Tuesday, July 31, 2012

White Grit Methodist Chapel for sale

A couple of years ago I wrote about White Grit, a former lead mining settlement which is off the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road and just over the Welsh border:
There is a Methodist chapel in the village, and this was probably where most of the miners worshipped. So I suspect the Church presence here was in the nature of a mission - hence the economical iron church.
Time moves on.

The Tin Tabernacle was still holding services last time I was in White Grit (it is the same one you can glimpse at the start of the documentary about Ronnie Lane I blogged about recently), but the Methodist Chapel at White Grit has closed and is up for sale.

Halls of Bishop's Castle has the details of the property.

Daily Express: Get used to the Lib Dems being in power

Some encouraging analysis for the Liberal Democrats comes from an unexpected quarter: Patrick O'Flynn in the Daily Express.

First he argues - or "reveals" - that the next general election will be fought on the same boundaries as the last:
although the last rites are yet to be performed, the boundary changes proposed by David Cameron to equalise the size of parliamentary constituencies are effectively dead. Following the debacle on Lords reform, not only will Lib Dem backbenchers vote with Labour against them but Lib Dem ministers will do so as well if that is what it takes to kill them off. 
I understand that Nick Clegg has already told Cameron this and that the PM accepts it. This means every sitting MP will be fighting on exactly the same constituency boundaries next time – maximising the advantages of incumbency.
The implication of this, says O'Flynn, is that:
every sitting Lib Dem has a decent chance of bucking a national trend that will probably see the party’s overall share of the vote plunge by 10 points at the next election compared to the last. It is not inconceivable that 35 or even 40 of the 57 Lib Dem MPs could make it back to Westminster.
Fighting the next election on the same boundaries will also mean that David Cameron will have to better next time if he is to win an outright majority. As O'Flynn says, it looks unlikely that he will achieve this.

So a hung parliament after the next election is a real possibility. And who will be leading the Liberal Democrats by then?

Step forward, says O'Flynn, Nick Clegg:
Look at the numbers. Clegg had a majority of more than 15,000 in 2010, with the Tories in second place. He was a towering 19,000 votes clear of the third placed Labour candidate. 
The Lib Dems have been holding council wards in the seat too. So he’ll very probably be back, albeit with a much-reduced majority.
This isn't news to anyone who knows Sheffield Hallam. But many assume that, because it is the North of England, it must be a Labour prospect. The reality was that there are few more middle-class constituencies outside South-West London and that Hallam was always the Tory seat in Sheffield.

And O'Flynn's conclusion is:
There will be fewer Lib Dem MPs next time round but they will probably still hold the balance of power and through Clegg and Cable they have both sides of the bet well covered. 
Sorry folks but unless Britain makes a really decisive choice between David Cameron and Ed Miliband – and that does not seem likely given that it is so underwhelmed by both – it had better get used to the yellow peril in the corridors of power.

Six of the Best 264

Photo: Julian Osley
"Popular opinion is much more (small ‘l’) liberal than is commonly supposed. It turns out that most of us can relate to a multi-cultural vision of Britain. Most of us are no longer shocked by the Rolling Stones or the Sex Pistols – how can we be when Mick Jagger has a knighthood and Johnny Rotten advertises Country Life butter? Most of us cannot understand why the church is still getting its knickers in a twist about gay marriage. We’ve moved on, further than most politicians or the press realise." Writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, Simon Titley reflects on the Olympic opening ceremony.

The SNP government in Scotland is running secrecy workshops for civil servants, claim the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Brian Whitmore on Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty gives the background to the prosecution of Pussy Riot in Moscow: "Pussy Riot isn't really a 'punk band'... And - contrary to popular belief - they didn't actually play a 'concert' in the cathedral."

Open Culture sends us to Andrei Tarkovsky's Voyage in Time: "This rarely seen documentary shows the great Russian filmmaker treading unfamiliar ground as he travels across southern Italy in search of locations for his first film in exile, Nostalghia."

"Automatic supermarket check-outs are a special kind of 'lose-lose technology' where someone loses their source of employment so that a machine can deliver an entirely inferior service." At Computer Weekly Tony Roberts suggests the Luddites had a point and calls for democratic involvement in choices about technology.

Entschwindet & Vergeht visits the Park Hill flats in Sheffield.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Lionheart Project tours the East Midlands

As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad the Lionheart Project saw three giant hand crocheted lions travel around the East Midlands in a custom-built glass case. The sculptures reflected the region in both symbol and materials as Richard the Lionheart’s three lions crest was reproduced using wool from the Peak District.

I saw the lions at Orton Square in Leicester a few weeks ago. As this video shows, they then travelled on to Northampton - via Market Harborough, you will note.

They are now to be found in London at the Natural History Museum.

Paintings from David Parsons' office go on show to public

The Leicester Mercury points out another bonus of David Parsons' resignation as leader of the Conservative-run Leicestershire County Council:
Paintings worth hundreds of thousands of pounds which decorated the office of former council leader David Parsons are to go on wider public display. 
Three works of art that were hanging on the walls of the suite of offices at County Hall have been taken down as part of a refurbishment that follows Coun Parsons’s resignation as leader last month.
Parsons created his offices in 2009. In total, £64,000 was spent on them and as the Mercury reminds us, the expense was widely condemned at the time.

Meanwhile, local gossip has it that his house is up for sale.

Nick Clegg attacked by Scottish pub

The Earl of Glasgow, says BBC News, has told the corporation that the Liberal Democrats risk looking "foolish" by pursuing reform of the House of Lords and that the party's election hopes could be damaged.:
"It's probably going to get bogged down [in Parliament] and I don't think it's going to get through. It's going to be another constitutional humiliation for Nick Clegg and, therefore, the party."
Quite why a Scottish house is pontificating on constitutional matters...

