Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway runs for nine miles from Duffield to Wirksworth in Derbyshire.

It closed to passengers as early as 1947, but British Rail ran occassional excursions along the line and I travelled on one of them back in 1987.

There was heavy stone traffic from the quarries around Wirksworth, but that did not save the line and it closed to freight in 1989.

The good news is that it has now been reopened as a heritage line.

I was there today and caught an ageing diesel multiple unit up to Wirksworth and back. I shall return in summer when there will be steam and longer days to enjoy the countryside.

Wirksworth is a small town that grew rich on lead mining and is now something of a backwater - certainly compared with the nearby resorts of Matlock and Matlock Bath.

The result is that it is full of characterful buildings. I shall go back there too.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Liberal England in 2016: Part 4

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 are also on this blog.


Remember Liam Byrne's "I'm afraid there is no money" letter? David Laws should have burnt it, not tried to make political capital out of it.

I blogged about the eight attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria, beginning:
My great great great uncle refused to shave his beard off for Queen Victoria. Penny Pepper's great great great uncle tried to shoot her.
I warned the Conservatives that chasing public opinion can end in tears.

When an obscure backbench Tory announced that Gary Lineker "needs to decide if he's a political activist or BBC sports journalist - he can't be both," I pointed out that there are plenty of precedents for doing just that.

Cliff Michelmore emerged as my hero of the month.

On the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster I posted his broadcast from the scene. And I quoted his prescient refusal to take part in an early equivalent of the dreadful Question Time:
"I will not be associated with a third-rate Palladium show."
I also liked William Davies' comment on the consequences of Margaret Thatcher:
It’s been said that Thatcher wanted a society of people like her father, but produced a society of people like her son.


A cutting from Liberal Democrat News showing Liz Truss in her days as a student Lib Dem activist appeared in the Mirror - it had appeared on Lib Dem Voice some months before,

I drew parallels between the popularity of the concept of 'U and non-U" language in the 1950s and the left of today's concern that people should use the right words.

The Homophobic Monk, this blog's resident folk devil, resurfaced in Dunoon.

Perhaps because I had just suggested he would make a better lord chancellor than Liz Truss, Kiron Reid sent me another Lib Dem News cutting. This one showed that I had been rude about Jacob Rees-Mogg long before it was fashionable,

Rather to my surprise, I found myself in the middle of the largest granite quarry in Europe.

In what proved a neat metaphor for his political career, Zac Goldsmith lost his trousers after being hit by his own car.


It wasn't fashionable even then, but I had time for Michael Gove while he was education secretary.
But no longer - trahison de clercs and all that.

I didn't have much time for the idea of a progressive alliance either.

Having read a nice anecdote about the Welland Viaduct, I repeated it without really believing it:
Before the extensive privatisation of British Rail, repairs were regularly made to the structure by the Kettering and Leicester civil engineering staff. 
Many of the older bricklayers reported having seen the imprints of children's hands and feet in the bricks, from where they had walked on the clay-filled moulds before firing in the kiln.
But a later post about the Grantham Canal suggested it may well be true.

Sarah Olney's victory in the Richmond Park by-election saw the party record their best opinion poll rating in five years.

I photographed the Duchess of Sutherland as she came through Market Harborough.

Oh,, and there's still time to catch Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand on the BBC iPlayer.

The funniest thing on radio this Christmas

It's probably a reflection of my age and general grumpiness, but I don't find radio comedy very funny these days.

There are too many right-on political lectures and even Count Arthur Strong was a disappointment this year.

A shining exception to this was the first programme in the new series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, which had a Christmas theme.

I particularly liked the turkeys explaining why they had voted for Christmas in the referendum.

They were attracted by the promise of a "lovely big dinner" for everyone:
And are you aware of how the Christmas campaign are planning to provide this meal?  
No, they haven't said, but then why should they? They're not elected yet. 
Once we turkeys have given them a mandate to deliver Christmas, there will be plenty of time to decide what to have for lunch.
You can listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

There the blurb says:
John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme was described by The Radio Times as "the best sketch show in years, on television or radio", and by The Daily Telegraph as "funny enough to make even the surliest cat laugh". 
Already the winner of a BBC Audio Drama Award and a Radio Academy Silver Award, John was named the 2016 Radio Broadcaster of the Year by the Broadcasting Press Guild for his work on Souvenir Programme.

Ralph Bancroft and Simon Titley

Ever since I bought a scanner I have been searchng the house for old photographs.

This one is rather sad. I would guess it was taken a dozen or so years ago at a Liberator gathering in Putney.

That is me looking rather pleased with myself under the hanging basket.

