Thursday, November 30, 2017

The wolves are running: The appeal of The Box of Delights

There is a lovely piece on the appeal of John Masefield's The Box of Delights by Piers Torday in the Guardian.

Torday rightly identifies that the book's appeal lies in its blend of Christian and pagan and ancient and modern elements. The book blends:
the folkloric mysticism of Albion with the lurid criminalities of the jazz age. There are ancient wizards, Christmas feasts and talking animals – but also bang-up-to-date thrills: criminal gangs of jewel thieves, machine guns and time travel.
And, as he points out, Masefield has been mightily influential:
The central trio – sensitive, orphaned hero Kay, who has a dormant gift for magic; the ferociously intelligent and independent Maria; and the loyal but slightly dim Peter (plus a flying car and a wise wizard mentor) – will feel familiar to readers of Harry Potter. 
Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, the witch in twinset and furs, feels like a direct ancestor of Dahl’s neighbourhood witches. Masefield had his children escaping to a fantasy world of deep magic through a domestic portal before CS Lewis ever opened his wardrobe.
Masefield was also an influence on one of my own favourite writers.

T.H. White wrote in a letter to his old tutor L.J. Potts in 1938 about a book he had just finished:
What I fear is that it has feeble traces of A.A, Milne. I should have liked it to be like Masefield's Midnight Folk, a book which I love this side of idolatry. It is called The Sword in the Stone.
The Midnight Folk is the first of two books in which Kay Harker battled Abner Brown and Sylvia Daisy Pouncer. The Box of Delights is the second.

Six of the Best 747

"The Liberal Democrats did well to achieve a credible policy deal in 2010. But over the next five years they were out manoeuvred by their much larger coalition partners (and their friends in the media) and denounced by Labour, the party that had ran away from government." Stephen Williams (who was then a Lib Dem MP) asks if the German FDP has made a better fist of coalition negotiations in 2010.

Walter Ellis remarks what a complete cock-up the Tories have made of Brexit.

"Back in the 70s and 80s the BBC broadcast a series of interviews by Bryan Magee with leading philosophers. Such programmes today are pretty much unthinkable. What we have instead is the Moral Maze, which comprises nothing more than shouty egomaniac gobshites." Chris Dillow on the decline in moral reasoning.

"When it finally finished I didn’t feel anything. I knew I was supposed to be happy, but I wasn’t. I achieved what I had always dreamed of but now I was empty. The years of suffering scarred my soul and now when the suffering was done, I didn’t know what to do without it." No, Alex Colovic did not much enjoy qualifying as a chess grandmaster.

How did Morrissey, the Godfather of snowflakes, become a right-wing hero? Nick Tyrone explains.

Rod Nordland visits one of London's more eccentric bookshops.

Mysterious note found inside an 18th century Jesus statue's bottom may be a 'time capsule' written by a Spanish priest 300 years ago

The Daily Mail wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The last days of Wheat Street and the loss of Leicester's slums

Copyright © Dennis Calow
Wheat Street in Leicester, now a stub between two factories, is an old street that used to be much longer.

And here's the proof in the shape of a 1955 photograph from the Vanished Leicester collection. The houses have already been abandoned and are about to be demolished.

A decade later the area became unrecognisable beneath Leicester's new ring road, obliterating the city's most notorious slum area.

Could any of it have been saved?

Reading The Slums of Leicester, you are struck by just how bad conditions were there.

Here is Cllr Bertram Powell writing in the Leicester Chronicle in 1951:
It would be difficult to estimate the unhappiness, tension and bad health due to the strained human relationships arising from the housing conditions such as exist in St Margaret's Ward. Apart from the insanitary places themselves and the effect on health, the mental torture is grievous. 
Many of the women in the vicinity of Wharf Street are putting up a valiant fight against the odds to keep themselves and their children clean and respectable. It is pathetic to visit some of the houses to see the unceasing effort to keep paper on the walls, the amateur painting to cover rotten woodwork, the polish to tumbledown grates, the care of steps and floors. 
The only good thing one can say about the situation is the patience, cheerfulness and effort shown by the people who live there.
But there is another side to the story: the clearance of these streets involved a loss too.

