Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chris Lewis on life after cricket... and prison

Chris Lewis was one of many players christened "the next Ian Botham" to play for England in his era. Unlike most of them, he was an extremely talented cricketer.

That he played 32 tests and 53 one-day internationals and still left behind the feeling that he had not made the most of his talents is a tribute to just how apparent those talents were.

He was a lively opening bowler and a late order batsman who was good enough to score a test century. The video here shows him hitting his first test fifty.

In 2009 he was jailed for 13 years after being caught smuggling drugs. He was released last summer after serving six of them.

He is the subject of a long article in today's Leicester Mercury, which takes in his work talking to young players for the Professional Cricketers' Association:
Today is Tuesday and Tuesday means Nottingham and Trent Bridge. Fifteen grounds done, four more to go (that's 18 clubs and the MCC). Chris Lewis is visiting every one, every first class ground in country and talking to the nation's aspiring young cricketers about life, sport and all the bits in between they don't really think abut. 
"Because I didn't think about it, when I was their age," he says. "I know I didn't. I want to tell them that the decisions they take now, the things they do today, can have a bearing on the rest of their lives." 
Sometimes, it makes little difference. He knows that. Sometimes, when you're speaking to a room full of 19- and 20-year-olds who all think they know best, it's hard to get through, to break the veneer of brio and swagger. 
"But sometimes, it gets through, you know, and you can see that you've reached them," he says.
I wish Chris Lewis well. As I blogged when he was convicted:
My favourite memory of Lewis is seeing him in the nets at Grace Road (Leicestershire's county ground) with a queue of boys waiting to bowl to him. 
Not many test players would bother to do that.

Satnav and the death of our navigation skills

England is a palimpsest of Medieval churches, abandoned mineral railways, ruinous Gothic institutions and follies built by mad aristocrats. But you won’t find them on your satnav.
So I wrote for the New Statesman website in the days when I wrote for the New Statesman website.

Today comes news (via the Telegraph) that a paper in Nature has backed up my anti-satnav prejudice:
Satellite communication consultant Roger McKinlay, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, believes the world is losing its way due to over-reliance on navigation aids. 
Writing in the journal Nature, he argues navigation and map reading should be on the school curriculum. 
Describing navigation as a "use-it-or-lose-it" skill, he warned: "If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation skills will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices."
The school curriculum? I won a Map Reader badge in the Cubs and I think it meant more to me than my degrees did later in life. It was a hint that I might one day succeed in being the sort of outdoors child that I felt I ought to be but feared I never would.

Long before satnav came along, I was surprised by how little idea even educated people had of the geography of their own country.

Organise a work meeting anywhere but central London and you would be deluged with requests for directions. Can't you just look at a road atlas?

And this attitude persists in quiz programmes where questions about British geography or treated as something no one can be expected to know.

What can people who know so little about the subject make of the news?

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The New Rutland Primaries

Another dispatch from Lord Bonkers recent visit to the United States.

The New Rutland Primaries

By now you will have heard the results of the New Rutland primaries, but I placed my bets as follows. In the Republican contest I put my money on a fellow who rejoiced in the name of ‘Trump’. He goes around in a Boris Johnson fright wig and is the sort of Fascist who would long ago have been debagged and thrown in a stream in the original Rutland, but he is all the rage with the Republicans over here.

My choice on the Democrat side was Hilary Clinton. She is the wife of the former President Clinton and, as such, has had A Lot To Put Up With. Her only rival for the Democrat nomination is one Bernie Sanders, who came bounding up to me at the Gladstone hustings. Did I know his brother, who used to be a Green councillor in Oxford?

It happens that I do know him. I once made the mistake of sitting opposite him at Paddington and was treated to a lecture on how methane generated by cows was causing the atmosphere to warm with the result that subsistence farmers in the Nazca Desert could not make a living and were turning to asparagus farming with the result that the polar ice caps were melting which meant the fishermen of Ullapool were unable to… At this point I bribed the guard to stop the train and put me off at Didcot.

My own address to the Democrat event went tolerably well and when I left town the next day aboard the 3.10 to Yuma, a little fellow called “Come back, Bonkers!” after me.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...
  • Do you know New Rutland?
  • My old Friend Rising Star
  • Wednesday, March 30, 2016

    In 1969 we could send men to the Moon but lacked the technology to fake a landing

    S.G. Collins explains.

    h/t the mighty Brian Moore.

    Nick Clegg to hold public meeting in Harborough on 19 May

    Nick Clegg will be speaking on Europe at a public meeting on Europe in Oadby on Thursday 19 May.

    Also featuring Dinesh Dhamija, the founder of Ebookers, the meeting will take place at Beauchamp College with a 5.30pm for 6pm start.

    My old friend Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Knowles says:
    "Zuffar Haq and the team are working very hard to make this a successful evening and I have no doubt that tickets will be in high demand. My recommendation is to book early to secure your place at the event and to avoid disappointment.''
    To book a place at the meeting, please email Linda Broadley.

    Six of the Best 584

    "The UK has gone further down the road of co-opting its citizens into immigration policing than most European countries," says Frances Webber.

    Tesco's marketing strategy involves making us feel warm towards farms that do not exist, explains Tom Levitt.

    Charlotte Gill is not impressed by a Leeds primary school's decision to ban the game of tag: " I find all of this safeguarding a great shame. It shows how childhood, which should be a free and exploratory time, is now being over-policed."

