community slaughtered by the Danes in 866.

Refounded in the reign of King Edred, it was again destroyed by fire in 1091, but rebuilt about twenty years later by Abbot Joffrid. In 1170 the greater part of the abbey and church was once more burnt down and once more rebuilt, under Abbot Edward.

Things went much better after that - until the Dissolution came along.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The launch of In the Know

A website - In the Know - has been set up so that people working in the public services can send Nick Clegg their ideas for saving money in their workplace.

I am all in favour of consultation, but there are two things that worry me about this.

First, I share the view of Mark Littlewood that it would have been better to include the users of these services in the consultation too.

Second, this initiative does nothing to remove the impression that the Clegg leadership is light on policy. We heard little from him about it in the leadership campaign and have not heard a great deal since.

Nick is far from alone in this, but shouldn't he have a clearer idea of why he wants power? Too many modern politicians give the impression they have decided upon politics as a career and are now casting about for something that will prove popular with the public.

I also note that the website promotes Nick rather than the party as "a fresh start for Britain". I do hope he proves as popular with the public at the next election as his inner circle believes he will.

The ethics of anonymous blogging

Decline of the Logos has posted a reply to my eight sceptical theses on human rights. There are a few bits of cheap rhetoric and a bit of showing off (I've got a degree in philosophy too, darling) but also plenty of points I could engage with.

But I am not going to, because I am not going to get into an argument with an anonymous blogger - if there is an author's name on the blog then I cannot find it.

In part this is because I cannot take someone who is not prepared to reveal his or her identity entirely seriously. How can you have a philosophical argument with someone wearing a Donald Duck mask?

And partly it is because anonymity can be rude. The writer of Decline of the Logos calls me "Calder" several times. I rather like this academic convention - it has a pleasingly old-fashioned ring to it and makes me feel as though I am sharing a senior common room with Russell and Moore.

But the convention flourishes in the collegiate atmosphere of academia. It is a different matter to be referred to by your surname by someone who does not reveal his or her own name. I made just this complaint to another blog a few months ago.

I have less time for whoever wrote under the name "Colin Lloyd" on Lib Dem Voice - when this post first appeared there was nothing to tell the reader that this was a pseudonym, incidentally. He or she wrote of Liberator:
I should note that away from the left-wing sermon that is their editorial and Radical Bulletin they do print a variety of articles and even tolerate token eco-lib Jonathan Calder on their committee; but he is funny and occasionally pretends to be a post-centennial peer, so presumably fulfills some exclusive acceptability criteria of being ‘a bit right’ but Bonkers, and thus in need of some kind of compassionate care in their community.

Given that the author so spectacularly fails to get the point of Lord Bonkers, it may be that he or she chose "Colin Lloyd" as it was easy to write. (And since when have I been an "eco-lib" anyway? If I am one, it is of a pretty individual kind.)

Liberal Bureaucracy also discusses blogging and anonymity in the light of the Liskula Cohen case.

Win Will Hay by Graham Rinaldi

For slightly complicated reasons that I need not enter into here, I have come into posssession of two new copies of Will Hay by Graham Rinaldi.

The website of Tomahawk Press, the book's publisher, says:

Every British comic actor that followed Will Hay owes Hay a debt of gratitude – for it was Hay who defined the modern essence of British comedy. Working closely with Hay’s family, Graham Rinaldi’s definitive tribute to the respected comic actor, takes a close look into Hay’s on-screen and off-screen personae.

Drawing upon Hay’s own writings; - newspaper articles, notes from his astronomy observations and pilot’s logbooks and extracts from his unfinished and previously unpublished autobiography I Enjoyed Every Minute – the book gives a unique insight into Hay’s childhood, his continuous thirst for knowledge and his passion for aviation, astronomy and comedy.

The book is illustrated throughout with previously unpublished photographs from Hay’s family albums including a rare photograph of Hay with Amy Johnson, plus memorabilia from his performing career. Extensive research into Hay’s stage work includes extracts from his original Fourth Form at St Michael’s sketches, The Will Hay Radio Programme and, for the first time, from all of his revue and variety shows including Nosey Knows and Moonstruck for Fred Karno.

Each of Hay’s 18 films is examined, with insightful information regarding their production, written extracts from deleted scenes (including for the first time in their entirety the missing sequences from Ask a Policeman,) previously unpublished stills and interviews with those who worked with him from Val Guest, Leslie Gilliat and Roy Ward Baker to Dame Thora Hird, Barry Morse and Googie Withers.

Did you know that in addition to creating the mould for British comedy, that Hay was an accomplished astronomer, linguist and pilot? No? Then you must read this book about one of British film’s most fascinating characters!

