Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blues Council: What Will I Do

The Blues Council were reckoned to be one of the best Scottish bands of their era, but they released only one single. This track is the B-side of Baby Don't Look Down.

This short career came about because in 1965 their van crashed while they were touring and their bass player and singer both died.

The bass player was James Giffen and the singer was Fraser Calder. He is no relation as far as I know, but I thought he should be remembered on this blog.

In 1972, when a member of Stone the Crows, the Blues Council's guitarist Les Harvey died on stage at the Top Rank Suite, Swansea, when he was electrocuted by a faulty microphone.

The Blues Council's drummer Henry Wright is still with us and has contributed to a website on the band's history and that era in Scottish music.

Two Deltics passing through Crewe

Let's hear it for D9009 'Alycdion' and 55019 'Royal Highland Fusilier'.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Six of the Best 476

The Liberal Democrats need more passion and less PowerPoint, says King in Kilburn.

"Scientific accolades don't get much bigger. Percy Bridgman, an American physicist active during the first half of the 20th century, has just had one-third of the planet named after him, although it's a chunk of Earth that we will probably never see." The New Scientist explains.

Ladybird Books were full of stereotyping, for they were not branded for boys or girls until the last few years, shows Old Ladybird Books (from whom I have borrowed this image).

"Once we were in for a vote and crossed paths going to the two division lobbies, she to the “content” lobby and I to the “not content” – and we kissed in the chamber, which caused some concern and amazement." Ruth Rendell pays tribute to P.D. James.

Brain Pickings brings us a "candid, soulful, and profound" 1995 interview with Jeff Buckley.

Jonathan Fryer wishes he could watch Paddington twice.

School playground evacuated over 'unusually aggressive' grey squirrel

The Independent wins Headline of the Day.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Marcus Aurelius the Stoic comedian

More about Stoicism from All in the Mind.

Stewart Lee on the ironies of Endemol

From a New Statesman interview with the comedian by Rob Pollard:
Jimmy Carr very kindly got me on 8 Out Of 10 Cats once and they were all making fun of Big Brother, and I said something like: "Isn't it funny how this programme and Big Brother are both made by the same company, Endemol". And it was as if Endemol creates a product which it knows is ridiculous and exploitative, but it also creates a programme which satirises it and it makes money out of both of them. 
And the people in the audience, started booing – I don’t know why – and then Jimmy Carr said to me: "I can honestly say of everything that’s ever been said on this programme, that’s the least likely to make the edit." 
I sort of thought it was funny; I wasn't trying to be obstructive. I just thought it was funny how people can sit there and not realise the irony of that.

More on Simon Danczuk and Sir Edward Garnier

Yesterday I blogged about Simon Danczuk's naming of Sir Edward Garnier as the former minister who warned him against mentioning the name of Leon Brittan to the Commons home affairs select committee.

In the course of an angry response to the Leicester Mercury, Sir Edward appears to have confirmed the truth of what Simon Danczuk said:
Sir Edward, one of the country’s leading defamation lawyers, and former solicitor general, told the Mercury: "Simon Danczuk’s remarks are beneath contempt as he ought to know. 
"He describes an encounter. It was a conversation. I spoke to him and he knows why. 
"Anyone who thinks my attitude on paedophilia is lukewarm is very much mistaken. 
"Simon Danczuk's values are all wrong. Taking lumps out of me doesn’t advance the interests of the victims."
Sir Edward said he defended Lord McAlpine when he was falsely accused of child abuse and he said he had prosecuted paedophiles. 
Sir Edward said he spoke to Mr Danczuk because he is a friend of Lord Brittan’s wife who was concerned about her husband's ill health at the time. 
Sir Edward said she had fears over the impact of the Rochdale MP naming her husband in the select committee meeting.

Ukip gains seat from the SDP

This result from a local by-election yesterday sounds impossible. It is explained by the fact that the SDP lingered on in Bridlington long after the party had officially expired.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
But then there was a Whig councillor elsewhere in Yorkshire until recently.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shell shock: The First World War and the origins of psychological medicine

I heard this fascinating talk in the course of my day job last month.

Briggate Mill, the Kray twins and Norman Lamb

© Evelyn Simak
If you watched the video about the North Walsham & Dilham Canal I posted the other day, you will have been surprised to come across a reference to the Kray twins.

This was because Briggate Mill once stood beside and relied upon the canal, though it predated it. And in 1975 the disused mill burnt down.

As a result Geoffrey Allen, described as an associate of the Krays, received a seven-year sentence for insurance fraud.

The mill ruins (the photo above shows the derelict wheelhouse, which I believe still stands) were eventually demolished in 2012 after all attempts to find who the legal owner was failed.

Aided by Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, the locals tried to have the land around the mill given the status of a village green.

That attempt failed, but I don't know what has happened to the site.

Simon Danczuk and Sir Edward Garnier

Back in July, after Simon Danczuk (the Labour MP for Rochdale who exposed Cyril Smith) appeared before the Commons home affairs select committee.

The following week a mysterious report appeared in the Telegraph:
A campaigning MP was warned not to challenge Lord Brittan, the former Home Secretary, about what he knew about an alleged Westminster paedophile ring and was told he could be responsible for the Conservative peer’s death. 
Simon Danczuk said a Conservative minister stepped in to warn him not to name Lord Brittan in a Parliamentary committee last week. 
Mr Danczuk said that members of the Home Affairs select committee received similar phone calls ahead of his appearance on Tuesday.
Today a sparsely attended backbench debate on historical child sex abuse was held in the House of Commons and it may have provided a solution to this mystery.

