Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vanished Leicester: Emmanuel Baptist Church (1965)

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The University of Leicester Special Collections site labels this as "Emanuel Baptist Church, New Park Road".

But it is clearly the same church I have twice blogged about, saying it was in Leamington Street. Perhaps it was on the corner?

Anyway, here it is again photographed some years earlier, complete with a very 1965 car and small boy.

People who never lived in Harborough: 1. Graham Chapman

Game Show Host: Good evening and welcome to Stake Your Claim. First this evening we have Mr Norman Voles of Gravesend who claims he wrote all Shakespeare's works. Mr Voles, I understand you claim that you wrote all those plays normally attributed to Shakespeare? 
Voles: That is correct. I wrote all his plays and my wife and I wrote his sonnets. 
Host: Mr Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr Voles? 
Voles: 43. 
Host: Well, how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born? 
Voles: Ah well. This is where my claim falls to the ground. 
Host: Ah! 
Voles: There's no possible way of answering that argument, I'm afraid. I was only hoping you would not make that particular point, but I can see you're more than a match for me!

Graham Chapman never lived in Market Harborough, so there will not be a plaque in his honour put up here.

The reason this story came to be published is a moral tale about, not just the credulity of this blogger, but also the limitations of local newspapers.

There is going to be a plaque on Catherwood House on The Square, the home of Caffe Nero. But it will be in honour of the town's Nobel Prize winner William Bragg.

The local council announced the news on its website and included a mocked up image of what it will look like. They used a picture of the existing plaque to Chapman in Melton Mowbray.

Someone at the Harborough Mail saw it and assumed that Chapman had once lived here.

These days the Mail is edited from Kettering or Daventry or somewhere even further afield. The days when it had an editor who knew everyone in town and could check a story like this with one phonce call are long past.

My own excuse was that I knew Chapman's father had been a police office and had lived at various places across the county.

And, years ago, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester about comedy writing. At one point the interviewer mentioned that Graham Chapman had come from Market Harborough.

I thought he meant Melton, but I was too polite to contradict him and he did plant the seed of the idea in my mind.

That, and it was a nice sunny day so I thought I would go and photograph Catherwood House and use it in a blog post.

Thanks for various local tweeters.

Norman Baker talks to Andrew Neil and the Sussex Express

Norman Baker was on the Daily Politics last week talking about life as a Coalition minister. You can see the interview above.

He has also been talking to the Sussex Express:
To many people Norman Baker is as authentic a part of Lewes as the Castle or the Brewery, epitomising the county town the way, for example, Jilly Cooper epitomises the shires or Pam Ayres epitomised Norfolk [the geography a bit off in both cases]
Against the Grain is the perfect title for his biography. 
Like Lewes, he is slightly bohemian (not for effect), plain speaking, anti-authoritarian, quirky and possibly an uncomfortable political bedfellow. (David Cameron memorably described him as ‘the most annoying man in Parliament’). Times columnist Matthew Parris called him ‘a classic House of Commons bore’ but also said: ‘you underestimate him at your peril.’ 
His book is full of astonishing revelations and the most wonderful, insightful gossip. Did he keep a diary? “No, I collected press cuttings, partly because it was a defence if someone said: ‘You said that’ and I knew I had not but also partly because at that stage I thought I might write something. 
“I also had access to papers, particularly for the Ministry of Transport but while at the Home Office I decided I would keep detailed notes.” 
His book vividly describes his early territory as a local councillor, and later an MP representing – among other villages – Glynde and Firle. “In the Civic War, Firle was Royalist and Glynde was Parliamentarian – I think they still see it in that way a little.”
I am sure Norman would like me to point out that Against the Grain is published by Biteback.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Steam on the Lynton & Barnstaple

Sixteen minutes of narrow-gauge goodness, filmed on Sunday.

The  Lynton & Barnstaple Railway opened in May 1898. It was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1922, closed in 1935 and partially reopened in recent years.

Read about the progress with restoration.

SNP MP withdraws from party whip as police probe property deals

From STV News this evening:
MP Michelle Thomson has withdrawn from the SNP whip after police launched an investigation into property deals conducted by her lawyer. 
The MP's solicitor was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal over several deals where Mrs Thomson used his services. 
After that ruling, Police Scotland has confirmed it was instructed by the Crown Office to investigate “alleged irregularities relating to property deals" in 2010 and 2011 following the Tribunal ruling. 
Mrs Thomson insisted she would cooperate with any investigation into the deals but said she would withdraw from the party whip as the probe was ongoing.
Michelle Thomson is MP for Edinbugh West, a seat held by the Liberal Democrats before May's general election.

Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping out humanity

Jeremy Corbyn began his first speech as leader to a Labour Party Conference like this:
You might have noticed in some of our newspapers they’ve taken a bit of an interest in me lately. Some of the things I’ve read are this. According to one headline: "Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity.” 
Now, asteroids are pretty controversial. It’s not the kind of policy I’d want this party to adopt without a full debate in conference. So can we have the debate later in the week!
How the audience laughed!

Except that Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping our humanity.

In May 2004 he put his name to Commons early day motion 1255, which is worth quoting in full:
That this House is appalled, but barely surprised, at the revelations in M15 files regarding the bizarre and inhumane proposals to use pigeons as flying bombs; recognises the important and live-saving role of carrier pigeons in two world wars and wonders at the lack of gratitude towards these gentle creatures; and believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.
There were only three signatories: the late Tony Banks, Corbyn and his new shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

This a minor point, but it does point to important truths about Labour today.