Next to me are Ralph Bancroft and then Simon Titley, both of whom have died in the last couple of years.

The moral is to treasure your friends, because you don't know how long you will have them.

That's not a bad resolution for any new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Liberal England in 2016: Part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 have already appeared.


One of the less remarked deaths of the year was that of the poet Geoffrey Hill, author of the wonderful Mercian Hymns.

Aided by a passage from an Auberon Waugh novel. I argued that Boris Johnson had gone too far:
He is no Little Englander: he was born in New York to a father who made his living by working in international organisations. Some sources claim he is still a US citizen. 
But, by gambling he could court the Leavers, whose views he must surely despise, lose the referendum and gain in the long run, he has spoilt all this for himself and for the nation.
Simon Calvert from NO2NP contributed a guest post on the controversial scheme that would give every Scottish child a state guardian.

I concluded that Nobody knows anything about British politics any more.

Over the year I developed a taste for the railway film that Edward "Chib" Thorp, the railway-loving undertaker of Leigh on Sea, shot in the 1960s. The picture above comes from his film of Woodford Halse in its last days as a railway town.

There were calls for the Spencer Davis Group to reunite for a gig in Birmingham.

I praised Pokemon Go and wrote an article for Liberator on the Chilcot report.


I visited Tickencote church in Rutland - you can see its extraordinary chancel arch in the photo above.

I also got to Teigh church, far away on the other side of the county, and learnt about the vicar who was interned during the war as a Nazi fifth columnist.

Meanwhile in Derbyshire I visited the village ground at Darley Dale in Derbyshire, where the Sunday League was once won on television. ("Richards and Gordon Greenidge had hit the ball over the trees and into a field across the road, I was told,")

I explained why Corbyn's revolution in the Labour Party will obey the logic of all revolutions and devour itself in the hunt for traitors.

Jonathan Meades explained that the future had taken place briefly in 1969.


In an exclusive Liberal England poll, J.K. Rowling was voted the greatest J.K. of them all (beating J.K. Lever and J.K. Galbraith).

I warned by fellow Guardian readers that project fear would not win the grammar school debate either.

Jonny Keeley, lead singer of the band Fight the Bear, held Bishop's Castle for the Liberal Democrats.

Arts Fresco was held in Market Harborough and Musical Ruth was the star. As I wrote:
Despite our differences, I hope we can agree that there is nothing - absolutely nothing - as funny as a man dressed as a nun driving a motorised piano.
The 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's play Loot was marked by an event the New Walk museum and art gallery in Leicester.

I asked when small boys stopped refighting World War II at playtime.

A Market Harborough ghost sign

It's not the most exciting gost sign, but it was looking fine in today's sunshine.

Six of the Best 655

"Britain is the most centralised country in the Western world. Its political system is weighted overwhelmingly towards Westminster, with few institutional safeguards against the writ of Parliament, itself increasingly in thrall to the executive." Tom Crewe on the decline of local government.

Lion & Unicorn considers the decline in Shami Chakrabarti's reputation in 2016.

Donald Trump is shining a light on how much of the American political system is encoded in custom and how little is based in the law, says Annie Karni.

The rules for electing the President of the United States are deeply flawed, argue Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen.

"You must pass through several layers of security, dress appropriately and use only 'non-propelling' pencils. Disconcertingly, visitors must expect to be escorted to the bathroom and searched before departure." Julia Baird on the Royal Archives and what they don't want you to know.

Paul Newton and Brigitte Timmermann uncover the trade in fake penicillin that inspired Graham Greene’s film The Third Man and highlight a continuing problem.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Liberal England in 2016: Part 2

Part 1 appeared yesterday, so on with part 2.


Sergey Karjakin, I explained was Vladimir Putin's challenger for the world chess title. (He was to lose his match with the reigning champrion Magnus Carlsen later in the year.)

Helped inadvertently by a passing cyclist who startled them, I took a striking photo of some pigeons by the canal in Leicester.

I explained why Why Twitter doesn't work, Labour won't win and the Lib Dems are irrationally cheerful:
Political activists do tend to make their political affiliation central to their identity. More than that, they find their social life, their friends, even their partners, through their activism.
This leads on to a video from the social psychologist Alex Haslam, who argues that you are the groups you belong to.

The rise of the SNP in last year's general election spooked Liberal Democrat voters into turning Conservative, right? Wrong.

As the European referendum campaign ground on, I found that Jeremy Clarkson made the best case for Remain,

If you don't believe me, follow the link.


I visited the Battlefield Line in the west of Leicestershire:
Some heritage lines are preserved and polished to within an inch of their lives: this one is not like that.
Why has the groundbreaking 1969 film Royal Family never been repeated? I posted a clip that explains.