In the course of his speech in the debate, Danczuk said:
Earlier this year, I told the Home Affairs Committee that a dossier containing allegations about child abuse by politicians had been handed by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan. That revelation helped lead to the Wanless and Whittam review and to the establishment of the overarching inquiry, but not everybody was pleased with the idea that I might challenge Lord Brittan. 
The night before my appearance before the Committee, I had an encounter with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). After the 10pm vote, he drew me to one side outside the Chamber and warned me to think very carefully about what I was going to say the following day. He told me that challenging Lord Brittan on child abuse would not be a wise move and that I might even be responsible for his death, as he was unwell. 
I understand that people are cautious about naming parliamentarians, but I think that people who might know about child abuse allegations should answer questions, whatever their position. We should not shy away from that.
Sir Edward Garnier (despite my best efforts) has been my MP here in Market Harborough since 1992.

Later. Sir Edward Garnier has replied via the Leicester Mercury.

Steve Webb is the Spectator's Minister of the Year

The Spectator’s 27th Parliamentarian of the Year awards were given out at the Savoy Hotel this afternoon.

There was a Liberal Democrat victor in the shape of Steve Webb, who won Minister of the Year. Congratulations.

In his speech Fraser Nelson said:
"He has many admirers in Westminster, but his party leader isn't one of them. Back in the days where the Lib Dems polled in double digits, Nick Clegg was overheard saying the following of our winner: 'He's a problem. We need someone with good ideas – and his just don’t add up."
"As it turns out, his ideas did add up: flat-rate State Pension, the triple-lock, auto-enrolment. All complex and far-reaching pensions reforms. As a result, Brits have more options than ever when they're 64. The Chancellor may have stolen the credit for all this but today, we’re stealing it back."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Norfolk Uncovered: The North Walsham & Dilham Canal

More on the history of this canal and the hopes for its restoration on the North Walsham & Dilham Canal Trust site.

Oadby event on Commonwealth contribution to the First World War

An event is being held on Sunday 30 November (1.30pm) at Oadby Community Centre, Sandhurst Street, Oadby, Leicestershire LE2 5AR to commemorate the role played by Commonwealth soldiers in the First World War.

It will include an exhibition containing a series of photographs and other memorabilia, and the speakers will include historians Jahan Mahmood and Nigel Atter.

This is a free event and all are welcome. Further details from Zuffar Haq.

Happy Shelagh Delaney Day

Today is the first ever Shelagh Delaney Day,

That BBC report reveals that Morrisey's lyrics owe more to her play A Taste of Honey than I had realised.

The lines "I dreamt about you last night/and I fell out of bed twice" in Reel Around the Fountain come from it, but the report lists several other borrowings.

I posted a terrific profile of the writer from 1960  - Shelagh Delaney's Salford - back in July, so here is a clip from the film of A Taste of Honey with Dora Bryan, Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin.

Vladimir Putin’s tiger blamed for Chinese goat deaths

The Guardian wins Headline of the Day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New DVD: Jake Thackray and Songs

Thanks to The Jake Thackray Project for the information below.

The Jake Thackray Project is delighted to announce the release of the DVD Jake Thackray and Songs, by arrangement with BBC Music.

Yorkshire-born Jake Thackray (1938-2002) was a unique talent, a brilliant writer and performer
whose songs are full of humour, wit, irreverence and humanity. He became known to tens of millions through his regular performances in the 1960s and 1970s on programmes such as 'Braden's Week', 'The Beryl Reid Show' and 'That's Life'. His distinctive appearance, deadpan delivery, clever wordplay, occasional, artful use of vulgarity and surreal imagination delighted many viewers and outraged some.

Jake is most famous for his comedy songs, such as Bantam Cock (a fowl tale of farmyard lust), Sister Josephine (about a burglar disguised as a nun) and Lah-di-Dah (about marriage and putting up with the in-laws). However, there was much more to the man than clever, surreal comic storytelling: in truth, he was a chansonnier, a singer-poet, in the tradition of his hero, Georges Brassens. He had his own unique take on the world, standing squarely on the side of the underdog, and was capable of writing songs of wit and real depth. 'The Remembrance' is surely one of the greatest ever anti-war songs, whilst 'The Bull' is a song for our times - a hilarious, vulgar attack on authority, hierarchies, deference and celebrity culture.

In 1981 the BBC gave Jake his own six-part TV series, Jake Thackray and Songs. Jake was a brilliant, if nervous, live performer who built a superb rapport with audiences. The programmes capture Jake at the height of his powers and paint an intimate portrait of him, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable. They feature performances of thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling.

'Jake Thackray and Songs' marked a peak for Jake. Following this and the accompanying live album (his last and, sadly, not currently available), he continued to be a popular live performer, but his television appearances became less frequent. It is wonderful, therefore, that Jake's performances from this series at last have seen the light of day again, and we can watch this brilliant and truly original performer at work, taking chances on a stage, in front of the punters, with 'no frig', as Jake would put it.

This is the only DVD available of Jake performing. It also includes previously unreleased performances by three of the outstanding guest artists who appeared in the series: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott.

Lembit Opik fails to beat the Liberal Democrats

Lembit Opik was in Rochester and Strood as "media adviser" to fringe candidate Charlotte Rose.

