Friday, July 31, 2015

Nick Clegg should have accepted a role on the Lib Dem front bench

Tim Farron asked Nick Clegg to serve on the Liberal Democrat front bench with a portfolio covering Europe, foreign affairs and defence. Nick Clegg turned the request down.

I think Nick was right and Nick was wrong.

Some say that by declining to serve under him, Nick is giving Tim some space as the new leader. But with the Liberal Democrats down to eight MPs, we cannot afford to lose someone with Nick’s experience of government.

 And the country cannot afford to lose his talents. It is by no means certain that David Cameron’s foolish referendum will be won by the pro-EU side. So that cause needs every eloquent advocate it can find.

When I tweeted this the other day, a lot of people told me that Nick had been in the front line of politics for five years and suffered a lot of unfair criticism.

Yet somehow I feel that if Nick’s strategy had worked and we had held the balance of power after the last election, he would have been happy to continue in government.

I sent a second tweet saying that there was a danger that people would see Nick as saying: “If I can’t be deputy prime minister then I’m taking my bat home.”

On reflection, people may now have better things to do than ponder the motivations of Lib Dem MPs. So let me try another metaphor.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Having sailed his ship into the iceberg, Captain Clegg has a duty to take his turn at the oars of the lifeboat.

Market Harborough is the best harborough

Thanks to solarpilchard on Twitter for this extract from Simon Evans Goes to Market.

Homophobic Monk guilty of harassing lesbian witches

The Leicester Mercury has the latest on the Homophobic Monk:
A monk has pleaded guilty to harassment after getting into a war of words with a pair of lesbian witches. 
Damon Kelly, 53, from a Catholic group calling themselves the Black Hermits, delivers leaflets campaigning against homosexuality and other things he regards as sins. 
When a lesbian couple living in Clarendon Park, Leicester, received his leaflet one of them stopped Kelly further down the street and confronted him and tried to hand him back the leaflet. ... 
The woman's partner joined her outside and defended the couple's sexuality and pagan beliefs. The court heard both parties were quoting scripture at other. 
Mr Chapman said an "aggressive and fanatical" Kelly told the women: "You know we used to burn people like you. 
"I'm doing God's work."
A fortnight later Kelly delivered a letter to the two women. It described "witches, gays, lesbians and sex-changers" as being part of the "devil's madness".

As Kelly has taken a vow of poverty he cannot be fined, so the court adjourned the case for three weeks to assess whether Kelly is fit for unpaid work.

I shall just add that should you want to look for lesbian witches in Leicester, then Clarendon Park is the place to start.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Rescuing the train involved in the Chilham derailment

What happened to the train derailed at Chilham after the passengers were rescued? I hear you ask. This video explains:
Surely working of the year! On Sunday 375703 and 375612 were working a late evening Charing Cross - Ramsgate service when on the approach to Chilham, 375703 hit 5 Cows and Derailed, the Breakdown Crane came from Bescot to re rail the unit, and 66723 dragged them from Chilham - Canterbury west on Monday the 28th. 
Then in the small hours of this morning [30 July] Thumper Power cars from Hastings Diesels unit 1001 were dispatched to collect the damaged units from Canterbury West - Ramsgate EMU Depot. At Approx 0130 this morning, we see 1001 Hauling 375703 and 375612 into Minster working 1Z99 Canterbury West - Ramsgate EMU Depot using emergency coupling.
The person who posted this on Youtube is so excited because the two powers cars hauling the train are from a preserved class 201 (or "Thumper" from the noise their engines make) set that was withdrawn from British Rail service as long ago as 1986.

More about my derailment hell elsewhere on this blog.

Six of the Best 527

Adam Ludlow analyses Labour's pensioner problem.

"In the 1930s many British aristos found themselves unable to keep their right arm vertical. Like their fellow nobs in France, Prussia and Spain, they clung to fascism as an antidote to democracy and in the hope of keeping their loot." Glen Newey puts that photo of a young Princess Elizabeth giving a Nazi salute into historical context.

Jenny Uglow goes round the Eric Ravilious exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and finds the artist modern, English and strange.

Mrs Slocombe in space? Surely nothing could go wrong. Well, to judge by Come Back Mrs Noah’s repeat appearances on ‘worst sitcom’ lists, plenty did. This late-seventies comedy was one dud note in the otherwise much-admired comedy careers of writer producers David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd." Louisa Mellor surveys 11 science fiction situation comedies you may well have forgotten.

East of Elveden visits Crowland and John Clare's Helpston.

The remains of terracing in back gardens; grassy banks that reveal the extent of an earlier, much larger stadium; a forgotten East End stadium that could accommodate 120,000... Derelict London takes us around some of the city's long lost sports grounds.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

John Pugh defends the study of philosophy

There has been some grumbling of Twitter about the appointment of John Pugh as the Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson on education.