    JohnBoy pays tribute to Barry Hines. Among the facts he is uncovers is that Hines once played in a Loughborough Colleges team alongside Dario Gradi and Bob Wilson.

    "Though the origin of Easter eggs and Easter bunnies can be traced back to ancient times, the Victorians did not begin to celebrate Easter in the way that we know now until the late 19th century. It was then that Easter bunnies became fashionable." Some fascinating social history from Mimi Matthews.

    Eric Grunhauser on the stave churches of Norway, which combine Christian architecture with Nordic designs and the motifs of a Viking great hall.

    Just because they retweet you, it doesn't mean they have understood you

    It's nice to be widely retweeted, but does it mean that all those people have understood what you have said?

    A new paper highlighted by the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog suggests it does not:
    The researchers based at Peking University and Cornell University say that the very option to share or repost social media items is distracting, and what's more, the decision to repost is itself a further distraction and actually makes it less likely that readers will have properly understood the very items that they chose to share.
    You can read about the two studies on the Research Digest, but I have observed a small example of this phenomenon myself today.

    Last night I blogged about Desborough Town Council and its decision to increase its precept by more than 400 per cent.

    If you read that post you will see I express some sympathy for this decision - "If ever a town gave the visitor the impression that it needs some money spent on it, that town is Desborough" - yet every person who has retweeted my tweets about this post appears to be a Labour supporter.

    Did they even click through to the post before retweeting?

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: My old friend Rising Star

    A second day in the US with Lords Bonkers. Today he meets an old friend who once featured prominently in these diaries.

    My old friend Rising Star

    It seems the Red Indian influence remains strong in New Rutland to this day. Who should I meet when I arrived in Gladstone, the state capital, but my old friend Rising Star, at one time the Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester?

    We went for a firewater and he told me that he had given up politics and returned to the trade of his forefathers: he is dealing in animal skins ("Um nice little earner.") When I asked him what he had made from afar of the travails of our party he replied with characteristic sagacity: "Heap big trouble."

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Tuesday, March 29, 2016

    Mill Hill East to Edgware

    Another video about a lost line from Londonist.

    The naming of trains

    Spurred by Boaty McBoatface, Ian Jack devoted his Saturday Guardian column to the naming of things:
    The naming habit probably reached its zenith between 1920 and 1950, when the four big railway companies produced thousands of steam locomotives that carried brass nameplates, variously honouring army regiments, public schools, battleships, Derby winners, famous shipping lines, country houses, aristocrats, remote colonies, old kings, young princesses and holders of the Victoria Cross. 
    No other railway system in the world named nearly as high a proportion of its engines. The brass plates represented what seemed most solid, singular and enduring about British life – and also what was most conservative. 
    New ways of travel shrank the tradition of individualising the means of transport. The Spirit of Saint Louis took Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic; the Enola Gray dropped the bomb on Hiroshima – but how many other aircraft are remembered by a name rather than a flight number? The Lusitania sank, flight MH370 vanished, and memory says it was Pan Am 103 that blew up over Lockerbie, rather than a 747 called Clipper Maid of the Seas. 
    As to trains, I think I’ve seen one called Penny the Pendolino. Others are named after Thunderbird puppets – Virgil Tracy, Brains, Parker. There’s a lot to be said for plain numbers.
    This afternoon I came home from Leicester aboard a train called 'Invest in Nottingham'. He has a point.

    I was also reminded of Nicholas Whittaker's Platform Souls - a book that, in a just world, would have done for trainspotting what Fever Pitch did for football.

    There he wrote about seeing his first Great Western steam locomotive, Freshford Manor, on the line beside Dudley Zoo:
    I underlined the number in my ABC Combine as soon as I got home, and for weeks it was my proudest exhibit. I'd sit staring at it for ages, but the more I looked, the more taunted I felt by its uniqueness; one thin red line in an otherwise unused section of the book. 
    What about all those other GWR locomotives with such quintessential English names: Witherstock Hall, Tudor Grange, Cadbury Castle, Hinton Manor? To the bookish child that I was, it conjoured up a weird and wonderful England populated by Agatha Christie colonels, Wodehouse aunts and Elizabethan plotters.

    Liberator on the Gurling review

    My copy of the new Liberator arrived this morning. I have already started serialising Lord Bonkers' latest diary, but I thought I would share some of Radical Bulletin with you too.

    The lead item looks at the Gurling review of the Liberal Democrats' performance at the 2015 general election:
    James Gurling and his colleagues have pulled few punches. If their report has a weakness it's that it all too well reflects the general election campaign's fundamental mistake of seeing political problems and offering organisational solutions ... 
    The elephant in the room throughout ... is Nick Clegg himself, Its conclusions painfully reinforce the now clearer view that he lacked the political experience for the job having had one term as an MEP - so semi-detatched from UK politics - and only two years as an MP before becoming leader, in both cases parachuted into safe berths.
    I am sure you would like to read more, but to do so you will have to subscribe to Liberator.

    Radical Bulletin, incidentally, was originally a separate publication, latterly edited by John Tilley and Ralph Bancroft.

    It merged with Liberator in the early 1980s, where it survives to this day as a section of the magazine.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
    Think of the two publications as the radical Liberal equivalent of Whizzer and Chips.

    Conservative council puts up tax bill by over 400 per cent

    The memo about Britain having overspent on its credit card has clearly not reached Desborough in Northamptonshire.

    There the Conservative-run town council has voted to increase its portion of the council tax bill by more than 400 per cent.