I joined a march through Leicester against the badger cull and the march joined a wedding party.

The philosopher Richard Rorty, I discovered, had forecast the rise of Donald Trump back in 1997.

This was the month when I became obsessed with the 1960s police series Gideon's Way and all the well-known actors who appeared in it.

Tim Farron began to be seen on chat shows and in comedy studios. Good.


I visited the ruins of St John's, Boughton, which some claim in Northamptonshire's most haunted site.

A possible sugar tax was in the news and I supported the idea.

And I argued that a referendum on Europe had always been a bad idea - "scribbling on the constitution".

That was when everyone thought Remain was going to win. When the result was announced I sought solace in Thorpe Langton.

The Sun says York is flooded. It's not

York's daily paper The Press reports:
The Sun has come under fire today after claiming that York was this week facing flood misery ... 
The blunder was on page 12 of Wednesday's edition of the newspaper, in a wider report about weather. 
It said: "York yesterday bore the brunt of weather chaos as floods wrecked homes and shops, a year after similar devastation last Christmas."

A photograph of Walmgate during the 2015 floods was used in the newspaper, captioned: "Flood misery... York yesterday."
I like this comment below the story:
The Daily Mail has gone one further and attributed the current flooding in York to Syrian refugees. Meanwhile David Silvester from UKIP has claimed it's further evidence of God's wrath against gays, and Arron Banks has written a letter saying it's all down to EU directives. Several letters will appear in The Press tomorrow asking why they haven't dredged the river yet.

The strange disappearance of David Cameron

From a post on the London Review of Books blog by Inigo Thomas:
What a career. Cameron was elected to Parliament in 2001, became leader of the opposition in 2005, prime minister in 2010, won re-election in 2015, and then after 23 June gave up to go back to pheasant shooting in Gloucestershire – no post at Harvard’s Kennedy School for him. 
The rise to the top was swift, but what other British political leader has so swiftly vanished?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Liberal England in 2016: Part 1


New Year's Day saw me at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, one of many pubs that claims to be the oldest in England:
 At the bar the locals were discussing cricket with a barman from Australia or New Zealand. All was right with the world.
It was not to last.

Nick Clegg, I argued, had last an empire but not yet found a role. Happily, he found one as a party spokesman in the aftermath of the European referendum.

I reported that Nick Rushton, Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, had had his Twitter account hacked by someone who then followed tweeters of pornography:
As well as following Huge Boob Pics and ILikeBootyDaily, he followed Market Harborough Conservatives.
My reward was to be blocked by him.

I interviewed Leicester author Rod Duncan about the appeal of steampunk:
"I’m not aware of a political ideology underpinning this diverse community. But some of the social features of steampunk culture are an unbridled outpouring of creativity and a willingness to project a flamboyant persona, even when others view it as eccentric. You can add to that a welcoming of diversity and an unusual spread of generations from the very young to the elderly."
I encountered Big Brother in a Northamptonshire park

And I discovered the family links between George Osborne and Lord Lucan.


Those stories that the cream of British rock could once be heard playing in remote Shropshire pubs turned out to be true.

I received a tribute from Hookland.

David Cameron, I reported, had worked out how to deal with Jeremy Corbyn's tactic of sourcing his questions from members of the public.

Much good did it do him.

I reminisced about about seeing Kenneth Branagh's West End debut in Another Country and found a video of an interview he and Rupert Everett gave at the time.

Which brings us to Branagh's first wife Emma Thompson.

Her comments on Britain being "a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island," led me to admonish her:
If we want the forces of light to win the referendum on British membership of the European Union then we have to get away that it is a project of the elites.
If only the world had listened.

I ended the month by comparing The Boy in Striped Pyjamas with a classic of my own childhood, I am David:
I am David was written in a different era. It is not about death, but about escape, moral growth and the finding of happiness.


In November 1888 the good people of Market Harborough suspected that Jack the Ripper had come to town:
One thing which had excited the suspicions of the neighbours and the police also, was that the same man was in Market Harbough about three weeks ago and stayed at the same house. His movements were then considered peculiar and the neighbours were actually alarmed about him. While here, no murders occurred in London, but after he had gone back, the latest horror was perpetrated.
I came across the Shrewsbury punk band the Stains, whose lead singer Dom Estos turned out to have an interesting family history.

Paul Keetch announced the formation of Liberal Leave. His arguments sound even sillier today than they did at the time.

I argued that the Liberal Democrats were still some way from achieving their goal of one member, one vote.