The first is their seething hatred for the press. After more than 30 years in the wilderness, how does Corbyn begin a speech he can hardly of dreamt of making? By attacking the press.

He must also have been sure this would get the audience on his side from the start.

And the second truth is that many of the 'smears' that Corbyn supporters complain of are nothing of the sort. They are simply his own words being quoted back at him.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jim Crace in the T.H. White archive

"The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. 
"Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

Six of the Best 541

"Jeremy Corbyn’s revolutionary strategy is simple: there are millions of people out there who either voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all who are simply waiting for a truly hard left platform from the Labour Party." Unfortunately for him, argues Mark Wallace, this is a fantasy.

James Graham offers five, if you will, reckons on Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats.

"Hitler and his publicists drew on mountain imagery from Germany’s literary and artistic movements (particularly Romanticism) to mythologize the Führer as a mystic leader who immersed himself in – and embodied – the terrible and magnificent forces of nature." Despina Stratigakos on the selling of Hitler to the German people.

Luke Winkie on the life and death of a little-known dialect: Texas German.

Stratford Johns was television's favourite policeman of the Sixties and early Seventies. Andrew Martin, with the help of BBC Genome, examines his career.

Londonist explains why the guns of HMS Belfast are trained on Scratchwood services.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Frank Tyson in his pomp

Frank Tyson, the former England fast bowler, has died in a Queensland hospital at the age of 85.

It is odd that the two English bowlers most feared for their sheer speed, Tyson and Harold Larwood, chose to settle in Australia when they retired from cricket.

Anand Vasu interviewed Tyson last year:
Tyson would only play 17 Tests, picking up 76 wickets at an average of 18.56. No bowler since he played has managed more than 20 wickets at a better average. 
To measure Tyson in cold numbers, though, is to do him a disgrace, for here was a man of words. One of only three or four university graduates in county cricket at the time, Tyson studied English Literature at Hatfield College in the University of Durham. When he went on tour, he took with him the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, Virginia Woolf and Bernard Shaw. 
Consider the words JM Kilburn, respected sports writer of the Yorkshire Post, used to describe Tyson: “His best pace was nothing short of startling to batsmen and spectators alike. He represented an elemental force obscuring the details of his technique and the highest tribute he received was the gasp of incredulity frequently emitted by the crowd as the ball passed from his hand to the distant wicketkeeper.”
The video above shows Tyson bowling for Northamptonshire against Kent at Rushden in 1957.

It provides a pleasing portrait of country cricket at an outground in that era. Marquees; adults on deckchairs, children sitting cross-legged on the grass.

New World: Rooftop Singing

New World were an Australian group who enjoyed modest success in Britain in the early 1970s.

This song was written for them by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, the most prolific hit makers era. Most of their songs were dross, but Chapman later redeemed himself by producing Blondie's Parallel Lines.

Rooftop Singing reached only no. 50 in the UK in 1973, but they had reached no. 6 in 1971 with Tom Tom Turnaround".

The Seekers had been huge in Britain in the 1960s, so I suppose Chinnichap thought it was worth taking a punt on another folky Australian vocal group.

But I have a vague memory that a whiff of scandal surrounded New World.

Wrinkled Weasel's World quotes Mike Hurst, the band's producer:
Mickie Most introduced me to an Australian band called New World. They were on Opportunity Knocks. So, my first comment was, “Surely, we are going to see if they win it” and Mickie said, “Oh, they will”. That was my first intimation that things weren’t quite as they should be. 
A guy from ATV who produced the show said, “and when they win the final..” and I looked at him and said, “How can you be so sure?” and he said, “Don’t worry, we are very sure. They are going to win.” That’s when it all came home and I realised it was fixed. The fix was nothing to do with me; I was just going to make a record.
And that blog goes on to record how it ended:
Of course, the fixing scandal of Opportunity Knocks blew open and that’s what killed New World. They were at my house in Henley, rehearsing. They got a phone call and literally ran out of the house. 
I had never seen people move so fast. They had a car waiting to take them to Henley station. They went back to London and the next thing I heard, the band had been arrested. 
Of course they could never be accused of anything but they were material witnesses to the Opportunity Knocks fix. After it all got out it destroyed their career.
UK Game Shows tells a slightly different story:
The pop group New World were tried at the Old Bailey for trying to fix the outcome of the show on which they appeared. They had asked friends to send in bogus votes.
If anyone has more leads on this long-forgotten scandal, I would be interested to hear about them.

They would probably be more fun than New World's songs.

Jonathan Meades on the writing of An Encyclopaedia of Myself

The Spectator has the text of a talk Jonathan Meades gave at the Edinburgh Festival about the writing of his memoir An Encyclopaedia of Myself:
I wrote of my father’s lifelong friend Osmund Edwards: Uncle Os lived far away beyond the Severn; he owned a pub surrounded by orchards and hop-yards. I have a very strong memory from the age of about three and a half of that place, of a bright day, of a line of trees – limes maybe – beside a dusty dappled road. That was, I believed, the first time I registered dapple. 
My memory was indeed very strong – and entirely incorrect. Forty years later I returned to that pub between Tenbury Wells and the worryingly gothic St Michael’s College. No orchards, no hop-yards, and the surrounding fields were devoted to cereal crops. Lime trees? According to an old postcard I subsequently found, there never had been trees.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Severn Tunnel

An educational film from 1959.

