Saturday, September 30, 2017

The last days of Kettering Town's Rockingham Road ground

Before the heyday of Rushden & Diamonds the great football hope of the Northamptonshire boot-and-shoe country was Kettering Town.

Twice in the 1990s they finished runners up in the Conference. If I recall correctly, both times they were well clear at Christmas and looked set for promotion to the Football League.

Since they were relegated at the end of the 2000-1 season the club's story has been one of footballing and financial decline. It was not helped by its appointment of Paul Gascoigne as manager in 2005. He lasted 39 days before being sacked.

Kettering Town's home in its glory days was Rockingham Road, which was within walking distance of the centre of the town.

In 2011 they moved to Nene Park, previously the home of Rushden & Diamonds. The following year they had to leave Irtlingborough to play in Corby, and today they play at a ground in Burton Latimer.

The local council has long had its eye on the Rockingham Road ground as a site for housing, and the bulldozers are due to move in before the end of the year.

So today I went there to see what remains.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Bishop's Castle Piano Mystery

Back in April BBC News reported this story:
A hoard of more than 900 gold sovereigns found hidden in a donated school piano has officially been declared as treasure as the coins’ original owner and the reasons for them being so covertly stashed still remains a mystery. 
Piano technician Martin Backhouse, 61, was astonished to discover the coins, found hidden under the upright’s keyboard and carefully stitched into seven cloth packets and a leather drawstring purse. 
He had been called in to tune the 110-year-old instrument at Bishop’s Castle community college in Shropshire, which received the piano last year from a couple who were “downsizing” their home. 
The hoard, the largest of its kind consisting of 633 full sovereigns and 280 half sovereigns dating between 1847 and 1915, was declared to be treasure by Shrewsbury coroner John Ellery. 
He said it was substantially made of gold or silver, was deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery, but that the owner, or his or her present heirs or successors, remained unknown.
This affair has now been the subject of a Punt PI programme on BBC Radio 4. Its researchers made some progress but failed to solve the mystery.

A mystery that begins in Bishop's Castle? We are clearly in Malcolm Saville territory here.

Indeed, his Lone Pine Five begins at Bishop's Castle market, where Tom buys Jenny what turns out to be a Roman spoon. It is a sign that there are Roman remains to be found in the Stiperstones. (Well, the Romans did mine lead there.)

Except that if they Lone Piners had got involved they would undoubtedly have solved The Bishop's Castle Piano Mystery.

Six of the Best 728

"The voters hated the Lib Dems going into coalition and still haven’t forgiven them." Right? Wrong, says Mark Pack.

Nick Tyrone asks why the left applies different standards to antisemitism than to any other form of racism.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has photographs of Karabolka, a Tartar village that was the site of what was then the world's worst nuclear accident in 1957.

Forest Green Rovers are the world's greenest sports team, says Adam Elder.

Lynne Truss contends that, despite at the time being overshadowed by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and others, Joni Mitchell will come to be regarded as the greatest exponent of the art of the singer-songwriter.

"It is clear from his work that Awdry disliked change, venerated order, and craved the administration of punishment." Jia Tolentino explores the dark universe of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Henry Bolton, Ukip's new leader, stood against Philip Hammond for the Lib Dems in 2005

One of the few things the press has been able to discover about Ukip's new leader today is that he is a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

It turns out that Henry Bolton fought Runnymede and Weybridge for the Lib Dems at the 2005 general election.

He finished third behind the victorious Conservative Philip Hammond.

Carrot-coloured sports car damaged by hungry German donkey

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The pleasures of Wenlock Priory

Wenlock Priory, says Wikipedia, is a ruined 12th century monastery, located in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.

Following the dissolution in 1540, several buildings, including the late 15th-century Prior's House, were converted into a private residence later known as Wenlock Abbey.

Today Wenlock Abbey is owned by Gabriella Drake, star of Crossroads and sister of Nick Drake.

As at Fountains Abbey, the medieval ruins have been turned into a folly in the park of the great house. I also like the rather poorly focused topiary.

Does English cricket have a drink problem?

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In the course of my day job I went to an event on the psychology and wellbeing of military personnel.

A session on mental health saw general agreement that the biggest issue facing the Forces in that field was alcohol misuse.

I thought of that when I heard about Ben Stokes, Alex Hales and the unpleasantness in Bristol the other evening.