This just in. It has been pointed out to me that the Earl of Glasgow is not a public house but an hereditary peer who takes the Liberal Democrat whip. Who knew?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Danny Boyle and Humphrey Jennings

Yesterday I suggested that the spirit of Humphrey Jennings that had inspired Friday's Olympic opening ceremony. I was alerted to the parallels with his work by the excellent tweeter Lang Rabbie, who pointed out that one of the sections of the ceremony was entitled 'Pandemonium'.

Pandemonium was the title of an anthology by Jennings. I long ago lost or gave away my copy of it - looking at the prices on Amazon I rather wish I hadn't.

And an article in today's Observer suggests we were on to something. Frank Cottrell Boyce writes:
We shared the things we loved about Britain – the Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, the NHS, pop music, children's literature, genius engineers. I bought Danny a copy of Humphrey Jennings's astonishing book Pandemonium for Christmas and soon everyone seemed to have it. The show's opening section ended up named "Pandemonium".
Note the phrase "the things we loved about Britain": that is a spirit we hear too little of from Liberal and the left. One of the defining characteristics of the Tory right these days is that they do not much like Britain at all -which is an odd position for a Conservative to hold.

I was introduced to the work of Jennings by Rob Colls (now Professor Robert Colls, I note), who taught on my Victorian Studies masters course. I am not quite sure why he referred us to a documentary film director from the 1940s on a course about the 19th century, but I am very glad he did.

All of which gives me a chance to recommend Rob Colls' book Identity of England.

Gordon Lightfoot: Daylight Katy

The work of the Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has appeared here before. He wrote the song  I'm Not Sayin' that was recorded by Nico with help from Jimmy Page.

In 1978 he reached no. 41 in the UK singles chart in his own right. Remembering how much air time this song got, I am surprised it got no higher.

Gordon Lightfoot is still playing and touring. Read all about him at Lightfoot!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why the Olympic opening ceremony was such a success

Photo: Matt Lancashire
Whatever its qualities, last night's Olympic opening ceremony had two people to thank for its popularity.

The first was Mitt Romney. As Jonathan Freedland said in the Guardian this morning:
We're quite happy to whinge endlessly about security, transport and ticketing failures – but we'll be damned if we're going to hear it from some perfect-toothed American. Now we'll get behind the Games just to spite him.
And the second was Aidan Burley - or "'Nazi stag party' MP Aidan Burley", as the Daily Telegraph calls him - whose crass views will have united all but the unpatriotic right of the Conservative Party against him and in favour of the ceremony.

But the ceremony's qualities were many, which was apparent even to someone (like me) who generally avoids these opening and closing events, believing them to be empty of meaning.

In part that was because it included so many elements - 'Nimrod', 'Jerusalem', children's literature, the internet, British films, pop music - that appeal to me and this blog.

But it was more the extraordinary profusion of ideas that made it so good - and bear in mind that the final ceremony had to be severely pruned to make it last a reasonable time.

I was reminded of the work of Humphrey Jennings, and not just because one of the section of the ceremony was titled Pandemonium. Danny Boyle had the same technique of setting cultural elements from widely different spheres side by side, to the detriment of neither. Jennings' Listen to Britain sets Dame Myra Hess against dance-band music and celebrates both.

It also has to be said that the opening ceremony benefited from the apparent absence of the two elements most obvious in the torch relay over the past few weeks: commercial sponsorship and security.

When the torch came through Market Harborough I was moved by the crowds - the spaces saved for local primary schools, the crowd's determination to enjoy itself despite the rain, its eagerness to cheer anything that moved, some police officers' willingness to milk this. But the actual passing of the torch was an anticlimax, being dominated by commercial sponsors' vehicles.

Given that security and business are the two dominant forces in the world of right-wing Conservatives, it makes you wonder what a ceremony approved of by someone like Aidan Burley (you know, the 'Nazi stag party' MP Aidan Burley) would look like and who would want to attend it.

Chess in Walmgate

As I wrote from York at the start of my holiday, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the Walmgate area of the city. So much so that I asked in a bookshop if anything had been published on the history of the area.

I was told that a book had been published, but was now out of print. However, it has sold so well that there were plans for a reprint and, if I left my name and address with the shop, I could be contacted as soon as the new edition was available.

Once I would have jumped at this chance, but this time I backed away politely. Because I knew that when I got back to my hotel room and its free wifi I would almost certainly be able to find a secondhand copy of the book for sale and buy it there and then.

That is exactly how things turned out, and the book was waiting for me when I arrived home from Shropshire this afternoon.

My reason for writing about it here goes back to an article on chess in schools that I wrote for the Guardian website in February. There I quoted the view of Malcolm Pein (backed up with my own observations) that it is a mistake to think that chess was confined to a social elite in the past.

Because The Walmgate Story talks about area's Roman Catholic school St George's has having a "reputation for toughness". One former teacher is quoted as saying:
"If you'd been at St George's, you either turned out a villain or a policeman. The school supplied lots of rugby league players, the best in the area."
But what do we see in one of the photographs of the school chosen to illustrate The Walmgate Story? A meeting of its chess club.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Nick Clegg answers 20 questions

Last month I reported that the RSPB was inviting questions for Nick Clegg and that the best 20 of them would be put to him after he returned from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The charity has now posted those questions and Nick's answers:
Nick, what actions the coalition have taken to justify the PM's claim to be the greenest government ever? 
RSPB members should not be in any doubt of our commitment to being the greenest government ever. We have pledged to half greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 - the boldest target set, in law, by any government, anywhere in the world, we are leading the biggest shakeup of the electricity market in thirty years and we are creating the UK’s first ever market in energy efficiency through the Green Deal. We are investing in a series of world firsts despite the huge pressures on the public purse. The first ever national bank devoted to green investment, the first ever Carbon Capture and Storage project at commercial scale and in just a few days, the greenest ever Olympic and Paralympic Games. 
Periods of economic reinvention force us to do things differently, but lean times can be green times too. We have the sixth largest low carbon market in the world, our green industries are booming. They employ 940,000 people - up 2.8% from last year. Sales in the green economy are also growing at a rate of 4.7%. At the Rio Summit, we could play a lead role precisely because we were able to point to leadership at home. The economic situation creates challenge, but it has not weakened our resolve, it has only strengthened our ambition. The Summit is over but the work continues and the UK will continue to lead from the front.