I too hope that he will not take us back to the days when our education policy consisted solely of Phil Willis complaining that every new initiative would lead to a "two-tier service".

This is because, then as now, we already have a two-tier system: between the state and private sectors - and frequently within the state system too, policed by house prices. The question is what we do about this, not how we can defend the status quo.

But, being a philosophy graduate myself, I was encouraged to find a 2009 article by John, written at a time when Liverpool University was proposing the closure of its philosophy and politics departments.

He wrote:
As philosophers would say, studying has both intrinsic and instrumental value, and this is true of all intellectual academic disciplines. Yet this is increasingly being forgotten. 
The past 10-20 years have seen the rise of philistinism and technocratic short-sightedness. The forces controlling education have increasingly forgotten that intellectual learning is valuable and important for its own sake, and not simply to the extent it boosts economic productivity. Ironically, those forces have simultaneously failed to see that the intellectual skills acquired from academic study are amongst the very best methods of equipping people with the capacity to be productive.

Repairs to the railway at Chilham

The rail replacement bus from Canterbury West to Ashford went past Godmersham village hall, where they looked after us on Sunday night, and then the site of the derailment.

What I didn't realise at the time was that it took place on a low embankment. That, added to the fact that there was not a train coming the other way at just the wrong time, made me realise that I may have a luckier escape than I realised at the time.

Anyway, these photographs from the Network Rail Media Centre show the work that has taken place to rescue the train and repair the track and bridge at Chilham.

I have also added a photo of my "Ticket to Cow Hell".

Credit: Network Rail
Credit: Network Rail
Credit: Network Rail
Credit: Network Rail

Summer fun at the Richard Jefferies Museum

I visited the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate in Swindon myself back in 2009 when holidays were easier - my mother's health was better and you didn't get derailed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On being derailed between Wye and Chilham

I spent yesterday with Liberator's Stewart Rayment and family at Hastings Pirate Day. ("Arrr!")

I took the train back through Rye to Ashford and then caught another one to Canterbury.

Somewhere between Wye and Chilham there was a loud bang and the train began to judder. It soon became obvious that the coaches (I am not sure if there was one or two of them) in front of mine had become derailed, but we came safely to a stop.

No one was hurt - even the single passenger in the coach you can see in my photo. The train crew took control, the emergency services came (there was even a helicopter) and we waited.

Eventually we all had to climb down a ladder to reach the ground. and then make our way down a muddy back and across a field to a lane.

After a walk up the lane it was a ride in a police van (I chose the cage at the back as it was the only chance I will get to ride in one unless someone talks) to Godmersham village hall.

There tea was provided, our details were taken and eventually a bus to Canterbury and stations further east was provided. I got back to my B&B just before one in the morning.

It was all very British - no one panicked, the emergency services and railway staff were immensely impressive and it all ended with a cup of tea produced without any notice very late on a Sunday night.

It could have been more serious if the train had gone down the bank, but it didn't and no one was hurt.

Because I tweeted the photo above the world's media have been after me this morning. I have said that anyone can use the photo with a suitable credit but I do not want to be interviewed.

Oh, and what I thought was the acrid smell of the brakes being suddenly applied turned out to be the smell of burning cows. I think I shall have fish or chicken this evening.

Martin Carthy and Family: Hog-Eye Man

To follow Cape Cod Girls by Baby Gramps, here is another track from  Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury

This hunk of Chaucerian fantasy stands on the main drag through Canterbury.

Enter its portals and you find yourself in a modern library, museum and art gallery - The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.


Reculver is on the North Kent coast. It was once an important Roman fort: later a church was built within the fort.

At the start of the 19th century, as coastal erosion threatened, the church was largel demolished. The two towers were kept as a landmark for shipping. In their prime they raised roofs and must have resembled Southwell Minster by the sea.

I was at Reculver today and could not stop photographing it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

RIP Eddie Hardin

Eddie Hardin, who replaced Steve Winwood in the Spencer Davis Group, has died at the age of 68.

Let us remember him with the theme from Magpie, which this later version of the group recorded under the name The Murgatroyds. Hardin is the singer here.

The trouble with John Bercow

I see Mr Speaker's expense claims are in the news. Which gives me an excuse for offering this observation.

The black gown he favours makes John Bercow look like an old-fashioned schoolmaster.

And in character he resembles the sort of teacher you think is great when you are 17. But if you meet him a few years on, you are rather disappointed in him.

The permanent undergraduate act does not suit the Speaker's Chair. It's time for John Bercow to grow up.

Thanks to Disgruntled Radical, who once observed to me that the teachers you liked most at school are often a disappointment if you meet them in later life.

In a Whitstable condition

One revelation from the trial of Jeremy Thorpe was that Andrew Newton, the man who shot Norman Scott's dog Rinka, had misheard when he was told to seek Scott in Barnstaple and gone to Dunstable instead.