    Defending the decision, the council's chairman Cllr Mike Tebbutt told the Northamptonshire Telegraph:
    "I've had a few complaints passed on to me by the council clerk and they have all been responded to explaining our intentions. 
    "The rise is absolutely justified. We are going to provide many of the things that people have wanted to see happen in Desborough. 
    "From information passed to the electorate we are committed to a number of things, including improving the town centre, sports facilities and provision of a new skate park."
    I have a certain sympathy for this decision. If ever a town gave the visitor the impression that it needs some money spent on it, that town is Desborough.

    And this is how local democracy is supposed to work. If Tory councillors have misjudged the mood in the town then the people of Desborough are free to vote them out at the next election.

    But Council Tax rates are now so controlled from the centre that it is only town councils that can take radical action like this.

    Not everyone agrees with the council's decision.

    Step forward Mick Scrimshaw of Kettering Labour Party:
    No other council would even be allowed to do this but as Town councils do not have to abide by the same rules as other councils and they were able to push this through without a referendum and without proper consultation with their electorate. 
    In my opinion it shows a complete disregard for democracy and also shows a spectacular lack of competence and imagination. I have n doubt they want to spend this extra money on worthwhile things (although I don’t know) but simply to raise council taxes in this way without looking at other ways of raising finance is simplistic and crass.
    So welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Desborough Town Council where the Conservatives hugely increase taxes to pay for better services and Labour demands continued austerity.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Do you know New Rutland?

    The new issue of Liberator is on its way to subscribers, which means that it is time to spend another week at Bonkers Hall.

    Except, Lord Bonkers if far from the Hall as he writes this...

    Do you know New Rutland?

    I sit in one of the dives on 52nd Street writing this diary before I take a yellow cab to JFK and a jet to Oakham International Airport. I was a regular visitor to New York as a young man, the more so after I was given a Manhattan penthouse by a grateful President for rendering services to the American nation that I had better keep under my hat even today. You will have seen what the locals call the ‘Bonkers Tower’ – perhaps because of the moustache-like structure that protrudes from either side of the 34th floor.

    The purpose of this visit has been to observe the contest for the Democrat and Republican nominations at close quarters – the New Rutland primaries in particular.

    Do you know New Rutland? No doubt you have heard the tale of how, after a painful schism in the Church of Rutland following an attempt to reform the LBW law, a party of settlers sailed from Oakham Quay. After many vicissitudes they reached New England, before trekking into the interior until they reached unclaimed land.

    What became New Rutland was bought from Red Indians and proved to be difficult to farm. (Foolishly, the settlers failed to keep the receipt, with the result that the Indians refused to take it back. Some urged legal action, but the majority felt it unwise to sue the Sioux.)

    Nevertheless, the settlers tilled the soil and raised their animals to build an economy based on the production of Stilton cheese and pork pies. Why, to make themselves feel even more at home they even dug a vast artificial reservoir and named it New Rutland Water!

    I travelled there last week, receiving something of a cool welcome when I disembarked at a wayside station. There were three fellows hanging about, and not one of them had thought to bring me a horse! Well, I soon put them right, I assure you, and also told the stationmaster to oil his wind-pump.

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

    Monday, March 28, 2016

    Exposing the Euromyths

    The European Commission has published an enjoyable list of Euromyths.

    Each one is accompanied by a link taking you to the truth on the subject.

    Henry Bryce Prestwich wins the Cork International Race 1937

    Researching the Saddleworth air crash of 1949 and the later death of Michael Prestwich, I came across this video of his father winning a motor race before the war.

    It presents a wonderful picture of motor racing in the 1930s - all cigarettes and no safety precautions with commentary by Mr Cholmondley-Warner.

    Henry Bryce Prestwich was a cotton merchant. A forum post on the Autosport site says:
    He was born Henry Bryce Stadelbaur or Stadelbauer at Altrincham, Cheshire, England in 1911. Both spellings appear on documents. His father was Otto Stadelbau(e)r, a British subject from a Saxony family. However, like many with a German sounding name, the family changed their name during the 1914-18 war to acquire a more English sounding one (following the example of King George V). 
    I found that Prestwich had raced a M.G. at the Donington Park Motor Car races in May 1936 (9.5.36) and at the same track in the Coronation Trophy races in May 1937 (12.5.37). After the 1937 Cork race, he only appears once more in the records, starting but not finishing the 1938 Cork Light Car (voiturette) Race, again in a MG. 
    The London Gazette records that Prestwich was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army in November 1940.
    He survived the war, only to die at Saddleworth with his wife and two of his three children. It seems Prestwich was his mother's maiden name.

    Sergey Karjakin qualifies to challenge for the world chess title

    While the geeks were watching a rerun of the election night coverage from 1966, I outgeeked them by watching the final round of the Candidates chess tournament in Moscow.

    The tournament was held to find who would challenge the world champion Magnus Carlsen for his title in a match in New York this November.

    In today's final round the leaders were playing one another: Sergey Karjakin had white against Fabiano Caruana.

    A draw would give Karjakin victory in the tournament, but Caruana needed a win. (By a quirk of the tie-break system that situation could have been reversed if Vishy Anand had won his game, but that never looked likely and he agreed an early draw.)

    Caruana obtained an active, unbalance position without taking on too much risk. I got the impression he was drifting slightly when he got to move 35 or so, but there still seemed all to play for.

    Then Karjakin played a devastating rook sacrifice that the grandmasters commentating on the game had not anticipated.

    A tremendous achievement in such a tense game, though most people believe that Carlsen will retain his title when they meet.