Here is a Leicester Mercury article from 1955, the year of our photograph:
I took a stroll around the Wharf Street area yesterday afternoon. What a change is taking place there. The once bustling street where years ago small traders made tidy fortunes is at a standstill compared with what one can recall. 
In other days it had such a glorious mixture of shops, butchers and poulterers, not forgetting the rabbits, general grocers, greengrocers and all the rest with a liberal sprinkling of pubs. 
And time was when some people in the sedate parts of Leicester sent to Wharf Street for their best steak and roasting joints, because the butchers there would buy a good beast but the local trade was all for offal and the cheaper cuts. 
In those days the shopkeepers in Wharf Street did more business on Saturday nights open until 11 o'clock and on Sunday morning than they did throughout the rest of a week.
But all that life was swept away as though Wharf Street was the city's dirty secret. The district was not improved: it was destroyed.

Do we find a clue to the caste of mind behind this destruction in a 1902 Leicester Pioneer article by F.W. Rogers?
There are a number of houses in this ward well-known to the Watch Committee as being nothing more or less than brothels. It is an ugly word, but facts are best stated in plain English ... 
Parts of this ward are perfect sinks of iniquity. I understand the Watch Committee are going to light the district with incandescent lamps. Is that all? 
I wager the chairman of the Watch Committee has never been down the district at night more than once in his life. Let some of the committee go down for themselves and see what sort of conditions these people have to exist among.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn on the Backlisted podcast

I once blogged:
I am reminded of a couple of novels by Gordon Burn - Alma Cogan and Fullalove - which explored the unhealthy brew of child murder and celebrity that fuels the tabloid press in Britain. You could do worse than read them if you want to understand the times we live in.
Burn's Alma Cogan is the subject, after a detour via Nikolaus Pevsner and Kazuo Ishiguro, of the latest edition of the Backlisted podcast. 

It was recorded live at the Durham Book Festival.

A Matter of Life and Death is back in the cinemas

Next month Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s wartime fantasy A Matter of Life and Death returns to British cinemas.

In this podcast Henry Barnes talks to Xan Brooks and Hollie Price about the genesis of what the BFI sight calls their "magic propaganda".

That is a pleasing category that can also take in another Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale.

Elsewhere on the BFI site Charles Drazin offers five reasons to watch A Matter of Life and Death:
Such is the fantasy dimension of the film that it is easy to overlook the extraordinary documentary eye with which it is constructed. 
In telling the story of a brain-damaged airman who has hallucinations of another world, Powell and Pressburger pay a scrupulous respect to the neurological reality of how these visions might have taken place. 
They appreciated the fact that the most gripping drama emerges out of an engagement with truth rather than a flight from it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The lodging house at 55 Britannia Street, Leicester

The ghost sign would have done me, but the terracotta panels were a wonderful surprise.

As one of the city council's heritage boards, which I was impressed to find at the end of the road explains, 55 Britannia Street was a lodging house opened in 1889 to accommodate 129 working men in large communal bedrooms. It was run by the Wilkinson family until it closed in 1946.

The panels show rather stereotyped representatives of the four nations of the British Isles, inspired by the name of the street or to emphasise that all were welcome within.

Six of the Best 746

"The problem with a strategy of invalidating the referendum is that it looks to most people like an attempt to cheat or win on a technicality. It’s not a political win, where you persuade people by the strength of your ideas but a dirty one, where you manage to rig the system to your advantage." Nick Barlow says that if we’re going to stop Brexit, then we have to stop refighting the referendum.

Mark Mills explains how he became a reluctant monarchist.

The perennial interest in the Jack the Ripper murders represents the commodification of sexual violence, argues Caroline Jones.