Why I am glad Paul Chambers won his high court appeal

In November 2010, after Judge Jacqueline Davies confirmed Paul Chambers' conviction in the 'Twitter joke trial', I wrote this:
Terrorism works by spreading fear among the population, forcing us to live diminished lives. The security precautions we have to undergo at airports and the screen that divides MPs from the public gallery at Westminster are both victories for the terrorists. 
They were handed another one by the confirmation of Paul Chambers' conviction in Doncaster today.
So Chambers' win is a defeat for terrorism.

Philosophy Bites: Richard Reeves on John Stuart Mill

Richard Reeves, Mill's biographer and until recently special adviser to Nick Clegg, gives a clear account of John Stuart Mill's Liberalism in this interview with David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.

You can watch a longer lecture about Mill by Reeves elsewhere on this blog. And there are many more podcasts on Philosophy Bites.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Six of the Best 263

Caron's Musings was in Edinburgh when Vince Cable answered questions from Scottish Liberal Democrat members: "I collected together tweets from the event which cover most of the questions and put them in a storify thingy which is below for your enjoyment. There are more photos and even a bit of mischief. Find out exactly what Vince said about the cult of youth."

What would David Cairns make of Archbishop Tartaglia? asks A Scottish Liberal.

The latest local hero from Liberal Democrat Voice is Camden's Flick Rea, a stalwart of the Liberal Revue. What is more, I have shamelessly stolen their photograph.

Austin Mitchell recently told the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Society that there are too many listed buildings and that the only criterion for keeping listed buildings should be that they have a current use. Writing in the Ripon Gazette, David Winpenny disagrees.

Somewhere during my holiday England have lost a test match against South Africa horribly. Leg Side Filth looks at our chances of fighting back.

Derelict Places visits the former Heckingham Workhouse in Norfolk.

Over Sea, Under Stone

The five books in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence represent a powerful but uneven achievement. At their best they are magnificent: at their worst, reading them is a little like being hit over the head with a volume of folklore.

I have strong memories of the first book - Over Sea, Under Stone - being dramatised on television, but for a long time could find no reference to it. It turned out to have been broadcast under the Jackanory banner in 1969, which is odd as the show usually consisted simply of a storyteller and a book.

Over Sea, Under Stone has as much the feel of a children's holiday adventure story as of a book about the supernatural. This interview with Susan Cooper explains why this is so.

You can find several more clips, taken from the same interview, of Cooper talking about her work on Youtube.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rutland is the happiest place in England

I don't know if Lord Bonkers reminded the participants that their rents fall due on Lady Day before they answered the questions, but the Rutland & Stamford Mercury reports a remarkable finding:
Rutland is the happiest place to live in England, according to a survey. 
The Office of National Statistics says the smallest county was the second happiest place to live in the whole of the UK, only losing out to Orkney and Shetland. 
The results are based on a national poll which asked residents across the UK to rate how happy they were with life.
It is easy to make fun of this and similar projects, but I think that would be mistaken. Go to the Action for Happiness site and you will read:
For fifty years we've aimed relentlessly at higher incomes. But despite being much wealthier, we're no happier than we were five decades ago. At the same time we've seen an increase in wider social issues, including a worrying rise in anxiety and depression in young people. It's time for a positive change in what we mean by progress.
That is surely true. And it is very arguable that it was the increasingly obvious limitations of the post-war 'growth at all costs' philosophy that led to the Liberal revival and the growth of the Green movement.

Fire on the Stiperstones

The front page of today's Shropshire Star has a photograph of yesterday's fire on the Stiperstones:
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service reached the hill at 3.30pm yesterday after receiving a call from Lara Sproson, landlady of the Stiperstones Inn, who was alerted to the blaze by walkers at 2.45pm. 
As 72 firefighters, six fire engines, two off-road vehicles and two support vehicles arrived, flames quickly fanned out across the hill burning gorse and undergrowth dried out by the recent sunny weather. 
Fire service area manager John Das-Gupta said that after initially beating the blaze back, firefighters were forced to wait and let it burn unchecked because of the hill’s steep slopes.
The report says the fire was finally brought under control at about 10 last night and the Star also has a gallery of photographs of the fire.

Funnily enough, I came across the following tale in Once Upon a Hill: The Lost Communities of the Stiperstones only the other evening:
During the Second World War, the area lay in direct line for enemy bombers travelling to Liverpool and Manchester, and on one long-remembered occasion in 1941, incendiary bombs lit up the hillside along the whole length of the Stiperstones. 
I remember the hills being bombed during the war on more than one occasion. There was once when they bombed across the Devil's Chair to above Mrs Cook's [at Blakemoregate]. The dropped some high explosive bombs, which caused big craters on the Stiperstones, and they also lit the hills with high incendiary bombs, which they dropped first. I think they were under the impression they had got an ammunition dump, when in fact it was on the Bishop's Castle road. They went and bombed down in front of Central Stores and an incendiary bomb went through the roof of a cottage on Shop Lane [in Snailbeach] - Derek Rowson.
He also remembers people sheltering in the old mine workings while the raid was taking place.

Lord Bonkers' "Fifty Shades of Viscount Grey"

Rutland's most decorated peer writes exclusively for Liberal England:

I recently employed these columns to inform you that Fifty Shades of Earl Grey, my guide to tea making, had been selling gratifyingly well and that I had given orders for it to be reprinted.