To win a copy of Will Hay just email me the answers to the following three questions:

  1. What is the name of the 1942 film in which Will Hay satirised Nazi Germany?
  2. Which two actors regularly appeared in films as Will Hay's sidekicks?
  3. Who played "Will Silly" (an affectionate parody of Will Hay) in Harry Enfield's television special Norbert Smith - A Life?
The competition closes at 2359 on Monday 7 September.

A landscape of closed pubs

There have been numerous news stories recently about the number of pubs closing. During my recent travels across England by bus I was indeed struck by the number of closed pubs I was seeing - in town as well as the countryside.

What is to blame? People have variously blamed high taxes on drink, competition from supermarkets, the smoking ban and the moves against drink driving - today it is socially unacceptable as well as being illegal.

And the Fair Pint group blames the large chains that own most pubs these days.

You may say that this is just a shake out of bad pubs and that things will pick up when the economy improves. But by then many of the rural pubs, at least, will have been converted to private house and we are unlikely to see them replaced.

Trinity Bridge, Crowland

The other day I showed you the ruins of Crowland Abbey in the background of one photograph - more of that another time.

But Crowland has another remarkable feature: the Trinity Bridge. It was built in the 14th century to cross the rivers that then flowed through the town. Today the Welland runs a mile to the west.

There is an interesting article by R. A. Waters on the repair and stabilisation of the bridge carried out in 2002 (pdf).

A new book quiz on Liberal England

Full details tonight.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lynne Featherstone goes to school

Lynne Featherstone has a posting describing a visit she paid today to a summer school that the independent Highgate School runs for children from state schools in Camden and Haringey. She says it is intended, amongst other things, to "raise horizons" and reports that:
two of the girls from Haringey 6th form college, said it was fantastic to be able to learn in a learning environment where they didn't get put down for being interested in studying.
This is all very depressing. Why can't state schools raise children's horizons off their own bats? And if you get put down for being interested in study even in a sixth form college, what hope is there for the state system?

Meanwhile the country is being taken over by nonentities from public schools. Time for a rethink?

"Bank tax unworkable, says Clegg"

Is this really the headline we want to see as the Liberal Democrat response to Lord Turner's call for taxation to be used to curb the power of the City?

The BBC News story that follows it:

Mr Clegg said there were real questions marks about the "workability" of a UK-only bank tax, given that most banks operated across national borders and in many countries.

"It has been debated for many years and it has a lot of practical problems," he told the BBC.

There are a lot of practical problems with any ambitious policy. That does not sound like a good reason for being so dismissive.

And if a UK-only tax is not workable, doesn't that make this an ideal opportunity to promote the Liberal idea of international co-operation?

Castle Rising Castle

I have been through the village of Castle Rising a couple of times on the way to the North Norfolk coast. This time I got off the bus there.

What I had seen was the pub and teashop. What you see less well from the road are the 17th century almshouses (worthy of a post in their own right) and the castle itself.

It dates from the 12th century and the enormous bulk of the keep is a remarkable survival. It had a chequered early history but has slumbered in rural obscurity for centuries.

The castle is surrounded by a high bank, which makes it possible to photograph it from every angle.

The correct attitude to blogging awards

It is the time of year when everyone gets overexcited by blogging awards. The Total Politics poll. The Lib Dem Blog of the Year. The Mrs Joyful Prize for Raffia Work.

I am pleased to find that I was suspicious of the Lib Dem awards when they first appeared. This year Nich Starling has gone so far as to ask people not to nominate him. He writes:

Last year I wrote in Iain Dale's guide to political blogging that I felt the awards were too self congratulatory, rather too on message, and the judges rather self selecting in that the same people and the same "friends" get chosen every time. Those of you from the provinces (and I use that term loosely) and who don't get to conference really don't matter.

I would not go that far, but these does seem to have been more logrolling and intrigue surrounding the Blog of the Year Awards this year. Maybe I am just more aware of it this time because of Twitter.

And reading the comments on my last post on the subject, you have to wonder whether awards do more harm than good.

A more humorous approach was taken by Ordovicius when he found he had gone down in the Total Politics list for Welsh bloggers:

Honestly, I turn my back for five seconds and you scuttle off into the arms of lunatics, zealots and trouble makers! You INGRATES! I mean, for the love of...seriously now, how can anyone take a top ten of Welsh blogs in earnest if I'm not in it??? GET A GRIP!

Even Marcus Warner got more votes than I did, which is frankly just taking the piss. He may have seen the light politically, but he's a Morrissey fan for fucks sake. I mean COME ON!!!

As for coming behind Paul Flynn, all I can say is FUCK RIGHT OFF!

I think that is a healthy attitude to blogging awards. It is one we should all cultivate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Holland County Council

This photograph, taken near the River Welland just outside Crowland yesterday, shows a signpost still bearing the name Holland County Council. You may have to click on it and enlarge it to see this clearly.