He might have gone to Whitstable, as I did today.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

First the Tories closed the coal mines: now they are closing the coal mining museums

Lord Bonkers once described Cornwall as being littered with the gaunt remains of the tin mining heritage industry. (If I recall rightly, he was in those parts because he feared Paul Tyler was turning into the Beast of Bodmin every full moon.)

Now it seems North West Leicestershire will soon look much the same. The legal challenge to the closure of the Snibston Discovery Museum near Coalville failed today and it will be gone before the end of the month.

This is a horribly difficult time for local government, but it is hard to resist the feeling that the Conservative-controlled county council would have made more effort to save Snibston if it had been devoted to fox hunting or agriculture.

A Canterbury Tale: Memories of a Classic Wartime Movie

I'm not sure why, but the older I get, the more the Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale means to me.

Certainly it is unusual in being a work of English mysticism. We stolid English usually prefer to leave that sort of thing to the Celts.

I knew that a book had been written about the making of the film a few years ago. When I asked about it in The Chaucer Bookshop, they did not let me down.

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

I am down in Canterbury for a few days' holiday.

Today, as is obligatory, I did the cathedral. Its sheer size is impressive, though it is not a great open palace of light like York Minster, and I like the way you climb as you progress further towards the east end, where Beckett's shrine stood before the Dissolution.

I like cathedrals in places that seem to small for them, like Southwell and Ely. But from its monuments you can see that Canterbury is very much the church of its own city as well as the home of the Church of England.

And don't mind the scaffolding. One of the best things about cathedrals is that they are not too holy. There is always someone rehearsing music or a bit of maintenance going on.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dan Jarvis is benefiting from Kieron Dyer Syndrome

Labour's leadership election was depressing for the party even before the dawn of Corbynmania.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago:
The problem for Labour is that the candidates who have something to say - Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn - do not expect to win. That is why they can say what they really think. 
The two front-runners, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, are so anxious about alienating different constituencies (the press, party members, the wider public) that they find it hard to say anything at all.
It was partly for that reason that I concluded that the next Labour prime minister is not in this leadership election.

I also suggested that the next Labour prime minister would be Dan Jarvis.

That is where I would put my money, and there can be no doubt that staying out of this election will only help Jarvis's reputation.

But maybe he is benefiting from Kieron Dyer Syndrome.

Let me explain.

In the day when we all believed that England's 'golden generation' (Ferdinand, Campbell, Beckham, Owen, Scholes Butt) was going to win us the 2002 World Cup, there was just one problem. We  had no one to play in an attacking role on the left.

But there was an answer. Kieron Dyer had broken into the Ipswich side as a teenager and then signed for Newcastle. He looked a great prospect.

He was injured in the run up to the tournament and could not play in any of the warm up games. But the odd thing was that the less he played, the more certain the pundits became that he was the answer to England's problems. His stock could hardly have stood higher.

At last Dyer was fit to play for England. And everyone saw that he wasn't very good.

So maybe Dan Jarvis's growing reputation is a an example of Kieron Dyer Syndrome. Labour must hope this is not the case.

Labour leadership poll shock

Disney to make live action film of The Sword in the Stone

It is always both pleasing and worrying to hear that one of your favourite books is to be filmed.

Hence my reaction to this news from Variety:
Continuing their strategy of reimagining animated classics into live-action movies, Disney is developing a “Sword in the Stone” movie with “Game of Thrones” writer Bryan Cogman penning the script, Variety has confirmed.
Disney did make a cartoon film out of The Sword in the Stone back in 1963. I have never watched it all the way through. What I have seen of it is fun but without the depth of the book, which manages to be funny and sad and silly and wise all at the same time.

And even if this new film is a stinker, the book will still be there. If it is good, it will win the book many new readers.

Hidden away in the small print of the story, which talks about the other cartoons Disney are to remake as live actions films, comes the news that Winnie the Pooh is also due for this treatment.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Jon Ronson: What happens when online shaming spirals out of control

A talk from TED that summarises the argument of Ronson's recent book So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

Welfare cuts: Andy Burnham makes his position clear

Six of the Best 526

Jon Tolley explains how he held the Grove ward in Kingston for the Liberal Democrats with a thumping majority last week.

Who bankrolled the campaigns of the two candidates for Lib Dem leader? Caron Lindsay has some surprising answers.

"We have a culture like a rummage sale, like a white elephant stall, hideously divided and bizarrely coherent – and, over the last century or so, obscured by an even more varied invention known as 'Britishness'." David Boyle introduces his new book How to be English.