I am pleased to report that a second of my books, which happens to have a similar title, is rivalling hot cakes in its popularity.

Fifty Shades of Viscount Grey is a nuanced study of Grey of Fallodon, the Liberal Foreign Secretary, and it has been positively flying off the shelves in recent weeks.

So I have given orders for it to be reprinted too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Bradley Wiggins Effect

Shropshire on Countryfile

Countryfile on Sunday was all about the glories of the Shropshire countryside. I could not watch it because I was out enjoying the glories of the Shropshire countryside.

I have now watched it on iPlayer and can recommend it. In between the items on trimming cows' feet and the robot milking of the poor beats you will see why I am always going on about the hills here. Sadly, more from stock footage than from what the Countryfile people shot on their very damp day in the county.

And I was pleased by the influence on William Penny Brookes (I once wrote about his Much Wenlock Olympian Games in the New Statesman) and Malcolm Saville.

By coincidence, today I met two of the people who involved with this issue of Countryfile.

Mark O'Hanlon (whom I know from the early days of the Malcolm Saville Society and who now runs his own Saville website) was in the Station Inn at Marshbrook at lunchtime.

Later I met the owner of Priors Holt - indeed she very kindly gave me some of their spring water  (I suspect I looked very hot) and then a cup of tea and piece of cake. Having afternoon tea at Witchend is about as good as it gets for a Malcolm Saville fan.

Both said that the day the Countryfile crew was in Shropshire was appallingly wet - far worse even than it appears on screen.

Today, by contrast, has been roasting and there are reports of a major gorse fire on the Stiperstones.

Fauré's Sicilienne: Still a mystery to me

One of the pleasures of being on holiday is finding that your visit coincides with an event you did not know was taking place. I have fond memories of seeing Runrig play in Portree when staying on Skye with Disgruntled Radical and son.

Similarly, I have found that my current stay in Shropshire falls during the Church Stretton Arts Festival, and this morning I attended a free concert in the town's parish church.

It was given by the cellist Ruth Henley and pianist Richard Silk. The meat of the concert was Mendelssohn's first cello sonata and there were shorter pieces by Fauré and Saint-Saëns.

I am glad there were, because the opening work was Fauré's Sicilienne. I have long known this piece without knowing what it was called.

However, there is still a mystery attached to it for me. I am sure that it was used as the theme music for a detective series many years ago - probably one set in the Victorian era. However, no amount of searching will tell me what the series was.

Fauré's Sicilienne is often played on the flute, and I have a feeling that the version used for the television series was. But here is Julian Lloyd Webber playing the piece. If he jogs your memory, please put me out of my misery...

Headline of the Day

Well done to the Shropshire Star for:

Princess Royal Hospital bosses’ U-turn in duck feeding row

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another dose of York nostalgia

There's no pulling your socks up before you enter the Minster this time. These are Rockers, filmed in York about 1960.

The poster to Youtube apologises that the song, Just for Kicks by Mike Sarne (which reached no. 22 in 1963) does not last for the whole film.

Really, there was no need. But the shots of the city's streets are great.

Vince Cable would make a good Liberal Democrat leader

There may be some truth in Lord Bonkers' theory that Nick's upcoming 'hair shirt' tour:
is intended by the clever children in his office to make it clear whether he has a chance of appealing to voters at the next general election
But there is no vacancy for leader of the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is determined to lead the party into the next election and will do so unless it becomes clear that the voters will not stand for the idea.

So I think Liberal Democrat Voice was wrong to allow itself to be wound up by Tim Montgomerie to the extent that it blogged this earlier today:
Vince Cable is an excellent Business Secretary and would make an excellent Chancellor. But he simply isn’t leadership material. “Twinkle toes” is deluding himself. He doesn’t have the charisma. Having interviewed both Clegg and Cable with other bloggers, Vince Cable is a sort of straight-laced (sic) university lecturer type. He doesn’t set the room alight, like Nick Clegg does.
Nick Clegg does not quite set the room alight for me, but that is not the most important point here.

What Lib Dem Voice is appealing to here is the idea that a leader has to be young, dynamic and, above all, charismatic.

The best leaders do have charisma as well as solidity, as Jo Grimond and Paddy Ashdown have shown Liberals in my lifetime. Conservatives would say this of Margaret Thatcher: I am genuinely unsure whom Labour activists would point to - many of them seem to dislike Tony Blair as much as I do.

But the danger is that charisma - or the belief among the leader's acolytes that their man has charisma - becomes the most important or the only factor. And maybe that has already happened.

It does not take too jaundiced a view of British politics to see Nick Clegg trying to be like David Cameron, and David Cameron trying to be like Tony Blair, and all of them trying ultimately to be like John F, Kennedy, whose victory gave birth to this silly view of political leadership.

As I said, there is unlikely to be a vacancy for leadership of the Liberal Democrats. But if there were to be, I can see Vince Cable doing a very good job.

I, for one, would welcome having a grown up in charge.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Children say the funniest things

I don't usually go in for this sort of thing. But one of the functions of Liberal England is to act as my own writer's notebook, and if you are a real writer then people are always saying strange or funny things in your hearing, Everyone loves it when Alan Bennett does it.

So here goes...

When I was in Ripon Cathedral last week a small boy said hesitantly to his mother, as if seeking confirmation:

"This is where the angels live."

And this afternoon when a group of small boys were running round Church Stretton churchyard I heard:

"If you're Jesus then I'm God."

Ed Davey to vanquish George Osborne?