Jackfield is in a stable condition

From the Shropshire Star:
Riverbank piling works as part of the Jackfield Stabilisation Project have now been completed. That work involved 2,000 steel piles being driven into the banks of the River Severn to stabilise the land and halt the land slip – and was the bulk of the work designed to prevent landslides and try to reduce erosion and the movement of land in the Ironbridge Gorge.
I have blogged about subsidence at Jackfield before. Do follow that link and view the newsreel footage of the area from the 1950s.

The photo above shows Jackfield's remarkable Victorian church, St Mary the Virgin.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dog of the Day comes from Stamford

In his mouth is half a very chewed old tennis ball. His game was to wait until someone was walking past and then drop it on to the pavement.

When the passerby stopped to give the ball back, he would snatch it, look grateful for a short while and then drop it again.

His companion did not altogether approve of this way of carrying on.

London zoo monkey-keeper and meerkat-keeper 'fought over llama-keeper'

The Guardian wins Headline of the Day.

Thanks to @lauralorgy for the nomination.

A Facebook group for the Glee Club

Gareth Epps writes on Liberator's blog:
This week's Glee Club was a great success, with the biggest attendance ever. Our supply of the Liberator Songbook sold out in record time. Onlookers seemed to enjoy it. Even a journalist from Sky News called it "the best night ever" (and on being challenged she did not say she was being sarcastic).
All of which makes the party's response to media attempts to manufacture a controversy over reference to Charles Kennedy in the songbook look pretty silly.

Gareth also reports that there is now a Facebook group devoted to the Glee Club.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The railway at Scotland Road, Market Harborough

Or Scotland Road, Little Bowden, actually.

When I first moved here the Market Harborough to Northampton line had closed (I was on the last train in August 1981) but there were still rails in the road where the level crossing had been. In my mind's ear I can hear cars going over them.

This slideshow combines shots of the area today with ones taken when the railway was still open.

Before my time, and before the first vintage photograph was taken, there was a footbridge over the railway line beside the signal box.

You can now find that box, rechristened Pitsford and Brampton, on the Northampton and Lamport Railway.

Six of the Best 540

"I handed in my Masters dissertation a couple of weeks ago ... I thought a summarised version of the key arguments would be of more interest than the whole thing." Congratulations to Nick Barlow, who argues that equidistance will help the Liberal Democrats win votes but not seats.

Joshua Lachkovic (a good man fallen among Liberal Reform) offers some thoughts from his first Liberal Democrat Conference.

"A working class lad from an ordinary working class estate in Preston, Lancashire, stood on a stage and did something new." Iain Donaldson was there too.

Chris Dillow says Jeremy Corbyn's 'people's quantitative easing' is no big deal.

US soldiers have been told to ignore the sexual abuse of boys by their Afghan allies. Joseph Goldstein reports from Kabul.

"Without wishing to sound full of self-pity, it is not easy being an English spin bowler at this moment in time. All we ever hear is that the cupboard is bare, but the simple truth is that we don't play in conditions that help young spinners to develop." Spare a thought for Ollie Rayner.

Cow in Cambridge 'moos in disgust' after man urinates in front of police, officers say

Continuing our recent lavatorial theme, Cambridge News walks away with Headline of the Day.

He wasn't the Messiah, but he may soon have a plaque in Market Harborough

Even as a youth Graham had been concerned with major philosophical questions. Not content to room the streets of Market Harborough abusing freemasons like normal children of his age, Graham wanted something more, something deeper, something that would last.
From the sleeve notes for the Monty Python's Meaning of Life soundtrack album.

Exciting news from the Harborough Mail:
A planning application has gone in to Harborough District Council asking for permission to put a plaque on a house where Graham Chapman lived as a teenager. 
The plaque would be on the wall of Caffe Nero in The Square, formerly a house where the Chapman family lived in the 1950s. 
Lovers of comedy should be delighted: it’s a little bit of Monty Python in the very centre of Market Harborough.
Graham Chapman has already been honoured with a plaque in Melton Mowbray, but I have heard it suggested that he once lived in Haborough. If it was as a teenager, it would be interesting to know where he went to school.

Anyway, my photo shows the building where the plaque may go up.

Later. It turns out this story is nonsense.

The sketchwriters on Tim Farron's speech

Michael Deacon  liked it:
With this speech, he shook awake a conference hall that had spent the best part of five days slumped in torpor. He spoke with feeling; he was self-deprecating; he was funny; he showed warmth. 
Party leaders always pump their conference speeches with stories about their childhood, mainly in the hope of persuading us they were born to human parents. But Mr Farron's reminiscences had a point to them. Unlike most party leaders, and indeed most MPs, he grew up in a single-parent family, with little money, in a high-unemployment northern town. So when he went on to declaim at length about the urgency of the housing shortage, "the biggest single issue that politicians don't talk about", chances are he actually meant it.
John Crace (sort of) liked it:
“Believe,” said Tim, changing from the usually smiley Tim to sincere Tim. And by and large, the conference crossed their fingers and did believe. Especially when Farron moved on to the subject of refugees. 
Here Farron was at his best. Partly because it’s not an issue on which he needed to gloss over previous political inconsistencies, but mainly because it was one on which he spoke from the heart. This wasn’t the voice of the snake-oil salesman, but a genuine humanitarian. The standing ovation he got for transcending party politics was a just reward. The Lib Dems had come to Bournemouth in search of a reason to believe and Farron had given them a hint their faith might not be misplaced.
Hell, even Quentin Letts liked it:
Parts were over-ripe, so nearly mawkish that one expected a Lancashire brass band to start playing the old Hovis theme tune. But Tim Farron, making his first big leader’s speech, played a weak hand well. ... 
The ‘eehbahgum-we-were-poor-when-I-were-a-lad’ stuff was more than balanced by later passages when a pumped Farron spoke about housing and argued for greater generosity to refugees. On the latter, particularly, he showed us something of his core – fashioned, I suspect, by his Christianity. 
‘I tell you frankly: you don’t risk everything clinging to the bottom of a truck if you’re looking for an easy life,’ he said, recalling some of the migrants he met on a recent trip to Calais. He became so animated when speaking up for these unfortunates that he hit his tie microphone. This section of the speech won, and deserved, a standing ovation.
Crace is right. Tim stamped his authority and the personality on the party with this speech.