As Wikipedia explains, the Parts of Holland was one of the three medieval subdivisions of Lincolnshire (the other two were Lindsey and Kesteven). Under the Local Government Act 1888 it obtained a county council, which it retained until 1974. At that point the three county councils were abolished and Lincolnshire (minus the northern part of Lindsey which became part of Humberside) had a single county council for the first time.

Opposition politicians fail tests at seven

How worried should we be by the Guardian report that a quarter of seven-year-old boys in England have failed to master basic writing skills, while just over a fifth cannot read simple words?

Clearly, children must be taught to read and write, but I have always been sceptical of these national standards. Where did they come from? What is the connection between performance at seven and performance later in a child's school career? And is it remotely reasonable to expect standards to improve year on year indefinitely?

And when I read something like:
The gap between boys and girls in writing and science widened by one percentage point this year.
it is hard not to smile at the spurious claim to exactness and objectivity.

What are less amusing are the reactions of opposition politicians quoted later in the article. You might think that after 12 years of Labour they would be pointing out that the imposition of targets and testing from the centre has been a failure.

Not a bit of it.

For the Tories, Nick Gibb declared:
"We need a rigorous focus on the basics, with effective synthetic phonics for reading and proper maths teaching, so that all children achieve the keystones to future success."
Synthetic phonics have long been an obsession of Gibb's, but what he seems to be advocating here is that central government should dictate how lessons are taught even more than Labour has.

And for the Lib Dems, David Laws said:
"The government should be especially ashamed of the fact that one in four boys has failed to master basic writing skills by this age. Ministers clearly need to target additional resources in this area to reduce class sizes."
Weren't these Orange Book types meant to offer a break from the social democrat consensus? There is precious little sign of it here: just an acceptance of Labour's approach and a call for more public spending.

Still, I wouldn't worry too much. The people who take these sorts of test results seriously are the very same ones who believe that standards at A level have been rising for the past 27 years.

Water taxis in Spalding

In Spalding a couple of days ago I was keen to see how the River Welland was getting on. Spalding is the third substantial town it flows through, after Market Harborough and Stamford.

I was pleased to find that it is possible to take a boat trip on the Welland there. There is a regular water taxi from the centre of Spalding out to the new Springfields shopping centre on the outskirts of the town.

The boat starts off going upstream on the Welland, with roads and fine houses lining both banks. If I had known how low my camera battery was I would have made more effort to photograph these rather than the ducks.

Then it turns under a bridge and you find yourself on the surprisingly wide Coronation Channel, which is shown in the photo above. This is part of Spalding's flood defences and was dug after the floods of 1947 and, as its name suggests, was finished in 1953.

The idea behind it is that excess water coming down the Welland can be held until low tide and then safely released into the river without the town flooding. The Welland is tidal up as far as Fulney lock, which is just below Spalding.

I congratulate the people behind the water taxi service on their exercise. It's just that I am amazed that they are allowed to operate it in these days of health and safety.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Around the Lib Dem blogs

So what's been happening in the Liberal Democrat blogosphere while I have been wandering in the Fens?

Moments of Clarity condemned Nick Clegg for saying that Al-Megrahi should not have been released on compassionate grounds. I don't think Nick should have said that either.

Darrell, who writes Moments of Clarity, says Nick is jumping on a bandwagon. It seems more likely to me that someone has told him that he should sound a bit more right wing to appeal to swing voters in Lib Dem seats where the Tories are the challengers.

The ALDC blog looked forward to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth next month, including the party's Campaigner Awards.

Mark Pack revealed the first mention of the internet in Hansard. It took place in 1990 and came from Emma Nicholson, then a Tory MP.

Stephen's Linlithgow Journal pointed out that Americans may find it harder to boycott Scotland than they think.

Jonathan Fryer suggested that David Cameron should be dating Angela Mirkel. "Does he have that much courage?" I hear you ask. In fact Jonathan was making the sage point that the Tories have isolated themselves from the mainstream of right-wing politics in Europe. If Cameron comes to power that will matter.

Meanwhile, much of the Conservative blogosphere seems to be in love with the appalling Sarah Palin.

Caron's Musings took the BBC to task for sensationalist headlines.

And Paul Walter's Liberal Burblings wrote about the Tory chairman who would accept a woman candidate is she were well fit innit.

Places where I blogged this week

The first photograph shows an internet cafe in King's Lynn. I went there so often they were giving me free coffee by the end.

The second shows the library at Crowland, where I was earlier today. It has free internet access and the Abbey ruins in the background as a bonus.

Well done, Liberal Democrat Voice

I am pleased to see that the 10 most recent posts from the Lib Dem blogs aggregator have been restored to the front page of Liberal Democrat Voice.

