Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Disused stations on the Oswestry to Welshpool line

Exciting news! We have not finished with Oswestry to Welshpool.

Here Holden Webster, who runs the Shropshire Railways site, returns to this line to look for more remains of disused stations.

The wrong winner sometimes gets announced in local elections too

We've been bored to death these past two days with blanket coverage of the mix up at the Oscars ceremony.

But it happens in politics too.

In fact it happened twice in May 2015. Mistakes in the counting meant that the wrong candidate was declared in the winner in elections for Broxtowe Borough Council and Workington Town Council.

Back in 2011, again in Broxtowe, a married couple of Liberal Democrats had to go to the High Court to get the right one of them elected.

As the Nottingham Post told it in July of that year:
A mistake by election officials who declared the wrong member of a husband and wife team the winner at the ballot box has now been fixed at the High Court. 
Bob and Hazel Charlesworth, of Garden Street, Eastwood, each stood for election as Liberal Democrat councillors in the Eastwood North and Greasley (Beauvale) ward of Broxtowe Borough Council in May. 
At the results, Mrs Charlesworth was declared the winner and took the ward's second seat on the council, but it was her husband who had actually polled more votes. 
Bob Charlesworth said he was pleased the situation had been sorted.
The lesson is that you should keep a sharp eye on the counting of votes - whether at the Oscars or your local council elections.

Fruitcake on fruitcake: Ukip goes to war with itself

Ukip's main donor wants to deselect its only MP and says he will stand against him at the next election if necessary.

The party's former leader is backing the donor. Its current leader seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth.

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Brexiteers would probably end up fighting one another, I did not expect it to happen so soon.

Still, you have to laugh.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A short introduction to the Somersetshire Coal Canal

People today seem surprised that there were coal mines in Somerset within living memory.

My mother lived down there in the 1950s and remembers how strange it seemed when a bus drew up in the centre of a rural village and men with coal-blackened faces got out.

This video tells the story of the canal that was built to serve those mines.

There is more about the Somersetshire or Somerset Coal Canal on Wikipedia.

Six of the Best 670

Peter Black asks if the USA becoming a land of censorship, prejudice and paranoia.

Privatising Britain's railways has led to "a mixture of crony capitalism, a world populated by well paid lobbyists and well networked insiders, and smoke and mirrors accounting which makes it impossible for normal citizens to penetrate what is going on," argues Michael Moran.

"Several industries have become notorious for the millions they spend on influencing legislation and getting friendly candidates into office ... But one has managed to quickly build influence with comparatively little scrutiny: Private prisons." Michael Cohen on the dangers of introducing the profit motive to the law.

Jonathan Breckon offers eight ideas for how the evidence and data movement can respond to the world of 'Trexit' - that's Trump and Brexit.

Antony Beever reviews a new book that argues the Third Reich was riddled with drugs.

It's 50 years since the Beatles' double A-side single with Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever was released. It did not reach number 1, but as Terence Towles Canote says, they remain two of the group's best remembered songs.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Market Harborough - a model market town for others to follow

A recent report for North Kesteven District Council pointed to Market Harborough as the model for run-down Sleaford to emulate.

BBC Radio Lincolnshire came here to see what all the fuss is about.

I am pleased that my judgement when a councillor that it was right to redevelop the town's cattle market to prevent out-of-town shopping development is backed here.

Conservative MP: Don't see your doctor, use homeopathy at home

"First, though, the Sunday Politics where you are."
The heart does not soar when Andrew Neil speaks those words - at least not here in the East Midlands.

Today, for instance, we were treated to the thoughts of David Tredinnick, Conservative MP for Bosworth, on health.

If you watch the programme on the BBC iPlayer you will find that twice - at 53:13 and 1:00:05 - he suggested that if only people would use homeopathic medicine at home they would need to see their GP less often.

He also came out - at 1:02:08 - as a supporter of the fluoridation of drinking water.

But then as a supporter of homeopathy he must believe that only minuscule amounts of fluoride would be needed to prevent tooth decay.

Courtney Barnett: Dead Fox

Courtney Barnett is a singer-songwriter from Melbourne, Australia.

Dead Fox is a track from her 2015 album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.

It is not to be confused with Plastic Fox.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

British Telecom removes Harborough phone box without notice

When I met Lib Dem councillor Barbara Johnson at our coffee morning today we discussed the Harborough Mail's story of the week:
BT seems to have made an unpopular call on Market Harborough’s High Street - by removing the red phone box. 
The phone box disappeared on the back of a contractor’s truck last Thursday, after being dislodged from its familiar place outside property consultants Fisher German. 
No one was told in advance that it was going, and now almost everyone is missing it. 
Local councillor Barbara Johnson is furious, saying: “It’s been part of the street scene in a conservation area for years. “ 
And Harborough In Bloom were keen to adopt it, and keep it in order. Someone’s made a mistake here.” 
Market Harborough In Bloom’s Margaret Richards confirmed: “Yes, we were keen to adopt it. 
“We would have kept it tidy and used it to store contact details for local organisations, for the public.”
British Telecom say that no one has made a call from it for a year, but it did look fine at the top of the High Street.

My photograph above shows it in happier days.