And there is something else. Journalists tend to decide among themselves what the grand narrative is and then write stories that fit with it. Look at most coverage of Jeremy Corbyn for an example.

The hope is that they have decided that a Lib Dem fightback would make rather an interesting narrative and that we can hope for more grudgingly respectful coverage like this.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Disused railway stations in Glasgow

This feature heads into Scotland for the first time. The result is well worth the long queue for the customs formalities.

Tradition - one I really wish I had not begun - demands that I list all the previous videos in this series. So: Devon, Bedfordshire, North LincolnshireEast Sussex, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Cornwall, Rutland. Northumberland, Shropshire, SuffolkEast Riding of Yorkshire, Norfolk, Wiltshire, HertfordshireNorthamptonshire and Durham.

Looking forward to the new series of Endeavour

The other day I brought you the exciting news that Kevin Whatley's grandfather was rector of St Laurence’s, Church Stretton, in Shropshire.

Talking of which, I do not remember the heyday of Inspector Morse - I suspect it fell in that happy period when I did not own a television.

Watching it today, I just don't believe in Morse as a character. By contrast, Whatley's Lewis - a working-class copper who gets promotion late in his career and finds he is brighter than he realised - seems to me entirely credible.

Yet neither of them are among the two most memorable characters from the whole Morse/Lewis/Endeavour shebang.

The first is Fred Thursday from Endeavour, played by the might Roger Allam. The second, at least before we got rather tired of Lewis as a series, is the mysterious James Hathaway, played by Laurence Fox.

My hope is that the next series in this franchise will see Hathaway steal a time machine and meet Thursday. The two of them could then travel through time and space solving crimes.

That is unlikely, but there is good news: Endeavour will return next year. Which is just as well, as we have left Thursday fighting for his life and the young Morse in the hoosegow since that last, gruelling episode.

The ITV press release does not mention Roger Allam - I suspect they are playing with us.

But what it does say is intriguing:
Our next quartet of mysteries will take the audience on a psychedelic Summer of Love fairground ride, filled with twists and turns, shrieks and scares. In particular, one encounter at a certain stately home will echo down the years, and have consequences that not even Endeavour Morse could have foreseen.
My guess is that means the young Morse introduces Hathaway's parents.

Kyber Pass kebab shop fined over human faeces contamination

I'm really sorry about this, but the judges' decision is final/

BBC News wins Headline of the Day.

Cleverball, surfball and New Labour grandees

London 1958: Boys play cleverball in the street

Last night David Miliband mystified the nation. Interviewed on Newsnight about the refugee crisis he said:
I don't think this is about hardball or softball, it is about cleverball.
Yet Miliband 1 is not the first New Labour grandee to invent a new sport.

In December 1997 Peter Mandelson told a puzzled House of Commons:
The contents of the millennium experience, the dome, will attract people of all ages, although I suspect that playing surfball, the 21st century sport, will have an especial appeal to young people.
If you visited the Millennium Dome and don't recall being offered the chance to play surfball, that is because it never existed.

The following June he had to tell the House:
The serious play zone, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, will include explanations of the world of sport and games in the 21st century. It will cover the sort of 21st century game for which the term "surfball" was an illustrative title.
But maybe cleverball does exist. Not only is there the photograph above, but it may still be known in North London back gardens.

Could it be that the Miliband brothers played it when young and that David always won? Could it be that this provoked such resentment in Ed that he later stood against him for the Labour leadership.

If so, the game of cleverball may haunt Labour for years to come.

Thanks to @AmIRightSir for reminding me of the name of Mandy's sport. Follow him at once.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook

Here is the old brute's foreword to the newly controversial Liberator Songbook published for tonight's Glee Club at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Bonkers Hall
Tel. Rutland 7

I don’t know about yours, but here in Rutland our election night party Fell a Bit Flat. It was barely past midnight when the band struck up the Dead March from ‘Saul’ and things did not get much more cheerful after that.

When they invited requests, the pick of the pops proved to be ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ and ‘The End of the World’.

Not even my anecdote about Roy Jenkins and the lavatory brush, which normally brings the house down, could lift the mood.

The next morning, however, I had already determined that I should lead the Liberal Democrat fightback – so much so that I had the Well-Behaved Orphans out for Focus-delivering practice before breakfast. (Theirs, not mine, obviously.)

The most important thing now is to raise our party’s morale, and what is better for that than a good singsong?

Which is where the Liberator songbook comes in.