You've all done very well.

The Church Langton Puma

Remember Church Langton? Home of William Hanbury and scene of a famous performance of Handel's Messiah?

There' s more to it than that.

The Leicester Mercury reports:

A Church Langton resident said her husband saw a big cat in The Causeway early one morning.

She said: "My husband saw one at about 5.30am on Sunday a week ago. It was in the road and then went through a hedge.

"It was black and the size of a big dog."

Monday, August 24, 2009

How we won the Ashes in Sutton Bridge

I left King's Lynn yesterday morning on the bus for Sutton Bridge. I got a shock when I arrived as the town's main hotel, which was apparently still thriving according to numerous websites, and found it was boarded up. I was later told that it had been like that for a year or so.

This turned out not to be a problem as I was able to find accommodation just down the road. The cricket was on in the bar and I was pleased to see that we had already got both Australian openers out.

I headed off to photograph the Crosskeys bridge. This structure, the third bridge on the site, was opened in 1897 and originally carried both road and rail traffic - the railway (the old Midland and Great Northern line, which took generations of holidaymakers to the Norfolk coast) on what is now the westbound carriageway and the road on the eastbound side. The railway closed in 1965 and the bridge is now road only, carrying the modern A17.

The bridge is interesting because it a swing bridge crowned with a control cabin and is still opened several times a week to allow large ships to make their way up the River Nene to Wisbech. It used to open more often, but a port has been developed below the bridge at Sutton Bridge which has taken much of Wisbech's trade.

According to Wikipedia the Crosskeys Bridge was used as a location in the film of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I shall have to see it now.

Having examined the bridge I set off down the banks of the Nene for the Wash. I had read that about three miles downstream, at what was then the mouth of the river (more land has been reclaimed since then - indeed, you never do quite reach the sea when you try anywhere around the Wash), two ornamental lighthouses had been erected in 1831.

They never served as lighthouses but were used as customs posts. The lighthouse on the east bank was the home of Sir Peter Scott in the 1930s. When I reached them they turned out to resemble nothing so much as a pair of salt and pepper shakers.

The path carries on around the Wash - indeed the Peter Scott Walk will take you down the Great Ouse estuary too and back to the ferry at West Lynn.

I had made a pact with God that I would not look at the test score until I had reached the lighthouses. When I did, I found England had taken five Australian wickets and was reasonably pleased.

After I had walked back into Sutton Bridge I was less pleased to find that there were still only five wickets down. So I bought a beer and sat down to watch, whereupon the last five wickets fell in less than an hour.

Not a bad day, all told.

Britblog Roundup 236

I may be on holiday, but Slugger O'Toole has been hard at work.

Petra: A Dog for Everyone

A visit to my bookshelves comes up with Petra: A Dog for Everyone by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes.

It tells the story of Blue Peter's first dog - though it leaves out the fact that the original Petra died of distemper after her first appearance on the programme. Rather than face telling the nation's children that their new dog had died, they toured the pet shops of London until they found an identical replacement.

In September 1965 Petra had eight puppies - the father was Moss, a Shetland sheepdog. (These days he would have made a living afterwards by appearing in reality television shows.)

The eight puppies were named by a poll of Blue Peter viewers. They were called Candy, Patch, Peter, Prince, Rover, Rex, Bruce and Kim. Not a Britney or Jackiey in sight.

Of particular interest is what happened to the puppies. It tells us much about Britain in 1965.

Patch stayed on the programme with Petra, but died young. John Noakes famously cried on the programme when reading viewers' letters about him afterwards. Patch was replaced by the more famous Shep (no relation).

The "lively and friendly" Candy went to the British Rail Children's Home at Woking Grange. I don't know what has happened to the children since privatisation, but in 1965 they still wore short trousers and school sandals. Definitely well-behaved orphans. Peter and Kim also went to children's homes.

Rex and Bruce went to be farm dogs because they were "steady and reliable", but the book assures us they would live indoors with the farmers and not be kept outside as kennel dogs.

Prince "the smallest of the litter ... a quiet and gentle puppy" went to the Salvation Army Eventide Home near Marlow.

Rover, by far the biggest of the puppies, "was so lively and boisterous we thought he'd make a splendid Regimental Mascot. So he joined the Junior Leaders' Regiment of the Royal Engineers at Dover.

It all sounds like an aristocratic family: Patch stayed at home as the heir and the other dogs were found respectable careers. I do not remember all this from the television programme, but I was given a Blue Peter annual for Christmas that told the puppies' stories.

A D-list comedian on a Channel 4 clips shows says: We watched Magpie. Blue Peter was for posh kids.

Liberal England replies: Go away.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

XTC: Love on a Farm Boy's Wages

Given this blog's recent interest in Swindon and Richard Jefferies, there is only one song to choose.