Britain Elect foresees Lib Dem gains in May's local elections

Britain Elects has published the third in its briefings for May's elections, this one covering English authorities.

It points out that Labour's potential for making gains is limited. May's elections will largely concern county councils, which are more rural and more Conservative leaning than England in general.

And last time these seats were fought (2013) Labour had a national opinion poll lead of 7-10 points under Ed Miliband's leadership.

But what does it say about the Liberal Democrats? I hear you ask:
Cornwall, electing a hefty 123 councillors, is another one to keep an eye out for. Of the eleven council by-elections to the authority since 2013, nine changed hands, six of which to the Lib Dems. 
While very unlikely the Lib Dems will secure a majority on the council given the diverse and localised nature of Cornish politics where independents and smaller parties have robust bases of support, it’s almost certain they will retain and build upon their position as the largest party. 
Other authorities may prove fruitful for the Lib Dems. The yellows have had a history of representation in much of shire England, notably coming second to the Tories (beating Labour) back in 2009. 
It can’t be said for certain how well the Lib Dems will perform in these elections, but we should expect them to make a comeback in authorities they once were strong in: Devon, Somerset, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and the two Sussex authorities. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceTheir performance in Cambridge proper, the southern half of Norwich, Eastleigh in Hampshire, Harrogate in North Yorkshire and some portions of the West Country are worth watching as they may indicate where the Lib Dems could, if they do, make a parliamentary comeback.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson on Blue Peter

Richard was correct: it is right up my street.

And he was correct about it being simply lovely too.

Six of the Best 669

Mark Pack finds that Jeremy Corbyn does not want to raise human rights abuses backed by Russia with the Russian ambassador.

Will Brexit mean cheaper food? Harry Wallop has his doubts.

Amanda Froelich takes us to Asia's first vertical forest.

"Normally when you’ve got a British county whose name ends in -shire, it’s named after its county town (or, in a few cases, its ex county-town). But there’s no Shrop in Shropshire. So, why’s it called that?" John Elledge discovers the derivation of English county names.

"Love offers the dream of an escape from performance (‘We won’t have time for such, / Such fancy pantomimes’) – but first, it leads inexorably into it." Richard O'Brien offers a close reading of Jake Thackray's song Lah-Di-Dah.

Clint Eastwood was cast in A Fistful of Dollars only because Charles Bronson asked for too much money. Mark Harris relates some spaghetti Western history.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New study of the benefits of chess in schools published

Ever since I wrote an article for Comment is Free on the movement to encourage chess in schools, I have taken an interest in the idea that doing so benefits children's performance in the conventional curriculum.

Last time I blogged about this, it was to report a study funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. It found that there were no such benefits.

As I wrote then, "I have written too many press releases about scientific papers in my day job to expect any study conclusive."

Sure enough new research has appeared, suggesting there were problems with methodology of that study and suggesting there may be benefits after all. That research is published by Frontiers in Psychology.

So the debate continues.

My own experience is that being good at chess as a teenager (though not half as good as I was in my twenties) did a lot (maybe too much) for my intellectual confidence, particularly when I found I could beat my teachers.

I also realised when I played a friend at draughts that I was winning because I could see further than he could, no doubt because I had developed that faculty playing chess.

And when we played a business game against other schools, I was the one saying we should get over our mistakes in the early rounds and think about the current one. Again, that was something chess had taught me.

But I was not aware of any benefits from chess in studying conventional subjects. But I was strictly on the arts side in the sixth form, so maybe it is different in maths and science.

Gallery devoted to Ladybird Books illustrations opens in Reading

Good news from Maev Kennedy in the Guardian. A permanent gallery devoted the illustration from the Ladybird chiildren's books has opened at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading:
The Reading gallery has scores of titles shelved chronologically from 1961’s Learning to Read Numbers, to current titles such as Climate Change by HRH The Prince of Wales, whose 50 pages are credited with two more co-authors and eight peer reviewers. 
Prince Charles’s book is one of three new “expert” titles, for which the first new artwork in 40 years was commissioned. Before that illustrations were endlessly recycled and updated where necessary: an early space exploration image was overpainted to show that the Eagle had landed in 1969, and the curators found a new head had been glued on top of one image of Jane. 
Baxter wonders if modern viewers will be charmed or chagrined by the Ladybird worldview. “Will they just feel nostalgia,” he said, “or perhaps worry about this very simplistic, sanitised view of the world we were presented with, and passed on to our own children?”
Both Guy Baxter, the archivist at Reading, and Kennedy seems occupied by the idea that the Ladybird books were a little twee.

I disagree.