"Even in the cosy toytown idyll of The Village, a subterranean army of faceless minions monitor our every move, brainwashing us into being model citizens and quiescent consumers." Stephen Dalton presents six ways the Sixties cult show The Prisoner prepared us for the modern world.

The loss of a newsagent's shop is mourned by A London Inheritance.

Nick Barnett proves that cats played a key role in the first world war.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "There’s another part of me that flipping well wants to hold my seat"

Having given Nick Clegg one barrel on Thursday, the old boy gives Tim Farron the other one today. Sometimes I think he will not be satisfied until he is leader himself.

Anyway, this entry completes are week with Lord Bonkers.


Were you in the hall for Tim Farron’s speech in the Europe debate at our Conference in Bournemouth? To the best of my recollection, it went like this:

“The day I took over as leader, one journalist predicted confidently that ‘the party that began with Gladstone will now end with Farron’. I resolved that we were going to survive, grow and win again. The Liberal movement of Gladstone, Lloyd George and Jo Grimond was not going to die on my watch.”

“It’s the movement of Paddy Ashplant too,” I observed to my neighbour, “and Farron got that bit out of his memoirs.”

“And I did it. Me! Little Tim from Preston. There’s part of me that says if I never see another referendum in my life that will be too soon. But there’s another part of me that flipping well wants to hold my seat. I’ve got four kids. I’m a bit of a Eurosceptic. We lived in a shoebox but because I had great parents I didn’t realise it was a shoebox until I was older. Have you been to St Asquith’s and seen the space those pews take up? They should rip them out and then we could all sing “Shine Jesus…”.

At that point I left the hall.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Jason Zadrozny: "Clearing my name has taken almost every penny I had"

Last month Jason Zadrozny, the Liberal Democrat who almost won Ashfield from Labour at the 2010 general election, was cleared of all charges of child sex abuse.

Today he is interviewed in the Mail on Sunday. He tells them:
"My life has been changed beyond recognition,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘I never go shopping now until late at night, when I know the supermarkets will be empty. 
"I can be walking down the high street and someone will confront me and call me a paedophile. 
"I'm broke. Clearing my name has taken almost every penny I had. And I lost my chance to represent the area where I grew up in Parliament."  ... 
"The elation of being found innocent has gone ... When the furore was still raging, at least I had a focus. Now I’m left trying to pick up the threads of my life, but it’s sinking in what I’ve lost. In every way, I feel bereaved."
The newspaper also reveals that:
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLocal journalists have told The Mail on Sunday that news of Mr Zadrozny’s arrest was deliberately leaked to them the next day by an unknown Labour Party source and a senior, unnamed, police officer – so ensuring that it attracted maximum publicity.

Elvis Costello: Watching the Detectives

A fantastic live performance from 1978.

Later. If had had more time this morning I'd have said something pretentious like: "I always suspected this was a greater song than the studio version made it sound. This live version proves I was right."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The more hot-headed young badgers

Once again, I suspect apologies are due to T.H. White, the Revd J.P. Martin and Kenneth Grahame.


I make my way to the woody bank that lies beneath the Ornamental Arch I had erected here on the Bonkers Hall Estate to mark the victory of Wallace Lawler in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election of 1969. After making sure I am not observed, I rap upon a door that is half obscured by foliage and am admitted to the home of the King of the Badgers.

You may have read of the beastly cull of these noble and stripy creatures instituted by the Conservative Party to retain their grip upon the farming vote. Here in Rutland I have endeavoured to even up the odds by supplying firearms to the badgers; my visit this morning, as well as being a social call upon this most sagacious of companions, is paid with the purpose of collecting payment for these munitions. (It’s remarkable the riches badgers turn up when they dig and snuffle at the roots of things.)

After signing his cheque, the King of the Badgers confides in me that he is worried about the more hot-headed young badgers, who are full of talk of strangling the new leader of the Ukip Party. I reply that if I were in his shoes I should do nothing to discourage them.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Russell Square, Leicester, where Ramsay MacDonald hid from the mob in a public lavatory

Beyond Wheat Street, Wharf Street has been cut in two by Leicester's ring road. Its construction swept away whole streets, with their shops and pubs.