Within its pages you will find any number of songs carolling the principles and battle honours of Liberalism. Bellow them out with your neighbours and feel your spirits soar within you.

One irony is that last year I canvassed those amusing young people at Liberator to omit the song ‘Losing Deposits’ on the grounds that our party did not lose them anymore. You can’t say that now.

So I invite you to join me in a chorus of that song. You will probably have to turn over to find the words: I have them off by heart.

All together now…

Once a floating voter came across a tumpty tum,
Something to with a vote, isn’t it?
When he came out he something something Liberal.
Who’ll come losing deposits with me?

And the chorus!

Losing deposits, losing deposits
Who'll come a-losing deposits with me?
When he came out he something something Liberal.
Who'll come a-losing deposits with me?


Charles Kennedy and the Liberator Songbook

Faced with an annoyingly upbeat and united Liberal Democrat Conference, the press is doing its best to manufacture a row over references to Charles Kennedy in the Liberator Songbook.

This is sold every year to people attending the Glee Club at Conference.

A couple of experts have been phoned up and duly condemned us, including Jackie Ballard who really should know better.

The Birmingham Mail spoke to John Hemming, who gave a more sensible response:
Mr Hemming said that the songs had been written many years previously and it would be wrong to remove them from the songbook now. 
He said: “Charles wouldn’t have wanted that at all. 
“We spoke to his family and they didn’t want the songs removed either.” 
However, organisers of the event had removed lyrics to another tune, based on a Scottish folk song called the Skye Boat Song, which contained lyrics which were more offensive, Mr Hemming said.
Elsewhere the inevitable "senior Liberal Democrat" is quoted everywhere as saying the Glee Club "should have been axed years ago".

And a word of advice to the equally unnamed "Lib Dem source" who has been telling journalists that "hardly anyone goes" to the Glee Club.

That is not true, as those journalists will discover if they go along. This may keep the story running longer than it otherwise would and means they are less likely to believe you when a more serious matter comes up. So it wasn't a clever thing to say, was it?
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Now read Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook.

Dickens and Burke warn on extreme altruism

There is a common assumption that altruism is always a good thing. This puzzles me, because one can do wrong out of love another as well as out of love for oneself.

A second assumption that tends to follow the first is that, if altruism is always a good thing, the more we have of it the better.

There is an article in the Guardian today by Larissa MacFarquhar about those who are inspired by this idea.

It reminds me inescapably of Mrs Jellaby in Bleak House, who is obsessed with educating the natives of Borrioboola-Gha ("on the left bank of the Niger") while her own family goes to rack and ruin around her. (I have visited more than one Liberal household like that.):
Soon after seven o'clock we went down to dinner, carefully, by Mrs. Jellyby's advice, for the stair-carpets, besides being very deficient in stair-wires, were so torn as to be absolute traps. We had a fine cod-fish, a piece of roast beef, a dish of cutlets, and a pudding; an excellent dinner, if it had had any cooking to speak of, but it was almost raw. ... 
All through dinner—which was long, in consequence of such accidents as the dish of potatoes being mislaid in the coal skuttle and the handle of the corkscrew coming off and striking the young woman in the chin—Mrs. Jellyby preserved the evenness of her disposition. She told us a great deal that was interesting about Borrioboola-Gha and the natives, and received so many letters that Richard, who sat by her, saw four envelopes in the gravy at once. 
Some of the letters were proceedings of ladies' committees or resolutions of ladies' meetings, which she read to us; others were applications from people excited in various ways about the cultivation of coffee, and natives; others required answers, and these she sent her eldest daughter from the table three or four times to write. She was full of business and undoubtedly was, as she had told us, devoted to the cause.
I also remember Edmund Burke's dismissal of Rousseau:
He melts with tenderness for those who only touch him by the remotest relation, and then, without one natural pang, casts away, as a sort of offal and excrement, the spawn of his disgustful amours, and sends his children to the hospital of foundlings. The bear loves, licks, and forms her young; but bears are not philosophers. 
Vanity, however, finds its account in reversing the train of our natural affections. Thousands admire the sentimental writer; the affectionate father is hardly known in his parish.
In part it's the sort of ad hominem attack that has always been made on left-wing intellectuals, but I think Burke is on to something when he sees exaggerated altruism as a variety of vanity.

I suppose I am saying, as Mr Brooke would in Middlemarch, that altruism is fine "up to a point".

Monday, September 21, 2015

Two cheers for OMOV

I have always been a bit of a One Member, One Vote sceptic when it comes to Liberal Democrat Conference.

My major worry about it - that the press would have too much influence on Conference votes if it were brought in - no longer applies. The press now has many better things to do with its time.

But the pro-OMOV arguments still seem a bit weak to me. The main one runs something like: "OMOV is democracy so if you are against it, you are against democracy."

This will not do. Democracy takes many forms, and the representative democracy we have had in the party until now is a perfectly legitimate form of it.

I even saw someone saying today that we have to support OMOV "because we are Liberal Democrat". Well, we have been Liberal Democrats for 27 years without it, so I didn't find that argument as clinching as I was meant to.

But today Conference voted to bring in OMOV, and I think on the whole they were right to do so.

Yet this move has not done all that some of its proponents claim for it.

The reality is that, because of their personal circumstances, many Liberal Democrat members are not able to attend Conference.

I now fall into this category because I have caring responsibilities and money and time away from home is suddenly in shorter supply than it used to be.