Cricket shares many features with military life - slightly awkward male camaraderie, periods of boredom followed by periods of nerve-shredding excitement, public school officers - and alcohol seems to play the same central role in it.

Alcohol is used as a reward and a consolation, to oil the wheels of socialisation and quite possible to ease the nerves of the battle-scarred too.

When I reviewed Graeme Swann's book I wrote:
Judging by The Breaks Are Off, English cricket is awash with alcohol. If your county collapses, don’t demand extra net practice: ask for the batsmen to be breathalysed.
Since then I have read Graeme Fowler's Absolutely Foxed, which is even more drink sodden. It has many wise things to say about mental health, but I can't recall Fowler making any connections between the two subjects.

I also note that Swann and Matt Prior, central figures in the England team no so long ago, both rushed to defend Stokes on Twitter, as though he were a teenager at throwing out time rather than a millionaire athlete.

So when we have finished being shocked by Stokes and Hales, maybe we should admit that English cricket has a drink problem?

W.H. Auden: To a writer on his birthday

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Here are the first two stanzas to mark National Poetry Day.

To a writer on his birthday

August for the people and their favourite islands.
Daily the steamers sidle up to meet
The effusive welcome of the pier, and soon
The luxuriant life of the steep stone valleys
The sallow oval faces of the city
Begot in passion or good-natured habit
Are caught by waiting coaches, or laid bare
Beside the undiscriminating sea.

Lulled by the light they live their dreams of freedom,
May climb the old road twisting to the moors,
Play leapfrog, enter cafes, wear
The tigerish blazer and the dove-like shoe.
The yachts upon the little lake are theirs,
The gulls ask for them, and to them the band
Makes its tremendous statements ; they control
The complicated apparatus of amusement.

Now read about my own Thirties poet W.T. Nettlefold.

TUC and CBI issue joint statement on EU citizens' rights

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You have to hand it to the Conservatives: their bottomless incompetence has united the two sides of British industry.

Today Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, and Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, issued this joint statement:
After 15 months of human poker, the uncertainty facing 4 million European and UK citizens has become intolerable. 
It is a blight on the values of our nations. Millions of workers and thousands of firms are today united in their call to leaders on both sides to find an urgent solution. A clear guarantee of the right to remain for citizens in both the UK and EU27 is needed within weeks. 
EU citizens account for 10 per cent of registered doctors and 4 per cent of registered nurses across the UK. Millions more work in the public and private sectors delivering public services and making a vital contribution to our economy. 
They need to hear that they will be allowed to remain in the UK, whatever the eventual outcome of negotiations. Not only is this important for our economy, it is the right thing to do.
Once agreed, this guarantee must be implemented independently of the rest of the negotiations to avoid the risk that ‘no deal’ in March 2019 leads to uncertainty and heartache for millions of people.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The two series of Shoestring to be released as a DVD set

Good news! The series of Shoestring are about to be released on DVD.

The Network on Air site says:
Trevor Eve stars as radio "Private Ear" Eddie Shoestring in the massively successful BBC drama series. 
Co-created by Robert Banks Stewart, Shoestring also stars Michael Medwin as Eddie's long-suffering boss Don Satchley; Liz Crowther as station receptionist Sonia; and Doran Godwin as Eddie's landlady, on-off lover and occasional assistant Erica. This complete-series set also features appearances from Diana Dors, Harry H. Corbett, Toyah Wilcox, Geraldine James and Michael Elphick. 
Poison phone-ins and threats to a disc jockey lead Radio West to hire private investigator Eddie Shoestring – who discovers it may be a longer-running job than he first thought! 
This set also includes a brand-new book on the making of the series by archive television historian Andrew Pixley, with contributions from original cast and crew members.
The two series were broadcast by the BBC in 1979 and 1980, and made Trevor Eve a household name.

I once wrote of the programme's appeal:
Eddie Shoestring was always a bit of a fantasist. He had suffered some sort of breakdown while working in computers and his new image as a Philip Marlowe figure - stalking the streets, not of Los Angeles, but Bristol - was his way of coping. He life as a private detective did not represent an exploration of the real world so much as an escape from it. 
So Shoestring never was grittily realistic, In fact, like many fantasists, Eddie drew people into his world.