“Charlotte calls herself a ‘sexual therapist’," Lembit told BuzzFeed News, "because it’s less loaded but, yes, she is essentially a sex worker. But she does it in a way which is absolutely open and honest, and I’d say her profession and the way she does it is more honest than a lot of politicians,"

How did Lembit and his candidate get on? Over to Andy McSmith:
In 2010, the Lib Dems lost Montgomeryshire, a seat which they or the Liberals had held for 96 of the previous 110 years. Lembit Opik, the Lib Dem MP who pulled off this rare defeat, has been consistent ever since, in that everything he has tried has turned to disaster. 
His latest in an unbroken run was to act as “media adviser” to Charlotte Rose, the sex worker who contested the Rochester by-election. The target was for Ms Rose to beat the 56 votes she harvested in the Clacton by-election. With Opik’s help, she scored 43.
That's right. He couldn't even beat the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg declares war on Islington

On Call Clegg today, reports the Daily Telegraph, the Liberal Democrat leader waded in to the controversy over Emily Thornberry and her photograph:
“I just think it was a drippingly patronising thing to do by Emily Thornberry. 
“Maybe that’s what happens if you become MP for Islington. 
“I just thought it was a jaw-droppingly condescending way of treating someone who just proudly hanging some flags outside their home.”
A bit over the top, you may think. Nick, after all, chooses to live in the edgy urban jungle that is Putney.

His remarks certainly surprised Terry Stacy, who will be standing against Thornberry in her Islington South and Finsbury next year. He told the Huffington Post:
"I don't know what is behind that comment," he told The Huffington Post. "I have no idea where he was coming from. It may have been a slide-by comment, I am a bit surprised." 
Stacy, who was leader of Islington council between 2008 and 2010, insisted that, unlike Thornberry, he was in touch with the seat's poorer constituents. 
"You can't get more working class than me," he said. "I still live in social housing. I was probably the only council leader that did live in social housing in Islington over last 30-years."
It used to be Hampstead that was known for being the home of rich socialists, but at some point that doubtful honour was passed to Islington.

It is a silly stereotype - I have been guilty of relying upon it myself in at least one column - because much of Islington is not like that at all.

The Huffington Post reminds us that the borough has child poverty rates higher than anywhere else in the country.

I don't suppose Nick comments were based on deep political calculation, but they can be seen as a reflection of the fact that Islington South is a seat that we had real hopes of winning in 2010 and have no hope of winning in 2015.

If this bias against Islington, justified or not, has any long-term effect it is likely to be in scuppering Margaret Hodge's chances of being Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

So there is something to be said for being unfair about Islington.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Palace of Westminster is falling down

This week's Newsnight report on the £3bn repair bill facing Westminster.

Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe

Choosing another track in August, I wrote:
The genius of Blow-Up is that, though the mystery remains unsolved, you feel that if you watch the film just once more you will crack it. The Draughtsman's Contract has the same quality.
And Ode to Billie Joe has the same quality. Listen to it once more and you are sure you will understand what is going on.

Wikipedia claims it know the reason for the mystery:
The original recording, with no other musicians backing Gentry's guitar, had eleven verses lasting seven minutes, telling more of Billie Joe's story. The executives realized that this song was a better option for a single, so they cut the length by almost half and re-recorded it with a string orchestra. The shorter version left more of the story to the listener's imagination, and made the single more suitable for radio airplay.
However, I can find no authoritative source for this claim and the lost verses seem never to have emerged. All of which makes the song even more mysterious.

Bobbie Gentry was 23 when this song, which she wrote, reached no. 1 in America and no. 13 in the UK. This video shows her singing it for the BBC the following year.

I remember it from those days and would still like to solve the mystery.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's Christmas attraction closes: Children leave in tears as Father Christmas is caught smoking and drinking

Thanks to the Independent, we have our Headline of the Day.

Six of the Best 475

"Using a language that is jargon-filled, complex and often baffling, those in charge of our economies have made some catastrophic decisions that only a few individuals really understood." The School of Life draws on John Lanchester's new book to help us 'speak money'.

Jim Armitage reveals how foreign governments make hundreds of millions of pounds a year running British public services.

Does Interstellar owe a debt to the brilliant 1961 British sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Caught Fire? Mark Kermode thinks it does.

The Bradshaw's Guide Michael Portillo brandishes on his travels is not the one that was famous in the 19th century. Turner Railway History explains.

"How do you save a game that demands hours when many people only want to give minutes, that only reveals its secrets slowly when everybody wants instant gratification?" David Hopps on the crisis in recreational cricket in England and Wales.

Caitlin Green discovers a sorcerer's stronghold in Nottinghamshire.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Liberal Democrats deliver Welsh control of rail services

ITV News quotes Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, on today's decision to hand control of the Wales and borders rail franchise to the Welsh Government:
"Today's announcement is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office. 
"Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves. 
"The Welsh Government have less than four years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How we made Keep on Running

The Guardian's How We Made series turned on the Spencer Davis Group 1965 number one Keep on Running earlier this week, interviewing Spencer Davis and Pete York.

Spencer Davis recalls:
The first radio stations to play it were the black ones in America, because we sounded black. When they saw pictures of four little white boys, they dropped us from their playlists, but by then the song had taken off.
Thanks to Catalina Island Museum for the photograph of the Spencer Davis Group, which I believe comes from Spencer Davis's own collection. He lives on the island, which lies off the coast of California,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Matthew Sweet at the University of Leicester

I have just got back from hearing Matthew Sweet lecture at the University of Leicester.

His Centre for Victorian Studies Annual Lecture The Victorian World: Prison to Playground - complete with clips from Doctor Who and Penny Dreadful - looked at our changing view of the 19th century.

We are moving from the view exemplified in Viz's occasional strip Victorian Dad to something more nuanced and playful. But both views tell us more about ourselves than they do about the Victorians.

Afterwards I talked to Matthew about William Hartnell, forgotten child stars and Dirk Bogarde.

I also met Professor Keith Snell, who supervised my dissertation on Richard Jefferies many years ago, and (gulp) the granddaughter of one of the Conservative councillors I was on Harborough District with.

The most unexpected thing about the evening was that, during his lecture, Matthew mentioned one of this blog's other heroes: J.W. Logan MP.

As he wrote in the Guardian this summer:
In August 1895 the MP for Leicester launched a campaign against the "grossly demoralising and corrupting character" of the penny dreadful. By a sweet coincidence, his name was John Logan.
The coincidence is that the television series Penny Dreadful was created by another John Logan.