Others have jobs where they cannot easily get time off in Conference week, are poor or live a long way from most Conference venues.

When I raised this point on Twitter, a couple of people told me that I could not now make Conference under the present rules.

I have to say I found that of limited comfort.

My problem with the pro OMOV people is that they sound remarkably pleased with themselves. Someone suggested to me that this because they have overthrown a "vested interest" - the current voting representatives.

Those representatives were democratically elected. Policy will now be made by anyone who turns up to Conference, and I suspect that the young, wealthy and footloose will be overrepresented among them. The danger is that they really will from a vested interest.

Having voted for OMOV Conference now has to make it a reality and open up voting to all party members by electronic means.

I still worry that this will mean people who have not followed the debates will get to vote, but I see no alternative to this move. The sooner it is done the better.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: As our Lord said (and I think rightly)

And so another week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close. If you wish to know more about the old brute, read Twenty Years of Lord Bonkers.


Walking by the shore this morning I see that a craft loaded to the gunwales (whatever they are) with people has run aground in the shallows. It turns out that the passengers have made their way from Syria risking gunfire, high explosives and the Rutland Water Monster. Naturally, I give orders for them to be put up at the Hall.

As our Lord said (and I think rightly): "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday: Straight Outta Nick Compton
Wednesday: "Row Splits Liberal Party"
Thursday: Paying our respects to Stephen Lewis
Friday: On the even side of the street
Saturday: Freddie and Fiona OBE
Sunday: A prayer for Tim Farron

When blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars

Blogging, it seems, is in decline - no one has offered me an expenses-paid trip to New York in years.

Even so, I think it a shame that the Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year award has died without even an announcement of its demise.

I have done my own small bit to try to encourage Lib Dem blogging by picking up the welcome to the new bloggers feature that used to appear on Lib Dem Voice. Maybe I should start giving awards too?

A unique insight into how the web has changed since the heyday of blogging can be found in an article by Hossein Derakhshan.

He was a leading Iranian blogger, imprisoned by the government in 2008 for spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thought and religious figures. He was pardoned and released last November.

Derakhshan remembers the glory days of blogging:
Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted. 
People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.
Emerging from prison, he found a very different web:
The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.
The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. 
Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.
This worries Derakhshan. He fears it makes us more dependent on big corporations and more open to government surveillance.
We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking. 
When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. 
I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail.
Bloggers used to be scrupulous in acknowledging their sources, so... h/t Thomas Jones on the London Review of Books blog.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

David Cameron and the pig

This evening Twitter is alight with news that the new biography of David Cameron by Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott alleges that, when a student, the prime minister did something unsavoury with a pig's head.

It's interesting how the people on my timeline who normally moan about the 'Daily Fail' are happy to believe it tonight.

Anyway, I posted the photograph above when I first heard news of the planned biography. Somewhat prophetic, it turns out.

I posted it because Oakeshott's previous book had been a collaboration with Vicky Price. And look how that ended up.

I also wonder whether Ashcroft, who fell out with Cameron after he was not offered the major job he felt he had been promised, is an admirer of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

There is a famous story about LBJ. This version of it comes from a Democratic Underground board:
Legend has it that LBJ, in one of his early congressional campaigns, told one of his aides to spread the story that Johnson's opponent fucked pigs. The aide responded "Christ, Lyndon, we can't call the guy a pigfucker. It isn't true." To which LBJ supposedly replied "Of course it ain't true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A prayer for Tim Farron


All is well again at St Asquith’s. The Revd Hughes is back in the saddle for this morning’s service of Thanksgiving for England’s victory in the Ashes, having returned from his missionary work amongst the tribes of the Upper Welland Valley.

Farron, meanwhile, has gone off to London to lead the Liberal Democrats – or what remains of them. The Revd's suggestion that we all pray for him hits Just the Right Note.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday: Straight Outta Nick Compton
Wednesday: "Row Splits Liberal Party"
Thursday: Paying our respects to Stephen Lewis
Friday: On the even side of the street
Saturday: Freddie and Fiona OBE

Steve Winwood: Arc of a Diver

Not everyone cares for the music from Steve Winwood's extraordinarily successful solo career in the 1980s.

Take J. Temperance:
Winwood’s vacuous hymns to hedonism and the “finer things” the aging rich can afford are, in their way, nearly as offensive and excoriating as the hallucinatory violence Bateman imagines visiting on the world of superficial splendor within which he has imprisoned himself. This is music that can only be enjoyed by someone who is dead inside.
Winwood maintains that his music in that decade did what he has always done - bring together influences from the blues, folk, jazz and beyond - but was given a sheen by his producers that has not aged well.

If you want to explore this period of his career, I can recommend a video that has reappeared on Youtube recently. It is of a concert he gave at the Royal Albert Hall in 1988 (and there are nods to Blind Faith, Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group even here).

Winwood would have been 40 that year, but appears absurdly youthful. I have seen it written that when he turned up to film for MTV he looked like any other artist of the era. Except that he was asked into their inner sanctum by the starstruck producers rather than moved round with a cattle prod.

Anyway, this is the title track from Winwood's first LP of the 1980s. The words are by the great Viv Stanshall and, perhaps because of that, it still sounds good today (even with those synthesisers).

Six of the Best 539

Peter Black fears that the Liberal Democrats' election post mortem is being written by the usual suspects and will miss the point.