Harriet Harman, Theresa May and John Bodkin Adams

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Remember this post from June?
Though he was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey, there seems little doubt that Eastbourne's Dr John Bodkin Adams was a serial killer along the lines of Harold Shipman. 
The town's rich widows had a habit of changing their wills in his favour and then expiring shortly afterwards. 
As well as having a general practice, Bodkin Adams worked at All Saints Hospital. 
And who was chaplain of All Saints Hospital, Eastbourne, at the time of Bodkin Adams' arrest in 1956? 
The Revd Hubert Brasier, better known today as the father of Theresa May.
The doctor's acquittal was aided by his main expert witness, John B. Harman.

As Wikipedia tells it:
Doctor John Bodkin Adams was tried in 1957 for the murder of an 81-year-old patient, Edith Alice Morrell. Harman was called as the defence's main expert witness. He gave evidence that though the deceased was being prescribed high amounts of heroin and morphine by her general practitioner, it was entirely justified under the circumstances and that it would have done more harm to the patient if the treatment was discontinued. 
During cross-examination, however, it was established: that Harman had himself only ever worked as a general practitioner for a total of two weeks. He had only ever treated a handful of drug addicts – before the war. He had never seen 'spasms' caused by drug addiction, despite acting them out for the court in detail – he had only ever read about them. And furthermore, despite being a witness for the defence, he claimed he had at no time talked to Adams about his treatment of the patient.
John Harman was the father of Harriet Harman.

Join the dots, sheeple. Join the dots.

The Daily Mail goes to the Glee Club

In his foreword to the new Liberator Songbook, Lord Bonkers addressed himself to those attending for the first time:
You may see impressionable young journalists wandering around the hall. If you do, please be gentle with them. 
Newspapers publish horrified exposés of the Glee Club ever year. I think there must be some sort of legal requirement upon them, so it is best not to worry about it too much.
Sure enough, Tim Sculthorpe, the deputy political editor of Mail Online, went along and came away with revelations to freeze his readers' blood:
The booze-fuelled party, which took place on the final night of this year's party conference, also saw party members sing the 'Ode to Charlie'. 
The controversial lyrics, first produced after Charles Kennedy died due to complications from alcoholism, concludes: 'Charlie is pissed again.' 
Another song performed at the 2017 edition included 'Country Garden' which mocks David Cameron over allegations in a book by Lord Ashcroft about his student days and a pig.
I don't know who told him 'Ode to Charlie' was written after Charles Kennedy died: it dates from the 1990s if not the 1980s.

And while I can understand the Mail asterisking 'Fuck', I don't suppose even its readers would be offended by the 'off'.

Incidentally, the Mail illustrated the article with the original words of 'Country Garden', which long predate Isabel Oakeshott's fantasy about David Cameron and a pig.

This allows me to repeat my boast that I was responsible for a couple of verses of that first version.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Cromford and High Peak Railway in 1960

The Cromford and High Peak was an early line, packed with inclines and tight curves, built across Derbyshire to link the Cromford Canal at High Peak Junction with the Peak Forest Canal at Whalley Bridge.
Sustained by heavy quarry traffic, the whole system survived into the 1960s. This footage was shot at the end of the previous decade.

Six of the Best 727

David Cameron must bear some of the blame for the rise of the far right in Germany, argues former Lib Dem MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.

Fintan O'Toole says the DUP has been taken for a ride: "The crappy get-out lines about the wonders of technology and the cheque in the post from London didn’t disguise the truth that the Brexiteers are just not that into dealing with the complications of Ireland. Whether it likes it or not, the DUP has to join the rest of Ireland in trying to do so."

"It's not about the app." London Reconnections explains the corporate politics behind the row over Uber.

Otto English writes movingly on his mother and Alzheimer’s.

Geoff Marshall takes us behind the scenes of the Northern Line's Battersea extension.

"More than 30 years after her death I still approach Imo's Church Walk house and expect to find her inside, making the strong coffee that she always served the moment I stepped in the door." Colin Matthews remembers Imogen Holst, who was the daughter of Gustav Holst and the amanuensis to Benjamin Britten.

GUEST POST The Lib Dems and Brexit: How a shot in the arm became a shot in the foot

Neville Farmer says the Liberal Democrats should have adopted a bolder position on Brexit.