In fact my John Logan was MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and between 1910 and 1916, but it must be him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simon Hughes on the Tory and Labour arms race on prisons

Speaking to a CentreForum and Prison Reform Trust event today Simon Hughes said:
The sad reality is that the political consensus needed for real reform remains the victim of an arms race between the two largest parties on who can sound toughest on law and order. 
Michael Howard’s 1993 declaration that ‘prison works’, contrary to all the evidence in so many cases of course, became an ideology which was then enthusiastically embraced by Labour Home and Justice Secretaries including Jack Straw, David Blunkett and John Reid. 
That misguided consensus has been directly responsible for a near doubling of the prison population: from about 44,000 in the early 1990s to the 84,656 people in prison at the end of last week.
You can read the whole speech on Simon's own website.

Six of the Best 474

Gareth Epps celebrates victory over the pubcos: "Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it possible to win this vote against a Government whip, although reports that half the 56 Liberal Democrat MPs voted for a Fair Deal are equally wonderful."

Yvette Cooper’s speech on immigration means that left and right have reached an illiberal consensus, says Nick Tyrone.

Tim Wigmore, on the New Statesman's The Staggers blog, asks what the point of police and crime commissioners is.

British politics is becoming more European, but that may not be a good thing, argues Ian Traynor in the Observer.

"Archers fans do not want daily death and destruction, we do not want drama at every turn and we certainly don’t want shocking out of our loyalty. We listen because the cast is wonderful, the storylines are believable and entertaining and we’re not left feeling slightly grubby for enjoying it." Biff Raven-Hill fears an institution may be in danger.

Paul Nettleton reviews a new biography of Stevie Nicks.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Norman Baker rocks bus and coach industry awards night

Route One, the bus and coach industry magazine, gave out its annual awards at a gala dinner in Birmingham on 5 November.

The entertainment was provided by the comedian Tim Vine and by the former transport Norman Baker and his band The Reform Club.

Hurry over to the Route One website to hear them sing their single Piccadilly Circus.

Thanks to a reader for the link.

Arc Of A Diver: The Steve Winwood Story

I know, I know.

But this BBC profile from 2004 has some nice interviews - with Muff Winwood and Van Morrison among others - that I have not heard before.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An otter in the Welland at Market Harborough today

They're back! Or at least one of them is.

Thanks to @solarpilchard on Twitter.

Free seed kits from Grow Wild

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund and led by Kew Gardens, Grow Wild, says its website, is an exciting four-year programme that will bring people together to sow UK native wild flowers.

Grow Wild believes that together we can transform and bring colour to where we live: turning unloved spaces into wildlife-friendly wild flower havens.

It has thousands of free seed kits to share so people can transform their local spaces into beautiful, inspiring and colourful wild flower havens.

Thanks to a tweet from Ludlow's Andy Boddington.

The Wailers: Concrete Jungle

When Bob Marley first toured Britain in 1973 he did not get separate billing. The band did not become Bob Marley and the Wailers until the following year when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left because they did not want to tour.

This song, which turns up regularly on BBC compilation shows, is part of a set recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test in the middle of that Catch a Fire tour. Maybe it shows Marley and his very best.

And there is a random clip of Stanley Unwin at the start too.

Now read about Bob Marley's father.

Friday, November 14, 2014

George Watson remembered

I suggested in yesterday's post on George Watson that his death may have gone unnoticed, but it seems that was not the case.

There were obituaries in Times Higher Education, on the St John's College, Cambridge, website and (though it is no longer easily available) The Times.

And the journalist and former England cricketer Ed Smith devoted an article to him in the New Statesman. This showed him as an academic as well as a politician:
During the upheavals within English studies in the 1970s and 1980s, he was among the first and most strident opponents of deconstruction. He also charted, with mischievous delight, the migration of ex-Marxists towards new creeds that helped them to avoid dealing with awkward wrong turns in their pasts. 
“There is one important respect in which politics is more honest than academe,” he wrote in 2005. “In politics, when you are shown to be wrong, you have to change your mind to survive. Professors are unfortunately under no such compulsion . . . Ex-Marxists took refuge in subjectivism: no perception is false, all values are merely personal. It turned out to be a cosy place for the disillusioned.”
Many thanks to the excellent Backwatersman for sending me the link to this piece.

Thanks also to my Liberator colleague Stewart Rayment for telling me that George Watson stood as the Liberal candidate for the Leicester constituency in the 1979 elections to the European parliament.

I voted in York in that election, so I missed the chance to vote for him.

Six of the Best 473

Birkdale Focus says that foisting mayors on Northern cities is a disgrace.

At the end of October the Liberal Democrats won a significant council by-election in York. On the ALDC site Steve Galloway (who was the city's leading Liberal when I was a student there) tells us how it was done.

Is your MP a potential defector? Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell and his handy six-point guide will help you judge.

As Easy As Riding a Bike on the debate over cycle helmets.

David Rudkin's 1974 television play Penda's Fen is "an unforgettable hybrid of horror story, rites-of‑passage spiritual quest and vision of an alternative England," says Sukhdev Sandhu on the Guardian website.

The Crimson Rambler has a short "film" of the 2014 cricket season.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In the supersonic, scientific, psychedelic seventies...

Those words must come from another Cadbury's commercial in this series, but I can still remember when they seemed scarily modern.

The Imitation Game, Hugh Alexander and Jack Good

David Boyle blogs about The Imitation Game, the new film about Alan Turing that stars Benedict Cumberbatch.

Looking at the IMDB entry for the film, I am drawn less to the names of the actors than to the names of the real figures they are playing.