Call Malcolm Clark from the New Statesman:
Those wide expanses of seashore and countryside on Planet Ladybird are seen as totally safe. There are no overprotective parents, no teachers dreading accidents or subsequent inquests, no lawyers waiting to sue when Peter stumbles during a jump over a stile. Nor are there any dirty white vans prowling along B-roads on the off chance. 
Public space was not thought to be dangerous then, and this is not just nostalgic idealisation. I grew up in a small town in the early 1970s. The vast public park really did have attendants. It also happened to have well-tended flowerbeds and a boating pond. These days, you have to train your dog to tiptoe over the syringes. The war memorial is covered in graffiti and there isn't a police station for ten miles. If you sent Peter and Jane there to fly a kite, you'd kit them out in bulletproof vests first. 
In fact, the entire old Ladybird project had an indefinable public-spiritedness about it. This partly reflected a strain in British culture that went all the way back to Samuel Smiles's Self-Help and the Victorian reference libraries. The quest for knowledge was seen as an uncomplicated and enjoyable pursuit, one in which young citizens should be encouraged to share. 
So once you had learnt to read, you could move on to a panoply of different subjects, each featured in its own dedicated little tome, from the lives of biographical figures, such as Captain Scott or Robert the Bruce, to significant moments in history, such as the civil war. You could learn about "wind and flight", or even Australasian mammals.
Ladybird would even teach you to read. The illustration above comes from Our Friends, books 6A in the imprint's Key Words Reading Scheme.

That was the series of book I learnt to read with before I went to school. And it was strictly look and say - none of your synthetic phonics nonsense.

Leicester City sack Claudio Ranieri and lose public sympathy

I am not a Leicester City fan. Chelsea won my heart when I was a small boy, largely because my Mum comes from Battersea just across the river.*

But I was delighted when they won the Premiership last season. In part because it was so unlikely and in part because their triumph melded with the discovery of Richard III to win this historic city some of the recognition it deserves.

Things have gone badly for City in their defence of the title this season: they are currently only one point and one place above the relegation zone.

Tonight came the news that they have sacked Claudio Ranieri, the manager who won them the title.

You can say football is a business and has no room for statement.

But it was because of sentiment that so many supporters of other clubs were pleased for Leicester last season.

Now many of them will be rather pleased if Leicester City are relegated.

*People in the streets around Stamford Bridge support Fulham. Support for Chelsea follows the railways lines south out of London.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Park Street: The least used station in Hertfordshire

Another in this series of videos from Londonist.

If nothing else, it gives readers a break from the Oswestry to Welshpool line.

Help fund Market Harborough's Arts Fresco street theatre festival

The next Arts Fresco, Market Harborough's international street theatre festival, will take place on 10 September 2017.

The organisers write on their blog:
To ensure the long term future of Arts Fresco, we need to look at alternative methods of fundraising. Enter Crowdfunder, an online fundraising website. 
If everyone who came to the festival last year donated a tenner on our page, we'd raise enough funds to keep the event going for the next three years. That could make Arts Fresco a sustainable event for Harborough, able to draw the best street theatre acts from the UK and abroad. ... 
Please help us keep Harborough on the street theatre map, donate whatever you can afford, and share the link with all your friends, ask them to share with their friends, and let's see how much fun we can bring to this wonderful town of ours.
Now visit the Arts Fresco Crowdfunder page (and enjoy a video of Musical Ruth while you are there).

New Zealand garden gnome thefts 'fund meth trade'

Thanks to BBC News, we have our Headline of the Day.

Thanks to my county councillor for tweeting this story.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 4

We have been to OswestryLlanclys and Llanymynech.

This last part offers an unsatisfactory walk to Welshpool.

Whoever agreed that the station there should be moved so a new road could be built deserves a particularly imaginative punishment.

Readers comment: Thank goodness we have seen the last of this line.

Liberal England replies: Don't be so sure.

Willie Rennie says backing for Brexit could evaporate like support for the war in Iraq

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, is giving a speech to the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh this evening.

The Scotsman had advance sight of what he will say:
"We accept the referendum result. But political leaders have got a responsibility to lead. 
"Political leadership is sometimes about persuading people, not just repeating what the last focus group told you. That is followership. 
"In April 2003 people wholeheartedly supported Tony Blair’s government. People and the media would howl at Charles Kennedy. But opinions changed."
Willie is right: the public did change its mind on Iraq.

But it's more worrying than that for the government. As I blogged last October, the public has not just changed its mind: many voters now believe they never supported war in Iraq in the first place.

It's good to be reminded of the courage Charles Kennedy showed in making the case against war, but we should remember that he was rather bounced into taking that position by Liberal Democrat activists.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Market Harborough station with semaphore signals

Not just semaphore signals, but a very fine splitting distant. That means I took this photo while there was still an Up Goods line from Little Bowden Junction to Desborough North.

It was lifted as part of the Leicester to Bedford resignalling project, which dates this one to before 1983.

But I have photos of this signal with a single distant, so it must date from a little before then. I would guess 1979 or 1980.

The locomotive approaching from south is a Class 25 hauling what looks to be a departmental train or a very mixed freight.

Note too the grass of the Dainite sports ground, which has long since had houses built on it.

Abuse of Trust: Frank Beck and the Leicestershire Children’s Homes Scandal by Mark D'Arcy and Paul Gosling

Abuse of Trust: Frank Beck and the Leicestershire Children’s Homes Scandal
Mark D'Arcy and Paul Gosling
Canbury Press, 2016

In 1991 Frank Beck was sentenced to five life-terms for sexual and physical assaults against more than one hundred children in his care while he worked for Leicestershire County Council. He was sentenced to a further 24 years on 17 charges of abuse, including rape.

Mark D’Arcy (now the BBC’s political correspondent) and Paul Gosling published the first edition of this book in 1998. Now it has been reissued with a significant extra chapter.