Wharf Street North has many Somali residents, with the result that there are still shops there.

At its far end it opens out into a triangular space, which (defying geometry) was called Russell Square. It still has its shops, but they have been converted into ordinary houses.

Russell Square was a favourite spot for political meetings. In the 1918 general election Ramsay MacDonald had to shelter from the mob in the underground lavatories that once stood in front of the shop in the first photograph.

Across the road are some of the post-war flats built to rehouse the residents of the area - they originally had flat roofs.

I have bad memories of them - being caught in a downpour here when knocking up in the 2004 Leicester South by-election, which Parmjit Singh Gill won for the Liberal Democrats. But they looked fine last Saturday.

Vince Cable dodges Bad Sex Award shortlist

Vince Cable, reports the Independent, has avoided being shortlisted for the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Although he received many nominations for his political thriller Open Arms, which was written during the year he was out of parliament, the Literary Review said:
Cable’s thriller Open Arms - which follows a “glamorous housewife-turned-MP” who rises through the Westminster ranks - just wasn’t written badly enough, calling the sex "very discreet". 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I would only have spent it on drink

Such insight into one's own character is to be applauded.


On the way home to Bonkers House in Belgrave Square after a working day in the House I am asked by a dishevelled fellow if I can spare any change. I give him half a crown: I would only have spent it on drink.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Last night's elections showed Lib Dem progress in Leicestershire

There was a Leicester City Council by-election yesterday in the Eyres Monsell ward. The result was as follows:

Labour: 53.2% (+10.6)
Lib Dem: 30.6% (+23.1)
Con: 16.3% (-1.9)

The slightly odd figures are caused by the disappearance of Ukip, who polled a quarter of the vote last time the vote was fought.

As Mark Pack reminds us, the was a ward the Lib Dems used to hold. That was in the days (2003-7) when we ran the city. So encouraging progress.

We also won a town council by-election in Earl Shilton, electing the town's first ever Lib Dem councillor with 68 per cent.

Mark Pack rightly counsels us against making too much of town council elections, and there is some debate about this in the comments on Lib Dem Voice too.

But from a purely Leicestershire point of view, last night was a good one for the Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, my love of trivial knowledge leads me to reveal that Earl Shilton has produced two obscure England seam bowlers - Les Taylor and Jimmy Ormond - and that Eyres Monsell was named after Patrick Leigh Fermor's father-in-law.

That new Lib Dem T-shirt does not reflect party policy

An excited email arrives from Lib Dem HQ:
Designed by Dave, this t-shirt represents the hopes and dreams of the tens of thousands of members who've joined our party since the EU Referendum - and our party's Internationalist values.
Nice work, Dave. But does this T-shirt reflect Lib Dem policy?

As Neville Farmer wrote in a guest post for this blog:
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.
So Lib Dem policy is not to oppose Brexit: it is to hold a second referendum and abide by its result.

I am not sure there will even be time for a second referendum, given that agreement is always reached at the last possible moment in international negotiations and parliament has already agreed to a fixed Article 50 deadline.

Worse than that, our policy says that if there is a political earthquake and we come to power next year, a Liberal Democrat government would negotiate the best Brexit deal it could and then ask the people to vote against it.

Wouldn't it be simpler just to say we are against Brexit?

Still, it's a good design for a T-shirt and I get the Rick Astley reference.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Just the sort of tomfool idea I would expect"

In which a former deputy prime minister enjoys a narrow escape.


Whom should I meet in a London street but our own Nick Clegg? As so often, he has Freddie and Fiona in tow.

Clegg is full of his new book, telling me brightly: "It may seem odd for a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – and someone who has fought against the illiberal habits of Labour all my political life – to advocate joining the Labour party.”