    You can play through the game on chess,com.

    Karjakin played his sacrifice in the position above: the devastating 37. Rxd5.

    Why rebutting your opponents' charges can be counterproductive

    In the days when I was an agent or produced election leaflets I discouraged the idea that we should rebut the claims of our opponents in the literature we put out.

    My reasoning was that it was much better to concentrate on our own positive messages. If that wasn't enough then we were never going to win away.

    Some support for this position comes from psychological research discussed in a 2007 Washington Post article - thanks to @sundersays for tweeting the link this morning.

    The Post describes a study by the University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz:
    The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "The side effects are worse than the flu" and "Only older people need flu vaccine." 
    When ... Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual. 
    Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.
    The same phenomenon, says the Post, has been observed in other experiments.

    And Ruth Mayo, a cognitive social psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has found that people tend to forget that someone was denying accusations over time - they just remember the association between him and the accusation:
    "If someone says, 'I did not harass her,' I associate the idea of harassment with this person," said Mayo, explaining why people who are accused of something but are later proved innocent find their reputations remain tarnished. "Even if he is innocent, this is what is activated when I hear this person's name again.
    What do do?
    Mayo found that rather than deny a false claim, it is better to make a completely new assertion that makes no reference to the original myth. Rather than say, as Sen. Mary Landrieu ... did during a marathon congressional debate, that "Saddam Hussein did not attack the United States; Osama bin Laden did," Mayo said it would be better to say something like, "Osama bin Laden was the only person responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks" - and not mention Hussein at all.
    It is not always easy to keep to this, but I am happy to publicise peer-reviewed science that chimes with my hunches or prejudices.

    The impossibility of holding academies to account

    David Higgerson writes on his blog about the Liverpool Echo's attempts to investigate the actions of a local academy that has announced it will no longer offer A levels:
    The school, Halewood Academy, appears to consider itself above scrutiny and refused to talk to the Echo, instead referring to a statement online. The local council, Knowsley, shrugged its shoulders as well it might – it has no say on what goes on at Halewood, despite the fact its borough will have no A-level provision. 
    Tom was pointed towards regional schools commissioners who are apparently responsible for making decisions about academies in their areas. There is next to no information on this role, and what there is is tucked away on the utterly useless website. The fact there are precisely zero FOI releases from the regional schools commissioners tells you how accountable they are. There’s no information on the decisions they make either. 
    North West commissioner Vicky Beer seemed surprised to be asked what her role was by Tom, and referred him to central government, as it was their decision. Which doesn’t sound very devolved, does it? 
    The final irony – if irony is the right word – is contained in a screen grab in Tom’s report – a petition against the A-level closure plans filed on the government’s petition website was rejected because "the government and parliament aren’t responsible."
    Higgerson says this glimpse into the future of education will horrify any journalists, but it should horrify every parent and citizen too.

    Sunday, March 27, 2016

    Oakham Castle to reopen to the public on Monday 30 May

    The Rutland Times has the news that Oakham Castle will reopen to the public after its restoration on Monday 30 May:
    A grand reopening will take place, transporting visitors back to Norman England. There will be demonstrations and chances to have a go at a variety of activities including Norman coin striking, falconry, archery and weaving. Knights on horseback will parade through the town and guided tours of the site will help unlock the castle’s secrets.
    I think I may have a go at repressing a Saxon.

    Spencer Davis Group: Let Me Down Easy

    It was my birthday on Friday, so I am allowed to choose a Spencer Davis Group track as my Sunday video. (I don't make the rules.)

    Let Me Down Easy appeared on the Spencer Davis Group's Second Album in 1966. It had been a hit in the US the previous year for Bettye LaVette.

    Saturday, March 26, 2016

    Disused stations in Somerset

    Plenty more of these videos on this blog's Disused Stations label.

    Lord Bonkers on the Easter Rising

    "I only went in for a stamp."

    Giggling our way to having Boris Johnson as prime minister

    I fear his evisceration of Johnson won’t matter. Men like him thrive because they know that hardly anyone cares about the detail enough to go to the Treasury select committee website and watch its members expose him. 
    Johnson understands that in the 21st century a pat joke and a cheap stunt can take you a long way, maybe all the way to Downing Street. Lies take time to unpick, and by the time your accusers have finished unpicking them, the bored audience has clicked on to another screen.
    Nick Cohen writes in tomorrow's Observer about Boris Johnson's encounter with Andrew Tyrie, but he could just as well be writing about Matthew Parris's slaying of him in The Times this morning.

    The whole thing is lodged behind The Times paywall (you may find samizdat copies on Twitter), but a Guardian article has some of the more damaging charges:
    “Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. A careless disregard for the truth is not funny. Advising old mates planning to beat someone up is not funny. Abortions and gagging orders are not funny. Creeping ambition in a jester’s cap is not funny. Vacuity posing as merriment, cynicism posing as savviness, a wink and a smile covering for betrayal … these things are not funny.”
    “But there’s a pattern to Boris’s life, and it isn’t the lust for office, or for applause, or for susceptible women, that mark out this pattern in red warning ink. It’s the casual dishonesty, the cruelty, the betrayal; and, beneath the betrayal, the emptiness of real ambition: the ambition to do anything useful with office once it is attained.”
    I sense Matthew Parris felt it was his duty to write like that in an attempt to save the Conservative Party from Boris Johnson.

    Is he already too late? Nick Cohen thinks so.

    Cohen's analysis reminds me of an article by the novelist Jonathan Coe in the London Review of Books.