It begins:
Throughout the Frank Beck trail there was a shadow in the court – a man named by the defence and who much private speculation centred around. That was Greville Janner MP. Just as Janner was an elusive figure in the Beck trial, so, for legal reasons, he was only mentioned, almost in passing, in the original version of Abuse of Trust. Now more can be reported – and very much more is known.
They go on to detail the growing allegations against Janner. The first emerged during Beck’s trial: by the time his failing health put paid to a prosecution in 2015, 30 witnesses had accused him, of whom 12, regarded as the strongest potential witnesses, would have given evidence in court.

It also emerged that Janner was not telling the truth when told the Kirkwood inquiry into Beck’s crimes that he had never met him.

The allegations against Janner have been widely reported over the past couple of years, but in many ways this book’s reappearance is most welcome because it reminds us of Frank Beck’s crimes.

As I once blogged, the secrecy with which officialdom sought to surround first his trial and then the Kirkwood inquiry was extraordinary. The Beck trial was the first of several involving widespread abuse in children’s homes, so any historian of that episode will want to read it.

I have also read that Kirkwood’s report is now hard to obtain, though there was a copy in the library at the University of Leicester in the days when I haunted it. My strongest memory from reading it is the squalor in which the children lived and the low quality of the people, Beck included, who controlled there lives.

I can add today that my distinct impression when Beck was arrested was that no one was terribly surprised.

Later I worked with a woman who had hung out with a group of friends when she was a teenager. She said that the boys had all heard stories about the children’s homes Beck ran.

Unless we learn the lessons of cases like this, we shall go on being surprised by child abuse.

You can buy Abuse of Trust from Amazon UK or direct from Canbury Press.

Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot: Bonnie and Clyde

Petula Clark has said of Serge Gainsbourg:
"I loved his voice and that sort of ugly handsome look. ... He was very clever, very charming, I understand why he had all those lovely ladies."
And none came lovelier than Brigitte Bardot.

Bonnie And Clyde and its video come over as a musical version of the Jean-Luc Godard film A Bout de Souffle.

It was actually inspired by "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," a poem written by Bonnie Parker herself.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Six of the Best 668

Examining the economic flaws and false assumptions of the Higher Education and Research Bill, Martin Wolf explains that universities are not supermarkets.

If you love wildlife and enjoy country walks, you've got the makings of a badger patroller, says Lesley Docksey.

Anoosh Chakelian reveals the secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s.

Amy Davies interviews Chuck Rapoport, the American photojournalist who recorded the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster.

On Saturday, it will be four years to the day since the town walls behind St Laurence’s church fell collapsed. Almost nothing has happened to get repairs underway." Andy Boddington reports worrying news from Ludlow.

"The outpouring of emotion when this news came out was like I had died ... but I was lucky enough to read the messages that people have sent to me." James Taylor talks about life since his hear condition forced him to retire from cricket.

The redevelopment of the New Walk Centre site in Leicester

Leicester's New Walk Centre, formerly the home to the offices of the city council, was spectacularly demolished two years ago.
For a while the ground lay pleasingly fallow, but redevelopment is now well underway. I took some photographs of the site today.

The Leicester Mercury has details of what the new development will look like when it is finished.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 3

We have seen Oswestry station and Llanclys.

Part 3, after more train-driving action, takes us on to Llanymynech.

Look for some nice shots of a derelict stretch of the Mongomery Canal too.

Reader's voice: You spoil us.

It's the fight of the century: Mary Berry vs Prue Leith

Media reports suggest Prue Leith will take Mary Berry's place when The Great British Bake Off transfers to Channel 4.

I therefore decided to create a Twitter poll...

Conservatives discover "the North is massive"

     The massive North           

Mark Wallace has written an enlightening article for Conservative Home about the strengths and weaknesses of the party's campaign in the Copeland by-election.

But I was most struck by this passage:
Most recent, viable Tory by-election efforts have been in the South and Midlands, within easy striking distance of most Conservative MPs’ constituencies. Cumbria is rather further away – and, as one MP puts it, some have been surprised to learn that “the North is massive” – which has deterred some from attending.
It reminds us that, while Britain is divided by social class, there is a related geographical division too.

As I once wrote of David Howell and his views on fracking:
One of the problems we face as a country is the way the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge dominates our national life ... 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe result of this is that many otherwise educated people have little knowledge of large tracts of their own country and indeed think themselves rather clever because of it.

Welcome back Tony Blair and his leadership on Europe

I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. 
But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. 
Our mission is to persuade them to do so. 
What was unfortunately only dim in our sight before the referendum is now in plain sight. The road we're going down is not simply Hard Brexit. 
It is Brexit At Any Cost. 
Our challenge is to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to our country; and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge. 
I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try.
You can read the full text of the former prime minister's speech this morning on the rather grandly named Office of Tony Blair website.