Seth Thévoz has conducted for the Social Liberal Forum a detailed study into the effectiveness of the Interim Peers Panel System for electing Liberal Democrat nominees to the House of Lords. You can download the whole report from the SLF website.

"One suspects that in today’s online world, Fischer’s paranoia and personal flaws would have tripped him up long before he became champion." Kenneth Rogoff, once one of the world's best young chess players and now a leading economist, reviews Pawn Sacrifice, the new Hollywood biography of Bobby Fischer.

Running Past discovers the former home of the GPO film unit, where W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten worked together in the 1930s.

The Witch, The Weird, and The Wonderful has tales of drowned churches and ghostly peels of bells.

"Thackray’s handsome face and strong Roman nose, his vertical posture and watery, wisenheimer eyes – with the merest hint of vulnerability – made him a housewives’ favourite back in the day, though Thackray was also an anomaly, impossible to categorise. That is perhaps the reason the national treasure epithet evaded him in life; his cult hero status has only inflated since he died in 2002." Jeremy Allen remembers the great Jake Thackray.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway

After being derailed at Chilham I decided to regain my confidence with railways by riding on the narrow gauge Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch.

As Ben Goldacre (somewhat unexpectedly) says in the guidebook they sell you, this is a line built for pleasure. Many other heritage lines were built to serve back-breaking industries, but the RH&DR was built by two millionaires to show off their miniature locomotives.

That book also confirms that an armoured train operated on the line during the Second World War. But the clearance was so restricted that the gun had to be taken down each time it passed under a bridge.

Nothing though about the train full of policemen that arrives to catch the smugglers at the end of Malcolm Saville's The Elusive Grasshopper.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Freddie and Fiona OBE


Did you see some fool suggesting that there should be a mandatory retirement age for peers? The very idea! Fortunately, my own peerage is one of the Rutland variety, which is governed by quite different rules – not least because I chair the committee that looks after such matters.

However, it cannot be denied that there is a problem with overcrowding in the Upper House: it is hard to get table for tea these days and the I was obliged to give my last speech on the Consolidate Fund Bill while sitting on the lap of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Comfortable though it was, this is a less than acceptable arrangement.

Moreover, it is only going to get worse. Poor Clegg has rewarded all his advisers (Freddie and Fiona both now have OBEs, for instance), with some of them getting peerages. I have to say that, judging by our results in May, I am not convinced that having advised Clegg is any qualification for a place in the legislature.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday: Straight Outta Nick Compton
Wednesday: "Row Splits Liberal Party"
Thursday: Paying our respects to Stephen Lewis

Friday, September 18, 2015

The launch of the World Unicorn at Wallsend (1973)

Thanks to Made in Newcastle for tweeting the link to this remarkable video. The World Unicorn was launched from Swan Hunter's Wallsend shipyard in 1973.

Those terraced streets have long gone. They may even be the same ones you can see standing empty in a video of the excavations to reveal Segedunum, the Roman fort.

And as the commenter there says, you have to respect archaeology in flares. But then it was shot in 1975.

Whataboutery and the Corbynistas

World Wide Words is a great site for anyone interested in the English language.

In 2012 it discussed 'whataboutery':
It’s associated particularly with the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Bitter arguments by one side about terrorism were often countered, not by reasoned argument, but by accusations of similar atrocities by the other. 
In 2000, The Scotsman attributed the coinage to the former West Belfast MP Gerry Fitt, and gave this example: “Aye, the IRA might be bad, but what about ...”. That makes clear it’s what about turned into a noun. 
The Belfast Telegraph used it on 29 September: “Both sides are steeped in historical ‘whataboutery’ and they cannot see the historical woods for the modern trees.”
I mention it because whataboutery is pretty much all that enthusiasts for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party have to offer.

When John McDonnell's comments on the Provisional IRA from 2003:
"It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. 
"It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table."
there were numerous tweets like this from Corbyn supporters.
Thatcher's support for the Pinochet regime was an outrage, and if there had been blogs in the 1980s I would have said so.

But reasonable people are against both Pinochet and the IRA. And such people are precisely the ones Labour should be seeking to win over.

If you are one of Corbyn's keyboard warriors, however, such people do not exist. You are either in his tribe or you are a Tory.

Far from seeking to broaden Labour's appeal they seem more concerned with weeding out the Tories in their own ranks.

This is a more extreme version of the use all activists (yes, Liberal Democrats) tend to make of social media. We spend our time telling each other how noble we are and how wicked the other parties are. We resemble a tribe of monkeys grooming one another.

Another factor in whataboutery is a horror of hypocrisy. Our opponents accuse us of things but - look! - they do even worse things themselves.

There is something terribly adolescent about the idea that a charge of hypocrisy trumps all others. Those who make it sound as though they have not yet got over the discovery that their parents are not perfect.

Adult life sometimes involves telling other less than the truth (when they have given you a present you don't particularly like, for instance) and it sometimes means going along with things you don't particularly agree with for the sake of politeness.

A good example of this is that you sing the National Anthem if you choose to attend a Battle of Britain memorial service.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: On the even side of the street


A telephone call summons me back from a meeting of the Trustees of the Royal Opera House, Oakham. When I arrive at the Hall I find a ground floor window in the East Wing broken and a number of precious items missing: a signed photograph of Googie Withers (signed by Desmond Banks, I might add); a 1906 Wisden that lists every Liberal victory at that year’s general election including, as it happens my own; an early prototype of the shuttleworth press, which I have offered to more than one museum; and much else besides (whatever my insurers may later claim).