“Not a bit,” I reply, “it’s just the sort of tomfool idea I would expect from you.”

Having foolishly travelled up to town without a horsewhip, I have to content myself with giving him a Hard Stare.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Wheat Street saw Leicester's slums come and go

Wheat Street is a canyon between two old factories closed off by modern units. But it is older than the many 19th century streets that once surrounded it and have now gone without trace.

Because Wheat Street, which was once much longer, marked the northern extent of Barker’s Ground - the celebrated cricket ground that vanished under the new houses in 1860.

Later. Leicester Through Time by Stephen Butt says that the two factories belonged William Raven & Co.:
Politically, Raven was a Liberal and he was also a Unitarian. From humble beginnings he created a business, which by the time of the First World War was employing 1,000 people. The company continued trading until the 1960s under the 'Ravena' and 'Craftana' brand names.
When I was in Wheat Street on Saturday I met someone who told me that his mother had worked in these factories.

Six of the Best 745

Iain Brodie Brown on a gap in modern Liberal thinking: "For decades, in the post-war era, there was not a budget day when the Liberal Party did not move an amendment to promote employee ownership and industrial democracy."

"It is far more likely that leave voters will accept the proposition that they were fooled by politicians - as indeed they were – than that they fooled themselves." Chris Grey considers whether public opinion will turn against Brexit.

Frances Coppola summons the aid of Jane Austen to explain the amazing conversion of James Dyson on Europe.

Matthew Scott argues that Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial.

If we are to understand Douglas Jardine, the most divisive and controversial cricketer who ever played for England, we must understand his Scottishness, says Alex Massie.

"Although the Valley Works had been devoted to producing such nightmarish weapons, the site seemed so oddly normal ....  Had I not known the history of the site, all I would have seen would be a collection of decaying industrial buildings gradually being swallowed up once more by nature." Bobby Seal discovers Mendelssohn, mustard gas and memory in the Alyn Valley.

Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins Ward of the Week

There is a by-election today in the Grumbolds Ash with Avening ward of Cotswold District Council.

And Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins our Ward of the Week Award, given to local government divisions with pleasing names.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The old schoolhouse at Acton Scott

This school was built in the late 19th century to educate the children of Acton Scott in Shropshire.

It now serves as the cafe for the historic working farm tourist attraction there. I photographed it a few summers ago.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Some silly ass with a hyphen

The old boy lets Chris Heaton-Harris have both barrels.


To the University of Rutland at Belvoir in my capacity as vice-chancellor. This role, I will admit, is something of a sinecure as I generally leave the budgeting to the institution’s famed Department of Hard Sums and concentrate on handing out scrolls to young people in mortarboards.

This morning, however, I find the place in turmoil. Some silly ass with a hyphen who makes the tea in the Conservative Whips Office has written asking about our course in European Studies. That subject is naturally of interest here in Rutland as we have been trading with the Baltic since the Middle Ages, when ships bearing jute and flax crossed Rutland Water to tie up at Oakham Quay. I find this immensely impressive, even if I have never been quite sure what jute and flax are.

Where was I? The letter: what immortal crust! I dictate a reply telling the aforementioned ass with a hyphen that there are many unhappy countries on this Earth where the government does tell universities what to teach and if that is the way he wants to see things done he should go and live in one of them.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Do the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge"?

Despite what Lord Bonkers would have you believe, his diaries are not the only feature of Liberator.

The November 2017 issue, which has just arrived with subscribers.

In it, Paul Hindley argues that the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge" if they do not soon offer some more radical and imaginative policies.

You can read Paul's article, and one by Tony Greaves, on Liberator's website. And a debate about them is developing on Lib Dem Voice.

Meanwhile, Liberator's Radical Bulletin feature gives you the inside track on Your Liberal Britain, the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the prospect of further trouble over the deselection of David Ward in Bradford East.