This part is good too:
If we were in a rational world, we would all the time, as we approach those decisions, be asking: why are we doing this and as we know more of the costs, is the pain worth the gain? 
Let us examine the pain. 
We will withdraw from the Single Market which is around half of our trade in goods and services. We will also leave the Customs Union, covering trade with countries like Turkey. Then we need to replace over 50 Preferential Trade Agreements we have via our membership of the EU; for instance with Switzerland. So, EU-related trade is actually two thirds of the UK total. This impacts everything from airline travel, to financial services to manufacturing industry, sector by sector. 
We will pay for previous EU obligations but not benefit from future opportunities, with figures as high as £60bn as the cost. 
We will lose influence in the world’s most significant political union; and have to negotiate on our own on issues like the environment where we presently benefit from Europe’s collective strength. 
There is alarm across sectors as diverse as scientific research and culture as European funding is withdrawn. 
And all this then to do an intricate re-negotiation of the trading arrangements we have just abandoned. 
That negotiation is without precedent in complexity. It is even possible that it fails and we end up trading on WTO rules. 
This is in itself another mine field: we would need to negotiate the removal not just of tariff barriers; but the prevention of non-tariff barriers which today are often the biggest impediments to trade and pile costs on business. 
This could take years. 
Our currency is down around 12% against the Euro and 20% against the dollar, which is the international financial market’s assessment of our future prosperity i.e. we are going to be poorer. The price of imported goods in the supermarkets is up and thus the cost of living. 
Of course Britain can and would survive out of the EU. This is a great country, with resilient and creative people. And yes, no one is going to write us off, nor should they. But making the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't smart to put yourself in that position unless you have to. 
Most extraordinary of all, the two great achievements of British diplomacy of the last decades in Europe, supported by Governments both Labour and Conservative, – namely the Single Market and European Enlargement – are now apparently the two things we most regret and want to rid ourselves of! 
The Single Market has been of enormous benefit to the UK bringing billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and major investment opportunities; our trade with an enlarged European Union has meant for example that trade with Poland has gone from £3bn in 2004 to £13.5bn in 2016. 
Nations that came out of the Soviet bloc have seen themselves safely within the EU and NATO, so enhancing our own security. 
In addition to all this, the possibility of the break-up of the UK – narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum – is now back on the table, but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case. 
We are already seeing the destabilising impact of negotiation over border arrangements on the Northern Ireland peace process.
I have quoted at such length because the speech is good - very good indeed - and no one else has made the case against Brexit with such authority.

Because of it, I welcome Tony Blair's welcome to British politics.

And that is from someone who spent 13 years poking fun at the more absurd elements of Blairism. But things are more serious now.

When I tweeted praise for the speech earlier today I immediately received a reply mentioning Iraq.

Those who shout "Iraq" whenever Blair is mentioned may act from a concern for the sufferings of the Iraqi people,

But they may also be using it as a tactic - as a way of labelling Blair that means we need not listen to anything he says.

We Liberal Democrats suffered the cry of "tuition fees" for long enough to understand this.

And many white and well-heeled members of the left are keen to label other white and well-heeled members of the left as racist or insufficiently respectful of the working class as a way of shutting them up.

Things are too serious for Britain now for us to silence a voice we need to hear.

The Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle bus is under threat

Let's move to Bishop's Castle, says the Guardian today:
Hang out at… What a choice. The Castle Hotel, with log fires, beams, leather chairs and a lovely garden? The Three Tuns? The cheery Six Bells? Or coffee, cake and classical music at Yarborough House?
I'm slavering already, though I don't suppose I will move there. Deep Shropshire does not seem a sensible place to retire to, though the genteel Church Stretton gets more than its share.

These days my family situation makes it hard for me even to visit there, though I have hopes of getting away this summer.

Trouble is, it may soon be much harder to get there without a car.

The other day South Shropshire Greens tweeted a cutting of a letter to the Shropshire Star by Steve Hale.

It began:
Shropshire Council has issued its latest findings on the viability of a number of bus routes within the county. 
Out of 29 routes, the 553 Bishop's Castle to Shrewsbury is rated as 27 (one being the most viable) thus strongly suggesting that, whatever consultation people engage in, it will be axed by Shropshire Council to save subsidy money.
You can find those ratings in Appendix 2 to Appendix A of the council's Shropshire Bus Strategy 2016-2021.

Will there be a rising? Or will Treasury cuts to local government mean the end of rural bus services across England?

Paul Nuttall's website is still down but you can read it here

Two days on and Paul Nuttall's website is still "undergoing scheduled maintenance".

Yeah. Right.

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, do not despair.

Thanks to the wonders of the Wayback Machine you can still enjoy every word.

If it ever comes back on line, you can be sure textual scholars will be comparing the two versions to see exactly what has been deleted.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Closure notice for the Settle & Carlisle

If you enjoyed this week's footage of Tornado hauling scheduled passenger trains, remember that the authorities tried to close the Settle & Carlisle line in the early 1980s.

This is the closure notice that was posted at the time.

The local transport users' consultative committee held a hearing in Appleby, and a former fellow member of the University of York Railway Society was one of the people to give evidence.

As I recall, he spoke about the line's importance as a way of giving cyclists and walkers access to the Dales.

The transport minister Paul Channon originally announced that he was minded to agree to the line's closure, but so effective was the campaign to save it that he was obliged to change his mind.

More on Kate Hoey's Trotskyist past

When I wrote about this in June of last year, someone left a comment directing me to The Cedar Lounge Revolution, an Irish political blog.