Harry Golombek, who mentioned Turing to me when I met him 30 years ago (in the days before everyone had of Turing), does not feature, but two of his fellow chess players who were at Bletchley Park do.

One of the leading characters is Hugh Alexander. I once quoted an article about him by Dominic Lawson.

Following a short spell in civvy street after the war, Alexander became head of cryptanalysis at GCHQ. He was also Britain's top chess player for much of the period between 1933 and 1958, all but held his own against Soviet grandmasters and would have done even better
were it not for the fact that Britain would not allow Alexander to play either behind or even anywhere near the Iron Curtain, so valuable did they believe the contents of his brains would be to our Cold War foes.
And you will also see I.J. "Jack" Good, a strong player who emigrated to America.

I remember preparing a letter from him, containing deep analysis of Andressen's Immortal Game, for publication during my first post-university job with Chess of Sutton Coldfield.

But enough about me. Here is the trailer for the film...

George Grimes Watson 1927-2013

[Later. More on George Watson here.]

I learn from Mark Pack that the Liberal Party thinker George Watson died last year. I am sorry that I missed his death at the time

Watson was part of the party's intellectual renaissance under Jo Grimond. Mark links to a tribute by Julian Huppert:
“George Grimes Watson was a great thinker, an English don and a life-long liberal. 
“He stood for Parliament in 1959 in Cheltenham, unsuccessfully, and then became a Fellow at St John’s College Cambridge, where he became a noted scholar in literature, literary criticism and liberal political thought, including being a key member of the unservile state group, rethinking liberalism and welfare. 
“His 1959 campaign literature shows how little has changed, with one section saying 'Liberals made them get rid of identity-cards – but the State Still has far too much power in our lives’, ‘The Home Secretary thinks the police ought to tap private phone-calls’ and 'We need the European Common Market – Tory policy closes the door of Europe in our faces.' 
“He was a deep thinker and a great liberal, and is much missed.”
As Julian's tribute was posted today, I fear I may not be the only person to have missed George Watson's death.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Watson was taught by C.S. Lewis and went on to teach Douglas Adams himself.

I have read Watson's The English Ideology, which was subtitled "Studies in the Language of Victorian Politics".

As I recall, it is more interesting than that may make it sound, Watson argues that the English ideology is representative government and that the writers who described and championed it, such as Disraeli and Trollope, deserve more attention than its flashier critics such as Ruskin and Carlyle.

The reason for Mark's post today is that the Electoral Commission’s table of party donations for the third quarter of 2014 reveals that George Watson left almost a million pounds to the Liberal Democrats in his will.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I hope we spend it wisely.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Historical child abuse inquiry meets Inspector Morse

This report from the Independent suggests the inquiry into historical child abuse is turning into an episode of Inspector Morse or Lewis or something like that:
Scotland Yard is carrying out a search of the Barbara Castle archives at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library to try and locate a copy of the ‘Dickens Dossier’, the missing file containing allegations of organised child abuse by politicians and other prominent figures. 
The Met is working in conjunction with archivists at the library to sift through more than 850 boxes of documents relating to the life and career of the former Labour cabinet minister and MP for Blackburn, ranging from the 1930s, when she was first elected as a London councillor, until her death in 2002. 
A source close to the investigation told the Independent that “preliminary searches” had already been carried out but that it would take several weeks to complete the search of the archives.

Your chance to own an enamelled sign from Northampton Greyfriars bus station

Suddenly it is fashionable to admire architecture from the 1970s, and I find my own taste being educated in that direction.

But I still find it hard to mourn the Greyfriars bus station in Northampton. This was a building that killed two people: they were run down by buses as they avoided the dreadful underpasses you were meant to use to reach it.

So maybe the best way to remember the old place is that suggested by a study of the Northants Herald & Post:
A collection of 42 enamelled signs from the Greyfrairs Bus Station in Northampton are set to go on sale at a Northamptonshire auction house. 
The signs will be sold in pairs on Wedensday, November 19 at a prices of £30-£40 per pair at JP Humbert Auctioneers in Towcester.
You can see a few of the signs in my photo above, which I like to think captures the atmosphere of the old place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Who at Granby Halls, Leicester

One of the great bands of the era, photographed in March 1967.

Built as the training halls for Leicester's Army recruits during World War I, Granby Halls is no longer standing.

I do not know if that is entirely The Who's fault.

Investigation after man strips naked on a train at Church Stretton

Once again Headline of the Day goes to the Shropshire Star.

David Cameron's foolish reaction to the Wanless Review

Peter Wanless review of the missing Home Office documentation on child abuse, as quoted by the BBC, is convolutedly anxious not to claim too much:
"It is, therefore, not possible to say whether files were ever removed or destroyed to cover up or hide allegations of organised or systematic child abuse by particular individuals because of the systems then in place. ...
"It follows that we cannot say that no file was removed or destroyed for that reason. By making those observations they should not be misinterpreted. 
"We do not conclude that there is any basis for thinking that anything happened to files that should not have happened to them, but identify that limitation in our review. 
"Further, and with the same caveat, our review cannot be taken to have concluded one way or the other whether there was organised child abuse that has yet to be fully uncovered - indeed it is public knowledge that active police investigations examining allegations of historic child abuse are under way."
So why this reaction from David Cameron?
Prime Minister David Cameron said the report meant people "looking for conspiracy theories" would "have to look elsewhere".
That is not how Wanless himself sees it:
But speaking to BBC Radio 4's PM, Peter Wanless said David Cameron was "wrong" to say his report proved there was no cover-up. "He can only say that into the registered filing system of the Home Office," he said. "I think it's really important that no-one regards our piece of work as the beginning and end of all this.
I suspect David Cameron will come to regret his words. Certainly, they were an unnecessary hostage to fortune.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Steam in the Somerset coalfield

Reader's voice: The Somerset coalfield?