Gladstone features in the Budget Tweet of the Day

Not the Grand Old Man, you will have noticed, but the Treasury's resident cat.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Confessions of a Cabinet Minister

I wonder how many of my younger readers will get the joke here? The worry is not that Lord Bonkers will get too old, but that I will get too old.


Down at Cowley Street or whatever it calls itself nowadays, I congratulate the bright young things of the use they are making of the electric interweb and wireless Twitter. As I tell them, the Liberal Party, Herbert Asquith in particular, adopted cinematography with enthusiasm in that technology’s early years.

Asquith starred in a rather fruity comedy named Confessions of a Cabinet Minister, which was followed (with diminishing returns, according to the critics) by Confessions of a Privy Councillor, Confessions of a Prime Minister and Confessions of a Statesman Forced from Office by that Bastard Lloyd George.

You can see where Helena Bonham Carter Gets It From.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Leicester music hall where The Elephant Man was displayed

Next to 74a and 74b Wharf Street in Leicester lies a derelict plot with an interesting history. You can find it on the Arthur Lloyd website.

It begins:
The Gladstone Hotel and Concert Hall was built in 1862 for Mr Fred Bakewell, and stood on the corner of Wharf Street and Gladstone Street, Leicester. The building was three stories high of brick construction.
This building changed hands regularly, but was never really a success as a music hall. For a while it was given over to religious missions and a ragged school.

In 1880 it was brought back into use as a music hall, and the Arthur Lloyd site records:
On Monday September 3rd 1883 records show Sam Torr opening the Gladstone Hotel as 'The Gaiety Palace of Varieties' with Vesta Tilley topping the bill. 
A description of the Hall states that there was a bar, with numerous tables and chairs, an area by the chairman’s table for about 50 people, and the body of the hall could accommodate about 200 people. Upstairs a promenade Gallery also could accommodate a further 200 people. 
On May 5th 1885 the Hall was put up for sale again by Thomas Ridge of Nottingham, described as the owner, but was withdrawn from sale. The description of the hall at this time states that the Hall was 45 feet long by 31 feet wide, tastefully decorated, with two refreshment bars and a capacity of 500 people.
Early in the 20th century the building became a cinema, and by the 1950s it had become a motor business with its top floor removed.

You can see a picture on the building in its latter days on the Robert Lees site. It was demolished in March 2009, but by then acquired a blue plaque.

That was because it was Sam Torr who exhibited Joseph Merrick - "The Elephant Man" - at venues around the country, and it is widely assumed (though not proved) that this Leicester venue was one of the first of them.

Merrick was born in Lee Street, which began just across the road from the theatre. It's name survives, but it used for the road that surrounds Lee Circle, the city's threatened multi-storey car park and supermarket.

Arthur Lloyd said in 2011 that the derelict site was:
awaiting the building of a block of flats to be named Merrick House. Some of the Theatre's decorative plaster roses which adorned the exterior of the Theatre have been salvaged, and plans are to incorporate some of them on the exterior of the new block of flats. Until then there is nothing to suggest the rich theatrical history of this sad derelict site.
Nothing came of this and the site now looks very sad indeed. Merrick's blue plaque can now be found Moat Community College in the city, close to the site of the workhouse from which he wrote to Torr asking if he could make use of his infirmities to escape it.

But you can still see where the staircases took patrons to the upper floors of the theatre in the plaster of the end wall of 74a and 74b Wharf Street.

All Eyes on Sharon Tate

Charles Manson died today, but let's not think about him. Let's think about his most famous and most tragic victim.

This film shows Sharon Tate preparing for and acting in her first major film role.

Eye of the Devil had a remarkable cast. As well as Tate, there was David Niven, Deborah Kerr (a late replacement for Kim Novak, who had already shot some scenes), David Hemmings and Donald Pleasence. Further down the cast list were Flora Robson and John Le Mesurier.

Sharon Tate and Hemmings played sister and brother, and you can see them cutting some shapes here..