There a commenter, NollaigO, left the following in 2008:
Living in London in the early 1970s she became a vice-president of the NUS.[Jack Straw was NUS president at the time]. Returning from an overseas conference, she found herself sitting next to Tariq Ali on the plane. Tariq persuaded her to join the IMG, which she did in summer 1971. 
In subsequent years she used to muddy this connection by claiming that she was in the Spartacus League, a short lived youth wing of the IMG. She was never at ease with the Irish Republican Trotskyism of the IMG and was also very inimical to Gery Lawless an IMG member at the time. 
She felt that having Lawless as a member discredited the IMG. Under the influence of Brian Trench [political influence of course!] she joined the IS in 1972 but her stay there was also limited. 
She joined Hackney Labour party and supported the Troops Out Movement for a period before becoming a supporter of the BICO front organisation, Campaign for Labour Representation in Northern Ireland. 
Nowadays the IPR group are quiet hostile to her,dubbing her TallyHoey in a recent article!
You need a degree in far-left factions to understand all that, but NollaigO does drop in a fascinating point that should interest us all.

He says that Kate Hoey is the niece of the late BBC political correspondent John Cole. If true, this would certainly qualify as a Trivial Fact of the Day.

I can't find a definitive source that confirms it, but the same story is told by Malcolm Redfellow and he generally know what he is talking about.

Rutland Bitter is a food name protected by the European Union

Thanks to Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat shadow minister for exiting the European Union, for pointing out to me that Rutland Bitter is a protected food name under the EU.

The British government page on the protected food name scheme lays out the protections it provides:
The EU protected food name scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed.
Under this system, a named food or drink registered at a European level, will be given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.
And you can read the full product specification for Rutland Bitter there too:
Alcoholic Beverage brown/amber in colour around 3.4% alcohol by volume. Predominantly bitter in taste with some sweetness, fruity and hoppy aroma.
That specification was written to protect Ruddles, Once a rare brew even around these parts, it enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s and was to be found in many London pubs when I worked down there.

The purists felt they had sold out and that process is now complete. The Ruddles brewery at Langham in Rutland was closed back in 1997, razed and the land sold for housing. The Ruddles you buy today is brewed by Greene King in Suffolk.

But you can still enjoy a Rutland Bitter. It is brewed next to Oakham station by the excellent Grainstore Brewery. Take a close look at the image here and you will see the logo for the EU scheme.

Local intelligence, incidentally, has it that if you want to enjoy Ruddles County like it used to be, ask for Grainstore's Ten Fifty.

The question, of course, is what will happen to this protection if we leave the European Union. I suspect that is one of a thousand and one things the Brexiteers have never thought about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 2

Last time we were at Oswestry station. Tonight we are at Llanclys, where a mile of track is open for heritage trains.

Paul Nuttall's website has been taken offline

Go to Paul Nuttall's website this evening and this is what greets you.

An odd time for a by-election candidate to schedule maintenance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Watching Flower of Gloster 2

It's time to get the Flower of Gloster to London and her buyer - we left her at Market Drayton in Shropshire.

On the journey to Wolverhampton 10-year-old Mike gets lost, but no one seems to concerned. More worrying is the wrong turn they take down a derelict canal, wasting valuable time.

They arrive at Gas Street Basin, then part of a working canal rather than the tourist destination it is today.

Mike wanders off again and is this time picked up by the authorities and taken to a hostel for the children of families who on the working boats. There he is made to have a bath - probably no bad thing.

Such an establishment did exist in Birmingham. At one time the Fabians were obsessed with getting the children of canal families into institutions.

A page about the Canal Boat Hostel, Wood End Lane, Erdington, says it is "thought to have closed in the 1960s when commercial haulage by canal boats ceased".

Flower of Gloster does seem to have caught the very end of this way of life. A woman gives birth on board a working narrow boat and a canal man's coffin passes on another.

We also see Raymond, a boat I remember seeing carrying coal from the Ashby Canal in Leicestershire down to London into the early 1970s.

And so they reach London, defeating an underhand attempt by Talfryn Thomas to steal their customer at the last minute.

The last episode ends with a triumphal progress down the Thames. The Pool of London still has the cranes that dipped their jibs to honour Churchill's coffin and the Monument was, if only for a few more weeks, one of the most prominent buildings in the City.

Flower of Gloster feels like a fragment of my own childhood - and you can buy it from Network Distributing.

Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall have fallen out

Today's news is all about Paul Nuttall's withdrawal of his claim to have lost a close friend in the Hillsborough tragedy.

He says he can produce witnesses who will swear he was in the crowd that day. The time has come when he must do so.

But the more significant story involving him may be this one by Owen Bennett on Huffington Post:
Nigel Farage is refusing to do any more campaigning for Ukip in the Stoke Central by-election after falling out with the new leader’s closest advisor ...
Farage last week appeared at a rally in Stoke to support Paul Nuttall’s bid to win the seat from Labour, but was furious to discover a Ukip member who had made a series of allegations about him was helping to run the event. 
Lisa Duffy – who unsuccessfully stood to be party leader last summer – was secretly recorded by her campaign manager making claims about Farage’s personal life, which became the basis of a controversial book about Ukip. 
Farage is considering suing Duffy over her comments, and was appalled to see her at the Victoria Hall in Stoke on February 6 when he addressed hundreds of local residents. 
A source close to the former Ukip leader says he holds Patrick O’Flynn – Nuttall’s closest advisor – responsible for Duffy’s involvement.
It is easy to laugh at the way Ukip's bigwigs are falling out among themselves - though hard to laugh enough.