"The walks on these pages feature a bit of everything like the splendid baronial castle of Belvoir or the simple hill fort on Burrough Hill. Old dismantled railways can be found across the county and many canals are maintained as pleasure waterways now rather than the industrial revolution arteries of the past. There is much beauty in the countryside too and for a county not noted for high country there are many interesting hills to climb." Sensibly, The Walking Englishman visits Leicestershire.

IanVisits ventures inside East London's gargantuan, derelict Millennium Mills.

Railway Maniac has photographs of Nottingham's numerous lost railway stations.

Is this the best the pro-European forces in Britain can do?

Jim Pickard and Sarah Gordon report in the Financial Times that three "senior figures" from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats" are angling, with the help of some Sainsbury money, to lead the pro-EU campaign in the forthcoming referendum.

Who are these titans?
Will Straw, an associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, is expected to lead the group as executive director. Mr Straw stood unsuccessfully as Labour candidate in the Rossendale and Darwen constituency in May’s general election. 
He has joined forces with Ryan Coetzee, a South African who was strategy director for the Lib Dems ahead of the election 
The third political member is Lord Cooper, a former director of strategy in Downing Street under David Cameron. Lord Cooper joined the House of Lords last September and is co-founder of Populus, an opinion polling firm.
The journalists are tactful in not mentioning that Will Straw is best know for being Jack Straw's son, and that Ryan Coetzee's strategy led to the loss of 49 of the Liberal Democrats' 57 MPs.

You have to ask if this trio is the best the pro-European forces in Britain can come up with.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Warm tributes paid to town's oldest belly dancer

The Loughborough Echo wins Headline of the Day.

And who could ask for a better epitaph than the one Pat Moulds receives?
"She was lively, outgoing, warm and compassionate."

On having something in common with Ed Balls

Ed Balls' lunchtime interview on Test Match Special today revealed him as a more appealing personality than he ever appeared as a frontline politician.

It also revealed that we have something in common. We were both at the first day of the 1976 Trent Bridge test against the West Indies.

Those were the days when a lad could turn up at a test with a reasonable expectation of being able to pay on the gate and get in. I did just this at Edgbaston in 1974 and 1975, but was locked out at Trent Bridge in 1977.

I have two clear memories of that day in 1976.

The first is of Viv Richard coming down the wicket against Derek Underwood and hitting him back over deep extra cover for six. No one did that to Underwood.

The second is of being asked by two Australians for the name of an England fielder they did not recognise.

"That's Mike Brearley," I said.

Over the next five years he was to captain England to three series victories against Australia.

Baby Gramps: Cape Cod Girls

I heard this track on BBC Radio 3's Late Junction the other evening. It comes from the 2006 compilation album of sea shanties and the like Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys.

Baby Gramps turns out to be a legend of the Seattle music scene. Patrick Ferris once said of him:
His voice is a cross between Popeye the Sailor and a Didgeridoo and the plinkity plink of his VERY worn National steel guitar, sounds like a wind up jack in the box. If you listen closely and know anything about music, you'll realize Gramps is an absolutely incredible guitar player.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Lone Pine Club opens in Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton

The Pentabus tent in Carding Mill Valley

This afternoon the first performance of Alice Birch’s play The Lone Pine Club was performed in Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton, by the Pentabus Rural Theatre Company.

Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine stories were my favourite books as a child and I am delighted to see them living on in this form.

But I am a little surprised too. Alice Birch, for instance, looks far too young to have read the books as a child – the first Lone Pine story appeared in 1943 and the twentieth and last in 1978.

So I asked Elizabeth Freestone, the artistic director of Pentabus, how the play came to be written:

“I've known Alice Birch for a few years,” she told me. “She grew up in rural Herefordshire and I grew up in rural Sussex so we have much in common. We were chatting one day about working together on something and got talking about a children's show that was about the countryside - that could encourage children to play outdoors and to engage in imaginative play too. I'd read the Lone Pine books when I was a child (my Dad read them to me - he was the Saville generation and grew up on them) and gave them to Alice to read. The idea grew from there.”

The play turns out to be based on elements of five of the Lone Pine books, more or less fitting the five National Trust venues in which it will be performed this summer. The four original members of the Club appear on stage: David, Peter (full name Petronella) and the twins Dickie and Mary. Saville’s best villain, the tweed-clad Miss Ballinger, also appears.

The connection with the National Trust is important, says Freestone: “We tour nationally with all our productions, visiting places that are meaningful to the play. In this case we wanted to try and reach places that had links to the Lone Pine books. We wanted to partner with the National Trust because they have a brilliant campaign running to get children to play more outdoors.

"So, working with them, we identified National Trust landscapes that had the right kind of infrastructure to support the show and that linked to the books. Unfortunately we couldn't find a place in Yorkshire, but Northumberland is a lovely venue and it’s the next best thing.”