Geoffrey Lean writes for the Daily Telegraph about the current row over energy subsidies - the item is down the page after some agreeably batty speculation about the meaning of sacred sites:
The Whitehall battle goes back to the mutual antagonism between the Chancellor and the combative – but now hors de combat – former energy secretary Chris Huhne. The most interesting thing is not that Mr Osborne continues to block the subsidies, but that the much more peaceable Mr Davey is standing his ground. 
It will probably need the PM to break the stalemate, but I'm told the smart money is backing Mr Davey to win. Does he have rather more steel in him than at first it might appear?
I am not familiar with the ins and outs of this issue - I remain puzzled that anyone needs a subsidy to generate energy when it is such a basic human need - but it is good to see Ed Davey emerging as a significant politician.

Perhaps he read my appeal to him to light my fire?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Into the old mines at Snailbeach

Readers of this blog will know of my fascination with the abandoned lead mines at Snailbeach in Shropshire. This afternoon, thanks to one of the volunteer guides from the Shropshire Mines Trust, I was enter into them a little way.

I once did the same thing with some of my more dashing fellow members of the Malcolm Saville Society a mile or two down the road, but don't try this at home, kids.

It is no reflection on the guide that, as a lover of the League of Gentlemen, I was reminded of this...

Judy Steel celebrated her 70th birthday with a tattoo

Not a military tattoo, you understand, but the sort with ink and needles.

A report on the Daily Mail website this evening tells us:
The wife of former Lib Dem leader Lord Steel has revealed she got a tattoo of a pink jaguar when she turned 70. 
Lady Judy Steel, 72, revealed how she treated herself to the inking two years ago to mark her milestone birthday. 
Not wanting to be convinced out of it, she quietly slipped off to a tattoo shop in Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders, where she showed the artist exactly what she wanted.
The paper says that Lady Steel's grandchildren think she is cool but that her husband's reaction, perhaps characteristically, was less generous.

You can read more about Judy Steel and her late blossoming in my Liberal Democrat News review of her memoirs Tales from the Tap End.

Chris Barber's Jazz Band: Petite Fleur

Visiting the National Rail Museum last week reminded me of this track. Originally recorded by Sidney Bechet, it was a big hit for Chris Barber in 1959.

In my student days the museum used to run slide shows about railway history, with a musical accompaniment of brass bands and jazz tunes to give a period feel. This tune, in fact this very version of it, was one of those used.

All of which makes me feel all nostalgic when I hear 'Petite Fleur'. I even think I remember if from the day I went for my interview at York - and naturally went to the museum afterwards.

The solo on this recording is played by the wonderfully named Monty Sunshine; according to his Daily Telegraph obituary he was descended from Romanian immigrants who had imaginatively anglicised the family name.

That obituary also casts interesting light on British musical history in describing why Sunshine left Chris Barber:
The break came after a tour to America in 1960: "Chris fell for the Chicago blues in a big way while we were there. He invited Muddy Waters to tour with the band, introduced an electric guitar and so on. It just wasn’t my kind of music, so we came to a parting of the ways."
One does not often think of Chris Barber in connection with Muddy Waters and the blues, but I have a magazine article at home that suggests he has never been given his rightful place in the British popular music pantheon.

That article says his only error was to keep a banjo player in the band for too long, but then The Monks showed that the banjo could have a role in the 1960s too.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Time for a man of experience?

The close of another week at Bonkers Hall. But why not visit the famous Bonkers Hall Maze this summer? (A small fee may be charged for guiding those unable to find their way out.)


Wishing to avoid those Guardian angels (they were not receptive to my idea for a maximum price for alcohol), I eschew Divine Service for once and go for a walk by the shores of Rutland Water.

Clegg’s hair-shirt tour, I surmise, is intended by the clever children in his office to make it clear whether he has a chance of appealing to voters at the next general election. What if it proves that he has no such chance? What then?

The party would need a new leader: a man of experience who could calm the country in these times of economic crisis. Perhaps a member of the Upper House would be more to the public taste?

I walk on, conscious of the burden I may be required to bear.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Petition to save Braunstone Hall

Photo: David Hallam-Jones
A reader writes to tell me of a petition urging Leicester City Council to get on with restoring and finding a new use for Braunstone Hall.

As he says:
Leicester City Council has previous on this. It took donkey's years for LCC to come up with a plan for Aylestone Hall. This is an opportunity for Peter Soulsby to match his words about maintaining the heritage of Leicester.
You can sign the petition if you live, work or study in Leicester.

Six of the Best 262

Amanda Taylor welcomes the difference that social media is making to local government: "For example, last Monday’s Cambridge South Area meeting, held in Cherry Hinton, was attended not only by the professional reporter Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News, but by three local bloggers apart from myself."

"Being a junior coalition partner is far from a bed of roses and the next general election a tough challenge for the Liberal Democrats, there is really no historical evidence from either Britain or Ireland to justify a conclusion that 'coalitions are always disastrous for the smaller party'." Eaten by Missionaries suggests the Liberal Democrats are not doomed after all.

Millennium Dome is outraged (in characteristic style) at the news that Stephen Gough, the 'naked rambler', has been locked up yet again.

"There’s a reason that we have the police. They are (largely) accountable, and they are given the monopoly on violence ... That is right and proper. Now we've started farming this out to any thick necked Jimmy with a smirk, and we’re the poorer for it." Split Pediment examines the implications of the increasing privatisation of public space.

Environmental Graffiti has a selection of images of crumbling Soviet military installations. They were taken by  Italian photographer Eric Lusito.

Another photographer is celebrated by Retronaut. Edward Linley Sambourne was chief cartoonist of Punch in the Edwardian era and the blog presents a selection of his street photography showing women's fashion in those days in Paris and London.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: When the Bird of Liberty attacked Michael Parkinson


A letter arrives asking me what my favourite moment from the moving television is. That is easy to answer.