    He is critical of the ubiquity of satire in modern Britain and suggests that Boris Johnson has seen where this has taken us:
    Boris Johnson ... has nothing to fear from public laughter at all. These days, every politician is a laughing-stock, and the laughter which occasionally used to illuminate the dark corners of the political world with dazzling, unexpected shafts of hilarity has become an unthinking reflex on our part, a tired Pavlovian reaction to situations that are too difficult or too depressing to think about clearly. 
    Johnson seems to know this: he seems to know that the laughter that surrounds him is a substitute for thought rather than its conduit, and that puts him at a wonderful advantage. If we are chuckling at him, we are not likely to be thinking too hard about his doggedly neoliberal and pro-City agenda, let alone doing anything to counter it.
    Maybe it is not too late. I sense that his leadership of the Leave campaign is exposing Johnson to proper scrutiny for the first time and that he is not enjoying the experience.

    If we stop laughing at him and treat him like any other politician, we may yet be spared having Johnson and his shabby act as our prime minister.

    Friday, March 25, 2016

    Richard Reburied Revisited

    A year ago today, on a similarly sunny day, I paid my respects to the remains of a King of England.

    That was Richard III, whose coffin lay in Leicester Cathedral for three days before its burial.

    To mark the anniversary the city council is staging a series of events under the title Richard Reburied Revisited.

    Six of the Best 583

    Andrew Grice reminds us that David Cameron and George Osborne should not forget the Lib Dems know where the bodies are buried.

    Jeremy Corbyn is "acting as though he is the leader of a 3rd or 4th party, rather than leader of the opposition," says William Barter.

    "As Milne walked down a corridor, the six-foot colleague approached from the other direction. They smashed into each other, sending Milne flying, along with the papers he was carrying. 'Seumas was in shock,' recalls an onlooker. 'No one had ever done that to him before. He expected people to show deference to him.'" Alex Wickham profiles the Winchester-educated Stalinist who is Labour's executive director of strategy and communications.

    A reader sent me a link to Futility Closet, where Alfred Kahn's concept of the "tyranny of small decisions" is discussed.

    Hunter Oatman-Stanford takes us to Scarfolk, a strange land built on the public information films made to terrify children in the 1970s.

    "In the 1960s, trip boats from Little Venice would take extended tours across the Thames into the depths of Peckham and Camberwell, and even in the 1970s, some insisted the canal should be saved." Peter Watts on the loss of the Grand Surrey Canal.

    Lord Bonkers on the by-election for a Lib Dem hereditary peer

    The sad death of Eric Avebury means there has to be a by-election to choose a new Liberal Democrat hereditary peer.

    A BBC News report suggests there will be two candidates: John Russell (the current Earl Russell and the son of the much-missed Conrad Russell) and John Thurso (former member of the Lords and former MP for Caithness and Sutherland).

    But then the electorate is barely larger than the number of candidates:
    Three current Lib Dem hereditaries are entitled to vote: Lord Addington, the descendent of a Conservative MP from the 1880s; the Earl of Glasgow, the descendent of one of the Scottish Commissioners who negotiated the 1703 Union of the kingdoms of Scotland and England; and the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, who is directly descended from the Liberal Prime Minister H H Asquith.
    Or should that be four current Lib Dem hereditaries?

    Lord Bonkers holds a Rutland peerage, which means he is sometimes overlooked by the pundits, but he is determined to vote in this election.

    I don't know which way he will vote, but he did remark at dinner the other night that "the Russells always come good in the end" and that "this Thurso fella needs to make up his mind which House he wants to sit in".

    He also said that a donation to the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans before the votes are cast on 19 April would be "a Terribly Nice Gesture".

    Thanks to Mark Pack.

    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    Leicester's Great Central wagon repair works revived

    The former Great Central wagon repair works on Upperton Road, which I went to photograph in 2011 when they were threatened with demolition, have won an award from Leicester Civic Society.

    The Mercury quotes the society's chairman Stuart Bailey:
    "Despite being locally listed in 2011 the wagon works was subjected to severe criminal damage, clearly aimed at hastening its loss to allow redevelopment of a valuable site. 
    "It was at this point that it was acquired by Jamie Lewis Residential Lettings and work commenced on rescue and reuse. 
    "There are retail units, including a Starbucks at the lower level and facilities in support of nearby student accommodation above, including meeting rooms, reading rooms and a gymnasium. 
    He added: "This is an outstanding example of heritage led regeneration and a worthy win of the 2015 Restoration Award for this building, a part of the city's history that was very nearly lost.
    So I went back to Upperton Road on Saturday for a coffee.

    The wagon works are now rather sanitised, but if they can't be a picturesque ruin then I would much rather have them like this than demolished.

    Around them the Lego-fashioned student accommodation dominates the area even more than it did five years ago as you will see if you compare the first photograph above (taken on Saturday) with the first one below (taken five years ago).

    The Saddleworth air disaster and Michael Prestwich

    St Giles, Uley © David Purchase
    The identity of the man who travelled from Ealing Broadway to the moors above Saddleworth to die remains a mystery.

    When I wrote about the case at the end of January it was because police were pursuing the theory that he was one of the child survivors of an air crash that took place there in 1949.

    That turned out not to be the case:
    The boy survivors were Stephen Evans (5) and Michael Prestwich (2). 
    Michael, the 2016 press agrees, died at the age of 12 in a railway accident. It sounds as though he did not have the misfortune to be caught up in two disasters but was hit by a train on the way home from school ... 
    But could the body be Stephen Evans? 
    No. Because, as Newsnight revealed, he is now a distinguished professor and lives on the south coast.
    Since writing that I have come across a page on the 1949 disaster with some informative comments below.