I mentioned this song in passing when I chose Me and the Farmer by the Housemartins. Now Swindon's finest get top billing.

You can read more about Swindon's finest on the Chalkhills site, but XTC are not the the town's claim to musical fame. In the early 1960s Rick Davies from Supertramp and Gilbert O'Sullivan were in the same band at Swindon College.

Davies was also a friend of the artist Ken White, who painted the mural I admired the other day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Have grassroots Conservatives given up on the Union?

This insalubrious watering hole, just across the road from where I am writing this, is King's Lynn Conservative Club.

Note the flag that is being flown outside. Until a very few years ago it would have been unthinkable for it to have flown anything but the Union Jack.

Is this a sign that the average Conservative member, in this part of Norfolk at least, no longer feels much affection for the union?

And, by the way, it is perfectly in order to call it the Union Jack.

Bats fail to save Leicester's Bowstring Bridge

They are very good at catching insects on the wing and narrowly avoiding David Attenborough's head, but when it comes to saving Leicester's industrial heritage bats are useless.

The Leicester Mercury reports:

A wildlife survey of the Bowstring Bridge has found no protected species.

It was hoped the discovery of endangered wildlife could have delayed the impending demolition of the Victorian landmark.

But independent experts used by Leicester City Council looked at the bridge and its arches for bats on August 15 and found no sign of them.

It wouldn't have taken much of an effort, but they were not prepared to help.

I would have added another of my extensive collection of pictures of the bridge, but I think you all know what it looks like by now.

Old Coffee Mills, Market Harborough

This is the Old Coffee Mills in Market Harborough. It is from here that Noel Symington plotted world domination with his exploding soup.

The building has recently been converted into flats.

Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards: A reminder

Those nice people at Lib Dem Voice are seeking your nominations for the various categories. The closing date is 4 September.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Greetings from King's Lynn

It's not quite Swindon, but it has its charms too.

Steve Winwood at Cropredy

Look what I missed by going to Swindon. The Oxford Times review of this year's Cropredy festival said that for many Winwood's appearance was the highlight:

The ex-Traffic man opened with I’m a Man and instantly showed why he has long been regarded as the ultimate musician’s musician. Members of his top band were given all given opportunity to indulge in lengthy solos, with the man himself seemingly as brilliant on guitar as keyboards.

Thankfully the sound system was worthy of such high-class musicianship as Winwood opened wide a stunning back catalogue with electrifying performances of Higher Love, Dear Mr Fantasy, Gimme Some Lovin’ and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bad news from Leicester

I am writing this in an internet cafe in King's Lynn and things are not looking so good back home.
The Leicester Mercury reports:

A final attempt to block the demolition of Leicester's iconic Bowstring Bridge has failed.

English Heritage has decided it will not list the structure, meaning it cannot be protected from being pulled down by the city council next month.

Leicester Civic Society has waited six months for the result of its application and will now struggle to save the Victorian landmark.

The Bowstring Bridge, which is at the city end of Braunstone Gate, has to be dismantled so that De Montfort University can build a new swimming pool and sports centre on land in Duns Lane.

It will also probably mean the end of the area's popular Pump and Tap pub, which is on part of the site that the university will develop.

We phoned De Montfort University for a comment and got a lot of shrieking laughter followed by something about "plans for world domination" in a foreign accent.

Easier A levels still make it harder for students

Two years ago I wrote:
So there you have it. A levels are getting easier and students are having to work harder to distinguish themselves as a result.

I am happy to stand by that view today.

Those Lib Dems who have written in defence of the position that A levels are as challenging as they ever were (Mark Pack and Chris Ward) have not been at their most impressive in doing so. Last year I posted some evidence against that position.

Incidentally, when did A level results become such a barometer of our national well-being?

In my day (as I increasingly find myself saying) you were bright or you were not, you worked hard or you didn't, and you more or less got what you deserved. It was essentially an individual matter.

Wasn't that a saner way of treating exam results?

The shorter Chris Ward

Anyone who disagrees with me is an "armchair-idiot".

The More Arms in Shropshire

One of my regrets is that in my many visits to Shropshire I never got to have a drink at the More Arms. It was a large pub in the middle of nowhere on the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road that was open (intermittently) until 2001.

I was once told by a passenger on a bus along that road that it used to come into its own on Sunday evenings when people came from the villages on the Welsh side of the main road to drink in England.

The other day the Shropshire Star had some reminscences and photographs of the More Arms and gave an interesting little piece of its history:
“Ronnie Lane frequented the place, and so did Eric Clapton. Eric Clapton played at the Drum and Monkey (at Bromlow). My husband’s father used to drink with Ronnie Lane and Eric Clapton.”
The Drum and Monkey is now called the Callow Inn and, while very friendly, it is a little piece of suburban Birmingham in the Shropshire hills.