Who could forget the Bird of Liberty attacking Michael Parkinson? I have not laughed so much since King Leopold of the Belgians died.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, July 20, 2012

Little Ouseburn Mausoluem and Walburn Hall

Twice this week I have whizzed past remarkable and unexpected buildings on the bus. Not have the OS map with me at the time, I have been obliged to pore over bus timetables, Google Maps and even Google Satellite to identify them. But I think I have managed it in both cases.

The first was on the bus journey from York to Ripon, when I saw a remarkable domed 18th century building behind an ancient church. This turned out to be the Thompson Mausoleum at Little Ouseburn, built in 1742 for Henry Thompson of Kirkby Hall.

It had fallen into decrepitude - not helped when a fully laden Wellington bomber came down in a neighbouring field during World War II - but is has been restored and is now looked after by the Friends of the Little Ouseburn Mausoleum.

Photo: Alan Murray-Rust
Then today, on the bus from Ripon to Richmond, I passed a farmhouse that looked as though it had once been something far grander. I was right.

Walburn Hall, says CastlesUK:
was originally a medieval fortified manor house, founded by the Scrope family. In the late 15th century, the Siggiswick family acquired the house and founded a fortified hall. The two courtyards, were once enclosed by a high embattled curtain wall, with a well-preserved wall walk and a simple gateway. In the inner court, are remains of a small single storey hall, with the hall porch, a two storey wing and a late 16th century eastern range in the outer court. Behind the lower cross wing, is the huge stepped stack of the detached kitchen block.
Photo: C.P. Smith

Lord Bonkers' Diary: In praise of the Ken Higgs boson


As I have recorded here before, we gave up our attempt to split the atom early here in Rutland, finding them Terribly Fiddly. However, I am enthused by talk of a new subatomic particle by the name of the ‘Higgs boson’.

For this, I surmise, must be named for the Lancashire, Leicestershire and England seamer Ken Higgs, presumably because it has a broad bottom and can reel off a string of maiden overs even when the pitch is not helpful.

It’s just a shame that one will need a powerful pair of field glasses to see it.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Thursday, July 19, 2012

GUEST POST Don’t make the dull middle class go to university

Dr Anonymous is a university lecturer on a short-term contract.

The current consensus about university admissions, although rarely put in quite these terms, is that all middle class children should have a place, plus a generous selection of the Worthy Poor. (A subsidiary assumption is that the middle class will come straight from school, while the Worthy Poor will include mature students).

Hence various attempts to score points from a drop in applications to universities this year. (No one contributing to this debate seems interested in intellectual life; all are motivated social and economic concerns.)

But would it would be a good thing if British universities were attended by far fewer middle class students?

The people best served,in social terms,by the current university system are dull/lazy/feckless middle class children, whether at state or private schools isn’t really relevant in this context. I’ll refer to them as DMC - dull middle class.

Over the last generation or more it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid going to university, and thus apply for jobs which demand a degree. (See here, based on original research here, although I'm not sure you can access it without electronic access to a university library.)

The number of university places has increased, A-level grades have become less connected to intellectual interest or ability (which is not exactly the same as becoming easier, but is rather close), expectations from parents and teachers have hardened, public debate increasingly assumes that university is a prerequisite for any sort of worthwhile adult life.In these circumstances, it is difficult for DMC students to get off the conveyor belt of educational credentials.

This is a pity, because they are also the worst served by university in intellectual terms: doing the minimum amount of work, and playing the system in various ways. (That they can get away with this is in part because of the increasingly anonymous life at ever-larger universities, but that is another topic).

As I'm a university lecturer, middle-class teenagers of my acquaintance (and their parents) sometimes ask me about their applications. If they haven’t read a book recently, don’t have any intellectual interest or can’t explain their motivation for applying, then I suggest that perhaps university isn't for them, at any rate at this stage, regardless of their splendid GCSEs and AS module results. This advice tends not to be well received - that is another reason why this post is anonymous.

But what would happen if they took my advice? What would happen if DMC pupils were discouraged from applying to university, not by one cantankerous academic, but by parents, teachers, politicians, the media, and universities themselves? Here are some possibilities:

The intellectual life of universities would improve. Lecturers would not have to waste quite so much of their time (and the time of more engaged students)instilling such basics as a work ethic, time management, general knowledge, and how to write an essay. DMC undergraduates expect far more spoon-feeding than any other sector of the student population. Less tangibly, DMC students have an insidious effect on the culture of undergraduate life. They make it more difficult for others to realise how much they should be working, that it is okay to be really interested by a course etc. (Of course there are also uninterested working class students, too, but there far, far, fewer of them, they tend spend more time in paid employment, and are more likely to live at home, so their influence on their peers is much less.)

DMC students wouldn’t be burdened by debt, which is less likely to be matched by a well-paying job as increasing numbers are churned out by the credential system.

DMCs might actually be happier not going to university. Perhaps I seem a little harsh on them. The fact that they aren't academically engaged doesn’t mean they have no worthwhile qualities. Most human qualities aren't purely intellectual, after all. But they (and their parents) are persuaded by the current system to go to university regardless of their own disposition.

Social mobility would be enhanced if it was more difficult for DMC children to go to university. Social mobility should involve the opportunity for people to move down as well as up.(Nick Clegg’s recent speech on the subject contains some good things, but he couldn’t deal with this central point.) Yet the educational system at the moment serves to limit downward mobility for the DMC. Universities shouldn’t really exist to facilitate social mobility at all, but if this is what is expected of them, then it should be pursued systematically.

It might be claimed that the economy would suffer from fewer graduates, but graduates usually get better-paid jobs because they are graduates (which in the case of DMC graduates is because they have middle class parents), rather than because of specifics learnt at university, which they could not learn elsewhere. (Randall Collins' book Credential Society is very good on this.)