Schools, I argued, were being nationalised so they could be nationalised:
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.
Praising an article by Ian Jack, I used a photo of York in 1980. Walmgate looked very different then, which explains why I find it hard to orient myself there when I go back there.

BREAKING... Chris Eubank's Missing Trousers: Man Held

Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand

Bob Monkhouse was around before any other post-war British comedian. He began writing for some of the top acts while he was still a schoolboy.

That means he was on the scene while the Goons, Eric Sykes and Benny Hill generation were still in the Army.

In the 1950s he was a television star. IN 1958 e shared top billing with William Hartnell in the first Carry On film - Carry On Sergeant.

Yet from the 1960s onwards he was best known as a quiz show compere.

Tucked away on BBC4 last night was a remarkable programme in which Monkhouse, filmed not long before his death, reclaimed his place in the history of British comedy.

You can watch Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand on the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

The comedy website Chortle says of it:
This is quite a remarkable film about quite a remarkable gig; a real piece of comedy history. 
Bob Monkhouse is usually portrayed as something as a joke-delivering automaton, a master of memory and technique, but who puts very little of himself into his act, 
Yet here, among his own, he lets his guard down, not only to reveal some great anecdotes about his early life, but also some of his personal ideas about comedy. There’s the strong impression here that he sees himself as a bridge between the generations, speaking about what he learned from watching Max Miller, then answering Adam Bloom’s question about what tips he’d pass down. 
To see one normally reticent entertainer open up is a treat – a double is something even more extraordinary. 
For Monkhouse lured Mike Yarwood out of his hermit-like retirement for a rare chat that’s both brilliantly entertaining and touchingly poignant, as the man who was once the biggest thing on TV talks honestly about the insecurities that plagued him. 
It all adds to the palpable feeling that this was a very special show. 'You can’t get better than that,’ Monkhouse said as he left the stage to a standing ovation from his fellow comedians. Too bloody right.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A 1932 exhibition of E.H. Shepard's illustrations for Bevis

Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies was published in 1882 as a three-volume for adults.

Over the years it came to be seen as a book for children and was the inspiration of for the holiday adventure school of books that I grew up with.

Arthur Ransome's debt to Jefferies is clear, while Malcolm Saville and Denys Watkins-Pitchford even had their own child characters reading Bevis. It had become a touchstone for children's writers.

In 1932 it was republished with the full apparatus of a children's classic: a map on the endpapers and illustrations by E.H. Shepard.

Some critics believe Shepard's drawings for this book are his finest work. You can read a post about them - and see some examples - on The Heroic Age.

When I treated myself to a copy of this book I found this flyer inside it.

Incidentally, if you want a copy of Bevis with Shepard's illustrations then the 1932 edition is the one to go for. In the later editions the printing of them is noticeably less sharp.

Matthew d'Ancona on how liberals can halt the march of the right

"Have you seen that article by d'Ancona?" Lord Bonkers asked me at lunch. "It's Awfully Good."

"He says we should give the forces of darkness one up the snoot," he added.

You can read the article Lord B was referring to on the Guardian website.

If you do, you will see that his précis was about right:
Pluralism, women’s equality, ethnic diversity, our responsibility to refugees, internationalism, LGBT rights – all that is now under systematic attack. It won’t defend itself. One of the enduring lessons of Bill Clinton’s campaigns is that rapid rebuttal works. When idiots post idiocy on social media, call them out. Challenge, probe, demand answers. Be civil, but unrelenting. Never cringe or yield ground to bigots. Facts defeat fury, sooner or later.
That paragraph falls under the heading 'Defend your ground, aggressively'. It worth giving the list of d'Ancona's headings in full:
  • Defend your ground, aggressively
  • Colonise your opponents’ language
  • Lead, don’t follow
  • Heed grievances – but don’t appease
  • Stand up for immigration
  • Stand up for integration
  • Fight the next battle, not the last
  • Don’t make a fetish of 'unity'
  • Challenge the public
  • Be patient
No doubt Lord Bonkers will have these commandments embroidered so he can hang them on the wall somewhere.

If I can venture a comment of my own, it is that liberal Conservatives like d'Ancona are our allies in this fight and need to become more vocal.

Jeremy Corbyn and his admirers, however, look more like part of the problem than part of the solution.

Six of the Best 654

"It  is emblematic of the most remarkable and rancorous episode in modern British political history that so few of the key figures on either side of the EU Referendum seem able to agree about why we are where we are." James O'Brien reviews the raft of books on that referendum.