But behind this may lie Nigel Farage's pathological inability to allow anyone else to run the party.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceWith Nuttall now in serious trouble, Ladbrokes have opened a book on his successor.

The favourite? One N. Farage.

Six of the Best 667

"Populism often takes the form of rich people persuading the poor that the problems they face are caused not be economic injustice or exploitation but by foreigners and a corrupt ‘establishment’." William Wallace dissects our current enemy.

Simon Wessely explains why we shouldn’t close the child refugee scheme.

Paul Evans argues that modern demand for transparency has fatally weakened parliamentary democracy. Hear him.

"Then there is perhaps the most monstrous application of racial terror in our historical register: Aug. 28, 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched." Jason Parham on a notorious case.

Do bowlers get overlooked as England captain because of the old class system? Derek Pringle investigates.

Samuel Wigley presents some stunning shots of Oliver Reed, Shirley Anne Field and Joseph Losey in Weymouth in the summer of 1961. They were in the seaside town filming one of Hammer’s most unique films – the apocalyptic sci-fi classic The Damned.

Former Leicestershire Labour county councillor joins the Tories

The Corbynistas have gone quiet - unless he is facing a leadership challenge their idol does not give them much to enthuse them about.

But it is not so long since anyone - a individual, the Guardian, the bulk of Labour MPs - who expressed less than wholehearted support for Corbyn was met with the question: "Why doesn't X just join the Tories?"

Now one of Corbyn's critics has done just that.

Leon Spence, who was elected as the Labour county councillor for Whitwick in 2013, resigned from the party to sit as an Independent last September when Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Today comes news - thanks to the Leicester Mercury - that, after saying he would not, Cllr Spence has joined the Conservatives.

The round here have a fondness for such stunts, but I wonder if they impress voters as much as they think.

If Spence believes that "the country is, on the whole, heading in the right direction under the Prime Minister, Theresa May," you have to ask why he joined Labour in the first place.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceSpence, incidentally, writes a column for the Catholic Universe. Will he really vanish into obscurity in a few months time?

I suspect we may not have heard the last of him.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 1

The first of a series of videos made by Holden Webster, who runs the Shropshire Railways site.

It concentrates on the disused Oswestry station, which is now in part a railway museum.

Nick Clegg supports the Right to Stay campaign - in five languages

Namely, English:





Liberal England joins in: I AGREE WITH NICK.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf

In recent weeks I have been thinking of Michael Haneke’s film Time of the Wolf, which I must have seen at the Renoir, near St Pancras, in 2003.

It was set in a Europe that has been struck by some unexplained catastrophe. Refugees wait at wayside station for trains that may not come or may not stop if they do.

I found it hard viewing - I would not have said at the time that I enjoyed it - but days later found myself thinking about it. Fourteen years on I am thinking about it still, because recent political events are starting to make it look prophetic.

Bright Lights finds redemption in the film too:
For all this atmosphere of barely contained violence, there is opportunity too for simple acts of compassion, sharing, and human communion. A bowl of milk is given, not bartered for. A man lets Eva hear a snatch of classical music on his Walkman. An old man entertains the children with a razor blade swallowing act. 
And there is myth-making. In the original group under Koslowski’s leadership, Béa (Brigitte Roüan) told of the 35 Just, a select group whose mission is to safeguard humanity. The old man (Claude Singeot) elaborates on this with a tale of bonfires being lit in villages, sites for acts of individual, redeeming self-sacrifice. 
Which leads then to the powerful climax of the film, set at night on the railway track outside, with the guards doing their rounds, the darkness illuminated by the light from a bonfire on the track itself. Ben awakens in the middle of the night, with all his fears and tensions breaking forth in the form of a nosebleed. 
His face now streaked with blood, he goes to the railway track outside, stokes the fire there, and stands in front of it. With his (and our) memory resonating with the old man’s tale, he proceeds to strip, standing naked, leaning towards the fire. 
The camera stays on the back of one of the guards resting some distance off - in fact, he’s the one who accused the Pole, established by the story so far as violent and brutal - and then, as he becomes aware of what’s happening, tracks with him to the right up to the bonfire. 
Which is where he "saves" Ben, hugging him to his body, and offering him a vision of optimism and hope - all the more striking for being voiced by this violent, unpleasant, negative character:
I found this vision of redemption a little pat, given all that had gone before, but I would like to see the film again today.

A final point...

The film stars Isabelle Huppert and I wonder if Julian Huppert should start pronouncing his surname the way she does - Ooo-pair.

It could be the key to victory in sophisticated Cambridge.

Later. Isabelle and Julian Huppert are related.

Six of the Best 666

I would make more of Six of the Best reaching this landmark if something had not gone very wrong with the numbering a few hundred posts ago.

Garry Kasparov, who knows a thing or two about opposing authoritarian leaders, says the key to opposing Trump is "making him look like a loser".