Of course, the idea of discouraging DMC students violates far too many financial, political, and institutional assumptions to be a credible policy suggestion at this stage. But perhaps it is a worthwhile aspiration?
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The George Formby Grill


Experienced Liberal activists will need no introduction to my many inventions – I think particularly of the steam-powered shuttleworth press and the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards). So they will not be surprised that I am enthused by the Dragons’ Den programme on the moving television.

After pondering which of my new ideas to set before them, I have lit upon the ‘George Formby Grill’. This will cook meat in the modern healthy way while playing comic songs with a ukulele accompaniment – the standard model will include ‘Leaning on a Lamppost,’ ‘My Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt’ and ‘Mr Huhne’s a Window Cleaner Now’. My suggested slogan is “The George Formby Grill – So your meat turns out nice every time.”

Should any reader wish to invest in the produce himself or, indeed, herself – thus saving me the trouble of making up for the television lights – a letter sent c/o the Whips Office in the Lords will, of course, find me.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

York in the early 1960s

Marc Ramsbottom chosen to fight Manchester Central by-election

According to the Manchester Evening News (which should know), Marc Ramsbottom, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats on Manchester council, has been selected as the party's candidate in the Manchester Central by-election. Marc lost his council seat in May's elections.

That contest is taking place because the sitting Labour MP Tony Lloyd is standing down from the Commons to stand for election as Greater Manchester's first police and crime commissioner. It is expected that the by-election will take place on the same date as that contest: November 15

Marc Ramsbottom's Labour opponent will be Lucy Powell. Like Jon Ashworth, who was Labour's candidate in the Leicester South by-election last year, she is an aide to Ed Miliband.

Interestingly, the Manchester Evening News says the Liberal Democrats are describing the contest as a 'two horse race' - a striking figure of speech.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Clegg’s ‘Hair-Shirt’ Tour


I have been busy in recent weeks organising an important event here in the East Midlands. I do not refer, let me hasten to add, to the visit of the ‘Olympic Torch’: for that piece of tomfoolery was devised by the beastly Albert Speer for the Berlin Games of 1936 and I shall have no part in it. So much so that, when it passed through Rutland, I stationed gamekeepers at every entrance to the Bonkers Hall Estate with soda siphons and strict orders to extinguish it should it show its face.

No, I am talking about my role as the regional co-ordinator of Nick Clegg’s ‘Hair-Shirt’ Tour. The newspapers say that this has been designed by “battle-hardened strategists” in his office, but that was not my experience. I was telephoned by a 12-year-old with a cut-glass accent and, he claimed, a first in PPE from Oxford.

“We want Nick to meet all the people he has upset,” the child piped.

“How long have you set aside for this?” I returned. “It could take rather a long time.”

Nevertheless, I set to with a will and have put together what may fairly be described as an impressive programme of meetings.

Nick will first be taken to the University of Rutland at Belvoir, where the students remain rather cut up about his breaking that pledge he made on tuition fees. I would not worry too much about its famed Department of Hard Sums if I were him – those fellows tend to have thick glasses and their minds on higher things – but the chaps from the Department of Cryptozoology can cut up rough when the mood takes them. Not only that: they have an impressive menagerie to hand if they choose to deploy it: gryphons, dragons, cockatrice – you know the sort of thing.

Then it is on to Melton Mowbray to meet a delegation of disgruntled pork pie makers – those things can be surprisingly painful if they catch you just under the rib cage. After that, Nick will be entertained by unemployed Stilton miners. The tour will close with a meeting with civil liberties campaigners aghast at the government’s plans to snoop on all our conversations by telephone and electric internet. “I expect you know already,” I said when writing to Nick to confirm arrangements.

After that little lot, I image Nick will be in need of a stiff measure of Auld Johnston (that most prized of Highland malts) and a little rest and recuperation, so I have included a boat trip on Rutland Water in the programme of events. What Nick does not know, however, is that I have told Ruttie that I recently heard him making disobliging comments about plesiosaurs – that should certainly enable him to “welcome the hatred”!

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Write a guest post for Liberal England - please!

Look. I am on holiday and I want to keep this blog going. So how about you share the burden a little and write me a guest post?

I am chiefly interested in political posts, but as you can see from the list of 28 guests below, this blog has a wide range of interests.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

  • In praise of slow government - Simon Beard
  • Children and the surveillance state: Will the Coalition keep its word? - Terri Dowty
  • Standards matter in higher education, not just participation rates - Anonymous
  • A Woking class hero is something to be - Lisa Harding
  • The campaign for a Robin Hood Tax - Ian Sullivan
  • The limits of the Big Society - Martin Veart
  • Can hyperlocal news sites be the future of journalism? - Niall Sullivan
  • How Edward Stourton misunderstood The Orange Book - Simon Titley
  • Why I caged my son: The Love Outdoor Play campaign - Daniel Raven-Ellison
  • Against the Comment is Free view of politics - Jonathan King
  • A beginner's guide to anarchism - Ruth Kinna
  • The other side of suicide - Elinor O'Neill
  • AV, politicians and the wasted vote - Chris Slowe
  • Creative Perambulations: Marking the boundaries of Sherwood Forest - Dave Wood
  • Towards a Liberal Democrat ideology - Simon Beard
  • The community shops movement - Mike Perry
  • Why the Liberal Democrats should support co-operatives - Peter Arnold
  • Grandparents or adoption: Who would you choose? - Peter Hulme
  • Arts Fresco, Market Harborough, 9-11 September 2011 - Hazel Cook
  • Richard Jefferies and Coate: A centenary celebration - Rebecca Welshman
  • "A modest county": Pevsner in Leicestershire - Susie Harries
  • Anthony Burgess in Leicester - Phil Beesley
  • Why you should visit The Bog - Paul Davis
  • Blogging for happiness - Ellen Arnison
  • An economic liberal case for a consumer-driven economy - Matt Burrows
  • John Locke and Wrington - Lisa Harding
  • Spelling out the reason to vote Liberal Democrat - Andrew Brown
  • Tommie Smith - The man behind the image - Matt Roebuck
  • Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Farewell to York

    I have left York with a rucksack full of interesting snippets to share with you as the nights draw in. It remains a stunning city, though I chose not to pay £9 to enter the Minster or join the people queueing in the rain outside Betty's.