    I have also become interested in the fate of Michael Prestwich.

    After seeing my original post John Dedman (one of the commenters on the page) emailed to tell me that he died at Birmingham New Street, and I have since discovered that there are two memorials to him.

    One is in the church at Uley in Gloucestershire, where is one of three pupils of Stouts Hill prep school remembered on a plaque. It says he was on his way back to the school when he died.

    The second is in the church at Swettenham in Cheshire where the entire Bryce Prestwich family is remembered.

    Later. John Dedman tells me the Greater Manchester Police have given him the story of Michael's death on 24 September 1959 - a relative had kept the Daily Mail report of it.

    He died trying to board a moving train, which was something we all did occasionally in the days before doors were centrally locked.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2016

    The Line That Never Paid: Memories of the Bishop's Castle Railway

    This treasure found on YouTube this evening combines footage of the remains of the Bishop's Castle Railway with the memories of people who remembered it in operation. It closed in 1935.

    When was this film shot?

    The 'Craven Arms and Stokesay' running in board at the end dates it to before 1974 and the first photo of the station without any buildings, as it appears here, dates from 1972 - see the Disused Stations site.

    However, the start of the film shows the Six Bells in the town and it is a Wrekin Brewery pub. A story on the revival of the name says that brewery closed in the early 1960s.

    I suspect that that early footage of the town is some years earlier than the footage of Craven Arms station at the end.

    Whatever the truth of this, it is a wonderful find.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

    Ian Jack on having belonged to a lost world

    If I had to choose a favourite newspaper columnist I think it would be Ian Jack, who writes for the Guardian every Saturday.

    His most recent column, occasioned by an exhibition of old photographs of Glasgow, is a meditation on the strangeness of having lived a long time.

    He writes:
    This week, at the opening of a[n] ... exhibition at the Barbican in London, I looked at many pictures that might easily have included me in their monochrome scenes: as a baby in a pram, a boy in a school cap on a smoky station platform, a young reporter in a crowd at a royal wedding. 
    It was unsettling and faintly unbelievable to think that I once belonged to that world of white prefabs, Senior Service adverts and steam locomotives, and yet I’d fitted in snugly, without a thought.
    There is a piece of film the BBC shows whenever the idea of year-round British Summer Time is floated and makes the news. It dates from the late 1960s, when the experiment was briefly tried then discarded, and shows children trudging to school in the dark.

    Fifty years on, and bundled up against the cold, they look rather quaint. And then I reflect that I must have looked like that too.

    And in a post from 2012 I wrote about rediscovering York 30 years after I had been a student there:
    Take a look at this 1980 photograph of Fossgate, a street that formed part of my walk from the university campus into the city. It seemed perfectly modern to me then, but now looks remarkably old fashioned.
    York's newspaper The Press recently published a gallery of old photographs of Walmgate, which runs from Fossgate to the city walls at Walmgate Bar.

    As the photograph above shows, when I was a student it was in the process of redevelopment. The new buildings that puzzled me in 2012 occupied the site of the boarded-up shops and vacant lots I knew in 1979.

    The moral is one you grasp as you get older. Few things are as permanent as they seemed when you were a child.

    Schools are being nationalised so they can be privatised

    As Stephen Tall rightly says, the announcement in the Budget that all schools will be obliged to become academies amounts to the nationalisation of education.

    And as John Elledge shows, that nationalisation includes the biggest appropriation of Church land since the Reformation.

    What is going on?

    I think I put my finger on it back in 2007 when I reviewed Reinventing the State - the social liberal riposte to the Orange Book - for the Guardian.

    I suggested that Liberal Democrat activists would:
    appreciate the way Huhne's vision of a rich diversity of local provision contrasts with the Tory idea of popular schools taking over the rest: "It's been a good half for the school: the match with Harrow was won, and St Custard's was purchased through a leveraged buy out."
    That sounds like me attributing my own eccentric enthusiasms to the party as a whole, and I have forgotten what became of the idea of popular schools taking over the rest.

    But it was clear back in 2007 that the Conservatives believes schools should be run as much like private companies as possible.

    Hence the recent emphasis on chains of academies. Hence the Budget's removal of parent governors as part of its nationalisation of schools.

    What I fear will come next is the gradual privatisation of what the Treasury has nationalised.

    As John Elledge says,
    Which schools have held out against academisation? They're disproportionately small (larger ones are more likely to be able to afford in house IT teams and so forth). They're disproportionately likely to be primaries (secondaries are larger). And they're disproportionately likely to be rated outstanding (if it ain't broke, don't fix it). 
    And what type of schools are disproportionately likely to be small but outstanding primaries? Faith schools.
    Taking on the churches my look a bridge to far even for George Osborne, but it is easy to imagine a campaign against small schools.

    We will be told that they cannot offer the facilities and breadth of curriculum that our children deserve. Expect to hear the 'global race' invoked.

    And what will become of these closed small schools? Just think of the prime building land they occupy in the centre of sought-after villages.

    The forced application of a business ethos to education will result in narrowed educational provision and a diminished life in many communities, even if the schools stay in the public sector.

    But is hard to resist the prediction that, at some point in the process, the Treasury will take the opportunity of cashing in and selling off schools to the private sector.