As to the casting, she tells me that they have cast adults in their early twenties). They are playing the characters as they are in the final the book series, Home to Witchend, when the so Peter and David are in their late teens and the twins are somewhere in their early teens. They had all aged about four years over the 35 years of the series’ existence.

When I edited the Malcolm Saville Society’s newsletter we agreed that modern technology (mobile phones, GPS) meant that the books’ plots no longer work. Elizabeth Freestone is complimentary about Saville’s plotting – “I actually think Saville's plotting is very modern. All the story structures revolve around the idea of 'Meanwhile…', so he's writing a kind of split screen effect much of the time.” – and says she can never get a mobile signal where she lives in the country anyway.

Nevertheless, she says that the Saville family has allowed Pentabus to be very free with the adaptation. They have stayed true to the spirit of the original books but changed many of the plot details around to show the range of Saville's writing about landscape and give the characters the chance to go on an emotional journey.

And much of Saville’s language survives in the play. Freestone says its style and feel is that of the Fifties: “Some words have been updated, but there's certainly no attempt to make it contemporary.”

Dickie Morton was my first literary hero and I am proud to have met his real-life model, Malcolm Saville’s younger son, the late Reverend Jeremy Saville, several times. But I fear that much of the twins’ dialogue in the early books might sound silly to modern ears.

Freestone reassured me: “The twins can be a little annoying - but they are also brave and very funny. On stage they make a great comedy double act.”

At the back of our conversation was my fear that modern children would simply not be able to relate to the world described in the Lone Pine books. I wrote an article on this theme for the Guardian last year.

But Elizabeth Freestone told me something rather wonderful: “During rehearsals we went into a school and showed them the first scene. Today we did a dress rehearsal for 15 children to see how they followed it. All the children immediately wanted to go outside and play and make secret clubs of their own. I hope they found it inspiring.

“The play encourages exploration in the countryside as it also encourages imaginative play - there are no tricks in the show, every sound effect is made live by the actors. We hope it makes children realise they can do anything.”

You can see The Lone Pine Club at these National Trust venues over the summer:
  • 18-26 July - Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton, Shropshire 
  • 30 July - 2 August - Sheffield Park and Garden, Sheffield Park, Uckfield, East Sussex 
  • 6-9 August - Buckland Abbey, Garden and Estate, Yelverton, Devon 
  • 13-16 August - Sheringham Park, Upper Sheringham, Norfolk 
  • 20-23 August - Wallington, Cambo (near Morpeth) Northumberland 
All tickets can be booked via the National Trust Box Office on 0844 249 1895. Tickets are £15 for adults and £7.50 for children.

More details on the Pentabus website.

Understanding Ben Stokes

Barney Ronay reminds us that Ben Stokes is not 'the next Freddie Flintoff':
In February Paul Collingwood likened not batting Stokes in the top six in his early England career to playing Cristiano Ronaldo at right-back. 
And this summer, as his Test batting average has climbed from 28 to 39, Stokes has in a sense become the player he always was in the first place, the high-class middle-order batsman obscured at times by his ability to bowl slightly callow spells of genuine fast bowling. 
Aged 19, Stokes was batting No4 for Durham, becoming in the process the only Englishman besides Denis Compton to score five first-class hundreds before the age of 20. He was, is and remains a batsman, and a seriously good one too.

Oliver Reed and Jane Merrow at Hallsands

Hallsands was a village on the South Devon coast that was swept away by the sea after its shingle beach was taken away to help build the dockyard at Devonport.

The Kingsbridge Gazette headline after its demise in January 1918 was:
The beach went to Devonport and the cottages went to the sea
The video is a scene from the 1964 Michael Winner film The System featuring Oliver Reed and Jane Merrow.

Reel and Rock says of it:
The real production star is Nicolas Roeg. His photography during Tinker and Nicola’s romantic idyll on a remote cliff-backed beach is one of my favorite things ever by him, comparable to Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 young-love classic Summer with Monika.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Glimpses of Leamington Street, Leicester

On Wednesday I posted a photo of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Leamington Street, Leicester taken shortly before its demolition.

A bit of browsing in the Leicester Mercury archives casts more light on this lost chapel and its lost street.

A piece from April 2014 begins:
This dramatic action shot looks like the climactic scene in an old Gothic horror movie – and I suppose, from a heritage point of view, it is horrific. 
Taken in November 1978, here we see the sad demise of Emmanuel Baptist Church, which stood in Leamington Street, Leicester. 
This huge building originally dominated the area of terraced houses that made way for Narborough Road North and a modern estate, not far from where the Tesco store, just off Braunstone Gate, now stands.
It is well worth following the link to see the photograph.

And in June of this year a shot of the terraces of Leamington Street appeared in a selection of vintage photos of the city.