    You now find me in Ripon - cathedrals are best seen by dusk.

    The Bird of Liberty has turned blue overnight

    An email reaches me from Andrew Wiseman. It tells of "an exciting and diverse agenda for our week in Brighton".

    That is good to hear, but I am struck at once by the illustration. What have they done to Libby? She has turned blue overnight.

    I am struggling to see how this helps in our efforts to differentiate ourselves from the Conservatives in the eyes of the voters.

    A 14-year-old from Nick Clegg's office replies: It's not blue, it's aqua. So there.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Reverend Hughes and the angels


    I call in at St Asquith’s and find the Revd Hughes listening to two chaps with wings.

    “Isn’t it terrible about Nicaragua and I feel so sorry for social workers. I blame the coalition,” says one.

    “I am looking forward to seeing that new film with the dialogue in Ancient Manx. I think films like that should be subsidised. Did you read Polly Toynbee this morning?”

    “Who were they?” I asked the Revd Hughes after they have gone. “Guardian angels,” he explains.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Hunting for the York Community Bookshop

    Once I had worked out that my time as a student in York neatly marks the halfway point between the present day and World War II, I decided that there was not a lot of point in continually exclaiming over how much things have changed.

    Mind you, they have changed and probably far more than I realise. Take a look at this 1980 photograph of Fossgate, a street that formed part of my walk from the university campus into the city. It seemed perfectly modern to me then, but now looks remarkably old fashioned.

    In those days York had two significant independent bookshops: Godfrey's in Stonegate and Pickering's in The Shambles (with its invaluable box of pamphlets devoted to obscure chess opening variations). Both have gone and these days I am not sure even of which buildings they used to occupy.

    Before you get to Fossgate on my old walk there is Walmgate, and I have found myself going back there both yesterday and today. Partly it is just for old times' sake, but it is a fascinating area in its own right.

    It reminds me very much of the southern side of King's Lynn, which I visited three summers ago. Both areas were prosperous suburbs in Medieval times, had declined by the 19th century and have been the site of quite recent slum clearance and redevelopment. The result in both cases is that you find yourself going down streets of 1960s blocks to find hidden Medieval gems.

    There was a bookshop in Walmgate too when I was a student. The York Community Bookshop, very much a child of its era, stocked a wide variety of socialist and radical literature. In fact, its success probably owed far mote to patronage by students from the university than it did to the local community.

    Walking down Walmgate yesterday I was at a loss to remember where it had been. But York Stories came to my rescue last night, telling me that the York Community Bookshop was at 73 Walmgate.

    I went back there today and found the premises to be occupied by a long-established dressmaker called Thimbelina. Perhaps is some sort of metaphor for the state of political disengagement we now live in, but if I stare and that shop window hard enough faint memories of its radical past begin to stir in me.

    Six of the Best 261

    The Potter Blogger attended the Social Liberal Forum's second annual conference in London on Saturday.

    "I was walking down a street near my home when I heard sirens. No surprise in that. A police car raced past. No surprise in that. It was followed by a people mover, with darkened windows. Its sliding door was open and paramilitary-attired officers were pointing out sub-machine guns at passers by. I have witnessed such scenes in the various authoritarian countries I have worked in. But this was central London in 2012." The price of our safety shouldn't be our freedom, says John Kampfner in the Independent.

    Transparency Books claims to have the dope on the dark side of the Olympics.

    "I've visited the site perhaps four times and it has a strange power for me. It is not hard to imagine myself there on 14 June 1645. Other things to attract visitors? A short way to the north over the Leicestershire border is picturesque Market Harborough." Siba The Hat visits Naseby, site of the decisive battle of the English Civil War.
    Dory's World is equally taken with Dungeness: "It is like a post-apocalyptic landscape, a graveyard for old boats and sheds. It is completely amazing and I want to live there."
    The Hobbit was published in the Soviet Union, complete with some striking illustrations, reports Retronaut.

    Websites to help you explore York

    I have spent another day exploring York - or rather exploring my memories of York, which is a very different thing.

    In this exercise I have found two websites invaluable:
    • York Stories - "In search of the real York from a resident's point of view"
    • Imagine York - "Created to showcase photographs of York held by City of York Libraries and the City Archives"

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: When banks Go Too Far

    The new issue of Liberator is with subscribers, so it is time to spend another week in the company of Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.


    If I were asked to put my finger upon the point at which the Bank of Rutland showed it had got too big for its boots, I should say it was when it started demanding an annual tribute of seven youths and seven maidens from its customers. We had become used to the inflated salaries it paid its directors and its sniffy attitude if the dividend on a chap’s Rutland Oil shares was late in arriving, but it was generally agreed that this last step was Going Too Far.

    I therefore welcome this new climate in which the practices of banks are being questioned – as far as I am concerned, the more inquiries that are held the better. Thank goodness we have a Sound fellow serving as Business Secretary! I blush to recall that we used to call him ‘Low-Voltage’ Cable. No one would call him that today.

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

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    The Richard III Museum, York

    Having written about the possibility of an archaeological dig in the centre of Leicester to find the bones of Richard III, I was keen to visit the Richard III Museum here in York.

    It is to be found above Monk Bar, one of the gates in the city wall, and turns out to be delightfully home made.

    The exhibition devotes quite a lot of space to the idea that the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard lost his crown and his life, really took place at Atherstone in Warwickshire.

    Recent investigations suggest that it was fought a mile or so away from the traditional site, but that it still took place firmly in Leicestershire. Of course.