"The sad thing ... is that ... all of these things Marr wants are going to be made harder thanks to Brexit." Jon Worth takes apart an Andrew Marr article on Brexit,

Terence McCoy meets two American making money out of fake news: "He ... published the story and made $120 off 10 minutes of work. It was, he says, a revelation: 'You have to trick people into reading the news.'"

"Although the technical effects in the 1951 Carol are hardly up to the standard of the of 1984 and 2009 colour films, fifty-one-year-old Sim humanizes the miser so effectively that even modern viewers are warmed by the miser's redemption as he embraces Victorian family values and becomes "Uncle" Scrooge to a physically rehabilitated Tiny Tim in the closing credits." Philip Allingham surveys the many cinematic adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

Thelma Schoonmaker talks to Den of Geek about Michael Powell and editing Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence.

George Kitching takes us on a walk to the top of England’s two highest peaks, Sca Fell and Scafell Pike, meeting a homicidal jester, the world’s greatest liar and a notorious whisky smuggler on the way.

A year of achievement: Lord Bonkers in 2016

The Christmas celebrations at Bonkers Hall are in full swing, aided by a heavy fall of snow that makes the old boy's estate look thoroughly seasonal.

It is a peculiarity of the local climate that one can count upon snow at this time of year, even if it falls nowhere else in England.

All of which means it is time to look back on the old boy's activities over the past year.

For new readers who would like to know about Lord Bonkers and how I met him, I recommend my Liberator article Twenty years of Lord Bonkers (which is now six years old).


The year began in an unfortunate way when my own Twitter account was hacked by the Well-Behaved Orphans:

Before explaining how the Elves of Rockingham Forest helped him find hedgehogs to cook for Nick Clegg, Lord Bonkers recalled:

"One does not have memories of last year’s general election campaign so much as flashbacks."


He reported from the US State of New Rutland and surveyed the field in its Presidential primaries:
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.

A video of a dancing gorilla at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire went viral. Our favourite peer explained its origins in the shortage of male partners at the tea dances he puts on in the village hall:
A couple of years ago the ladies prevailed upon me to provide them with more dancing partners. After no little thought, the solution sprang upon me: train the gorillas at Twycross Zoo. 
This initiative has proved a great success. When I proposed it some warned me of the danger of ravishment, but I am happy to report that to date no gorilla has complained of molestation

This month saw Lord Bonkers meet those bright young Lib Dems Freddie and Fiona at the offices of the Remain campaign:
I ask how their economic liberal think tank is getting on. “It’s going really well.” “Did you go to our fringe meeting at the Lib Dem spring conference?” “It was all about Uber.” “Do you know it? It’s this wonderful app on your phone.” “You can call at taxi any time.” “And if you don’t like the driver you can give him a low score and he loses his livelihood.” “We call it ‘the sharing economy’.”

The old boy offered a characteristically enlightening remark:

"Towcester is a fascinating place. You never know who will pop up next."

While Ryan Coetzee organised a barbecue at the Hall. It was not an unqualified success:
You have no doubt read what happened next in the newspapers. So let me just pay tribute to the doctors and nurses of the Royal Rutland Infirmary for coping with so many cases of food poisoning, and I can honestly say that the Rutland Fire Brigade excelled itself.

This month found Lord Bonkers hard at work answering his postbag:
Then there are the usual letters from Liberal Democrats around the country. These tend to repeat the same questions, so over the years I have dictated standard replies to them and given each a number. 
Today’s required replies are: 1 (“Thank you for your kind words – I enclosed a signed photograph”), 17 (“In such a marginal seat I would recommend the use of the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus”) and 84 (“Take a cold tub and volunteer for extra delivering”).
In his foreword to the new edition of the Liberator songbook, he celebrated the growing revival in the party's fortunes:
Every day brings news of fresh triumphs. Why, only last week I read on Liberal Democrat Voice that we had come second in a parish council election in Cropwell Bishop.
With our clear stance on Europe – exemplified by that splendid new group ‘I’m As Much In Favour Of The EU As The Next Man But Did You See The Referendum Result In My Constituency?’ – I have no doubt that we shall return to government before we grow much older.

He took us to the re-education camp for former Labour members who have joined the Liberal Democrats that he hosts:
There they spend their days poring over the works of L.T. Hobhouse, priming the week’s production of the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (For Use in Marginal Wards) and recanting of their former allegiance in public sessions of self-criticism. Conditions may fairly be described as Spartan, though I was pleased that the recent Red Cross inspection was not wholly critical. 
Walking by the camp this morning I came across some Well-Behaved Orphans throwing food parcels over the barbed-wire fence. I thought that a Very Kind Gesture.
And, responding to news that a pre-war submarine called 'Lembit' has been restored and is now on display at the Estonian Maritime Museum, he wrote:
If the people of Estonia were to collect scrap metal to pay for the restoration of our own Lembit Opik (who, for all we know, may be abandoned in a river somewhere), I think it would be a Terribly Kind gesture.