Liberal England replies: Yes, the Somerset coalfield. There is also some footage from Wales.

Calder's four Laws of Politics

In my many years blogging and writing for the much-missed Liberal Democrat News, I have formulated four laws of politics.

They were:
  1. If all parties are united in support of a measure, it will turn out to be a disaster.
  2. The more power the state takes to itself, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised.
  3. When politicians do something which they think is very clever, it will eventually turn out to have been very stupid.
  4. The more extreme a person's views, the more certain he or she will be that the majority of voters share them.
Today's performance by both frontbenches in the Commons are a good instantiation of Calder's Third Law of Politics.

Matthew Sweet to speak at the University of Leicester

The author and broadcaster Matthew Sweet will be giving the Centre for Victorian Studies Annual Lecture at the University of Leicester on Wednesday 19 November.

I did my Masters in Victorian Studies at Leicester many years ago and will try to go along.

Matthew will be speaking on 'The Victorian World: Prison to Playground.'

And this also gives me another chance to recommend his book Inventing the Victorians.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Somme Tunnel at The Bog, Shropshire

The BBC's World War One At Home site suggests there is a mystery about the Somme Tunnel which, as the name suggests, was driven into the side of the Stiperstones in 1915.

Was it a spurious, make-work scheme devised to keep the miners in Shropshire and away from the Western Front?

I think this is unlikely for two reasons.

First, because I have a book with a wartime photograph, taken outside the mine buildings, of the Bog Mines Platoon of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

Second, because just about every attempt to find new lodes of lead ore in the Shropshire hills came to nothing in the 20th century. The deposits were rich, but they proved to be quite localised and had been more or less worked out by 1900.

Still, such an approach would be in line with that taken in the county by the clubmen of Clun and Bishop's Castle in the English Civil War.

And mention of The Bog, now an abandoned village, gives me an excuse to recommend again this guest post on its visitor centre by Paul Davis.

Leisure attraction bans single people "on child protection grounds"

Back in 2008 I blogged about a bizarre policy of Telford and Wrekin Council. As so often, I quoted the Shropshire Star:
Council staff on the lookout for paedophiles have been ordered to stop and quiz any adults found walking in Telford Town Park without a child, it was revealed today. 
Anyone who wants to go to the park but is not accompanied by at least one youngster will have to explain why they are there.
Today, courtesy of the Western Gazette, comes news that Puxton Park, "a family-orientated leisure attraction near Weston-super-Mare," has banned single people from visiting "on child protection grounds."

The park's managing director, Alistair Mead, is quoted as defending this bizarre policy in the following terms:
"There is a lot in the headlines about paedophiles and things that are going on with children. 
"We have done our research and in line with all other parks we don't let single men or women in."
You wonder how extensive this research was.

And Mr Mead should bear in mind what happened in Telford. As a later post, quoting the Telford Journal, explained:
Conservative Councillor Denis Allen was suddenly axed from his cabinet position this week as member for community services. 
Last week it was revealed Councillor Allen was taking a month-long break from his role, prompting rumours that he had been suspended. 
Telford & Wrekin, however, put out a statement saying Councillor Allen had been advised to take a “well deserved rest.” 
And there's more: 
now the leader of the Labour group, Keith Austin, says Councillor Allen had come under fire - and was under investigation - over the Telford Town Park paedophile fiasco. 
He was the one who authorised routine stop-checks on single people walking in the park’s recreational areas, claimed Councillor Austin.

The failure of the political class and the appeal of Alan Johnson

I am not the greatest admirer of Alan Johnson - his appearances of This Week, where his highlight of the week is invariably an event that proves he was right about everything when he was home secretary, can be irritating - but if Labour has any sense the party will find a way of deposing Ed Miliband and crowning him as leader.

Why? In part it is because Miliband fails the greatest test for a leader of the opposition: you cannot imagine him as prime minister.

And in part it is because of his flawed campaigning since 2010. Even if you agree with them that the Conservatives and the Liberal Demcocrats are evil, you still want to know what Labour would do differently. And of that we have little idea.

But above all the greater electability of Johnson is a mark of the self-defeating hegemony of the political class. (I realise this post lacks a definition of that class, but they are much like elephants - you know one when you see one.)

Ed Miliband's c.v. - adviser to Gordon Brown, cabinet minister, party leader - is at once the ideal of that class and a guarantee that he will have little appeal to anyone else.

This should not be such a surprise. Fairly or not, the two most prominent members of this class within Blair's inner circle were also its two members most disliked by the public. Step forward Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.

Meanwule Alan Johnson has had a life outside this class - as a failed musician, postman and trade union leader. That almost in itself is enough to make him more appealing than most politicians.

Perhaps this view of the political class is unfair - perhaps things were always like this. Certainly, there were plenty of political dynasties in the past. But this modern distrust of professional politicians  is widely entertained, and the attitudes of many young politicos does nothing to discourage it.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I doubt Labour will find a way of making him leader, but they would have a much better chance at the next election if they did.

George Butterworth: The lads in their hundreds

A.E. Housman published his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad in 1896 at his own expense after it was turned down by several publishers.

As Wikipedia says:
At first the book sold slowly, but during the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Housman's nostalgic depiction of rural life and young men's early deaths struck a chord with English readers and the book became a best-seller.
Reading them today, you get an eerie feeling that Housman foresaw the First World War.

And the modern reader, you suspect, is more likely to detect the homoerotic undertones than were Housman's contemporaries.

The poems were set by many 20th-century British composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, but those by George Butterworth are my favourites.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Night Mail: Music and verse by Britten and Auden

The granddaddy of them all.

Music by Benjamin Britten, verse (after Mr Cholmondley Warner has had his say) by W.H. Auden.