Darren Grimes, Liberator and Liberal Democrat Voice

Darren Grimes is in the news today. As BBC News says:
The Electoral Commission has re-opened an investigation into Vote Leave's EU referendum spending. 
The campaign paid £625,000 to clear bills allegedly run up by university student Darren Grimes with a digital agency days ahead of last June's vote.
This payment was mentioned in the September 2016 issue of Liberator, which also mentioned his time in the Liberal Democrats:
Turmoil continues in the Young Liberals (who still haven’t finished their rebrand from ‘Liberal Youth’) with yet more resignations from an executive that has now lost well over half of its members in the space of a year. 
One former YL/LY member is self-described ‘classical liberal’ Darren Grimes, who joined the Conservatives last year. 
Though his departure prompted much handwringing from his fellow classical liberals about alleged intolerance towards their views having driven Grimes away, it would appear he has accomplished a remarkable feat of fund raising. 
Press reports in August said his one-man ‘BeLeave’ campaign against remaining in the EU received a donation of £625,000 from the official Vote Leave campaign just days before the referendum.
You can download this issue from the Liberator website, where you can also subscribe to this excellent magazine.

A bit more googling that, during the party's 2015 leadership election, Darren wrote an article for Lib Dem Voice calling for Norman Lamb to be the party's leader.

It turns out to have been assembled from self-regard and prefabricated phrases:
My liberty loving generation cannot comfortably sit within statist parties like Labour or the Conservatives, which is why the Liberal Democrats need to prove themselves to be the party offering this generation a truly liberal voice in British politics. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
We need to be more radical in our thinking, we need intellectual evidence-based liberal policy that grabs the attention of the electorate and exasperates right-wing media like the Daily Mail and Breitbart. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Hinge and Bracket of English pace bowling

The issue of new Liberator is arriving with subscribers, which means - I very much fear - it is time for Liberal England readers to spend another week in the company of Lord Bonkers.



Like every red-blooded Englishman (and, indeed, ever red-blooded Englishwoman), I am looking forward to this winter’s Ashes series Down Under.

How will our touring party fare in the likely absence of Ben Stokes? He is the chap who was filmed engaging in a bout of fisticuffs at chucking out time in the middle a one-day series – scenes reminiscent of the Minor Counties Championship before the recommendations of the Archbishop of York’s Commission were implemented.

Will it prove a tour too far for Anderson and Broad, who have justly been acclaimed as the Hinge and Bracket of English pace bowling? Why has no place been found for the Blessed Liam Plunkett when one of the Overton-Window twins from Somerset has been included?

Should Mason Crane be on the ship at all? In my day a boy of that age who bowled a googly would have been sent straight to the Headmaster, just as surely as if he had used a semicolon in an English composition.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If I blog less often blame Richard Jefferies

I have started work on a short ebook on Richard Jefferies. Some of the writing will require visits that are now best left until the spring - Worthing, Surbiton, Swindon... Writing is a glamorous life.

So if I post on here a bit less often than has been my habit, I hope that is the reason. (Mind you, I notice this is my fourth post today and I have scheduled one from Lord Bonkers for tomorrow morning.)

There is also the sad fact that neither blogging nor the Liberal Democrats are what they were a decade ago. I have been thinking for a while that I cannot just go on for ever pretending things have not changed.

Quite what to do about it is less clear. Having more quality guest posts sounds a good idea. Beyond that I am not sure.

One thing I may do is finally join Facebook. I have felt for a long time that I should be there, if only to promote this blog.

I suppose I'm afraid a Facebook page might supersede the blog. After all, I was using Liberal England like a Facebook page before Facebook was invented.

And then there is the fact that Facebook is clearly Satan's picture book.

Still, things change. I started writing this blog to promote Lord Bonkers' website - and that vanished years ago, by which time the blog had become far more important to me and my readers.

Nothing may come of all this, but if I blog less often in future, I hope it will be Richard Jefferies' fault.

Philip Hammond's "gaffe" this morning shows what is wrong with political reporting

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What do we want our politicians to be like?