Six of the Best 525

Peter Kellner has some advice for Tim Farron - think big: "My suggestion that you strive for influence rather than more normal electoral measures of success ... is made not just because I fear that votes will be hard to come by for the next few years. It’s also because the progressive project is in profound trouble – just as it was in the Thirties, before Keynes and Beveridge came to our rescue. The big prize is to fashion a new progressive settlement for the 2020s and 2030s."

The problem with Mhairi Black's maiden speech is that Paisley is not suffering from too little socialism but too much, argues Ian Martin.

Residents in and around Braunstone Gate in Leicester are being the chance to transform their neighbourhood, says the People's Health Trust.

"There had been rumours of their return for a while and although I couldn’t prove my sighting I had feeling they were about." Paul Evans on the return of the pine marten to Shropshire.

Chris Molanphy writes on the three strange Lennon and McCartney hits that went to No. 1 in the US without Lennon or McCartney.

"They are all the external remains of a system of conduits, underground tunnels, which brought fresh water from Blackheath to the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich." Running Past discovers the hidden waterways of Greenwich Park.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

UK sends 600 former child asylum seekers back to Afghanistan

A shocking story from Maeve McClenaghan at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
Hundreds of Westernised young men who grew up in Britain after fleeing war-torn Afghanistan as children have been forcibly returned to their home country due to what experts believe is an inhumane shortcoming in the UK asylum system. 
The Bureau has established that in the past six years 605 individuals who had arrived unaccompanied in the UK as asylum-seeking children were deported to Afghanistan after their temporary leave to remain ran out on turning age 18. Hundreds of others are still in Britain awaiting a similar fate. 
Those deported often spent several years in Britain learning impressive English, going to school, playing cricket, taking GCSEs and A-levels, and forming close bonds with new friends and foster families. 
But they are wrenched from their new lives and frequently placed terrified on special charter flights, sometimes in handcuffs, to a country they no longer know, that many experts regard as dangerous – and with little support and money from the UK government.

Haemoglobin, Kosygin, Loudhailer...

This sketch comes from 1979's The Secret Policeman's Ball and is the first thing I ever saw Rowan Atkinson do. Quite possibly, it is the funniest thing I have ever seen him do.

I once had it in mind to write a Liberal Revue sketch using the names of Liberal Democrat MPs in a similar way. These days, sadly, there are not enough of them to make this possible.

Tim Farron: My part in his victory

Though I did declare my support for Tim Farron, this blog kept a low profile in the Liberal Democrat leadership election.

But Liberal England may have been of help to Tim. Let's have a look at his best bits...

Congratulations to Tim Farron

For the first time since Paddy Ashdown was elected in 1988, I have voted for the successful candidate in a Liberal Democrat leadership election.

When the contest began I rather expected I would be voting for Norman Lamb, but in the end Tim's eloquence and background (provincial, comprehensive educated, one-parent family) called to me more.

I admired Norman's work on mental health as a minister, though we should not forget the role Paul Burstow played in this field.

But too many of the issues his campaign highlighted were, more than anything, chosen for the discomfort they would cause Tim.

And too many people who once told me I had to vote for Ming Campbell wrote to tell me I now had to vote for Norman.

I am not an admirer of Tim's variety of religion, but I suspect an Evangelist is just what the Liberal Democrats need at this stage in their history.

'Drunk' squirrel causes hundreds of pounds of damage

BBC News wins Headline of the Day for the one above this story:
A "drunk" squirrel has caused hundreds of pounds of damage at a private members' club.
The secretary of Honeybourne Railway Club said he originally thought someone had broken into the premises, near Evesham in Worcestershire. 
The floor was covered in beer and glasses and bottles smashed, Sam Boulter said. 
Mr Boulter, 62, said he then saw a squirrel "staggering around" after coming out from behind a box of crisps.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vanished Leicester: Emmanuel Baptist Church, Leamington Street

Copyright © Dennis Calow
Emmanuel Baptist Church, which was built in 1871, is pictured here in 1978 - the year of its demolition. It seems already to have passed into the hands of commerce.

Leamington Street ran somewhere near the West Bridge but seems to have vanished under the road scheme there.

The Leicester Mercury has a recent article about a Roman Catholic church in the same areas that was also demolished in 1978.

Time for a Liberal Democrat core vote strategy?

There was a good contribution to the debate on the future of the Liberal Democrats, and I don't mean Danny Alexander's effort in the New Statesman:
Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats should envisage a future as a sort of soggy Syriza in sandals. I don’t like some of the welfare reforms in the Budget, but to make it the political dividing line is to fail to recognise the views of most people.
I am thinking of the article by Martin Kettle in the Guardian.