Harold Whitfield VC - an ironic death in Shropshire

One of my weekly pleasures is the Pictures in the Past selection on the Shropshire Star website.

This Friday one of the pictures had a caption that gets a little sadder every time I read it:
A hero at work - Harold Whitfield, who won the Victoria Cross in 1918, at work at Express Dairies, Whittington. He was killed in a road accident while riding home from work in December, 1956. He was knocked of his bicycle by an Army jeep.
Wikipedia tells the story of Whitfield's heroism:
He was 31 years old, and a private in the 10th Battalion, The King's Shropshire Light Infantry, British Army during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC. 
On 10 March 1918 at Burj El Lisaneh, Egypt, during the first of three counter-attacks made by the enemy on the position which had just been captured by his battalion, Private Whitfield, single-handed, charged and captured a Lewis gun, killed the whole gun team and turned the gun on the enemy, driving them back with heavy casualties. 
Later he organised and led a bombing attack on the enemy, again inflicting many casualties and by establishing his party in their position saved many lives and materially assisted in the defeat of the counter-attack.
Later. There is more about Harold Whitfield VC on the Shropshire Regimental Museum website.That museum is housed in the remains of Shrewsbury Castle, above the railway station.

Friday, November 07, 2014

It is 25 years since the Berlin Wall was torn down

The fall of the Berlin Wall is the greatest political event of my lifetime, but what lessons should we draw from it?

An article in Foreign Policy by Melvyn Leffler suggests that it would be quite wrong to see it as the triumph of capitalism and the American way.

He writes:
We need, first, to acknowledge the role of the human rights revolution and the agency of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like Helsinki Watch, the Workers Defense Committee (KOR) in Poland, and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, and many others. These groups, though diverse in ideology and tactics, all clamored for change, openness, free expression, individual opportunity, religious liberty, and human dignity. 
Historians are now coming to appreciate the energy and agency of these NGOs in the fall of communism. These groups championed the Helsinki Agreements of 1975, the accords signed by 35 European countries - communist, non-communist, and neutral, as well as the United States and Canada - that outlined the principles to guide East-West relations, including economic, scientific, cultural, and technological cooperation. They inscribed the obligation of all the signatories to respect fundamental rights such as freedom of thought, religion, and conscience. 
NGOs arose throughout Europe, east and west, to champion the right to travel, to promote cultural exchanges, to support family reunification, and, most of all, to hold governments accountable for imprisoning dissenters, discriminating against minorities, stifling civil society, thwarting the rights of workers to organize, or infringing on the freedom of religion or the press. These NGOs worked tirelessly to shame transgressors. They nurtured transnational contacts, and their mutual support sustained dissidents throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. As much as anything, this led to the downfall of the repressive communist regimes.
He also pays tribute to a generation of political leaders: George Bush the Elder, Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterand. (Fairly or not, Margaret Thatcher does not get a mention.)

Today, in a time of multiple international crises, it is hard to have confidence in our leaders. Has there ever been a more lacklustre pair than Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon in charge of foreign affairs and defence?

And the Conservative Party, which had an honourable record of speaking out against tyranny in Eastern Europe now seeks to placate precisely those who are infuriated by the free movement of people in Europe.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The last days of Epping to Ongar

Filmed in September 1994. the final month of the branch's operation as part of the Central Line.

Today, at least in part, it is a heritage railway.

Malcolm Saville is mentioned in a government press release

A press release from Natural England (which can be found on the www, celebrates some good news on conservation from the Stiperstones.

And it quotes Simon Cooter, the organisation’s senior reserve manager:
"We work hard on the reserve to protect and encourage the wildlife, including red grouse, whinchat, orchid and emperor moths. However the weather can affect numbers from year to year and it’s great when we have seasons like this when the wildlife really does thrive. We’ve been out with volunteers, counting and recording throughout the summer. We use the information to help continuously improve the work we do on site. We also submit the data to the local record centre, which helps them to build up a longer term picture of how the wildlife in Shropshire is faring and changing. 
"The atmospheric and wild upland reserve occupies a stunning 10 km ridge in south west Shropshire and within the Shopshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has inspired writers including Mary Webb, D H Lawrence and Malcolm Saville. The reserve provides a fantastic combination of geological, landscape and wildlife features, along with wild, dramatic scenery and a wealth of stories about local myths and folklore."

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Great Oban Fireworks Disaster of 2011

The good people of Oban assembled for a public fireworks display on 4 November 2011.

Unfortunately, a technical fault meant that all the fireworks went off in less than a minute.

It's hard to say why this is so funny, but the countdown at the start and the lone rocket at the end certainly help.

Radio dramatisation of The Once and Future King

One of my favourite writers - and one of the most underrated prose stylists in the langauge - is T.H. White.

BBC Radio is broadcasting a six-part dramatisation of his series of novels The Once and Future King, with the first episode going out on Sunday afternoon.

Den of Geek! has an interview with Brian Sibley, the writer who has adapted the books for radio.

He talks of the difficulties of adapting them. The first book, The Sword in the Stone, is a near-perfect children's book, but they then get progressively adult and dark, until the fifth book (not published in White's lifetime) which returns to something like the register of the first.

Added to that, White substantially revised the first two books - largely to their detriment - in the light of the later ones.