And you know how I am always going on about things falling down old lead mines in the area? Well:
“Beauty, our dog, once saved me from an old ruin where a lead mine is. He held on to my dress until someone came. The dress had started to rip. We also lost a calf down there.”

Off on my travels again

Nowhere quite as exciting as Swindon this time.

I have arranged for a few postings to go up while I am away, but otherwise blogging may be light for a few days.

Then again, I may find an internet cafe just over the road from the hotel, as I did in Swindon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mark Oaten does the dirty on the Liberal Democrats

When news broke that Mark Oaten was publishing a book we were told that it was to be published on 1 October.

Now, to no one's great surprise, we learn from the Portsmouth News that it will appear on 18 September, the eve of the Liberal Democrat Conference. The paper also says that his publisher is looking for a serialisation deal.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Eight sceptical theses on moral rights

Discuss the following. Do not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once:

  1. Most modern discourse about morality resolves around rights. It therefore fails to answer the great moral questions like “How should I live my life?” and “What sort of person should I be?”

  2. If a ascribing a right to someone is to mean anything then there has to be a concomitant duty upon someone else to fulfil it, otherwise this right is worthless. NB This is not the same as the Blairite claim that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand – my rights impose duties upon you, not me.

  3. The more rights we ascribe to people, the more we tend to make the government mighty. If there is, say, a right to work, who can have the duty to give employment but the state? This process tends to make the individual citizen a spectator in important moral questions.

  4. Rights are human artefacts: we make them up. They do not exist in some Platonic universe, independent of humanity. In fact, the concept of a right make sense only in a complex society.

  5. Ultimately, the justification for the rights we do choose to give people is the kind of society those rights produce. If those rights produce a bad society, we change them

  6. The danger of expressing our moral judgement in the language of rights is that it becomes impossible to learn from experience. As I once wrote of the idea that school uniform might contravene human rights legislation:
    I suppose you could say "Fancy that, school uniform has been immoral all along." But it seems to me more compelling to say that if the set of rights we have drawn up rule out a well-accepted practice like requiring pupils to wear a uniform then there is something wrong with that set of rights.
    Note that rights will not merely rule out what some regard as old-fashioned social practices: they will also make it harder to establish new ones.

  7. Moral rights tend to establish a minimum standard of conduct rather than to enshrine the depth of commitment that we have to one another in strong and loving relationships. So children's rights may describe an hygenic Home but will find it harder to describe a loving home.

  8. Political philosophies differ over the ends of life and how people should act: in short, they have different views of morality. Liberals should argue for their view of the world and endeavour to win power to implement it, but they should not be scandalised when people with other philosophies do not want to write Liberal conclusions into the rules of the contest.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Now Tories plan decapitation strategy

Or so Andrew Pierce claims on the Telegraph website:

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who is defending a 7,000 majority in Edinburgh, and Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who is fighting a new seat with a notional majority of 8,500, are high on the hit list.

The Conservatives, who have a commanding 12-point lead in the opinion polls which is enough to propel them into Downing Street, are determined to take out some of Labour’s biggest beasts.

How Bubbles beat Hitler

Two weeks ago Disgruntled Radical complained about the anachronisms in Desperate Romantics.
I almost rushed to the defence of the series - I had already praised it because it presents such a refreshingly different view of the Victorians. Anyway, I am sure that Shakespeare's plays are full of anachronisms and no one thinks any the worse of them for that.

In the right hands anachronism is almost an art form. In The Sword in the Stone, T. H. White's long, itemised description of Merlyn's cottage ends with "a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wild fowl by Peter Scott". But then Merlyn was living backwards through time, so he had every excuse.

As Desperate Romantics has gone on, however, my own doubts have set in. I salute it for not making Ruskin a simple figure of fun, but if the Brotherhood had been having such energetic sex so often they would surely not have been able to paint at all.

And the time scheme of the series did worry me last week when Millais produced a sketch for "A Child's World", better known as "Bubbles" - painting he did no complete until nearly 40 years after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded.

The use of that painting is the key to an interesting little piece of history. The child model was Millais' own grandson Willie James. The use of the bubble as a symbol of the transience and fragility of youthful beauty and innocence was already well established, and Willie's subsequent career bore this out more than anyone could have imagined.

For, as Admiral William Milbourne James, he became head of naval intelligence during World War II. He was known as "Bubbles" throughout his naval career. He was also Conservative MP for Portsmouth North between 1943 and 1945, and wrote a book vindicating his grandmother Effie, who was Ruskin's first wife.

But thanks to Desperate Romantics you all know that.