I love conference, but something always happens to shake my faith. A classic example happened in Bournemouth.

An unscheduled Sunday motion proposed that an elected Liberal Democrat government would reverse Article 50 without need for a further Brexit referendum. It was crudely drafted but it was strong and clear and answered Paddy Ashdown’s call for some party radicalism – "Put Vince in No 10 and we’ll end Brexit." Sounded good to me.

When they heard that the planned and impotent Brexit 'consultation' had been changed to a debate, the party leadership flipped. A blocking amendment was tabled reverting to the 'first referendum on the facts' option, sweetened with votes for over 16s and expats.

In the debate, the choice of speakers was skewed. Speakers for the motion included first-timers with off-subject anti-Brexit comments, while the amendment was backed by MPs and peers.

Tim Farron said supporting the motion denied the will of the people, blocked the young and expatriated from a vote and showed an illiberal loyalty to first-past-the-post. Others claimed the motion would make us seem like a 'one-trick' party.

The only party senior supporting the motion was brave former MEP Liz Lynne.

The spoiler amendment passed by a mile and, instead of a shot in the arm for the party fortunes, we shot ourselves in the foot.

How? Think for a second. How can we get another Brexit referendum if we’re not elected? How can we get rid of first-past-the-post elections if we’re not elected? How can we give over 16s the vote if we’re not elected? How can we do anything we debate at conference?

We can’t. So, let’s give the country a policy to elect us on.

A general election is a referendum. They're brutally unfair, but they’re what people know and a promise to end Brexit is more likely to win votes than "Vote for us for another chance to vote."

The May government is tottering. Labour Remainers have realised Corbyn is pro-Brexit.

There are many millions in the middle of British politics crying out for someone strong to wake Britain from the Brexit nightmare while we offer a policy that just helped lose 375 Lib Dem electoral deposits!

I’ve heard members say we lost them because of the press campaign against Tim’s views on gay sex. Come on!

Others say we were too obsessed with Brexit and should have been stronger on the NHS, but the British Electoral Study says more than a third of people cited Brexit as their number one voting motivation. Oh, for a third of the vote!

Even if we didn’t win power, we would have attracted such a popular swing we would embolden Tory and Labour Remainers to push for a referendum anyway.

And if media rips into us, bring it on! It’ll be nice to be noticed for a change.

Neville Farmer was the Lib Dem candidate for Wyre Forest 2010, a West Midlands Euro candidate and editor of Who’s Who In The Liberal Democrats. He is currently a town councillor in Corsham - follow him on Twitter.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dr William Penny Brookes celebrated in Much Wenlock

I wrote many columns for the New Statesman website, but got only one piece into the printed magazine.

That was about Much Wenlock's Olympian Games and their founder Dr William Penny Brookes.

Visit Much Wenlock today and you will find him celebrated. The waymarked Olympian trail through the town takes in both the house where he was born, lived and died and his resting place across the road in the churchyard.

The Lib Dems were not planning to debate Brexit at conference either

When we have finished laughing at Labour for not debating Brexit, let's remember that the Liberal Democrats were not planning to debate it at their conference either.

It took a procedural move by those attending the event to make room on the agenda for a Brexit debate. Well done to all involved.

After the party big-wigs were wheeled out, that debate reaffirmed our policy of having a referendum on the final deal.

I understand the wish not to be seen to be ignoring last year's vote. But given that most EU deals are agreed at midnight on the last possible day, will there even be time to hold one?

It also means that if a comet portending great things passed the Earth and we found ourselves with a Liberal Democrat government next year, that government would continue to negotiate a Brexit deal and then recommend the British people to reject that deal in the subsequent referendum.

All of which suggests that a new party proclaiming complete opposition to Brexit would be a formidable opponent for the Lib Dems.

Andrew Bridgen, Edward Heath and Wiltshire police

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North West Leicestershire's Andrew Bridgen is the ultimate rent-a-quote backbench Conservative MP, ready with an ill-informed right-wing opinion on any topic at the drop of a hat.

Only last week he was in the Daily Mail complaining about a National Trust exhibition at Kingston Lacy:
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said of the Kingston Lacy exhibition: "This is totally inappropriate. It’s not what people visit the National Trust for. If I want moral guidance I go to church – not the National Trust."
Perhaps Bridgen should have spent more time in church, because today his excruciating performance at a family court hearing has been all over the papers.