"The recent political earthquakes have found us intellectually and emotionally underprepared, even helpless. None of our usual categories ... and perspectives ... seem able to explain how a compulsive liar and serial groper became the world’s most powerful man." Pankaj Mishra recommends reading Václav Havel as a way of understanding our current difficulties and the way out of them,

Greg Satell and Srdja Popovic explain how some protests turn into successful social movements.

"Watching Brass Eye back today, you are reminded of what a talent Morris is – and how much we could do with him back on our screens today." Dave Fawbert marks the programme's 20th birthday.

Bobby Seal explores the East End townscapes of Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago.

"This is a landscape of religious significance, we can see why the Augustinian priory was established here, building on a tradition of religion which is  associated with past significance of St David himself." William Tregaskes takes us to Vale of Ewyas and Llanthony Priory.

John Bercow and the paper-thin skins of the Brexiteers

The House of Commons has no trouble with the idea that an MP can, overnight, go from taking a party whip to being its impartial speaker.

So it really ought to be able to cope with John Bercow having expressed a view on Brexit after the referendum.

I have never been a Bercow fan - see the column I wrote for Liberal Democrat News when he was first elected speaker - but the meetings with young people he holds around the country to talk about parliament and its workings seem wholly admirable.

No, what the fuss in the media this weekend shows is the incredibly thin skins of the Brexiters.

They won the referendum, yet they do not seem to be enjoying it. They are constantly on the look out for slights and treason.

If Brexit is a revolution, then what I once said of Jeremy Corbyn's followers is relevant here too:
The failure of the revolution is always blamed on sabotage and the new regime takes brutal action against the supposed culprits. 
Once they have been eliminated, the people are told, all the promises of a better world that accompanied the revolution will be fulfilled
This hunt for traitors will only increase when Brexit fails to deliver the more prosperous and ordered society that its proponents seek.

The good news is that they will probably end up fighting each other. I quoted Bryan Magee in the same post:
There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. 
These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order.

The Nicotines: Mary Wana

For years I have had a song at the back of my mind called, in a not terribly subtle drugs reference, "Mary Warner" or something like that. It was on one of the free CDs they used to give away with Q magazine.

The other day I did some research, finding a page on Discogs that lists all the free discs the magazine has given away.

And there it was on Hello! Discover The Best New Music Of 1997: Mary Wana by the Nicotines.

It still sounds good today, though very much of its era.

The Nicotines do not seem to have stayed together long. Their lead singer Greg Reinel later formed Nutrajet.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Watching Flower of Gloster 1

"This is children's television before life jackets, health and safety or safeguarding, " I wrote when I first came across the 1967 children's television  series Flower of Gloster.

I didn't know the half of it.

In the first episode a 10-year-old boy rides his bike into the Llangollen Canal as it passes over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The trough stands 126ft above the River Dee, there is a sheer drop on the opposite side to the towpath and it is scary enough making the crossing in a boat.

If you want to blame anyone for this, it should probably be Bill Grundy. A decade before he encountered the Sex Pistols, he produced and narrated Flower of Gloster.

There are 13 episodes in the series, but I thought a post on each would stretch the attention of my readers as well as the concept of 'fair use' when it comes to the copyright of stills. So here is the first of just two posts on the series.

It stars Richard O'Callaghan, who is still acting today. He is the son of Patricia Hayes and was soon to take the Jim Dale role in a couple of Carry Ons.

His younger brother and sister are played by Liz and Mike Doherty, who appear not to have been established child actors (and are all the better for that), Judging by how happy they are jumping on and off the Flower of Gloster with ropes, they were recruited from a family used to the canals.

When their father is injured in a boatyard accident, O'Callaghan and Liz have to take the Flower to London in a fortnight to secure its sale.

Mike later turns up as a stowaway and along the way they pick up the free-spirited Annette Robertson, who was later to marry John Hurt.

They have rivals who are seeking to sell their boat to the same buyer. The father of that family is played by Talfryn Thomas from Dad's Army.

There is lots of wonderful period canal scenery to enjoy, notably the Anderton Lift. Not everything may be as it seems though: when they first arrive at Audlem locks in Cheshire, the footage we see is clearly of Foxton here in Leicestershire.

You can find a discussion of the locations on the later pages of this thread on the Canalworld forum.

And there is a review in Yorkshire Magazine:
I become nostalgic for a seemingly timeless era of long summers, though the chats with a badger boffin and a passing expert en route to Birmingham are gloriously awkward. I save checking the year of origin until the end of episode one, guessing it’s a mid-1970s show. The fact it’s from 1967 is astonishing ... 
There are many moments of charm: a blond tyke interviewing an eloquent repairman (cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth – the repairman’s, not the kid’s), about how long it will take to repair the narrow boat he’s working on is one. 
Another chat with a seasoned canal veteran is gloriously awkward, his eager interrogator asking him question after question as they walk along a riverbank. 
Talking to strangers does not seem to be a problem here, and the spooky goings on in the woods turn out be the badger boffin playing his tapes of the creatures.

The end of disc 1 finds our heroes at Market Drayton, still a long way from London. I'll let you know how things turn out another day.

Read my second post on Flower of Gloster. You can order the DVDs yourself from Network Distributing.