I would rather like it if they were prepared occasionally to raise their eyes from day-to-day politics and talk about the deeper and longer-term questions we face.

That is just what Philip Hammond did this morning:
Mr Hammond was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show ahead of Wednesday's Budget, where among his announcements he is expected to pave the way for an expansion of driverless cars. 
Challenged on the impact of wider automation on people's jobs, he said Britain had to "embrace change", adding: "I remember 20 years ago we were worrying about what was going to happen to the million shorthand typists in Britain as the personal computer took over. 
"Well, nobody has a shorthand typist these days, but where are all these unemployed people? 
"There are no unemployed people because we have created 3.5m new jobs since 2010."
You may not agree with Hammond's conclusion - we also need to look at the quality and security of those new jobs - but this just the sort of issue we should want our politicians to be addressing,

But what is the BBC's headline on the article?
"Chancellor Philip Hammond's 'no unemployed' remark attacked"
And we are told that:
Labour and the Liberal Democrats both seized on his comment, calling him "out of touch".
Well, the Tories are out of touch and it is hard to resist any opportunity to emphasise that damaging narrative.

But the likely result of such a reaction and such reporting is that politicians go back into their shells and confine themselves to mouthing platitudes like "long-term economic plan".

Is that what we really want?

Incidentally, I find that I wrote this back in 2010:
The BBC is wedded to the idea that politics must be reported in terms of "splits" and "gaffes". It is therefore unable to cope with the sort of discussion you get under healthy cabinet government.

Brighton Hippodrome is threatened with redevelopment

Brighton's daily paper The Argus has revealed that the city's derelict Hippodrome has been bought by a property developer:
In a recent update to his LinkedIn social media profile, Mr Sheikh wrote: “We are pleased to announce the purchase of a [sic] iconic site in Brighton. For the development of a boutique 5 star 70 bed hotel, 25 high end serviced apartments and a concert, theater[sic], conference and banqueting venue.”
This is the old theatre I blogged about in the spring when I was down in Brighton as part of the day job.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, is quoted opposing any such redevelopment:
"Such a move would be a real tragedy, if it meant that it destroyed any hope of returning this amazing venue back to its former glory. 
"If restored, the Hippodrome could be central to the regeneration of the Old Town area which has recently been listed as ‘at risk’ by Heritage Britain.The Hippodrome is still number one on the Theatres Trust’s list of Theatre Buildings at Risk ... for the fourth year running. 
"With that in mind, I have been doing all that I can to support the ‘Save the Hippodrome’ campaign group in their efforts to re-open Frank Matcham’s magnificent auditorium."

The Pirates: I Can Tell

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates has hits in 1959 (Please Don't Touch) and 1960 (Shakin' All Over), before packing it in in the mid 1960s.

Remarkably, The Pirates, sans Johnny Kidd, had a renaissance at the end of the 1970s and sounded very much at home on the pub rock, punk and new wave scene.

I saw them at York in 1978 and here they are a year later.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Six of the Best 744

The six-week delay in paying new Universal Credit claims will lead to evictions by private landlords, says Giles Peaker.

"Demonizing homosexuality is, most obviously, a way for Putin to assert Russia’s superiority over the West. The West’s acceptance of homosexuality is given as proof of its moral and social collapse." Robert Cottrell reviews a study of how totalitarianism has reclaimed Russia.

Joshua Smeltzer reviews Michael Ignatieff's new book The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World,

Jonathan Meades remembers Anthony Burgess: "In person he was very genial, generous, and, among other things which you wouldn’t expect from him, a very good listener. But in private, that’s to say on the page (and one commits to the page things one would never say), he was rancorous and grudge-bearing and full of antipathies."

"I’m pleased to report that it’s been an entirely positive experience rediscovering the series." Tim Holyoake has been watching the DVD release of Shoestring, the TV private detective series from 1979 and 1980 that starred a young Trevor Eve.

Dakota Boo goes for an urban wander around Brentford.