My readers are, of course, much too sophisticated to be interested in such matters - I recommend Fleet Street Fox in the Mirror for the best account.

Even before that story broke, however, I was considering a post about Bridgen because of the extraordinary context in which his name cropped up on Sunday.

A Sunday Times report headed "Fresh doubt over Heath sex inquiry" contained this passage:
The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who has seen an early draft of Wiltshire police’s report on Heath, described its findings as "credible and disturbing". 
The MP for North West Leicestershire said: "I have never known any other police investigation that has got as much media attention and where such efforts have been made to discredit it before publication. 
"I have the utmost confidence in his [Veale’s] integrity and the professionalism of his team, and I would urge people to reserve judgment until they have read the report."
It is right that accusations against of sexual abuse Edward Heath should be investigated. But if it is true that this investigation has failed to contact Sir Timothy Kitson, who knew Heath for 35 years and was his parliamentary private secretary during his time at No 10 from 1970-74, it is hard not to be sceptical about it.

Above all, you wonder who decided to give Andrew Bridgen a copy of the the report, particularly as it seems that this report will remain confidential.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I hope the journalists reporting the publication of a redacted version of the report on 5 October will ask that question.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Speedrail to the South (1967)

This film was made 50 years ago to promote the newly electrified line to Bournemouth.

Dobie Gray: The In Crowd

People of my generation will probably think first of the version by Bryan Ferry, but this is a live performance of the original.

It comes from the wonderfully named album "Dobie Gray Sings for 'In' Crowders That 'Go Go'" and reached no. 25 in the UK singles chart in 1965.

As an in crowder who go goes myself, I feel thoroughly at home with it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The ghosts of Raynalds Mansion, Much Wenlock

I have told this story before, but not with this photograph:
One year I joined a guided walk around the town. Outside Raynalds Mansion we were told the story of some children who were evacuated to the town and housed here during World War II. 
On the first morning they came downstairs and demanded to know who the children in funny clothes they had been playing with were.

Six of the Best 726

"All these new members have certainly infused the party with fresh vigour and assurance. But there’s been no discernible shift in the party’s politics at all. It’s as though all these newbies have slipped on their Liberal Democrat membership and discovered that it fits them like a glove." Phil Wainewright suggests that the influx of new members has made surprisingly little difference to the party.

The Universal Credit debate was one of the highlights of the Lib Dem conference, says Caron Lindsay.

Ben Rathe thinks Vince Cable should stop talking about tuition fees.

"These stations were to act as adverts for the underground network; communicating modernity, speed and ease of use; as well as acting a civic hubs, integrating transport, commerce and even education." Modernism in Metro-Land celebrates the Piccadilly Line extension of 1932.

Rob Baker on the career of the British comedian Dickie Henderson: "Today you would almost have to be a pensioner to remember Henderson in his prime, but he was once described by Roy Hudd as 'perhaps the most versatile and certainly the smoothest, most laid-back comedian it had been my pleasure to see'."

Harry Dean Stanton was the character actor with most character, says Jacob Oller.

Freddie and Fiona and Uber

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Last summer Lord Bonkers ran into his old friends 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’.”
My take on this week's affair is that Uber is a mini-cab firm, albeit one with a clever app attached to it.

I assume the affair will end with Uber making an effort to placate the licensing authority and getting its licence extended after all.

But if that doesn't happen then new firms, armed with the same technology and a little less greed, will soon move in.

I could understand the previous generation being starry-eyed about anything based on the net, because it was all so new.

As John Harris once pointed out:
The computer industry came of age in the 1990s, that giddy phase of American and European history when authoritarianism was assumed to be on the wane.
But for the likes of Freddie and Fiona, digital natives as they are, the internet should be old hat.

The fact that something is online should not stop us worrying about licensing conditions being kept to or treating quasi-monopolies with suspicion.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The making of The Innocents (1961)

Christopher Frayling is our personable guide to the making of Jack Clayton's masterly adaptation of Henry James's story The Turn of the Screw.

There is also a good discussion of the film, complete with Peter Wyngarde, on the BBC Radio 3 site.

Liberal Democrats gain Oadby Uplands ward from Labour

Congratulations to Lily Kaufman and the Liberal Democrat team in Oadby and Wigston for winning the Oadby Uplands ward by-election yesterday.