In a year of many sad deaths, one in particular hit home:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

A performance of the complete work by the choristers of Christ Church Oxford recorded in 1982.

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Advent Calendar 24: Redmire in the snow

I was a student at York in the days when, if you opened a magazine, an envelope for you to send off your films for cheap processing fell out.

In those days I had a basic camera - it was almost certainly this one,

This photograph is of the milepost at Redmire on the Wensleydale branch, Today it is a heritage railway, but in those days it was still a freight line operated by British Rail.

Occasionally, BR would provide a Saturday passenger service allowing people from Wensleydale visits to shop in York and people from the city to visit the Dales.

This photo must have been taken on 25 April 1981. I can date it because the snow was so unseasonably late.

And it was so heavy that we were agreeably surprised that the trains were still running.

I took a lot of photographs in those days.

The bad news is that I eventually threw most of them away,

The good news is that I kept a couple of albums of the best of them and now own a scanner.

In 2017 Liberal England will be the go to blog for 35-year-old railway photos.

Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this Advent calendar - click on that link to see all 24 pictures.

Friday, December 23, 2016

An episode from Flower of Gloster (1967)

Bad news: The episode I posted has disappeared from Youtube, so I have had to replace it with this trailer.

Good news: I now own the whole series and will blog about it soon,

From the Network Distributing website:
The first Granada Television series to be filmed in colour (though initially transmitted in black and white), this popular children's adventure features a star who is 72 feet long and painted in cheerful shades of red and yellow! 
She is the Flower of Gloster, a converted canal barge which over the course of the series winds her way from Wales, through the inland waterways of England to the Pool of London at Tower Bridge. 
Blending drama with semi-improvised encounters and taking in a wealth of local history, the series offers a fascinating insight into Britain's rich canal boat heritage. 
When their boatyard-owner father is injured in an accident, ten-year-old Michael, his twelve-year-old sister Elizabeth and elder brother Dick decide to deliver a narrow-boat to a buyer on his behalf. 
During their 220-mile trip, they make new friends but also encounter all kinds of danger and difficulties, played out against the changing pattern of the British countryside.
This is children's television before life jackets, health and safety or safeguarding. If the drama isn't all that dramatic, the industrial landscapes make it worth the viewing.

When I was a little boy in the 1960s our family took canal holidays, and in those days it was quite an adventurous thing to do. You get a sense of that here.

Network Distributing are releasing all 13 episodes of Flower of Gloster on DVD and have made this one (no. 7) available on Youtube as a taster.

Six of the Best 653

Andrew Roberts surveys past prime ministers' memoirs. James Callaghan and Tony Blair come out of it best.

"Gove himself is a classic Folk Horror figure. A man lost in his own limited capacity for abstraction, seemingly unconnected with the world in which his decisions take effect, and unaware of how it views him." James Cooray-Smith draws parallels between the folk horror genre and the personalities of Brexit Britain.

A London Inheritance reprints pages from Hitler Passed This Way - a 1945 publication showing the city before and after the Blitz.

"I was with my father and they were filming a take, George C Scott walks up the bank leading to the building, unlocks the door and as he enters, unceremoniously knocks his top hat off on the low beamed door." Mr Mids on Shrewsbury's ties to A Christmas Carol.

We're going underground with Matt Brown to explore London’s top 10 tunnels and catacombs.

Madeline Salzman explains how the colour red became central to our Christmas celebrations.

Advent Calendar 23: Market Harborough in the frost

Well, Little Bowden actually.

This is the end of my road during a heavy frost in February 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Alan Bennett's diary for 2016

As is traditional, the London Review of Books' last issue of the year carries extracts from Alan Bennett's diary.

Here are a couple:
7 September. Ed Kemp rings, thoughtfully it seems to me, to say that his mother has died aged 91. She was the widow of Eric Kemp, my tutor at Exeter College and later bishop of Chichester, though I don’t recall meeting her in Oxford, but only in Chichester where, though she was the bishop’s wife, she enjoyed working as an usherette in the theatre and thus (I hope) scandalising that Trollopean place. 
19 September. Long piece in the Guardian sports section about Joey Barton, the difficult (and sometimes violent) footballer who has been transferred from Burnley to Rangers and is in trouble again. 
He is obviously clever, though in a slightly psychopathic way, and given to gnomic Muhammad Ali-like utterances. He’s rightly proud of his self-education and being smarter than most footballers while still being his own worst enemy. 
He habitually uses ‘critique’ to mean ‘criticise’ and would make a good character in something

Student paper tips Julian Huppert to regain Cambridge

Writing for Varsity, the Cambridge student paper, Matt Green surveys the current political scene.