He writes:
In a recent pamphlet David Howarth, a former MP, and Mark Pack, a prominent online activist, argued that their party should have a strategy of building a values-based centre-left core vote from the current single figure up to about 20%. They identify their target voters as: disproportionately female, young, educated to above degree level, inhabitants of London, on moderately higher than average incomes, serious newspaper readers, not religious and not white. 
Some of the HowarthPack argument stretches belief. Their core vote approach is essentially an appeal to a minority. Under the first-past-the-post system, it may win the party one or two student-heavy seats, but it may not do much for the Lib Dems in the seats they are left with, never mind in places like the south-west where they were so strong until recently. But they are surely correct that the right place for a liberal party to pitch its tent is among liberal-minded voters,
Simon Titley, who died last year, was fond of calling for a core-vote strategy. He argued that the fact that the Liberal Democrats worked harder than the other parties, like the belief that we could win anywhere, should be seen as a weakness rather than a strength. Why did we have to put so much effort into reminding people that they voted for us last time?

On the East Midlands segment of the Sunday Politics a few days ago, Paul Homes expressed scepticism at a Lib Dem core vote strategy. Hadn't it held both the Conservatives and Labour back in recent history.

What both those parties found was that appealing to their core vote kept them stuck at around 30 per cent of the vote. And that is a figure that the Liberal Democrats hardly dare dream about at the moment.

The case for rewilding Britain

The headlines on reports about calls for rewilding Britain are generally intended to scare us about the prospect of wolves and lynxes wandering our countryside.

But I took two different things away from today's Guardian article by George Monbiot.

First how much we have lost and how recently we have lost it:
Until 80 years ago, shoals of giant bluefin tuna followed the herring and mackerel migrating round our coasts. For many years, the world record tuna caught on rod and line was one hooked a mile off Scarborough in 1933.
Second, how practical many of these rewilding ideas are:
Following the spectacular preliminary findings from Ireland, where resurgent pine martens appear to have rolled back the grey squirrel population, allowing red squirrels to recolonise much of their old territory, there has been a surge of interest in restoring the species in Britain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Droitwich Brine Baths

A Caledonian Railway poster from 1910.

The Droitwich Brine Baths still exist, but closed in 2009. A Facebook group is, or was, trying to save them.

Six of the Best 524

Charles Leadbetter (once the Steve Hilton of New Labour) offers some imaginative ideas that he says could help save the Labour Party. Liberal Democrats should read them too.

"This land has been grazed and burnt to a shadow of its former self by these unsustainable practices, tolerated for so long that many people think the resulting landscape is natural." Simon Pepper on the need for restoration of the Highland landscape of Scotland.

Carl Chinn introduces the story of Prince Albert "Jake" Jacob, who came to Birmingham from Trinidad and fought with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War.

Hana Schank explains why it is that so few of the world's top chess players are women.

"It is no coincidence that cricket’s two most high-profile public figures remain Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, whose fame is inextricably linked to their starring roles in 2005. That was the year in which Flintoff was named BBC Sports Personality of The Year, having been third the year before. No cricketer has come in the top three since." Tim Wigmore looks at what the move away from free-to-air television channels has meant for English cricket.

Backwatersman fears the county game is going the same way as rural bus services.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Disused railway stations in Norfolk

A bumper selection this time though, judging by the soundtrack, the compiler has taken these closures badly.

Other counties are available:  Devon, Bedfordshire, North LincolnshireEast Sussex, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Cornwall, Rutland. Northumberland, Shropshire, Suffolk and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Southwark primary school is a loose metaphor for England

Alan Bennett once described Albion House, the shabby public school in his first play Forty Years On, as "a loose metaphor for England".

So it is hard not to think the same about Albion Primary School in Southwark.

As James Barber explains:
Southwark Council is twisting the arms of Albion Primary School to sell a significant part of its site. With that money the school will be rebuilt. The rebuild will I’m sure be lovely. But the principle is alarming.
He asks which state school will be the next for this treatment.

I was going to end with a passage from Forty Years On about the state of England. But as ever I find it impossible to resist Bennett's skit on Lawrence of Arabia:
But can one ever forget him, those china blue eyes, that boyish, almost girlish figure and that silly, silly giggle. The boys at school had called him Tee Hee Lawrence.

The struggle to introduce National Insurance in the first place

So David Cameron is "open to the idea of workers funding their own unemployment or sickness benefits privately through financial products".

According to the Independent, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson told a briefing of journalists today that the Prime Minister agreed with a suggestion by Iain Duncan Smith about the role of private finance in the welfare state.

"We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment," Mr Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend.

But then the Conservatives never liked National Insurance.

Back in 2002 I wrote a House Points column (in the much-mourned Liberal Democrat News) about the struggle Charles Masterman had putting Lloyd George's National Health Insurance Bill through the Commons.