The full result:

Lily Kaufman (Lib Dems)  435
Labour                              384
Conservative                    295

This was the seat held for Labour by Gurpal Atwal until his resignation in the summer.

Oadby Uplands is a two member ward. The Lib Dems already held the other seat.

The result is particularly gratifying because Oadby and Wigston has been run by the Liberal Democrats since 1991.

The Leicester Mercury quotes John Boyce, the leader of the council:
"I’m extremely pleased. We perform well as a council and the residents have recognised that."
The Conservatives put a lot of effort into the by-election but could not improve on their third place from last time.

Loughborough gardener grows 4ft carrot bigger than his grandson

The Loughborough Echo wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Well done to all concerned.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The old railway station at Much Wenlock

Opened in 1862, Much Wenlock station stood on the line between Wellington and Craven Arms.

The line to Craven Arms closed in 1951, but trains continued to run between Much Wenlock and Wellington until 1962.

Today the old station building is a private house.

I have previously posted four videos by Holden Webster that follow the line from Wellington to Craven Arms today:

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Not a member of the Dimbleby family in sight

And so another week with Lord Bonkers draws to a close. If I come across the notes from this discussion I shall certainly post them here.


Yesterday evening we held a ‘Question Time’ at the village hall. (The building, complete with a library and billiards room, was erected by my grandfather and the front boasts a modest statue of him accepting the tribute of the grateful widows and orphans of Rutland.)

What a panel we had! There was our own Vince ‘High-Voltage’ Cable; the Wise Woman of Wing; the High Queen of the Elves of Rockingham Forest; and the Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir.

I was prevailed upon to join the panel myself and, best of all, there was not a member of the Dimbleby family in sight. The Revd Hughes took the chair.

Enjoyable as the evening was, I feel that what happened next was the more important. I invited my fellow panellists back to the hall. There, over a snifter or two of Auld Johnston (the most prized of Highland malts), we put the world to rights and mapped a route back to power for the Liberal Democrats. I just hope someone was taking notes.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

£40m plan for derelict International Hotel rejected: Flats 'too small for wombats'

The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award by a distance.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The remains of Derby Friargate station

Leicester is not the only East Midland city with the site of a major railway station lying derelict.

This slideshow illustrates the remains of Derby Friargate, the old Great Northern station, which closed to passengers in 1964.

There is now hope that the Grade 2 Listed warehouse will be restored.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A chilled Don Foster sherry

Even when he stays at home in Rutland, Lord Bonkers is hard at work.


The morning’s post brings a letter from a young reader asking how he can break into radio comedy. In reply I say there are two sure ways of getting your own series on BBC Radio Four. The first is to go to Cambridge and take part in the Footlights show. The second is to join the Socialist Workers Party.

A lady asks which drink she should serve her guests before they go into dinner. I recommend a chilled Don Foster sherry.

Finally, a Liberal Democrat MP who lost his seat in 2015 asks me for help in finding a room. I promise to put in a good word for him at the Home for Distressed Canvassers, Herne Bay.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Bishop's Castle doorway

One more glimpse of my favourite Shropshire town.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The sycamores are looking distinctly nervous

The Bonkers Hall Estate is noted for its coverts and hangers, so it is no surprise that Lord Bonkers should take a dim view of Labour policy in Sheffield.


To Sheffield to weigh our prospects of regaining the Hallam Division at the next election. I am shocked at the scenes of desolation I find: street after street with stumps but no trees. Oak, ash and thorn are all felled, and the sycamores are looking distinctly nervous. Squirrels tug at my tweeds as I pass and beg for nuts.

"I expect the socialists have decided that trees are bourgeois." I say to a sound woman with a placard. "Or have the larch and firs been heard giggling at Jeremy Corbyn?"

She tells me that it is all down to some agreement the council has made with a private company – a 'PFI'. Anything that gets in the way of repairing tarmac – trees, parked cars, children on the way to school – is for the chop.

“I’m not surprised no one buys PFI furniture anymore,” I tell her as we part.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Local papers shed more light on the resignation of Blake Pain

Last night Blake Pain, the Conservative leader of Harborough District Council, announced his intention to resign his position at the end of a full meeting of the council.