He concludes:
What does that mean for Cambridge? Current trends suggest a profound problem for incumbent Daniel Zeichner. The boundary review favours the Liberal Democrats locally and combined with the lack of leadership provided by Labour over the EU – arguably Cambridge’s most salient issue – Zeichner faces an uphill struggle to maintain his seat. On current trends, it is likely that Huppert will win over liberal Cambridge at the next election.

Advent Calendar 22: Empire State Building, New York

I arrived at JFK late in the evening and took a taxi to my hotel. I could have been anywhere.

The next morning I left the hotel, turned the corner and saw this.

I was in New York,

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Our Time discussion on Karl Popper

Karl Popper was the most important liberal philosopher of the 20th century.

The best introduction to his thought is the short book Bryan Magee published in the Fontana Modern Masters series.

Your cat could be making you fantasise about bondage, experts warn

Headline of the Day goes to Metro.

It's nice to see a science story being recognised in this way.

Advent Calendar 21: Portmeirion

This statue, says its inscription, was:
Presented to Portmeirion and its Founder, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, by his friends and collagues on his 90th birthday, May 28th 1973.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Duchess of Sutherland at Leicester station

After I had photographed the Duchess of Sutherland passing through Market Harborough, I caught the train to Leicester.

When I arrived she was still there.

The other trains and low sun presented a new challenge, but I am glad I met the old girl again.

David Tredinnick wants new cancer funding spent on homeopathy

It is a great tragedy that a tiny number of people, whom I regard at best as foolish and at worst as wicked, are trying to erase the tiny sum of money—£500 million—spent on homeopathy in the health service.
So said David Tredinnick, Conservative MP for Bosworth, in the Commons earlier this month.

The debate was on cancer strategy, and Tredinnick ended by asking if he could meet the minister (David Mowat) to discuss the £200m of new funding that has been announced for cancer services.

Alarmingly, the only conclusion you can draw is that he wants to see some of it spent on homeopathy.

But then Mr Tredinnick has a history of indulging outré beliefs.

The good news, judging by the answer he received from another health minister, is that the government does not share them.

Advent Calendar 20: Whitstable Harbour

Andrew Newton was told to look for Norman Scott in Barnstaple, but went to Dunstable instead.

I don't suppose he ever got to Whitstable.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The stables at Uppingham station

The London and North Western Railway Society tells us the history of Uppingham station:
The London & North Western Railway opened this short branch in 1894. Five trains were provided daily all connecting with services to and from Rugby. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1960 but the station remained open for school specials until the line closed to all traffic in 1964.
It also says
The site of Uppingham station is now a small industrial estate but the goods shed and stables survive.
I went to look for them after travelling to Uppingham on the 747 bus. I didn't find the goods shed - it may not still exist - but the photograph above shows the former stables.

Hope for the Black Boy pub, Leicester

Good news in the Leicester Mercury: it seems the former Black Boy pub in the city may yet be saved.

The paper's report says:
Planning officers at Leicester City Council have ... thrown a spanner in the works of the developers by refusing to allow the 1920s pub in Albion Street to be knocked down.
It's not clear whether this means a recommendation has been made to the council's planning committee or already been accepted by it.

And any refusal of planning permission for demolition and redevelopment can be appealed against.

Still, it's good to see the council standing up for the city's heritage beyond the mayor's prestige projects.

I photographed and blogged about the Black Boy in May. The photo above was taken at dusk the other evening.

Advent Calendar 19: Green Man, Southwell Minster

Niklaus Pevsner writes:
Could these leaves of the English countryside, with all their freshness, move us so deeply if they were not carved in that spirit which filled the saints and poets and thinkers of the thirteenth century, the spirit of religious respect for the loveliness of created nature? 
The inexhaustible delight in live form that can be touched with worshipping fingers and felt with all senses is ennobled ... by the conviction that so much beauty can exist only because God is an every man and beast, in every herb and stone. 
The Renaissance in the South two hundred years later was perhaps once again capable of such worship of beauty, but no firm faith was left to strengthen it. Seen in this light, the leaves of Southwell assume a significance as one of the purest symbols surviving in Britain of Western thought, our thought, in its loftiest mood.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bridgnorth in 1960 and today

Bridgnorth has just beaten Market Harborough to win the Large Market Town category in this year's Great British High Street Awards.