    A graph makes Nicky Morgan look even more surprised than usual

    On last night's Newsnight Evan Davis ambushed Nicky Morgan with the facts about who will suffer from the government's attempts to reduce the deficit.

    Monday, March 21, 2016

    Leicester ghost signs: Sid Mottram Cycles

    I found these ghost signs while exploring the Narborough Road in Leicester, recently named (through gritted teeth) as Britain's most multicultural high street by the Daily Mail.

    Sid Mottram Cycles closed in 1985 and the premises is now occupied by a barber's shop.

    Confirming my theory that immigration often preserves or restores British traditions, the barber offers wet shaves to his customers.

    Six of the Best 582

    George Osborne's budget announced the biggest appropriation of Church land since the Reformation, as John Elledge demonstrates.

    "As anyone involved in the fight to save London’s council housing knows, the boroughs at the forefront of the social cleansing of our city over the last fifteen years are Labour boroughs." Architects for Social Housing are not taken in by Labour's rhetoric.

    Michael Gerson says the Republicans are staining themselves by sticking with Donald Trump. 

    Exposure to nature makes people happy and could cut mental health inequalities between the rich and poor, argues Natasha Gilbert.

    The decline of Ricky Gervais is itemised by Joe Bish.

    Dirty Feed shows that the first episode of Fawlty Towers was originally filmed as a pilot. That version differs significantly from the broadcast version: "In the reshot section, Danny’s grapefruit is far larger and has a cherry on top, compared to the rather meagre offer on display once we cut to the wide shot." Such obsession is to be applauded.

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    The loss of 54-58 London Road, Leicester

    After photographing the former Black Boy pub last Saturday I wrote:
    I get the impression that most Labour councillors would be entirely content if the city consisted entirely of newly built supermarkets and blocks of student accommodation.
    The truth is worse than that. The city council's policy is to see historic, characterful buildings demolished and replace by student accommodation.

    At the end of last year the council voted to allow developers to demolish the oldest buildings on London and replace them with a seven-storey block of, you guessed it, student accommodation.

    According to a Leicester Mercury report at the time:
    The planning official's report had said the current buildings offer a "neutral" contribution to the street – the massive new block, meanwhile, "will make a positive contribution".
    An earlier Mercury report quoted the developer's agent argument in favour of demolition:
    "The buildings as you see them from London Road are not as they were originally."
    Few buildings of any age are as they were originally. That is part of what makes them interesting.

    Put those two quotes together and you will see that any building in the city that is not Listed could be demolished and replaced with student accommodation with the blessing of its council.

    The Mercury (back to the first Mercury article made the effort to go and look at 54-58 London Road and talk to the current occupants:
    Mr Azim Walters is a defence lawyer with a handsome office at 58 London Road, but, as you may be aware, his Georgian building, along with neighbouring properties at 52, 54 and 56, are now on borrowed time. 
    "We don't want it demolished, for historic reasons," he says. 
    Set a little way off the busy city centre street, the elegant brick and stone-fronted business was once office and home to city father Arthur Wakerley – social reformer, architect and Leicester's youngest mayor – and it doesn't end there. The building was also one of the first magistrate courts in Leicester. 
    "Come on, I'll show you," says Mr Walters, enthusiastically leading the way through a busy office and down into a large dingy cellar into a room generously scattered with detritus. 
    "I was told by the historian, who looked around, these were the cells and those doors," he says, pointing to the other side of the room, "that's where they took them up the stairs. This is a historical building. People don't realise the history of it."
    Yesterday, which was when I took these photographs, the Mercury ran a feature on the buildings the city lost in the 1960s and their shoddy replacements.

    I fear that future generations will be as dismayed by the choices we are making as were are at those made 50 years ago.

    Why is the BBC convinced that everyone loves Manchester United?

    This afternoon, as I do every Sunday, I went over to my mother's house to cook her a meal.

    I generally listen to the repeat of Choral Evensong on Radio 3. The music is sublime and the Old Testament lessons often barking mad, so it's great entertainment all round.

    Today, after it was over, I switched to Five Live to see how Spurs were getting on in their attempt to catch Leicester City.

    But Spurs were not on Five Live. You needed their Sports Extra channel to listen to that game. Five Live itself had the Manchester derby - the battle for fourth place, if you are being generous.

    This is of a pattern with the BBC's conviction that everyone in the country loves Manchester United.

    I can even recall Match of the Day deciding,n during the club's prime under Alex Ferguson, that every goal in its Goal of the Year competition should be from a United player. How other clubs' fans loved that!

    There was a short period when Chelsea were cruising to their second title during Jose Mourinho's first coming when the BBC recognised that we were the leading team in the country. You could rely on Chelsea being the commentary game on Five Live and being first on Match of the Day.

    Then we slipped a little. The BBC immediately pounced and restored Manchester United to first place in its affections.

    Why this obsession? Maybe it's half-memories of the Munich disaster or of United winning the European Cup in 1968.

    More likely it is because BBC staff live in Surrey like so many of the club's fans.

    England grand slams and Market Harborough

    Yesterday England won their first grand slam for 13 years.

    Their team contained a product of my old school in Market Harborough, now called the Robert Smyth Academy, in the shape of Dan Cole.

    Back in 2003 it did too - the captain, Martin Johnson.

    That is quite an achievement for a small-town comprehensive.

    In my day the best sportsman in the school, a couple of years below us, was a footballer. That was Andy Peake, who went on to play for Leicester City in the old first division.

    The Who: I'm a Boy

    Writing about moves to ban tackling in school rugby, I quoted some lines from this song. I have since found this video, so here it is on a Sunday.