Richard Jefferies mentioned feng shui in 1885

I fear that my current preoccupation with Richard Jefferies and Swindon may continue for a while yet, particulary if a writing project I have in mind comes to fruition. But the following passage may explain why I find Jefferies so fascinating.

It comes from the collection The Open Air, which was published in 1885, though the essay "Wild Flowers" in which it occurs may be a little older than that

Jefferies writes:

If you have been living in one house in the country for some time, and then go on a visit to another, though hardly half a mile distant, you will find a change in the air, the feeling and tone of the place. It is close by, but it is not the same.

To discover these minute differences, which make one locality and home happy, and the next adjoining unhealthy, the Chinese have invented the sceince of Feng-shui, spying about with cabalistic mystery, casting the horoscope of an acre. There is something in all superstitions; they are often the foundation of science.

How many Western writers were interested in feng shui in 1885? If Wikipedia is right, very few:

One of the grievances mentioned when the anti-Western Boxer Rebellion erupted was that Westerners were violating the basic principles of feng shui in their construction of railroads and other conspicuous public structures throughout China. At the time, Westerners had little idea of, or interest in, such Chinese traditions. After Richard Nixon journeyed to the People's Republic of China in 1972, feng shui became somewhat of an industry in the USA.
The Boxer Rebellion, of course, took place between 1898 and 1901.

A limited defence of Prince Charles

So it falls to me to speak up for the old booby.

I have much sympathy for the view of Patrick Hannan, which I quoted the other day:
He often seems very like the persona created by the great comedian Tony Hancock, someone whose abilities always left him short of his aspirations in, for instance, intellectual matters, and who subsided into a state of truculent pique at each failure.
But the Guardian campaign against him and his influence over architecture seems to me to be based on a deceitful view. Reading the Guardian, you would think that the wider public is united in its love of the products of modern architecture, and only aristocratic reactionaries like Charles are standing out against this consensus.

Occasionally, however, the newspaper allows the truth to break through. Here is the Guardian from yesterday, mentioning in passing the Prince's role in torpedoing Richard Rogers' plans for the Chelsea Barracks site:
While local opponents of the scheme welcomed him as a conquering hero, his intervention also provoked a storm of criticism from architects.
And that surely is the key here. As ever, the Guardian is not speaking for the people but for the professionals. The long-standing rift between public taste and expert opinion is simply ignored because it would pose difficult questions for the paper's settled view of the world.

The photograph above shows the new National Trust headquarters in Swindon, which has also become caught up in this row. Given the number of vacant sites in the centre of the town, it is a shame it was not built there rather than hidden away behind the railway station.

From it, outdoor relief for the aristocracy and the shipping of herbal teas, luxury soaps and what Alan Bennett's mother called "out-of-the-way mustards" all around the country are organised.

Out into the sunlight and the pure wind

The BBC has discovered something else for parents to feel guilty about. A poll conducted on behalf of the College of Optometrists has revealed that nearly a third of parents in Britain do not buy their children sunglasses.

Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser at the College, says she is "shocked to see that so many parents aren't ensuring that their child's eyes are protected in the sun".

It is a wonder that earlier generations of children survived to adulthood at all.

What with global warming and all those paedophiles about, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the best thing is to keep your children locked in the cellar.

Liberal Democrats: Down wiv ver kids

There was a headline on the Press Association yesterday:
Lib Dems rap gun crime jail threat
Clearly, the influence of Tinchy Stryder on the party continues to spread.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Coate Water, Swindon

A photograph from yesterday's visit.

Heresy Corner on Afghanistan

Clearly an excellent system for all concerned. The Afghan people get their empty schools, the international contractors get their healthy fees, the Taliban get their bombs, and we just get the bills. And the dead soldiers, of course. Read the rest of this article
Read it all here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Richard Jefferies Museum, Swindon

Today I visited the Richard Jefferies Museum on the outskirts of Swindon. I also walked around Coate Water, which Jefferies immortalised in his work.

It was my third attempt to visit the reservoir. The first time I was with a friend and we were young and stupid and baffled by Swindon's road system. The second time I got to the water's edge, but it was so foggy that it was impossible to see anything - indeed, today I could not decide where it was I had been standing that second time.

But today I made it.

Britblog Roundup 235

In the care of Charles Crawford.

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood: Can't Find My Way Home

For some reason this video deleted itself after I posted it. Here it is restored.

The accompanying text, which also disappeared, said something to the effect that it was Steve Winwood's performance at Eric Clapton's 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival (see also Dear Mr Fantasy), along with the 1967 Spencer Davis Group concert from Finnish television (try Georgia on my Mind), that led me to rediscover Steve Winwood.