I am not one to bear a grudge. even if Bridgnorth  has never struck me as a great place for shopping

Its setting above the Severn is stunning, as are parts of its townscape - the surroundings of the two churches in particular - and more places should have a cliff railway.

To celebrate Bridgnorth's victory, here is film of the town in 1960 intercut with the same scenes from 2015. Note how much more industrial the banks of the river used to be.

Click on the still above to view the film on Youtube.

Why I knew Ed Balls would be redeemed

Ed Balls' weekly displays of high-class dad dancing have won him redemption. No longer a discredited, defeated politician he is now a loved celebrity.

What will he do next? He could use this new public affection to restart his political career. Or he may choose to spend his time travelling round Britain on trains and making programmes about it.

Some will have been surprised by this rebirth. But I find that I forecast it long before Balls' fall.

For in May 2009 I wrote:
Yet Ed Balls has a heart and may yet be redeemed. For, asked about his childhood reading by the Wakefield Express a couple of years ago, he remembered: 
a great series of kids' detective books by Malcolm Saville called the Lone Pine Adventures, which were all set in the Shropshire hills.
It seems I was right to assume that no one who grew up on Malcolm Saville can be all bad.

The Liberal Democrat revival in the West Country

On Thursday the Liberal Democrats recorded large swings to win council by-elections in three West Country.

This is immensely encouraging, all the more so in view of what was reported to Lord Bonkers by one of his agents last year:
"At Bridgwater and Newton Abbot, Liberal clubs lie in ruins. Bright with buddleias and rosebay willowherb, they are the haunt of feral cats and truant children. Statues of Jo Grimond have been toppled in Redruth and Combe Martin. They threw stones at me in Chewton Mendip and Langton Herring."

Alex Harvey: Agent 00 Soul

Choosing a Sensational Alex Harvey Band track in 2014 I wrote:
Alex Harvey was once voted Scotland's answer to Tommy Steele and his band opened for an early version of the Beatles.
Here he is in 1965 covering the song that had launched Edwin Starr's career the year before.

The title is a mark of how quickly the James Bond films entered the wider culture, and the piano player on this track is a young Steve Winwood.

Advent Calendar 18: Minsterley

The sudden rise of the lead mining industry in this remote part of England in the mid 19th century meant that the Stiperstones area has the feel of the Wild West. Shanty villages were thrown together with materials like corrugated iron and their hastily abandoned remnants can still be found today.
That's what I wrote in October 2010, though I am not sure that "hastily" was the right word. I have read accounts of the Shropshire lead mining area in the 1930s that say there was desperate poverty because the population was too high for the work available in such a remote area..

This building has now been replaced by something more permanent looking, but I am glad I captured it before it went.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Six of the Best 652

"We are entitled to understand the legal framework in which we are operating because on the basis of that framework decisions will be made which will affect people in this country for generations to come." Jolyon Maugham, the man behind a new Brexit legal challenge, talks to Business Insider.

Nicola Hodgson, case officer for commons, greens and open spaces for the Open Spaces Society, gives us a snapshot of her work.

Father Christmas and Santa Claus were once very different figures. David Castleton is our guide to the changing folklore about them.

Alastair Cook is not a great England captain, but no one seems to mind very much. Barney Ronay suspects this is because cricket is no longer a national sport.

Alex says pop stars should stop getting into James Corden's car.

Tom Cox pays a lovely tribute to his cat The Bear - better known as My Sad Cat - who has died aged 21.

Duchess of Sutherland passes through Market Harborough

Yesterday there was a news item in the Northamptonshire Telegraph:
Steam engine enthusiasts are being warned that a locomotive which was scheduled to pass over the Harringworth Viaduct tomorrow will now not do so. 
The Duchess of Sutherland steam engine is to depart from London on Saturday morning taking passengers to York, stopping at St Albans, Luton, Bedford and Kettering. 
It was then due to leave the Midland Main Line and pass through Corby train station and over the famous Harringworth Viaduct. 
But a spokesman for the Railway Touring Company, which is running the train, said for operational reasons the route will now go straight to Leicester after leaving Kettering. 
The Duchess of Sutherland is due to stop at Kettering at 9.47am.
It's a shame to miss a trip over the Welland Viaduct, but the change of plan meant that the Duchess of Sutherland would be coming through Market Harborough.

So this morning I turned up at the station with my camera, joining a small group of enthusiasts who seen the same story.

She arrived about an hour later than advertised, but the station staff were kind and kept us informed of her progress. The class 47 on the rear of the train was a bonus.

After she had gone I caught the next train to Leicester, where she was still waiting in the station when I arrived. I shall share those photos another time.