    Wikipedia explains the genesis of "I'm a Boy":
    The song was originally intended to be a part of a rock opera called 'Quads' which was to be set in the future where parents can choose the sex of their children. The idea was later scrapped, but this song survived and was later released as a single. 
    The song is about a family who "order" four girls, but a mistake is made and three girls and one boy are delivered instead. The boy dreams of partaking in sports and other boy-type activities, but his mother forces him to act like his sisters and refuses to believe the truth.
    I once reminisced about going out and buying Substitute by The Who when it was re-released in 1976 because it was so much better than anything in the charts at the time.

    This was on the B-side, along with Picture of Lily. I don't think I have ever got better value than that.

    If you are a fan of The Who in the 1960s, also have a look at this video of three songs performed at the Marquee Club.

    Friday, March 18, 2016

    The Iain Duncan Smiths sing "This Balanced Plan"


    Thanks to @paulwaugh

    The first time I saw George Osborne

    In the days when I wrote a weekly column for Liberal Democrat News - in the days when there was a Liberal Democrat News - I had a Press Gallery pass at the Palace of Westminster.

    Everyone said the place resembled nothing so much as a public school. Not having attended such an establishment myself, I was not really qualified to judge.

    But the it certainly resembled what I imagined a public school to be like, albeit largely without the roasting over fires or flagellation.

    One day in 2001 I saw an improbably  youthful figure on the opposition front bench. He really did look like a cheeky fourth-former sitting in the prefects' seats. I expected him to be booted out as soon as they turned up.

    I asked a Press Gallery attendant (they know everyone by sight) who he was.

    "That's George Osborne,"he explained.

    The Times votes Market Harborough "Britain's best market town"

    There goes the neighbourhood.

    Thursday, March 17, 2016

    Al Murray is the great nephew of Stephen Murray

    We all know that the comedian Al Murray is a direct descendant of the Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

    But our Trivial Fact of the Week reveals that he is also the great nephew of the actor Stephen Murray.

    A young person writes: Who was Stephen Murray?

    Only the star of the radio comedy The Navy Lark, Sir Francis Walsingham to Glenda Jackson's Elizabeth R on television and star of such post-war films as London Belongs to Me and The Magnet.

    Cliff Michelmore at Aberfan

    Cliff Michelmore belonged to the generation that pioneered television presentation and still possessed a certain decency and an innocence about the medium.

    His heyday fell just before the point where my memories of television begin, but I do recall people like his Tonight colleague Fyfe Robertson. He gave the impression that he did not realise he was on television or at least that he was constantly surprised to find he was.

    The 50th anniversary of Aberfan, the disaster in which a coal waste tip slid down the hillside and engulfed a primary school, falls on 21 October this year. In many ways it was the first televised disaster, and I do just remember it.

    This is Cliff Michelmore's report from the scene on the evening of that dreadful day.

    Six of the Best 581

    Garth Stahl explains why white, working-class boys shun university.

    "The word 'Zio' was part of the club’s lexicon, despite its connotations eventually becoming widely known." Alex Chalmers on why he resigned as co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club.

    Andrew Allen says the government should forget the idea of an trans-Pennine road tunnel.

    Sarah Mills looks at the way the Girl Guides' evolving badge programme reveals wider changes in society over time.

    "I remember crying all the way through the scene where he did the 'Singin' in the Rain' number. And my sister said, "What are you crying for?" and I said, "Well, he just seems so happy.'" Michael Koresky interviews the film director Terence Davies.

    "I don’t think I have ever wanted something to happen more in sport in my entire life than for Claudio Ranieri’s side to win the Premier League," says Gary Lineker.

    Irate Frenchman hurled Camembert at manager of Chelsea Waitrose

    I spotted it. A reader nominated it. The judges love it.

    The Evening Standard receives our Headline of the Day Award.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Market Harborough: Big Brother isn't watching you

    From the Leicester Mercury:
    Council owned CCTV cameras in a town centre have not been working properly for nearly six months according to anonymous sources. 
    It is understood the 17-camera network in Market Harborough has experienced difficulties since the control room was moved last autumn. 
    The equipment belongs to Harborough District Council which has refused to comment on the problems. 
    The screens are monitored from within the police station in Leicester Road but the force is refusing to comment too.
    The question, of course, is whether there has been any increase in crime or fall in detection rates in the town since the cameras stopped working.

    If there has not, it suggests the council could save a lot of money by scrapping the system.

    Or at least by replacing it with dummy cameras made from egg boxes and sticky-backed plastic.

    The sugar tax and the infantilisation of coffee

    "Osborne’s new sugar tax is a tax on the poor" announces an article in the Spectator - a magazine not hitherto noted for its concern for the poor.

    In the short term it may operate like that, but the long-term effect of the tax is likely to be that manufacturers reformulate their products to avoid having to charge the tax.

    Good news for the poor, though not for the school sports schemes that will benefit from the money it raises.

    Children like sweet things and there are good evolutionary reasons why this should be so. Sweet things tend to be safe to eat. If children loved bitter green things the race would never have survived.

    But in the last few years something terrible has happened to coffee. Queue in one of the chains today and the odds are you will find yourself queuing behind an adult buying a drink that looks like an ice cream sundae. It may well contain a similar amount of sugar.

    We are, of course, free to eat as much sugar as we like, but there is a political dimension to this remaking of public taste.

    Maybe it is the coffee shops that should be reformulating their products to avoid a sugar tax?