When I telephone the local constabulary I am asked: “Does your house have an odd or an even number?” “It doesn’t have a number, you booby,” I reply hotly, “it’s the Hall.”  It transpires that Leicestershire Police have a policy of investigating burglaries only in houses with an even number. I think this an outrage, but when I raise the subject with my literary secretary (who occasionally helps me prepare these diaries for the press) he says he is “seriously relaxed” about this initiative.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Passengers left stunned by crabs on the metro

ITV News wins Headline of the Day.

It also tells us that the crabs have been taken to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The last day of the Somerset and Dorset

Film shot on the last day of this line's operation, 6 March 1966.

The two filming locations are the more westerly of the Windsor Hill Tunnels near Shepton Mallet and then Midford viaduct near Bath.

The latter also features in the opening shots of the Titfield Thunderblot...

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Paying our respects to Stephen Lewis


We gather on the village green to pay our respects to the actor Stephen Lewis, who died a few days ago. His passing reminds me of the days when I would drop into the Servants’ Hall to watch ‘On the Buses’ on their moving television. How we roared! What with that and the racing, I spent more time in the servants’ quarters at the Hall than my own – but then I have always prided myself on being a Radical Liberal.

I had already noticed the double-decker parked outside The Bonkers’ Arms before the commencement of the minute’s silence. As soon as the maroon had been fired, the vehicle began bouncing on its springs. This continued for a while, until a voice cried: “Blimey, Stan, we’re ten minutes late!” Then the driver and a young lady, who both showed clear signs of having dressed in a hurry, scrambled down the stairs and the former leapt into cab before revving the engine and disappearing down the lane to Uppingham.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday: Straight Outta Nick Compton
Wednesday: "Row Splits Liberal Party"

Six of the Best 538

"It wasn’t just in May 2015 that the Lib Dems were wiped out. That was simply the culmination of five years of humiliating defeats at every level of representative government. In the European parliament, 11 of our 12 MEPs were defeated. In Scotland, we lost 12 of the 17 seats we were defending. ... Our local government base was hacked down year after year, from 3,944 councillors in 2010 to just 1,801 in 2015." Stephen Tall asks if Liberal Democrat participation in the Coalition was worth the price.

James Snell on the British left's alliance with deeply reactionary forces.

In politics and football, Jeremy Corbyn is no Michael Foot, says Adrian Sanders.

Let cities borrow to build new infrastructure, says The Englightened Economist.

Dan Waddell remembers the time that Yorkshire - including a 23-year-old Geoffrey Boycott - tried to ride the wave of Beatlemania to take cricket to the USA.

"If you walk towards the Brixton end, however, and you stop and look carefully at the end of a terrace, you can see a tiny bit of maroon-ish red paint showing through some peeling cream emulsion." Another Nickel in the Machine comes to life with a post on David Hemmings, Blow-Up and the red buildings on the Stockwell Road.

"An agony aunt rather than anything else": Tim Farron and disgruntled Labour

Politics Home tell us that Labour figures concerned by Jeremy Corbyn's leaderhip have been in communication with Tim Farron:
The Liberal Democrat leader said the conversations “may or may not be conclusive” in terms of defections, but that many Labour members “feel deeply distressed” after the election of the left-wing Mr Corbyn. 
“I’ve had various unsolicited texts, some of them over the weekend, where I felt like I was being an agony aunt rather than anything else,” Mr Farron told the Evening Standard. 
“People who have been members of the [Labour] party for as long as I’ve been a member of mine who feel that they don’t recognise their party anymore and feel deeply distressed.” 
He said “some” of those who contacted him were well-known Labour figures, but refused to be drawn on whether they were frontbenchers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kevin Whatley's grandfather was rector of Church Stretton

The Shropshire Star leads us to our Trivial Fact of the Day:
In the long-running detective drama Inspector Morse, actor Kevin Whately played the role of Det Sgt Robbie Lewis, the no-nonsense Geordie who served as the perfect foil to the highbrow, Oxford-educated title role. 
Off-screen though, it was a different story altogether. While Morse was played by John Thaw, who grew up in the tough Longsight area of Manchester, Whately was the grandson of the Rev Herbert Whately, the Oxford-educated former rector of Church Stretton.
Reader's voice: It's not that interesting, is it?

Liberal England replies: No, but I wanted to use this photo of St Laurence’s, Church Stretton.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Row Splits Liberal Party"


I recall my excitement after the February 1974 general election when I realised its outcome meant that the Liberal Party once again had enough MPs to put out a rowing eight. I wasted no time in signing us up for Henley, though my decision was not without controversy: I recall the headline “Row Splits Liberal Party” appeared in one of Fleet Street’s more prominent organs.

I remain, however, convinced I was right, for a party that pulls together pulls together, what? As to a cox, I generally being a Well-Behaved Orphan along – they tend not to be on the chubby side and can be handy with a catapult if the other crew attempts to take our water.

The result earlier this year was dreadful, but not so bad that we cannot still form an eight, so this morning I had them out on the Thames for training. Seven were doing their best, but I noticed that Clegg had his feet up and was reading the Sheffield Star.

“Put your back into it, man,” I call through my megaphone as I cycle along the towpath. “I want to give Tim Farron space to build his team without having to look over his shoulder,” Clegg calls back. “I am sure he would rather you put your back into it,” I reply shortly.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday: Straight Outta Nick Compton