Norman Lamb: The movie

Reviewing Tinchy Stryder new album in the Guardian on Friday, Alex Petridis suggested that his rise to fame "had the makings of a certain kind of undemanding British comedy":

Two clueless middle-class kids (Rupert Grint, Nicholas Hoult from Skins) set up their own rap promotions company in Norfolk. They alight upon an unsigned east London rapper, funding his career with contributions from their grand-parents (Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield) and the local Catholic priest (Rowan Atkinson). One half of the promotions team also taps a loan from his parents, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk (Jim Broadbent) and his supportive wife (Celia Imrie).

Much fish-out-of-water hilarity ensues (Ray Winstone as a nightclub doorman, Rhys Ifans as a shady recording studio manager, Tim Westwood, Lembit Opik and Lethal Bizzle as "themselves"), before they succeed in making their charge one of Britain's biggest pop stars (cameo from Johnny Vegas as Chris Moyles) thanks to two consecutive chart-topping singles.

I am not sure about Jim Broadbent playing Norman Lamb, though. Who do you suggest, readers?

Disused railway stations

Subterranea Britannica has a magnificent and growing index of disused railway stations, with photographs showing them in their heyday and on their last legs.

The photograph above shows the once-noble Crystal Palace High Level in South London in the early 1950s, shortly before it closed. The netting is to prevent debris falling on the waiting passengers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Swindon mural commemorating Alfred Williams

I am in Swindon this weekend and shall be going to Coate tomorrow to pay homage to Richard Jefferies.

But this mural on the end wall of a terrace of houses across the road from my hotel commemorates the town's other literary son: Alfred Williams.

My Sunday music videos

On 28 October 2007, to celebrate the fact that I had finally got broadband internet access installed at home and had then discovered Youtube, I posted a video of Rock the Casbah by Rachid Taha. I have chosen a video (almost) every week since then

Before it gets too daunting to attempt the task I thought I would post a list of all the ones I have chosen. A few of them have disappeared, as is the way with Youtube. Where I have noticed this and been able to find a video of the same artist and song, I have quietly replaced them.

I feared that I would soon run out of ideas or reveal the desperate uncoolness of my musical tastes, but I am still going strong.

Anyway, here is the list...

28 October Rachid Taha: Rock El Casbah

4 November Sandy Denny: Solo
11 November Scott Walker: Jackie
18 November Jake Thackray: On again
25 November Sparks: This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of us

2 December The Zombies: She's Not There
9 December The Housemartins: Me and the Farmer
16 December Jimmy Page plays skiffle
23 December The Jam: Tales from the Riverbank

1 January Julie Covington: Only Women Bleed
6 January Strangelove: Time for the Rest of Your Life
13 January Clive Gregson & Christine Collister: I Specialise
21 January Spencer Davis Group: I'm a Man
27 January Divine Comedy: Absent friends

3 February Roger Daltrey: Say It Ain't So Joe
10 February Steve Winwood: Dear Mr Fantasy
17 February The Proclaimers: Joyful Kilmarnock Blues
24 February The La's - Timeless Melody

2 March X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents
9 March St Louis Union: Show Me Your English Teeth
16 March Joe Jackson: It's Different for Girls
23 March Traffic: Freedom Rider
30 March Kate Bush: The Man with the Child in his Eyes

6 April Paul Simon: The Obvious Child
13 April Laibach: Across the Universe
20 April Tim Buckley: Dolphins
27 April Small Faces: Little Tin Soldier

4 May The Fifth Dimension: Wedding Bell Blues
11 May Spencer Davis Group: Georgia on my Mind
18 May Fairport Convention: Sir Patrick Spens
25 May Rare Bird: Sympathy

1 June Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood
8 June Bjork: Human Behaviour
15 June Michael Nyman Band: Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds
22 June Joni Mitchell: Carey
29 June Traffic: 40,000 Headmen

6 July Petula Clark: Downtown
13 July REM: Nightswimming
27 July EasyBeats: Friday on my Mind

3 August Dudley Moore: Little Miss Britten
10 August Kinks: Waterloo Sunset
17 August Genesis: I Know What I Like in Your Wardrobe
24 August Polly Bolton: Call of the Siren
31 August k. d. lang: Fallen

7 September Cliff Richard: Move it
14 September Animals: House of the Rising Sun
21 September Mandy Miller: Nellie the Elephant
28 September Young Knives: The Decision

5 October Brenda Holloway: Every Little Bit Hurts
12 October Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit
19 October Who: The Kids are Alright
26 October Shindig Goes to London

2 November Vampire Weekend: Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
9 November Benjamin Britten: War Requiem
16 November Roxy Music: Do the Strand
23 November Albert Hammond: Free Electric Band
30 November Argent: Hold Your Head Up

7 December Colin Blunstone: What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
14 December Helen Shapiro: You Don't Know
21 December Alan Price Set: Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear
28 December Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die

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