Sibley explains his solution:
So these six plays take place in the six hours between one o’clock in the morning and seven o'clock, six hours later, as dawn breaks and Arthur goes out to the battlefield. So it’s a conversation through the night in which Merlyn and Arthur look back across every aspect of his life; his childhood, all the things they did together, the things he learned when he was turned into a fish and a bird and an ant and so on, and the battle with Madam Mim, and drawing the sword from the stone. And then it goes on to his meeting with Guenever, and his meeting with Lancelot and all the events that play out in the rest of the story. 
But everything isn’t absolutely chronological, so for example turning Wart into a fish we don’t hear until episode 2, we don’t hear Madam Mim until we hear it as a flashback in episode 3, so the events of The Sword In The Stone are broken up. It’s a way of presenting it a little bit like a mosaic, really, but hopefully one that everybody will be able to follow.... 
I hope when people hear it that they will realise that this isn't just a children’s story, because the framing device includes a lot of quite serious ideas and conversation. But the first three episodes do contain these significant flashbacks to the childhood and the magic, as well as introducing Guenever in the first episode, who doesn’t turn up until Book 3 in The Once And Future King, and the second episode introduces Lancelot who again doesn’t turn up till Book 3 otherwise. 
It's an attempt to try and hold all those things in one place, [while] keeping in the mix Archimedes the talking owl and some of the humorous characters as well, and those more light-hearted interludes from the original book.

Theresa May joins the Stasi

Imagine a country where the citizenry are denied the most modern means of communication,

Why? Because allowing them to be used would make it difficult for the state to spy on those citizens.

The old East Germany?

No, the United Kingdom under Theresa May.

Bonfire Night in Lewes

In 2001 - before this blog was even thought of and when dinosaurs stalked the internet - I wrote an article for Spiked on Bonfire Night in Lewes:
They burned Guy Fawkes in Lewes on Monday night. They burned Pope Paul V and Osama bin Laden, too. Zulu warriors paraded through the streets with suffragettes; Vikings followed cavaliers. And the Bonfire Boys, with their flaming torches, firecrackers and striped, piratical costumes, were everywhere. 
Each 5 November people pour into the Sussex town to watch the processions and awesome firework displays of its five bonfire societies. This year the crowds reached 80,000, despite pleas from police to stay away.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch's first screen appearance

In truth his first appearance, also in Heartbeat, was as an extra two years before this. But here he is in 2000.

The music at the start is Morning Dew by the Jeff Beck Group from 1968, with Rod Stewart singing.

The pain of losing elections is stronger than the pleasure of winning

A press release from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard tells us:
A new study co-authored by Assistant Professor Todd Rogers of Harvard Kennedy School finds that winning elections barely improves the happiness of those affiliated with the winning political party, but that losing reduces self-reported happiness and increases sadness substantially. 
Rogers, along with coauthors Lamar Pierce of Washington University in St. Louis and Jason Snyder of UCLA, analyzed thousands of daily online survey responses from CivicScience, a market research and data intelligence company, to compare the happiness and sadness reported by those who identifed closely with political parties in the days surrounding the 2012 Presidential Election. 
The researchers learned that the sadness effect lasted for about a week, but eventually partisan losers recovered.
You can download the full study from the School's website.

Norman Baker "accomplished more in one year ... than most people do in their entire career"

Ian Dunt gets it spectacularly right on politics,

First on Norman Baker's achievements in his year at the Home Office:
Baker accomplished more in one year in the Home Office than most people do in their entire career. Baker went into the Home Office as the Liberal Democrat's man. He performed that task with aplomb, forcing through an international study of drug policy - an investigation long-resisted by the department because it suspected it would show its policy caused harm. ...
Baker fought the battle over that report behind the scenes for months. The department refused to publish it. The civil servants involved in writing it were blocked from making any recommendations on the basis of their findings by the prime minister. The establishment is terrified of any accurate assessment of British drug laws. 
Baker eventually succeeded in forcing publication. It was arguably the most important government drugs report for a generation. It found that half a century of drugs policy was mistaken. Harsh drug penalties do nothing to reduce drug use, but they do significantly reduce the health of drug users. 
Against a hostile media, dogmatic Labour and Tory MPs, and a hugely bureaucratic department, he had scored a significant victory. It will be mentioned as a key moment in the drug debate when, a decade or two from now, Britain finally adopts a more liberal policy.
One might add that Norman was highly regarded in his time as a transport minister too. And, as the video above shows, he sings too.

Second, he is right about the silly attacks on Norman today:
The attacks on Norman Baker could almost have been pre-written. As soon as his resignation was announced, his critics reminded everyone of his weakness for conspiracy theories. Videos of his band were circulated, mockingly. Others focused on the fact no-one outside the Westminster bubble knew who he was, which is true for pretty much all ministers. And there was criticism of his admittedly theatrical astonishment at the fact the Home Office does not proceed on the basis of evidence.
Among those making the attacks are the Guardian - though note the supportive comments from readers and and even a Lib Dem blogger.

And Dunt is most right of all when he contrasts the reputations of Norman Baker and Jeremy Browne.

I am too much of a party loyalist to quote what he says about Jeremy, but the moral he draws is spot on:
And yet Browne was treated almost like an elder statesman when he left the Home Office. And therein lies the key to media treatment of politicians: Look vaguely presentable and don't rock the boat – they'll treat you like a sage. But fight for radical policy and they consider you an embarrassment. 
Baker accomplished more than most ministers one can care to think of. It is entirely unsurprising that he is now a subject for mockery.
My suspicion is that the worlds of politics and political journalism are now so dominated by the products of public schools and Oxbridge that they find the idea of someone from outside playing a role ridiculous.

You say Shrewsbury, Eden Hazard says Strawberry

How do you pronounce Shrewsbury? Should it be, as some people maintain, Shrewsbury? Or should it be Shrewsbury?

I once sat at the front of the bus into the town from Bishop's Castle and noticed that half the passengers asked for Shrewsbury and half asked for Shrewsbury. So there may be no right answer.

The other evening the Chelsea footballer Eden Hazard cut through this debate by calling the town Strawberry.

It was a stroke of genius. I really think it is the best thing he has done since he kicked that ballboy at Swansea.