Here is part of that column. It was written in the present tense because of some conceit involving a time machine:
The doctors are not keen. Sir James Barr, chairman of the BMA, believes it will "destroy individual effort and increase the spirit of dependence," and that "only loafers and wastrels will benefit". 
The British Medical Journal says that if you wanted to abolish the medical profession it would be "hardly possible to conceive a scheme better calculated to achieve that end that the present Bill". Letters to the Lancet call it "a bold and sinister attempt to degrade our calling" and "an attempt to capture and enslave our profession". 
Nor are the newspapers enthusiastic. The Daily Mail has declared its opposition to "the hateful task of collecting this unpopular tax thus thrust upon Mr Lloyd George's hapless victims". For, "it is not only 3d a week we shall lose, but our independence, self-respect and character" ... And a reader says: "If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England." 
Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that "we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past," and writing feelingly of "these days of highly paid servants". 
The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds. Five aristocrats have founded a League of Protest and called a public meeting. As we arrive, Lady Desart is reaching her peroration: 
"This England never did nor never shall
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror." 
Later, when the government sends servants a circular about the new scheme, the headmaster of Eton will accuse it of "interfering with home life to an unprecedented degree". 
And if you listen carefully you can hear the Conservative leader pledging to repeal the act as soon as he comes into office.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

But if you would like to write a "Where do the Liberal Democrats go from here?" post, that would be welcome.

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

  • One woman’s view of being a senior citizen - Eileen Ward-Birch
  • The perfect Christmas gift for a carer - Jon Pollard
  • Politic360: Mending online political discussion - Jason Brown
  • A new hole in the safety net - Anonymous
  • Memories of Snailbeach in the 1950s - Christina Samson
  • We are all the poorer for soundbite politics - Tony Robertson
  • A few thoughts on walking - Phil Smith
  • The mad, mad world of Maghull Town Council - Tony Robertson
  • What the US can do to end the Gaza conflict? - Daphne Holmes
  • "You're all the same" - Katie Barron
  • Sunday, July 12, 2015

    Hemel Hempstead and my childhood on film

    When I blogged about the BFI's new Britain on Film project I copied some of the spiel from its own website:
    If you are in the United Kingdom you can search and enjoy free access to films and TV that represent the area where you live, grew up or went to school.
    I did not realise quite how true that would prove in my own case.

    Click on the still above and you will be taken to a film about the new town of Hemel Hempstead that was made in 1957.

    It begins with a segment about the building of Dexion's new factory in the town. Six years after the film was made we moved to the town when my father became Dexion's personnel officer.

    Later he went to work for a firm of international personnel consultants in London. As he left us when I was 11, I was amused when that firm was mentioned in the Commons by Vince Cable in the context of a debate on alleged overseas corruption.

    Fast forward to 8:53 you will find Chaulden Junior School, where my mother worked as secretary for a while. She says she soon learnt not to watch the children in the playground: all of them were always on the point of death.

    And me? Back at 8:15 you will find the Fishery Inn. My friends and I had a den in a fallen tree behind it. I went back years later and found that the pub car park had been expanded and it was no longer there.

    Hemel Hempstead gets a bad press, but on that trip back I was rather impressed. Nothing will make Marlowes and the centre of the new town a thing of beauty, but I was struck by how green the town was.

    What I remember from the Sixties are numerous saplings tied to stakes - and they always seemed to have been vandalised. Yet 40 years on they had gown tall.

    Let's hear it too for the Co-op where I used to go and see Father Christmas and the 314A bus. Family legend has it that I learnt to read from the West Hertfordshire bus timetable.

    In reality I learnt from the Ladybird Key Words books. And Hemel was a creation of the same sort of humane modernism, so I rather felt I was living in the world of those books.

    Nick Clegg queries Conservative election spending

    Following Nick Clegg's interview on The Sunday Politics this morning, it was his comments on future coalitions and electoral reform that the Guardian chose to headline.

    However, these comments were interesting too:
    He also claimed the caps on election spending had been broken in the election: "One of the things that needs to happen in the kind of technical postmortem about this general election is how on earth the Conservatives spent such vast American-style sums of money across the country from a centrally directed campaign, which ran a coach and horses through the financial limits on how local candidates can campaign. 
    "So they were able to do that. We clearly were not able to match that remotely. I mean, it was a real David and Goliath battle for resources."
    Quite who will carry out this postmortem remains to be seen.

    I was not convinced by another of Nick's claims:
    Clegg blamed the Lib Dem general election collapse on a late swing prompted by a fear that had its genesis in Scotland. 
    He said: "My own view is something shifted very, very late in the day in England, in English constituency after English constituency."
    First, because a cool look at the idea that Lib Dem MPs would hold on found the evidence wanting - even if I failed to draw the full, awful conclusions in this post from February.

    Second, because the Lib Dem vote did not transfer en masse to the Conservatives. As Seth Thévoz and Lewis Baston have demonstrated, it splintered in several directions and the Conservatives gained many seats without increasing their vote at all.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
    Perhaps the Liberal Democrats need a "technical postmortem" too?