The Leicester Mercury quotes my old friend Simon Galton, a Liberal Democrat councillor:
"It was bizarre the way it happened. It got right to the end of the meeting and then the chairman said there was one more bit of urgent business - a statement from the leader. And then he resigned. I think only one or two people knew about it in advance. 
"He said the Tories want a change of direction so I looks like he didn’t want to go."”
But it is the Harborough Mail that gives us a clue to the politics behind his resignation:
Signs of strain within the ruling Conservative group on the council were evident in July, when half a dozen Conservative councillors criticised their own leadership in a public meeting. 
They claimed that council funds were distributed unevenly round the district, with Market Harborough getting more than its fair share. A council team is now looking into the claim.
You heard the claim that all the money is spent in Market Harborough back when I was a member of the council.

In part that is because you hear such charges in many of the large rural districts the Conservatives created in the early 1970s. Their reorganisation yoked together many communities that had no particular connection with one another.

And in part it was because the rural councillors, or at least the rural Conservatives and the rural Independents who were Conservative Party members on the quiet, were not very good at organsising themselves to press for the spending they wanted.

They tended to wait until something was planned for Market Harborough and then complain that it was not being built in their ward.

Anyway, it's good to see such an informed report in the Harborough Mail.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook

Down in Bournemouth the Glee Club at the Liberal Democrat Conference is underway. So it is time to share with you Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook.

Bonkers Hall
Tel. Rutland 7

What with so many people joining the Liberal Democrats in the past year, it occurs to me that many of you will be attending the Glee Club for the first time.

So let me address myself to you ‘virgins’ in particular. Don't worry: It's Meant To Be Like This.

If you wish to enjoy the evening to the utmost, my advice is that you should buy a songbook from the amusing young people at Liberator magazine, furnish yourself with a pint of Smithson & Greaves' Northern Bitter and join in the singing lustily.

You may see impressionable young journalists wandering around the hall. If you do, please be gentle with them.

Newspapers publish horrified exposés of the Glee Club ever year. I think there must be some sort of legal requirement upon them, so it is best not to worry about it too much.

A particular feature of the evening will be comic turns by our MPs and other party bigwigs.

I recommend these as a good opportunity to go to the bar.

Finally, a word on health and safety, which is such a concern nowadays. (I am currently engaged in correspondence with the local authority, which has decided the unfenced mineshafts of Stilton country are a hazard. What nonsense!)

I would, however, counsel you to note where the exits are, given that we are meeting beside the sea in Bournemouth.

How well I recall an early Aldeburgh Festival! Halfway through the concert, the hall was inundated by the North Sea because of an unusually high tide.

Having looked about myself in the way I have just recommended to you, I was able to snatch up a passing double bass and paddle my way to safety – accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the piano.


Blake Pain, Tory leader of Harborough District Council, resigns

At a meeting of the council this evening, Blake Pain has resigned as leader of the ruling Conservative group.

It sounds as though he jumped before he was pushed.

Here are tweets from two Liberal Democrat councillors at the meeting:

The Ghost of Jimi Hendrix at Stokesay Castle

Jimi Hendrix, aged only 27, died on this day in 1970.

Eighteen years later John James published a slim pamphlet of poems with the irresistible title The Ghost of Jimi Hendrix at Stokesay Castle.

Irresistible to me at least. I bought his Collected Poems just to get hold of the poems that pamphlet contained:
you can't believe everything you see & hear can you
the old heroes of desire sleeping where Handel slept
it's a long way from the surf
& the sign for victory equals peace
the River Onny & its mood of total calm 
when you're dead you're made for life
James may be the first poet since A,E. Housman to mention the River Onny. Unlike Housman, he spells it correctly.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Burying Matron in the sand

Shooting in Rutland sounds more challenging than elsewhere. Perhaps we should introduce the Rutland partridge to North America?


I did not take part in the Glorious Twelfth this year as it clashed with the Well-Behaved Orphans’ annual holiday at Trescothick Bay in Cornwall. Bathing, running barefoot across the sand, burying Matron... I had a high old time of it.

In any case, shooting grouse is not to my taste as the activity is now so commercialised. Grouse are bred in enormous numbers, overfed and then have little lead weights tied to their feet so they cannot fly too high.

I am happier here on my own moors. Open fire at a Rutland partridge and it will take cover and fire back at you. Now that’s what I call good sport!

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary